Friday, November 27, 2020


If no, thanks is the answer, what, I wonder, was the question? For that's the thought that always enters my mind when this song crops up. The lyric casts some broad, if vague, hints. Is this something for consenting adults, for behind closed doors? Or is it something far worse? I'm thinking that both Daryl Hall and John Oates must be fairly broad minded individuals, men of the world even. Yet?

I Can't Go For That (No Can Do)

But let's stack up the evidence, it wasn't the first time they had been caught on the hop and out of their depth. All talk and no trousers is the english phrase for it. Right back at the beginning of their career they were already pushing the envelope further than the price of the stamp, with the evidence here. Did the experience leave some wound, some scar on their collective conscience?

I'm Just a Kid (Don't Make Me Feel Like a Man)

So, Daryl, what's the story? Anything to say, John?

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

Oho, the old 5th amendment trick, eh? You don't have to say, but we'll find out. O, yes, and if not the truth, something better. Live with that?

I Don't Think So

Hmm, well, you would say that anyway. With all your fancy vids and prancing about, what do you think you are? Popstars?

(You Know) It Doesn't Matter Any More

That old one! Always the same, string us along, keep us all none the wiser and then, pffsh, nothing, nada, the brush-off.

I Ain't Gonna Take It This Time

Calm down, calm down, keep your shirts on, just a bit of fun. 

I really love Hall and Oates, but, y'know, don't you ever wonder who the F was making their wardrobe and coiffure decisions.

Hope y'all had a good Thanksgiving.

And at least I didn't cite....

Bad Habits and Infections

The right to choose.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020


 As in, yes, if you are asking me whether I won't, no thanks, I will survive. I will, rather than rejecting the alternative option, but this song offers so much that is apt to this theme that I will disregard any earlier appearance, a decade ago. (Even if it uses up my favourite version ever.) But this is where we all, the survivors, or most of us, stand on 2020, defiant and steadfast against the tide of badness, with light beginning to seep through the cracks. Covid 19? The vaccine beckons. Donald aka Agent Orange? The back door is open and waiting. The economy? Hmm, well, we'll have to see on that one. Boris and his chumocracy of cronies? That too.

It's true, the song was originally a sturdy polemic against a returning suitor, or as wiki puts it so neatly: "the narrator's discovery of personal strength following an initially devastating breakup". The assertive lyric, carried by and coupled with an uplifting and anthemic tune, guarantees for a sea of raised hands on the dance floor, and not just by righteous rejectees. I love it.

Gloria Gaynor introduced us all to the song, an astonishing 42 years ago. I was not, it's fair to say, a fan of disco in 1978, but I could see this was one terrific song. Indeed, even the stuffy old Library of Congress put it up, in 2016, for the National Recording Registry, alongside such essentials of every collection as Alan Sherman's Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah and Swanee, by Al Jolson. (I jest: they have a cracking selection!) VH1 gave it the accolade of the Greatest Ever Dance Song in 2000, Rolling Stone only managing it a number two in their 2012 Best Disco Tracks of All Time.

Over the years many have tried to bring their bit of something to the song, many, most, in truth, poor and lucklustre facsimiles, but some have been really rather interesting. A rule I have is that, if it includes the rolling piano intro, I will listen to no more. Here's a few that don't:

Dig a little beneath the initial hit of gruyere, and this, by the Puppini Sisters, is actually a delight. I don't go a whole bundle of the recalibration of songs into a faux-forties Andrews/Beverley Sisters style, but this  transcends my prejudice, by playing rather more with the arrangement, some glorious walking bass and aan unexpected choral middle eight and coda.Who the Puppini Sisters? A clue; they ain't, but one actually is Puppini by name and they were doing this sort of thing way ahead of Scott Bradleee, if from downtown London rather than New York. (Has Bradlee tackled the song? Of course he has.......)

Much as I adore R.E.M., I confess to finding their throwaway b side live/impromptu covers a slightly less than intrinsic need, but, against that odd, this one conveys just enough charm to make it, Stipe's stumbling through the lyrics a little haphazardly falls just the right side of endearing.

SMM used to have a gentleman's agreement not to include anything too new, mainly then a naive hope that it would keep the RIAA off our case, from the days we put up mp3s. This is barely a couple of months old, but in the spirit of survival, or its flip, given we may not be here next year, mankind, not the site, I feel I have to place it. A terrific version, a slow chant of faith. Lykke Li is a Swede, one of a bevy of Nordic artists firmly finding their feet in the world of electronica and ambient. 

And so finally to Anohni, or, as she still was at the time of this recording, Antony, a song so suited on so many levels, not least the comments on youtube, made to proclaim the ownership of this wracked performance. Some say she overeggs near all she touches. I say bring it on.

So, my new year resolution: survive!

(OK, you want the Cake one too? We all need Cake in these dark days, the darkness potentially deeper ahead the dawn.)

You choose: Gloria, Puppini, R.E.M., Lykke Li, Anohni or Cake. Or all of 'em?

Monday, November 23, 2020

No Thanks: Sound of Lies

The Jayhawks: Sound of Lies

There are so many things not to be thankful for in 2020, which will go down in history as a particularly bad year. Maybe not as bad as during the Civil War, or the Great Depression, or other periods of strife and struggle, but I think that the sheer number of different bad things that have happened during the year is unprecedented. I know that I’ve written a few political pieces on this music blog recently, so I hope that this one is the last for a while, but as I put figurative pen to paper, our political system is being bent to the point that there is real concern about it breaking. I’m confident that it will not snap, but like most things that are stressed to the breaking point, it will be weakened, maybe permanently. 

So, why, “Sound of Lies?” Because one of the things that I will not miss from 2020 is worrying that every time I turn on the radio, or TV, or check social media, I will be barraged by a steady stream of lies from the president and his henchpersons, sycophants and enablers. I mean, we all knew that most politicians shaded the truth when expedient, and that some lied, outright. But the sheer volume of dissembling and BS from this crowd has been astonishing and exhausting. I fully expect that, shortly after January 20, 2021, there will be stretches of days where I don’t even think about the President, and don’t have to get angry about his lies, which I expect to improve my mental health. 

“Sound of Lies,” the song, is the title track of the Jayhawks’ 1997 album, which followed the departure of co-leader Mark Olson, and the resulting primacy of Gary Louris as singer and songwriter. And the album also marked a shift in the band’s Americana-based sound to include more pop influences, although the twang wasn’t completely eradicated. It’s an album that received mixed reviews at the time—in fact, they were “mixed” not in the sense that reviewers thought the album was mediocre, but in the sense that some reviewers loved it and others hated it. I suspect that many of the “haters” were the folks who object to bands that change and grow over time. And, in fact, many writers, often in pieces discussing the album’s reissue in 2014, noted that it had held up well over the years.  In an interview from 2014 about the album, Louris said:

It’s probably our favorite album as well. It is the 'fuck you' record. It really is the fuck everybody record, I really remember Olsen had left, he had quit, I was going through a divorce, I was a mess, I was drinking too much, I was unhappy… I really felt this was the last Jayhawks record, and why not go out with a bang, so fuck it? 

The song, though, is not a glossy pop song, but is, instead, a quiet, heartbreaking ballad, which is consistent with the dark place he was in. And while the lyrics to the song don’t really relate to the current political situation, these lines do resonate: 

The sound of lies rings funny
Against the truth 

Despite Louris’ belief, it was far from the Jayhawks’ last album (it wasn’t even their last album with Olsen), and despite the despair and exasperation, they’ve gone on to continued creative success. 

Hopefully, next year, at this time, we can all put aside our current despair and exasperation, and move on to be thankful about the truth.