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Step back to 1979 – Part 1

June 2nd, 2011 4 comments

As we enter 1979 and the songs that take me back to that time, I’m still living in the house in which I had spent the first 13 years of my life. In early summer we moved into a new house. So this lot of songs are old-house songs. In May, at the end of the time under review in part 1, I went to Bavaria for a week or two on a “cure”, organised by the medical aid scheme, for stressed kids. Because a stressed kid I certainly was.

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Gebrüder Blattschuss – Kreuzberger Nächte.mp3
It was a time for comic novelty songs in Germany. Big-nosed Mike Krüger had Germans in a LOL hysteria with his instruction ditty playing on the word “nipple”, while swathes of Germans were engaging in a collective ROFLMAO at the frankly unhilarious antics of comedians Dieter Hallervoorden and Helga Feddersen in their cover of the Grease hit You’re The One That I Want (their hit riffed on the phonetic rendition of the English title, “Du die Wanne ist voll”, which roughly means – be still, chuckling heart – “Hey, the bathtub is full”), and some fuckwit from Hamburg split a nation’s side just by virtue of his moniker, Gottlieb Wendehals (you see, an uncool first name and a surname that means “twist-neck” is as close to Monty Python’s funniest joke ever as you’ll get). And the brothers Blattschuss joined the comedy revolution by singing this song about prolific beer-drinking in the working-class Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, where the nights apparently are long. It includes a few good puns and a rousing chorus which even the most inebriated joker can sing, which elevates the song above the rest of the mirthless comedy. Obviously I didn’t buy or even like the record. I remember the song chiefly for its performance on the Disco music TV show, during which leadsinger  Jürgen von der Lippe, who’d become a big German TV personality, lit up a cigarette.

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Status Quo – Accident Prone.mp3
For years, the chorus of this mid-tempo number resided in my repertoire of permanent earworms, the songs whose lines I might absent-mindedly sing as I go about buttering my toast, or whatever. The critics didn’t love it – I’ve read that some believed Accident Prone to be the Quo’s nod to disco, but I really can’t hear that at all. It certainly is a Rick Parfitt song though, less boogie than Francis Rossi’s material. The guitar solo is pretty good. I bought the single, as I had bought Again And Again (featured in part 3 of 1978). Then I bought the If You Can’t Stand The Heat album, and never listened to it in its entirety. In fact, of the three Quo LPs I have owned (the live double set, Rocking All Over The World, and …Heat), I don’t think I ever listened to any of them in full.

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Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live).mp3
Rosalie was my introduction to Thin Lizzy. This version is from the great Live And Dangerous album. Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott was one cool guy. He is so cool when he expresses his appreciation for the audience participation on this live version of the song written by Bob Seger (whose Hollywood Nights might have featured in this series, come to think of it). Of course, towards the end, Lynott was not cool, in the ways heroin addiction is not cool. His death in early 1986 (from pneumonia, not an overdose) was a tragedy; the man had so much more to give. So it’s much better to remember Lynot as the charismatic frontman of a great live band, not a tragic junkie. On that subject, can anyone explain to me why intelligent individuals ignore everything they know about the hyper-addictive dangers of heroin, and try it anyway? Fun trivia fact: heroin got its name from the German pharma-giant Bayer (who in their guise as IG Farben supplied the Nazis with the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers).

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Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again.mp3
Man, I loved Hot Chocolate’s disco stuff. Heaven’s In The Backseat Of My Cadillac and You Sexy Thing and all that. I also loved the slower songs, especially So You Win Again and Emma. This was one of those slower songs, and I think I got the single for my 13th birthday, on which my friends and I were allowed to share a bottle of white wine (well, it amounted to a small glass each). Errol Brown’s vocals are fine, but it’s the melody, which I’m sure was inspired by some piece of classical music, that really appealed to me. Brown had had a hand in writing all big Hot Chocolate hits other than this and So You Win Again (written by Russ Ballard). I’ll Put You Together Again was co-written by Geoff Stephens, one of those songwriters whose work is much better known than his name. Among the songs he wrote are The Crying Game, There’s A Kind Of Hush, Winchester Cathedral, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James, Sorry Suzanne, It’s Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas, The Lights Of Cincinnati, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, and Silver Lady.

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Queen – Mustapha.mp3
My friend Arne was a big Queen fan, and introduced me to more Queen stuff than News Of The World, which I already had. So when Jazz came out, I bought it – and put up the poster of all the naked women on bicycles (or Fat Bottomed Girls on a Bicycle Race) on my wall. And my mother didn’t mind, tolerant woman that she was. Mustapha was the strangest thing I had ever heard in rock. It still is bizarre. Presumably inspired by Freddie Mercury’s experience as Faroukh Bulsara in his birthplace of Zanzibar, it sounds like a Muslim call to prayer which halfway through gets the pomp rock treatment. Muezzin rock, if you like.

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Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love.mp3
I liked Suzi Quatro back in the day. Too Big was my favourite sing of hers. Recently I saw her Top of the Pops performance of Devil Gate Drive, which sparkles with the exuberance and rocking choreography. Suzi Quatro opened doors for chicks with guitars (and I’m using the word in the nicest possible way). So her comeback in 1979 was anticipated. Alas, Suzi had grown pout of rock-chickdom. A few months earlier, she had recorded a duet with Smokie singer and fellow RKA label mate Chris Norman, Stumblin’ In, the contemplation of which makes me feel slightly ill. And yet, I bought the LP, titled If You Knew Suzi… Well,I thought I knew Suzi. High-kicking, guitar-thrashing, super-gurning Suzi. This was housewive Suzi whose Smokie music was going to appeal to our mothers. I couldn’t give her love, and I gave it to somebody else.

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Clout – Save Me.mp3
The South African band featured in 1978 with Substitute (and I’m still looking for the original of that by the Righteous Brothers, as well as for Gloria Gaynor’s take). Save Me was also a cover version of a Merrilee Rush’s 1977 original (she had the first hit version of Angel In The Morning, as recounted in The Originals Vol. 39). Rush’s version was a mid-tempo country-pop affair; Clout turned it into a proper pop song.  Save Me is almost as good as Substitute, which I’d designate as a perfect pop song. By now Clout had lost their gorgeous keyboardist Glenda Hyams, and wasn’t even an all-girl group anymore, with the inclusion of two dudes (who’d later join Johnny Clegg in Juluka). I don’t know what became of the Clout members, other than Cindy Alter, one of the lead singers, who now performs with South African pop veteran Stewart Irving.

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Gerard Kenny – New York New York.mp3
So good they named it twice, sings Mr Kenny as he fellates the Big Apple. I had this on a compilation album (titled Disco Laser, it also included hits by the likes of Leif Garrett, Racey, Supermax and Chic, among a whole lot of people that were never heard of again, such as Wallensten and Snoopy). I rather liked it as a companion piece to Billy Joel’s My Life, a favourite at the time. It really should accompany New York State Of Mind; either way, it belongs in the same genre as Billy Joel (with whom Kenny once was in a band, apparently). Gerard Kenny has been something of a prolific songwriter; his resumé includes Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through The Rain and I Could Be So Good For You by Dennis Waterman (off TV’s Minder). He continues to perform.

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Patrick Hernandez – Born To Be Alive.mp3
This was the anthem of every school disco in the West-Germany of 1979. I wonder if schools in other cities did that stupid aerobic dance: legs together and jumping from one side to the other, if possible in beat to the music. The song, by a French Euro disco singer with a football player’s bubble perm, was absolutely ubiquitous, and there are no words to describe how much I hated it. Just as I hated school discos, with their bad music, cheap crisps and ban on Coca Cola, because somebody decreed it was not good for 13-year-olds, whereas Fanta was. For that reason Born To Be Alive does not conjure cheerful memories, but today I can acknowledge just how good a Euro-disco song it is. Hernandez later gave the young Madonna her first break as a dancer.

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Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan.mp3
Germans have earned themselves a reputation of having slowly developed an awareness of and sensitivity to their country’s terrible history in relation to the Holocaust; the noble project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (and bless the German language for its compound words). In 1979, all good intentions notwithstanding, West-Germany was not quite there yet. The country’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest that year was a rousing ensemble number extolling the masculine virility of the Mongol warrior Genghis Khan, whose name the performing group adopted for good measure. All that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, except that the host city of the contest was Jerusalem. It does not send a message of Vergangenheitsbewältigungsbestätigung when Germany sends its minstrels to Israel to sing about a genocidal megalomaniac. The Austrian entry was much more sensitive with the title “Today in Jerusalem” (presumably not a protest song about the condition of Palestinans in that city).

In the event, the German entry placed fourth (ahead of Britain’s Black Lace, who took revenge a few years later with the appalling Agadoo), while Israel defended their title with Milk & Honey’s melodious and very annoying Hallelujah, a song a visitor to Israel cannot avoid hearing even three decades later.

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Frank Mills – Music Box Dancer.mp3
I think it’s fair to say that I bought some pretty decent singles when I was 13, though that will reveal itself only in parts 2 and 3. And amid all those cool records, I bought this, a record which Richard Clayderman must have condemned as too soft. I have no interest in hearing his cover version (of course he recorded one!), but by comparison it probably rocks hard. It has to. Musicx Box Dancer has as pretty melody, admittedly, and as such is a very dangerous earworm. It’s no accident that ice cream vans around the world are playing the tune. It’s not surprising then to learn that one town has declared ice cream van music illegal. Oh yes, if you signal the availability of soft-serve in Stafford, New Jersey, you’ll go down, man. “At no time shall a vendor be permitted to use a sound device, mechanical bell, mechanical music, mechanical noise, speakers, amplifiers or any other similar type of sound device,” The Man has ordained. You may use a bicycle bell, however. Can you play Music Box Dancer on a bicycle bell?

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George Harrison – Blow Away.mp3
As mentioned in the intro, in May 1979 the medical scheme packed me and a few dozen other kids from across West-Germany off to a cure in Bavaria. On the train journey there, we encountered a pederast who liked to suck the feet of pubescent boys (not mine, I’m relieved to report). In Bavaria I met for the first time a person named Adolf, our bus driver on excursions, though he tried to disguise his unfortunate name by inviting us to call him Dolf. He was a nice guy, so we didn’t even make jokes about him. The small town where we stayed, with the satisfying name Pfronten, had a small record shop. One day we were passing it when our group, probably headed for another bloody uphill hike through Bavarian forest, paused for a few minutes. I quickly jumped into the shop to see what was new. And what was new was George Harrison’s new single, which I bought unheard. Happily George’s bubble perm did not deter me, for Blow Away is a great song; indeed, it’s my favourite solo song by Harrison, with a great sing-along chorus.

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More Stepping Back

The Originals Vol. 8

October 5th, 2008 1 comment


Jackie DeShannon – Needles And Pins
The Searchers – Needles And Pins
Last night I watched The Commitments on DVD, with the scene at the wedding where the singer belts out a cheesy version Needles And Pins. What struck me is how difficult it is to mess the song up. Even Smokie’s 1977 version was quite good. It is, of course, regarded as a classic in its incarnation by the Searchers (a group I used to confuse with the Seekers, featured above). It was written by Sonny Bono and Jack Nietzsche and first recorded by the vastly underrated Jackie DeShannon in 1963, crossing the Atlantic the same year in Petula Clark’s version before the Searchers finally scored a hit with it in 1964 (actually, DeShannon’s version, while not a hit in the US, topped the Canadian charts). The story goes that the Searchers first heard Needles And Pins being performed by Cliff Bennett at the Star Club in Hamburg and immediately decided that the song should be their next single. It became the second of their three UK #1 hits. They did retain DeShannon’s pronunciation of “now-ah”, “begins-ah” and “pins-ah.
Also recorded by: Petula Clark (1963), Buddy Morrow & his Orchestra (1964), Cher (1965), The Wallflower Complextion (1967), Smokie (1977), The Ramones (1978), Crack The Sky (1983), Tom Petty & Steve Nicks (1986), Mr. T Experience (1998), Willy DeVille (1999), Raimundos (2001), The Commercials (2001) a.o.
Best version: DeShannon’s original has a great energy, Smokie’s I have a nostalgic attachment to, but the Searchers had a moment of pop perfection with their version.

Jackie DeShannon – Bette Davis Eyes
Kim Carnes – Bette Davis Eyes
In 1981, my half-sister’s boyfriend went on holiday to Colorado. For us in Germany, that was tremendously exotic. Although we had by then travelled through much of central Europe, America seemed another world. Where we had medieval churches, all of American architecture seemed to be mirrored skyscrapers (cf. the Dallas titles montage), and where our forests were populated by Rumpelstiltskin, granny-eating wolves and poisonous mushrooms, American woods were run by Grizzly Adams. And, most significantly, new LPs were available in America before they came out in Germany. So when our man came back from Colorado and told of his adventures (in what probably was boring suburbia), his tales were soundtracked by Juicy Newton’s Angel Of The Morning and Kim Carnes’ Betty Davis Eyes. The former has long been pencilled in to feature in this series, the latter joined the list only when our friend RH sent me the original.

I hadn’t known it was a cover version: neither did the song’s subject, who went out of her way to thank first Carnes and then the songwriters for introducing her to a whole new generation (including myself) and giving her cool status among her grandchildren. Davis and Carnes remained friends till the actress’ death. As noted above, Jackie DeShannon was not just an underrated singer, but also a songwriter. She co-wrote Bette Davis Eyes with Donna Weiss, and recorded it in 1975 in a country-boogie woogie style. Her version attracted little attention, but seven years later Carnes’ cover became one of the biggest hits in US chart history, spending nine weeks at #1 (a week less than the year’s top-seller, Olivia Newton John’s Physical). As for the titular eyes which warranted a song, apparently they were the product of a thyroid condition Davis suffered.
Also recorded by: Gwynneth Paltrow (for the film Duets, 2000), Crash Test Dummies (2001), Handsome Devil (2004), Space Cadet (2005)
Best version: The Carnes version reworks the song entirely. The guitar, synth and the somewhat sleazy drums complement Carnes’ raspy voice in the slowed down. That production evokes Davis’ (public) personality better than the original does.

The Highwaymen – Whiskey In The Jar
The Seekers – Whiskey In The Jar
The Pogues & the Dubliners – Whiskey In The Jar
“Musha ring dum a doo dum a da” is gibberish, apparently. And “Whack fol the daddy O” is not slurred ’50s slang. Whiskey In The Jar is an old Irish folk song about a girl betraying the highwayman who loves her. Folk historian Alan Lomax (who among many other things did that recording of Black Betty featured earlier on in this series) suggested that the song goes back, in some form, to the 1600s and might have inspired John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera. When the folk revival hit in America in the 1950s and ’60s, Whiskey In The Jar, which had long enjoyed popularity in the US, was among the many traditional tunes to be performed by the likes of The Limeliters and Peter, Paul & Mary. The oldest recordings that I’ve been able to turn up are thise by The Highwaymen from 1962 (thanks to caithiseach of The Great Vinyl Meltdown) and from 1964 by the Seekers. The song is, of course, more famous now as a rock song, thanks to Thin Lizzy’s iconic 1973 interpretation (which took some liberties with the lyrics). The Dubliners, whose 1967 hit with the song returned it to its native land, re-recorded it to fine effect with the Pogues in 1990. Some people talk highly of Metallica’s 1998 Grammy-winning take, but since I boycott those Napster-busting fuckers, it won’t feature here.
Also recorded by: The Dubliners (1967), Jerry Garcia & David Grisman (1995), Pulp (1995), Metallica (1998), Brobdingnagian Bards (2001), Belle & Sebastian (2005), Gary Moore (2006), as well as Roger Whittaker, Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers, the Poxy Boggards, Seven Nations, King Creosote, Axel the Sot, and Smokie (a.o.)
Best version: The Dubliners and Pogues nail it.

Albert Hammond – The Air That I Breathe
The Hollies – The Air That I Breathe
I feel very old when Albert Hammond needs to be introduced as “The Dad of the dude from the Strokes”. Hammond Sr is of course the more significant figure in pop, having scored hits on his own and written many more for others. The Air That I Breathe, composed with frequent collaborator Mike Hazlewood, is among those (and at least one more will feature in this series). Hammond’s 1972 recording on his debut album, It Never Rains In Southern California, went by fairly unnoticed. It starts of uncertainly, but mid-way through hits a strange stride. Perfect it is not, but interesting it certainly is. According to Hammond, it was written for a physically unattractive girl while Hazlewood came up with the title upon glimpsing LA’s smog – I rather like that story. The song was then recorded by Phil Everly in 1973, but became a hit in the hands of the briefly resurgent Hollies a year later. Subsequently Hammond and Hazlewood received an unexpected songwriting credit on Radiohead’s Creep for its resemblance to The Air That I Breathe.
Also recorded by: Cilla Black (1974), Olivia Newton-John (1975), José Feliciano (1977), Hank Williams Jr (1983), Julio Iglesias (1984), Steve Wynn (1995), Barry Manilow (1996), k.d. lang (1997), Simply Red (1998), Patti LuPone (1999), The Mavericks (2003), Blue Mule (2005), Tom Fuller (2007)
Best version: It’s a great song to interpret (as Thom Yorke would agree), but the Hollies version is just lush.

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Perfect Pop – Vol. 5

April 23rd, 2008 7 comments

Thank you for all the comments. I really, really appreciate them. It’s great just to hear somebody say that they are happy to have found a long-forgotten song or discovered a favourite new artist through this blog. The many kind words and encouragement are a most welcome bonus.

It’s also great to see people still getting to read older posts. One comment came in yesterday responding to a Carpenters post I wrote in September, arguing that, contrary to my contention, the Carpenters are great to shag to. I’m afraid my libido would sink lower than Dick Cheney’s reputation among all sane people if in mid-shag the children’s choir of “Sing” came on. Or “Jambalaya”! My correspondent was quite right in pointing out though that Steely Dan is not particularly suitable for erotic exploits either (the Dan are named, after all, after a dildo). So my question today is — oh, you know what’s coming already, don’t you? — what songs make for perfect background music to sex. It’s only fair that I should reveal my current favourite in that department, and in the process spoiling it for everybody by creating a disturbing connotation: Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky album (it sounds like I’m bragging by nominating a whole album and not just a song, don’t I?).

While we ponder perfect sex music, here’s some more perfect pop, with a couple of highly subjective choices.

Love Unlimited – Under The Influence Of Love.mp3
Hmmmm, a contender for the great sex songs category. Barry White had a knack of turning on the laydees as the walrus of luuurve (a talent which spawned such jealousy that at some point it mystifyingly became uncool to like Bazza, and then ironic). With Love Unlimited he found a way for men to discover the sexiness in his music without posing any threat to their heterosexuality. Under The Influence hits every spot, from the glorious vocals to the lush arrangement. You can dance to it, and you can smooch to it. How perfect is that? Genius.
Best bit: “So many guys have tried…” (3:32)

Box Tops – The Letter.mp3
I don’t know if all that is attributed to Lester Bangs in the wonderful Almost Famous is authentic, but this quote makes the point for the Box Tops’ pop perfection: “Did you know that The Letter by the Box Tops is a minute and 58 seconds long? It means nothing. But it takes them less than two minutes to accomplish what it takes Jethro Tull hours to not accomplish!” It’s difficult to believe that singer Alex Chilton was only 17 when the Box Tops’ recorded The Letter. Chilton went on to front Big Star, whose Ballad Of El Goodo is one of my all-time favourite songs.
Best bit: The jet noise (1:32)

Natalie Imbruglia – Torn.mp3
Ednaswap – Torn.mp3
I expect this choice to be controversial (so somebody alert CNN, quick). But the idea of Natalie Imbruglia lying naked on the…er, I think Imbruglia’s vocals, the rich production, and the melody are impeccable. Before Imbruglia scored big with this internationally in 1998, the song had been a hit for one Lis Sørensen in Denmark in 1994, and for Trine Rein in Norway in 1996. For this reason it is generally thought that Torn was a Norwegian effort. It was, in fact, written by members of the LA grunge outfit Ednaswap, whose crap name presumably precluded superstardom. I rather like their acoustic version of Torn, too, as it goes (and I’ll post it here, while I’m at it).
Best bit: The guitar solo (3:28)

T. Rex – Children Of The Revolution.mp3
I’ve said it before: glam rock had a high quotient of pop perfection because it really is amplified bubblegum pop – and bubblegum pop had all the ingredients for great pop singles. Marc Bolan and chums created several contenders for this series. Some may say that Get It On might have been the better representative, or perhaps Hot Love, or 20th Century Boy. My favourite T. Rex song is Jeepster. All valid choices. But Children Of The Revolution is the one T. Rex song I can’t imagine any reasonable pop fan not loving. It’s the complete package: the gut-punching intro, Bolan’s voice as sexy as it ever was, it wastes no time getting from intro and verse to the chorus. In fact, the chorus tends to kick in and out very suddenly, which might be due to poor editing. Whether by accident or intent, the effect keeps the listeners on their toes. And isn’t perfect pop also about holding the listener’s attention? And how exactly did driving a Rolls Royce help Bolan’s voice (though it migh haver helped him had he driven in one on September 16, 1977).
Best bit: Drums and Bolan shouts: “Yea-errrh” (1:11)

Big Sound Authority – This House (Is Where Our Love Stands).mp3*
The Songs That People Sing blog recently featured a post with video clips from Big Sound Authority’s gig at Camden Town, London, in early 1985 (go here; don’t forget to right-click and open in a new tab or window). I was at that concert, and BSA were magnificent. It is an injustice that they did not become bigger — as I said the first time I posted this, “it’s almost perverse”. It isn’t easy to pull off constant changes in tempo throughout a song while retaining a cohesion and, in this case, a rich energy which virtually embraces the listener. This song succeeds in doing so. Playing it to identify a best bit, I noted down five separate moments: another indicator of quality.
Best bit: All instruments stop to let Julie Hadwen roar in the final chorus (3:08)

Elvis Presley – Suspicious Minds.mp3
Fine Young Cannibals – Suspicious Minds.mp3
The British music writer Paul Morley posited that a pop song can be thought of as great only if you can imagine Elvis singing it. Well, I think an Elvis song can be thought of as great only if you can imagine Roland Gift of the Fine Young Cannibals singing it, without messing it up. Gift managed just that with Suspicious Minds. Elvis’ version has great drums, which seemed to energise the big guy in his live performances. I don’t really need to justify the inclusion of Suspicious Minds in the perfect pop category. The question is whether other Elvis songs are more perfect. I plan to use only one song per artist, but for Elvis there will have to be two. A pre-GI Elvis number will follow in the next installment.
Best bit: Elvis gets urgent: “Don’t you know-ah…” (2:46)

Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes – I’ve Had The Time Of My Life.mp3*
I’ll repeat what I wrote about this song last July: You can dance to it (dirty or otherwise), you can sing along to it very loudly, it has lots of great little moments, like that bang as the saxophone solo begins (3:27), and the dramatically cascading notes which build up to a crescendo before Medley summarises softly just how good a time he has had, leading to the celebratory climax. The song structure in fact captures the rhythm of sexual intercourse, with the subtle changes of pace and two separate orgasms. Now put Baby in the corner.
Best bit: The celebratory climax kicks in (4:03)

Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town.mp3*
To me, Phil Lynott epitomised cool. Until he became a junkie, which isn’t at all cool. And rarely was Lynott cooler than on The Boys Are Back In Town. And those duelling guitars are cool as fuck. According to the sleeve notes, the song was written about a Manchester street gang. It is the delinquent’s version of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant”, with somebody being updated on all the news after a long separation from the gang. What would be today’s equivalent of that? A message on Facebook saying: “Gld ur bak frm jayl LOL Mwah xx oh yr frend ded, soz”?
Best bit: Lynott whispers: “The boys are back, the boys are back” (3:19)

Spider Murphy Gang – Skandal im Sperrbezirk.mp3
In the early ’80s, German pop experienced a revolution akin to the effect of punk on British music a couple of years earlier. But where punk was essentially a rejuvenating movement, the Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave) introduced a whole new sound to a musical scene which had been dominated by impeccably-behaved Schlager singers, socially conscious Liedermacher (songwriters) and the occasional iconoclastic rocker, such as Udo Lindenberg. NDW acts sang about subject matter which was rarely heard in German on radio, producing sounds like nothing the fatherland had heard accompanying the mother tongue — and scored big hits. Some NDW exponents were dance orientated, some drew from English New Wave and NYC punk, and many produced hyper pop. The Spider Murphy Gang fell within the latter camp. Skandal im Sperrbezirk — a song about a prostitute whose classified ads are so successful as to leave her competitors on the streets and in the Hotel l’Amour underemployed — was their big hit in early 1982.
Best bit: The “police siren” (2:17)

Spandau Ballet – Gold.mp3
There may be many good reason to hate Spandau Ballet. The name. The jackets. Steve Norman’s mullet. Tory Hadley. Through The Barricades. But, by jove, didn’t they produce some fantastic pop! Hadley had a great voice and knew how to use it (in contrast to his contemporary on ’80s teenage walls, Simon le Bon); Steve ‘Plonker’ Norman played a mean saxophone and percussions (the latter are particularly good on Gold); and Gary Kemp, the weedier of the two brothers, knew how to write a catchy tune. There were other Spandau Ballet contenders for this series: True, Only When You Leave, To Cut A Long Story Short, Round And Round, Lifeline… but none quite approach the drama of Gold.
Best bit: Tony Hadley’s little pause before singing “GOLD” (3:09)

Cece Peniston – Finally.mp3
This 1991 dance track is now most commonly associated with the film Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert, which produced an excellent soundtrack. I associate it with a meeting in December 1991 during which I was stabbed in the back by erstwhile friends. After the meeting, Finally played at a party, and it lifted my spirits entirely. Peniston’s chart career was not prolific, and “Keep On Walking” was perhaps the better of her hits. But perfect pop is not necessarily about the “better” song. In few dance tracks of the ’90s did things come together so perfectly while retaining a pop sensibility as it did on Finally, from the House piano hook to Peniston’s vocals which alternately narrate and roar, and to the killer chorus.
Best bit: The gibberish ad libbing which caused the drag queens in Priscilla to do that thing with their tongues (2:52)

Andy Gibb – I Just Wanna Be Your Everything.mp3
Somewhere in this series, a Barry Gibb-penned song had to feature. I was thinking of Guilty, his duet with Barbra Streisand, and naturally several Bee Gees songs. But surely this swinging, sweet and yet dramatic track, which Barry wrote with his little brother (though Andy isn’t credited), represents the pinnacle of his post-’60s songwriting. The cute lyrics, in which Andy pledges everlasting love to his bride, are emphasised by a gentle disco arrangement. The Gibb family falsetto is in evidence, but it isn’t as ridiculously pitched as Barry’s. In fact, even though this song is recognisably a Barry Gibb composition, it doesn’t sound much like a Bee Gees song. This was the first of a hat-trick of US #1s for Andy Gibb (Love Is Thicker Than Water and the very Bee Gees-ish Shadow Dancing followed), the first time a male solo artist accomplished that feat.
Best bit: “To be your eeeev’rythiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing” (2:48)

Four Tops – Reach Out I’ll Be There.mp3
One cannot pick a best Levi Stubbs moment. The singer had so many moments of genius (that cry for Bernadette in the song of that name!), but I’d say that on Reach Out I’ll Be There Stubbs delivers his best sustained performance, practically barking the words, out of breath from being chased by the relentless drums. The urgency of this song is exhilarating and exhausting. As so often, nobody involved in the production thought of the song as a hit; in the event, Motown boss Berry Gordy quietly put it out as a single. Cue a US and UK #1. Diana Ross’ rather different version is worth hearing. And then that horrid rapist of fine soul music, Michael Bolton, covered the song, investing it with as much pus a he could summon from his landlord Beelzebub.
Best bit: No contest, it’s the supercharged intro (0:01)

Dave Clark Five – Glad All Over.mp3
This could be a Beatles song. But consider that this was a hit in 1963: Dave Clark and his four subordinates and the Fab Four shared the influences (listen to the backing vocals in particular). So it’s great fun that when English football club Crystal Palace reached the 1990 FA Cup final (which they went on to lose to Manchester United in a replay), they recorded Glad All Over with a group called…the Fab Four. Many people mistakenly think that the fantastic vocals, which exude so much energy by way of complementing the thumping sound, were performed by the man after whom the band was named. Clark was in fact the drummer (echoes of Conan O’Brien’s houseband here); the singer was Mike Smith who sadly died of pneumonia earlier this year, at the age of 64.
Best bit: “Aw-aw-aw stay” (1:10)

More Perfect Pop

Music for Bloggers Vol.4

January 8th, 2008 5 comments

After some months without, here’s more love for blogs I enjoy. As always, if your blog isn’t featured, but you think it should be, there will be more music for bloggers. I like 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. In each entry, the first dedicated song is a new upload, the second has been posted here previously (except in the bit for Sunset Over Slawit, who gets two fresh tunes).

Popdose
Many mourned the sudden death at the hands of moronic interfereniks of the much beloved jefitoblog. Good news is, Jeff is back and has roped in a few skilled pals to create an Internet culture magazine called Popdose (among these pals is John Hughes, who used to write the excellent Lost in the ’80s blog). Popdose runs articles on music, film & TV, current events and more, and represents a welcome addition to my bookmarks. There are loads of fine MP3s, and best of all, Jefito still presents his weekly mix tape. Hooray!
Thin Lizzy – The Boys Are Back In Town.mp3
Clout – Substitute.mp3

Todger Talk
Men tend to talk about sex like they might talk about automotive mechanics. But would you ask your mates for advice if you had blood gushing out of your fractured penis? It was that experience (hilariously related) which moved “Nottingham’s Mr Sex” to start up a blog, with two qualified colleagues, which will dispense sound, valuable advice on sex and relationships specifically to men. But don’t expect condescending earnesty or laddish phwoarisms (it will be in the dictionary one day, you’ll see). If the first couple of posts are an indicator, the serious subject matter (you don’t think sex is fun, do you?) will be interlaced with a healthy dose of humour. And to get you in the mood, this horny soul classic from the ’70s, followed by Serge’s seduction technique.
Sylvia – Pillow Talk.mp3
Serge Gainsbourg – Cargo Culte.mp3

Holy Goof
Another fairly new site, Holy Goof is an absolute treasure trove of comedy albums from the ’60s up to last year (some ripped audio from DVD), with perceptive commentary. And, best of all, everything’s available on Sharebee, which serves those of us who are excluded by Rapidshare and Megaupload. Get your Chris Rock, Eddie Izzard, Woody Allen, David Cross, Tom Lehrer, Bill Hicks, Sam Kinison, Billy Connolly, Ellen Degeneris, Albert Brooks, Richard Pryor, Bill Maher, Dave Attell, Paul F Tompkins, George Carlin, Kathy Griffin, Denis Leary, Patton Oswalt, Steve Martin, Sara Silverman and a shitload more (even the deathly unamusing Robin Williams, if you must) at the Holy Goof.
Dave Davis – Death A Clown.mp3
Manfred Mann – Ha! Ha! Said The Clown.mp3

Echoes In The Wind
One of the Major Dude winners in the music blogs category last month. Some might have chosen a blog that features obscure, cutting edge artists or provide acute and learned reviews. There are many such blogs I like to visit. Echoes In The Wind isn’t such a blog. Whiteray writes from his own, seemingly vast personal experience. Reading his blog is like enjoying a visit from an erudite friend who, over a few bottles of good dark beer (or, in my case, a pot of coffee and a pack of smokes) shares his stories, and of himself. Whiteray’s music selection is almost exclusively and unsentimentally nostalgic, sometimes featuring stuff that is obscure and surprising, and occasionally exceedingly rare. It was Whiteray who had me give John Denver a chance when he uploaded Whose Garden Was This, a long-forgotten but rather lovely 1970s album by the man whom I had dismissed as a bit of a grinning muppet (which at one point he had actually become). Early in his career, Denver might not have been cool, but he was pretty good. Check out “Sunshine On My Shoulders” from 1971’s gorgeous Poems, Prayers & Promises, and imagine it, if you need to, being sung by somebody else, without prejudice. The second song is a lovely slice of sentimentality by a South African artist. If you like Whiteray’s stuff, you should like this.
John Denver – Sunshine On My Shoulder.mp3
André de Villiers – Memories.mp3

Sunset Over Slawit
Much as Whiteray is a regular visitor to my monitor, so is Rol Hirst, another blogger with whose prose I feel instantly comfortable. Rol’s blog does not offer conspiracy theories, profound sociological analysis, political polemic or comedy writing (though he knows how to turn a witty phrase when circumstances demand it). There are fine blogs that offer these, sometimes all in one, and I appreciate these. Rol’s blog appeals on a different level. It succeeds in making you feel that he is a friend sharing his engaging thoughts with you (even though you’ve never met him); his writings suggest that he is a really nice guy… Conveying one’s {perceived) personality in such a persuasive way is a skill not many writers have.
Iron & Wine – Sunset Soon Forgotten.mp3
Gordon Lightfoot – Sundown.mp3

The Hits Just Keep On Coming
A self-confessed angry ex-radio DJ lets rip on his blog, which he presents as a music station of sorts. The concept works very well. JB apparently still presents a weekly radio show. If it is anything like his well-written blog with such judiciously selected music, it should be required listening wherever it is broadcast. The One Day In Your Life feature is especially good, a time travelling blitz. And I wholeheartedly agree with JB about how the Hype Machine aggregator has become less inviting since the redesign, which I think has a terribly cluttered corporate feel now. Like JB, I very rarely venture there any longer. For JB, a great 1995 song from alt.country-rock supergroup Golden Smog, and a fine track by one of the underrated songbirds.
Golden Smog – Radio King.mp3
Kathleen Edwards – Another Song The Radio Won’t Like.mp3

The Ghost of Elecricity
In my lists of links, The Ghost of Electricity is filed in the non-music section, which isn’t strictly accurate, because it does feature MP3s. It would also not be strictly accurate to file Davy H’s site among the music bloggers, because his subject matter isn’t always music. Rather, the music Davy posts often is intended to illustrate his entertaining and frequently insightful ruminations on any given subject. Much in the same way as the songs dedicated to the bloggers in this series fulfill an ancillary function. Wherever one may want to file The Ghost of Electricity, it’s a bloody good read with some fine music (check out the funk here).
The Strokes – Electricityscape.mp3
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Davy’s On The Road Again.mp3

Guitariotabs
Two and a half years ago my son, then 10, decided he wanted to learn to play the guitar. After securing a firm commitment from him, we enrolled him with a first-class tutor, a former session musician for South African blues-rock legend Robin Auld, who continues to verse him in the technically correct mechanics of string plucking (or whatever). Occasionally Michael visits sites offering guitar tabs, and sometimes finds that the authors have failed in providing scrupulously correct tabs. So he decided to set up his own tabs blog, with relevant MP3 files and links to the lyrics as an added service. The lazy sod hasn’t updated it in a while — apparently it’s not a simple task to write tabs, and time consuming as well. Still, I’m immensely proud of my boy, now 13. So visit his blog. In the meantime, here’s something by the wonderful guitarist Kaki King, who featured on the new Foo Fighters album, and the Beatles song Michael announced he really liked when he got into the Help! album, and which happens to be my all-time favourite Beatles tune.
Kaki King – Happy As A Dead Pig In The Sunshine.mp3
The Beatles – You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away.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