Thursday, January 21, 2021

Songs About People # 1,239 Michelangelo


On the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st Century, rememberance of beauty past and present and promise for the future. Cassandra Jenkins, who is certainly the latter has a debut album coming soon which should certainly be worth a listen. Here's a taster.

1981 Singles # 30 Pigbag


This will return in a few days in the This Is Uncool series. Never mind. It rewards replaying. One of the best pop / dance instrumental singles ever made. That's a fact Jack!

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 164 The La's - The La's

'The best retro pop album ever made.'


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 169 Public Image Ltd


'PiL's last stand remains the strangest chart record of the last 25 years, maybe ever.'

Song of the Day # 2,555 Alex Bleeker


Nice and mellow start to a cold Thursday. An album, called Heaven on the Faultline is due a few months down the line.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Songs About People # 1,238 Thiago Silva


A song about a modern footballer. Difficult to get behind entirely in these wholly corporate times for the game but the footballer in question is certainly a worthy subject of attention even if the song itself is not hugely inspiring. Kids eh!

1981 Singles # 31 Squeeze


Consistent achievers over a number of years.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 163 Morrissey - Bona Drag


'Mozzer's very own Hatful of Hollow.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 168 Dexys Midnight Runners


'Rowland was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and finding out that he was one of those people not psychologically designed for fame.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,554 Buck Meek


January is rarely the most rewarding month for new Rock and Roll releases and 2021 seems unlikely to buck this particular trend. But speaking of buck, Big Thief's guitarist Buck Meek has come along to liven proceedings somewhat with a charming and diverting set of Country Folk hoedowns called Two Saviors.

It's all rather  hokey and corny. Hardly essential but not really trying to be. None of the underlying durm und Strang that Big Thief customarily stir into the mix to a some degree , but plenty of their cosmic awestruck wonder at the very condition of simply being alive.

Giving the impression that many of these songs were dreamed up and constructed, even recorded around a campfire in the backwoods with good, travelling  friends, Two Saviors is loose and slack and decidely throwaway, in best beatnik, freewheeling American tradition, and all the better for all that.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

1981 Singles # 32 Duran Duran


Regrettably, within a couple of years Duran Duran and their ilk were everywhere. This remains my favourite of their songs.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 162 Pet Shop Boys - Behaviour


'Not Neil and Chris's most popular album but perhaps their most admired.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 167 The Whispers


'A slight song but a mighty way of singing it...'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,553 Sun Drift


Sun Drift sound like a band, playing to one another, sat round in a circle in a recording studio, like The Byrds, or erm The Beatles. Pure old school. In fact they're not at all. From what I can gather they're actually pretty much a one man band, or at least driven by the guiding vision of one man, Sheffield's Zach Barfoot.

It's tribute to his savvy and execution that Sund Drift sound very much an eight or ten legged concern rather than a largely two legged one. Latest album Lucky, (from last year), their second, is an incredibly accomplished record, making the case that the song, in the way we used to consider it, is not quite dead just yet.

The whole record positively purrs with melody and quiet assurance. Elliott Smith, Bill Ryder-Jones and Beirut are obvious precursors but Barfoot has sufficient talent and purpose of his own to make his own thing of them. Altogether rather lovely.

This is very much a piece in terms of its mood and flow. Best listened to at a single sitting in a warm living room. Barfoot is a sharp, self-contained talent and I look forward greatly to what he comes up with next.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 166 ESG


'Their first definitive three track single.'

Song of the Day # 2,552 Painted Shrines


The new song that's pricked my ears up most this year. From a debut album which will arrive in March.In their own words 'splitting the difference between The Clean's Unknown Country and The Byrds Fifth Dimension.'

Phil Spector 1939-2021


1981 Singles # 34 Simple Minds


Simple Minds came to full fruition in 1982 with New Gold Dream. Here was an early indicator of exactly how glorious that would be a year earlier.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 160 Public Enemy - Fear of a Blck Planet


'This album is hip hop's most directly rebellious and politically charge tract.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 165 The Pretenders


'From The Meaning of Life to The Meaning of Love.'

Song of the Day # 2,551 Chris Brokaw


Chris Brokaw, once of Codeine, has a new album out, from which this is an immediate standout. Sounding like a Thurston Moore, Lee Ranaldo workout, this stretches beyond seven minutes and doesn't waste a second.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Jeff Beck


Pop Culture Books # 9 Music From The Big Pink - by John Niven


The 33 1/3 series is a thing of beauty in itself, particularly tending to the needs of music obsessives like myself. Each entry focuses on a particular album in the great rock tapestry, usually a classic of some or other kind. This particular book is a bit different in that it takes a quite different approach from most of the others in the series, the standard biographical backdrop and analytical dissection of individual songs meanings and atmospheres. I've devoured it over the past few days and will do my best to explain why I got wrapped up in it now as well as urging you to buy and experience it for yourselves.

John Niven, who has since made quite a name for himself, (this was his debut and entry point into publishing fiction), takes a new road into discussing the cost of creating great art. Essentially through fiction although real people and historic factual moments are explored. Greg Keltner, the rod around which Niven organises his tale, and narrator of Music From Big Pink, is a fictionalised but a highly credible and empathetic character who comes to stand for a hundred or more narratives of those who fell by the wayside as Rock and Roll became serious and seriously troubled as the Sixties progressed and the main players proceeded to paint their masterpieces and drugs took hold. The view from the side of or at the lap of the stage.

Keltner has the fortune, or perhaps the ultimate misfortune, to enter the orbit of Bob Dylan and The Band as they land up in Woodstock in 1967 after touring Europe and The States together and proceed to draw up a whole new map of agrarian wonder and anguish musically together for a generation of musicians to explore for the best part of the next ten years. You can look at this moment in two ways. A moment where Rock either lost its way completely or else discovered the serious intent required to turn itself into a genuine artform.

The part The Band played in plotting this particular bend in the road is every bit as significant as that of Dylan himself. This is what Keltner witnesses and experiences at first hand mostly through his friendship and role as drug supplier and drug buddy for two of them in particular, Richard Manuel and Rick Danko the notable narcotic fiends of the group. It's a brilliantly conceived window on this world and Niven describes the scenes of musical and sensory abandon to such a vivid and convincing degree that you feel like you're in the room with the main players as they jack up and get wasted, play together and betray themselves and each other.

So The Band play music and party to an obsessive and intense degree. Keltner is a fellow Canadian and develops an easy going but genuine empathy for and with Manuel and Danko. His relationship with the other Band members is a little more sketchy and distant, with Robbie Robertson in particular portrayed as a remote, calculating and largely unsympathetic operator. Levon Helm and Garth Hudson play lesser roles.

The Band are obviously an incredibly important group in Rock history, in many ways, casting a vast encompassing shadow on the closing years of the decade musically. There's an argument to be made that they played a significant role in the break ups of both The Beatles and Cream. They pointed out a new path through the woods. In the words of Al Aronowitz, perhaps the first pop journalist, 'the band dips into the well of tradition and comes up with buckets full of clear, cool country soul that washes the ears with a sound never heard before.' You can still hear that sense of discovery from listening to either of their first two albums and Niven captures wonderfully what it was like hearing that new dawn first hand.
The book is not without flaws and they're very apparant ones. There's a certain amount of quite unnecessary Sixties event box ticking that goes on throughout. There's no real reason for Keltner to rub shoulders with Lou Reed and listen to and turn his nose up at the first Velvet Underground album in a grisly party downtown, or to trip at a New York cinema showing of The Graduate with the girl he's besotted with. We don't particularly need to experience the deaths of King, Robert Kennedy and the shooting of Warhol as they intersect with events of the main characters. In many ways it reminds me of my own mercifully unpublished novel which was also a kitchen sink affair. Much more so than Music From The Big Pink of course.

But, but there are moments where Niven seems to get it just right. To an extraordinary degree. With the character of Keltner most immediately, a flawed, pained and doomed but strangely sympathetic narrator. Also with the portrayal of the drug taking in that inner crcle and their camp followers and the horrific toll it wages on those concerned, which is written about to a rivettingly intense and detailed degree.Tellingly Robbie Robertson, whose portrayal as I've mentioned, is far from flattering, has said off the record that the book captures the essence of the experience to an eery, almost creepy degree.Most of all to Keltner's personal witnessing of that astonishing music being created and performed. Niven's passages, the best things in the book, need to be read, absorbed and shared.

Most of all Music From The Big Pink has succeeded in enticing me back to the music of The Band and that can never be a bad thing. I've always found them rather worthy by comparison with many of their North American contemporaries. Frankly I'd generally rather listen to The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Lovin' Spoonful, Jefferson Airplane,  The Doors, Creedence or Big Star. Music From The Big Pink, (the book of course), first and foremost makes a compelling case for The Band's importance in the scheme of things and encourages an immediate return to the source products, and in that respect it's a job very well done.

Covers # 149 Bonnie Raitt


Bonnie claims John Prine's original for her own.

Songs About People # 1,236 John Coltrane


Peter Sarstedt is now almost entirely known for Where Do You Go To My Lovely nowadays which comes across as something of a novelty record at this remove, despite its innate beauty. But he did have quite a bit more to offer. Including this.

1981 Singles # 35 Department S


Definitive one hit wonders. Still love that guitar sound. Plus the utterly meaningless but menacing lyric.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 159 The Fall - 45 84 89


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 164 Talking Heads


'Once in a Lifetime is one of the greatest things I know. Same as it ever was.'

Song of the Day # 2,550 Los Mac's


Pioneering Chilean Garage Band. This, their best known song, replete with machine gun rattle came from their groundbreaking 1967 album Kaleidoscope Men.

Sylvain Sylvain 1951 - 2020


I saw the Dolls, (well Johansen, Sylvain and some hired hands), about ten years ago. They were great. The old songs stood up very well and both of them were fabulous showmen. They also paid tribute to the fallen three and it was actually very moving. God knows how great they would have been first time around. The whole point about them more than any other band ever possibly was about the experience itself. They made the point that it was certainly not all about proficient musicianship a good four years before most of the rest of the world started to cotton on. Sylvain more than anyone kept the flame going. A definite loss.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Songs About People # 1,235 Lilian Roxon


One for the Godmother of Rock Criticism.

1981 Singles # 36 ABC


1982 was really the year of ABC. But they gave an early indicator of what was to pass.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 158 The Fall - Extricate


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 163 The Jam


'That's Entertainment is the perfect place to leave the period's most feted singles band.Weller was never as good nor relevant as this again.'

Song of the Day # 2,549 Carousel Rogues


I can tell you little about Carousel Rogues except that their name is cool, they hail from Maryland they are now based in Nashville and that their sound is Poppy and highly likeable.  

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Nick Kent


Songs About People # 1,234 Caryl Chessman


Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks, (who broke away and became The Band), played this for Caryl Chessman a convicted robber, killer and rapist. Chessman contested these charges but was executed in 1960. You can read his story here.

Procol Harum


1981 Singles # 37 Fire Engines


Coming up again on the This is Uncool series shortly. One of the funkeiest Indie guitar tracks ever made. From Davie Henderson, who Marc Riley calls,' The gretest living Scotsman,' and with good reason. 

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 157 N.W.A.. - Straight Outta Compton


'The stoopidest thrill-funk album of all times,the ultimate in liberal baiting, blaxpoitation.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 162 The Teardrop Explodes


'Horns were big in 1981 but Reward is where they were biggest.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,548 The Soods


Jason Roy a musician from Grand Rapids, Michigan and essentially the driving force behind The Soods is responsible for a noteworthy, wistful album called Ornaments of Affection which came out last year.

Cosmic and awestruck and very, very American in the manner of forbears such as Chris Bell, Gram Parsons, Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips and Kurt Vile, The Soods gaze in wonder at the marvels the universe offers on a daily basis, partaking occasionally I suspect of substances that enhance the fabulous experience.

Not every track here goes anywhere really, so this would be a seven out of ten for me, but there are a handfuls of moments that transcend that rating and I've tried to post them here.