Bacharach & David & Dionne Warwick

Related imageYoung Dionne Warwick from New Jersey had a pretty good year in 1963. In January her first solo single for Scepter Records,  “Don’t Make Me Over” hit the US Top 20. Songwriting duo Burt Bacharach & Hal David had hired Dionne to provide vocals on the demos of their songs. They had previous success separately & together but still needed to hawk their wares around New York. Ms Warwick did such a great job for the team that she was signed for their production company & they committed to recording the new songs with her. In December 1963 her new single “Anyone Who Had A Heart” was on the charts with a bullet, heading towards the Top 10. The same morning session had also produced “Walk On By” & well, we all know how that goes.

 

 

This wonderful 30 minute clip captures a performance by the new 23 year old hit maker. After her first success Dionne had left her studies at Hartt College of Music in Connecticut to travel to France. The Bacharach connection found Marlene Dietrich (Burt had been her arranger/accompanist) introducing her at the Olympia, Paris & she was a sensation. On Dionne’s return to Europe in 1964 she was filmed at the small 27 Club in Knokke, a Belgian seaside resort. Simply shot & choreographed the director accentuates the talent & she delivers. This is no supper club schmaltz (though I’m not a big fan of “People who need people”) it’s just the demure Dionne, her songs, her voice & that’s enough. It’s a surprise when she loosens up for Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” & I love it.

 

Image result for searchers dionne warwick1964 was a peak of the UK music package tour. The Beatles & Mary Wells, the Stones with Inez & Charlie Foxx, Billy J Kramer headlining with the Ronettes & the Yardbirds in support. Dionne shared her October/November bill with the Searchers, the Zombies & the Isley Brothers. Now that sounds like a value-for- money night out. (The “comedy comperes” Syd & Eddie later became fixtures in our tellies as Little & Large. For any international readers, don’t bother, really.) It was during this tour that she joined her producers at Pye Recording Studios to make “The Sensitive Sound of…” album. One of the singles selected from the record is “You Can Have Him” , a stunning remodel of a 1961 Roy Hamilton hit. It has always surprised me that the most R&B of Dionne’s Sixties output, driven by staccato drums & impassioned backing vocals, was recorded with London sessioneers & not the usual New York crew.

 

 

Sometime near the end of the 20th century I was working in Putney, South London & across the road was a second hand record shop. It was the perfect place for a music freak like me to spend a lunch hour buying too many albums. There was a chance that the copies of “Dionne Warwick’s Golden Hits Part 1 & 2”, released in 1967 & 69 respectively, could be a little scratchy but they were US copies, on the Scepter label, & were a complete collection of those great singles. I was on a “easy listening” tip at the time, inspired by an old beaten-up Bacharach album I had found on the local market. These records, which turned out to be unplayed, turned our house into warmer but cooler home.

 

Image result for dionne warwick paris“You’ll Never Get To Heaven (If You Break My Heart)” was the 1964 follow up to “Walk On By”. That year Dionne was Cashbox’s Best Selling Female Artist & this song was a bigger hit in the UK than in the US. The clip is taken from 1966, part of her 5 week engagement back at the Olympia as a guest on the Sacha Distel Show. Two years on & she is an international star, a confident, sophisticated talent recognised as the premier interpreter of Bacharach & David’s songs. She’s assured enough to add her own flourishes to this song, one of my favourites, & her perfectly pitched performance can still give me goosebumps.

 

 

Burt Bacharach’s compositions employed unusual time changes to surround & support Hal David’s mature lyrics. As an arranger, he sat pianist Paul Griffin next to drummer Gary Chester in the studio & together they found the fluid, graceful interior logic of the music. This was not the usual “moon in June” Brill Building teen-pop knock off. This was a refined, urbane progression for the popular song & in Dionne Warwick the pair found the perfect foil. Dionne emotional Gospel roots were smoothed by an almost Jazz, almost cabaret feel. She became a modern Pop star making a new, a little more experienced, Pop music.

 

Image result for dionne warwick bacharach davidThere’s not room here for all of the classic records that kept Ms Warwick on the charts through the decade & became the foundation of such an enduring & successful career. “Walk On By”, “I Say A Little Prayer” & “I’ll Never Fall In Love Again” all deserve attention. I shock myself that I have the front to leave out the perfect “Do You Know The Way To San Jose?”. It’s another personal favourite that makes the cut, another clip recorded in France where they really got her. Dionne delivers the charming “Are You There (With Another Girl)” (1965) casual in sweater & slacks, the epitome of chic which is, I believe, a French word. “Je ne sais quoi”, that’s more French but I think we knew exactly what Dionne Warwick had.

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Random Notes (November 2017)

Hold The Front Page ! November ended with birthday cake for breakfast, the memory of the Rebel Girls, Marissa (10) & Mika (6), singing “Happy Birthday” still making me smile. As I reflected on the best things about the past 4 weeks the first day of the new month marked the unveiling of a wonderful addition to the Interwebs. It’s been some time since a new website has seemed to be so thorough, comprehensive & genuinely exciting.

 

 

Image result for neil young 1973I’ve been listening to Neil Young’s music for over 50 years now, initially with Buffalo Springfield then as a solo artist & a member of Crosby, Stills, Nash &… Some of his music ranks up there with anything produced in that time period. The albums that are less fully realised, with less appeal to me, still feature tracks that are good & worthy of my time & consideration. There are 39 studio albums, many live sets, compilations, collaborations &  soundtracks. Plenty of them have been on my shelves over the years. The guy who “borrowed” my copies of “Hawks & Doves” & “Journey Through the Past” is welcome round to mine any time for a warm beverage & to discuss why he never brought the flipping things back. Now here comes www.neilyoungarchives.com & what a lovely e-thing it is.

 

Neil has been talking about curating his extensive assortment of unreleased material for almost 30 years. The first “Archive” release came around in 2006 & “Live at the Fillmore East”, recorded in 1970 with Crazy Horse, was hotter than Georgia asphalt, raw, raucous Rock & Roll power. There have been 7 more subsequent releases, some of which I have missed through my own penury or because I’m still listening to those great nights in New York (see above). The website has got it all, official, unreleased, the films. Everything from the last 55 years, Blimey ! It’s a well-designed, attractive place & Shakey himself guides you though the controls. I’m being tempted by the classic records & I’ll be re-visiting neglected ones like “Old Ways” & “Everybody’s Rockin'” for the first time in a while.

 

I’ve been told that this resource will be free for the next 7 months when a “modest” subscription will be introduced in June 2018. I’m getting the feeling that that the current, produced by algorithm, one size fits all, Netflix Original fare (have you seen the “War Machine” movie ? A missed opportunity.), is not giving enough bang for my buck. When asked to commit my hard-earned to an artist whose body of work has given so much pleasure & inspiration & will continue to do so then I’ll be joining that queue.

 

 

Image result for the only onesThis year’s Peter Perrett LP, “How the West Was Won” continues to give up its many charms & November has had me flipping through the back of the stack for the 3 fine records by his old group The Only Ones. A little Y-tube investigation yields 3 radio sessions for John Peel from 1977-80, some of the performances eclipsing the recorded versions. Back then we also had a bootleg of the band playing live in 1979 at the Paradiso in Amsterdam, they really did pump it up onstage.

 

Now Peter & his new band are back on the road & back, 38 years later, at the Paradiso. He’s got some outstanding new material but it would be impossible & unreasonable to neglect his back catalogue. The clip of the month is this capture of the monumental “The Big Sleep” from “Baby’s Got A Gun” (1980). The acerbic Rock & Roll sleaze of his best songs resonated then & it still does. It’s great to see him working again after such long absences & while a prior commitment kept me away from this tour I really do hope that there is more to come.

 

 

So this month I went to the pictures to see “Thor:Ragnarok”, #17 of the billion dollar merchandising tent poles from the Walt Disney conglomerate (© Movie Bob). The first Thor movie reminded me of just how much of the Asgard, Loki, Rainbow Bridge, big hammer stuff I had absorbed as a kid spending too much time with Marvel comics. This one, the third one, is directed by Taika Waititi whose last 2 films “What We Did in the Shadows” & “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” are essential viewing. It was his name rather than the chance to see a shirtless Hemsworth that got me to the multiplex. The film was fun, it was funny & er…that’s it. Candy floss would have been more appropriate than popcorn. Asgardians of the Galaxy. Next up for Waititi is a starring role in “Corpse Tub”, a comedy about the ritualistic suicides of a deranged cult. Count me in.

 

Of much more viewing resonance was the Ken Burns/Lynn Novick documentary “The Vietnam War”, a 12 part epic shown by PBS in the US & the BBC in the UK. This ill-judged & wrong-headed American incursion into South East Asia was a major influence on my own political viewpoint. I knew about the failure of 3 Presidents to bring order to the chaos, about the massacre at My Lai, I read Michael Herr’s “Dispatches”, had seen “Apocalypse Now”. But I was a kid in the UK when this thing started, other things to preoccupy me, no nightly news bulletins, no draft to dodge. Burns’ film covers all the bases, is even-handed, blends current interviews with contemporary footage brilliantly. You know that “the next episode will begin in X seconds” nonsense ? This was too serious, too affecting for that. The thoughts it provoked deserving of consideration rather than a binge watch. The whole series can be found on the Y-tube, it’s an achievement.

Ain’t Nothing But A Houseparty

We got back to the flat on Friday evening, it was the 1980’s we probably watched “The Tube”, a spirited attempt to put “the weekend starts here” energy of popular music back in our TVs. There was a message for us, Tony had rung & left an address for a party in South London that night. Good one, always interested in a party, especially one within walking distance but which of the 2 Tonys of our acquaintance had called?

 

Tony #1 was a Birmingham drug dealer who had crashed with us a couple of years back when he needed to avoid the cops. He became our connection for the best Kashmiri black hash around. Boy that was some Summer, we were very popular among our small circle of friends. Despite smoking more of the stash than we sold & owing money we didn’t have we had parted on good terms. It would be good to see him again, the refreshments would be first class & at least he was not in prison. Tony #2 was a proper acid casualty who stayed at ours when his squats got too weird. He was a freeloader & a little scary for those who didn’t know him but he was harmless, needed help & no-one but us were around to give it. We were no strangers to a squat party, cheap, very cheerful & often a live band rocking out in the basement. Whichever Tony had put us on it, we had no other plans for the night so we were going to a party.

 

 

We showed up, just the 2 of us, on the correct doorstep at around 10.30, suitably hydrated at one of our usual haunts, clutching a bottle of wine, our trusty cassette of “You Dancing ? I’m Asking”, a personal mix of favourites (4 of which are featured here), in a pocket. “We’re with Tony” was a pretty lame opening gambit, inviting “Tony who ?” from the justifiably suspicious woman who had answered the door. Shit, we had not thought this through & a long explanation would not help. We were bailed out when someone we knew bounced up the hallway to  greet us. Oh, it was THAT Tony ! We were in !

 

Tony #3 lived out in Kent & we didn’t see him Uptown much. Always fine company with stories & objects of interest. The only man I have met who has produced a quail’s egg from his coat. While I never told him, his rakishness reminded me of a young Bryan Ferry. I liked him. It was a fine night out, we could do that party guest thing, respectful of the premises, would talk & listen to anyone then drink anything but the wine we had brought. This wasn’t the night that Mitchell woke me up from a very comfortable chair to tell me it was time to go home. I protested that I was having too good a time only to be informed that it was 7.30 in the a.m. & I had been asleep for 3 hours ! This was the night that we were stumbling home on Camberwell’s deserted backstreets & met an equally inebriated Tony #3 looking for our house. He hadn’t said that he needed a place to stay !

 

 

We threw a mean open house ourselves. Of course we spent too much time on the music. 6 hours of all killer no filler takes a lot of planning & heated discussion then guests have the front to talk to each other. Still the big room was always jumping by midnight & not a minute of Sting or the Police to be heard. Our big flat was rammed on a New Year’s Eve when we had only invited those who called us (you didn’t call then no invite) & people we met that night down the pub. We had just cleared the debris when our housemates returned from Amsterdam. We told them we had a few people round but they probably sussed out the runnings when everyone who came around for the next 3 months mentioned that they had missed quite a night.

 

In the late 1980’s the young Irish groovers who I worked with knew of a party most weekends. My new girlfriend was most taken by this raucous company, their all-nighters fuelled by whisky, amphetamine & my mate Scot determined to break on through to the other side. There were some outstanding warehouse parties when we were hanging with Armoury 88, a loose collective of DJs. The best nights were when no-one was playing out & we were back at their flat in Wandsworth, the old Jamaican guys chatting over some dub plates. Come on down it’s dancing time.

 

 

Clive’s parties lasted the whole weekend so I usually reserved a room in his large suburban house. It was at one of these that I last saw Tony #3. He & his lovely Pre-Raphaelite wife (apologies, her name escapes) had arrived early & he had partaken of the available goodies before anyone else had taken off their coats. The kitchen became a no-go area as his impression of a dog, barking & crawling around on all fours, was irksome & embarrassing. The next morning, rather than face the walk of shame he had sharply scarpered back to Sevenoaks & it was some time before anyone saw his cold, wet nose again. Hey that’s what happens when the cocaine is free. I was not too bothered by his antics, there’s always someone who peaks too early & I was glad that this time it wasn’t me because, you know, sometimes it was me ! Anyway, like many of the similarly stupified, his bark was, I’m sure, worse than his bite.

 

OK, where’s your icebox ? Where’s the punch ?

 

 

 

Random Notes (October 2017)

I’m late with this, the past week has been spent with friends of over 40 years standing & we have stopped counting. Along with the nourishment that comes from hanging with people who know each other so well it was refreshing to step away from the Matrix for some time (I don’t do smartphones & it’s rude to ask for someone else’s password). Returning to the Lincolnshire edgelands & to the e-world, a lot of stuff & even more nonsense, I resolve to keep my distance from everyone’s favourite waste of time. Yeah, that’ll work.

 

An F-book thread marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Love’s LP “Forever Changes”, a noteworthy landmark of our music, was hijacked by the naming of favoured “great” albums. Maybe 40 titles were checked off (I think some people carry their lists with them) & the link was that they were all made by white people. I mean what the actual Eff ! It’s OK, listen to & rate whatever you want to but if you really do think that “Searching For the Young Soul Rebels” by Dexys Midnight Runners is better than Sly & the Family Stone’s “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” then please don’t say it out loud, make an appointment with an otolaryngologist & don’t come around here no more.

 

 

 

What a clip this is. A performance from the Dick Cavett Show prettied up & linked to the stereo recording of “Thank You (Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin)”. Has any band looked so good & sounded so great ? It’s unlikely. “Thank You…” is one of a string of megahits from the group at the end of the 1960s. Sly, Sister Rose & Brother Freddie made it a family affair. Bassist Larry Graham. along with Bootsy Collins off of the J.B.’s, was taking the instrument from Soul to Funk while the brass section, Cynthia & Jerry, knew when to blaze like the Memphis boys & when to make the appropriate punctuation. Greg Errico’s drums completed a band that was greater than the sum of its impressive parts. Their intelligent positive songs found a massive audience. Sly & the Family Stone were deservedly a big deal at the time.

 

Related imageMoney, drugs, ego, paranoia, politics, the usual stuff, came with the success. Sly became known for not showing up at gigs, locking himself away in his studio. missing deadlines for an album the record company expected. When that record finally arrived, in November 1971, the bright psychedelic Soul had been ousted by a stoned, ominous, prophetic Funk. “Thank You….” had become “Thank You For Talkin’ To Me Africa”, a fuzzy, even sluggish, righteous groove that could last an hour & not be too long. “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” is Sly’s masterpiece. This month I’ve been listening to a live broadcast of the Family Stone from Dutch radio in 1970. It’s raw, ragged, joyous & the funkiest 30 minutes it’s possible to have.

 

 

On the final day of October I finally got to see Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. I couldn’t make his last two UK visits & I’ve had tickets for this tour since April. I don’t go to many big gigs nowadays & forward planning is not my thing but this was much anticipated & not to be missed. Jason’s last 3 records have been the most played new music round our house, his blend of Roots, Country & American Rock continues a tradition of names that are not to be used lightly (The Band, Neil Young, Springsteen…there I’ve done it!). On this tour his wife, Amanda Shires, was absent & perhaps a little texture & light was lost. What we did get was Southern Rock at its finest by an outstanding band who if  not at the top of their game then watch out !

 

Image result for jason isbell 400 unitThe set included 8 of the 10 tracks from “The Nashville Sound”, a record where Isbell has expanded his lyrical palette, mixing the political with the personal. These are strange, serious times. What can a poor boy do? I’ve spent more time with “Southeastern” & “Something More Than Free” but “The Last of My Kind”, “Tupelo” & “White Man’s World” are certainly starting to hit those same spots. The showstoppers were a powerful, transformed “Cover Me Up” & his Drive-By Truckers classics “Decoration Day” & “Never Gonna Change”. The Birmingham Symphony Hall is as grand as it sounds, a beautiful room with perfect acoustics. It’s maybe not the best place for Rock & Roll but the staff were not too precious about their venue (I’m looking at you, the Barbican in that London) & I had a very, very good time.

 

Image result for tales from the tour busI’m up for anything that Mike Judge puts his name to on my telly or for a bigger screen. I’ve also spent too much time watching Rock documentaries, the good, the bad & the what’s the point of this ? “Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus” hits both these spots, I’m the target audience, at the front of the queue for each 30-minute animated episode. I knew some of these stories about legendary Country crazies. Jerry Lee Lewis’s announcement, having been warned about profanity, at his Grand Ole Opry debut that ” ladies and gentlemen: I am a rock and rollin’, country-and-western, rhythm and blues-singin’ motherfucker!” is well chronicled but it is recounted, like everything else with irreverence & affection. The correct people are interviewed, I found the views of Myra, Jerry Lee’s teenage bride to be particularly interesting.

 

Image result for tales from the tour bus johnny paycheckI knew little about Johnny Paycheck, the subject of the opening episode. Man, he was a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter, suitcases full of cash & cocaine, the gun in the dashboard glove compartment never far from his hand Johnny P was the worst thing around, “a hillbilly with a hit”. Judge’s “Silicon Valley” is the best of recent US sit-coms & “…Tour Bus” gets another thumbs up from me.

Singing Sweet And Soulful (Dusty Springfield)

A double whammy here. A win-win combo of two things I will never get tired of, Dusty Springfield, the Queen of British Pop & the emotional Soul ballads written & produced by Bert Berns & Jerry Ragovoy. “It Was Easier to Hurt Her” was originally recorded in New York in March 1965 by Garnett Mimms. The song was picked up as the debut solo single for Wayne Fontana, a British Invasion hitmaker fronting the Mindbenders who never repeated that group’s international success. Later in the same year Dusty’s version was included on her 2nd UK LP “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” (US releases get a little complicated). This clip, from her BBC TV show in September 1967, matches Soul & elegant inspiration, that thing that Dusty did better than anyone & I love it.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield 1966Ms Springfield’s transition from the prim, pre-Beatle Pop-Folk of her group the Springfields to Beat Boom aristocrat was seamless. Her continuing relationship with producer Johnny Franz & orchestra director Ivor Raymonde at Phillips records kept the hits coming. Whether it was the pure Pop of  “I Only Want to be With You” & “Stay Awhile”, the sophisticated interpretations of Bacharach & David (“Wishin’ & Hopin'” & “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”) or the big ballads, a little syrupy & overwrought for my taste but very popular, there was a string of UK Top 20 entries beginning in 1963. If this wasn’t enough Dusty was an early adopter & supporter of Soul music. There’s a Holland-Dozier-Holland track on her first LP, another on an early EP (ask your grandma). She was always in our telly in the Sixties & never looked happier than when duetting with Martha Reeves (“Wishin’ & Hopin'”) on the “Ready Steady Go” showcase which introduced Tamla Motown to a prime time TV audience.

 

A hook up with Atlantic Records seemed to be a natural move. Changes in the music scene meant that Dusty was becoming a cabaret act, gigging in working men’s clubs. A re-invigoration was needed & her new heavyweight producers took her to American Sound Studios to make the classic “Dusty In Memphis” LP. “Son of a Preacher Man”, you know it, it’s in “Pulp Fiction”, was an international success but the album was not the sure-fire breakout smash it deserved to be. It is her masterpiece, makes it on to the all-time lists but Dusty continued to make some blue-eyed, blonde-wigged Soul that didn’t get the same exposure.

 

 

 

Related imageThe follow up 1970 LP wasn’t, but could have been, called Dusty In Philadelphia. “A Brand New Me” (US title), “From Dusty With Love” in the UK (this fractured marketing didn’t really help) was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, a team who were honing their own hit sound which would soon flood the charts on their Philadelphia International label. G&H had a terrific 4 album Pop-Soul streak with “The Ice Man” Jerry Butler. The title track & “Lost” were both taken from that catalogue & Dusty’s record has the same uptown smooth quality. If anything her assured, husky voice is more suited to these songs than to swampy Memphis Soul. “A Brand New Me” was a hit 45 but album sales disappointed both artist & label. It’s a very classy record, a forewarning that Sigma would become a new Hit Factory.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield magazine coverAnother year another producer for Dusty. This time around she was in New York with Jeff Barry, a stalwart of American Pop through the Sixties. Barry, with his wife Ellie Greenwich & producer Phil Spector pretty much defined the Girl Group sound. “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be My Baby”, Baby I Love You”, “Then He Kissed Me”, It’s a list & an impressive one so let’s add “River Deep Mountain High” & hits for the Dixie Cups & the Shangri-Las. Later he produced the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” then wrote & produced “Sugar Sugar” for the Archies. “Faithful” was recorded in the first half of of 1971. Dusty, never the most confident person, was unhappy in both her private & professional situations. The 2 lead singles from the LP sold poorly & Dusty chose to end her contract with Atlantic. The album was shelved, the tapes were thought to have been destroyed in a fire before Barry he still had the mixes. “Faithful” was finally released in 2015 & that’s a great pity because, don’t you just know it, it’s a damn fine record.

 

“Faithful” does steer Dusty back towards the middle of the road, she was probably just as comfortable there, singing the standards of the day (“You’ve Got A Friend”, “Make It With You”) than she was accentuating the Soul Sensation angle. Of course there are still uptempo tracks like the single “Haunted” but the album has a little more variety, brings back the drama & is beautifully arranged & played. “Faithful” would have completed Dusty’s trilogy of Atlantic LPs, it seems crazy that we never got to hear it at the time.

 

 

In 1968 Bert Berns was dead & Jerry Ragovoy was making big plans to put his royalties towards ownership of the means of production with his own studio. Berns had provided Atlantic with one of their first big Soul hits, “Cry To Me” by Solomon Burke, Ragovoy, a master of emotion & drama, did great work with female vocalists like Erma Franklin & Lorraine Ellison. Imagine if Dusty could have worked with those 2 New York mavericks. There’s a record I would liked to have heard. Ah well, let’s finish with one of the clips from “Dusty In Germany” a TV show shot in 1969 just after the release of “…In Memphis”. Dusty is back to performing her repertoire in a confusing clutter of faux-psychedelic effects. The song is her cover of the Sand Pebbles’ rambunctious “Love Power”. Dusty Springfield looks great, moves better than the gyrating dancers &, as always, delivers the goods. The best of the British girl singers.

Random Notes (September 2017)

OK, despite the efforts of two world leaders, men who both seem to be inadequately qualified for their jobs, Earth has made it to the end of September 2017. It’s been a month when my football team have remained undefeated, winning their last 3 games in fine style. At a time when, after 5 miserable seasons, we finally have a coach who has some idea of what he is doing & a team who at least appear to care what happens when Saturday comes. It would be just Aston Villa’s luck to have our mini-revival  abruptly ended by a bloody nuclear holocaust. Here’s some other good stuff from the past 4 weeks.

 

 

Image result for neil young 1976In July 1976 Neil Young sent a telegram to his co-star in the Stills-Young Band notifying Stephen that he would not be completing their tour in support of the “Long May You Run” LP. A 1974 stadium tour by their group, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, an avalanche of hype, drugs & ego had strained relationships to breaking point & now he was walking away from a musical partnership that had lasted a decade. Neil had shown the same cussed restlessness when solo LPs “After the Goldrush” & “Harvest” had been very successful in the singer-songwriter/Soft Rock troubadour boom of the early 1970s. His subsequent recordings, some of the most imaginative & challenging of his long & varied career, failed to reach that audience which hoped for more songs like “Heart of Gold” (you know that one). Always prolific, Neil could still do that stuff as well as anyone. On one night in August 1976 he took his acoustic guitar into a Malibu studio & recorded 10 new songs. It is only now that we finally get to hear the results of that night.

 

Listening to “Hitchhiker” is a delight. 8 of the 10 songs made it on to his records but this doesn’t sound like a bunch of demos & it’s not the nostalgia of hearing old songs. The lack of other instrumentation matched to Neil’s individual shaky delivery, high & human, sounds like an LP that was ready to go. I’m by no means a Neil Young obsessive & I know what I like. Albums like “Hawks & Doves” & “Greendale” still get a regular airing round here while others remain at the back of the stack. The high quality of some of his archival releases, the monumental Crazy Horse set at the Fillmore East in 1970 & this stoned snapshot of his mid-Seventies creativity are essential documents of one of US Rock’s great artists.

 

 

Image result for courtney barnett kurt vileWell, this will not wait. There’s a new Kurt & Courtney in town when on October 13th Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile release their LP “Lotta Sea Lice”. The 2 pre-release tracks, the shimmering “Over Everything” & the sweet “Continental Breakfast” confirm that the album will be one to listen out for. Aussie Courtney stormed it with her debut LP “Sometimes I Sit & Think & Sometimes I Just Sit”refreshingly honest & sharply amusing lyrics backed by punchy Indie Guitar Rock. “Sometimes…” deservedly found an audience & Courtney ended up with a nomination for Best New Artist at the 2016 Grammys. As much a shock to us that the best music should be acknowledged as I’m sure it was to her.

 

I don’t know much about Kurt Vile’s solo work or with his band The War On Drugs. If he’s good enough for Courtney, these 2 tracks display a natural compatibility, then he’s good enough for further investigation. So much music so little time. September can’t be done & dusted without marking the loss of  Walter Becker & Grant Hart, both so essential to the outstanding music made by their respective groups Steely Dan & Husker Du.

 

Image result for wolf mother movieObviously the movie of the month was “Wolf Mother”, writer/director Erik Peter Carlson’s first film since his ambitious 2014 indie epic “The Toy Soldiers” & another confident piece of film-making. The film is not at all helped by its trailer, Carlson has got it going on & capably pushes the limits of taste further than say Linklater or P T Anderson who have covered similar ground with bigger budgets. Look, I have recommended violent, twisted, amoral tales of low-life losers before & some people have not been too impressed with my choice. So “Wolf Mother”, you didn’t hear about it from me right !

 

 

Related imagePlaying over the opening credits of David Simon’s new TV series “The Deuce” is Curtis Mayfield’s incendiary “If There’s A Hell Below We’re All Going To Go”. Set on the mean streets around New York’s Times Square in the early 1970s these wise guys, superfly sporting men & their ladies will need more than a great Funk soundtrack to rival all those classic movies with a similar urban setting. Simon has hit the spot before, “The Wire” & “Generation Kill” remain particular favourites. His collaborator George Pelecanos is responsible for some of the best recent US crime fiction. I’ve only seen the pilot, James Franco (not a big favourite, too many Judd Apatow films) plays 2 brothers & the very lovely Maggie Gyllenhaal is er…very lovely. I saw enough of interest to ensure that I will be hanging around for the rest of the series (series 2 is already confirmed) & trusting that the 2 creators will introduce a wider social context for the excellent cast to hang their rather fetching street threads & “everything is everything” patter on.

99 Pounds Of Soul (Ann Peebles)

If you ever attended the First Baptist Church in St Louis in the 1950’s & 60’s I’m sure that you were in for a treat. Minister of music Perry Peebles directed the Peebles Choir, founded by his father & which, over the years, included his wife Eula, their 11 children & many of the extended Peebles family. The seventh of the 11 siblings, Ann, was blessed with an outstanding voice. She was a natural performer on the Gospel circuit &, born in 1947, was of a generation where the transfer to secular Soul was easier than it had been for those 10 years older than her.

 

 

Image result for ann peebles willie mitchellAnn Peebles sang with bands in St Louis clubs before, on a trip to Memphis, impressing Gene “Bowlegs” Miller with her take on the Jimmy Hughes ballad “Steal Away, a 1964 hit from FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. “Bowlegs” (great name) referred her to Willie Mitchell, head of A&R at Hi Records, after a run through of the same song Ann found herself with a recording contract before she was 21 years old. Hi was known for its instrumental hits. Trumpeter/band leader/producer Mitchell had his own very groovy success in 1968 with the King Curtis tune “Soul Serenade“. Now Willie was looking to expand the label’s roster, matching new vocal talent to his ideas about how Soul went. As it says in the small print in the ad (trust me it’s there) for Ann’s 1971 45 “Somebody’s On Your Case” “Produced by Willie Mitchell & it’s pure Memphis”.

 

There was no instant success for Peebles. The label took time to school Ann in recording & promotion. Her debut LP “This Is…” (1969) was heavy on cover versions of recent hits. Two fine singles in 1970 made an impression but there was little new material & the “Part Time Love” LP (1971) included 6 tracks from that first record. “Straight From the Heart” was released in the same year &, as can be heard from “Slipped, Tripped & Fell in Love” & “99 Pounds”, she was finding her own strong, individual, mature style. There were others at Mitchell’s Royal Studios who were hitting the spot too.

 

 

“99 Pounds” was written for & about Ann by Don Bryant, a staff member at Hi assigned as her mentor. The pair did not instantly bond. Ann thought that she knew how to sing & Don thought that his own recordings were being neglected. This 3rd LP included 3 songs written by the singer (2 co-written with Bryant). In 1973 they co-operated on the song that defines Ann Peebles career. A year later the couple were married.

 

Image result for ann peeblesAt this time the walls of Hi Records’ office was filling up with gold discs as Al Green, another Mitchell discovery, became the new Soul sensation. The house band, the Hodges brothers, Charles (organ), Leroy (bass) & Teenie (guitar) with drummer Howard Grimes. augmented by the Memphis Horns (over from Stax) found a warm, melodic, still funky groove that became the new hit sound. These musicians are all over every Ann Peebles record, driving the song along, complementing her assertive lyrics. The Hi Rhythm Section are an instantly recognisable unit & Man, they’re good !

 

 

“I Can’t Stand the Rain”, we all know that one, bringing back sweet memories. A Peebles/Bryant composition with assistance from local DJ Bernie Miller it is the title track of a monumental LP, an update on the Southern Country Soul of the late 1960’s, a Hi-point of that label’s fine discography. In 1974 the record was not a major hit, the single just making the US Top 40, the LP #155. It was though recognised as an enduring piece of resistance. In 1978 a German disco version hit the US Top 20 & the UK Top 10, Tina Turner included a version on “Private Dancer” a 20 million selling album & our man Lowell George, off of Little Feat, made a good fist of it on his one solo LP.

 

Image result for ann peeblesThere are 7 Ann Peebles LPs from this period & there’s some high quality moments. “Beware” is from “Tellin’ It” (1975), take a look at that clip, a singer in her prime & how was that not a hit ? Willie Mitchell thought that Ann didn’t fulfill her potential, that she was not committed to becoming a star. I’m sure that as label boss he wanted her to be the female Al Green. The public’s tastes in African-American music were changing, they wanted to dance themselves dizzy. Ann was never as lyrically brazen as Millie Jackson, not as Disco as Donna Summer. There are some great Pop-Soul tracks (“A Love Vibration”, “Dr Love Power”) but she just did that thing she did & never was able to make the connection that transferred into major sales.

 

 

Ann took a break to raise her son in 1978. 10 years later she returned, on Willie Mitchell’s new label, but the electro-Soul sound didn’t really compare with her previous work. In 1989 the Waylo Soul Revue came to Europe. “A Memphis Soul Night” featuring Ann, Otis Clay & others confirms that there was a pretty good gig that I missed. She continued to perform & there are more records. Her reputation endured & her music was sampled by many Hip Hop artists. There’s a version of Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” on the Joe Henry project “I Believe In My Soul” (2005) that absolutely does the trick.

 

Ann Peebles didn’t enter the pantheon of female Soul singers like Aretha, Diana & Gladys. She came around a little later than those legends & her brand of Southern Soul was no longer in the 1970’s mainstream. There’s more to her music than “I Can’t Stand the Rain” & “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. The records she made for Hi have all been re-released & if you are tempted by one of the many compilations then make sure it’s a double one because her “Best of” will not fit on the one LP or CD.

 

 

No Static At All

I must have been good in 1977. At Christmas Santa brought two brand new copies of “Aja” by Steely Dan & some spiffy new headphones. That was me sorted until New Year. The group, now a duo, had released an album a year since 1972, it would be 3 more years before the next collection. “Aja” was good enough to get us through that long wait, still is. Not sure what happened to the cans.

 

 

 

Image result for walter beckerWalter Becker, who died this weekend, has been part of my musical landscape for 45 years now. From the compendium of finely crafted pop songs on the debut “Can’t Buy A Thrill” through to the my kind of Jazz Lounge of “Gaucho” any album that I hook up to is better than most everything else I hear. I have grown up with their music & their developing sophistication has helped me to grow up. Steely Dan’s literate, considered, often acerbic & cynical lyrics of the high life & the lowlife described a world that I was perhaps a little too familiar with. There are so many fine lines but an intro like “Five names that I can hardly stand to hear. Including yours and mine & one more chimp who isn’t here” makes “Bad Sneakers” a desert island favourite.

 

Image result for walter beckerThis is not an obituary, anyone who once heard “Do It Again” or “Reelin’ In The Years” seems to have had their say this week. All I want to say is that Walter Becker’s memory will be eternal & Walter, thank you for the tracks of whack.

 

Random Notes (August 2017)

OK, Summer break’s over… back on your head ( the punchline to a very old joke). Recently the going got weird so, as any fool knows, the weird turn Pro. As Life took a turn written by a Russian existentialist the blog took a back seat. Touting my favourite music seemed to be an inappropriate gewgaw but, y’know, I like doing it & I’ve certainly not stopped listening. Right, as Fyodor Dostoevsky used to say, “What the fuck”…Is this thing on ?

 

 

Single of the month is this glorious racket from Cleveland’s finest Pere Ubu. It’s been quite some time since I saw singer David Thomas & his crew perform music from the future at the Russell Club/Factory in Manchester. Those first two records from 1978, “The Modern Dance” & “Dub Housing”, angular, challenging post-Punk collections were so outstanding (& still sound great) that any music the group has released since merits consideration. Breaks have been taken, the line up has changed while David Thomas abides. In 1989 “Waiting For Mary” was one of the songs of that year, showing that the avant-garage experimentation combined with the ability to rock was a fine blend.

 

Image result for pere ubu monkey bizness“Monkey Bizness” is a taste of something fine from the upcoming LP “20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo”. The video features the classic 1990s “Funhouse” pinball machine, a little complicated for my old-school arcade taste but still a quality table. I’ll be looking forward to hearing the rest of the record, Ubu’s first since “Carnival of Souls” (2014), in September. A young person walked in while I was enjoying this track at high volume & wondered what the heck was going on…that’s good right ?

 

This month, like most everyone I know, I handed over some of my hard-earned to the local multiplex & they let me see “Dunkirk”. Christopher Nolan has always been worth the money since the low budget “Following” (1998) & the startling “Memento” (2000). He makes blockbusters now but his version of a previous British exit from continental Europe (a retreat which like most of our defeats has been portrayed as heroic) was never going to be a Speilbergian war epic. We got a sparse, impressionistic cinematic experience, emotionally anchored by a restrained performance by Mark Rylance as the middle-aged captain of a small rescue boat, which I found immersive & enjoyable.

 

 

Image result for goon last of the enforcersI was not going to miss the return to the screen  of Doug “The Thug” Glatt the pugilistic protagonist of “Goon” (2011). Any Ice Hockey (as we Europeans call it, to distinguish it from an entirely different sport played on grass) movie will be compared to “Slapshot” the 1977 comedy/drama directed by George Roy Hill & starring Paul Newman, one from the top shelf of sport films. Glatt (Sean William Scott) is no Reggie Dunlop. His not-too-bright amiability, his talent to hit somebody/anybody giving him somewhere he belonged, made for an endearing & enjoyable story.

 

This time around writer Jay Baruchel directs, the humour is still coarse, the exposition broad. In “Goon: Last of the Enforcers” Doug is now married to Eva (the lovely Alison Pill), too punched out to play with his oddball teammates on the Halifax Highlanders, replaced by Anders Cain (Goldie & Kurt’s boy Wyatt Russell who seems to have been busy since that gaming episode of “Black Mirror”). He turns to old rival Ross “The Boss” Rhea (Liev Schreiber, the great Ray Donovan, excellent as another washed-up brawler in the capable biopic “Chuck”) for help. The violence is gratuitous, the story often sentimental but it was good to spend time in Doug’s company & to see how he is getting on. I’ve seen the film described as “hockey-flavoured comfort food” & sometimes that’s just the refreshment you need of an evening.

 

 

 

Image result for syreeta albumOf course it’s never all new stuff round here & the LP I have mainly been listening to this month is a classic from 1972. Syreeta Wright married Stevie Wonder in 1970. Together they wrote the songs for “Where I’m Coming From” (1971) Stevie’s first step towards independence from Motown, the beginning of a decade of musical brilliance. The marriage lasted just 18 months but they worked together on “Syreeta” (1972) her debut LP. The hook up with Tonto’s Expanding Headband (Robert Margouleff & Malcolm Cecil) brought new synthesizer textures to the music & they are around for this record. Some of the tracks are a little sweet, it’s not Deep Soul & it’s not Detroit, more a modern Soul similar to Minnie Riperton’s “Perfect Angel” (1974) Related imageanother LP that Stevie & his crew worked on. The charming opening track “I Love Everything About You” sets the standard while the closer,the scorching Funk throb of “To Know You is to Love You”, is good enough to stand with the many great tracks created by Wonder. The pair collaborated on a more commercial follow up which made a bigger impression but, this month at least, I’m going with “Syreeta”.

One Great Song Three Great Records (Dedicated To The One I Love)

Image result for the mamas and the papas dedicatedThe first time I heard “Dedicated to the One I Love” was in February 1967 when the Mamas & the Papas released the song as a single. The year since the arrival of their debut LP “If You Can Believe Your Eyes & Ears” had been golden for the four part harmony group. Apparently John and Mitchy were getting kind of itchy just to leave the folk music behind. With Denny Doherty & Cass Elliott the Phillips’s sang like a band of angels. “California Dreaming” & “Monday Monday”, instant classics, blended  West Coast sunshine with grown up songs. The four voices were such a natural fit they could have recorded excerpts from the phone book & it would have sounded fine.

 

“Dedicated to the One I Love” was the group’s fifth Top 10 hit in 2 years. The Mamas & the Papas epitomised Los Angeles bohemian chic & the musicians of Laurel Canyon were displacing the movie stars of Hollywood as the city’s cool set. I’m not going to be able to leave this without declaring that in 1967 Michelle Phillips, “Dedicated…” being her finest recording, was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in the world. You don’t believe me ? Then watch this…

 

 

Related image“Dedicated to the One I Love” & the Mamas & the Papas were such a perfect fit I assumed that John Phillips had written this one too. This was not the case, the song had been a hit for the Shirelles in 1961.  “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”, the first big one of many for the songwriting team Goffin & King was one of theirs. “Soldier Boy” that was another one. The 4 Jersey Girls pioneered the girl-group sound, a big part of 60s American Pop. In 1966 I loved the Crystals, Ronettes, Shangri-Las & the graduates of the Motown charm school. The Shirelles seemed a little over by then, I had never heard their version of “Dedicated…”. What did I know ? Back then I had never even heard of the 5 Royales.

 

 

Image result for the 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveNow that’s how it originally went. In the days before Rock & Roll the 5 Royales were a pretty big deal. The group, from Winston-Salem, North Carolina, took up permanent residence in the R&B Top 10 between 1952-54. At Apollo Records in New York they were skilled at taking Gospel groups & steering them towards Doo-Wop. The Selah Jubilee Singers became the Larks & the Royal Sons Quintet, the 5 Royales. These early hits featured the strong lead vocal of Johnny Tanner & a tenor sax break. Band member Lowman Pauling had a facility for writing fine songs & he was soon to prove that he had another 6 strings to his bow.

 

Image result for lowman paulingThe group’s sound was updated when the saxophone was joined by Lowman’s guitar. His stinging, economical, innovative style marked the 5 Royales out from the crowd. Young guitarists like Steve Cropper, later to be such a presence at Stax, & John Fogarty, off of Credence Clearwater Revival, certainly listened & imitated. Lowman continued to provide great material. In 1957 there was another burst of success with songs that were not only popular but influential. “Think” was recorded by James Brown, “Tell the Truth” by Ray Charles. For “Dedicated to the One I Love”, co-written by Pauling & producer Ralph Bass, Johnny Tanner’s younger brother Eugene stepped up to add the sweetness that the song needed & made it such a popular, enduring classic. The swagger from Lowman Pauling’s guitar is what makes it outstanding. The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is not a concept that much concerns me but when the 5 Royales were ushered through the door in 2015 I was happy to see them recognised.

 

 

 

In 1968 Stax Records of Memphis found themselves at the wrong end of a deal with Atlantic. In September 1969, to counter the loss of a stellar back catalogue, the label released 27 new LPs. One of them, “Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes sold 3 million copies, inspired a whole lot of Orchestral Soul & kept Stax in the record-making game. Producer Jo Bridges set up the subsidiary We Produce label & brought along the Temprees, a trio who had been friends from high school in Memphis.

 

Image result for the tempreesThere are 3 Temprees albums, all large helpings of sweet, symphonic Soul. In 1972 it was the vocal groups up in Philadelphia, the Gamble & Huff stable, O’Jays, Bluenotes, the Stylistics who were getting the hits. Then there was the Chi-Lites & always the Temptations. The lead falsetto vocals of Jabbo Phillips stand comparison with Russell Thompkins of the Stylistics but the Temprees never achieved similar success. Their unhurried take on “Dedicated…” is a delight, a great vocal supported by Stax’ house orchestra, Isaac Hayes’ back-up, the Movement. Never fails to hit the spot this one…”Ooh Baby !”.

 

Image result for 5 royales dedicated to the one i loveSo here’s 3 versions of a great love song from 3 different decades each one a fine example of a style current at the time. Then there’s the Shirelles US Top 10 record, Bitty McLean’s reggaefied UK hit, the title track of a Linda Ronstadt LP, a live tribute by Laura Nyro, a champion of New York R&B.  Lowman Pauling died in 1973, he’s buried in Winston-Salem next to his brother Clarence Paul, mentor of Stevie Wonder, co-writer of “Fingertips”, “Until You Come Back to Me”, “Hitch Hike” & many others. Man, that’s a talented family. The man whose name is on these & many other versions saw very little money from his composition. At the time of his death he was working as a night watchman at a New York church. Lowman now has a reputation as a star guitarist (try “The Slummer the Slum”, an early use of feedback) but something is not right there.