Saturday, 23 December 2017

LINER NOTES: SOMETIMES A PONY GETS DEPRESSED [2006]





  1. These are the Ghosts – The Bees
  2. Stagger Lee – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
  3. You Don’t Miss Your Water – The Byrds
  4.     It’s All in My Mind – Teenage Fanclub
  5. What Goes On – The Velvet Underground
  6. Her Name is Melody – Adrian Pride
  7. Come See About Me – The Supremes
  8. Animal Farm – The Kinks
  9. I Can’t Be Me – Eddie Hinton
  10. Guilty – Barbra Streisand
  11. Enough Said – Devo
  12. Red Sails – David Bowie
  13. Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed – Silver Jews
  14. The Lower the Sun – Tom Vek
  15. Outlines – Clor
  16. When You Get Home – The Research
  17. Andy’s Chest – Lou Reed
  18. Time Will Show the Wiser – Fairport Convention
  19. Baby Please Don’t Go – The Amboy Dukes
  20. Sway – The Rolling Stones
  21. The Partisan – Leonard Cohen

These are the Ghosts introduces the album Free the Bees, and so it does Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed, a ploy that will be recognisable to anyone familiar with my compilations. You can take it from this that I acquired Free the Bees in 2005, not 2006. This does not always follow but applies in this instance; in 2005 the song narrowly missed the cut.
The way The Bees presented themselves disappointed me. As a band, they were more overtly influenced by the 1960s than many of their contemporaries, wrote better tunes than many of their contemporaries. There was an opportunity begging. Instead they elected to collectively dress like Badly Drawn Boy, as a bevy of hard-drinking skaters. Not important, just a shame, and it didn’t stop me from playing Free the Bees relentlessly for a period of time.

Copenhagen with No Eyes and her husband. It’s a bit in late in the day to be coining new nicknames but her husband probably deserves a sobriquet of his own. After all, he did introduce me to Boozoo Bajou’s Night Over Manaus, which appears on 2000’s compilation The Ladies of Varades, as well as Happiness by Teenage Fanclub, which I included on the following year’s The Boys of Summer, and he came on both the associated holidays – at which he would mysteriously disappear and then re-appear, earning him the epithet ‘Teleport Man’.
Copenhagen with No Eyes and Teleport Man. Teleport Man has just been shouted at for taking photographs in Freetown Christiania by one of its free-spirited natives. It is February, so fairly cold, and we’ve been out for much of the day. Everything points towards stopping somewhere for a drink. The Eiffel Bar is nearby, a locals’ sort of place, dank but possessing character. There’s country rock playing in the background but my attempt to extract from the landlord the artist responsible leads nowhere.
Two days later and it’s just me and my lady friend. We would like a cup of coffee and find a cafe on Larsbjørnsstræde. Music is playing. I'm fairly sure it's Nick Cave but I don't know which record - something about a guy called Stagger Lee. The proprietor speaks English. It is Nick Cave (with the Bad Seeds) and the album playing is called Murder Ballads.
It’s March. We’ve hired a cottage near Abergwesyn in Wales to belatedly celebrate the 30th birthday of the friend who dropped in Debenhams. It snowed on the drive in and it’s about a foot deep in places. The lad who once lent me The Sound of the Suburbs (the same who would beat me at snooker) is here. Turns out he’s a big fan of Murder Ballads. He takes me to his car so we can listen to Stagger Lee on his new car-stereo, at volume, late at night in the privacy afforded by Abergwesyn Valley.
It was the 1994 record Let Love In that first aroused my interest in Nick Cave but it was Murder Ballads that stepped it up. It’s literally an album of ballads concerning murder, and it betrays a humour in Cave’s work that had until now escaped me.


Abergwesyn

Having enjoyed the first two Flying Burrito Brothers – The Gilded Palace of Sin and Burrito Deluxe – I got around to buying Sweetheart of the Rodeo. I covered a bit of the back-story in my liner notes to Aka ‘Devil in Disguise’. I wrote thusly: “1968 was a period of transition for The Byrds. Having removed David Crosby from the fold, they were struggling to perform The Notorious Byrd Brothers in a live setting to a satisfactory standard. Enter Gram Parsons, initially on keys and then guitar. Gram had already cultivated a country-rock sound with his group The International Submarine Band, so it was a willing combination. By August, The Byrds had recorded and released their next album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, regarded by some as the first pure country-rock record.” I also remarked: “Sweetheart of the Rodeo consists mostly of covers.” You Don’t Miss Your Water was a soul record released on Stax, written and recorded by William Bell. It also appeared as the final track on Otis Redding’s Otis Blue, so it has good pedigree and the Byrds do a fine job on it.
I’m fairly sure it was me who used to play Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub back in the day, but my Cornish friend seems to have taken over the mantle. After enjoying Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds - A Short Cut To Teenage Fanclub in 2003, in 2005 he bought their new album, Man-Made, and in 2006 he let me borrow it. I normally prefer Raymond McGinley’s songs but It’s All in My Mind is one of Norman Blake’s.

Back in Copenhagen, looking for somewhere to eat. It’s one of those evenings where you’re unsure of your appetite. After a few beers, proceeded by too much walking, we decide to take a chance on a place called Bang & Jensen. The gamble pays off: the food is good, the interior decor pleasing to the eye, the prices quite reasonable for a city with Copenhagen’s reputation, and they’re playing The Best of The Velvet Underground: Words and Music of Lou Reed. I know this because the CD case is propped up in front of the CD player. I am unfamiliar with tracks 9 and 10 – What Goes On and Beginning to See the Light  but they strike me as very much worth having. Within four days of my return to London, I will have bought both Murder Ballads by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds and The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground.

My regard for the 1960s, and for psychedelic garage rock in particular, had persisted. I procured Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68 prior to buying My Mind Goes High: Psychedelic Pop Nuggets from the WEA Vaults, but it’s the latter that makes the first appearance on this playlist in the form of Adrian Pride. Her Name is Melody alone justifies the purchase: a psychedelic raga with an exquisite vocal, it deserves to be more well known.
I’d probably watched Catholic Boys again, because I’d resolved to include Come See About Me by The Supremes on my next compilation. I was able to do so after finding 20 Golden Greats, credited to Diana Ross & The Supremes, amongst the detritus of my parents’ record collection. Come See About Me originally appeared on The Supremes’ LP Where Did Our Love Go, released 1964. Catholic Boys (aka Heaven Help Us) is set in Brooklyn, circa 1965. Come See About Me serves as the backdrop to a scene where Mary Stuart Masterson’s soda shop is raided by the ‘brothers’ who teach across the road at St. Basils. Andrew McCarthy hangs back to help her clean up the mess, and romance ensues.
If I’d converted to MiniDisc a few years earlier than I eventually did, it’s quite possible that Death of a Clown by The Kinks would have ended up on one of my compendiums. A borrowed greatest hits collection was knocking around our flat in Brentford for a while, but, as is typical of so many self-serving anthologies, it lacked the necessary context to sustain my interest. By the time I’d got back into the habit of making annual compilations the opportunity had passed. It took an advert for digital imaging products to return The Kinks to my attention, by way of the song Picture Book. I’d neither heard it nor heard of it, but the album it heralded from was available from my local high-street record store for a mere six pounds. Most Kinks’ greatest hit compendiums completely sidestep The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society – unless you count Days, which never appeared on the original record but gets tacked on whenever the album’s reissued – but I can identify at least five tunes from it that are up there amongst the group’s best. When it came to selecting material for my annual playlist, I found it almost impossible to choose between two of them: Animal Farm and Starstruck. Consider these interchangeable.
No Eyes and Teleport Man were living in Brighton and Hove. In 2005 my lady friend and I visited four times. I don’t know on which stay it was, but I identified a tune on a compilation they owned called Country Got Soul Volume Two as worth having: I Can’t be Me by Eddie Hinton. Primarily a session musician, Eddie Hinton played on the records of Wilson Pickett, Percy Sledge and Otis Redding, amongst others, but could also sing a bit himself (deliberate understatement). Muscle Shoals progenitor Jerry Wexler described Hinton as, “a white boy who truly sang and played in the spirit of the great black soul artists he venerated."

I’d all but exhausted my parents’ record collection by this point. I made a final pass anyway and annexed their copy of Guilty by Barbra Streisand, featuring Barry Gibb. I don’t buy into the concept of ‘guilty pleasure’ (no pun intended) but this is the sort of thing people are alluding to when they make a claim for it. There’s nothing to be remotely embarrassed about. Even if there was, why not just concede to having philistine taste and be done with it? But Guilty is not that. It is a flawless pop song, as good as anything contrived by the genre’s archetypes: The Beatles, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, ABBA. Time signatures are constantly moving about, from 5/4 to 4/4 and back to 5/4 during the verse, and alternating between 3/4 and 4/4 in the midst of the chorus. There are some ingenious chord changes too. My favourite is the shift from Dm to Ebmaj7 and the way Barry Gibb vocally segues into it:

Dm        Am         Dm
You got a reason for livin'
Ebmaj7
You bat-tle on_with the love you're building on.

There’s nothing wilful about these unexpected deviations – the song’s mode is strophic: introduction, verse, bridge, chorus, instrumental breakout, verse, bridge, chorus, refrain, fade – and each deflection serves to move the song towards its resolution (there aren’t the episodic digressions of, say, Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys). But it’s hard to call. Almost every line leads where you’d least expect it to, an exercise in suspense, patient with itself.




Secondhand vinyl can be surprisingly inexpensive. Rare pressings in mint condition, of the sort secondhand dealerships like to hang on their walls, might set you back a bit, but for anything else I wouldn’t expect to pay more than a cockle. Most of my David Bowie records cost about this, their popularity at the time of their release ensuring that supply continues to exceed demand. I think I paid the same for New Traditionalists by Devo, whereas Duty Now for the Future cost me a paltry £3. New Traditionalists is the better album and very underrated. Through Being Cool, Soft Things, Pity You, The Super Thing, Beautiful World, Enough Said… there’s barely a bad song on there.
David Bowie had championed Devo in their earlier years, to the extent that he co-produced their first album alongside Brian Eno (although by all accounts it wasn’t the most satisfying of partnerships). Might it have been this that directed my attention back towards David Bowie? More likely it was my trip to Berlin in October 2004, although before completing Bowie’s so-called ‘Berlin Trilogy’ with Lodger I first bought Station to Station, the album he recorded in Los Angeles before absconding to Europe. Station to Station is clearly the better album, but its songs possess an epic quality that don’t lend themselves to 20-song playlists; I would have liked to have included Station to Station or Stay but they’re over 10 minutes and 6 minutes long respectively. That being said, Lodger could be Bowie’s most underrated work. To complement the nature of the previous track – Devo’s Enough Said – I wanted to follow up with something urgent and was torn between Red Sails and Look Back in Anger. Bowie’s slightly more tempered vocal on Red Sails swung it.
I purchased the LP Tanglewood Numbers by Silver Jews almost on the strength of its front cover. That’s not quite true. I knew a little about them – the fact that it was David Berman’s band but that Stephen Malkmus and Robert Nastanovich of Pavement often lent their services. Apart from providing my compilation with its title, the lyrics to Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed are amongst my favourites:

Where does an animal sleep
When the ground is wet?
Cows in the ballroom
Chickens in the farmer's corvette.

My Cornish friend had pointed me in the direction of Tom Vek by way of the video for his single C-C (You Set The Fire In Me) in the summer 2005, and by the end of the year I owned a copy of We Have Sound on vinyl. This album hinted at a change in the musical landscape, relief from the dross that had pervaded throughout 2005: Bloc Party, Arctic Monkeys, Kaiser Chiefs, Razorlight, Franz Ferdinand, The Futureheads, Bambyshambles – the fag-end of the garage rock revival. A new sound was emerging that incorporated synthesisers and would come to be known roughly as electro-pop. Whether Tom Vek fell exclusively within this genre is moot: he was making an interesting noise that incorporated abrasive guitars, keyboards, and drawled vocals, recorded in his parents’ garage.
Clor’s record was cut from if not the same cloth as Tom Vek’s then certainly a fabric exhibiting similar properties, perhaps of a more melodic denier. I first encountered them on MTV around the house of The Wilkinsons in Acton, and we then went to see them supporting Stephen Malkmus at the Koko in Camden. Clor split up not long after, which was a great shame.
The Research released their debut, Breaking Up, in early 2006, managed a second album in late 2008 and then went the same way as Clor. Their electro-pop was looser and more shambolic than Tom Vek’s or Clor’s. Lead singer Russell 'The Disaster' Searle would hammer away at a keyboard while bassist Georgia Lashbrook churned out Wedding Present-esque grooves. My Cornish friend took me to see them play at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush for my 31st birthday, so I guess I was engaging with the contemporary music scene to some degree.

But only to a degree. Come April I was abroad again, this time in Budapest. On our last day there, killing time before the flight home, my lady friend and I went for coffee in a cafe called Katapult Kavazo. What should be playing but Transformer by Lou Reed. I've never really liked the song Walk on the Wild Side, and can't abide Perfect Day, so it was never an album I'd ever bothered with. But I hadn’t ever heard Vicious or Andy’s Chest or Hangin’ Around or I’m So Free, so it was well worth a fiver to add the CD to my burgeoning collection.
I have no idea what inspired me to buy the first Fairport Convention album. If I was expecting something along the lines of The Wicker Man soundtrack then I was to be disappointed; folk rock, as I have touched on before, is very different to country rock. At the time Fairport Convention’s debut was written, however, folk-rock was more ‘rock’ than it was ‘folk’, taking its lead from Bob Dylan, The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane, as Time Will Show the Wiser amply demonstrates.
Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965-68 was released in 1972 and has been reissued on numerous occasions since. This assemblage of music has been offered up as the antecedent of punk (although, as I’ve already discussed, it was jazz that instituted the manner by which punk was recorded). Dubious proto-punk credentials aside, it’s the perfect place to start for anybody interested in exploring the genre. The Amboy Dukes’ cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go is a marked highlight, and at over double the length far better value than Them’s version.
What made me hark back to Sticky Fingers by the Rolling Stones and include Sway on my 2005 compilation? I couldn’t say, but Sway is assuredly one of my favourite Stones’ tunes, so there’s no harm in it being here. It might also be Mick Taylor's finest moment as a Rolling Stone, and he deserves more credit for it.


Budapest

In the summer of 2005, the Former Cohabitant from Brighton was house-sitting for his parents and invited me and the friend who foundered in Debenhams to pay him a visit. I came early, and we made arrangements to hook up with our Cornish friend later that evening for a spirited pub crawl around Brighton’s Lanes. Back at the house, the former cohabitant had a few things he wanted to show me (footage from our trip to the States; works in progress), and whilst doing so played whatever had been last listened to on the CD player.
Once when my mother heard me listening to them, she proffered that the Tindersticks sounded like Leonard Cohen. They don’t, but at some point Leonard started singing in a tone vaguely approximating that of Stuart Staples (during the 1980s, on Various Positions?). What I was hearing now did not sound remotely like the voice of Stuart Staples. It was the song Who by Fire, taken from Cohen’s fourth album, 1974’s New Skin for the Old Ceremony. I read somewhere that Ian McCulloch thought that Greatest Hits was Cohen’s best record, so I took him at his word and bought a copy from a second-hand record store, I don’t recall which.
On the inner sleeve there are liner notes recounting the back story to every song. For example, of Famous Blue Raincoat Leonard Cohen has this to say:

I had a good raincoat then, a Burberry I got in London in 1959. Elizabeth thought I looked like a spider in it. That was probably why she wouldn’t go to Greece with me. It hung more heroically when I took out the lining, and achieved glory when the frayed sleeves were repaired with a little leather. Things were clear. I knew how to dress in those days. It was stolen from Marianne’s loft in New York sometime during the early seventies. I wasn’t wearing it very much toward the end.

Taking an opportunity to invite the chap who got me into Sarah Records back to my flat, I played the record and directed his attention to this specific annotation. He understood instinctively. The Partisan is a cover of an homage to the French Resistance in World War II, written by the French journalist Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie.


[This playlist can be enjoyed partially here.]

Monday, 20 November 2017

LINER NOTES: AKA DEVIL IN DISGUISE [2005]





  1.  That’s the Way It’s Got to Be – The Poets
  2.  Entry of the Gladiators – Nero & the Gladiators
  3.  Pretty Ballerina – The Left Banke
  4.  Song for Jeffrey – Jethro Tull
  5.  Christine’s Tune (aka Devil in Disguise) – The Flying Burrito Brothers
  6.  Rhyme the Rhyme Well – Beastie Boys
  7.  Outdoor Miner – Wire
  8.  Sunny Sunny Cold Cold Day – Herman Dune
  9.  Warning Sign – Talking Heads
  10.  Insight – Joy Division
  11.  (Intro/Tokyo) City Girl – Kevin Shields
  12.  Cruiser’s Creek – The Fall
  13.  Record Collection – Comet Gain
  14.  Come Back Jonee – Devo
  15.  King of the Rodeo – Kings of Leon
  16.  Mod Lang – Big Star
  17.  Road to Nowhere – Hearts and Flowers
  18.  Angel – Rod Stewart
  19.  Tell Me Why – Neil Young
  20.  Girls Like That – Weird War
  21.  Silly Girl – Television Personalities

Record stores come and go. Growing up in Plymouth, I used to shop at HMV and Our Price on New George Street, Rival Records on Royal Parade, and Virgin Megastore on the corner of Cornwall Street and Armada Way. I say ‘shop’ but I’d mostly go just to look, often on my way home from school after taking an unnecessary detour via the city centre, thus postponing the laborious task of tackling the homework set that day. Later, once I found a use for secondhand material, I’d frequent Purple Haze at Drake Circus, the Music and Video Exchange in the Pannier Market, Different Class on Frankfurt Gate (not so much), and Really Good Records back when it occupied one of a row of Victorian tenements next to Plymouth Library.
The only one of these businesses still doing business is Really Good Records. After occupying a plot in the now defunct Bretonside Bus Station, it can now be found on Exeter Street just above. A guy called Mike runs the place and he won’t open up before 10:30 a.m. – or at all if it’s a Monday. He is very persuasive. If money was tight I’d think twice about paying a visit knowing that I might leave with more than I literally bargained for. In 2005, I dropped by to look for a specific Jethro Tull album and left with two (This Was and Aqualung), as well as a psychedelic/garage rock compilation entitled Illusions from the Crackling Void, and only narrowly avoided adding something by The Seeds to my collection. When I returned some months later for Devo’s first album I also came away with Real Life by Magazine.
This sort of thing could happen on any one of my tri-annual sojourns to Plymouth to see family and catch up with friends. These apportioned visitations would further reveal sudden physical changes to my hometown’s landscape, often to my dismay, occasionally my pleasure. Some were more substantial than others. When the council finally gave permission for the old Drake Circus to be redeveloped it came down very quickly, as most buildings do once the wrecking ball moves in, radically changing the terrain in and around. The planning process had been so drawn out that by the time the new Drake Circus Shopping Centre opened in 2006, it was immediately considered démodé. Not that I imagine the shopping obsessed hordes particularly cared; only those of us who remembered fondly Arcadia, Olympus Sport, Purple Haze or The Unity were in any way bothered by it.
Illusions from the Crackling Void turned out to be quite the coup. It is a collection of late 1960s psychedelic rock released on the Bam-Caruso imprint, the same people who put together the Rubble anthology comprising the same sort of thing, which was in turn inspired by the Nuggets series begun by Elektra and continued by Rhino Records. Most of it is fairly obscure, although The Poets, who were from Scotland, were probably one of the better known groups of the ‘freakbeat scene’, which was really just a British term for psychedelia with a mod-ish slant.




“What the hell is this?” quoth my lady friend; “It sounds like clowns on acid!” The song, written by Czech composer Julius Fučík, had indeed found fame as a circus march, but why the allusion to hallucinogens? Nero & the Gladiators belong to that rather tame strain of instrumental rock & roll that was popular for a time in the early 1960s, as exemplified by groups like The Shadows, The Tornados, The Ventures. The source in this case was a long player entitled Decade of Instrumentals: 1959~1967, which was one of a number of the records The Former Cohabitant From Brighton brought over for me to listen to when I was living at 27 Hanworth Road. A man who moved house often, his records had since become an encumbrance and so he decided to pass them on to me. Entry of the Gladiators starts with applause, then the spoken words, "Hey, say there Brutus man, like, here come the gladiators,” before a woozy, reverb-drenched guitar kicks off the tune’s chromatic scale, making some sense of my female companion’s startled appraisal. In retrospect, I’m surprised it never made it onto The Heroes of Hanworth.
Baroque pop is pop/rock that utilises traditional classical instruments, such as strings or harpsichords, and may employ musical strategies more usually associated with classical music. The Beatles were arguably the genre’s most accomplished exponents – In my Life, Eleanor Rigby, Fixing a Hole, The Fool on the Hill, etc. (it seems to be more McCartney’s thing) – but the Stones contributed too, probably at Brian Jones’s behest – Play with Fire, Lady Jane, She’s a Rainbow. It wasn’t by any means a British phenomenon. Love dabbled, and The Beach Boys too, but it was perhaps New York band The Left Banke who came the closest to being defined as an actual baroque musical act. Pretty Ballerina is the last track on Illusions from the Crackling Void. In the 1967 television documentary Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution, Leonard Bernstein cheerfully observed that it incorporated, “a combination of the Lydian and Mixolydian modes,” although did then go on to urge us to, “never forget that this music [as in popular music generally] employs a highly limited musical vocabulary.” But he was right to single out Pretty Ballerina, even if I don’t quite understand his reasoning.
I purchased the Jethro Tull album This Was specifically for Song for Jeffrey after seeing it performed on The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (which funnily enough opens to the sound of Entry of the Gladiators). As I have said, I was also cajoled into buying AqualungThis Was is a nicer object. The cover depicts Jethro Tull dressed up as old men surrounded by dogs, as if in a forest or wood. On the reverse the band as they are, laughing, not in colour as on the front but in a monochrome, yellowish green with their name and the album title writ large in red. It’s gatefold and so on the inside we get a picture of the group playing live on stage. The outer sleeve has a pleasing lustre. Aqualung is drab by comparison but is probably the better record; I finish this compilation with Cross-Eyed Mary from it.
1968 was transitional period for The Byrds. Having removed David Crosby from the fold, they were struggling to perform The Notorious Byrd Brothers in a live setting to a satisfactory standard. Enter Gram Parsons, initially on keys and then guitar. Gram had already cultivated a country-rock sound with his group The International Submarine Band, so it was a willing combination. By August, The Byrds had recorded and released their next album, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, regarded by some to be the first pure country-rock record. I bypassed this album – for now – and went straight for The Flying Burrito Brothers, the band Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman formed shortly after the release of Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Whereas The Byrds had become Roger McGuinn’s band, The Flying Burrito Brothers was certainly Gram’s. I can only assume Chris Hillman enjoyed playing a supporting role, which is not to undermine his contribution or even how his contribution was perceived: just as Hillman is given credit commensurate with McGuinn on The Notorious Byrd Brothers, so he is with Parsons on The Gilded Palace of Sin (Sweetheart of the Rodeo consists mostly of covers). Band politics aside, the movement of staff doesn’t impact much on the music. Both Sweetheart of the Rodeo and The Gilded Palace of Sin are sincere exercises in fusing rock and roll with country and western, demonstrating a complete disregard for the psychedelia or R & B that was more fashionable at the time. One wonders why Christine's Tune wasn’t released as a single like Marrakesh Express was, which featured David Crosby on harmony vocals.
It had been six years since the release of the Beastie Boys’ last album, Hello Nasty, and I hadn’t listened to much hip hop in the intervening years. My youngest brother burned me a copy of To the 5 Boroughs, with some Jurassic 5 tacked on the end of it, which I took back to London, along with all the stuff I’d purchased from Really Good Records. The album is more minimal than Hello Nasty, and Rhyme the Rhyme Well is a good example of this. Save for the sampling of Chuck D’s opening salvo on Public Enemy No. 1, the track is built around nothing much more than a strong thumping beat and a weird descending keyboard effect. Country rock and hip hop aren’t the most complimentary of styles and I wonder whether the pared down sound of Rhyme the Rhyme Well is what allows it to follow on from Christine's Tune without too much bother.

To supplement my modest income I’d been attending ‘focus groups’ on a fairly regular basis. They typically paid in the region of £50 for a couple hours of your time, give or take, and there might also be free food and drink. Since the last June, I’d offered my thoughts on Anadin paracetamol, Burger King, Twix, Foster’s lager, Threshers off-license, Right Guard, the BBC website, iced tea, Budweiser, and cigars. I didn’t even smoke cigars.
The day after expatiating on the subject of cigars, for which I was awarded £60, I was back in London to see Herman Dune at the 100 Club with The Chap Who Introduced Me to Sarah Records. This means that he would have already made me the compilation that included Herman Dune’s Sunny Sunny Cold Cold Day, as well as Outdoor Miner by Wire (the album version). Wire had the same look about them that a lot of those early British post-punk bands did: Gang of Four, Magazine, Joy Division, and Siouxsie and the Banshees to an extent. It’s a very simple, understated look made up of plain shirts, suit jackets, sensible shoes and slacks in muted colours. I’ve often wondered where it derived from. Was this a deliberate attempt to eschew the showier visage of early punk: the torn fabric, piercings and sculpted hair of bands like the Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned? Or was it a nod to the drab functionalism of Dr Feelgood and the pub rock scene? Television, Blondie and Talking Heads manifested it too – all of them American – so maybe not. Anyway, Outdoor Miner by Wire doesn’t sound much like Wire – they’re not normally so melodic – but how is this for an opening stanza:

No blind spots in the leopard's eyes,
Can only help to jeopardize,
The lives of lambs, the shepherd cries.


Talking Heads: I’d owned the live album Stop Making Sense since my first year at university (on tape). In about 1998, I bought True Stories on a hungover Sunday morning with The Guy Who Used to Own Many Indie Tapes, who by now owned just as many CDs. I suppose the intent was always there to explore the group’s back catalogue in more detail, but the Stones and David Bowie and The Byrds and Led Zeppelin and jazz and funk and ska must have got in the way.
I purchased More Songs About Buildings and Food on a whim in 2005 after finding it in the ‘£5 or less section’ of HMV in Hounslow. The front cover intrigued me – a group portrait made up of 529 individual Polaroids – and its date – 1978: the same year of Plastic Letters by Blondie and Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! by Devo – inferred the album might exhibit the sort of new wave qualities that appealed to me – intelligible vocals, keyboards, rhythmic guitars. On playing the CD this was found to be true. I was taken aback by how good it was and also how unfamiliar; how so few of the songs had been released as singles (just one: Take Me to the River, a cover of an old Al Green song). I liked the record so much that I quickly surmised it might be one of my favourites.
Warning Sign is a very highly strung song. It starts with Chris Frantz knocking out a few bars on drums, Tania Weymouth then embarks on a wandering groove, David Byrne’s guitar gradually chimes in before Jerry Harrison joins in on second guitar. After 1 minute and 7 seconds of this, the whole thing shifts: Byrne mutates his instrument into a discordant siren, and starts ranting on about how he’s got money now and that we should look at his hair because he likes its design. It could be a comment on how wealth corrupts the individual, but I can’t be sure.
What Brian Eno brings to More Songs About Buildings and Food is comparable to that which Martin Hannett lends to Unknown Pleasures. Both producers subject their musical constituents to echo and delay, with a particular emphasis on drum and bass, to create a sort of industrial sonority. However, the prevailing mood on Joy Division’s record is very different. Insight: a distant drone, a faint whir and the sound of a door being opened and shut – a prison cell is implied. Cymbals and guitars gradually fade in, then Peter Hook’s bass in a register diametrically opposite to Tina Weymouth’s. The variance between the respective vocals is even more pronounced. Where David Byrne offers abstruse verbalism, Ian Curtis’s tone seems to be one of resignation. His inflection is more nuanced than he’s given credit for, and nowhere is this more true than on Insight, his bass-baritone sounding at moments almost fragile.
I used to watch more movies in those pre-internet days, such as Lost in Translation. If I had been connected to the internet then I probably would have downloaded City Girl, but I had to buy the film’s soundtrack, and did so for this song alone. When it came to including it on Aka ‘Devil in Disguise’ I was unable to physically dissociate it from Intro/Tokyo, a segment of ambient sound that wouldn’t feel out of place on the second side of David Bowie's “Heroes”. This turned out to be not such a bad thing, providing a dissonant bridge across from the relative clarity of Insight to the melodic oddness and distorted guitar of City Girl. It’s a song that doesn’t really resolve itself. The same chord cycle just repeats itself four times, without any real regard for what might be a verse or a chorus, except each time the tempo is increased slightly. I could listen to it all day.




Turning 40 isn’t as bad as turning 30. In 2005 I turned 30. We gathered at The Endurance in Soho to celebrate: myself, my lady friend, the guy who keeled over in Debenhams, the former cohabitant from Brighton, the guy who used to own a pager and Roz Childs, ‘The Wilkinsons’ and the boys who lived at The Grosvenor, No Eyes and her husband, Queen of Tin (an old university associate we became reacquainted with during our Brentford years), and my brother (the one who recorded Orbital for me, not the Beastie Boys). Just a few days later I was in Tuscany for the wedding of an old school friend. A city-break to Barcelona with my lady friend in July, and another to Berlin with the Wilkinsons in late October. Badminton had died a death but I was now playing 5-a-side with the guys at work; I cycled to work. My brother (Orbital) challenged me to run the Brighton 10K with him in mid-November, to which I acceded. Work, on the other hand, was on a real downer.
For my birthday, the Wilkinsons very kindly gifted me The Fall: The Complete Peel Sessions 1978–2004. The Fall was known to be 'my' group. In truth, I hadn’t listened to them much over the last five or so years and hadn’t bought any of their records for longer than that, but I welcomed the prospect of reacquainting myself with the world of Mark E Smith. These Peel Session tracks would proceed to form the backbone of the ‘Best of The Fall’ playlist I subsequently compiled and prompted me to purchase a few of the earlier albums that had previously escaped my attention. For the time being, Cruiser’s Creek features here.
Comet Gain are another by-product of the compilation the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records put together. The song Record Collection tells of not being able to listen to certain records because they remind the protagonist of his ex. Sarah Records guy and I have a shared appreciation of many musical moments: the sudden shift from Gbm to D in Marbles by the Tindersticks; the strained harmonies in Solace by The Sea Urchins; Arthur Lee pleading that, “we’re all normal and we want our freedom,” towards the end of Love’s The Red Telephone. On the other hand, whereas I’m very interested in rhythm, Sarah Records guy is all about melody. If there’s a space where we meet in the middle, Comet Gain occupy it. He took me to see them at The Water Rats in King’s Cross at the beginning of the year, and I understood perfectly.
I doubt very much the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records has much time for Devo. This is because he would perceive them to be a ‘comedy band’, and if there’s one thing he can’t stand it’s that. But he wouldn’t be quite right. There’s certainly a humorous element to Devo’s act, but it’s equally kitsch, subversive and satirical. Not that that would impress Sarah Records guy either – as far as I know, he has no time for Weird War. Myself, I have no problem mixing mirth with music. How I laugh to myself every time I catch a glimpse of the back cover of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! depicting various band members with stockings pulled over their heads (actually a stilled image from the band’s extended music video The Truth About De-Evolution, which I recommend highly).
It might appear that I was still avoiding contemporary music but this is only partly true. In September I saw Stephen Malkmus touring his latest album, Face the Truth, supported by a band called Clor. My friend who passed out in Debenhams pointed me in the direction of Tom Vek by way of the video for his new single C-C (You Set The Fire In Me). Field Music, who had impressed in support of The Go! Team the previous year, released their debut album. Weird War had a new record out – they even played twice in support of it: at the Camden Underworld in May and again at the Highbury Garage in November. Aside from Illuminated by the Light by Weird War, bought within days of its release, it took me a while to absorb the rest, but ultimately I did.
In the meantime I purchased Aha Shake Heartbreak by Kings of Leon on double 10” vinyl. It is a nice object and a good album. The drums are sometimes off the beat, the guitars often in opposition to the melody, and Caleb Followill’s vocal delivery is intense. My only complaint is that lyrically they seem to be interested in nothing more than sex, drugs and rock & roll. This ended up being somewhat true of The Strokes too.


Are we not men? No, we are Devo.

Early in the year I thought I’d have another stab at Big Star. I took a chance on #1 Record and liked it so much that within a matter of weeks I’d bought Radio City.
It can be hard to discern from my playlists what sort of thing I might have been into at the time I compiled them. Generally speaking there’s no particular strain of music that predominates, but sometimes there is. I’m alluding to music in the wider sense, encompassing a broader aesthetic. For example, the collective presence of Blur, The Jam, the Small Faces, early Rolling Stones, Love, The Beatles, Herbie Hancock, The Yardbirds, and Saint Etienne on Carrington Classics and The Heroes of Hanworth is indicative of the Britpop scene and its many cultural accoutrements: Fred Perry polo shirts, V-neck jumpers, desert boots, and anoraks; films like Blow Up and The Ipcress File; cafes; an almost Ballardian relationship with one’s environment; a sense of irony; whatever Graham Coxon was into. By the time I’d made Bully for Bulstrode such inclinations had dissipated. After the eclecticism of the ‘French Gite’ compilations my view began to narrow once more (although this didn’t really take hold until after my travels in 2002/03). The artistes this time around were The Byrds, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Syd Barrett, The Amboy Dukes, Led Zeppelin, Big Star, golden era Rolling Stones, and, as we have seen, a miscellany of psychedelia, garage and country rock. It was something approaching ‘Americana’ and found its representation in: pale-blue denim, checked shirts, Cuban heels, black leather bomber jackets; films like Zabriskie Point and Buffalo 66; the works of Hunter S Thompson; the tattered reputation of Richard Nixon; my American ‘road trip’ of the 2004, which was basically the enactment of some sort of fantasy; Keith Richards sat outside the burnt hulk of his Redlands estate in cut-off denim shorts and a tight-fitting shirt with the sleeves rolled up. These are trivial matters, but when I look back over certain periods of my life, to the clothes I wore, the places I ventured, the music I listened to, the films I watched, then suddenly there’s meaning where there didn’t appear to be at the time.
Anyway, Big Star: I’d explored ‘power pop’ without having to resort to Cheap Trick or The Knack. 

Let’s all give Mike at Really Good Records a big round of applause. The third and final track taken from Illusions from the Crackling Void – and there could quite easily have been more – is Road to Nowhere by Hearts and Flowers. You might call it country rock but it’s probably more rooted in the American folk-rock tradition. It could be seen as the climax to the compilation – it has that quality to it, approaching the sublime.
As much as Rod Stewart’s personality can be slightly nauseating, he’s undoubtedly a great singer. There’s a folksy feel to Angel, which follows on from Road to Nowhere very nicely, although it was Jimi Hendrix’s tune originally, about his mother. Ronnie Wood’s guitar playing is quite loose, sometimes behind, sometimes ahead of the beat, always deliberately so. The verse builds to a crescendo, and at the moment of release we get congas.
A lot of country, folk and psychedelic rock is fairly interchangeable (excepting the strain of British folk-rock that developed into the Canterbury Scene, but that’s not relevant here). Take Neil Young’s work with Buffalo Springfield. At the time it could conceivably have been characterised as folk rock with a psychedelic edge. When Young went solo he jettisoned the psychedelic and rockier elements in favour of a more country inflected sound, and yet you’d be hard pushed to call it country rock in the vein of The Byrds or The Flying Burrito Brothers. Nor could you call it ‘southern rock’, a derivative of the genre that was gathering pace. What you might call it is country folk. Pedantic taxonomy aside, I added After the Gold Rush to my collection and sought to include a track on this compilation. Still beholden to MiniDisc, I was going to go with Cripple Creep Ferry but found I had almost three minutes to spare on account of opting for Silly Girl by Television Personalities, at 2 minutes 45 seconds, ahead of Cross-Eyed Merry by Jethro Tull, which comes in at 4 minutes and 6 seconds, and so settled for Tell Me Why, which lasts 2 minutes and 54 seconds.
I was initially a bit disappointed with Weird War’s Illuminated by the Light. It lacks the urgency, the mania and the effect pedals of its predecessors. However, its lethargic, folksy funk grew on me, and the material worked well live. But Svenonius was done with Weird War. He took a break and returned four years later with a new outfit, called Chain & the Gang.


Berlin

In October my lady friend and I moved to the more salubrious environs of St Margarets, Twickenham. I didn’t want to but circumstances dictated that we did. I had liked living in Isleworth, having the Red Lion as my local, St John’s stores at the end of my road, the H37, ‘St John the Baptist’.
Silly Girl by the Television Personalities, courtesy of the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records. I’ve only got two Television Personalities songs to go on: this and a track called Back to Vietnam which the chap who introduced me to Sarah Records played to me around the time he introduced me to Sarah Records, and did so with a slight smirk. I don’t know what to make of them and haven’t invested the time to find out, which I should probably put right.


 [You can listen to this playlist here.]

Saturday, 7 October 2017

LINER NOTES: FEELGOOD BY NUMBERS [2004]





  1.  Out on the Weekend – Neil Young
  2.  Grand Fraud – Weird War
  3.  Feelgood by Numbers – The GO! Team
  4.  Sister Mamie – Yusef Lateef
  5.  Thoughts and Words – The Byrds
  6.  Think – The Rolling Stones
  7.  Help Me Girl – Eric Burdon & The Animals
  8.  All Summer Long – The Beach Boys
  9.  Good to Me – Otis Redding
  10.  Vonal Declosion – Stereolab
  11.  Bag of Jewels – Lou Donaldson
  12.  Elfin Orphan – Scene Creamers
  13.  New Rose – The Damned
  14.  Looking at You – MC5
  15.  Wash in the Rain – The Bees
  16.  Roadrunner – The Modern Lovers
  17.  Marquee Moon – Television
  18.  Reptilia – The Strokes
  19.  Deeper Into Movies – Yo La Tengo
  20.  Goin' Back – The Byrds
  21.  Ramp of Death – Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks

2004 – A terrible year for music: debut albums by Razorlight, Kasabian, The Killers, Keane. Snow Patrol are milking last year’s record for all its worth, Bloc Party have come into being, and the release of their sophomore LP seems to have dashed any hope I had that The Libertines might split up.
Music is no different to any other art-form. Just as bad novels, bad movies and bad paintings find a market, so do bad songs. And just as it requires a deeper reading to appreciate good literature, good cinema or good art, so it is with music. One more than likely accepts that Earnest Hemmingway is a better novelist than John Grisham (no disrespect to John Grisham), or that the movies of Stanley Kubrick are generally superior to those of Steven Spielberg (no disrespect to Steven Spielberg), and that Andy Warhol is a more original and interesting artist than Damien Hirst… so why doubt it when I tell you that Franz Ferdinand are nothing more than a pale imitation of Talking Heads? That’s not say it matters if to your ears The Libertines are the same thing as The Strokes. Just be aware that there’s more to music than the ability to write vaguely catchy tunes coupled with a propensity for taking drugs.
The problem with contemporary rock music is that the music itself is often deemed to be less important than a band’s image or a musician’s personality. Rock and roll has never been a purely auditory phenomenon by any means, but there was a time when groups actually put some effort into what they were doing, learnt their craft, paid their dues. When Keith Richards and Mick Jagger appeared before court on drug related charges in 1967, the Rolling Stones had released no less than SEVEN albums. Even if we allow that Richards, Jones and Jagger were probably getting high well before that, they’d still existed as a drug free unit long enough to establish themselves as viable artists. With a lot of bands these days you get the feeling they’d rather not bother recording any music at all.
For the mainstream act the situation is quite different. More often than not they’re in it for the fame and adulation alone, in complete cahoots with their record company who probably take an even more cynical view about the whole business than they do. Together, they work to divest their product of anything approaching artistic integrity. To ensure that the unsuspecting listener doesn’t call out the cheap pop tune for the superficial drivel it often is, all aural distractions are erased. Everything is invested into the melody, which is typically conveyed via the vocal component of the song. Frequencies are equalised, textures are compressed, rhythm instruments are buried deep within the mix. You may struggle to identify the characteristic sound of any specific instrument whatsoever. The idea is to create something that is completely benign. Why? Because the music industry doesn’t consider that their art should demand anything of its audience other than slavish devotion. As far as they’re concerned, popular music serves much the same purpose as sport.

It’s mid-March. Myself, the Guy Who Used to Own a Pager, the Former Cohabitant from Brighton and his friend Charlie (also from Brighton) are leaving Monterey, California, in a Chrysler Sebring Convertible. We all have monstrous hangovers after an evening spent drinking more than we intended to at the London Bridge Pub down on Fisherman’s Wharf. Checking out of our motel was a mission in itself. No sooner had we managed it, we had to get one of cleaners to let us back into our room after realising we’d left something of value in there. I then had to deal with booking flights from Las Vegas to San Francisco (in person, from a travel agent). Finally, we paused to pick up supplies in a wonderfully spacious and air-conditioned supermarket before pushing on along the Cabrillo Highway to begin the coastal drive south.
What to listen to. How about Harvest by Neil Young? I’ve owned this album for almost a year, but it goes without saying I’ve never listened to in anything resembling my present environment. Out on the Weekend kicks in and it becomes rapidly apparent that Big Sur was designed with country rock specifically in mind.


San Francisco

In the autumn of 2003 the former cohabitant from Brighton informed me of his plan to spend the spring of 2004 travelling around the United States of America. I received his proposition – for I was invited – with a restrained avidity. Although employed (at Nikon UK, since you ask) I was still recovering from the economic damage my own Asian travels had inflicted upon me. At the same time I was itching to hit the road again, if only for just a couple of weeks.
I made arrangements to meet the former cohabitant at a specific time and place in San Francisco, persuaded the guy who used to own a pager to accompany me, and then set about applying for credit. Less than a month prior to our intended departure I booked two return tickets at £240 a head, leaving from Gatwick Airport and only slightly soured by having to change planes in Charlotte, which sounds cheap, and was, but not ridiculously so. The economic conditions as they were, it’s quite possible that if I’d been more on the ball I could have found a cheaper deal still.

I’m in Haight-Ashbury browsing through records in Amoeba Music with the guy who used to own a pager, who’s off enquiring about lap steel guitars. I’m looking for If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em by Weird War because I’ve not been able to find a copy in London. I am successful. Just as Out on the Weekend is the first song off of Harvest, Grand Fraud is the first song (proper) on If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em. I find that such incipient energy is often transferable when compiling playlists.
Thunder, Lightning, Strike by The Go! Team hadn’t been released at this juncture, but I didn’t want to overload the front end of my compilation with tunes exclusively related to my two week vacation. My lady friend, the guy who passed out in Debenhams and I went to see The Go! Team play at The Spitz (supported by Field Music) in October. The song Feelgood by Numbers reminds me of something Vincent Guaraldi might have composed for the Charlie Brown TV Specials of the 1970s. It’s an instrumental track which why is I’ve followed it up with a bit of jazz, although the tone of Sister Mamie by Yusef Lateef is very different: a hard-bop groove with eastern textures. Sister Mamie recalls our return to Lynton, North Devon, in the August, but it’s the only tune that does. The dye had been indelibly cast a year earlier and I will forever associate that place with the Rolling Stones' albums Their Satanic Majesties Request and Beggars Banquet, and very little else.


Yosemite

We’ve not long left San Francisco, by way of an unplanned detour through downtown Oakland, and the guys from Brighton are flicking through their collection of CDs. We are driving to Yosemite National Park on the first leg of a four day road trip that will take us from San Francisco all the way to Las Vegas (the long way around). After mildly enjoying Donovan’s greatest hits, it materialises that the guys from Brighton have with them Younger than Yesterday by The Byrds. I’ve played this record a lot, but I’m not tired of it. The song Thoughts and Words now replaces Have you Seen her Face as my favourite – both are Chris Hillman penned tunes. We will listen to the album again on the final leg of our journey: the drive from Santa Barbara to Las Vegas, by way of the Mojave Desert.
Turns out I’ve not given Aftermath by the Rolling Stones the attention it deserves. Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane and Under My Thumb all made it onto my ‘Best of the Rolling Stones’ MiniDisc compilation, but I’d left it at that. My loss, because there’s at least Think to (re)consider. I’d imagined that a golden age era Stones’ album would be more suited to driving through California, but there’s something about Aftermath that seems to suit the mood – an innocence perhaps, or a particular type of sound. Whatever it is, it sits very nicely alongside Eric Burdon’s Help Me Girl, which was released the same year (1966 – although what we're really listening to is The Very Best of Eric Burdon & The Animals).

Coruscations of light bounce upward off the Pacific Ocean blue. Neil Young’s Harvest has drawn to a close. What’s next? The Beach Boys of course. All Summer Long. It may only be March but it looks and feels like July. The guy who used to own pager, who has had to do all of the driving on account of being the only one of us with a driving licence, thinks the song's hilarious.
Having exhausted my parents’ supply of 1960s and '70s rock and roll, as well as my father’s jazz, I’ve made a start on my mother’s limited supply of Atlantic Soul. (I never really understood why my parents decided to abandon their record collection. They only ended up replacing records with CDs, and the sound quality will have only suffered.) It’s The Soul Album by Otis Redding that’s caught my eye. It could well be that I’ve recently watched the film Catholic Boys for the hundredth time, which features the Otis Redding track I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, although that’s not on this record. My favourite track on The Soul Album is Good to Me, a similarly slow and rather plaintive tune. Within a year I will have purchased a copy of Otis Blue.
          Margerine Eclipse [sic] is the first Stereolab album that’s not quite lived up to my much heightened expectations. Let it be known that there was never any question that something from it wouldn’t feature on my annual compendium, and it’s a very good record by anyone else’s standards, but I sense that the premature death of groop member Mary Hansen in late 2002 has, understandably, taken its toll.
The quintet Lou Donaldson brought together to record Midnight Creeper in 1968 is quite something: Blue Mitchell on cornet, Lonnie Smith on the organ, George Benson on guitar, Idris Muhammad on drums, and the man himself playing alto sax. It’s another one of my father’s records, although ‘funkier’ than most of the jazz he used to own. Jazz-funk is a mysterious genre looked down upon by some, but the calibre of the musicians that have indulged speaks for itself: Donald Byrd, Grant Green, Jimmy Smith, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis – even Miles Davis to some extent.
For a brief moment Weird War became Scene Creamers, subsequently reverting back to their original name when an obscure French graffiti collective claimed legal ownership. Rather ironically, the album released under the Scene Creamers name is one of Weird War’s best (and if you google ‘Scene Creamers’ those Gaelic scribblers are nowhere to be seen). Released in January 2003, whilst I was still bumming about Southeast Asia, I Suck on That Emotion should have more rightly featured on the previous year’s compendium, but I didn’t get hold of it until late in the year and continued to listen to it well into 2004. [Incidentally, Ian Svenonius dedicated their performance of Elfin Orphan at the Highbury Garage to me after I requested he play it in return for the beer I bought him. (He’d actually wanted Grenadine, but it was off.) I hadn’t meant to hold him to ransom but the barman had insisted he pay for his drink, despite the fact that Scene Creamers/Weird War were headlining, and Ian didn’t have any cash on his person.]


Big Sur

The origins of punk have been attributed to myriad sources. Did it start with the Velvet Underground, MC5, The Stooges, The Sonics, The Seeds, The Monks, Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, Dr. Feelgood, You Really Got Me by The Kinks, Seven and Seven Is by Love, or Louie Louie by The Kingsmen? No, it started with jazz. More specifically, it started with bepop.
The precursor to bepop was swing and big band jazz, which was driven by the individual, a bandleader or arranger: Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman. Early rock and roll was similarly individualistic: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley, Elvis Presley. Bepop was interested in advanced harmonics, rhythmic intricacies, modal chords, with less emphasis on melody. There was no longer any need for a large orchestra and so the role of bandleader was diminished. The beat combos that resulted – quintets and quartets mostly – were therefore more democratic. It was customary for each musical component to contribute not just towards the rhythm but also improvise a solo. The nominal leader of these combos might even write a piece with a specific instrument, or even musician, in mind. The song was no longer the sum of its parts but a grouping together of singular strands, recorded live, be it in the studio or in a club or concert hall, where it is left to the individual musician to regulate the volume of their instrument. There’s no technical Svengali sat in a control room, twiddling knobs, deciding what sound should predominate, emphasising melody and/or dampening rhythm. All sound is equal.
Despite not being literally recorded live, punk aspires to very much the same thing. The idea is to allow the timbre of each musical constituent to flourish in an attempt replicate a ‘live’ experience. Less emphasis might be placed on a song’s vocal. The bass line is as likely to carry a melody as the lead guitar. Traditional hierarchies are disposed of. This is music following the path of least resistance, a communion between the artist and the listener.
New Rose by The Damned was purportedly recorded in a day. Released in October 1976, it has the dubious honour of being British punk’s first ever record – ‘dubious’ because I imagine that sort of thing brings with it a certain amount of pressure. Fortunately, New Rose does not disappoint. I borrowed it from the friend who crashed to the floor in Debenhams, who owned the ‘greatest hits’ compilation album The Light at the End of the Tunnel.
My first go at MC5 had not been a great success. I purchased Teen Age Lust in about 1998/99 only to find the sound quality wanting. The album is a live recording of a gig they played in 1970, which goes some way towards explaining it. I was careful not to make the same mistake twice and opted against buying MC5’s seminal debut, Kick Out the Jams, also recorded live, and instead purchased Back in the USA, which they cut in GM Studios, Detroit. My opinion of MC5 improved immeasurably and I was able to appreciate why some have claimed them to be a progenitor of punk.
I can’t recall how I came by Wash in the Rain by The Bees but it would be a while yet before I picked up their album. It’s quite possible that I heard it on the radio and then bought it as a 7” single, but I can’t be sure of this. I’ve acquired a lot of music this way, where I’ve not known enough about a band to chance it on an actual album but I’ve been desirous of owing a particular song. My uncertainty stems from the fact that singles are not really a thing anymore, and all mine are stashed away somewhere. It’s far too much bother to manually recalibrate my record player to play at 45 rpm, so I never do.

It’s Friday night in San Francisco and we’ve ended up back at Delirium, the same club we went to on Tuesday. That evening they played an eclectic mix of classic rock, garage, new wave, heavy metal, punk and indie – ‘a rock & roll party for the 20th century’. Tonight they’ll just be spinning punk and new wave. I get talking to the DJ and put in a request for Terry Waite Sez by The Fall – I have no idea why that tune – which he fulfils. Between that and the Sex Pistols, The Stooges, The Cramps and The Clash, something catches my ear. I consult the DJ to find out what it was: Roadrunner by The Modern Lovers.
Proto-punk: designation after the fact. The Modern Lovers took their cue from The Velvet Underground, so how’s that supposed to work? The Modern Lovers was the first album I bought once I got back to Blighty (although I bought the wrong version: The Original Modern Lovers, produced by Kim Fowley and not John Cale). If this was indeed punk then it was my sort of punk. My problem with punk is that it’s quite shouty. I can’t listen to the Sex Pistols because of Johnny Rotten’s voice, and when I’ve made forays in other directions I’ve come up against the same problem. I really wanted to like Holiday in Cambodia by The Dead Kennedys, for example, but just couldn’t get past the vocals. It’s the same with The Ramones, although I must confess to being disappointed with them generally. Towards The Clash I remain ambivalent. And then there’s the clothing. I don’t really go in for all that ripped denim, heavy leather and graphic sloganeering.
I suppose this is why I’ve always erred towards new wave. Whether Television qualifies as new wave is debatable – post-punk at least, which almost amounts to the same thing. I knew Marquee Moon was a great tune and took myself to Richmond Library to follow up on my interest. Unfortunately, the album Marquee Moon left me slightly cold. As with Big Star’s Third (aka Sister Lovers) its reputation may have adversely preceded it.
A guy I worked with complained that the first single off of The Strokes’ second album sounded a bit like the theme tune to the children’s television show Rainbow. I could see where he was coming from and shared in his disappointment. The second single, Reptilia, was an improvement, but I still had no intention of buying The Strokes’ new LP. In the end it was my lady friend who decided that Room on Fire was worth a punt, and so I decided that I may as well include Reptilia on this compilation.


Mojave Desert

In June our landlord decided he wanted to sell up. Putting aside the rigmarole of having to find a new place to live – as well the loss of the Royal Oak as our local – it wasn’t such a bad thing. Douglas Bader House had always been a dark and isolated tenement with too little furniture. We found a flat in Isleworth with an iron staircase leading up to it, which lent a certain frisson. Down the road was St. John’s Stores, around the corner Isleworth Train Station, and The Red Lion just a few minutes’ walk away. We were better off.
Yo La Tengo released the album I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One as far back as 1997, which was before I had even heard of them. I’ve long since forgotten what it was that brought them to my attention – maybe The Pastels? – but theirs is another album loaned from Richmond library. It’s a great record encompassing a variety of styles; I find the ‘noise pop’ of Deeper into Movies of particular interest. On end of the same MiniDisc I recorded this CD onto, I added a couple of tunes from Pig Lib by Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks, his second album since disbanding Pavement. Ramp of Death is included here.
The last record I purchased before our move was The Notorious Byrd Brothers, also the last Byrds’ album to include material by David Crosby. Crosby was a bit of a burk really. He fell for the whole trippy hippy thing in a big way, much to Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman’s chagrin, who were by now exploring more traditional forms of American music: bluegrass, country and western, Appalachian folk. They also wanted to record the Goffin-King composition Goin’ Back, which Crosby thought was somehow beneath them. He had this smutty song called Triad knocking about and wanted to cut that instead, so McGuinn and Hillman booted him out of the band.
Intended as a celebration of my trip to The States, these last three tracks were not present on my original, 74 minutes long MiniDisc. I appended them after making the transition to MP3, partly because they were discovered too early for inclusion on the following year’s compendium but also because they raise the overall quality of this one. I hope that you concur.


[This playlist can be listened to here.]