Monday, May 11, 2009

My MP3 Player Goes Fourth (... And Multiplies)

I must say, I'm really rather getting into this idea of detailing a few of the stories behind the songs on my MP3 player, dear blog reader. Of course so far I've done, what, twenty two of them I think? (And there another ten here to follow). It should be noted however that - at the last count - I have around fifteen hundred tunes on there. (What can I say, it's 8GBs. And, as we all know so well size really is important.) So, you know, don't be at all suprised if I run out of enthusiasm a long way short of the finish line. I'm notorious for that sort of thing, I have to confess. Anyway ... let's see what today has on offer:-

1. Kim Weston - 'Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)' (GORDY 7046-A): Of all Motown's many fine female singers (with the possible exceptions of Flo Ballard and Brenda Holloway), Kim Weston had the best voice. Yeah, better even than Martha Reeves and Gladys Horton. Diana Ross? Mention her not in the same breath! Kim also had the good fortune to have Mickey Stevenson as her songwriter, producer (and, ultimately, husband). The joyous, infectious drive of 'Take Me In Your Arms' is indicitive of most of her work - gospel-tinged-soul, with just a hint of jazz. Again, as with most of Motown's great dance singles from the mid-sixties, ones attention is immediately drawn to the elegent, intelligent use of handclaps or, in this case, a tambourine to accentuate the off-beat. And, inevitably, to James Jamerson's bass, played with plectrum straight from heaven. Incidentally, if you liked that, check out Kim's stunning ballad, 'A Little More Love.' Another twenty four-carat classic.

2. The Smiths - 'Ask' (Rough Trade RT194-A): The closest that The Smiths ever got to being a 'proper' chart pop band. This despite the fact the song in question was released on an independent record label, featured references to the Third World War and had a video - which got played on Top of the Pops - directed by maverick outsider Derek Jarman! Most of the uptight, specky, spotty, haven't-been-out-of-their-bedrooms-in-years Smiths cognoscenti cannot stand 'Ask.' 'Too pop,' they'll chorus. 'They should've released 'You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby' instead. And, it's got Kirstie MacColl singing on it. Urgh! A girl? On a Smiths records?! It's NOT The Smiths, it's The Smiths-lite.' Interesting argument. And, a bollocks one, too. 'Ask' is perfect example of classic pop music construction - Johnny Marr's tune weaving delicate patterns around one of Morrissey's most oblique lyrics: 'Nature is a language/Can't you read?' And, minor but significant side-point, you can actually dance to it as well which is more than can be said for most of Mozza's subsequent solo work. (Trainspotter footnote: The version of 'Ask' on the compilation CDs Louder Than Bombs and The World Won't Listen is about twenty seconds longer and features that lovely 'la-la-la-la-la' fade out which the single fades much earlier in full.)

3. The Jags - 'Back Of My Hands' (Island WIP 6051-A): Yeah, okay they did sound like an Elvis Costello tribute band. And, yes they only had this one hit. But, in the interests of balance, 'Back of My Hand' was a really good one. Another cutting example of that golden period from around 1977 through 1981 when British chart music was, actually, mostly worth listening to on a daily basis. And here they are on Top of the Pops, introduced by yer man Kid Jensen. Made it ma, top of the world! Nice Vox Teardrop twelve-string there, son.

4. The Action - 'I'll Keep On Holding On' (Parlophone R5410-A): Second Mickey Stevenson song on today's list, fact fans (this one co-written with Ivy Jo Hunter). A superb cover of The Marvelettes US hit by one of the most under-rated Mod bands in mid-sixitiess London. Kentish Town's The Action - supposedly Phil Collins' favourite band (but, hey, we won't hold that against them) - featured Reggie King, a vocalist with Steve Marriott's sort of depth and range. They were huge around the clubs with their blend of Who-style pop and R&B/Motown covers and they ended up signing for Parlophone and being produced by George Martin. You'd've though immortality was just a step away but, sadly, The Action passed into semi-obscurity along with similar - excellent and influential - bands of the era like The Creation, The Birds and The Attack. Originally compiled in 1980 with the assistance of another überfan, Paul Weller, The Ultimate Action (Edsel) is an excellent overview of The Action's Parlophone catalogue (five singles and b-sides), plus some previously unreleased recording. And, bless the wonders of You Tube for this.

5. Serious Drinking - 'Love On The Terraces' (Upright Records): The East Anglian Half Man Half Biscuit, Serious Drinking were from Norwich, were big John Peel Show favourites in the early-eighties and produced one utterly wonderful LP (The Revolution Starts At Closing Time which you really need to find to hear 'Bobby Moore Was Innocent' just once in your life) and a handful of great little singles - starting with this one. 'Love On The Terraces' reflects one of the band's twin obsessions, football (most of their songs were about some aspect of the beautiful game or, if they weren't, then they were about TV and the mundanities of life ... much like Half Man Half Biscuit, in fact). And they were FUNNY as well. 'As my mates indulged in mindless violence/The Main Stand was reduced to total silence!' Never in a million years did I expect to find this one on You Tube but, whaddya know? 'She stole my programme and she stole my heart!'

6. Badfinger - 'No Matter What' (Apple 31-A): Discovered by Mal Evans and one of the first bands signed to Apple, Badfinger had their first single written for them by Paul McCartney, were then produced by George Harrison and their singer wrote one of the biggest-selling singles of all time for Nilsson. One would've thought you'd look at Badfinger as a classic example of the 'you lucky, lucky bastards' end of the music business. By contrast of course, as has been well-documented elsewhere, their story was actually something of tragedy for most of those concerned with bad business deals, unfulfilled potential, bad luck and a couple of suicides making up a tale that most Hollywood producers would instantly reject as 'too far-fetched.' What's often completely forgotten is that they were, actually, a bloody decent little rock and roll band and that 'No Matter What', their second single (and second big hit) highlights just what a great writer Pete Ham was. The video (or, actually, 'film clip') to promote the single is pretty well known but I found this brilliant live version (I presume it's from a BBC Sight & Sound: In-Concert show, judging by the backdrop). (Trainspotter footnote: The cherry-red Gibson SG that Pete's playing was the same one that Geroge Harrison played through most of the Revolver sessions. In 2004 it was sold at Christie's in New york for £294,000. George gave the guitar to Pete in 1969.)

7. Strawberry Switchblade - 'Trees & Flowers' (Happy Customers HAPS001-A): No video, sadly, for this achingly beautiful song but, if you go to the band's website you can - perfectly legally - hear some MP3 samples including the original seven inch single version of 'Trees and Flowers'. Probably the best song about agoraphobia ever written (unless anybody can provide me with a decent alternative, of course). Ah, the lovely Strawbs - I simply never get tired of listening to Jill and Rose's harmonies on this one. Some of their later singles were bigger hits but, for me, 'Trees and Flowers' remains their masterpiece.

8. The Trash Can Sinatras - 'White Horses' (GO Disc GOCD46): Okay this one was, technically, a B-side but I'm in a 'stretching a point to the limit' mood again today. The Trashies gorgeous, Jesus & Mary Chainesque take on Ben Nisbet and Michael Carr's famous TV theme song (a hit for Jacky Lee in 1968 and, itself, probably a decent contender for another of these lists someday soon) first appeared on the back of their 1990 single 'Circling the Circumference.' You can also pick it up on a rather nice double CD which the band put out on their own label; a collection of b-sides, oddities and unreleased songs called On a B-Road. Whenever I hear this, I think of a couple of long, hot, lazy, rather drunken summers I mostly spent staying at friends houses in Wiltshire in the early nineties discovering the joys of white wine. Tragically, there's no video (as you'd expect for a b-side. Indeed, tracking the song down on CD to stick on my MP3 player was a major feat in and of itself). But then I found this. Be still my fast-beating heart.

9. A Guy Called Gerald - 'Voodoo Ray' (Rham! RX8804-A): Out of the variable swamp that encompassed Acid House Gerald Simpson produced the best selling independently released single in 1989 - this dark, sinister, moody little gem. The song, of course, infamously contains samples taken from Derek and Clive (Live), combining Peter Cook saying 'voodoo rage' (truncated due to Gerald's recording equipment's lack of memory, it is alleged) and, subsequently, Dudley Moore's forceful 'later!' In each case the samples were shifted in pitch, and electronically processed. The song's mesmeric, ethereal vocal was sung by Nicola Collier, a lady who lived on Gerald's estate in Manchester. Rave on. Oh, and we did.

10. Dexy's Midnight Runners - 'There, There My Dear' (Parlophone R6038-A): Do you know, I think if push came to shove and I was asked to take one LP to a desert island with me, it might well be Searching For The Young Soul Rebels. Dexy's were an amazing live band - passionate, sincere, a bit over-earnest at time, maybe, but they made undeniably brilliant music. 'There, There My Dear', an open letter by Rowland, Archer and co. to the music business - bands and critics alike - and with a possible specific reference to the Gruniad's then-music critic Robin Denslow. It's a savage dismissal of those poseurs who talk a good game but never back up their words with action. And, just in case (like most people) you quite never understood exactly what Kevin Rowland was banging on about in the second verse, it goes 'Keep quoting Cabaret/Berlin, Burroughs, JG Ballard, Duchampe, Beauvoir/Kerouac, Kirkegaard, Michael Rennnnie/And I don't believe/You really like Frank Sinnnnatra.' Yes, I know it doesn't rhyme but that's not the point! 'The only way to change things/Is to shoot men who arrange things', that's the point. As true now as it was twenty nine years ago. And, here they are in all their bobble-hatted-down-on-the-docks glory on Dutch TV (note the presence of Merton Mick Talbot on keyboards): Or, if you prefer, here's Dexy's a couple years later in their raggle-taggle-gypsies phase live on The Tube playing a quite stunning nine minute version in a slower, soul groove. You just tell 'em all about it Kevin, baby.

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