Thursday, 29 October 2009

Week 10 - Beneath the Covers

Interesting one this week. A lot of people are interested in fun cover versions of songs, but what about those who, as Blazin' Squad may say, want to flip reverse it?

This week's blog is about the original songs behind cover versions, but the cover versions are much more well known than the poor originals.

Also, you'll be pleased to know, this is another 'cut to the chase' blog. So, let's get down to brass tacks...

First up is Eminem's My Name Is. You remember the cool soul beat before Marshall Mathers kicks in with his woefully misogynistic and self-centred lyrics kick in? Well, that is a sample of Labi Siffre (yes, he of It Must Be Love and Something Inside So Strong fame). His tune, I Got the Blues, starts off with a beat redolent of Primal Scream's Vanishing Point album. It's so cool, dammit. Thanks Eminem for drawing this to my attention.

Next up is such a tragic case, and one I feel totally compelled to support.

Jake Holmes was a jingle writer - he of 'Gillette the best a man can get' anonymity. But he also penned an absolutely awesome album. If you haven't got it, please get your grubby mitts on The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes (if not just for the title). The tracks on it include a version of the Frankie Valli song Genuine Imitation Life.

However, that's not where I'm going with this. Rumour has it that a certain Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin saw Holmes one night perform a ditty by the name of Dazed & Confused. Legend, not rumour (!), has it that Page forgot about it, but suddenly remembered it during a jam by the awesome rockers.

As brilliant as Led Zeppelin's version is (and I must say, I think this whole 'ripping off of black music' thing is a bit harsh), Holmes' version is much better for pure desperation and psychedelic angst. God bless you jingle man.

The next one is the song that's been in my head all week - indeed the song that inspired me to wrestle these unfamous chaps from under the covers.

The Happy Mondays may seem like a bunch of scallies from Little Hulton, Salford. Actually, they are. However, they managed to inspire themselves through a bizarre love of almost unheard of 1960s and 70s songs. They loved Donovan so much one of them married his daughter. But, Mr Leitch isn't where I'm going - he's not so obscure.

Step On was a massive hit for the baggy boys in 1990. Ok, so the original by John Kongas may have been a Top 10 hit in 1971, as He's Gonna Step On You Again, but most people will have forgotten it by the time Factory Records' most profitable fun boys released it as Step On.

Listen and enjoy the early-70s bagginess of it all. Brilliant.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Week 9 - A Tale of Three Cities

Songs about cities, eh? Is this another excuse to crowbar a Ryan Adams song into this blog? Well, no.

I could've very easily put his New York, New York into here as I do love it, but there's only so much Adams one blog can take! For now, at least.

So what will it be? Paris in the Springtime? London Calling? LA Woman? Again, all good, but nah, too easy.

Instead I've gone for songs about Las Vegas, Chicago and
Manchester by artists from Georgia, Detroit and, erm, Eccles.

The first, as mentioned, is about Sin City, the gambling capital of the world, neon Mecca, or if you're Spanish, The Meadows.

Gram Parsons is rightly achieving the notoriety he deserves. From his time in the Byrds, to his death and alleged burial in the Joshua Tree National Park, Parsons never led a straight-forward life. He pioneered 'space country' and lived the archetypal West Coast rockstar life. Indeed it was his death in 1973, at the age of 26, that really fuelled his legend. Passing away from an overdose of morphine and alcohol, his manager, Phil Kaufman, decided to carry out Parsons' request. It appears Gram had asked his manager that, should he die, he wanted to be cremated in the Joshua Tree National Park. Parsons' body was due to be flown to his parents' in Louisiana, so Kaufman and a friend stole it from LA Airport and, in a borrowed hearse, drove it to Joshua Tree. Obviously they were being chased by police, but managed to outrun them. Once in Joshua Tree, they tried to cremate his body by pouring gallons of petrol into his coffin. This resulted in a huge fireball in the middle of the desert.

Anyway, the song about Vegas is Ooh Las Vegas. Having been to the city, it's a wonderful evocation of the glimmering lights and clanging slot machines...and the booze.

Secondly, and moving to the end (or start) of Route 66, we are welcomed by the ecstaticly blissful Chicago by Sufjan Stevens. Devotchka may be the main artists on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, but Stevens' mix of triumphant strings, brass and emotional vocals is one of those songs you can't fail to love. Beautiful.

But, and a little closer to home, is the song of the week.

A lot of you may not know Aidan Smith, but he's a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Eccles, Salford. He first came to my attention when he was signed by Badly Drawn Boy's record label Twisted Nerve. I went to see his first gig, when he supported Mr Gough at the Comedy Store, and his first solo gig at Matt n Phreds in the Northern Quarter. I've met him a couple of times and he's such an unassuming character, seemingly bemused by the life of a recording artist. Although I never met this guy, Aidan Smith reminds me of Nick Drake - some excellent and touching songs, but Smith adds wry humour to his songs (see the lyrics to John Peel favourite Song for Delia Smith)

Song for Manchester
is a typically humourous track, in which Smith sings about how his songs aren't particularly popular in places like London and Nottingham, but he doesn't really care. However, when performing in Manchester he wants people to like them and, in turn, the audience gives him a renewed energy for songwriting.


Thursday, 15 October 2009

Week 8 - The Melbourne Supremacy

It's not all INXS, the Wiggles, Jason and Alf from Home & Away, Australia you know. To be quite honest, I've only just discovered this too.

While our Antipodean chums might not be all that bad, they have struggled to make much of an impact over here with their music. Sure, there have been bands Midnight Oil, Wolfmother, Silverchair and AC/DC, but there seems to have been a distinct lack of top quality bands. You may argue that Nick Cave, The Church and Pendulum are good and I'd agree. They are excellent. But for every one of those there's a Savage Garden.

But, in a time when Australia is more renowned for 'midget horse races' and ill-advised tributes to Michael Jackson, I want to concentrate on the good things to come from the island nation, namely one city in the south - Melbourne.

It's strange, but I acquired two albums last week and both artists were from the same city. This came a few weeks after I discovered another Melbourne resident.

Temper Trap's Sweet Inspiration is a tune that's taken me ages to get in to. I first heard it on an advert and it's fair to say I detested it. Then, a week or so later, I saw 500 Days of Summer. It's got a great soundtrack, but when Sweet Inspiration came on I tutted with apathy. But, last week I heard it somewhere and it clicked. I rather enjoyed its seering guitars and melodies.

Cut Copy are an act I've admired for a while. I heard their set at Fabric (on CD, not at the club unfortunately) and thought it was an excellent playlist (check out Ciccone Youth's electro-rock version of Madonna's Into the Groove). However, it's only recently I came across one of their albums - In Ghost Colours. The opening track of that is Feel the Love. It's a wonderfully dreamy tune that brings with it thoughts of New Order being remixed by Lemon Jelly and Avalanches.

Now, on to Jens Lekman. Okay, so he's Swedish, but he's made Melbourne his home. This guy is simply outstanding - one of the best things I've come across in many years. Coupling lovely tunes with excellent rye humour, some of his subject matters are brilliant. He's seemingly obsessed with Rocky Dennis, the poor disfigured guy who became the subject of the film Mask - no, not that one (probably). He's so obsessed - making three songs and an EP about Dennis - that at one of his first gigs in Australia he was billed as Rocky Dennis. Another great songs revolves around mishearing a girl say they're only make believe. In the song, Lekman thinks she's said their love is only maple leaves.

But the song that's been in my head all week, and periodically for a few months, is Black Cab. Starting in such a jolly way as "oh no god damn, I missed the last tram. I killed the party again, god damn god damn", it contains the lyric that is also the name of his excellent compilation album - Oh You're So Silent Jens. Plus there's talk of taxi drivers being psycho killers, which is all good.

I think I may have discovered Lekman earlier, but my mate's recommendation fell on, erm, tired and emotional ears after our return from Glastonbury. However, all was not lost as my discovery of him was sure to happen at some point, and I sincerely hope yours does too.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Week 7 - Sup Up Your Beer

There's something about drinking songs that really inspires. I'm not necessarily on about the 'di-de-di-de-ho' type where flagons are waved and sprayed. I suppose I mean the ones that you listen to before a good night out, ones that get you 'in the mood'.

My selection is obviously personal to me, so it tends to have evolved from situations in my life. Oh, sod it - instead of explaining, I'll cut to the chase!

First up is Stand By Me by Ben E King. Picture the occasion - seven drunken late-20-year-olds in a sheep-infested field in the Peak District. They go a-wandering up the hills, down the dales and so forth. They remember a film they saw in their youths. That film was Rob Reiner's 1986 coming-of-age drama Stand By Me (how did you guess?!). In it, a group of youngsters take a walk into the wild, down the railway to see a dead body. There was a railway where we were, but we didn't see any dead bodies. It was dark.

The next song is Sally McLennane by The Pogues. It was a St Patrick's Day in about 1996, I'd just acquired some bottles of Guinness, by hook or by crook (but mainly the latter). I was in my bedroom reading Dubliners by James Joyce and listening to Pogues songs. No idea why, I haven't got a shred of Irishness in me, and thankfully I've long since stopped that lunacy! But it was a great moment and a song that's long lived in my mind - one that I quite often listen to before stepping out on the town. It fills me with a sense that the night is going to be a good one, and that fun shall be had by all. It also took on a new resonance when myself and a drunken friend tried to rewrite it - I'm sad to say, I must be Darren Day - and so forth. It ended as a tribute to former Croation footballer Davor Suker. I've no idea why, but I think drink had been consumed.

The final song is from a time similar to the first one. It's from an awesome drinking game that is sure to set you on your oblivion. It's called Ring of Fire. Now, I bet you can't guess what song I associate with it?! It's become its theme tune. So much so that we cannot begin the drinking until we've parped along with the intro to Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.

The reason that's my song of the week is because that's pretty much what I'll be doing this weekend. I thought I'd better get it out of the way in case something awful happens to me. But if it does, this blog will take on a strange meaning. God, now I really hope nothing happens! Enjoy.

Week 6 - A Week of Departures

So, Patrick Swayze, Keith Floyd and Felix Bowness all gone. What a depressing week. Although it did take me a while to realise Swayze wasn't like his character in Donnie Darko - a child abuser. But, after I got past that, I was quite upset that in such a short space of time three people who had a large influence over my youth were no longer with us.

As I've mentioned, Swayze, apart from starring in Dirty Dancing, was also in Donnie Darko. A great film that, although relatively recent, has left its mark on my psyche. There's also some great music in it. Not just Mad World, but mainly Under the Milky Way by 80s Australian rock band Church.

Next was Keith Floyd, the maverick chef who arguably changed British cooking programmes for ever. Even as I write this I'm watching his influence on TV. Jamie Oliver's getting down and dirty with rednecks and African Americans in Georgia - going somewhat off the beaten track to discover real food that doesn't always get its 15 minutes of fame. This is what Keith Floyd did. Instead of standing prim and proper in front of the studio camera, he could often be seen cooking a Thai curry on a little boat, or whipping up a creamy desert in a provincial French kitchen. All this to a soundtrack of the Stranglers. Fanny Craddock eat your heart out. (I'm very glad I didn't mis-type that sentence).

But, for me, the saddest of the aforementioned three was Felix Bowness. Felix played grouchy jockey Fred Quilley in classic sitcom Hi-De-Hi. I loved Hi-De-Hi. A proper homage to holidays past - not for me, but for thousands of Brits. Good old fashioned comedy. It also had a great theme tune: Go, go, go do the holiday rock...yeeeahh! Brilliant.

However, I can't help feeling I've led you all down a blind alley here. Even though there are enough good songs mentioned previously to fill a blog, this week's song of the week is nothing to do with anything that has gone before.

Instead, I have gone for another sad departure from that week. While they may not have wriggled from this mortal coil, they have stopped touring and called it a day - after 34 incredible years.

They may not have a lengthy back catalogue that fits in with their long career, but what they do have are songs that everyone knows and surely loves.

Yes, that's right, Chas n Dave. I had the pleasure of seeing Messrs Hodges and Peacock at Glastonbury. It was in a bursting tent, with thousands of festival-goers outside. It was also the time when Michael Eavis and Bob Geldof were telling everyone to 'Make Poverty History'. Chas n Dave did their piece too. They said 'Make Poverty History' and then did the Cockney intro, saying 'Oi' at the end. It's the thought that counts...

So to honour the Cockney rockers, here are my three top Chas n Dave songs.

3) Snooker Loopy
It's educational, alright! Everytime I play snooker I sing it in my head to figure out what to pot next. Plus, who can argue with the line 'cos I wear these goggles'?

2) Rabbit
Ever tried doing this at karaoke? Don't. even with two people, it's nigh on impossible.

1) Sideboard Song
Scruffy little teds? Arcane furniture? Beer? Perfect! Ok, so it conjures up the image of Alf Garnett, but it's still a corking song. Oh yeah, god knows what the video is about, but it's summat to watch eh? Enjoy.