Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Songs About People # 216 George Orwell

Chancing upon this, a tribute to Orwell from Datblygu, or perhaps otherwise, (I've no idea seeing as it's sung in Welsh), has led to a morning of listening to more of the band's splendid records and John Peel sessions from the eighties and nineties. Forerunners of Gorky's Zygotic Mynci and Super Furry Animals who both paid fulsome tribute to their influence. Greatly worthy of further investigation to the uninitiated.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 866 Jackie DeShannon

August 30th 1935 John Phillips

Twee # 12 The Modern Lovers

Covers # 81 Lisa Miller

And her version of White Rabbit from the same album is not at all bad either.

Song(s) of the Day # 954 Lisa Miller

The fact that this 1967 album Within Myself  was made by an eleven year old girl probably has disqualified it from the credibility it merits over time. It's nevertheless a very fine record. Miller had already recorded sessions for Motown's VIP subsidiary. She's an assured performer and these are two finely arranged and delivered tracks.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 148 Don Woody

On a Bank Holiday special hour of great, obscure Rockabilly records, this sounded mighty fine!

Things Found on my Local's Jukebox # 150 Weather Report

A fairly long Monday Bank Holiday session this one. This was a highlight of my time on the jukebox and a very fine tune!

Album Reviews # 66 The Lovin' Spoonful - Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful

        The Lovin' Spoonful are well remembered and greatly revered of course for the significant part they played in the history of Rock and Roll. Only not as an albums band, but as a singles one. This is partly because their key years, 1965 to 1967 were played out during the transition in emphasis between those two formats. Partly also because of the sheer eclecticism of their output. While contemporaries such as The Beatles, Kinks, Beach Boys, Dylan, Byrds, Love and Doors focused their energies on the long as much as the short player, (or increasingly towards the former), the Spoonful, (sorry that contraction of their name is unavoidable), churned out a series of LPs between these years that remain great collections of songs while never quite cohering as whole statements in the way that would lead them to find their way into the lists of great albums.

This is a shame but no surprise. The band consistently leap from one vibe and mood to the next on record and while this produced a whole clutch of songs that were the equal of any of their peers, the subsequent lack of a classic album has perhaps precluded them with the passing of time from laying their claim among the true big-hitters of the period. 

This though would be a misreading and an injustice, because that's where they belong. In terms of song for song merit their recorded output is fit to stand against anything released from that glorious period. Largely due to the sizable songwriting talent of leader John Sebastian although they were very much a band in the proper sense, the loose, carefree playing is the other genius ingredient in the mix. They seem to embody a certain joy and innocence that surfed its wave most obviously between '65 and '66 and perhaps shifted towards a certain seriousness and engagement with a greater sense of imminent danger during '67 which in turn led to the darker and more obviously politically charged '68 and '69 both in terms of historical events and in the general tone of much of the pop and rock music of the time.

Appropriately, Hums of the Lovin' Spoonful which is the record I've chosen to write about here was recorded in late '66 but released in January '67 just as this gradual transition started to kick in, which would lead to the break up of the band with the crucial departure of Zal Yanovsky, the huge mouthed sparring partner of Sebastian who contributed so much of the madcap joy that made them such a force.

Still, though the Lovin' Spoonful's essentially light touch prevails. In the words of Bob Stanley, who understands these things and fully recognises their greatness:

'The Lovin' Spoonful looked as if they'd turned up stoned at a jumble sale and hastily assembled what they took to be a beatnik Beatles look. All clashing spots and stripes, they were droll, human and a lot of fun. Folk, blues, jazz and rock'n'roll were all thrown into the mixing bowl. 'We call it Good Time Music because we have a good time,' said singer John Sebastian. even more than Dylan, Spoonful were Americana, only with barely a hint of  pretence or anger. Every song was coloured in with felt tips; they were cartoons for grown-ups.'

The cartoon quality of their output is immediately evident from a cursory listen to almost any of their records,  be they singles, B Sides or albums. The Lovin' Spoonful were free from care in a way that very few of their contemporaries truly were. Their records just float, defying gravity. You might get a similar feeling from listening to Monkees records for whom the Spoonful might well have acted as a template, just as much as The Beatles did. Sebastian generally wrote, sometimes with co-writing credits to his bandmates but they swapped turns at the mic in a loose and happy democracy that didn't seem set to last and sadly didn't.

Hums and its preceding album Daydream are probably interchangeable in terms of quality. Not a bum track anywhere. Even the slightly throwaway stuff, such as Henry Thomas from Hums earns its slot as part of the greater whole because listening to the records you get a sense of the whole immense, spontaneous thrill it must have been to be in the Spoonful in '65 or '66 or as the next best option, to being one of the four, to see them live.


Hums like Daydream is twelve songs long and isn't really an advance as such on the band's sound as everything was pretty much in place from the off. It has a couple of their more reflective songs and two of my own personal favourites in Rain on the Roof and Coconut Grove. It has Summer in the City, their biggest hit and a shining example of how it's possible to get poetry to Number One.

Occasionally, on 4 Eyes or Voodoo in my Basement, things take a bluesier slant and Spoonful show they could have given the Stones or Creedence a run for their money had they chosen that slant. But their's is always a lighter, poppier disposition and they're off to the next track before you know it. It's all tribute to Sebastian's restless happy talent. As Clive James wrote of him, 'Randy Newman is the only man who has outstripped his brilliant lyric technique,'  The Los Angeles Times  described him as ' One of the very select group of songwriters, including also John Lennon, Ray Davies and Brian Wilson, for which the term genius doesn't seem like a publicist's wild notion.'

So Hums is not an album as such so much as a collection of small, visionary moments. Vignettes. All shots at the Great American songbook .It's all here whenever you need it, whenever you forget what it felt like to be seventeen and need a reminder. In Bob Stanley's words again, (he clearly loves the group):

'John Sebastian favoured steel-rim glasses and worn denim. He was born and raised in Greenwich Village, which made sense: his songs all sounded as if they were composed on a New York fire escape, five storeys up.'

Sadly, they were not built to last. Hums was pretty much their final important statement:

'Then Sebastian wrote Darling Be Home Soon, a fragile daisy chain of a song. 'I've been waiting since I toddled for the great relief of having you to talk to.' It was beautiful enough to make you shudder. But it was not goofy in any way and, to Sebastian's horror, a disapproving Yanovsky gurned and clowned his way through a TV performance of it. Less than two years on from their first single and they were splintering. Worse soon followed: Yanovsky and Boone were caught holding drugs, and Yanovsky was threatened with deportation if he didn't identify his dealer - which he did. A Rolling Stone magazine-sanctioned boycott of the Spoonful followed. Yanovsky was sacked but the damage was done. In late '67 Sebastian wrote a sour, tired single called Money aimed at the band's management, and they wisely split before things got cynical and boring.'

And we're left with the records. Their first three albums are all essential, plus a Greatest Hits. For their peak two years they were as good as any band's been before or since. Maybe not one for the holier than thou hipsters, but they don't always get things completely right!

The last song on Hums is called Never Goin' Back. There's no need for them to ever do so although core members Joe Butler, Steve Boone and Jerry Yester still tour fifty years on in a reconstructed Spoonful that Sebastian sensibly keeps his distance from. They're best remembered as they were in '65, '66 and early '67. Preserved in visionary aspic.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 867 Manu Dibango

29th August 1963 Liz Fraser

Twee # 11 The Velvet Underground

And if there was a seed from which Vivienne, (posted below), germinated, it was almost certainly this. The two songs that Mo Tucker sang for The Velvet Underground, this and I'm Sticking With You have a small legacy all of their own. Yes, she's not singing in tune. Yes, that's the whole point. You get the impression that the Velvets were always having fun. But here they're making no bones about it!

Song of the Day # 953 The Cannanes

Sydney band who formed in 1984 and are still going which deserves some kind of award for dogged perseverance. This single, which came out five years after their inception, has a brittle, imperfect beauty, which conoisseurs of these things will immediately recognise and appreciate. There's something of the sensibility of the Go Betweens here which is fitting as the band's drummer David Nichols went on to work as a music critic and publish a very fine biography of that particular band.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Songs About People # 215 Mary Queen of Scots

'Mary Queen of Scots, wasn't very hot. In her wedding gown...'

Eugenius, a fine Scottish band who emerged from the ashes of The Vaselines and then Captain America when they were forced by a possible court injunction to change their name. Eugene Kelly was praised to the high heavens by Kurt Cobain who also covered a couple of his songs. Eugenius returns the favour here as there's definitely a strong flavour of Nirvana to the song. It's difficult to imagine what the actual Mary Queen of Scots might have thought of it all however.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 868 Love

'L.A's baddest sixties group - not necessarily good-bad-but-not-evil, either. Singer Arthur lee had the glare and leer of Jimi Hendrix, and if that didn't give him equal brilliance, he was at least up to making some of the nastiest garage rock going. Before he became an acid visionary that is.

Love's My Little Red Book, a Dionne Warwick melody that had been a British hit for Manfred Mann, probably ranks as the sleaziest job anybody ever did on a Bacharach-David song. The static guitar riff, the rudimentary bass bomp, the tambourine and shakers all do their best to compensate for the lack of a really good drummer while Lee yowls on about losing his girlfriend and getting out his little red book (Hugh Hefner told me those things were supposed to be black but apparently Burt and Hal never got the word - or maybe they were Maoists), and chasing around town like a dog in heat. Which is ridiculous but that's okay because when Lee starts to gabble ' All I did was tahlk, tahlk abo-out' cha,' he's hooked you for life.'

Twee # 10 The Smiths

Morrison to Morrissey. One of The Smiths superlative moments, a signature tune, and an alternative national anthem and manifesto.

'Provided The Smiths (the debut album) with some of its most memorable soundbites. Its disparate verses cover a superfluity of Morrissey's fundamental lyrical ideals; droll ennui, comical hypochondria, the anti-work ethic, thorny patriotism and the lamentation over lost loves and times past.'

It's all here. Morrissey, never wrote a better, more explicit lyric. You could write a chapter on the particular emotional state it describes and what it's getting at. If you love this, you'll love The Smiths. If you don't, you surely won't!

August 28th 1942 Sterling Morrison

Song of the Day # 952 Big Eyes

This post contains cliches, but given its subject matter that's almost inevitable. New Jersey's Big Eyes play tight badass Rock and Roll the way they used to. The Runaways, Joan Jet and Suzi Quatro are not generally top of my playlist, but this is the well they draw on and they do it impeccably well. Recently released album Stake My Claim, is a thing of needle sharp economy and melody. Ten songs, not one of them breaching the three minute mark. Leader Kate Eldridge steers the ship with unerring determination and conviction. They'd be some band to see live. Here's the title track.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Songs About People # 214 Jean Cocteau

         Leftfield British oddballs Be Bop Deluxe who veered throughout the seventies between glam, electronica, pop and heavy metal pay tribute to French maverick genius Jean Cocteau who veered for over half a century between poetry, film, art and the stage. This comes from their 1975 album Futurama.

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 870 The Supremes

'The Ronettes once alleged that the best part of breakin' up is in the makin' up but you could never prove it with a jukebox. Second chances apparently aren't within the province of rock and soul. After all you and I could name hundreds, if not thousands of songs about getting together and falling apart, but there are damn few classics about getting back together.

Holland-Dozier-Holland delivered such a song to the Supremes, the first of Motown's many jokes - you know the kind of thing where they put out Someday We'll Be Together and then announce The Supremes were splitting up, or gave Dave Ruffin My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me), as his first single after leaving The Temptations. Here, Diana swears her love affair deserves a second chance because she was swindled out of him the first time through the advice of her (real life) friends and partners Mary and Flo, who it turns out are having their own romantic problems, so who are they to say that Diana's guy is a bum? (since her real life guy at the time was Berry Gordy, the answer should have been as obvious as their last royalty check.

Anyway HDH were so taken with their success here that they used fundamentally the same melody for The Supremes' next single Nothing But Heartaches and paid the price: Back In My Arms had been the group's fifth Number One in a row, and Heartaches broke the string.' 

Twee # 8 The Desperate Bicycles

All 58 seconds of it. Late seventies Bristol-based indie and DIY Punk pioneers who took their name from a 1930s J.B.Priestley novel Angel Pavement.

'Turning into angel pavement from that crazy jumble of buses, lorries, drays, private cars and desperate bicycles.'

This is the one with the legendary 'It was easy. it was cheap. go and do it!' sign off line.

August 26th 1948 Valerie Simpson

Song of the Day # 950 Dinosaur

Early Arthur Russell and Nicky Siano production from 1978. So much happening during the course of this. 

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Songs About People # 213 Bing Crosby

An early calypso song fromTrinidad in the thirties, later covered by Van Dyke Parkes on his 1972 pastiche album Goodbye America. This stuff is very difficult to beat. The lyrics are a joy.

Covers # 80 The Belmonts

The Belmonts, (bereft of Dion), do George. From their rather wonderful 1972 album of covers, Cigars, Acappella and Candy. Here they throw in She's So Fine  into the mix though Harrison may not have thanked them for it. At round about that point he was being taken to court and eventually to the cleaners by The Chiffons' lawyers.

Twee # 8 The Kinks

Terry meets Julie...

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 871 Little Anthony & the Imperials

August 25th 1954 Elvis Costello

Song of the Day # 949 Lee Ranaldo

Not a cover of the Michael Jackson song. Instead Ranaldo playing it straighter than he generally does in Sonic Youth. A bit more more vulnerability than we're used to. A beautiful, melodic Rock love song.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

August 24th 1955 Jeffrey Daniel

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 872 Sly & the Family Stone

And a third example of  songs so good they sound like they were written with children's ears in mind,.Here's the b side to Everyday People.

Twee # 7 The White Stripes

While we're on the subject of two minutes without a second wasted. This is on the trailer for Juno but not the final soundtrack remarkably, even though it might have been written with the film in mind.

Song of the Day # 948 Skeeter Davis

The time that Carole King spent in the Brill Building churning out song after song in the early sixties was one of the most culturally invaluable periods of nine to five in human history. It's the fact that so many of these tracks sound like pieces straight off the production line that make them fascinating listening. But then there are the melodic twists within the best of them where they force an emotional response from you despite the fact that you might feel at the same time you're being manipulated that transcend them from the ordinary. This happens here during the second melodic shift beginning, 'I got mad at you last night. When you were holding another girl last night' which is so good that it doesn't need to be repeated. The track is two minutes and seven seconds in all. I bet she and Gerry Goffin enjoyed their tea break after that. If only we were all so productive!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 147 Adam & the Ants

Incredibly Post Punk and not a band you'd have anticipated having Number One hits within a couple of years of this. So much going on here. Oh and it namedrops Buddy Holly.

Things Found on my Local's Jukebox # 149 Cliff Richard & The Shadows

'and the silver stream, is a poor man's wine...'

Cliff, despite spending most of his long career sailing straight down the middle of the road in terms of his records had a few, definite golden moments. This was one of them, giving a great impression of what it must have felt like to be young and happy in Britain in 1966, (though it actually sounds as if it should have come out a few years earlier, perhaps an indication that Cliff and The Shadows had become stranded by the incoming tide of beat groups). Still, it sounds just great. A slice of '63 in '66!

Twee # 6 The Sundays

August 25th 1959 Edwyn Collins

The Heart of Rock and Soul # 873 Larry Williams & Johnny Watson

Can't find a link to the original but here's a cover.

Song of the Day # 947 Susan Christie

Philadelphia based Folk singer. This, from her 1969 album, Paint a Lady, sounds a remarkably close relative to Nick Drake's Day is Done.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Songs Heard on the Radio # 146 Luiz Gonzaga Jr.

A Brazilian special on Sunday night radio from Giles Peterson and pretty much all of it sounds great. This caught my attention. From a 1973 album.

Songs About People # 212 Giordano Bruno

Sixteenth century Italian Dominican friar, philosopher, mathematician, poet and astrologer. Suggested that stars were really distant suns with their own planetary systems. Tried for heresy for questioning central Catholic doctrines, he was burned at the stake in 1600. In general, a remarkable historical figure and I'm grateful to Australian band Sherlock's Daughter for bringing him to my attention with the opening track of their most recent album, 2012's Hunter. The whole record is quite wonderful!

August 21st 1952 Joe Strummer