Friday 9 December 2011

News, Views and Music Issue 124 (Top Ten): AAA Instrumentals

Someone recently asked on ‘Yahoo Answers’ (a second home for a musical anorak like me) what Stones instrumentals there were. After writing an essay (as I’m wont to do) about how the end of ‘Can’t You Hear Me Knocking?’ might be considered an instrumental but that the Stones only technically did three released in their lifetime (‘Stoned’ ‘Now I’ve Got A Witness (Like Uncle Phil and Uncle Gene)’ and ‘2210 Michigan Avenue’, all early in their career) I got to thinking: what are the best AAA instrumentals around? Here are my answers, with nominations also for The Beatles ‘Flying’ and ’12 Bar Original’, The Byrds’ ‘Captain Soul’, Oasis’ ‘Swamp Song’, Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Spare Chaynge’, Alan Hull’s ‘STD 0632’ (named after the synthesiser he was using!),  multiple McCartney B-sides and the five other ‘jams’ from ‘McCartney’ not listed here, John Lennon’s ‘Beef Jerky’ George Harrison’s ‘Greece’, Simon and Grafunkel’s ‘Anji’, Paul Simon’s ‘Papa Hobo Blues’, various Floyd film soundtracks and ‘Interstellar Overdrive’, Neil Young’s ‘Emporer Of Wyoming’ plus various film soundtrack moments and the kings of them all, The Beach Boys, who released over a dozen instrumentals in the 1960s alone. Note: for these purposes, David Crosby’s vocalised but wordless songs, such as ‘Tree With No Leaves’ and ‘Tampalpais High’ have been discounted, partly because unlike the other examples here there are vocalists (even if they’re just going ‘aaah’) and because otherwise I’d have no space left to add any other songs. Ditto Pink Floyd’ ‘Great Gig In The Sky’ for the same reasons.  I’ve also sadly had to discount The Beach Boys’ ‘Fire’ because, well, the Brian Wilson one isn’t quite as amazing and the Beach Boys’ original technically never came out! (include it as #2 on this list if you think it counts!)

10) The Beach Boys “Moon Dawg” (a track from the album ‘Surfin’ Safari’ 1962):

There are so many surfing instrumentals on all Beach Boys albums up to and including ‘Pet Sounds’ that its easy to get a bit blase: oh no, not another bit of filler, given that the band had to make four albums a year and were running low on ideas, that kind of thing. Back here, on the first album, Brian hasn’t got into his songwriting stride yet and is clearly finding it hard to cope with no less than four instrumentals on the album. But ‘Moon Dawg’ shines head and shoulders above the rest, with a fully committed band who;ve finally ‘got’ the knack of getting their surfing sounds down on tape and is taken at one heck of a lick which must be unique among rock and roll records in 1962. For pretty much the last time for five years, this is just the band members playing on this record and its a driving rocker, built around a nifty Carl Wilson surf lyric, some classic Beach Boy harmonies and some pretty impressive dog impressions. It’s Dennis’ drumming that’s the revelation though – told just to go as fast as he can, its low on subtlety but huge on energy and is how he should always have played. If only the other instrumentals propping up up to 50% of the next eight Beach Boys albums could have been up to this standard...

9) 10cc “How Dare You!” (a track from the album ‘How Dare You!’ 1976):

Of all the daring things 10cc did, starting off your new album with the one and only instrumental of your (non-b sides) recording career is one of the biggest. It makes sense though: this is a band who’ve always been obsessed with sounds and studio technique (as last year’s ‘The Producers’ doc on 10cc reveals, they packed one heck of a lot of effort into even throwaway 10 second inserts) who ran a recording studio together, backing other musicians and whose lead guitarist worked on the side as an engineer. ‘How Dare You’ features one of the the great 1occ riffs, urgent and exotic and yet much heavier than is usual for them. There’s plenty of room for multiple percussion overdubs (the opening alone features a marimba, tambourine, maracas, a ‘scraper’ and a hi-hat) and another stroke of genius from Eric Stewart, the world’s most under-rated guitar player. Fans have often puzzled over the start – an audible slap and a female voice imploring ‘how dare you!’, but then 10cc fans have puzzled many things about their favourite band over the years. The only shame is that the song fades (or cross-fades) when it does, having just built up a head of steam and with nowhere really to go...

8) Rolling Stones “Stoned” (B-side of single ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’ 1963):

How daring was this for 1963?! Mick Jagger’s somewhat, erm, laidbacked voice intones that he’s ‘stoned’, over a slow bluesy piano-based backing. Actually, this is more of a booze than a drug reference (although clearly in homage to the drug-taking blues guitarists of old), but even so it sounds mighty ahead of their time and I’m amazed there weren’t more complaints from worried parents (then again, the Stones weren’t all that well known by the time of this, their second single). Listen out for an all too rare appearance by ‘sixth Stone’ Ian Stewart, still very much a part of the band by this stage whatever the other guys and record company think, and the sound of a band getting about as close as they ever got to Brian Jones’ original vision of them as a blues cover band who did a tiny bit of their own stuff on the side. Fans of the later recordings might wonder what all the fuss is about, but for five white and largely middle-class kids to be singing this stuff is a huge sea-change for the standards of the day.

7) Grateful Dead “Slipknot” (a track from the album ‘Blues For Allah’ 1975):

Few songs on this list have to fulfil as many tasks as ‘Slipknot’ does. First up, this is the Dead’s ‘jazz album’, so it has to sound much more like something from a Miles Davis album than, say, a Stones or Who one (with the band making the most of their improvisationary skills). Secondly, it has to serve as a suitable linking piece between ‘Help Is On The Way’ and ‘Franklin’s Tower’, two very contrasting pieces which are however nailed superbly by the fact that this instrumental takes the high drama and nagging doubt of the former song a stage further towards catastrophe and then re-builds itself around a riff that circles higher and higher, a neat musical metaphor for a mountain climber slowly bringing himself to the surface after nearly falling to his death. The chirpy life-lesson that we should ‘roll away the dew’ sounds all the better coming after such a fiery combative struggle against the darker side of things. Above all, though, ‘slipknot’ has to work as a song in its own right, something it just about manages thanks to its very distinctive beginning, middle and end. I’d love to know how much of this ‘song’ was structured before the band recorded it because their improvisations around each other’s playing is as good as even the Dead ever get at that particular skill and, despite all the hard work, there’s still quite an obvious edit into the intro of ‘Franklin’s Tower’.

6) Paul McCartney “Momma Miss America” (a track from the album ‘McCartney’ 1970):

I could have quoted plenty of Macca instrumentals, but my favourite is the track announced as ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Springtime’ on the McCartney LP. Now, unlike some fans who go all gooey-eyed over this half-baked album, I have to say that its other instrumentals like ‘Valentine Day’, ‘Singalong Junk’ and ‘Kreen-Akore’ drive me up the wall. ‘America’, though, is terrific: Macca plays everything here and plays it all perfectly: his feedback-drenched electric guitar is noisy, his acoustic is frothy, his clod-hopping drums give the song space and adrenalin, his piano playing is a delight and his bass playing knows just where to accent a rhythm in the song and when to roll around looking for mischief. You really don’t need any words on this song, which as its original title suggests, is all about the fun of playing and seeing how far music can take you. Had the whole of the ‘McCartney’ album been up to this one jam session then I’d be gooey-eyed too. 

5) Pink Floyd “Any Colour You Like” (a track from the album ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ 1973):

Fans think of it as the lesser track on their biggest album, but the sarcastically titled ‘Any Colour You Like’ (as long as its black, as the old saying goes) is the clincher this album needs, caught between the lyrical head-hanging of ‘Us and Them’ and going out on a high with the medley of ‘Brain Damage’ and ‘Eclipse’. The song starts with Rick Wright’s as ever under-rated synth playing, with two Rick’s following each other a beat or so behind, before two multi-tracked David Gilmours start bouncing off each other. It’s all very exciting and a great showcase for the band to show off their musical chops (Nick Mason’s drumming is pretty spiffing too here), especially the break near the end when Gilmour starts singing along at the same time as his solo, like the last part of ‘A Saucerful Of Secrets’ but so much better in every way. This is a band learning before your ears and arguably the last time they sound like a real-life true group rather than just Roger Waters’ backing band and placing this instrumental right here livens up a second half of an album that might have been a bit dull without this shot in the arm. 

4) George Harrison “Marwa Blues” (a track from the album ‘Brainwashed’ 2002):

The last time George did an instrumental it wasn’t good. Now unlike most fans I have a lot of love for ‘Gone Troppo’ and the way it tries to mix sudden burning realisation with laidback living, but the track ‘Greece’ is everything people say this album is: shallow, undemanding, badly thought through and boring as hell. When I heard that the unfinished ‘Brainwashed’ was to include more of George’s steel guitar playing on an instrumental, alongside the hideous Jools Holland jam of ‘Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’ (the only songs we fans knew about until the album came out), I wasn’t best pleased. But oh ‘Marwa Blues’ is so good it might well be the highlight of George’s last album, saying so much in music that the album couldn’t bring itself to say in words. ‘Marwa’ has, like most of George’s favourite words, multiple meanings but ‘perfect’ is the closest Western version of it, usually when applied to females. The fact that George tags the word ‘blues’ to this song name is very much in keeping with the duality of this album on songs like ‘Pisces Fish’ about the guitarist’s two sided personality but poignantly suggests that, as one of George’s last recordings, this is a last farewell to Olivia and everything he’ll miss when he dies. It certainly sounds deep enough for that, unlike most instrumentals, and words would almost certainly have spoiled a song that’s about everything unsaid in life. Sniff, past the tissues...

3) Belle and Sebastian “Fiction” (and assorted varieties) (A track from the film soundtrack album ‘Storytelling’ 2002):

This whole album sounds nothing like Belle and Sebastian, being a series of piano-based orchestral instrumentals with the odd song and dialogue from a film that nobody ever saw (certainly, I’ve never seen it and I’ve never met anyone else who has). It is, however, gorgeous, with a lilting tune as good as any Stuart Murdoch ever wrote and a fascinating orchestral score that sounds both filmic and epic and down to earth. There are variations on this throughout the album: a scarier minor key version for ‘Freak’, adding Sarah Martin’s classy wordless harmonies and a snazzy accordion part for ‘Fiction’ (Reprise). The end result sounds, well, better than it should for a minute long throwaway on a film nobody was ever likely to see and bodes well if the band ever decide to do a full song-length take on this orchestral idea sometime.

2) Dennis Wilson “Mexico” (an outtake from the sessions for ‘Pacific Ocean Blue 1979, released in 2006):

Another eerily moving instrumental, that says so much without any words to say it at all, this was a bonus track on the ‘Pacific Ocean Blue-Bambuu’ release of 2006. It’s meant to be ‘unfinished’ but doesn’t actually need anything else to improve on it – its perfect just the way it is. A sighing piano line, with strings laid on top and a tired bleary-eyed trumpet call, this song says so much about loss it actually sounds more at one with the troubled songs of the abandoned ‘Bambuu’ project. Dennis had another six years to live at this point, but it doesn’t sound like that here: this is a man afraid of the future and all it might hold and bitterly doesn’t want to let go. Why this song is called ‘Mexico’ is a mystery, as is the voice at the end who laughs and says ‘that’s enough of that!’ Let’s get back to the rock and roll on disc 2, in other words and it’s a shame to go back to normality (if you can call the strung-out wasted likes of ‘Time For Bed’ as ‘normal’) after this glorious sojourn of sadness and silence. Dennis Wilson was a genius – how sad we only really found that out five years ago, some 23 years after his death.

1) The Who “Sparks” (a track from the album ‘Tommy’ 1969):

Best of all, though, is this sterling instrumental from the ‘orrible ‘Oo, best heard on ‘Live At Leeds’ where its extremes between passionate beauty and uncontrolled chaos is one of the most, well, amazing journeys that band ever took us on. Even on ‘Tommy’, though, it’s clearly the stand-out track, putting into music the conflicting thoughts and hurts of the ‘deaf, dumb and blind’ kid heard in a medley with ‘Amazing Journey’. Taking the starting point ‘what would life sound like if you couldn’t hear?’, Pete Townshend delivers one of his more empathetic tracks, offering both struggle and absolution in one. ‘Sparks’ is the perfect expression of that feeling you get on ‘Tommy’ that this is a special child with great insights who’ll lead us all to our salvation because he thinks so differently to us – and yet there’s also a hint of the troubled ending, too, where the audience drifts on after deciding that they don’t like what he has to say and want to be dumb, deaf and blind to their possible salvation. John Entwistle’s bass had never been better than here, on what’s virtually a boxing match between him and Townshend with Keith Moon whacking great lumps out of his drum kit as an accompaniment. Really special.

And that’s that for another issue. Join us next week for more news, views and music!

A NOW COMPLETE List Of Top Five/Top Ten/TOP TWENTY  Entries 2008-2019
1) Chronic Fatigue songs

2) Songs For The Face Of Bo

3) Credit Crunch Songs

4) Songs For The Autumn

5) National Wombat Week

6) AAA Box Sets

7) Virus Songs

8) Worst AAA-Related DVDs

9) Self-Punctuating Superstar Classics

10) Ways To Know You Have Turned Into A Collector

11) Political Songs

12) Totally Bonkers Concept Albums

13) Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

14) Still Celebrating 40 Years Of The Beatles' White Album

15) AAA Existential Questions

16) Releases Of The Year 2008

17) Top AAA Xmas Songs

18) Notable AAA Gigs

19) All things '20' related for our 20th issue

20) Romantic odes for Valentine's Day

21) Hollies B sides

22) 'Other' BBC Session Albums

23) Beach Boys Rarities Still Not Available On CD

24) Songs John, Paul and George wrote for Ringo's solo albums

25) 5 of the Best Rock 'n' Roll Tracks From The Pre-Beatles Era

26) AAA Autobiographies

27) Rolling Stones B-sides

28) Beatles B-Sides

29) The lllloooonnngggeesssttt AAA songs of all time

30) Kinks B-Sides

31) Abandoned CSNY projects 'wasted on the way'

32) Best AAA Rarities and Outtakes Sets

33) News We've Missed While We've Been Away

34) Birthday Songs for our 1st Anniversary

35) Brightest Album Covers

36) Biggest Recorded Arguments

37) Songs About Superheroes

38) AAA TV Networks That Should Exist

39) AAA Woodtsock Moments

40) Top Moments Of The Past Year As Voted For By Readers

41) Music Segues

42) AAA Foreign Language Songs

43) 'Other' Groups In Need Of Re-Mastering

44) The Kinks Preservation Rock Opera - Was It Really About The Forthcoming UK General Election?

45) Mono and Stereo Mixes - Biggest Differences

46) Weirdest Things To Do When A Band Member Leaves

47) Video Clips Exclusive To Youtube (#1)

48) Top AAA Releases Of 2009

49) Songs About Trains

50) Songs about Winter

51) Songs about astrology plus horoscopes for selected AAA members

52) The Worst Five Groups Ever!

53) The Most Over-Rated AAA Albums

54) Top AAA Rarities Exclusive To EPs

55) Random Recent Purchases (#1)

56) AAA Party Political Slogans

57) Songs To Celebrate 'Rock Sunday'

58) Strange But True (?) AAA Ghost Stories

59) AAA Artists In Song

60) Songs About Dogs

61) Sunshiney Songs

62) The AAA Staff Play Their Own Version Of Monoploy/Mornington Crescent!

63) What 'Other' British Invasion DVDs We'd Like To See

64) What We Want To Place In Our AAA Time Capsule

65) AAA Conspiracy Theroies

66) Weirdest Things To Do Before - And After - Becoming A Star

67) Songs To Tweet To

68) Greatest Ever AAA Solos

69) John Lennon Musical Tributes

70) Songs For Halloween

71) Earliest Examples Of Psychedelia

72) Purely Instrumental Albums

73) AAA Utopias

74) AAA Imaginary Bands

75) Unexpected AAA Cover Versions

76) Top Releases of 2010

77) Songs About Snow

78) Predictions For 2011

79) AAA Fugitives

80) AAA Home Towns

81) The Biggest Non-Musical Influences On The 1960s

82) AAA Groups Covering Other AAA Groups

83) Strange Censorship Decisions

84) AAA Albums Still Unreleased on CD

85) Random Recent Purchases (#2)

86) Top AAA Music Videos

87) 30 Day Facebook Music Challenge

88) AAA Documentaries

89) Unfinished and 'Lost' AAA Albums

90) Strangest AAA Album Covers

91) AAA Performers Live From Mars (!)

92) Songs Including The Number '100' for our 100th Issue

93) Most Songs Recorded In A Single Day

94) Most Revealing AAA Interviews

95) Top 10 Pre-Fame Recordings

96) The Shortest And Longest AAA Albums

97) The AAA Allstars Ultimate Band Line-Up

98) Top Songs About Sports

99) AAA Conversations With God

100) AAA Managers: The Good, The Bad and the Financially Ugly

101) Unexpected AAA Cameos

102) AAA Words You can Type Into A Caluclator

103) AAA Court Cases

104) Postmodern Songs About Songwriting

105) Biggest Stylistic Leaps Between Albums

106) 20 Reasons Why Cameron Should Go!

107) The AAA Pun-Filled Cookbook

108) Classic Debut Releases

109) Five Uses Of Bird Sound Effects

110) AAA Classic Youtube Clips Part #1

111) Part #2

112) Part #3

113) AAA Facts You Might Not Know

114) The 20 Rarest AAA Records

115) AAA Instrumental Songs

116) Musical Tarot

117) Christmas Carols

118) Top AAA Releases Of 2011

119) AAA Bands In The Beano/The Dandy

120) Top 20 Guitarists #1

121) #2

122) 'Shorty' Nomination Award Questionairre

123) Top Best-Selling AAA Albums

124) AAA Songs Featuring Bagpipes

125) A (Hopefully) Complete List Of AAA Musicians On Twitter

126) Beatles Albums That Might Have Been 1970-74 and 1980

127) DVD/Computer Games We've Just Invented

128) The AAA Albums With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

129) The AAA Singles With The Most Weeks At #1 in the UK

130) Lyric Competition (Questions)

131) Top Crooning Classics

132) Funeral Songs

133) AAA Songs For When Your Phone Is On Hold

134) Random Recent Purchases (#3)

135) Lyric Competition (Answers)

136) Bee Gees Songs/AAA Goes Disco!

137) The Best AAA Sleevenotes (And Worst)

138) A Short Precise Of The Years 1962-70

139) More Wacky AAA-Related Films And Their Soundtracks

140) AAA Appearances On Desert Island Discs

141) Songs Exclusive To Live Albums

142) More AAA Songs About Armageddon

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159) A (Not That) Short Guide To The 15 Best Non-AAA Bands

160) The Greatest AAA Drum Solos (Or Near Solos!)

161) AAA Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame Acceptance Speeches

162) AAA Re-Recordings Of Past Songs

163) A Coalition Christmas (A Fairy Tale)

164) AAA Songs About Islands

165) The AAA Review Of The Year 2012

166) The Best AAA Concerts I Attended

167) Tributes To The 10 AAA Stars Who Died The Youngest

168) The First 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically

171) The 10 Best Songs From The Psychedelia Box-Sets ‘Nuggets’ and ‘Nuggets Two’

172) The 20 Most Common Girl’s Names In AAA Song Titles (With Definitions) 

180) First Recordings By Future AAA Stars

185) A Tribute To Storm Thorgerson Via The Five AAA Bands He Worked With

188) Surprise! Celebrating 300 Album Reviews With The Biggest 'Surprises' Of The Past Five Years Of Alan's Album Archives!

190) Comparatively Obscure First Compositions By AAA Stars

193) Evolution Of A Band: Comparing First Lyric With Last Lyric:

200) The Monkees In Relation To Postmodernism (University Dissertation)

202) Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain': Was It About One Of The AAA Crew?

217) AAA 'Christmas Presents' we'd most like to have next year

221) Dr Who and the AAA (Five Musical Links)

222) Five Random Recent Purchases

223) AAA Grammy Nominees

224) Ten AAA songs that are better heard unedited and in full

225) The shortest gaps between AAA albums

226) The longest gaps between AAA albums

227) Top ten AAA drummers

228) Top Ten AAA Singles (In Terms of 'A' and 'B' Sides)

229) The Stories Behind Six AAA Logos

230) AAAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! The Best Ten AAA Screams

231) An AAA Pack Of Horses

232) AAA Granamas - Sorry, Anagrams!

233) AAA Surnames and Their Meanings

234) 20 Erroneous AAA Album Titles

235) The Best AAA Orchestral Arrangements

236) Top 30 Hilariously Misheard Album Titles/Lyrics

237) Ten controversial AAA sackings - and whether they were right

238) A Critique On Critiquing - In Response To Brian Wilson

239) The Ten MusicianS Who've Played On The Most AAA Albums

240) Thoughts on #CameronMustGo

241) Random Recent Purchases (Kinks/Grateful Dead/Nils Lofgren/Rolling Stones/Hollies) 

242) AAA Christmas Number Ones 

243) AAA Review Of The Year 2014 (Top Releases/Re-issues/Documentaries/DVDs/Books/Songs/ Articles  plus worst releases of the year)

244) Me/CFS Awareness Week 2015

245) Why The Tory 2015 Victory Seems A Little...Suspicious

246) A Plea For Peace and Tolerance After The Attacks on Paris - and Syria

247) AAA Review Of The Year 2015

248) The Fifty Most Read AAA Articles (as of December 31st 2015)

249) The Revised AAA Crossword!

251) Half-A-Dozen Berries Plus One (An AAA Tribute To Chuck Berry)

252) Guest Post: ‘The Skids – Joy’ (1981) by Kenny Brown

254) Guest Post: ‘Supertramp – Some Things Never Change’ by Kenny Brown

255) AAA Review Of The Year 2018

256) AAA Review Of The Year 2019 plus Review Of The Decade 2010-2019

257) Tiermaker

258) #Coronastock

259) #Coronadocstock