Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jane Weaver

A quite wonderful poster for the equally wonderful Jane Weaver who I';ll be seeing next Thursday in Newcastle at The Cluny. More on Jane soon!

Thirty Days of Fifty # 30 Billy Bragg

                           Again it might as well be this as anything else to finally get here!

Song of the Day # 619 Biff Rose

As good a song as any. Covered by Bowie on Hunky Dory. This is the original.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Thirty Days of Fifty # 29 Leonard Cohen

And more fitting to the grey, overcast qualities of the day outside. From his 1971 album Songs of Love & Hate which I was very pleased to be given by a good friend at my birthday bash on Saturday and is now serving on my record player with great grace, style and yes cool. It was between this and the first track Avalanche. This one got the nod as there's a bit more light interspersed with the shade, but every song on this great record is like a wonderfully crafted short story. 

Song of the Day # 618 The Savage Rose

An interesting one this. Danish psychedelic outfit of the late sixties and seventies. Their most distinctive characteristic was the distinctive, barnstorming voice of lead singer Annisette. Traces of Grace Slick, Janis Joplin and Yoko Ono. But also preceding Patti Smith and Kate Bush. A radical, politically engaged band. Possibly best heard late in the evening rather than early on an autumnal morning when I'm posting it but working needs dictate.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Songs Heard on the Radio # 86 Field Music

Well it sounds effortless.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 28 Tim Buckley

Nick Kent, the legendary seventies NME journalist, writes about seeing Tim Buckley play at New York's Max's Kansas City in 1973.

'I saw Lowell George's Little Feat, Tim Buckley and Gram Parsons form unforgettable shows in a space you'd have been hard-pressed to swing a cat in.

Buckley in particular was a revelation. I'd been a fan of his back when he was attempting a sort of angel-voiced jazz-folk synthesis, but he'd recently jettisoned  this approach and hooked up with a straight rock band in order to sell more records. He had a brand new record out called Greetings  From LA which I didn't particularly like and so I attended the show with certain misgivings. As I'd suspected his back-up unit were nothing to write home about but Buckley was so on fire that night that he didn't really need any help. I've never seen or heard another performer use his or her voice as bewitchingly as he managed to do before or since that performance. The guy was gifted with an extraordinary five-octave range and he could summon any sound from his larynx - from a blue yodel to a jazz trumpet to a police siren. Take it from one who saw both live: his son Jeff was great but Buckley senior was greater. Women were just wilting in front of the stage whenever he sang.'

Song of the Day # 617 Rozi Plain

There seem to be a proliferation of female artists rather like this at the moment. This doesn't change many of them including today's artist, from being very, very good.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Thirty Days of Fifty # 27 Frank Sinatra

From Sinatra's great sixties album Cycles of which I'll write more later like so many other things when I get time. It's such a wonderful record. Such emotion and such technique in the playing and recording.

Song of the Day # 616 Warm Jets

A, probably mostly forgotten, British guitar band of the late nineties. They had their moments. Like this.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Thirty Days of Fifty # 25 Van Morrison

A beautiful, brief moment.

Song(s) of the Day # 614 Daddy Long Legs

Daddy Long Legs, my new favourite band. At least for today. Unapolegetic, full on Rock and Roll trio in the noble tradition of The Yardbirds, The Sonics, The MC5, Flamin' Groovies, J.Geils Band, Dr. Feelgood, Jon Spencer Blues et al. Here's their first single, a cover of the Stones notorious song, adult content of course and also something else, more recent. I recommend them wholeheartedly!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Songs Heard on the Radio # 85 Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band

This seems appropriate as darkness closes in all around us and the nights get longer. The last track of that wonderful record Safe as Milk. Will have to listen to the first and then the rest, at least of the first side as I hit the sack.

Songs About People # 132 King Arthur

I may be moving the goalposts slightly but they're my goalposts. Any excuse to play something by the wonderful Guided by Voices.

Covers # 25 Carole King

A wonderful version of one of The Monkees best, from a series of legendary demos she and Gerry Goffin recorded in 1965.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 24 Curtis Mayfield

Great song about maintaining the inner child.

Song of the Day # 613 Cola Jet Set

A suitable thing to hear on an overcast, autumnal morning.New single from Spanish indie band. Have a nice day!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The Sex Pistols

A quite incredible photo from an early Sex Pistols gig. From Chrissie Hynde's personal collection and included in her forthcoming memoir Reckless.

Songs about People # 131 Josef Stalin

From Robbie Savage to Joe Stalin. On this particular series anyway. An extraordinary wartime song in that moment of patriotic fervour during World War Two when Stalin and the Soviet state he  embodied were seen as a last and glorious bastion against the forces of fascism. This is the original of the song performed by The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet.

And this, a version of the same song by Robert Wyatt, almost forty years later.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 84 Man of Moon

Very interesting sounding debut single from young Scottish band released this July.

Covers # 24 Bruce Springsteen

And while we're here, here's his remarkable live version of Suicide's Dream Baby Dream, which is often a centrepiece of his live performances.

American States # 30 Arkansas

For Sprinsteen's 66th birthday. Today!

23rd September 1967 The Box Tops

Hit Number 1 in The US.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 23 The New York Dolls

The New York Dolls most beautiful and poignant song.

Song of the Day(s) # 612 Gene Chandler

And then a few years later, he did this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Thirty Days of Fifty # 22 The Velvet Underground

Thirty years ago when I started university, part of me just wanted to front a Rock and Roll band. It never transpired and ultimately, that's a good thing. If I had though, The Velvet Underground would have been the template. That same year their old record company, Verve, released a series of recorded songs, rarely heard in these forms before, that might have made up their fourth studio album. It was a revelation, a wonderful set of songs and a whole new band sound that pointed the way to what they eventually realised with Loaded. This one's sung by Doug Yule though his vocal style had an uncanny resemblance to Reed's and you wouldn't really know it.

The Slits do ABBA

And Ari Up reveals all about Bjorn Ulvaeus.

Song of the Day # 611 Primitive Parts


A collective of Sauna Youth, Monotony and Male Bonding members. Their songs seem to sound like Blur if  Graham Cox had ever been able to lead them once and for all off into the underground. No bad thing. Album, Parts Primitive, recommended.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Instrumentals # 37 Daniela Casa

From a record company, Finders Keepers, (with the best selection of record sleeves currently going), I'm clearly going to have to investigate further. A compilation of avant gard inspiring instrumental pieces from an Italian artist from the seventies. Often used to score a variety of TV programmes, this is one of the more immediately accessible pieces.

American States # 29 Nevada

I'm naturally inclined to anyone called Scout Niblett. This isn't an easy listen at all. It's a story of anguished desperation. But it stays with you.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 21 R.E.M.

There are some things you keep coming back to. Like this in my case. I'm still deeply in love with R.E.M.'s first three albums. Here are two versions of one great song.

Song of the Day # 610 PiL

Saw PiL play the Newcastle Riverside last night. A squat nasty venue where it was impossible to see the stage unless you were right at the front. Still, great to see Lydon. That band has one of the greatest sounds of any band there's ever been. And I got to see them play this.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Covers # 23 Baby Huey

And while we're here, here's something else from that great record. Purely instrumental, but all the better for that.


Still my favourite of all the series I've run on here. Did this the best part of two years ago. Inspired to re-post the Top 40 again by the imminent re-release on vinyl of Baby Huey's quite wonderful 1971 LP which I'll be buying, sure as eggs is eggs!

40. The Auteurs
39. Hamilton Bohannen
38. The Slits
37. Camper Van Beethoven
36. Amanda Lear
35. Dr. Alimantado
34.Mission Of Burma
33. Silver Apples
32. The Shaggs
31. Baby Huey
30. The Only Ones
28. The Flamin' Groovies
27. Mrs. Mills
26. The Chills
25. John Phillips
24. Betty Davis
23. The Weather Prophets
22. Sonic's Rendezvous Band
21. Charlie Feathers
20. Stereolab
19. Pharoah Sanders
18. Lee Hazlewood
17. The Fall
16. Big Star
15. Shuggie Otis
14. Young Marble Giants
12. Wire
11. Wall of Voodoo
10.The New York Dolls
9. The Legendary Stardust Cowboy
8. Captain Beefheart
7. Sun Ra
6. Darondo
5. The Go Betweens
4. Vince Taylor
3. The Cramps
2. Jobriath
1. Rodriguez

Lee Hazlewood - Cowboy in Sweden

Extremely odd Swedish TV programme based around the album of the same name. Made shortly after Hazlewood moved to that country at the end of the sixties.

Alain Delon

Perhaps not conventionally Rock and Roll but this looks to me like one of the great Smiths record sleeves that never was.

The Inkwell, York

Given that I've been plundering things I chanced upon while I was there last weekend and other stuff I've picked up on since through its Facebook page and website I should now find time to write a bit upon the shop itself.

I was in York last weekend for a short holiday break with my parents. They're both in their eighties now and so of course we're not sure how often we'll be able to do these things together in future so it was all rather poignant. Still, we had a very special time together.

As is my wont, or perhaps it's a consumerist urge I just can't scratch, I was looking to buy a record to help me commemorate the occasion. I'd actually already bought one, an original copy of The Yardbirds' Over Under Sideways Down in a shop across the road before I spotted this place.

It's a true believers record and memorabilia shop. Books, comics and all kinds of other related matter which have caught the owner's eye. Somewhere between a market stall and a conventional record shop. It's called The Inkwell, as in 'hang around the inkwell..' from Dylan's Subterranean Homesick Blues, a nice touch. Quite clearly a labour of love with the individuality and personal touch of the propietor, (a bloke named Paul), written all over it. I bought an old Osmond Brothers album, no don't snigger, and we had a conversation, mostly on his side, over how they were probably unfairly ignored and forgotten in serious terms given the quality of their actual output. Having brought home the 4 pound acquisition and listened to it, I'd have to say I agree. It's not bad at all.

I was back in on Monday before I left. This time I bought a Kenny Rogers & The First Edition album which is an ever greater find and which I've posted a selection from this week. We talked this time about a great lost and truly strange and remarkable Frank Sinatra concept album called Watertown, that was on his shelves, initially put out in 1969 but recently re-released.

Paul spoke about it with great enthusiasm and authority, just what you're after from people working in record stores. As a result I'll investigate further. He's doing what he's doing for the same reason as I work on this blog. Because it's important. To us at least. Next time I'm back in York, which will be soon, because I also fully discovered over the weekend what a wonderful city it is, I'll be back there. Here's the website.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 19 Captain Beefheart & his Magic Band

Not typical Beefheart perhaps. But a quite beautiful track nevertheless. A true love song. Less than three minutes. Then you'll want to play it again.

Song of the day # 608 Air Waves

It's a sunny day. This seems appropriate. From their new album Parting Glances.

Friday, September 18, 2015


Ought are a Canadian band that have already featured on Song of the Day on here but they've just released a new album called Sun Coming Down and it's just great. Traces of Sonic Youth, early Fall, Talking Heads and Mission of Burma but enough of themselves to make it consistently interesting and exciting. Worthy perhaps, but in both senses of the world. Here's the title track.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 18 Talking Heads

Like no other song. A thesis could be written about this. Or a great short story. But then it's a great short story anyway. Give it your own meaning.

Song of the Day # 607 David Wiffen

'Well it just takes one step, to start a journey. No matter how far you may go...'

Very much of its time, and that's a long way back now, the first track of Canadian singer songwriter David Wiffen's debut solo album, released in 1971. You know exactly where you are with this within twenty seconds at the point where Wiffen's voice cuts in. It's wistful North American music, vaguely folk, vaguely country, smoky, impossibly deep vocals, (and worth of attention in that respect alone), thoughtful, romantic sentiments. A country cousin of Fred Neil and Nilsson's Everybody's Talkin'.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

17th September 1923 Hank Williams

Songs About People # 130 Robbie Savage

Now we're talking. Robbie Savage is a high profile and utterly ridiculous British football commentator and former player. He deserves to have a song named after him and here it is. A poignant tale of youth from John Mouse, who I suspect to be Welsh, (as is Savage), from their vocal lilt. This comes from their album of last year, The Death of John Mouse, most of the rest of which is much louder and more jarring than this.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 17 Marvin Gaye

There's something almost kitsch about parts of the orchestration to What's Going On. Almost like you've been dropped into an episode of Star Trek and we're all aboard The Starship Enterprise. And then Gaye's voice comes in and you you're grounded and oriented and it's perfectly clear that you're listening to one of the twentieth centuries' great cultural landmarks. Here's its second track.

Song of the Day # 606 Magic Castles

Another selection I came upon thanks to my visit to The Inkwell record shop in York last weekend. Here's its propietor Paul's take on the album:

'New in: Magic Castles - Starflower (LP)
New LP on Anton Newcombe's label, cut-above kaleidoscopic psych. Scratches my shoegazey 90s-goes-60s indie itch which I developed in my teens and I guess never shook off. Lyrics about eyes and skies? Check. Stoned vocals? Check. Freakbeaty Revolver-era Beatles beat? Check.'

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

September 16th 1979 The Sugarhill Gang

Released on this day.

Songs About People # 129 Jan Leeming

An odd one this one. A song about a BBC newsreader of the eighties and nineties, although it's probably not. Nice tune anyway.

Songs Heard on the Radio # 83 Belle & Sebastian

More great sounding guitars.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 16 Television

'The world was so thin. Between my bones and skin.'

For me, Television are still the band and Marquee Moon, still the record, thirty years after I bought it and almost forty since it was released. I put it on late last night, full of beer after an evening of watching and listening to great live jazz at a club round the corner from mine, my head in that space that you only get to in the twilight hours listening to music and going into a wakened dream. This is one of the very best night time albums ever made. Last night I put the record on initially to listen to the first couple of tracks but it immediately became clear that I was going to listen to the whole damn thing regardless of how late it was. Anything else would have been a disservice to it.

Venus is the track I return to most, even though I love each and every one of them. It speaks to me of being young and in my case now all these years later about trying to maintain that state. It's such a great statement of individuality, of difference. What I learned from Marquee Moon when I first got to get to know it, was that the world was not necessarily how you'd been told it would be and that you could genuinely be who you wanted to be and find your own space within it. I couldn't explain what I feel about it any more clearly than that. It's about sheer, vivid, urban experience. It's about the joy and strange unreality of being alive. Guitars have never sounded so crisp and clear. It spoke to me then and has been speaking to me ever since.

Song of the Day # 605 Menace Beach

Another record I chanced upon in The Inkwell, in York over the weekend. An album by a Leeds band that's reminiscent of Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine and Pixies but offers these influences an interesting and excitingly original twist. Recommended!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

September 15th 2004 Johnny Ramone

Johnny Ramone died eleven years back.

Album Review # 38 Phosphorescent - Muchacho

Listening to this beautiful, transcendent record so I thought I'd re-post my review from about a year ago. 

'So I lost the place, lost the girl, and lost my mind.'

As we shift into December, the likes of me, trainspotter type boys, start thinking in terms of lists. Album of the year and such-like. I'm not entirely sure what brings this on. I guess it's a way of measuring the time. For me personally I feel it might be connected somehow with Christmas coming up and trying to recover the thrill of how excited I felt when I was really young on Christmas morning. Or else perhaps that a part of me always felt I should have become a music journalist, hence this blog.

Anyway, in terms of this years list, I'm probably going to struggle. Most of the records listed on websites and music magazines, don't do an enormous amount for me. My own favourite album is not listed on any of them, I'll come to that later in December. But this year has shifted me forwards to some extent in that writing this blog on a daily basis has encouraged me to listen to a broader range of music and dragged me somewhere towards the current day leading me to fall very heavily this year for a number of albums from 2013 if not 2014 . Including this one. So I'm going to buck a trend and write about my favourite record of last year. Next year I'll be fifty and promise to endeavour to step in line with everybody else before it's too late and I drift irretrievably towards carpet slippers and Trad Jazz.

This is just a remarkable, yearning, love-lorn, redemptive record. Almost entirely the work of singer-songwriter Matthew Houck who has been putting out records for over ten years now. This is the only one I know right now. I'll probably investigate further but this album in itself is more than enough. It's a mighty statement. 

From the album sleeve onwards. This shows a cowboy hatted Houck tipping his peak and smiling broadly while a similar be-capped girl grins on the bed behind him. There seems to be another woman reclining on the bed between them and both appear to be in a vague state of undress. I immediately assumed it was a motel room though I might be wrong. In any case it effortlessly conveys the mythic sense of drifting, rootless, American experience. A life spent on the road, in rented rooms, bars and stores in a state of unhinged intoxication seeking a life of permanence. The love and reason that will ground you into fixed existence.

It's clear that Houck hasn't quite found that yet, or if he thought he has, he's just lost it again. This is life as viewed from the bottom of the glass and not wholly happily. It's a record inspired and set in motion by a series of traumatic events in his own life Losing his record space in New York City and losing a relationship as a result.

"The last time I was on the road, I thought, 'Just a few more months, and then I’ll go home and tend to everything.' But when I got back, everything was too far gone to fix, so there was fallout. Losing my place [in the Navy Yards] was a big deal. It’s a big space, and over the years I acquired a decent amount of gear. New York is a beast, man, it’s hard to find a place to do music unless you’re going to soundproof it. Relationships are tough when you're on the road, too - my girlfriend would come on some of the tours, but it wasn't easy.  Drugs and booze were involved. So I lost the place, lost the girl, and lost my mind."

Muchacho soundtracks that. It's a document of pain and drift across a landscape that could be nowhere else but America. It makes me think of Gram Parsons, of Johnny Cash, of David Lynch, of Tarantino of Five Easy Pieces and The Last Picture Show of Paris, Texas, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Double Indemnity and the Mythic West. It's rooted in all of that but also is a very modern sounding record. It's spiritual quest.

It sounds a little like Fleet Foxes and Midlake on occasion too. But it outlasts both of those contemporaries because it feels utterly grounded and bloodied in personal experience in a way their records simply aren't for me. Houck seems to be face down in the dirt for much of the record. To illustrate what I'm getting at I could probably do worse than quote second track and probably the album centrepiece Song For Zula.

'Some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
Oh but I know love as a fading thing
Just as fickle as a feather in a stream
See, honey, I saw love,
You see it came to me
It puts its face up to my face so I could see
Yeah then I saw love disfigure me
Into something I am not recognizing

See the cage, it called. I said, come on in
I will not open myself up this way again
Nor lay my face to the soil, nor my teeth to the sand
I will not lay like this for days now upon end
You will not see me fall, nor see me struggle to stand
To be acknowledged by some touch from his gnarled hands
You see the cage it called. I said, come on in
I will not open myself this way again.

You see the moon is bright in that treetop night
I see the shadows that we cast in the cold clean light
I might fear I go and my heart is white
And we race right out on the desert plains all night
So honey I am now, some broken thing
I do not lay in the dark waiting for day here
Now my heart is gold, my feet are right
And I'm racing out on the desert plains all night

So some say love is a burning thing
That it makes a fiery ring
All that I know love as a caging thing
Just a killer come to call from some awful dream
And all you folks, you come to see
You just to stand there in the glass looking at me
But my heart is wild, and my bones are steel
And I could kill you with my bare hands if I was free.'

That's a remarkable level of writing right there. And the record as a whole rarely, if ever dips much below the mark it sets.

The album itself is a generous package. Gatefold sleeve, lyric sheet and various pictures of Houck, in his rhinestone hat, surrounded by adoring, wasted looking and again vaguely undressed young women. There's a seam of intoxicant fuelled bliss running across the record which for me is what keeps it contemporary. This is not a record that could have been made in 1973. But it's informed by the real-ness of those times in a way that much modern music isn't which is why it works so well for me.

'Give me ten long limbs I'll hold
Lazy rolling things of gold
Dress me down in a New York crowd
Lay me down and bawl me out.'

Like another contemporary Kurt Vile, Houck is quite willing to extend his songs to seven or eight minutes if the mood he's wishing to get across justifies it. And on this album it invariably does. I don't notice the passing of time when listening to Muchacho which is a remarkable tribute in itself. The mood is consistently spiritual, an individual on a vast enveloping landscape, seeking redemption, seeking rest.

'I sang 'Roll away the stone'
Set up trembling in my bones
I sat there all alone.
Just cried and cried.'

There's mariachi brass there when required. There's steel pedal. The ghost of Gram haunts the record more than anything else. I can hear him somewhere in virtually every track.  Difficult to live up to, to say the least, but I imagine Gram would have liked the record.

The album is bookended by two pieces entitled Sun Arise! and Sun's Arising, largely acoustic and entirely Houck which seem to say the range of emotions and experience expressed across the album are those of a single day. I suppose this is how we measure or rationalise our lives and make sense of the emotions contained therein. Just another day on the planet. Then we wake up and start again.

So Muchacho is a document of pain, but also I think one of redemption as I guess the only conclusion you can come to and the one I suspect that Houck draws in the end is that this is all we've got. It's a beautiful record, as I say my record of last year if not this and one I'll play for many years to come. It's a keeper! I've barely begun to do it justice and perhaps need to revisit this at a later date again to attempt to do so. If you haven't heard it, endeavour to!

The First Edition - Tell It All - 1972 Documentary

More First edition. A period piece.

Thirty Days of Fifty # 15 Al Green

For someone who's not here anymore but I wish was...

Song of the Day # 604 Kenny Rogers & The First Edition

'It wasn't me that started that old crazy Asian war. But I was proud to go and do my patriotic chore...'

Strange how this blog has become a diary of sorts. the thing that I said in my first ever post it wouldn't be. Still perfectly happy with that. Just back from a weekend spent in York with my dearly beloved parents. I chanced upon an absolute treasure trove of a record shop, The Inkwell, of which I'll write more. Bought the parent record for this song for a fiver. Much prefer this to the more famous version. It's got that great, gentle, rolling guitar sound of the best late sixties Glen Campbell records and the lyric, about a Vietnam vet who comes back from the war crippled and suspects his want away missus of playing around, is tragic though slightly ironic poetry. The rest of the record is just great too. Laid-back, slightly psychedelisised Country. Another memory.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Thirty Days of Fifty # 14 Mary Hopkin

There may not be room for too much politics on here but there's always space for nostalgia. Probably ten years back in time from the previous post I was singing this in a playground of Vineyard Junior School in Richmond, Surrey. Nostalgic, even then. 

Couldn't track down a picture of the school so here's one of the house we lived in.

Song of the Day # 603 The Redskins

Not often time or place for politics here. But in the UK, The Labour Party, one of the two dominant political leaders have just elected probably its most left wing leader in its history. I'll mark that with the great explicitly left wing political band of my teenage years and their best song.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

September 13th 1977 Fiona Apple

Thirty Day of Fifty # 13 Love

Love and Arthur Lee had and have a sound not quite like any of their contemporaries and still marks them apart from those that have picked up on their influence since. This of course takes something from Dylan, but Dylan never managed to sound quite so much on the verge of a fit of psychosis. And I mean that in a complimentary way!

Song of the Day # 602 Dot Wiggin Band

What the lead singer of legendary cult band The Shags is up to forty years on.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

September 12th 1954 Frank Sinatra

Number 1 in the UK!

Lester Bangs' Review of Horses

And here's the whole review. One of the best Bangs' pieces I've read. Often I don't think they date well, lack an editor's touch, but here, perhaps because of the brevity of the review, I think he nails it. He understands that the genius of the record is in its extraordinary bravery and writes a review to match.

[from "Stagger Lee Was a Woman," by Lester Bangs, Creem, February 1976]

Patti Smith will survive the media blitz and everybody’s hunger for another "superstar," because she’s an artist in a way that’s right old-fashioned; Horses lunges with raw urgency, but her approach is very methodical. She could have done this a long time ago, and has been building steadily, paying dues and learning music fit for the reaches of her poetry so as, when the song is finally delivered, to fulfil all her promises.

What must be recognized is that she transcends bohemian cultism to be both positive and mainstream, even though her songs go past a mere flirtation with death and pathology. She just saw that it was time for literature to shake it and music to carry both some literacy and some grease that ain’t jive. The combination makes her an all-American tough angel, street-bopping and snapping her fingers, yet moving with that hipshake which is so like every tease you slavered after in high school.
Her sound is as new-old as her look. You hear the Shangri-Las and other early Sixties girl groups, as well as Jim Morrison, Lotte Lenya, Anisette of Savage Rose, Velvet Underground, beatniks and Arabs. Meanwhile, the minimalism of the band forces her sound out front along with the poetry, and that sound stands. This is not a "spoken-word" album, it’s a rock’n’roll album, and even if you couldn’t understand a word of English you couldn’t miss the emotional force of Patti’s music. And you’ll love it when she makes mistakes (in this era of slick, pre-digested "rock" as muzak), when her voice goes ragged (but right), like the perfect act of leaping for something precious. Who needs the other kind of perfection?

Which brings up one of the truly ballsy things about this album: that she is meeting the Mademoiselle articles and Earl Wilson columns, not with some slicked up tech-mech superproduction (which John Cale is certainly capable of), but the finest garage band sound yet in the Seventies. The band cooks primarily because, with certain momentary exceptions (Richard Sohl’s beautiful piano intro to "Free Money," Allen Lanier’s ghostly guitar in "Elegie"), they’re all used either as percussion instruments or (as in the halcyon days of the Velvet Underground) for the sustenance of one fortifying drone. Lenny Kaye gets off some of the best one-note distorto guitar since the Stooges’ "1969," and the general primitivism makes you realize you’re a mammal again and glad for it, licking your chops.

Which is not to say that there’s not musical sophistication working here; it’s just that it’s gut sophistication, unfaltering instinct rather than the clammily cerebral approach of the old "poetry and jazz" albums. Horses is a commanding record, as opposed to demanding—you don’t have to work to "understand" or like it, but you can’t ignore it either; it refuses to be background music, stops the action in the room when it’s on, and leaves its effects when it’s over whether the listeners like it or not.

Each song builds with an inexorable seethe, a penchant for lust and risk that shakes you and never lets you forget you’re listening to real rock’n’roll again at last. Meanwhile, every song contains moments that go beyond raunch into emotional realms that can give you chills. In "Birdland" it’s the breathtaking "It was as if somebody had spread butter on all the fine points of the stars and they started to slip"; in "Break It Up," Patti’s truly cosmic sequence of "I cried ‘Help me please’/Ice it was shining," and suddenly through that line you can actually hear her hitting her chest metronomically with her fist, leading into "My heart it was melting..."

Throughout, she plays with roles and masks, combining sulky stalking cat and assertedly male aggressor in "Gloria," where she expands the Van Morrison original into a wild fantasy that’s a celebration of raw lust and personal primacy over any god or law. One of the amazing things is that even though she is still learning to sing her voice is all over the place, from the horny yelp of "Gloria’s" "sweet young thuing" to the demonic way her tongue whips the word "locker" first time she says it in "Land" to the brief unearthly but heart-grazing wordless upper register vocal flight in the middle of "Elegie."

Horses really defines itself in "Kimberly," "Land" and "Elegie," the latter two fitting together in one shattering epic of violence, flight, death and mourning that is ultimately purgative. "Kimberly" is the most haunting song I’ve heard in a long time (enough so that by the time I’d had the record 48 hours it was pulsating straight through not only my days but my dreams at night), a sort of Ronettes bolero cum "Waiting For the Man" celebrating the act of giving birth as cataclysm (as it is) in stunning lyrics: "Oh baby I remember when you were born/It was dawn and the storm settled in my belly/And I rolled in the grass and I spit out the gas/And I lit a match and the void went flash/And the sky split/And the planets hit...And existence stopped/Little sister, the sky is falling/I don’t mind..."

"Land" establishes an eerily malevolent sexuality in the opening build leading to the rape scene, then the wild surge, each word an explosion, of "Suddenly/Johnny/gets a feeling/he’s being surrounded by/horses!/horses!/horses!/horses!" and then into a raw, tearing chorus of "Do you know how to pony" from the old Chris Kenner hit "Land of a Thousand Dances." After that the song takes off almost literally into space, Patti’s three vocal tracks weaving in and out of phase, merging splintered images as if by magic: "He picked up the blade and then he pressed it against his.. smooth throat/and let it dip in/the veins/to the sea/of possibilities/it started hardening/to the sea/in my hand/and I felt the arrows of desire..." all rising in one raging floodgate of sound and image to explode in choking death chillingly envisaged, life ebbing with one decelerating drumbeat to "Elegie," a gust of pure melancholy stilled just short of whole anguish in Patti’s finest vocal and the loneliest piece of music since Nico’s "Elegy To Lenny Bruce."

Patti’s heroes may be gone, but she is both with us and for us, so strongly that her music is something, finally, to rally around. For one thing, she has certain qualities that can make her a hero to a whole generation of young girls, and may not be what you think. Suffice to say that Patti has done more here for woman as aggressor than all the Liberation tracts published, and has pushed to the front of the media eye that is just as much a process (ordeal) of learning to "become" a "woman" as it is for men wrestling with all this ballyhooed "manhood" business. It’s this tough chick who walks like Bo Diddley and yet is all woman that we’ve been waiting for for so long, a badass who pulls off the feat of being simultaneously idol of women and lust object of men (and women, no doubt).

And even more than that. Patti’s music in its ultimate moments touches deep wellsprings of emotion that extremely few artists in rock or anywhere else are capable of reaching. With her wealth of promise and the most incandescent flights and stillnesses of this album she joins the ranks of people like Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, or the Dylan of "Sad Eyed Lady" and Royal Albert Hall. It’s that deeply felt, and that moving: a new Romanticism built upon the universal language of rock’n’roll, an affirmation of life so total that, even in the graphic recognition of death, it sweeps your breath away. And only born gamblers take that chance. 

Copyright © Lester Bangs 1976