Saturday, February 2, 2019

Spies and Secrets: Secret Agent Man

purchase [ Johnny Rivers Secret Agent Man]

Kind of in the middle of the James Bond/Man from UNCLE and Danger Man (in the UK) came Johnny Rivers' 1966 hit <Secret Agent Man>.

Written by the duo P.F.Sloan and Steve Barri, it was Rivers who took it to the top of the charts (#3). Rivers, along with Sloan and Barri, was under contract to Lou Adler of Dunhill Records.  Curiously, once again, the Ventures again made the most of the times by recording this in addition to their James Bond Theme from back in '62.

If you sense a certain similarity between the two songs (Bond Theme and Secret Agent), that's because ... well ... it's a life of danger. And that guitar is what danger sounds like. And because there is a certain amount of ... plagiarism (No... building on what came before).

That said, seems to me that Johnny Rivers hasn't received the credit he's due. Don't forget: he's also the man who sang the (again #3) hit the following year: <Baby, I Need Your Lovin'>. There's an informative interview/article in Forbes magazine that provides some sense of the man and his life.

Sloan himself tells his version of how things went down here.
Sloan and Steve Barri, incidentally, went on to found The Grass Roots. (Sloan below)

Other versions include:
Bruce Willis (above)

DEVO (above)

Most folks think that Rivers did it best.


If, like me, you find a tot of melancholia is the best pick-me-up on a frosty February morning, you could do a whole lot worse than immersing your ears in this fella. You may know him better as the vocalist and front man of Idlewild, that scottish institution of melodic and intelligent rock, but it is in his other guises I find more pleasure.

Broadly this what I call Glaswegiana (or Weegiana, the derivative), that melting pot of indie-rock and traditional folk, with generous side-orders of country, jazz and classical, anything really, dependent upon who's in town. You can find a fiddle as equally as an electric guitar, an accordion as a synthesiser and bagpipes as a saxophone. Drums, real or electronic, optional but often. Why (Glas)We(e)giana? Well, apart from tripping neatly off the tongue, much of it derives in or around Glasgow, Scotlands 2nd city, itself a melting pot, as the industrial revolution brought in waves of highlanders and irish, anyone dispossessed and looking for gainful, often the detritus of lives lost elsewhere. Whilst the music or musicians might not derive from the city, it is where it coalesces, a sort of hibernian delta triangle. Strong drink has never been far away from the heart of this city, and where there is drink, there is song. So there has always been rich and vibrant musical scene, the city being the breeding ground for bands as diverse as The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Simple Minds and Primal Scream. But it is after hours, after sell-out shows at such iconic venues at Barrowlands and King Tut's Wah-Wah Hut that the seeds of Weegiana tend to be sewn. The yearly Celtic Connections festival, 2 or 3 weeks of gigs and shows across the city, bears ample testament to this. Nominally a "Folk" festival, the list of names appearing shows just how wide a palette this term has become, and there are always specials, one-off commissions and collaborations  that typify my thesis. Here's this years programme. And the sessions, come-all-ye's of whoever has been playing each night, The Festival Club, held nightly at the Art School, from the time of curtain down at all those other venues until the wee hours, exemplify this still further.

But Woomble, more about him. From Irvine, an ancient burgh on the Ayrshire coast, south west of Glasgow, and with a somewhat peripatetic childhood, holidays in his parent's camper van and period of relocation to the states, he ended up in Edinburgh, where the nascent Idlewild came to germination. Hooking up with Colin Newton and Rod Jones, drummer and guitarist respectively, in 1995, the band were initially renowned more for enthusiasm than expertise: one famous early quote had them described as the "sound of a flight of stairs falling down a flight of stairs". However, their gamut morphed relatively swiftly, with the endorsement of influential radio DJ, Steve Lamacq, from mere clatter to a clinging wraparound sound, evocative both of grunge and a powerpoppier sound, not dissimilar to early R.E.M. Indeed, such comparisons, as they lurched into the 2000s, became commonplace, with no diminishment by the comparison. I first came across them about this time, actually as support to R.E.M. in the late summer of 2003, playing at Old Trafford, in Manchester, UK, the home of Lancashire cricket club.

                                                        American English/Idlewild

I liked them, but I liked a whole lot the more folk tinged direction of his debut solo album, entitled the same as the song here featured, in 2006, songs soaked in the spray across windswept jetties of the scottish island, Mull, he had migrated to. In collaboration with others from both folk and rock backgrounds, this epitomised the scottishness my heart adheres to. Then, linking up with Kris Drever, from Lau, folktronica mavericks, and the mercurial John McCusker, fiddler extraordinaire, currently the delight of both the Transatlantic Sessions, another baby of Celtic Connections, and of Mark Knopfler's current band, they set off as a trio, album to follow. Along the way he joined the sprawling collective, Reindeer Section, the ensemble conglomeration of whomsoever Gary Lightbody, of Snow Patrol, could find in Glasgow during those years at the turn of the century: members of Belle & Sebastian, Mogwai and Arab Strap, amongst others.  Marvellous times indeed, encapsulated still further by his curatorship of 'Ballads of the Book', a 2007 album that brings together the cream of then scottish culture, both musically and literary. As well as members of band/individuals as disparate as Teenage Fanclub, King Creosote and the Incredible String Band, premier folkies like Alasdair Roberts and Karine Polwart were present, collaborating with writers such as A.L. Kennedy, Ian Rankin and more. Many names appear time and time again across all of Woomble's involvements, musicians unfettered by their day job, just wanting to play. In 2011, he continued his solo output with 'The Impossible Song and Other Songs', describing the process here.

                                                The Weight of Years/Ballad of the Books

I guess there is less money in such arty fare, and it was to Idlewild Woomble again returned, since which time he has bounced between the two, band and solo, gradually mingling the sources, a fiddle player now part of the live Idlewild experience, and newer Idlewild members appearing simultaneously in his solo band. And the style has narrowed between the two, as more albums appear, band and solo. I saw his solo show perhaps a year or so after "My Secret" , and it was all fiddles and acoustica, a glorious show, yet last year, to commemorate solo album number 4, "The Deluder", it was he and the current Idlewild bassist, Andrew Mitchell/Wasylyk on guitar, playing, largely, a lot of Idlewild songs in an unplugged format. (I picked up the Wasylyk album from the merch desk.....)
Idlewild are on tour this summer. I remain undecided.

Changing the tune a little, in case I find myself accidentally convincing myself I don't like Idlewild, here's Woomble himself, a fine writer, who has penned regular monthly columns for Glasgow's Sunday Herald newspaper, as well as keeping up a blog on his personal website, It's about breakfasts.

Get 'My Secret is My Silence' while you can.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Spies and Secrets: F.B.I.

Ian Hunter: F.B.I.
[purchase the album at a very high price]
[purchase just the song, at a reasonable price]

Growing up, as a good liberal child in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the FBI was the enemy. Under the leadership of director J. Edgar Hoover, and after his death, the FBI was instrumental in trying to suppress the civil rights and anti-war movements, discriminate against gays, and generally act as a tool of the “Establishment.” I personally have no problem with enforcing the law, if done fairly and within the bounds of the law—and so I have no problem with the FBI’s anti organized crime or terrorism work, for example—but with respect to the civil rights and antiwar stuff, they definitely crossed the line. Which may be why, in part, it wasn’t hard to watch The Americans, and find myself sorta pulling for the Russians, even though watching the show demonstrated that they were also pretty horrible.

It is interesting, though, that now it is the “leader” of the American government himself who is the biggest critic of the FBI, despite the fact that he appointed its director. And let me be clear—former director Comey deserved to be fired by whichever candidate won the 2016 election because of the way he botched the handling of the investigations of both candidates. But to have done so for the explicit reason of impeding the investigation into alleged conspiracy with Russia to influence the election is simply wrong, and probably illegal. So, it is amusing that these days, it seems like it is the liberal Democrats who seem to be bigger fans of the FBI than the Republicans.

I doubt that the FBI is that big a deal in England, much as the band The Shadows was never that big a deal here. (How’s that for a clunky segue?) But in England, they were huge, with multiple hits, and lead guitarist Hank Marvin influenced pretty much every great English/Canadian/Australian guitarist, including Richard Thompson, Andy Summers, Brian May, Steve Howe, George Harrison, Neil Young, Tommy Emmanuel, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Mark Knopfler, Peter Frampton, and Jeff Beck. Just to name a few.

Although they started out as the backup band for Cliff Richard, maybe the poster child for “huge in England, mostly unknown in the US,” the Shadows went on to fame in their own right, mostly as an instrumental band. “F.B.I.,” released in 1961, was not their biggest hit, but it did hit #6 on the UK charts (and never charted in the US.)

Ian Hunter opened his 1980 live album, Welcome to the Club, with a cover of the song, featuring his band’s guitarist, Mick Ronson, who has also been quoted as saying that Marvin and The Shadows were influences on him. (Both Ronson and Marvin appeared on Roger Daltrey’s solo album, One of the Boys, for what that’s worth). It is a great way to kick off a great live album that includes a bunch of Hunter’s and Mott the Hoople’s best songs (and some other interesting covers). I remember playing this album more than a few times at WPRB.

The aforementioned Brian May also covered the song on a 1996 tribute album to Marvin and The Shadows, as have others.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Spies & Secrets: It's No Secret

purchase [Jefferson Airplane Takes Off]

James Bond, The Man from UNCLE, Our Man Flint ... the 60s spawned an interest in spies that played out in various TV and movie productions both in the US and in the UK.

Way out in San Fransisco, things were headed in a different direction. The "kids" out there tended to look askance at government antics - establishment lies and secrets. Some thumbed their noses, some were outright in-your-face hostile, in the streets protesting the government, while others chose to share their anti-government message in lyrics and song. Among those choosing music was Jefferson Airplane. Check out the lyrics for We Can Be Together.

Just a few weeks back, J.David noted the passing of Marty Balin, but in doing so, probably didn't anticipate that someone else would bring it back around in the Spies/Secrets theme.

Jefferson Airplane Takes Off. One of the earliest albums I owned. My musical proclivity then, as now, was pretty eclectic. Probably my favorite from this, their first album is <Let's Get Together> - a full on plea for the hippie-dom philosophy of "we are all brothers (and sisters)". After that track? It's a toss-up between <Come Up the Years> and <It's No Secret>.

<It's No Secret> isn't a song about spies. It's a plaintive Marty Balin love song. This, of course, before Grace Slick. And there doesn't appear to be any spying going on here. After all "it's no secret".
But consider the lyrics (credited to Balin):
As I get older the years they get heavy for you
Oh is it any wonder why I feel that my whole life is through
Yeah, when I stop feeling how strong my love is for you
Oh, know I'll be empty wanting your love like I do

This is nothing like the Beatles <Love Me Do>. The chord changes are beyond the Beatles' I-IV-V, and the notion of love that the song expounds is beyond the innocence of the "Love Me Do" type.

Incidentally, there are other <It's No Secret>s out there - because sometimes love IS a personal secret:

Elvis on a totally different track (he sings "... no secret what God can do"):

Kylie Minogue

Sunday, January 27, 2019


Daa-daaa-daa-daa-da-da. I began to sing the guitar part that frames this song within a second of seeing the theme and, despite having done the Doors twice before, here and here, I knew, instantly, it was Doors-time again. Mind you, in my house it is always Doors-time, but, on this occasion, rather than again preach how wonderful I was/am to be such a precocious acolyte, even before I began to shave, this is a confession more to deprecate that sense of special we all, if secretly, have about ourselves. Especially when looking back with rose-tinted. So yes, I bought 'L.A. Woman' in the year of release, but, apart from THE single, I hadn't actually picked up or heard much else about the band in the intervening years. OK, maybe THAT single as well, but hardly die-hard fan. I think it was probably half a decade later that I heard the song featured today, and, rather than having spent the intervening years hoovering up all their early product, it was from that staple of a civilian, a greatest hits selection, albeit neither labelled as hits and with a groovy cover and title, Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine, the title being part of Jim Morrison's rambling discourse, midway during 'The End'.

I have loads of greatest hits selections, from all the obvious and compulsory acts, the Eagles, the Stones, to all those cheapo supermarket selections from groups who were pushing their luck to be ever even described as one-hit-wonders. (I can't resist a bargain.) I may also have proper records by these same bands, occasionally bought before, usually after. In my teens and early twenties, cashflow prevented the acquisition of back catalogues or every release as it dropped, so it made good sense to use them almost as samplers. In truth, collections and compilations weren't then quite so ubiquitous either, as most of the bands I liked hadn't yet had careers long enough to justify the conceit. 'Weird Scenes' was a terrific compilation, 4 sides of vinyl encapsulating the essence of the Doors. It didn't matter I had 4 of the songs already, I adored it. (OK, nearly, being never able to hack 'Runnin' Blue' and did anyone really rate 'Horse Latitudes'? Really?)

This song comes from 'Morrison Hotel', the penultimate album, prior to 'L.A. Woman', and one that I have subsequently invested in. After the more experimental 'Soft Parade', a record I later learnt I didn't much like, it was deemed a return to form. I also discovered it was the groups most successful recording in the U.K. market. A Morrison write, it is supposedly about his troubled relationship with Patricia Courson, lifting it's title from the Anais Nin novel, 'A Spy in the House of Love', perhaps shortened for copyright reasons, even if the first line is just that. A vaguely blues format, framed by Robbier Krieger's exquisite guitar motif, Morrison doing his best croon over the top, whilst Ray Manzarek tinkles just the right side of hotel-lobby. A slow walking bassline is provided by guest bassist, Ray Neapolitan (me, neither), whilst John Densmore just does what he does best. The main hook in the song is in the middle 8,  emphasised by the ensemble crashing to earlier momentary silences before Morrison declaims passive-aggressive big time:
                           "I know your deepest secret fear.
                           I know everything".

I have never been much for live recordings, and so it was only during the penning of this piece that I found myself sufficiently roused to look for a live version, especially as it now seems that every Door's concert ever has been made available. It's fair, I suppose.

But, in my searches I came also upon this, an alternative version, presumably ditched in favour of the one used. I think they used the right one.

I know everything!