Wednesday, June 3, 2020

War/Peace: The Warrior’s Code



I suspect that many of you who read this blog also attend live music performances—or at least, you did before that stopped being a thing (temporarily, I hope). Musicians have been trying different ways to get live music out to their fans, some for free, some charging, some seeking “tips,” and others seeking charitable donations, while some are trying to use Patreon or other similar subscription type programs to try to partially replace the revenue lost from cancelled tours. I think that it is pretty well known that these days, most musicians make the bulk of their living from touring and merch, and not so much from streaming and music sales.

Since the pandemic closed most venues, I’ve watched some of my favorite musicians from the comfort of my house—Richard Thompson, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, Dan Bern, Rhiannon Giddens and Francesco Turrisi, as well as her fellow Native Daughters, Amythyst Kiah, Allison Russell and Leyla McCalla, Ben Nichols of Lucero, Jeff Tweedy, Raul Malo, Lucy Wainwright Roche, Indigo Girls, and I’m sure I’m leaving some out. Most of these performances have come from the performers’ homes (or, at least where they are sheltering), except for an Isbell/Shires album release show from the stage of an empty Brooklyn Bowl in Nashville. These performances aren’t the same as being at a live show, but on the other hand, they are also more intimate—as one friend mentioned to me after we separately watched Richard Thompson, her husband was excited to be able to see the master’s hands close up while he played the guitar.

Last Friday, I watched most of an unusual performance—Dropkick Murphys, a band that is closely associated with the Boston Red Sox (they even were given World Series rings by the team one year), playing live on the field at an empty Fenway Park, with the band members all more than the now traditional six feet apart. The concert was organized to promote a number of charitable organizations, which is common for the band. For nearly two hours, the band ripped it up with their trademark Celtic flavored punk, and they were amazing. It wasn’t the same as when I saw them live at Warped Tour 15 years ago, but then again, what is? I had to reluctantly step away after two hours for a virtual college reunion Zoom session, but the next day, I found the video, and watched the end, when Bruce Springsteen appeared on the giant video screen in centerfield and performed two songs with DKM—one of theirs (“Rose Tattoo,”) and one of his, “American Land,” an appropriate anthem for our times, with its message of an America made up of immigrants and people of all races. Remarkably, considering the logistics, the entire concert sounded great, and I give much credit to whoever did the sound.

One of the songs that they played that night was “The Warrior’s Code,” which technically isn’t about war, but about a boxer, "Irish" Micky Ward. But since boxing and war often use each other’s metaphors and terminology, I’m OK with this. Also, back in 2016, I wrote about a different DKM song, a cover of “Fields of Athenry,” which is about World War I (and it is far from the only song by the band that references actual war, for example “The Fighting 69th” (Civil War) and “Johnny, I Hardly Knew Ye” (anti-war song written in Ireland in 1867), all of which were played at Fenway, along with a cover of The Standells' “Dirty Water,” which has nothing to do with war, but which I wrote about, here.)

The video of the show is still available here, among other places, so check it out, and send a few bucks to the charities.

Monday, June 1, 2020

WAR/PEACE: THE BATTLE OF EVERMORE

It's funny, I had never really quite appreciated this song to have actually been about a battle or, indeed, warfare at all. It had always just been a joyous cascade of sounds: the tinkling mandolin and the soaring vocal interplay between Plant and Denny, with the lyrics never quite imprinting. Apart, of course, from the repeated refrain, Bring it back, bring it back........

Denny

So what was that all about, then? Examination of the lyric, and, contrary to my initial thought, sure, all the words are there, indelibly printed on my psyche, an automatic tele-prompter lying dormant and awaiting just this moment. Tolkeinesque nonsense about elves and faeries, as the naysayers put it, or, alternatively, a mystical celtic mantra. Strangely, as the sheer ubiquity of the song's parent album and the deconstructions of the might of Zeppelin accrue, this is actually a song, perhaps their only song, that has grown in stature. It seems actually to fit better with the current manifestation of a grizzled Robert Plant, now a sage like figure himself, akin to the wizard on the album cover all those years ago. Add the mythology of the doomed, and thus ageless, Sandy Denny and you have it. Together with the fact that the folkier aspects of the band have tended to last better than the more overtly metallic.


Almost by accident did the song arrive, with Jimmy Page picking up and playing with the mandolin belonging to bassist and keyboards man, John Paul Jones, an instrument he claims never to have earlier tried to play. Robert Plant then instinctively started wordlessly crooning along. With the feel of an old english, or probably welsh, folk song, Plant felt there needed to be a call and response aspect, with who better to fulfil that than Denny, erstwhile singer of Fairport Convention, with whom Zeppelin had shared the bill at Bath's 1970 Festival of Blues and Progressive Music. Plant had long associations with the band and its members, particularly Dave Pegg, both on the 1960s Birmingham pub circuit together. Denny willingly agreed, becoming the only ever featured guest musician on any of their output, gifted also with a (5th) symbol, to complement the four of the band that made up the official "title" of their 4th release.


After the twin behemoths of Black Dog and Rock'n'Roll pour out of the speakers, Evermore then becomes a mercurial palate cleanser, a consummate contrast and perhaps the only song that could then beckon in the majesty of Stairway to Heaven. (Yes, I did say majesty; I know it is de rigeur to sneer at it now, but, hell, c'mon, if you were 14 in 1971!) Call me an old fart, please do, but side 1, Led Zep 4, is about as astonishing a side of vinyl as ever made. Side 2, less so, but nonetheless.

Jones & Bonham

Denny never managed to reprise the studio recordings in a live setting, more is the pity. Zeppelin did play it live, with her parts sung by Jones and drummer, John Bonham. It wasn't as if he had anything (much) else to do in that number. Denny died in 1978 and Zeppelin dissolved, give or take the occasional reunion concert, a couple of years later. But, thankfully, it is the Plant/Fairport relationship that has gifted the song a greater life. He is a regular guest at their annual Cropredy festival, and has reprised this song in that setting, reminding the crowd as much of the Denny legacy as his own. This clip is with Kristina Donohue, daughter of sometime Fairport guitarist, Jerry.

Donohue
To be fair, there was also an earlier and  glorious version on the semi-acoustic and middle east orchestral Page/Plant duet project, No Quarter, featuring the Indian singer, Najma Akhtar, whose stylistic traits give a whole different slant to it.

Akhtar

Finally, with Plant constantly redefining and reinventing himself across a number of styles, his occasional musical partnership with country star Alison Krauss proved another opportunity to revisit the song. (Astonishingly, in the same year as the Fairport version, 2008.) Having seen his latest band, Saving Grace, play live, in Birmingham's Town Hall venue towards the end of last year, I can state that it would fit well within their format. However, give or take a nod to the "original" of In My Time of Dying, there was no room for Zeppelin in this iteration of Plant's ever changing moods. Or not yet......

Krauss
Get it!

Friday, May 29, 2020

War/Peace: Fortunate Son



purchase [ Willy and the Poor Boys ]

War is raw. Peace maybe a little less so - unless maybe you are trying to wage it - [see Kent State]. Perhaps that's why this song reverberates for me. I can't think of a single one of CCR's songs that doesn't come across as raw. Maybe it had to do with the tonal qualities of electric guitars in those days. Maybe it was John Fogerty. Maybe it was the 70s.

Like the majority of musicians in 1970x John Fogerty had little intention of going to Vietnam (he joined the Reserves in order to get around this). Like country Joe Fish, Fogerty made his opinion verbal. Do not equate this with a lack of patriotism - quite the opposite. It is one of your rights to state your opposition (to the extent that it doesnt harm others and doesn't <break the law>). Singing about is is an even better way to be patriotic.

In the clip above, Springsteen attests to the seminal influence of John Fogerty. He's right. So so right, that some other musicians you may have heard about went off and set up a band named Willie and the Poor Boys (a direct take from the album on which this song came out) - the members include Bill Wyman, Charlie Watts, Andy Fairweather-Low and more. Not a bad legacy, like the "Boss" says.

see:



The <Fortunate Son> lyrics say a lot about being a patriot, and there is a consideration of the limits:

I ain't no senator's son ( that is pretty clear  -I think we are talking bone spurs here)
But when the taxman comes to the door
Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes (sounds like someone's secret tax returns)
and, he sings, he's speaking his mind (saying his peace/piece) because
I ain't no millionaire's son, no

here's a little more from <CCR> for old times' sake ...


WAR/PEACE: (I'VE NEVER KNOWN) PEACE ON EARTH/SIR VINCENT LONE

(I've Never Known) Peace on Earth

I'm struggling with this as a theme, not for want of material on the subject, there being as many songs about War and Peace, and everything in between, as there are pages in the book by Tolstoy. No, it is the timing, in this transposition of world order around the C-19. It isn't a war, this isn't a battle, we are not fighting: all the military cliches are boiling out of the thesaurus but it really isn't the right metaphor, even if there is a right metaphor. (If a metaphor is a means of comparison, I don't think we have had yet anything fully comparable within sufficient memory to pass reference: the plague and even spanish flu are too far distant, with SARS and Ebola captured and even HIV contained.) So, with, as ever, a lightness of touch and mood, who better to cheer us than the melancholic magnitude of Jackie Leven.

I have touched on Jackie before, and make no apology for doing so again. His loss remains huge in my musical portfolio, his celtic soul a heartbeat long before the term was invented, his humanity a force of relevance in the automated and automatic inhumanity all around. Nature, often in all her cruelty is a constant in his lyrical themes. Sir Vincent Lone? A pseudonym made necessary by his polfiicism, having already exhausted his allowed contractual offerings under his own name, but unmistakeably he. Indeed, it was never hidden, other than by his sometimes having Sir Vincent as support act before a Leven 2nd set.

As the song above shows, no huge variations in stylistic palette took place, but there were instances and opportunities where he used the disguise to try out some more adventurous directions. Or at least had his ear to the streets and cultures afar from his native land. The song below has been admirably described as a blend of Dick Gaughan and Portishead.

Moscow Train

There were three Lone releases between 2006 and 2008. The two songs above come from the first, Songs For Lonely Americans, with the follow-up, When the Bridegroom Comes (Songs for Women), being perhaps more experimental again. I am torn between liking it either more or less than the first.

Graveyard Marimba

Leven then decided to kill off his alter ego, with a gloriously uneven mix of an album, Troubadour Heart, which scattershots styles and references to all four winds. The claim was that this was released posthumously, and collected songs "Lone" had written as a penniless songwriter on a caffeine fix at the Troubadour coffeee house in London. And maybe he did, but Leven was still very much alive, releasing records for another three years, ahead of his actual death. The song below, the closer, effectively returns to the expected theme for this piece, the title summing up my views around the current ongoing "battle".

Wake Me Up When It's Over

Peace be to you.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

War/Peace: War In Peace


Alexander “Skip” Spence: War In Peace
[purchase]

I know that many people—and not only people in the 50+ demographic—think that the best era for music was the late 1960s-late 1970s. I’m not going to debate that now, but there’s certainly an argument to be made. And I think that there are those who would argue that much of the best music from that era was created because of, or enhanced by, the use of drugs. Yet, we also know that drugs also had negative effects—think of all of the great musicians from that era who died young from overdoses, or in other ways  directly or indirectly related to their addictions.

Then, there’s the group of musicians who stayed alive, but whose careers were cut short, or hampered, by drug related mental illness (although in many cases, the causal link between the drug use and the mental illness isn’t certain).

One such musician, who has been mostly forgotten over the years, is Alexander “Skip” Spence, who was briefly a guitarist in Quicksilver Messenger Service, then became the drummer in Jefferson Airplane, departing after their first album, in part because he wasn’t a drummer, to become a founding member of Moby Grape. But by 1970, his musical career was effectively over.

By most accounts, Spence was an excellent musician (on guitar and other instruments, including the drums that he learned to join the Airplane) and songwriter (writing, among other songs “You’re My Best Friend,” which appeared on Surrealistic Pillow, released after he left the Airplane, and Moby Grape’s “Omaha,” later covered by The Golden Palominos, with Michael Stipe on vocals). If you read about Moby Grape, you’ll find quotes from contemporary critics saying that they were the best band from the San Francisco area during that era—better than the Grateful Dead and Quicksilver and the Airplane. But despite the quality of Moby Grape’s debut album, a bunch of record company missteps and a disappointing second album, among other things, led to the band never breaking through.

Among those other things was Spence’s increasingly erratic behavior. While working on the band’s second album in New York, Spence, under the influence of LSD, and maybe other substances, took a fire axe and attempted to break down the hotel room doors of band mates Don Stevenson and Jerry Miller. He then went to the studio at the CBS building, where he was disarmed and wrestled to the ground. The album’s producer, David Rubinson, pressed charges, and after a brief period in jail, Spence was sent to Bellevue Hospital where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

During his six months in Bellevue, and despite not having access to a guitar, Spence had written a number of songs, and on his release, he was met by Rubinson (the same guy who pressed charges). Spence implored Rubinson to get him to a studio so that he could record the songs while they were still fresh in his mind. Showing how different the record business was in those days, Rubinson negotiated an advance from Columbia Records the next day, and Spence went to Nashville, on a motorcycle, to record the songs. Within six days, Spence cut nearly 30 songs, playing all of the instruments, singing all of the vocals and doing the arrangements himself. At this point, he was all of 23 years old.

Whittled down to 12 songs, the album, titled Oar, was released in May, 1969. Utterly unable to figure out what to do with its strange and eclectic music, Columbia simply ignored it, and it sold very few copies—it is often referred to as the worst selling album for the label to that point. (Hey, Richard Thompson’s first solo album, Henry The Human Fly, was considered the worst selling album at Warner Brothers Records, so that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is crap.) “When the people at Columbia heard it, Oar made no sense to them at all,” remembers Rubinson, who had sifted through the reels of tape, mixed the album and sequenced its dozen tracks. “It was so honest and real that the record company couldn’t relate to it. Neither could radio or critics. So they put it out, barely, and it sank without a trace.” To some, the album was the soundtrack to Spence’s mental illness, but to others, it was evidence of his emergence from it.

Over time, Oar gained admirers (and two reissues, with bonus tracks), including Robert Plant, Jeff Tweedy, Beck, Tom Waits, Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope, Chrissie Hynde, Mark Lanegan, and Jay Farrar (many of whom appeared on a tribute album, More Oar: A Tribute to the Skip Spence Album) and it appears in a number of “Best Album” lists.

“War in Peace” isn’t the best song on Oar, or the strangest, and it is actually quite listenable, if you aren’t concerned about understanding the lyrics. There’s some good electric guitar, including a bit at the end that is generally acknowledged to be an homage to (ripoff of?) Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.”  

Oar was Spence’s last album. He contributed a little to Moby Grape reunion albums and appeared sporadically at live shows both with Moby Grape and other bands, and he recorded a song (which was not used) for the X-Files soundtrack but his mental illness, drug and alcohol addictions and related physical health issues, prevented him from having any sort of a music career. At times, he was committed to mental hospitals, was homeless, and, for a time, was living in a house provided by his former Moby Grape band members, who appear to not to have held a grudge for that whole fire axe incident. Robert Plant helped with medical bills at times.

Spence died in April, 1999, of advanced lung cancer, at the age of 52. The last music he heard was a copy of the More Oar tribute album, which featured a cover of “War in Peace” by Mudhoney.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Mayday/Danger: Danger Zone



purchase [sound track version from Top Gun ]

If no one wants to record for your film, does that put you in the Danger Zone? Is it dangerous to record a song that other artists steer clear of? Is it a danger to earn a Grammy for that song?

Kenny Loggins has been widely panned for this one, and by some, for a lot of whatever else he has done. One NYT review includes <no defined public image, unfocused and ingenuous> as descriptors.

I'm of the age that Loggins and Messina's 1970s hits were heavy rotation on my FM radio: Your Mama Dont Dance, Angry Eyes, House at Pooh Corner among them. And they rightly belong somewhere in the pantheon of rock music.

Danger Zone is a step away from the folk-pop of his 70s hits, but this harder rock is one of the driving/defining pieces used in the Top Gun movie and even picked up a Grammy. It ended up being one of Loggins' biggest hits. The song did get listed as a Billboard Top Pick (the same weekly list that included Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer - now there's something dangerous allright)

Loggins has recorded a number of movie favorites but the internet questions at what expense to his image. Bryan Adams, REO Speedwagon, possibly Toto and Berlin - they all turned down or missed  the chance to be the ones to record for the studio, some of them citing their reticence at singing for war.

Friday, May 22, 2020

MAYDAY: SIR CASEY JONES/EIGHTEENTH DAY OF MAY

Trying for a double whammy, associating both the song and the performer with the theme, doncha know! Well, no, not as it turns out. And, anyway, a song about a runaway train would sit awkwardly alongside the usual culprits occupying the songs of this short lived and single album-ed band. Yes, but I still suspect a tongue may well have been twixt tongue and cheek as the name for the song's main man came to be chosen. With a nod, I feel, more to the Grateful Dead than to the old west.

Sir Casey Jones/Eighteenth Day of May (2006)

Eighteenth Day of May were a glorious anachronism, a potent mix of folk-rock UK and folk-rock US, the first a post Fairport plunder of trad. arr., the second a Byrdsian singer-songwriter jangle. Here but for a brief blink in the spotlight, emerging first in 2003, all burnt out by the end of 2006, they left behind them a legacy of only one completed full length recording and a lot of lingering expectation.
Initially an acoustic trio, Alison Brice on consummate Denny-esque vocals and flute, with guitarists Ben Phillipson and Richard Olsen, each capable on a range of stringed instruments. With a mission statement based about the Incredible String Band, they seemed thirty years plus late for the game. However, following the vibe of many a folkie before and since, they embraced Judas and went electric, adding bass and drums. And, more importantly, viola, in second female member, Alison Cotton. A serendipitous appearance on a magazine cover disc led to to their catching the ear of Hannibal records supremo, Joe Boyd. That Joe Boyd, the same as had fostered loving care and attention on the early Fairport Convention, recognising here some kindred spirits. There's a neat interview with them round about that time.

Lady Margaret/Eighteenth Day of May (2006)

The eponymous LP, which came out in 2005, received probably more praise than plaudits, a critics favourite rather than causing any great bother to the charts. Little else in 2005 sounded quite like this, perhaps a reason why it has lasted so well, exuding a timeless charm. As a card carrying lover of this style of musical alchemy, it has remained a thing of wonder to me and not small number of like-minded chums. So imagine my joy as I read of an expanded re-release of the debut, along with various other bits and bobs that would have potentially made up the second album, had they managed to gel that long. And imagine my dismay as it came and went, obviously released on the 18th of May, a limited 600 copy release, on vinyl, now already available only for silly money. Shame, but I live in hope of a further release, perhaps on CD next time, please. Hell, even a download would do.

Sir Casey Jones/Eighteenth Day of May: Live at Green Man festival, 2006

Since the demise of the band there have been flickerings from ex-members, predominantly Olsen and Cotton. Cotton actually stayed for a while with Phillipson and the rhythm section, with a near Eighteenth Day of May part two ensemble, Trimdon Grange Explosion, but they too only managed a single eponymous LP. So far, at least. For something a little more avant garde, she also has a developing solo career of drones and loops, voice and viola to the fore. Olsen I had heard no more of until I was alerted to the similarly jangly sounds, if with a more country-rock bent to them, of Hanging Stars. With three releases to their name, bubbling under the surface of the small pond of music styles tending to attract little current mainstream favour, they are right up my proverbial, echoes of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Love imbuing their sounds. I hadn't even realised their frontman was the one and same Richard Olsen, that knowledge somehow adding buckets of kudos to my enjoyment.

The Bonnie Banks of Fordie/Trimdon Grange Explosion (2019)

Honeywater/Hanging Stars (2017)

So, turning full circle, on this 22nd day of May, a few days late, please investigate these three strands,  each straggling from the premise and promise that there is no such thing as out-dated musical styles, just buttoned down ears afraid to tempt fate.

Eighteenth Day of May
Trimdon Grange Explosion
and
Hanging Stars.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

MAYDAY/DANGER: DANGEROUS MAN/DWIGHT YOAKAM

I was going to go off on one again, lambasting and/or lampooning the various bouffant topped orange faced men leading the free(!) world, but, no, the targets too easy and all that. Plus our own UK mini-me version is looking decidedly pasty of late.....

Dangerous Man

So it is to Dwight Yoakam I turn, even if the lyrics of this song seem oddly prescient for the folk I am shunning in this post. Dwight is a maelstrom of a country maverick, and a conundrum, in that is he is or his he ain't? Is he a bona fide retro country-rockabilly honky-tonk throwback, or is he a polished opportunist with an eye for a gap in the market, seizing the niche between rock ('n'roll) and country, his break through coming at a time when Nashville was all smooth-croonin' "hats"? I incline toward the latter. For a start, as a born Kentuckian, the style he gravitates to is 100% true to that state, even if he was brought up largely in Ohio. He staked an initial claim in Nashville, ahead of slinking away to the West Coast, deemed far too rowdy for the dishes of the day. L.A.'s heady mix of cultures and countercultures was ideal for his energy, performing alongside acts as diverse as X, The Blasters and Los Lobos. Much as, in a way, had George Frayn's Commander Cody a decade before.


Of course, he looked the look, impossibly tight jeans, sometimes of leather, encasing his stick thin legs, a denim jacket and a permanently welded on 10 gallon hat. Yet, rather than aligning him with the dreary Nashville sludge in similar headwear, intriguingly this set him apart. I bought his debut, Guitars, Cadillacs, etc, etc, the expanded vinyl of the original EP, much as soon as I became aware of him: as ever I suspect was probably a piece in New Musical Express or a slot on TV's Old Grey Whistle Test, neither verifiable today, that had alerted me. This was 1986 or 7, and i was ever vigilant for crossover fertilisations, loving equally, if confusingly, folk, country and punk. The Joe Ely association with the Clash had earlier been a huge fillip to the validation of my tastes. And what a buy it was, one part rollicking roustabouts, one part beery country weepies and one part classic covers. Yoakam's yelping delivery, a yodel seeming only ever a hiccough away, was one part of the draw, the other being the searing guitar and arrangements of right hand man (and producer) Pete Anderson. More of him later.

It Won't Hurt

It would have been maybe five years later before I could catch him live, his appearance in an early afternoon slot at Glastonbury being a highlight of that years festival. By now I was expanding my interest in and expanding my collection of cover songs. Yoakam had already made for a credible presence on the Grateful Dead tribute, Deadicated, and I was then lucky enough to chance upon a copy of Croix D'Amour. This does not appear in all of his discographies, being a non U.S. release only, and, not that I realised it then, a compilation of earlier released tracks, including his alluded to version of Truckin'. With eight of the twelve songs being covers, I was in clover. He remains the only person ever able to instil any joy into the anodyne formulaicism of Queen.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love

Over the years I have continued my watch on him, spotting his appearances in not a few films and TV shows, broadly playing versions of what I imagine to be himself. He has released a regular outpouring of recordings, sometimes his own work, often more covers projects, including covering the work of his musical inspiration, Buck Owens, and several repackagings and reworkings, notably his acoustic and near solo dwightyoakamacoustic.net. In all of this one might forget quite what a great songwriter he is in his own right. Chris Isaak, no slouch himself, cites Yoakam "as good a songwriter as ever put a pen to paper". At the time of writing he continues to remain an active force for good, even if current tour dates are banjaxed. But, if you can't hear him play live, at least you can eat his biscuits, something you can't say for all your favourite stars!

Close Up the Honky-Tonks

Finally a brief word, as promised, about Pete Anderson, by Yoakam's side as rudder, between 1986 and 2002. This extraordinary multi-instrumentalist has become, through his sheer ubiquity, a guarantor of quality across the varied boards he treads. Think of all those guitar runs across most of the songs featured here, all him, the hickory smoke to Yoakam's BBQ wings. Scan this list of all his other projects and prostrate yourself. Here too is a good interview, covering, in part, the years the pair worked together.

Light blue touch paper.....


Thursday, May 14, 2020

Mayday/Danger: Help Me


Joni Mitchell: Help Me
[purchase]

If you believe Wikipedia, the use of the word “Mayday” as a distress signal began in 1921, when a radio officer at Croydon Airport near London was asked to come up with an appropriate word, and because much of the air traffic then came from Paris, he settled on “Mayday.” derived from the French word m'aider ('help me'), a shortened form of venez m'aider (“come and help me”).

So, it is appropriate that we discuss Joni Mitchell’s song “Help Me,” from the great Court and Spark album (which also includes “Free Man in Paris,” which doesn’t appear to relate to air traffic, but which did supply this blog with its name). A breezy, jazzy tune, it was written and produced by Mitchell, using the fusion band L.A. Express as the backing musicians. “Help Me” was Mitchell’s highest charting hit—at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, it was her only top 10 hit, and it topped the easy listening chart. Joni considered “Help Me” to be “a throwaway song, but it was a good radio record. My record companies always had a tendency to take my fastest songs on albums for singles, thinking they'd stand out because they did on the LPs. Meantime, I'd feel that the radio is crying for one of my ballads!”

Not to turn this into some sort of treatise on sexual mores, but as one commentator noted:

Like the erotica of Anais Nin, the songs of Joni Mitchell have been a move, in a world generally dominated by men, to express the experiences of physical and spiritual love solely from a purposeful woman's vantage point. Through an often-angry admission of her emotional weakness for and dependence on the opposite sex, of her foolhardy miscomprehensions and unrewarded acts of faith, and of her ability, however imperfect, to make the process of self-love and the search for romantic fulfillment compatible, she has forged a fresh image of the autonomous female artist. It is not a political representation, tied to trends or to movements like Women's Liberation, but a forceful announcement of her own singularity. She began by embodying the archetypal fair-haired hippie-chick singer, ornamenting the male folk-rock enclave, taking lovers (Graham Nash, James Taylor) from among her associates, yet making it plain that they were her peers, that she claimed co-ownership of the experiences, and that she reserved the right to think out loud about them. Mitchell, like the rest of the obstinate rock and roll community, was on the way to satisfying herself, and she made no bones about it. 

I note that this excerpt, from the 1988 book Rock Lives, by Timothy White, appears on Mitchell’s personal website, and probably wouldn’t be there if Joni thought it was hogwash. And it is clear that Mitchell’s love life was quite varied. This 2017 Washington Post review of David Yaffe’s biography of Mitchell, Reckless Daughter, which also appears on Mitchell’s website, points out:

Mitchell's list of lovers boggles not because of its quantity but its quality: Leonard Cohen, David Crosby, Graham Nash, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, John Guerin, Sam Shepard, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias and Larry Klein, among others. Many of her songs reference those lovers - "A Case of You" is about Cohen; "Coyote" about Shepard - and seldom in flattering ways. 

But the question to me is Mitchell really asking for help? The song’s first line, “Help me, I think I'm falling in love again” doesn’t register as a true plea for assistance, but instead a recognition of “here we go again.” She knows that the love affair is doomed—he’s “a rambler and a gambler and a sweet-taIking-ladies man.” But, she acknowledges that as much as she loves their “lovin’” they both love their freedom more:

I think I'm falling
In love with you 

Are you going to let me go there by myself 
That's such a lonely thing to do 
Both of us flirting around 
Flirting and flirting 

Hurting too 
We love our lovin' 
But not like we love our freedom 

True, long lasting, relationships require, I think, giving up some of your freedom in exchange for the other stuff—the “lovin’” the “sitting there talking/Or lying there not talking.” Which Mitchell, assuming that this song was at least in part autobiographical, wasn’t willing to do.

Somehow, this makes me think of how these days we have to give up some of our freedom—to get haircuts, see friends and family, eat in restaurants, see concerts, and wear masks—in exchange for the other stuff—like not infecting people with a potentially deadly disease.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

MAYDAY/DANGER: WRECK OF THE CARLOS REY

Wreck of the Carlos Rey

Mayday always seems to me the cipher for maritime disasters, despite it being anything but exclusive thereto. But it has therefore be to sea I stare for my first post under this theme. There are quite a few shipwreck songs, often in the broadsheets of trad. arr., but I bet there aren't many that arise from the mean streets of East Los Angeles.

Los Lobos have a rightly celebrated reputation across their tranche of multi-faceted modern american music, embracing many genres from rock (and roll) through to traditional mexican ballads, via country, blues and polka. I love 'em. This song comes from their 2004 release, The Ride. Part of the early vogue for the now commonplace vanity of cramming in as many guests as you can, this has a stellar cast across the areas they inhabit and invoke. So we get Mavis Staples, we get Elvis Costello, we get Rueben Blades, we get Tom blimmin' Waits and more. But, insofar as this song and piece is concerned, we get fellow (then) L.A. resident, Richard Thompson. It is his trademark guitar that creeps around that of Divid Hidalgo, and he gets to sing a verse or two.


Not an old folk song, it is nonetheless the oft told tale of the long distanced sweetheart, toiling far away, finally returning home for the anticipated reunion. But the ship, the Carlos Rey (King Charles) went down. Was there such a ship? If so, I can't find reference to one online, although there was a galleon that plied the seas of the Gulf of Mexico of that name. However, the lyrics suggest this a far smaller vessel, with fifteen migrant workers going down as they left their Californian work camps for their bodegas back home.


But how/why Richard Thompson? (And, yes, of course the earlier linked song, in the opening paragraph, is no accidental coincidence.) The casual listener might see little connection between the anglo-scots ex-Fairport "folkie" and the Angeleno conjunto and tex-mex fusions. Probably the same listeners with no ear to the 40 plus years post Fairport career this unassuming guitar maverick has had. His blistering lead guitar segues seamlessly alongside that of Hidalgo. Plus, the band have made no secret of their admiration for Thompson, with and without his old bandmates. They appeared on his 1995 tribute, Beat the Retreat with plaintive Down Where the Drunkards Roll.

 Down Where the Drunkards Roll

For something a tad livelier (aka louder), on the EP that later followed The Ride, Ride This, here's another Lobos do Thompson. Sadly, I can find no evidence of the compliment returned, but I wouldn't put it past him. Maybe someone should submit a request to his fabled all request shows?

Shoot Out the Lights

Finally, by way of a palate cleanser, and returning to the Carlos Rey and its watery demise, here's a bluegrass cover from the hallowed Pickin' On stable....

Wreck of the Carlos Rey

Risk a Ride on the Carlo Rey?

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

MUSICAL MYSTERIES: WHO DO YOU LOVE?

This is becoming topical, as the thoughts of our leaders turn to whether we, the great unwashed, albeit with very clean hands, can or should be crushed by the restarting wheels of industry. Which is more important, survival of the species or of the economy? With, as ever, the failure to appreciate the fairly solid link between the two. Maybe by both sides, but I am simply a medic, not a businessman. As I start writing, the Observer Sunday newspaper over here, the U.K., has published an opinion poll, stating a 4/5 majority wanting to err on the side of caution and to maintain the lockdown. However, many of the politicians are in the smaller subset, it seems and feels, with Boris uncharacteristically unforthcoming, with perhaps his throw of the dice having given him an unwelcome perspective, absent ahead of his hospitalisation. Anyway, one of the ideas out of lockdown is a concept of family 'bubbles', a named small list of family/friends with whom you may consort. So, who do you love? Enough?

The song is by Bo Diddley, the owlish rocker with glasses, often a bowler hat, funny shaped guitars and an unshakeable self-belief. Always looking for ways to aggrandise himself against his peers, the idea came to him as he witnessed a group of kids trying to outbrag each other. Full of arcane images to conjure up dread and a sense of mystery: rattlesnakes, skulls and graveyards, by showing he is the biggest baddest Daddy of all, he begs the question of his lover: Who do you love? With but one expected answer. Covered so many times over the years, I am sure we all think we know it, so the original may come as some surprise:

Bo Diddley

It doesn't even carry much of the trademark Diddley shuffle. That would come later. And it wasn't even a hit, at least for Bo. It took Ronnie Hawkins, the journeyman Canadian rocker, to get it charting, admittedly in his home country. The vocal is all swagger, dipping into a manic frenzy at each verse/chorus end. Not bad for 1963. Name mean anything? Ronnie Hawkins. And the Hawks. Yup, I can see that glimmer of recognition. Those Hawks, later the Band, with incendiary guitar from Robbie Robertson.This they reprised, with Hawkins, at their own zenith, for The Last Waltz.

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks

Fast forward another five years, and we are in San Francisco. Local hipsters the Quicksilver Messenger Service were so taken with the song it became the entire second side of their second album, extends and interpreted into six separate "suites, blending live performance with studio work-outs. Indeed, so keen were the band on Diddley, they included another of his songs, Mona, on the flip.   With twin lead guitars and access to all sorts of stimulants, this was a heady and ambitious project. Arguably no small amount of pretension but, hey, it was 1968.

Quicksilver Messenger Service

I confess I knew none of these versions as they dropped, my first exposure being via short-lived UK rockers, Juicy Lucy. I was 12 and found their 1969 rendition, as ever on Top of the Pops, sinister and exciting. This group were unusual for this country in that they included pedal steel guitar, via one Glenn Campbell, not that one and no relation. Sadly it has dated badly, and my rifle back into their catalogue prove disappointing likewise.

Juicy Lucy

Now I am all grown up, my tastes have broadened and I especially love covers. So, rather than penning words, here's some of my favourites, not all from expected sources.

Townes Van Zandt

Tom Rush

Carlos Santana (with the Fabulous Thunderbirds)


Dr. Feelgood

Dion DiMucci

So, decision time, who do I love? Who's going to be in my bubble? And how do make it happen?

Who?



Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Musical Mysteries: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?



R.E.M.: What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?
[purchase]

I know that my chosen song for this piece asks a question, but the answer to the question isn’t the mystery. In this case, it is the question itself, and the context in which it became famous, that is the mystery, albeit one that was solved years after the precipitating event, and the release of this song.

On October 4, 1986, newscaster Dan Rather was walking on Park Avenue in New York to his apartment after having dinner with a friend, when he was attacked and beaten by two “well-dressed” men, one of whom kept demanding, “Kenneth, what was the frequency?” Why Rather was attacked, why the assailant demanded to know the “frequency,” and kept calling Rather “Kenneth” were mysteries. Rather was quoted as saying, "I got mugged. Who understands these things? I didn't and I don't now. I didn't make a lot of it at the time and I don't now. I wish I knew who did it and why, but I have no idea." The New York Times article about the incident referred to the motive as a “mystery,” so I guess this officially validates my choice of subject.

The phrase, “What’s the frequency, Kenneth,” became part of popular culture afterwards, and in October, 1993, about 7 years after the event, R.E.M. recorded a song with that title, and included it on the 1994 album, Monster. According to Michael Stipe, the song isn’t directly about the Dan Rather incident, but is about the Generation X phenomenon in contemporary mass media, sung in character as an older critic whose information consists exclusively of media products:

I wrote that protagonist as a guy who's desperately trying to understand what motivates the younger generation, who has gone to great lengths to try and figure them out, and at the end of the song it's completely fucking bogus. He got nowhere.

Rather actually performed the song with R.E.M. on the Late Show With David Letterman. Based on that clip, it is no mystery why Rather did not pursue a singing career.

In 1997, the mystery was solved.

Just prior to the release of Monster in 1994, William Tager shot and killed an NBC technician, Campbell Montgomery, outside the sound studio of the Today Show. Tager had tried to enter the the studio with an assault rifle, and Montgomery died in an attempt to block him. Tager was arrested and reportedly told police that the television network had been monitoring him for years and beaming secret messages into his head. He apparently came to NBC looking for a way to block those transmissions.

Tager was convicted of murder and sentenced to 25 years in Sing Sing prison, not far up the road from where I’m sitting right now, and later told a psychiatrist that he was a time traveler from a parallel world in the year 2265. A convicted felon in the future, Tager said he was a test-pilot volunteer in a dangerous time travel experiment. If he was successful on his mission, his sentence would be overturned and he would be set free. The authorities in the future kept tabs on him via an implanted chip in his brain. During the examinations, Trager also confessed that he had attacked Dan Rather because he mistook him for the Vice President of his future world, one Kenneth Burrows. When Rather saw a picture of Tager in the newspaper, he identified him as the man who attacked him.

Of course, Dan Rather’s career took off after his coverage of the assassination of JFK in 1963, an event which some believe has never been properly solved. They’re wrong.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

musical mysteries: Why don't we do it in the road?



purchase [White Album]

If we are talking about questions, I suppose the question word <why> is at the fore of this theme. What better choice then, than a song that asks that self-same question: why?

Without any previous background knowledge, I would have posited that the Beatles' <Why Don't We Do It In The Road?> was a Lennon composition. You know? Free Love ... Push the limits...

To my surprise, I learn that it is a McCartney piece with Starr's assistance and that - to top it off - Lennon is said to have been hurt that he was not included.

By the time the <White Album> came out, the band was all but defunct. As opposed the the relative conformity/sequence/progression of songs on <Revolver>, <Sgt Peppers>, <Magical Mystery Tour>, the <White Album> is disparate, disjointed in terms of theme.

Granted, there is a certain amount of non-sense coming in from time to time starting earlier. Earliest Beatles songs were very muchly boy/girl themed, and then we start getting things like "We all live in a yellow submarine". WTF? I mean, I can kind of see "We're Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band" in terms of lyrics, but by this point in time, we've gone a bit off the rail - in terms of what AM radio thrived on.

And then there's "why dont we do it in the road?"

I suppose there's the distant possibility that what we could be doing in the road is scat, but that's not much more sociologically acceptable than the actual, more obvious notion behind the song.

McCartney apparently witnessed 2 monkeys in the act in the streets of India. But as I said, this seems much more the kind of question that Lennon would have raised - delving into and questioning the social stigmas that define our behaviors. You know: if love is so beautiful/the answer to all our troubles, then why don't we do "it" in the road?








Friday, May 1, 2020

MUSICAL MYSTERIES: QUESTION/THE MOODY BLUES


If you are a fan of the Moody Blues, frankly, I would, in the words of their best song, (which they didn't even write) , Go Now, my musical mystery being around why? It isn't, of course, ever that simple, and they have had one or two toe-tappers in their repertoire, the featured song being possibly one.

Question 

Given the whole song is based around the lack of any answers to the big questions of life and death, and is asking quite why there are no answers to the big questions of life and death, I struggle to fully understand the thrust. So we get the bombastic orchestral faff at the beginning, oohs and aahs resplendent, then the frantic strumming guitars enveloping the questions, followed by the slow interlude of justification, explaining the interrogation being only for the want of someone to understand the inquisitor. And change his life. I think. And then it all goes off again, onward to the fade. It was actually quite a big hit single here in the U.K. and I remember noting this was a bit different, pricking up my ears when they did a turn on chart show, Top of the Pops. And, being the precocious nerd I was (am?), because they were deemed serious and proggy, I decided that I liked it, even. Indeed, for a while, because I had also liked Go Now and, hell, yeah, I loved Nights in White Satin, that perennial last number at innumerable sad school discos, I thought I liked the Moody Blues. A deeper look into their catalogue saw me wisely back away, discovering unforeseen depths of symphonic dreck. (With, actually, NiWS, no different........)

Nights in White Satin

But let's look at the evidence. What was good in this song? Actually, revisiting it as I write, I love the bass, loping nimbly along in the slipstream of the thrashing acoustics. I like, nay admire, the drums, especially when they come tap-tapping at the door. (The drummer, Graeme Edge, also went up in my estimation when he entitled his solo album, Kick Off Your Muddy Boots, Muddy Boots being his play on the band's name. Mine was/is Bloody Moos, not that that adds anything here.) The then keyboard player, Mike Pinder, looked the height of cool, the teenaged me admiring the beard and bald combo that also endeared me, poor idiot that I was, to the 1970s look of Mike Love. I think that's about it. The rest of the band, especially with hindsight, had clearly invested in too much in all that white satin, it encasing their torsos just a tad tighter than history will forgive.

I should really here report some epiphany, some damascene moment of the scales falling from my eyes, the older me of the 2020s belatedly acknowledging the debt modern music owes to their groundbreaking ouvre. But I can't. Still symphonic dreck. And as for the album titles..... But, you know, there is one song that is so wretched I love it. Really love it. Lyrics so crass that even if they were believable, the lumbering arrangement effectively denies the statement any credibility at all, the choral vocals startlingly oxymoronic. Yet, somehow, and I don't understand this, it works. How? Now that, ladies and gentleman, really is the question.....

 I'm Just a Singer (in a Rock'n'Roll Band)

What?

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Musical Mysteries: The Boys Are Back In Town



Thin Lizzy: The Boys Are Back In Town
[purchase]

Like many of the themes that we use on Star Maker Machine, this one came to me when I was driving in my car, listening to the radio, and the song that prompted this particular theme was Thin Lizzy’s hard rock classic, “The Boys Are Back In Town.” Now, there have been many musical mysteries throughout history, and even if you limit it to the “rock era,” there are some really fascinating ones. I have to admit that “The Boys Are Back In Town” didn’t crack any of the lists that I found when I Googled “musical mysteries.” And yet, to me, it is deeply mysterious. Let’s delve right into the lyrics:

Guess who just got back today? 
Them wild-eyed boys that'd been away 
Haven't changed, had much to say 
But man, I still think them cats are crazy

OK, who got back today? Where did they come back to? Where have they been? Why did they come back? And what makes them crazy?

In doing some research about the song, which was in part inspired by the hard-drinking, working class fans of the band, it appears that singer/songwriter/bassist Phil Lynott’s mother Philomena ran the Clifton Grange Hotel (subject of an earlier Thin Lizzy song) with an after-hours bar in Manchester, England, which was frequented by the Quality Street Gang, a group of Manchester criminals and Manchester United supporters, as well as entertainers and footballers (which may have overlapped). So, it may be that some of these mysteries, but not all, have plausible answers. But not all of them. We still don’t know where they came from, and why they returned.

They were askin' if you were around 
How you was, where you could be found 
Told them you were livin' downtown 
Drivin' all the old men crazy 

Presumably, this is a about a woman (since at the time this was written, it was not likely that Lynott would have referred to a man who drove “old men crazy”). But who is the woman? And was it only old men that she drove crazy?  What effect did she have on younger men, if any?

The boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 
I said, the boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 
The boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 
The boys are back in town (The boys are back in town) 

Yes, we know. The boys are back in town. But we still don’t know why. Or where they came from.

You know that chick that used to dance a lot 
Every night, she'd be on the floor, shakin' what she's got 
Man, when I tell ya she was cool, she was red hot I mean she was steamin' 

Is this about the same girl who was driving the old men crazy? Or a different one? What's she "got?" (I think we can make an educated guess.)  Is this town filled with beautiful women? Or just one (or two)?

And that time over at Johnny's place 
Well, this chick got up and she 
Slapped Johnny's face 
Man, we just fell about the place 
If that chick don't wanna know, forget her 

Where’s Johnny’s place? What did Johnny do to incite a face slap? (Although we can probably guess.) And why did everyone appear to find it so amusing? Is it sort of a slapstick thing? What is it that this woman doesn’t want to know? And is not being curious a sufficient excuse to forget her?

If you believe the Manchester story, then it is likely that “Johnny” refers to “Johnny The Fox,” a member of the Quality Street Gang, who is also the subject of the later Thin Lizzy song, “Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed,” from the Johnny The Fox album. Of course, Johnny is a pretty common name, so we can’t really be sure.

The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
I said, the boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 
The boys are back in town 

Yep. They’re baaaaaaaaaaack!

Spread the word around guess who's back in town 
You spread the word around

Why is it necessary to publicize the arrival of the “boys?” Is it a warning, or an enticement? Or both?

Friday night they'll be dressed to kill 
Down at Dino's bar and grill 
The drink will flow, and blood will spill 
And if the boys wanna fight you 
Better let 'em 

Where’s Dino’s? Why will blood spill? And why should we let the boys fight?

Dino’s also appears to have been a different bar in Manchester, possibly "Deno's," a Greek/Cypriot place with a reputation for debauchery. Why it seems appropriate to condone fighting and violence remains a mystery.

That jukebox in the corner 
Blasting out my favorite song 
The nights are gettin' warmer 
It won't be long 
Won't be long 'til summer comes 
Now that the boys are here again 

What’s his favorite song? And why is the return of the “boys” a harbinger of summer? Are they like migratory birds?

Another mystery about this song is that the band originally didn’t want to include it on the Jailbreak album, or release it as a single, but two DJs in Louisville, Kentucky, latched on to the song and played it so much that it became a viral hit, and probably saved the band’s career.

And yet another mystery about this song is why the Republican Party thought that it was a good song to use at their convention in 2012 when failed House Speaker and failed Vice Presidential candidate, and alleged “policy genius,” Paul Ryan took the stage. Philomena Lynott was quoted afterwards as saying that son Phil, who died in 1986, would have disagreed with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan on issues including gay marriage and taxes:

As far as I am concerned, Mitt Romney’s opposition to gay marriage and to civil unions for gays makes him anti-gay – which is not something that Philip would have supported. He had some wonderful gay friends, as indeed I do, and they deserve equal treatment in every respect, whether in Ireland or the United States.

It is, of course, mysterious, that in 2016, this country elected a Republican president who makes Romney look good by comparison.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

ELECTRICITY: BRITISH ELECTRIC FOUNDATION


Well, this was a link-up too good to miss, Human League-r Phillip Oakey's Together in Electric Dreams with Giorgio Moroder, and, now, the ones that got away with their own side project. I'm not going to revisit the League backstory two posts in a row, but, take it from me, Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh were the two to watch on their escape from that band, being the musical brains to Oakey's brawn. And the B.E.F., for a while, were their only project, the only release coming out of cassette, in 1980. This was Music for Stowaways, the "stowaway" being the original name given Sony's Walkman in the UK, listening to music on the move being then a novelty and in its infancy. Tell me then about mp3 streaming on a telephone, which doubles as a camera, and I'd laugh in your face.

Decline of the West/B.E.F. (Music for Stowaways)

Heaven 17, the band, were initially just part of B.E.F., Glenn Gregory merely one of the circus of singers used for their next record, Music of Quality and Distinction, Volume 1, although, confusingly, H17, the band, had hit the ground running first. Music of Quality and Distinction was an ambitious covers project featuring a mix of singers drawn from disparate backgrounds, tacked to the electronic production techniques Marsh and Ware were also liberally applying to individual recordings by such as Tina Turner and Terence Trent D'Arby. Gregory was a photographer friend who had been involved with an early incarnation of Wang Chung, and had the sort of voice they were looking for, ironically not a million miles removed from that of Phil Oakey. Other participants were 60's popstrel Sandie Shaw, the yet to be disgraced and denounced Gary Glitter and the aforesaid Tina Turner, alongside more contemporaneous names as Billy McKenzie and Paula Yates, the now deceased ex-wife of Bob Geldof, better then known as a TV face on breakfast television.

Perfect Day/B.E.F. feat. Glenn Gregory (MoQaD V1)

The project seemed to be then put aside, as H17 built themselves a sturdy and reliable name. But, following a nine year gap, a second volume appeared, reprising the appearances of Gregory, McKenzie and Turner, and introducing the likes of Green Gartside (Scritti Politti), Mavis Staples and Lalah Hathaway to the team, the latter providing them with a welcome hit single.

Family Affair/B.E.F. feat. Lalah Hathaway (MoQaD V2)

You would think that would have been that, not least as Marsh formally quit working with Ware in 2006, surely signifying the end of both H17 and B.E.F.. However, both projects continued, but given Heaven 17 were also using additional vocalists, notably Billie Godfrey, and performing cover versions, it would sometimes now become difficult to see where one project began and the other ended. This schizophrenia expanded further as a third B.E.F. project slipped out, Volume Three (aka Dark), in 2013, with the likes of Boy George and Kim Wilde entering the fray, each long after their 80s heydays. In 2016 the two projects even toured together, an array of guests plumping out the B.E.F. catalogue ahead of an array of guests plumping out the H17 catalogue. Confused? Here's their website to explain it all again.


God Only Knows/B.E.F. feat. Shingai Soniwa (MoQaD V3)

As of 2020, lockdown has significantly hampered their 40 years anniversary tour, although dates are rescheduled for late in the year, all things equal. I am planning to catch Ware and Gregory as whomsoever/whatsoever they are in December, hoping for some B.E.F. to slip into a nominally H17 celebration.

Switch on!


Friday, April 24, 2020

electricity: ELO galore



purchase [ole ELO compilation ]

As should be expected for any band that has been around for that long, Electric Light Orchestra has been through personnel changes. In fact, today's incarnation is officially Jeff Lynne's ELO and the only other original member of the 70's band who particiapted on the 2019 album is keyboardist Richard Tandy. Original members Roy Wood and Bev Bevan appear to still be involved in music one way or another.

ELO seemed like a logical choice for the theme. I mean, how many bands are there with the word <electric> in their names? More than I thought. Electric Prunes, Electric Toilet, Electric Express, Electric Elves and more.

Seems likely that most folk born after about 1990 wouldn't have many reference points for ELO, but throughout the 70 and some of the 80s, ELO was big - coming out with something like 10 top albums. Jeff Lynne is the name you would associate with the band, primarily vocals and guitars.

Wikipedia notes that when Lynne and Roy Wood started out, they aimed to mix rock and classical. The live version of Chuck Berry's <RollOverBeethoven> is a pretty good example: starts off VERY classical & essentially follows Berry's main style and showcases Lynne's abilities.


But most of ELO's hits were more melodic.
Their highest chartings were <Evil Woman>,


<Can't Get It Out of My Head>,



<Strange Magic>


and  <Sweet Talkin' Woman> - all from the mid-70s. All "pop melodic" verging on the dominant style of the decade: disco.


That said, they never made it into Rolling Stone magazine's list (and there are folks that pan the list as a result. Maybe so. I mean, they were all over the charts: 27 Top 40 songs in the UK/20 in the US)

I hadn't been following Electric Light Orchestra recently, so it comes as a kind of vindication of my choice for this theme: ELO's 2019 <From Out of Nowhere>  posted a top of the charts position at the end of 2019 - something like 35 years after their 1970's heyday. And you thought they were done for?
Lynne of course has done stints both as a sought-after producer and a member of the Travelling Wilburys

Electricity: Magnolia Electric Co.



Magnolia Electric Co.: The Dark Don’t Hide It
[purchase]

Back in 2013, a few months after Jason Molina died at the age of 39, of “alcohol abuse-related organ failure,” I wrote about one of his songs for the “Punctuation” theme. The song, “John Henry Split My Heart,” was credited to Songs:Ohia, from an album called Magnolia Electric Co., and I noted that there’s some dispute over whether or not this album was the last Songs:Ohia album or the first Magnolia Electric Co. album.

Today’s song, though, is from What Comes After The Blues, which is definitely a Magnolia Electric Co. album, and it’s a good one. It’s kind of obligatory to refer to Neil Young when discussing Molina’s music, and it’s definitely there in this one—feedback laden guitars, heartfelt, quavery singing, and dark songwriting demonstrate Molina’s debt to Young. But it’s far from a ripoff, and probably more than an homage, because Molina’s music sounds like Molina.

As I noted in my prior piece, I’m not incredibly familiar with all of his work, but most of the songs that I have heard have grabbed me, and none moreso than “The Dark Don’t Hide It,” which might have been the first Molina song that I ever heard. Although I’m not sure where (but WFUV would be a good guess). There’s definitely some Neil in the intro, but it also reminds me a bit of the Jayhawks’ “Waiting For The Sun,” and the song is elevated by female harmony vocals from Jennie Benford.  The lyrics are clever, but dark, for example:

Now the world was empty on the day they made it 
But heaven needed a place to throw all the shit 
Human hearts and pain should never be separate 
They’d tear themselves apart just trying to fit 

Magnolia Electric Co. released only three more albums after What Comes After The Blues, including Sojourner, a box set, which in its full incarnation included three full-length albums, one four-song EP, one documentary movie on DVD, a celestial map and a medallion, enclosed in a wooden box. All of the releases are worth checking out.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

ELECTRICITY: TOGETHER IN ELECTRIC DREAMS/PHILLIP OAKEY & GIORGIO MORODER


Let's not forget the full glory of the title, not least as it is the how and why they happened to be together that underlines this piece. Hearing a snatch on the radio, I rather guess most civilians assume this to be the Human League, so similar it is to the template already riding high the charts. Indeed, wise to that, the record company contrived to include the song on 1988's Greatest Hits collection of that band. But it wasn't, it arising purely from the serendipity of movie producer Steve Barron rejecting Giorgio Moroder's original choice of singer for a tune he had been hired to write.


Electric Dreams was a film made by Barron, earlier better known as the director of innumerable music videos, such as Take On Me/Aha and Money For Nothing/Dire Straits. In truth, that is as much as you need to know about the film, it being somewhat lightweight tosh, with a soundtrack album, Electric Dreams, featuring many of the great and the good of the day. As I look back at this, Jeff Lynne jostling with Culture Club, plus a couple of Moroder instrumentals, it is remarkable how little else has stuck. It is, really, only the Oakey/Moroder collaboration I can recall. Or anyone else recalls. Room for confusion arises in that the duo produced an album called Electric Dreams. The song and several more they cooked hastily together. Again, only the title track has had any real posterity.

Be My Lover Now/Oakey & Moroder

Moroder seems an interesting guy, and certainly lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Whilst his website might describe him as the founder of disco, a claim he seems on shaky ground with, it correctly asserts he was a trailblazer of electronic music, seeing the more popular opportunities in synthesisers , still then more the domain of serious prog-rockers. I had not before appreciated that the song, Son of My Father, taken to the UK chart by band Chicory Tip, was one of his writes. Pretty slim fare, it's true, but it was certainly the first synthesiser led track I can recall on Top of the Pops. As a producer and studio mogul, Moroder pumped out a slew of singles, embracing the twin idioms of disco and electronica. If by attrition alone, some of these had to be hits, with Donna Summer's I Feel Love being his biggest and best known breakthrough. If many of his themes and backing tracks sounded the same, that seemed no bad thing, and he took the launch into film scores. Here, Midnight Express was clearly his high water mark, but the list of his other involvements is immense, from work with David Bowie and Blondie. And Electric Dreams, of course.

The Chase (Midnight Express)/Giorgio Moroder 

A couple of decades silence and he was again suddenly the rage, taken up by Daft Punk and celebrated once more, delighting in being able to remind the world of his modest contributions to music.....

Giorgio by Moroder/Daft Punk

Phil, or Phillip, as he now prefers, Oakey, has also made the most of his opportunities. As lead singer for Sheffield electronic noise terrorists, The Human League, beleaguered and embattled by lack of success, he was left high and dry when the musicians in that band left for Heaven 17,  alone, with only the name of the band. By some enormous quirk of fate he hired a couple more players, added in two schoolgirls he had seen dancing at a club and they were huge. And rightly so. Dare, courtesy some fabulous songs, strident yet simple synth melodies, Oakey's shaky stentorian voice and the glorious naffness of the girls, leapt into the charts as an album, the singles vying with each other to get higher and higher than the one before. Culminating, inevitably, with the joy of Don't You Want Me, number one forever over the Christmas and New Year of 1981 into 82, buoyed by a never more memorable video. If their pinnacle, it certainly wasn't all they had, that line up managing a decent follow-up ahead of creeping personal differences. Another rebirth, as Jam and Lewis picked up the band and gave them a shake, and provided much of the material, with Human shaking the rafters worldwide. Since then they plod on, Oakey, the girls and whomsoever, surviving on the oldies market and the flurries of hope that each new release provides. I think I would certainly still cross the street to see them live.

Never Let Me Go/The Human League

So, the actual song? Well, as described, Barron suggested Oakey and, seemingly, ten minutes in the studio and it was the first take that was used, achieving a 1984 number 3 hit in the UK, but only featuring in the Billboard Dance Chart, if still a not unhealthy 20. In their (electric) dreams, not.

Together?