When i say i’m In love you best believe i’m in love L.U.V.

Elvis joined the army. Buddy Holly & Eddie Cochran died young. Little Richard had no more songs & Jerry Lee married his (too) young cousin. The unruly rock and roll genie had been put back into the bottle pretty damn quickly. There were some great American records made between 1960 and the invention of the Beatles but the standard of pop music for white teenagers was at a low point. A pile of Italian-American pretty boys, the Bobbys, Frankies & Fabians made forgettable records about love in high school. Connie Francis, a 50s star, was revived. An awful, anodyne version of folk music almost caught on (almost, thank goodness). Singers spent years trying to invent a new dance craze. If one of them stuck then two years of the same song with a slightly altered title seemed to be the routine.

A beacon of light & invention at this time were the girl groups. They were around in the 50s but the work of Phil Spector with the Crystals & the Ronettes set a new standard. Over in New York the Shirelles hit big with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, a Carole King song. The sound survived the “British Invasion” & then was taken to a new level at Motown.All those young Detroit girls had grown up wanting to be the Crystals. Never wanting to be obvious here are 3 great girl group songs, none of them by Spector.

From 1965, the Royalettes with their superb version of “Gonna Take A Miracle”. A record that could only have come from New York. All the elements of the classic girl group sound are there, in the right amounts & in the right places. Phil Spector would have used 6 drum kits & 5 pianos to emphasise his abilities as a producer but would not have made a record as good as Teddy Randazzo did. Randazzo, a failed vocalist/accordionist (never a good combo), wrote some classics in his time. Here he creates the sweetest of soul songs using all the strings in his orchestra. It was a minor hit for the Royalettes (adding “ettes” to a name was very popular) & they never had another despite the obvious attraction of the voice of Sheila Ross.

In 1971 a young New Yorker Laura Nyro had recorded two distinctive LPs of her own songs. They were often of an idiosyncratic structure but when squeezed into a pop format provided hits a plenty. For her next LP she hooked up with Labelle (formerly Patti Labelle & the Bluebells). They recorded a tribute to girl groups, including those from Motown. It was the music she had grown up listening to & loving as a teenager. She chose this song “Gonna Take a Miracle2 as the title track  of a fine record.

How much do I love the Shangri- Las ? The “Myrmidons of Melodrama” as they were tagged in a collection of their work. It’s April 1965, we can all see & hear why Shindig! picked this as their record of the week. with producer George “Shadow” Morton the group sang of “alienation, loneliness, abandonment and death” (Wikipedia). To quote Ed Sanders of the Fugs…”Oo-Ee-Oo”. Their teen symphonies were just so different from the usual girl group fare. The girls were different too.

If you were an older teenager in 1965 the Ronettes must have seemed very attractive & kinda tough. The Shangri- Las were white with a tough girl image. Mary Weiss, the lead singer, was just 16 years old when she sang of bad boys and loss and leaving home. There are men of a certain age who fell in love with Mary at this time and have never had a reason to change their mind. In their leathers, with their cool delivery they seemed like the real thing & not “Laverne & Shirley” (ask your dad.). When Mary was accused of carrying a firearm across state lines she did not deny the charge but explained that she had been threatened so had bought a pistol…she was 17…what a girl.

Sometimes there were 4 in the group, mostly they were a trio. Mary’s sister Betty seems to have appeared when she felt like it. I prefer to imagine  the 4th member is David Johansen of the New York Dolls sliding on to join them. He so wanted to be a Shangri-La.

This poster is for a gig by the girls. The support band, the Fabulous Iguanas, have a drummer called Jimmy Osterberg who became Iggy Pop. My friend & I are building a time machine. Our maiden voyage will be to see Funkadelic play in 1971. Then we are going to this.

The Exciters had a unique gimmick for a girl group. They had a man in the line-up. Herb Rooney was married to the singer, Brenda Reid. From the energy & power in Brenda’s voice she was, perhaps, a woman who got her way. In the UK the group’s best songs were nicked by local artists who sold more records. “Tell Him” was a US hit and the French had “un amour fou” for them. I grew up knowing the Manfred Mann mega-hit “Do Wah Diddy Diddy”. I was 30 years old before I heard the original by the Exciters and realised that the original just crushed the attempt by those English boys. I loved the group and have not been disappointed as I have heard their other work.

This early music video, from 1962, is 50 years old and as fresh as a Prince of Bel Air.

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Marvin Gaye (the duets)

I can’t muse upon Motown without thinking of the duets recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell. There are other man/woman duets which I rate as highly. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood’s, “Some Velvet Morning” has a mystery, an otherness. “Love Hurts” in the hands and voices of Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris  is melancholy beauty defined. The songs of Marvin & Tammi are joyous, potent & young, everything you want from cheap popular music. They make me happy.

The songs have the same effect on others. Whoever has enhanced the sights and sounds of this clip has done us all, and the song, a big favour. Marvin was Motown’s biggest male star but not the happiest. He had come from the church and was looking to go to cabaret. His idol was Nat “King” Cole, Marvin wanted to croon. Tammi was not a star at all. The care he shows for the young Mod girl, helping her through the nonsense of record promotion, adds to the already immense charm and chemistry of their songs. I am not going to dwell on the tragedy of her collapse while onstage with Gaye in 1967. That and her failure to recover (she died, aged 24 in 1970) contributed to a new maturity on Gaye’s part. His subsequent recording of the best LP recorded in the history of popular music, “What’s Going On”, stands as a fine tribute.

A young couple (later married) Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson, wrote the songs. It is their dual voices which make the songs so effective. They are written to be sung as duets. Reliable sources have said that Simpson sang on the later records as Tammi was too ill to record. Others, around at the time, have challenged this. I really don’t care. This was released as Marvin & Tammi & that’s how I first loved it. “Good Lovin” was not a big hit in the UK, the inferior “Onion Song” made a bigger impression. This song is such a personal favourite.

The record label were eager to put the “King and Queen of Motown” together. Marvin was not as enthusiastic. When he finally agreed there were delays for the producers, Ashford & Simpson (their last job for Motown). The record was released in 1973. The stories from the making of the record are very funny. The pair were not the best of friends and both possessed a sizeable ego. Not surprisingly I take Marvin’s side in most of the arguments. If he needed a joint or two to ease his voice then…& why is the LP not titled “Marvin & Diana”?

The producers only had two songs for the couple. They turned to a new hit factory over in Philadelphia for two songs which had already been hits. Thom Bell & Linda Creed wrote “You Are Everything” a hit for the Stylistics. The song is not a duet rather a song they sing together. Marvin was no-ones backing singer & rose to the occasion for his performance. He joins Diana for the first chorus and then sings the second verse himself. I still find this to be one of the loveliest, most affecting vocal performances I have ever heard. Marvin is really trying on this one.

Detroit dream girls (the supremes)

The Supremes’ story is now part of pop music’s DNA. The promotion of Diana Ross at the expense of her friends. The reaction of Florence to this marginalisation leading to her being dumped from the world’s leading female act & to a sad demise. It has become one of the folk tales of the 60s. Like the Beatles in Hamburg, developing a self-belief & a sound that would affect the world or the separation of Brian Jones from the group that he thought he led, it has been told & re-told from many different perspectives. We think we know the “truth” of these stories. We don’t need Carl Jung to come over & explain to us how a culture develops it’s own myths & legends.

Well…”Forever Came Today”. What a great pop single this is. The third single released as Diana Ross & the Supremes burns with a slow fuse before building to a fine dramatic climax. The “Reflections” LP introduced a touch of psychedelic soul to the hit sound but this track eschews the gimmicks and excess of the title track. The restraint of the arrangement, in the verse the electric piano is joined by a tambourine as a lead instrument, adds to the power of the song.

These were turbulent times at Hitsville & not just for the Supremes. Holland-Dozier-Holland, the writers responsible for the group’s amazing run of winners (10 #1 hits) were unhappy. They slowed their song production & were planning a future away from Motown. “Forever” was the last 45 they wrote for the girls. Recorded in 1967, released early in 1968, it was the first record of their’s to miss the top 20 since their success had begun & the first record to use session singers in place of the harmonies of “and the Supremes”. By the end of 1968 the Supremes were back in the top 10. Lamont Dozier & the Holland brothers had left Motown in a blizzard of suit & counter-suit.

There are clips of the Supremes promoting their world-wide smash of the 1967  summer of love, “The Happening”, with Florence. In others Cindy Birdsong (wonderfully, her real name) had tip-toed into her place. Two singles later Ed Sullivan was introducing Cindy as part of a group who promoted all their releases on Sullivan’s prime time TV show. The group always had their best new frocks on for these performances. Anyone who wants a view of the range of 60s fashions only has to check on the Supremes’ photos. Whether dressed like Vogue models or in more “street” clothes they were never less than immaculate.

The performance shows how Diana was now the focus. Her ambition can be criticized but she could sure sell a song. However, the Sullivan house band are not the Funk Brothers. This absence of groove makes for a pretty insipid result & perhaps influenced the song’s eventual sales. I have included this clip because it shows Mary Wilson at her best despite the exclusion from recording & the absence of her chidhood friend.

The Supremes first came to the UK on the back of a 2nd hit with “Baby Love”. They appeared on Top of the Pops in quite low cut dresses & made an immediate impression on my young self. I had never seen beautiful, young Afro-American women on British TV before. It was Mary who made the biggest impression. Francoise Hardy, Monica Vitti, Julie Christie, for myself  Mary Wilson joins that list of great 60s beauties. Diana can smile & over-emote , she can take the majority of the camera shots. Show me a clip of the Supremes in the 60s & I only have eyes for Ms Wilson…and there ain’t nothing I can do about it !

I have been looking around for a clip to show just how good the Supremes could be. The early appearances are in black and white. They often sang live with a white bread band making little effort to emulate the sound of the record because that would be impossible. I have settled on the breathless rush of “You Can’t Hurry Love”,often copied but never bettered. This is another great pop record from Tamla Motown.

That girl could sing

The music I have included in this blog has been a little phallocentric. A bunch of men playing with their instruments and whining how their girl/woman/baby has done them wrong. There will be a lot more of that in the future but I want to do a couple of pieces about the wonderful female singers & players who have made music I have loved for so long. I am not the biggest fan of sensitive women with acoustic guitars. A young woman recently asked my opinion of Joni Mitchell. I said that men pretended to like her music so they could sleep with women who did like it. I do not believe this at all…it was a joke. I was shocked that I had even thought such a thing never mind said it out loud.

The music in these first two is mainly from the 60s, a period in music which seems to be a gift that keeps on giving…Man, I thought I had my first three & I around five more have jumped to the front of my mind. OK let’s see where this leads me.

How much do you love this clip ? Barbara Lynn, young (just 20), beautiful, elegant & confident. This is her first single, a song of her own. It takes elements from the blues, church & country. Barbara is contributing to the invention of the sound and the look of a phenomenon…soul music. Tamla Motown employed people to show their artists how to present themselves in public.They would have probably advised their young ladies from Detroit that toting around a big old Fender Esquire would be inappropriate. Ms Lynn’s personal guitar style is wonderful,The instrumental break, leading the best Texan musicians money could hire, is still amazing. Ms Lynn don’t need no charm school. When she sang in D.C. she dropped by the White House & gave Jackie Kennedy some tips. Big crush here, I’ll admit it.

The arrival of rock and roll seriously affected the ability of blues artists to make a living from their music. The new generation of young black Americans wanted a new sound less rooted in the painful experience of the generations before them. In Chicago, the home of urban blues, Chess Records (with producer Willie Dixon) continued to make fine blues records throughout the early 60s. In 1965 (three years after the modernity of Barbara Lynn) this Koko Taylor classic,written by Dixon, became an R&B hit.

Koko was in her 30s when she had her hit. She stuck to the blues as the other female star at Chess, Etta James, moved towards soul. As this clip, taped in 1967, shows she got to have Chicago’s finest musicians in her band. The harmonica player is Little Walter (Jacobs), his run of hit records in the 50s are essential records. The rock and roll Hall of Fame originated a “sideman” category to accommodate Walter. An alcoholic with a temper,  his playing helped define the template of Chicago blues. Guitarist, Hound Dog Taylor, seems to be a man who is not easily pleased. His sliver of a smile at the end of the song indicates his opinion that Koko and the band had represented for Chicago and the music. They certainly have.

Koko recorded a wild duet with Willie Dixon, “Insane Asylum”, which can still shock with it’s raw power. It is a pity that it was her death, two years ago, that brought her back into the public’s ears.

Well, it had to be Ms Simone. She was the “High Priestess of Soul” but her artistry meant that her music was beyond categories. In her best work she obtained such depth and purity of emotion that it can still shock. She had a reputation as a difficult person to work with and as a erratic performer. Those of us who only know her records recognise a seeker of truth even perfection and we love her for it.

Her involvement in the civil rights movement was often reflected in her choice of material. She was never didactic but always forthright, always intense. “Ain’t Got No…I Got Life”, a hit from the hippie musical “Hair”, has never been my favourite tune of hers though this makes me reconsider. This version of a song of affirmation and hope was recorded in 1969 at the Harlem Community Festival. Simone is a beautiful, aristocratic African queen. Her dashiki- clad band cook up a fine groove and she sings the hell out of the song.

I don’t know if the Harlem Festival is still held. I think they have Dave Chappelle’s Block Party instead !

It’s A Dog’s life And It’s Not My Fault (Sentimental Hygiene)

It is serendipity that brings me to consider “Sentimental Hygiene” on the anniversary of the death of Warren Zevon. It is enough to state that the manner of his dying was the measure of the man. There is no sadness at his passing. This music has served me well for 25 years and will do so for the next 25 (with Jah’s grace). I am no necromantic and today I need some….

Those 1980s eh ? Thatcher over here & Reagan over there. The backlash against the “Love Generation”, a coalition which proved to be too loose to prevent the handing back of the reins to the “oligarchy of pimps & preachers who…worship money, power & death” (H.S.T.). So what does a poor boy do, clean & sober or not, when you are not as young as you were & the rules of the game have changed. Jackson Browne’s “The Pretender” was a 70s take on “the longing for love & the struggle for the legal tender”. Now his friend produced a snapshot of life in the 80s for those who were “trying to get along”.

There was something else new around in the 80s & that was AIDS. Initially seen as “God’s punishment” on homosexuals, this “epidemic” was used by the forces of reaction to fight back against  more liberated sexual attitudes. There were ad campaigns equating unprotected sex with Russian roulette. Sexual health is an important issue but the agenda was more pernicious. “Sentimental Hygiene”, an emotional attachment with a degree of re-assurance that sexual contact was not gonna kill you, was the best a person could hope for while they were searching for a heart.

Warren Zevon was revitalised on this LP. Old friends from L.A. were still around but the new guests brought an energy to the music, an assertiveness, that matched the new songs. R.E.M are all present, Bob Dylan, Tony Levin & Flea show out on bass, the latter on a song arranged by George Clinton. There is not a Zevon aficionado who had not wanted to hear Neil Young stretch out on one of the rockier tunes. On this title track we got our wish & we were right. This is one of the great track one, side one’s. Here was an album you could play to the unconverted, even the unimpressed & they would listen.

The gap on the record between “Detox Mansion” & “Bad Karma” always produces a little buzz of anticipation for this listener. I am going to hear R.E.M. rock out with Warren on just the funniest “where did it all go wrong ?” song ever. At first I celebrated a return to form, health & humour. Now I enjoy a great rock song. A touch of sitar (just a touch mind) is always a good thing when used well. “It’s a dog’s life but it’s not my fault”. Boy…if i ever get a tattoo.

Selecting 3 tracks from an LP is what I do on these things. It could have been any of them it is that strong. It was not going to be “Reconsider Me” though. I give you some of myself in this blog but I just can’t write about that great song without giving too much. A very important song. This will do the job though.

“Boom Boom Mancini” is the best sports song ever.(The Fall’s “Kicker Conspiracy” gives it a run). Ray Mancini, a world champion boxer at 21 years old, was a blue collar hero who’s all-action, dramatic, often brutal fights made him a star in the 80s. This taut rocker (R.E.M. again) catalogues his career including the fight after which Duk Koo Kim died. Boom Boom was more affected by this tragedy than the lyrics state but the license taken by Warren emphasizes a colder reality about boxing & it’s appeal.It is this harshness that has the fan of the chorus hurrying home to catch the Mancini fight.

Warren Zevon came to Britain to promote the LP & we got tickets for a gig at the Hammersmith Odeon. He played there twice, a month apart, I am guessing we were at the January concert because we were on the case as soon as they were announced. It is this set I am listening to now (I love the Internet). Five of us went together & we met so many friends in that horrible bar at the back of the Odeon. Sue let us get a couple of drinks along & produced a bottle of magic mushroom tea she was contributing to the occasion…well OK.The mood throughout the bar was of eager anticipation. this was a big gig for all of us.

Warren had a great band. I can only name Ian Wallace, drummer for almost everybody. I have always liked very tall women in very short dresses & there were two of those in the band too. It was a greatest hits really but he looked so well, sounded so strong, the whole thing was just so great. I will say that I thought at the time that he would rarely have so many fervent admirers in one place & that he could have played longer. Ah..it was the mushrooms and plain greediness, that’s all. In the 11 years since I had last seen him play a lot had happened to Warren & a lot had happened to me. His music had inspired, provoked, had reminded me of beauty & to keep strong. I was in the moment at the gig but I was storing the positivity & the sense of enjoyment I was getting from being there.

On the way out I asked my good friend & housemate  Carol if it had been a good night for her. She had, I asked if she recognised the songs. She said, “Mal, I have lived with you for 5 years. I know every one of them !”. I learned this year that Carol has cancer. I love her more than I have ever loved any of this music.

I Didn’t Have To Come To Maui To Be Treated Like A Jerk. (The Envoy)

So, how far along was I with Warren Zevon ? It’s been a while. “Bad Luck Streak” made the top 20 in the US & Warren got drunk for the next decade. It was to be another 20 years & he would be dying before he enjoyed such commercial successwith an LP of new songs. In the next 7 years a live album was released.( He has said that he has no recollection of the live shows being recorded). Only one studio record came from this period ,”The Envoy”. I liked them both but then Zevon was my thing.

There are contemporary live clips of Warren performing this song but I can’t bring myself to add them to this. He looks so rough, has a pretty average band & is attempting some sort of rabble rousing, crowd pleasing schtick. His only peer at this time, Randy Newman was getting to play concert halls while people listened. Zevon could rock but he was never a ” rocker”, He was schlepping around the States, the audience wanted those crazy, wild man songs about Lynyrd Skynyrd & werewolves. The result “Ain’t That Pretty At All”. The cynicism about the world was now being turned upon himself. His conclusion, “I would rather feel bad than not feel anything at all”.Warren’s muscular rejection of the beauty in the world makes for a great song. That “I’ve been to Rome…Guess what ?”,  pure Warren. Like Lee Ho Fook’s I’ve been to the Louvre but I did not “hurl myself against the wall”. Saw some prettiness too.

Was this song not a hit record ? If Fleetwood Mac had used this tune with Stevie Nicks singing about some unreal shit like pixies and fairy dust then it would have been. I’m joking of course, it was the hit of the year. All the poodle-haired schlock-rock bands broke up & labels only signed writers of cynical but intelligent songs…yeah right.

In 1982 I had blown a seemingly “perfect” marriage & never expected to fall in love with such intensity ever again. I was, though, “Looking For The Next Best Thing”. Here came WZ & put it more succinctly, more melodically than I could hope to. It’s not just that I found a fellow traveller in Warren. If you are young & reading this please, please stay on that “road to perfection”. It’s a hard road & if you end up appreciating the best but settling for less then that’s not bad & you will not be the only one. Listening to “The Envoy” again there are some really good songs full of sardonic humour. There are 2, apart from this, that sound like hit records. There is this next killer track too.

“Jesus Mentioned” is my favourite song about digging up Elvis Presley ever. I could tell you it is a modern blues which is sad, beautiful & strange,  but it would make this song no better. A mix of my most loved Zevon tracks includes this one from “The Envoy” every time. (Only “Best Thing” made the official hits LP from here).

This LP is not a beginner’s guide. A skinny 31 minutes, there are variations on themes that he has realized better in other songs. However, if you know those themes then the album is rewarding. Asylum, his record label, quit on Warren after this & he struggled for a while. I’m not sure how I missed his visits to Britain. I must have had something really good to do on the nights of his gigs. I do know that, at a gig in London, he was so drunk that people were walking out on him. Re-hab & revival were 5 years away & it was worth the wait.

An Alternative To The Olympic Closing Ceremony.

Some classic avoidance going on here. Knock out the easy ones, the stuff I can do while spinning on my privates. Meantimes the blogs I really want to write are stuck in draft limbo. I have convinced myself that describing “That Obscure Object of Desire” in three glib yet lucid and mildly humorous sentences is, in fact, an impossibility. Hey, I’ll get to it and will try harder.

I loved the London Olympics. Wall-to-wall sport for 2 weeks is my kind of TV. I was, though, unable to watch the whole of the two ceremonies which topped and tailed the gathering. I did not watch earlier versions when blazered & straw-hatted competitors strolling around an athletics track was all the entertainment on offer. Now they are designed as prime time TV spectaculars (were the pyrotechnics in Beijing CGI’d…crazy). Prime time TV is not made for me, actually not much of the rest appeals either. That’s OK, what I did see of the opening ceremony I liked. Danny Boyle is a smart man and was a good choice. When I felt the lowest common denominator, something for everyone, offending no-one, kick in I reached for the off switch.

The closing ceremony was trailed as a celebration of British music. As may be obvious music is something I care quite a lot about. It is indisputable that for the last 50 years Britain has not only participated and contributed to this popular art but has often led the way and produced artists who have affected the world. I knew that there would be moments which would jar,( If there is one area in which I am at all a control freak it is that I try, as far as possible, to live in a Queen-free universe). A friend called around in the afternoon and dropped the names of Take That & the Spice Girls. My heart sank. I did watch, Ray Davies, compulsory, Madness, very British, Pet Shop Boys,mmm, Emilie Sande, well Adele was not available. It was George Michael, promoting what I believe to be his new single, that did it for me and off went the idiot’s lantern.

So here’s my point (finally!) . A celebration of British music watched worldwide could have used a little imagination. That same imagination that supplied all the innovative music in the first place. For sure celebrate what we have done but why not show the world that we are still doing it. Artistic success is not just measured in record sales. Here are 3 bands, from the 21st century, I would have liked to have seen and none of them are the Ting Tings !

Mick Jones would be, if the phrase was not now so overused to be cliched & therefore meaningless. a national treasure. His former partner, Joe, is dead now so we are never, and only in my nightmares did it happen, to see a Clash reunion. Mick’s musical and personal development mirrors that of a generation of British men & women who are veterans of the punk wars of 1976-79. I saw him play at the biggest anti-racist rally ever held in this country and they were the Clash’s audience. Later Big Audio Dynamite appeared at a massive anti-apartheid concert which brought South London to a standstill. We knew he would be there and we were glad he was. Here Carbon Silicon play “The News”, a song about a near future when people decide they have had enough of the materialist shitstorm and plan a society based on consideration and co-operation. My point is that Mick Jones has always chronicled the feelings of British people who, despite being abandoned by politicians, retain a political consciousness and that’s a lot of us. If the N.H.S. is to be celebrated then so should this spirit.He is the guy who shows how punk really affected people and how they matured. Oh yeah, the LP “The Last Post” is the last new rock album that I truly, madly, deeply fell in love with.

The British have always loved wordplay and a facility with words. English, the language of the Internet and of the world, we invented it. Satire, irony, even gobbledegook, we love it all. Scroobius Pip’s litany of commandments for 21st century youth, backed by the electro bleeps of Dan le Sac can only have come out of this country. For a very short time there was an urban underground music scene which promised to shake our charts up. The rapidity with which Rascal, Tempah and others were chewed up by the industry and spat out as innocuous pop muppets was a little depressing. “Thou Shalt Not Kill”  is a list of ways that conformity has become accepted as the norm. For 5 decades British youth were able to set their own rules, wear their own fashions and make their own music. They should still try to do it because no-one does it better. Oh and the song, very importantly, is funny.

For the big finish, after the Who have done 6 minutes of very old songs and Muse have paraded their tuneless noise, we needed the lovely racket of Ritzy Bryan & her boys, the Joy Formidable. The best British single of 2011 would have caught the attention of the mass audience as would the charming diminutive lead guitarist. As the tune breaks apart into feedback with Ritzy kneeling over and thumping her pedals, there is your “What the Fuck ?” moment. This is modern rock music. Seriously all the best music has been disliked by the mass audience at first. It is because it is new and different. Most people do not like change or like to be challenged. It would have been fitting for any celebration of British music to have ended on something that had not yet shifted squillions of units but bloody well could do if given the exposure.

This is perhaps the most negative thing I have blogged since I began. I really do not like Internet rants. I will get back to being that chilled out old hippie guy tomorrow. Promise.

Terry Who ? Terry Reid That’s Who.

What is this clip ? Wonderful music, from a ramshackle stage, drifting over the most beautiful festival site in the world. The singer chugs the rhythm of the song. The guitarist (David Lindley, one of the master players) plugs in his lead and strokes his lap guitar. The drummer (Alan White of the Plastic Ono Band) takes one last hit of a joint, passes it on & joins the song. At the same time Lee Miles, the bass player (a long time cohort of Reid) hits exactly the same spot as the drummer & away they go. Terry is no blues shouter. He rides the groove & raises the emotional pitch along with the music. His hat is ridiculous and great. He should sue Chris Robinson of the Black Crowes for stealing his style & his music but there would be little point, Robinson is a pale imitation.

This is the first “proper” Glastonbury Festival. The film is a fine memoir of the time. That year I went to a festival & saw the Byrds, James Taylor, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sandy Denny & Dion all in one day. Plenty of bang for your buck in those days. I did not get to Glastonbury until 10 years after this. I returned throughout the 80s & had 6 (or 7, I’m a little vague) of the best 2,000 weekends of my life there. It really is a magical place where magical things happen. I will, one day, try to produce a coherent account of my Glastonbury days (daze ?) but getting things into any kind of order seems to be against the spirit of the thing really.

My small circle of friends throw music at the Internet like we were getting it for free or something ! We hear it, someone might like it, put it out there. This song is posted regularly as a yardstick of just how good music can be. Listen to this and think on. Do you want to settle for less than this ? Lee Miles is still with Terry(in another fine hat) & they push each other to be as good as they can be. They are , as I believe the expression is, “cooking”. Again it’s all about the groove, there is not really a structure, it just rolls along beautifully. Reid’s voice is the lead instrument on this song. You can’t hear the lyrics ? You have turned into your dad.

Absolute self indulgence here. A 12 minute version of the title track of his 1976 LP “Seed of Memory” recorded this year in London, 40 years after the other clips. Terry is looking well, Hey none of us are as pretty as we were ! His voice, always his instrument is, in good nick too. His rhythm guitar style is linked to his vocal. There are better players but his guitar is the foundation upon which the song is built. It may be nostalgia. I prefer to think of it as music for grown ups made by grown ups. In my world this would be the music we regard as cabaret, not some Elton John, Celine Dion tranquilized platitudinous bullshit.

I don’t mind that Terry Reid never received the recognition he deserved. His music has always been around me. There have been years pass when I have not listened then reminded myself just how good those LPs of the early 70s were. Seriously, I don’t care if you dismiss this as not for you. Just give those clips another view because this is music to raise your spirit and to feed your heart.

Music From The Future (From Mid-September 2012)

There is so much great music in the world and not enough time to listen to it all. I am not stuck in some late-60s/early 70s bubble. It was the music of my formative years. A time when I had nothing else to do but have a good time…all the time. I mean..come on…”Electric Ladyland”, “Astral Weeks”, “What’s Goin’ On”, “The Gilded Palace Of Sin”, “Raw Power”…these are timeless works of art. I hear something good now & because I have listened I know that someone has done this sort of thing before & they have probably done it better. I love “1960s What” by Gregory Porter but I have heard Curtis Mayfield, Gil Scot-Heron & Willie Hutch and I know that these guys made album after album as good as that.

Any road up…I need to hear something new. I need to confirm that the music is not over yet. Here are some tunes that are not released yet on album and sound good to me.

Band of Horses have their 4th album out this month. Over here in the UK you don’t get to make four albums unless you sell a shitload of the first three. A band needs the room to mature and grow into the sound they want to make. Look at poor old Alex Turner. He wrote some wonderful teenage songs about hanging around Sheffield bus stops, going to clubs for the first time and the Arctic Monkeys just took over. Now he is 26, a wealthy young man who wants to write about grown-up stuff and maybe sound like Scott Walker. His audience don’t want to hear that, they want “Mardy Bum” and re-writes of “Dancefloor”. I hope he gets a chance to be heard because I think the guy is a talent. (check for the soundtrack of “Submarine”, it’s good).

So, the Band of Horses…I have friends who like them more than I do. I am a little too far down the line with the Drive By Truckers who, I think, can be more angry and more subtle. However they always have an attack about them and the template seems to be that of Crazy Horse. As we all know the secret of Crazy Horse is never to let the rhythm section play anything but rhythm. Neil Young insisted on “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere” (another one !) that Talbot & Molina played strictly no frills. There are Y-tube clips of the band doing exactly the same in 2012. If the Band of Horses remind me of the Horse then that is no bad thing. This first single sounds good enough. I don’t want to damn them with faint praise and will be listening to the rest of the record with interest. I will have no choice because there are people out there who make sure I listen.

Now we are talking. DJ Shadow has a fine pair of ears. Should I say out loud that sometimes I prefer his selections to his records. There I’ve said it. “Entroducing” was a landmark album. When a guy is sampling Murray Roman, Georgio Moroder and Nirvana on the same track you know that respect is due. He made plenty of good music in the early 21st century and then took 5 years away. This track is a new one from a best of collection released this month.

If you read this and are already a fan of Terry Reid then send me a “friend request” on the F-book. You are obviously a person of taste. I don’t buy into all that “shamefully overlooked” blah, blah about some artists when it has never been the case round our yard. He is a household name in our household anyway. Terry, famously, turned down Led Zep & put them on to Robert Plant. He liked the L.A. lifestyle a little too much to bust his ass selling his brilliant 70s LPs so perhaps the great British voice of his generation did not sell as many records as his contemporaries. Give me a day or so & I’ll get on the case. He is a treasure.

Terry always had a coolness about his work. He was not a blues shouter but needed to hit the groove first. When he did …well. People who saw him play this year say he still has the pipes and is a great gig. It is so great that DJ Shadow has chosen to collaborate with Terry to complement the fine groove of his new track. The feelgood hit of the late summer I think.

OK, out next week is the 2nd LP from the xx and it’s going to be a big one for the band. The debut was the flavour of more than one month, winning awards and praise from all over. I liked it but there was a touch of the Sixth Form about them. Like they were the best band in the school but lacked the emotional range in the music and lyrics that I wanted from my music. Jamie did not screw up his remix of Gil Scot-Heron’s last work “I’m New Here”, kudos to him for that. His DJ mixes are interesting too.

I have heard a couple of tracks from the new record “Coexist” & I am liking them. I chose “Chained” because I like the vocal interplay between Jamie & Romy. The mood of the song is established and that’s enough. It’s an admirable trait when bands are writing songs with the singalong of a festival audience in mind. I am more convinced by the emotional pitch now they are all 3 years older too. If the xx are the big new UK band then it will be a good thing. The stadium fillers of today just make an empty noise. The boys on their gap year are hobbyist musicians. this bunch sound serious about it.

Well…I found 3 tracks I want to share from this month’s releases. Sometimes I think that I am lucky to hear 3 songs a year I like. I may try this again sometime.

Pete Townshend. Life Outside The Who.

Pete Townshend, the Who and the “deaf, dumb and blind kid” were tied together for quite some time. “Tommy” was the cornerstone of their spectacular live performances. Surely Pete tired of reiterating the meaning of his “rock opera” to uninterested journos. At the end of the 60s musicians were now expected to be philosophers and seekers. Some stellar talents died and others became addicted to whatever was available as they tried to break on through to the other side. Townshend hitched his wagon to the teachings of Meher Baba, a spiritual master who had not spoken since 1925. Baba had complicated views on reincarnation and the process of God-realization. His philosophy had been reduced to “don’t worry, be happy”. That Pete was searching was no surprise but there was an earthiness, an anger and a sense of humour about the Who which did not fully convince me that the West Londoner was not still getting wasted on the way.

Musically the group did not make a wrong move in the new decade. Pete’s next concept was “Lifehouse” a more personal project. He worked and worked it but never got it to a place where he wanted to release it. He was to lick his wounds and retreat to his notebooks where surely the story of a fucked up Mod, “Quadrophenia”, must have already been waiting in embryonic form. If anyone was to chronicle this British tribe then it was the original “Modfather”. An interim LP “Live At Leeds” was a blues-rock approximation of a volcanic eruption. The new kids in town, Led Zeppelin, made a big noise but so did these old hands. The “Lifehouse” tapes were used as the basis of a studio album, “Who’s Next”, a collection of such quality few have equalled never mind bettered.

The Who were at the top of their game. They kept busy with “Quadrophenia” (1973) and another LP 2 years later. Pete handed “Tommy” to the idiosyncratic director, Ken Russell. Whatever your opinion of the movie it does have Ann Margret writhing around in beans and chocolate. I’ll repeat that, it does have Ann Margret…ah, you get me. Pete made a couple of records inspired and dedicated to Baba. It was 1977 before a record with his name on was commercially released.

“Rough Mix” was a collaboration with fellow Mod musician and Baba devotee, Ronnie Lane. I was lucky enough to meet Ronnie in the early 70s, he was a lovely friendly man. I should have told him how great his work with the Small Faces, and the Faces, was. I will never get that chance now. The LP is a fine mix of British rock. Pete hung up the power chords and plays more lead guitar. “My Baby” and “Keep Me Turning” are songs good enough to compare with the Who. The demos Pete had made of his hit songs always had a more acoustic feel. For over 10 years these tunes had been put through the Who process, muscles added to the skinny frame. On “Rough Mix” the songs did not suffer from a different approach. The album went down really well round our yard. The full thing is available on You Tube, if you have any interest in the Who it will be 41 minutes and 33 seconds well spent. It will probably not be the last time you listen to it.

 

The sad but perhaps inevitable death of Keith Moon in 1978 must have initiated a period of re-appraisal for the remaining three members of the Who. The four of them had shared the amazing journey. The chemistry between them made the music greater than the sum of the parts. The Who may continue but it would never be the same. Pete, having his own problems with alcohol, released a fine solo LP “Empty Glass” and in 1981 a new Who album “Face Dances” came around. I went to see the Who a month before this release. It was not some enormo-dome mega gig but in a South London cinema. My musical tastes had changed. I did not listen to the Who so much in those days. The band were absolutely spell binding. Kenny Jones, a fellow traveller of Ronnie Lane’s and John “Rabbit” Bundrick joined the original trio. They had a classic catalogue to select from. Every song was golden, the bond between Daltrey and Townshend astonishing. The intimacy of the relatively small venue allowed us to see Pete at work close up. So that’s how it is done ! It was a stunning gig and my ears rang for the next two days.

The clip I have chosen is from a tour in 1985. The song is a feature track on the 1982 solo LP “All The Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes” (rubbish title). When Pete toured he did it properly and he assembled an impressive band. Bundrick came along, Simon Phillips is a great drummer and David Gilmour helped out on guitar. It’s a terrific song with the dynamics of a Who anthem but without the windmill chords. A mature Townshend, undoubtedly, he had to strike the poses when he played with the Who but he was 40 now and probably, like all of us, no longer hoped he died before he got old. I selected the later clip because the live footage of the final song is not as excellent as the recorded version. This take on “The Sea Refuses No River”  shows a happy and confident Pete with a fine band to showcase his song.

“Save It for Later” is a song by the Beat (known in the US as the English Beat). From Birmingham, they had hooked up with the Two-Tone bands, groups who were too young for punk and had their own take on pop and ska. I always liked the Beat, they had some good songs. My wife had worked on the design of the first LP sleeve and I spent a pleasant evening with two of them when they were in the band General Public. “Save It” was possibly their best song but there are other contenders. Pete had recorded cover versions before but mostly they were influential songs from his youth. In one instance he covered a favourite song of Meher Baba.

This song by Pete is, I think, little known yet when I listen to it I hear a hit record. He has kept the basic acoustic rhythm which first attracted him and added characteristic Townshend flourishes. It would not be him if he did not stretch his music towards anthemic. The killer touch in this version is the work of piano player Nicky Hopkins. He fills out the sound so beautifully as he had done for years on LPs by the Who, the Beatles, the Stones and a hundred other albums you like. A girlfriend once had to sort out a Japanese visa for Hopkins, on tour with Art Garfunkel. She told me she expected his C.V. the next day and I said she was in for a surprise. She was more than impressed when she saw his history.

I make no great claims for the continued relevance of Pete Townshend in his later years. He can play the Olympics or the Superbowl with his singer and it is songs from 40 years ago that the audience want to hear. From 1965 to 1975 he consistently produced songs that defined the times and that have survived the changing times. That is enough and I love this version of “Save It For Later”

Peace.