Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Songs To Sing And Learn: The Sixth XI

... And, I still haven't got bored with this malarkey yet. Remarkable.

1. Echo & The Bunnymen - 'Bring On The Dancing Horses' (Koreva KOW43-A): The under-stated humour in much of the Bunnies' best work is an often overlooked commodity. They were a right bunch of dry, sarky buggers, basically. Take Anton Corbijn's memorable video for this gorgeous single - from 1984 - for instance. The title of the song includes the word 'horse' so, of course, the video starred ... a cow. I love Mac's voice on this one and the words ('Hating all the faking/And shaking while I'm breaking/You brittle heart.') Will Sergeant's delicate guitars are the final cherry on a cake of quite exquisite beauty. The Bunnymen were never quite as swoppingly majestic as this afterwards although they continued to make good records for a long time to come ('Nothing Lasts Forever' for one). But this and 'Silver' and 'Seven Seas' are the real business. Third-gen Merseybeat with attitude. And jokes. 'Bring on the new messiah/Wherever he may roam.' And here's a lovely live performance of the song from Glastonbury in the late nineties.

2. The Move - 'Fire Brigade' (Regal Zonophone RZ3005-A): A hugely under-rated band, The Move. They came across as something of a bunch of Brummy yobs with an auto-destruction stage act that borrowed perhaps a touch too librally from The Who. They also - and it's an important side-issue - made half-a-dozen of the best pops singles of 1960s. This is probably the apex. Fantastic guitar solo by the great Trevor Burton. And here's Roy, Carl and the boys in a famous performance on Top of the Pops from 1968. Or, if you prefer, here they are playing live (as a four-piece, without Ace Kefford) in glorious colour on BBC2's Colour Me Pop a year later. The later's far rougher but has a certain raw charm that I like.

3. R Dean Taylor - 'There's a Ghost in My House' (VIP 25042-A): In the 1960s Canadian singer-songwriter R Dean Taylor worked at Motown as a writer and producer. He gained extensive studio experience with Holland-Dozier-Holland learning the production ropes, sang backing vocals on some Marvin Gaye songs and wrote a few in-house hits for the likes of The Surpemes, Brenda Holloway and The Four Tops. Every now and then, he even got to record a couple of singles of his own for one of Motown's smaller labels, VIP - check out 1964's hilarious 'Ladybug (Stay Away From That Beatle)' - including, in 1967, this eerie soul stomper about abandoned love. It didn't do much on first release but, a year later, Dean had a big US hit with 'Gotta See Jane' and then, in 1971, having transferred to Motown's experimental 'white rock' imprint, Rare Earth, he had an international success with the murder-ballad 'Indiana Wants Me.' Meanwhile, in England, the Northern Soul scene had made 'There's A Ghost In My House' a virtual anthem and when Tamla re-released the single in 1974 it made the UK Top Three. And, it still bring back some glorious memories for me of those non-stop dancing all-nighters at the Greenford.

4. David Bowie - 'The Buddha of Suburbia' (Arista 74321-17705-A): The book - by Hanif Kureishi - is one of the greatest of the Twentieth Century. The TV series adaptation was a thing of controversial beauty (wasn't it lovely to see Lost's Naveen Andrews looking so young!) And the song? One of only about three (four at a push) that The Great Dame Herself made post 'Let's Dance' that'd I actually pay good money to listen to. My favourite bit? The little snatch of 'Space Oddity' guitar a minute from the end. Magical. And the video's great too. David, start making records like this again, please!

5. The Teardrop Explodes - 'Treason (It's Just A Story)' (Zoo Records CAGe 008-A): The story of how The Crucial Three became The Nova Mob, who became A Shallow Madness who, subsequently, spawned The Teardrop Explodes, Wah Heat! and Echo & The Bunnymen is worthy of a book in and of itself (and, indeed, it has one - Julian Cope's hilarious autobiography Head On). How The Teardrop Explodes, a bunch of notorious Scouse (or, in one case, Tamworth) scallys with an acid-fixation managed to produced, in 1980, three of best singles and one of the greatest LPs of any era is a more challenging conundrum. Let's just say sometimes, these things happen. 'I've been living through changes/And I could swing for you.' Julian subsequently went off on long, baffling but often magically rewarding solo trip as a maverick songwriter and author. Dave Balfe created a record company and gave the world Blur. And their manager, Bill Drummond (who once, apparently seriously, suggested Julian kill himself as a publicity stunt to sell more records), became a bigger pop-star than both of them in The KLF. Sometimes, life is just odd. Here's a wonderful In Concert performance from 1981 with the very legendary Troy Tate, Alfie Angus (he's the poncey-looking bass player) and Jeff Hammer (the straight-looking chap playing keyboards) joining Copey and Gary Dwyer in the Teardrops' notorious fluid line-up. When once asked if The Teardrops would ever get back together, Julian memorably replied 'Would you return to having your mother wipe your asshole?' Point very much taken.

6. Joy Division - 'Atmosphere' (Sordide Sentimental SS 33 002-A): Originally released on a tiny French indie label as Licht und Blindheit, 'Atmsophere' (and its companion piece, 'Dead Souls') within a month of its release had taken on a life of its own when the man who wrote and sang it's angusihed lyrics took his own life. Since then, the song's aching melancholoy sadness and Byronesque doomed sentiments ('Your confusion, my illusion/worn like a mask of self-pain/Confronts them and dies/Don't walk away/In silence') have been analysed to death by gloomy fuckers in long overcoats. And NME journalists. Peter Hook and (especially) the late Tony Wilson regard it as Joy Division's definitive statement. And, so it was something of a shock to see it end up being used on a First Direct banking advert. Is that more criminal than The Clash being used to sell jeans? Possibly not, though somehow it feels like it should be. Why the song is always, automatically, associated with death when it's actually about a bloke pleading with his girlfriend not to leave him, only those listening can answer. Mind you, Anton Corbijn's video doesn't exactly help matters!

7. Bob Marley & The Wailers - 'Could You Be Loved?' (Island WIP 6610-A): Bob already had the cancer that would ultimately kill him when he wrote 'Could You Be Loved?' in early 1979 during the Uprising sessions. (Legend has it that he wrote it on the same day as 'Redemption Song'.) Possibly that's why 'Could You Be Loved?' includes a direct quotation from one of his earliest songs, 'Judge Not' amid its chunky disco rhythm and Junior Marvin's shakkashak guitars. 'We've got a life to live!' Mighty is the word of Jah himsen, Rasta. Cha.

8. Sham 69 - 'Borstal Breakout' (Polydor 2058 966-A): They had horrible, violent fascist numbskull fans and the band themselves often made a pretty horrible noise, but Sham 69 had something about them that, just occasionally, could move mountains. Big ones, an'all. 'Borstal Breakout' is Jimmy Pursey's one proper lyrical masterpiece - a mad-angry two minute snarl of regret and confinement. The song would mutate live to become, by the time of Sham's last tour, little short of a ten minute episode of Z Cars! (Listen, for example, to the extended version given away on a twleve inch single with early copies of The Adventures of Hersham Boys LP. A towering beast of a performance.) Here they are at Reading in 1978, a festival I was at, actually. I don't remember much about The Shammies performance, to be honest, I'd gone there chiefly to see The Jam and Penetration. But I do recall that I ended up getting my head kicked-in by skinheads. That happened quite a lot around the Sham, unfortunately.

9. james - 'Sit Down' (Fontana JIM812-A): One of my favourite bands, james. A weird little veggie folk-rock combo who recorded a few great singles for Rough Trade, toured with The Smiths and then made the single biggest mistake of their lives by signing to Sire on the - pretty reasonable, let it be said - assumption that the people who'd previously signed The Undertones and The Ramones must, vaguely, know what they were doing. As it happens, they didn't and james were left to rot once their (excellent) first LP didn't sell in the numbers the company expected: Unable to record because the company had poured all of their money in Madonna's True Blue tour. Unable to tour because the company wouldn't let them because they had no product to promote. Reduced, at one point, to testing experimental drugs at the local hospital to make some money. (The song 'Riders' on One Man Clapping details the results.) They ended up recording a live LP and this single for indie labels to make enough money to pay off the debts they incurred buying themselves out of their Sire contract. (The song 'Burned' on One Man Clapping details the results.) Their drummer quit because, as he memorably remarked at the time, 'I'd be better off on the dole than being a pop-star!' Then, finally, they made it thanks to Madchester - produced a run of some brilliant singles ('How Was It For You?', 'Come Home') and we had a few unforgeable nights at the G-Mex where, it seemed, anything was possible. Except getting to number one - 'Sit Down' was - infamously - kept off the top by Chesney Hawkes. 'Those who find themselves ridiculous/sit down next to me.' When Tim Booth sings 'If I hadn't seen such riches, I could live with being poor' you believe him.

10. Charlie Drake - 'My Boomerang Won't Come Back' (Parlophone R4824-A): Whoever it was that said novelty records always have to be rubbish was a goddamn liar. I'll stand by this little gem - the first record I can remember playing, regularly, as a child - till doomsday. Due, largely, to a combination of George Martin's production trickery (this was six years before Sgt Pepper's, remember!) and the punchline. 'Daddy will be pleased!'

11. Oasis - 'Supersonic' (Creation CRE 176): One forgets just how young Liam was when this was out. He looks almost pretty! This is for everybody who saw Oasis at their peak during 1995-96, the year of Glastonbury, Whitley Bay, Maine Road and Knebworth. Where were you while we were getting high?

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