Wednesday, January 21st 2015: This Week…

I heard “The Mushroom Cloud” by Sammy Salvo for the first time
“I’ve got me a sweetheart and I love her, too/We want to make big plans but what can we do?
When a mushroom cloud has changed every rule/It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school
Peace, peace, peace where did you go?”

Fantastic piece of 1961 melodramatic apocalypse pop, written by the great Boudleaux Bryant, that almost made it as the theme tune for a new US tv drama Manhattan. “It’s deepened our thinking at home and at school…” – now that is songwriting genius. There’s a great site, The Art of the Title devoted to movie and tv credit sequences, and Manhattan made their 10 best of 2014. The eventual theme tune was written by Jónsi of Sigur Rós, who did the music score for the series.

I liked this story of one sick/slick guitar part
From an interview with Mark Ronson by Alexis Petridis in The Guardian: A courier arrives with a gift and a card from his record company, celebrating the arrival at No 1 in the charts of “Uptown Funk”, a collaboration with singer Bruno Mars that Ronson laboured over for six agonising months. He claims that he worked so hard on it that his hair started to fall out; at one point, the stress of trying to come up with a suitable guitar part caused him to vomit and faint. “We did 45 takes of it and I just couldn’t get it, it sounded like horrible bullshit, so we went to lunch, walked down to a restaurant. Everyone was saying: ‘Dude, what’s wrong with you? You’ve gone totally white.’ Because I was going on pretending everything was just fine; you don’t want to admit that you’re just not there, you’re not where you want to be. And I went to the toilet and just… fainted. I threw up, and fainted. They had to come and carry me out of the toilet.” As I’m leaving, he starts talking again about the guitar part on “Uptown Funk” that made him faint. He played it to his stepfather, Mick Jones, of AOR titans Foreigner. “And he said: ‘Oh, that’s good, is that Nile Rodgers?’

Of course, Ronson could just have hired Jules De Martino from the Ting Tings, who does a fine line in Chic-tastic rhythm guitar on their new album, Super Critical.

I missed out on PJ Harvey
By the time I read about the opportunity to watch her new album being recorded in 50-minute slots, it was sold out. Calum, however, got to see it, and gave an insight into what I missed:

“The set up is in the basement of Somerset House in the building recently abandoned by the Inland Revenue. Visitors are guided through the former rifle range, after decompression and mobile drop-off on the ground floor. In a one-way mirrored cubicle in the old gymnasium, the musicians, producer and technicians are already at work… we can see and hear them but they are isolated from us. No one within the recording studio looks up to the glass, the barrier remains intact. I find it hard to concentrate at first… this audio/visual voyeurism is unfamiliar territory.

The space is full of instruments some of which look like props – though a beautiful old snare drum is later pressed into service. Listen out for a hurdy-gurdy on the new PJ Harvey album. The talk inside the box is technical but then the assembled musicians run through a fairly short section of a song… or maybe it is a fairly short song… and it is possible to discern the beginnings of a ‘track’. It all looks like hard work and everyone is very well-behaved and patient. They do know they are being watched and this is bound to affect the ‘performance’. John Parish as producer sits on a white sofa (the whole interior is very white) and nods and suggests different approaches to the instrumentation. Snare drums, flute, saxophone, guitar and melodica are put to use with a good deal of experimentation with percussion on a marching-style rhythm. He asks PJ Harvey – ‘How’s your song doing in the middle of this?’ – she laughs in response. It seems quite tentative from everyone’s point of view…I have no idea if this is normal. At one point Parish says to Kendrick Rowe on drums something along the lines of ‘…you get into the groove at that point and there’s nothing wrong with that but maybe it should be a kind of standing up groove rather than a sitting back groove…’. The ‘audience’ are very attentive and quiet though we have been told that we don’t have to be. The session is about 50 minutes long and there is the feeling that people don’t want to miss anything.”

I was playing “Hey, Hey, Bunny” by John Fred and his Playboy Band…
and thinking how great it was (thanks, Richard) and decided to find out more about Mr Fred. I came across this Robert Christgau review from Rolling Stone in July, 1968, of the Judy in Disguise With Glasses album. Some excerpts, if you, too, are interested in knowing more about the obscure Mr Fred.

“John Fred, for those who manage never to listen to AM radio, is a kid from Louisiana who sold two-and-a-half million of a single called “Judy in Disguise (With Glasses).” The radio is the center of your life when you’re driving a lot – in the old days, many producers used a car radio speaker to make sure they had it right – and ”Judy in Disguise” soon distinguished itself as a great car song. It had the simple melody and the heavy beat, but it was good music over and above that – the instrumental work was very tight, the arrangement original with several good gimmicks (a heavy breath for punctuation and a short filter-distort at the close), and the lyrics, well, strange, not what is called rock poetry but not “yummyyummy-yummy igotloveinmytummy” either. Furthermore, it sounded like John Fred and his Playboy Band had a fine time making the record. [Do you think that comes through on records? I’m inclined to believe it does]. One does not expect a good album from a John Fred. Even the Box Tops, a Top-40 group that has never released a second-rate single, make terrible albums…

On the cover of this album in its original release was a corny picture of the band. On the back were pictures of John’s two previous LPs – John has been a star in Louisiana for some time – and some acknowledgements (Sitar furnished by Kenny Gill Music, Baton Rouge, La.). But it is a great record. The album is now entitled Judy in Disguise and has a not-bad cartoon on the cover. Paula, which hadn’t wanted to release “Judy” as a single because it was a little, well, er, far out, decided to play the freak for what it was worth. But the album didn’t sell much. All those single sales were to the 12-year-old market. And in a couple of years, chances are that John Fred will be back in the South playing dances, or maybe in the administrative end of the music business.

Like many white singers from the South (Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, for instance), John Fred’s bag is pop R&B. He is tuned to Memphis and to white singers like Eric Burdon and Stevie Winwood, the Eric and Stevie of “When I Was Young” and “Gimme Some Lovin’.” And just like them, he has ambitions. Obviously, he and his collaborator, sax player Andrew Bernard, listened carefully to the Beatles and decided to do some studio stuff of their own. Similar decisions have produced a lot of bad music in the past year. But stuck down there in Shreveport, Fred and Bernard were principally entertainers who wanted to fool around a little. So when they use crowd noises in “Achenall Riot” they integrate them cleanly into the music. They write obscure lyrics but link them to things known and seen, so that “Agnes English,” is obviously about a whorehouse. They employ a sitar and a girl chorus and part of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra but (out of pure caution, probably) never overdo it. Those three songs are the “experimental” ones. All were written by Fred and Bernard, who also contributed two more conventional songs and an arresting talk thing called “Sad Story”. The only one that doesn’t work is “Out of Left Field,” mostly because it’s hard to redo Percy Sledge. [“Sad Story” is amazing. An almost generic Southern Soul ballad is done with a minimal amount of instrumentation – ticking drums and one-finger keyboard – with a bizarrely Thief of Baghdad-style string arrangement. There’s a weird bit where Fred wordlessly sings a New Orleans Mardi-Gras melody. I’d love to hear Leonard Cohen and Patrick Leonard cover this.]

The Airplane and Stones have succumbed to excesses, but Fred and Bernard do not. Of course, they had much less to work with – the lyrics are high-pop in quality, and while the music is precise and well-realized, it is not brilliant. (The band is exceptionally tight live, but Fred is not a good performer, and his choice of material is unfortunate – he does other people’s songs because he believes his young audiences won’t recognize his own.) But for anyone who caught himself liking “Judy” or has a prejudice for happy music, the album is a worthwhile gamble. Just tell your friendly neighborhood dealer to write to Paula Records, 728 Texas Street, Shreveport, Louisiana. He’ll get it eventually.”

I bought a bargain Steely Dan DVD
£3 at Fopp bought me the DVD of Steely Dan’s Aja in the Classic Albums strand. Aja is an album I listened to recently, and found that I was almost alienated by its perfect sheen. However, this DVD, made in 1999 about an album released in 1977, is worth the price of admission for several things. Ian Dury, talking about how happy their music made him – “Jazz is a dangerous thing in Rock ’n’ Roll, you mustn’t do too much of it, and I don’t think they do… they use that knowledge and that love they’ve obviously got…” Drummer Rick Marotta on their profligate use of the best musicians money could buy (“It wasn’t like they’d play musical chairs with the guys in the band – they played musical bands. The whole band would go and a whole other incredible band would come in!”). We get a crack band assembled to play the songs as instrumentals to show off the grooves underneath. The marvellous Paul Griffin (Dylan’s Highway 61 pianist (strangely uncredited here) plays keyboards, Chuck Rainey’s on bass, Bernard “Pretty” Purdie’s on drums alongside Jon Herington and Walter Becker on guitars and Fagen on electric piano. We also get Donald Fagen rapping the song that was sampled from “Black Cow” (Uptown baby/Uptown baby/We gets down, baby/For the crown, baby).

There’s a great moment where they work their way through some of the guitar solos that didn’t make the cut on “Peg”. About eight guitarists had a go at it, and they play a couple of more-than-respectable attempts, before isolating Jay Graydon’s fantastic one-shot take that ended up on the album – and they both grin widely as he hits a particularly “Hawaiian” bend at the end of the first line. I can now safely listen to Aja again, hipped to the artful oddness of the backing vocals on “Peg” and the fantastic Chuck Rainey bass parts on “Home at Last”.

FTIS&HTW: Wednesday 13th February

Down Terrace
An in-your-face saga of the spiralling disintegration of a Brighton criminal clan, the music track for Ben Wheatley’s first film (from 2009) is a fascinating mix of transatlantic rural music. The none-more-English folk music of The Copper Family sits happily next to Robert Johnson’s Little Queen of Spades. Sea Shanties segue into acts of appalling violence while the plaintive, pain-wracked Are You Leaving for the Country? by Karen Dalton soundtracks the disposal of a body. And as terrible as that sounds, the music acts as a kind of “life goes on” comfort, especially in the scenes where the father, played by Robert Hill, sits playing guitar with his band of friends in the living room at the house in Down Terrace.

B Kliban: Lady Gaga’s Stylist, About 30 Years Early
Talking to Adam about the genius of the Canadian cartoonist, and—looking out one of his books—finding this great cartoon.
kliban

Thoughts While Running with Kid Charlemagne by Steely Dan in the Headphones
I’m struck by how this Seventies classic would work as Breaking Bad’s theme tune:

“On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene
But yours was kitchen clean
Everyone stopped to stare
at your Technicolor motor home…”

“…Now your patrons have all left you in the red
Your low rent friends are dead
This life can be very strange…”

“…Clean this mess up else we’ll all end up in jail
Those test tubes and the scale
Just get them all out of here
Is there gas in the car
Yes, there’s gas in the car
I think the people down the hall
Know who you are…”

I don’t listen to Larry Carlton’s fantastic shape-shifting guitar solo, I don’t listen to Bernard Purdie’s lickety-split drumming, I don’t even listen to Paul Griffin’s funky Clavinet. I just listen to Chuck Rainey’s sublime bass, pumping and prodding and pushing and powering the song along.

From My Friend Bill in the States
ps:  you’ll be amused to know that I’m performing in a Grateful Dead cover band called Feels Like The Stranger, playing our first gig in a Stamford CT bar on March 7th! I’m playing all the Bob Weir rhythm parts on an 18 song set list… sounds easier than done! That dude was all over the place re: chord shaping!! My left hand is a cramped, gnarled and numb mess… thus the name of the band… : ) C’mon on over, I’ll put you on the comp list : ))

Flight (Cassette) Deck
With The Cowboy Junkies’ version of Sweet Jane, Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under The Bridge, and Marvin’s What’s Goin’ On, Flight is a film about alcoholism and addiction masquerading as a legal/action thriller—with a terrific soundtrack, and a nicely indie feel for a mainstream Hollywood production.

Look out for an FTISHTW Extra! on Bob ’n’ Bette’s Buckets Of Rain Session coming soon

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 9th May

Janis Joplin, Get It While You Can, Take Three, July 27th 1970
“Everybody I know is crazy, except President Nixon… and that’s his problem…” This is take three of the Jerry Ragavoy/Mort Shulman song, still not quite polished, but rawer and freer. When they reconvene on September 11th to finally record it, they’re more focused—“brighter”— in producer Paul Rothschild’s words. But take three still has the edge, a more pleading vocal, and a coda of “No No NoNoNo NO…” that is absolutely moving, and missing from the final take.

Alabama Shakes, Electric Brixton, May 3rd
In the sleevenotes to an album by one of Alabama’s greatest musical talents, Eddie Hinton, that fine Memphis journalist Robert Gordon wrote: “If a frayed rope could sing, it would sound like only two people, and since Otis is dead, that leaves Eddie.” And since Eddie is dead, that leaves Brittany Howard. It’s erroneous that Janis is the cheap ’n’ easy invokee—Howard’s models seem more to be those two men, especially when you factor in her tone. First seen when the excellent Laura Barton wrote about a lone YouTube video in The Guardian last year, I’d deliberately avoided listening, but bought tickets to see them. As my daughter Jordan said, that way you’re not just anticipating the couple of songs you know, and not listening properly. So we let it wash over us and tried to ignore the ******* hipsters talking at the bar and the drunks hollering next to us (hard to do in the moodily quiet numbers). Punching her guitar, stomping her boots and seemingly conducting the songs by shakes of her head, Brittany Howard lived up to the hype, and the band are just slick enough to make it work, but not so slick that it sounds mechanical—you just wish you could be watching them at The Lamplighter, outside of Muscle Shoals, instead of here. Oh, one last thing: the name. Not easy to do a great band name these days—see Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds for how not to—but this is most excellent, both geographical locator and mission statement.

Black Cobra
Put the subtitle on your TV, get to see who’s sold their music to Ad Agencies! Cobra beer ad, Black Keys’ Gold On The Ceiling. In two minds whether the lyrics really fit the product—“Gold on the ceiling/I ain’t blind/Just a matter of time/Before you steal it/It’s all right/Ain’t no God in my eye.” I’m not sure that’s on brand.

VanMan SatNav
Driving with my friend Steve Way to a cartoon festival, he was taken with the Irish voice on our car’s SatNav, and started doing the instructions in the style of Van Morrison. Genius! Leaving motorways and approaching roundabouts has never been so entertaining. Googling to see if anyone had already thought of this I could only find one reference, from a thread on Julian Cope’s Modern Antiquarian… “My Van Morrison Sat Nav has caused me to flood my brakes in the slipstream and I’m now stuck between two viaducts. It’s also told me to fuck…” and there, wonderfully, access to the thread ends, as I can’t get on to the site.

Message From Chuck!

chuckrainey.chipin.com/chuck-rainey-well-health-fund

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