- Speed of Life – David Bowie
- Use It Before You Lose It – Bobby Valentin
- Phoenix City – The Skatalites
- Woman of the Ghetto – Phyllis Dillon
- Night and Day – The Maytals
- On the Road Again – Canned Heat
- I Hate You – The Monks
- Paint it Black – Rolling Stones
- The Man Who Sold the World – David Bowie
- Household Names – Stereolab
- Conquistadors – Chico Hamilton
- Mizrab – Gabor Szabo
- Viva Tirado – El Chicano
- Eye of Danger – Michigan & Smiley
- Blackout – David Bowie
- Happiness – Teenage Fanclub
- The Prophet – Make Up
- Broasted or Fried – St. Vincent Latinaires
- Little Red Rooster – Rolling Stones
Our flat in Brentford was nice enough but short on space. My fainting friend was holed up in an even more diminutive tenement in Hounslow. We arrived at the conclusion that one-bedroom flats didn’t come cheap and, if the three of us shared, a two bedroom dwelling would afford us all a higher standard of living – which it did.
Our new lodging – near Osterley but officially designated as Isleworth – was about 10 minutes’ walk away from the residence of the friend who used to own a pager, which was a wonderfully grotty apartment on London Road spread across two floors, that some assumed was a squat. The nearest pub was The Milford Arms, a traditional type of boozer that should have made for a pleasing local. Unfortunately, it was run by a couple of idiots who favoured certain customers over others and treated the place like an extension of their living room. When this began to grate, we fell back on old favourites: The Rifleman, The Town Wharf, and The Royal Oak on Worton Road just opposite Mogden Sewage Works. We also knew people who’d recently moved to South Acton, conferring upon us the opportunity to drink in Chiswick – at The George IV, The Duke of Sussex, The Rat and Parrot, and The Crown & Anchor (frequented for a while by ‘Ant and Dec’).
We were socially more itinerant back then – wouldn’t think twice about starting off at The Rifleman in Hounslow only to then move on to Baroque in Ealing (Friday 26th January 2001), or having a few pints in Kingston before jumping on a train to Clapham Junction (Saturday 22nd September 2001). Midweek drinking was also the norm. I don’t mean to suggest that we lived dissolute lifestyles, merely that we were younger then and more carefree. Not that I held my health in complete contempt. I was playing football occasionally with work colleagues, weekly games of badminton with the lady, and a secondhand bike allowed me to cycle to and from work. I was also eating well. Maybe a little too well: trips to Bunny’s Tandoori, The Kyber Pass, Pizza Express and The Coffee Pot were regular events.
2000’s The Ladies of Varades and 2001’s The Boys of Summer should be seen as companion pieces. They follow similar musical themes, drawing upon jazz, funk, Latin vibes, reggae, soul, ‘60s rock and contemporary indie. They were also conceived of with the specific intent of being listened to whilst holidaying in the Loire Valley.
I like to introduce my compendiums with something upbeat – Zambezi by The Fun Company in the case of The Ladies of Varades – but with The Boys of Summer I’ve begun with the oddity that is Speed of Life by David Bowie, a jolly instrumental that also kicks off the album it’s taken from – Low. However, I quickly follow up with Use It Before You Lose It by Bobby Valentin, an exuberant stab of boogaloo. The Latin music of North America and the Caribbean is very different to the bossa nova, samba and Tropicália of Brazil, and this is a good illustration as to how.
I’ll then lay off slightly, to the point of delivering something mellow by about the fourth or fifth track in. In this instance, I’ve started with ska, in the shape of Phoenix City by The Skatalites, taken from the Soul Jazz compilation Studio One Rockers. Warming to the theme, I’ve reached for another Soul Jazz compendium – 100% Dynamite – and borrowed Woman Of the Ghetto by Phyllis Dillon and Night and Day by The Maytals. The inspiration in this first instance would have been the guy who used to own a pager, although the Studio One Rockers album was/is my own. This run of ska and rocksteady eases us into the mellifluous blues of Canned Heat’s On the Road Again, which my lady friend pejoratively thinks sounds like somebody using an electric razor (the sound she is referring to is a tambura).
Now it’s time to wind things back up, and I Hate You by The Monks more than serves this purpose. Taken from their seminal 1966 album Black Monk Time, I Hate You is a spiteful barrage of fuzz-tone distortion and bitter incantation. (The Fall covered this track on their 1990 album Extricate, which is how I initially came to be aware of it. I bought Black Monk Time after I saw a copy hanging in the window of Intoxica Records on the Portobello Road on a Saturday.) Having released such energy, I am committed to drawing it out, and do so with Paint it Black by the Stones. This is what the second phase of a playlist of this length is often about – making a noise, or throwing poppy melodies out there to keep the listener hyped.
We need to talk about David. Nobody had much to say about him at school or when I arrived at university. It was the guy with the tapes who finally broached the subject. His girlfriend had included Queen Bitch on a mixtape she sent him whilst we were living together on Hanworth Road. Having already established myself as a fellow Velvet Underground fan – Queen Bitch is Bowie’s homage to them – I took note, but not to the extent that I immediately did anything about it. I’m not sure what prompted me but at some point in the year 2000 I bought a secondhand copy of Hunky Dory. I’m assuming it was after July because nothing features of it on The Ladies of Varades, and I would have surely have included Andy Warhol given the opportunity.
The timescale of my next Bowie purchase is identifiable. I purchased my copy of Low in Penzance, which dates it to the end of August bank holiday of that same year. I’d liked Hunky Dory but wasn’t dazzled by it. Low – the first side at least – really grabbed me. I was aware that Bowie had written Low on returning to Europe, in an effort to escape the ruinous, psychotic lifestyle that taken him over in Los Angeles, but wasn’t alive to what this had actually entailed (the album Station to Station points the way, should you wish to mount your own chronological campaign). I was taken with the simplicity and strangeness of some of the lyrics, the fragmentary nature of the songs’ structures and the general mood of the thing – which was ‘low’. Bowie’s vocal delivery is measured; the timbre boarders on the melancholy. Conventional arrangements are dispensed with. In Sound and Vision the nearest thing approximating a chorus is heard just twice: once at the beginning of the song and again at the end, bookending what passes for a verse. Breaking Glass is comprised of two verses and a single chorus – if that’s even semantically possible. In parallel to this, Bowie had ditched many or his sartorial eccentricities and taken to wearing plaid shirts, jeans and sensible shoes. His hair was still orange though.
By the time I’d begun compiling a playlist in readiness for a second gite-based holiday I’d added “Heroes” to my collection. The B-sides of both Low and “Heroes” are comprised largely of ambient instrumentals but, despite both albums forming part of Bowie’s ‘Berlin Trilogy’, their A-sides aren’t remotely similar. “Heroes” is louder, more aggressive, the tracks are longer and the lyrical content more verbose. Robert Fripp’s guitar is let loose all over it while Eno’s noodlings take a back seat. I’m not sure which album I prefer. I definitely find the second side of “Heroes” more stimulating than side two of Low but it is the first sides of both that hold all the aces. In this respect, side one of Low just about edges it on account of there being seven of them – ‘aces’ that is – to “Heroes”’ five.
The first version of this compilation had Bowie's Breaking Glass following on from Paint it Black, but I decided to replace it with The Man Who Sold the World after everybody got quite into it on our trip to France (courtesy of the guy who used to own a pager). It was a simple exercise to delete Breaking Glass, record The Man Who Sold the World and then ‘shuffle’ – MiniDisc parlance for rearrange – the running order, which I subsequently did on our return.
We’re at a crucial stage of our anthology now – the third quarter – and in this instance I’ve turned to jazz to sustain the listener’s interest. Jazz has an epic quality that I think sets a compilation up nicely for the final run in. You can’t just drop it in willy nilly, so I’ll often use a Stereolab tune, with their complex arrangements and fondness for vintage keys, to pave the way. Stereolab had a new album due out at the end of August, but our French holiday couldn’t wait that long, so I reached for the EP they released in May 2000, The First of the Microbe Hunters. Thereafter, Chico Hamilton’s Conquistadors segues into the jazz-raga of Hungarian guitarist Gábor Szabó’s Mizrab. It’s a natural progression as Gábor plays guitar on both.
I’ve got nothing to against The Beatles, but consider this: August 1965 and the Fab Four have just recorded Help!, their fifth studio album. The same year Chico Hamilton releases El Chico, his 23rd. I’m not going to argue that El Chico is a better album than Help! but it’s hard to make a case for, say, Ticket to Ride being anywhere near as sophisticated as Conquistadors. Gábor Szabó’s guitar playing is far more accomplished than either Lennon’s or Harrison’s, not because he’s more talented necessarily but because jazz simply offers more room for manoeuvre. It’s not so much a case of which music is better but what’s more interesting. (Ironically, one of Gábor’s first releases as a band leader was a cover of the Paul McCartney schmaltz-fest Yesterday.)
It was Earl Gateshead who introduced me to El Chicano’s take on ‘jazz standard’ Viva Tirado, which they made their own. The Hammond driven salsa-jazz serves to ramp things up before Eye of Danger kicks in, a menacing slab of late 1970’s dancehall that needs to be kept apart from the more delicate intricacies displayed by Gábor.
Blackout off of “Heroes” succeeds Michigan & Smiley’s Eye of Danger because it is frantic and noisy enough to cope with the responsibility. It also signals the beginning of the end – the last quarter.
Great West Road
Whilst one needn't save the best until last, it is advisable that your compilation builds toward a climax of sorts. Happiness by Teenage Fanclub could fairly be described as an uplifting track. It has proper singing on it, rather than shouting, screaming, grunting or whimpering. The same cannot be said of The Prophet by Make Up. I’ve already noted that the Make Up and the Stones shared a sort of muscular licentiousness – or at least their frontmen did – but this is only partly true. It is correct that Mick Jagger and Ian Svenonius, as well as having big hair, commit completely to their physical performance. However, where Jagger seeks to convey primitive urges, Svenonius brings humour. His shtick is tongue-in-cheek but played with enough conviction to make you think twice. It is not parody. It’s more like if a young Jonathan Meades had joined the Weather Underground and been possessed simultaneously by the spirits of James Brown and Prince.
The penultimate track, Broasted or Fried, is taken from the same record as the second track; indeed, it lends that miscellany of “Latin breakbeats, basslines & boogaloo” it’s very name. Broasted or Fried is a monster of a tune, driving forward with an intense ferocity that feels conclusive.
It slightly odd that having discovered Exile on Main Street the year before I didn’t push on and search out Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed or Sticky Fingers. Instead, I mined my father’s record collection and came away with both the Rolling Stones’ eponymously titled debut album and the compilation LP Big Hits (High Tide and Green Grass) – hence Paint it Black, and hence Little Red Rooster, which wraps everything up.
Why ‘The Boys of Summer’? It had been my intention to include the Don Henley song of the same name but I couldn't get hold of it. In hindsight, I think it was probably for the best.