27 November 2006

The The - Armageddon Days Are Here (Again) (Orchestral version)


The The - Armageddon Days Are Here (Again) cover

Hello! Hello! It's good to be back, good to be back, hello! hello! hello!

Ah, even that relevant lyric quote might be a bit too much these days. It's impossible to play any Gary Glitter without feeling soiled and uneasy.

And yet do we get the same thing from listening to Wagner? Would we get it from listening to Ted Nugent, if he'd ever recorded anything worth listening to?

Glitter took that Joe Meek Have I The Right powerstomp sound and liberally splashed it with glam rock's futuristic vaudeville sensibility, resulting in some stonking dense glam classics loaded with with heavy, moronic genius. And what's more the majority of the good ones had an exclamation mark in the title. Can't ask for more.

Yet last time I DJed a Glitter record I was abruptly informed by a jittering skinhead that I should desist as the artist was a nonce who wanted his balls cutting off.

On a glamrock tip, I recently listened to The Sweet's run of four perfect singles (Blockbuster, Ballroom Blitz, Hell Raiser, Teenage Rampage).

They're everything glamrock should be, loaded to the gills with hooks, guitar-driven, utterly outlandish, sleazy, teenage, raucous, yet poppy as hell. God knows what parents brought up on rationing and How Much Is That Doggie In The Window made of it all.

Hell Raiser contains a line that is all of glamrock lyricism distilled; 'She took me completely by surprise with her ultrasonic eyes flashing like hysterical danger signs'.

You've got an impressionistic wide-eyed swirl of teen thrills, wildness, space-age visions, frenzy and danger, and all of it absolutely meaningless codswallop. Fuckin great.

They kicked out those four faultless singles in just a year, January 1973-January 1974. It overlaps with Slade's equally great run of four from September 1972-June 1973 (Mama Weer All Crazee Now, Gudbuy T'Jane, Cum On Feel The Noize, Skweeze Me Pleeze Me). And that overlaps with Bolan's riffiest singles.

Bowie gets a lot of credit for glam rock, and Ziggy Stardust unquestionably had a massive prototypical influence, but at the end of the day the genre was more boistrous than Bowie's cerebral approach could muster. He clearly had more poise and talent but lacked the kinetic power and sonic attack of the others I mentioned. In your head Suffragette City's fast and dirty, but play it alongside 20th Century Boy and it sounds positively pedestrian.

After the breathless chart anschluss of the glittertroops, Bowie came back in February 74 with Rebel Rebel, his only proper glam rock single and the last great yawp of the movement. Dig out those Sweet tracks and see how stupendously potent and incalculably exciting they still sound.

Anyway, Ballroom Blitz starts with a fast and frisky snare drum shuffle and 'are you ready Steve? Aha! Andy? Yeah! Mick? OK! Well alright fellas let's GO!'.

It made me get out Mind Bomb, The's The's 1989 masterpiece (with The The - a one-man project by Matt Johnson - every album is a masterpiece), as Armagedon Days Are Here (Again) cheekily starts with that Ballroom Blitz intro altered to 'Are you ready Jesus? Aha! Buddha? Yeah! Mohammed? OK! Well alright fellas, let's GO!'.

The lyrics are more relevant today than ever.

Islam is rising
The Christians mobilising
The world is on its elbows and knees
It's forgotten the message and worships the creeds

It's war, she cried, It's war, she cried, this is war
Drop your possessions, all you simple folk
You will fight them on the beaches in your underclothes
You will thank the good lord for raising the union jack
You'll watch the ships sail out of harbour
and the bodies come floating back

If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
He'd be gunned down cold by the C.I.A.
Oh, the lights that now burn brightest behind stained glass
Will cast the darkest shadows upon the human heart
But God didn't build himself that throne
God doesn't live in Israel or Rome
God doesn't belong to the yankee dollar
God doesn't plant the bombs for Hezbollah
God doesn't even go to church
And God won't send us down to Allah to burn
No, God will remind us what we already know
That the human race is about to reap what it's sown

Johnson has an incredible gift for getting to the core truth of his subject and expressing it totally and simply. It's just as true whether he's addressing politics, religion, urban humanity or the deepest workings of the heart.

I've put the orchestral version of Armageddon Days up here. After all my glamrock ramblings, this version skips the Ballroom Blitz intro. But it's not on any album, (only on the B-side of the single version), and the just voice and strings arrangement is phenomenally arresting and tense.

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

04 November 2006

Rose McDowall - Don't Fear The Reaper & Crystal Days

Rio digital

Rose McDowall - Don't Fear The Reaper cover

Sorry I've been away for so long. I'll get back to more frequent postings soon. Meantime, here's an oddity for you.

Blessed with a distinctive, pure captivating singing voice, Rose McDowall first made records with Glasgow Punk band The Poems, releasing a couple of indie singles in the early 80s. A brief pop stardom beckoned with her next band, the duo Strawberry Switchblade. I run their foremost fan site - do check out its downloads page for the version of the Velvet Underground's Sunday Morning. It's quite simply one of the most beautiful things ever recorded.

Strawberry Switchblade split after just one album, and Rose had an album's worth of bright Switchbladey songs which she demoed. These only saw the light of day a couple of years ago as the limited edition Cut With The Cake Knife CD (available here).

I believe this single was culled from those sessions. There's a story that Rose really didn't want it released but failed to stop it. Certainly, while the A-side's an interesting take on the Blue Oyster Cult classic with rolling bass and some wonderful flamenco guitar, it does sound a bit thin, weedy and, well, like a demo.

The B-side, the Rose-penned Crystal Days, is another matter. Bright, shining pop with a big chorus, a darker melancholic undertow somewhere in there, festooned with Rose's trademark harmonies, it's a delight of a track.

A re-recording was issued as Crystal Nights under the name Ornamental.

Rose has continued to make beautiful pagan music ever since. Check out her site for more info.

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