Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians: Birds in Perspex
Posts happen. Sometimes they happen by accident. I wasn’t going to post any more songs for our Hand Claps theme. In fact, I took out my copy of Robyn Hitchcock’s Perspex Island because I was considering this song for my Bird Songs post on Oliver di Place. There was just one problem: the song isn’t particularly about birds. But there, in the middle instrumental break, were those hand claps. I had completely forgotten they were there.
Birds in Perspex is a perfect example of Robyn Hitchcock’s uncanny pop instincts. There is the wonderfully jangly guitar sound, like the Byrds at their best. And there are the Beatle-y vocal harmonies. This one is easy on the ears, and sounds like a hit. But this is also a perfect example of why Robyn Hitchcock never made it big. Birds in Perspex is probably a love song. It feels that way to me. But the lyrics are a collection of dreamlike images and ideas that make less sense the more awake you become. In his later career, Hitchcock has become a more direct lyricist, but he has become less interested in making pop sounds. He’s always worth paying attention to, but he probably never will have that hit. And I think he’s OK with that.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
The Angels: My Boyfriend's Back
I've always been a fan of the girl groups of the 60's: The Shangri-Las, The Dixie Cups (as mentioned below), the Ronettes, to name but a few - how could I resist the 2-disc compilation I found in the cut-out bin years ago, "whose words and music", the liner notes state, "were all about first dates, teenage crushes, dance crazes, parties, boyfriends good and bad, and parental concerns about daughters growin' up too fast"...
A bit of research speculates the form wasn't all fluff - the liner notes also suggest "girl group music influenced British Invasion bands, paved the way for the mass entry of women into rock and roll, and helped tear down color barriers on radio, on the charts and in concert venues."
Even more digging unearthed this wonderful article of how My Boyfriend's Back came to be written, recorded and performed - "the sassy spoken-word, punctuated by firecracker handclaps, is arguably the most famous song intro in popular music"...
P.S. Although the songs are no longer available for download, I posted others previously which qualify for this theme: Unsquare Dance by Dave Brubeck... and What I Like About You by The Romantics - I also thought about posting Moxy Fruvous' Spiderman this week, but saw Darius already did a while back...
Friday, July 16, 2010
Simon & Garfunkel: Bye Bye Love
When I was a young tyke in the early '70s, we didn't have much contemporary music in our home. My Mom liked Patsy Cline, and my Dad liked Glenn Miller.
But we did have Simon & Garfunkel's Bridge Over Troubled Water on 8-track. My siblings and I (I'm one of six) played that thing to death. While their version of "Bye Bye Love" was not one of my favorites from the album (I preferred "Baby Driver" for the sound effects and "Cecilia" for the crazy rhythm), it still embedded itself in my consciousness. Apparently, I'm not alone. Whenever I sing this song with other people, they invariably use the Simon & Garfunkel phrasing, rather than the Everly's.
The S&G version was recorded live in Ames, Iowa in 1969, and it's the audience who provide the enthusiastic hand claps throughout the song.
The Dixie Cups: Iko Iko
I was being stubborn. For some reason, I’ve always felt that I should not enjoy The Dixie Cups’ version of Iko Iko. Of course, the song is a New Orleans classic. It is the best answer you could possibly have if anyone ever asks, “What is the second line rhythm?” The song has been recorded by everyone from Dr John to the Neville Brothers to Buckwheat Zydeco to New Orleans jazz great Donald Harrison. The song has traveled well beyond New Orleans, becoming a concert staple for the Grateful Dead, and even making it to Africa in a version by Zap Mama. And I tried out all of these versions and more, and I can recommend them all. But I kept coming back to two things. For whatever reason, no one else seems to have recorded the song with hand claps. And The Dixie Cups’ version really is great. Those hand claps seem like such a natural part of the song that it’s hard to understand why no one else has used them. So this version may not be the most authentic, and I don’t know if The Dixie Cups even understood the New Orleans slang terms in the lyrics. But it works.
George Michael x The Cure (DJ Tripp): Close to Faith
I've got these two songs, see. And they both fit the theme, clap clap clap. They're both big hits from the 80's. They're both catchy as hell, nice beat, danceable. They're both by British artists. You'd like both of them, I'm sure. But I can't decide which one to post…
I know! I won't decide at all - I'll give you a mashup. It's two…two…two songs in one! Or, to be exact, it's a digital remix created from pieces of two or more songs.
Songs have been joined in one form or another for years. We've all heard medleys of tunes, one following the other, or clever songs with the lyrics of one sung to the tune of another (I'm thinking of that great version of Stairway to Heaven sung to the theme of Gilligan's Island). But in the past decade, the art of the mashup (aka "bootlegs") really flowered as PC-based software became cheap enough and powerful enough for folks to try this at home. Which they've done, all over the world. And dance clubs are reverberating with the results.
The most common type of mashup is A vs. B, or the tune of one song laid against the words of another (more or less), and that's the style used in this mashup. I wonder if the remixer, DJ Tripp, got the idea to mash these two songs together because of the dual handclaps?
Thursday, July 15, 2010
The Rembrandts: I'll Be There For You
So no one told you life was gonna be this way
Your job's a joke, you're broke, your love life's DOA
It's like you're always stuck in second gear
When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year but..
I'll be there for you
When the rain starts to pour
I'll be there for you
Like I've been there before
I'll be there for you
'Cuz you're there for me too
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Stealers Wheel: Stuck In The Middle
Cineastes recognize this song from its prominent placement in 1992 crime flick cult hit Reservoir Dogs, where it provided an ironic counterpoint to a policeman's torture. But long before it took on the underground, this summery seventies folkrock tune was a classic rock staple - one that sold over a million copies upon its release, charted in the single digits in both the US and the UK, and lingered long afterwards on a thousand retro radio playlists. Though that's surely where Tarantino found it, I think it's time we allowed it a chance at redemption.
Laurie Anderson: Let X = X
Music? Performance art? Spoken word? It’s tough to know what to call the work of Laurie Anderson. Sometimes it just depends on the piece. One thing that can be said is that her narrative style reminds us that Muse and musing are derived from the same root. Anderson’s pieces ramble around to a point, express it, and then ramble away from it again. Her gift is in making us feel that this is natural and comfortable.
There is always music as part of these pieces, and Let X = X boils it down to its essence. In Laurie Anderson’s works, technological and organic sounds find a way to coexist. Here, it is just a synthesizer and handclaps, plus a percussion instrument I can not identify, for most of the piece. There is a band that comes in briefly towards the end, threatening to disrupt the equilibrium that has been achieved. But then the balance is restored at the end. It will sound strange to many ears, but this piece is entrancing.
Note to readers: last week, for our Joni Covers theme, I posted a version of God Must Be a Boogie Man. There was a problem with the file, and it would not play. My apologies. The problem is fixed now, and the song is now available as intended for your enjoyment.
KAT-TUN: Six Senses
It's been a while (for me, anyway) since I got the chance to post something Japanese. The song I've chosen is a must for this week's theme, though, because you can tell these guys worked re-e-e-e-ally hard getting those handclaps super-perfect. Such persistence should be rewarded.
It also gives me the chance to talk a bit about Johnny and Associates. Wiki calls it a "talent agency," which is correct in the same sense that McDonalds is a "restaurant." Since its formation in 1962, Johnny's has grown to be a huge Japanese entertainment conglomerate, and what it specializes in are boy bands. Johnny's is like a blend of Disney's Hollywood Records (including a Mickey Mouse Club clone, The Shounen Club) and Lou Pearlman (not including, thankfully, the Ponzi schemes or the skeevy sexual predation).
Johnny's discovered our featured boy band, KAT-TUN, in the same sense that the Monkees were "discovered." Talented boys are hand-picked to join Johnny's stable of artists, are trained and groomed and combined into groups, and when they're deemed ready, they debut, first in small venues, then successively larger halls. Look at them, aren't they kawaii (adorable) – if you were twelve, you probably wouldn't tear your eyes away from their picture to even bother to read this bit. KAT-TUN is as big in Japan as the Backstreet Boys were in America.
This song is a perfect J-Pop gem. The lyrics are a seemingly random mix of English and Japanese, which is also typical of J-Pop. My internet friend, Travis, has kindly translated them if you'd like to try singing it on your next karaoke night. You're on your own, though, for the hand clapping.
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
The Stooges: 1969
Iggy Stooge (as he was then known) and the boys perfectly captured teen malaise ("It's another year for me and you/Another year with nothin' to do") on this track from their debut album. Ron Asheton's fuzzed-out wah-wah guitar takes center stage, but loose hand claps accompany the entire song.
The album was originally producing by John Cale. But the band and label were unhappy with Cale's mix, so Iggy and Elektra boss Jac Holzman remixed the album. Their instincts were in the right place. When the Cale mixes were finally released, they revealed a much thinner, tinnier sound. The raw power of the recordings were lost.
This, on the other hand, is the way they were supposed to sound.
Steve Miller Band: Take the Money and Run
I had a couple of ideas for this week, which I will still get to later, but this morning my iPod was on shuffle and all of sudden there they were: The most iconic succession of five hand claps from my early adolescence.
They headed down tooooo old El Paso... clap! clap! clap! clap! clap!
In 1976 I was nine years old. Just old enough to be cognizant of the fact that every older kid in my town, it seemed, knew every word to this song. As far as I could tell it was required curriculum at the Junior and Senior High Schools. I distinctly remember being in our kitchen with one of my older sister's totally hot friends when she sang along with this song and laughed as she clapped those five claps.
Steve Miller was never consistent enough to transcend the 70's in any meaningful way. But his handful of hits were so mercilessly catchy that they have remained on most respectable classic rock rotations, and most people over 40 remember where they were when these songs were being played every 10 minutes on the radio.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Belle & Sebastian: The Boy With The Arab Strap
Belle & Sebastian's biggest hit, 1998 tune The Boy With The Arab Strap is quite possibly the poppiest song ever written about disappointment, desolation, prison, frustrated masturbation, and life in squalor.
Of course, most fans agree that the backstory seems to refer to the time when the band was on tour in London with sadcore indie band Arab Strap, a central part of Glasgow's influential late 1990s music scene, and band member Isobel Campbell slept with their lead singer as her relationship with Belle and Sebastian lead singer Stuart Murdoch turned to shit. But it's also worth noting that Murdoch was a chronic fatigue syndrome sufferer at the time, that an Arab Strap is an erection aid, and the term seems to be used here to mean both. Wheels upon wheels, in perfectly upbeat danceable time.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Parliament: Up For the Down Stroke
Last week, we surveyed the songs of Joni Mitchell. These are songs with poetic lyrics, songs that move the heart. But this week is another matter entirely. We’re clapping our hands, dancing maybe. What’s called for are songs that move the body. And nobody ever did that better than Parliament/ Funkadelic.
George Clinton was the master of ceremonies, and Bernie Worrell, Bootsy Collins and Maceo Parker were just some of the notable musicians who worked with him. Parliament and Funkadelic were basically the same band, but using both names allowed Clinton to maintain recording contracts with two different labels, thereby preserving his creative control. He used that control to create a funk orchestra, with intricate interlocking parts in the songs. The handclaps in Up For the Down Stroke are just one element in the larger whole. Don’t bother trying to sit still for this one; it can’t be done.
Jorge Ben: Ponta De Lança Africano (Umbabarauma)
I had to jump on this week's theme so that this song would be timely for the FIFA World Cup Final on Sunday. Remember, it's futbol, not soccer, and sadly for South America, none of their teams made it to the final two. Instead we've got an European face-off between Spain and the Netherlands.
Jorge Ben is one of Brazil's musical treasures. This upbeat song, with its blend of Brazilian and African rhythms, was released in 1976. It pays tribute to an African futbol player and the beautiful game. Let's put our hands together and join in! Joga Bonito!
Play ball, I want to play ball, ball player
Jump, jump, fall, get up, go up and get down.
Run, kick, find a hole, thrill and give thanks.
See how the whole city empties out
On this beautiful afternoon to watch you play.