Tuesday, September 27, 2022

THE ROAD: GOES ON FOREVER AND THE PARTY NEVER ENDS.

The mythological lure of the road has long attracted attention in way more than just musical memes. We’ll get to that in due course, but it got me thinking around the whole idea of a road trip. Like, what was the first? Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, came initially to mind, until I realised how shortsighted and narrow was my entry angle, remembering the Richard Thompson response: best songs of the millennia, or of all time, did not start with Sinatra. So that in mind, throwing out my net a bit wider, are we talking the Crusades; that was a sort of tour? Or Christ’s 40 day desert gig, did that count? I think a prime contender would have to be Ulysses, his 12 tasks and all that. Tack on the Trojan War and the tour is encroaching Dylanesque Never Ending logistics.

I could be getting carried away here, but it has an appeal. I wonder what was on his rider? And who ran the merch stall? And for all the buzz around Homer, the “official releases”, I’ll bet there were live sets and bootlegs, swapped in chariot parks, before the show. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone somewhere is still putting together a box set, the Ithaca tapes, perhaps. I’m sure I read about it on the Steve Hoffman forum.

So, as they, say. Robert Earl Keen. Whatever happened to him? Nothing bad, to be fair, as he still tours and plays, but, as with, say, Steve Forbert, so much early promise seeming never quite to be capitalised upon. From Houston, Texas, he hit the ground running in the mid 80s, with a signature stripped back sound, bluegrass style instrumentation, allied to rootsy modern folk songs, all sung in his gritty mournful moan. I loved it, and West Textures, his 2nd album was a bona fide delight. Still is, the songs rendered timeless by that old timey anchor. The song that entitles this piece is his best known song, but they all have legs. Heck, at that time, he, Lyle Lovett and Nanci Griffith seemed an insurmountable triad of potential, at whose altars I knelt, in awe. So young and so much talent.

Keen  had a particular knack for a story song, with TRGOFATPNE being the prime evidence. I alway feel the idea for such long haul yarn spinning came from Bob Dylan, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts always coming to mind as the trigger to Keen’s muse.(I suppose, given the earlier paras written, due credit for all epics should maybe go to forbears from times long past, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, for his Charge of the Light Brigade, Longfellow  for Hiawatha, or, logically, good ol’ boy Homer himself, but the tunes have been largely lost.) The relatively simple construct, the repetition and the loping propulsive rhythm together produce a suspension of time, the story taking the fill of concentration. Keen was able to show he was no one trick pony, mind, as his next album, A Bigger Piece of Sky, four years later, in 1993, had another cracker, Jesse With the Long Hair Hanging Down. With shock, I note this barely hits 3 and 3/4 minutes, it casting a way longer shadow in my memory, but, details, schmetails, this is still a saga song, just a wee bit shorter. 

Oft seen as his high water mark, A Bigger Piece of Sky, whilst it had its moments, never quite hit my spot as had West Textures. In truth, I sort of went off him a bit after that, as somebody told him his forte might be in humorous songs, an oxymoron by any definition, at least in my book. But he has plugged away, with 20 studio recordings to his name. I gather he is about to hang up his cowboy boots, making me sad I never caught him live. Indeed, of that 80’s trio of performers, Nanci was the only one who ever seemed much to visit the UK, seeing her a host of times between then and the mid 90’s. But I did get to hear one near swansong, as Keen covered a host of his traditional influences: here is what I thought about that album.

A final thought about Keen might be to thank him not only for my beloved West Textures, but also to his enlightening me to the presence and worth of anothe songwriter, one Kevin ‘Blackie’ Farrell, himself no stranger get to the long form song. The exquisite Sonora’s Death Row, covered by Keen on West Textures, is one of his, as is another of my favourites, Mama Hated Diesels, as performed by Commander Cody’s Lost Planet Airmen. Farrell probably deserves a pice in his own right, memo to self, but it’s good to at least have the opportunity to namecheck him, until then.

May the road rise to meet you…….

Friday, September 23, 2022

The Road: What’s Your Name?

Lynyrd Skynyrd: What’s Your Name?
[purchase

Growing up in the 1970s, as I did, the life of a rock musician seemed pretty fucking cool. Especially the famous ones, who got to jet around the world, perform in arenas and stadiums, have all sorts of fun contract riders to attend to their every anticipated needs, and apparently make tons of money. (Although in reality, for most touring musicians, it wasn’t this great) It seemed like the essence of freedom (although it probably became a bit of a regimented slog at some point, or there wouldn’t be so many life on the road is a bummer songs.) Plus there were the drugs, which I knew could be deadly or at least damaging, but seemed like they could be fun in moderation. And the groupies. I’m betting that a large number of people who became rock musicians did so in some large part for the promise of sex, with a different conquest in every town. A concept which was different in the pre-AIDS era.

Which brings us to our featured song, 1977’s “What’s Your Name?” by Southern rock masters Lynyrd Skynyrd. I wrote a long piece about the band HERE, so if you want some background on them, including the whole Neil Young “controversy,” check it out, and we’ll still be here when you are done. 

The song, from the band’s final album recorded before the plane crash album (but released just after), Street Survivors, is based on a true incident (which did not actually take place in Boise, Idaho, however), when the band was thrown out of a hotel bar while on tour because, as the song says, “one of the crew had a go with one of the guests.” Repairing to their rooms, the narrator asks a woman (ok, a “little girl”) to join him upstairs for a “drink of champagne.” He’s not looking for a deep, meaningful relationship, but rather, as stated in the opening, he’s looking for “a little queen,” and he intends to “treat her right.” Which I think we can all agree, means sex. And, he’s not bullshitting her, either—he’s “shooting you straight,” about his intention. 

Fast forward to nine a.m the next morning, and our champagne quaffing musician is up suitably early to prepare for a 600 mile ride to the next show. Apparently, the night went well-as he says, “it sure was grand,” and offers to get his bedmate a taxi home. And he suggests that they get together when the band swings through town the next year. There’s only one real problem—he doesn’t remember (or never knew) her name, so he asks for this critical piece of information.

“What’s Your Name?” is a fun rocker, and reached No. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, posthumously. 

Now, bear with me for a second. At the risk of blowing any feminist cred that I’ve achieved, I’d argue that by 1977’s standards, “What’s Your Name?” is fairly progressive, despite its hint of underage sex and anonymous coupling. As far as the underage part goes, I’m willing to consider that “little girl” is a term of endearment, not a literal description. And yes, it’s a bit sexist, but again—1977, and rock musicians. Secondly, I’d argue that the song depicts a fully consensual relationship—there’s no evidence that the woman was already incapacitated when the singer offers her champagne in his room, and he’s clearly “shooting her straight.” Third, the next morning, he’s complimentary and polite, offers to call a cab, and seems to sincerely want to see her again the next year. 

Look, I can also see how this could be interpreted differently (I found one source referring to the song as “perpetuating misogynistic fantasies”)—I’m not an idiot, and I have a wife and daughter (and mother-in-law) who graduated from women’s’ colleges —and by 2022 standards, there are certainly some issues here. But if you actually read some of the stuff linked to in the Cover Me piece about how (at least the pre-crash version of) Lynyrd Skynrd’s politics have been misinterpreted, again through the lens of the 1970s, I’d argue that simply tarring them as a bunch of sexists as a result of “What’s Your Name?” is at least a little bit unfair. I mean, they very well might have been a bunch of sexists, but not just because of the song.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

THE ROAD: TO NOWHERE

Less on, more been, my excuse is down to the scourge of IT. (Others may vary.) As far as I’m concerned, the IT superhighway can go take one. Sure, sure, without the gift of information technology, I could not be able to waste time you could be better spending elsewhere, let alone my own. But, jeez, don’t you just take the bastard for granted. My laptop recently caught a cold, and has been in the computer fever hospital, getting the best of not inexpensive attention. Meanwhile I am wrestling with my phone to pick up the slack. Which, are you with me, leads inevitably to this post. Ever done Blogger or Wordpress on your phone? The dogs within this lesser tool seem far better able to eat your homework than my usual medium. And much more willing, eager, even, to throw the lovingly chosen words into the ether. So, a lot of roads to nowhere between Run and Road. Or that there were a song to hang on that peg……

Oh, there is, it being a latter day jewel in the crowned (Talking) Heads of popular music. But you knew that. Talking Heads were always either better than their hype or never quite matching it, making for quite the paradox.


In the beginning came Psycho Killer, I still in awe and of a tremble to the above clip. I remember it well, on the UK televisual “inkie”, the Old Grey Whistle Test, or Whistle Test as us teenage bedroom groovers called it. David Byrne looked such a dork, in his slacks and preppy polo shirt, yet the menace he imbued into this hypnotic throb of a song was intense. With Tina Weymouth plugging away on bass, and the other two being, well, the other two, it was nothing short of apocryphal. At home the punks had to look scary, ‘this guy was the real deal.


The album, 77, was good, but not so good as to disappoint around how much better than the other tracks was Killer. Which sort of summed up the band, their albums tending towards one standout track, and then the rest. Their version of Al Green’s Take Me To The River did that for the next, Songs About Buildings And Food, great title, by the way, but I lost interest.

I missed out on several intervening years, or maybe switched off. Meanwhile folk were raving about that film and that video, but not me, my eyes were averted. In fact, it wasn’t until the featured song came out, that I came off my Talking Head road to nowhere. In truth, I suspect it was Tom Tom Club that re-engaged interest; I loved Wordy Rappinghood. 


Little Creatures came out four years after the Tom Tom Club had their brief turn in the sun. Uncertain why, but I really took to And She Was, the first single, swiftly followed, as it was, by Road To Nowhere. I was back on the bus, big time  so much so I duly bought also the next album, Naked. From which I fell right off, in dismay. Even ahead the unavoidable implosion of the band.

David Byrne has, of course, gone on and on, regrouping, regaining and retaining acclaim. The rest of the band less so. The Heads album was a huge letdown, despite the guest singers, and, despite the critical plaudits, I always struggle to see beyond the artifice in Byrne’s solo art. Not for me. I still seem always to see through the facade of world music inspiration and icon, only seeing the jerky nerves of the psycho killer. Which is as good as any a place to leave.

Perhaps my laptop will be repaired soon. Until then, follow me


Sunday, September 4, 2022

RUN: FOR HOME



Funny how it all comes round. I used to rant against this song back in the day. As a dyed in the wool afficianado of the original Lindisfarne line up, as eulogised here, I baulked as they went their separate ways, into Jack The Lad and the Lindisfarne Mk II. Erring always on the side of folkie, I was always going to find greater attraction with the former and shaggier offshoot. Even, if truth be told, the material was a bit meh.Whilst Lindisfarne retained the two main singers and the most prolific of the songwriters, I missed the other guys, and took offence. Alan Hull, that prolific writer, with his eye more on his burgeoning solo career, meant that Mk II were a pretty lacklustre ensemble, quietly breaking up after a couple of ill received albums. Jack The Lad  had fared little better, so, when the opportunity came to regroup for a one-off gig at Newcastle City Hall, the original five piece all leapt at it. That led to a reprise a year later and they decided to make it a going concern again in 1978.

But I hadn't kept up, had I? I thought the Lindisfarne that brought out this featured song, later that same year, from the presciently titled Back and Fourth album, was still the Mk II line up. Plus it was drenched in strings, making for far too much saccharine for me to imbibe. As the new engagement with success and the charts failed and faded, so the band again drifted out of my awareness. Sure, I knew they continued to play Newcastle City Hall on a regular annual basis, but, adding insult to injury, a version of Fog On The Tyne, the song, in cahoots with fellow Geordie, the footballer, Paul "Gazza" Gascoigne, was such anathema to my ears as to make their name mean nothing to me. (And, by golly, bad it truly was.)


As the years unfolded, the band began slowly to splinter once more. First Ray Jackson, the other vocalist and the harmonica and mandolinist left, then Simon Cowe, the wild haired guitarist. Yes, they were replaced, with, Hull even bringing in his son-in-law to help bolster the band. Little did he know how shrewd a move that might later become. Hull then died; a heart attack taking him far too young, but the band still played on, drafting in yet more new members. They then broke up in 2004, this time, one might imagine for good. However, remnants of the band, with even the odd original, still managed to tour under various guises: The Lindisfarne Story and Lindisfarne Acoustic being two of such, and the former resurrected the Newcastle City Hall shows. Ray Jackson, meanwhile, mindful of the legacy beginning to unravel, took the bones of those left and revived the band, proper. OK, he was the only original, but Dave Hull-Denholm, Hull's son in law, as mentioned, was considered continuity by proxy. On drums, in an unusual change of style, for him, was ex-Roxy Music thumper, Paul Thompson. Odd, unless you recall Roxy themselves hailed also from the North East of England too.

Give or take couple of years and Jackson, wearying a life on the road, sought an exit. Luckily, old mucker, Rod Clements, was waiting in the wings, taking control of the franchise. As the author of Meet Me On the Corner, their biggest hit, he had more right than many, Simon Cowe, the never more hirsute guitarist having now also died and Ray Laidlaw, the drummer, continuing to fly a flag for the Lindisfarne Story offshoot. Anyhow, cut to the chase, any good? I caught ‘em at  Wickham last year, the answer a resounding yes. Especially as they encored with the featured song!

Run!!

Friday, August 26, 2022

DON"T : NEED THIS PRESSURE ON (CHANT No. 1)

Actually, as the avid trainspotters will already have conjectured, and loudly, it is the other way around, it is Chant No.1 (We Don't Need This Pressure On), but how other the heck do I squeeze this stonking tune into the category? How can it be that this energetically funky slice of dance hall joy could come from the soon to be so very anodyne Spandau Ballet? And as for New Romanticism, whatever that was or might be, this owes more, musically, to the early posturing of Wham, themselves later capable also of saccharine drenched dreck.

I remember that time period well, as both myself and the media were scrabbling around to find the next big thing, although I dare say our parameters were somewhat different. I just needed something with a bit more wallop than the increasingly post punk power pop and new wave, each becoming overly formulaic and meh. I was still reading the inkies, Melody Maker and New Musical Express, so was open to all the hype available. I was watching the somewhat ludicrous appearance of the bright young things, hogging the limelight in and around that London town, a million miles away from the always less demonstrative Birmingham. (Altho' there were stirrings.....) The fashion didn't grab me, but, and they seemed the market leaders, that Spandau Ballet seemed to have an interesting take on combining styles and genres into an appealing musical mix.

The above, their first single, came out on Halloween's day, 1980. I liked. I can't remember whether I admitted that, but it didn't seem long before Chant came along, and it became OK to like the band. Heck, a lot of people were making that choice. I bought the debut album, not realising Chant wasn't on it. And, the singles apart, it was a tad underwhelming. Wiki now tells me that was on the second album, but that passed me by. I guess, as a newly married junior Dr, my earlier vice-like grip on the charts was losing some. So it was Gold and True that next alerted me to this band. Where had it all gone so wrong? Vapid, ainsipid ballads of the lowest common denominator, I couldn't distance myself quick enough. Of course, they sold zillions and they were everywhere. Snippets of later material came to my ears, but, the spell broken, they meant nothing to me.

Apart from being always in the playlist of any and every Gold, Platinum and whatever FM, easy listening halls of drain for children of the 70s and 80s, forever broadcasting in malls and waiting rooms, Spandau Ballet ceased to hold any consequence for me. I knew they had all sued each other, but more fool they. Until something strange occurred. In 2018, Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason decided to get his hand back in, his day job seeming unlikely to be a thing again. He was eager to revive and revitalise the earlier late 60s and cusp of the 70s catalogue of his old band, and looked for an appropriate organ. His band, Saucerful of Secrets, named after the album, was that organ, but it was the line-up that surprised, featuring, as it did, in pole position, that of Gary Kemp. That Gary Kemp, the Spandau keyboards guy, and the writer of most their songs, the good, the bad and the indifferent. Here he would be employed on guitar and vocals. Interviews revealed him to be a true fan and, similarly, to be quite the scholar around that period of English music history. I went to see the band. They were great. HE was great, and my opinion jumped small buildings, further cemented by hearing his good natured podcasts, alongside Guy Pratt, another Secret Saucerman. Hell, his favourite record was/is Liege and Lief, the Fairport Convention record that effectively invented folk-rock. Suddenly he was again a good guy!

I still can't listen to much Spandau. But the early stuff, following my years of after the event prejudice, suddenly I can face their music and dance. That must be good, mustn't it?

Chant!

Thursday, August 25, 2022

Don't: Don't You Want Me

 


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There was an article in The Guardian the other day about the influence of the C64 (that would be the mid 1980s Commodore 64 computer). The author was primarily focused on the (relative, for the times) quality of the games, but also mentioned the computer’s sound features. It is probably worth mentioning that we are talking 8-bit computing, but the C64 (and my choice back then - the ZX Spectrum) were tools that allowed some of us to compose/synthesize music on the cheap (and it sounded pretty cheap until I got my Amiga 500 with a copy of Deluxe Music.)



For those of us of that age, the Moog synthesizer was probably the best known by the public since it was more or less the first and had been around and established a name/market for “electronic music” since the 1960s.  By the 1980s (when people like myself were toying around with their home computers), professional musicians had some pretty cool electronic noise makers in their hands.

Although my 1960s childhood included listening to my parents’ Switched on Bach and an awareness of Turkish electronic composer Mimaroglu, I’m going to guess that it was the keyboards on Who’s Next that “enlightened” me. Sources suggest that this was one of the first uses of a synthesizer for more than backing sounds (says Wikipedia: “integral” as opposed to “gloss”). The year is 1971. Sure, Ray Manzarak was clearly using a synthesizer, as were the Stones and the Beatles, but the Who’s use was seminal for me.

By the time Human League was voted Best British Breakthrough in 1982, most rock/jazz  keyboards were outputting synthesized sound anyway. (it appears that there is a line dividing synthesizer from “synthesized keyboard” in that the former allows you to create your own sounds; yet, my limited research convinces me that a decent modern  “stage piano” is a “performance synthesizer”.




All this to provide background for the sound behind The Human League’s singular most famous song <Don’t You Want Me>. The group is categorized as a synthpop band - a musical form where the synthesizer is the main instrument. And while I am pretty sure that my mid-1970s self would have grossly panned the song (my go-to sound back then was Keith Jarrett style), I will admit getting a certain aural pleasure from hearing the song again and comfort from knowing I am not alone (Graham Parker and Rolling Stone magazines’ praises)

Don’t you agree that it is catchy? (160 million viewers of this clip would probably agree.)


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Don't: Beatles songs with Don't




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When it appears at the start of a sentence, don’t is a command - as opposed to its use mid-sentence, where it is more of a negation of a condition. Compare: <Don't love me> as opposed to <You don't love me> or <Don't do that> vs. <You don't do that>.


Of the <don't> songs in the Beatles' repertoire, it was "Why Don't We Do It in the Road" that got me started.


The “White Album” is quirky in a number of ways. Loudersound.com actually lists 50 things you need to know about it. Let me count a few. The minimalist cover was in itself a statement, particularly since it came on the heels of the rather gaudy cover to the Sgt Peppers album. Many of the songs were not recorded with all members of the band playing. Check out the link to loudersound for 48 more trivia about the album (I don’t want to appropriate their work, so click here)

Why Don’t We Do It in the Road (now there’s a title to test your knowledge of the rules of English capitalization!) seems to me to be quite representative of their mindset, again, in a number of ways. It is basically Paul and Ringo. The idea came to Paul in India, as did a number of the inspirations for the album. The “theme” (if said term is appropriate to a single line of lyrics) is as flippant as anything else on the album: Bungalow Bill, Rocky Raccoon, Warm Gun … It is also one of 2 songs on the album that have Don’t in the title. The song is an impressive example of how to expand something simple into something more: there is an argument to make about whether “it” could be more than what Paul saw that gave him the idea; there is the amusement that someone can “get away with” singing about “it”; there is the vocal expression that kinda culminates in the “from-the-soul” screaming line; there is the creative, abrupt ending 


Don’t Pass Me By, the other <don’t> song from the White Album is another McCartney/Starr recording without the other two, but with “crazy” violin from Jack Fallon (a one-off? is apparently a song Ringo wrote back in the early 60s.




Other Beatles’ don’ts include 


Don't let me down



Honey Don’t (Carl Perkins)



Don’t Bother Me (Them Beatles)



I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party (Acoustic Beatles Band)