Five Things, Wednesday 2nd July

This Is Revealing
The Making of Blonde On Blonde. The excellent Oxford American just goes about its way, publishing great piece after great piece: this month it’s Sean Wilentz going behind the scenes of the making of Blonde On Blonde in both New York and Nashville: “The songs are rich meditations on desire, frailty, promises, boredom, hurt, envy, connections, missed connections, paranoia, and transcendent beauty—in short, the lures and snares of love, stock themes of rock and pop music, but written with a powerful literary imagination and played out in a 1960s pop netherworld.” His reconstruction of the feel in the studio is terrific, and chock full of nuggets: “Fewer than twelve hours later, everybody was back in the studio to start in on what Dylan called “Like a Woman”. The lyrics, once again, needed work; on several early takes, Dylan sang disconnected lines and semi-gibberish. He was unsure about what the person described in the song does that is just like a woman, rejecting “shakes,” “wakes,” and “makes mistakes”. The improvisational spirit inspired a weird, double-time fourth take, somewhere between Bo Diddley and Jamaican ska, that on the tape finally disintegrates into a voice in the background admitting, “We lost, man.” If you have any interest in this period of Dylan’s music, read it.

This Is Great
Unlock The World, Avis Advert. Having watched Saving Mr Banks (a gently pointless little tale) it was amusing to see the subject of the film’s emotive centre, “Let’s Go Fly A Kite”, featured in the new Avis Car Rental Ad. Made a refreshing change from the usual dreadful Eurotrash EDM that the current Mercedes and Nissan ads have as their soundtrack. In fact, the juxtaposition of the nostalgic croon of David Tomlinson with the finely shot (and expensive-looking) black & white works really well. I’d love to see which photographers’ books they cribbed the shots from. The stills approach is very interesting, as car ads invariably have endless shots of vehicles moving at speed, and this one only has movement at the end.

This Is Insane
“Perfect”, Rob Cantor. Very inspired, to start with Randy Newman, slightly off on Willie Nelson, but pretty spot on for the rest. I especially loved Ian McKellen, Flipper and the trumpet solo, but the female singers are the best: Billie Holiday, Cher, Shakira, Gwen Stefani, Britney, Bjork and Christina Aguilera.

This Is Sad
The death of Bobby Womack. At one point, early in our career as Hot House, Mark & I must have worn our copy of The Poet II down to the bone. For at least a year, everything that we wrote had its roots, lyrically or musically, in that album. We went to see Womack & Womack play the Shaw Theatre (that’s Bobby’s brother and step-daughter) during their “Love Wars” tour, we saw Bobby somewhere, I can’t remember where, maybe at The Venue or the Town & Country, and sought out his back catalogue (even including BW goes C+W, mainly for the cover). A few years ago, in a period where Mark and I were recording stuff again, Mark sent me a lovely piano and guitar instrumental, with a kind of Southern swing, and I started thinking about Eddie Hinton, a soul brother of Bobby’s, who had a voice like Otis and a playing style that was influenced by, or maybe was an influence on, Womack’s own take on the guitar. I thought about the stuff that Eddie and Bobby played on in Muscle Shoals and wrote a tribute to the both of ’em. It’s in the music player to the right.

This Is Rather Lovely
A London Palladium tea towel. A good week, when you could see both Max Miller and Fats Waller.

Fats

Five Things I Saw & Heard This Week: Wednesday 4th July

Take A Giant Step Around The Block
In the office Hugh started singing Goin’ Back (I can’t remember why. Nor can he) and I said, “Oh, the Monkees did the original version of that…” and he said he was sure it was Dusty Springfield. We were both convinced it was written by Goffin and King (we were right), but a short Wiki later it turned out that Dusty’s was the first released (although Goldie of Goldie & The Gingerbreads had recorded first it before falling out with G&K over some changes she’d made to the lyrics). Anyway… the song I was actually thinking of was Take A Giant Step, also by Goffin & King, that was on the Monkees first album. Then I said, “Oh that was recorded around the corner, at the Philips recording studios at Marble Arch.” As it was, as well as You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and If You Go Away. Philips Studios opened in 1956, located in the basement of Stanhope House, close to Marble Arch. It was also used by the Walker Brothers for Make It Easy On Yourself and The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. By 1983 the studio had become part of the Polygram group, was put on the market and bought by Paul Weller who renamed it Solid Bond.

Paul Weller—“Dusty Springfield, The Walker Brothers and all that recorded in Philips Studios. And then all of a sudden this desk wasn’t ‘any good’ any more and this tape machine wasn’t ‘any good’ any more and everything had to be digital. And as soon as we all went digital, man, everyone sounded the fucking same. From country & western to funk to rock’n’roll or whatever, everybody sounded glassy and linear. A technical thing, but it’s true.” And so he sold it, and all the equipment.

Well, I went down the road to see what was still there. I passed Le Pain Quotidien—where we had lunch the other day and, bizarrely, Paul Weller walked past with some dry cleaning—and negotiated safe passage past the machine-gun wielding cops outside Tony Blair’s house in Connaught Square. I found an imposing set of steps leading to Stanhope House (1), an excellent resprayed Sixties mini—can’t you just see Dusty holding down her bouffant to squeeze into it? (2), a Middle Eastern electronics shop selling translated copies of Tony Blair’s biography, next to some irons and hair trimmers (3), and, next door, a shop whose purpose I couldn’t pin down. There were replicas of the creature from Alien, some crash helmets and petrol cowlings with airbrushed women on. There were TVs and mobile phones. There was a five string G+L bass (4). I asked how much the bass was. “Ah, that’s not for sale. It’s in the window to attract attention.” It’s things like this—it was the least attention-grabbing part of the display (except to me, that is)—that make me love Edgware Road.


Dusty vs Scotty
It’s great when you dig out something that you really loved as a teenager and it still sounds as great, in every way, as you remembered it! I’m gathering tracks to make up a DJ set for illustration Collective ART SCHOOL DISCO—I know, what were they thinking?—I’ve never DJ’d in my life, but they said I didn’t have to stand there actually doing anything clever, I could just give them a CD… They are pitching up at Boxpark in Shoreditch to illustrate to the Sounds Of Disco for the day, so I was looking for stuff we loved in our Manresa Road studios from 75-79. Scotty was loved for Draw Your Brakes from The Harder They Come soundtrack, and for the most fabulous and wonderful Skank In Bed. YouTube it (it’s not available in any other way as far as I know). Over a version of Breakfast In Bed (as heard on Dusty In Memphis, written by Eddie Hinton and Donnie ‘Flipside’ Fritts) Scotty sings, shouts and pleads with Lorna —who did the version of the song that Scotty is freaking out over—and then breaks off to admonish his musicians in a, frankly, undescribable, way. Majestically bonkers.

Another Mag Done Gone/Word Down
“Sad news, sad news, come to me where I sit.” Word Magazine closed this week. Now who’s going to interview all those amazing and interesting characters that no-one else has the brains to talk to? And provide a home for the peerless Rob Fitzpatrick, whose writing about the end of music just gets better and better:
On Neil Young’s
Americana: “But if you remove the comfort blanket of (in this case entirely unwanted) hero worship for a moment—and I love Neil Young dearly—what you’re left with is a record that no one in their right mind could possibly want to play more than once or twice. There is a great deal to be said for recording quickly and intuitively, but not much for bashing through everything once and then calling it a day.”
On the myth of Scott Walker:
“For example, a discourse on the song Patriot (A Single) runs aground when the writer can’t decide what Walker really meant in a particular line. “It’s virtually impossible to say,” they admit, “and Walker has always been sparing with his explanations…” All of which makes me think, “Well, if you don’t know and he won’t, or can’t, say, what is the point of all this? What are we doing here?” Sometimes it’s important to step back and open a window and remember that this is pop music; it’s not meant to hurt this much.”
On the shelf life of bands: “ If I were a musician, the question I hope I would ask myself more than any other is: who cares? …the facts are simple: a hundred years of recorded music is available at the touch of a button to anyone who cares to listen. Are you really sure it’s necessary to put out another LP? It is more than ten years since The Cranberries released a record, but despite no one on Earth missing them, they have decided to make another. Sadly, 30 seconds into the first tremulous, ponderous, say-nothing, waltz-time. half-arsed shrug of a track you will be screaming at the sky. Here’s Cast… John Power’s relentless lack of imagination makes Beady Eye sound like Sun Ra.  Criticising Guided by Voices is a bit like criticising weather—momentarily distracting, but entirely pointless when it just keeps coming anyway.”
On Karen Dalton’s 1966: In 1966 Dalton was 29 years old and had left New York to live in a remote cabin in Colorado with her husband, Richard Tucker, and children. Most nights they would gather around a log fire and sing and on one of those nights a friend called Carl Baron, who’d sweated up to this address-free outpost with his precious reel-to-reel tape recorder, captured the songs as they were sung. Forty-five years later, the ghosts of that evening have finally been let loose… Dalton certainly doesn’t seem to be performing these songs; this is eavesdropping on a grand scale and it has all the dark thrill and guilty tang that comes with that behaviour. We are the unseen watchers, the eyes at the window, the ears at the wall, and there is, I think, a psychic cost involved in that deal. Friends and lovers trading songs around a sparking grate is one thing: having those same moments digitally diseminated decades after your death is quite another. The covers and the traditional songs that inhabit this exquisitely presented recording are deeply moving and I wouldn’t want to be without them, but rarely, if ever, have I been as haunted by a collection as I am by 1966.…on 1966 [Dalton] sounds relaxed. Safe. At peace. Whether you’re willing to risk disturbing that hard-won peace by listening in is, of course, entirely up to you.”

I’m bereft.

Inappropriate Musical Illustration
“Hey, I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me, maybe?

Ripped from the sketchbook, illustrator John Cuneo’s visual reaction to the Carly Rae Jepsen song that has been driving America mad (judging by the comments after John’s post). nb—John has informed me that “I draw to praise that song, not to bury it.”

Next—Fontella Bass?
Always nice to to discover a typeface named after a great soul singer. (Staton by Henrik Kubel, a2-type, 2010)

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. It’ 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
Enable the subtitles 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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