This week’s playlist doesn’t have a theme as such, but is just some music I like.
After an introductory snippet, we start with Anyone But You by The Mumps. The Mumps were a late 70s art-rock/punk band led by reality TV star Lance Loud (who takes lead on this) and musician Kristian Hoffman (who sings lead on the middle eight). In this form, this song sounds like a very rough demo for the version on Hoffman’s 2002 duets album &, possibly the best album of the last decade, which is near-identical to this but tighter and with Stew singing Lance Loud’s part (other people Hoffman duets with on the album include Darian Sahanaja, Van Dyke Parks, Russel Mael, Rufus Wainwright and El Vez). Unfortunately, Hoffman’s solo work is not yet on Spotify, but this will give some idea of how it sounds. But buy Hoffman’s album, seriously. Best album of the last ten years.
Where Have You Been All My Life? by Arthur Alexander is, shamefully, the only track by the great soul singer on Spotify (not only that, he’s not on eMusic either – a definite argument for the continued existence of CDs). Alexander is mostly known now for his influence on British bands like the Beatles (who covered many of his songs live) or the Stones, but he really deserves much more recognition.
I’ve had a minor obsession with the Threepenny Opera since LOEG: Century was released a few months ago, especially Pirate Jenny. I usually listen to the version by Nina Simone because she interprets the English version of the lyrics best, but Lotte Lenya singing it with Kurt Weill’s original orchestration is the definitive version in the original German.
Suzy Creamcheese by Teddy & His Patches is not, strangely, a cover of the Zappa song, but a totally different song, obviously inspired by the spoken bit and percussion jams at the end of Freak Out! but sounding far more like the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, with a bit of the Count Five thrown in. A marvellous garage rave-up.
Lady Lynda by The Beach Boys is included because I’ve always felt that Al Jardine was a horribly underrated vocalist – being in a band with Brian and Carl Wilson would let anyone get overlooked, but I actually think he was at least on their level, and while this song (a hit for the band in the UK, written by Jardine about his then-wife, based around Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring) isn’t one of their best, it does really showcase his vocal abilities. In fact more than that – when the ‘live’ album and DVD this is from came out, it was claimed that there were no vocal overdbubs after the fact, in which case (as you can hear here) Jardine must be the only man in the world who can double-track himself live, while simultaneously singing a totally different backing vocal line – sometimes without even moving his lips…
Baby It’s You by The Shirelles is the first of two Bacharach songs on this playlist – in fact the backing track here is Bacharach’s home demo (as you can tell from the dropped-in solo, awkward and out of place). What always gets me about this song is the ‘cheat, cheat’ in the second verse. She knows that ‘what they say about you’ is true, but has chosen to forgive, but not to forget…
Little Miss Britten by Dudley Moore is Moore doing Little Miss Muffet in the style of Britten’s settings of folk songs for Peter Pears. Absolutely *cutting*. Moore never really got to develop his talent for musical comedy after choosing essentially to become Peter Cook’s straight man, but while these early pastiches are a little glib he could easily have become as good as Tom Lehrer or Flanders & Swann in his own right, rather than being the assistant to an even greater genius…
I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself by Dusty Springfield is another Bacharach/David song. This one has been covered by Elvis Costello (where I first heard the song) and The White Stripes, but this is the definitive version. I was reading
someone (Bob Stanley quoted by Jonathan Calder, who I also just realised isn’t on my blogroll, something I will rectify forthwith) recently talking about how at the time, Dusty Springfield was only seen as one of a number of interchangeable vocalists like Cilla Black, Lulu or Sandy Shaw, but now she’s the only one who is still an influence on many, many new singers.
Ride The Wild Surf by Jan & Dean is a fairly formulaic J&D/Brian Wilson early surf song, appaling vocals and all (these records are a lot more dissonant than people remember), but I love the ‘gotta take that one last ride’ hook, the ‘ride ride ride’ at the end of the middle eight (with that throbbing bass staying on one note while the vocals go up and up) and especially the end of the track. Those elements are all things that either Wilson or Jan Berry (probably Wilson) almost certainly lifted from the Beatles (compare the end of every other Jan & Dean or Beach Boys single up to that point, with their fades, to the ‘one-two-three, one-two-three, CHORD!’ ending of both this and I Want To Hold Your Hand).
A Very Cellular Song by The Incredible String Band is a thirteen-minute multi-sectioned song with gospel and folk elements, featuring organ, harpsichord and crumhorn. The album this was on went top ten in 1967… (relistening to this recently, I was annoyed to discover that one of my own new songs bears too much resemblance to this – I’m rewriting it in my head at the moment).
Brother Gorilla (Le Gorille) by Jake Thackray is Thackray’s loose translation of Georges Brassens’ chanson. It actually sounds just like one of Thackray’s own songs – the only clue to it being a translation is the rather forced ‘swinging lissomely out of his cage’ and ‘the judge intoned with tranquility’, both of which have too many syllables for their lines. But how many other songwriters could manage to get ‘paleolithic’ into a song and have it scan? (Incidentally, a warning – this is a comedy song about a hanging judge being raped by a gorilla. Some of you might find it offensive or triggering).
Liebster Jesu, Wir Sind Hier by Dr Albert Schweitzer is, yes, that Albert Schweitzer. As well as his missionary, medical and theological work, for which he’s more widely known, he was also one of the world’s foremost interpreters of Bach on the organ in the early 20th century, even inventing several new mic-positioning techniques for recording Bach more accurately. While this has some surface noise, it’s still a lovely performance.
Wishing Well by The National Pep is one of a very small number of songs where I wrote the words as well as the music (Tilt rewrote two lines of this). In fact the song came to me, words and music, on the bus and I had to scribble it down and work out the chords later – I still can’t actually play it on the guitar, having written it without an instrument. (The last couple of lines were added later, as the bus stopped before I could finish writing, and I still don’t think they fit particularly well). Tilt and our engineer Steve managed to take my tinkly MIDI file (which Gavin R said sounded like the music from Super Mario Brothers when he heard it on its own) and Joe Meek it up enough to be usable (basically they played the MIDI file backwards through a good sampled harpsichord with reverb on it, then reversed the recording, plus a ton of other stuff), and Tilt and Laura Denison provided vocals.
C-H-I-C-K-E-N spells Chicken by The McGee Brothers is another song that some may find offensive – with good reason, as in its very first line it includes two racist epithets. Unfortunately, pre-war rural music like this (a song originally written, I believe, by the phenomenal banjo player Uncle Dave Macon) often has these elements – and I’m very grateful for Van Dyke Parks’ cover of this (unfortunately not on Spotify) for changing those lyrics while preserving the wonderful song itself.
Speaking of cover versions by Van Dyke Parks, Donovan’s Colours is a ragtime-ish instrumental version of Donovan’s 60s hit, with some lovely percussion and cello bits to it. Just gorgeous. Remind me to do several more blog posts about Parks at some point – he’s one of the unsung greats.
And Will You Remember Me by Janet Klein is a lovely little solo performance, just voice and ukulele.