This week’s Spotify playlist is not particularly themed or anything, and in fact was put together in two chunks – before and after I lost my net access. So it’s more varied than most, although overall more downbeat than usual.
Little Hands by Skip Spence is a song I discovered in Robert Plant’s quite gorgeous cover version a few years ago. This song – and the album it comes from – sounds like the missing link between Arthur Lee and Syd Barret, and is an obvious influence on people like Robyn Hitchcock.
The Girl Can’t Dance by Bunker Hill is my very favourite Little Richard soundalike record (yes, even better than Larry Williams or Don & Dewey). Hill doesn’t have Richard’s camp or falsetto, but the performance here is absolutely rabid. Wonderful stuff…
Appropriately, Holly was earlier watching a documentary on the Russians sending dogs into space. I say appropriately because I’d already included Russian Satellite by Mighty Sparrow in the list – a calypso song about how “I am very sorry for the poor little puppy in the Russian satellite”.
America by Van Dyke Parks is an arrangement of God Save The Queen (yes, yes I know he’s doing it as My Country ‘Tis Of Thee, but it’s our national anthem, not theirs) that makes the horrible dirge actually listenable, using elements of Japanese tonality and orchestration, from an album all about connections between the US and Japan.
Shortenin’ Bread by The Ready Men is a track I first heard on the CD version of Pebbles Vol 4 (the vinyl version has a very different tracklist – both are essentials for lovers of surf music) – a version of the old song done in the style of Surfin’ Bird with a blistering Dick Dale style surf guitar solo. Sublime.
Sarah Lee by Esquerita is a good example of the man whose visual style Little Richard stole completely. Musically, though, he’s closer to the New Orleans strolling R&B of Fats Domino or someone of that type. This is actually an astonishingly sloppy record, but it manages to work.
Solar System by The Beach Boys is a classic from The Beach Boys Love You, an album that I always describe as sounding like “Tom Waits singing Jonathan Richman lyrics, over a background by Bach, played on a Moog set on fart sounds”. This one would make a perfect kids song, and I’m quite surprised it’s never been covered on one of those “Rock songs for kids” type albums like They Might Be Giants make. The middle eight of this is just lovely.
September Gurls by Big Star is unfortunately not the studio version, which isn’t on Spotify, but is a very decent full-band demo which sounds almost identical except for the harmonies. One of the best pop songs ever written.
Rolling Sea by Eliza Carthy is from Rogues Gallery, a compilation of songs about pirates and sea shantys put together by the great Hal Wilner. Anyone who likes good music should check out the compilation, which features everyone from Jarvis Cocker to Richard Thompson to Van Dyke Parks.
Red Wine Promises by Victoria Williams is from an album of cover versions of the songs of Carthy’s late aunt Lal Waterson. Waterson was always an underrated songwriter because her family were so well known as interpreters of traditional song, but some of her stuff is as good as any of the better known songwriters of the British folk movement, and it’s nice to see her getting some recognition, albeit posthumous.
Rain Stops Play by The Duckworth Lewis Method is from the duo’s eponymous album – an album of songs all about cricket, from Neil Hannon and someone I’ve never heard of before. I think the album tries a little too hard to be ‘arch’ and ‘eccentric’ for its own good – it’s the album of people who desperately want to be like Vivian Stanshall or Ivor Cutler, but aren’t, quite. But still, being like Stanshall or Cutler is a laudable aim, and everything on there’s listenable, but I do think this is the best track.
Once I Had A Sweetheart by Pentangle is a lovely little version of the traditional folk song by one of the most interesting bands of the 60s. Also one of the best examples of Jacqui McShee showing what she brought to the band – listen to the way she’s double-tracking herself in very different voices.
Hard Time Killing Floor Blues by Skip James is the second song by a Skip here, but I presume everyone knows this one. But sometimes things become classics for good reason…
The Cruel Sea Captain by Bryan Ferry is absolutely shocking, because you couldn’t imagine a vocal performance further from Do The Strand or In Every Dream Home A Heartache than this wispy, ancient-sounding croak. A really astonishing performance, that almost makes me forgive him for being a fox-hunting aristocrat-suckup Tory arsehole.
The first part of Deserts by Edgard Varese is Varese writing far more conventionally than he usually did – this could almost be Stravinsky or someone of that type – rather than his more extreme atonal electronic music. Zappa fans will note that this was clearly the *koff* ‘inspiration’ for Semi-Fraudulent/Direct From Hollywood Overture from 200 Motels, and indeed to modern ears this sounds like film music, but it was one of Varese’s last major works.
And to finish we have One Track Mind by The Knickerbockers. The Knickerbockers were a one-hit-wonder band in the US whose hit, Lies was such a perfect Beatles soundalike that many people still think it *was* the Beatles (and Holly was surprised just now when I told her they were American). But in fact they were jobbing musicians from New Jersey – Buddy Randell, the singer/saxophone player, had previously been in The Royal Teens (who had a novelty hit with Short Shorts) and their drummer later briefly replaced Bill Medley in The Righteous Brothers – who just managed to sound like whatever was on the radio. One Track Mind is probably a better record than Lies, because it’s less slavishly Beatlesque, though still with very Lennon-sounding vocals. I also like the segue between Varese and this…