Saturday, June 18, 2022


 "Phew, what a scorcher" is the traditional newspaper headline whenever the UK "swelters" in balmy tropical temperatures of 30 degrees. That's 86 in the transatlantic money, and today, now yesterday, it is supposed to hit that. Already a bit warm and muggy, praise be I am not at work, and can so wallow in it. Part of the process is always to find some applicable and appropriate music to soundtrack the experience. I had even forgot I had this, so it was a delight to rediscover. 

It actually hit 32, so try it for size:

Kidjo has become quite the doyenne of so called World music, using her Beninese roots as a template to merge and meld into a melting pot of other styles. Had the political situation in her homeland not been so fractured, who knows whether she would have made her name outside the diaspora of her home, so it is, for us, a blessing she relocated, in 1983, to Paris, the de facto capital of African music worldwide. A bevy of releases have emerged in her name since 1983, ever drawing in bigger names in production and collaboration. Perhaps unfairly, even if I contribute to that, she is better known for her cover versions rather than her own material, or, even, the material of Africa, even if she imbues suchh covers with as authentic a pan-African sheen as can be contrived. Recent years have seen, successively, tributes to the Talking Heads'  Remain In Light and to the grande-dame of salsa, Celia Cruz. But her most recent release was a return more to where she started, 2021's Mother Nature, wherein she shares the spotlight with a slew of young African music makers, as well as a few older peers. (O, and Sting?!)

Voodoo Chile (Live)

Omon Oba

But what of the song that defines this piece? Remember it? I certainly do, being especially taken with it, as a small boy devouring the charts on Top of the Pops.

The Equals were an unusual feature back in the mid to late 60s, being multi-racial, part white british and part african-caribbean. Schoolfriends from a North London housing estate, they had a run of singles, none proving quite as successful as this one. Initially released in 1966, as a B side, it became a hit in continental Europe before being flipped in the UK, becoming a 1968 chart topper. Across the atlantic it fared less well, if still a credible 32 on the Billboard chart. The writer and the main focus of the group was one Eddy Grant, who had a later resurgence of fame in the late 1970s and into the 80's as a solo act and a run of successful singles. Only the churlish would point out they all, to some extent, had broadly the same tune.

I Don't Wanna Dance

There have been a fair few cover versions over the years, most of whom offer little than some 'updating' with rap or grime filters, each dating far more swiftly than the simple exuberance of the original. I did, however, dig out a copy that is a little unexpected and, thus, worth the play. I give you, from 1982, Ms. Bonnie Raitt:

(Well, I didn't say it was any good!!)

The first and the best.

UPDATE: It is raining today and temperatures have plummeted, if not quite to "Brrr, Britain Freezes" levels.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Back: When They Say We Want Our America Back (What The F#%k Do They Mean?)


Jill Sobule: When They Say We Want Our America Back (What The F#%k Do They Mean?)

It’s been a while since I’ve gone off on a full out political rant here (although, to be fair, it’s been less than a month since my post about the dB’s “Change With the Changing Times” veered off course at the end). 

I’ve been watching the January 6 Committee hearings, and the videos that they played of the insurrectionists who attacked the American Capitol and attempted to steal an American election from American voters all seemed to be justifying their actions with some variation of wanting to take America back. Or, at least, that they were operating at the instigation of a man who popularized the slogan, Make America Great Again—which implies, of course, that it was once great, but now isn’t. Which implies that things were better when straight (or closeted) white Christian men ran things, and everyone else knew their place and was supposed to be happy for the crumbs. 

After the first night of the hearings, one of my college classmates, a Black woman who is a prominent and successful orthopedic surgeon, posted on Facebook, “What did Trump do for them??? They keep saying they were so grateful for all he had done for them??” And it’s an interesting question. Because the one legislative “accomplishment” of that administration was a tax cut that would likely not have benefited most people at the coup attempt in any significant way. He didn’t improve their health care, or raise the minimum wage, or protect their health or safety. My response was, “Made them feel their white supremacy was supported.” 

But it really was more than that. Trump preyed on the fear that his followers have of losing their advantage if the playing field was equalized. As Lyndon Johnson, a president who did many great and terrible things during his administration once noted, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.” And that’s what Trump did, and still does. He fed their fears, their white supremacy, their anti-immigrant hatred and their economic worries, despite doing nothing tangible for them. And then, he picked their pockets, again and again and again. Although I think that part of the reason that Trump attempted a coup was to keep his power, I think that the reason that he wanted the power was to be able to continue the grift. Remarkably, he’s been able to keep the swindle alive, even without the power (and his son-in-law, the dead-eyed Jared Kushner, seems to have learned that lesson, too.) 

Back in about 2015, when Rand Paul was running for president on a nationalist platform, Jill Sobule wrote our featured song, asking the all-important question, when these people say that they are going to take America “back” then “What the Fuck Do They Mean?” And I think that the answer is becoming more and more clear. By getting rid of the Voting Rights Act, and by gerrymandering wildly and making it harder for poor people and minorities to vote, they are limiting the power of Black, Latino and other groups to have fair representation in state legislatures and Congress. By increasing income inequality, they are concentrating power in a handful of people and companies.  By facilitating the likely end of abortion rights, they are imposing Christian sharia law, and again making it harder for women, particularly poor and minority women, to control their own bodies. And giddy with success, there are increasing calls to attack the right to use birth control, marriage equality, and even the right to interracial marriage. All while doing nothing real to prevent gun violence. 

The version of the song above is from Monster Protest Jamz...Volume 1, a compilation of new protest songs that included the work of artists like Tom Morello, Todd Rundgren, Amanda Palmer, Wayne Kramer, Wendy & Lisa, and many others, which was part of Sobule’s “My Song is My Weapon” project. Unfortunately, it appears to be unavailable because it was issued by Pledgemusic, which went bankrupt and was liquidated. 

But I’ll also insert this video of Jill singing the song in August, 2016 (before we got the Election Day shock), with my beautiful and talented wife singing backup.

Monday, June 13, 2022


And I still haven't got around to seeing them, either? Them? Human League. (Or is it The Human League, I never quite grasping? A bit like the decade or so earlier arguments about whether it was The Pink Floyd or The Yes, but I digress.) Because, inevitably, it being the 21st century, no band is ever allowed to die, and are doomed to play on eternally, whether they like it or not, a St Vitus' dance of our days. (Witness this one, fr'instance....) The League, neatly sidestepping the above concern, play on and I still haven't seen them.

There was a time, of course, when I desperately did want to, when Don't You Want Me was top of the charts and Dare (the parent album) in my Christmas stocking. But I was too busy, too serious and too earnest for gigs in those days, newly married and employed at the lowest rung of the hospital ladder, freshly minted out of medical school. Blimey, I barely had time for records, hearing more music on the radio than on my pining-for-me stereo. But the recalcitrant muso in me still usually made time for 40 minutes of a Thursday evening, for Top Of The Pops. (Heart attack in casualty? Just wait till the end of this song......)

As the years passed, slowly life settled down. Live music slowly came back into my life, courtesy the wonderful Birmingham Odeon, a cinema in the central drag of the shopping centre, that, then at least, doubled as a the premier live venus for the city. I saw loads of bands there between 1984 and onward, until, unceremoniously, it reverted to films only. Boo, it leaving the city much of a wasteland for bands to play, it being pubs or Wolverhampton, a situation that remained until the refurbishment of the Town Hall allowed its return for concerts, followed, a year or so later, by the famed Symphony Hall, a truly terrific venue for bigger bands, it taking a certain reputation to fill it. Huge bands had always the godawful National Exhibition centre and, later, the National Indoor Arena, but both were/are soulless indoor caverns with extortionate parking and lacklustre and exorbitant bar concessions. But I still didn't manage the League. Dare was followed by Hysteria and Crash, the standard slowly slipping, despite the huge singles from the Jam-Lewis helmed latter album, to some extent discussed here. However, amongst the other dross was one absolute banger, the subject of this piece. Seeming a deliberate, if belated, part 2 to Don't You Want Me. Clearly the "waitress in a cocktail bar" really didn't want him and, with that slowly sinking in, maybe needing this second song to make sure: Are You Ever Coming Back?

The astute amongst you might be popping up your hands to catch my attention. What about, you say, I'm Coming Back on the album between the two, Hysteria. Arguably, extremely, this could be construed as the link between them? OK, so the lyrics are ambivalent and, if you buy into this derisory line of argument, surely Joanne Catherall would be singing the chorus, or at least part of it, she being the waitress from the song I suggest started it all. But, nonetheless. (I am conveniently going to disregard another and more prevalent theory that the "follow-up" to Don't You Want Me was given by the reconciliation through closure of Louise, on Hysteria. Trust me here.)

What came next? The loss of their record contract with Virgin, for one, after the poor showing of album number four. Their star so now out of the firmament, I have to admit I have never heard 1990's Romantic, but wonder if Rebound, one of the songs, might be the next step on our journey. Shall we see? I mean, she's singing, isn't she?

Sorry, now I'm obsessed and have to follow it through.... A long five years before they manage anything new, now on EastWest records. The oldies circuit had sucked them in, still, to this day, a source of lucre for bands of the 1980s. But Octopus, remarkably, garnished a rekindling of their karma, and, for a while it looked as if their may be (eight) legs in the League after all, even if, officially, there were six, it being just Oakey, Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley as the residual band members. Now I did hear this one, and think I even have a copy on the shelf. Anything here to prop up my hypothesis? Well, astonishingly, first track and lead single, Tell Me When, seems to fit neatest into the never say die spirit of the deserted Oakey figure from Don't You Want Me

Exciting this, isn't it, as we race to the finish, with but two further studio releases to come. Secrets, in 2001, saw them slipping back down the rankings, now on smaller label, Papillon. Again, knowingly unheard to my ears, I'm going to have to guess this one, the description of, again, first track and lead single, All I Ever Wanted as showing, as the UK Times newspaper said: "the playful interplay between Phil Oakey's sonorous baritone and Joanne and Susanne's girly voices are present and correct". And I can fully and confidently state that the more upbeat lyric might represent a feasible next chapter.

Well, the ten year gap between Secrets and Credo, the last official release in 2011, might confirm a dimming of the spotlight, at least commercially, in the world of new releases and chart acclaim. It seems the band had appreciated this, relying more on their continued pull as a live act, by now bouncing between the remember the 80's bandwagon and just being a quirky good time live act with enough cache to appeal to audiences growing up with them and the younger generation inspired by them. I'm not sure I can find the fitting song to bookend the flow of possible consecutiveness I have dreamt up here, but it must be there, I'm sure, having convinced myself of it. So let's just go with this, plcked at random. (And yes, it's true, nearly the only one with a decent available video. Or with a video at all.) If I squint hard enough, it falls and fits within the let me go/have me back nonsense I have tried to convince you of. Never Give Me Up is its name.

So, have I convinced you of this hitherto unexplored continuum across and between the releases of this band, as we witness together the turning of raffish young blade, Phil Oakey, to the somewhat desperate gent of today, his teenage accomplices themselves now somewhat matronly, as befitting their years. Worry not if it has just reminded you of the songs, as they're mostly good. Would I still go see them after this exercise? Well, never say never, but it may be I will just go see this lot again.....

Well, are you?