- These are the Ghosts – The Bees
- Stagger Lee – Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
- You Don’t Miss Your Water – The Byrds
- It’s All in My Mind – Teenage Fanclub
- What Goes On – The Velvet Underground
- Her Name is Melody – Adrian Pride
- Come See About Me – The Supremes
- Animal Farm – The Kinks
- I Can’t Be Me – Eddie Hinton
- Guilty – Barbra Streisand
- Enough Said – Devo
- Red Sails – David Bowie
- Sometimes a Pony Gets Depressed – Silver Jews
- The Lower the Sun – Tom Vek
- Outlines – Clor
- When You Get Home – The Research
- Andy’s Chest – Lou Reed
- Time Will Show the Wiser – Fairport Convention
- Baby Please Don’t Go – The Amboy Dukes
- Sway – Rolling Stones
- 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 which record - something about a guy called Stagger Lee. The proprietor speaks English. It is Nick Cave (with the Bad Seeds) and 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.
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, not because I have knowledge of the compilation. I am not familiar 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,” and I can’t say better than that.
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'
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 up 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 a fiver, 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 and Enough Said... there's barely a bad song on the record.
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 the songs have an epic quality that don’t lend themselves to 20-song playlists; I would have liked to have included either the songs 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. It was worth it, and my annual compilation found its delightful name.
When we left university the guy who owed many tapes gave me his old corduroy military style jacket, but that had long since perished and was never very warm anyhow. Prior to that I wore my uncle’s old Ron Hill cagoule or my dad’s old leather car coat, neither of which afforded much protection. I now possessed a black bomber jacket but that only really held up in the wind and the rain, not the cold. So I paid for a second-hand pea coat, the first outer garment of any substance that I’d owned since being at school, to protect against the Danish winter and other forms of inclement weather.
On my feet I rotated desert boots, Adidas Stan Smiths and a pair of Chelsea boots. I’d started investing in crew and V-neck jumpers from Marks & Spencer in sombre tones. Jeans were boot-cut but only on account of the paucity of alternatives; I would try on a number of pairs in the same size and opt for the least flared and tightest fitting (always Levi’s). The pea coat excepted, this was all par for my course – had been since the start of university and the discovery of retrospective fashion. But now a twist: I came across a picture of Tom Vek in blue jeans, trainers, and a black T-shirt. I had plenty of white T-shirts, and a blue one, a yellow one, even an ecru one, but none black. The only black T-shirt I could recall having ever owned was my Brand New Heavies T-shirt in my late teens. And so I bought a ribbed black T-shirt from American Apparel.
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, and doing it alone 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 after just one self-titled album, 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 of a looser nature to Tom Vek or Clor’s (lo-fi electro-pop anyone?). 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 a 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, we 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 on my return.
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, although in October I'd bought a vintage silk scarf from Portobello Road to wear with my pea-coat, Keith Richards in and around 1967 being my point of reference. In any case, Sway is assuredly one of my favourite Stones’ tunes, so there’s no harm in it being here.
In 2005, the former cohabitant from Brighton had been house-sitting for his parents when he invited me and the friend who foundered in Debenhams to pay 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 Cohen 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 form 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 our new flat, I played the record and directed his attention to this specific annotation. He understood instinctively. The Partisan is a cover of a French homage to the French Resistance in World War II written by French journalist Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie. For some reason, Leonard Cohen’s interpretation brings to my mind the Spanish Civil War.