Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Easy streets are not for me (The Jesus and Mary Chain) #180

The Jesus and Mary Chain Rollercoaster; Silverblade/ Lowlife; Tower of Song (Banco y Negro 12", NEG 45 T, 1990)

The Jesus and Mary Chain were formed around the Reid brothers (Jim and William both on vocals and guitar). Their speciality was loud distortion drenched guitar sounds, muffled lyrics and plodding echoey drums sounds. It's a hell of a thing.

Rollercoaster is a glorious slice of alternative rock noise. The song later appeared on the Honey's Dead album in 1992. 

Hidden gems: This is an EP and apart from Rollercoaster the other tracks are peculiar to this single only. They don't appear to have been compiled elsewhere either so they have a rarity value.

The sound on the B side track Lowlife is a car crash of metallic feedback frenzy. The guitars are the thing here. Tower Of Song is their version of Leonard Cohen's song. I can't stand Leonard Cohen by Leonard Cohen but here his song's mashed into the Reid's signature sound with highly processed vocals and more hurdy gurdy swirling guitar noise. Glorious!

Monday, April 28, 2014

She was just sitting there givin' me looks that made my mouth water (Jay and the Americans) #179

Jay and the Americans Come A Little Bit Closer/ Goodbye Boys Goodbye (United Artists Records, UA 759, 1964)

I can't remember why I bought this. I have no recollection beyond ordering it from a mail order record company in NZ, probably in the late seventies.

It's a weird song about a love triangle with Jose (a crazy Mexican), his girlfriend (a fickle hot chick) and Jay (the randy visitor who runs through a window to escape). The Skynyrds revisited this territory with more success on Gimme Three Steps (Linda Lou becomes the object of desire in that one). 

The refrain - come a little bit closer - is catchy but aside from that there's not much to say.

Hidden gems: The over wrought style continues on the B side with Jay (real name John Traynor who passed away in January this year) emoting his way through another slice of mid sixties vacuous American pop. You can see why The Beatles were so successful if this was their opposition.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

You're damned for all time to walk both sides of the line (Jason and the Scorchers) #178

Jason and The Scorchers Absolutely Sweet Marie; Help There's A Fire; I Can't Help Myself/ Hot Nights In Georgia; Pray For Me, Mama (I'm A Gypsy Now); Harvest Moon; Both Sides Of The Line (EMI America, GOOD 505, 1983)

This one's in the tradition of the peculiar eighties invention of the mini album, or large E.P. 

Jason is Jason Ringenberg and he can't decide if he's a good ole country boy or a let it rip rock guy so he combines the two. When it works on Dylan's Absolutely Sweet Marie it's a thing to behold.

The main problem with kicking off with Dylan is that there is no way your own material can compare so sadly the next two songs are pretty but forgettable.

Jason and the boys stretched their country punk thing over a few albums but this mini album (called Fervor) is all you need really (which is why I gave the other albums to Keegan). 

Hidden gems: The B side songs are stronger and don't have to compare with Dylan by this stage. The band is tight and the sound is original never took off and I think I know why. Country is country and rock is rock and cowpunks just couldn't gather and sustain an audience.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

And the public wants what the public gets (The Jam) #176 - 177

The Jam Going Underground/ The Dreams Of Children (Polydor, POLY 73, 1980)

The Jam Town Called Malice/ Precious (Polydor, 2059 456, 1982)

I don't buy into the whole Paul Weller as national treasure, modfather figure that he seems to have morphed into over the last dozen or so years. 

You can extrapolate from that statement that I was never a Jam fan. Never bought any Jam albums. I hated The Style Council pose and I only have one of his solo albums - the rather wonderful, I admit, 22 Dreams.

But I did love these two A sides at the start of the eighties. Going Underground was a thrill when I heard it in 1980 - full of passion and punkish attitude with those slashing guitar stabs. It still sounds great but the lyrics have me a tad perturbed in 2014. In hindsight these lyrics now sound a little disingenuous. Going underground? I want nothing this society's got? Do me a favour!

I guess it's wrong to do that though - judge a piece of music from hindsight. Weller was at least denouncing hate in 1980 and trying to stick it to the man.

So - let's go back.

As a middle class university student in Nu Zild in 1980 I liked The Jam's energy (as I did The Damned and Sex Pistols) but I was a million miles from understanding youth attitudes in early eighties Britain. 

The Motownish Town Called Malice has, in comparison, stood up better as a set of lyrics. I like the social commentary without preaching stance he takes here. Lamenting what is without getting overtly nostalgic for what's been lost is a pretty neat trick, so hats off to Paul Weller.

Hidden gems: The Dreams Of Children is run of the mill Jam. Supposedly a double A side (which went to number 1 in the UK) it pales in comparison to the A side for me. 

Precious is a funk shuffle with horns that doesn't hold any appeal to me. The single was also billed as a double A side at the time (and also reached number 1 in the UK) but I'm not sure how much it was due to the uncharacteristic sound of Precious.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

I said, "Don't mind, but what do you mean I am the one?" (Michael Jackson) #175

Michael Jackson Billie Jean (long version)/ Billie Jean (instrumental version) (Epic 12", ES12053, 1982)

This song takes the 'let's build up the instrumentals until we get into a great groove' approach. There must be a technical name for this, surely.

I'm a sucker for it, whether it's Deep Purple's Smoke On The Water, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's  The Intro And The Outro (Adolf Hitler on Vibes) or Billie Jean.
The song opens with a standard drum beat along with a standard hi-hat, and it contains hardly any reverberation. After two bars, another standard open hi-hat enters. After two more bars, a repetitive bassline enters. Each time it passes through the tonic, the note is doubled by a distorted synth bass. This accompaniment is followed by a repetitive three-note synth, playedstaccato with a deep reverb. The defining chord progression is then established. Jackson's quiet vocals enter, accompanied by a finger-snap, which comes and goes during the verses, as the rhythm and chord progression repeats.

That was according to wikipedia and I'm not about to argue. Written like that it doesn't sound like much does it? But there is a definite sense of energy and power when you hear it building these layers of sound. There's a reason for this.
The song was mixed by Bruce Swedien ninety-one times — unusual for Swedien, who usually mixed a song just once. Quincy Jones had told Swedien to create a drum sound that no one had ever heard before. The audio engineer was also told to add a different element: "sonic personality". "What I ended up doing was building a drum platform and designing some special little things, like a bass drum cover and a flat piece of wood that goes between the snare and the hi-hat" Swedien later wrote. "The bottom line is that there aren't many pieces of music where you can hear the first three or four notes of the drums, and immediately tell what the piece of music is." He concluded, "But I think that is the case with 'Billie Jean' — and that I attribute to sonic personality

Have a listen:

Hidden gem: The B side is labelled an 'instrumental version' but there are a few of MJ's vocals, the Billie Jean bits, on it. I guess this was made for a DJ kinda thing. For the rest of the world we'll take MJ's peerless vocals as well as those amazing instrumental passages thanks very much.

As a sidebar: I came across this version of the song a few years ago on a CD compilation of Eighties Anthems by some outfit called Clubhouse. It's a mash up between Steely Dan's Do It Again and Billie Jean and it works really well!

Outside of this the most widely celebrated 'live' version of this song is MJ's famous Motown 25th anniversary performance and it would be against some sort of musical law of the universe not to include it here.

Monday, April 21, 2014

With every mistake we must surely be learning (The Beatles) #174

The Inbetweens Make A Wish Amanda/ While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Impact, IR 1056, 1970)

The Inbetweens started life in Dunedin (NZ) in 1967. Their story is one of try and try and if, at first, you don't suck seed, try again. Well they tried and they tried to make their big break (Auckland, Sydney, Los Angeles) but they could never break through to the big time. 

By the mid seventies they had given up their quest having fallen out of favour, even in their homeland.

But their music is still around!

Part of their legacy is this snappy single recorded in Auckland. I happen to have it in my collection thanks to a record swap deal with a school mate - Greg Knowles. I'm reminded of this because he wrote his initials GK on his stuff, including this single.

The remarkable thing is that the band were still teenagers when they recorded this single. Rob Guest, who went on to have a solo career as a show biz light entertainer, had become the lead vocalist in 1970, and so it does sound quite professional.

The A side is actually a nice slice of NZ pop - with different vocals it would sound like a long lost early ABBA track.

Hidden gems: The boys make a good fist of Eric Clapton's guitar blitz on the Beatles' While My Guitar... by fuzzing up the guitar and changing the bassline. It's pretty impressive stuff given their age and level of experience.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Stand up! Stand up! (The Housemartins) #173

The Housemartins 
Caravan Of Love/ When I First Met Jesus (Chrysalis, K 239, 1988)

I  have a soft spot for the two groups lead by Paul Heaton - The Housemartins (who also at one time contained Norman Cook - a.k.a. the future Fatboy Slim) and The Beautiful South.

He has a great voice, a keen wit and writes clever songs. Sometimes they're a little too clever (like 10cc) but generally he's an amiable companion.

This was easily their biggest hit - a version of the Isley Brothers song. The single even went to number one in the UK charts.

I can understand why. It's like Mull of Kintyre - a snazzy singalong that gets into the brain in a non annoying way.

Hidden gem: The B side is also an a cappella performance but this time a gospel song rather than a pop one. It reflected the band's christian stance. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Bagism, shagism, dragism, madism, ragism, tagism, this-ism, that-ism, ism ism ism (John Lennon) #172

Hot Chocolate Band Give Peace A Chance/ Living Without Tomorrow (Apple, APPLE 18, 1969)

Before they went mega huge with You Sexy Thing, Hot Chocolate were Hot Chocolate Band and their first single was this one on Apple Records.

And yes - their first single was a cover of John Lennon's idiosyncratic 1969 call for peace. It seems a weird choice and the reggae style seems strange as well. It doesn't move me and it goes without saying that it didn't trouble the charts at all at the time. 

But John liked it (hence its appearance on Apple) so what the hell.

Hidden gem: Sadly - no. The B side is a pleasant enough piece but it's no gem folks.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

From the flames you'll fly and feel the air (Mary Hopkin) #167 - 171

Mary Hopkin Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)/ Fields Of St. Etienne (Apple, Apple 28, 1970 )

Mary Hopkin Think About Your Children/ Heritage (Apple, Apple 30, 1972 )

Mary Hopkin Let My Name Be Sorrow/ Kew Gardens (Apple, Apple 34, 1971)

Mary Hopkin Water Paper and Clay/ Jefferson (Apple, Apple 39, 1971)

Mary Hopkin Goodbye; Those Were The Days/ Water, Paper and Clay; Knock Knock Who's there (Apple, APEP 3001, 1972)

These Mary Hopkin A sides from the early seventies continued the pattern from my last posting - songs produced by Paul McCartney (Que Sera Sera); Mickie Most (Think About Your Children); and the rest by Tony Visconti (who she'd married in 1971).

The pattern of nice pleasant, non-threatening sounds continued too.

The EP, called Mary, collects four A sides together and is therefore rather special.

Only Water Paper and Clay appeared on a parent album (Earth Song/ Ocean Song in this case) at the time, although these A sides have been compiled since.

Hidden gems: Heritage, Kew Gardens, and Fields Of St Etienne all appeared on an Apple compilation called Those Were The Days but Jefferson appears to have only appeared as a B side. It's rather wonderful too. In fact it (along with Goodbye) would be my favourite songs by her. I love the little ar-har moment (the second video is the studio recording).

Monday, April 14, 2014

Songs that lingered on my lips excite me now (Mary Hopkin) #161 - 166

Mary Hopkin Those Were The Days/ Turn Turn Turn (Parlophone, NZP 3295, 1968)

Mary Hopkin Those Were The Days/ Turn Turn Turn (Apple, Apple 2, 1968)

Mary Hopkin Goodbye/ Sparrow (Apple, Apple 10, 1969)

Mary Hopkin Temma Harbour/ Lontano Dagli Occhi (Apple, Apple 22, 1970)

Mary Hopkin Knock Knock Who's There/ I'm Going To Fall In Love Again (3 copies - NZ/ Australia/ South Africa Apple, Apple 26 NZ; Apple 9105; AP 26, 1970)

I'm sure by now regular readers will have realised my obsession with Apple Records. I'm a Beatles fan/ obsessive and that means by extension that I'm an Apple Records completist as well.

Most Apple product had a Beatle connection of some sort - whether it had a Beatle producing, writing or playing on the song.

Paul McCartney did all three for Mary Hopkin.

Mary was a Paul McCartney 'discovery' in that Twiggy recommended her to Paul after Mary had won Opportunity Knocks (the Britain's Got Talent of the sixties). He then took it upon himself to produce her (Those Were The Days and Goodbye), give her a hit song (Goodbye), and perform on individual tracks (he plays guitar and keyboards on Goodbye).

Helps that she has a great voice too so songs like Those Were The Days, Goodbye and Temma Harbour have a lovely freshness to them, even now. It's no hardship collecting Mary's Apple product!

Knock Knock is one of those songs that appears to have been foist upon her. Mickie Most is the producer and he's a pop man through and through. The song was an entry in the Eurovision song competition which pretty much guarantees blow back.  

It wasn't until the great Toni Visconti arrived in the producer's chair that a sympathetic ear gave Mary the chance to really shine (see my next post).

Hidden gems: The B sides largely provide a folksy side to Mary - with songs by Pete Seeger, and Gallagher/Lyle. I'm Going...Again is a Mickie Most production, though, that doesn't do Mary's remarkable talent justice. Her version of Turn Turn Turn is a little twee. To me her voice at that time was too young to get the gravitas required to properly sell this song. I can imagine Joan Baez singing this with a heavier feel. Sparrow doesn't do much for me and Lontano is sung in Italian and I have no idea what type of genre it is. Again - it doesn't float my boat much but as I said - I'm a completist!  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

My woman's a sexy lady (Chris Hodge) #160

Chris Hodge We're On Our Way/ Supersoul (Apple, Apple 43, 1972)

Not much is known about Mr Hodge aside from the fact that Ringo signed him to Apple Records - presumably thinking he had another Marc Bolan on his hands, and, as it happens, the A side is indeed a cracker of a song. 

Sadly, though, it didn't happen for Chris, or for Ringo as a pop impresario, and he drifted away from the label during the dark days of the Apple wind up.

But for a moment there - it was within his grasp - it just...slipped...away...

In a parallel universe this song would have been huge and sparked a mega selling album on Apple Records, which led him to be signed to Warner Bros and then we'd be discussing the massive Freddie Mercuryish icon that Chris Hodge (re branded as Kris Egdoh) had become. Don't laugh - it happened to James Taylor!

Hidden gem: Supersoul is a definitive tilt at the T Rex audience, you can almost see the spandex and sequins. Sadly the song itself is substandard - even though it's played well.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

It can't get no worse (The Beatles) #158 - 159

Steve Hillage Getting Better/ Palm Trees (Love Guitar) (Virgin, VS 212, 1978)

Steve Hillage It's All Too Much/ Shimmer (Virgin, VS 161, 1976)

Steve Hillage is an English guitarist who loosely connects to the hippy French band Gong and progressive English rock outfit Egg. All appear on the Virgin Records roster.

Haven't heard of 'em? How about The Beatles? Heard of them?

Steve covers a couple of Beatle numbers on these A sides. Of the two, George Harrison's song It's All Too Much seems the most suited to Steve's trippy dream scape guitar style.

It doesn't stray far from the original, even the vocals are Harrisonesque, so I'm not too sure what the point was. Maybe Todd Rundgren suggested it? Who knows.

Getting Better is a strange choice but he mercifully doesn't include the 'beating my woman' verse and he does try for a different approach. Also weirdly it didn't appear on the album Green, although its B side did.

Hidden gems: Shimmer wasn't released on the parent album L but will have been added as a bonus since I'm sure. It's an experimental studio noodling exercise on synths that is fine as a throwaway B side but nothing special.

Palm Trees is much more representative of his meditative approach and vibe and is therefore a true hidden gem. It was produced by Steve and Nick Mason from Pink Floyd fame. I like Nick and I like what he brings to his productions. Gold star standard!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I wasn't really sure what was going on (Unknown American soldier) #157

Paul Hardcastle 19 (Extended version) / Fly By Night; Dolores  (Chrysalis 12", X 14179, 1985)

Jerry Seinfeld is on a date. The two are in his apartment, snuggled up on the couch. Apropos nothing he says, "Tan pants. Why do I buy tan pants, Donna? I don’t feel comfortable in them."

Paul Hardcastle's 19 is my version of tan pants. I do know why I bought this back in '85 though. Up to this point I was obsessed with the Vietnam war. 

An early memory (1966) is a family holiday to Sydney. As we disembarked I saw platoon's of American soldiers also arriving in Sydney for some R and R except they were flying in from Vietnam.

At school in the seventies I read Time magazine every week and every week there were updates from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. By the time I got to University in 1977 the war was over but my fascination had increased via poetry from Galway Kinnell and Robert Bly, films like The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now, and books like Dispatches and A Rumour Of War.

So I was ripe for the picking when Paul Hardcastle arrived in 1985 with a video and 12" single about the average age of combat soldiers in Vietnam being 19.

It hasn't aged well. Blame it on the eighties, sampling and the processed speech. 

I thought it had an anti-war message back then but now it just smacks of opportunism. I'm faintly embarressed to include it in the countdown but what are ya gonna do?

Hidden gems: Nope!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Run 'round the town singin' your blues (Free) #156

Free All Right Now / Wishing Well; My Brother Jake  (Island 12", X 13098, 1982)

For some reason I was never into Free or Bad Company that much back in the day. I should have been - great vocals, guitars, a blues rock back beat - but I never was. Instead it was Led Zeppelin who demanded my attention. They and The Faces held more interest and personality for me at the time. 

So this is the only Free vinyl I own and I have the first Bad Company album on CD but that's it and I only bought that a few years ago.

I think I sensed that these were their best songs and I bought the single in 1982 - nearly a decade after they'd broken up! [I've included all three as videos below for this reason - three classic Free songs in one place]

By that time All Right Now had become a staple of rock radio. Its omniscience has only increased over the years and so it's lost a lot of its freshness through over familiarity.

Hidden gems: Both B side tracks are definitely gems. Wishing Well is a classic as well as All Right Now but better for being less well known and My Brother Jake contains some wonderful vocal mannerisms from Paul Rogers. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

If you stay here won't you listen to my heart? (Crazy Horse) #155

Everything But The Girl I Don't Want To Talk About It; Oxford StreetI Don't Want To Talk About It (instrumental mix); Shadow On A Harvest Moon  (Blanco Y Negro 12", 0-247898, 1988)

Everything But The Girl is, of course, two people - Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn. Here they take on the classic Crazy Horse song written by doomed drug addict Danny Whitten.

It's a great song and hard to muck up - although Rod Stewart had a decent go at it with a ultra soppy version that actually removes emotion from the lyric!

EBTG do a pleasant reading of it but again my rough rule of thumb holds true - the original version is usually the better one.

Danny's vocal just aches, it's perfect in its earthiness and feel, while Tracey's is like a different track being glossier pop but it doesn't match that perfection for me - listening to music is forever subjective.

Oxford St is also pleasant, non offensive stuff. Good for Sunday mornings - light streaming in, reading the Sunday papers on the floor.

To my mind EBTG embody the eighties - Tracey's hair, clothes and vocal style are rooted in that mid eighties period.

Hidden gems: The instrumental version is lovely - featuring a beautiful string arrangement. Shadow On A Harvest Moon is...yes, lovely and, um - pleasant.