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”.

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That Girl Can Sing (70s Soul)

In 1970 Willie Mitchell took over the output of Hi Records in Memphis. His production talents & his nonpareil house band made Al Green one of the biggest soul stars of the early part of the decade. While O.V. Wright was not on his label Mitchell made some definitive Southern soul with the singer. Another protegé, Syl Johnson, released some fine tunes that sound like impressions of Green. It was his female star, Ann Peebles, who made the most distinctive records of this time that were not by “the Prince of Love”.

Ann is known for her biggest hit “I Can’t Stand The Rain”, covered by many artists of taste & for “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”. “Rain” was sampled in 1997 by the always interesting Missy Elliott. From 1969 to 1975 she collaborated with Willie & made a run of great records which all have the unmistakable feel and precision of the Hi house band, the 3 Hodges Brothers, Al Jackson Jr & the Memphis Horns (Wayne Jackson & Andrew Love). “Beware” is from 1975. There will be no more of these gems. A collection of Ms Peebles’ work, including B-sides if possible is a lovely thing.

From a year earlier Syreeta’s “Spinnin’ & Spinnin'” is from 1974’s LP “Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta”. The couple were divorced in 1972 after an 18 month long marriage. They continued to work together, This is the 2nd record that Stevie produced for her &  all the songs are either his or are co-written with Syreeta. It is a delightful record, Stevie had produced “Perfect Angel” for Minnie Riperton (Oh My !) in this year & there is a similar lightness of touch. He was also working on “Fulfillingess’ First Finale” at this time & Syreeta’s record fits right in there with his unbeatable music of the first half of the 70s.

Well, I’m too old to make a fool of myself on a dance floor but in Chaka Khan’s case I may make an exception. “Once You Get Started” is a 1975 single from “Rufusized” the 2nd of 6 Top 20 LPs in the US. The band had gotten started with a hit “Tell Me Something Good” written for them by Stevie Wonder. The “& Chaka Khan” was added for the 2nd LP. You can see why. The young & beautiful Chaka was compared to Tina Turner & Aretha, she was a star. In 1978 her first solo LP included the Ashford & Simpson written smash “I’m Every Woman” but she did return to Rufus to record with them. A final recording session with the band produced “Ain’t Nobody”, a prized possession for anyone who had the 12″ vinyl single. Then it was off to Prince for “I Feel For You” & deserved legendary status. Watch the clip again…she’s great.

In the late 70s the sweet soul drifted into Disco &, I feel, some individuality was lost. I mean Donna Summer was good but…It was soon impossible to go a whole day without hearing something by the Bee Gees &, Jah knows I tried. These lip-synch clips from a Dutch TV programme are a high quality chance to hear some great music & see some great artists in their prime.

More Motown Memories

I was looking through the discography of  Tamla Motown’s UK releases…because a man loves a list…”Hitsville USA” indeed. There are so many stone dead classics, now part of our musical DNA. The Supremes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, hit record after hit record. There are other great releases which did not make the same golden impression but were from the same Motown stable of producers, writers and musicians and are of the same high quality. Here are just three which I have been able to select with no great brain strain on my part.

The Marvelettes were early successes for the label. In 1961 the unforgettable “Please Mr Postman” (covered by the Beatles, no less) and the totally forgettable “Twistin’ Postman” were hits. By the mid-60s they had been eclipsed by other female groups but in 1967 they struck an artistic and commercial seam which brought more success. “My Baby Must be A Magician”, written and produced by Smokey Robinson, was the group’s third Top 30 record of the year. It’s a great smooth Smokey song, Melvyn Franklin off of the Temptations booms the introduction then Marv Taplin does something with a guitar that you have to be in the Magic Circle to know how it’s done.

The Internet Oracle, Wikipedia, tells us that the Marvellettes quit  in 1970. In the early 80s I saw three ladies of a certain age perform as the group in support of Graham Parker & the Rumour at the Hammersmith Palais in London. Now I have no idea if any of these songstresses were Wanda Rogers, the lead singer on “Baby” or indeed if any of them had ever even been to Inkster, Michigan. The group performed “Postman”, “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “Hunter Gets Captured by the Game”, “When You’re Young & in Love”…all the hits. No-one cared who they were and showed their appreciation of a fine act.

You do not get to see live, in colour, performances of Motown acts very often. This clip of Junior Walker & the All Stars is wild and astonishing. The signature of the “Sound of Young America” was soul with sophistication but Junior, older than the other stars, was straight gutbucket R&B. The shouting sax player hit big with “Shotgun” and the hits just kept on coming. He would Walkerize songs from the Motown catalogue and in the dancefloors of UK mod clubs were jammed when they were played. The records are not as rugged as we see him here. The British audience are open-mouthed as they get to see such a great American soul act.

It’s a treat to see the Ram Jam Club too. I have Cockney friends who never tire of telling of the time they saw Jimi Hendrix play in this Brixton dive. I frequented the same venue in the 80s when it had transformed into the “Fridge”. It was an innovative and popular hang-out but the old Mods would always crack on about the old days being better than the todays. Looking at Junior Walker and the All Stars tearing up the place they may have been right.

“I Can’t Give Back The Love I Feel For You” is the 1968 debut 45 for Syreeta Wright. Written by the team of Ashford and Simpson who’s songs were so wonderfully interpreted by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. (On this one they were assisted by Brian Holland, one of the amazing brothers). It was not a hit and Syreeta did not make too many records for a while. What she did do was fall in love and marry Stevie Wonder. They wrote hit songs together at a time when Stevie was distancing himself from Motown and feeling his way towards a more mature sound which was to pretty much take over the world. The marriage did not last but the couple worked together on 2 Syreeta solo LPs which are fine companions to Stevie’s great run of recordings in the early 70s.

I was on to Syreeta from the beginning because this fine single was released under the name Rita Wright and…that was my mother’s name ! What else could I do ?