Sunday, November 30, 2014

Record Sleeves # 14 Blondie - Parallel Lines


An example of a great image being utterly against the band's wishes though there is something contradictory in the band's full blooded resentment about being perceived and marketed as Harry and a set of instantly replaceable backing musicians as they had chosen to call themselves Blondie. Here's the story.

Thelonious Monk

30th November 1968 - Glen Campbell

Started a five week run as American Number 1 this day in 1968. One of the absolutely great songs.

Debbie Harry

Debbie again! Pre-Blondie.

A Song That Reminds Me Of Someone # 1 David Bowie

A new series. Brought on by a darkening Sunday afternoon and a need to listen to something that would cheer me up which the indescribable and deeply positive Hunky Dory always will. Life On Mars itself is quite extraordinary.This is for Ania from Katowice, Poland, now a resident of Germany with whom I spent some unbelievable, unrepeatable time ten years ago. Christmas in Budapest in 2003. Making a mixtape in a great flat lent by a friend for you. This was the centrepiece and the song that reminds me of you most x!

Songs Heard on the Radio # 21 Richard Hawley

Very nice for a Sunday afternoon.

The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night

Album Review # 37 Lloyd Cole & the Commotions - Rattlesnakes

This is pretty much a perfect record. There aren't that many in my collection. I've got a great deal of history with it as do a lot of people of my age and background. My own copy is worn and approaching a stage of vague decrepitude as I am myself and jumps irretrievably on occasion like my own slightly irregular heart but I'm reluctant to replace the copy I bought on its release in 1984 just yet, because it's seen me through more than half of my given span and I'll  be listening through to it, whether this copy or another, 'til that span expires, whenever that is. Because, perhaps more than any other album it speaks of the emotions and experience I was going through while first listening to it.
A good friend of mine, who follows this blog, said something along the lines that it was amongst the best records ever made by a minor league artist. I'd agree with that. Cole himself has I imagine seldom reached these heights since, (though he still puts out very good stuff and is excellent live by all accounts). I guess he knows the truth of this very well. It was an album and a statement he could never possibly trump because it was so much of its time. It defined forever a moment, an age of life and a perspective on it better than almost any record I know
I bought it at the time when my life was changing, more quite than it has ever done, before or since. I was eighteen, finishing off my A Levels and thinking about university. I knew very little idea about relationships, the opposite sex or pretty much the world. Records coming out at the time like Rattlesnakes, Murmur, High Land, Hard Rain and The Smiths were the stuff I constructed my identity around along with books, films and politics they referenced and drew on. I could make a list but I wouldn't want to bore you. It was stuff to aspire to and identify with, to construct yourself around in terms of the things you wore and I bought into it. I was far from alone.
Cole suffered slightly at the time from being bracketed with R.E.M, The Smiths, Aztec Camera and also Prefab Sprout who were coming at things from a similar angle. He seemed a minor talent by comparison as perhaps in retrospect he has proved. But it was a perfectly formed minor talent. He also meant a lot to quite a lot of people. I imagine many of those who fell for this record, what he was saying and the way he was saying it have never entirely grown out of it. I haven't.
Fast forward a couple of years from the record's purchase to the Summer term of my first year at University. There's a girl there that I'm falling for and something is starting to happen with. It's a university disco. She lives on campus and I'm at residences a few miles away. It's coming to the end of the night and I have to get on the pre-arranged minibus with the others who stay there. Perfect Skin comes on. We close dance to it, an odd song to close dance to, it's more of a giddy jig really. I go get the bus without a kiss but she's taking me over. We start going out together shortly afterwards, do so for the next four years. I fall completely in love with her. There's talk of marriage but with one thing and another it doesn't happen. Lloyd and the Commotions were there at the start of it all. I'll never hear Perfect Skin without being transported back to that brief pocket of time as it all began. She had a teddy bear called Bloomingdale and eyes like sin. She went into journalism. Wrote something for The Face. But not Cosmopolitan.
Back from myself to the record itself. All in all it's a flawlessly constructed album; track-listing, arrangements, lyrics, length. Nothing outstays its welcome. It's tasteful. Refined. It speaks of an ingrained love of all things America. Lloyd half sings half speaks in immaculately assembled American Beat prose hip-speak throughout. He and the band's sound yearns for the open road and also New York in particular in all its Sixties glory. America as dreamed of in youth spent in Buxton, Derbyshire and nailed into achievable reality as a university student, meeting and mixing with the right people, soaking up the sights and sounds of Glasgow, a city forever in thrall to the States. It's no great wonder that Lloyd ended up moving there permanently himself. Rattlesnakes is chock full of namedrops. Eve Marie-Saint, Greta Garbo, Leonard Cohen, Simone De Beauvoir, Grace Kelly, Norman Mailer, Arthur Lee, Truman Capote. The kind of people and culture that you were gobbling up at this point of life, so desperate to impress, with the youth to get away with it sometimes but without the raw and real experience or knowhow to really back it up. It's a life learned, soaked up through books, films and music.
But there's pain there too. It's marrying these books, films and this music against the intense, brief, rites of passage experience you were actually going through. About wasting  precious time as he says himself at one point. It's about first and failed relationships. The ones that hurt the most. It's about trying to understand women that are impossibly attractive, elusive and unobtainable, or even if they are obtained, the moment of possession is sure to be only fleeting. Because you're only twenty one once. It's about being flippant and eager to impress with surface cool and charm whilst all along underneath beats a desperate, yearning heart. 
The playing is remarkably tight. I'd pick out Neil Clark the lead guitar but the whole band are hugely adept. Because really they're grounded in Soul. They know their Stax and incredibly they pull off a truly astonishing approximation of its gleam, spark and sheer discipline. And it's in this understanding of the essence of great Sixties American music, not just Dylan and The Velvet Underground but The Temptations, Staple Singers, Aretha and Booker T & the MGs that's the foundation of the record's success. They have the chops. Three of the band were in a Soul group before the Commotions formed. They made a point of playing with vintage equipment and using basic recording techniques rather than letting Eighties sounds and effects leak into the mix. These are some of the reasons the record has lasted.
There are five songs on either side of the album and they all fit as snug as can be. There's not a note too many, a line that doesn't work or a hook too laboured. They can speed it up and slow it down. It's funny and smart and touching by turns. It's a record of ten potential 45s. Lloyd is centre stage of course. The band took his name and it's his artfully constructed self that defines the record. Observant, wry, cynical, but really you suspect beneath the veneer, bruised and hurting.
The band had their brief moment in the sun. The record was feted and they had chart and critical success. They made follow up records, some of which recaptured the glory, most of which in retrospect didn't. Because they'd already made their statement. I played second record Easy Pieces a lot when it came out as it was part of the soundtrack to the great romance I talked of earlier which I was busy experiencing.  I'd recommend a few songs from it that would fit right in on Rattlesnakes, Why I Love Country Music, Pretty Gone, Grace. Some of it doesn't work though. It tries too hard. Or else not enough. I didn't bother with the third. The band seemed to care less themselves by this point and split shortly thereafter. They'd run their course. They split shortly before the relationship of mine which they'd played their small part in did.
This is over thirty years ago. Lloyd is back. His latest album got his best reviews in years and his songwriting has aged gracefully. He has a silver flock of hair, barely receded from where it sat in its prime. He's not trying to be twenty, hasn't lost his looks  and the man could certainly always write a lyric. He still can. He's always asked about Rattlesnakes of course and answers patiently and honestly. He seems like a good bloke though he still seems to find it hard to suffer fools. But he knows his place in the scheme of things.
So listen to his and his band's first record if you don't know it already. It's forever somewhere amongst my Top Thirty. It always makes me slightly lovelorn and nostalgic, for obvious reasons. I haven't gone into the songs individually here because they speak for themselves and are of a piece. I'd be here forever if I did but it would be all description and not enough feeling. Like I said it speaks for itself. A perfectly assembled row of books on a bookshelf. It's a record which within the dimensions and parameters it constructs for itself, frankly could not be bettered.
There it is. Always sitting there silently in the assembled ranks of albums stacked in boxes on my living room floor demanding to be played again. And again. From the first song, 'When she smiles my way. My eyes go out in vain,' to the last, 'Are you ready to be heartbroken.'  I decided at the end of my first Lloyd Cole & the Commotions phase and the end of that relationship that I wasn't ready. I've learned since that the heart always finds a way to miraculously mend itself, work once more and need to love again. Meanwhile, Rattlesnakes plays on in the background. Never changing because it doesn't need to. It will outlast Lloyd. And me.

Record Sleeves # 13 The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Yes it's a great sleeve. Even if Hendrix himself disliked it.  Here's the sleeve he wanted from a Linda Eastman photograph. Sweeter. But it wouldn't have made this series. Whatever happened to these women?

Song of the Day # 316 Bobbie Gentry

Second posting for Bobbie in a couple of days as the record's propped at the front of a stack and it's just the thing to play early Sunday morning. The title track from an album well worth hunting down as there's not a bad song on it. As I've found when trying to post a song from it and changing my mind three or four times. At some point I should review it on here.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

John Grant - Queen of Denmark

Still feeling the effects of the remarkable John Grant concert I was at last night. Here's a very representative review of his 2010 album Queen of Denmark from Drowned in Sound.

by Kevin EG Perry
November 27th, 2010

Ah, foresight, if only we knew Mojo would make this their album of the year, we perhaps wouldn't so much have considered it a lost album. Then again, we didn't review it, so here's to making up for that and let's dedicate this to anyone this record passed by...

John Grant Queen of Denmark (Bella Union)

April 2010 was a particularly apocalyptic month. Volcanic ash choked the skies above Europe and the Gulf of Mexico was consumed beneath the unforgiving darkness of several million gallons of crude oil. So busy was I fortifying my underground compound, stocking up on tinned goods and queuing up Peggy Lee songs for the Doomsday Disco that I just clear missed the release of John Grant’s Queen of Denmark. Apparently, so did the rest of the loose editorial cabal that calls itself Drowned in Sound as it was not mentioned on these pages. This was an oversight. It shall be corrected forthwith.

First of all, Queen of Denmark is a rare and beautiful record. John Grant is blessed with one of those elemental baritones that deserves capitalisation. That Voice is capable of whipping up great tempests of yearning and sorrow while Midlake, who back him here, are fine musicians with a well-judged line in a sort of Nilsson-esque lushly orchestrated mid-Seventies Americana.
What made me fall for this album like a teenage crush, however, is not so much the Voice as Grant’s ability to infuse his narratives with a caustic wit that is genuinely funny and a sad honesty that is genuinely moving. He once told an interviewer that if he was a film character, he’d be Charlie Kaufman from Adaptation, and he shares with Kaufman an understanding of the fragile tragedy of being a human alive in this messiest of worlds. These songs are bathed in the melancholy angst of Synecdoche, New York, and as lovelorn as Eternal Sunshine.

The first track I heard from the album was ‘I Wanna Go To Marz’, a paean to childhood which is dreamy and other-worldly and certainly made me want to hear more, but it’s actually one of the more earnest tracks from an album marked by self-lacerating humour. ‘Sigourney Weaver’ is perhaps more indicative. Midlake do their best impression of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’, while Grant runs through a series of increasingly brilliant metaphors for living as an outsider: “I feel just like Winona Ryder, In that movie about vampires, And she couldn't get that accent right, Neither could that other guy”.
Much has been made about Grant’s personal struggles – growing up gay in a strict religious family, and his later drug dependency – and they are certainly laid bare here. Witness “Can’t believe I considered taking my own life because I believed the lies about me were the truth” on ‘Jesus Hates Faggots’ for the former, or “I wanted to change the world, but I could not even change my underwear” on ‘Queen of Denmark’ for the latter. For me, though, these songs transcend Grant’s own personal demons to speak universally about love, about loss and about the loneliness one can feel even in crowds. On ‘Leopard and Lamb’, he draws a devastatingly simple sketch of a lost relationship which is at once clearly personal and, at least for me, spookily easy to relate to: “Watched The Simpsons, To remember how you laughed, I miss your dark blue eyes, and staring at your back”.

Throughout the album his use of language is virtuosic. It’s almost tempting to pigeon-hole him as a clever, droll songwriter in the mould of Stephin Merritt, but that would perhaps be to understate the aforementioned Voice. While I was still marveling at the way he casually drops the name of Mexican model Eduardo Verástegui into the lyrics of ‘Silver Platter Club’ he launched the sort of vocal fireworks on ‘Caramel’ that I haven’t heard since Jeff Buckley’s ‘Grace’. There’s a whole lot more to discover as this is one of those albums where my favourite tracks change with each listen - from charming, comic pop songs like ‘Chicken Bones’ to heart-wrenching ballads like ‘TC and Honeybear’ and the pounding finale of ‘Queen of Denmark’ – oh, and did I mention how truly brilliant he is at swearing?

It’s a privilege to be invited into a world this raw and devoid of artifice by someone as eloquent as Grant. His songs are honest and tragic without being self-pitying, and I hope this album brings him wild joy and plaudits even more gushing than my own, because he has earned them all. His heart is heavy enough to sink ships, but his voice soars like a butterfly. Come hell, high water, volcanic eruptions or rising tides of oil, do not less this music pass you by.

G is for Go Betweens - Top 40 Countdown - Part 4

Towards Top Twenty.

25. Unkind & Unwise (Grant)
'He was brought up in a house of women. In a city of heat that gave its children. Faith in the fable of coral and fish. Told them the world was something to miss.'
Back to Spring Hill Fair. Quite reminiscent of Talking Heads wit a fine lyric and feel.
24. Dusty In Here (Grant)
'It's cold, it's cold and dusty in here. Someone you knew is watching you.'
Back one more to Before Hollywood. I think a song by Grant in memory of his late father.
23. When People Are Dead (Robert)
'Played cat and mouse games for an hour. Jimmy went down and picked her a flower.'
More death. This time a b-side narrative from Robert.
22.The Wrong Road (Grant)
'When the rain hit the roof. With the sound of a finished kiss. I took the wrong road down.'
From Liberty Belle. One of Grant's very best lyrics.
21.The Sound of Rain (Robert)
'Sometimes the sky is grey. And other times it is white. So he rubs his eyes. And wonders if he's losing his sight.'
One of their finest early songs, lyrics and moods.

Things I've Found on my Local's Jukebox # 45 XTC

XTC's Black Sea was one of the first records I ever bought. A reat Pop record. I particularly liked this for the vague thrill of its slightly rude lyric and a great riff that Blur wholly ripped off for Tracy Jacks on Parklife.

Song of the Day # 315 John Grant

John Grant was wonderful at The Sage in Gateshead last night. Melodramatic, warm, angry, funny. Quite unique. A proper artist. Thanks to my dear friend Walter for accompanying me!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Record Sleeves # 11 Sly & the Family Stone - There's a Riot Goin' On

Great Lines # 11 Devendra Banhardt

'Waiting in line. To see Suede playing.'
Devendra Banhardt and Suede. An unlikely scenario. A number of decent lines in this brief song about failed romance.

Song(s) of the Day # 313 Cass McCombs

I wrote that this blog was not going to be a diary when I started writing it. To some degree it's become something of one since I started writing this Song of the Day thing . Yesterday was a particularly bad day. I felt like a malfunctioning machine. Fragile, ugly and brittle. In these moments, music does the work for you. Or at least for me. Helping you to transition from one emotion to the other. Cass McCombs was of help to me in this respect. A singer songwriter who's been around for a while, I imagine under most people's radar. Both of these are pretty beautifully, robustly structured songs.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Songs Heard On the Radio # 20 Ivor Cutler

That's the funniest most indescribable laugh out loud to choking effect I've had for a long time! Thanks to the best late shift DJ I know. Six For Music's Gideon Coe. Here's the late, great Ivor Cutler.

Paul Cook

Record Sleeves # 9 R.E.M. - Reckoning

R.E.M's best album cover. At least by my 'Reckoning'. Sleeve comes from a painting by local artist Howard Finster. I walked from Teddington and Kingston one memorable Saturday afternoon in 1984 with my sister to buy this.

Jimi Hendrix

Song(s) of the Day # 311 Blonde Redhead

'The only bands I've heard recently that I like are Blonde Redhead and Warpaint.' Who am I to disagree with Tom Verlaine. I'm already sold on Warpaint but listened to this for the first time yesterday afternoon. It's already ten years old. They're made up of  Japanese female singer, Kazu Makino and two Italian twin brothers Amedeo and Simone Pace and are based in New York. This won't be for everybody but is so overwrought and emotional that it works for me. Sufficient to post another song from the same record.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Joe's New Records

My mate Joe's haul from his recent trip to London. Good lad!

Record Sleeves # 8 Iggy Pop - Lust For Life

Iggy's great wild card up his sleeve as he was terrorising America and beyond in the late Sixties and Seventies was that he was actually just an enormous geek. This sleeve laid that fact bare. Great record too. Worth unleashing every few months.

Songs Heard On The Radio # 19 The Teardrop Explodes

A great thing to hear late at night. From their second album Wilder. A minor masterpiece. Radio 1 Breakfast DJ Mike Reid took a liking to this and played it repeatedly. But it didn't chart. The band imploded shortly afterwards.

Instrumentals - The Pharos

Just heard this on the radio but it slots into the instrumental series.

Echo & the Bunnymen - Pictures On My Wall

Record Sleeves # 7 Family - Bandstand

Song of the Day # 310 Alice Coltrane

Not a song strictly speaking of course but a great way to start the week.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Songs About People # 67 Allen Ginsberg

No end to the greatness of Sonic Youth. This song may not be about Ginsberg but it's dedicated to him as the brackets testify.

Record Sleeves # 6 MC5 - Kick Out The Jams

Lou Reed

Lou interviewed by Flo and Eddie for a programme called The Midnight Special in 1978 just after the release of Street Hassle with his defences down. A beautiful, warm interview.

Great Lines # 10 The Smiths

'You shut your mouth. How can you say. I go about things the wrong way. I am human and I need to be loved. Just like everybody else does.'
Perhaps the lines that sum up Morrissey and his relationship with the world better than any others do. A quite extraordinary record. Not to my ears quite like anything else The Smiths did. So all respect to the others too. Morrissey wrote in a way nobody else in this medium had done before and he's never been bettered since.

G Stands For Go Betweens - Top 40 Countdown # 3

    30. Casanova's Last Words (Grant)
    'He threw stones at every window sill. From Genoa to old Seville.'
    A b-Side recorded during the Tallullah sessions.  No direct link but it's here.The quality of the Go Betweens b-sides was one indication of what a great band they were.
    29. The House that Jack Kerouac Built (Robert)
    'The velvet curtains. The Chinese bell. With friends like these, you're damned a well.'
    And to Talullah itself. About falling into bad company. Robert's stuff from this album was particularly twisted an gothic. I'd say this album was his.
    28. Palm Sunday (On Board The S.S. Within)  (Grant)
    'I've been having bad dreams. A mother couldn't find her milk. Five days from Melbourne. I didn't feel so good myself.'
    Whereas Grant probably shades preceding album Liberty Belle & the Black Diamond Express. Coming into his own in terms of narratives and melody.
    27. People Say (Robert)
    'The clouds lie on their backs. And rain on everyone.But you always stay dry.You've got your own private sun.'
Brisbane, Lo-Fi Dylan. An early single. Wonderful, cheesy organ.
26. The Devil's Eye (Grant)
'Sometimes we don't come through. Sometimes we just get by. But I know with you I, never seen the devil's eye.'
And fast forward to the last record of their original incarnation. A love song about how we muddle through with relationship. To a girl or possibly, it would be nice to think, to Robert. Just over two minutes long and pretty much perfect.

Song of the Day # 309 Francoiz Breut

Found by chance on YouTube. From 2000. Reminds me of Francoise Hardy's Mon Amie La Rose. There's something about French that cuts to a place that English can't quite get to.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Beatles

Song of the Day # 307 Vampire Weekend

Just been to another Record Player after a while away. Vampire Weekend's latest this time and  surprised myself by quite liking it along with most of the back row of regulars. A notoriously difficult bunch to please. Not wholly convinced. It feels younger than me somehow in a way I'd find difficult to explain and I'm not sure the New York they sing about is the one of my memory and imagination. But I did enjoy the evening partly thanks to an enhanced slide show which seemed like a particularly effective extended promo for the band and the city that I'm planning to visit next year. This was the song that stood out at first play. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Songs Heard on the Radio # 18 Pontiak

No idea who Pontiak are. Or what Lack Lustre Rush is on. But I just heard it on the radio, it has a great title and sound and here it is.

Record Sleeves # 4 Patti Smith - Horses

The Robert Mapplethorpe image of her first album cover. As much a record of their own relationship, as documented in Just Kids as a statement to the world outside. Such an inspirational sleeve to so many people and rightly so. As discussable as a truly great painting.

Jimmy Ruffin

Jimmy Ruffin has died aged 78. This seems appropriate and poignant. Cheers for the tip Norman!

Song of the Day # 306 - Miaow

Debut single from Manchester band from December 1985. As 'independent' as they come. Never released an album though they were compiled retrospectively. Led by Cath Carroll, an NME journalist who later married Big Black guitarist Santiago Durango. Played by Peel and now on evening 6 For Music programmes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

James Brown & his Famous Flames

Forty Songs I've Found on the Jukebox at Rosie's in Newcastle

This series may run and run. So long as my liver's up to the task. The jukebox certainly won't run dry. Here's the first forty.
  1.  Sly & the Family Stone - Stand
  2. The Hombres - Let It All Hang Out
  3. Burning Spear - Marcus Garvey
  4. The Sonics - Strychnine
  5. Petula Clark - Don't Sleep In The Subway
  6. Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning
  7. Lou Reed - Wild Child
  8. Toots & the Maytals - When I Laugh
  9. Dion - I Was Born To Cry
  10. The Flamingos - I Only Have Eyes For You
  11. The Rezillos - I Can't Stand My Baby
  12. Gil Scott Heron - The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
  13. Beck - Loser
  14. Wire - Fragile
  15. The Go-Betweens - Sound Of The Rain
  16. PiL - Poptones
  17. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five - White Lines
  18. Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood - Some Velvet Morning
  19. Chet Baker - My Funny Valentine
  20. The Who - Call Me Lightning
  21. Eric Burdon & The Animals - Good Times
  22. Funkadelic - Can You Get To That
  23. Big Star - September Gurls
  24. The Gun Club - Sexbeat
  25. Gram Parsons - She
  26. Urge Overkill - Sister Havana
  27. Creedence Clearwater Revival - Someday Never Comes
  28. The Miracles - My Baby Must Be A Magician
  29. Black Uhuru - Youth Of Eglington
  30. Bow Wow Wow - I Want Candy
  31. Jim Croce - I Got A Name
  32. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jubilee Street
  33. Al Green - Belle
  34. Jane's Addiction - Been Caught Stealing
  35. Stereolab - Percolator
  36. Jacques Dutronc - Le Responsible
  37. Donald Fagen - I. G. Y.
  38. The Rolling Stones - Child Of The Moon
  39. The Saints - This Perfect Day
  40. Python Lee Jackson - In A Broken Dram