Music and Movies (Quentin Tarantino)

At college one of my fellow students was a very attractive Scottish woman who, incredibly, did not find the notion of being in my company to be just too ridiculous . Part of the deal was that I had to listen to Stealers Wheel, supposedly a Caledonian Crosby, Stills & Nash but…well, they were never that. The LP’s hit single took its time to make a mark, the co-writer/singer had left the group before it was chartbound. I went with her to see the group (without Gerry Rafferty) & it seemed a dispiriting experience for both performers & audience. It was 20 years later that a young first time director, with the talent to match his ambition, used the “Dylanesque, pop, bubble-gum favorite” as accompaniment to a scene where Michael Madsen danced a psycho-shimmy of mutilation around a cop. Quentin Tarantino took “Stuck In The Middle With You”, a pleasant enough 70s hit, hooked it to a new visual stimuli & made it kind of creepy. It turned out to be something that he did quite adroitly…well played sir !

In “Death Proof” (2007) another Brit-hit, “Hold Tight” received the same treatment. A ridiculous (untrue) story about Keith Richards nearly joining Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich is followed by by a car crash of such violence that it is just too much for me to include the clip. “Stuck” misses out because it is too obvious, “Hold Tight” because it is too bloody. Hey, I’m possibly the last person around here to be drawing lines but, y’know, think  of the children ! Any road up, here are the opening credits to “Death Proof” (2007) which recycle “The Last Race”, a Jack Nitzsche composition originally  used in “Village of the Giants” (1965) “Delinquent teens ingest a substance and grow to 30 ft tall, then proceed to take over a small town”. Now that’s old school grindhouse.

“Death Proof” is QT’s riff on cars & girls. The great tune from a forgotten movie is the perfect start to another tangle of the low & highbrows of cinematic culture. The affectation that Tarantino is making an early-70s exploitation movie permits the director to play fast & loose with the peripheries, plot, characterization, pointing the camera in the right direction. In these 3 minutes the  mangled title credits are followed by some rather attractive bare feet tapping along to the music, fast cars, Sydney Poitier in a mirror image of a photograph of Bardot ( Sydney is the girl with the bong). A poster for “Soldier Blue” a mainstream movie with scenes of such violence that it seems to have been written out of Hollywood history. Oh & a young woman holding her crotch because she really needs to pee. There is probably a whole lot more that I have missed. The Tarantino way is to throw a bunch of stuff at you. If you miss some that’s fine, there will be something coming along right about now that is just what you have paid your money for. There will be no reprimand here for his over-referential style. I know “Vanishing Point” from “Two Lane Blacktop”. A bunch of attractive women shooting from the lip with imaginative rapid fire dialogue. Snake Plissken as the bad guy. “Death Proof” was made for people like us.

QT’s first 3 films really are a triple whammy & it was 6 years between “Jackie Brown” & “Kill Bill Vol 1”. It’s likely that even after the notoriously creative accountancy of Miramax he saw some big dollars. When he returned his budget was bigger & so were his ideas. I think that this 2nd phase of Tarantino’s career does have a touch of the ignis fatuus about it. His envisioned 4 hour “Kill Bill” and the Grindhouse double header were his idea of “event” cinema but just how did he expect such high-falutin notions to be received. He was not the first director overrate his own reputation (“John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars”…anyone ?) but surely he knew enough about cinema to avoid the fallacy that the longer a film is, the better it will be. These films, if released, would demand a change of habit, a commitment from the cinemagoer to tip their nights over to Tarantino. A hard-ass head of studio like Harvey Weinstein, who was all about the box office, would indulge his director’s B-movie pretensions but he had 4 movies here not 2 & that’s what happened.

So here came “Kill Bill Vol 1” (2003), the ultimate revenge movie with a plot borrowed from a 1973 Japanese movie, fealty paid to every genre of action film you know & then putting on the QT style to show you some new ways of going about it. The soundtrack is an equally eclectic melange. There are songs by Sonny Bono, Isaac Hayes, Neu !, Quincy Jones’ “Ironside” theme, film music by Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone & Luis Bacalov, the Argentinian composer of 151 scores, every one a belter ! I will not attempt to deconstruct “Vol 1” in a couple of snappy sentences, similarly this clip is the one where he hired a band he liked & then pointed a camera at them.

Tarantino shoots some impressive bars & clubs, the Titty Twister may be off the beaten track & tend to get a little late-night messy but it’s some place. Likewise how great did Jack Rabbit Slim’s look in “Pulp Fiction. So, if you are in his idea of an izakaya then the 5-6-7-8’s will be playing there. An Oriental Ronettes playing their own instruments & an approximation of surf/rockabilly. “I’m Blue” is an Ike Turner song, recorded by the Ikettes. There’s a good story about QT’s discovery of the band but extra paragraphs are creeping into this thing…Google then.

“Kill Bill Vol 2” (2004) is the substance to its predecessor’s style. Bill (David Carradine…yay !) shows up & we learn some things about those characters who had spent “Vol 1” fighting & being flash. We knew QT could do exposition because we had seen “Jackie Brown”, anyway there are enough whistle & bells in the film. Uma is still beautiful, the buried alive scene is a 21st century classic & the soundtrack just keeps on keeping on…again. “About Her” is Malcolm Maclaren getting cute but staying correct with a mix of Bessie Smith & the Zombies to a trip-hop rhythm. Malcolm did not seem to have any significant attention span about much at all but when he applied himself to the music it could stick around.

After Grindhouse Tarantino seems to have settled a little. This 3rd stage of his film-making has seen him direct his war movie & his western. “Inglorious Basterds” & “Django Unchained” are not sprawling attempts with an eye on posterity, they are not even in 3D. They are still event movies, still get me to hand over my hard-earned to the multiplex & are significant contributions to modern cinema as art & commerce.  Next up is “Kill Bill Vol 3″…we will see. Tarantino’s use of music in his films is, I think, as considered  & as stylish as the rest of the package. We got back home from”Django earlier this year, found the soundtrack online, then discussed the movie while we listened again. Really, that only happens with people like Fellini, Hitchcock or Scorsese. The music is that good.

When You Need A Hand To Hold, Darling, Reach Out (Four Tops)

The Northern Soul scene in the UK has prolonged the careers of artists who would struggle to call what they used to do a career. There has though been a tendency to value rarity as much as quality.  Only 250 demo copies were pressed of Frank Wilson’s Motown 45 from 1965. it is a fine record but £25,742 ($40,000) for a copy ? I’ve got it on CD ! Many great tracks have been excavated & played out by DJ obsessives but I find it does help to get back to where you once belonged. To renew contact with the soul greats, the artists who’s music put the bug in your ear & led you down the road to infatuation. Here’s four of them now.

In 1965 “the Sound of Young America” started out of West Grand Boulevard, Detroit (Hitsville USA) & spread to the rest of the world. For 3 consecutive years the Four Tops had 4 hit singles. The group were not too young, they had worked together for a decade & were all coming up to 30. They were though the epitome of the Motown sound. Holland-Dozier-Holland…check, the Funk Brothers’ indefatigable insistence that we should dance…check, as Marvin sang, a “Pride & Joy”, yup, it was all there. The first hit, the impassioned “Baby I Need Your Loving”, was pinched in the UK by some Mersey magpies. The subsequent run, which included “The Same Old Song”, were left alone, any approximation of these perfect, floor-filling stompers would just be gimpy. Their records only reached the lower Top 30 over here but were the toppermost in every club in the country.

What a clip this is. The Tops, Duke, Obie, Lawrence & Levi, are smart casual here, instead of the usual matching band uniforms, they look the better for it. There’s an off-the-cuff feel about the presentation, certainly compared to the precisely drilled choreography of the Temptations. Of course Levi Stubbs is lead vocal, centre stage but he’s happy singing & dancing with his boys. Sugar pie, honeybunch, this song just flows with a simple, urgent logic.This is how a great pop song sounds & I have to smile, I can’t help myself.

In 1966 Motown & the Four Tops went into overdrive. There was a lot of competition but “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” was not just a great soul song, it was alongside “Good Vibrations”, “Sunny Afternoon”, “Eleanor Rigby”, stuff like that. The group were #1 in the world & they consolidated their primacy with a run of subsequent 45s which were, as I believe the young Americans say, awesome ! I remember a friend, a vocalist of ability who has made his own albums, hearing “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” for the first time & being stopped in his tracks. I could have picked any of these hits but “Bernadette” just never pales, the pause before Levi returns for the fade-out…perfect. Here the boys are suited & booted, smart guests in American lounges of a Sunday night. It’s Levi’s show now, the songs’ pleading lyrics encouraging him to strain his powerful tenor voice. The backing vocals were lower in the mix & Levi Stubbs can be remembered as a great male Motown voice with Marvin, Smokey & David Ruffin.

In 1967 H-D-H, left Motown. The band needed new writers & new producers. The Temptations headed off to psychedelic soul but that was never going to suit the Tops. There were different producers, including the very same Frank Wilson. A new policy of taking new, classy pop songs by young writers brought them hit versions of Left  Banke’s “Walk Away Renee” & Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter”. The band were making some classy cabaret soul, Levi could ease off & still deliver a world class vocal. Now the hits were bigger in the UK, “Do What You Gotta Do” (1969) is a Jimmy Webb song, an early one from when the young tunesmith would write true stuff down in songs. Nina Simone recorded the definitive version of this song but Levi does his thing &, while it may be from the middle of the road, he does it well.

The band left Motown in 1972 & they did have a few more hits. Man, they had a lot of credit in the bank after a decade of success. If you didn’t rate Levi Stubbs then you were wrong (Feed Me Seymour ). The 4 friends continued to perform together until 1997, welcome all over the planet. Only the unfortunate death of Lawrence Payton broke the sequence. Now Duke Fakir is the only surviving member but when you play those Motown records they are all still around.

I am not posting this without including this performance at the RFK Stadium in Philadelphia on July 13 1985. While Phil Collins was being tiresome on both sides of the Atlantic on the same day. While Queen’s (spit !) posturing pantomime pomp-rock pretence embarrassed us all. The Four Tops appeared at Live Aid (between the Hooters & Billy Ocean !) & they were this brilliant.

 

The Gatefolds Know The Score.

There are brand new to the Y-tube clips of our favoured psyche-garage noisy boys from Derry, the Gatefolds. From a “Rock For Pride” gig  just 4 days since “Numb on a Sunday” is another of the original 4 tracks that you can negotiate a price for on their website, It’s great to see the boys standing upright without support for such a long time & producing a lovely bit of jangle-pop. There is a version of “Shot in The Dark” from this set which operates from a long run up & gives the song a kicking, in a good way. The sound is just a little off but maybe next time. Check out all 4 tracks of the Gatefolds’ first effort. I am reliably informed that the band will be recording new material next month &, of course, we will be pleased to tell you about it but this shit is too good to give away for free.

A tip of my chapeau to Jim Cunningham, the documentarist of the Derry music scene. Without his sterling efforts & his constant hanging around the city’s bars I would have to take bassist Joe Brown’s word for just how good the Gatefolds are. I’ve done that before & it has bitten me in the arse let me tell you. Jim, good work fella !

Speaking of Joe Brown, he & I were trading our favourites of 2013 so far recently. He is a busy, cosmopolitan man & was packing for a jaunt to Paris, the City of Lurve, at the time. he didn’t get much further than this cracker.

This is “Gargantuan” by Our Krypton Son the first single from the debut LP. O.K.S. is Derryman Chris McConaghy who has made the scene in the City of Culture (well for 2013) for some years & is obviously ready to get out & about. “Gargantuan” is aptly titled as there is a  lovely sense of the epic about the song. I hear songs as good as this by bands who are doing very well for themselves thank you. Our Krypton Son are on a small label & unlikely to get the exposure they deserve. Play the clip again & spread the word.

Usually when guitarist Fergal Corscadden posts music onto my F-book page my laptop trembles. Fergal favours 10 minute wall of sound jams by psyche-power trios. It’s music best appreciated by heavy ingestion of downers so the brain is disengaged & just your rib-cage vibrates. I imagine that Fergal sees my melodic pop selections or the swinging soul & spits at his computer screen. This weekend he showed a more sensitive side to his musical palette.

More music from 2013, Lars & the Hands of Light are a Danish band, “How Much We Feel” is from the LP “Baby We Could Die Tomorrow” & is a classic cut of dreamy pop. Lars Vognstrup was involved with Junior Senior back in the early years of this century. J/S were so devoted to the pop that they made me laugh & tap my feet at the same time…I liked this. “How Much We Feel” is more emotional, the vocal is by Lars’ sister Line. It reminds me of Nina Persson of the Cardigans & I like to think about her. The whole thing just glistens…damn!

OK, here’s a lovely photo of our heroes. I hope they all know that if they want to throw any tunes the way of loosehandlebars then they will be gratefully received.

Too Many Protest Singers Not Enough Protest Songs (Edwyn Collins)

There is a track on the outstanding new Edwyn Collins LP “Understated” titled “31 Years”, the length of time that Edwyn has been in the music game. We have been lucky to have him & his music around for so long. We are double lucky that he is still around. Over those years, every now & again, Edwyn has been responsible for the best British music of its type & time. “Understated” is a comeback record in the proper sense, included among the classy 11 tracks is the pop single of 2013. “Too Bad (That’s Sad)” is a Northern Soul re-write that hits all the necessary spots & that is so retro that it’s nowtro. Paul Weller could only dream of getting this good. There’s a Sex Pistol on the drums too.

In 2005 Edwyn suffered a double cerebral hemorrhage which limited movement on the right side of his body & reduced his speech to an aphasic 4 phrases.  There has been a long period of rehabilitation which his partner Grace Maxwell has recounted in “Falling & Laughing”, an account written with love & without sentimentality.  Music surely had to play some part in Edwyn’s recovery. There was an LP in 2007 taken from tracks recorded before his illness. In 2010 “Losing Sleep” was a set of collaborations with friends. The richness & resonance of his voice, his always succinct, sometimes sarcastic, turn of a word were still there. I’m sure that there is still a way to go for him but on “Understated” we hear a confident singer’s & writer’s voice. Of course it makes you happy that Edwyn is able to produce songs of such quality. It is naturally poignant that he had to go through so much crap to get to this. The thing is is that there are those perfect melodic hooks, deadpan but heartfelt lyrics which make the record unmistakably an Edwyn Collins record.

So. I look back for 2 more tracks & there’s this queue of dead-stone classics jostling for inclusion. Orange Juice were an archetype because they got that indie post punk thing so right. From the 60s they tried to cram the Beatles, the Byrds & the Velvet Underground into the same lo-fi, DIY recording. They loved their 70s Glasgow youth club soul/disco, filtered through “Young Americans” Bowie. If a thing was worth doing then it should be done with style. Their debut LP “You Can’t Hide Your Love Forever” was released in early 1982. It remained at the front of the stack for the rest of the decade. Another time to celebrate Orange Juice (& Collins’ production work) on here I think.

It would also be the easy option to select 2 more of his Soul inflected excitations because there are a few & he does them so well. However, he does other stuff well too. “Adidas World” is a slice of rocking agit-pop that was a single from the 1997 LP “I’m Not Following You”. It’s a wonderfully direct attack on the “three stripe shoes” with a video which brands the company’s customers as sheep & makes an overt reference to possible Illuminati involvement.  His previous record “Gorgeous George” had gone kind of nuts & deservedly so. It was a Top 10 record & awards were, erm, awarded. Now the label wanted to shift some units of the “I’m Not Following You” but the release of a song like this shows that Edwyn was happier observing & sniping from the sidelines. Fantastic.

You know in 2013 the most radical of American troubadours, Steve Earle, Included a song on his new record called “Burning It Down”. It was a story of a guy who was thinking about an arson attack on his local branch of the supermarket giant Wal-Mart, In fact the original title included the company name. I can understand Earle’s alteration, Wal-Mart’s lawyers care little for an artist’s articulation of anger & defeat, they would have kicked his butt. So how refreshing to hear “Adidas World”, a lovely fuck you to corporatism which, of course, barely got played on the radio at the time of release.

It is a bit of a miracle & a total delight that Edwyn is still around to write, record & perform. There are lyrics on “Understated”, an LP I am liking more on every hearing, which synopsize years of tribulation with an uncomplicated honesty &  a painful beauty. Edwyn Collins has always had the ability to capture an emotion in just one line. “Just Like the 4 Tops, I Can’t Help Myself”…Man that’s good & man that’s clever. “Low Expectations” is a song from “Gorgeous George” the 1994 LP chock-full of hits. This wonderful new performance of a lovely old song blurs the lines between any before & after the strokes. Edwyn’s illness, his recovery & his musical renaissance are both life-defining & inspiring but from 1989 to 2013 the quality & engagement of his solo work has been continuous. Edwyn is so much more than a guy who got ill.

Edwyn Collins turns up on lists of one-hit wonders & that makes me scratch my head. All those great singles from “Pale Blue Eyes”, through “The Beatles”, “Keep On Burning”, “The Magic Piper Of Love”, were they not hits ? The new LP is so good, any of his solo records reward the listener with intelligent, sometimes vituperative but considered lyrics allied to a knowledge & melodic appreciation of the best of our music. Edwyn is the Nick Lowe of his generation & you should know how much of a compliment that is. Praise Jah that he is still around & that there will be more of his music to enjoy.

Yeah, we just thought we’d drop in! Where’s your icebox? (The B-52s)

Two different people, of a similar age but unaware of each other’s existence told me the same story about their musical experiences. Both good people so you have to take some notice. We were having that standard, stand-by fireside chat about the best gig you ever attended. With those I am unfortunate to have as friends you get the lucky ones (Gil Scott Heron in the back room of a pub), the intense ones (The Doors at the Round House 1968, tripping) & the downright liars (the Pistols at Screen On The Green, get out of here !). My brother & Steve, responsible adults in their 30s, both came over all misty & nostalgic about a tour they caught when they were 19 year old part-time punks. If you were at the Porterhouse Retford in July 1979 seeing the B-52’s supported by Def Leppard then you would be a mug not to have a great night. My brother is no mug.

The B-52’s are one of the great bands from Athens, Georgia. They showed the young R.E.M. that there was a road out of that college town for a group with ambition & some good songs. The B 52’s had got it going on from the first time you heard “Rock Lobster”. In 1979 there were a lot of new bands with quirky & energetic songs. “Lobster” is totally crazy  with a persistent, insistent dancing beat. The head honcho of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, produced the debut LP at Compass Point in Nassau & he captured a salmagundi of kitsch, camp, retro influences salvaged from the junk heap of popular culture, reclaimed with wit & imagination. On that first UK tour this cool-looking 5 piece band were putting on the style from the opening notes, their energy & challenge that there was a fun night to be had proving to be infectious. I know this because separate people at separate gigs told me that the audience responded by becoming dancing fools for the duration of the B-52’s set. This effervescence & abandon made a lasting impression…& the rest of us missed it.

A 2nd LP brought “Give Me Back My Man”, the best pop record of 1980. Here, on a Dutch TV show, Cindy Wilson imagines Edie Sedgewick as a shoeless Shangri-La & charms us all. Her brother Ricky’s turbo-guitar powers the tune along while the others, Fred, Keith & Kate, are all doing the right thing to help the song. It’s not extreme it’s just as cool as it got in 1980. “Wild Planet”, using the rest of the band’s early songs, was a US Top 20 hit. A collection of dance mixes, 3 songs from each LP extended the shelf-life of material that could stand it. “Party Mix” was precisely that, an essential inclusion on any cassette mix of the early 80s (Grace Jones, Marvin Gaye, Heaven 17 &, absolutely, no Police). Robert Christgau, a fan, called the B-52’s  “the world’s greatest new-wave kiddie-novelty disco-punk band”.

From the same LP as “Give Me…”, this clip of “Private Idaho” is so good it has spun the rest of this thing around. This time Fred & Kate get to sing & the minimal beatnik visuals have been replaced with a vibrant op-art, the song, the look has an exaggeration, a sense of the other. There is also a feeling of joy & how great is that ? “Get out of that state you’re in !”

Obviously I am a fan but for a while the band struggled to write songs as strong as those from their initial creative spurt. “Mesopotamia”, a mini-LP, employed David Byrne as producer. There is less vocal interplay, a little less of the artlessness that made the group so attractive. 1983’s “Whammy” still dances the mess around. It’s a more keyboard heavy sound, the squeaks & bleeps are a little clumsy but the B-movie concerns are still coming from Outer Space, None of the singles caught a wave but people who have listened to “Whammy” as much as I have bloody love it. The B-52’s were trying to grow up in front of a public which was not sure it wanted them too.

There was a gap before the next record. “Bouncing Off The Satellites” used Brit producer Tony Mansfield, a man who knew his way around a Fairlight CMI. If synthesizers were the way ahead then the B-52’s would do it properly. Unfortunately, even unbelievably, with the record needing just a final polish, Ricky Wilson died, aged 32, from complications relating to HIV/AIDS. . He had not told the rest of the band about his illness &, of course, they were devastated to lose a brother & friend. “Satellites” was eventually released, it’s a good record, there are 3 classy 45s of which “Girl From Ipanema Goes To Greenland” takes its place alongside the group’s best. In 1986 it seemed that the B-52’s had run their course.

But what can 2 poor boys & 2 poor girls do but play in a rock & roll band? In 1988 the group got back together for another shot. They were in their 30s , less likely to be singing about parties now. What they had was a resolution to do this thing right, the B-52’s brand had not got old & there was still an audience for some spirited dance/surf music. What they also had was Kate & Cindy, post-modern girl-group bouffant queens who sounded & looked better as they matured. With or without that on their heads they were wonderful. “Cosmic Thing” could have been all or nothing for the group but there were more than a few people involved who knew what they were doing.

The record is produced by 2 of the heavyweights of the day. Nile Rodgers & Don Was gave the group a sheen & a funk solidity which they had not had before. The songs too were the best set for a while, still writing about looking for the love getaway in a Chrysler as big as a whale. This was the B-52’s finding a way to grow up, to retain the fun without a forced naivety. It sold squillions of course because everybody loves some good B-52’s songs. “Love Shack” was relentless on the radio in 1989. It was Top 10 in every cool country in the world (that’ll be not France then). “Deadbeat Club” is a belter. To quote the great Groucho, ” I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”. I will make an exception for the Deadbeat Club, I’d show you the membership card but…ah, screw it.

Later records still sold, that Flintstones song was possibly on the wrong side of “Novelty” & they continue to tour. Neither the audience nor Fred, Kate & Cindy are as energetic as they were but there will be the B-52s, a lot of good songs & their will be a party. Be sure not to forget your jukebox money.

Have your people contact mine And keep your lawyer on the line (The Lemonheads)

My lovely sister-in-law absolutely hit the nail on the Lemonheads. The group’s LP “Come On Feel The Lemonheads” was the soundtrack of the Summer of 1993 & was getting just one more play as we cruised the lanes of the East Yorkshire countryside. “The trouble with this band”, she said, “is that they can’t decide whether they want to be the Ramones or the Lovin’ Spoonful”. Brilliant…got ’em in one sentence. She said it as if it was a bad thing, I think she liked to know what she was getting,things to be a little more ordered. It was the contrast of a vivacious punky noise & the more sensitive, melodic folk-pop which put this Lemonheads’ record on repeat.

I can’t get away from calling the LP “Hey, Hey We’re The Lemonheads”. It’s all over the place but it’s so damned commercial that it reminds me of the Monkees, another good thing. I never quite got the post-Nirvana US grunge scene & would struggle to warble any tune by Pearl Jam, Soundgarden or, erm, Tad. Evan Dando could write 3 minute songs which passed the whistle test & sounded chartbound when played on the radio. Straight out of high school Lemonheads made an LP a year between 1987 & 1990. Writer/singer Ben Deily left after 3 albums of indie-punk so a move to a major label was synchronic with Evan taking the lead, adding a little more country, a little more sweetness. In 1992, behind the title track & a cover of “Mrs Robinson”, “It’s A Shame About Ray” was a gold record & people knew the band’s name.

So, a year later, with a bunch of fresh songs which would become “Come On…”, they came to Europe & were welcomed on to a lot of TV shows while the new singles were all over the radio. A spirited thrash at Glastonbury Festival through some songs the crowd were getting to know consolidated the Lemonheads’ rep as this year’s slackers. The LP was in the UK Top 10 & Evan Dando was an indie pin-up boy. Unfortunately he took a little too much advantage of the goodies on offer to a young man in his position. His shambolic “What, me worry ?” stoner charm wore thin when he lost his voice from too long on the pipe. 90’s rock boys could be edgy but business still had to be taken care of. It was 3 years before another record was released.

“Car Button Cloth” is an altogether darker thing than “Come On…”. There are no Juliana Hatfield backing vocals this time around to sweeten the tone. There are songs of loss & confusion which struggle to maintain the pace & sound unfinished. The stand-out tracks sound even better in this commotion & it’s not just the jangle-pop singles that hit the spot. Repeated exposure to a grungy lurch at the Appalachian murder ballad “Knoxville Girl” shows it to be well worth the trouble taken. “The Outdoor Type” is one of the (too ?) cute made-for-radio 45s but I  find this Tom Morgan song  funny & irresistible. The lyric “What if something’s on TV & never shown again ?” merits its own ovation in a song with a bunch of quality self-deprecation. Whether re-hab was working or not I was with the Lemonheads. Unfortunately there was no new record from the band for 10 years &, by then, not many people cared.

Rewind back to the Summer of 1994 & things were going fine thanks. I was working in construction &, while it was hard collar, I was in better shape than a guy over 40 could expect to be. London was giving up its good stuff without too much prompting from myself & then…oh shit. An accident at work smashed some leg bones into just too many pieces for comfort. I was in a hospital bed for the first time since I had been a small boy with big tonsils, There was going to be a long, slow & painful recovery & I was not wearing it well. My friends were great, they supplied me with home comforts, rationed me to just one smuggled spliff a day , even wheeled me to the pub across the road for a change of scenery & exercise for my drinking arm. I had not had any practice at being a good patient, the nights were long, uncomfortable & I worried too much. I needed a tried & tested form of reassurance & comfort.

A copy of “Come On Feel The Lemonheads” was just what I needed to soothe & inspire. My girlfriend returned from a holiday & was gratifyingly shocked & upset by events. She wanted to help, she did so by sorting me out a new CD &, y’know, it absolutely did the trick. The attitude of “I don’t wanna get stoned but I don’t wanna not get stoned” always worked while “Big Gay Heart” caught the best of the 70s country rock vibe & paid it forward. “Come On Feel The Lemonheads” was the record of consecutive Summers. That’s a short  list, “Exodus” in 77/78, “One Fast Move Or I’m Gone” 2010/11, me…anal ?

Evan Dando is not everyone’s drug fuck-up of choice.  “A good-looking guy with more luck than talent and more talent than brains who conceals his narcissism beneath an unassuming suburban drawl”. Fair enough Mr Christgau, that’s your opinion. I know that the Lemonheads made 2 proper LPs that I liked then & still regularly dig out now. I know they are not the Ramones or the Spoonful, the records are not perfect. Good on them for giving it a damn good try & making some great noise.

We Still Got The !!!! Beat

Earlier in the year I posted 3 clips from a 1966 TV show out of Dallas Texas. The !!!! Beat captured some of the sensational Soul/R&B artists of the day in wonderful colour footage. I am a sucker for those grainy clips of “Shindig” & “Hullabaloo” but the !!!! Beat went beyond the chart hits of the time, looks as good as a movie & was clearly a wonderful thing. The clips are hidden away on the Y-tube, live or lip-synch they are gems stumbled upon almost accidentally when you are looking for something else. Here’s one I found this week.

Well, Otis Redding in his high-waist trousers, hands over the mic to “Mr” Garnet Mimms, a well turned out young man, who proceeds to deliver his song beautifully & passionately. I’m trying to keep it together here but it’s moving colour pictures of Garnet Mimms…bloody hell ! He recorded in New York with the great Jerry Ragovoy. His weave of uptown polish with a gospel feel was as good as soul got in 1963/4 & when his records caught a wave he would have Top 30 hits. “As Long As I Have You” is a near-perfect record & this one “I’ll Take Good Care Of You”, Garnet’s last Top 30 hit, gives it a run for its money. So, the only thing I know about this man is that he just missed the Soul Explosion because Memphis & Motown carried the swing at that time. That & he has a beautiful voice. In 2007 Garnet returned to recording with songwriter/producer John Tiven who specialized in the re-discovery of soul talents. Garnet was 73 years old when “Is Anybody Out There ?” was released. I have not heard the LP but I’m on it now.

One day I just might begin that magnum opus considering the African-American voice as the major determinant of 20th century popular culture. When (OK if ) I do then this clip of Etta James is one of the first illustrations because it is absolutely blinding. We like to place labels on to the things that come our way firstly to comprehend & then to control them. We can put this into that box & we feel better. Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll, Soul. In “Something’s Got A Hold On Me” Ms James delivers a summation of 50 years of culture, touching all bases & defying categorization. The original 1964 hit was not 3 minutes long. Here we get the extended 12″ version & it is a showstopper.

Etta had a tough childhood, born in Los Angeles when her mother was just 14 & her father never around. She moved to San Francisco & singing was her way out. There was a hit record when she was just 17 & singing with the Peaches. There were solo successes too in the 1950s before the great Chess label signed her with big plans for her future. I don’t know if “crossover” was around in 1960 but that’s what the string-heavy, overwrought ballads Etta recorded were aimed to be. “At Last” is state of the art but a little too smooth. James had strong ideas about her own career path, she also had drug & alcohol issues. That volatility & power needed to get itself into the music. As we can see here she got it right when she let it all out in front of a big old funky band. The following year (1977) Chess sent Etta down to FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. The “Tell Mama” LP made a soul singer out of her & enhanced an already assured reputation. There were some tough times before Etta James was able to enjoy the deserved recognition which came her way in her later life. She won her first Grammy in 1995. She’s a queen.

On “The !!!! Beat” it was not just those latest pop-soul hits. There are forgotten Texan groups covering Motown, there is even a pre-teen James Brown impersonator ! We have to stick with the classics though so…all together…” We may not have a cent to pay the rent but were gonna make it, I know we will”. “We’re Gonna Make It” a song of optimism, of love will get you through times of no money better than … by Little Milton that I have lived with & loved since 1965. James Milton Campbell Jr made records for over 50 years. In the 1960s he was with Chess & for much of the 70s with Stax. There’s a lot of music from this time & much of it is solid blues & soul. He was a big deal, there’s a village in Oxfordshire named after him.

The accepted wisdom is that by 1966 commercial African-American music was a Land Of A 1000 dances, Dancing In The Street. While  Motown & Stax-Atlantic artists were undoubtedly the most visible the R&B, Blues, even Doo Wop & Gospel traditions were not simply abandoned for fancy suits & synchronized choreography. “The !!!! Beat” looked modern & it was ahead of its’ time in that it was programming for a mainly black audience. What made it so great that it avoided the “look at me !” “you’re only as good as your last hit” shallowness of most contemporary pop shows. So we are lucky enough to see a wider spectrum of artists captured in what can be justifiably termed their glory. Praise Jah !

And what you’ve done: was it for reason or for rhyme? Was it just for fun? (Chip Taylor)

Chip Taylor is the composer of “Wild Thing”, the proto-punk surefire smash by the Troggs. If this was his only contribution to our music then it would be enough. He made everything groovy. Of course there are so many more great songs, some I am still discovering. In the 1960s he worked in that hothouse of creativity & dodgy deal-making around the Brill Building in New York. Chip has stories about the great & not-so-good of the record business which make it sound like a branch of disorganized crime. He seems to have survived because he is a dude & he could write hit songs. Chip Taylor, born James Wesley Voight, is the brother of the actor Jon & is Angelina Jolie’s uncle…a dude. Here’s one of his top tunes.

Oh Yes ! How great is this ? Very. The wonderful Evie Sands singing the equally fine “I Can’t Let Go”. Chip was writing in New York but there was always a Memphis influence. Down in Nashville Chet Atkins, pivotal guitarist turned influential producer, had signed a deal where he pretty much took any songs that Taylor wrote. With that kind of track record our man got to make his own records too. Evie Sands was unlucky. The first 45 that was Taylor-made for her was blind-sided by a rush released cover from a hotter artist. Her original recording of “Angel Of The Morning” was overshadowed by Merrilee Rush who had the world wide hit. She has that East Coast cool, a solo Shangri-La. Evie should have come to the UK. We love our blue-eyed soul women over here. She would have given her admirer Dusty Springfield a run for her money. Instead Ron Richards, a production associate of George Martin, took the song for his own band of British Invasion hit-makers, the Hollies. “I Can’t Let Go” became one of the run of impeccable, harmonious classics released by that fine Manchester band.

Chip Taylor had quite a routine through the 60s. He had a young family to support & needed a regular source of income so for the first couple of hours in his day he studied the racing form. He called his bookie with his selections & then the music world passed through his office in search of a song or a deal. He seems to have never been too precious about his songs, getting them recorded was the thing. He is one of a small band of writers who’s songs could be rock, pop, country or soul. Really, Chip wrote songs that you know even if you don’t know him. He even, along with the Abba guys, has a credit on the title track of the Ali/Foreman movie “Rumble In The Jungle”.

Well O to the M to the G ! When I started this post I had another favourite soul song planned. I knew that Chip Taylor wrote “Welcome Home” but I thought that I knew that there was no video of Walter Jackson promoting his 1965 R&B Top 20 hit. So here it is, my new favourite musical thing. used as the title track of Walter’s Okeh collection. I do like my soul singers to be raw but the Chicago duo of Jerry Butler & Walter Jackson are the nonpareils of the smooth soul serenade…resistance is futile. The one that got away is “Country Girl, City Man” the terrific follow up to “Storybook Children” by the hit soul/country duo billy Vera & Judy Clay. it’s a treat.

Through the 1970s Chip Taylor began to record his own records. They are lovely country records filled with simple, direct, mature songs. Man, there were so many awful middle of the road singer-songwriters hanging about in the middle of the road at this time. Chip’s LPs really did deserve a wider audience, we would never have had to listen to Neil Diamond or Dr Hook. By 1979 Chip had added blackjack to his track gambling skills. There were no records for 15 years & he made a living as a professional gambler.  “Sometimes there’s a man— I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? This is Dudeness of a Newman or McQueen order.

Chip did come back to music of course, writing songs was one of the things he did better than many. In 2001 he met Carrie Rodriguez & for the last 10 years they have collaborated on a lot of music. I suppose it gets called “Americana”, a term which I think means that it sounds like The Band. Chip has such a facility , the songs are just so listenable. Last year he released an LP with the New Ukrainians which is dark but still warm. A man in his 70s if not raging against the passing of time then getting a little cranky about it. “F**k All The Perfect People” is the title track &, y’know, we could adopt less fitting theme songs than this. If you are offended by the lyrics then here is a little beauty for you from the very same man.

Yep Chip gets 4 clips because his contribution to the music is just bigger than most. He is a true legend who could & should be telling us his great stories of all the artists, movers, shaker & sharks who have crossed his path. Over at his website, rock and roll joe, there are appreciations of unsung heroes. It is precisely what the Interwebs are for. Of course, the stories about the villains would be just as interesting but Chip strikes me as being about the positive after over 50 years in the music business. That’s good yeah ?