Friday, March 27, 2020

NON-SENSE: IN THE MADNESS/STARRY EYED & LAUGHING

In the Madness

I'm going to stick with the sanity and sense delineation, not least as there is seeming so little about of late. And whilst this song may be about the madness of love, let's just enjoy the tune as we rue the madness of life. And, it's a good song isn't it? So what little seam of Laurel Canyon did it seep from, which L.A. valley, which neighbourhood in the SanFran diaspora about? Answer? None.

Lady Came From the South

Starry Eyed and Laughing were a british band of the 1970s. Yes, the 12 string jangle might seem to be that of the Byrds, and, yes, the name is most certainly lifted from a song by Bob Dylan, but it was in unglamorous Bedford, north west of London that the band first came together. And, whilst their roots were as a covers band playing the music of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and the Byrds, it could always be argued the signature instrumental timbre they lifted was that of the Searchers, doyens earlier still of the Rickenbacker electric 12 string sound. Unfortunately success never knocked that hard, and they seemed destined to be part of the ranks of second stringers, permanently second on the bill to the bigger hitters of the day.

Chimes of Freedom

First album, the eponymous SE&L, came out in 1974, and was an agreeable anglo-country-rock jaunt, with additional support from BJ Cole on steel to fill further out the sound. A year later and their second disc dropped, Thought Talk, but even with the weight of CBS records behind them, and a punishing US tour, supporting acts as disparate, with audiences ill-suited and prepared, as Weather Report, the J.Geils Band and Toots and the Maytals, they failed to crack much of a market overseas or at home. Limping on as the abbreviated Starry Eyed, abbreviated also to a 3 piece, they eventually disbanded in 1976.

Flames in the Rain

That might well have been that, but it wasn't. Rumbles of appreciation from longterm fans allowed the belated release of live material and of unreleased material and compilations, dripping out over the past 15 years, and all keeping the flame alive. So then, what of Tony Poole, the 12 string maestro of the group? He moved into production and helmed albums by, amongst others, Steeleye Span and The Men They Couldn't Hang, unsurprisingly both also bands I enjoy and have featured in these pages. However, the performing and writing itch was still extant in him, so it was a delight when I began to hear good words about a new trio, Bennett Wilson Poole. Robin Bennett, Danny Wilson (Grand Drive) and Tony Poole. Despite it being forty odd years since he left the stage lights, Poole is again chiming a glorious jangle based sound. Making a lot of happy men feel very old. And feeling alive.
With somewhat prescient lyrics that might very well fit with the madness of now.

Lifeboat: Bennett Wilson Poole (2018)

Laugh, whilst the nonsense unravels.


Thursday, March 26, 2020

Non-Sense: Rubber Biscuit


The Blues Brothers: Rubber Biscuit
[purchase]

If you knew that the original version of this song was released in 1956 by The Chips, then a tip of my fedora to you. Because I suspect that most of us first became aware of this song from its recording and performance by The Blues Brothers, a band fronted by Saturday Night Live performers John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd, and featuring some of the best studio musicians around. Their debut album, Briefcase Full of Blues was a chart topping success, and both “Rubber Biscuit” and Sam & Dave cover “Soul Man” were top 100 singles—and their first movie was a huge hit, commercially, if not completely artistically (although, this is still one of my favorite scenes).

Some critics had reservations about the quality of the music—mostly focusing on Belushi, who sang lead on most songs—and whether or not it was a ripoff (or, as we might call it today, “cultural appropriation”). But others pointed out that Ackroyd and Belushi highlighted a number of obscure songs (like “Rubber Biscuit”), revived interest in the genre, and probably got more than a few performers and songwriters unexpected royalty checks or gigs. To quote the Allmusic review of Briefcase,

The guardians of popular music have always been entirely too reverent and humorless, however, and it wasn't long before they were leveling charges of rip-off against the Brothers and complaining that John Belushi couldn't sing as well as Otis Redding. So what?

“Rubber Biscuit” was Ackroyd’s showcase, and featured him on lead vocals. Ackroyd loved blues music and had performed it on and off since his college days, sometimes sitting in with the Downchild Blues Band in Canada, and even played the drums behind Muddy Waters at a show. Here's a video of Ackroyd performing with them at their 50th Anniversary show last year.

The song is filled with nonsense scat singing, interspersed with spoken comments by the singer. Interestingly, much like the song featured in my last Non-Sense post, “Rubber Biscuit,” despite its silliness—and it is silly—has an underlying serious message. It is about poverty and hunger—the spoken part of the lyrics refer to “food” such as a “wish sandwich,” which is “the kind of a sandwich where you have two slices of bread and you wish you had some meat,” or a “ricochet biscuit,” which is “the kind of biscuit that's supposed to bounce off the wall back in your mouth. If it don't bounce back, you go hungry.”

Saturday, March 21, 2020

NON-SENSE: SYD

Of course there is nonsense and nonsense. It can vary from, at one extreme, merely that with which you disagree, through entertaining whimsy before finally arriving, quivering and juddering, at the howling at the moon of full blown madness. It is just over fifty years since Roger "Syd" Barrett, onetime face and voice of the then The Pink Floyd, released his first solo record, having been ejected from the band. Having enriched the band with his Edward Lear-like eccentricities of lyrical source material, knicker nickers and the like, this release now gave agonising insight into the perilous state of his psyche.


The reports weren't good. Attendees at his later performances with Pink Floyd would speak of no shows and, worse, shows where he may have been there, but was clearly somewhere miles away at the same time. Drugs, mainly the psychedelics, LSD predominantly, deemed the culprit, either by a de novo tripping of the switch or by bringing earlier to the surface that which lay anyway beneath. I don't suppose we will ever really know, but my view, professional opinion, if you like, as a practising medic, is the latter.

Terrapin/The Madcap Laughs (1969)

I remember well my first exposure to The Madcap Laughs, as the record was entitled. The cover alone was disarming enough, certainly to a 13 year old boy, just beginning a lifelong exploration of music in all its varied hues. In truth, it had been out for a couple of years, so I would have been 15, tipped in that direction by, first, the cheapo Pink Floyd compilation, Nuggets, on the Music for Pleasure label (which also put out similar curiosities by other acts as disparate as the Beach Boys, the Monkees and Donovan), and later by full price immersions in Atom Heart Mother and Meddle. A chum of mine, with preternaturally deep pockets, seemed to able to buy up anything that much cooler and on the fringes than the rest of us. We has also learnt there was a record player in the school music building, and how to get in to it out of hours. He had bought Madcap and the strange Roger Waters/Ron Geesin soundtrack of Music From The Body. The poop song apart on the latter, we agreed it held little appeal. But Madcap was deeply disturbing. None of the songs seemed complete; there seemed often a mismatch between the vocals and the backing, sometimes just with a rambling talking voice taking exit of any earlier structure mid song. And the lyrics? What was this? More a random placement of words than any storyline, words jumbling together based on their sound or upon whatsoever garbled thought processs could conjure up on the hoof, live in the studio. I later, during my psych training, learnt that this freeform word (dis)association, Knight's Move Thinking, can be a symptom of schizophrenia. OK, there were a couple of clearer and more orthodox songs, clamoured towards the end of the second side, dripping with the sense of a necessary medication having taken place. And with some relief, given at an earlier stage, in a segue of live studio tape seemingly just running, you can hear the anguish of a brain frying in real time. Shocking, heady stuff, and deeply disturbing, if likewise compelling. Of course I had to have a copy.

If It's In You/The Madcap Laughs (1969)

Dark Globe/The Madcap Laughs (1969)

"Oh where are you now 
pussy willow that smiled on this leaf? 
When I was alone you promised the stone from your heart 
my head kissed the ground 
I was half the way down, treading the sand 
please, please, lift a hand 
I'm only a person whose armbands beat 
on his hands, hang tall 
won't you miss me? 
Wouldn't you miss me at all? 

The poppy birds way 
swing twigs coffee brands around 
brandish her wand with a feathery tongue 
my head kissed the ground 
I was half the way down, treading the sand 
please, please, please lift the hand 
I'm only a person with Eskimo chain 
I tattooed my brain all the way... 
Won't you miss me? 
Wouldn't you miss me at all?"

I later bought his second LP, the less dramatically presented and titled Barrett. A gentler affair, with structure more firmly moulded upon the songs, even if as a later thought and at a latter time. His old buddy and his band replacement, David Gilmour here responsible for gilding the lily and gelding the mania. Some good songs and a smoother ride, that would later be brought back to mind by the closing scenes of the film version of Ken Kesey's book, One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest, the sadness of seeing the madness constrained and controlled.

Love Song (Barrett, 1970)

Neither the time or place to reiterate all the later trajectories, all well documented and widely elsewhere. A journey of little sense from nonsense to no sense at all. A tragedy and a majesty combined. The old adage is that genius needs a touch of madness. I don't know about that, and certainly Syd didn't need it, nobody should or would choose psychosis. But we got to get the outcome, and for that I will always be grateful to that legacy being granted us.

Rest in peace, not pieces, you Crazy Diamond.
No laughing matter.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Non-sense: Heartbreaker (Doo Doo Doo Doo)


(the video and audio do not match, but the combination is an interesting mix)

purchase [Goats Head Soup]


Had enough of the doo-doo we're publishing? Well, here's another.

Actually, if I had done my homework well last week, I would have posted a version of the Stones performing <Da Doo Ron Ron>. Here.




I would stand up for the Stones like many Pres D.T. supporters do: well, maybe not even if Mick shot someone on Broadway, but just about through thick and thin. Thin includes their version of <Da Doo Ron Ron>: it's even worse that most of <Between the Buttons>, but then... that was a long time ago.

<Goats Head Soup>, the album that included "Heartbreaker" faced a fair amount of headwind: it came out the year after <Exile on Main Street> - a rather hard feat to beat. That said, it includes some of my favorites (in addition to "Heartbreaker"): Angie, Winter, 100 Years Ago. Not too shabby IMHO.

As for the non-sense aspect:
we could go back to the "doo-doo head" aspect of the lyrics, but that is probably not what Jimmy Miller, the producer had in mind. This seems more like of case of "we need filler lyrics" and <da da>, <doo doo> is what might come to anyone's mind. ie: no meaning/non-sense. Mission accomplished.

Having missed my prompt for other versions of "Da Doo Ron Ron", here's more:



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Non-Sense: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da



The Police: De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da
[purchase]

Would it surprise you to find out that Sting believes that this song, with its nonsense title and refrain, is actually a very serious song? Look, we all know that Sting can be very pretentious, but he knows that—even embraces it—and I think that you have to give him credit. And as I’ve mentioned before, I have no problem with pretentious music. It’s just that you wouldn’t expect that from a song with that title. But here’s what Sting said about the song in a New Musical Express interview in 1981:

I think my songs are fairly literate - they're not rubbish. 'De Do Do Do', for example, was grossly misunderstood: the lyrics are about banality, about the abuse of words. Almost everyone who reviewed it said, Oh, this is baby talk. They were just listening to the chorus alone, obviously. But they're the same people who would probably never get through the first paragraph of Finnegan's Wake, because that's 'baby talk', too. I know that sounds pretentious, but in that song I was trying to say something which was really quite difficult - that people like politicians, like myself even use words to manipulate people, and that you should be very careful. It's quite a serious song, but because it's by The Police it was just written off as being garbage.

In 1993, in Q, Sting said about the song:

God, I got flak for that one. I always thought it was an articulate song about being inarticulate. The first thing you have to consider is that this was a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic. I was intrigued with why songs like that worked. Why 'Da Doo Ron Ron', why 'Doo Wah Diddy Diddy', why 'Be Bop A Lula', why 'Tutti Frutti' worked. I came up with the idea that they worked because they were totally innocent. They weren't trying to tell you anything or distort your vision - it was just a sound. So in the song I try to intellectualise and analyse why that works so effectively which is self-defeating in a way but it was still a massive hit. Some people might think that the man who wrote 'De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da' is a stupid twat but...I'm living here. 

And, according to Wikipedia, Joni Mitchell, a pretty fair songwriter, loved it. 

It is hard not to listen to the song, and Sting’s explanation, without thinking of our remarkably inarticulate president, who nevertheless uses his simple (minded) words (and his lies and insults), to manipulate people—somehow getting millions of people to vote for him for a job that he is profoundly unqualified for. And to maintain their blind loyalty despite his consistent lies, corruption and failures. His actions in response to the current coronavirus emergency—for which the Police song “Don’t Stand So Close To Me,” comes to mind, although the subject of the song, about an affair between a school girl and an older man is more fitting for the social lives of Trump and his friends—have been dangerous and incoherent, but hasn’t yet seemed to erode the support of his base. Sadly, though, in this era or hyperpartisanship, he could stand in front of a podium, say “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da,” and walk away, and his sycophants would somehow declare it brilliant.

Eventually, though, I’m hoping that another Police song, “Truth Hits Everybody,” becomes appropriate—hopefully, before November 3, 2020.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Non-sense: Da Doo Ron Ron




purchase [Da Doo Ron Ron]

There are two ways to look at a non-sense song:
(1) it makes no sense to anyone, but that's the whole point of it
(2) it makes no sense to you and me, but it had meaning to thems that wrote it

The story goes that Phil Spector chose the nonsense lyrics "da doo ron ron" because they were "dumb enough" not to interfere with the actual lyrics telling the girl-meets-boy story (and that Sonny Bono was there to give his approval).

Among the various options to the <non-sense> theme, this one seemed particularly appropriate because ... welp ... we need some diversionary non-sense to help us survive these days of gibberish from all corners of the world, and <da doo ron ron> makes as much sense as everything else we are hearing. And because the song just brings bouncing happy feelings whenever I listen to it.
I wonder if I have an element of the Trump "things were better back in those days" virus, or if things really were better back then (just see how many "old" songs are still covered)

The Crystals were no one-hit group; Phil Spector made sure of that. Wikipedia reminds us that they were "one of the defining acts of the girl group era in the first half of the 1960s". Another of their hits you probably know is <Then He Kissed Me>.


Speaking of non-sense, Phil Spector's tactical games flip-flopping the Crystals and the Blossoms is one step short of non-sense and likely would not fly far these days.

Friday, March 13, 2020

superstitions: ubangi stomp



purchase [Ubangi Stomp ]



A confluence of auspicious days as I write/post. Today is Friday the 13th. Sunday is the Ides of March. Both of which go back a ways in history. One online source says Friday the 13th began being propagated in the 1300s, but is linked to the time of Jesus (the 13 disciples).

Personally, I am of two minds about superstitions - based on my experiences from a couple of decades in this world. No: I don't believe in them. On the other hand ... I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side if in fact one or more of them turns out to be "true".


I noted to the SMM team that there are some pretty weird superstitions in Turkish culture: spit on your new-born to ward off the evil? Again, I confess that my car sports the <de rigeur> blue bead/evil eye. I mean ... why not?

You've likely heard the term "Ubangi".  Maybe (like me in the days before politically correct took over) Ubangi Warriors, Maybe from  the "Bozo" (that's the clown) Travels the World recording? (Appears at about the 8 minute mark) Probably not in a positive light in these times, but it was perfectly acceptable when I was a kid: imitate the accent of a Ubangi warrior, imitate Ivan from Russia's limited English/accent. Aren't they the tribe that put plates in their lips to make them huge? Pretty wild, huhn? Did you know that they stomped on deformed babies to kill them? Welp... not so, but they had some such superstition that reverberated around the world.

Credited to Warren Smith, Ubangi Stomp is a [very classical] rock and roll piece that stems from the Ubangi stomping on deformed children superstition. Believe it or not.