Thursday, May 13, 2021

HEAD: OVER MY HEAD (REDUX)

 That's right, but not that one, not even a cover of that version, but as good a taster as any to the remarkable and largely unsung talent of Asaf Avidan, huge in Israel, less well known elsewhere. Diminutive in stature, odd of voice, he, for it is a he, has put out a steady stream of recordings these past fifteen years. Perhaps, in this week of reawakening mayhem in the Gaza, let's turn to something that feels more a source for unity than division.

Over My Head/Gold Shadow

Still barely into his forties, he could loosely, very loosely, be described as a combination of Prince and Sinead O'Connor, both in chameleonic voice and appearance, but with more than a hint of Leonard Cohen in his searching and erudite lyricism. With his first band, the Mojos, he set Tel Aviv alive in the early noughties, the band's debut going gold, one of the highest selling independent releases in the history of the Israeli record industry. This was 2008's The Reckoning, the band having formed following the earlier good reception of a debut solo EP, a couple of years earlier, Now That You're Leaving. A further couple of releases attempted to build on that success, but Avidan felt constrained by the limitations of the standard guitars/bass/drums format and put the band on the bumpers in 2011. Then fortune came smiling, as one of the singles from The Reckoning became picked up by German DJ and producer, Wankelmut, he remixing Reckoning Song, now entitled One Day/Reckoning Song into a veritable dance floor smash. (I feel here I should mention the role of my wife in all and any of my knowledge of this artist, she drawing this song to my attention, when we were courting, her riposte to my mixtapes of Jackie Leven and Fairport. Thank You for that!) Having earlier dented the mainland Europe market place with the Mojos, this broke him to much wider audiences, gouging platinum sales across that territory, a number on in Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The UK, traditionally resistant and sceptical to "European" pop cultures, even caught on, the remix attaining a creditable 30 on the singles chart. The Reckoning LP also bounced back into circulation on the back of it.

One Day (Reckoning Song): Wankelmut remix

This timing was ideal, coinciding with the release of his first full length solo project, Different Pulses, an astonishing and powerful collection of songs, with a range of subjects and a volley of influences, all dressed within his extraordinary vocal timbre. Even if acclimatised via the Wankelmut, it is still quite a shock to hear his voice, the resonance unlike any other, dripping with emotion. Off putting, even, at first hearing, I can only exhort you to work with it, as the songs seep into your consciousness, the realisation coming that they could be tackled in no other way, so perfectly aligned they are to the forceful drive of delivery. A few listens and you will find yourself singing along. Or trying to. 

Different Pulse/Different Pulses

Again, Europe continued to be his main playground, selling the strongest in France, an identifiable link with the french tradition of chanson sometimes apparent in his style of writing, the subject matter and dense verbiage of the lyrics. A second album, Gold Shadow, 2015, seemed a slight step back, a little more orthodox in the rock instrumentation, perhaps understandably, he having spent the interim three years on the road, playing and promoting. The featured track headlining this piece comes from it, hinting at a morph of both Phil and Ronnie Spector. Followed by 2017's The Study on Falling, this has him restoring some of the melancholic angst of Different Pulses, the rawness of the songs reproducible in concert, even when just himself, a guitar, a harmonica and some effects pedals. His most recent release Anagnorisis, emerged in lockdown, last autumn. An interview in American Songwriter gives some clue as to what the listener should expect. Possibly his most diverse set of songs yet. 

My Old Pain/Study in Falling

Lost Horse/Anagnorisis

Should you read the above interview, it will become apparent what a thoughtful, and possibly tormented, soul he possesses. This aspect has certainly courted controversy in his homeland. As the son of a diplomat, with an upbringing in Jamaica and in New York, he has observed the Israeli ethos from both sides. When, in a French newspaper, in 2015, he stated he felt himself not to be an Israeli, but rather to be from Israel, this did not endear him to all his compatriots: "In every interview I gave from the first second I always said I am not an Israeli artist, but an artist from Israel. I am not coming to represent Israel. I am not a politician. I am not a diplomat. And as a son to diplomats I never wanted to be one". Within the hotbed of Israeli politics, this was understandably ill-received by other than his fanbase, possibly expanding it, whilst alienating further his elders.

Her Lies/In a Box II

He remains broadly little known in the UK, and probably a good deal less even in the States. I think this a shame, he deserving of a wider audience. This is probably not helped by the difficulty in getting hold of tangible product, his latest record as yet only available via mail order from Israel, with p&p somewhat off-putting. This, together with a fading commercial mass market appeal means that until any major is prepared to pick him back up, he may have to remain niche.

In the meantime, try this, In a Box, available via Bandcamp, a memento of his live repertoire. Recorded in 2012, after he had put the Mojos to bed and before his emphatic solo launch. In a Box II, further material, alone and in a studio, in real time, this time from 2018, is also available for download, and is where the final clip, above, comes from.


Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Head: The Lemonheads-It’s A Shame About Ray

The Lemonheads: It’s A Shame About Ray
[purchase

In the mid-late 1970s, I was in high school (hey—I’m old! I turn 60 today!), became a music obsessive and knew, like, everything about the music that I loved (to the extent possible in the pre-Internet era). From 1979-1982, I was a college DJ and program director, and really dug deeply into the music. Even after college, when I was in law school, I was still a student, and was able to listen to my favorite albums and the radio pretty regularly. 

Then came the late 1980s and 1990s. Between working at a big Wall Street law firm and then smaller, high pressure firms, meeting the woman who would become my wife, having two children, buying and selling a New York apartment, moving to the suburbs and then buying a house, for some reason, I didn’t seem to be able to be quite as focused on new music. That’s not to say that music was not important to my life—it was, and the rack of cassette mixtapes that I painstakingly recorded during this period is proof—but during this period there was a ton of music that I heard on the radio, liked, maybe even owned, but never paid attention to in the way that I was able to do when I was younger. And that’s OK, because I wouldn’t have traded any of the things that happened during that period (except for some of my time at some of the law firms. Ugh.) 

The Lemonheads, and their song, “It’s A Shame About Ray,” falls into that category. I seriously doubt that I ever heard any of their music before the album of the same title, and while I’ve bought a bunch of their music since, it sits in my iTunes library and occasionally plays when I’ve set my music to play on random. By the way, have I mentioned that I turn 60 today, and so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I still buy music and use iTunes (and an iPod, although it is the biggest-ass iPod they make)? So I don’t know about their early, indie work, and can’t wax poetic about their deep tracks or opine about the quality of the band’s various lineups. 

Which is why I’ve chosen to write about “It’s A Shame About Ray,” probably one of their most popular songs, if not the most popular. (Their cover of “Mrs. Robinson" was a hit, too.) It’s a great song, jangly and catchy and poppy and vaguely mysterious. What’s it about? I’ve seen two different explanations, both from singer and writer Evan Dando, who, I understand, liked to mess with the press. Also, he used lots of drugs. 

One thing that is pretty clear, though, is that it was written in Australia, in collaboration with Tom Morgan, who was the lead singer for the Australian band Smudge. One explanation was that they met a guy in Melbourne who called everyone “Ray,” which gave them the idea to write a song by (or for) every man. Another explanation was that they saw a headline about TV talk show host named Ray Martin who had lost his job in the newspaper with that phrase and wrote a song around it. Which sounds more likely to me. (I still read a paper newspaper every day. Have I mentioned…..) 

The video for the song was directed by Jesse Peretz, the original bass player for the band, who had moved on to directing, and has had a pretty successful career in that line of work, and featured Dando’s then-friend Johnny Depp (Dando dated Kate Moss after she and Depp split, leading Dando to remark, “We were really good buds until I slept with his girl.”) Here’s the video:

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Head: Over My Head

 



[purchase Fleetwood Mac (White Album]


More than once here I have professed fealty to Fleetwood Mac.

In the early '70s, Fleetwood was on my playlist: Future Games and Bare Trees, But the musical style of Peter Green  was not the same as what the band was producing after he left.  <Mystery To Me> followed by <Heroes Are Hard to Find> filled my mid-'70s heavy play list. Bob Welch and Bob Weston had replaced Green on guitar:  songs like Hypnotized & Bermuda Triangle. It was after this, in the later part of the mid-'70s with the addition  of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks  that the band hit big time commercial success.

The song above comes from the first album with Nicks and Buckingham, sometimes called the White Album, and it charted at the top of the US Billboard list including a handful of top twenties. It took 10 years to produce their next, Rumours, aptly named amidst a period of difficult relationship issues.

In this version, Lindsey Buckingham's minimalistic guitar playing comes across well: a case of less is more. Buckingham's solos are as sparse as they are effective: harmonics ... repeated notes with effect... 

It is not just Buckinghim who is effective in his use of sound: the whole band is tight to the point that this live performance rivals the studio version, where they would have had more control of the final result. As ever, there's the two stalwart members who've been there throughout the years: John McVie and Mick Fleetwood laying down the essential backbone of the music: the drums and the bass.

And, considering that hypnosis is in the head:




Saturday, May 8, 2021

Fast: Fast Food

 



purchase [ The Iron Man]


Welp ... it looks like SMM posts for this theme never got in to the alternate meaning of <fast> timed to fit the Islamic month of Ramadan, where believers fast from sunrise to sunset. Our theme looks set to end here; Ramadan in a few days. Here is a food-related post to compensate or celebrate.

Pete Townshend/The Who has something for musicals: Tommy ... Quadrophenia ... The Iron Man ... more? The rock musical is not exactly a grossly popular format but there are several more than I was aware of sprinkled among the 75+ listings at the Wiki - some Lloyd Webber, Pink Floyd's The Wall - but also Paul Simon, Green Day, Bono ... have a look.

Townshend's Iron Man eats heavy metal as well as fast food. Fast? you say. In the Ted Hughes book from which the musical is adapted, the iron man wreaks havoc by eating industrial farm machinery- until he changes his mind and saves the world from a space alien. ... sci-fi from '68 adapted with Hughes' support and turned into a musical after several re-writes by Townshend and David Thacker, Director of the Young Vic theater at the time.

The lyrics are extensive - lines and lines of somewhat rique material: rich in connotation and, as ever for Townshend, critical. In this case about, of course, fast food. The album where it appears is kind of a off-spring of the full musical, which was still being cobbled together in 1989 when the album was released. According to at least one critic, the song following Fast Food (I Eat Heavy Metal) had the potential for a more raucus rendition, but both- to my ears - sound like The Who. Nina Simone is credited with the vocals but it sounds to me like mostly Townshend (but then again, I don't really knoiw much about Simone). Daltry and Entwhistle also perform on the album, which is not a Who album since the band had since disbanded. Kind of: Superbowl XLIV anyone?

You can read a lot lot more yourself here in an extensive, entertaining and informative read at petetownshend.net

And a snippet of the lyrics, for your eyes (for your ears is at the top of the page):

I don't even want it killed

If it's dead I heave, it makes me sick

So check that it can breathe and bring it to me quick

I want food fast

I want fast food

Frisky little children

Served up in the nude


Thursday, May 6, 2021

fast: steppenwolf

 


purchase [ Steppenwolf: The Second ]

I'm of the age where Steppenwolf's <Born To Be Wild> was a head-banging hit (before "head-banging" was a thing) This would have been '68 or '69. <Born to Be Wild> came out on their 2nd album in late '68, so it would have been '69 for me, considering the inter-continental  delay in the pre-Internet world (we did have radio wave technology, so ... maybe '68)

Original band members brothers Dennis and Jerry were members of a Canadian band called The Sparrows (along with Bruce Palmer - later of Buffalo Springfield) who, along with John Cay, Goldy McJohn also of the Sparrows, then formed Steppenwolf. The brothers changed their surname to Edmonton, and it is Jerry - the drummer- who is credited with writing <Born To Be Wild> as well as the song behind this post: <Faster Than The Speed of Life>. Speed of light?

As for the band name: Steppenwolf ... there's an air of roughness embedded in the name itself (that would be the wolf part) ... and Steppen is ...? Fast? As in stepping? (probably not) , but the word is related to the English word step/walk.  

Then, there's the whole Hermann Hesse "craze" of the late '60s, where every school in the US was requiring its student to read Hesse's Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. I have to believe that the band could not not (=must) have been influenced to some degree by this '60s Hesse meme (and ... meme was not a word then? yes/no ...it was not: introduced to English in 1976)

Steppenwolf mostly utilized the simplistic 3-chord musical progression and made the most of it: I-IV-V, in musical literature - actually the basics of much of rock, but essential to their formula for the short time they were at the top of the charts. But top they were: Born To Be WIld was .... Faster Than the Speed Of Life was not... and while both are fairly fast, tempo-wise, only the latter qualifies for our post this time.

But you should still listen to Born to Be Wild once again.



Fast: Fast Cars


Buzzcocks: Fast Cars
[purchase

Last week, “Fast Car,” this week, “Fast Cars.” Despite the similarity in the titles, the songs could not be more different—Tracy Chapman’s is a soulful folk song, while Buzzcocks’ is a hard chunk of punk. But both are great in their own ways. 

My introduction to Buzzcocks came, as so many of my musical discoveries did, in the basement studios of WPRB. I’m pretty sure that it was the singles compilation, Singles Going Steady, filled with perfect morsels of melodic punk and heartfelt lyrics about love and sex and heartbreak, that was my gateway. It came out in 1979, and I played it regularly. Their next album, A Different Kind of Tension, came out around the same time, and was also great, although it was a little more experimental. 

I don’t think that I spent a lot of time investigating the band’s two earlier albums, both released in 1978, Another Music In A Different Kitchen, and Love Bites, probably because there were so many great songs on the two albums that I already knew better. I’ve subsequently learned about the earlier music from some compilation albums I picked up over the years. 

Buzzcocks never got the same respect as their contemporaries The Sex Pistols or The Clash, and I’d argue that they were way, way better than the Pistols, and that their limited output approaches The Clash’s in quality during the same period. However, Buzzcocks' relatively short life as a band (pre-reunions) prevented them from showing the same growth as The Clash did in their masterpieces London Calling and Sandinista! (a flawed masterpiece, I’d say). And, remarkably, although they’ve been mentioned on this blog in passing (and in a cover), there has never been a post that featured this amazing, influential band. 

Founded in 1976 by Pete Shelley and Howard Devoto, they eventually added bassist Steve Diggle and drummer John Maher and self-released an EP, Spiral Scratch. Devoto left the band (and soon formed Magazine), Shelley became the singer, Diggle moved to guitar and Garth Davies, who had been in an early version of the band, rejoined on bass, rejoined, only to be again replaced by Steve Garvey (not the baseball player). 

Signed by United Artists, their great first single, “Orgasm Addict,” was banned by the BBC, because, you know, sex, and they commenced to release the series of excellent singles that were later compiled on Singles Going Steady. Their first studio album, Another Music In A Different Kitchen, included the single, “I Don’t Mind,” which charted at number 55 in the UK Singles Chart, as well as “Fast Cars,” a song that was mostly written by Diggle in response to a car crash that he had endured. It is a typically fast and catchy song that criticizes the titular vehicles, and namechecks Ralph Nader. It seems that Mr. Diggle hates fast cars. 

The band broke up in 1981, after a dispute with their record company, reuniting in 1988, with varying lineups over the years. Shelley died of a suspected heart attack in 2018, but Buzzcocks have soldiered on with Diggle taking over vocals.

Monday, May 3, 2021

(BREAK)FAST

Our head honcho here at SMM sends out our homework on just about every second Saturday, with a handy explanation of how it may be tackled: what the words mean, how it may be interpreted and, often, links and examples to songs, bands and whatnot, that could bear association, however arbitrary. Anything, really, to stoke the fires of inspiration. My brief is to steer as far astray.....

So "Fast", as well as vroom vroom, is a verb to abstain from food, whether for health or for religious goal. The latter is a common concept, the Bible honing in on forty days (and nights) as the ideal length to achieve peak asceticism. Bonus points if spent in the wilderness. Plus, of course, in Islam there is the yearly rite of Ramadan, conveniently ongoing now, whereby followers forgo food during daylight hours. An old workplace had an extensive moslem workforce, Monday night monthly meetings torture for them, as the rest of us tucked in to the bribery of sandwiches. Then, at a decreed moment, suddenly, the day ended, and they dived in to whatever was left, breaking their fast. Hence also breakfast, the end of the fast we all undertake overnight, give or take midnight munchies. And the catalogue of songs about breakfast is as enriching as a full english of sausage, bacon, eggs, mushrooms, beans and black pudding. Oh, and tomatoes, lest anyone think it unhealthy.

Given the Yusuf/Cat Stevens song linked above, it is quite by chance that this song carries a distinct middle eastern flavour to its opening. The impeccably no notes knowingly underused vocal of the brilliant late Billy McKenzie are plastered all over the melody, and it is one of the highlights of the Associates 1995 third album, Perhaps. So ahead of the time was McKenzie, ahead of any time, arguably, it was widely slated at the time, with the passage of time being far kinder than the critics of the day. I love it and his bonkers vocal cascades. The lyrics, as was entirely normal for the band, seem to bear little application to the meal in question, other than a passing mention. But I'm not going to let that deny me featuring th song.

No such frippery with good old Bill Callahan, breakfast: its preparation and its delivery is all the song is about. OK, so a subtext about anorexia might also be in there, but Bill has such a deep inviting bathtub of a voice, it's more about the sound. I would have liked to know what the menu featured. I'm guessing eggs are featured, no doubt 'over easy' or some such americanism. A newer song than often featured here, from his 2020 recording, Gold Record, but I just so love this guy's voice as to feel it churlish not to include it. Funnily enough, although I never bother with it, when I do indulge, it could also be my favourite meal of the day.


Is bed and breakfast a thing outside the British Isles? The idea of a room for hire, with purpose self-explanatory. Not a hotel, a private house, often with a formidable harridan at the helm, letting out her rooms, providing a cooked meal in the morning, ahead of booting you out on your arse until the evening, whereupon you could return, alone, no guests, to your room. Seaside towns have street after street of them. OK, the picture I paint is as dated as the world within all the songs by Madness, the endearingly chirpy ska band with a way both for the gaucheness of English life and the rose tint they apply to it. Hugely successful over four decades, they translate especially badly to countries where the language is supposedly the same. The bed and breakfast man of the song is, I suspect, rather than a frequenter of such establishments, more the sort of chap capable of treating the bed of his paramour as if it were such.

An instrumental interlude courtesy the genius of Norman Blake, a consummate artist on any stringed instrument you might ever mention, guitar through mandolin, banjo and dobro. Here, effortless finger picking evokes the joys of an eye-opener, that pre-solids shot of the hard stuff that rightly gives drunks such a bad name, the first tune displaying that he'd had the (absent) fiddlers ration too. A US national treasure, he is not to be mistaken with the same named weegie guitarist with Teenage Fanclub, himself not averse to a song about the demon drink. Time of drink taken not alluded to.


One of the disappointments that comes with continental travel is the continental breakfast, paltry fare where the only hot thing provided is, if you are lucky, a hardboiled egg, plonked alongside a cold croissant and the end of last nights baguette. Sue Foley, a Canadian blues singer and guitarist, perpetually number three in the rankings, behind Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi, has clearly toured Europe and tries to excite the table with some local colour. I think I'd sooner have breakfast in Texas.....

Breakfast is served......

 Billy, BillBlakeMadnessFoley,



Thursday, April 29, 2021

FAST: PLAY THAT FAST THING (ONE MORE TIME)/BRINSLEY SCHWARZ

Way the world's going, what we need and what we need now is some head's down, no nonsense, mindless boogie. (No, not that one.) After a disastrous start, UK has begun to vaccinate itself to a state of current easing, but large parts of the rest of the world are daily scuttling ever more perilously to the edge of wipe-out. How to, what to, why to? None of this I know any more, but, in the avoidance of the harsh and bleak, new variants willing, grant me a couple of minutes of escapism. 


Brinsley Schwarz were and are a staple of my listening pleasure. Actually the name of one of the guitarists, the name became that of the band, bastions of the burgeoning UK pub-rock scene, that pre-punk escape from the scourge of prog pomp posturing, embracing flavours of country, blues and soul into short punchy songs. Nick Lowe was the most lauded member, going on, via Rockpile, to build himself a healthy solo career that runs to this day. (Not all healthy: down on his luck in the early 90's, the chance pick up of one of his songs for Hollywood blockbuster, The Bodyguard, was said to have led a cheque, for a seven figure sum, dropping into his postbox. Which must have been nice.) Other members later found their way into Graham Parker's Rumour. BS, the band, were as famous, at the time, for a disastrous promo exercise, going disastrously wrong, whereby they were flown to the Fillmore East, NYC, for a showcase gig in front of a throng of top music biz journos. Late on arrival, unpractised and under-rehearsed, with pick-up kit, it was a fiasco, with them laughed out of town and pocket. Astonishingly, rather than throwing in the towel, they picked themselves up and built themselves a strong grassroots following, back from the bottom, producing a run of well received records. This is typical of their style, a bucolic mix of keyboards and choogling rhythm. But, never enough a concern to make their fortunes, and they folded their four year career in 1974. The song comes from their 1973 album, 'Please Don't Ever Change', and was written by Lowe.


Ironically, shortly before they split, one of their final gainfully was to back Welsh retro-rocker Dave Edmunds on tour. Edmunds and Lowe hit it off and the next step was the formation of Rockpile. Initially, again, Edmunds' group but they gradually became co-pilots, the band then backing each other on each of their then solo output recordings, and then a specific Rockpile as a band album release, 'Seconds of Pleasure'. The band, a four piece, with later 2nd generation Pretender Billy Bremner on additional guitar and vocals, and later Dire Straiter Terry Williams on drums. I really expected huge things for them, but the honeymoon bubble burst, and they split, their legacy hidden as much in those solo albums, and that of Lowe's then wife, Carlene Carter. (Yup, that one, Johnny Cash's step-daughter!) Their version of the featured song eschews some of the melodic swagger for an altogether more muscular take, guitars to the fore and no piano. But no less pleasurable. (And, special credit clearly must here go to the video, one of several made by Garren Lazar, all featuring the Peanuts Gang giving their best to a whole host of songs, culled from all genres and all decades.


But the song was not dead, and it took Nashville country-rockers BR549 to kick some yee-haw sawdust in the face of the song, adding some fiddle and altogether western swing flavours that give yet more zest than the versions before. From their 3rd 2001 album, 'This is BR549', this has them perched between a traditional country take and some of the more populist hat act territory of the time. This song bestrides that fence perfectly.

That's it, no message, no preaching. That is beyond, if and when in doubt, Play That Fast Thing One More Time!!


Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Fast: Fast Car


Tracy Chapman: Fast Car
[purchase

This is my third piece in a row focusing on a Black woman. I’m not sure why, but I realized the other day that my wife and I have, over the past few months, watched five movies/TV shows (it is hard to tell the difference these days) about legendary Black women singers—Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Aretha, The United States Against Billie Holliday, Tina, and Mahalia. (Plus One Night in Miami, in which one of the main characters is a Black male singer). How much of the fact that so many fine films featuring mostly Black casts is a result of the agitation about the whiteness of the Oscars? And how much did the fallout from the George Floyd killing, and the other killings of Black Americans over the past year, convince studios to release, and people like me to watch, films like this? 

So, once again, I’ve forced potential readers to wade through a paragraph that is, basically, unrelated to the song I’ve chosen to discuss. Maybe that’s why I write these things for fun and not money (not that anyone’s offering), because it allows me to go off on tangents. Like I just did there, again. 

But let’s get to the meat of the topic. Tracy Chapman’s 1988 song “Fast Car,” from her self-titled debut album is an amazing song on so many levels. It is so good, in fact, that one writer declared that it “essentially revived the singer-songwriter movement.” I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it didn’t hurt—and the fact that Chapman was Black, which was unusual in a genre that had become pretty white by that point, was another reason that the song was noticed. 

The song also has a great “discovery” story. Shortly after her debut album was released, Chapman was part of a megastar-studded bill for the Nelson Mandela Birthday Concert in 1988 at Wembley Stadium. She had completed a three-song set and cleverly stuck around. When Stevie Wonder went to perform, he discovered that the hard disk for his Synclavier was missing, and he walked off the stage in tears (he did, eventually, return using borrowed equipment). Chapman was asked to go again, and she agreed, doing two songs, including “Fast Car.” It went over big. 

But the real reason that the song became a hit (No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100), and got a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (and another for Chapman as Best New Artist and the album for Best Contemporary Folk Album) and MTV Video Music Award nominations, is that it is an incredible piece of songwriting, delivered brilliantly by Chapman in her rich contralto voice. 

“Fast Car” is, however, a pretty depressing song. The first stanza describes the singer’s desperation: 

You got a fast car
I want a ticket to anywhere
Maybe we make a deal
Maybe together we can get somewhere
Any place is better
Starting from zero, got nothing to lose
Maybe we'll make something
Me, myself, I got nothing to prove 

We learn why she wants out in the next few stanzas—she’s working at a convenience store, had to drop out of school to care for her alcoholic father after her mother left him. But it’s not only the car—it’s the owner, who when they drove, made her feel like she belonged and could be someone. It’s a dream that dies all too quickly—she works, he stays out late, drinks and ignores their kids—and she sees no future. And in the last stanza, she lays it out: 

You got a fast car
Is it fast enough so you can fly away?
You gotta make a decision
Leave tonight or live and die this way 

Anybody want to wager on whether or not they left?

Saturday, April 24, 2021

DOUBLE ENTENDRES: ICE CREAM MAN/MARY COUGHLAN

As I read Jordan's last piece, erudite and informative, it got me a'thinking around the other taboo subject in popular song, seemingly equally common a subject matter as rumpy pumpy, namely drugs, the paths of blues and jazz as awash with as much reliance, if not more, upon uppers, downers and in-betweeners as more recent times. The censor was seldom enthusiastic about such, and remains still a little averse today, worried about the corruption of young and fertile minds. Thus the need to disguise in simile and metaphor. (Here I feel I should add, having delved deep into the subcultural yearnings put my way over 50 plus years of enjoying the devil's music, never have I felt it necessary to partake, give or take the odd jazz cigarette as a teen and young adult. Never did anything beyond make me cough, together with a need to poo (TMI), however many times I listened to Paul McCartney.)

The BBC were notoriously eagle-eared for references, frequently banning anything that could be possibly construed as smacking of, well, smack or, indeed, anything else. So as well as the ex-Beatle's paean to hot air ballooning, so too were songs by myriad other acts struck from air-play. So alongside anything overtly sexual, anything that contained the name of a commercial product, the list of presumed drug songs deemed unsuitable included other, earlier songs involving the very same perverter of the young, Paul McCartney*. None of these could really be classed double entendres, as, bizarrely, colour your reference in the imagery of food or, more commonly, candy, much as with sex, and you could take the arbiters of taste on quite a trip. Or references to literature, the classics being drug free zones, right?

Ice cream is frequently invoked as a euphemism for narcotics, and has been since forever. In part the idea of a special treat and part the network of delivery outlets. For, as well as being for sale in shops and restaurants, there is the time hallowed ice-cream man in his, or her, ice-cream van, bring his product to a curb side near you. I used to think this purely a British phenomenon, but John Carpenter and Jonathan Richman have taught me different. (Richman's Ice Cream Man, despite the lyrics, a give away in any other hands, is arguably one of the few where you can feel some confidence that it really is a Mr Whippy he sings about.) 

Heroin has been a scourge of the central belt of Scotland for decades, the combination of grim concrete estates, with populations transplanted from slum squalor to out of town desolation, built with little thought of leisure and recreation factored in by town planners. Add the Scottish love of sweet things and, particularly of ice cream, no Scottish town without a family of Italian emigres, with cafes and ice-cream emporia, resident since the early part of the twentieth century, and any business brain can begin to see a hole in the market. For the hole in Daddy's arm every bit as much as the hole in his kids tummy. Even genuine ice-cream vans initially became subject to vicious turf wars, but it wasn't too long before the rinky dink tone of Greensleeves  denoted that something else was there for the buying.

Mary Coughlan is a terrific singer, with a smoky voice at as much ease in folk and blues as she is in rock and jazz, ploughing her idiosyncratic fare for 35 years. I see I wrote about her in 2013. The featured song for this piece comes from her second album, Under the Influence, in 1987. That title too might be a broad hint, but my suspicions and her admissions point to towards her own poisons being largely booze. But there are two songs about ice-cream, two in a row, tracks two and three on side one. OK, the second is a brief instrumental, but the first, by Johnny Mulhearn, is sung through the eyes of a housewife, hooked on the scag brought to her and the other women on the street by the same van selling cones and wafers to her children. Based on a both a true story, one with a happy ending, in that the dealer was arrested and imprisoned, with a good deal of anecdata from The Glasgow ice-cream wars, as mentioned above. She mentions the song in this interview.

Still so keen on that 99?

*I know, literary extension...

Friday, April 23, 2021

Double Entendres: Squeeze Box

 



purchase [ The Who By Numbers]


When I purchased my own first "stereo" back in '71, the merchant included a copy of "Who's Next" in the deal. I have mentioned this before here. Andy La RayGun has also brought it to our attention

Always a fan of the Who/Pete Townsend, I have tried to keep up as he has done side gigs, the NFL Superbowl (however difficult with the group at that age) and more.

The album <The Who By Numbers> includes this piece that might fit the current theme: Squeeze Box.

Ostensibly, a squeeze box is an accordion: you know, the player pulls and pushes/squeezes the box to produce the musical sounds. That doesn't  appears to be the actual subject of the song:

Mama's got a squeeze box she wears on her chest

 .. [daddy] never gets no rest

Yes, the accordion usually rests on the players chest. But more:

She goes in and out and in and out ... [Hmm...meaning what?]

... Come on and squeeze me ...come on and tease me ... [Hmm.. tease the accordion?]

The album studio version is a lot better:


Sheryl Crow does it too






Monday, April 19, 2021

Double Entendres: My Butcher Man


Memphis Minnie: My Butcher Man
[purchase

There’s a long history in music of songs with double entendre lyrics. Now, Cardi B. and Megan Thee Stallion can go on network TV and sing about their WAP (although it appears that they bleeped out the word “pussy” at the Grammys), and that song, and other sexually explicit ones, are played on the radio, streaming, and wherever popular music is found. But there was a time when sexually explicit songs had to be couched in innuendo and double entendres. 

The benefit of this approach is that the song could get wider distribution, those who got the references, felt that they were in the know, and the artist could feel like he or she got over on authority. I understood this well back when I contributed to halftime shows for the Princeton Band, which were censored by the University, and we used to joke that if we ever wanted to play a particular famous folk song, we’d have to call it, “She’ll Be Arriving Around The Mountain When She Arrives.” So we slipped a lot of references past the censors—the first joke I wrote as a freshman was about freshman male social life, and had the band form a shower with water shooting from the spout, as we played "He’s Got The Whole World By The Hand." It was fun, we had lots of laughs, and eventually got in trouble with both Princeton and the United States Army… 

This theme, like many I’ve suggested here, was inspired by a song I heard in the car. This time, I had on the B.B. King’s Bluesville station and I heard “My Butcher Man,” by Memphis Minnie, with her then-husband, Kansas Joe McCoy. It became pretty clear that Minnie was not really singing about the man’s butchering skill. The song includes lines such as: 

I’m going to tell everybody I've got the best butcher man in town
He can slice your ham, he can cut it from the fat on down

He slice my pork chops and he grinds my sausage, too
Ain't nothing in the line of butcherin' that my butcher man can't do

Butcher man, in the morning, won't you please stop by my house
I've got enough butcherin' for you to do if you promise me you just only hush your mouth? 

And finally, if the references weren’t clear enough:

If anybody asks you, "Butcher man, where have you been?"
Show 'em that long-bladed knife, tell 'em you been butchering out in the slaughter pens
Let's go, butcher man, for me
 

Memphis Minnie was born Lizzie Douglas in 1897 in New Orleans, She ran away from home at the age of 13, and started playing on street corners, eventually moving up touring with the Ringling Bros. Circus and then as a singer and guitarist in the Beale Street blues scene. She was, by all accounts, a tough, street smart woman. One observer remembered: ”Any men fool with her she’d go right after them right away. She didn’t take no foolishness off them. Guitar, pocket-knife, pistol, anything she get her hand on she’d use it.” Apparently, the blues business wasn’t sufficiently lucrative, so Minnie’ reportedly subsidized her income with prostitution, charging the relatively large sum of $12 for her services. Minnie also gained a reputation for partying and gambling. She was an early adopter of the electric guitar, and didn’t shy away from guitar contests against the likes of Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red and Muddy Waters, sometimes winning. 

Minnie recorded over 200 songs, and wrote many of them, including “My Butcher Man,” “Me and My Chauffeur Blues,” (another song filled with double entendres, originally credited to someone else, and was later recorded by the Jefferson Airplane, who credited yet another different person), and “When The Levee Breaks,” (with Kansas Joe, later re-worked by Led Zeppelin, who actually gave Minnie a writing credit without litigation). 

This genre of music was sometimes called “Dirty Blues,” and often featured double entendres. In researching this piece, I found a fascinating article written in 1927, a few years before “My Butcher Man” was written, by Guy B. Johnson, a white “scholar of black culture and longtime advocate of improved race relations,” as his obituary in The New York Times stated when he died at 90, in 1991 (and whose last name, itself, is a double entendre….). One of Johnson’s observations was 

that the majority of the expressions in the blues relating to the sex act are sung from the point of view of woman and are mostly concerned with the quality of the movements made by the mail during coitus. 

He then goes on to describe many examples, proving clearly that academic writing, even about sex, can be bone-dry. 

Johnson concludes, 

Double meaning in secular song is after all nothing new. Folk song students know that many standard folk songs have come up out of the slime. But it is doubtful if any group ever has carried its ordinary vulgarities over into respectable song life so completely and successfully as the American Negro. And the ease with which the Negro has put this thing over leads one to suspect that the white man, too, enjoys seeing “the other meaning.”

Friday, April 16, 2021

DOUBLE ENTENDRES: IF I SAID YOU HAD A BEAUTIFUL BODY........

 ....you'd probably barf, that certainly being also my reflex response to this nadir of kitsch, a song so ghastly I cannot bring myself to say the whole title out loud. So, then, the Bellamy Brothers, what can you possibly say, how can you possibly defend this massively selling worldwide hit, a Billboard country chart topper in 1979, and 39 in the entire reckoning? Hell, it hit a national number 2 in the UK, seemingly on the back of it's initial success amongst the record buying public of Northern Ireland. Apart from offering your gratitude, that is, to all of those with such execrable taste.


Harsh? Well, maybe, but please understand where I was at the cusp of the 1970s into 80s. I was possibly alone amongst my chums in having a penchant for country music. By which I mean country-rock, I should explain, never "& western", not that dreck, no sir. So the Burritos, Pure Prairie League, New Riders, Poco and all their kindred steel-tinged spirits. And my friends and family would know that, themselves suspicious and wary even of whenever Bernie Leadon took centre stage in the Eagles, who were as country as their mainstream ears could ever stray. A little beyond, in truth. But, bless them, they would look out for me and point me in the direction of where they construed my taste to lie. Which meant the fecking Bellamy Brothers. The chances were that they would themselves like it, the o so witty play on words, the clever chat up line to trot out at the disco's close. They would make an exception to the genre on that occasion, maybe thinking I wasn't so strange after all. No, no, no. 


It was only as I recalled my full unadulterated hatred of this song that I remembered there had been a time when their name had not led me to rage, with their earlier and other hit single, 1976's 'Let Your Love Flow', a pleasant enough ditty, if a little anodyne. So they weren't necessarily all bad, although I discover today that song was written not by them, but by one of Neil Diamond's roadies, something that would have, had I known then, immediately flagged up another of my instant red flag prejudices. You can stuff  Diamond's reappraisal and Rick Rubin helmed rehabilitation. Still irredeemable nonsense. But, it set me to thinking, given the theme of this piece, and the brothers appropriation of the, in his hands, mildly amusing Groucho Marx line, who knows how they could have taken the title themselves? Eeeow, Richard Hell, eat your heart out.....


Of course, I know nothing much about the Bellamys, and am sure they are decent enough coves. Indeed I suspect they are still going, with a no doubt popular move into Christian music along the way, possibly necessitating a humble apology as they drag out the old warhorse, with sly and knowing glances being exchanged across the probably line dancing audience. I hope they promise, beyond that ill-considered lapse in taste, part of their hot-headed youth, and to stick to more wholesome fare, and to single entendres. Like this:


So, fast forward forty years, and I find myself quite liking the "& western", classic Grand Ol' Opry being now something I can derive pleasure from, especially mawkish country weepie duets. Of course, I still love all the old stuff I did back then too, and also keep my ear to the ground for newer flavours of country, from banjo jam band fusioneers like Leftover Salmon to sassy songstresses like Margo Price. I guess you are expecting me now to now offer my respect, grudging or otherwise, to the Bellamy Brothers and similar "Hat" acts? 
Not. 
A. 
Bloody. 
Chance.

If I said your song was a crock'o'shite, would you hold it against me?

Thursday, April 8, 2021

PASSED OVER: PASSED ON

 Yup, can't resist, the elephant in the room, or rather the dead elephant in the room, as passed over always has me reaching for the reflex, however thoughtful or thoughtless, sorry for your loss. It isn't a phrase that sits neatly in my lexicon, smacking of euphemism and a coy avoidance of the reality. So and so has passed over, so and so has passed on, all of that. To where says the passive-aggressive agnostic inside me? The other side isn't exactly helpful and arguably is also somewhat unrealistic. Mind you, I'm not keen on rest rooms or comfort stations either, and you can blame my earthy medical anglo-saxon roots for that, where folk die and go to the toilet, or even, sometimes, even  the other way round. 

Death songs then, a surprisingly large and popular canon from time immemorial, the annals of trad. arr. littered with maidens killing and being killed. But that's too easy, here I want to explore those songs written from the viewpoint of the slain. I love 'em. Here are five of the best.

Long Black Veil has to be one of the best, the happy little tale of how the honour of the canoodling was preserved, the song's protagonist taking the rap for a murder, as his only alibi would have to have been his paramour, his neighbour's wife. So that's all right then, is it? She gets off scot free, if then still leaving the neighbour wondering quite why, or where, his wife gets the penchant for going out of a rainy night, dressed in black and howling at the moon. One of many versions, this one, by the Band is the best, the lead vocals, all of the exquisitely ragged vocals for that matter, sounding distinctly of the grave. Which, sadly, is indeed now the case.

To follow, a beautiful song, set within a glorious string setting, coming from John Wesley Harding, aka Wesley Stace, initially a skinny tie "noo wave" singer, with hints of Costello in his style and timbre, to, now, an increasingly folky solo troubadour, an artist I have much time for. The song weaves a story of come uppance with a real sting in the tale and stunned me to silence the first time heard it. A warning to any uxoricidal maniacs out there, it certainly gave me pause for thought.

The sort of song perhaps older readers will remember from their parent's collection, the old Marty Robbins chestnut, with The Old 97s giving it a good kicking, providing a bit more of the adrenaline that a real gunfight might provide, the momentum giving credence to that apparent sense of disbelief that seems to arise after a wound sustained in the heat of skirmish.At least, that's what happens in films. The Old 97s have an intrinsic knack for polishing up old tropes and giving them a modern sheen.

Neither a judiciary death nor a killing, is this one about a natural death? Of course, with the way Elvis writes his songs, the whole thing may be an allegory. But irrespective of such musing, I like the way it is the first to offer a view of the life beyond the threshold. Rather than a wraith stranded here on this earth, here the protagonist offers a description of a disappointed creator, rueing his creation. Am I alone if feeling some hope in that? It is certainly preferable to the burning pit of hell, but is it heaven? Costello has always struck me as a man who thinks deeply about the human condition, his songs often offering the sour aftertaste of catholic guilt.


Hell, you say, you mean like this? And you can always trust the Pet Shop Boys to offer an acerbic and wry view of proceedings. So maybe this song doesn't, as actually did neither the last, overtly explain how the observer came to be where they were, and in this one there is even no reference per se to anyone dying. But, surely, any accurate reportage would require the ability to be there and even Bill and Ted had to die to get there, yes? So I have to assume the witness is deceased, my column and all that. Ex-journalist Neil Tennant effortlessly lists the names of the mad, the bad and the dangerous to know as being the main occupancy, which I suspect is a little hopeful. My hell would be full of people I know.

As would my heaven.

I'm sorry for my loss. In taste.

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Passed Over: Aretha Franklin/Amazing Grace

[purchase the Complete Recordings]
[purchase the DVD of the film

My wife and I just finished watching the eight part NatGeo (!) series, Genius: Aretha Franklin. Season 1 was about Einstein, and season 2 was about Picasso, which puts Franklin, deservedly, into pretty lofty company. The series tells the life story of Franklin, who was notoriously private during her lifetime, and how she was able to deal with the benefits and burdens of her prodigious musical talent. It isn’t always a pretty picture—her father, well-known minister C.L. Franklin, was a controlling, philandering probable alcoholic who took Aretha out on the gospel circuit as a young teenager and appeared to have let her run around unsupervised, leading to two pregnancies at 12 and 13, and who himself impregnated a 12 year old. Aretha herself could be both cruel and supportive of her two sisters, Carolyn and Erma, fine singers in their own right, whose solo careers paled in comparison, but who regularly worked as background singers (and songwriters) for their sister. And she also made career judgments that, in retrospect, seem suspect. On the other hand, her singing, piano playing and arranging (despite not being able to read or write music), were extraordinary, and her ultimate insistence on producing credits and control over her music, was groundbreaking. Definitely worth the watch, and Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Franklin, is great. 

In 1972, coming off of one of her most successful albums, the politically charged Young Gifted and Black, Franklin suggested a return-to-her-roots gospel album. Ultimately, it was decided that Aretha would perform in a church, featuring the Southern California Community Choir, led by James Cleveland, the great gospel musician and singer, who had, in Aretha’s youth, led the choir at C.L. Franklin’s church. The TV series shows C.L. firing Cleveland because Cleveland failed to tell him about Aretha’s second pregnancy, and thus made Franklin’s decision to perform with him, and not at C.L.’s church, a deliberate slap in her father’s face. I don’t know if that is true, but it did make for good television. 

They decided to film two performances, and hired Sidney Pollack, still relatively early in his career, but with an Academy Award nomination under his belt, to direct. The performances, mostly by Franklin, but also by the choir and Cleveland, were incredible, and the word spread so that the second night became an event, and was attended by Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts, who were in Los Angeles working on Exile on Main Street (and the gospel touches on that album are often attributed to their attendance that night). C.L. Franklin showed up, too (uninvited, according to the show), and sermonized a bit. 

But when they went to get the film ready for release, a failure to use the traditional clapperboards made it impossible to synchronize the sound with the video under with the technology of the time. So, the film was put in the vault. An album including excerpts from the two nights, also named Amazing Grace, was released to both massive commercial and critical success. 

In the early 1990s, Jerry Wexler, the producer who essentially navigated Franklin to stardom after a lackluster start at Columbia Records, told a staff producer at Atlantic Records, Alan Elliott, about the footage, and they eventually discussed it over a period of years. Pollack, who was dying of cancer in 2007, encouraged Elliott to finish the movie, and he bought the rights from Warner Brothers and began the painstaking process of using digital technology to sync the music and film. It was scheduled for release in 2011, but Franklin sued to prevent its release without her permission. A few years later, the original contract that Franklin signed was found, and another release was scheduled, but Franklin sued again to prevent release. Whether her reluctance was based on a demand for money, or because her bad health prevented her from promoting the film, or out of her frustration over not ever having an acting career, or other reasons, it wasn’t until after Aretha’s death in 2018 from pancreatic cancer that Elliott was able to get her estate’s permission to release it. 

My wife and I had a chance to see the movie in 2019 at the great Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, back when people still went to movies, and it was mind blowing. It is, in many ways, very minimalist—there is no narration to speak of, no talking heads, just music (and a little preaching). Franklin is literally a force of nature, as she leaves nothing behind in singing songs that clearly have deep meaning to her, which you can see not only from her effort, but from the sweat pouring from her face

You can hear the 10 minute plus version of “Amazing Grace” in the video above. It is pretty much unbelievable. What you can’t see in the video, and you really should watch the movie--it is streaming on Hulu as this goes to press—is how the music affected everyone in the church—Franklin, the audience, the choir and the other performers. As described in an NPR piece about the movie: 

Near the end of the song "Amazing Grace," for which Cleveland has been accompanying Franklin on the piano, he slides off the piano bench, giving his space to [Alexander] Hamilton [the assistant choir director], and surrenders to shoulder-heaving sobs, rocking himself back and forth in a congregational seat. He's not the only one — by this point, audience and performers alike are wiping tears from their faces — and when Franklin herself sinks down into a seat at the song's conclusion, she well may be weeping, too. But her face is so sparkling with perspiration, it's impossible to tell for sure. 

And when they recreated a portion of it in the TV show, Erivo’s version was powerful enough to move us to tears, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

PASSED OVER: TERRY REID

No, don't panic, Superlungs hasn't passed, this is the tale around how he coulda/mighta/shoulda "been" Robert Plant, were it not for bad luck, being unwilling to let down an earlier booking and having impeccable taste in suggesting an alternative. Lesser mortals might have thrown in the towel as the years of critical fame and public indifference combined to leave him an also ran, a bit player on the sidelines and in smaller venues. Embittered? It seems not, presumably making some sufficient livelihood from the circuit of pubs and clubs.

So what was the story and how does it stack up. Reid, born in Huntingdon, UK, just four years after the second world war ended, a world where rationing was still part of the wartime legacy. From his first band, the Redbirds, he was spotted by Peter Jay, a local bandleader, and enlisted, age 15, upon leaving school, with Peter Jay's Jaywalkers. A name lost in the mists of time, but they actually snarfed a Rolling Stones support slot in that band's 1966 tour of the UK. The high spot of that tour was a prestigious gig at the Royal Albert Hall. Falling into conversation with Graham Nash, as you do, then of the Hollies, it was recommended the group should seek a recording contract. The Hand Don't Fit the Glove was not much of a hit, and was a fairly standard soul-inflected pop single, but shows some room for growth, especially as he begins to let rip in some of the verses.

The Hand Don't Fit the Glove/Peter Jay & the Jaywalkers

They disbanded and Reid then fell into the hands of pop impresario Mickie Most, famous for nurturing the Animals and Herman's Hermits, as well as, later, Suzi Quatro and Hot Chocolate. He was in partnership, at that time, with the later to be notorious Peter Grant. The first blast on his solo career was the oddly entitle solo album, Bang Bang, You're Terry Reid. (I could get that if either Reid or Most had hailed from Glasgow, but any rhyming argot is lost in the home counties english they both spoke.) A US tour as support with Cream and a slightly more successful single, Better By Far, and it looked as if he was on a roll.

Better By Far

Peter Grant, no longer in cahoots with Most, was by now the manager of the New Yardbirds, a band being set up by ex-Yardbird and session wunderkind Jimmy Page, along with equivalently feted bassist John Paul Jones. Page had wondered as to the suitability of Reid as their singer, using Grant to liase with him. Not many people were able to avoid the coercive "charm" of Grant, an ex-wrestler who had little charm and lots of coercion, but Reid somehow managed, citing his loyalty to the gigs he had already signed up for. OK, he offered that a financial settlement that could have been made to Cream and the Stones, but that never materialised and off he went on tour. Before leaving he also dropped the name of someone else that Page and Grant might consider, a young lad he had been impressed by, whose band, Band of Joy, had supported Reid at a Birmingham gig. That young man was Robert Plant, with he and the drummer, soon both ensconced in Page's band, now newly entitled Led Zeppelin. And you know the rest.

Reid, meanwhile, continued to plug away as a well respected support act, notching up tours with Fleetwood Mac mark one, Jethro Tull and Jimi Hendrix. With Most trying to pull him into a more commercial and ballad led direction, he rebelled, with the inevitable legal implications of then falling out with a manager. Unable to cut much ice at home, he had to rely on the effervescent US market and touring arena to keep him afloat, as he flitted from label to label, manager to manager, turning up a perennial on numerous filmed happenings of the time, from the first Isle of Wight festival, the Atlanta II festival and the first Glastonbury "Fayre". Even his 1971 signing by Atlantic mogul, Ahmet Ertegun failed to hit pay dirt, and he seemed destined to remain a critics favourite rather than a superstar. Not that he wasn't producing perfectly good music, as the following few, in no contemporaneous or particular order, demonstrate, just the favourites that come to mind.

To Be Treated Rite

Seed of Memory

River

Rogue Wave

These are all his own songs, but bear in mind, his gift is as much in interpretation, and there being many a cover version across his output: so, take your pick, do you want Left Banke, the Everleys, or maybe some of this?

Stay With Me, Baby

Since the turn of the century, he has visited the UK more frequently, for a while taking up yearly residencies at Ronnie Scott's club in London, one of few non-jazz artistes getting that opportunity, as well as prestige gigs at festivals, where he became quite a draw, a heritage artist to tick off a list. Sometimes he has performed with bands, but, as often as not, he has appeared in smaller group settings, in a duo or trio. The re-release of his early recordings also helped keep him in ear. I was lucky enough to catch him, five or so years back, as part of a duo, the only accompaniment to his voice and his guitar being B.J. Cole on pedal steel. It was good that night to see how just how well he and his "sponsor" remain on good terms, local black country boy Robert Plant turning out to show lively support from the smallish audience. Plant says of him that he remains "the outstanding voice of his generation." It's true, I was mainly there for Cole, but left a far greater fan of Reid than I had been.

So, what's he up to now? Clearly no shows at the moment, but don't write him off. And, whatever you do don't ask him that 'what if' question...... 

As a closer, here he is on British TV in 2018.

To Be Treated Rite

And a TV interview from November, barely five months ago.


P.S. An afterthought has me minded of this song, which managed an extraordinary and gradual metamorphosis. A song he wrote, apparently at the age of 7, he first put it out as Without Expression, old chum Graham Nash then taking it to the Hollies, as Man of No Expression, and then again, to Crosby, Stills & Nash, as Horse Through a Rainstorm. (It's in the lyric!) Finally, REO Speedwagon gave it a further and fourth leash of life, entitled once more as Without Expression. Given the CSN version had been pencilled in as the opening track of CSN(&Y)s Deja Vu, ahead of being trumped by Carry On, is this another example of Reid's famed luck showing through?



Saturday, March 27, 2021

Pat: Baris Manco

 



purchase [ choose one  ]

In the bi-weekly notice to the SMM team for this theme, I jokingly threatened to include something Turkish. A remark from Seuras about the paucity of posts this time around prompts to me follow through with the challenge - even if it is my second post of the day and it doesn't really make up for my slacking off for two weeks. But hey ... the more the merrier, and this one is kind of merry - in a kind of out-of-the-box way, as someone suggested might be appropriate here.

Not too many Turkish musicians make a dent in the international music scene. Baris Manco did (and I use the anglicized spelling without Turkish characters that would confound your screen - it would be phoneticized as barish mancho). You can Wikipedia him yourself, but the essentials are that (a) he's sadly no longer with us ('43-'99), (b) was a prolific composer primarily of a genre known as Anatolian rock and (c) his songs have been translated into more languages than you can shake a stick at. Oh, yes, and since I have been here most of my life, I have been listening to his music since I started listening to rock (and there aren't many Turkish musicians that I relate to that well.)

There's a folky style to his "rock" that you may not fancy. I assure you that millions of Turks do - to this day. It helps if you have references that help you relate, and that, his songs do. This one in particular incorporates the sing-song (if not pitter-patter) of vendors who ply the streets of Turkey's cities even to this day. Singing the names of their wares as they cruise the neighborhoods slowly in their pickup trucks loaded with fruit and vegetables brought to the street in front of your house, in this case: "tomatoes, peppers, eggplants".The Turkish for eggplant/aubergine being PATlican (the Turkish letter c is pronounced like the J in John).

Pat: Metheny

 



purchase  [ New Chautauqua ]

The term “record label” has almost become irrelevant. As we consume more and more of our music in digital format, record labels as such have become more or less invisible or irrelevant to the consumer. Not so 50 years back. Musicians we both tied to and touted by the labels. If you were purchasing music in the 60s and 70s, you knew what to expect from a Tamla, an Atco, a Polydor. You knew what you were likely to get if the label was ECM.

I knew ECM was European, north European. I knew it was independent. I knew it meant progressive Jazz. I didn’t know it was short for Edition of Contemporary Music. I knew the label included among its artists Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Eberhard Weber, Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie because I no small part of my LP collection included them. My collection also included a bit of Pat Metheny.

I tend to skew more toward the guitar than piano or sax, and a number of the above fit my prefs. Although Metheny started out solo (supported by some of the ECM crowd), he is mostly associated with the self-named Pat Metheny Group, which was releasing records up until about 10 years ago. He released an album titles From This Place about a year ago, and then Road to the Sun a couple of weeks ago (March 2021). And speaking of record labels, it caught my attention that most recently, his music has been appearing on the Nonesuch label, which I knew as a kid because a lot of my parents’ classical collection was on that label (a budget classical label in the 60s that has :developed into a label that records critically acclaimed music from a wide variety of genres” –Wikipedia)

 



Thursday, March 25, 2021

Pat: Patrick O’Hearn

Group 87: Future of the City
[purchase

When I suggested this theme, I was trying to think of a St. Patrick’s Day theme that didn’t fall back on some variation of Irish music, so it is kind of funny that I’m writing about a guy named Patrick O’Hearn (although it sounds Irish, it turns out that it may more likely be English). 

Frankly, what I knew about Mr. O’Hearn before starting this piece was that he was once in a band that I liked back in the 80’s called Group 87, but I didn’t even know what instrument he played. The band put out a self-titled album in 1980 that was given pretty heavy airplay at WPRB, but I’m guessing that most people reading this have never heard of it. 

Group 87 is an instrumental album that mixed rock, jazz, fusion, and what would eventually be called new age music, and it was really well done (it rocks more than it “new ages,” if that’s a phrase, and we all know it isn’t). Considering the style, and the time, it isn’t surprising that the album went nowhere, and the band was cut by Columbia Records, only to re-emerge in 1984 with a second album on EMI that I have never heard. All because the same A&R guy who signed them at Columbia had moved to EMI—Bobby Colomby, who had been the drummer for Blood, Sweat & Tears. 

But it turns out that O’Hearn, and the rest of Group 87 have had pretty interesting and fairly successful careers, pretty much off of the Jordan Becker radar. Group 87’s trumpeter was Mark Isham, who had played with, among others, Van Morrison, before becoming a new age and soundtrack star and in-demand session musician. The guitarist, Peter Maunu, is also a prolific session musician, with credits that range from Jean-Luc Ponty, and The Commodores. And while not an official member of the group, the drums on their debut were played by Terry Bozzio, who had played with Zappa and U.K. before forming Missing Persons with, among others, his wife Dale Bozzio and other former Zappa band members. 

But this is about O’Hearn, who started as a bass player, and began playing professionally at 15. Moving to San Francisco, he played mostly jazz, playing bass for well-established artists such as Charles Lloyd, Joe Henderson, Dexter Gordon, Joe Pass, Woody Shaw, Eddie Henderson, and Bobby Hutcherson, as well as musicians who were his contemporaries, and eventually joined Frank Zappa’s band, where he began experimenting with synthesizers. 

In 1979, he joined friends Isham, Maunu (and Bozzio) to form Group 87. Bozzio then recruited O’Hearn to move into the new wave world, joining Missing Persons, where he played both synthesizer and bass, and hopefully cashed in on their popularity. When that band broke up in 1986, O’Hearn eventually started a solo career in the new age and ambient genres, where he has been quite successful, as well as working on soundtracks. To date, he has released 13 solo albums. And, in another genre-bending move, he played bass with John Hiatt on tour from 2007-2010 and in the studio through 2012 (so he wasn’t there when I saw Hiatt at the Tarrytown Music Hall in 2014). 

Although one of the things I like about writing these little blog posts is that I get to write about stuff
that I know, the best part is finding out things that I didn’t know.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

PAT: A-CAKE

Mindful there has not been too much a pitter-PATter of posts arriving under this banner, time to think out of the box. And what could be better than a cake box, something that may have me awarding me a pat, SWIDT, on the back for inspiration. Of course, Cake are no strangers here, usually courtesy their way with quirky covers, enough to endear themselves to me bigtime. But they are more than just novelty revisionings, having a wealth of their own penned material on hand as well. As I have discovered.

With a modus operandi of always avoiding the obvious, this was apparent from the start by the prominence of trumpet, lead trumpet even, an instrument more reviled than revered in rock and pop, delegated, where I thought it should be, to old man's music like jazz or, within reason, the unison brass parts of soul music. I had utmost suspicion of the instrument, feeling it as uncool as short hair and straight trousers. Until then, just to damn my eyes, short hair and straight trousers came back in. My version of punk coasted into post-punk and an enduring love of Chumbawamba, another band with trumpet, forcing me to swallow my prejudice, luckily also coinciding with the astonishing discovery that jazz was OK too. (And that I preferred jazz trumpet solos to saxophone solos, despite sax being just about allowed a seat at the table of my earlier rockist tastes. And since you ask, Chet more than Miles.)

Rock'n'Roll Lifestyle/Motorcade of Generosity (1994)

Cake I first heard through their astonishing de- and reconstruction of I Will Survive, reeking so of mariachi I had to go and gather that whole style into my body of required and allowable listening. It has been touched on here. I bought the parent record. The second single from their second album, it came out in 1997 and made the indie charts at home, managing a 29 in the UK, and higher in some other european countries. Given their first album was all originals, and largely damned either by faint praise, or just plain damned, this left the band with a dilemma, one that never quite lost them, continuing arguably to be better known for their covers, despite barely doing any others over the next few records. (Having a self-penned song called Jolene on their debut arguably didn't help, allowing the lazy to make assumptions: I certainly downloaded the track on that basis!!) 

The Distance/Fashion Nugget (1996)

Never There/Prolonging the Magic (1998)

In researching this piece I was, therefore a little surprised to see their last record, 2011's Showroom of Compassion actually hit the coveted Billboard #1 slot, if only for a week, albeit based on the then lowest sales to attain that slot. And not a cover in sight. (Well, one, actually.) Also that all the four ahead of that had entirely satisfactory sales, with only the very first failing to make any splash, so bang goes my assertion. But maybe the fact they refused a greatest hits, and released instead the only other record of theirs I own, b-sides and Rarities, which is nearly all cover versions, explains my fallacy. 

Comfort Eagle/Comfort Eagle (2001) 

Sick of You/Showroom of Compassion (2011)

Scattered through this prose are a few of their finest. If you are unfamiliar, listen. If you know them, re-aquaint. The trumpet of Vince DeFiori is certainly not the only cause to celebrate, the caustic and conversational singing of John McCrea, also the main songwriter, being a joyful characteristic of the sound. These two are the sole permanently present members of the band, as they seemed to get through a slew of rhythm sections along the way. Just two lead guitarists, though, with a special mention for Greg Brown, no, not that one, there from the start, who left in 1997, if still making later guest appearances, his spiky playing adding to the overall counter-intuiveness of the whole. But for the last ten years there has been little sight or sound. There was promise of new material as far back as 2018, with only a single video, below, sneaking out. A demo leaked in January this year, so maybe we haven't quite had all our Cake yet. 

Sinking Ship (2018)


Eat some!