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Step back to 1981 – Part 1

June 14th, 2012 7 comments

For me the first few months of 1981 was dominated by Beatles, John Lennon, more Beatles, more Lennon, more Beatles, a bit of other solo Beatles and more Lennon, and a touch of Bruce Springsteen. Of course, Lennon had just been murdered, and if I was a bit of a Beatles fan with quite a few albums before that, I now bought all the British and US releases, plus all Lennon solo albums, including the Wedding Album with all the paraphernalia. Many of them were Japanese pressings. Over the years my collection became decimated by theft. The Wedding Album and Two Virgins are gone, as are all US releases (except Something New), and the Magical Mystery Tour gatefold with booklet…

 

John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3
The songs that dominated the airwaves were Woman and Imagine. The latter has become so ubiquitous that it now is timeless; the former was so overplayed, I am still sick of it. Watching The Wheels , on the other hand, still takes me back to early 1981. It was quite sad: John Lennon, the professional troubled soul, had finally found contentment – and then the revolting Mark Chapman murdered him. I think Watching The Wheels is a little underrated in the Lennon canon; perhaps it’s not a classic, but it’s a very good song, the kind that makes one wonder what sort of music Lennon might have churned out had he lived. My guess is that by 1988 everybody would have been thoroughly sick of him until his comeback, appearing on stage with Oasis at the Reading Festival, rehabilitated his reputation with cover features in Q and Rolling Stone, and a big appearance at the Grammys, duetting with Tom Petty, Bonnie Raitt and Seal, followed by – oh, classic TV moment – a bluesy medley Beatles and Stones hits with Mick & Keef.

Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
I had been aware of Bruce Springsteen, of course, but I had not really listened to his music. In February 1981 I heard Hungry Heart on the radio, and on strength of that I bought The River, which had been released in October 1980. It helped that Springsteen looked very cool, much like Al Pacino, on the cover. I was hooked with the first song of the first side, The Ties That Bind. In fact, the first two sides of the double album, so upbeat and joyous, were enough for me. I almost never listened to the other two sides; in fact, even as I love Point Blank and Drive All Night, some of the songs remain unknown to me even now. And I cannot abide by Cadillac Ranch. Above all, the album reminds me of being half-blinded for several hours after the optician shone a bright light into my eyes, just after I had bought the record. Coming home, I had to unwrap the record and place it on the turntable mostly by touch.

The Look – I Am The Beat.mp3
I might have been on a massive Beatles and Springsteen trip, but I still loved the British post-punk stuff. I Am The Beat was one of the very few singles I bought in 1981 – indeed, I’m struggling to think of any non-Beatles related singles I bought that year, though I’m sure there must some. But by then I was very much an LP-buying teenager of 14-going-on-15. The singer of The Look, Johnny Whetstone, had a strange accent: “I’m in demond”! It was the band’s only hit, reaching #6 in the UK in February 1981, and by 1983 The Look broke up. Apparently they reformed a few years ago and released an album titled Pop Yowlin’ which got some good reviews.

Kim Wilde – Kids in America.mp3
Half a year earlier I would have loved Kids In America. I would have bought the single, and put up a poster of the lovely Ms Wilde. But with my Beatles/Lennon and Springsteen obsession I had very limited time for anything else. I heard Kids In America on the radio and saw Kim Wilde perform it on TV, but against Revolver and the White Album, or indeed The River, it was aural wallpaper. The good news was that my classmate Stefan, who had been a great Beatles fan, became so obsessed with Kim Wilde and the burgeoning Neue Deutsche Welle genre that he offloaded his excellent collection of Beatles posters and newspaper cuttings to me. And for that I have to thank Ms Wilde and the next act.

Ideal – Blaue Augen.mp3
Before 1980, German popular music consisted of the Schlager genre, which was becoming increasingly novelty-based when it didn’t exceed previous levels of banality; the Liedermacher (singer-songwriter) genre of angry lefty-wingers and non-conformists; and a clutch of individualists such as anti-establishment rocker Udo Lindenberg, who had long hair and a cultivated impertinence, former actor Marius Müller-Westernhagen, who specialised in mostly sneering lyrics for beer drinkers in leather jackets, and a few punk outfits such the Zeltinger Band. All that changed in the early 1980s with the emergence of the Neue Deutsche Welle (NDW, meaning New German Wave).

Until 1981 NDW was an underground phenomenon, led by groups like Deutsch-Amerikanische Freundschaft (DAF) and Mittagspause. It was not  so much a musical genre as a label for post-punk and New Wave bands. In early 1981, NDW exploded into the mainstream, and Berlin-based band Ideal’s Blaue Augen, more post-punk than New Wave, was one of the pivots. Quite incredibly, Ideal had made their breakthrough as a support act at a Berlin open-air gig for prog-rockers Barclay James Harvest. Even more incredibly, and I hadn’t known this until I looked it up for this piece, it took until 1982 for Blaue Augen, first released on LP in November 1980 and as a single in early 1981, to become a hit.

Visage – Mind Of A Toy.mp3
At around the same time, the New Romantic thing was starting to get traction. It had been brewing for a while, with Gary Numan as a spearhead, but now the Bowie-influenced synth-based pop music was becoming quite ubiquitous, with Ultravox, the Human League and Duran Duran breaking through. Visage were heralds of the movement, first with their hit Fade To Grey, which was quickly followed up with Mind Of A Toy. The brilliant video for the latter was directed by Godley & Creme. Visage was fronted by eccentric nightclub owner Steve Strange, but the lead vocals on Mind Of A Toy are by Ultravox’s Midge Ure, with Ultravox’s Billy Currie on keyboards, and Rusty Egan on drums.

Yoko Ono – Walking On Thin Ice.mp3
Walking On Thin Ice was the song John Lennon and Yoko Ono were working on that 8 December, before Chapman shot Lennon dead outside the Dakota, apparently while John was holding the master tape of the song. It is easily Ono’s best song, a disco number with a new wave sensibility (or vice versa).  Lennon played the lead guitar on the song. I bought the single as an act of loyalty to Lennon, and quite liked it. Not everybody did, it seems. Despite widespread sympathy for Ono just a couple of months after the murder, the single stalled at #58 in the US and at #35 in Britain. Presumably Yoko’s monkey-like chants put off the average record buyer; in this context I quite like it (and, as I’ve stated before, I don’t bow to the musical genius of Yoko Ono).  Later remixes by the Pet Shop Boys and others managed to revive the song on the dancefloors.

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More Stepping Back

Copy Borrow Steal: Beatles edition

September 4th, 2009 10 comments

In this series, of which this is the second instalment, I am to a large extent guided by Tim English’ fine book Sounds Like Teen Spirit (website and buy), which inspired it in the first place. It must be stressed that I am not necessarily imputing unethical behaviour on part of those who created music that sounds like somebody else’s. A reader calling himself Fudge, in his comment to the first post, explained the legal case for plagiarism: “In terms of songwriting, lawmakers decided that melody and chord structure are the basis of the song (in terms of pop music anyway) and therefore those parts are the most protected. I think the term is ‘interpolate’. That’s why The Jam can ‘borrow’ “Taxman” for “Start!” and not get sued, or Steely Dan can nip Horace Silver’s cool bass line.”

I will also include a few songs where similarity has been suggested, but I can’t see it. You shall be the judge. Let me know what you think.

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Nat ‘King’ Cole – Answer Me My Love (1961).mp3
Ray Charles – Georgia On My Mind (1960).mp3
The Beatles – Yesterday (live in Blackpool) (1965).mp3
nat_king_coleIn my introduction to the first instalment, I cited Paul McCartney’s concern that he unconsciously plagiarised (the technical term for that is cryptomnesia) Yesterday as an example of a songwriter’s scruples. In his comment to the post, Mick alerted me to a suggestion in 2003 by British musicologists that Nat ‘King’ Cole’s Answer Me My Love from 1953 — available here in a 1961 re-recording — inspired McCartney on a sub-conscious level (and kindly uploaded the song as well).

The case here rests on a line in Cole’s song which does bear some resemblance lyrically and in its phrasing. Cole sings: “Yesterday, I believed that love was here to stay, won’t you tell me where I’ve gone astray” (0:38). McCartney’s line goes: “Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away, now I need a place to hide away.” The musicologists suggested that McCartney must have been aware of the Cole song but kindly allowed that the influence was subliminal.

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

Paul and John in Blackpool, 1965

To my mind, this is hardly a case of Byron stealing from Shelley. It is not the most unlikely coincidence when two lyricist 12 years apart arrive at similar rhymes to the word “yesterday”. The phrasing charge doesn’t stick either. Yesterday was floating around with nonsense lyrics (“Scambled eggs, oh my darling you have lovely legs”) until McCartney eventually wrote the lyrics while in Portugal. He could not really phrase the lyrics in many other ways over the existing melody. Others have suggested that he borrowed the structure and chord progression from Ray Charles’ version of Georgia On My Mind. I don’t quite see that. So in more than 40 years, the best theories to support the notion that the most famous pop song of all time was influenced by other songs concern a generic rhyme and a song that sounds nothing like Yesterday. Members of the jury, there is no case.

Instead, enjoy this live performance of Yesterday, recorded at the Blackpool Night Out, with George Harrison’s introduction, “For Paul McCartney of Liverpool, opportunity knocks”, and Lennon’s attribution of the performance to Ringo at the end.

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Freddie Lennon – That’s My Life (My Love And My Home) (1965).mp3
Freddie Lennon – The Next Time You Feel Important.mp3
John Lennon – Imagine (1971).mp3

freddie_lennonIn early 1940 Alfred Lennon impregnated Julia and soon left her with little John Winston who’d barely hear of his seafaring father again. Alfred predictably turned up when the Beatles became successful. A reunion with his son was icy — funny enough, John was not impressed with the old man’s sudden paternal interest. Still, John later bought the old man a cottage. In the interim, Alfred tried to cash in by recording a self-justifying single, a precursor for My Way in many ways (in a “I’m a good bloke, ain’t I? I just like the sea more than my offspring” fashion). To John, the single was a running joke; he’d play it as a gag for his friends.

Tim English in his book suggests that John might have been unconsciously influenced by his father’s novelty record when he wrote Imagine. English refers to the stately tone of both songs, which in itself is no smoking gun. More crucially, he points to the similarity in the chord progression in the verses. These are not terribly complex or unusual, but the similarity is recognisable. Still, even if John was not in any way influenced, it is a delicious irony that John Lennon’s hypocritical hymn to idealism bears a resemblance to his father’s ridiculous novelty record. As a bonus, I’m including the b-side to Freddie’s single as well (it’s pretty awful).

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The Hollies – Stewball (1966).mp3
John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Merry X-Mas (War Is Over) (1971).mp3

holliesWe might acquit John from nicking chords from his Dad, but his Christmas standard will have the jury wanting exonerating evidence before it can acquit. Stewball, an American folk song adapted from a British ballad about an 18th century racehorse, had been recorded many times before Lennon wrote Merry X-Mas. The folk-influenced Lennon might have been familiar with the versions by Woody Guthrie, the Weavers, Peter Paul & Mary or Joan Baez. It is likely too that he knew the Hollies’ version, which appeared on their 1966 album Would You Believe?. Their version sounds close to Lennon’s song in arrangement, apart from the distinct melodic similarity.

Did John directly plagiarise? Well, Stewball came from a folk tradition in which melodies were routinely recycled and adapted with new lyrics. Bob Dylan did that with Blowin’ In The Wind (see here) sounding more than just suspiciously like No More Auction Block. If we want to get Lennon off the charge on a technicality, at least we have recourse to a defence based on precedent.

merry_xmasEnglish refers to another inspiration, acknowledged by Lennon: the arrangement, by Phil Spector, was lifted from a song Spector and George Harrison had produced for Ronnie Spector, titled Try Some Buy Some (later recorded by Harrison). Apparently the song was so bad, Ronnie thought her husband and George were joking when presenting her with it. Harrison later put another arrangement from the Ronnie sessions (which she did not record) to his hit song You.

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The Beatles – Norwegian Wood (Take 1) (1965).mp3
Bob Dylan – 4th Time Around (1966).mp3

rubber_soulIn his book, English writes that John Lennon almost had a fit when he heard 4th Time Around on Bob Dylan’s Blonde On Blonde album: it ripped off Norwegian Wood, which the Beatles had released a little earlier on Rubber Soul. One can understand Lennon’s point: listen to 4th Time Around a few times, and latest by the third time around the similarities become glaring, especially two-thirds of the way through, and not only in subject matter.

Of course, Dylan had influenced Lennon profoundly. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away is John’s musical homage to acoustic Dylan. It’s fair to say that without the Dylan influence, John would not have written something like Norwegian Wood. Posted here is the first take of Norwegian Wood, recorded nine days before the version which made it on to the album. Some people prefer this take.

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The Byrds – Bells Of Rhymney (1965).mp3
The Beatles – If I Needed Someone (1965).mp3

byrdsAnd if Dylan ripped off Norwegian Wood, the Beatles borrowed and adapted the jangling guitar intro of the Byrds’ version of Pete Seeger’s Bells Of Rhymney for If I Needed Someone. Still with Dylan in mind, it is of interest to note that he was influenced to go electric by the Byrds and the Beatles. And just to add to the mix, the Byrds’ Gene Clark was moved by She Loves You to abandon the straight folk of the New Christy Minstrels, and instead co-found the Byrds, who borrowed further from the Beatles to get their guitar- and harmony-based sound (Tim English notes that Roger McGuinn bought his essential 12-string Rickenbacker after seeing Harrison use one in A Hard Day’s Night).

Harrison cheerfully admitted, in public and to the Byrds, that he had copied the intro to If I Needed Someone from the Byrds’ song, which had just been released when the Beatles recorded Rubber Soul.

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The Beatles – Taxman (alternative take) (1966).mp3
The Jam – Start! (1980).mp3

taxmanThis is the rip-off every fan of English music immediately thinks off. As Fudge said, copying a riff does not constitute legal plagiarism. Here The Jam lifted the guitar and bass riff from Harrison’s rather mean-spirited complaint about having to pay taxes (which, admittedly, were punitive in Britain). The guitar and bass parts in Taxman, incidentally, were played by McCartney. Harrison took over Lennon’s rhythm guitar, and John (who contributed the bipartisan falsetto “Ah ha Mr Wilson; Ah ha Mr Heath”, replaced in the take featured here with the line “Anybody got a bit of money”) did tambourine and backing vocals duty. Start! Was The Jam’s second UK #1 hit after Going Underground.

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Ringo Starr – Back Off Boogaloo (1972).mp3
Franz Ferdinand – Take Me Out (2004).mp3

boogalooRingo Starr wrote his hit after having a dinner with T. Rex’s Marc Bolan who repeatedly used the word “boogaloo” (I am happy to dismiss the story that Boogaloo was Ringo’s nickname for Paul McCartney, who was engaged in legal action with the other Beatles at the time). The song was produced by George Harrison and was a hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

Glaswegians Franz Ferdinand appeared on the scene in 2004 with Take Me Out, supported by a superb video. Take Me Out sounded a bit like a mash of several unfinished songs. It was Libertines singer and celebrity junkie Pete Doherty who, in an unfamiliar moment of lucidity, accused Franz Ferdinand of copying the riff and song structure of Ringo’s song. Apart from Boogaloo’s riff, the “I know I won’t be leaving here” bridge certainly bears a close resemblance. Theft or not? What do you think?

More Copy Borrow Steal

Albums of the Year: 1980

July 29th, 2008 8 comments

In my notebook, I have shortlists for my albums of the year for 1979 and 1980 side-by-side. The list for 1979 is shorter, but infinitely better; 1980’s list includes 24 albums, but fewer which I’m particularly enthusiastic about. While I’m deciding which albums to bump from ’79, here’s the 1980 lot, with decent albums by David Bowie, Paul Simon, Kate Bush, Motörhead, Ideal and Roxy Music not making the cut for various reasons. It’s a rather predictable list, provided one knows that I never liked ska, got into New Wave only a year later, and mostly bought singles that year. And, it seems, I never really caught up with 1980. So no Specials, no Joy Division, no Talking Heads, no Jam, no The Beat, and (you’ll be surprised) no Gaucho…It is, in fact, a year to piss off the Taste Police (with the Police) with a pick of not the best albums of the year, but those I know and still enjoy.

Dexys Midnight Runners – Searching For The Young Soul Rebel
I had never heard anything like this before. Of course, West Germany was not a hotbed of soul music, at least not the soul music which inspired Kevin Rowland and his mates. Geno might well be my favourite single of all time; it certainly was my song of 1980. The album did not quite stand up to the pop sensibilities of Geno – the brass hook, the chanting, the idiosyncratic vocals – and at times seemed downright weird. Especially Rowland’s style of singing, even when he lurched into a falsetto in the song about Leeds, lost some of the novelty over two sides (minus an instrumental). It took the release of Too-Rye-Ay two years later to rediscover Soul Rebel. And what a fine album it is, with its jubilant sounds dressing the often cynical lyrics. There should be an NGO founded which would send a copy of it to every American who has the nerve to call Dexys a “one-hit wonder”. And a copy of Too-Rye-Ay, just to remind them that one Eileen not a group define.
Dexys Midnight Runners – Tell Me When My Light Turns Green.mp3
Dexys Midnight Runners – Geno.mp3

Bruce Springsteen – The River
A good writer will know that sometimes a great paragraph, a sparkling aside or a riotous gag will need to be sacrificed to maintain the flow, the rhythm of the whole piece. It’s what makes them good writers. Recording artists, even good ones, do not always exercise such disciplined judgment. Rock history is oversupplied with double albums which were rather good, but might have been bona fide classics had the artists limited themselves to two sides of an LP. The Beatles’ White Album provided a template for excess and the problem with that excess. Which leads us to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 offering. Cut the thing by half, and you’d have an album every bit as good as his artistic peak, Darkness At The Edge Of Town. Having said that, one of the more popular tracks on The River is Cadillac Ranch, which I wholeheartedly despise. I love the cover, on which Bruce channels Pacino and De Niro. It’s a very popular cover, as thousands of contributors to Sleeveface prove. This song, to me, defines the Springsteen sound of the era.
Bruce Springsteen – The Ties That Bind.mp3
Bruce Springsteen – The River.mp3

Warren Zevon – Stand In The Fire
Sometime in 1983 I discovered Warren Zevon. At the time, South Africa (where I has moved in 1982) had very well-stocked record libraries, where you could hire LPs for a day. Somehow the record companies didn’t like that, and by 1989 these great shops were forced to close. But when I was introduced to Warren Zevon, by my boss, I took out his entire back catalogue. Two albums stood out: Excitable Boy (naturally) and this live set. It is a rather poorly recorded live album, as these things go, but the cooking atmosphere of LA’s Roxy Club that night is steaming through the LP’s groove. The title is apt, the gig is incendiary. Zevon is often called the missing link between Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen; Standing In The Fire proves the point.
Warren Zevon-Bo Diddley’s A Gunslinger + Bo Diddley.mp3

The Police – Zenyatta Mondatta
In 1980, the Police were still cool. Sting had not yet revealed himself to be the pretentious, tantric twat we know and hate now. He had edge, as did the other two blond chaps. I really liked the raw debut, Outlandos d’Amour, but found the follow-up patchy, besides its three big single hits. Zenyatta Mondatta (whatever that means), the final album before mega-stardom, was more cohesive than its predecessors. Where the previous two albums required the occasional song-skipping, all of the first side of Zenyatta Mondatta is quite excellent, in particular Driven To Tears. And, well, for the tune we ought to forgive the lyrics of De Do Do Do De Da Da Da. Much of my affection for this album is nostalgic: it transports me back to the day in November 1980 when my step-father and I wallpapered and painted my room. I had taken all my posters off, and threw them away. Of course, since I was a teenager, new posters would soon go up again, but that day marked a rite of passage, to the soundtrack of Zenyatta Mondatta.
The Police – Driven To Tears.mp3

ABBA – Super Trouper
By the time this was released, I had come to hate ABBA, much as I still loved the glam-pop of the mid-70s. By 1980, ABBA had grown up; I was still growing up and yet had outgrown them. I had bought Voulez-Vous, and despised the album. On the cover, our four friends looked like Mom and Dad going to the disco (and my mom and step-dad were middle-aged contemporaries of ABBA). On the sleeve of Super Trouper they were glowing at the sort of extravaganza no 14-year-old would be invited to. ABBA had entered a strange middle-age world. It was only when I had caught up with adulthood (in as far as I ever have) that I came to discover what a fine album Super Trouper is. The title track, which I had despised, is actually very lovely. The Winner Takes It All, a melancholy ballad set to a quasi-disco beat, is a high water mark in the ABBA canon, Lay All Your Love On Me is luscious and gorgeous, and Happy New Year is at once sad, bitter and hopeful. No surprises here, really. Those reside in the album tracks. If the synth-pop number Me And I sounds familiar, it does so because it would be ripped off throughout the 1980s. The Piper recalls Benny and Bjorn’s roots in northern European folk music. Andante Andante (one of those infuriating non-English titles) is a lovely ballad which, with a different title, might have been a hit. And the final track, The Way Old Friends Do, is a gloriously sentimental masterpiece. It possibly was initially conceived as a simple folk song, but here becomes an orchestral anthem, recorded live. It is a pity that the CD re-release came with three bonus tracks, because The Way Old Friends Do closes the album perfectly. Instead, it’s followed by the (admittedly very good) Gimme Gimme Gimme, the throw-away Elaine, and the absolutely awful Put On A White Sombrero, which is as bad as the title would suggest and recalls the turgid genre of the German Schlager.
Abba – The Way Old Friends Do.mp3
Abba – The Winner Takes It All.mp3
Abba – Happy New Year.mp3

Joan Armatrading – Me, Myself, I
Shortly before she passed away in October 1980, my grandmother lived with us. One day she gave me money to buy myself a new pair of trainers. Fashion be damned, I first bought myself two LPs with the unexpected moolah, and invested the remaining funds in the cheapest pair of adidas available. And I had change for some sweets still. The albums I bought were this one and Cornerstone by Styx (the one with Babe, though I bought it for Boat On The River). The latter I never played in full; Armatrading’s would get many spins over the years. The title track is excellent: great guitar riff and solo, and Armatrading in great lyrical and vocal form. All The Way From America and Turn Out The Lights are other highlights. Looking over the list it seems that I was rather too much into AOR (which beats being rather too much into S&M).
Joan Armatrading – All The Way From America.mp3
Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I.mp3

George Benson – Give Me The Night
After Zevon’s LP, this is the other album on this list which I can’t connect to 1980. I discovered it two years later. Benson has acquired an unfortunate reputation has über-smooth, glitter-jacketed soulster of 1980s lurve ballads. While elements of that are true, this image suppresses the respect the man merits for his pre-crooning days (just listen to his version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit). Give Me The Night, produced by Quincy Jones, finds our friend at a crossroad: part jazz guitarmeister, part proto-Vandross. Here the combination pays off: lite-funk disco numbers such as the title track and the exuberant Love X Love cohabit with fusion instrumentals such as Off Broadway (a play on his 1977 hit with the Drifters’ On Broadway) and Dinorah Dinorah, and with a couple of nice but unremarkable ballads. The highpoint is Moody’s Mood, more recently sloppily covered by Amy Winehouse. The song was based on a sax solo on James Moody’s I’m In The Mood For Love, turned into a song by King Pleasure in 1952. On his version, Benson, usually an average singer, goes all Al Jarreau on us, with the help of Patti Austin.
George Benson – Moody’s Mood.mp3

Dire Straits – Making Movies
One day I might feature Dire Straits in the Pissing Off The Thought Police series. The credibility problem with Dire Straits was threefold: firstly, when CDs became popular, all the quasi-yuppies bought Brothers In Arms, which was seen (like Coldplay today) as “music for people who hate music”; secondly, Mark Knopfler and his red headband and C&W shirt; thirdly, Dire Straits negated punk by creating 9-minute songs. Of course, only the latter element applied in 1980. I had bought the first two albums, on strength of the excellent Sultans Of Swing. Apart from that, they were fucking boring to me. Not so Making Movies. Amid a few dodgy Knopflerifications which anticipated the hateful Money For Nothing, there were four magnificent songs: Romeo And Juliet, Tunnel Of Love, Espresso Love and the title track. When this album came out, one could buy miniature sleeves of albums containing pink chewing gum shaped like an LP, grooves and everything. I remember buying two: Billy Joel’s Glasshouse (the one Billiam album of the era I have no time for), and Making Movies. When I listen to the Dire Straits album, I can still taste the gum.
Dire Straits – Romeo And Juliet.mp3
AC/DC – Back In Black
This was the last AC/DC album I bought. When my friend Mike and I, both AC/DC fans at the time, first played it and Johnson’s voice burst forth, we burst out laughing. He sounded like a Warner Bros cartoon character doing an exaggerated imitation of the late Bon Scott. I still cannot abide by Brian Johnson’s voice. And for evidence to support my dislike, take Give The Dog A Bone from his first album with AC/DC. Bon Scott, who died just half a year before this album was released, would have invested his vodka-drenched soul into this schoolboy prank of a song to make you believe he was indeed looking to, er, feed a canine. In Johnson’s larynx, the song evokes a sleazy drunk about to get nasty with a blow-up doll while his virgin friends watch. So, I think it is fair to observe, I prefer my AC/DC with Bon Scott at the wheel. Johnson actually did OK on tracks like You Shook Me All Night Long (which is really Highway To Hell Redux), Hell’s Bells, Back In Black or Rock ‘n’ Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution. But he was not Bon Scott.
AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long.mp3

John Lennon & Yoko Ono – Double Fantasy
John’s love for Yoko was exemplary, a real fairy tale story. This slavish devotion created his foolish impression that the sound of his wife singing was in some way attractive, so much so that the world had to be treated to it. To the world, of course, Yoko’s singing was akin to a recording of a parrot being violated and the sound of his sad squawks being played on 78rpm. Or perhaps I am being unduly harsh. Yoko’s Hard Times Are Over is a fine song, and Kiss Kiss Kiss is a good disco number. John’s tracks were great though. Even Woman, which was overplayed so much after Lennon’s murder that few people alive in 1981 should wish to ever hear it again. I will always love (Just Like) Starting Over, and defy anyone who claims it is cheesy (other than the bit about the Ono-Lennon’s taking out a loan for a trip far, far away. I imagine that Lennon had so much possession as to make the notion of him taking a trip to the bank manager obsolete [Edit: oops, misheard lyric rendering my gratuitous dig at the hypocrite Lennon obsolete. Damn]). As a father, I can identify with the sentimentality of Beautiful Boy. I’m Losing You is potent. And Watching The Wheels is among the very best things Lennon ever did out of McCartney’s earshot. Back in the day, I taped all of John’s songs, and added Hard Times Are Over and Yoko’s Walking On Thin Ice single which came out a few months after the murder (don’t let it be said that Yoko spurned great cash-in opportunities in her 28 years of grief). These days, a playlist employing the same selection technique will do the trick.
John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over.mp3
John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3

And what are your favourite albums of 1980?

Previously featured:
1950s
1960-65
1972
1987

The Beatles – Alone (1972)

June 22nd, 2008 11 comments

Suspend your disbelief. Imagine, if you will, that the harmonious recording of the Abbey Road album had served to reignite the amity between the four Beatles. Linda and Yoko became firm friends; George was finally accepted as an equal; Ringo was delighted with all of this and decided that being a Beatle was better than being famous for having been one. Apple Inc. was running well, and a manager in shining armour appeared on the scene.

For the purpose of this scenario, we acknowledge that the various members had solo aspirations (George and John had already issued solo albums before the release of Let It Be in 1970, Paul released one a week after announcing the Beatles’ disbandment). To accommodate these, the four decided that the band would take off two years, and in 1972 re-assembled to record an album together. By now, John had given peace a chance and from the backseat of his chauffeur-driven white Rolls imagined all the people having no possessions, Macca had given Ireland back to the Irish, and George had recycled the music of early ‘60s girlbands. Even Ringo had recorded an album of standards, presaging the strategy of young-and-upcoming Rod Stewart by three decades. Paul was especially touched by John’s thoughtful song wishing for a resolution to his old friend’s insomnia problems. And so the Fab Four brought into the studio the songs they had accumulated for their 13th album. They would release two more albums, in 1976 and shortly after John’s death in 1980.

So here is the first of three mixes which suppose how Beatles albums released in the 1970s might have sounded; this compilation pseudo-dated December 1972. One of these songs might in fact have become a real Beatles track: Lennon’s Jealous Guy had been written for the White Album, but with different lyrics. Originally called Child Of Nature, Lennon continued to play it during the sessions which resulted in the Let It Be album (known as the Get Back sessions). Eventually he dumped the flower-child lyrics, wrote the self-flagellating ode which we know today, and released it on Imagine in 1971.

Of course, not all tracks sound like Beatles songs as we know them. Hi Hi Hi, which opens this compilation but was the last to be released before the cut-off date, certainly has the Wings sound. As we reunite the Beatles in our imagination, we must allow for musical growth and changing sounds. It’s easy to forget that only two years passed between With The Beatles and Rubber Soul, and also just two years between Help and Sgt Pepper’s. And yet, it’s easy to conceive of Lennon’s Crippled Inside, Harrison’s What Is Life or McCartney’s excellent Maybe I’m Amazed appearing on, say, the White Album.

As always, this mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R. The next two mixes will; go up over the coming couple of weeks.

TRACKLISTING:
1. Hi Hi Hi (Paul McCartney)
2. Instant Karma (John Lennon)
3. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (Paul McCartney)
4. What Is Life (George Harrison)
5. Jealous Guy (John Lennon)
6. Another Day (Paul McCartney)
7. Love (John Lennon)
8. It Don’t Come Easy (Ringo Starr)
9. Maybe I’m Amazed (Paul McCartney)
10. Ballad Of Sir Frankie Crisp (George Harrison)
11. Working Class Hero ((John Lennon)
12. Mother (John Lennon)
13. If Not For You (George Harrison)
14. The Back Seat Of My Car (Paul McCartney)
15. Crippled Inside (John Lennon)
16. Oh My Love (John Lennon)
17. Isn’t It A Pity (George Harrison)
18. Gimme Some Truth (John Lennon)
19. Wild Life (Paul McCartney)
20. Back Off Bugaloo (Ringo Starr)

DOWNLOAD (New link)


Music for Bloggers Vol. 5

April 26th, 2008 6 comments

Here’s more love for blogs I enjoy (or, in two cases, massively enjoyed over the past couple of days, inspiring this installment in an occasional series). As always, if your blog isn’t featured, but you think it should be, there will be more music for bloggers. I do enjoy an awful lot of blogs. Please open the links (in the red headings) by right-clicking and opening a new window or tab; I’d hate to lose you.

The Quietus
The Quietus is a new British-based music web-magazine, currently published as a blog, but apparently becoming a fully-fledged webmagsite within the next months. The beauty of The Quietus resides in its variety of hugely talented writers who apply their own style — and are given the freedom to do so! And look at the variety of contributors (a fair number of them Melody Maker alumni): Taylor Parkes, one of the finest music writers anywhere, who combines erudition with considerable wit; David Stubbs, who can write practically anything and is one of the funniest wordsmiths (no cliché, I employ the term literally here: he bangs words into shape); John Doran, whose forthright opinions are backed up by inventive invective (including the detailed description of jawdropping acts of violence he would like to visit upon certain kinds of people. Myself included, possibly); Simon Price, who will one day preside as the doyen of that faction of British music writers still gifted with credibility; Derek Walmseley, whose defence of Jay-Z is so well argued, I’d agree with it if I didn’t know better; or the elegant Luke Turner… You may now delete your NME and Q bookmarks.
Dr Hook & the Medicine Show – Cover Of The Rolling Stone.mp3

Barely Awake In Frog Pajamas
One of my two new weekend discoveries. I like an observational blog that is well written, the kind that can take a mundane moment (like watching a movie out of boredom) and yet entertain in the description of that event. Ian Plenderleith‘s blog is one (his Nashville series was particularly great). Rol Hirst’s Sunset Over Slawit is another. The Ghost Of Electricity pulls it off regularly. My new somnolent friend has produced a series of thoroughly engaging posts since starting his blog in March, including a fine tribute to Danny Federici, the E-Street keyboardist who died this month; a wonderfully exasperated piece on an amateur band strong on stamina and tiny on talent (here Frog man might like to contact John Doran for advice on suitable retribution); and a pretty funny story about Shirley Manson’s “fish eyes”. And all that comes with some well-chosen music.
Belle & Sebastian – Funny Little Frog.mp3

The Great Vinyl Meltdown
The other great weekend discovery, the Great Vinyl Meltdown is written by “caithesaich”, a US writer who provides some of his posts in Spanish. caithesaich (not his real name) charts his childhood obsession with music, recalling the people and events that shaped his love for music: his Uncle Tom, a juke box, and the kindly juke box record changing guy — possibly a real job title — who let him have an obscure EP, setting in motion a three-decade long search for the identity of the featured artist. caithesaich’s musical growth did not follow the normal trajectory of getting into records via the Top 20 before finding one’s own way. Much of the stuff he discusses (and provides usually scratchy vinyl rips of) is obscure and invariably fascinating. By contrast, my musical development began at a very low base: this was the first single I ever bought, at the age of 5.
Roy Black & Anita – Schön ist es auf der Welt zu sein.mp3

Fusion45
Fusion 45 combines his human experiences with his great love for and knowledge of music. Fusion has also said some very generous things about this blog. I point this out because on the current first page, there is one such comment (he also praises others, I must add), and an impression might arise that my praise of his blog is an act of reciprocity. It most certainly is not. I learn from Fusion45. For example, I had never heard the name Hal Blaine before. I bet nor have most of those reading this, unless they’ve been to Fusion45. Fusion’s two-parter on the session drummer was illuminating. I might not had heard of Hal Blaine before, but I have heard his drumming on many of my favourite songs. Fusion45 posts music, often in zipped files, for download, but seems to be strict about deleting them after a week. Which is not a very long time, it must be said. So better RSS feed his blog. There was a bit of a problem commenting on Fusion45’s blog a few weeks back when he discussed tracks with great drumming. I wanted to nominate this song:
John Lennon – Instant Karma.mp3


Inveresk Street Ingrate

It’s socialism, Karl, but not as we know it. Of course it is a stereotype that socialists are humourless, but in my experience there sometimes manifests itself a collective disinclination to propagate the left’s jocular tendencies. On Inveresk Street, which is currently changing its look, s

uch perceptions do not correspond with reality. Darren, who lives in that hotbed of revolutionary fervour Brooklyn, updates us on the class struggles’ progresses (such as the pop star history of a Socialist Workers’ Party commissar), reflects on the injustices experienced by Glasgow Celtic at the hands of covert Huns’ operative Gordon Strachan (OK, the analysis for Celtic’s failures is mine), and talks about music, such as the letters a young Morrissey sent to the NME (today he might leave acerbic comments on The Quietus). It’s all great fun, marked by brevity and a healthy dose of self-deprecation. I posted songs by The Redskins just recently, so I will dedicate this great lefty song to Darren of Inveresk Street.
The Housemartins – Freedom.mp3


The Songs That People Sing

I just had a look at Inveresk Street’s blogroll. It features a link to this here blog as well as one to The Songs That People Sing, and a few others I know and/or link to. This blogging thing is a small world. The Songs’ Simon has a broad taste in music, an attribute I greatly admire. On the current first page, there is a lengthy and very good post on Dexys Midnight Runners ‘This Is What She’s Like’, followed by some extraordinary ’60 Soul; Reggae icon John Holt; and neo-New Wave outfit Sons & Daughters. All that is underpinned by good writing and better use of pics than I make (I have yet to post a photo of lasagna to illustrate a musical point).
Matt Costa – Songs We Sing.mp3

Previously featured:
Music For Bloggers Vol. 1: Totally Fuzzy, Not Rock On, Serenity Now (RIP), Stay At Home Indie Pop, The Late Greats, Tsururadio, 200percent, Jefitoblog (RIP), Television Without Pity, Michael’s World
Music For Bloggers Vol. 2: Fullundie, Mr Agreeable, Greatest Films, Peanut’s Playground, Just Good Tunes, Csíkszereda Musings, Mulberry Panda, The Black Hole, Secret Love, Hot Chicks With Douchebags
Music For Bloggers Vol. 3: Girl On A Train, Maybe We Ain’t That Young Anymore, Earbleedingcountry, Spangly Princess, Ill Folks, Deacon Blues, One-Man Publisher, CD Rated
Music For Bloggers Vol. 4: Pop Dose, Todger Talk, Holy Goof (RIP), Echoes In The Wind, Sunset Over Slawit, The Hits Just Keep Coming, The Ghost of Electricity, Guitariotabs

1981

July 16th, 2007 2 comments

And so on to 1981. Again, these are tunes that evoke that year — a year of some fun, several foreign trips, a temporarily close friend named Epstein, shit teachers at a shit school, an idiot of a younger brother (who turned out to be very cool), and the teenage depression most 15-year-olds experience. These are not necessarily favourites songs, then or now.

John Lennon – Watching The Wheels.mp3
The murder of John Lennon ushered in my obsessive Beatles period. I had been a fan since I was 11 (and I listened to the Blue album the night before Lennon was shot), but now I bought every Beatles LP I didn’t yet have, including the unlistenable Live At The Hollywood Bowl and the US releases (Japanese and Greek pressings. Are there collectors for Greek Beatles LPs?). “Watching The Wheels” was my favourite track from Double Fantasy, and remains my favourite Lennon track. I’m still fascinated by Lennon, though he was by no means the saint after whom airports should be named. And “Imagine” is one dreadful anthem to hypocrisy.

Billy Joel – Summer, Highland Falls (live).mp3
My Beatles period was followed by a few weeks of intense Billy Joel obsession. For a while, in my deep teenage depression, I listened to Turnstiles, The Stranger, 52nd Street and especially the magnificent Songs In The Attic ad nauseam. I think Billy Joel is often underrated by the Good Taste Police, but these four albums are quite excellent. After 1983 at the latest Joel became an objectionable hack. But he also was my companion through unhappy times. So thanks, Bill.

Ideal – Blaue Augen.mp3
Those of my generation growing up in West-Germany will recall the impact of Die Neue Deutsche Welle, the new wave of German new wave. Before German music consisted of the ubiquitous Schlager herberts (usually with English stage names like Roy Black or Chris Roberts), hoary Kraut rockers doing their thing in English (the bloody Scorpions), chanson merchants (Konstantin Wecker) and the very occasional cool-ish acts (Udo Lindenberg, Marius Müller-Westernhagen, and obviously Kraftwerk). Suddenly there appeared a new sound for a young generation. Looking back, some of them were awful (Markus, Hubert Kah), but at the time even the rubbish acts spearheaded a revolution, with Berlin band Ideal at the vanguard. “Blaue Augen”, one of the first Neue Deutsche Welle hits, has an important place in music history. Without it, there might not have been “99 Luftballons”. Whether or not that was a welcome consequence, you decide.

Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark – Joan Of Arc.mp3
OMD were on the forefront of the post-punk New Wave. First there was “Enola Gay”, then came this song, with its synthethizered martial beat, and it was all quite wondrous. It was great seeing OMD singer Andy McCluskey doing his crazy flaying arms dance to this when I saw them in concert in London four years later.

Soft Cell – Say Hello, Wave Goodbye.mp3
To be honest, this might actually belong in early 1982; I’m not quite certain. It’s a song that, with the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” and Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film”, reminds me of the first club I frequented: the notorious Kaisersaal, where no nice parents wanted their nice children to go. Of course, my friend Mike and I and other pals used to go there, starting in late 1981. We U18s had to be out by 10pm; but from 7-10pm the club was cooking already, playing new wave, heavy metal and old rock (“Starman”, “Black Betty” etc). We felt all grown up, which leads me to…

Hazel O’Connor – Will You.mp3
Hazel O’Connor produced a shedload of terrible music, and a couple of decent ones: “All Grown Up”, “Eighth Day” and “Will You” is one. The latter in particular is an excellent song; the saxophone solo is quite lovely. It really needs to be covered by somebody more talented than Ms O’Connor. The song featured in Breaking Glass, a mess of a film.

Ricchi é Povere – Sara Perche Ti Amo.mp3
Italian hits were always big in Germany. Umberto Tozzi, Adriano Celentano, I Santo California, Giana Nannini, this lot… you couldn’t escape them. This song tastes of 1981. I’d like to say it reminds me of pizza places, but I might be making up an association here. The song does smell of pizza and beer and sunshine though. And of fun fairs

Earth, Wind & Fire – Let’s Groove.mp3
EWF were classified as disco back then, and disco was not really considered cool. Stuff like this was a “guilty pleasure”. Where I grew up, you wouldn’t admit to liking this stuff to your friends unless you fancied a bloody nose for being a bit of a Popper. Likewise, you wouldn’t admit to liking Roxy Music if you knew anyone with a leather jacket. Alas, my school was full of assholes with leather jackets.

And my favourite item of clothes at the time (oh, hell, EVER!), the FC Nantes jersey:

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