27 December 2005

Tom Robinson - Truce (live)

Well haven't I been the slackest of music bloggers this month. Damn me and my inability to share the hidden musical gems I have. I had this plan to do a bunch of great lesser-known christmas songs - The Cocteau Twins' Frosty The Snowman, The Dickies' Silent Night, The Greedies' A Merry Jingle and others - but it's just all been too hectic and I'm sadly finding that when I get busy Dust On The Stylus is the first thing to suffer.

Still, one festive one's making it up here. As I've left it till after christmas I thought I'd go for something a little sharper than most seasonal songs. A strong candidate was Legendary Pink Dots' Government Health Warning. Set to out of tune playing of the chords of Paul McCartney's Wonderful Christmastime, the lyrics deal with that age old tradition, drunken car crashes:

They followed stars
and drank in bars
and wrapped their cars
round lamp-posts
as the posters whistled "Think before you drink!"
They didn't!

Toasted ghosts in different angles
tangled up in metal
as the cameras clicked and stretchers rolled
and sheets were laid out white.

It's Christmas.
Happy birthday Christ.
Let's have another drink!
Fa la la la la....

Great as it is, I've plumped for Tom Robinson's Truce. Like Government Health Warning there's an ascerbic tinge giving it a refreshing knowingness that makes the point with dark wit.

It's a motif common in Robinson's political songs, giving them all the power of the uncompromising protest song but with an additional under-no-illusions clarity borne of having tried and failed and thus seen how big the dissenter's task is, yet still being just as big-hearted and determined to try.

Glad To Be Gay, one of his earliest political songs, is still the giant among his works. There had been no out-and-proud rock star before him, let alone one so militant.

Even today, it's not easy. When Jonathan King got seven years for having sex with teenage boys in the early 1970s, one had to wonder if the same treatment would've been dished out if it was Mick Jagger fucking girls. King was treated harsher cos of the differences, namely he's ugly, he's a smartarse, but mostly because he's gay.

Robbie Williams, a man who's flirted with a homo-friendly image for ages, recently sued The People and a couple of other idiot gossip rags for alleging he'd had gay sex.

Of course, a newspaper should not make false allegations and when it does it should be punished.

But again, I doubt the newspaper would've been prosecuted if they'd wrongly alleged Williams had had sex with women. Certainly, in asking for an apology for 'the injury and distress caused', he's made it clear that he regards allegations of being gay is derogatory to his character.

In 1979 after the split of the modestly named Tom Robinson Band, Tom did a gig of gay songs to mark the 10th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. He mixed his own songs with some great covers - notably Noel Coward's Mad About The Boy, which the 'Noel wasn't gay, really he wasn't' Coward estate refused to allow men to cover.

Among the Robinson originals were several that were never released in studio versions. Prime among these is Truce, a solo acoustic guitar and vocal number with all the yearning, wit, bite and boldness of Robinson's best work.

The live tape was released in 1982 as Cabaret 79 (Panic Records, NIC2), and then - the place I've lifted it from - reissued in 1997 as part of Robinson's excellent Castaway Records reissue series with quality rare bonus tracks thrown in (Castaway, CNWVP003CD).


Truce, call a truce
Stop all the firing and the fighting
Christmas morning, 1914
What would the good Lord say?

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the shelling and the shooting
Froehliche Weinacht Kamerad, Freundschaft
Let's all be friends for a day

In the man made hell
In the putrescent smell
In the mines and mud and trenches
The men from the Rhine
Crossed over the line
For a truce with the Tommies and the Frenchies

But the very next day
There were hand grenades
There was gunfire, gassing and slaughter
As we blasted the Hun
To Kingdome Come
With machine guns, shelling and mortars

It was nice to pretend
We could all live as friends
With the Christmas angels calling
But the dream turned sour
In a matter of hours
And we made it all up in the morning

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the bitching and backbiting
Who'd leave their lover
Or send in the bailiffs
This one day of the year?

Truce, call a truce
Stop all the sackings and the stealing
Who'd rape a schoolgirl
Or cut off someone's pension
And spoil all this Christmas cheer?

There's a couple of days
When the bashers of gays
Who oppress, arrest and charge us
All leave us alone
To return back home
For a truce with our mothers and our fathers

But the very next day
It's back to the fray
And setting our homes in order
Bashing lesbian mothers
And underage lovers
Disowning gay sons and daughters

Well it's quaint to pretend
We can love our fellow men
With the Christmas angels calling
But the dream turns sour
In a matter of hours
And they make it all up in the morning

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

Incidentally, Robinson has released about a dozen versions of Glad To Be Gay. Determined not to let it become a museum piece he's updated it frequently - e.g. jettisoning the bit about the older age of consent, adding bits about AIDS and topical cases - and the altered versions have cropped up on loads of b-sides and compilation albums. It'd be cool to maybe do a fortnight of posting all the different versions on this blog or something, if it's wanted. Anyone think it'd be a good idea?

28 November 2005

Rolling Stones - Exile On Main Street flexi


For those unfamiliar with the format, a flexidisc was a 7inch record pressed on very thin plastic. The sound quality was rubbish to start with, even before it picked up the creases inevitable to such a thin item, but it was enough to give the listener a decent enough clue to the music, and it was cheap and light making it ideal for give-aways.

One such give-away was the flexi that came with the 29th April 1972 edition of New Musical Express.

On one side was some tosh by Curved Air and something called Blind Alley by Fanny, whoever the hell they were. It's the stuff on the other side we're concerned with.

Two weeks before the release of Exile On Main Street, here were excerpts of four tracks (All Down The Line, Tumbling Dice, Shine A Light and Happy), linked by a track called Exile On Main Street Blues. This song is a slow piano boogie with Jagger singing a lyric that strings together a load of the titles of the album tracks. It's a great little oddity, and as far as I know it's never been officially reissued anywhere.

I've put up two MP3s - one's the full flexi, and on the other I've cut out the album tracks so it's a splicing together of Exile On Main Street Blues on its own.

[MP3s deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!]

10 November 2005

The Colourfield - The Colourfield & Sorry


The Colourfield are best remembered for the hit Thinking Of You, and its follow-up Castles In The Air. Both songs set Terry Hall's trademark deadpan vocal against airy pretty pop tunes.

But their eponymous debut single was another thing altogether. Hard, dark, brooding, ominous, with a bleak, almost paranoid lyric, it still had one foot firmly in the Fun Boy Three camp. The difference between the bands lies in the guitarryness of The Colourfield, which manifests on this track as a hard Bunnymenish edge.

Constantly pushing forward, sinister and urgent, unlike anything else they ever did, it's a truly magnificent single.

The B-side, Sorry, is a failed-relationship song, and was re-recorded for the Virgins And Philistines album. More typical of what the band would become, it is really too good to have been tucked away on a B-side.

Incidentally, I went to see The Colourfield at Liverpool University on the Virgins & Philistines tour. Hall was as dour and miserable as you'd imagine him to be, and then some. He introduced the album's title track as 'Virgins & Fill-me-arse', and sang the first verse of Thinking Of You as 'I guess you kind of ought to know I ought to be having a shit / But friendship built on trust means everyone gets on my tits'. Miserable bugger.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

28 October 2005

Brendan Perry - Happy Time


Sorry for the gap between postings. I had this weird dream where I was in a smallish theatre watching Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen, and me and about 20 other members of the audience got out of our seats and went down the front to dance. We were really giving it some, the tune finished then they went into Under Pressure.

I've no idea what significance there is in dreaming a British trad jazz trumpeter playing Under Pressure (please leave any suggestions in the Comments), but it has been quite unsettling.

Actually, it's got nothing to do with the gap in postings, but I just wanted to mention it. Wouldn't you if it had happened to you?

So, enough of this hoo-hah, let's get on with some sublime music.

This is the gorgeous Happy Time, the opening track from Tim Buckley's 1969 album Blue Afternoon, covered by the bloke from Dead Can Dance.

Brendan retains the soaring sweetness of the song but lends it his trademark Moses-esque gravity.

It was relased on 4AD Presents The 13 Year Itch. 4AD was a hell of a label for weirdness and peculiar releases. There was the time Cocteau Twins had an album's worth of stuff but released it on two EPs of four tracks each in consecutive weeks.

There's the This Mortal Coil project, where assorted mixes of 4AD musicians record covers and stuff.

There was Lonely Is An Eyesore, a compilation with companion video, which had a limited edition box set of both items and some artwork. Not a 12 inch cardboard box, a big fat wooden thing with an engraved lid and dovetail joints and stuff. Mental.

The 13 Year Itch was put together to celebrate 4AD's 13th birthday. It was released for one week in July 1993 before being deleted, and even then only 2,000 copies were pressed. All tracks are unique to the compilation.

Which is a crying shame, as Happy Time alone would justify massive sales. Bright, bubbling, sweeping, liberated joy. Glorious.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

29 September 2005

Billy Bragg & Dick Gaughan - The Red Flag


Billy Bragg's wonderful 1988 album Worker's Playtime contains many of his best relationship songs - The Short Answer, Must I Paint You A Picture, Valentine's Day Is Over, The Price I Pay - all articulating emotional misfirings of various kinds with eloquence, wit and incisive melancholic grace.

But touring in the USA afterwards Bragg met Pete Seeger, one of the original Wody Guthrie era protest singers who, though aged nearly 70 at that time, still fighting as hard as ever.

The arresting effect on Bragg meant the next record came out without the luscious arrangements, the heartbreaks or the kitchen sink drama, but with a brisk and potent shout of political intent.

The Internationale is mostly covers, with Billy looking around the world and - a clear decade ahead of others - looking to home and singing Jerusalem as an inclusive anthem. This is the first time I ever saw it claimed as anything other than repugnant English jingoism.

Jerusalem had long been put alongside songs of racist shite like Land of Hope and Glory. Or Rule Britannia which declares that Britons never shall be slaves. That song was written at a time when slavery was a cornerstone of our national modus operandi. It isn't merely declaring that we are too good for slavery; it says that the subjugation we gladly inflict on others must never be inflicted on us. Remember that next time anyone tells you Last Night At The Proms is harmless patriotic fun.

But Jerusalem is something different. It doesn't declare us to be better than anyone simply because we're from round here. It says this land is fucked over by the industrialists, that we have work to do to improve it, and we must never stop making this a better place for us and those who follow after.

It was a bold, audacious move, to play it straight and sweet, in a manner not dissimilar to Roddy Frame's reading of The Red Flag.

Which is where we get on board with Billy. He teamed up with Scottish political folkster Dick Gaughan - whose Think Again he'd covered on the B-side of Levi Stubb's Tears in 1986 - and recorded The Red Flag set to its original tune; not the grand hymnal plod we know, but a jaunty Celtic jig.

As the sleevenote explained;

The Red Flag was written in December 1889 by Jim Connell, an Irishman. Inspired by the London dock strike he wrote the song on a train journey between Charing Cross and New Cross stations setting the lyrics to the old Jacobite air The White Cockade.

It immediately became popular with socialist singers throughout Britain but for some reason the tune was changed in 1895 to Tannenbaum, the version sung by the Labour Party to this day. Connell was outraged, claiming that the new tune murdered his lyrics. Here we have restored the original, a sprightly reel not a funereal dirge.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

26 September 2005

Aztec Camera - The Red Flag


It's the Labour Party Conference this week, so I'm posting two versions of its founding anthem, now an anachronistic call to socialism whose lyrics have about as much relevance to the modern Labour Party as Motorhead's version of Louie Louie.

First up is Aztec Camera's version, from the B-side of the How Men Are single. This comes from a funny time, the mid-late 1980s when Thatcher was winning her third election, hopes of nuclear disarmament were crushed underfoot, a majority of British teenagers believed they would die in a nuclear war, the miners had been broken and with them went, for all time, any real hope of strength in trade unions.

But these worries and struggles had galvanised those of us who opposed. Flailing around in the cess-tides of monetarist greed and arrogance, emboldened by the resilience and comradeship we saw among the miners and their supporters, there was this widespread feeling that somehow socialism was an imminent off-the-peg answer and - even more implausibly - Neil Kinnock's Labour Party would deliver it.

It's easy to look back now and see those times as the abandonment of the socialist dream, as Labour deliberately letting the miners be beaten, as the germination of the Blair tory-lite nightmare, that the old flags were tired and that the party should have ended conference with a chorus of 'we'll sing the red flag once a year'.

But back then, for many, that's where genuine hope lay. Worthy, intelligent people like The Smiths, Jerry Dammers, Tom Robinson, Paul Weller and, er, Bananarama signed up to Red Wedge, a sort of Labour Rock The Vote thing.

And Aztec Camera, hardly the most political band, recorded this version of The Red Flag. On the B-side of the strong, wise yet understated How Men Are, this simple piano and vocal version of The Red Flag shows off that wonderful purity and yearning in Roddy Frame's voice, that dry, plaintive yet consoling lightness and honesty he does so well, removing all the bombast and mumble usually associated with the song.

[mp3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

20 September 2005

The Three O'Clock - In Love In Too & Lucifer Sam

fan club only 45

Right, a while ago I posted a couple of tracks by The Three O'Clock, a fabulous shimmery sunny Rickenbacker psych-pop band from early 80s California.

I mentioned then that I'd got a couple of really rare tracks, and if anyone was interested then to leave a comment and I'd take that as a nudge to post them.

But no, nobody did ask.

A few days ago that post got a comment at last, and from someone fortunate enough to catch them on their support tour with REM in 1985.

I read about that at the time, and it was a total dream ticket for me, my two favourite bands on the same bill. Over here we got no-marks called Grown Up Strange supporting REM in 85, while the Three O'Clock only played one UK gig ever as far as I know. And I wasn't there.

Anyway, despite not being asked for them, here are those very rare tracks. They're the two sides of a fan club only 7-inch issued in 1983, and as far as I know haven't been issued anywhere else.

In Love In Too is another one from the band's songwriting team of Quercio/Gutierrez, and Lucifer Sam is a cover of the Syd-era Pink Floyd classic.

The production values aren't as good as the proper releases, but never mind the lavish sonics, feel the rarity.

[mp3s deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

09 September 2005

The Style Council - Headstart For Happiness


The lazy simplistic critique of Paul Weller’s career says The Jam were great, The Style Council were shit and the solo stuff’s OK but a bit boring. And that’s complete bollocks. He’s done genius and rubbish throughout his career.

Despite The Jam’s punk frenzy, The Style Council had his most political lyrics and also some tremendous euphoric joy-of-life songs. Headstart For Happiness is one of my favourite things ever recorded. This version was done as an extra track for the B-side of the Money Go Round 12 inch.

It was laid down so soon after it was written that you can clearly hear that Weller’s performing it in the same mood that it was written in. There was a later version recorded with a full band for the Cafe Bleu album, but it's heavy, clunky and lacks the bubbling joy of this take.

The shine, the looseness of the fingerclicks and handclaps, the flying-free feeling are so contagious, and the giddy effervescent sparkling lyrics of new found love have a matching wonderful irrepressible carefree abandon to them.

The positivity and love in the words describing coming together after a week apart from a person who sets your heart aflame and who makes everything go wild and make sense all at the same time are exactly how I feel right now.

Here she is - how could anyone not fall in love with her?

She's the one on the left, I hasten to add.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

29 August 2005

Pixies - Hey (live in London 1988)

Sounds Machine 1 EP

I was down the front at the Pixies perfomance at the Leeds Festival on Sunday, and fuck me but they rocked like a bag of badgers.

All that bristling jagged power, all that noise and volatile fury, yet delivered with such effortless grace.

They wisely went for a set drawn mainly from Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. Whilst the other two albums have their moments, and the B-sides are great, it's those two and a half albums that really shine out, music that grabs your ears and shakes them like a ketchup bottle with a stubborn half inch left at the bottom.

The dark lunatic energy saturates it all - the Charles Manson and David Lynch connections are entirely appropriate - yet at the same time it feels like the chassis is made of early 60s Beach Boys surf tunes, all big bright bouncing choruses and simplistic basslines.

And whilst you really would never have thought them as a band of real showmanship - and doubly so in their present middle-aged 75% slaphead incarnation - special mention must be made of Joey Santiago's wigouts.

On Vamos he was wah-ing away, then just unplugged the guitar and touching his thumb to the live lead carried on making noise. Plugging the guitar back in he thrashes away further before placing the guitar on a stand and holding up a hand as David Lovering, without missing a beat, throws a drumstick which Joey catches and gives it a right old Jimmy Page bowing for several minutes, blistering sonic assault spewing out over Francis' insistent acoustic rhythm. That done, he throws the stick back, David justs lifts his hand and - again without missing a beat - brings the stick back into play. Mental!

It's been said that only a couple of thousand people bought the Velvet Underground before about 1985, but every one of them formed a band. It's good to see Pixies, another band whose influence exceeds their commercial success, getting what they deserve at last too.

I have a dusty pile of various artists 7 inches, and most of them are things that came free with late 1980s music papers. In a foolish non-cost-effective way to prop up their flagging sales figures, Melody Maker gave away an EP. None of those muffly flexidiscs, a proper bit of hard vinyl of exclusive tracks by bands you'd like to hear more of.

To keep up, NME and Sounds followed suit. Having painted themselves into a corner, MM did even more. And so it spiralled until Sounds went bust.

In a last bit of poor judgement on the part of Sounds, in 1988 they realised that people were buying an EP'ed music paper as a one-off so they did the Sounds Machine series of three or four EPs consecutive weeks in the desperate hope you'd just get into the habit of buying their second-rate metal obsessed rag.

The first one came out, if memory serves, in autumn 1988. Those of us in what was still called 'alternative' bands had all got deeply into Surfer Rosa by this point. We could feel our creative output being pulled onwards by that album.

It is hard now to convey the anticipation we had at the idea of a new Pixies track, exceeded only by the shock at actually hearing the thing.

Hey, recorded live during their support set for Throwing Muses at the Town & Country Club in London on 1 May 1988, was from another world entirely. The slow build of the first third of it, the anguished electric guitar, was this what all the next album was to be like?

It was months and months of waiting, and I was there in Street Records in Southport on the morning of release to pick up my advance-ordered copy of Doolittle, an album that still amazes, energises, challenges and inspires as much now as it did that day.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

24 August 2005

The Colourfield - Windmills of Your Mind


Take was their second single, following on from the blinding Fun Boy Three-esque eponymous debut (which I really should post here some time soon). Tucked away on the B-side of the 12 inch was this cover of Windmills of Your Mind.

Originally done in 1969 by British actor Noel Harrison (son of Rex, father of Cathryn), who ran a parallel careeer as a singer in the mid-late 60s, having several hits in the US but just the one in the UK. The song was from the movie The Thomas Crown Affair, and picked up an Oscar for Best Original Song.

The score for the movie, and the music for the song, were written by Michel Legrand, a French musician who started out playing with jazz giants like John Coltrane and Miles Davis before getting into film scores. He has a tremendous talent for sweeping melancholic moods, and nowhere is it better illustated than on this composition.

The lyric was co-written by Alan and Marilyn Bergman who had written ratpack schmaltz like Nice n Easy, but this lyric is something else altogether. A swirl of imagery, like it somehow manages to follow an absent-minded train of thought, cycles and transience with a hint of the maudlin, it trips so lightly over a feeling of isolation and broken love that should by rights be much heavier. A truly astonishing piece of songwriting.

Terry Hall's flat, almost dour tone that overlies his clear intelligence and sensitivity make him as perfect a match for the song as the lyric is for the music.

A fair bit of vinyl crackle on this one, sorry.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

15 August 2005

Willie Lindo - Norwegian Wood


Willie was part of the Lindo dynasty, a Jamaican muso family who litter recordings from the country to this day. The full title is A Darker Shade of Black (Norwegian Wood). I presume it's some kind of reference to ethnicity, but even if that is the case it's still somewhat baffling.

It's from the 'rare and unreleased' disc of the Muzik City box set, a 4-CD retrospective of the mighty Trojan label.

It's one of those labels like Motown where you wonder how the hell they recorded so many complete masterpieces in such a short space of time.

The Motown Connoisseurs series shows that there's rare and unreleased stuff as good as the classics we all know, and the fact that the first two discs of Muzik City are killer no filler, yet only half of it is on the double CD greatest hits compilation Young Gifted & Black shows some powerful creative magic was at work with these people too.

Trojan's back catalogue has been bought up by an active reissue company, and they're doing a sterling job. Particularly laudable is the 3-CD Ganja Reggae Box Set, fifty reggae tracks about cannabis. There is surely only one genre of music that can generate a title like Babylon Don't Touch My Sensi (Dub version).

There's a great warmth, a wonderful organic texture to these recordings that is inimicable. Everyone thought Lee Mavers from The La's was a nutter for wanting to make their eponymous debut album strictly on vintage 1960s gear, but the fact is he was on to something.

Contemporary technology has brought us many wonders in music, yet we have actually lost the ability to make records that sound like they used to. The slightly muddy tinge to these productions blends the music so it doesn't sound polished or synthetic in any way, and that grants a certain kind of richness of atmosphere that can't be got now.

Coupled with this is, despite many sides being cut with the UK pop market somewhere in mind, the tremendous looseness of the musicians recording it. Used to working fast they didn't labour it, but there's an overall ease of approach, a bright warm vibe that just doesn't crop up anywhere in rock n roll or white music in general up to then.

These records were made with an attitude simply incomprehensible to those with the European obsession with melody, and it would've been impossible to capture in the boffin atmosphere of mainstream British recording studios of the time.

Reminiscing about his studio techniques of the era, Lee Scratch Perry said, 'It was only four tracks on the machine, but I was picking up twenty from the extra terrestrial squad.'

Which I think ably illustrates the fundamental difference between himself and Stock Aitken and Waterman.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

03 August 2005

Madness - Un Paso Adelante

(Spain only)

Been a while since I blogged one of those inexplicable foreign language re-recordings.

So here's One Step Beyond, with that periodic vocal part re-recorded in Spanish.


[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

26 July 2005

Nick Drake - Blossom & Richard Hewson versions

Nick Drake made music that is as good as music can get.

As I've said elsewhere,

His work is holy, haunting, enveloping, wise, mystical, graceful and complete. It can float over you on a balmy summer's evening making you feel like a petal spinning on a warm breeze, and yet be right in there with you articulating your thoughts on the darkest of lonely nights.

It goes right into you now and yet - and this is the real magic - it somehow feels just as much in you even when you change, it sort of becomes part of you and grows with you. It achieves what the greatest art achieves, it makes us feel understood, it shows us new ways to see, it informs and affirms.

Nick Drake's potent legacy only increases its power as time goes by. He was so unnoticed at the time that there was only one interview done, and there is no video footage of him at all (except for family cine film of him on a beach as a child).

Most dead musicians have had their back catalogue plundered, and whilst Drake's has been comparitively well handled, it's still left a lot to be desired.

The 1979 box set Fruit Tree was subtitled 'the complete works'. It was nothing of the sort.

The 1985 box set, confusingly also titled Fruit Tree, included a new out-takes album Time of No Reply that added ten new tracks to the canon (three new versions, seven completely unreleased songs). Sadly this one has been allowed to go out of print.

Last year's Made To Love Magic was something of a letdown. It gave us seven new tracks, and six lifted straight from Time of No Reply. When the combined tracks would fit on one CD, leaving half of Time of No Reply deleted was inexcusable; equally, making Drake heads splash out on an album they'd already got half of was a swindle. It's made worse when you know there are great songs of Nick's that have never been released.

Fortunately there's the rather pricey but extremely comprehensive Time Has Told Me bootleg CD. Here's three tracks from it.

Blossom is a Drake composition, from a home tape predating his studio work, probably early 1968. The intricate guitar style, warm vocal tone, use of nature imagery and metaphor, and the bittersweet emotional terrain are all already there.

The other two are Richard Hewson's arrangements. He was hired to arrange several tracks on Nick's debut Five Leaves Left, but the versions were rejected and Nick convinced the production team to get his friend Robert Kirby in instead.

The only arrangement of Hewson's to officially see the light of day was I Was Made To Love Magic on Time of No Reply. The others were rumoured to be lost or even never recorded. However, Time Has Told Me proves otherwise with The Thoughts of Mary Jane and Day is Done.

Whilst Kirby's arrangements give a stark quality and timelessness to the work that's way above Hewson's talent, I do feel that Hewson's versions have been rather unfairly denigrated. ‘Disney’ is the pejorative commonly used, but this is wide of the mark.

Hewson’s work has a sense of English whimsy with a baroque undercurrent in keeping with others of the time, such as Donovan’s Jennifer Juniper, or David Bowie’s Deram material. And certainly, Robert Kirby’s arrangement of The Thoughts of Mary Jane is at least as light, floaty and whimsical as anything Hewson did.

I don't think it's helpful to tell you which version is 'best' though. The different versions illuminate different aspects of the song, and in doing so offer better insight into Nick’s work.

Robin Frederick, who wrote Been Smoking Too Long which Nick covers on Time of No Reply, has written several great articles about how his music works to captivate us. They're quite technical, but this doesn't do the appreciation of the work any harm, quite the reverse.

As she says herself, 'to think that what's important about Nick Drake is his dark romanticism is like thinking what's important about Brian Wilson is surfing'.

The story doesn’t quite end here. There are more recordings in the vaults, and there’s talk of a new album, provisionally titled Family Tree, which will contain much of the stuff from Time Has Told Me and possibly some songs by Nick’s mother Molly which have been described as ‘odd and haunting’ and apparently had strong influence on her son’s work.

[MP3s deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

13 July 2005

Flash & The Pan - Down Among The Dead Men

Easy Beat
EASY2 (12inch: EASYT2)
1978, reissued 1983

In 1983 Flash And The Pan had an unlikely top ten hit in the UK with Waiting For A Train. It pulsed along, like if New York white guys did the backing track for Timmy Thomas' Why Can't We Live Together?, but with an oblique vocal about, well, waiting for a train over the top of it dryly delivered by a tinny voice.

The follow-up was the track featured here, Down Among The Dead Men. Originally released five years earlier as And The Band Played On (Down Among The Dead Men) (Ensign, ENY15) it also has that trebly vocal with a cold tone from the American New Wave, but bubbling in the same pot are a bright pop sensibility and that main riff that feels incredibly familiar.

The riff is so sticky, feeling so much like it's already part of your musical knowledge that the song doesn't ever leave you, and indeed it goes round my head periodically to this day. Hence its appearance on the blog.

The lyric is a straightforward telling of the maiden voyage of the Titanic. Why was this a single? How on earth did they think this would be a hit?

The weirdness by no means ends there. Flash And The Pan was the project of Harry Vanda and George Young. This Australian duo started out in the 1960s as The Easybeats, scoring a top ten hit in '66 with Friday On My Mind (later done by Bowie on his covers album Pin Ups).

From that humid, brooding yet soaring pop classic, they went on to write and produce the karaoke favourite Love Is In The Air in 1978. Suddenly we have context for that bright ascending bridge in Down Among The Dead Men that seems so incongruous dropping back down into the darker and more strident main body of the track.

Between these two projects, they released commercially unsuccessful singles under various names (Paintbox, Grapefruit, Haffy's Whisky Sour, Tramp; it was the turn of the 70s, after all). However, they are better known during this period for producing the first seven albums for the band that featured George's younger brothers Malcolm and der-ner-ner-NER-ner-ner-ner AnGUS; AC/DC.

How utterly bizarre that in the year at the end of that collaboration, 1978, they made AC/DC's Powerage and the live album If You Want Blood, simultaneously doing Love Is In The Air and Down Among The Dead Men.

This multiple split personality does give me clues as to why I return to this record; I never completely figure it out, I can't ever get where it's really coming from, different ideas and sensibilities surface on different occasions. And then, of course, there's that riff that does a velcro job to your brain.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

Incidentally, I've always loved AC/DC's album title For Those About To Rock, We Salute You. It's so very particular; not for those who do rock, nor those who have rocked, or for those who might rock, not even those who will definitely rock but at some distant or as yet unspecified time. The salute is specifically and exclusively for those who, whilst they have not rocked as yet, will unquestionably begin to do so in the immediate future.

01 July 2005

The Jam - Get Yourself Together & Move On Up (live)


Sorry for the gap in postings, been away a lot. Gonna be away again for another week too. In the meantime...

In summer 1983, about eight months after The Jam split up, they released a compilation album Snap!. It was done as any decent greatest hits should be; all the singles, some classy b-sides, star album tracks. All in chronological order too, so you can see the progression.

The splendour of the double LP Snap! was fucked over and made into a simple singles compilation to be squeezed on to a single CD, although there has been a limited re-issue CD that has the full original running order.

With The Jam and The Style Council, Paul Weller made a point of giving value for money. The B-sides - and often the A-sides - weren't lifted from albums, the sleeve design and notes had passion and care in them.

And with Snap!, there was a limited edition bonus, a 4-track live EP. Recorded on 2nd and 3rd December 1982 during their 5 sold-out nights at Wembley Arena on the farewell tour, there were two unsung Weller classics on side B and two typically well-chosen covers on side A.

As a sucker for a decent or weird cover, it's these two that I'm giving you here.

Move On Up is the Curtis Mayfield classic, a live favourite with both The Jam and The Style Council. White guys can't really cover soul with the same vibe as the original, but then there's no point in facsimile covers.

The thing that white folks bring to music is tension. For all that rock n roll is simplistically defined as a melding of blues and jazz, it's the longing of country music and the uptight repressed tension of pretty much any white popular music that complete the equation, and this is abundantly clear when comparing the original Move On Up with the intensity and punch of The Jam's cover here, executed with a power that way exceeds their studio version.

Get Yourself Together is a Small Faces cover. They did some bona fide classics - All Or Nothing is simply perfect - and this song stands proud amongst them.

The lyric is has a remarkable sentiment for its time. In an era when a progressive writer like John Lennon was writing songs like Run For Your Life threatening physical violence against a girlfriends for looking at another man (gee, when she's got such a caring sensitive guy already why would she want to?), Marriott and Lane wrote this song where the bloke is acknowledging his girlfriend's unspoken pining for her previous lover and offering consolation, support and hope, telling her that she has got the inner mettle to recover and be alright.

To my knowledge, these live tracks haven't been reissued anywhere apart from that limited Snap! CD.

= = = = = = = = = = =

UPDATE: After Paul Weller was given a Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, his greatest hits albums have been repushed. (How many artists can have three greatest hits albums from different bands and them all be really good?). Universal saw fit to reissue Snap! on CD, together with a limited bonus three CD set that includes the Wembley live EP.

= = = = = = = = = = =

[MP3s deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

08 June 2005

Deacon Blue - Trampolene


Only two years after Julian Cope released his thrusting pop-rocking original of Trampolene, Deacon Fucking Blue inexplicably recast the song as an understated low-key extra track on the Wages Day EP.

Whilst I hesistate to say so about anything Deacon Fucking Blue ever did, it's actually nowhere near as bad as it could've been.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

29 May 2005

Lulu - The Man Who Sold The World


Following on from the Peter Noone post, here's another example of Bowie playing on a cover of his song by a second rate lightweight British entertainer.

Previously best known for her respectable cover of the Isley Brothers' Shout in 1964, and subsequently for doing Relight My Fire with Take That in 1993, somehow her path crossed Bowie's in late 1973 and he decided to do a single for her.

It was the twilight of Bowie's collaboration with Mick Ronson, and together they put together the tracks. There's clear Ronson guitar, albeit mostly in a low-key strum, and Bowie plays sax and does chorus vocals on the A-side.

The B-side is a slightly pedestrian version of the Aladdin Sane track Watch That Man that gives Lulu the chance to exercise that rasp in her voice that she used to such effect on Shout.

As with Peter Noone's Oh You Pretty Things, you've got to wonder what the vacuous no-mark who was singing thought of Bowie's lyrics of psychological turmoil, alienation and breakdown.

Bowie's career is littered with little dead ends and peculiarities (Peter & The Wolf, for fuck's sake). Expect more here as time goes by.

In the meantime, this excellent Bowie site has loads of great rarities (irritatingly, they're all in the .rm file format). Bowie singing in Italian, Spanish, Mandarin, Indonesian and German, as well as obscurities in English too.

[MP3s deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!]

26 May 2005

Peter Noone - Oh You Pretty Things


When Peter Noone's manager Mickie Most heard the gazillion demos Bowie recorded in late 1970/early 1971, he decided that Oh You Pretty Things was the ideal launchpad for the solo career of the erstwhile Herman's Hermits singer and proto-Austin Powers.

With Bowie himself playing piano on this version that predates his own take on Hunky Dory, it's a marvel of clashing worlds.

Never mind that the song is about dark things, primarily the sudden onset of a schizophrenic episode. Paste on yer cheery gameshow host shit-eating grin and sing it for all you're worth, Peter.

Which, in point of fact, is not very much.

[MP3 deleted to make room for new ones. Sorry!]

21 May 2005

The Three O' Clock - Baroque Hoedown


I loved The Three O’ Clock. Like the classic mid-period stuff by The Jam, they take 60s pop and give it post-punk muscularity with psychedilic tinges. Teenagers making bright shiny intelligent Rickenbacker pop, sparkling textures shimmering with superb 60s harmonies, and always something slightly uneasy and occult swimming under the surface.

The darker side is referenced in their name, taken from an Aldous Huxley quote, 'in the darkest corners of the mind it's always three o'clock in the morning'. Them and The Doors; anyone else taken their name from a Huxley quote?

Lumped in as part of the brief 'Paisley Underground' scene of 60s-influenced alternative pop, a subgenre from which only one band ever made it big.

The Bangles were signed up by Columbia and given a shiny corporate makeover, knocking off the edges of weird and making them palatable for mass consumption. The Three O'Clock's guitarist and half of the songwriting team, Louis Gutierrez, also co-wrote Walking Down Your Street, The Bangles follow-up to Walk Like An Egyptian.

The Three O'Clock, by contrast, sank without trace everywhere outside the USA. There were several more albums, including a production job by Ian Broudie and a release on Paisley Park, but the shine and bounce of their first two releases mean they remain my favourites by far.

The discrepancy between their US and UK popularity left me a little unsure what tracks to put up here. Do I go with a couple of the best tracks? Or is that too obvious for people who’ve already heard of them?

I’ve got a couple of very rare tracks, but if the band are new to you I want to show them in a representative light. So I found a middle option; the opening two tracks from their debut mini-LP Baroque Hoedown.

In America in the early 1980s there was a great but sadly short-lived format for music; the EP or mini-LP. The fact that it had two names sort of describes what was so good about it. It was a five track 12” - more than a single but less than an album.

Before this, you’d had to buy either a single or an album. A single is just the one song, it’s no proof of the artist’s vision or worth. A good single could be a fluke, and the B-side was no way to test it as flipsides were often just dustbins for half-arsed material.

But to go out and buy a whole album by an artist you’re unsure about? What if that good single really was a fluke?

The rise of the CD and decline of the 7" single put paid to this dilemma. If you like a song on the radio you have to buy the album, which may well be a turkey. In effect, you’re being sold a £10 single with 12 B-sides.

Unfortunately, the increased playing time on CDs meant artists expanded their albums to fit the space allotted. As someone who grew up on punk and 60s pop, I hold concision among the top virtues in popular music. I remember wading through the 60 minutes-plus of PM Dawn’s And Now The Legacy Begins (yeah, right guys - it pretty much ended there too, didn’t it) becoming deeply fearful for the future of albums.

Things got even worse in the 1990s with the complete death of the single, which is why downloading became so popular. For all the record industry’s complaints about downloading stealing from artists, it’s often CD sales that are stealing from punters.

A big part of downloading’s popularity is the same reason singles were popular. The basic unit of pop music is the song. People want the song. If they like that song, they usually want to know more by the artist.

The mini-LP gave you a real taste of an artist. With five tracks, there’s space to do something a bit weird that on a single would leave you wondering which of the two tracks was the real direction. Yet on a mini-LP it still had to be tight, to the point, and the punter hadn’t had to splash out the time or money on a full album.

North America never shared the UK’s passion for the 12” as a standard format for every single. Also, the UK has always loved non-album tracks on singles (in the UK it was seen as making the single good value, whereas in the US putting the tracks on the album was what made that good value, The throwing on of UK non-album material is why the Beatles released several ‘extra’ albums in the US).

This meant that British artists had enough tracks around from singles from which good mini-LPs could be easily compiled (as with, say, The Jam or The Alarm). Alternatively, American record companies could test the Stateside water for a new British artist by trimming their debut album down to a mini-LP (as happened with The Waterboys).

New American artists specifically recorded mini-LPs. The first proper releases by many bands of the time were in the format. REM’s Chronic Town is a masterpiece example.

In these days of CD reissue, mini-LPs present a problem. REM tucked the brilliant Chronic Town away as bonus tracks on a compilation of 80s B-sides. Another of my favourite bands, The Church, only got around to reissuing their wonderful 1982 Sing Songs mini-LP in 2001. Many bands simply leave them deleted.

Baroque Hoedown is available as the bonus on the CD of The Three O'Clock's first album-proper, Sixteen Tambourines (for a couple of years in my mid teens that was my favourite record). The album continues in the vein set out on Baroque Hoedown, so do go get the whole thing if you like what you hear here.

If these tracks get a positive response in the comments (or if there's people saying 'I've already got this, gimme something I've not heard') I’ll put up the rarities as well.

[MP3s deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

14 May 2005

Premiere Classe - La Fille Qui Rit

unknown label

Like my copy of Holland Tunnel Dive by impLOG, I got this record in the mid 80s off Steve The Busker and loved the obscurity. There was even less to know about this - the lyrics are in French and the record just bears a blank green label with felt pen saying 'PREMIERE CLASSE with POUPEE FLASH'.

The authenticity of the French vocal said it was from France or Belgium. The still-novel enthusiasm for the synths said it was early 1980s. Beyond that I knew nothing.

Whilst Poupée Flash is an inventive piece of electropop, it was the B-side that enthralled me with its soft seething dark charm. The gentle languidly playful vocal, the opiated mystique of an atmosphere in a keyboard driven pop song, the understatement of piece made me come back to it again and again when making compilation tapes for people.

I always had to credit it as 'b-side of Poupée Flash'. But in these days of Google I've just found out - like just now, the last ten minutes - that the mesmerising B-side is called La Fille Qui Rit. The record came out in 1982 on Polydor in France (Polydor 2056937) and was popular in Belgium and the Netherlands. It also commands high prices at online record shops.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

05 May 2005

Aztec Camera - Jump (loaded version)

12 inch : AC1T

As mentioned in that Smiths post, I have great respect for bands who put good stuff on B-sides. Fuck instrumental versions of the A-side, haven't ya got anything more to say?

Loads of my favourite artists had some of their best work tucked away as extra tracks.

As Peter Buck said in the sleevenotes to REM's 1987 B-sides compilation Dead Letter Office;

No matter how lavish that packaging, no matter what attention to detail, a 45 is still essentially a piece of crap usually purchased by teenagers. This is why musicians feel free to put just about anything on the B-side; nobody will listen to it anyway, so why not have some fun. You can clear the closet of failed experiments, badly written songs, drunken jokes and, occasionally, a worthwhile song that doesn't fit the feel of an album.

I'd add another couple of categories - artists like The Jam, The Beatles and The Smiths who were simply so talented and prolific that they could release good albums and good singles with good B-sides; and secondly that great staple of the B-side, the inspired cover version.

Aztec Camera were great for B-sides on pretty much every category. There has been a B-sides album released in Japan (Covers & Rare, WEA WMC5-671), but it misses off a couple of corkers, and it should be available worldwide.

Not only did they use their B-sides for some gorgeous original songs, but they were masters of the unexpected cover. You can expect to see a few crop up on this blog in times to come. True Colors, The Red Flag, Dylan's I Threw It All Away and, for now, this. Van Halen's Jump, recorded only six months after the original, as the B-side of All I Need Is Everything.

It was the flagship single for Aztec Camera's second album Knife, and their first release since signing to a major label. Would the corporate muscle have pushed out the subtlety, intelligence and quirkiness that characterised the previous releases on Rough Trade and the legendary Postcard labels?

This B-side was here to make the answer plain. Roddy Frame (the band's one-and-only in the same sense that Matt Johnson is The The) utterly disarms the cock-rock and makes it a gentle tongue-in-cheek acoustic glide.

On the 7 inch, that's all there is. On the 12 inch there's the Loaded Version, where it carries on longer and a squealy widdly-widdly metal guitar solo comes in and rocks away, getting louder and louder until it drowns out everything else. Mental.

[MP3 deleted to make space for new ones. Sorry!]

01 May 2005

The Smiths - Jeane

Rough Trade

Before I get started on this wonderful lost Smiths gem, let me nudge you towards an article. Thurston Moore's written this piece about how cool mix tapes are. The bit relevant to us here is his conclusion;

Once again, we're being told that home taping (in the form of ripping and burning) is killing music. But it's not: It simply exists as a nod to the true love and ego involved in sharing music with friends and lovers. Trying to control music sharing - by shutting down P2P sites or MP3 blogs or BitTorrent or whatever other technology comes along - is like trying to control an affair of the heart. Nothing will stop it.

Go Thurston.

So then. It's 1983 and the Smiths release their second single, This Charming Man. The Smiths were a total bolt from the blue. The music was intelligent, melodic, mature yet swimming in youthful vigour and intent. The lyrics were not only so wry and literate, but depicted angles and situations not normally the preserve of pop writers. They were also one of the few bands who you had no idea what music they listened to at home. What the hell were their influences?

On top of this, they were one of those bands who clearly loved records as artefacts and were determined to give people something of real worth. A serious proportion of their singles weren't lifted from albums, and they came with B-sides and extra tracks that were not only exclusive to the singles, but were frankly as good as the A-sides.

Such a prolific output led to several compilations sweeping up those non-album tracks (Hatful of Hollow, Louder Than Bombs, The World Won't Listen), yet somehow Jeane slipped through the net and appears never to have been issued anywhere but on the B-side of the This Charming Man 7 inch.

A powerful urgent stomper of a track, the lyric has a lover finally conceding the truth to their partner, that their affair is over and their shared home now seems shabby and squalid. The angle, and the chosen details that describe it, were thoroughly arresting for me as an adolescent so used to that Stylistics attitude of 'I'm only poor but we have each other, I find my happiness when I look in your eyes' sort of stuff.

Jeane says precisely the opposite

The low-life has lost its appeal
And I'm tired of walking these streets
To a room with its cupboards bare
I'm not sure what happiness means
But I look in your eyes
And I know that it isn't there

Those words set against the pounding music, draped with Morrissey's falsetto; it was utterly captivating, proof that This Charming Man wasn't a fluke and this band could deliver us great things.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

28 April 2005

Alvin Stardust - Be Smart Be Safe


What the fuck was going on in 1975? A nation badly in need of the punk revolution. People talk about how we needed it to rescue us from prog, but they forget about the other twaddle. The dreadful childish novelty element, from stage-school twats like Brotherhood Of Man to one Wombles hit after another. Bill Oddie was the fourth most successful songwriter in the UK in 1975.

And Alvin Stardust issued a strange looming cover of Cliff Richard's Move It. But that's not quite what we're looking at here today. We're flipping that single over to find its B-side, Be Smart Be Safe (The Green Cross Code Song).

In the early-mid 70s Alvin was a mean moody glam rocker. He also fronted a big advertising campaign promoting road safety for kids.

Alvin's followed on from the success of the one with Mud in where they all leave the house - dressed in their trademark sky blue and gold outfits with a clear implication they just wore them all the time - then Les Gray spots kids crossing the road between parked vehicles and goes and puts them straight.

Alvin is walking down the street in his leathers when he sees kids crossing the road without looking first. Grabbing them by the scruff of the neck he bellows 'you must be out of your tiny minds!'.

I remember it struck me as incongruous at the time. He was pretty sinister to us under-10s, frankly if he'd appeared next to me on the street I'd have bolted into the road to get away from him. He certainly seemed an awful lot more threatening than a beige Allegro.

Tufty the road safety squirrel was a much better idea; equally authoritative but not half as scary.

Still, for Alvin it wasn't just an advert it was a way of life, and he penned this song himself. Throwaway dirty glam guitar and ludicrous lyrics about road safety. Focus on the words and try not to laugh, see how far you get.

Network, the same cool folks who are issuing The Sweeney on DVD, have released Charley Live, a compilation video of loads of those hilarious 70s Public Information Films, including Alvin's 'you must be out of your tiny minds!'. The DVD version amalgamates it with 'Charley Says', a collection of animated PIFs.

Aside of the celebrity-fronted ones, this stuff is really creepy. They start with some innocent scene - kids playing, someone getting in their car - but with the ominous certainy that within 30 seconds something very horrible and probably fatal will have happened. Then when you watch the Charley Says compilation you get one after another with a chilling cumulative effect. Imagine if David Lynch directed 30-second episodes of Man About the House, Grange Hill and The Sweeney rolled into one.
It's really far out when you're bonced, the maddest weirdest stuff you'll see all year.

Be Smart, Be Safe - always use the Green Cross Code.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

25 April 2005

Georgie Fame - Sitting In The Park


I've just spent a long afternoon and evening on my allotment which is in the middle of Hyde Park in Leeds. The houses round here are largely back to back terraces, and the houses that do have a garden generally don't do much with it; either concreted for car space or the classic rented accommodation mix of matresses, nettles and bottles. So, come a sunny day like today, everyone uses the park as one big communal garden, and it's a fab vibe, rammed with folks arsing about.

No surprise then that Sitting In The Park has been going round my head all day. It was written and orginally released by Billy Stewart on Chess records in 1965, the same year as his utterly gorgeous soul slowie I Do Love You. Both of those records push the same blissy buttons of reverie in me as Bloodstone's Natural High and a fistful of Chi-Lites and Delfonics classics.

Really, if you want a big favour out of me or need to tell me that you've accidentally burnt my flat down, just play me I Do Love You and Natural High first and I'm sure I'll be fine about it.

Despite Billy's wonderful work on Sitting In The Park, I'm giving you Georgie Fame's cover from the following year. Where Billy gave it a vocal backing, Fame went for brass with a great trebly Caribbean tone, augmented by floaty flute which perfectly counterpoints his low jazzy voice.

Balmy, languid, like dandelion seeds blowing past on a hot breeze, sparkling like sunlight on rippling water, this record has a perfect beautiful drifty summer feeling underpinned with just a pinch of melancholy.

[MP3 deleted to make way for new ones. Sorry!]

19 April 2005

The Ska-Dows - Apache

Cheapskate Records

It's almost paradoxical how the stronger defined a movement is, the more cover versions it can do.

Punk was such a shocking break from all other musics, yet it was chock full of covers of non-punk tracks. The Stranglers doing Walk On By, The Jam doing Sweet Soul Music, and The Dickies doing Paranoid, Banana Splits, Sound of Silence and, well, most of their output.

Bowie, the great pioneer, has put a cover version on most of his albums, from Nina Simone's Wild Is The Wind, through the Beach Boys' God Only Knows to Morrissey's I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday.

The late 70s ska revival stayed on home turf a bit more, with the covers generally being ska, reggae and rocksteady tracks from ten or fifteen years earlier.

But then there was this, a low budget single from London, a ska version of the Shadows classic Apache. The dark tense twangy guiar line lends itself readily to ska (think The Specials' Rat Race), and doing a reggae breakdown bridge is inspired.

The cover is a work of comic genius, Hank Marvin tied to a stratocaster totem pole.

I know nothing about the band. Were they, as the name suggests and as would be just soooo great, an exclusively Shadows-covering ska band?

With that catalogue number I'm not sure if they or anyone else ever released anything on the label. That said, there was a weird single I used to have, a song called I Like Bluebeat done by a different band on each side (Cairo and The Outline). I'm not sure, but that might've been on Cheapskate as well. Same sort of music, same era, not unlikely, but it was so long ago that my mind can no longer dredge the precise detail.

Swift, uplifting, daft, and brilliant. This record could be installed in hospitals for medical use; if it doesn't make the listener grin broadly and want to dance then they can be pronounced clinically dead.

[MP3 deleted to make way for newer ones. Sorry!]

14 April 2005

impLOG - Holland Tunnel Dive

In-Fidelity Records
12 inch JMB-231

I can know almost nothing about where this record came from, and I find that to be part of its allure. I'll tell you what I do know.

I was living in Southport in the mid 80s and knew an effervescent scouser called Steve The Busker. He, like me, was a keen jumble sale and charity shop trawler with a particular penchant for records. He was the only person apart from me and my brother who loved disco at the time. More than that, we were the only people who saw disco as a form of soul music. Everyone else saw it as pathetic cheesy nonsense. A big part of that is because it belonged to a time that had become unfashionable, a time of flares and wide lapels.

The 80s was a time when individuality was breaking out. Sure, part of it was the selfish Thatcherite vision, but a positive part of it was the shedding of uniformity. Before the 80s there was a compulsory element to trends. To wear flares in the early 80s was to be a laughable buffoon. Flares were, in and of themselves, seen as comical. In the mid 70s, the same was true about drainpipe trousers.

But the 80s made great strides (couldn't resist the pun, sorry) for the freedom to carve out your own style and path and not be seen as just stupid and square. There are deeper implications of this in the freedom it granted to be different in other ways, to shed other kinds of conformity without being utterly ostracised.

This shift, which has continued apace to this day, obviously has many causes. But I reckon a key one is the ageing population. In the 60s and 70s we were overrun with under-20s so consequently there was a great cult of youth, things that were old were thought to be bad simply for being old. As the young are less of the population, so their vision holds less popular sway.

Also, as the last two or three generations have enjoyed a similar lifestyle they can relate to each other well and so appreciate each other's styles and creative expression. But in the mid-late 20th century, two or three generations back had been the World Wars, the Great Depression and suchlike; no wonder they couldn't really communicate with kids in the 70s and there were inevitable canyonesque generation gaps.

Anyway, so, there we were in the 80s, me and Steve The Busker listening to disco. He'd put me on to numerous records I'd never have found otherwise. Natural High by Bloodstone, which is quite simply the most beautiful record ever made. A gorgeous soft 70s soul slowie, listening to it is like sliding into a warm bath of chocolate duvets.

Actually, that's quite an unsavoury image if you think about it too long, but you get where I'm coming from. Like the Delfonics only much more so. These days you can find Natural High on the Jackie Brown soundtrack.

And Steve The Busker also put me on to some fucking weird shit. Top of that list would be Holland Tunnel Dive. A relentless cold electronic beat, a sharding tannoy vocal listing things that have died or run out or ceased in some other way... no bridges to burn, nothing to learn, no soul, no love, no dinner tonight, no woman, no cry, no respect, no equal rights, no garden to hoe, no seeds to sow, no food in the fridge, no TV shows, no emotion, no devotion, no trips to the ocean...

And then ending each verse - if you can call the segments that - with 'leaving for the other side, going to take a Holland Tunnel Dive' and a noise that literally sounds like a hoover kicking in, overpowering all other sound on the record. This was even weirder before I knew what Holland Tunnel was.

And on it goes. Until, once you've thoroughly entranced by the bleak metronomic quality punctuated by turbo vacuum cleaner, straight out of left field comes an absurdly chirpy bright bouncy sax break.

This was a favourite record to listen when I was first into smoking dope, it really stretches your head and makes you get your money's worth out of your drugs. One time the sax break caused a caned friend to have his mental scales tip and he ran out of the room with his hands on his ears shouting 'no trumpets! no trumpets!'.

Music reflects its environment. Runrig are the most tedious band on earth if you listen to them in London, like Big Country on mogadon. But trust me, if you're living on a Scottish island, Runrig sound fuckin great.

In the same way, Holland Tunnel Dive is a very NYC record, from the only place that could give you John Zorn, Sonic Youth and other things that sound like filing cabinets full of powertools being dropped down stairwells.

So who were impLOG? I've no idea. The label, In-Fidelity, is one I've never heard of before, its address is just a box number at Grand Central Station. I love that, it makes it feel a lot more exotic.

[MP3 deleted to make way for newer ones. Sorry!]

09 April 2005

Blondie - Sunday Girl (French version)

Chrysalis Records
12 inch CHS12-2320

People often rerecorded their songs in other languages in order to appeal to different markets. The Beatles redid She Loves You in German ('Sie lieb dich, ja ja ja'). Abba did so many in Spanish that there's a whole album of it.

But some artists have done it for reasons other than marketing. In order to make some point about the universality of the message, Culture Club recorded their monstrously absurd War Song in English, Spanish, French, Japanese and others. It was still shit in all of them, mind.

And then there's a third category. The ones who rerecorded the vocal in another language for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Silky-smooth 70s midnight soul merchants The Moments did Look At Me (I'm In Love) in French as the B-side of the English version, rather than to sell in anywhere French-speaking. The Teardrop Explodes did Treason in French in a similarly gratuitous manner. And Blondie did Sunday Girl in French, then tucked it away on the 12" of the single.

It's a weird effect, a song you know really well, the proper original backing and the right voice, but the words all different. It's kind of like seeing your mum if she'd just had a nosejob, or a mate who's just had their dreads cut off. It gooses me every time.

[MP3 deleted to make way for newer ones. Sorry!]

03 April 2005

Lord Rockingham's XI - Hoots Mon

Decca Records
45-F 11059

A piece of novelty fluff from the late 50s, this track nonetheless has a serrated lunatic energy and punch that makes it well worth a listen.

A romping primal rock n roll instrumental with daft breaks of spoken Scots, it's one of the few genuinely great and raucous British rock n roll records. That distortion on the intro isn't me badly encoding, the thing was deliberately released that way.

It kicks deep and hard and yet retains a strong sense of daftness throughout, making it a great dancefloor record. I've DJed this one at 3am during an all-nighter and had people go fuckin nuts.

Lord Rockingham's XI - and what a fantastic name for a band that is - were the house band on Oh Boy!, the late 50s ITV rough and ready competitor to the more staid Six Five Special on the BBC. At the time, these were the only TV outlets for any kind of rock n roll or pop music, and so the significance is not to be underestimated.

In point of fact, the XI's leader was the unennobled Harry Robinson, and there were actually 13 of them. They only released three singles, only two were hits, and only this one was a big seller (500,000 copies sold in the UK, number one for three weeks).

In the kind of thing that always seems more unsporting for novelty records than for more serious work, Oh Boy!'s creator Jack Good fought a legal battle with Harry Robinson for the Lord Rockingham name, culminating in a weird splitting of the rights.

There are one or two little biogs for the band online, and most end with the Rockingham thing. But there's an extra weird twist.

Ten years later - not long after an unsuccessful comeback attempt for Lord Rockingham's XI - Robinson was working as an arranger. In total contrast to the established structure and comedic overtones of Hoots Mon, he did the astonishingly beautiful strings on River Man by Nick Drake on the Five Leaves Left album.

As I've said elsewhere, Nick Drake is as good as music can possibly get. And River Man's arrangement is perfect, being like Drake's work itself, strangely ethereal, timeless, lilting, melancholic, balmy, intimate and otherworldly. A truly remarkable piece of work and as far removed from this rocking stomper as pop music could get whilst still being really good.

[MP3 removed to free up server space for new posts. Sorry!]

30 March 2005

Intaferon - Steamhammer Sam

Chrysalis Records
7 inch CHS2750

(I've included the back of the cover so you get a decent picture of the band)

Having picked up a fair bit of airplay for the debut Get Out Of London but sold sod all copies, the commercially smart thing to do would be to put out another record with the same energy and sound, but different hooks.

But not Intaferon. They went back into the studio and recorded Steamhammer Sam.

They kept the principle of their first single - to merge disparate threads of musical styles into something intriguing, catchy and contemporarily relevant - but stylistically it's another world.

Where Get Out Of London's lyrics were a ratatat of paranoid imagery, Steamhammer Sam is a straightforward narrative story.

It was 1983, Thatcher's talons were tearing deep into the social fabric of the UK, and mass unemployment was a prime symptom. Steamhammer Sam was a topical story of a man who'd worked his whole life in heavy industry, got made redundant and became hopeless, directionless and alcoholic, ending his days alone in prison. Cheery surefire radio-friendly hit there.

Musically, the electropunk drive of Get Out Of London is nowhere to be seen, as Steamhammer Sam is driven by a piano-based sort of rhythm that could be termed The Madness Two-Step, the kind of thing that provides tha basis for tracks like The Size Of A Cow by The Wonder Stuff, or Grimly Fiendish by The Damned.

There are snatches of Glam Rock guitar (as I've said elsewhere, by 'Glam Rock' I mean the 70s stuff, not 80s poodle-metal), but the peculiarity really kicks in with the addition of a full colliery style brass band, and towards the end a choir of children do a sprightly singalong chorus, in stark contrast to the mood of the lyric.

As if to underline the bizarrity, the B-side is The Continuing Story of Steamhammer Sam, an instrumental version played entirely by that brass band.

The 7 inch came shrinkwrapped with a free 3-track cassette and sticker. I still have the sticker, but the cassette disappeared years ago and I can't even remember what was on it. It must've contained something not on the Get Out Of London and Steamhammer Sam singles, though.

As with its predecsssor, the single sold next to nothing, and after the subsequent Baby Pain they were never heard of again.

[downloads removed due to needing the server space for new postings]

29 March 2005

Intaferon - Get Out Of London

Chrysalis Records
7 inch CHS2715, 12 inch CHS122715

Well it seems the obvious place to start. As the Lost Bands Of The New Wave Era post about Intaferon's Baby Pain was my nudge to start this blog, let's get going with those other two singles. First up is the debut, Get Out Of London

I remember this coming on the radio and finding it thoroughly arresting. We were just out of New Romantics time, and this had all that dark brooding tone from that, but with a bristling propulsive power that hadn't been on the airwaves for years. The lyrics are a frantic and volatile, if somewhat oblique, breathless rant. I've stuck them on the MP3 for those of you who use players that can read all the extra info.

The cover is cool too - the dynamism of the track complemented by the black and red lettering, the urgency of making the title all one word in capitals, and the desperate lunge of the picture.

Although the more cynical among us could point out that even if they managed to grab hands, the guy at the back is going to get dragged along the road. Also, a Routemaster bus isn't the prime method for getting out of London, more like for getting around it.

Intaferon were a duo - Simon Fellowes and Simon Gillham - named after a cancer treatment drug. They were produced by Martin Rushent, at that time a Very Big Name. He'd produced all those early Buzzcocks classics, but then went all electronic and produced the Human League's Dare album (the one with Don't You Want Me and all those on).

You can see both elements combining on Get Out Of London, romping synth basslines and strident guitars melding together brilliantly.

Rushent was also a pioneer of the 1980s style 12 inch remix. Most of these were total rubbish; just half the song, then a drum machine and bassline noodling on for a couple of minutes, then the other half of the song. Complete waste of time and vinyl, a cynical marketing ploy.

Over on my Strawberry Switchblade site there's a hilarious discussion of such mixes. The band, both their managers and both their producers all deny responsibility for them. One manager, Bill Drummond, explains

At that time the whole idea of a remixer as being somebody special and somebody you pay a whack of money to go and do it, and this is an actual job, it just didn't exist in those days. You made a record and, as you said, you had to have a twelve inch and so you'd just sit around and think, 'OK, we'll double the length of that drumbeat, double the length of that,' and you'd got a twelve inch. It's like asking me who made the cup of tea.

Rushent's remix is a lot more busy and worthy than the overwhelming majority of 80s 12 inches, and keeps the kinetic fizz of the 7 inch mix, though it does still sound a tad dated nowadays. That heavy use of Paul Hardcastle style sampler stutter hasn't really sounded much good since, well, Paul Hardcastle.

Check back in a few days for the follow-up single, Steamhammer Sam.

[downloads removed due to needing the server space for new postings]

28 March 2005

lend me your ears and I'll encode you a song

I've been really liking several MP3 blogs. They've made me relisten to tracks I've not heard in years, given me background info on bands and songs I'd never known any details about, and put music my way that I'd otherwise never have found.

Seven Inches of Joy was uncanny for digging out records I'd bought in my early teens. Surely we were the only two people who had singles by Cindy & The Saffrons or, appropriately enough, by Two People.

So I was dismayed to see Seven Inches of Joy's recent closure. Around the same time, I stumbled across Lost Bands Of The New Wave Era posting Baby Pain by Intaferon. They had no solid info about other Intaferon records. I, however, have both of their other singles.

This all combined to make me think fuck it, I'll do a MP3 blog meself. I've enough lost gems and oddities that warrant a small airing, usually with some bit of info or considered opinion to go with it.

It's going to be a right old mix. There'll be punk and pop and soul and weirdness. There'll be greatness and there'll unintentional comedy. There'll be peculiar cover versions and one-hit (or no-hit) wonders. It will range from the 1950s to the 1990s with, I suspect, a bias towards 1980ish-1992ish, my prime record buying years.

I'll add summat new once or twice a week. That's the plan, anyway.