Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Songs About People # 1,270 Ellen Barkin

Ellen Barkin. Need I say more.

4AD Bills & Aches & Blues # 3 Aldous Harding


Aldous does one of Deerhunter's finest. Again, a superb reinvention.

It Starts With a Birthstone - Albums for March


It Starts With a -Birthstone - Songs for March


Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 10 Smyle


Burlington, Ontario band with classic Beatle-esque Moment. Big Star, clearly not the band around at this point in time that could do this.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 230 Kelis - Kaleidoscope


'Kelis neatly treads the line of brassy, uktra-modern hip-hoppe R&B, and the neo-soup impulse.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 238 The Smiths


'Johnny's record.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,623 Daniel Knox


Bold as brass. Won't you Take Me With You, the new album  from Daniel Knox, makes it's claim early to be considered in the company of the most esteemed and respected male singer songwriters of them all; Scott Walker, Randy Newman, Harry Nilsson, Tom Waits. It's best to get these comparisons out of the way immediately because it's not a record where the influence of all of these can not be easily detected.

Once you've brought up these names it's soon evident what you need to discover in the record you're listening to. Namely whether the artist you're listening to is up to the task of playing with the big boys or simply wasting your time and probably making a bit of an ass of theselves into the bargain. I'm pleased to report that Knox gives a very good account of himself and Won't you Take Me With You, is well worth listening to.

It feels very much like a trip to the past from the off. Knox has a deep yowl of a voice. Rich, chocolatey baritone. Some kind of composite of Newman, Nilsson and Wits with the Cowardly Lion from Wizard of Oz's yowel thrown in for good measure. Knox doesn't play things entirely straight but the songs are lovingly crafted and classily presented and maintain a dimmed lights glow.

Six minute Fool in the Heart is the ace in the pack, an absolute jewel of a song but all in all this is a very consistent listen. Silky smooth. Knox is a proper old school smooth operator and despite the moments he chooses to play to the gallery, come on all big bad wolf Won't you Take Me With You is a touching and often moving exercise.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

4AD Bills & Aches & Blues # 2 U.S.Girls


Now here's how to do a cover version. This apparently was once by The Birthday Party.

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 9 Big Star


The wondrous Big Star.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 229 D'Angelo - Voodoo


'The greatest soul album of the modern era is a spook fest.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 237 Grand Master Flash & Melle Mel


'Cocaine, cocaine - so good they told us don't twice.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,622 New Bums


Marc Bolan is not someone who you often detect as a clear and evident influence in records put out in 2021. While Bowie is still everywhere, his Glam buddy is hugely neglected by comparison, as if preserved in aspic at his elfin peak back in the early Seventies.

Still his trembling warble is here, all over
Last Time I Saw Grace the latest album from American duo New Bums. A duo essentially, made up of Ben Chasny, also of Six Organs of Admittance, and Donovan Quinn of Skygreen Leopards. They clearly come together to make something etheir day jobs don't enable them to. I've listened through to it a couple of times now, and I'm still not quite sure what I think about it, but will do so again now and share my thoughts.

In addition to Marc, Jack White is clearly a presence here. Another, who I'm not entirely sure what I think about. Even now. The songs here are all well structured in their quirky, offbeat way, alternatively folky and bluesy, mysterious and slightly elusive though as of yet they've failed to have a truly visceral impact on me. To move me, which is the essential quality I look for in music.

So while everything is interesting here I don't find things enthralling as of yet. It seems to speak of journeys to places I don't really wish to go to. Last Time I Saw Grace has slightly impenetrable, wistful, surfaces. It's almost deliberately not here. I like records with a sense of otherness but these ones are so artfully disembodied that it's rather hard sometimes to get a handle on them. I always had that relationship with Jack and his records. Even his best ones.

So I'm already feeling that New Bums are not really for me. Not that this isn't a good record. It is, in its way. But it strikes me as one that's looking for a home. Its lyrics say pretty much just this, on several occasions. Its somewhere in between, in transit, like a train that stops for the longest time between stations for no apparent reason.

Perhaps I'm selling Last Time I Saw Grace short but I think I need to let it go and allow it to fend for itself. I was looking for a sense of arrival that it doesn't seem to offer. As always, in cases like this, when my reaction is probably lukewarm at best.  I'll resort to conventional music magazine grading. I'll give it seven.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Drug Store Romeos


4AD Bills & Aches & Blues # 1 Tkay Maidza


The 4AD compilation of covers Bills & Aches & Blues released to celbrate the labels 40th Aniversary is officially out in June but they're having a long run up to it. Why not? They deserve it. One of the richest and most  truly independent labels of all. They have every right to celebrate themselves.

So a song a day from this until we're done. Not the best start with this one I'd have to say. Where Is My Mind has as good a claim as any song to be the start of the Nineties. It's such a very well known song that if it's going to be covered it has to be reinvented. Tkay Maidza does not do that and though who her take does demonstrate what a very, very good song this is, well.... We knew that already. Much better to come.

Songs About People # 1,269 Ernest Shackleton


Another from Floatie, (albeit a very short one),  for one of the intrepid ones.

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 8 Mott The Hoople


Important band Mott. Never quite get their due.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 228 Primal Scream -Exterminator


'God bless 'em because exterminator was just what the rock doctor ordered at the beginning of the twenty first century.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 236 The Smiths


'It felt much bigger than a Number 25.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,621 Floatie


Do you want something a little bit floatie? Fret not, I think I've got just what you require. Voyage Out the debut album from Chicago's, you guessed it, Floatie, ticks all imaginable gravity loss boxes you may have that need ticking, as we prepare ourselves to bid farewell to March and open our arms to embrace April.

This is truly a terrific record. Kinetic, loose limbed, elastic and unfailingly positive. Taking many of the ingredients that the Post Rock Maths  set, (Slint, Tortoise, Breeders, Labradford, that lot), first stirrred into the Rock and Roll pot almost thirty years back and making them dance again almost beyond the grave before your very eyes. Magic!

Those who immersed themselves in the work of the early progenitors of this sound, might not find Voyage Out as delightfuly fresh as I'm doing right now. I never really went big time or that stuff first time round. I always found that scene slightly forbidding and earnest. Scientists in a lab in national health prescribed spectacles mixing up chemicals with heaven knows what intent. Being serious. Not having a girlfriend. Maths equations. Steve Albini. 

Floatie make everything that seemed bleak and monochrome about all that suddenly burst into glorious technicolor. Like some magical day in 1966 when the world was suddenly no longer black and white. And never would be. Ever again.

I'm still on my first play of this wonderful record and already I want to listen to it again and get to know it better. To properly familiarise myself with its twists and turns. Those with different record collections to the one I have might disagree. Those who have mined this particular Rock shaft to the point of exhaustion particularly. 

Frankly, I'd say they're tired old cynics. I feel sorry for them. Get with the beat Baggy. As Baloo said to Bagheera. Let's get Floatie! Just what the doctor ordered.Your prescription for April and Spring.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

It Starts With a Birthstone


Another fun music discussion with Rod. related to this blog. The third in all. We talk about The Godfather, Jane Weaver, Jane.Inc, POSTDATA, Black Twigs, William Doyle, the book Electric Eden, Bunny Wailer, Reggae in general, teenage parties and many other things. Mostly about life really.

Albums of the Year 1975

 Another year when I struggled to find many records from in my own personal collection. These years seem to be 'waiting for Punk' years. Although there were a few very decent records released. Here's the Best Ever Albums list:

1. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here

2. Bob Dylan - Blood On The Tracks

3. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run

4. Queen - A Night At The Opera

5. Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

6. Brian Eno - Another Green World

7. Patti Smith - Horses

8. Neil Young - Tonight's The Night

9. Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac

10. Joni Mitchell - The Hissing of Summer Lawns

Here's mine. Only chosen from records that I own. All about Patti really. My favourite record of the year by several leagues. Also my favourite Joni of the ones I know. Fleshed out by a couple of 'Best Of's', albeit great ones which says it all about 1975 I'd say :

1. Patti Smith - Horses

2. Joni Mitchell - The Hissing of Summer Lawns

3. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run

4. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Zuma

5. Elton John - Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirty Cowboy

6. Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

7. John Cale - Slow Dazzle

8. Roxy Music - Siren

9. Al Green - Greatest Hits

10. Leonard Cohen - The Best of Leonard Cohen

Almost nothing from this year that I don't own that I covert really. Except a very, very good record from Neu. Decent ones from Lour Reed, Bowie and Can. Otherwise, all fairly barren. I've checked ahead and 1976 is even less fun I'm afraid. 

Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders - Promises


The new Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders album, just out, is a truly wonderful thing. Timely too. It is, pure and simply, Floating Points doing their thing. Pharaoh doing his thing to embroider The Points thing. With the London Symphony Orchestra doing their thing to provide it all a regal, stately undertow.

Apparently a collaboration that took five years to reach full fruition. If so, it's just great that it's come out at this moment in time. It's a single piece divided into nine minutes. It's probably best listened to in a single sitting.

It's something you might turn to as something to provide a soundtrack to a Mindfullness meditation. It's something you my just want to immerse yourself in. As escape or realease. It's all rather beautiful and quite splendid. It's not difficult in any respect. It's surely the album of its type for 2021.

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 7 Flamin' Groovies


A definite pre-cursor of Punk. In some ways The Groovies darket moment. Glorious nonetheless.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 227 Kathryn Williams - Little Black Numbers


'Evocative of both rain-soaked cobbled street and sun-dappled fields.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 235 23 Skidoo


'Coup is perhaps the high point, and certainly the summation, of Britain's alternative post-funk scene.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,620 The William Loveday Intention


The William Loveday Intention is some name for a band. Worthy of a Mid-Sixties Dylan song title, it's probably more than enough to draw those with certain predilictions in. Then you realise, ah it's Billy Childish. Enough to seal the deal for some and make others turn straight on their heels in an instant I imagine. 

Childish has been doing this, or slight variations on this for many, many years now of course. Pub Punk Blonde on Blonde here essentially. If nothing else this time round it makes for probably some of the the best song and album titles of the year. The Bearded Lady Also Sells Candy Floss, (yes you heard me), shows him and the musicians he's working with this time, having at thoroughly good time if nothing else.

If this all wears slightly thin after three of four tracks, Billy certain does a fine Medway Bobby while the fun lasts. Hardly the most essential album of the year perhaps but it's still slightly comforting to know that Childish still obviously really wants to do this at his age. Dirty job and all that. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Frokedal - Takedown


Frokedal are back! Or at least she's coming back, which to my mind is a very good thing, Anna-Lise Frokedal who a couple of years back came out with probably my favourite song of that year David. Se has a trembling fragile mode of delivery that is really quite remarkable, the closest comparison I can come to is Nico, she definitely has that brittle European hauteur. If this is anything to go by I look forward very much to her forthcoming album.

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 6 Faust


One of the most 'far out' bands of all.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 226 Beastie Boys - Beastie Boys Antholgy: The Sounds of Science


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 234 New Order


'Gleaming future funk moment that has not dated.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,619 Full Power Happy Hour


A Brisbane band. And they sound it. On opener Old Mind of Mine they set off on a determined, jangled strum that is to all intents and purposes Streets of Your Time by The Go Betweens, the best band ever to come out of that city.

Full Power Happy Hour's recipe is a fairly simple one. In many ways they recreate the easy acoustic strummming sunny vibes of 18 Lovers Lane, in some respects The Go Betweens pop masterpiece.except with a female vocalist Alex Campbell rather than Grant and Robert.

The songs here are presented with great love, care and attention. In some ways their spiritual forebears, just as the Go Betweens were the great anthems of the sixties, from the likes of The Seekers and The Mamas & The Papas.

Elsewhere, they get slightly braver. Woohaa Everyday the standout on the album for me, moves into shade and stirs memories of Sandy Denney and Leonard Cohen, the best memories at that.

From there the record moves into its purple patch. Full Power Happy Hour have slowed down the pace and it seems to be the tempo that suits them best. Campbell too really comes into her own here. Her voice crystal clear and sustained. Reminscent here of Denney again, Judith Durham, Judy Collins.

Its these later songs on the album that really cut deep for me. The band really start hitting their stride building a lovely vibe here. Something like a cross between the frst Fairport Convention Folk Rock album and the more contemporary and unfairly neglected Houndstooth out of Portland, Oregon.

Full Power Happy Hour is no masterpiece, but it does get very good indeed at some points, particularly towards its close. I was moved and touched on sevel occasions. Sent in to rather reveries. This is a short record. Only eight songs. More like a Full Power Happy Half Hour really. But the record concerned certainly does what it says it will on the tin.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 5 The Wackers


Early Seventies Country Power Pop band whose records still stand up.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 225 Q Tip


The King of this boho rap thing.

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 233 Kraftwerk


'More energetic and syncopated than anything the 'Werk had ever done before.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,619 Lande Hekt


Is this the anti Anto Parks? A few weeks ago I wrote about my reaction to Arlo's debut album Collapse in Sunbeams on here. I also went on to discuss my feelings about it on the podcast I've made for the last couple of months related to this blog wth friend Rod. To my shame I'm afraid I slightly mocked Arlo, or at least some of her lyrical concerns.

It was a bit unfair for me to do so, though I'll generally grasp any opportunity for humour no matter how slender. I am not by any means within Collapse in Sunbeams' natural constituency. I am a 55 year old man. The people who will lap up and truly appreciate the record most are surely those within the 15-25 year age range.

But I have to confess I did tire rather of songs of sad teens sat in their rooms empathising with each other and discussing their every inner thought as if they were the most profound set of emotions ever articulated rather than a phase we must all go through in our youth. A glorious, precious stage of personal discovery perhaps but undeniably one where we're at our most self absorbed.

So here we are, and a few weeks down the line I've chanced upon this, Going to Hell the debut album from Lande Hekt. It's another window into the concerns and preoccupations of youth.Now Lande is not a  band, but a young English woman, one who also plays in Muncie Girls a trio, she also fronts from Exeter, Devon. I've only listened to her record through once but I have to say I warmed to it a great deal more than I did to Collapse in Sunbeams which I played quite a lot when it came out.

Musically Going to Hell is not remotely state of the art in any respect. It might as well be an early Billy Bragg record with Lande at the mic instead of Bill. It's old school as it could possibly be. A series of from the heart Indie Punk songs. Melodic, likeable and immediate. Also informative. And sincere.

Hecht is probably a fair bit older than Parks. She's been in Muncie Girls for the best part of ten years now. But her lyrics make an interesting contrast with Parks'. In terms of their preoccupations she helpfully lists them on her own Spotify bio; queerness, sobriety, displacement, anxiety and hating Tories. Not things I know an enormous amount about really, except perhaps the latter. But there was plenty here that I could empathise with very easily without any enormous leap of faith on my part.

Anyhow, Hekt explores her themes with plain and refreshing candour. There's not a shred of self pity on the record, nor does she introvert unecessarily. By contrast with Collapse in Sunbeams, everything on Going to Hell is projected outward. These are plain, unadorned anthems and they make a statement, in fact a series of statement. Statements of pride and self realisation and a definite journey rather than what we get with Arlo. A journey to the shops to buy some fruit by a couple of inward looking teenagers done up like Robert Smith. Sorry Arlo. Your album is actually really great despite all these cruel jibes. But my vote goes here.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

John Grant - Boy From Michigan


I have a lot of time for John Grant, particularly his first two solo records which I think are perfectly formed classics. I've taken my eye off him for a few years as I haven't taken to his recent releases as much as those ones. But this has definitely picqued my interest again. One of the best songs of the year thus far and one of the best thing he's done in advance of a new album which arrives in June. This has all his rich melancholy and cool wit.

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 4 Alice Cooper


Not a particular personal favourite of mine but certainly thebest song ever written about school...being...out.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 224 Mos Def - Black on Both Sides


This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 232 ZZ Top



Song(s) of the Day # 2,618 Anna McClellan


The songs on Omaha, New England musician Anna McClellan's new album  i saw first light don't seem to want to conform. Even it seems, to her own dictates. They come across as unruly and directionless children, zig zagging across a crowded playground with singular intent while the other kids watch on.

This is slightly unnerving at first but comes to be increasingly winning as the record runs its course. Of course the unformed American adolescent a has a long and charming lineage in popular music. Jonathan Richman, The Shaggs, Violent Femmes, Jad Fair, Camper Van Beethoven. The weird kids from your neighbourhood. The ones that the cool kids shun but you secretly suspect have hidden insight into the true, secret mysteries of life.

McClellan makes no effort whatsoever to try to make her songs conform. To try to bash them into shape and make them sit up. This is what they are. Although you might wonder on occasions whether this is something of an artful conceit and she's actually terribly normal, you have to draw the conclusion that if she is, she plays the oddball misfit card most terribly well. 

This strain of quirky American suburban teenage eccentricity almost deserves a book of its own. The artists above would get a chapter to themselves. As would Juno, American Splendor, Garden State, Perks of Being a Wallflower, you name 'em. i saw first light is merely the latest new entry to this rather wonderful sub-genre of coming of age quirkily.

This is nothing you haven't heard already really. But that's no reason why you shouldn't hear it anway. I'm only slightly sad that it was released towards the end of last year and not in this one as I'd love to put it in a chart at the end of the year. It's a record I think will become one I love the more I hear it, iron out its crumples and become deeply familiar with its mishappen melodies and wonky charms.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Songs Heard on the Radio # 396 Balmorhea


Wonderful, evocative instrumental piece on a quiet, quiet Wednesday evening In Newcastle. The silence outside my flat is quite deafening.



Songs About People # 1,268 River Phoenix


Song for one of the great, unrealised acting talents from the wonderful Nada Surf. They are the non-annoying Weezer.

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 3 Grin


Nilfs Lofgren, before he became Nils Lofgren and met Neil and Bruce.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 223 Make Up - Save Yourself


'Pitched somewhere between The Stooges, the more soulful, sensual blasts of The MC5 and Jack White's favourite 80s swampabillies The Gun Club, with a vital seasoning of soul, funk and steals from The Doors and Love.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 231 The Police


'Majestic in its simplicity.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,617 Jane Inc.


Yowsa. Out of a list of new record releases last Friday that seemed very unpromising on first appearances, during the week I've managed to delve a bit deeper and come upon a set of highly varied and interesting new product. Not least this, Number One, the debut album from Canadian multi-instrumentalist Carlyn Bezic.

Bezic has had a long and varied CV before arriving at this, her latest identity. What should be foregrounded immediately is that she has had a long term working relationship with Meghan Remy aka U.S. Girls., one of my favourite musical artists of recent years.

Like U.S.Girls, Number One is deceptive, all glossy surfaces and shiny chrome. The American Dream essentially, a glorious highway a gleaming mall, or set of shiny towering skyscrapers in the heart of the modern metropolis. Though not so modern anymore, the cracks are showing. It's no revelation to state that surfaces can deceive and as with Remy, state of the art electro dance effects are the vehicles for a deep and fascinating exploration of the modern American condition.

Number One is never remotely hard work. It has melody and seductive beats, it's not a demanding listen and if that's what appeals to you then go with the tunes. But it has much more to offer than that, it's a highly modern and impressive politicised critique of the way we live or think, or are encouraged to think by corporate power. How we construct our identities and how, regardless of what we think of ourselves as modern, savvy consumers, it may not actually be ourselves that are doing the construction work.

Number One may not actually get to Number One, though it would be really great to see it there. It's a subtle and sophisticated record. It's also very good company, highly impressive for a record that never goes for the easy option. Perhaps, easier to like than love on occasion but I like it very much and will be back here I'm fairly sure fairly often, in order to get to know it better.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 2 The Move


Interesting band The Move in all their incarnations. This was one of their latest ones.

Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 222 Le Tigre - Le Tigre


'You get defiantly plastic pop in an 80s mode, and joyous reinventions of 60s femme-pop, and feminist sloganeering rendered subversive by melody, disco pleasur and good jokes.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 230 Prince


'Anais Nin as classic rock nostalgia.'

Song(s) of the Day # 2,616 Black Twig


Finland strikes again. Just a few day after being delighted to strike up correspondence again with Olli Happonen, leader of excellent stoner rockers New Silver Girl, here is another unexpected find for musical pleasure seekers from that particular one of the Lands of the Midnight Sun.

I'm being knocked for six by this one. Black Twig couldn't sound more different from New Silver Girl frankly if they truly tried. However, the two would make an absolutely fabulous double bill. Like being taken back to your favourite scenes. Dunedin '83 or '84, Eric's '78 to '79. CBGB's '74 or '75.

Black Twig are so good than even such flighty comparisons such as the ones I've just made don't seem fanciful.This, Was Not Looking For Magic,(apparently their fourth), seems destined, even on first play to be one of my favourite records of the year. Every now and again I stumble across something deeply obscure which I think every bit as good as the major releases I'm hearing . 

In recent years it's been Lawn, Wild Firth and Warehouse. This year Black Twig seem top contenders for the cult statuette once I come round to passing out awards when December shows.

So where do this band pitch their tent. OK here goes. Monochrome Set, The Clean, The Feelies, The Chills, Felt,  Blue Orchids, Robert fronted early Go Betweens, early Triffids, early, early Bunnymen (Read it in Books, Simple Stuff), Crystal Stilts. Is this enough to excite your interest? It damned well should be. This is exalted company and Black Twig fit right in.

In some ways on first listen this sounds more like a set of utterly glorious indie singles than a wholly  cohesive album. But hey, I'm not complaining. Only about one thing. Why are Black Twig in Finland rather than living down the round from me and playing in the indie club downtown when the doors of such places finally open again..I'd be at the lip of the stage. They make me feel like I'm nineteen.again.

Was Not Looking For Magic and Black Twig is what makes fiddling round the dial worthwhile. They are a joy and a wonderful discovery for me. For the thirty minutes that this record played I was utterly transfixed . Then it finished, so I put it on again.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Jon Savage's 1972 - 1976 All Our Times Have Come # 1 Little Feat

A  few days from its release this Friday, this is the run through of the forty or so tracks on All Our Times Have Come the new compilation from Jon Savage about the years running up to Punk. Savage is one of my heroes, his stuff never lets me down and his stories of how these things came into being are always educational and entertaining. Starting here, slightly surprisingly, with Little Feat.

Vince Taylor


Fear of Music - The 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk & Disco # 221 Iggy Pop - Avenue B


'Iggy had literally forgotten more than we would ever know.'

This is Uncool - The 500 Greatest Singles Since Punk & Disco # 229 George Kranz


Each to their own but I'm afraid I think this is complete nonsense.

Song(s) of the Day # 2,615 William Doyle


William Doyle, formerly the man behind East India Youth, is back with a new record, the remarkably named Great Spans of Muddy Time. It's a hugely ambitious record from the off, one that stretches its wings and attempts to take to the air from its opening seconds. Whether it truly manages and maintains flight will probably depend on the eyes and ears of the beholder and listener and where you stand on this kind of artistic musical endeavour.

Me, I'm personally rather prone to this sort of thing. Doyle's record reminds me of some of the first great pioneers of this kind of vaulted purpose, David Sylvian, Kate Bush, Mark Hollis and Paul Buchanan. Artists who weren't content to be contained by perceived  perceptions of what the pop form should limit itself to. I didn't always appreciate their records fully at the time, but over the years have come to realise that eccentric and specifically obsessive vision is one of the most immensely valuable aspects of the musical world. To put it in its plainest terms, the expression of the truly individual.

Doyle certainly has a vision and it's fascinating to watch him straining muscle and sinew to realise it on Great Spans of Muddy Time. This is one of the most interesting albums I've heard so far this year. As I've said, I feel it's essentially rooted in the ambience of the Eighties and though he doesn't remind me particularly of any of the great musicians I mentioned above, he does seem to share some of their essential DNA.

The album has a definite pop quality. It has melodies and commercial potential but it's consistently unwilling to compromise its ideals in just the same way as Sylvian, Bush, Hollis and Buchanan were and you can almost see the record executives scratching their chins at board meetings, attempting to puzzle out exactly how they were going to extract a hit single out of an album so essentially dreamlike.

I started the last particular musical weekend on Friday morning by plumping for the obvious, trying to enjoy the new Lana Del Ray record, the most imediately high profile release of that day, with little success. It seemed strangely inert, joyless and lifeless, stuck in its particular rut. I've since expanded my horizons and found three other new albums, much more to my liking. Three records of totally different musical stripe by Middle Kids, Wurld Series and now this one, William Doyle's.

Doyle's record is by far the best of the three, and one of the most compelling records I've heard thus far this year. It's an album that really takes you somewhere if you're willing to go with it. Exploratory, strange yet filled with inspiration, wonder and the spirit of enquiry. It's surely significant that Doyle abandoned the East India Youth moniker, one with which he'd already made some commercial and critical inroads and went back to his own name in an attempt perhaps to truly inhabit his own skin.

This I'd say is him learning to do so. Great Spans of Muddy Time is an extraordinary record. Not for everyone by any means but for anyone who really hopes for journeys when they sit down and listen to a new record. To go somewhere they've never been before. Great Spans does exactly that. Doyle may well have painted his masterpiece.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Songs Heard on the Radio # 395 Sho Madjozi


Oh this is great! Cerys, doing what Cerys does so well on a Sunday morning. One to dance round your living room too. If that's your thing.

Big Star - Radio City

 While we're in 1974, here's a great review, (not written by me, I hasten to add). Of a great record from that year. Second on my list:

Bruce Eaton on Big Star

One day I'll write at length about Big Star on here. But it won't be about Radio City, their second and I think best record as Bruce Eaton, (in his book about the album which forms part of the wonderful 33 1/3 series), has got there before me and written about it better than I ever could. In addition to that, this is as good a piece of music criticism as I know. About the whole lore of record collecting and record shops.About what it feels like to stumble across a piece of music that changes your life. About being utterly smitten by something the first time you hear it. About wishing to share your new found love with others. And about trying to describe that beloved object years after the event to a wider public than your own personal circle. By the way, the Radio City album is every bit as good as Eaton's feverish prose makes it out to be. Here's the introduction to the book:

'The light of the vinyl junkie is that most days you have to settle for something less than great. Like a true wax fanatic, it was psychically impossible for me to leave a record store empty-handed. Entering Play it Again, Sam I'd conduct a ritualistic search, starting with a beeline for the new releases bin, hoping it contained heretofore unseen treasures of black gold. If there were a couple of hot new imports along with a rare bootleg to top off the haul the day might be as good as Christmas. More often than not, there would be the same exact records as the day before. That meant that there was work to do.

Play it Again, Sam specialised in used records - sorted and priced by a combination of condition and desirability and marked accordingly by a colored dot sticker. You'd start by combing through the red dots - the primo records that sold for two dollars and fifty cents.Here you'd find the latest releases that had been traded in by a local record promo man for his pizza and gas money. If you didn't find anything in the reds, you'd slide over to the two dollar blue-dot bins.,maybe settling for a used J.Geils Band album you'd once owned in college and had passed over on your previous 34 visits. If you still weren't in the mood to hear Full House again, you'd have to take desperate action and thumb through the dollar fifty yellow-dot bins. It was here you'd find the records that were one step from being put out to curb - either worn out and abandoned college dorm hits of yore (Carole King and Cat Stevens lived here), albums that even an artist's hard-core fans couldn't swallow, (Steven Stills was releasing direct-to-yellow-dot at that point), or records that for one reason or another never garnered a following (April Wine were the Led Zeppelin of the Yellow Dots).

On this particular day I had made it all the way to the Yellow-Dots empty handed. Starting at the "A" bin, I flipped past Ace and April Wine, a worn copy of The Band's Stage Fright, beat up Beach Boys and Beatles albums, and the first wave of Bee-Gees trade-ins. Some of these albums had been there for months - I could almost tell you what was going to come next. And then there it was. An album I'd never seen before. Unless a record had been released just yesterday, this alone was reason to pause.Across the top it read in black letters, "Radio City Big Star" in a way that made it apparent that the album was Radio City and the band was Big Star.

If you spend enough time looking at records, you develop a sixth-sense about how good a record might bejust from looking at the cover. On first glance Radio City looked quite promising. The front cover featured a big picture of a bare light bulb against a bright red room and struck me as being at least several notches above your typical album art. It would be a few years before I knew that the photographer - William Eggleston - was a wold-renowned artist and friend of the band. Curious- okay, desperate - I picked up the album.Like a vintage Blue Note jazz LP, it felt like a record made by people who cared about music and knew what they were doing. On the back cover there was another color photo -this one an informal shot of three guys - presumably Big Star - hanging out in a club (the original T.G.I. Friday's it turned out). They had an air of cool and confident informality - a band tat didn't bother with rock star poses. Below the picture was some minimal information; song titles and a few credits. Nothing rang a bell except the words "distributed by Stax," a de facto seal of approval for any self-respecting rock snob.

In the back of my mind I vaguely remembered having read something about Big Star in Creem four years earlier - that their sound was somehow connected to The Beatles (which in 1976 seemed to be way more of a thing of the past than they do today), and The Byrds, and that the reviews were positive. I had a good feeling that Radio City might be worth the six quarters.Holding the record up I caught the attention of the clerk behind the register.  I was just getting to know Bill, a friendly fellow who looked like he had once been a roadie for Quicksilver Messenger Service and whose taste in music leaned toward raw Detroit rock and roll with a psychedelic edge. The sort whose opinion you might value even if you were inclined to believe that yours was the only one that mattered. I gave Bill a quizzical "what's the deal?" look. "You might like that," was his offhand response, one that would prove to be an understatement to say the least. "Take it, and if you like it, pay me next time." I secured the record under my arm and headed home.

That evening I put the record on my turntable and sat down to write a few letters. It would be dramatic to seay that hearing Radio City for the first time altered my life but the redirection came later. What actually happened is that, song by song, it pulled me in until by the end of the first side had stopped writing and was propped back in my chair with my feet on the desk, listening as the sun set behind the woods outside my window, feeling the June breeze blowing in through the window screen. I flipped the record over to Side Two and by the time the needle reached the middle of "September Gurls" five cuts in, I was riveted. The song was, on first listen, as perfect as any two minutes and fifty-six seconds of rock and roll that I have ever heard. Three years later to the month I would be on stage at McVan's Rock Castle in Buffalo playing that very song with Alex Chilton - the guy who wrote it, sang it, and played what sounded for all the world like an entire symphony of chiming guitars.

I played Radio City over and over for a few hours (it clocks in at just over 36 minutes- unlike the interminable CDs of today, listening to an album from start to finish back then wasn't a major life commitment). I stared at the jacket - wondering who Big Star was and why Radio City hadn't risen to the top of the charts, or even crossed my path. By the time I went to sleep, I had a new favorite band, albeit one I knew nothing about. (For rock snobs, the more obscure your favorite band, the better.) All I knew as that I had hit the vinyl jackpot. I had found a great record in the bargain bin.

At the time I was somewhat frustrated about the lack of information about Big Star but now I look at it as a blessing. For the next eight months or so, the only in-depth information about the band was what was stamped in vinyl. The grooves contained everything the musicians wanted me to know - a direct line of unfiltered communication. I could let the sound speak to me without any interference or preconceptions, form my own opinions and let the music fill my imagination, taking me to unexpected places. I could listen without having to decide if Big Star really was the future of rock and roll or if Radio City was the most important album of the year.

It's sometimes hard to remember but there was once a time when sound - not image, gossip and hype - was indeed first and foremost in rock and roll. When Memphis deejay Dewey Phillips spun a new 45 by a local teenager on the night of July 7th 1954, the listeners who jammed up the request lines had nary a clue about Elvis Presley Phillips himself didn't even know if Elvis was black or white (he obliquely found out by asking him which high school he attended). Elvis could have been 30 pounds of sweating human sausage packed into a bejeweled white polyester casing and it wouldn't have mattered. All that mattered was the sound of "That's All Right."

Recorded less than three miles away from the Sun Studio where Elvis had recorded his first hit, Radio City also had a singular, almost otherworldly sound that exerted a mysterious pull.

Trying to describe how a record sounds and why it grabs you can be like trying to pick up a blob of mercury off a tile floor. But here's where I would describe the visceral appeal of Radio City in a roundabout way. When I was teenager in the 1960s, my family spent a part of each summer at a beach out on the northern fork of Long Island, 90 miles out from New York City.. he sound of WABC-Am - the Top Forty titan in New York - was virtually everywhere, pumping out the Super Hits  from the All-American survey around the clock. Lying on the sand in the hot afternoon sun, half-drifting off to sleep, you could always hear it half in the distance amidst the sounds of bathers and motorboats. But when you tried to zero in and follow along, your ears and brain would play tricks on you - turning a song you knew inside out into something completely different. . You might have started with something that you thought was "Help!" and before you knew it there was an entirely new-and equally perfect - song coming to life in your head, taking unexpected twists and turns. And then, like a mirage in the summer heat, it would vanish at the first sound of the Yoo-Hoo jingle that inevitably followed.

Radio City captures the sound of those illusory moments on the beach. It's as if all of the music coming out of all the luttletransistor radio speakers - Beatles, Stones, Byrds, Beach Boys, Sam and Dave, 5th Dimension, Lovin' Spoonfu;, Question Mark and the Mysterians, Supremes, Young Rascals, Sonny and Cher, Four Tops, Sam the Sham, Napoleon XIV - had somehow been beamed into outer space to some distant planet and then transformed by  bunch of musical alchemists into something both fresh and yet familiar and sent back to earth in a stream of glowing super-charged electrical particles by a wizard of sound. In a very real sense though that's exactly what happened. Even on first listen Radio City sounded like pure magic.

If Radio City sounded like an album that had been created in the past and then beamed to a time and place somewhere in the future for the world to eventually discover, it never really did have much of a present. It sold few copies when it was released in March of 1974 - somewhere under 10,000 is a reasonable guess. If you had a copy, the cover most likely had a promo sticker or a corner cut off.What copies there were that made there way out into the world found their way into the hands of people who played it over and over. Radio City became much sought after, and once secured, treasured. Odds are that if you had a copy, it wasn't just another record in your collection. It was a directive for a mission - you had to spread the word. You had made a point of playing it for your friends and gladly made a cassette copy hen hey shook their heads in amazement. When you met somebody who already knew about Big Star, it was like a musical handshake that made you part of an underground of true believers. A lot of those handshakes were the beginning of new bands. Some of those bands went on to enjoy the success that their inspiration had optimistically hoped for - even expected - during its brief life. If influence could be measured, Radio City would have now gone platinum many times over.

Eventually Radio City was reissued on LP and then CD- enjoying progressively far better distribution than it did upon its initial release.. Listeners across several generations around the world discovered the music - finding it to be as fresh and captivating as it was on the day it was recorded. And improbably, Big Star reunited with a retooled lineup in 1993, released a new album in 2005, and still performed on occasion before Alex Chilton's death in 2010.

The story of Big Star has been told from a lot of different perspectives - virtually all involving a familiar cocktail of tragedy, drama, Southern gothic, mojo, mystery, drugs, personal chaos, sex, booze, bad luck, youthful recklessness, mental disorder, dashed dreams and thwarted ambitions. If you're reading this book, you likely know all the stories, rumors, and outright slander repeated over and over as gospel truth in liner notes, books ad magazine articles. When offered an opportunity to correct any falsehoods, Alex Chilton responds, " I'm sure there are hundreds and thousands of misconceptions out there that I've learned just to not bother with." Bandmate Andy Hummel adds, "An awful lot of what you read in the press about over the last ten years or however long it's been since it suddenly dawned on them that Big Star existed is highly colored by who they're talking to. Generally speaking they're not talking to anyone in the band - "anyone" being sort of the creative energy behind the band. They're talking to people who were involved on the periphery. That's the story that's out there.. It's not the story of what happened with the band - it's the story of what other people say happened to the band."

What gets lost in the familiar retelling of the Big Star story is how the music and the sound came to be in the first place. A record like Radio City doesn't just appear out of nowhere via totally happy accident. Rock and roll is somewhat slave to the notion that anyone with enough desire can learn enough chords, somehow stumble into a hit record and be a star. The reality is that great records are made by really talented people (even geniuses although that word has been used enough to render it virtually meaningless) who work long and hard at their craft until the day when the magic suddenly enters the studio.

Talent - God-given natural ability - is an unpopular, even cruel notion, in a world where it's widely believed that anyone can make it to the top if they have enough ambition, blonde of otherwise. But most of us don't have great musical talent.Instead we get to buy the records and the concert tickets, write books and reviews  and even play in bands that allow us to have fun and dream a bit (hopefully avoiding delusions of grandeur.

Beyond talent, there's the often dismissed importance of experience - in music and in life.  Does an artist have something interesting to say and the ability to say it in a unique and interesting way? The answer is usually "Not really". One of the chief reasons that rock and roll from the 1960s and early 1970s still looms large is that its creators had deep reserves of experience to draw upon when the time finally cameo go to the well in the recording studio. Take The Beatles or The Stones, Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. Each knew hundreds upon hundreds of cover tunes  a disparaged concept today but vital to learning how music works - and had played endless gigs trying to sell them to indifferent, if not downright hostile audiences. That experience takes patience but it can eventually get you to a point where you can write songs of your own that become a meaningful and permanent part of other people's lives. Alex Chilton, with deep family roots in the Mississippi Delta and a dad who infused his youth with jazz, may have been only 22 when Radio City was recorded, but he'd hit the road at the age of 16 - playing shows all across the country, surrounded by masters of the craft soaking up everything he could. It doesn't require any stretch of the imagination to believe that a kid who grew up listening to Mingus Ah Um and Birth of the Cool, learned how to play guitar from a Beach Boy, and got to watch Wilson Pickett and The Staple Singers burn down the house night after night is going to have a few more interesting colors in his artistic palette than a kid who grew up watching music videos in his bedroom while copping shred licks in dropped D tuning. You can't see them but you can definitely hear them.

My goal in writing this book was to shed light into how the sound got into the grooves of Radio City and why, to the confoundment of many, it never happened quite that way again. After all, the sound is why we care about Radio City, not any surrounding six-string opera. I love to pore over musical biographies and Mojo alike but one can take it to a point where the actual music becomes a mere soundtrack to an oft-repeated mythologized tale of dysfunction. Looking back some 35 years ago, I got heavily into the music of Nick Drake and Gram Parsons when their albums were being released for the first time - without knowing a thing about either of them. I don't really feel that all that's been subsequently detailed about their respective struggles has added much beyond a whit to my listening experience. If you can accept the premise that genius almost always comes with a price tag, then you're free to concentrate on why you ultimately care about the artist. In one word: music. Listen carefully and you'll hear all their personal stories buried in the grooves anyway.

Some pieces of the creative puzzle are obvious: how a song was written or a particular part recorded. Other parts of the story are below the surface or even in the distant past. When you read the words of the people who were actually in the room, in one way or another, for the creation of Radio City, you'll find a lot of dots to connect. You won't be able to draw an exact roadmap - that would be impossible - but you'll be able to sketch out a rough blueprint of how Radio City was built and why, improbably, it still stands tall nearly three and a half decades after the final note was nailed into place. The 33 1/3 series doesn't use subtitles for individual books- none are necessary. But if pressed,I'd offer this one for Radio City: How To Make A Great Record - If Only You Could.'