Thursday, 21 July 2011
I’m back – and I’m very annoyed! No, not with The Queen for once or even the Spice Girls for once but with this stupid computer. Yes, dear readers, DellBoy Mark III is back home, but with half the hard drive space, no graphics card and a CD/DVD drive that’s worked sensibly for fewer hours than the Coalition. I’m particularly angry that my webcam now seems to be non-existent, just when I’d written a great script for my first online ‘news, views and music’ video for Youtube. Alas, having commissioned him to do it already, I’ll have to keep Max the Singing Dog’s salary of bones and top hats up high until it’s made. At least bingo’s drunk his wages already! Soon I shall be hitting the phones (for a third time in a month!) and complaining – but in the meantime enjoy the (all too brief) return of some decent graphics!
Another thing that’s annoyed me this week is the media and Coalition pilloring of Charlie Gilmour, the adopted son of the Pink Floyd guitarist, who was in trouble for the grand crime of – shock, horror – throwing a bin during a demonstration. Even the passengers in a passing car (Prince Charles and Camilla) said they were a bit shocked but understood the anger on the streets and weren’t pressing charges – so how come the future of a promising 21-year-old has been ruined by a sixteen month prison sentence? While News International gets away with murder – well, not quite literally, but they’ve interfered in murder cases at least. And the amount of suicides from people facing poverty, loss of benefits or the destruction of their savings mean it should be Cameron and his cronies in the dock. If ever there was a microcosm of everything that’s wrong with life under the Coalition...
On a happier note,
♫ Beatles News: Full marks to BBC One and the ‘Imagine’ team for their illuminating insight into the Lennons and their time in America (shown last Tuesday at 10.45pm). There’s really not much we don’t know about this period but the production team still managed to pull out a few gems, from Lennon’s studio chatter to Yoko’s home movies of him with a newly born Sean and the rare ‘ten for two’ benefit concert footage (the ‘John Sinclair’ rally). Together with the usual stories well told (and contributions from Yoko, May Pang, Elton John, producer Jack Douglas and various members of Elephants Memory) this is the best Beatles doc we’ve seen since – ooh – perhaps the similar ‘US vs John Lennon’ in 2006!
In other new words, seasoned director Martin Scorsese continues his recent run of music films with a biography of George Harrison. The two part special is due to be screened on an American channel sometime in August, with a DVD of it due to be on sale in the UK on October 10th. Rumour is there will be a book to go with the untitled project too. Let’s just hope it’s a bit more entertaining than his Rolling Stones concert film ‘Shine A Light’!
♫ Beatles/CSNY/Simon and Garfunkel News: A couple of months ago we mentioned that a new book, ‘Fire and Rain’, was coming out featuring no less than three AAA bands (and James Taylor) to tell the troubled story of 1970. As the most popular year featured on our website there’s a whole host of good stories to tell and writer David Browne tells them well. Sure, we know the Beatles story pretty well by now but even the fall-out over ‘Let It Be’ is given new perspective, thanks to an opening chapter where Paul, George and Ringo reunite to re-record ‘I Me Mine’ at the last ever Beatles session (till 1994 at least) and then go their separate ways, with a chapter dedicated to each. We learn much about Paul Simon too, doing his best to hide from the mega fame of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and retreat into himself, offering up a course on song-writing that gets mixed results while Garfunkel changes his first name to ‘Arthur’ and tries to make a new life for himself in films. It’s the CSN/Y chapters, though, that are the book’s biggest revelation, with spot-on portraits of the four musicians and their many ups and downs over the course of 1970, from Crosby losing his girlfriend in a car crash, to Stills moving to England to escape being kicked out of his own band, to Nash splitting with Joni Mitchell to Young’s sudden disappearance and mega-stardom with the start of what will become ‘After The Goldrush’ and the death of Danny Whitten. Now, ‘Fire and Rain’ isn’t perfect by any means. The book could have done with more and better pictures and the choice of lyrics for the chapter titles seem idiotic in places (‘Gone your way, I’ll go mine’ and ‘a feeling I can’t hide’ make less sense than, respectively, ‘rejoice we have no choice but to carry on’ and any lines from ‘Let It Be’ or ‘The Long and Winding Road’ respectively). And I struggle to understand what James Taylor is doing here, seeing as he wasn’t in a band, his star was rising not falling across the year like the others and, good as he is, he’s hardly in the same league as the other three. But I love the way the book has been divided into seasons, not bands (as three out of the four experience a relatively happy winter and turbulent autumn) and the links between the bands, whether its Macca in the audience wondering when CSNY are going to show up, to the Nashville session-man who worked on ‘Beaucoups of Blues’ joking with Ringo that his voice is the perfect fit for ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’! Recommended. Now, let’s hope there’ll be more books like this, especially for the years 1966, 1967 and 1969...
♫ Kinks News: What an interesting night last Friday was. Dave Davies got a whole documentary to himself, made by the exact same production team as the Ray Davies ‘Imagine’; special at xmas (ie Julian Temple and Alan Yentob) and the contrast to the first doc and the personalities of the brothers couldn’t have been more different. Ray spent his whole time talking about The Kinks and his relationship not just with his brother but all his family and the whole of the band – it took Dave 12 minutes to mention his brother and a good half hour to mention ‘The Kinks’ by name. Ray began his discussion seated behind a broken down piano in an old village hall which was the first place The Kinks ever professionally played (as ‘The Ray Davis [SIC] Quartet’). Dave showed us round his new homeland in Exmoor, wandering around the moors where he’s found peace since his stroke of 2003 (which, Dave being Dave, never even got a mention there were so many things to talk about). There was even a great finale where Yentob asked Dave if there was anything in his life he’d want to change; despite coming after a scene where a still unstable Dave falls over he replies adamantly ‘no!’ The same question was out to brother Ray last year – and he claimed there wasn’t a thing he wouldn’t change! ‘That sums up the two of us quite well!’ said Dave, with a chuckle. The result was similarly moving to the Ray Davies doc, if a little bit rambling – again, this was a second doc very much made for fans who know the story inside out, rather than casual fans who probably got more than a little lost. Still, Dave always was a very good interviewee and it’s nice to see him closer to full health than we’ve seen for a while, plus as a bonus we got to see even more of the teenage Davies brothers as filmed at a family get together circa 1962 (as seen briefly in Ray’s doc). Quote of the doc? The late great Pete Quaife in 1996 telling us that ‘we had Jimi Hendrix down one end of the stage – and Noel Coward up the other!’
The highlight of the night, though, was the ‘Kinks at the BBC’ doc. The show dispensed with the usual suspects (‘You Really Got Me’ TOTP 1964, Waterloo Sunset TOTP 1966, Lola TOTP 1970, ‘Got Love If You Want It’ Beat Room 1964) within the first 10 minutes, leaving the way clear for some clips that haven’t been seen since the day they were broadcast (a live vocal TOTP version of ‘Apeman’ from 1970, ‘Cuppa Tea’ from the Old Grey Whistle Test 1973, a raucous ‘Till The End Of The Day’ from 1973, ‘The Informer’ from 1993 and ‘To The Bone’ from Ray’s ‘Storyteller’ show on Jools Holland 1995). Fascinating! Let’s hope the Beeb devote a second hour to The Kinks because there’s at least as much BBC footage in existence – and still no showing for the old afternoon play starring Ray ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Piano Player’! The night ended with repeats of the Ray Davies clip and the excellent ‘Brothers’ documentary from the late 90s, featuring Oasis, The Beach Boys and Dire Straits as well as the Davies brothers. BBC4 like to repeat their triumphs ad infinitum, so if you’re a Kinks fan keep your eyes peeled (talking of which, you can see the Ray Davies ‘Imagine’ doc in the early hours of next Tuesday, July 19th).
♫ Simon and Garfunkel News: I’ve finally got hold of the 40th anniversary set of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ (released back in May – some seven months after the actual anniversary!) and I’m impressed. I’ve never been a big fan of this album – to me it’s the weakest of the five S and G produced between 1964 and 1970 – but suddenly,when put together with the extras on this set, it makes perfect sense as the tonic to a troubled country in one of its most troubled years. Whatever your take on ‘Bridge’ (a mishmash of styles with no rockers up to the standard of the ballads or a near perfect sequence of arrangmenets and singing) the album glows better than ever thanks to the presence of an extra CD full of 17 live recordings from several shows taped in 1969 (only two of which have been heard before, on the ‘Best Of Simon and Garfunkel’ compilation) and an excellent companion DVD. We non-American fans have read about the TV special ‘Songs of America’ for years, a fascinating mix of S and G rehearsing in the studio and backstage at concerts and newsreels of that turbulent year set to the duo’s songs. The whole thing was so controversial the show’s original sponsors A T and T pulled out and the show was given a screening on a minor channel where –in Paul Simon’s words – it got pasted by a figure-skating show in the ratings. Much of it is boring – long, drawn out sequences of bland highways and destruction and confusion that is old to us now but was oh so awfully new at the time, with even Paul’s comments about ‘last year’s Woodstock festival’ seeming like they should belong in a different century not just another decade. Much of it is revealing too – ‘Bridge’ has never sounded as strong as it does accompanying shots of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King and their respective funeral cars and trains, whilst hearing ‘America’ from the ‘Bookends’ album, usually a hymn of innocence and longing, set to a backdrop of a smoky grey industrial broken-down America gives the song a whole new slant. We also learn much about the duo themselves – the booklet and accompanying documentary may claim they were getting along well with the same sort of atmosphere but all I feel is tension, Simon pulling a face at Garfunkel’s haughty claims of knowing how to sing perfect harmonies and speaking over his partner with a diatribe about how Beethoven wrote his own rules about harmony. Garfunkel’s ‘Then Beethoven was a fool!’ might be said in jest, but the hurt look on his face suggests there’s more significance to the conversation than meets the eye. The show is awfully close in style to ‘Let It Be’, with the same sense that a generation and not just a duo is breaking up before our eyes and the voyeuristic nature of the cameras capturing arguments means we don’t know whether to stare or hide. There’s a fascinating modern-day documentary too featuring S, G and engineer Roy Halee where bygones and bygones and the troubled waters are past, but still featuring some revealing stories, such as Arty spending eight sessions struggling to get the first verse to ‘Bridge’ right, before spending his lunch break in the grounds of a huge church, filling himself with spiritual vibes that allowed him to nail the vocal on his return. It may not be the best album ever made but ‘Bridge’ finally feels like an album worthy of the weight its always been afforded with this three-part package, well worth the reasonable £12.99 asking price. Now where are the anniversary editions of ‘Parsley, Sage’ and ‘Bookends’?!
ANNIVERSARIES: Happy birthday to our dearly missed AAA men born between July 18th and 24th: Clarence White (guitarist with The Byrds 1968-72) who would have been 67 on July 19th and Keith Godchaux (keyboardist with The Grateful Dead 1973-79) who would have been 63 on the same day; also John Lodge (bassist with The Moody Blues 1967-present) who turns 68 on July 20th and Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam who turns 64 on July 21st. Anniversaries of events include: CSN release their prestigious and much loved eponymous debut album (July 18th 1969); One of Otis Reddings’ last projects, with Carla Thomas, ‘Tramp’ reaches the charts (July 19th 1967); Simon and Garfunkel begin their first reunion tour, which will break down in recriminations a few months later (July 19th 1983); Jane Asher shocks the music press by announcing her six-month long engagement to Paul McCartney is off, after the couple have spent nearly five years together (July 20th 1968); 4000 fans unable to get tickets to a Beatles show in Blackpool rush the arena and the Beatles have to get flown in by helicopter (July 21st 1963); The Beatles’ first American album ‘Introducing...’ is released on the small label Vee Jay Records. It becomes the only Beatles LP ever to miss the charts in America! (July 22nd 1963); The Dire Straits’ first eponymously titled record hits the LP charts (July 22nd 1978); Four days after his 31st birthday Grateful Dead keyboardist dies in a car crash (July 23rd 1979) and finally, Jefferson Airplane receive their only gold disc for ridiculously high sales of their second album ‘Surrealistic Pillow’ (July 24th 1967).
So, anyone for tennis? The Beach Boys actually – and they weren’t the only AAA musicians with sport on the brain. So this week, to celebrate sports season, here are ten songs related to sports of all shapes and sizes, in strict chronological order. What a racket! (in the song about tennis we mean, of course!) Oh and an interesting fact for you – there are no spice girls songs about sports. Even those sung by sporty spice. I always said that band wasn’t fit!
1) Karate! (a song from the Beach Boys demo tape 1961, later issued as ‘Lost and Found’ in the late 1990s): As far as I know none of the Beach Boys were karate experts, which might make the choice of this inoffensive instrumental number seem an odd choice – until you remember that only one of them actually liked surfing anyway! The Beach Boys sound pretty mature for a bunch of 14-20 year olds on most of the other ‘Lost and Found’ recordings – but not here; Brian’s shrieks of the title aren’t that convincing and even younger brother Carl sounds like he’s just borrowed his copy of the sheet music from someone rather than a song he’s used to playing. Still, in common with the other recordings, this is pretty darn impressive for the pre-Beatles era and delivers a few kung-fu kicks to what else was around in the early 1960s! Does it sound like people doing karate? Err no, it sounds like a bunch of young dudes surfing!
2) The Boxer (a song by Simon and Garfunkel, included on their ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ album, 1970): Is boxing really a sport? Not here – it’s a way of life Paul Simon seems to be saying – with the title character pretending he can throw off everything life has to throw at him, whilst revealing glimpses of how hurt he really is every time something goes wrong. One of S and G’s greatest songs, this hymn to overcoming obstacles was recorded in various different places on umpteen different sessions and how they got the whole thing to work so seamlessly together I’ll never know. Every ‘thwack!’ on the drums really does sound like being in a boxing ring, but two people whacking great lumps out of each other was never as artful or meaningful than here.
3) Cricket (a song by The Kinks, sung by ‘The Vicar’, from their rock opera ‘Preservation Act One’ 1973): This is a curious song by The Kinks which really interrupts their tale of corruption and politics in the village green. It’s sung by the ‘vicar’, a character we never hear of again and who isn’t one of Ray Davies’ more successful characterisations. His very English song is here to remind us that life is like a game of cricket, that we should always play by the rules and beware the spin-bowling given by the ‘devil’ and his followers (‘Beware the demon bowler!) Actually there’s quite a good extended metaphor to be had here, what with life and temptation trying to knock us off our safe perches, but it’s a puzzling song in the context of the rock opera and is something of an irritant seeing as the ‘rock opera’ has only just started getting into its stride. Does it sound like cricket? Yes, but only the most leisurely paced drizzling three-day event type!
4) Channel Swimmer (a song by 10cc, the B-side to their ‘***’ single, 1976): 10cc man Graham Gouldmann will go on to spell his end with the band working on a solo spin off album all about a bunch of cartoon animals at the Olympics, so it’s no surprise that even early in his stint with the band he’s delivering a song about the sport of swimming. This song, which like all the early 10cc B-sides never appeared on album, is a typical number of the time with the narrator moaning about all the awful little things happening to him – the solitude, cold water and uncomfortableness – before ending with the slightly bigger factor that he can’t actually swim. With it’s regular beat and fluid guitar lines, this song does sound a bit like the art of swimming – but it’s the early heats of a steady stately marathon rather than a frantic 50m race.
5) Night Game ( a song by Paul Simon, from his 1975 album ‘Still Crazy After All These Years’): When asked what he most wanted to be if not a musician, Paul Simon once said he’s like to be a baseball star. It’s been a passion that’s run across much of his life (the musician in his ‘One Trick Pony’ film bonds with his son by playing baseball with him) but only once in song, with this curiously sombre piece about death. In the song a baseball team seems to be facing a rout, until you realise that the ‘two men down’ aren’t just poor players but actually dead, with the pitcher reverently given his uniform and shoes while in the grave. The idea is that the ‘in the moment’ feel of being involved in a sport happening in front of you is juxtaposed against time passing and the oldness of the stadiums in which the sport is played, which will outlast even the heroes who play inside it. Does it sound like baseball? Erm, not unless the grim reaper is playing the game!
6) Roller Skatin’ Child (a song by The Beach Boys, from their 1977 album ‘The Beach Boys Love You’): From the sublime to the ridiculous, this is the fun side of the Beach Boys, with a stomp that mimics their earlier surfing records and the Brian Wilson-written Jan and Dean ode to skateboarding ‘Sidewalk Surfin’. The chorus line of ‘well oh my oh gosh oh gee, she really sets chills inside of me’ says where this song is going, as the narrator falls in love with a girl on skates. Dire Straits, of course, did their own hymn to skateboarding with ‘Skateaway’ – who’d have thought rollerblading would have been so popular in music? Does the Beach Boys effort sound like roller skating? Erm, sort of, at a rollerskating party perhaps!
7) The Matchpoint Of Our Love (a song by The Beach Boys, from their 1978 album ‘MIU’): The ultimate AAA sports song – a whole song about how the end of a romance is like a tennis match! Brian Wilson was on something of a health kick at the time, forced on him by the band’s ‘minders’ in order to bring his weight down – something which might explain this and the last track – although quite why he chose to make tennis his latest metaphor for dying love is anyone’s guess. Brian takes a rare lead vocal on this track, suggesting he was quite close to it, but sings it so so straight – is this a joke a la ‘A Day In The Life Of A Tree?’ or ‘HELP Is On The Way?’ (as in ‘you broke me just like a serve’). Or a heartfelt admission that his marriage to wife Marilyn was falling apart? (as in ‘No one could ever love me like you do?’) Does it sound like tennis? Well, not really, but there is a regular rhythm and lyrics about the two lovers responding to what each other does which could be heard in tennis terms. Really, though, music this slow makes it sound more like a chess game! See also the 10cc video for ‘Oomachasdooma (Feel The Love)’ which plays out the tennis match/romance scenario for real (the pun in the video is that the players ‘feel’ the ‘love’ score – ie they haven’t got anything on the board yet! And if you think that’s confusing, wait till you actually see the video...)
8) Faster (a song by George Harrison, from the 1979 album ‘George Harrison’): Is it a bird? Is it a wasp? No, that funny buzzing sound you hear at the start of the song is George Harrison’s big extracurricular passion (no not gardening, the other one!) formula one. What a sport, as your AAA scribes can tell you, full of daring, intelligence, interesting characters, man with machines – and that’s just in the mechanics garages! Like many of the songs on this list, the sport is used as a metaphor for something bigger, with the bravery of the driver going out and driving fast whilst ‘living life in circuses’ juxtaposed against the bravery of his loved ones, helplessly watching events unfold onscreen. George, a real fan of the sport, is seen in the promo video being driven around Brands Hatch (back then the home of the British GP) by multiple champion Jackie Stewart, said to be George’s main inspiration for this track. One other little known fact is that George helped pay for Damon Hill to become an F1 driver, after his multiple champion dad Graham’s death left a financial hole – a fact the 1996 world champion Damon only revealed after George’s death.
9) Stars of Track and Field (a song by Belle and Sebastian from their 1996 album ‘If You’re Feeling Sinister’): There he was, playing discuss ‘for Liverpool and Widnes’ (poor bloke), with the starstruck weak-kneed narrator calling him and other athletes ‘beautiful people’. He thinks that that much commitment must take real talent – the hours of ‘empty training’, literally running nowhere – but is disappointed when he speaks to his idol and finds he only became famous in order to win sponsorship money and wear ‘Terry underwear’ for free as part of the deal. Yet another hero dies young because of all the extra exhaustion she puts her body through, ‘she had the moves, she had the speed, it went to her head’. But her head, too, is empty, her only qualifications coming from sleeping with the head of the college. As the chorus re-asserts, are these athletes really ‘beautiful people?’ Or are they only beautiful on the outsides, not on the inside? A fade in, a short burst of adrenalin and then a rather painful-sounding ending where all hell breaks this loose, this is pretty close to what running used to be like for me, although the song fades before the panting and wheezing finale.
10) I Don’t Want To Play Football (a song by Belle and Sebastian from their 2002 film soundtrack ‘Storytelling’): That Stuart Murdoch really didn’t like sports did he? To be fair, though, he was quite a successful boxer when he was at school so can’t have been that out of condition and in this case at least this song isn’t from the heart but written to accompany a film. Sung to the sweetest tune possible, Murdoch tells us ‘I don’t understand the rules of the game, catching, throwing, taking orders from a moron, I’d rather play a different kind of game...’ Hmm, blue army! Does it sound like football - again yes, but only the way I play it, slowly, haphazardly and with a tendency to fall aprt just when things are getting interesting. We also have to add here the presence of a real live footballer, Paul Gascoigne, on a remake of Lindisfarne’s ‘Fog On The Tyne’ which made #2 in the charts. Even more shocking, I actually bought a copy just to hear the B-side which features a sample of Alan Hull and Marty Cragg singing the title hundreds of times over, set to a horrible 1990s disco beat. Fog on the Tyne? Mine all mine? You can keep it sonny! Now what can I substitute for this record?!