Friday, 5 November 2010
♫ Hello again and welcome to another eclectic, eccentric and downright electrifying ‘News, Views and Music’ newsletter full of, well, news, views and music. All your usual columns are here, along with a very important discussion about the early primeval stages of psychedelia (well, it’s very important until it turns into a rant about The Spice Girls anyway!) In our website news we had so many visitors on one day last week (Thursday) that the site crashed – sorry about that, hopefully we’ll have the money to do something about it soon but thankyou to the sudden rush of visitors that caused us to jump from 2203 to 2232 in 24 hours. I’m also heading off on a course this week to learn about the ins and outs of becoming self-employed. I can’t wait...Meantime, happy reading!
♫ Beatles News: There’s yet another new Beatles book out this month, although unusually in this Lennon anniversary year it focuses on Paul McCartney’s life. ‘FAB: An Intimate Life Of Paul McCartney’ is better than it’s title apparently, offering a good contrast to Barry Miles’ extended interview with Macca first released in 1997. This is the first new biography since wife Linda’s death, taking in five truly variable albums, two classical music creations, a book of poetry and another of paintings and the whole Heather Mills debacle, although AAA fans should be given the warning: this book sounds like a similar one to the Albert Goldman and Geoffrey Guilliano Beatle biographies, too focussed on dishing the dirt on our beloved musicians rather than their music.
Another, perhaps more lasting, addition to the Beatles book shelves is the long-awaited book of photographs by the (then) fab five’s Hamburg friend, arguably the first outsider (along with friend Klauss Voormann who often gets overlooked these days) to believe in The Beatles as much as they did themselves. She even became engaged to one of them – bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, who sadly died in her arms of a brain haemorrhage barely a year before The Beatles’ first release. Many of these photographs have been seen hundreds of times before of course (perhaps the most famous is on the front cover of John Lennon’s ‘Rock and Roll’ record of 1975) but Beatles fans can never see them often enough – some others are far rarer, including one that’s already got reviewers of this book talking: a fragile looking John and George standing in Stuart’s room just after his death looking at his paintings. Definitely one on my Christmas list – the full title of the book is ‘Astrid Kirchher – A Retrospective’ and it’s edited by Matthew Clough and Colin Fallows.
Look out too for a new documentary on Wings’ ‘Band On The Run’ which is finally being issued this week as the debut release of the new Paul McCartney reissue series (see the last few news and views newsletters). The programme was broadcast on ITV at 10.15pm and features (alas all too brief) unseen footage of Paul, Linda and Denny Laine recording the album in Laos and London and the usual shots of the trio organising their ‘renegade’ album cover with some famous friends (including regular Hollies collaborator and the first ever Beatles cover artist Kenny Lynch). The show saw Macca on good form, speaking at length about his experiences making the album in Lagos including a few stories I’d never heard before (who knew ‘Jet!’ was about a pony? I’d always been led to believe he was a jet-black Labrador with a story about suffragettes in there somewhere). On the downside interviewer Dermot O’Leary was too in awe of his subject and yet still hadn’t done his homework (how could you possibly believe Linda was a professional musician before joining Wings, great and under-rated singer that she was?!) and Denny Laine continues to get ignored in a documentary about a trio for goodness sake! Still, overall a nice addition to the Beatles archives and it’s nice to see the under-rated ‘One Hand Clapping’ footage used on something officially for the first time (barring a brief snippet of ‘Bluebird’ on the ‘McCartney Years’ box set).
And finally in our Beatles news, John Lennon will be featured on a new £5 coin after winning a poll to find Britain’s favourite Briton (worth, bizarrely, £45 – why didn’t they just make it a £45 coin?!) The Lennon in late Beatles pose picture looks to me like the one from the withdrawn ‘Roots’ album that became ‘Rock and Roll’ in 1975 (strange choice, that), but Lennon’s distinctive features seem to suit the limited edition legal tender well.
♫ Hollies News: The Yesterday channel are repeating some classic Top Of The Pops 2 shows as a double bill in their midnight slot from last week into the foreseeable future, most of them seeming to date from the 2002 period (and so complement nicely the later shows repeated by the channel Dave last year). The best find so far was last Wednesday with the rare 1969 clip of ‘Gasoline Alley Bred’ featuring a very young looking Hollies with new member Terry Sylvester on only his second single. The band were singing live but playing over a pre-recorded backing tape, making this a must for all Hollies fans with the ability to find old programmes on the web.
♫ Human League News: Well, strictly speaking this is all ‘Heaven 17’ news, the trio formed from the splintering of the first Human League album circa 1981. Classic debut album ‘Penthouse and Pavement’ is to be reissued at long last, although annoyingly I haven’t yet heard what the bonus tracks on the set will be. For those who need a reminder, this is the album that spent over a year on the charts in the 1980s and was split into a down-to-earth ‘pavement’ side and a funky, polished ‘penthouse’ side. The band – or two of them at any rate – were also seen on Jools Holland’s ‘later’ programme last week, plugging the new release with performances of the album single ‘We Don’t Need No Fascist Groove Thang’ and the later classic ‘Temptation’. The Human League, meanwhile, are putting the finishing touches to their first new album since 2001, ‘Credo’, due out before Christmas. More news if and when we hear it...
♫ Kinks News: ‘See My Friends’ is the proper name of the Ray Davies collaborations CD we began to tell you about last issue, a sort of cross between a duets CD and a covers album. Lots of new faces that you lot will probably recognise but I’ve done my best to avoid include Paloma Faith, Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and Gary Lightbody, although I have heard of this album’s biggest selling points Bruce Springsteen and Metallica (surprisingly there’s no Noel Gallagher, though, despite the obvious debt of songs like ‘The Importance Of being Idle’ to The Kinks katalogue). Tread carefully, though – most reviewers reckon this album is even odder than it sounds (and even for Ray and his recent addiction to church choirs it sounds really really odd).
♫ Oasis News: Hmmm, all the green-inked groups seem to be up to something this week...latest Oasis book news is that much derided first drummer Tony McCarroll is putting his side of the Oasis story from rags to riches across and it’s meant to be quite at odds with how Noel Gallgher has been telling things. The drummer – unfairly dismissed after some sterling work on the first Oasis album ‘Definitely Maybe’ – was famously thrown out for ‘having the wrong kind of hair cut’ and was infamously buried alive on the promo for the band’s ‘Live Forever’ single. However, reviewers have said that the book is surprisingly nice and angst-free for the most part, with Noel and the allegedly unreliable bassist Paul McGuigan coming under fire but Liam and McCarroll’s replacement Alan White getting nothing but praise. An intriguing stocking-filler for Oasis fans this Christmas (assuming you have big feet of course, as this is yet another coffee table book).
♫ Pentangle News: Bassist Danny Thompson has at long last been given his due by the younger crowd, with Manchester-based muso Jon Thorne dragging him out of semi-retirement for the title track of new album ‘Watching The Well’, out in early November. And that Pentangle BBC6 session we told you about (broadcast last Saturday in the early hours) was actually a three-song set from the band’s last days in 1972 and much rarer than we expected, made up of three song’s from the band’s rare last album ‘Solomon’s Seal’ (‘The Snows’, ‘Lady In Carlisle’ and a particularly lovely ‘People On The Highway’).
♫ Rolling Stones News: A good week for solo Stones releases! Ronnie Wood releases his latest solo album next month, ‘I Feel Like Playing’ whose informal title harks back to his debut ‘I’ve Got My Own Solo Album To Do!’ The song getting most interest at the moment is ‘Forever’, a song written in 1974 when Ronnie was in the process of joining the Stones but left unrecorded till now.
And Keith Richards’ new book ‘Life’ is causing more controversy than any Stones release since the 80s, what with its Brian Jones and Mick Jagger-damning anecdotes (the former was ‘selfish’ and the latter ‘possessive’ apparently) and its unheard stories about just how Keef did end up going out with Brian’s girlfriend and – unheard till now in any official tome – how he ended up bedding Mick’s long-term girlfriend Marianne Faithful for ‘revenge’. Reviews have been good, despite the rigmaroles the writer and publisher have put people through (you have to read the book in a locked room without taking any notes, apparently) and its meant to be a very ‘Keef’-like book, full of hazy memories and examples of the shy young boy from London being ‘swayed’ by extreme feelings based on whatever the band, the fans, family or music are doing to him. This is, of course, only the second Rolling Stones memoir and its meant to sit in great contrast to Bill Wyman’s fascinatingly detailed but curiously detached book ‘Stone Alone’. To tie-in with the book, The Culture Show dedicated a special to Keef which was shown on Wednesday, October 28th at 7pm (and should still be available on BBC I-player). It was an entertaining programme, if only for watching Keith come out with a response which had absolutely nothing to do with the question being asked, although some of the anecdotes – such as Keith’s early childhood in a bomb-hit London in World War Two – were fascinating. Keith’s also much kinder about his fellow Stones than he is in the book, although I don’t quite buy the idea that it was all ‘affectionate criticism’!
Finally, the Stones Top Of The Pops 2 Special from 2002 was repeated on the Yesterday channel last Monday, although alas most of the linking speech was trimmed to fit in the advert breaks. Nice to see the rare promo for one of the band’s better modern songs ‘Love Is Strong’, though, complete with the memorable image of a 100 foot Charlie Watts playing drums on a housing estate!
ANNIVERSARIES: Hey! Ra! Ra! Happy birthday to this week’s bumper crop of AAA members (November 3rd-9th): Bert Jansch (guitarist with Pentangle 1968-72 and various reunions) who turns 67 on November 3rd, Lulu (singer) who turns 62 also on November 3rd, Art Garfunkel (a quite different kind of singer) who turns 68 on November 5th and Gram Parsons (guitarist and much more with The Byrds in 1968) who would have been 64 on November 5th. Anniversaries of events include: The Beatles wow mums and dads at their one and only Royal Variety appearance, telling those in the more expensive seats to ‘rattle yer jewellery’ (November 4th 1963); The Beach Boys’ legendary single ‘Good Vibrations’ enters the UK chart on it’s way to #1 (November 4th 1966); The Who’s Quadrophenia tour suffers yet another blow when the pre-taped section ends up playing out of synch with the band, causing Pete Townshend to physically attack the group’s sound man mid-gig (it’s not his fault by the way) (November 5th 1973); The Beach Boys manage the surely unique feat of making #1 in the UK charts in the same week 22 years apart – with ‘Good Vibrations’ in 1966 and ‘Kokomo’ in 1988 (November 5th); Bill Graham puts on the first of his many legendary ‘Fillmore’ shows starring AAA members Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane, the former before they even have a record contract (November 6th 1965); Paul Simon comes out of retirement with his first concert for five years (November 6th 1980); The Rolling Stones break the record for the most money earned for a single concert (£108,000) after a gig in Los Angeles, beating the previous record: The Beatles at Shea Stadium (November 8th 1969); The Human League officially split into two – Phil Oakey keeps the band name and gains two cocktail waitress singers whilst synthesiser experts Ian Craig Marsh and Martin Ware form Heaven 17 (November 8th 1980) and finally, David Crosby officially leaves The Byrds, to be replaced for a matter of weeks by his old colleague Gene Clark and leaving Crosby free to form CSN (November 9th 1967).
♫ Hmm, so psychedelia – that must mean the ‘summer of love’, right? All Monterey Pop, Sgt Peppers and Magical Mystery Tours? Well, not necessarily. Whilst 1967 will always be heralded as the heyday of all things psychedelic, movements don’t just suddenly erupt out of nowhere overnight. So this week we’re looking at the pioneering songs that set the tone early on, back when flowers were things that you found only in gardens and when hippies were still the things that connected your leggies together. And we come up with some very surprising finds about who the earliest ground-breaking flower powery artists were...
5) The Who “Circles” (AKA “Instant Party”) (First released under the former name as the b-side to single ‘Substitute’ 2/1966): Noisy psychedelia doesn’t come any better than this disorientating track about how the narrator is trapped between needing his love in his life and falling out with her big time. Circles play a big part in 1967-68’s music (The Small Faces had green ones, George Harrison had colliding ones, The Monkees saw one in the sky), partly because they were the most interesting looking shapes used in the ‘acid light shows’ of the psychedelia set (Pink Floyd, et al) and possibly partly because of the idea of everything being possible to the youngsters of 1967 reinventing ‘the wheel’ and claiming the shape for their own. Or perhaps they just thought it looked groovy! Anyway, this song’s music suit its psychedelia-ish words, featuring a droning backing similar in style to eastern ragas and a drenched-in-feedback disorientating sound that was still deeply unusual in those early months of 1966. It took a cover version by one-hit wonder Fleur De Leys to fully exploit this song’s psychedelic sound, however, one well worth seeking out by curious Who fans even if it can’t match the sheer oomph of this original. The fact that this fine song was relegated by The Who to a B-side (and one with a very troubled history when their old producer, Shel Talmy, used it as the scapegoat for this publishing dispute with the band and re-issued his own mix of the song on the back of the A-side ‘Substitute’, renaming it ‘Instant Party!’ against the band’s wishes) shows just how great Pete Townshend’s songwriting was back in 1966 – and needed to be, too, given how many great psychedelia classics are waiting just around the corner...
4) The Beatles “The Word” (First released on the album ‘Rubber Soul’ 12/1965): The word, for those who don’t know, is love. Unusually for this list it’s ‘The Word’s lyrics rather than its melody or production values that set it out as being an early example of psychedelia. And what a psychedelic bunch of words they are too: a slight tongue-in-cheek spoof of gospel, this song is all about ‘spreading the word’ of love so that humanity can delight in its togetherness. A rare example of the Lennon/McCartney partnership in full flow (it’s arguably the last 50/50 track until late 1967’s B-side ‘Baby You’re A Rich Man’) the pair celebrated their new found song by writing out this song’s lyrics in brightly coloured crayons – very psychedelic! (The lyric sheet was later given away by Lennon for charity). Musically, this track is very much in keeping with the fab four’s increasingly more sophisticated-sounding pop of 1965 and is played by their usual line-up of instruments, despite the fact that the Beatles had already single-handedly invented most of the sounds of 1967 (feedback on ‘I Feel Fine’, long guitar solos and tape loops).
3) The Beach Boys “The Little Girl I Once Knew” (First released as a single 11/1965): It may have been the Beach Boys’ biggest flop since 1962, but this little known single arguably paves more of a way towards the ‘Pet Sounds’/’Smile’ recordings the band will go on to be most famous for than any of their better known material. Lyrically, it’s not that different to earlier Beach Boys records, albeit still light years ahead of most songs from the mid-60s – the narrator’s girl has changed since they started dating, growing more mature with every passing day while he wants to stay as a teenager and its causing a big rift between them (it’s a logical extension of Brian Wilson’s jaw-dropping 1964 song about aging ‘(When I Grow Up) To Be A Man’). This forever-changing personality is a key part of the song, though, transforming herself with such regularity that the narrator is left gasping for breath the second time he ever sees her, after ignoring her the first. Musically, though, it’s the start of a whole new species of songs, the sort that are out to confuse the listener and take them somewhere else rather than merely enforce or reflect what they feel, complete with sudden jolting full stops (part of the reason why this single sold so badly was that radio DJs objected to this song’s few seconds of dead air) and it’s lurching switch between jolly nursery rhyme singalong chorus and verses of desperate grief. Very psychedelic, in other words, and an obvious stepping stone towards the sounds of 1966-68, even though it is yet again all played on conventional instruments.
2) The Kinks “See My Friends” (First released as a single 30/7/1965): Ray Davies was inspired to write this beautiful single after The Kinks played a rare show in India and the elder Kink brother was inspired by the sitar sounds he’d never heard in close proximity before (the same time George Harrison came across the instrument while filming ‘Help!’ , although his experiments with the instrument won’t make it to disc until December that year). This Kinks single doesn’t actually feature any unusual instrumentation outside the two guitar-bass-drums set up, but its droning one-note vibe is clearly inspired by Eastern music and its haiku-like lyric phrases are much closer to summer of love gobbledegook than 1965’s folk-rock boom. The subject matter – betrayal and jealousy – aren’t exactly perennial psychedelic themes but no matter, this song is still clearly
1) The Searchers “He’s Got No Love” (First released as a single 16/7/1965): Bet you didn’t see that coming! But as far as our research goes, the earliest example of the sort of spaced-out, groundbreakingly freeform and other-worldly sounds goes to The Beatles’ baby brothers who have for too long been forgotten for their pioneering work. The band never got much chance to show off their stuff in the ‘summer of love’ when they were at their most unhip, which is a terrible shame given how much this band grows between late 64 and early 66. This flop single ‘He’s Got No Love’ – released at the same time as ‘Help!’ and ‘My Generation’ - sounds much closer in spirit to 1967 than 1965 with its world-weary vocals, smothered production sound and feedback-filled chiming Rickenbacker guitars. The sound of this song also fits nicely with the theme of isolation and despair –not a traditional psychedelia subject, perhaps, but there are lots of examples of it out there on later, much better known summer of love songs. Above all, this song ticks the boxes of sounding other-worldly, transcendental and downright different compared to everything else around at the time. Ha, bet The Spice Girls don’t even know what psychedelia is (or how to spell it!) – hmm, I’ve just got an image of hearing the new Spice Girls reunion single ‘I wanna huh with flowers on’...