The feelgood hit of the summer round our house (we didn’t listen to a lot, there was a football tournament to watch) was a cover version of a 60s hit by the Hollies. “Look Through Any Window” (1965) was written by the precocious songwriter for hire, Graham Gouldman, then just 18 years old. It does exactly that thing that the Hollies do so well. It is a clean and crisp 12 string riff, the harmonies are damn near perfect, drummer, Bobby Elliott, gives it that driving beat and you feel better having heard it. Why then not just stick with the original ? Well, Michael Carpenter did this good a job on the song.
Carpenter, an Australian (but we will not hold that…you get me ), had been on my radar before. I had that song on some tape compilation but the cassettes are gathering dust and my memory is not what it used to be. Now I like a cover version if it is done well. I checked out Michael Carpenter & it seems that cover versions are what he does. There are 5 volumes of his S.O.O.P (Songs Of Other People) series. I don’t know how much of an impression these LPs have made but Carpenter does not have a Wikipedia page and, I’m sorry, my next-door neighbour’s dog has one of those. I’m guessing that they could be our little secret so keep this on the downlow. Further investigation shows that some of these cover songs are pretty good.
“Life Get’s Better” is a Graham Parker from the 1983 LP “The Real Macaw”, his first without his heavyweight backing band the Rumour. The LP suffered from what we doctors call “80s production values”. If you were around at the time then you will know the symptoms, terrible drum sound, redundant keyboards and the rest. G.P. wrote good strong songs like this and the dodgy violin on the original is a big mistake. Carpenter strips it back to the basics and the song is good enough without any frills. Apparently “Life Gets Better” was a bigger hit in Australia than anywhere else on the planet. A rare example of culture and taste from a nation of convicts and philistines. (I am sorry, this is a bad English joke. some of my best friends have Australian friends).
In 1967, at the height of Monkeemania, the kids I hung about on street corners of a weekend all bought “Monkees” shirts, the ones with a flap fastened by a double row of buttons. They expected me to do the same. Now I was not about to be a 13 year old follow fashion monkey, especially not for some created-for-TV fake band who stole other people’s songs and did a very poor impression of the Marx Brothers. I am more mature now and can appreciate that the Monkees made some fine 60s pop records. I own a couple of Mike Nesmith’s solo LPs. However, this first experience of peer pressure has not made it easy for me to accept them as a “real” band. It scarred me man, scarred me. I would push you out of the way to get one of those shirts now.
“Tapioca Tundra” is a Nesmith song (the B-side of “Valleri”). A cynic would point to it’s debt to Gene Clark’s “Feel A Whole Lot Better” and that the Monkee’s psychedelic credentials, however “out there” the movie “Head” is, were never going to happen. Again Michael Carpenter has produced a fine jangle-pop version of a good song. This seems to be what he does and it’s alright by me. Of course not all good songs lend themselves to interpretation. There is a Carpenter version of the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” which I would not go near. However talented anyone is there will be no improvement or angle which will make any version as enjoyable as the original. It seems that Michael Carpenter has his own cover cottage industry going on and he’s doing a fine job putting some love into songs he likes. I will look forward to any subsequent additions to S.O.O.P.