Friday, June 3rd

ONE BOBBY CHARLES ROLLS ON AT THE EE STORE!

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TWO WE WATCH VICTORIA
Shot in one real-time take, be immersed in a young Spanish woman’s night out gone wrong. It’s breathless and brutal and has a terrific score by Nils Frahm. “We were given unusual creative freedom by approaching the movie together with [director] Sebastian Schipper, who was keeping the production and direction to one single team. The score was recorded in a special location, the former GDR broadcasting production facilities that today host Studio P4. We simply put a big screen in the middle of the room, filled it with microphones and instruments, set the movie on loop and kept improvising on top of it together – my good friends and I.” Frahm had wondered if such a unique film even needed music, but his score becomes a compelling part of the whole experience. Afterwards, we sat asking each other questions – how did the cinematographer avoid getting any of the crew in shot? how scripted was the dialogue? would a traffic jam stop them reaching their next set of marks? I’d watch it again tomorrow.

THREE PAY DONNIE HERRON HIS DUES, REVIEWERS!
I don’t think I’ve seen more than a cursory mention of Donnie Herron in the Fallen Angels Dylan album reviews (or, for that matter, in those for Shadows in the Night) but his pedal steel playing on both records takes the instrument in new orchestral directions. It’s never over-sweet or brash – it’s luscious, swooning and widescreen. Too often the discussion of Dylan centres on his voice (or lyrics) to the exclusion of truckloads of great, inspired musicianship. I was pointed to this great article by legendary engineer Al Schmitt on the recording of Shadows in the Night, where he talks eloquently about the process of recording live: “At one point Schmitt did suggest some kind of mixing process, but Dylan had other ideas. “We wanted everything to sound like it was done at the same time in the same room,” the engineer recalls. “I rode the fader on his vocals, and I panned everything pretty much as it was in the room, apart from the electric guitar, which I panned to the left, opposite the pedal steel. I placed the bass where I felt it should be, which was not too loud. At end of the session we listened back to the final takes, and that was it. Dylan decided which take of each song he liked best, and that one would immediately be locked as the master. When I mentioned mixing Dylan said: ‘No, I love the way this sounds.’  …It really was just the way records were made in the old days! In those days you could not edit or fix things, and so you had to do the take when things were emotionally right. And you chose the take that had the feel on it. This is why so many records from back then are so much more emotional and touch you so much more deeply. Today everything is perfect, and in many places we have taken the emotions out of records.”

FOUR FOUND IN A FLEA MARKET, RIGHT UP CALUM*’S STREET…

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A box of 16 singles from the 50s/60s. Ranging from the Red Army to Mahalia Jackson. Mine for 10 Euros. *Calum blogs about sound, provocatively, at likeahammerinthesink.

FIVE IN A DRESS MADE FROM CURTAINS!
I liked the excellently psychedelic video for Adele’s “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”. Familiar ground lyrically, of course, but a real earworm of a tune. Like the song, Patrick Daughters’ video doesn’t really build or go anywhere, but it’s a pleasant Bollywood-esqe ride. And a strong look, no?

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EXTRA ON THE MUSIC PLAYER
In a recent interview, Elvis Costello said that Prince was right about everything to do with the rights of artists, the music industry and the Internet. But Melanie Safka got there first… “Well you know that I’m not a gambler / But I’m being gambled on / They put in a nickel and I sing a little song / They’re only putting in a nickel and / They want a dollar song…”

Tuesday, 15th March, updated 30th March

I failed to post a Five Things before leaving on a trip to the States, so here it is, slightly amended, on our return. Extras to follow on Woodstock & Detroit, people…

MARINA HYDE ON FIRE!
“In the meantime, we must turn our attentions to Kanye, who places his personal debt at $53m, explaining to the world: “If I spent my money on my ideas, I could not afford to take care of my family. I am in a place that so many artists end up.” Like various notables before him, Kanye declares: “I wanted the world to know my struggle.” (Then how about writing a $10 book entitled My Struggle? There must be at least 5.3 million ironists who would buy a copy of the German edition.)

Admittedly, his wife did claim this week to be “transferring 53m into our joint account”, but the suspicion must be that Kanye wishes to place himself on a more independent footing than one underwritten by the Bank of Kim. Not that he is against bailouts. In fact, the sense that Kanye is simply too big to fail was my takeout from a series of tweets he posted shortly after the debt ones, imploring Silicon Valley bigwigs to invest in his “ideas”. These ideas remain tantalisingly unspecified, though the past few days of tweeting alone have yielded such standouts as: “I don’t personally like suit jackets any more”, “I believe that Kim is our modern day everything”, and the peerless “super-inspired by my visit to Ikea today”.

But back to his plea for financial intervention. Lost in Showbiz would argue that what is taking shape is nothing less than a new theory of celebronomics: a theory that argues that an entirely free Kanye West market is not the most beneficial model for society. Yes, you can hope that the billionaire private sector plays a part. But governments have a responsibility to intervene at various stages in the cycle in order to provide the shared goal: full Kanye. Thus, far from encouraging thrift in a downturn, the state should actively encourage spending on Kanye West products. I hereby christen this theory Kanyesian economics, in honour of its leading thinker, and implore governments across the world to subscribe to its principles without delay.” – from The Guardian.

CALUM STORRIE’S EXCELLENT METHODOLOGY!
From Calum’s likeahammerinthesink blog, this excellence issues forth, complete with a how-to:

calum

  1. Locate obscure lounge album on vinyl…preferably with ‘erotic’ overtones (and in this case with rain effects and bells).
  2. Digitize Track 3, Side 2 (Il se fait tard).
  3. Copy track and reverse copy.
  4. Add echo.
  5. Slow the whole thing down by 50%.
  6. Fade to silence.

And the result? Beautiful. You could do an entire film soundtrack using this method.

JACO’S JOURNEY!
The DVD arrives in the post, directed by the excellent team of Stephen Kijak & Mr Paul Marchand. There is so much here, from Pastorious’ love for the guitar playing of Willie ‘Little Beaver’ Hale to his encyclopedic knowledge of big band jazz, learned from his father (a pro jazz singer – “there was no bad music played in our house!”). Loved this bit of Super 8 of an early Pastorious band in Miami, with Jaco on drums…

pastorious As a teenager, the only clothes he owned were two pairs of cords and three t-shirts – a wardrobe that would fit into his Fender bass case. When he joined Wayne Cochran (I’ve said it before, but you just have to check out Wayne Cochran on YouTube), the tuxedo (that all band members had to wear) was too big for his wiry frame, so he’d wear his compete wardrobe under it. Jerry Jemmott interviews him in 1984 for a bass lesson DVD and lists his accomplishments, telling him that a generation of bass players have been inspired by him, and ends up asking him, “How do you feel about that?”. He looks up, slightly lost in a mist and says, “Just gimme a gig!”

Jemmott – bassist on King Curtis (and Aretha) Live at Fillmore West, among a fairly awesome ton of credits – is an eloquent presence throughout: over Jaco duetting with himself on Coltrane’s “Naima”, he says… “that voice, it’s the voice of music, the singer in the horn. It’s not the rhythm section – the rhythm section is there doing the work to support it, we’re  the setting for the ring, to let the diamond shine brilliantly… so our job is to support that stone – but he was able to become a stone, also”. And, at the end of a story about prising the frets off his Fender after his upright bass fell foul of Florida’s humidity, Jemmott says… “And the rest is history!” Pastorious nods, but his eyes drop, and his expression tells the story.
And if, a little like Janis Joplin, his legacy is not quite the sum of its parts, there are still moments of swooning marvellousness. If you’re interested in the art of musicmaking it’s a must-see, despite its sorrowful arc. And I’m no fan of bass solos, but I’ll make an exception for this take on Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” – along with sundry other Hendrix tunes. After a miasma of feedback he quotes “The Sound of Music” before putting the bass on the stage and spraying harmonics until he picks out a delicate melody and walks off, vulnerable in the midst of virtuosity. nb. Don’t miss some hilarious South Bank Show footage of Melvin Bragg introducing the programme’s documentary on Weather Report in the ’80s… Melvyn’s hair is, as always, a thing to behold.
 

INTERNET + DATA = GLORIOUS MADNESS!
I mean, really, this is some kind of voodoo. I know I have a penchant for this sort of stuff, but this is as good as the HipHop Billboard No 1s from a couple of weeks ago. Every Noise at Once – every genre, every tributary in that genre. Check out Geechy Wiley’s “Last Kind Word Blues”, one of the strangest, most naggingly mysterious blues ever written. You could, as Em would say, lose yourself in the music. Personally, I’m just off to negotiate my way around dark psytrance.*

musicmap

 

AND FINALLY…
… do yourself a favour and read this exceptional piece by David Remnick in The New Yorker, on the complex majesty that is Aretha. As the time draws nearer that we all may be able to see the Amazing Grace concerts – as filmed by Sidney Pollack – Remnick pays tribute to America’s greatest voice. As the Prez says, “American history wells up when Aretha sings. That’s why, when she sits down at a piano and sings “A Natural Woman,” she can move me to tears – the same way that Ray Charles’s version of “America the Beautiful” will always be in my view the most patriotic piece of music ever performed – because it captures the fullness of the American experience, the view from the bottom as well as the top, the good and the bad, and the possibility of synthesis, reconciliation, transcendence.”

* I did. But you’ll be pleased to know that I’m recovered now…

Wednesday, 25th November

IMAGE OF THE WEEKjanis.jpgPolice mugshot of Janis Joplin. The Smoking Gun: “Janis Joplin was arrested in November 1969 in Florida and charged with disorderly conduct after yelling obscenities at police officers during a Tampa concert. Charges were later dropped after it was ruled that the singer’s actions were an exercise of free speech.

I KNOW YOU DON’T WANT IT, BUT A CHRISTMAS RECOMMENDATION
Who wants another Christmas album, eh? You’re right – no-one. And just walking around in any shop subjects you to the unwelcome “All I Want for Christmas” (and occasionally, on good days something as wonderful as The Waitresses “Christmas Wrapping” – which has just been covered by Kylie, I hear). However, there’s a cracker from Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, called “It’s a Holiday Soul Party”. Standouts are a great instrumental “God Rest Ye Merry Gents” – if you liked their side project The Menahan Street Band, you’ll dig this – and my favourite, “Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects”. “When I was a child I used to wonder/How Santa put my toys under the tree/I said, “Momma can you tell me how this can be?/When there ain’t no chimneys in the projects”.

THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO, AGAIN!
News in from BigO: Jarvis Cocker, British conductor Charles Hazlewood, Adrian Utley from Portishead and Will Gregory from Goldfrapp will take part in full, orchestral interpretations of the themes from Thunderbirds and Gerry Anderson’s other shows. The concert will take place on December 1, 2015 at the Colston Hall, Bristol. The collective will be accompanied by the British Paraorchestra, the world’s only professional ensemble of disabled musicians. Hazlewood, conductor and Artistic Director of the Paraorchestra and All Star Collective said: “We will be bringing back to life all the iconic hits of composer Barry Gray, in the 50th anniversary year of the launch of Thunderbirds. Expect high octane, big band-fuelled live renditions from this hit TV series, alongside timeless classics from shows including Stingray and Captain Scarlett. We even have Gray’s original Ondes Martinot, the old-school futuristic electronic instrument, which is the sound of the Mysterons”. From Wikepedia: “The instrument’s eerie wavering notes are produced by varying the frequency of oscillation in vacuum tubes. The production of the instrument stopped in 1988, but several conservatories in France still offer tuition to students of the instrument”. I want one.

likeahammerinthesink, ON THE SUBJECT OF DUST/SILENCE/TIME
From an elegant post: “I am beginning to wonder if collecting recorded silences is a bit of an affliction but I remembered that I also own an album called The Sounds of Silence… a kind of Now That’s what I Call Quiet Volume 1. On this record there is a piece by Andy Warhol, made for the East Village Other magazine in 1966. It is called “Silence (Copyright 1932)”, and purports to have been created by Andy Warhol aged 4. But this silence, unlike the dust induced silence of Robbe-Grillet or the dust that slows and extends the passing of time moving towards silence in Stalker, has no duration. This is not just time stopped but time negated. Although he raged against the noise of the city, I wondered if Thomas Carlyle also wanted to deny time in his soundproofed rooms at the top of his house in Cheyne Walk in Chelsea. He had a room built within another room to exclude street noises and the sound of the piano from the adjacent house. But, though apparently sealed from the outdoor world, the wind whistled across the skylight and the sound of the next-door neighbour’s macaw still found its way into his space. Maybe in order to create silence sealing a room is not enough (as Cage noted in his visit to the anechoic chamber). And, as Warhol’s solution is impractical if not impossible – is easier said than done – it is necessary to impose the active ingredient of time in the form of dust.”

ORION, THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING
Shown on BBC 4, soon after its cinema release – catch it if you can. Jeanie Finlay does a splendid job with one of rock’s crazier stories. Jimmy Ellis was born in Orrville, Alabama, with the voice of Elvis Presley – a huge problem when Elvis was alive, as the public already had the ‘real’ thing, but when Elvis died on August 16, 1977, and Shelby Singleton had an idea of how to fill the void, involving spangly suits, a bizarre made up name (Orion Eckley Darnell) and a mask – well, you can imagine… The film ends with Orion’s version of the great Charlie Rich song “Feel Like Goin’ Home” (written in response to Peter Guralnick’s book of the same name, one of the finest music books ever published) segueing into “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” which is strangely moving.

CHARLES AZNAVOUR, RAH
Charles used the the J word at the Albert Hall a little while ago, a couple of weeks after Bob was there. Ninety-one, and strutting around the stage like a fit seventy-year-old, he told us stories from his career, rescued “She” from the cawing clutches of Elvis Costello’s Notting Hill cover, and gave a hundred-minute show to an adoring bunch of fans. “You know, if you come to be famous, popular, doesn’t matter if you are a singer, actor or politician or anything else, but known – you know what I mean – a money-maker, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an extraordinary entourage of people trying to be helpful in any way – for example, if they found you in bed with their own wives they would pull the cover over you in case you catch cold… [they are] a parasite, until your success begins to decline. So after you have been squeezed like a lemon, the time will come for them to sell you, betray you, to crucify you. I call this song My Friend, My Judas.” What followed was a staggering cross between Barry White and John Barry, with a side order of Bacharach’s Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid soundtrack.

 

Friday, 12th June

VISUAL OF THE WEEK: BIRD TRAMWAY
It seems to be film week here at Five Things. Calum posts on his blog likeahammerinthesink about a film he made on his phone… “as I crossed between Manhattan and Roosevelt Island on the tramway. Then I re-shot the film through a mirrored box that I found one night on the King’s Road in Chelsea. I looked for songs that were exactly the same length as the footage (4’46”) and tried out various combinations. The juxtaposition of “No One is Lost” by Stars (a kind of disco-rock crossover number) with a kaleidoscopic view of New York, the Williamsburg Bridge and the East River worked…”

Calum

He’s then asked to take it down for copyright reasons by Vimeo, so he records caged birds in Tooting’s covered market and uses that as the soundtrack instead. However, should you want, you can start his film on Vimeo at the same time as starting the Stars song on YouTube, and enjoy it as its creator intended, the mirrored box making the images come kaleidoscopically alive.

It took me back to a time when, as students at Chelsea we found tins of 16mm offcuts outside a Wardour Street editing suite and cut them randomly together, playing it back with a soundtrack of equally random records. There are always moments where the sound and picture line up to make something so right that it seems planned. That happens here as the cars emerge out of the ground to perfectly-timed synth throbs, and the struts of the bridge arrive on screen at the same time as the drums recede…

SOMETHING I LEARNED 1
That, having brilliantly embodied MLK in Selma, David Oyelowo is playing Nina Simone’s personal assistant in the troubled biopic, Nina – hey, what other kind of biopic is there? With social media as it stands you can inflame a lot of people, a lot of the time, often over nothing, or nothing that most of them know about. Nina is played by American/Domenican actress Zoe Saldana (whose husband, Marco Perego, took her surname when they got married). “I didn’t think I was right for the part, and I know a lot of people will agree, but then again, I don’t think Elizabeth Taylor was right for Cleopatra either. An artist is colorless, genderless… It’s more complex than just ‘Oh, you chose the Halle Berry look-alike to play a dark, strikingly beautiful, iconic black woman.’ The truth is, they chose an artist who was willing to sacrifice herself. We needed to tell her story because she deserves it.”

SOMETHING I LEARNED 2
That there’s also a new Nina documentary premiering on Netflix on June 24, What Happened, Miss Simone?, directed by Liz Garbus. She made the brilliant Love, Marilyn. She also made the excellent Bobby Fisher Against The World – her titles are always good, as is her production company’s name, Moxie Firecracker. [As an aside, her favorite songs are “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan, “Black Coffee in Bed” by Squeeze, and “Mesmerizing” by Liz Phair].

Her father is the legendary civil rights attorney, Martin Garbus, who represented Daniel Ellsberg and Lenny Bruce among countless others. His book, Tough Talk: How I Fought for Writers, Comics, Bigots, and the American Way sounds a must-read.

Liz Garbus grew up knowing Simone, and the film looks a cracker… Variety’s Scott Foundas: “Garbus limits the third-party talking heads to Simone’s close friends and collaborators (including her longtime guitarist and musical director Al Shackman), but smartly resists turning the movie into a pageant of present-day testimonials about the singer’s influence and legacy. Mostly, she just lets Simone take the stage, reasoning that the best way to understand her is through her songs – performances in which Simone seems to be pouring out every ounce of herself, the music flowing through her like an electric current, her voice echoing forth as if from some place deep inside the earth”. Watch the trailer here.

O, DEATH
Jonny Trunk, Trunk Records: “And let’s all hope today is better than yesterday, with three extraordinary deaths all in row – of people who have certainly shaped my life in one way or another: Christopher Lee, Ron Moody and Ornette Coleman. I remember getting phone calls from Mr Lee when I first issued The Wicker Man. He used to phone up on a regular basis and sing “Tinker Of Rye” down the phone. One day, he phoned and I wasn’t in – these were pre-mobile days. My flat mate answered the phone and told him I was out. He asked, “are you Christopher Lee by any chance?”. “Why, yes”, came the reply – “how did you know it was me?”. Well I recognised your voice Mr Lee, from all those classic horror films you made”. “Horror!”, shouted Mr Lee – “I don’t do horror!” and slammed down the phone. He will be sorely missed, certainly around central London where he used to spook about the place, signing anything he was involved with (posters, soundtracks, you name it). There was (to me) another classic Christopher Lee moment, when he put some of his possessions into a James Bond sale at Christies in the 1990s. He put in a pair of his white Scaramanga loafers – both signed inside in black pen of course. Trouble was, he’d put in two left shoes. Brilliant.

As for Ron Moody, there will be his odd and only LP up for 50p next week, and I will be playing Coleman’s Chappaqua Suite, made for Conran Rook’s Chappaqua film but [judged] “too beautiful to use” on tomorrow’s OST Show.” Watch this mashed-up trailer made for it recently (not using Coleman’s score, but extraordinary nonetheless.

AND ON THE PLAYLIST THIS WEEK…
Various mentions of Mary Margaret O’Hara this week also synchronise with me finding a Canadian musicians’ tribute album to The Band, presented by Garth Hudson (who plays on every track). It came out in 2010 and, I guess like biopics, there’s good and there’s bad. As usual, those who cleave too closely fail, and those who dive in with both feet win. I think this is the best track by far, a forgotten song that was tacked onto the Last Waltz album, a song which pointed ahead to the style that Robbie Robertson would adopt for his first solo album, a glassy atmosphere of synths and chiming guitars. Robbie’s singing had vastly improved from “To Kingdom Come” on Music from Big Pink, but I think MM O’H has more to give the song or – it may be more accurate to say – to drag out of it.

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”.

Five Things: Wednesday, 23rd July

Is it Just Me…
Or are flares and bell bottoms making a comeback? First it was the percussionist with the Brian Jonestown Massacre with his flares, then this week I saw a young hipstery type in Berners Street with what was defiantly a pair of bell bottoms, literally covering his shoes. I know everything comes around in the end, but are these two a fashion-forward tip of the iceberg?

Attempted Fig Leaf for People building Apartments for multimillionaires, Fitzrovia
As we see, dead rocks stars can’t control who takes their name in vain. The estate agent gibberish on this window is chilling.

Fitzroy

Now That’s What I Call A Compilation
And not just because it features Ken Colyer playing “The Red Flag”. From likeahammerinthesink: “Since the beginning of this year I have been making one compilation CD each month. The tracks on each mix come from CDs from charity shops (mostly from my local one) and I exclude music bought elsewhere… that is the only constraint. The mixes tend to be combinations of the popular and the obscure so include jazz, pop, noise and anything else that I like.”

Recommended: Tim’s Vermeer
At the end of this really interesting film about trying to discover why Vermeer’s paintings feel the way they do, the credits roll with, yes, “When I Paint My Masterpiece” playing. Groan. Obvious. But wait, it’s a different Bob version. It’s great. It sounds like the Jesse Ed Davis and Leon Russell session, Dylan’s singing is nasal and ragged and it has a corny, but great, showbizzy ending… apparently Dylan was “very fond” of the film and allowed its use, thus continuing the tradition of giving filmmakers (the Coens, Cameron Crowe) alternate versions for use in their films. nb. Also noticed Damien Tedesco amongst the sound recordists and wondered if he was a relation of Wrecking Crew star Alumni, guitarist Tommy Tedesco…

Not Recommended: YSL
Slightly tedious biopic of Yves Saint Laurent. Very difficult to have as your central character a man who looks at the floor all the time. The early parts are best, before the drug addled tedium of the Seventies. The music during the scene where YSL gets the idea for his Mondrian-inspired dresses is a cracking piece of garage rock, that the credits pin down as The Bossmen from 1966 (Dick Wagner’s first band before The Frost and a career working with Alice Cooper and Lou Reed). It’s called “On The Road” and it’s all you’d want from a mid-Sixties band from Saginaw, Michigan. “I walked a million miles since Sunday/And still I got no place to go”.

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