I'll leave Rosie's to their own devices for this evening. Contentedly watching the Brighton / Leeds game. In the meantime here's a great early seventies British chart hit. Pete Wingfield went on to produce the first and very great Dexys Midnight Runners album Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.
Monday, February 29, 2016
Sunday, February 28, 2016
Brian Jones, had he lived, which was always an improbability, would have been seventy four today. Here's Patti Smith, giving a live rendition of her tribute to him.
'I grabbed Brian Jones' ankle once. It was in 1964 and they were playing with Patti Labelle and the Bluebelles in a high school auditorium in South Jersey.'
It's Sunday, so here's Iggy Pop singing Sunday from his forthcoming album Post Pop Depression, quite possibly the way he's talking in interviews the last he'll ever make. This particular song is oddly reminiscent of the ones he made with Bowie in the seventies. Just fine anyhow!
'A Scratch in the Sky' is one of those rare records laid down at the height of the sixties which manage to pull in the best qualities of the band's many influences and turn back out something wholly unto is own. The cosmic harmonies of the Beach Boys, the jangling spirit of The Byrds, the rollicking pop of The Beatles; these are all commonly borrowed sounds, but rarely ones so expertly disassembled and recast as we hear on this record. Though this collection of songs remain well-polished through studio-craft and the musicians own abilities, it retains a freshness, and noncommercial edge that makes it both an accessible and adventurous listen.'
In the States in the mid-sixties it was perfectly normal to be able to make huge waves locally without registering so much as a blip in terms of national commercial or critical recognition. Such was the case with the Cryan' Shames, one of the biggest bands in Chicago for a couple of years while achieving only one Billboard Single hit in 1966, and that only getting as far as # 49, with Sugar and Spice, a cover of a Searchers tune.
Often with bands like this, the hit single is the one moment that's worthy of remembering but in the case of The Cryan' Shames the exact opposite is true. Their real legacy lies in their second album 1967's A Scratch in the Sky, which falls just slightly short of contemporary baroque/ chamber pop albums by The Zombies and The Left Banke (both of which have since since achieved classic status), but is nevertheless well worth tracking down for anybody interested in the period and genre.
While obviously deeply indebted to the great albums of the time (as mentioned in the quoted passage at the start of the post), most obviously The Beatles, Revolver and The Beach Boys, Pet Sounds, in addition to The Byrds, The Lovin' Spoonful, The Turtles and so on, what A Scratch in the Sky does achieve is in managing to convey the sheer contagious energy and joy of being a young adult at the time. While their first album, also called Sugar and Spice, is heavy reliant on covers, and for the most not particularly inspired ones, this time round the band's songwriting team Jim Fairs and Lenny Kerley take the reins themselves and all but two of the eleven tracks are their own compositions. and they're mostly very good ones.
Not particularly inventive lyrically, these songs aren't really particularly about anything, they generally echo the sentiments of their time, where the band's genuine talents lie are in terms of their tight playing and the creative ambition of their arrangements. These are highly evocative of 1967 a landmark year in rock history and its to the records enormous credit that it doesn't pale by comparison with everything that was coming out then.
When Side 1 kicks in to Side 2 and they do their version of The Drifter's Up on the Roof, you'll want to throw up your hands, kick off your shoes and just be glad to be alive. There's definitely something about that energy to this particular record. This is almost too well known to work in any other context but they re-craft it hugely into a white, youth pop experience of sheer bliss. It has a claim to be at the very least the equal of the original.
From there to the stars in my eyes, wholly Beach Boys driven It Could Be We're in Love. The Cryan' Shames, like so many of the second ranking artists of the period were utterly under the spell of the sounds around them but this takes nothing away from the achievement of this album. It's every inch a small gem.
Much in the same way as The Turtles, Turtle Soup, which I've posted about on here recently, A Scratch in the Sky, distills so much of the energy, joy and vigor of the time of its release, shakes it up and pumps it back out without claiming or aiming to innovate but at the same time achieving a small, but pretty perfect identity of its own.
The record itself gained local prominence without featuring on national charts and pretty soon afterwards the band disintegrated with the Vietnam draft plucking members and a poorly thought through attempt to rock out with their third album, Synthesis. The band have since reformed and still tour.This is their go to record. Full of the joys of spring!
More from the slow but steady Brazilian infiltration of this blog which has taken place over the last couple of years. This is from Raul Seixas's mythical 1973 album Krig-Ha Bandolo. Seixas himself is a hugely mystic presence in Brazilian music. It's a common experience for Brazilian audiences to shout 'Toca Raul!' 'Play Raul!' in the middle of gigs, much in the manner of the 'play Freebird!' calls of American concerts. This also features in one of the most memorable scenes of the wonderful favelas gangster epic City of God.
Saturday, February 27, 2016
Early OMD is rather unfairly neglected, partly perhaps because they adopted a slightly uncool chunky sweater look. Here's their first single which was released twice but was never the hit it should have been.
As a follow up to my Kate Bush, The Dreaming review from a couple of weeks back, here's the last but one track on it again, a centerpiece of sorts and the story behind its wonderful sleeve picture. Below is Kate's own description of the song.
'The side most people know of Houdini is that of the escapologist, but he spent many years of his life exposing mediums and seances as frauds. His mother had died, and in trying to make contact through such spiritual people, he realized how much pain was being inflicted on people already in sorrow, people who would part with money just for the chance of a few words from a past loved one. I feel he must have believed in the possibility of contact after death, and perhaps in his own way, by weeding out the frauds, he hoped to find just one that could not be proven to be a fake. He and his wife made a decision that if one of them should die and try to make contact, the other would know it was truly them through a code that only the two of them knew.
His wife would often help him with his escapes. Before he was bound up and sealed away inside a tank or some dark box, she would give him a parting kiss, and as their lips met, she would pass him the key which he would later use to unlock the padlocks that chained him. After he died, Mrs. Houdini did visit many mediums, and tried to make contact for years, with no luck - until one day a medium called Mr. Ford informed her that Houdini had come through. She visited him and he told her that he had a message for her from Houdini, and he spoke the only words that meant for her the proof of her husband's presence. She was so convinced that she released an official statement to the fact that he had made contact with her through the medium, Ford.
It is such a beautiful and strange story that I thought I had very little to do, other than tell it like it was. But in fact it proved to be the most difficult lyric of all the songs and the most emotionally demanding. I was so aware of trying to do justice to the beauty of the subject, and trying to understand what it must have been like to have been in love with such an extraordinary man, and to have been loved by him. I worked for two or three nights just to find one line that was right. There were so many alternatives, but only a few were right for the song. Gradually it grew and began to piece together, and I found myself wrapped up in the feelings of the song - almost pining for Houdini. Singing the lead vocal was a matter of conjuring up that feeling again and as the clock whirrs and the song flashes back in time to when she watched him through the glass, he's on the other side under water, and she hangs on to his every breath. We both wait.' (Kate Bush Club newsletter, October 1982)
Friday, February 26, 2016
Thursday, February 25, 2016
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Massive Attack are returning to the fray fairly shortly, with a quite excellent EP, which sounds to me, (though I haven't been keeping close notes), like the best thing they've done in many, many years. It's housed in an excellent sleeve and features guest appearance from Young Fathers, (who might as well be the band's long lost sons), Roots Manuva and best of all, the return to the fold of Tricky, who appeared on their still magisterial first album Blue Lines, and as part of The Wild Bunch, before cutting loose on his solo career.
The whole record speaks loudly with all their old confidence and skill, which to me they lost somewhat after their first few records though thes admittedly set the bar almost impossibly high for almost anyone to follow, including themselves as it turned out. They have done good stuff since of course but with Grant Marshall also having come back to the band in recent years, this feels like a restoration of all their old authority and paranoid resonance and depth. Marshall talked on re-joining of 'bringing back the black', to Massive Attack and it's here in full force.
Housed in a quite beautiful limited edition, special limited edition vinyl sleeve available from the band's website which I might have to invest in, it's gratifying to hear them in such rude health again. The Pitchfork website has given the record a quite grudging thumbs up dwelling on perceived sins of the last few records and sniping particularly and quite unfairly at core member Robert Del Naja (3D), as if unwilling to dwell solely on the record and its merits. I think it's what the young do. Hear the record. It's a joy!
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
So while we're here, here's the second track from that particularly downbeat record. Well, it's my space and not the bar that Lucy's in. The second song in a row on the album named after someone. Tyler is about Gary Tyler, a young black man, placed on death row in Louisiana in 1977.
A few days back a guy came into Rosie's one evening and proceeded to put on every UB40 song on the jukebox, much to lovely barmaid Lucy's chagrin. On Sunday afternoon I went in and put this one on, the opening track from their fine debut Signing Off. To her further chagrin. Fortunately for her now she has a week's holiday.
One of the first great African Afro-rock bands coming out of Nigeria in the early seventies. These two hail from their first album, appropriately named First Chapter, which was released in 1973. The second track here, Don't bears comparison with the odd, other-wordly stuff which Can were putting out at round about the same time on Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Sunday, February 21, 2016
And it seems that Andy Summers is in agreement with the conclusion that I've come to this morning that Regatta De Blanc is a pretty great pop record although I came to it in a rather round about way by listening to and trying to review Outlandos D'Amour and deciding that their debut wasn't. Here's an extract about the recording of that second record from his autobiography One Train Later. He's quite right about just how good Message in a Bottle is. And you can see all three of them know it in the video posted below. It's interesting to watch all this time later in terms of what it's saying with all of the hip, young kids queuing up to see the gig at the start of the promo. The Police aren't jazz, prog or hippie types, they're some new point of cutting edge, and it worked in that respect. The single became the band's first Number One hit in the UK in late 1979.
'Recording this time around feels different, for we are flooded with a new wine, the dark energy of CBGB's, the visceral energy of the stage, the tense improvisations, and the needle-stabbing surge of the crowd. Filled with this brew, we reenter the studio as if we already own it. We still have to make the record, but it comes faster this time because we are now in possession of an identity, a signature sound and style that is the sound of The Police. Sting has established himself as the main songwriter and brings in new songs, a couple of which 'Message in a Bottle' and 'Bring on the Night' are gems. We have a process of getting to know the song and then rearranging it to give it the Police sound, which means moving it into a place where the sound is tight, lean and spare, the meat close to the bone. 'Message in a Bottle', 'The Bed's Too Big Without You', 'Walking on the Moon' and 'Bring on the Night' are all great songs and we argue and fight our way into tracks that remain the tight compromise between our ideas.
As we record this time, we are fueled by the wave of excitement and expectation . We have gelled as a band, and driven by the rush of playing together, we are determined to push our nascent success further. Our engineer Nigel referees and nudges us along in the right general direction but lets us try out our ideas, so the atmosphere is creative, daring, in flux. In the spirit of opening up the sound of a three-piece band, I experiment with a variety of different effect pedals. Under my foot now I have a flanger, a phaser, a compressor, a fuzz box, all of which I send through the Echoplex. I rarely try any other guitar other than the Telecaster because it seems to work on just about everything. We take our extended jam from 'Can't Stand Losing You' into the instrumental title song - 'Regatta de Blanc' - of the album. With guitar harmonics and ricocheting snare drum hits from Stewart, this piece sounds like no-one else. 'Deathwish' a new song of Sting's, is treated with a Bo diddley rhythm and given a modern edge by using the Echoplex. For the intro to 'Walking on the Moon' I play a big shining d minor eleventh chord that acts like fanfare to the subsequent get-under-your-skin melody. 'Bring on the Night' has a beautiful classical guitar arpeggio and a pungent stabbing bass line accompanying the vocal line. 'Message in a Bottle' is a masterpiece of pop song writing by Sting and will always remain a favorite of mine. Somewhere in this moment we are able to take the energy of punk and combine it with a more melodic and harmonic approach so that the result has the required edge and hipness, doesn't have the complacency or the bloated quality of earlier seventies rock. It's an unquantifiable moment, when the right three people come together under the right circumstances at the right time. There is no formula for this - and we simply make it up as we go along, but always with the intention of arriving at something that has inner tension. We fight about the music but are a tight unit. Later many musicians approach us with a somewhat wry expression and mention that they wished they had thought of it. But it would never have been so, the music of the Police could only have been made by the three of us. Recording Regatta de Blanc is a moment that remains one of the best in our history.'
Wherein I spend a Sunday morning listening to the first two Police records and come to the conclusion that the second is much better than the first, which unfortunately is the one I've chosen to write about here. Still, here's the fruit of my labour.
I was not a hip kid. I don't have photographic evidence available and would not post it here even if I could, which you can be thankful for. While other kids at my secondary school were onto what was happening in terms of the fertile music scene of the late seventies it took a while for me to catch onto what was going on and construct an identity and record collection and taste of my own. This really didn't happen until I was sixteen or so and the eighties kicked in.
Perhaps in this respect it was appropriate that The Police's first two albums were among the first that I bought for myself. They were never a very hip proposition themselves. I do strangely remember a playground conversation with a kid called Michael Rachlin, (whatever happened to?), about them where he suggested that I listen to Linton Kwesi Johnson, quite clearly the real deal rather than The Police's obviously cynical approximation of the reggae sound and feel. Still I knew no better and was listening to them on repeat on my parent's primitive Fidelity record player at the time.
I'm fairly sure I bought second record Regatta De Blanc, first and then moved back to this. Regatta De Blanc was the one which hit the payload for them, started their run of pretty much unbroken Top Five singles and launched them on the path to becoming millionaires. Outlandos D'amour had been largely neglected if not critically derided at the time but The Police and their record company persevered with it after an initially unsuccessful marketing campaign on its original release to push Roxanne and Can't Stand Losing You into the singles chart in 1979, and renew interest in the debut album the year after they'd first been put on the market ahead of Regatta De Blanc, where they really began to ride their wave.
I'd have to say the one quality really lacking in the album listening to it now is charm. The Police were hungry, ambitious and sensibly aware that this was their big shot, in the case of Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland given their CVs' probably their last one. Copeland had previously occupied the drumstool for Curved Air and Summers had played with The Animals, Kevin Coyne, Soft Machine and many more, all products of a quite bygone age. Sensibly, though deeply opportunistically, they hitched a ride on the coat-tails of punk and new wave. They were deeply despised by the elite, struggled for critical acceptance and soldiered on through a couple of years of gigs in fleapits. Their most obvious act of marketing genius were in choosing to bleach their hair to give them a striking unified visual impact and their creation of that odd reggae/rock fusion of their sound, an inspired move though not one that met the approval of purists like Michael Rachlin, and he was one of many.
It's all technically, highly proficient, a given really considering the experience and aptitude of its three players. Its themes are ever so slightly grubby, prostitution, loneliness, suicide, sex, the lyrics occasionally falling back on cliche given the full on rush of them attempting to cram all this proficiency into the straightjacket of three minute pop songs given the demands of the climate it was made in. All three were probably more comfortable within the more expansive confines of jazz or prog and this came to the surface to a greater degree in later albums where they, and Sting particularly were afforded the space to indulge their musical and intellectual fancies.
Still, I've found it a somewhat arid listening experience now, retreating to the much warmer sound and dynamics of Regatta De Blanc, as respite where I think the band really found their sound and identity, less eager to come across as something they clearly weren't and act as if they were five years or in Summers case several more, younger than they actually were.
That is generally a much better record I think for the reasons given because listening to it it feels that they are fully comfortable in their skins. As for Outlandos, it has one clearly outstanding song, Roxanne, which still sounds wonderful if you listen to it sparingly, a couple of other very good ones, probably the other singles Can't Stand Losing You and So Lonely and a fair bit of competent but disposable new wave poppy, tuneful thrash.
So perhaps I've chosen to review the wrong Police album. I still have some time for The Police. They're a very fine pop band who created a number of very skilfully crafted songs and after all they became the biggest band in the world for a short while and there are a number of worse groups that have occupied that slot. You wouldn't ever have guessed that would happen from listening to their debut though, all of the ingredients had yet to fall into place to make that a viable possibility.
All the songs are Sting's apart from Summer's offering Be My Girl, deep into the second side of the record which reveals the truth of Go-Betweens Robert Forster comment that the second last song on the album is always the worst. It's a paean to a blow up sex-doll, but it's no In Every Dream Home a Heartache and what seemed indescribably rude to me as a fourteen year old now just feels tawdry. I'm sorry, perhaps I'm being a prude, but it's not a good song.
So my overriding judgement on the record is that it's not fully-formed. The seeds are there but the band had to wait for album two to really hit their stride. Now that is a confident and impressive record, probably their best. Every song here has its place and contributes to the success of the overall project. Though Michael Rachlin still might not approve. But we'll leave that conversation in the playground, back in the deep and distant past.
While we're with P.J. here's a track from a 1969 album The Three Week Hero backed by all four members of the young Led Zep, the first time they all recorded together in a studio in Autumn 1968. He was so impressed by them he offered them a gig as his backing band. Sadly, he hasn't seen them again since.
As a post-script, curiouser and curiouser I found that this song too is available at my local jukebox!
While we're on the widescreen, and appropriately following Elvis in this particular series, here's P.J.Proby. Written by Goffin and King and produced by Jack Nitzsche who apparently fed him with marijuana to augment his performance, (according to a comment under the YouTube clip of this). This all came after public demands had been made for him to be expelled from the UK for allowing his trousers to split onstage in closely successive concerts in Croydon and Northampton. Those were different times! Most shockingly of all this great single stalled at Number 37.
David Holmes, who it's always worth keeping an eye on, has put a new band together, who have a new album out in a few weeks now. Here are a couple of things from it. It's vaguely reminiscent of lots of different things of course, Holmes is very much a record collection guy, but it's all so cleverly put together that you have to doff your cap to him. I hear echoes of The Velvets, the Spector sound, movie soundtracks of course because that's always a big part of what he does. Both of these are quite brilliant anyhow!
Saturday, February 20, 2016
Iggy Pop played this as the opening song on his latest programme on 6 Music and paid an incredible to Heron's talent and soul and told an incredibly story about seeing him play in a small upstairs room in an audience of no more than ten people in Hell's Kitchen in the early seventies.
From Morrissey to Marr. In a fascinating discussion with music journalist John Doran from three years back Marr talks about going back to his punk and post punk formative influences for his solo career The Only Ones, Magazine and Television. You can here it on this, a B-side for Upstarts from his first record. Upstarts is also just great, and firmly in the same tradition.
Del Shannon made this remarkable album in 1967 and it was released the following year. An update obviously on his early sound and an attempt to move with the times but at no time a forced sounding one, the record flowing classically from one song to the next all framed by Shannon's beautiful, plaintive voice.
It's a very strong record and what seems surprising is that it didn't garner stronger acclaim and sales at the time of its release. Perhaps not surprising really though as time was very unforgiving in this period and Shannon, even five or six years after his initial success, must have seemed like yesterday's man.
Thoughtfully arranged and vaguely but not overbearingly psychedelicised it takes the inspiration of the changing times, where the shift was being made from the singles to album format. Shannon's basic persona, lovelorn and faintly heartbroken, translates well to the medium and the album stands comparison with younger baroque contemporaries like The Zombies and Love.
I'm not claiming that this is as good as Forever Changes or Odessey & Oracle but it's not shamed by their company and it's certainly a far better record than its still obscure reputation indicates. Perhaps what it lacked at the time was the hit single to push it towards greater public recognition. Gemini, first track on the second side, sounds like that imaginary chart hit in a parallel universe to me. It was actually released as a 45 but didn't sell.
But really it's the album as a whole that deserves to be re-evaluated. Its greatest achievement perhaps is not to lose anything of the haunted, romantic quality of Shannon's earlier, better known material but to make it seem relevant again to the year it was made. These are beautifully constructed melodies hinting always at something sadder and darker. The hallmark of the very best pop music.
It's worth quoting Nik Cohn's contemporary account of the history of rock music up to this point, Awopbopaloobbopalopbamboom, to try to describe shannon's ghostly appeal.
'Del Shannon had a lumberjack's voice and never budged...He just wound himself up until he roared, from where he gradually got louder and louder and louder, climaxing with a frantic falsetto shriek. All it took was a lot of lung-power and one sharpened stick. Simple but effective.'
'He has always been one of my heavy heroes. He charges head-on at his songs like some angered bull, mauls them, bangs them against the board until they're shattered.
On stage there was the same appeal. Shannon was pretty sawn-off and wore his big guitar slung high across his chest, so that he had to haunch to get at it. That made him look aggressive and he stood square and howled. Beautiful songs, beautiful noise. Pure pop. The backing pounded along like a cavalry charge, all organ and percussion, and Del himself bull-dozing through everything. He could have knocked down brick walls, that man, he could have demolished skyscrapers.'
'There wasn't much more to him - he was originally an out-of-town boy from Grand Rapids, Michigan, but he turned into very much the spruced, smooth-voiced young businessman, shaved and manicured, toting a smile like a slot machine. That didn't matter: he sang like someone else entirely and it was his records I cared about. Raunchy might be the word I need.'
Cohn's description applies pretty well to this record too, though not unnaturally it's a little bit more lived-in and ever so slightly weary. Shannon is now blessed with a fine set of mutton-chop sideburns which he shows off on the very much of their time, interlocking pictures of him on the back of the record. They're ever so slightly sinister but again that's all part and parcel of Rock and Roll lore.
Cohn is quite right about the simple essence of his appeal. Even though this comes across ever so slightly as a concept album there's no pretension in its delivery, befitting for somebody who was originally an out-and-out Rock and Roller, his subject matter remains the same, the mysteries and anguish of love.
With its final two tracks Magical Music Box and New Orleans (Mardi Gras), the album ramps up another gear, particular with the former, the one track that threatens to topple over into pretentious territory but managing not to do so somehow anchored as it is by Shannon's utterly assured voice. They're more ambitious and all together it's a nice way to round off a hugely spirited record. There's even a touch of voodoo to New Orleans, territory. It's a magnificent track. Quite brilliantly done! The run out to the track is like a full on carnival, snaking off into the night.
It's a great album. Like Dion and precious few others from the early days of Rock and Roll Shannon had sufficient nous and talent to recast himself and reformulate his initial sound to make it genuinely relevant to times of change. Like Dion he sold precious few actual records. But the album stands certainly as one of the best unacknowledged records of the sixties.
Hilton Valentine, local hero to where this blog is coming from, he's from South Shields, part of the Newcastle urban sprawl, about ten miles from where I'm writing this. Best known of course as guitarist of The Animals, I'll always think of him for his beatific smile at the end of the promo of The House of the Rising Sun. But he also made a solo record in 1969 called All In Your Head made and recorded on the West Coast and sounding very much like it. It's a hippy period piece, Valentine himself prefers not to talk about, dissatisfied with its florid, overpowering arrangements in retrospect, returning after this to his first great loves, Rock and Roll, Skiffle and Soul driven music.
Nevertheless, it's an interesting listen. Acoustic and introspective and full of the love and peace sentiments of the time, it certainly sounds little like The Animals records of their peak years. It's wide-eyed flower child stuff, some of the lyrics sound ridiculously naive at this remove but it's all obviously deeply heartfelt. Some tracks almost sound like out-takes from Spinal Tap's formative years but the songs are lovingly presented.
Donovan is probably the guiding inspiration, and if you're not a fan of his, you almost certainly won't go for this. But it has a certain charm and spirit. The record, needless to say, sank without trace. Valentine returned to his roots, 'It was the flower-power thing. I was even chanting 'Hari Krishna' for a while. Thank God I'm not still doing that. I couldn't handle the yellow robes...'
Friday, February 19, 2016
For some inexplicable reason the first Os Mutantes album is on the jukebox at Rosie's. This is a strange but wonderful thing. I started with this!
Thursday, February 18, 2016
This belongs in any list of the truly great records!
There seems to be more and more Tropicalia encroaching onto here, and this can only be a good thing. These are the first two tracks from Som Imaginario's splendid debut album, released in 1970. The band often doubled as Milton Nascimento's backing band but come into their own here. Opening track Morse translates to English as morse, so it might be assumed they're referring to the code rather than the detective.
Many of the lyrics in second track Super-God seem to bear little relation to Portuguese at all. There's also a great excursion mid-song into old school EFL learning practice. The rest of the album is well worth investigating also.
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Interesting pop fact of the day. John Lennon was spending time listening to Wire's 154 shortly before he died. This gives me an excuse to re-post this from a couple of years back:
I posted a link to this before but liked the article and very much loved the song, ( a clear example of why Wire were so special in terms of the way they wrote ), so thought I'd print it again. From a website called 'Town Full of Losers'. Thanks!
Map Ref. 41°N 93°W
Songs have the ability to create evocative memories of particular people and places. There are songs that help me to recall towns and cities I’ve been to in the past and even ones I associate with locations I’ve yet to visit. Map Ref. 41°N 93°W is the rather unusual title of a 1979 single by British new wave band Wire. The place this song always reminds me of is a Midwestern American town in Iowa named Centerville. I’ve never actually been there, but I once went to the trouble of finding out where it was and it’s stuck in my head ever since
Graham Lewis, Wire’s bassist and vocalist, had studied Geography at school and continued his interest in cartography after that. He wrote the first half of the song after observing an aerial view of the Midwest while on a domestic flight during Wire’s first tour of the USA. The second part was inspired by a train journey through Holland a few months later. In Kevin Eden’s book about the band,Everybody Loves a History, Lewis reveals that map reference 41°N 93°W are the coordinates of a town in the centre of the American Midwest with the rather appropriate name of Centerville:
There’s actually a place called something like Centretown, Iowa. The song is about travelling. I flew from L.A. to New York in 1978 and crossed the mid-west, and it went on and on and on and on. It was just incredible that this grid system was imposed on an enormous stretch of land. The other verse refers to travelling through Holland, by road, seeing all the dykes which is another grid system. ‘Curtains undrawn’ — seeing these blocks of flats, like dolls houses with people sitting in them all day with curtains undrawn. It’s a travelogue.Apart from oceans, there are over 10,000 points on the earth where degrees of longitude and latitude converge. There’s even a website called the Degree Confluence Project whose objective is to visit, photograph and chronicle as many of these locations as possible. Their website shows that they first visited map reference 41°N 93°W in 2001 and again eight years later. I can’t imagine that there are too many songs named after “lines of longitude and latitude”. Sadly, neither report contains even the slightest mention of this catchy little number with the unusual title. I mean, the place isn’t exactly the centre of the universe, is it?
I always wondered why The Walker Brothers version of this song wasn't more acclaimed than it is. Until I chanced upon this yesterday, the original, by a Canadian singer-songwriter, from 1968. They did little for his take save of course to add Scott Walker's gorgeous vocals to the mix, fill out the song that was already there and make it the huge hit it should have been first time round.