Wednesday, 4th February

This week I’m trying out some new categories, which I’ll probably end up junking as it becomes too hard to shoehorn things into them. Anyway, for now I’m going with Something I Learned, I Know Nothing! (aka Things to Investigate), Song of the Week, Visual of the Week, Oh God, Not That Again…, and On the Playlist this Week. We’ll see how it goes.

SONG OF THE WEEK
FourFiveSeconds: Improbably wonderful strumalong from Sir Paul, Rihanna and Kanye West. Paul roughly bangs out the chords on an acoustic, Rihanna gives it some throaty passion and Kanye whines away while a toddler gurgles. Two times through, then it all stops and an organ starts for the gospel middle eight (it’s like there wasn’t even time to work on a smooth transition – the guitar just stops and the organ starts). This is where Rihanna takes it to church, with a particularly lovely Bonnie Raitt-like bit of bluesy melody in there. For the last time through the verse, a deep guitar joins for a little rough-edged zooming up and down the frets. For 3.08 everything’s alright in the world. Sometimes simple works.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
Barbara Anderson of Lausanne, Switzerland asks the Guardian Notes & Queries: How different would life on Earth be with no moon? At the end of a very learned explanation of the four reasons life would be very different, Adam Rutherford, an editor at the science magazine Nature, writes: “So a moonless Earth would have no seasons, no tides but a lot of wobble, a fat middle, very short days and no owls, bats or moths. More importantly, Creedence Clearwater Revival would never have written “Bad Moon Rising”, and that would mean hurricanes a blowing, and the end coming soon.” Adam lists his interests as Science, cured meats and movies. Good man.

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
Also from the Guardian, an extraordinary piece on “Bone Music”, music pressed onto X-Rays in Russia during the Cold War (yes, I checked that the date wasn’t April 1st). Pete Paphides writes about Stephen Coates of ‘antiquarian art-poppers’ the Real Tuesday Weld.
“The clamour among young Russians for jazz and rock’n’roll during the cold war years is brought home by the range of materials on show at X-Ray Audio [an exhibition at the Horse Hospital, London]. Unofficial recordings weren’t pressed only on to x-rays – there are records made from road signs and circular cake plinths. Coates and Aleks Kolkowski will present an evening of stories and demonstrations of the recording process in action, at which Kolkowski – the owner of a 1940s recording lathe – will record on to x-rays. “One thing this has shown me is that the format is completely integral to the listening experience,” explains Kolkowski, who also “repurposes” unwanted CDs by etching grooves into them, adjusting the hole in the middle and creating five-inch jukebox records. “CDs actually sound fantastic once you make them into actual records.”

xray

There’s something oddly poignant about watching a record player stylus suck music – in this case, a doo wop song by the Ravens – out of the grooves of a CD. There’s some background noise, though nothing quite like the extraneous noise that comes with bone music. Later that day, I speak with Greg Milner, whose 2009 book Perfecting Noise Forever remains the definitive book on the history of recorded music. “We need to get out of that mindset that background noise happens at the expense of clarity. In the course of my research I listened to cylinders of performances that date back over 100 years ago. It’s hard to explain it, but you registered an acute presence in those recordings that was undeniable.” Kolkowski agrees. “Humans like to hear things that sound like recordings, but the imperfections – the hisses and crackles – make us listen a bit harder. Reaching for perfection is more rewarding to the ears, whereas modern digital recordings deliver perfection directly. Somehow, without the effort, some of the satisfaction is taken away.”

VISUAL OF THE WEEK
Natalie Prass’s Taped-up Epiphone, one way to stop feedback

 NP

OH GOD, NOT THAT AGAIN…
Ok, I promise that this is the last time I write about “Uptown Funk”. Having properly listened to it, it strikes me as a total Was (Not Was) rip off. Something like “Hello Operator” or one of my favourite (bracketed) titles of all time – “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. Somehow I found this nicely done version of Obama singing it…

I KNOW NOTHING!*
I don’t know anything about Paolo Conte, really, but people I trust have mentioned him at various points the past year. This week Richard Williams retweeted Clive Davis’ link to Conte performing “Madeleine” with a great band, making music that conjours up every Italian film you’ve ever seen. This song features two pianists playing at one piano – as they finish the song, he strolls behind them and blows on their heads in turn. Brilliant. So I downloaded a couple of tracks, one of which, “Clown”, has a sensational melody and an extraordinary swirling (military drumming, accordions, clarinets, several pianos) build-up to its instrumental finale. It’s stunning.
*[Please feel free to apply in writing for a full list of all the things I don’t know].

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Three from Was (Not Was): The pellucid “Baby Mine”, possibly the greatest of all Disney songs, given a compelling reading by guest Bonnie Raitt, with Paul Jackson Jnr on the weeping & sighing guitar and gorgeous hints of doo-wop in the backing vox. That’s followed by “Hello Operator (I mean Dad, I mean Police)” where you can dig the party atmosphere and the Defunkt-like horns. We finish with “(Stuck Inside Of Detroit With) Out Come The Freaks (Again)”. A cracking synth intro, a touch of The Look of Love strings, and a lyric from the August Darnell school of 12-inch short stories (think “There But For the Grace of God Go I”). Stick around for the magic outro where they list what happens when the “woodwork squeaks and out come the freaks…” and out comes Trotsky, Coltrane, and Che Guevara. Of course.

And yes, I’m aware that tonight I should be listening to Shadows In The Night. “Autumn Leaves” sounds pretty cool, and I’m loving the steel guitar of Donnie Herron. And the AARP (American Association of Retired Persons) interview is great. ’Til next week…

Comments

  1. Conte is magnificent (at times), delve in.

  2. Thanks Martin. Paolo Conte really is something. First heard him years ago when I was having a ‘hiding out’ week away near Lake Trasimeno. I found the nearest record shop (it’s that long ago) and found they were out of stock! I asked was there any similar artist – to have the manager laughingly shake his head and say there’s no one like Paolo. His music features in the fantastically good Slava’s Snow Show which is our familys favourite Christmas show.

    Baby Mine is a tender miracle. I remember first hearing on a Dutch radio show called ‘Hubert On The Air’ which had a nigh on infallible playlist.

    Looking forward to next weeks list.

    Regards Thom.

  3. That would be “Retired Persons”, Martin… And keep going with Paolo Conte. There’s a lot to discover.

  4. Chris Thorpe says:

    That was a treat. Paolo Conte makes me feel there’s still hope for humanity. Lovely man.

    Dylan singing Autumn Leaves? That makes me want to dig out Whispering Paul’s rendition with the Temps. I must admit though, I’m a sucker for oldies singing poignant songs … time for some Lotte Lenya? Even Blixa Bargeld is mellowing beautifully. And those late live clips of Barbara singing l’Aigle Noir – lovely!

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