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Show some love for Richard Hawley

August 30th, 2007 No comments

Richard Hawley was born into the wrong times. The one-time Pulp sideman’s heart resides with the torchsong singers of the ’50s and ’60s, with Scott Walker and his Belgian archetype, Jacques Brel.

While the likes of Rod Stewart and Robbie Williams issue campish karaoke homages (or chash cows, you decide) to the Rat Pack, Hawley has crafted an original sound that is at once nostalgic and contemporary. His songs are originals, often of such musical depth and quality that one yearns for the Capitol-years Sinatra to cover them. Curse the human cycle of ageing and death for denying us the opportunity to hear Sinatra (or “Frank”, if you’re Bono) sing the title track of 2005’s Coles Corner. In absence of this option, one might wish to encourage Scott Walker to abandon the unlistenable din he is noq creating in favour of covering some Hawley — the utterly gorgeous “Valentine” from the exquisite new album, Lady’s Bridges, suggests itself. And, oh, to have heard Johnny Cash singing “Dark Road”, also from Lady’s Bridges.

This does not imply that Hawley’s delivery is deficient. He has a soothing baritone which hints at torment and darkness. At times, the vocals are a little too dispassionate even as the lyrics are eloquent, as though Hawley was a mere observer of his life. But even when he does passion (such as on the lovely “Baby You’re My Light” from 2001’s Late Night Final), Otis Redding at his most incendiary he is not.

On Lady’s Bridges, Hawley sticks to the formula of his previous albums, but is more cohesive than its predecessors (including the excellent Coles Corner), with not one poor track. By rights, this should be background-type music. This it cannot be, because the songs pull the listener in by force of their personality. Listening to this set is rather like enjoying a luxurious bubblebath by candlelight, as the warmth of the water, the comfort of the foam, and the calmness of the dim light envelope you.

Richard Hawley – Valentine.mp3 (from Lady’s Bridges, 2007)
Richard Hawley – Dark Road.mp3 (from Lady’s Bridges, 2007)
Richard Hawley – Coles Corner.mp3 (from Coles Corner, 2005)
Richard Hawley – Just Like The Rain.mp3 (from Coles Corner, 2005)
Richard Hawley – The Only Road.mp3 (from Lowedges, 2003)
Richard Hawley – The Night Is Made For Us.mp3 (from Lowedges, 2003)
Richard Hawley – Baby You’re My Light.mp3 (from Late Night Final, 2001)
Richard Hawley – Long Black Train.mp3 (from Late Night Final, 2001)

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Jacko, Yoshi & the Heartbreak Hotel

August 30th, 2007 5 comments

Danny Baker’s 1980 article for the NME about Michael Jackson, and his brothers, titled “The great Greenland mystery”, may well be my favourite piece of music writing ever. The subject matter lends itself to the bizarre, of course. For the most part of this pretty lengthy article, the Jackson angle is at once central and peripheral.

The best example of that is an account of a press conference in LA, held to promote The Jackson’s Triumph album (the one with the soaring “Can You Feel It”). From experience I know that his portrayal of these events is hilariously accurate. Especially so in the context of entertainment writing, as I experienced during a brief excursion into the field in the early ’90s.

Here then the pertinent excerpts from Baker’s classic and very, very funny article:

 

I LOVE press conferences. Nobody says anything for the first ten minutes and then, when someone does, questions fly about in little spurts. In the gaps, hungry hacks eye up and down their comrades’ columns to see if someone is going to ask a question a split second before they open their own cake-holes, thus shutting down their own effort in its first syllable.

Then there’s the all-out strain to see who can project the best image of the seen-it-all pressman. Never admit it’s your first PC. Also sort out where the majors are present. No one wants to admit they’re from the Basildon Non-Ferrous Metals Weekly when you’re sandwiched between the Times and the Telegraph.

It’s wonderful to spot potential questioners. You can see their lips moving as they run over and over the question, ironing it out a full quarter -hour before popping it. And worse! If some bastard creep gets in your query first, they usually get approving nods from all around and you feel like screeching ‘But I was going to ask that!’

[pre-PC preparations]

Then there’s the well-used but still fresh-looking note-pad that on every page has the standard four lines of shorthand at the top. You have to rattle a pencil around your teeth — never chew it! — until you get an ‘idea’. Then you add another half line of shorthand culminating in finally slamming your notebook shut with a disturbing air of confidence. Then you just sit back, arms folded, surveying the lesser hacks who’ve yet to complete the preliminaries.
[…]
“Once the artists enter you’re treated to a stampede of photographers — forming tight bundles like mating-crazed frogs. […] All the smudges yell ‘This way please Cecil’ even though Cecil never does. They usually nick a glance from somebody else’s successful bid.
Before photographers do all this, they pick straws to see who will be the one who goes around behind the artists and takes a shot or two of All The Other Photographers Taking Photos of Cecil. The runner-up gets to be the essential smudge who stands firm snapping away after the others have retreated. He carries this on until a bouncer leads him away.
[…]
If you meet someone you know at a press conference, you always ask each other what you’re doing here. The you both decide ‘It’s a giggle’, the subject is only fit to be sent up, and ask who was that berk who asked such and such a question halfway through. Then you destroy the berk’s paper.

Michael Jackson and his brothers have entered, “all sporting huge jamtart sized sunglasses”.

The questions are real tat. ‘Ven fill hue be wisiting Sweden, Michael?’ ‘Are you a close family, Michael? (to which the family Michael showed a keen drollery in snapping back ‘No Sir’), ‘Can you give us information about your new record?’
It was pretty bleak until this one poor wretched Japanese looking bloke committed the cardinal sin of any press conference — he tried to crack a joke. Oh, but he did. Y’see there’s a track on their new LP called “Heartbreak Hotel” and this bloke — who had little command of English anyway — thought he had cooked up a real zinger.

‘Ah, Michael’, he stuttered, seizing his chance. ‘Ah if you had not been a hit with your LP, ah, would you have gone to, ah, Heartbreak Hotel?’

In the ensuing silence, the wind blew, crickets chirped and you could hear the guy swallow hard as the apologetic grin froze on his chops. It turns out nobody understood him. Tito asks him to repeat the ‘question’.

‘Ah, Michael, i-if your LP had n-not been success…w-would you have, ah, have gone t-to Heartbreak Hotel?’

By now most of us hacks have caught on to what’s being said and the less valiant turn away and clear their throats. The guy is still grinning although he has stopped blinking by now and is wobbling perceptibly.

A Jacksons aide steps in. ‘Er, Yoshi, what do you mean?’
‘Ah Michael. If your album h-h-had not been su-su-success wouldyouhavegonetoHeartbreakHotel?’

Michael shakes his head and Jackie tries. ‘OK, I got Heartbreak Hotel but that was on our LP — what’s it got to do with Michael?’

Poor Yoshi is drenched in flop-sweat. He is darting his eyes around looking for an ally. His neck has gone to semolina and his palms perspire like the Boulder dam.

‘I-I-I’m playing with words you see.’
Nobody sees and Yoshi’s grasp of the lingo falls an inch short of the word ‘joke’.
‘P-P-Playing with words … words.’

The eyes of the world are burrowing deep inside that tweed jacket of his. He’s trembling like a sapling in monsoon and smoke is starting to belch out of his ears. Then — a voice at the back ends the torture.

‘I think the guy’s trying to make a funny.’
‘Yis! Yis! That’s it!’ babbles the released spirit. ‘I’m making funny! Funny!’

As he begins to appeal for clemency, the final cruel blow sounds. Amidst the unnecessary sighing the aide says: ‘Hey Yoshi. This is a press conference, man. Save the funnies, huh?’

The dumb questions resumed but I couldn’t take my eyes from the broken Japanese. Ruined, he never heard another word all afternoon. Today, I suspect he sits in a bathchair in some far off sanatorium, grey haired and twitching, mumbling to anyone who will listen: ‘The words. Playing with words you see…is funny…’

[ENDS]

Superstars of the future

August 24th, 2007 4 comments

On Wednesday I attended Any Minor Dude‘s school’s Music Evening. Normally I would dread these things, despite all the loving efforts made by the teachers and pupils at entertaining the assembled parents and the occasional grandparent. Wednesday night’s event was, however, very enjoyable. The hall was beautifully set up, and some of the paintings by the pupils on display were quite artistic.

I was well up for the evening, because my son and his friend Thabo were in the line-up, schedulled to appear towards the end of the programme. Until then we had to sit through a series of periodically ropey but brief piano recitals of things like “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, and obligingly applaud these kids, because for them it was a big evening. One must not be churlish, but appreciate the dedicated hours of rehearsing that went into their performances. Besides, our default expectation at such events must lean towards the ropey by virtue of the performers still learning the art of making music. They were doing their very best, and that in itself merits our indulgence.

In between there was some promising talent. A prodigious little Grade 1 boy playing piano, first solo then with his equally talented sister; the pint-sized drummer who has the Keith Moon deal already figured out; a Grade 7 kid playing with admirable fluency what seems to be a fairly complex piece of classical music which I didn’t recognise.

But I don’t think that it is just parental prejudice that impels me to claim that my son Michael and Thabo were the most impressive performers of the night — because they wrote their own song; music and lyrics. Michael on acoustic guitar, Thabo on vocals. And lovely it was, too. The song had structure and a very good, quite haunting melody, beautifully sung by Thabo, who still has a high voice, with a soulful timbre. The lyrics weren’t quite Dylan, but they were entirely suitable for the song, making good use of repetitious lines. Michael’s accompaniment was well-judged, conveying the melancholy of the song. Some of the chords were pretty complex, but he pulled it off.

The music teacher told the audience only after their performance that the boys had written the song themselves, causing a few gasps of delighted surprise and a second round of rapturous applause. I might have torn the corners of my lips from grinning uncontrollably.

The boys aren’t 13 yet, but knocked out a decent song in a day. As they did for the school’s talent show in June, which they won. Then Michael borrowed a few chords from a System Of A Down song (still, adapting SOAD for acoustic guitar and applying them to a different tune requires some talent).

Alas, last night Michael told me he doesn’t plan to become a musician; he wants to become a lawyer. Perhaps he could set up a band of rock-god lawyers, and see if the record companies can fuck them over.

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Blog rolled

August 18th, 2007 No comments

We interrupt this transmission to note the fact that this blog has been blog rolled in The Guardian today, as was Mr Agreeable (who, I hope, takes greater delight in having featured in my Music For Bloggers series).


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Pissing off the Taste Police with Neil Diamond

August 13th, 2007 15 comments

Forget the smoothie housewives’ favourite with the lamé jacket, blow-dry and black-dye coiffure, hairy chest, cowboy boots and glittering name prone to singing lame songs about forever living in blue jeans and nauseating duets with Barbra Streisand. The pre-crooner Neil Diamond should be ranked as a pop legend. Alas, the Lamé & Steisand cheesiness robbed this great songwriter of credibility and respect.

It’s an injustice. Divorce Lamé Neil from his earlier incarnation as the writer and performer of songs that should be regarded as classics, and revisit his back catalogue. You will find works of near-genius there. Then, if you will, listen to his 2005 album 12 Songs, produced by Rick Rubin, to discover that the man has lost nothing, even in his 60s.

The fact that Diamond ranks third in the all-time bestselling Billboard Charts list — after Elton John and Babs — should neither impress (I mean, look who’s second) nor repel. With Neil Diamond there is no need to analyse socio-musical effect. With Neil Diamond, there is only the music. And among the seaweed, there are many oysters, most bearing pearls.

How many people thought that the most popular song from the very good Pulp Fiction soundtrack was an Urge Overkill original? I bear no ill will towards the cover version of Neil Diamond’s superior 1967 original; in fact, I rather like it. But the success of “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon” did not help rehabilitate Diamond reputation. It should have had people scurrying towards the far superior original.
Neil Diamond – Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon.mp3

Perhaps the best-known Neil Diamond songs is “Sweet Caroline” (1969). Even the branches of the Taste Police which despised the man would acknowledge that it is a cracking song, while possibly playing it for “ironic” effect. No need for irony, this is one of the great pop songs, with its memorable keyboard intro, the restrained verse, the soaring chorus, and especially the phrasing of the line that ends with the climactic “…touching me, touching you”, drenched with sexual desire.
Neil Diamond – Sweet Caroline.mp3

Imagine Leonard Cohen and Burt Bacharach — two of the finest songwriters in a decade chockful with genius songwriters — writing a song together: the result might be something as excellent like the autobiographical “Brooklyn Roads” (1968). And that places Neil Diamond right up there with the great songwriters of the 1960s.
Neil Diamond – Brooklyn Roads.mp3

Neil Diamond’s “I’m A Believer” is generally regarded as a Monkees song, and his country song “Red, Red Wine” (1967) is usually associated with reggae-karaoke combo UB40 (whose cover version was based on that by Tony Tribe released in 1969). It’s time to reclaim these songs for our man.
Neil Diamond – Red Red Wine (live).mp3

The great songwriter was keen to record cover versions himself. His 1971 album Stones, with its great title song, includes covers of songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Roger Miller, Jacques Brel and Randy Newman. A couple of years earlier, while still in his Tin Pan Alley phase, Diamond recorded the standard “Mr Bojangles”, doing a very good job of it, though not eclipsing Sammy Davis Jr’s definitive interpretation.
Neil Diamond – Mr Bojangles.mp3

At what point did Neil Diamond jump the shark? It was more case of gently climbing on top of the shark, and sliding down on the other side. In his pomp, Diamond released semi-schlock like “Song Sung Blue”, which set the scene for the lamé period. The pretentious, but actually not altogether bad, Jonathan Seagull Livingstone came out at around the same time as the outstanding live set Hot August Night, in which Diamond rocked and sang songs blue in equal measures (the air-wanking-lion cover itself was remarkable). The difficulty with Lamé Neil is that even during that period, he wrote some very good songs. There is nothing wrong with a song such as “America” from the awful 1980 film version of The Jazz Singer, other than its revolting arrangement (and its association with Michael Dukakis’ disastrous 1988 presidential campaign). Even “Beautiful Noise”, a lamé song drenched liberally in lamé oil, is at its base a pretty good song. It just needs to be re-recorded (without some clown going crazy on his newfangled synthethizer).
Neil Diamond – Beautiful Noise.mp3

By 2005, few people really expected to hear from Neil Diamond again (nostalgia appearances and his obituary aside). Then Rick Rubin did for ND what he had previously done for Johnny Cash: give a supposedly superannuated singer another shot at delivering a credible work of art. Unlike Cash, Diamond came up with a set of original tracks to make up the stunning 12 Songs, an album of immediate intimacy and depth in beauty. I hope that ND will leave it at that, concluding his long career with a set of restrained songs that don’t hit you in the face, as the Sweet Carolines, but creep under your skin and touch your soul.
Neil Diamond – Save Me A Saturday Night.mp3

The Songbirds: Vol 4

August 12th, 2007 4 comments

The final installment of the Songbirds, for now (there are still a few more who need bigging up, but we’ll do that later in the curriculum). So, I’ve featured 20 Songbirds; add your own favourites, and here should be abundant material for a brilliant mix-tape (or double CD-R).

Deb Talan
Deb Talan is one half of the Weepies, whom I utterly love, their silly name notwithstanding. Steve Tannen and Deb Talan were acoustic folk-musicians in their own right and fans of one another before they met. When they did, they became the Weepies (and a couple, or so I’ve heard). The two Weepies albums are great, with just enough of an edge to offset their inherent and appealing twee cuteness. Talan’s solo stuff (which — shame on the world — is not easy to find) is much in the same vein as the Weepies. Check out these excellent recordings of Talan live solo and the Weepies in concert (both endorsed by the artists), from 2003 and 2004 respectively. The latter yielded the Pablo Neruda-inspired “Cherry Trees” file below (edited by your friendly blogger to improve the soundlevels), a song that follows the slightly edgy “Tell Your Story Walking” on Deb’s 2001 sophomore album Sincerely. “Forgiven”, from her 2000 label debut Something Burning, is poetry accompanied by an acoustic guitar, a track that becomes more astonishing with every listen. And I am in love with Talan’s little giggle at the end of “Cherry Trees”.
Deb Talan – Forgiven.mp3
Deb Talan – Tell Your Story Walking.mp3
The Weepies – Cherry Trees (live).mp3 (previously uploaded)
The Weepies- Gotta Have You.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Brooke Fraser
New Zealand’s second biggest selling artist (after Haley Westrena), Brooke Fraser is a huge talent in the singer-songwriter mould with a fine line in attractive melodies and intelligent lyrics. On her second album, Albertine, the rugby All Black’s daughter is introspective about her Christian faith. Happily, her religious musings are not of the saccharine worship variety — God and Jesus are not even mentioned — nor even obliquely about her spirituality. Without listening too closely, “Deciphering Me” or “Shadowfeet”, both from Albertine, could be straightforward love songs. “Without You”, a quite lovely love song from her 2004 debut What To Do With Daylight, has a bit of a Norah Jones vibe going on — if the tryptophanatic Jones was a bit more interesting. Admirably, the CD booklet for Albertine lists a range of NGOs, with contact details, that work on issues such as human rights, development, abuse of women and children and human trafficking.
Brooke Fraser – Shadowfeet.mp3
Brooke Fraser – Without You.mp3
Brooke Fraser – Deciphering Me.mp3 (previously uploaded)

Emilíana Torrini
The name gives it away that Torrini comes from Iceland. Well, her full name actually does: Emilíana Torrini Davíðsdóttir, the offspring of Icelandic and Italian parents. Featured frequently on Grey’s Anatomy (great supporters of the Songbirds — don’t let anyone say that TV exposure undermines an artist’s credibility), Torrini has build up a decent amount of buzz, being mentioned as a bit of an insiders’ tip to the Eva Cassidy Consensus (see here). Her sound is gentle and quiet and militantly acoustic. Yet, beneath the fragile layer of etherealism there is an appealing depth which might require a few repeat listens — but these are richly rewarding. Catch videos of Torrini’s live performances on her excellent website.
Emilíana Torrini – Sunny Road.mp3
Emilíana Torrini – Serenade.mp3
Emilíana Torrini – Nothing Brings Me Down.mp3 (previously uploaded)


Maria Taylor

Azure Ray singer Maria Taylor‘s debut solo album, 11:11, was an eclectic bag of tricks, incorporating folk-rock, electronica and even torchsong. Her new album, Lynn Teeter Flower, is a more cohesive, but not without surprises. One of Bright Eyes supremo Connor Oberst’s favourites (they have guested on each other’s albums), Taylor’s sound is too layered, too crafted, too good to break into the mainstream. But it will establish her as a leading performer in the genre.
Maria Taylor – Nature Song.mp3
Maria Taylor – Lost Time.mp3
Maria Taylor – No Stars.mp3

Jenny Lewis
It is fitting to conclude this series of female singers with one of the best: Jenny Lewis, best known as lead singer of the wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) Rilo Kiley. Where Rilo Kiley have what might be described as an Indie-folk sound (hear the sing-along outro of “With Arms Outstretched”), Jenny Lewis’ 2005 solo album Rabbit Furcoat, with the Watson Twins, was pure alt.country, and deplorably featured a cover of a Traveling bloody Wilburys song, the horrid “Handle With Care”. Jenny has one of the sexiest voices in music today. This is evident on “It’s A Hit” and the fantastic (and easy-to-find) “Portions For Foxes”, both from RK’s More Adventurous album in 2004. Read this excellent interview with Jenny; I particularly like her line about not dropping favourite artists when they become successful or receive exposure in the mainstream (see the entry on Torrini).
Rilo Kiley – With Arms Outstretched.mp3
Rilo Kiley – It’s A Hit.mp3
Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins – You Are What You Love.mp3

The Songbirds: Vol 3

August 10th, 2007 3 comments

Rosie Thomas
Four very good albums down the road, and Rosie Thomas remains obscure enough to impress the Eva Cassidy Consensus — the type of people who rave about this posthumously overrated singer as if there aren’t dozens better ones — with something superior. Detroit-born Rosie (by all accounts an utterly delightful woman) knows how to create a mood. Relaxed, cute and humorous one moment, you wish you were with her to share a giggle, next she moves the listener to tears with her beautiful melodies and poignant lyrics. Songs like “Much Farther To Go”, with the gorgeous arrangement and the sad lyrics (“Sometimes I cry when it’s late at night, and you’re not there to lay next to me. Morning breaks and the sun warms my face…how I wish it was you warming me”) reach deep into the listeners’ soul. Likewise, “If This City Never Sleeps”, which opens Rosie’s latest album, communicates in sound and words the sort of undefinable yearning that makes us sigh uncontrollably for no good reason.
Rosie Thomas – If This City Never Sleeps.mp3
Rosie Thomas – Say Hello (with Sufjan Stevens).mp3
Rosie Thomas – Much Farther To Go.mp3

Catherine Feeny
One of those chance discoveries that make you feel great love for chance. I have not heard Catherine Feeny‘s debut, but her sophomore album Hurricane Glass, released last year and re-released this year, is quite excellent. Where is the buzz for this wonderful talent? Born in the US, Feeny lives in rural England; and the influence of two different rock tradition shows. Hurricane Glass is an intimate album with intelligent lyrics telling of of struggles with regret, disillusionment, insecurity, and melancholy, often mitigated by a sense of hope. I love this line from the excellent opener “Touch Back Down”: ” I have got to learn not to go choosing the ones who don’t choose me. I am always picking the fruit that’s furthest on the tree; it’s sweetest to me.” It should be fairly easy to get hold of “Mr Blue”, which has featured on a few soundtracks, a sweet song with a brilliant flugelhorn interlude. If re-releases qualify for consideration when we compile our Albums of the Year lists, Feeny will surely have a crack at inclusion in mine.
Catherine Feeny – Touch Back Down.mp3
Catherine Feeny – Hush Now.mp3

Sarah Bettens
Bettens is a half of the Belgian twosome K’s Choice, an act that is not as well known as it ought to be, despite releasing a string of fine albums since the early ’90s. In 2005 Bettens released her appealing solo debut, Scream, which veered between intimate ballads and alt.rock. In keeping with the songbird theme, I’ve picked up two of the slower songs. “Grey” was just a bonus track, which is puzzling; to me, it’s the best song on the album. The piano-driven song is not only very beautiful, but has thoughtful lyrics about the depth, fears and transience of love (“I have tasted happiness, the innocence of joy. Do we pay a price for every moment we enjoy? I can make you promises, but even I can’t say if everything I feel for you will never go away”). “Stay” is a bit more upbeat and quite catchy; I particularly enjoy Sarah’s hoarse voice.
Sarah Bettens – Grey.mp3
Sarah Bettens – Stay.mp3

Kathleen Edwards
Another talented alt.country singer doomed to remain stuck in the ghetto of tastefully compiled soundtracks (including the exquisite Elizabethtown OST). Life is very unfair. Canadian Kathleen Edwards, who recalls the likes of Lucinda Williams, has supported Dylan, the Stones, and more importantly, the excellent My Morning Jacket. Edwards anticipated the general apathy towards her music when on her 2003 debut Failer she acidly dedicated a song to the radio playlist compilers, “Another Song The Radio Won’t Like”. The catchy number deserved to be playlisted. Alas, Kathleen isn’t big in the blogosphere either (the absence of new material since early 2005, of course, has something to do with that). Well, this blog loves her.
Kathleen Edwards – Summerlong.mp3
Kathleen Edwards – Another Song The Radio Won’t Like.mp3


Tristan Prettyman

Tristan Prettyman came recommended to me by somebody who likened her to Jack Johnson, whom I like in only tiny doses. Her name also put me off from investigating her music. Then I saw the CD cover of this Californian singer’s debut album, and just had to hear what she sounded like. Happily, it was all very nice indeed (an appearance by her boyfriend Jason Mrzaz notwithstanding). Prettyman is breezier than most contemporary songbirds, and on occasion her sound does indeed recall Johnson. In fairness, I think her Twentythree album, released in 2005, was a bit patchy. But where it is good, it hits the right spots. Like these two tracks, the first a sweet ballad, the other breezily upbeat:
Tristan Prettyman – Melting.mp3
Tristan Prettyman – Always Feel This Way.mp3

Casablanca mash-up

August 9th, 2007 No comments

One of the greatest moments in film history is in one of the greatest movies in film history, Casablanca. The boorish Nazis have commandeered Sam’s piano and are singing the German song of patriotism (and one-time German anthem), “Die Wacht am Rhein”. Victor Laszlo, the Czech resistance fighter with a Hungarian moniker, observes the scene, and orders the Rick’s Café houseband to play the Marseillaise (presumably not banned even in Vichy). The bandleader looks to Rick, who nods his head, as Captain Renault gravely observes the scene (a brilliantly acted wordless performance by Claude Rains, whose face betrays disgust and deliberations about how he will have to serve his own interests). With Laszlo conducting, the band strikes up the French national anthem, and the assembled United Nations of usual suspects and refugees, including the SS-blowing fungirl, lustily joins in. Nazi Germany is drowned out, despite Major Strasser’s best efforts to rouse his band — and our collective neckhairs are standing to attention. (Watch the scene here)

NEWLY ADDED: Casablanca – Die Wacht am Rhein vs La Merseillaise.mp3

Here are the two protagonistic songs, “Die Wacht am Rhein” and the Marseillaise, one of the great national anthems by themselves. The first recording of “Wacht” is from 1896 by one Wilhelm Deusing (for the details of the source, see the ID3 tag).

The other is by German singing “sensation” Heino. I suspect that anybody familiar with German culture will wildly rub their eyes, wondering how such a desperate state of affairs arose by which somebody with a trackrecord of impeccable taste and judgment as I would post anything by that rotten troubadour of right-wing music. I’m afraid there were no other decent quality rendition of the song I could find. So fucking Heino it must be. You’ve been warned.
Get the lyrics and short MP3 here.

La Marseillaise (yay)
Wilhelm Deusing – Die Wacht am Rhein (boo)
Heino – Die Wacht am Rhein (double boo)

You must remember this:
Dooley Wilson – As Time Go By

And while we’re on fantastic national anthems:
Red Army Choir – Soviet National Anthem

Less fantastic, but historical (and sounding like a theme to a period-piece TV movie)
East Germany’s National Anthem – Auferstanden aus Ruinen

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Music for Bloggers Vol 2

August 7th, 2007 2 comments

Here is the second installment of my favourite blogs (and a couple of bloggish websites). Again, my apologies if someone feels ignored — they may well feature next time.

Fullundie
I might be easily impressed, but as a ’60s and ’70s soul fan, I am constantly blown away by Fullundie’s collection of soul albums from the era, many of which were already difficult to find when LPs could still be bought at record shops. Fullundie is a goldmine. Here’s one of my favourite ’70s soul songs (just noticed that I forgot to correct the filename. Sloppy! It’s correct in the ID tag):
The Five Stairsteps – Ooh Child.mp3

Mr Agreeable
British music writer David Stubbs is a genius. His site is not really a blog, but a collection of incisive articles and pure comedy. The Reaper is particularly brilliant, slaying sacred cows with asinine wit and knife-sharp logic. Also check out his Match Reports of England’s football games as written from the perspective of an old aristocratic xenophobe who believes that Britannia ruling the waves is the natural order as ordained by God (doubtlessly an Englishman of noble birth himself). Read a Mr Agreeable invective to make sense of my choice of song.
Martha Wainwright – Bloody Mother Fucking Asshole.mp3

Greatest Films
Not a blog, but possibly my all-time favourite non-music site. I discovered it a decade or so ago, when it was still in its infancy, and delighted in the detailed scene-by-scene synopses, with liberal quotes from dialogue, of the classic movies I loved — and many I had not yet seen. And all that illustrated with the relevant movie posters. Today the site is legendary, as it deserves to be, with even Roger Ebert bigging it up (pity about the pop-ups though). I e-mailed webmaster Tim Dirks a few times back in the day, and he was very friendly indeed. And from my joint favourite film of all time, Singing In The Rain:
Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor & Debbie Reynolds – Good Morning.mp3

Peanut’s Playground
The Peanut and I like much of the same kind of music. That means that when I check out Peanut’s Playground, I find that I already have most of the music on offer (which is just as well, because the Peanut puts it all on Rapidshare, which hates me). The fun is in reading the blog, with all sorts of diverting features, such as the Top 25 Albums of all time kind of lists and the new “The Movie of My Life’s Soundtrack” gig. And I really like the design. The Playground pals have voted their 25 top albums of all time, getting some things terribly wrong (I mean, is Arcade Fire’s Funeral really the best album ever?). Each to their own, of course. In my view, Pet Sounds, Abbey Road and The Queen Is Dead are the only albums which would even have a sniff at the top 100. Since everybody ought to own Abbey Road already, here’s a cover version of a track from that album.
Peter Tosh – Here Come The Sun.mp3

Just Good Tunes
I love the eclectic, sticking-it-to-the-taste-police attitude of this album blog. The man doesn’t say much, but lets the music speak for itself. Look at the collection on page 1: Steely Dan, Bjork, Dr Seuss, Journey, Miles Davis, Cindy Lauper, and later a character called Slim Dusty, who seems to be a C&W singer. JGT likes Donovan, as do I. Therefore, here’s my favourite song by the Glaswegian troubadour.
Donovan – Atlantis.mp3

Csíkszereda Musings
Andy H is an Englishman who lives in Csíkszereda, on the fringes of Romania, as one does. His blog reflects on life in Csíkszereda, where broccoli is a recent addition to culinary delights, but where Dijon mustard remains conspicuously absent from the deli shelves. Sounds mundane? Not as Andy introduces us to life in Csíkszereda. I doubt that Andy is a massive Lisa Loeb fan, but he does support Sheffield Wednesday, so…
Lisa Loeb – Waiting For Wednesday.mp3

Mulberry Panda 96
There are movie sites I which read for the essential information — did a movie receive good reviews; who’s in it etc — and there are movie sites I read to be entertained. I have found few of the latter that have hit the spot, but Mulberry Panda 96 strikes the right note, with a bit of a light touch and lack of pretension. Here is the greatest song from a movie in this decade (or, indeed, many others), by Stephen Trask.
Hedwig & the Angry Inch – Wig In A Box.mp3

The Black Hole
Liz will not speak to me ever again if I don’t show her blog some love. Not a blog for grand manifestos, yet in its totally The Black Hole amounts to a grand manifesto via smart Oceanian slogans at the end of most posts. I imagine that every morning, Liz’s computer asks: “So, Liz, what are we going to do today?” And Liz replies: “Same as we do every day…” Liz loves U2 and hates ABBA (a deplorable inversion of good taste), so what better dedication than this:
U2 – Dancing Queen (live).mp3

SecretLove
Pure dude got it bad, falling in love with someone he shouldn’t have (ha, no, I won’t put up that song). So he guides us through his emotions through the medium of song lyrics and poetry. Even if not every lyric and all the poems are a Shakespeare sonnet, they express SLs emotions sincerely. And all of us who have had their hearts broken by love hat couldn’t or wouldn’t be can totally empathise. This song breaks my heart:
Jem – Flying High.mp3

Hot Chicks With Douchebags
I follow this blog, guiltily, for stuff like the pic on the right, with the Oompa Prompa in pink (who I’m sure is a lovely guy, but if he walked down your road, how would you react?). It’s a pretty mean spirited site, really, but some of these guys…what are these girls doing with them (unlike the hapless Oompa Prompa, there are some proper sleazeballs on that site)? At the same time, look at some of the girls, and wonder what the douchebags are doing with them. Anyway, for a bit of vindictive laughter at douchebags who pull beautiful girls like we nice guys couldn’t, this blog is sweet, and often very funny, revenge.
Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him.mp3

Pissing off the Taste Police with America

August 6th, 2007 7 comments

While we wait for the final two installments of the Songbirds series, let’s piss off the Taste Gestapo by focussing on one of the most underappreciated groups of the ’70s: America (who have just released their first studio album in 20 years, incidentally).

Yeah, I know, “Horse With No Name” has no cool factor, and remains the butt of many jokes. Oddly, I can’t think of any other #1 hit about drugs that enjoys so little credibility as “Horse”. Probably because it isn’t a very good song. Alas, because it is America’s best-known song, the group’s entire folk-rock legacy is tarnished. And that is a great shame, for there is much in America’s catalogue that is, at least within its genre, admirable. And if America was good enough to be produced by George Martin, who are we to argue?

Granted, America didn’t set out to shift musical boundaries. Indeed, they were in a large measure derivative, owing much to the various groups that donated their frontmen to Crosby, Stills & Nash (and, for that matter, to Neil Young). America’s place in history certainly is not on the pedestals occupied by the great innovators. But music need not establish a revolutionary manifesto to be enjoyed. And the mellow, harmonising sounds of America are greatly enjoyable. They create warmth, and they create happiness for those partial to mellowing, harmonising sounds.

So, in this post, no “Horse With No Name”. The other big hit is there, the joyous anthem for commitment-shy men and desperate argument for the value of cohabitation, “Sister Golden Hair” (1975), with its George Harrison-sounding guitar intro, singalong chorus, the doo-wop-n-doo-wops, and the counted outro.
America – Sister Golden Hair.mp3

“I Need You” (1971) is the song responsible for this post. While we had a power cut tonight, this song was stuck in my head. I cued it on the iPodm (thank goodness for its 73GB — though not the advertised 80GB; the fuckers are lying to us), and one thing leading to another, I listened to more America songs than I had planned, all with a huge grin on my face, thinking how the Taste Gestapo would despise me for my act rebellion against the consensus. Truth is, “I Need You” is a beautifully crafted love song.
America – I Need You.mp3

“Lonely People” (1974) is in great part pure Crosby, Stills & Nash rip-offery, except for the brief piano interlude, from the harmonies to the lyrically content. Dave Crosby surely would have been proud to have written this little gem. And thanks to this song, I cannot help myself saying “hit it” before any harmonica solo I hear.
America – Lonely People.mp3

A new generation of music consumers were introduced to America in 2001 when Janet Jackson sampled the guitar riff from “Ventura Highway” (1972) on her hit single “Someone To Call My Lover”. It is a stand-out riff. America should be remembered for that, not for horses in deserts. And did Prince pick up the “Puple Rain” idea from “Ventura Highway”? And just after the line about “purple rain”, “Joe” is advised of the option to “change your name”. Just as Prince did in the ’90s. Care to develop a crackpot theory about America’s pivotal influence on Prince’s life? Anyway, what are “alligator lizards” doing “in the air”? My theory, it’s another drug reference. Come on, lets go crazy!
America – Ventura Highway.mp3

Sampling the “Ventura Highway” guitar riff (and re-recording it, to save on royalties!) was not Janet Jackson’s first bout of “inspiration” by America. Listen to “Daisy Jane” and tell me how Janet’s “Let’s Wait A While” is not patent plagiarism. The song’s title was a play on Nick Drake’s “Hazy Jane”. The chorus, unviolated by Jackson, is quite lovely, despite the hoary cliché of love and “the stars above us” (but then, anyone who’s ever been in love will recognise the cliché).
America – Daisy Jane.mp3

And, while I’m at it, here’s a great video somebody made of this blog’s theme song by Steely Dan.