Saturday, May 18, 2019


I have so long wanted to do this post, the bassline, or is it the baseline, of the Stranglers being such a glorious sound. For about 10 years, 1977 - 1987, they were avowedly my favourite band, in no small part due to the bass guitar of Jean-Jacques Burnel. OK, as a only ever a pretend punk: ex-public schoolboy at medical school perhaps not being core demographic, they hit all my buttons, being slightly older and keyboard based, with no small nod to the Doors and a guitarist at school with and in his first band with Richard Thompson. (I have covered this ground before.)

It was only later I learnt the unique bass timbre was anything but, with yet another frisson of joy when I heard this, by another even earlier favourite band, the Move. Roy Wood, leader of the band, decided he disliked the bass parts on 1971's 'Message to the Country' so much as to remove them and do them himself. Title track below.

But this post is to celebrate J.J., from the unmistakable dum der dum of 'Peaches' to the later more melodic gallic noodling of 'La Folie'. My favourite bit of Burnel is actually from their first release, the last track from 'Rattus  Norvegicus', 'Down in the Sewer', with, at about 6min.30, a beautiful countermelody within the instrumental finale to the song. Listen to it, above. But what about his other stuff? Always a more complicated figure than the lampoon of he being the inchoate muscle to Cornwell's lofty intellect, he has been de facto leader of the band since Cornwell left, dismissing his erstwhile bandmates, as so did many, as a spent force. It may have taken many of the subsequent near 30 years, but it is arguable that they now have a bigger fanbase than at their 80's peak, and can put out material to critical assent, touring near constantly, way, way more than merely as a greatest hits machine. (Perversely, this is arguably what Cornwell has become, albeit in his way, satisfying the undoubted hunger to hear all  those songs in his voice.) Here's an enlightening interview with Burnel from not so long ago.

Burnel has also produced 3 albums of his own, together with one alongside keyboard Strangler Dave Greenfield. These underline his avowedly franco-european heritage, the first, in 1979, 'The Euroman Cometh', addressing a future wherein a president of the united states of Europe is necessary to see off the dual threats of a american values and soviet subversion. Just, perhaps, the sort of thing the potentially  disintegrating Europe of today, fuelled by my country's dismal performance, needs? I somehow doubt JJ is a Brexiteer. The lyrics start by commenting on any modern european having to contend with the shared lineage of Charlemagne, Oliver Cromwell and Hitler, so not exactly moon in june. Not entirely successful in the intent to fuse electronica with rock, it makes for interesting, if dated, listening.

Perhaps less portentous, and more accessible came 'Un Jour Parfait', echoing very much the sound his day-job was beginning to investigate at around the same time, possibly why, give or take a later soundtrack album (for a japanese anime version, set in the future, of the Count of Monte Cristo, 'Gunkutsuou'), solo work became superfluous. He had a band to keep on the road. So, what better, given it his basslines we are here to celebrate, than a track from the Stranglers, 21st century style:

'Time Was Once on My Side', 2012, with it's near lead bass motifs, has a clear back reference to their original style. Maybe I, like so many who lapsed, should give them a go again and I feel I might.

Having said....

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Base/Bass/Basic: Run Through the Jungle

purchase [ Creedence Run Through the Jungle ]

I have generally worked with the assumption that most basic (pop) songs are based on the the I-IV-V progression. And it's true: songs such as She Loves You, Twistin' the Night Away and If You're Happy and You Know It are all essentially variations of the I-IV-V standard.

And then, just the other night, I watched a performance from a group of exceptionally talented vocalists, who maintained a I-I-I progression (if progression it can be called) for minutes on end.
That's essentially a "drone" - and what became apparent to me- in terms of viability/interest - was what the musician overlays the "static" backup with - for example, a soaring solo in the same key - is what really makes the song.

There would seem to be a major element of jazz/experiment behind this: classic pop, it's not.
Unless the song becomes a (popular) hit.

So ... How to work in the role of a basic bass line that moves around, but is limited to a single note/<chord> and is part of a major hit?
A bit of a quandary. But it's been done. More than once. Aretha's "Chain of Fools" is one such.

Here's another: kind of the epitome of making the most of what (little) you got: a single chord.
But it works perfectly well. Makes me wonder if the Doors didn't do something similar?

Creedence Clearwater/Run Through the Jungle

Monday, May 13, 2019

Base/Bass: Overusing "The Base"

When I read the theme announcement the other day, I thought, how about writing something that discusses how overused the phrase "the base" is in political discussions.  You know, how commentators are always saying that "Trump is playing to his base" or "The Democrats are pandering to their base."

And then I remembered that I already wrote that, back in February, at my personal blog, Another Old Guy.  Yes, I'm not afraid to shamelessly cross-promote.  And if you click on this link, you can read the piece there, and also find out what J. David's real name is.

I promise to write something original at some point during the run of this theme, and I promise that it won't be about bass fishing, Lance Bass, or BASE jumping.