1. I Forgot to be Your Lover – William Bell
2. Wedding Dress – Pentangle
3. Jungle Fever – Chakachas
4. Pretty Thing – Bo Diddley
5. It Beats for You – My Morning Jacket
6. Vad Hände Med Dem? – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
7. Ping Pong Affair – The Slits
8. My Rush – #1 Dads
9. Light Flight – Pentangle
10. Can You Get to That – Funkadelic
11. Paint it Black – Afrika
12. If Not Tomorrow Maybe Some Day – Daniel Bortz
13. Huarache Lights – Hot Chip
14. Toxic Love – Popof
15. Mr Noah – Panda Bear
16. Need You Now – Hot Chip
17. I’ll Never Cry for Another Boy (Rehearsal) – The Majestic Arrows
17. I’ll Never Cry for Another Boy (Rehearsal) – The Majestic Arrows
Comprised of just 17 tracks, 2015’s I Beat For You is the shortest of the compilations I’ve written liner notes for. I had been in two minds whether or not to continue into 2016 and create another biennial edition, but decided against it. I’d rather my playlists were on the short side than unwieldily epic.
I was still taking inspiration from Spotify, except there was someone new feeding into it: a lovely Australian guy with an eclectic musical palate. Over time, this would affect the sort of tunes that appeared on Discover Weekly, which probably made for a more interesting assortment. 2014’s The Big Nod had been too narrow in scope to ever be a favourite of mine, and I looked forward to shaking things up a bit.
I don’t think we have the antipodean to thank for William Bell’s I Forgot to be Your Lover. It could have just as easily been derived from the soul music I occasionally put on at work. Regardless, it’s a nice way to begin my compilation, and recalls my ‘soul period’ of 2006, which incorporated The Supremes, Otis Redding, Eddie Hinton, various Kent soul. This song would also turn up from time to time over at the St Margarets Tavern, who were more than likely playing Spotify playlists of their own, contrived to create a mellower sort of vibe for their clientele to drink to.
I’ve referred previously to American country, folk and psychedelic music by way of The Byrds, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, Bob Dylan, and so forth. There was also a distinctively British interpretation of the genre, manifest in groups such as Fairport Convention, Pentangle, The Strawbs, and the associated ‘Canterbury sound’. The Canterbury scene came later, morphing into what would become known as progressive rock. In its earlier stages, British folk-rock took inspiration from American country and folk music, the blues, psychedelia, traditional English folk music, as well as the improvisational tendencies of jazz.
I’d dallied with Fairport Convention in the past, albeit briefly. I bought their debut album, which seemed derivative of the American folk-rock scene, groups like Jefferson Airplane. (Their fourth album, Liege & Lief, is supposed to be their masterpiece, but I never got that far.) Now it was Pentangle who caught my ear, and I think they’re probably the more interesting band. The differing interests of the various group members may explain why. Double-bass player Danny Thompson and drummer Terry Cox were grounded in jazz, guitarist John Renbourn was interested in the more traditional elements of folk, whereas Bert Jansch had a taste for the blues. How that all works itself out I couldn’t tell you, although it sounds to my ears that Wedding Dress exhibits more the influence of traditional folk music whereas Light Flight reveals the rhythm section’s fondness for jazz.
(The/Les/Los) Chakachas were a group of Latin soul studio musicians, from Belgium of all places, responsible for this saucy number. Jungle Fever was a big hit in the United Puritanical States of America, but was banned by the BBC soon after its UK release. It featured in the film Boogie Nights, and has been sampled a number of times by other artists, normally within the realm of hip hop.
Bo Diddley is cited as one of the originators of rock and roll, alongside Bill Haley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis. Bo Diddley is probably the classiest guy amongst that lot, and there’s a groove to Pretty Thing that you might struggle to find in the music of his co-conspirators; signs that maybe he remained closer to the source, cleaving more keenly to the blues. Pretty Thing was released in 1955, and a mention should also go out to the guy playing the harmonica, Lester Davenport.
Discover Weekly does not discriminate, and nor do I. The transition from blues-driven rock and roll to the space-rock of My Morning Jacket’s It Beats 4 U works surprisingly well. This was what I was missing out on in 2005 by not listening to contemporary music, other than The Bees and Kings of Leon. It Beats 4 U would have sat comfortably on the previous year’s playlist too, maybe alongside the Besnard Lakes or Papercuts.
Despite my enthusiasm for The Brian Jonestown Massacre compilation Tepid Peppermint Wonderland: A Retrospective, which I’d seized upon in 2007, the only other record of theirs I’d purchased was Give It Back! in 2011. I’d lost track of what the band was up to, but in 2014 they released their 13th studio album, which slowly had found its way onto Spotify. Vad Hände Med Dem? sounds like The 13th Floor Elevators on uppers, which, knowing Anton Newcombe, was probably the intention.
When I’d included The Slits on 2011/12’s The World’ll Be Ok I’d opted for the obvious in Typical Girls. When I listened to them now, it struck me that Ping Pong Affair was the more interesting song. The drums jerks back and forth, and Viv Albertine’s vocals turn in unusual directions. It’s also a clear indicator of the influence that reggae and ska had on British new wave and punk.
#1 Dads are an Australian alternative band that weren’t introduced to me by the Australian work colleague with a taste for alternative bands. My Rush is taken from the 2014 album About Face. The group appear to be defunct, possibly an account of the fact that they were never more than a side-project anyway, devised by a guy called Tom Iansek who more usually plays in a band called Big Scary.
Pentangle again, time signatures jumping all over the place, vocalist Jacqueline McShee doing an excellent job. I’ve already commented on how the influence of jazz makes itself known on Light Flight, and I’ll leave it at that.
Turning 40 isn’t as bad as turning 30. Turning 30 draws to a close a period of abandon and of avoided responsibility that characterises one’s twenties, in a psychological tectonic shift that can induce mild panic, even angst. It was not always thus. My parents’ generation – and even more so my grandparents’ generation – were expected to knuckle down in their twenties, to embark on a career, buy property and begin the business of raising a family.
It is implied, then, that the babies of the baby boomers have had it easy. Not so. Whilst my generation have certainly been inclined to postpone life-defining moments, we have in many ways been left with no other choice. For one, getting onto the property ladder has been easier said than done – expensive, geographically restrictive, and dependent on a security of employment that’s all the more scarce. That’s the second point: ‘jobs for life’ aren’t what they used to be, and career progression is a more precarious project these days. Indeed, an occupational flightiness is actually expected, and a potential employer might even be suspicious of someone who had remained with the same business for long period of time: that it reflects a want of ambition, and that the potential employee has ‘de-skilled’ his or her self into the bargain. (The notion of becoming ‘de-skilled’ is a bogus concept in the first instance, given that job functionalities and internal systems are all variations on the same concepts, and that one doesn’t suddenly lose the ability to learn new things.)
We live in prescriptive times. To get anywhere professionally you must subscribe to standardised a way of doing things. I’m not referring to the expectation that people abide by certain conventions or observe particular social mores – that goes without saying. What I’m alluding to is the homogenisation of technique and the use of jargon to make the straightforward seem more complicated than it really is – to make the obvious appear ambiguous. There is no room for imagination, ingenuity or initiative. The true maverick is doomed to failure, as adults are treated, and are expected to behave, as if they were children.
Socially, life can be equally restrictive. Despite what some might perceive to be an overly liberal permissiveness, the scope of acceptable behaviour has actually narrowed. When I was a lad, you aligned yourself this way or that, depending on what took your fancy (even if you did stand to take a certain amount of abuse for your troubles). Today, culture is geared towards the dilettante, the part-time enthusiast. Apparently, there are 1,000 things to experience before you die, and they’re always the same 1,000 things. The weight of existential expectation being dumped on the individual is frightening. It’s not just the imperious presumption that there are people qualified to give this kind of advice, but the very idea that we’re all willing to work through the same lists, read the same books, listen to the same records, watch the same movies, visit the same countries, stand in awe in front of the same landmarks, hold the same opinions. By the time you reach 40 you've become impervious to all this nonsense, and you're just trying to plough your own furrow as best you can.
My lady friend and I like New York and decided to return there to celebrate my 40th birthday. New York is certain to feature in any book brazen enough to tell you where to go before you shed your mortal coil. It’s not for everyone, but I’m very fond of the place. And a new camera: a Fujifilm X20 that can handle low light far better than my Ricoh R8 ever could (which it should do, given it cost twice as much).
Funkadelic have no specific connection with New York – they based themselves in Detroit – but for me their music evokes the city’s spirit as much as The Ramones or the Velvet Underground or Public Enemy. Yet I came by Can You Get to That at work, via Spotify, possibly because I’d been feeding ‘the algorithm’ with James Brown and The J.B.’s. It’s a very pleasing and fortuitous thing, then, that rather than reminding me of work, Funkadelic suggests eating and drinking in and around Greenwich Village and Chelsea.
When I first heard Africa’s cover version of Paint it Black it took me a while to discern what song it actually was. This is because: I was in the St. Margaret’s Tavern at the time and there was ambient noise to contend with; their version is a radical departure from the original. Further, so often has this tune been covered that it wasn't easy finding out who was responsible in this instance, but it’s from an album called Music From “Lil Brown” released in 1968. Africa themselves were formed from the ashes of a number of rhythm 'n' blues backing bands, who’d obviously had enough of it and now just wanted to cut lose playing a sort of Latin fusion of psychedelic funk.
The tracks that follow were all suggested by Spotify, under the influence, I suspect, of The Australian. There were some things that the Australian used to play that I wasn’t so keen on: Australian hip hop, The Black Keys, Queens of the Stone Age (although I suppose Songs for the Deaf provides the occasional moment). Electronic stuff such as If Not Tomorrow Maybe Some Day by Daniel Bortz, on the other hand, I quite liked. Or maybe The Australian had nothing to do with it and Spotify just shoehorned it in there, because if you like this then you might like…
I am generally indifferent towards Hot Chip, but the single Huarache Lights strongly appealed to me. I’m not sure exactly why, because from what I know of them it doesn’t represent much of a musical departure, but I was reminded of the band Clor, or a more upbeat Tom Vek. An improvement, rather than a change, the drive towards innovation is no longer the main imperative.
More instrumental music: the techno flavoured Toxic Love by a French DJ/producer called Popof, taken from the Summer on Mars EP released in 2008. I can take it or leave it, but it compliments what comes before and after and helps carry the final quarter of my compilation towards its conclusion.
Panda Bear – aka Noah Benjamin Lennox – is an experimental sort of artist, experimenting mostly with synthesisers, samplers and sequencers. Mr Noah is a violent tune that incorporates the barking of dogs, but the vocal is pleasant enough, completely at odds with the canine cacophony that persists in the background.
Back to Hot Chip: Need You Now is a smoother, slightly mellower effort than Huarache Lights. It samples Sinnamon’s I Need You Now, which is tagged as post-disco but could also be identified as a precursor to house. You shouldn’t read anything into this conspicuous enthusiasm for Hot Chip, and electronic pop music generally, because it would never have come to pass if it wasn’t for where I was working, and has since dissipated.
In August my lady friend and I took a holiday in the town of Malaga, which intentionally coincided with the finish of Stage 3 of that year’s Vuelta Espana and unintentionally with the Feria de Málaga. Peter Sagan won the stage, while the Feria brought Spanish holiday makers to the coast and teenage drinkers onto the streets. It was marvellous.
In October, my bouldering buddies and I drove to Fontainebleau in France to climb up rocks, and were blessed with fine weather for the three days that we were there. Climbing on actual rocks is a different proposition from climbing indoors – technically more difficult, physically more demanding, and sometimes scary. But the rolling forests and gentle valleys of Fontainebleau are a joy in themselves, and the post-climb beers felt well deserved.
I purchased a new steel bike, with integrated shifters, to replace the one I’d ridden from London to Brighton on. My existing steed had failed to get me up Ditchling Beacon and was slightly too small for me in any case. My Cornish friend and I organised our sixth consecutive Dickensian Christmas pub crawl for mid-December, but nobody turned up. As tradition now dictates, we began in The Nell Gwynne Tavern off The Strand, moved on to The Lamb in Leadenhall Market, before exploring new pubs in Moorgate and Farringdon.
The version of I’ll Never Cry for Another Boy by The Majestic Arrows is a rehearsal, which gives this soul tune an almost folksy feel. It’s a deliberately off-kilter finish to a compilation that was running out of steam. Although I’d succeeded in my remit to diversify musically, it had been a bit of an effort to find material good enough for inclusion. Maybe I hadn’t looked hard enough, or had been distracted by my vacations, cycling concerns, festive pub crawls or turning 40.