19 July 2011

Whistling Jack Smith - I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman mp3


Whistling Jack Smith - I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman

In 1966 Decca which, the Rolling Stones aside, was something of a stuffy label created a new hip offshoot called Deram. They released intelligent artists like the teenager Cat Stevens, what would come to be known as 'progressive' bands like Procol Harum and The Move, and also some baroque English pop like Honeybus.

In that latter vein they also released the early David Bowie material that everyone cringingly remembers for Laughing Gnome but actually has a lot of worthwhile songs (check out Let Me Sleep Beside You and In The Heat of The Morning for starters). I have to suspect it was those more whimsical A&R folks who agreed to release the Whistling Jack Smith single.

Jack Smith didn't exist. The track was the creation of songwriters and session musicians. There was a huge youth fashion for stuff from the very early 20th century, indeed Sgt Pepper and those Beatle outfits were part of it. The tune is clearly an attempt to sound like First World War soldiers' marching songs, which helped provide the title (Kaiser Bill being Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany at the time of the First World War, batman being not the borderline psychopathic comicbook superhero but the term used for a soldier who is the PA, groom and valet to a high ranking officer). The made-up whistler's name is a play on Whispering Jack Smith, a popular singer from the 1920s.

The real artists were Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, a prolific English songwriting team. They'd written stuff like Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart and You've Got Your Troubles, records with a dark melodramatic edge to their catchy popness. In the 70s they would go on to write I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing for that Coke advert, but try not to hold that against them.

Back in 67 they were clearly arsing around and came up with this infectious daft tune that nonetheless has something strident and hefty to it. It became a huge hit. So how do you promote it?

Up steps the 21 year old Billy Moeller, younger brother of Tommy Moeller, guitarist with Unit 4+2 (and co-writer of their glorious hit Concrete and Clay - check out the comically literalist promo film shot on a building site). A good looking mod about town, he was great on telly and in the mags.

But really, how do you go on TV and do whistling? How do you do it without making it a comedy act?

Really, you're not just miming whistling a novelty tune that goes round and round, but you didn't even have anything to do with making it. Of course you'd cover your deep-set embarrassment with a bit of eye rolling and mugging for the cameras, right?

Watch and admire as Billy gives it gusto and swagger, and pretty much pulls it off.

The monster success of the single spawned an inevitable rush-released album including a cover of 1950s proto ska classic Tom Hark.

download I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman (3.5MB MP3)

And if that's not enough instrumental oddity, try the Ram Jam Band's corking reggae version of I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman, or this momentarily amusing moog version.

12 December 2010

The Flirtations - Nothing But A Heartache mp3

DM216 (45-DEM-85038 in the USA)

The Flirtations - Nothing But A Heartache

Right from the opening two notes of the hard dark intro you know this is going to be a heavy deep drive of a tune.

The Flirtations were a genuine black American soul band who'd translocated to London. Back in the US they'd won a Supremes soundalike competition, but the lead vocal on Nothing But A Heartache is a world away from Diana Ross' velvet simper. It's a strong, solid brick wall of delivery that's perfectly suited to the brass punch of the production.

The producer was Wayen Bickerton, who co-wrote the song with Tony Waddington. This duo would squander their talent but rake in the dosh by writing all that Bay City Rollers/Showaddywaddy style twaddle for the Rubettes in the 70s (though any reasonable person is still in awe of that high voice at the start of Sugar Baby Love, almost as much as the packet-tastic kecks they wore presumably to facilitate hitting the aforementioned run of high notes).

Nothing But A Heartache, though, is a long way from all that. A dense, dynamic soul corker like the toughest end of Motown's tunes, it's nonetheless got something of a British production to it, that plucking bass sound (bass amplification was just being invented), falling-down-a-stairwell drums and epic pop-soul vibe that we heard on stuff like Love Affair's Everlasting Love (for an illustration of what a fabulous bombastic difference the production makes, compare Love Affair's version with the Robert Knight original).

Despite not being a hit, Nothing But A Heartache became the title track of the Flirtations album (Deram, DES-18028) in 1969.

At once ominous and euphoric, it passes that best of Northern Soul tests; when it finishes there's nothing you want more than to hear it again immediately. As long as nobody makes you incongruously dance about on the remains of a 12th century Welsh abbey's pillars while you sing along.

download Nothing But A Heartache (3.9MB MP3)

02 November 2010

The King on Long Play - Gregg 'The King' Peters mp3

Reelin & Rockin (USA)

The King On Long Play cover

Elsewhere I once said

Sometimes Youtube lets you down. There are all these recent performances of people doing their classics from decades ago, lacking the power of the original. Yet to the uninitiated, and to the future, these pedestrian geriatric videos will become what we were excited about.

It's recently struck me that for Elvis this actually happened before the internet. Since the 80s, Elvis impersonators have all gone for the rhinestone jumpsuited 70s Vegas Elvis. If that's all Elvis had been nobody would ever have paid any attention to him.

Several years ago I went off on one about precisely this point.

The thing that gets me is that all the Elvis impersonators are 70s Elvis in flared catsuits and shades.

Elvis hit so hard because he was a fiery pioneer. This was a guy who went round in a pink shirt and bolero jacket - clothes that'd draw flak in contemporary cosmopolitan environments - when he was an unknown teenager in the postwar Deep South.

Elvis took all the dark, brooding libidinous rhythm and outsiderness of the blues and added the tension that only white culture's repression can generate. This incendiary hybrid is the basis of rock n roll. Elvis served it up with explosive sexuality and dynamic power that swept away all that came before it.

The young Elvis' swaggering kinetic energy is impossible to imitate. So feeble unimaginative twats devoid of talent do an 'Elvis impression' by putting on a rhinestone studded romper suit and going uh-huh-huh. It makes Showaddywaddy look like authentic rock n roll.

The prevalence of these half-arsed half-brained tosspots shifts the popular notion of what Elvis was. We've seen so much of this that it's come to be the first image in our minds when his name gets mentioned.

Just like Grease, this lame light entertainment disconnects us from the fire and fury, the passion and drive of rock n roll. A social revolution is morphed into predicatable entertainment, mild amusement at stale cliches; everything rock n roll came to save us from in the first place.

Look at this and tremble, then. It's straight outta Brooklyn from 1981, one 12 inch slab of clear vinyl, two teeth-gratingly clumsy disco medlies of Elvis songs.

Gregg 'The King' Peters doesn't bode well at first glance. I couldn't help noticing that he has two Gs in the name just like the marginally less wrong Old Gregg, and even on the badly photocopied sleeve he looks nothing like Elvis. Then the needle hits the plastic and he ritually slaughters Presley classics in the manner of a Vic Reeves pub singer with the added tremolo of a man driving a tractor sideways over a rutted field with lead weights tied round his conkers.

Their claim to be 'on long play' is immediately undermined by the bold capitals on the cover saying EXTENDED PLAY SINGLE. Mind you, small mercies and all that. Ten minutes of this crime against ears is twenty minutes too long. An actual LP of this bowel-tremblingly inept cackfest is an unthinkable abomination that was edited out of the draft of the Book of Revelations on grounds of decency.

Catalogue number is RR-1003, implying it's the third record from Reelin and Rockin. What the hell else had these taste-free fuckers released?

Of course, it could be a ruse like they do in the porn movie industry of making something appear good enough to warrant a sequel. If you call your movie Transsexual Horse Lover 2 (a real title, by the way) it implies there was an earlier one that was so good that they made another.

Incidentally, is that a transsexual who loves horses? Or a lover of transexual horses?

Frankly, a bestial transsexual or indeed a transsexual horse could do a better Elvis record than this.

download The King On Long Play - Rock Songs (9.7MB MP3)

For those masochists among you for whom this isn't painful enough, leave me your email address and I'll send you the MP3 of the even worse B-side, a 5 minute long 126bpm medley of Elvis love songs.

15 September 2010

James & Bobby Purify - Let Love Come Between Us mp3

Bell (USA)

James & Bobby Purify - Let Love Come Between Us

Kinnell, I feel like I've overslept by hours and come stumbling out of the house still clambering into my clothes with a piece of toast hanging out of my mouth. It's been a long long time since I put summat up here. Promise I won't leave it anything like so long next time.

James and Bobby Purify are best known in the UK for their only hit here, the heartmelting sweeping swoony soul of I'm Your Puppet. Many years earlier they did this springy, sprightly, shiny uplifting Northern Soul corker. It's another one of those exuberant Northern Soul tunes, like Do I Love You by Frank Wilson or The Tams' Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy, that give me an instant sunshine grin.

Time to clear the furniture and click your fingers as you show the floor what your booty's for.

download Let Love Come Between Us (3.7MB MP3)

09 April 2010

Tom Robinson - Glad To Be Gay 79 mp3


A long time ago I posted another track from this album, Pete Townshend's acoustic version of Won't Get Fooled Again.

I explained then:

The Secret Policeman's Ball was a comedy/music fundraiser for Amnesty International. The four shows at Her Majesty's Theatre, London ran on consecutive days from 27th-30th June 1979. Two live albums came out from the gigs, one comedy one music.

Performers included Peter Cook, Rowan Atkinson, Billy Connolly and most of the Monty Python team for the comics, and Pete Townshend, Tom Robinson, Neil Innes and John Williams in the muso corner.

Tom Robinson performed on the last night, 30th June 1979, at the end of a varied month. On the 1st, his birthday, he'd performed in America on Tom Robinson Band's final tour. For Gay Pride Week, 18-23 June, he'd done a run of shows with jazzier arrangements of gay songs, released on the album Cabaret 79.

I suggested in that post of the Townshend track that I might do a Glad To Be Gay month here, posting all the various versions of the song that Robinson's done over the years. It is such a bold, pioneering song, so brazen and angry and militant, a stance simply without precedent in popular culture.

Well I've gone one better than a series of posts here. I've done a whole Glad To Be Gay website that's just gone live this week. It has all the versions, explains the references in the lyrics, MP3s, streaming audio, and a big interview with Tom about it all.

Robinson always saw the song more as campaigning journalism than art, and frequently updated the lyrics. There's no point in saying 'make sure your boyfriend's at least 21' in these days of an equal age of consent of 16. Other things would come along, like the Spanner trial, rampant tabloid homophobia and, especially, the onset of Aids.

There have been at least ten versions officially released, but for me the Secret Policeman's Ball one stands out in particular. It always had a special intensity, a laser focus and venom to it, but I didn't know why until I interviewed Robinson.

It's a quality you hear better on the record. In the video, his visual acknowledgement of the warm response from the audience - clapping along, singing on the chorus - tempers the impact. Until, that is, he gets to a verse reinstated after being cut from earlier versions of the song; here the video becomes more intense than the record.

Have you heard the story about Peter Wells
Who one day was arrested and dragged to the cells
For being in love with a man of 18
The vicar found out they’d been having a scene
The magistrates sent him for trial by the Crown
He even appealed but they still sent him down
He was only mistreated a couple of years
Cos even in prison they look after the queers

It's this verse that is the reason for the power of this version. Tom was furious that Amnesty asked him - the most prominent gay rock star - to perform for them even though they refused to acknowledge gay prisoners as human rights cases.

He explained

What happened to Peter Wells was a genuine scandal and a reason to be very fucking angry. But, specifically with the Secret Policeman’s Ball, Amnesty had ruled that gays did not count as political prisoners and therefore they didn’t support gay prisoners. That’s why I was singing it and that’s why I was so angry, because I was singing it to an Amnesty audience. Hence the venom. Amnesty asked me to come and perform, OK, well have this then.

download Glad To Be Gay 79 (6.3MB MP3)

Just to be clear, Amnesty now actively supports the human rights of LGBT people.

If you want me to send you the other Robinson track on this album, 1967 (Seems So Long Ago), leave your email address in the Comments.

= = = = = =


As his career as a broadcaster and standard bearer for new music on BBC 6Music has taken off, his touring has declined. So it's something of a rare treat to have Tom perform a one-off concert at Shepherd's Bush Empire in London on his 60th birthday, 1st June.

There'll be an extensive set from Tom and band with assorted guests like TV Smith. As he hurtles towards retirement age he's called the gig - what else? - Glad To Be Grey.

Tickets are £15. You can get them online via the gig's site. If you go in person to any O2 Academy box office and pay cash, you get them without any of the ripoff booking fees.

Tom Robinson birthday gig

17 March 2010

Fuzzbox - XX Sex EP mp3


Fuzzbox - XX Sex EP

People try to tell you that the 80s was all Thatcherite greed and squeaky corporate Stock Aitken Waterman pop. Yet far more people were listening to Crass than making millions off privatisation. Still more were putting money in the collection buckets for the miners strike.

It's this 80s that spawned Fuzzbox (as they were always known due to their full name - We've Got A Fuzzboz And We're Gonna Use It - being too unwieldy for anyone to use).

As a teenager at the time, this first EP of theirs hit me like an amphetamine pessary. The songs were rough and playful, sleazy and aggressive, assertive and boisterous, big-hearted and defiant. I played the opening song, XX Sex, over and over and genuinely thought I might have found the greatest track ever recorded.

These were simple shambolic and heavy riffs. Like the Jesus and Mary Chain's seminal album Psychocandy a year earlier, they took classic pop structure and layered it with distortion.

Unlike the Mary Chain, this was four women conscious of having something to say. It wasn't from a swanky London major but on some provincial indie label. Their songs addressed sexism yet, like Strawberry Switchblade before them, they eschewed the brand of feminism that saw dressing up as a sop to male desire. It's no coincidence that the EP was issued with some copies on pink vinyl, some on blue.

They exuberantly self-defined even as they declared that they were still searching for who they were. More than anyone else, Fuzzbox paved the way for the Riot Grrl bands of the early 90s, yet unlike some of those they never got pretentious.

Fuzzbox - XX Sex EP

They got in there, made their point and fucked off. No noodling about. The longest song on the EP is short of three minutes. The other three clock in at under two minutes each. This was all the integrity of punk with a new pop effervescence.

Ignore their corporate makeover and plasticised comeback attempt a couple of years later. This is the real fucking deal.

download XX Sex (2.7MB MP3)

download Do I Want To? (2.6MB MP3)

download Rules and Regulations (4.2MB MP3)

download She (1.8MB MP3)

05 February 2010

The Rattles - Zip a Dee Doo Dah mp3

BF 1277 345617PF

The Rattles - Zip a Dee Doo Dah

A vintage Merseybeat style version of Zip a Dee Doo Dah? What more could you want in life?

And this is no twee Freddie and The Dreamers stuff, it's got that tough, bright, raucous jubilance of the Swinging Blue Jeans' Hippy Hippy Shake or I Want To Hold Your Hand.

Such is their beat music proficiency that you'd never know they were in fact German, they've got that transatlantic thing down perfectly.

It's no surprise, because The Rattles cut their teeth on the same hard Hamburg rock n roll circuit as the Beatles, and were the first German band to get a contract at the Star Club where the Beatles forged that punchy buoyant post-Chuck Berry rock n roll sound.

Zip a Dee Doo Dah is actually the B-side of The Stomp ('Stompin, oh yeah, Stompin...'), a track that sounds like you imagine it does. This track, though, is the one most likely to get you out of your chair and bouncing round the room.

After this they had a Thamesmen-to-Spinal Tap style makeover, and then came their only international success, a ploddy single called The Witch in 1970. And, like the Tap, they're still going.

download Zip a Dee Doo Dah (3.3MB MP3)