A friend of mine, a man whose support & encouragement for this blog still surprises me & makes me smile, is not in the best of health. He put a cross in the “no publicity” box a long time ago so no names, no pack drill, no fuss. I’m sure that he is receiving love & affection from his family along with the best of care from the professionals. I hope that these tunes can pass a smile back & can provide some diversion at a worrying time.
OK Jimmy Cliff has put on his best shirt, his tightest pants & his dancing shoes (white Chelsea boots…mod as f…). He’s doing his very best to sell his 45 “Give & Take”, a record which sounded great on the radio in 1967. Over in Jamaica Jimmy was recording his debut LP with Leslie Kong. The record included “Many Rivers To Cross” & other classic tunes. Kong, with his work for Desmond Dekker, the Maytals & Jimmy, was making Jamaican music which had appeal outside of the island. Chris Blackwell at Island Records was less confident about the indigenous music & opted for a more soul tinge to the tunes. With an arrangement by jazzer Les Condon & a production from whizz kid Jimmy Miller this Motown influenced stomper was a near hit. Jimmy could have done no more to help it along. This is a great, energetic performance.
In 1969 Jimmy had a worldwide hit with a reggae song. His leading role in “The Harder They Come” confirmed him as an international star & a man of substance. 40 years later we see no reason to change our minds about that.
If you would like to see the lovely Susan Cadogan perform her 1975 Top 5 hit then click here. This footage from, I guess around 1970, is just too good to miss. Locating it in place is more difficult. Your heart says it should be the East End of London where the working class “hard mods” became skinheads partly as an anti-hippy reaction. Closer inspection shows Birmingham city centre & there’s a shout that the club could be in Manchester. Everyone wants to claim it because this clip is the real deal, the most authentic portrayal of Britain as it was I have ever seen. When I first went out to dance there were not as many black faces around my town but the kids, the styles, the moves were exactly like this. I’ll make no assertions about racial harmony or sweetness & light. Those sweet, smiling skinhead sprogs who I fought alongside on the terraces on Saturday afternoon would be chasing me down the High St later that night. Little Fuckers !
Lee Perry, a prodigious talent, has a deserved reputation as a sonic master. His studio experiments have been a benchmark in Dub for so long. Like many great musicians, say Miles Davis or Captain Beefheart, he has an understanding & a facility with the basics of the music which he stretches. This reggaefication of a Millie Jackson tune is as sweet as reggae gets & is perfect pop. Susan signed to a UK label after this hit. She did not really repeat her success. It would have been more interesting if she had stuck with Scratch at Black Ark studio.
Time to drop by King Tubby’s studio where Prince Jammy is supervising Delroy Wilson re-recording his ska hit “I’m In A Dancing Mood”. Don’t you just love the Interwebs ? Delroy started early & made some memorable records, especially his version of “Better Must Come”. Unfortunately Delroy died prematurely in 1995 when he was just 46 years old. All I have to say about this clip is that this is Proper Music !
Ok, I hope my friend enjoys these carefully picked sights & sounds. I guess that his beloved football team can do their bit to raise his spirits with a good win in the Champions league tonight. Whatever the result & the way this illness goes…stay strong & remember “the man laugh first, him nuh laugh yet the man laugh las’, get it full…..”
I have been lucky enough to see many of my musical favourites in concert. I say lucky, I had to buy the tickets, turn up at the right place at the right time on the right day, so I’ve been coordinated enough really. OK it’s a list…the Who,Captain Beefheart, Neil Young, Van Morrison & a bunch of others. I’ve seen & heard great artists deliver little slices of transcendency but there has only been the one time when a singer of a band walked on to the stage & I thought “Bloody Hell. I’m in the same room as Mick Jagger !”
In May 1976 the Rolling Stones paid some attention to that terrible North-South divide we have in the UK…the Midlands. Birmingham has always had pretensions to being our “Second City” but could provide no adequate venue for the “greatest rock & roll band in the world”. The last time around, 1973, the band played 2 nights at the Odeon, admittedly a big cinema but a cinema. Stadium Rock was not here yet but was inevitably coming. To see the band Brummie fans would have to travel the 20 miles to the Bingley Hall, Stafford. Our little gang gathered at the train station to board the special train. I say special, there was no John Pasche “tongue & lip” logo on a Silver Train to take us all down the line (oh, oh). The ready-to-be-condemned rolling stock was rammed. We took our beer & our smokes into a gap between carriages & had our own party. At Stafford station we were transferred to buses for the final leg of our trek. We were too high to be this close to these people.
The new LP was “Black & Blue”. Nowadays the 3 records after “Exile”, “Goat’s Head Soup”, “It’s Only Rock & Roll” & this one are excluded from the pantheon of great Stones records. To lose one guitarist, Brian Jones, may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose another, Mick Taylor, looked like carelessness. “Rehearsing guitar players, that’s what that one was about” said Keith about “Black & Blue”. A parade of contenders passed through the studio, 3 of them made the LP but Ron Wood, surely born to be a Stone, got the job. In 1976 a new Stones LP was still a big deal. Critic Lester Bangs thought it was all over for the band in their “old age”, Robert Christgau wrote “not dead by a long shot”. 4 weeks at #1 in the USA meant that everybody was earning. “Hand of Fate”, “Memory Motel”, “Fool To Cry” & some other good ones, that’s “Black & Blue”.
On arrival at the Staffordshire County Showground our eyes told us we were in a big basic building. Our noses contributed the info that it had recently been in use as some sort of cowshed ! With the grubby train & now this we were rolling strictly second class tonight. No matter, we found our own piece of concrete floor & listened to the support act, the Meters. You heard mate, Art, Leo, George & Zigaboo, Allen Toussaint’s houseband. “Cissy Strut”, “Look-A Py Py”, “Just Kissed My Baby”, all that good stuff & more. They were great.There was a long wait before the Stones arrived. I think that Keith & Ron were into a game of Scrabble or Bill had some knitting to finish. People were getting impatient, the lack of any comfort or distraction was not helping. We were used to standing on football terraces on a Saturday afternoon & we knew why we were here. What was wrong with these people ?
Then it was the “Bloody Hell” moment. From right here, right now in 2013 I could tell you that Keith stroked out the opening riff to “Honky Tonk Woman” & the crowd went wild. He did & we did. It was when the singer walked to the microphone & acknowledged the herd that we knew that everything was going to be just fine. “I met a gin soaked, bar-room queen in Memphis”, slurred Mr Charisma & away we went. I’m not sure for how long but it could not be long enough. This version of the Stones lacked the satanic majesty of “Get Yer Ya Yas Out”. I think the debacle at Altamont, while hardly the end of the 60s, finished the “Devil’s Ringmaster” palaver. Neither were they the drug-fuelled murky magnificents of “Exile”. That much ennui, it’s gonna be the death of you. What we got was a toughened, professional unit, one that was built to last. A Stones that could roll & has rolled forever.
There were a few contenders for that “greatest band” title & the Stones made a strong case for, at least, a podium finish. Keith & Ronnie were a natural fit, they knew just how that dual guitar went. Keith could confidently flow into just pure riffage (perhaps the greatest sight in rock), even investigate whatever had been chopped out onto his amp, knowing that the notes were in capable hands. It was a vigorous sound, the new songs were well built if not intense. “Starfucker”…hell yeah! “You Can’t Always Get…” leading into two from “Exile”, “Happy” & “Tumblin’ Dice” was an irresistible crescendo orchestrated by Jagger. Billy Preston (that’s the Billy P…) got two solo tunes while we & the band caught a breath. The enormous finish of “Midnight Rambler”, “Brown Sugar”, “Jumping Jack Flash” & “Street Fighting Man”, Jagger astride a giant inflatable penis, confetti cannons showering the crowd was as exciting as any concert I have ever attended. Not because of the big prick onstage but because of the music.
The Stones were giving their audience what they thought we wanted. The set list for the 41 gigs was fairly static. They were right about the live shows, we did want the hits. We also wanted another Stones LP that we had to play when we got in the house, In 1978, with a scoop of the new energy in British music, “Some Girls” was just that. It was the last great Stones record & the much publicized tours of the world’s stadiums became a parade of past proficiency with elements of persistence, even pantomime. In 1976 we could not give a flying one about the future.
We were on the cruddy train back home, picking coloured paper out of each others hair like a troop of grooming chimps. Only now were we playing the “Oh, they didn’t play…” game. Seriously, the transport was poor, we had no beer, we were tired & we really did not care. We had been to more than a gig. It had been an event, one of a kind, we had seen the Rolling Stones. Some years later we were walking down the Charing Cross Rd in London’s glittering West End. It was around midnight & as we passed the entrance to the Marquee Club a very bedraggled figure was dragged /carried by 2 burly minders right in front of us into a waiting limo. “Bloody Hell !”, we said, “that was Keith Richards”. Those Stones had still got it !
Any list of the best Reggae LPs (no greatest hits) is dominated by the roots, Rastafarian outbreak between say 1974-79. A junction of a rising generation of young Jamaican musicians with a new international audience stimulated increases in creativity & output. The 3 original Wailers, Culture, Burning Spear, Lee Perry, King Tubby, the Congos. It’s an easy & obvious choice but there’s 8 of them while I’m going to fight for the Wailing Souls’ inclusion because they rock. There was still great reggae music to come but by 1981 & the premature passing of Bob Marley, many of the artists mentioned were producing variations on & versions of a theme of chanting down Babylon which had already been well covered.
I’ve written about “Blackheart Man” (1976), the nonpareil debut solo record by Bunny Wailer. There’s a case to be made that Bunny was more spiritual than Bob Marley & Peter Tosh. His melodicism, his abilities as an arranger & producer, created a collection which stirred the head, heart & hips, often all at the same time. His annual releases were still of a high quality but lacked the consistency of his classic opening statement. At the beginning of the new decade Bunny Wailer released 4 LPs. 2 of them are contenders for that all-time list.
While Bob Marley became an international superstar & Peter Tosh was recording with Mick & Keith, Bunny cultivated his garden back home. He disliked travelling so avoided the album-tour-album routine & could take his time to make his records. “Bunny Wailer Sings the Wailers” was just what the Bush Doctor ordered. It was a thoughtful trawl through the back catalogue, the Coxone Dodd 60s, Lee Perry in the 70s. It was not a Greatest Hits. Bob was cherry-picking the tunes he wanted for his new group, Bunny took time over his selections of songs to take a second look at & it showed.
“…Sings the Wailers” is such a satisfying record. Bunny travelled a long road with his fellow Wailers before the involvement with Island records led to a split.There’s a sense of closure, of settling with the past about his treatment of this labour of love. Bunny was not ready to embrace the beefed-up stadium reggae of his friends.His vocal style never really suited such declamation. I have always loved the probity, the dignity of the Wailers’ music. Peter’s indignation, Bob’s credence & Bunny’s more reserved assurance synthesized into a powerful whole. With the great rhythm section of Sly Dunbar & Robbie Shakespeare this is a record which is modern but retains a roots clarity. “Walk The Proud Land” gets the nod because…well, just listen. There are a lot of contenders, the running order seems as consequential as a concept album. “Ska Quadrille” indeed !
If ever “Rock ‘N’ Groove” (1981) gets neglected then rescued from the back of the stack you think, as you dance across the room, “Man, I must play this more often”. It’s Jollification Time ! The Wailers started as young pop kids, Impressions wannabes having some hit records played on the radio. Reggae had got a little dreader than dread, the dub-wiser ran on more than Budweiser (thank you !) & more power to all of it. Bunny Wailer had made some of the best of that music. He knew that the great music of his youth would nice up the dance too. “Rock ‘N’ Groove”s big idea was that reggae belonged in the dancehall
This time around Sly Dunbar got to play with his syn-drums. Sly, Robbie & the rest of the Roots Radics played a clean, uncomplicated, modern reggae. Copyists, & there were many when “Dancehall” became the thing in Jamaica, were less restrained when let loose in the toy box of a 1980s recording studio. The immediate appeal of “Cool Runnings” & “Rootsman Skanking” is irresistible but there is not a bad track on the LP. Blimey, there’s not a duffer in the 8 or so tracks which did not make the cut first time around. The songs are not Selassie-I this, Marcus Garvey that but Bunny’s music will always have a social & political dimension. The songs are short with no, now traditional, dub extension. The spare arrangements allow intimations of aural explorations, the dub is left to your imagination. “Rock ‘N’Groove” is on that list of great reggae LPs.
Bob Marley died on May 11 1981. A genuine world music superstar, he led the export of Jamaican music to just about every place on the planet. Bunny & Bob were raised as stepbrothers in the same house. Their musical education & ideas were shared too. Of the many accolades & memorials whatever Bunny had to say & sing carried the swing. Unfortunately the time & care taken on “…Sings the Wailers” was not repeated for “Tribute” (1981). There are out-takes from earlier, rushed, even uninspired versions of obvious songs. Hey, I’m being tough on an artist who has made some perfect music. “Tribute” is a Bunny Wailer record which which means it is interesting & will reward repeated listening.
After this burst of creativity Bunny continued with studio experimentation which often found him ahead of the game in Jamaican music.A good friend, his long term memory function impaired by marijuana use, promised to get back to me with the title of a 90s LP that he thinks is the bizz. There was a pile of great music to come. By 1986 he was assuming the role of dignified elder statesman of reggae & began to tour. I have friends who remind me of the 27th of June 1990 when I missed a triumphant return to London. In my opinion Bunny Wailer made more great reggae records than anyone else. That all time great list is tough to make (just remembered Big Youth, Dr Alimantado !) but “…Sings the Wailers”, a digest of past achievement & “Rock ‘N’ Groove”, a dual triumph of dance music & future reggae, will take some shifting.
The 21st of November 1974 was a Thursday. I had been in a hurry since leaving work but the long bus journey between Dudley, where I lived, & Birmingham would not be rushed. I like the early evening darkness of late Autumn, liked being out & about in the twilight zone. The mists & mellow fruitfulness have passed, this fresh chill signals that I have a birthday coming up & then Xmas.The return of the drones to their hives, after doing whatever it takes to put some pollen in their pockets, illuminated by street lights & shop fronts, was still of interest to a young man new to city living. In my home town 6 cars at a traffic light was rush hour congestion (still is), this anonymous urban hustle seemed fresh & exciting.
Still, in that month, in that year, a whole bunch of stuff was exciting. I was on my way to the city centre to meet the woman who had been lucky enough to marry me. Just 19 days earlier we had pledged our troth to each other, even signed something involving sickness & health, love & honour. Well… the optimism, the confidence of the newly married couple. The future’s so bright we gotta wear shades…in Birmingham…in November. Tonight our new friends from Down South were coming to the city & we were going to meet up with them. It was a big month for them too. Their first single had just been released & it sounded like this.
I had met Dr Feelgood, the most exciting rock group in the country, earlier in the year when the band had kindly helped a student hitchhiker who was goin’ back home. We got on well. They were playing a gig at my college & I agreed to help the night along by providing an ounce of hash. The gig never happened. There was a riot at the university when a sit-in was broken up by the police. Over 100 people were arrested, many of them friends. With a pocketful of illegal resin I had made like a shepherd & got the flock out of there. Different times.
We had seen Dr Feelgood on 3 occasions now. Hanging out with the band had become a thing we did. There must be an element of Groundhog Day about touring, fans have good intentions but tend to ask the same questions. I think the guys liked to pick up our conversation where we had left off, liked to chat around something other than where they had played & where they would be playing.My wife & I ? We got to hook up with the, have I mentioned this before ? The most exciting rock group in the country. Oh yes, that was the truth. Something was happening with the boys & it was all good. We were looking forward to seeing the guys but seeing them play would be enough because it was quite something & quite something else.
We arrived early enough to help with the load in to the venue. The crew were glad of the assistance. Hey, look at us ! We’re roadies ! We carried the gear onstage, moved some stuff when we were asked but nah man, I’m not touching anything electrical, I’ll break it. We got to make the rock go that evening…cool. The venue was Bogart’s, hardly “Rick’s Cafe Americain” but even now able to moisten the eye of former members of Midland biker gangs & old dudes with a decal-smothered denim jacket in the wardrobe…that doesn’t fit. As the premier metal club in Britain’s heavy metal city it was here that Judas Priest played it again & again & again Sam.
Bogart’s was smack dab in the middle of Birmingham’s city centre. The club had no car park & the tour bus needed to be put somewhere safe. My wife & I had the local knowledge so we went off with Wilko, the guitarist, to do the necessary. In a narrow back street our coach happened to brush against a car. Now Birmingham is the UK’s Motor City. They make them there & they love their’s more than their children. The driver who was approaching us had vengeance on his mind & violence in his eyes. Wilko jumped out of the coach to meet the guy on the street. We were close behind, we had, I guess, got his back. Wilko Johnson is a considerate, erudite former teacher. Perhaps it was the individual pudding bowl haircut or was the Thames Estuary drawl a surprise? Certainly Wilko’s eyes, tinged by serious LSD investigation, fixed in the 1,000 yard stare so wild & effective on stage, were the clincher. Our man with a scrape who was looking for a scrap pulled up short. He sussed that he could be entering a world of pain here & was out of his depth. Wilko explained that nothing was fucked here, that he would now hand over some money for the man’s trouble & the matter would never be spoken of again. He did not ruffle the guy’s hair but he could have done. We had seen the effect Wilko Johnson could have on the man in the street in the…erm, street. We held each other up so that we didn’t fall over laughing..Brilliant !
This night was the last time we saw our friends play in a small venue.. In February 1975 they starred on “The Naughty Rhythms Tour”, a triple pub-rock treat which played universities & Town Halls. Then the word & the first LP was out on this taut, tight,fresh take on the very same R&B that inspired the first Stones LP. In a jammed little club the music could abracadabra, reach out & grab ya. The interplay between Lee & Wilko stirred, shocked, even scared you. Jenny & I, old Feelgood hands now, could check for the agitation & appreciation which always came. We knew that this shit had caught on,it could only get bigger, that we were lucky to have been in on it so early. However, there was no encore for the band tonight.
Yeah, we were back in the night before we could even say any goodbyes. The band were expected onstage for a couple more tunes but someone else was there asking us all to leave the club in an as orderly way as a Brummie rock crowd could manage. We thought it was a fire at the club but outside the road to the Bus Station was blocked by a cop. Birmingham city centre in the 1970s was a barbarian traffic controller’s dream. Screw the pedestrian, the combustion engine was king…Motor City. We got the fuck out of Dodge, past the library to where the streets got broader & the buses had to pass.
Then it got a little strange. For what seemed like an hour of those longer “bus waiting” minutes there must have been passing traffic, must have been people around. There were certainly no buses. Something had gone off in the centre but, in those days before smart phones & the whole world in your palm, we knew nothing. We were a little selfish. The longer the wait, the later the night, the sooner the morning comes around. Our ride finally did appear & it was late when we got back home. The guy across the landing asked if we had heard about what had happened in Brum, we told him we had just come from there, knew there was disruption but no hows, wheres & what fors.
On Thursday November the 21st 1974 21 people were killed, 182 others injured when bombs were exploded in 2 central Birmingham pubs. The political climate of the times meant that the Irish Republican Army were immediately blamed. Whoever was responsible (it was not the 6 men who received life sentences in 1975) pretty much fucked up the job. The protocol of a 30 minute warning before an explosion was ignored, with only 6 minutes between a telephone call & the first incident a lot more people died. The Tavern In The Town was a pub in a basement with no direct access to the street, they were scraping bits of body off the remaining walls. The anti-Irish sentiment I witnessed at my workplace the next day was not the product of government, media or police propaganda but genuine outrage that innocent people should lose their lives. The I.R.A., whatever their involvement, distanced themselves from this terrible incident.
This happened just 100 yards away from where my new wife & I were enjoying our evening. Blow your ifs, buts & maybes out of your arse but if Bogarts had been chosen then I may not have been writing this. I was not ignorant of the Republican struggle in Ireland. The occupation of a part of the United Kingdom by the British Army on behalf of a obdurate Unionist movement who’s ideas were obsolete was wrong. The determination of successive British governments to refuse to engage those involved in any political dialogue caused entrenchment on all sides & a higher body count. British people in Northern Ireland were forced to live a life which we on the mainland did not understand. A friend told me that when you see an armed soldier throw your mother across a room of her own house then political views become irrelevant. I believe that is true. The fight was with the Army, the government. Just 6 weeks earlier 4 off duty soldiers had been killed in an attack. The Houses of Parliament had been bombed. If the targeting of British civilians was an attempt to extend the war then it was ill-judged. The British public did not spend enough time thinking about “the Troubles”, maybe questioning government policies would help. A bombing campaign on mainland cities which killed anyone unlucky enough to be around was not going to make anyone consider the policies any more seriously or sympathetically.
Wow…loosehandlebars gets serious because these were serious thing & times. You go out for the night in the city & History happens right across the road from you.
When it comes to music on TV the British show “Ready, Steady Go” has been #1 in my heart for so long that it now holds the title belt in perpetuity. In 1966, while the just turned teenage me was waiting for the monochromatic Mod Mistress of Ceremonies Cathy McGowan to introduce the latest from Zoot Money & his Big Roll Band, half a world away in Dallas Texas, Bill “Hoss” Allen, a Nashville DJ, was rolling out some great acts, backed by a great band to make some great music (seems to be an adjective shortage around here). “The !!!! Beat” showcased Soul, Rhythm, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, artists who needed a crossover hit before the networks helped out. The show did this in that new fandangled televisual gimmick…colour.
I’ve mined this seam before both here & there. “There” has a Garnett Mimms clip which, if we could get enough people to watch, could quite possibly bring about world peace. I’m back around “The !!!! Beat” because these nuggets are pure Platonic gold giving “a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Seriously, that good. On the final show of the series, which ran for just one year, Otis Redding came down from Memphis to host & perform on the show. He brought along some of the outstanding Southern Soul acts which the Atlantic label were promoting as an earthier, more raw alternative to the Motown hits.
In 1966 the esteemed critic Dave Marsh listed his favoured songs of the year. After “Reach Out & I’ll Be There” #s 2, 3 & 4 were all by Atlantic artists. “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge was one of these 3. Just months before the song’s March release Percy was still a part-time singer.His impassioned pleading, backed by the patiently building Muscle Shoals arrangement (no horns until the very end, Spooner Oldham’s perfect organ) was a nailed on, unstoppable hit. Here the horns drive the song & young Percy gives it the full soul belter treatment but he tries a little tenderness & this is how it was done in 1966. Surely there has never been a deeper soul sound at #1 in the charts. “When A Man Loves A Woman” is a classic, has become a standard but no-one has ever improved on this Sledge’s original. (He, unfortunately, gave the publishing rights to a couple of musicians who helped with the song).
Percy kept on chooglin’ with his yelping songs of heartbreak. He got some fine Dan Penn songs to record including the original of the heart-rending “It Tears Me Up”. Like many soul artists Percy re-recorded his catalogue for CD release. I have a feeling that on my Greatest Hits that the drums are not being played by Roger Hawkins, that the Shoals are less Muscular. Now, as a rule, this would, at least, irk my not so inner purist. Y’know’ the songs & the vocals are so good, Percy Sledge never just goes through the motions. It’s a fine, well used collection.
Well ! Just look at these moving pictures of Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her Daddy, Rufus, when he was not walking the dog, was a DJ & mentor of local black talent.His beautiful teenage daughter was recording for Satellite Records before it became Stax. It was her Top 10 hit “Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes)” in 1961, when she was 18 years old, which alerted Atlantic Records to the talent to be found at East McLemore Ave in South Memphis.
“Comfort Me”, a 45 & the title track of her 1966 LP is a product of some of that talent. Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd & Al Bell are the writers. The Stax houseband, the MG’s/Mar-Keys the players &, surprisingly, the backing vocals courtesy of Motown’s Gladys Knight & the Pips. This is a Pip-free performance but it lacks nothing else. This is a Carla Thomas thing, a Stax Records joint, an every which way slice of enjoyable.
The record was not a hit but Carla had a good 1966. Paired with the David Porter/Isaac Hayes team she hit with the Tamla-ish “B-A-B-Y”. The next year Stax looked to cut into the Marvin/Tammi duet action. Carla made an LP with Otis Redding, “King & Queen”, which is as light, as pop, as anything the label recorded. It stands as an entertaining one-off, the final LP recorded by Otis. The stand out track, “Tramp” crackles & fizzes with chemistry & wit. I loved it on the radio in 1967, still do. Aretha was the undisputed “Queen Of Soul” but when she came to Memphis there was r-e-s-p-e-c-t & fealty to be paid to Rufus Thomas’ little girl Carla.
There is great footage, some of the greatest, of Sam & Dave. Their 2 European tours were filmed, audiences, unused to such uninhibited physical & vocal gymnastics, were transfixed then transported. We know what a great live act the duo were but who knew that their suits were red ? Sam Moore & Dave Prater joined Stax in 1965, Hayes/Porter delivered the tailor-made songs. I’ve checked for their singles discography, the quality keeps on coming right into 1969. ( The 3rd wheel on “I Take What I Want” was Mabon Hodges who co-wrote “Take Me To The River” & “Love & Happiness” with the Reverend Green…bloody hell !). The great house band on “The !!!! Beat!, led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown raise thir already considerable game. The go-go dancers have an extra shake in their tail feathers. Man, Otis is having to stop himself making the act a trio. It is what these men did.
I bought a Greatest Hits of Sam & Dave which gave me no indication that I was not handing over my hard earned for the Atlantic classics. On my first listen I knew that Booker T & his Memphis Group had not been involved in this CD’s production. In the case of Percy Sledge I could bite it, accept the odd false step. Now I even became convinced that one or other of the most successful soul duo ever could be different blokes. These revisions were cut in 1978. It was the same guys but it was impossible to reproduce the energy, the Double Dynamite of the Stax originals. “Soul Man”, you know it, has a drum track by Al Jackson which convinced me that I was listening to the greatest exponent of the instrument ever. This was missing from my new purchase…I binned it…pronto.
Nancy Sinatra is from Hollywood high society. She was a show business debutante who’s coming out in 1960 was when she helped her father Frank who was hosting a TV special to welcome Elvis back from the Army. Doors opened readily for the young singer/dancer/actress. It would not be a good thing to deny young Princess Nancy. I’m not saying that her Dad knew people but I am saying that he did know people who knew people. Any road up, she was living the La-La land dream, making records for Reprise, movies for major studios, with a teen idol trophy husband, Tommy Sands.
The thing was that her records didn’t sell & the films were pretty awful. Nancy was a true-life Gidget, “The Little Girl With Big Ideas”. Her talents were not too obvious & while she was attractive she needed, like the rest of America, to loosen up a little. This all changed with just one song which. in 1966, hit around the world. Nancy had grown up around the most popular singer in the world. She was ready for success & ,admirably, acted as if she had been there before.
“How Does That Grab You Darlin’?” is the follow up to mega-hit “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”. In the “Boots” promo women now old enough to be Miley’s granny writhe around in their pants while Nancy speaks/sings the novelty lyrics with an attractive assertiveness, looking very fetching in her hot pants & go-go boots. The hits might not have been as big as the first one but Nancy was a big favourite now. This clip is from French TV, because of her heritage the Italians loved her. From the number of clips available she seems to have been permanently on US TV.
Nancy, newly divorced, was no longer backward in coming forward. The pink bikini LP cover was banned in Boston ! There are outfits when even a broad minded fellow such as myself is reduced to an “Oh Blimey !” To employ a 1960s term Nancy became a “sex kitten”, America’s Bardot. There were times too when she got that British Carnebetian style just right & was a thoroughly modern mini-skirted Mod miss. The delectable “Sugar Town”, a meringue of a song, was a hit & there were a ridiculous 10 singles released in 1967. The first of these was the #1 duet with her dad, “Something Stupid”. Another was the Bond theme “You Only Live Twice”. As Nancy herself so presciently sang, “you keep samin’ when you oughta be a changin'” & she was walking the walk.
Nancy was musically in cahoots with producer/writer/mentor Lee Hazlewood. Lee had a rep as a hit maker after his work with Duane Eddy. He wrote “Boots” then devoted his time to Nancy’s records. “Friday’s Child” is the first of the dramatic, possibly over-produced, portentous ballads Hazlewood & arranger Billy Strange created to promote the singer’s more adult image. These songs did not always bother the Top 20 but they are the enduring part of Nancy’s work. These songs, “Love Eyes”, “Lightning’s Girl” & others make you sit up & remember that there was more to Nancy than revealing costumes & a nice pair of…boots. In 2003 Quentin Tarantino opened “Kill Bill vol 1” with her melancholy version of Cher’s “Bang Bang”…instant classic.
In 1968 an LP of duets “Nancy & Lee” was released. It is a classic of the whooping ambition of 1960s pop, middle of the road gone loco, like Jimmy Webb & “Macarthur Park”. Hazlewood’s world-weary cowboy drawl offset by Nancy’s (who looked Barbarella hot on the cover) breathy sincerity backed by big productions. I’m talking cinematic, Jason Robards & Stella Stevens in “The Ballad of Cable Hogue”…that good. There are some outstanding songs on the record, none better than “Some Velvet Morning”, a caliginous, erotic narcotic of a tune which is up there with Gram & Emmylou, Marvin & Tammi as one of the greatest of duets.
“100 Years” is another doomy drama from Nancy released in 1968 when she could still guest on “The Ed Sullivan Show”. Hazlewood quit Reprise, the next record was produced by Billy Strange & the listening was easier. In 1970 Nancy remarried & she eased back from her career.
Nancy Sinatra was not always on the button. Prime time US TV in the 1960s was generally lame & she was expected to contribute her share. There’s a Beatles medley with the Righteous Brothers which flatlines from the opening bars of “I’ve Just Seen A Face” & never recovers. A song & dance with Gary Puckett (ask your Grandma) defines awkward. Anything involving friends of her father is usually unwatchable. The TV special “Movin’ With Nancy” has this mixture of cool & deadly but “Velvet” is there & look at the “Friday’s Child” clip, no wig, no glitz, still looking good.”Movin'” is an OK LP.
She did enough cool things in her time. A movie with Roger Corman. When she did star with Elvis one of her songs made the soundtrack of “Speedway”. The only person who did this. There are 2 more collaborations with Lee, 1972 & 2004, which have their moments. A 2004 LP attracted specially written songs from Jarvis Cocker, Morrisey, Steven van Zandt, Thurston Moore & others…because she is a stand up broad. “Boots” is in “Full Metal Jacket”. She played herself in “The Sopranos”. This is all good stuff. A short clip of her onstage with Wilco earlier this year is rough & ready but everyone in the place is whooping & laughing. Oh yeah, in 1995, when Nancy was 54 years old, she posed for Playboy. Now this surely comes around with the naff stuff. I have seen the photos…in the interests of research…well, I’m not turning away from them, you get me !
Sheesh, those last few posts became a little definitive. Giving out about good friends, about much admired, recently passed, artists, means that getting it right is more important than amusing myself by confecting a couple of pithy, pungent but hilarious sentences about a tune I like. It’s been belt & braces, everything triple checked for verisimilitude, so slowing the flow. I love doing these music & memories, The response from those that drop by & from those I write about is an absolute groove. But y’know not everything has to be handed down, carved on tablets of stone. In the words of one of our great poets…”I’m gonna get stoned and run around. All aboard for Funtime”.
The Lovely Eggs had me when they rhymed “accordian” with Richard Brautigan” in “Have You Ever Heard a Digital Accordion ?”. Holly’s Gracie Fields/dolly girl next door thing is going to catch your attention, that literary nod is as good as a wink that there’s more to this group than a “We’re right daft us” shtick. With husband David on drums the Lovely Eggs are a reverse White Stripes with that similar lo-fi ramshackle punk attack. It can get a little twee (“I Collect Snails”) but the videos of them wandering around the arcades & launderettes of faded seaside resort Morecambe are (sorry, I am unable to circumvent this word) charming. Cameos from producer Gruff Rhys &, in this clip, John Shuttleworth add value. In fact, in a previous life, Mr Shuttleworth had a hit record with a naive punk romantic comedy record back when he was Jilted John. Check for the Eggs, their songs blast along, Holly Ross is indeed lovely, there’s a single called “Fuck It” ! However…”Don’t look at ‘im cos he’s got a sausage roll thumb”.
Right then. If it’s energetic punky fun that’s needed then we had better get the Rezillos round. Eugene Reynolds & Fay Fife fronted this clutter of 70s glam, 60s girl group, 50s sci-fi movies & new wave noise. In 1977 the band went from being a good laugh in an Edinburgh pub to signing with Sire, a label which, naturally, was gonna make them a star. Their only LP “Can’t Stand the…” is a good one. When they clattered around a TV studio promoting the 45s they had the same rush & push as the Buzzcocks & the other new groups. “(My Baby Does) Good Sculptures” was only a B-side. The low-rent B-52isms, the manic mood, did not really connect & convert into record sales but remember the Rezillos ? Yeah…you’re smiling.
It didn’t last. We had an extended musical sci-fi video the band made. It was predictably chaotic & never going to make the label’s money back. They left Sire, split the original line up & became the Revillos. Guitarist/writer Jo Callis had watched & learned. He went on to fame (& hopefully fortune) with the revitalized Human League. I met Fay Fife at a wedding some time later, lovely person, not at all mad.
The Leyton Buzzards, “Saturday Night (Beneath the Plastic Palm Trees)”, classic one almost-hit wonders. After a DIY punk single “19 & Mad” & a Battle of the Bands win they too got a big label deal. David Jaymes & Geoff Deane were plastic punks & big time wannabes, the leather jackets & the attitude were back in the wardrobe. No matter, “Saturday Night” is a little gem. A funny & accurate memoir of young North East Londoners making their way from the youth club to the Tottenham Royal dance hall for a proper big boys night out. It’s a suedehead night out, a soul & ska night, Eddie Holman, the Skatellites, Lovely.
“Saturday Night” made just #53 in the charts. A couple more 45s for Chrysalis were less successful. The Buzzards morphed into Modern Romance, a salsa pop band about which I know little & that’s quite enough thank you. Deane wrote “You Think You’re A Man ” for Divine & a lot of bad TV, The star of the show, the Tottenham Royal, where the Dave Clark 5 started in the 1960s , “heaven in the Seven Sisters Road”, was left stranded & was demolished in 2004.
In 1995 a group of young French film makers showed a side of Paris, a city known for culture & romance, that few tourists or cinema-goers had seen before. “La Haine” (The Hate) is about the lives of young working class youths living on the grim estates, the “banlieues”, on the periphery of the city. It is a cold eyed, beautifully filmed, life in a day of 3 friends in the aftermath of a riot. The opening credits set the tone.
Despite the disruption, even devastation, in your own neighbourhood there’s a sense of empowerment for a community involved in a riot. People who burn & loot act out of frustration, seeing themselves excluded from & discriminated against by those who make decisions which affect their lives. In 1981, even though I lived in the area, I had little involvement in the Brixton riots. I am white, I had a job, I could walk the streets at night without fear of police harassment, it was not my fight. The people I knew who were out on the streets felt that a point had been made. The racist policies of the police would not stand, it was time to get up, stand up.
“La Haine” captures that time when choices are to be made. A youth with an attitude knows that getting hold of a gun changes his options. His friend, sick of violence met with violence, knows that it is time to speak his piece. It’s a gritty, grainy movie, as tough as it needs to be. Writer-director Mathieu Kassowitz captures the cultural & racial mix of modern France while we also got to see the talent of Vincent Cassell for the first time. In 2008 Cassell had his de Niro moment in the double header “Mesrine” movies. Those of us who had followed him since “La Haine” knew that he was one of the great cinema actors of his time. The dread, beat & blood of “Burning & Looting” establishes this uncompromising, militant & modern European movie.
In 1990 I had that riot of my own when a massive demonstration against the Poll Tax was, at first, badly supervised & then physically attacked. As we fought & won running battles with an outnumbered police force there was an exhilaration around Central London. I felt no desire to damage property or to steal from shops but I did want to assert my right to live in my own city on my own terms. The defeat of the police, violent defenders of an unpopular government tax, made the world look a little different when we walked through the middle of our city the next day. We did not know it at the time but our first female Prime Minister was taking her first steps as a dead woman walking that day.
Now your English skinhead movie is obviously not going to be as serious as the bloody French one. It sure isn’t “American History X” either. The opening montage of “This Is England”, a 2006 masterpiece by Shane Meadows, has plenty of social division, violence & war with enough footage of the recently deceased instigator of social disintegration & conqueror of the Falklands. There’s also Roland Rat, Space Invaders, Rubik’s Cube & a Royal Wedding. The shiny distracting baubles waved before us while those who create the wealth by their labour get shafted. I could spin you one about bread & circuses, about how nothing has changed in 30 years but I could put it no better than our Scorsese of the English provinces, “This Is England”.
So while “54-46 Was My Number” has Toots & the Maytals singing about life in prison it is not chanting down Babylon. It’s a dance yourself dizzy, skinhead boot stomp. Now your roots reggae hits the hips as well as the head but your Ska is more don’t think just dance. & that’s no criticism. British youth cults have always had their own dance music. The Ska revival of the early 1980s excavated & made its own great sounds. I can say little about “This Is England”, a film set in 1983 with a connection to such wonderful earlier British films as “Kes” & “Scum” while still apposite to the personal & political in the 21st century. It has got to be seen.
Some time in 1970s Birmingham, in an off-Broad St fleapit (the Futurist ? Anyone ?), I saw Perry Henzell’s film “The Harder They Come”. Handsworth had come to the city centre. A packed audience, raised on Dirty Harry Callahan & Bruce Lee cheered Jimmy Cliff as rough, tough, survivin’ Ivan in a gritty, fresh vibrant snapshot of Island Life. Any chat about reggae in movies has to include this great film & a soundtrack LP in everyone’s Top 10 list. But…don’t watch that , watch this.
Director Ted Bafaloukos went to Jamaica to make a documentary about reggae culture. “Rockers” (1978) was given a thin Bicycle Thieves meets Robin Hood storyline & was released at the pictures as a drama. Studio One drummer “Horsemouth” Wallace starred in this cool, intimate portrait of life in JA, Gregory Isaacs, Big Youth, Robbie Shakespeare & others may not be the best actors but are great musicians.
This outstanding clip captures one of the island’s legends. Winston Rodney, known as Burning Spear, is one of reggae’s most spiritual artists, his connection to Africa in both his lyrics & his rhythms closer than most. Here he performs an acapella version of “Jah No Dead” a song from the “Social Living” LP, one of the outstanding run of records he released. To see the young Spear, to hear his sinuous passion. Well praise the divinity of your choice that someone was around to point camera at this incredible performance. me, I’ll go with Jah because if Burning Spear believes that Jah lives then I’m not arguing. Nominated for best musical performance at the Academty Awards ? In our dreams.