Tuesday, 27 July 2010
The Suzan's music in the past has been exciting if fairly orthodox punk pop but this latest single with it's driving tom-tom beats, xylophone melody, surf guitar solo and chanted vocal has a more adventurous and unconventional post-punk feel to it. This September the girls will be releasing their full length album 'Golden Week For The Poco Poco Beat' with Fool's Gold Records and it will be interesting to hear fully how the band's style has developed.
Here's a superb video of the girls' raw and primal 'You Know Nothing' from 2007.
And here's the new single 'Home'.
Sunday, 25 July 2010
You want sweet boy/girl vocals? Check. Lo-fi, pop style hand-claps in lieu of percussion? Check. A burst of whimsical whistling? Check. Of course, we'll need a little of that most familiar of all bedroom pop instruments; the ukulele. Check. Now last of all we need a commitment to a 'straight edge' lifestyle and a dash of revolutionary fervour. Check, check, check! Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Paisley.
Paisley is an Anarcho-pop, vegan, straight edge, Twee duo from Bloomington, Indiana, US. I would imagine that's probably a genre all of their own right there. The band consists of Izzy Jarvis and Madison Witheld and as purveyors of a slightly twee blend of mainly acoustic, lo-fi, pop they came to my attention some time last year. Their first demo of six songs was released in January 2009 and is available on their last.fm page as a free download. Other than those scant facts posted on the last.fm page, I know very little about them and they don't appear to have any other presence on the internet. Sadly, they apparently don’t play together anymore, but if you’re lucky you might find them busking at the inner harbour in Baltimore.
So what makes them different from all the other boy/girl bedroom pop duos? Simple, it's the lyrics. Have a look at a sample from 'I'm Right Here' (below). Ostensibly this is just another plea to a lover to forget a past flame. It's a topic visited by many song-writers throughout history. However, the last line took me by surprise the first time I heard it and subsequently always makes me smile.
Forget the girl, cuz I'm right here.
Forget the love, cuz it was never even there.
Forget the girl, cuz I'm right here.
Forget the love, cuz it's right here.
I hope you've wised up & learned that you can't play with girls that way.
It doesn't matter how you feel, you've got to be honest with me.
Be kind, be cool, always try to communicate.
We'll have to work together if we wanna smash the state.
Yes, indeed. Surely, that's the line Carole King kept trying to work into her songs of broken teen relationships but just couldn't manage. And there's more. What about this excerpt from 'Love Makes Up The Best Wishes' (below)?
You know I'd like to count the stars with you.
They say we can't, we know the truth,
It's the journey, not the destination.
So we slip on black masks, march loudly through the tear gas.
They will be blinded by our love.
Because love makes up the best wishes,
Blowing up dams to save the fishes.
Please make one for me now.
Let's burn down our home towns.
OK, it's not such a shock this time but that last line is still a little bit of a jolt when you hear it and quite frankly I think you should do just that. Paisley are a curiously charming duo with a naive honesty missing from 99% of the acts foisted on us by the music industry. I sincerely hope that they find time to record and post a second set of songs as I don't see me making it to the inner harbour in Baltimore anytime soon. If you ever do find yourself down that way, please tell them I said 'Hello' and errrm... 'Smash the State'. We've given the two songs quoted above the Streetlamp video treatment. Enjoy!
Friday, 23 July 2010
You may think that here at Streetlamp HQ we swan around in smoking jackets, sipping the finest Chardonnay, watching Bulgarian arthouse movies and trawling the Internet for Twee Pop and Folktronica....and tragically, you'd be pretty spot on. BUT....there was a time when we were prepared to get our hands dirty. Just like the shellshocked dead-eyes who returned from the Somme, we rarely speak of our time in the later stages of the Punk Wars....but we were there, and we've kept our silence....till now! For you see it's time for us to tell you about Crass, and Crass are a band who TOTALLY polarise people. You don't just like or dislike them, you either bought in totally to their ethos, their ideals, their way of life, their dark, uncomfortable, scary world view....or you listened to Sting!
It's not often that Griff and I admit to being wrong about anything to do with music, and we'd certainly never say it out loud, but we WERE wrong about Crass. Not just once...but TWICE! How so? Come with us on a journey into a black and white world of anarcho-punk and the small matter of the end of the world. Folktronica and Field Mice fans be warned....rudeness will most definitely abound!
"Said they only wanted well behaved boys// Do they think guitars and microphones are just fucking toys?// Fuck'em, determined to make my stand// Against what I feel is wrong with this land"
My first encounter with Crass was through Griff. He gave me a tape of himself accompanied by drums 'singing' Crass's 'Do They Owe Us A Living' from their debut 12" 'The Feeding Of The 5000'. Crass had emerged at the same time as The Sex Pistols and The Clash but had refused to sign up to any corporate record label. Many called them old hippies jumping on the Punk bandwagon, but in truth they were more university drop-outs who took John Lennon a little too seriously, and fed off the energy of Punk to deliver their anti-war, anti-government, anti-meat eating, anarchist message. They lived in an artistic community called Dial House in Epping, near Essex, dressed in black militaristic clothes, eschewed elaborate stage lighting for basic 40watt bulbs, and bedecked their stage in flags bearing slogans such as "Fight War Not Wars, Destroy Power Not People" and the Crass logo.
Crass almost immediately began to criticise their fellow punks for selling out to the big record labels, and by waiting till they could press up their own records, their debut didn't arrive until the Winter of 1978. But, by almost constant gigging, they had built up a formidable following. Their opening salvo, a 7" single called 'Reality Asylum' was also given to me by Griff, and it proved a shattering and uncomfortable listen. As far removed from the music of Punk as it is possible to get(but force-fed by the energy of Punk)'Reality Asylum' is a disturbing sound-collage over which female vocalist Eve Libertine narrates a poem/rant decrying the use of Jesus Christ a tool to oppress women and keep the masses in line through the power of guilt. Uneasy listening indeed, but also quite far removed from Crass's usual fare.
"Do you get a buzz when you reminisce?//"Too much man, it was better than this"//I don't want a relativity talk//If that's the bus ride, I'd think I'd rather walk".
'The Feeding Of The 5000' and it's almost immediate follow up 'The Stations Of The Crass' pretty much set out the blueprint for Crass's oeuvre; from the black and white sleeves designed by Gee Vaucher, to main vocalist Steve Ignorant(Steve Williams) snarling, profanity-drenched lyrics, to the usual subjects like 'the system', the suppression and oppression of women, right-wing thuggery, media brainwashing, the nuclear arms race and the imminent destruction of the planet.
Both albums sold in massive quantities, as did brilliant accompanying singles like 'Bloody Revolutions', 'Nagasaki Nightmare' and 'Big A Little A'. By this time Crass had set up their own record company, putting out releases by Poison Girls, Conflict, Flux Of Pink Indians, Rudimentary Peni, The Mob and Zoundz, to name a few.
Debunking The Myths Of Crass#1: Crass's music is basically Punk-by-numbers! Not so; for me, Punk-by-numbers is the rubbish churned out by The Exploited, GBH, Discharge, Chaotic Dischord and Disorder etc. What Crass tended to play was more Post-Punk, often the bass would form the basis of the 'melody' and one guitar would form some sort of backdrop while the other would become almost a percussive instrument. Sometimes Crass would show that they really COULD play and would pepper their albums with piano ballads, avant-garde soundscapes, and acoustic folk weirdness.
"They sell us love as divinity// When it's only a social obscenity//Underneath we're all lovable!"
In 1981 Crass released what is my own favourite record of theirs, 'Penis Envy'. On this album ALL vocals were delivered by the two female vocalists, Eve Libertine and Joy De Vivre, and the album is pretty much an attack on the phalocentric media and it's depictions of women as nothing more than goddesses, mothers and whores. It contains some of my favourite Crass songs of all time such as 'Berkertex Bribe', 'Health Surface', 'Where Next Columbus?' and 'Bata Motel'. On some of these tracks the playing seems to have stepped up a gear; check out the Calypso introduction of 'Berkertex Bribe' or the eerie synthesizer on 'What The Fuck?'.
Second pressings of the album came with a new final track, 'Our Wedding'; this was an infamous prank played by Crass on a teen girl magazine called 'Loving'. Calling themselves Creative Recording And Sound Services they gave away a flexi-disc ('Our Wedding') with the magazine. The song features a sweet synthpop backing over which Joy delivers a simpering vocal parodying a young Bride promising to be forever true whilst all the while knowing her new Husband will soon be back out on the pull. Trust me, this could have been a chart hit!
"Good old Crass// Our make-believe secret society// Our bland passport to perversity// They're nothing but a caricature....and a joke!"
Crass's next statement of intent was their own 'White Album'; a double set called 'Christ - The Album'. Two full albums, a poster and a book entitled 'A Series Of Shock Slogans and Mindless Token Tantrums' all housed in a jet black cardboard box sleeve which resembled the monolith in '2001: A Space Odyssey'. This was seen by many as Crass's ultimate statement, an unrelenting, pitch-black slamming of the world in general. The problem for Crass however was that the album had taken over a year to record, mix and then produce in full, during which time Thatcher had instigated a 'war' against Argentina over sovereignty of the Falkland Islands in a bid to sweep back to power in the following year's General Election. By the time 'Christ - The Album' was released it was already seen as out of step and redundant. This forced Crass to reassess their whole recording strategy. Records would be released more immediately now, like news bulletins. All that aside, 'Christ - The Album' is still regarded as their masterpiece, containing many favourites like 'Rival Tribal Rebels Revel', 'It's The Greatest Working Class Ripoff'(an attack on Garry Bushell's racist OI! movement), 'Major General Despair', plus a couple of left-field avant-garde pieces, 'Sentiment (White Feathers)' and 'Birth Control 'n' Rock 'n' Roll'. And in 'Reality Whitewash' there was ALMOST a commercial sounding 'rock' song, an excellent downbeat and melancholic track dealing with a young wife chained to the kitchen while her spouse drives up and down looking for women, or being seduced by the models on the billboards.
Debunking The Myths Of Crass #2:They are a bunch of humourless tossers! Again, not true. This criticism seems to stem from their own opening lyric on 'Christ - The Album'; "Same old stuff, you've heard it all before// Crass being crass about the system or is it war?// We ain't got no humour// We don't know how to laugh// If you don't fucking like it...fucking tough!". There is a lot of humour in Crass, from the 'Our Wedding' flexi to singles like 'Merry Crassmass' and 'Whodunnit?'(on shit-brown vinyl), from tracks like 'The Smelliest Arse' and 'Salt & Pepper' to Gee Vauche's surreal artwork. If there hadn't been any humour they'd have been practically unlistenable!
"If it's a fight they want, it's beginning// Throughout history, we've been expected to sing their tired song// But now it's our turn to lead the singing..."
Almost as a direct response to missing such a target as the Falklands Conflict, Crass spent the rest of 1982 and all of 1983 singing about nothing else; 'Sheepfarming In The Falklands', 'Gotcha!', 'How Does It Feel To Be The Mother Of Thousand Dead?' and virtually all of their next album, 'Yes Sir, I Will'. 'Yes Sir, I Will' was their most extreme gesture to date, the album is practically one huge song stretched over two sides...this tested even their most loyal fans. I'm pretty sure I've only played it in it's entirety about three times.
"Surface agreements, statements of fact, trying to prove we can do it//But sometimes when I'm alone like this I wonder just who can see through it".
Crass always said they would cease in 1984....and they did. One more experimental album, '10 Notes On A Summer's Day' and a final single 'You're Already Dead'. This last single, excepting the shouty sweary opening 30 seconds, was their most commercial song to date. Over a polished sound Steve Ignorant pretty much raps the lyrics. The song is practically saying "We've tried all we can, but we've as good as failed", the lyrics bear this out; "By letting it happen without a fight// You're already dead, You're already dead!" and "Four hundred thousand people marched for CND//They're already dead, They're already dead!". On the last verse of the last Crass song Steve practically shrugs his shoulders and gives in, "In a world where the people can't make it//They've simply got to learn to break it// And if the wealthy aren't prepared to shake it...//O.K., we'll simply have to take it...".
And that was it!
Steve Ignorant would go on to join label-mates Conflict, whilst Crass founder and drummer Penny Rimbaud wrote and recorded spoken word and poetry albums, almost always voiced by Eve Libertine.
For me, Crass were a sorbet(I'm guessing the first time they've ever been described as such) between Adam & The Ants and The Smiths; cleansing the palate after the pantomimic fantasies of Adam before the emotional songs-as-lifeblood of Morrissey.
Pretty soon Griff and I turned our backs completely on Crass. We began to openly criticise them, to admit we had been wrong. We spoke angrily of their awful music and their dodgy ideologies, we bemoaned all those teenage hours spent listening to their appalling drivel when we could have been listening to far better music. Griff even once suggested we burn all their records as a grand statement, we weren't going to listen to them again anyway! Then, we eventually just stopped acknowledging them altogether. We would never speak of them, we became like the battle scarred of Paschendale, never alluding to what we had seen or heard....Crass no longer existed to us. For the next 20 years or so we would remember Crass only through gritted teeth and clenched fists.
The change back happened slowly. A few years ago I bought Rough Trade's 'Indiepop' collection CD which came with a booklet with stories and essays by such Indiepop players as Stephen Pastel, Everett True and Matt & Claire from Sarah Records. Most of the stories came from main compiler Sean Forbes though, and in his stories of Tallulah Gosh, The Popguns, Modesty Blaize and Lush etc, he mentioned over and over again that his favourite band of all time was Crass. Huh?? How can that be? How can anyone possibly like Sarah Records and Twee Pop AND like Crass? That doesn't work! That cannot be right! Then it dawned on us....of course it was right! It was us who had been wrong!
And as the dark clouds of the Cameron/Clegg Utopia descend upon us with it's twin leaders looking like a pair of Uberstumpenfuhrers from the Hitler Youth, with un-reality TV brainwashing the huddled masses, with glamour models and football stars treated like royalty, with huge spending cuts in the NHS whilst money is poured into weapons and surveillance equipment, with Murdoch's media empire educating the populace of Britain which way to vote, with a ghostly terrorist enemy being used to keep the public in line....the time has never been more ripe for Crass. In a previous Blog I remarked that tragically The Beatles aren't coming to save us this time, and neither are Crass....BUT, to the kids armed with guitars and computer software, they may not become the new Beatles but they CAN become the new Crass. Already we've seen Botched Fairytale claim Crass as an infuence and their songs already grasp the nettle, and as Griff wrote in his previous Blog, female post-punk bands are on the rise....we need the new Crass NOW. Looking at you all, I know one thing...we CAN win! I want you to sense you're own strength....go back to your constituences and prepare for Pop Music!
Crass are dead! Long live Crass!
"The rich are in their bunker, the poor are at the gate//Use our head to avoid confrontation// Our love to avoid exploitation// If the uniforms choose to stay// They'll have to learn to get out of the fucking way!"
And to finish off, perhaps their greatest statement: 'Bloody Revolutions'
"The truth of revolution, Brother....is Year Zero!"
Crass Personel 1977-1984: Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant, Eve Libertine, Joy De Vivre, Phil Free, N A Plamer, Pete Wright, Gee Vaucher, Mick Dufield
If your curiosity has been piqued by this Blog, you can download all of Crass's albums, just click on the titles below:
Feeding Of The 5000
Stations Of The Crass
Christ - The Album
Yes Sir, I Will
10 Notes On A Summer's Day
Acts of Love
Tuesday, 20 July 2010
Which brings me to one of my favourite Indie Pop singles of all time; 'Ask Johnny Dee' by The Chesterfields. This is a truly magnificent slice of late 80s Indie Pop, not too twee and not too rockist either. A 'Hard Days Night' style chiming opening chord ushers us in and suddenly we're dragged along on a strident current of driven guitars and drums. "Well, if you’d like to know what pop stars have for tea// Ask Johnny Dee// And in which motor car it’s safe to be seen// Ask Johnny Dee".
For those who don't know, Johnny Dee was(at the time) an up and coming music journalist who wrote for the NME and Smash Hits and would eventually end up writing music columns for The Guardian. I can only imagine that Mr Dee once wrote something VERY positive about The Chesterfields to gain such a sparkling eulogy in song.
The song itself is full of my favourite things; chiming, shimmering guitars, ba-ba-ba backing vocals(always a good thing), arch lyrics, and some fine tambourine shaking. And who is shaking the tambourine? I assume it's a girl.....why? Here's why; "Why don’t you tell me, tell me Mr. Dee// Tell me who is the girl who plays the tambourine// She just wants to be// Close to Johnny Dee". See what I mean?
There's a lovely underlying melancholic poignancy about the song which on recent listenings gives the impression that the song was looking backwards to a happier time, even though the subject matter was quite clearly current. I think this is why the song has remained a perennial in my 'favourite-songs-of-all-time' list. This is a song that can't help but make me dream....
Just listening to this song, I'm transported back to time when angst and unhappiness were still strangers, when I spent every day dreaming of being a Pop-star and wondering what the next record I was going to buy would be. Of excited, huddled conflabs in dingy pubs with friends discussing this week's NME and record releases; of intricate dissections of why The Eurythmics had been shite on The Tube and why Talulah Gosh should have been on instead. When the air always stank of hair gel, roll ups and cheap deodorant.
Around this time I came up with the idea of writing a screenplay for a movie that would encapsulate the whole Indie-pop era. Every other genre of music seemed to have a film(or films) of it's own, from punk to disco, from hip-hop to Ska, it was time for our generation's movie. The film was originally to be called 'The Girl Who Runs The Beat Hotel' and would look something in tone to The Comic Strip's short 'The Beat Generation'. Bobby Gillespie would play the owner of the said hotel, Winona Ryder would play the girl who arrives to take over(Sky Saxon would play her dad!), Stephen Pastel would play a record company executive, Jim and William Reid would play bellboys, Lawrence from Felt would play a mysterious entrepreneur in no way based on Andy Warhol, The BMX Bandits would be the house band, and there would be cameos from Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, Clare Grogan, Alan McGee, Hue Poohstick, Amelia Fletcher, Dan Treacy, Julian Cope, The Field Mice, The Vaselines, The Cocteau Twins and Mark E Smith would arrive at the end to evict everyone.
After I heard this single I changed the title of the film to 'The Girl Who Plays The Tambourine' but tragically, or perhaps thankfully, never got round to completing the screenplay. In fact, never got further than writing the title on a scrap of A4 paper.
Listening to this wonderful song releases all the emotive feelings I experienced back then, and makes me feel charged, creative and incredibly happy.
The interesting thing about The Chesterfields is that this song is the only one of theirs that actually sounds like it. Most of their output sounds like they're actually not taking the whole thing very seriously at all. The vocals on nearly every other track of theirs bar this one, are a bit irritatingly childish. I don't know if this song is sung by an alternative vocalist to every other song they recorded, but it certainly sounds different. One thing I do like about them though is that they called their debut album 'Kettle' purely so that they could get free publicity from Coronation Street every time Rita Fairclough said "Put kettle on, Love"....hahaha that still makes me laugh to this day.
So, to recap, not just a brilliant song, but perhaps the only good one about a journalist; "And would you like to know who’s No. 1 in our hearts// Johnny Dee!// Yes, Mr. Pop at the top of our charts// Johnny Dee// And would you like to know where we’re staying tonight// With Johnny Dee// And so is the girl who plays the tambourine!"
.....and hopefully she still is!
Sunday, 18 July 2010
While we're waiting for the newly politicized boys and girls of Britain to organise and eventually storm the barricades with spiky agitprop I want to give a little mention tonight to a young band from Göteborg in Sweden whose sound to these ears is reminiscent of some of the great post-punk pop of the past such as Delta 5 and, most especially, another of my own long-time favourites Girls At Our Best. Renée, Naemi and Teresa started playing together as Liechtenstein (pictured) in 2005. They released their debut 7” single “Stalking Skills” on Fraction Discs in 2007. In May 2009 their album "Survival Strategies In A Modern World" was released on Fraction Discs and Slumberland (US) on CD and 10". Bass player Naemi left the band in the summer 2009, and Ulrika took her place shortly after. Their latest single Passion For Water was released this month and the A-side is available as a free download from the Fraction discs website. It's a wonderful piece of bass-driven, girl-powered, punky pop and I urge you all to check it out.
It also gives me an excuse to give Girls At Our Best the Streetlamp video treatment for those of you too young to remember the heady days of the early 80s. Enjoy!
Like, for instance, 'On The Beach' by Finders Keepers.
In my opinion, 'On The Beach' is one of the great lost songs of the 1960s, a song that really should have had a long chart-life and become part of British Pop culture just like the songs mentioned in the first paragraph. But what do you expect when you shove such a fantastic song onto the B-side of poorer track? 'On The Beach' was the B-side of a rather bland song called 'Friday Kind Of Monday', released on Fontana Records in December 1967.
Let's skip the A-side and concentrate on it's majestic B-side....
Beginning with an ominous Harpsichord riff we're suddenly drawn in, "The beach was crowded// We bathed and made sand-castles// Everything was first class// Ice-cream vans glittered on the sand". What follows is a basically a list of things that the group do or see on the beach that day including donkey rides(for sixpence!!), honeymooning couples holding hands, the pleasure of walking on sand freshly dampened by the incoming tide, and then comes one of my favourite verses of all time; "Renting a speedboat// Tremendous attraction// People watch me pull in to shore// Girls by the score// They didn't know I'd only hired it// And in a short time it had to go back// (melancholy tone)To the man in the Postman's hat"....hahaha, I love it!!
The playing on the record is superb with three different time signatures; the intro and the verse are in different time, and then the change between the verse and the chorus, the part which begins "Walking on sand// Dampened by incoming tide" is quite a jolt but suggest this lot could really play.
Members of the band would go on to play in Deep Purple and Glam act Trapeze, but maybe if only they'd put this fine song out as an A-side they'd be receiving a healthy royalties pension every Summer. In fact, this song probably gets played more now than it ever did when it was released. Proof that our parent's generation knew nothing about music.
Keep Your Mind Open!!
Friday, 16 July 2010
'entertainment for the braindead' and 'Lady Lioness'.
'The Kat Cosm' is a project based around the twin song-writing talents of Sebastian Skalei and Jana Plewa (pictured).
The duo have two previous releases under their belts; 2001's 'Sophie Playing the Recorder at School' (Klangkrieg) and 2004's
'Knightboat' ( Klangkrieg/Staubgold).
After a few years break, Sebastian and Jana have spent 2010 working on a new album.
The good news is that it's due to be released this October. For those who can't wait until then, the better news is that we have a preview of some of the tracks for you today on Streetlamp and also that the whole album is available now as a free MP3 download 'here'. Hopefully that should whet your appetite for the release of the actual physical product.
The new album is entitled 'By Creatures They All Fear' and is a mixture of gentle, acoustic instrumentation combined with delicate, minimalist electronics. Both Jana and Sebastian write the songs, provide vocals, play guitar and every now and then try their hands at different instruments and devices. I particularly like the lazy, jazzy sounding guitar which features on several of these new songs. Overall, the Kat Cosm sound is probably best described as folktronica and should win fans among admirers of artists such as Juana Molina or The Long Lost.
The Kat Cosm - 01 Deep Down Stone by The Kat Cosm
The Kat Cosm - 02 Dezision by The Kat Cosm
The Kat Cosm - 04 the Fields by The Kat Cosm
The Kat Cosm - 10 Aluco by The Kat Cosm
The Kat Cosm - 12 Sandra by The Kat Cosm
Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Rosa Yemen was a Post-Punk performance art duo formed by Lizzy Mercier-Descloux and D.J Barnes. Their music featured short sharp bursts of atonal, distorted guitar over which Lizzy delivered equally frantic yelps and cries in French, often dealing with such subjects as sex, disease, modern angst, inner city grime and the collapse of western Civilization.
~My Favourite Track Of Theirs!~
Rosa Yemen were formed in 1978 after Lizzy and her partner Michel Esteban met Patti Smith and Richard Hell in New York. After settling in New York, Esteban formed ZE Records with Michael Zilkha. ZE Records would go onto release records for like-minded souls Suicide, James Chance, The Waitresses, Lydia Lunch and Was(Not Was) as well as Rosa Yemen.
After releasing an eponymous debut album, from which most of the tracks featured on this page are taken, they released a full album called 'Press Color' on which they started to adopt a more dance/funk approach; not dance as in disco, but in the kind of wirey, sinewy white funk of The Contortions, The Pop Group and James White And The Blacks.
After this Rosa Yemen pretty much faded-out and Lizzy embarked on solo career of more Disco-y dance music cultivating a passionate following in Paris and New York.
Sadly Lizzy succumbed to cancer in 2004 having left a considerable body of work including music, poetry, books and film scores.
If you've never heard of Rosa Yemen or Lizzy Mercier-Descloux before, I hope the fantastic tracks included here shed some light on why I love their music so much. The debut mini-album can be downloaded from here.
This is vital, urgent music, sexy and menacing at the same time. You can hear the influence of Rosa Yemen in contemporaries like The Slits, The Delta 5 and The Au Pairs, as well as bands like Young Marble Giants and all the way up to the Riot Grrrl movement.
Vive la Différence!
Sunday, 11 July 2010
Okay Hot-Doggies....Let's Go Surfin'!!
There was a time when I really hated Surf Music and all that it stood for and encapsulated. But all that changed almost exactly 20 years ago to the day; the day I listened to one of my favourite albums of all time for the first time. Who's up for a history lesson then?
Okay....let's go back to Tuesday the 3rd of July 1990, at the height of the World Cup known as Italia 90. I used to get Tuesdays off back then and I'd use those days to go to Glasgow to buy records. On this day I found myself in Tower Records and wasn't looking for anything in particular but found myself browsing the Nuggets/Pebbles Compilations section when I happened to spot Pebbles Vol 4. At the time I had Pebbles Vols 1-7 but had never been able to find the elusive Vol 4. Suddenly there it was! I quickly grabbed it and joined the queue at the till. Standing in the queue I decided to check out the sleeve to see who was on this volume. The first thing that raised alarm was that the album had a subtitle: 'Summer Means Fun'. Huh? It also had a silhouetted image of a surfer in the front. HUH?? I quickly scanned the back cover and realised to my horror that this was a volume of Surfing and Summer rarities....Oh God NO!!!! I hate Surf music!! All that stripey shirted, white teethed, high voiced harmonious piddle. To be honest, all I really knew was the Beach Boys who got played every Summer on Radio 1, but I hated them and their cheesy all-American whiter-than-white screeching. I was going to put the record back when I suddenly realised it was my turn to get served. Oh to hell with it....I'll just take it.
At night I watched the World Cup semi-final between Italy and Argentina. It finished 1-1 and went to penalties. Diego Maradonna scored the winning penalty and the camera panned to the face of Italian hero and talisman Toto Schilachi whose crystal blue eyes looked empty and haunted. Even though it was now after 10:00pm, it was still quite hot and stuffy as I went up to my room to listen to the dreadful rubbish I had bought earlier in the day. I had a bottle of Budweiser and put the needle onto the vinyl....
40 minutes later you could not kick the smile off my face! I sat there beaming, grinning madly having just listened to the most joyous and uplifting record I had ever heard. It was pure aural fluoxetine! I couldn't wait to play it again, and so I did, then again...and again. I just wanted to keep hearing it, it was like the greatest music I had ever heard. It immediately became one of my most treasured and loved records, something that still triggers the same emotions when I listen to it, though now with added nostalgia of my own for a time when I was still young and uncynical.
So lets take a closer look at the album and I'll pick my FIVE favourite tracks and we can all wallow together.....Race you to the beach....Surf's Up!!
1)'Summer Means Fun' by Bruce & Terry
Where better to start than with the first track I heard that night. This wonderful track hooked and dragged me in almost immediately. What struck me, as did most of these tracks, is that it was a little rougher, a little rawer, a little less polished than the Beach Boys tracks that I knew. But it just sounded so HAPPY. It all sounded like a foreign language to me; "So come on everybody, Grab your Baggys and Bikinis, cos' it's only just begun...", sorry? Grab what?
Bruce and Terry are Bruce Johnston and Terry Melcher, both veterans of the Surf Scene. Bruce Johnston would of course eventually join the Beach Boys proper, and Terry(son of Doris Day) Melcher would go onto become a successful record producer.
After years of listening to fairly morose, navel-gazing, existential Indie music, to hear something this joyous, frothy and upbeat was quite startling. I guess thanks to them my love of Surf Music began here.
2)'R.P.M' by The Four Speeds
Not technically a Surf song as a car song, but a briliant Summer sound complete with screeching tyres and revving engines. The Four Speeds weren't a proper band, but a studio project supervised by Surf Music legend Gary Usher who also sang lead on this track. The song also features Beach Boy Dennis Wilson on drums! The middle section with all the ooooh-aaaahh vocals over the revving engines is just fantastic. Every mix-tape I ever compiled for my friends after 1990 contained this track, I just think it's so exciting.
3)'New Generation' by The Trashmen
Yes...THE Trashmen....The 'Surfin Bird' Trashmen....here proving that they didn't have just the one brilliant track to their name. This track actually proves(as does 'Surfin Bird') that really fast Pop-music was around almost 15 years before The Ramones. This is a really superb track about how this generation has found new levels of excess in their partying. It's also one of the (very)few tracks to feature a hydrogen bomb explosion completely in context; "We're gonna go dancing every Friday night// And surfin when the sun comes on// Saturday night, we do it up right// You couldn't wake up Sunday with a hydrogen bomb!" KAAABBOOOOOMMMMM!!
The track on Pebbles Vol 4 which rounds off Side One, is mastered slightly fast and in glorious punchy Mono which gives it a real kick, the version from Youtube below is mastered at the correct speed and in fake Stereo making it seem a little flabby. If you want to hear it how it should be heard, try and track down the proper vinyl version of the Pebbles compilation.
4)'Thinkin' 'Bout You Baby' by Sharon Marie
So, onto Side 2 and here's where the King throws his crown into the ring; Brian Wilson turns up to show all the young pretenders how it's done.
So who is Sharon Marie? Well she was Brian's girlfriend at the time and he wrote and produced this beautiful gem for her. Brian's savvy is to slow everything down to a crawl accentuating the warm, harmonious melodies. The drum track is so louche and lazy it practically idles up to the rest of the music kicking it's heels. The vocal performance too is just perfect....how on Earth did this flop?
If you're thinking that you recognise the melody here, a few years after this was released Brian recycled the melody, sped the track up and re-wrote the lyrics calling it 'Darlin' and scoring one of the Beach Boys biggest singles.
99 times out of 100 I'd take the Sharon Marie version though!!
5)'The Fun We Had' by The Ragamuffins
And so my final choice is also the last track on the album. Brian Wilson once wrote a Beach Boys Christmas song called 'The Things We Did Last Summer' in which he list all the things that he, his friends and their girlfriends did during the previous Summer as they reminisce during a cold Winter. That's kind of what this track is like. It's a very poignant track beginning with a harpsichord riff(pre-dating 'Smile' by a couple of years!) and a really downbeat melody. The vocalist reels of all the things that mattered during the Summer as it comes to an end.
This is another studio band centered around Gary Zekeley who was another writer, producer, arranger who turned up on many chart discs. He really seems to be straining to reach the falsetto vocal which adds to the melancholy of the track especially on the final verse; "So long Baby, I'll see you soon// I'll be waiting until next June// Be good Baby, and don't forget// The fun we had last Summer// The fun we had last Summer".
Aaaawwww.....and there it goes....a perfect Summer captured on one perfect 12" slab of black vinyl.
There have been an abundance of Surfing compilations in recent years, but this really is the ONLY one you will EVER need. If you don't like Surf music then you're in luck because most of these tracks are by garage bands jumping on the Surf bandwagon; if you don't like garage music then the sweet harmonies and upbeat melodies may sweeten the rough edges.
If your listening pleasure leans rather too much towards Joy Division, The Cure, Radiohead and Tindersticks then you might be surprised by an album with the sunniest disposition imaginable.
If you are thinking of pursuing this album then I would have to suggest you get a hold of the vinyl version as it's Mono, slightly-too-fast mastering adds a sheen of vibrancy over the proceedings....and it just simply sounds better. If you can't find a copy on E-bay or at a record fair, you should be able to rip a copy from here
So what are you waiting for Gidgets and Moondoggies? Grab your baggys, wax up your woody and let's go hang ten on the ripcurl......I'm sorry I have no idea what I'm talking about!!
Catch A Wave!!
Keep Your Mind Open!!
Friday, 9 July 2010
First up is a reminder to check out the latest releases from WeePOP! Records. As promised previously, WeePOP!'s bumper summer of great music continues with EPs from folk-pop exponents Stars of Aviation and wistful, indie-poppers Let's Whisper. As always, the kind people at WeePOP! have provided a free MP3 track from each of the EPs for your listening pleasure. You'll find both on the release page 'here'.
Wednesday, 7 July 2010
It's all about sex you know!
No really...it is! Listen:
Early 1984, Interviewer; "It's been said that your songs are not so much 'love songs' as 'sex songs'..."
Morrissey; "Yes....though it sounds almost brutal, but....yes".
Ask anyone what The Smiths greatest album is and more often than not will come the reply 'The Queen Is Dead'. Morrissey and Marr both claim that it's 'Strangeways, Here We Come', but they're both well off the mark. For me, everything that is great about The Smiths, everything that raises them well above any other band or cultural phenomenon that has existed in my lifetime, is their eponymous debut album. Everything that, for me, defines The Smiths can be found within their debut album and the accompanying singles and B-sides....everything, in fact, pre-'Meat Is Murder'. From 'Meat Is Murder' onwards The Smiths became a different(though still magnificent) band, but
'The Smiths' offered something totally anomalous, something totally out of step with the times, something loaded with menace, longing, dread, lust and of course....sex.
But first, a bit of contextualising.
Back in mid 1983, when I was still at school, I saw the movie 'Here We Go Round The Mulberry Bush', a swinging 60s romp in which our hero played by Barry Evans(who would later find infamy as the teacher in the gruesome racist sit-com 'Mind Your Language') spent the movie trying to win the girl of his dreams and lose his virginity....though not necessarily at the same time. Through the course of the movie he gives a direct-to-camera running commentary, kind of like Michael Caine in 'Alfie'. A short time after this my folks decided I was old enough to watch mid-70s sex comedy 'Confessions Of A Window Cleaner', in which Robin Askwith as our hero Timmy Lea finds himself waist deep in sexual situations, again all the while delivering his thoughts to camera.
What, you may be asking has all this got to do with 'The Smiths'? Well, because of these films I imagined that my own adolescent fumblings would be accompanied by my giving some kind of running commentary to the waiting public. Obviously it wouldn't, but the reasons I fell in love with The Smiths is that the lyrical content, especially of 'The Smiths' sounded like the commentary I should have been giving.
'The Smiths' is an album full of sex.....straight sex, gay sex, bi-sex, underage sex, sex in cars, sex at the hands of a woman more masculine than the male protagonist, clumsy sex, sex that leads to unwanted pregnancy.....
It's an album that creates it's own world entirely, a perfectly contained world housed in bruise/lovebite coloured sleeve featuring a naked man. A world where Morrissey doesn't have too much of a past to conjure poetry from....you get the feeling that these are lyrics he HAD to write out of necessity rather than as a vocation. He still references school and the clumsiness of youth as though they were still occurring. These are the thoughts and words of a young man bursting to express himself in a way that would be incongruous to anything else happening in pop or rock at that, or indeed any time.
Back in the long cold Winter of 1983 my friends and I used to prowl the streets at night, bored senseless and literally busy doing nothing. We used to congregate at a cafe called The Fountain, an unglamorous greasy-spoon affair that no longer exists but which has become a fixture of our teenage folklore. Hence, it only seems appropriate that 'The Smiths' should begin with lumbering epic 'Reel Around the Fountain', a song that would take on a different meaning looking back. "It's time the tale were told// Of how you took a child// And you made him old...", not lyrics detailing child abuse as the right-wing press ranted at the time, but a gentle unfurling of the flag of manhood. Is it a kiss, is it sex that has made the child in Morrissey come of age? "15 minutes with you// Well, I wouldn't say no// Though people see no worth in you//....I do" The camaraderie of the outsiders....the love of the weird for the weird....YOU were young once, right? You know how it goes! "Reel around the fountain// Shove me on the patio// I'll take it...slowly" Remind me what this album is about again!
A crash of drums and we pound into 'You've Got Everything Now', Morrissey reflecting back to his school days when he was on top and his downtrodden companion wilted in his shadow. But now it's all change and Morrissey's jealousy and frustration at his former friend's good fortune leads to a perplexing infatuation that he struggles to handle; "But I don't want a lover// I just want to be seen...in the back of your car".
To my musically uneducated ears back in 1983 'Miserable Lie' sounded positively startling; a slow ponderous intro, "So goodbye// Please stay with your own kind// And I'll stay with mine", what is Morrissey's 'own kind' do you reckon? Then the song suddenly bursts into vibrant life, with a whole bizarre collage of clumsy, awkward, typical teenage sex; "Please put your tongue away// A little higher and we're well away" and "I look at yours// You laugh at mine// And love is just a miserable lie" This is followed by an insane coda in which Morrissey shrieks falsetto "I need advice// I need advice// For nobody ever looks at me twice!!" Surely the best use of Janov's primal scream therapy heard in music since John Lennon's scathing 'Mother'! It's often been said that this song along with 'Jeane' and 'Wonderful Woman' document Morrissey's infatuation with Linder Sterling.
And Morrissey's obsession with strong women continues into 'Pretty Girls Make Graves' in which Morrissey finds himself at the hands of a woman who is "...too rough// And I'm too delicate", a brave statement for any rock star to make unless they are fully prepared to dodge the brickbats of lazy, prejudiced opinion. As Morrissey's companion begs "Give in to lust//Give up to lust// Oh heaven knows we'll soon be dust ... " Morrissey refuses and watches as she goes off with another man. When you're 16, clumsy and shy, to hear someone actually put all this into the words of a pop song is incredibly liberating and inspiring. It's songs like these that, on hearing them at the right time, changed my DNA...Songs That Saved Your Life? You bet!
At this point I realise I haven't mentioned Johnny Marr yet, but with the next track it's impossible not to. 'The Hand That Rocks the Cradle' is quite unlike anything else from that time, it features no chorus or middle eight to speak of, just a continuous guitar pattern over which Morrissey delivers a stream of consciousness tale of wanted/unwanted pregnancy, childhood and parenthood(what it's certainly NOT about is child abuse....is it, Garry Fucking Bushell??) Morrissey takes on the role of a (possible) parent looking in on the cradle which may contain his baby son and we're suddenly immersed in some of the most beautiful lyrical poetry; "Ceiling shadows shimmy by// And when the wardrobe towers like a beast of prey// There's sadness in your beautiful eyes// Oh, your untouched, unsoiled, wonderous eyes// My life down I shall lie// Should restless spirits try// To play tricks on your sacred mind// To tease, torment or tantalise" Oh frabjous day!! Oh joy!! Some of my friends mock or fail to understand my devotion to Morrissey and/or The Smiths, but I still recall the first time I heard this....it made me cry then, and it makes me cry now.
(If you're expecting 'This Charming Man' next then you obviously don't have the original vinyl version of the album. TCM was only included on the WEA CD reissues)
Side Two then....
How do I begin to write about 'Still Ill'? 'Still Ill' is THE song, the hook that ensnared me and pointed my life in a different direction. Truth be told, 'This Charming Man' is one of two songs that changed my life entirely; the other is 'Dog Eat Dog' by Adam & The Ants but I'd have to write an entire spiel about that song to try to explain why. 'This Charming Man' alerted me to The Smiths, the road to Damascus moment, but it was 'Still Ill' that sowed the seeds of a second heart.....one that would only ever beat or break for The Smiths. I can still recall when I first heard it....the John Peel show, early 1984...he'd just been given a copy of the album and played 'Still Ill' for David 'Kid' Jensen who WAS ill at the time. When Morrissey's voice first comes in, my entire life stopped in it's tracks....the old 'me' was gone, the new 'me' had arrived. That life affirming refrain, "Under the iron bridge we kissed..." OH Yessss!!!! Stirling is full of old bridges, iron or otherwise, and our lives seemed forever cast in their shadows....all teenage life was carried out under those bridges; underage drinking, messy fumblings, swaggering braggadocio, broken hearts and skinned knees.....Sore lips? We could but dream.
Morrissey has often regarded 'Hand in Glove' as the most important song he ever wrote and it's position as The Smiths' debut single(again housed in a twilight purple/grey sleeve with a naked man upon) bears this out. "The sun shines out of our behinds", their arrogance is not misplaced, "Yes we may be hidden by rags// But we've something they'll never have" ....once again, love amongst the outsiders.
Another single, 'What Difference Does It Make?" and another song seething with pent up lust. The way Morrissey growls "Oh, the Devil will find work for idle hands to do" followed shortly by "And now you make me feel so ashamed// Because I've only got two hands" you have to wonder just who Morrissey is attempting the dual-backed beast with....and more to the point, why does he need so many hands? Even though this was released as a single, The Smiths grew weary of the song very quickly and it disappeared from the live set after only a few plays. Still....that coruscating guitar intro gets me very time.
Let's jump a song now(which we'll come back to) and let's look at the closing track, 'Suffer Little Children'. Again, quite remarkable in it's set-up, no verse-chorus-middle-eight-brake-fade here, again Johnny Marr conjures a piece of extraordinary music leaving all peers in his wake. And Morrissey's lyrics? Well, these are the lyrics that convinced Johnny that he had a partner of equal genius here. Aaah, Morrissey and Marr....together as beautiful as a sunrise....apart, occasionally as ropey as an old cardigan. In 'Suffer Little Children' Morrissey exorcises his own personal ghosts by dealing with the Moors Murders, a crime which he was a potential victim of, given that he lived in that area at that time and was only 5 years old. Of course, the right-wing gutter press went apoplectic, again shrieking about child abuse, but Morrissey had pre-empted this and sought the blessings of the families of the victims, which he was granted. A tender, gorgeous ending to a remarkable album.
And there's still one song we've not spoken of....
There was a time that if you asked me my favourite Smiths song I would have replied 'Sweet and Tender Hooligan' but I think I was just trying to be a little clever. Then, for many years, it was 'Well I Wonder' from 'Meat Is Murder', a song that could easily have sat on this album, so beautiful, striking and exquisitely played it is. But, in truth, my favourite Smiths song is 'I Don't Owe You Anything'. No other song EVER captures my youth, my teenage frustration and exhilaration's like this one does. In our teenage years, my friends and I seemed to forever prowling the streets, doing nothing, going nowhere....just being. We'd walk the frozen pavements lit by the orange streetlamps, ill-dressed for the plummeting temperatures but uncaring. What were looking for? Where were we going? Was some great revelation about to be disclosed to us? Who knew? When my musical cohort Griff and I formed ~Sighrens~, one of the first lyrics Griff wrote was called 'The Last Of The Lights' which dealt with this very subject. In 'I Don't Owe You Anything' Morrissey is out on his own streets and his words resonated deep within me. "Bought on stolen wine// A nod was the first step// You knew very well what was coming next"; well maybe not stolen wine, but certainly underage purchased Merrydown Cider! "And did I really walk all this way// Just to hear you say// Oh, I don't want to go out tonight..." This is where it get's me...all those nights, walking to friends or a girl's house just to be casually knocked back...."...Oh but you will// For you must", and it's that tremor in Morrissey's voice on the word 'must' that does it! He knows that this is a time in which EVERY night is important, every night is an adventure, every night will be recalled and spoken of as the dulling grey of adulthood descends. In your mid/late teens EVERY night is SO important....OF COURSE they are going to come out with you....for they must!! "Too freely from your lips// Words prematurely sad"....more tear stained poetry far, far beyond his contemporaries, "You should not go to them// Let them come to you// Just like I do...", sage advice Steven, that way you don't look like an idiot and face constant rejection, I wasn't just listening, I was learning. And then, "Life is never kind// Oh, but I know what will make you smile tonight", and it's the way he quite audibly grins during this line that brings us back to what this album is all about.
'The Smiths' is easily the most played record in my entire collection, and time has been very kind to it. Some people used to argue that 'Hatful Of Hollow' was the better album as they believed it's lighter touch made it more palatable....Poppycock!! 'HOH' is whimsical and slender compared to it's dark, drunken, dangerous, delirious brother; it's leaden pall covering it like that first aching hangover. 'The Smiths' is a bruise that never fades, a keratoid scar upon my soul, a recollection of when my heart was full of hope and my head full of hormones. When I walked the streets with a layer of frost on my jacket and the taste of Revlon lipstick on my tongue. When a pop band could batter you senseless and leave you weeping on the pavement.
The most important album of my lifetime?
You've really have no idea...........