Number 50 – REO Speedwagon – ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’
The Power of the John Lewis Christmas Advert. I would love to be part of the planning meetings – knowing Retail as well as I do, I imagine that they take all day, include members of every Department (a representative of the Diversity Team, someone from IT, a member of Store Management seconded especially, Product placement – numbering about 20 people). I imagine that they are already working on Christmas 2020 as I type. They have also been influential in using the popular song and stripping it back, adding piano and strings that tug on the middle-aged ladies heartstrings and piercing their lachrymose glands. The first John Lewis advert to do this was back in 2009 when, Taken By Trees covered ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and since then we have been subjected to similar records both used in the John Lewis campaign and in advertising in general. It helps to sum up how the music scene has evolved during this past decade.
This year was a cover of REO Speedwagon. We were introduced Excitable Edgar and responded (or not) to his message ‘Show Them How Much You Care’. We shall see how much we care when the sales figures are released sometime in January. Chevy Chase introduced this and them at Live Aid in the same year that this came out. The problem I have with REO Speedwagon is his voice though. It’s not a ‘pretty’ or a soulful voice – it’s far too reedy and shrill for my taste. But thanks to Joh Lewis, I’ve reconnected to the song and recognise that it IS a good song (although would have preferred it to have been tackled by Heart – Ann would have done a great job).
REO Speedwagon got their name from the station wagon REO Speedwagon was designed by Ransom Eli Olds around the turn of the 18th Century. Initially known as R.E.O. Speedwagon, they dropped the fullstops sometime in the 1970’s. A bog standard garage band – successful in the States, less successful over here, the broke the UK with the release of ‘Keep On Loving You’ and it’s accompanying album ‘Hi-Fidelity’.
‘Can’t Fight This Feeling; reached Number 16 in the UK charts in the Winter of 1985 and this video is typical of it’s time- some truly terrible hair, some dodgy Stranger Things graphics and a message (though I’m not sure what that message is)..
Number 49 – Rachel Sweet – ‘B-A-B-Y’
The is something gloriously subversive about teenage girls performing pop songs – much more so than teenage boys – consider Britney Spears, Vanessa Paradis, The Runaways etc…
Here, Rachel is just 16. Yet she managed to recruit the likes of Brinsley Schwarz, Norman Watt-Ray and Mickey Gallagher (the latter two fresh from the very adult Blockheads). Add to this Stiff Records and you have a melting pot of Lolita hormones.
‘B-A-B-Y’ was initially a hit for Carla Thomas back in 1966. Rachel never did receive the success that she deserved though. She recorded some odd songs (‘Be Stiff’ by Devo the most intriguing), recording 4 albums, and recorded the title song from ‘Hairspray’. She returned to college in the early Eighties and graduating in a degree in French & English Literature. She now is now a writer and producer, of some note and occasionally turns her hands to acting. She must have done all right for herself as she bought Madonna’s Los Pavoreales home selling it for a whopping $5 million.
What an incredible set of pipes though.
Number 48 – Mike McGear – ‘Leave It’
A big pair of shoes to follow. Mike is Paul McCartney’s younger brother. His formulative years were spent working in a Tailor’s Shop in Liverpool and as an apprentice at a Ladies Hairdressing Salon (with Lewis Collins, in fact). Alongside Roger McGough and John Gorman they formed The Scaffold moulding comedy. Poetry and pop under one roof. They scored the Christmas Number 1 in 1968 and recorded the theme tune for The Liver Birds.
I discovered ‘Mcgear’ following a review in Mojo Magazine sometime this year (one of my favourite things is to trawl through it and see what undiscovered gems it throws up). Sandwiched between ‘Band On The Run’ & ‘Venus & Mars’ this album is practically a lost Wings album. After all, as well as featuring Paul & Linda, Denny Laine, Jimmy McCulloch and Denny Sewell were on hand. The album was completed at Strawberry Studios – home of the 10CC boys. He described the project as: ‘a truly collaborative process with my older brother’.
I remember hearing ‘Leave It’ at the time, forgot about it until this year and I have never ever seen this clip (complete with false ending).
He is also nicknamed ‘Flash Harry’ as his passion for photography has enabled him to publish books and host exhibitions even providing the image for ‘Chaos & Creation In The Backyard’ for his bro.
Mike reverted to his actual name (btw Gear is Liverpool slang for Fab in the 1980’s.
Number 47 – The Mamas & The Papas – ‘Twelve-Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)’
Having just watched ‘Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood’ it struck me, firstly, how much of a genius film writer and director Quentin Tarrantino actually is. He never fails to prick your nostalgia button in the best way. This film is set during the run up to the Sharon Tate Massacres in 1969. It features an array of acting talent – most playing against type and is lettered with references to previous films either by Tarrantino himself or by others (the topless Brad Pitt scene could have been lifted from ‘Thelma & Louise’. Leonardo DiCaprio is a revelation, I’ve liked his stuff since Titanic but he is really maturing into a fine comic (and slightly hairy) actor.
The whole Manson Family thing is unique in the history of murder and mayhem. How a group of intelligent college students, some famous musicians and actor were persuaded by Charles Manson to join his cult, beggars belief. It must have been the drugs talking. With names like ‘Squeeky’, ‘Sadie’ those girls became figures of notoriety – as well as surviving some time on death row.
This song features towards the end – Mama Cass & Michelle Phillips are at that fantastic pool party in the film. During a trip to the UK. Mama Cass was arrested for nicking two blankets and 10 guineas during their previous trip to the UK. Cass was strip searched but the case was dismissed the following day. Much inter-band wrangling led to the group going their separate ways and this was their last great single. They broke up several years later.
Number 46 – Dolly Parton – ‘The Bridge’
I had not heard this record until I spent the evening with Dolly on BBC2 – a perfect way to round of Christmas Day. It’s extraordinary because it’s so simple. A tale of a young (teenage) girl meeting a boy on a bridge under a big yellow moon, she falls in love, they kiss, their ardour rises and they run into a meadow where ‘emotions filled the air’. Of course, she ends up the duff, he leaves her, she comes back the bridge, where she thinks about her situation and, well, jumps.
I’ve never heard a record that ends in such a way. It’s like seeing that last episode of The Sopranos where the screen goes black – it’s quite devastating.
According to Dolly, she wrote this as a teenager, some years before ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ came out. There are obvious comparisons between the two and even though this lacks Gentry’s narrative drive, it is still a brave little record.
Dolly is a legend. No-one seems to know anything about her beyond her trademark Dolly looks. She has been married to a rather handsome chap for more that 50 years but keeps him and their relationship private. She comes across as the canniest of businesswomen. Film star, songwriter, singer, owner of Dollywood. If we saw her first thing in the morning without her wig or make-up the illusion would be shattered.
This was from her second album – ‘Just Because I Am A Woman’ released in the Spring of 1968. Once she had extricated herself from the Porter Wagoner Show, her career really took off and she has never ever looked back.
Number 45 – Dennis Wilson – ‘Farewell My Friend’
Dennis was the self-professed black-sheep of the Wilson family. He was the middle brother, drummer and the only actual surfer in the Beach Boys. He released ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ in 1977 on Caribou Records. Featuring a very handsome Dennis on the sleeve, the album was co-produced by him and his friend/song writing partner – Gregg Jacobson. It’s a lovely record – more in the feel of it than the lyrics or vocals. One can imagine gazing up at the stars whilst listening.
This was his only officially released solo record too. ‘Bambu’ the follow up album remained unfinished and unreleased until it was issued as a double album set with ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ winning re-issue of the year in Mojo and Rolling Stone in 2008.
Drugs and alcohol overshadowed his later life. He was put into rehab in 1983 – Eugene Landy was targeting him to be next admitted to his 24 Hour Therapy Programme (Brian had already been receiving ‘treatment’ under Landy.
Dennis drowned whilst recovering his wife’s belongings. A few days out of his rehab – which did not work (he didn’t give it enough time) – he began drinking immediately. He was practically a homeless nomad, he was buried at sea and this song was played at his funeral.
Number 44 – Lil Nas X – ‘Old Town Road’
Watching this year’s ‘Top Of The Pops’, it struck me how awfully dull the mainstream music scene in the UK is. There were no proper Pop Stars – no Bowie’s or George’s, no gender bending, no sex.
One wonders who actually buys and downloads songs by Tom Walker, The Script or Lewis Capaldi. Yet here they are representing the best-selling songs from the 2019’s. They could be virtually anyone – they have no interesting history, have not come out of a scene – they just are. The girls are better but there is a continued trend to ‘feat’ them as vocalists – step forward Becky Hill, Ella Henderson and the girl that looked like she worked in the local shop. Mabel was great – but she is Neneh Cherry’s daughter so she had better be. Yet 2019 produced some great records – it’s just that you cannot see them on telly anymore (and they don’t feature in the charts).
There were two highlights thought – the minute-long clip of ‘Bad Guy’ by billie eilish and this. A global number one record that absolutely threw the cat amongst the pigeons. It held the Number One spot for an astonishing 19 weeks in the US which, for a Gay Rapper was really something. Montero Lamar Hill (aged 20) managed to straddle genres in one hit. This was removed by Billboard from the ‘Hot Country Charts’ as it ‘does not embrace enough elements of today’s country music to chart in it’s current version’ (we all know that there is a chart for every type of music in America). The decision was purely racist and possibly homophobic. Unperturbed young Lil Nas X persuaded Billy Ray Cyrus (wonder if Miley had something to do with this) to appear as the featured and he appeared on the April 2019 remix.
Job done. One of the biggest hit records of the 2010’s created.
Nas X came out publicly in June – appearing on BBC Breakfast in July and you know what? Nobody cared (apart from the hip-hop community) and it did not significantly affect the success of the record. How times have changed…
Who know what direction his career might take, but with this record he smashed records, broke genres and altered people’s preconceptions race and sexuality.
Number 43 – Elvis Costello & The Attractions – ‘I Want You’
This begins as a lullaby. Gently sung – your traditional love song then. But it soon changes with that guitar. You are plunged into a world of jealousy and obsession. One wonders exactly what was going on in his head when he wrote this but it does remain one of his finest records (although it is a difficult record to love).
Covered by several artists – Lydia Lunch for one and it’s interesting to hear it sung from a woman’s perspective.
There is no video either – but this clip used footage from a film called ‘I Want You’ directed by Michael Winterbottom who was responsible for 24 Hour Party People and 9 Songs – which attracted some notoriety. Starring Rachel Weisz, Alessandro Nivola and Luka Petrušić (from Croatia) and the filming too place on Hasting, Dungeness and Folkestone.
Number 42 – One eskimO – ‘kandi’
I’ve been wracking my brain as to where and when I first heard this. Maybe it was via a post on Facebook? Or on a late-night radio show? It’s definitely a Rascal era record rather than a Fred one. Or maybe I heard it years later. Anyway, I feel like it has always been in my life – like a comfortable pair of slippers or a loved teddy bear.
One eskimO were an animated band consisting of Eskimo, Penguin, Monkey and Giraffe and the album ‘The Adventures Of One Eskimo’ was released as an animated series – think Gorillaz but a little cuter. In reality – cartoons cannot really play their instruments – they were the brainchild of Kristian Leontiou who scored a Number 9 hit with ‘Story Of My Life’ in 2004. Probably sick of being touted as the new Dido (who wouldn’t be?) he scouted off camera and developed the band.
There are not that many lyrics, however, the strumming acoustic guitar riff is great (familiar? Read on)– it propels the song along – sweetly sung and then Ms Candi Staton comes in (hence the title I guess). Sampled from ‘He Called Me Baby’ a track from ‘Stand By Your Man’ *with exactly the same guitar riff) from way back in 1971 and like most things that Candi touches, she delivers a heart wrenching vocal performance. I then discovered that it was originally performed by Patsy Cline who does an equally good job but less soulful.
Music history, don’t you love it? It’s so IMPORTANT.
Number 41 – Rex Orange County – ‘Loving Is Easy’
Surprisingly, Rex Orange County (or Alexander O’Connor as he was born) is not from Sunny California but from Leafy little Grayshott near Haslemere in Surrey – home to Arthur Conan-Doyle and to Alfred, Lord Tennyson. An alumni from the Brit School where he played the drums. Aged only 21, he has covered ‘You’ve Got A Friend In Me’ with Randy Newman and he flew out to LA to work with Tyler, The Creater on his album ’Flower Boy’ – by the way, Tyler is a rather brilliant US Rapper type and his ‘Yonkers’ single has one of the best, although not for the weak of stomach, videos I’ve ever seen.
Not released as part of an album, this single (or track or whatever these things are called nowadays), charted in the US AAA charts and the US Alt. & Rock charts and was a Top 40 hit in Belgium.
This very sweet animated video shows Rex (looking very much like Simon & Garfunkel) and possibly a chap called Benny Sings – a chap from The Netherlands, bearded, possibly Daddy to Rex. It a fine record – reminiscent of Gallagher & Lyle (but with a few F words chucked in.
Quite frankly, this should have been a huge hit and as this wasn’t, I cannot see anything else by Rex ever doing so…
Number 40 – Zero 7 – ‘Destiny’
Released from their debut album ‘Simple Things’ (Mercury Music Nominated to boot) released in 2001. Zero 7 were Henry Binns and Sam Hardaker and regularly employed female guest vocalists in their recorded work. Here, the guest vocalists are Sia on the verses – a phenomenally successful recording artist – who I know very little about- apart from her silly haircut & Sophie Barker who provided the chorus. If Karen Carpenter, no less, had still been alive I think she would done a sterling job here – the chorus pours over you like honey.
‘When It Shines’ was their follow up album (again ft. Sia) and was the first album that I thought people were buying CD’s as statement pieces rather than the quality of the music.
‘Destiny’ reached number 30 in the UK charts and contains the only time that the lyrics ‘in my hotel dressing gown’ have been used in such a way.
Number 39 – Kinobe – ‘Slip Into Something’
Mark Wood introduced me to this. For a time between 98 & 01 he would provide me with a monthly CD of track that had come out that month – this one came from July 2000 and these CD’s were the absolute highlight of my final years of virginity. I was immediately struck by the familiarity of the orchestral bit – I’ve still not quite placed where else I had heard it, I’ve Shazamed it, researched it and can only tell that it is a sample of an old Englebert Humperdink record called ‘From Here To Eternity’ in 1968.
Produced by Ben & Jason it glides along on a sea of harps & glissandi violins until it transforms you to laying on a hot Caribbean beach. Chilled out.
Number 38 – Lowell George – ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’
Let us begin with Lowell. Born in Hollywood itself, his dad raised (and probably killed) chincillas and supplied them for fur for the Hollywood studio industry. He was able to play a variety of instruments by the age of 11 and earned some extra dosh working in a gas station.
His first band was The Factory and then, briefly, with The Standells (of dirty water fame). He then joined the Mothers Of Invention (the closest that Frank Zappa will ever come to TT’ed) where he developed a taste for a more hedonistic lifestyle. Forming Little Feat, with members of the Mothers, who released 7 albums – all with sleeves designed by Neon Parks. Disgruntled that Little Feat were moving in a jazz-rock direction, Lowell decided to jump ship and prepared the ground work for his first (and only) solo LP. Surprisingly full of cover versions – by Rickie Lee Jones, Allen Toussaint, Jimmy Webb and this. Incidentally, the album sleeve, again by Neon Park, is a representation of Édouard Manet‘s “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe“, again represented by the first Bow Wow Wow album.
Embarking upon a tour in support of ‘Thanks, I’ll Eat It Here’ George died from a massive heart attack bought about by years of binge eating, alcoholism and speed balls. He allegedly ate a very large cheese pizza with ALL the toppings two day before he died whilst driving down the New York Turnpike. He was just 34.
Of course, the most well known version of this was recorded by Ann Peebles, the female version of Al Green, back in 1973. Rightly regarded as one of the greatest songs ever – that introduction is the epitome of a rainy January day. It has been recorded by Ronnie Wood, by Tina Turner, reimagined by Missy Elliot and set to a disco beat by Eruption.
Number 37 – The Thrills– ‘One Horse Town’
Whatever happened to The Thrills? Well they fizzled out. For a couple of years they were hot property – darlings of the NME and I saw them at the Concorde 2 (with Sons & Daughters supporting maybe), in the days when I went to a gig a night (more often than not with my fellow ligger David Slimings). All of the band from this time were called The *Somethings* – The Strokes, The Hives, The Bees, The Stills, The Open, The Raveonettes – The list of The’s is endless.
Formed in Dublin, they were described as ‘an ocean-soaked, harmony-heavy, homage to California’s dreamy-dreams, shaking ground and unrelenting sunshine’. Neighbours in Dublin, they spent 4 months living in San Diego writing tracks for their debut album. They signed with Virgin in 2002 releasing ‘So Much For The City’ in May 2003. Hairy Conor has been spotted performing covers of Fleetwood Mac songs on stage at small festivals.
Two subsequent albums followed with decreasing success – ‘Teenager’ only reached 48 – the bubble had burst. Ben Carrigan claimed they were on an indefinite hiatus in 2011 but as yet there are no signs of any Thrills activity – I’m not sure if they released something now that anyone would be bothered..
So no sex or drug stories – just a competent group of Irish lads enjoying their 15 minutes in the sunshine.
Number 36 – Jim Stafford – ‘Spiders & Snakes’
Stafford is a comedian/musician from Winter Haven in Florida. Friends with Gram Parsons and Lobo (who wrote this), he released three albums but preferred to spend his time on the Telly or in Film (in Gemini Man as Buffalo Bill and in Any Which Way You Can as Long John).
He was married to the very wonderful Bobbie Gentry and together they had a son. He was embroiled in a sexual harassment case though and refused to comment on the allegations.
Co-written by Lobo and David Bellamy – of the Bellamy Brothers fame.
This video was shown on Top Of The Pops in 1974. Oftentimes, little films were made, on the cheap, for charting songs. It was quite the thing for a time – I clearly remember ‘Indiana Wants Me’ and ‘I’m Still Waiting’ being treated the same way. Almost always set in a raining Wales, they are fascinating because they are so cheap – for example the two actors featured here look like they are auditioning for Emmerdale Farm – although I just love the dungarees, loons and chewing gum.
Number 35 – Magic Numbers – ‘Forever Lost’
Consisting of two sets of brothers and sisters – The Stodarts – of Scottish//Portuguese parentage born in Trinidad, raised in New York and moved to Hanwell where they became neighbours with the Gannons forming the Magic Numbers in 2002.
They almost signed to Rough Trade, the instead signed to the hipper Heavenly Records – they had already built a cult following, especially in London selling out a gig at the Forum in Kentish Town.
LP released, they continued to play live and have so far released 5 records and two additional records by Michele as a solo singer.
They famously walked out of the Top Of The Pops studio after Richard Bacon introduced them as “a big fat melting pot of talent” and quite frankly, I would have done exactly the same.
The music business and the record buying public, fickle as it is soon turned their back on the Numbers and they’ve still not received the recognition they should have. Soaked in California sunshine, a kind of Mamas & Papas with guitars and real women playing actual instruments.
Their 2017 album was called ‘Outsiders’ which is, I guess, how they must have felt all of their careers.
Watch out for the bridge too, it’s gorgeous…
Number 34 – Philip Lynott – ‘Old Town’
‘Is there anybody here with any Irish in them? Is there any of the girls who’d like a little more Irish in them?’…
And so, began the intro to ‘Emerald’ from ‘Live & Dangerous’ representing peak Lizzy, on, perhaps, the greatest Double Live LP ever made. Outrageous. (I shall be returning to more Lizzy songs in future Tt’eds)
I could write a fairly large book on the importance that Lynott had upon my life and his influence upon the Rock scene. But I won’t be doing so. Briefly then, Philip grew up in the Midlands before moving to Dublin to be with his Gran and Grandpa. He formed Thin Lizzy in 1969 and their reputation and recorded output just got better and better until Bad Reputation when the spoils became harder to find. He launched a solo career and released two albums: Solo In Soho & The Philip Lynott Album. By the time that the second album was released the record buying public had seriously lost interest – the last Lizzy LP really was not good enough and synthesizers had temporarily put paid to guitar/bass driven records – interestingly his biggest solo hit was with ‘Yellow Pearl’ but that may have been down to its usage as the Top Of The Pops theme tune. The listening public had persevered, they would have heard synthesizers a plenty.
Dogged by serious drug abuse and alcohol dependency, he married Caroline ‘Daughter of Leslie’ Crowther – they had a couple of daughters, but he sadly died on the 4th January 1986 from pneumonia and heart failure bought on by septicaemia.
‘Old Town’ was the third single to be released from The Philip Lynott Album s should have been a hit. It’s very catchy – it feels like a Nick Lowe song, and the video show Phil wandering the streets and crossing the many bridges in that wonderful city of Dublin. Phil looks super cool as well, viewing chaste couple kissing in the streets, he’s like a panther.
The Corrs covered this. I’m a little puzzled by them – although I like Jim Corr (by name etc.). It was from one of the many ‘Unplugged’ LP’s that were released in the 90’s – many of which were bloody brilliant as well (Nirvana, Rod Stewart, Neil Young even Mariah Carey). I’m guessing that their Irish-ness inspired them to record this.
A hugely charismatic singer and poet.
Number 33 – Tony Joe White – ‘Polk Salad Annie’
Fascinating. A poke sallett is an Appalachian dish consisting of young leaves and shoots from the pokeweed plant. I say dish with caution. The pokeweed is highly poisonous if the root of the plant is consumed – the older the plant becomes the more toxic. Eat with extreme care then.
Raised in the swamps of the Mississippi, Tony said: “I spent the first 18 years of my life down there”, said White. “My folks raised cotton and corn. There were lotsa times when there weren’t too much to eat, and I ain’t ashamed to admit that we’ve often whipped up a mess of poke sallet. Tastes alright too — a bit like spinach.” Inspired by hearing ‘Ode To Billie Joe on the radio he wrote this and ‘Rainy Night In Georgia’ and released this in 1969.
From his debut album ‘Black & White’ which came out in 1969 – one side original material, the other side cover versions (Who’s Makin’ Love, Little Green Apples, Wichita Lineman – all great) – the album was a moderate success and ‘Polk Salad Annie’ climbed to the Top Ten in the States. By 1973 he was already clocking in his sixth LP release Homemade Ice Cream which showed him unbuttoned on the cover with enormous sideburns. Quite a looker too. He smoulders over his sleeves, smokes cheroots and wears cowboy hats and denim and sings like a CC motorbike. He turned briefly to acting in 1973, when he appeared as Cassio in a hipster musical version of Othello (called Catch My Soul featuring Richie Havens as Othello – no-one was interested in seeing that).
In the following years he laid fallow, writing songs and achieved huge successful as the writer behind ‘Steamy Windows’ for Tina Turner. He died peacefully from a heart attack in 2018.
Perhaps Polk Salad Annie is better known in the UK as a big hit for Elvis Presley from the 1970 album and as part of the That’s The Way It Is which is just sublime. He showbizzed it up maybe even camped it up – all in tight white Elvis suit, twirling capes, whirling pointing arms and thrusting Elvis hips.
It would have ensured that Tony Joe had a comfortable future, that’s for certain.
As you may tell, I’m quite the fan, ever since I got into a cab one late night about 20 years ago and my driver was playing Tony Joe on his in-car CD player.
Number 32 – The Cowboy Junkies – ‘Sweet Jane’
The band are the Cowboy Junkies, the singer is Margo Timmins and the song is ‘Sweet Jane’.
Formed from three siblings and an outsider, the Cowboy Junkies were always going to stick around. They have recorded 16 albums and as they are siblings have had all their lives to lay the groundwork down for their musical career. Coming from Toronto, the Timmins+ recorded ‘The Trinity Sessions’ in the Church of the Holy Trinity and released it in 1988.
I really like the idea of Canada. A couple of my friends have either emigrated there or immigrated to here. It seems vast, rather cold but the Canadian accent is so much nicer than their American cousins. I even have a few second cousins who emigrated to Winnipeg in the early 60’s so who knows, one day?
Musically, Canada have gifted us many great sound merchants – kd lang, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Bryan Adams etc. The list is rich and often surprising.
Margo is the lead singer with the Cowboy Junkies (great name for a band). Initially, she was incredibly reluctant to perform for anyone but her baby brother. She has the biggest crush on Springsteen once saying: “When I got married, I told my husband that if Bruce ever wanted me, that I would be his. And my husband said, OK”. Good for her husband.
‘Sweet Jane’ is a cover of a Velvet Underground song. It was released on the final proper album entitled ‘Loaded’ and was soon incorporated into Lou Reed’s live sets. It has been covered by Mott The Hoople, Jim Carroll Band, Liz Phair and Brownsville Station. It was Reed’s first attempt at trying to score a commercial rather than an influential hit.
In the hands of Timmins and the Junkies that ethereal vocal enraptures you and takes you to a different place (Canada possibly).
Maybe the alt-country scene started right here?
Number 31 – Roger Miller – ‘King Of The Road’
One of the very first records I remember hearing (aged two and a bit). This topped the UK Singles Chart in 1964 and went on to become, along with ‘England Swings’, a staple of Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart’s Junior Choice.
Sent away to live with his Aunt on a farm in Oklahoma he was raised picking cotton and ploughing the fields. He stile his first guitar and enlisted in the US Army to avoid a jail sentence. On leaving the Army he became a fireman who performed in the evening. He signed to Decca in 1958, then to Smash Records where he began his run of, mainly novelty, records. He recorded three songs for the Disney animated Robin Hood soundtrack. Johnny Cash mentioned in his autobiography that Miller had the closest vocal to him that he had ever heard.
Constantly smoking fags, he died from lung cancer aged 56.
‘King Of The Road’ tells the tale of a vagabond hobo reflecting upon what he has or hasn’t got. Covered by everyone from Val Doonican to REM and The Proclaimers via Boney M. none of them nailed it and this remains the best version. Beware though. I purchased a CD and discovered that they were re-recordings not the original versions that I knew and loved so well.
Number 30 – R.E.M. – ‘Orange Crush’
On the cusp of mega stadium stardom, I’m not sure that they imagined exactly how successful they were going to be – an upward spiral to Automatic For The People followed by a downward spiral with the excellent ‘Monster’.
This is, unbelievably 31 years old. On the recent introduction to TOTP’s, the clip was shown of this on the show. It must have been their debut performance, but it is definitely ‘a moment’. All four member wore sunglasses for a start. Michael sang through a megaphone for a second. He looked amazing – his plait down his back was the best haircut since the days of New Romantic. Bare-chested, not particularly bothered about miming either – it’s a remarkably sexual performance. Not that the audience seemed to notice, the majority were clapping along as if it was the new Jason Donovan single.
This video was directed by Matt Mahurin renowned photographer, illustrator and film director.
‘Orange Crush’ refers to the chemical ‘Agent Orange’ used in the Viet-Nam War. If this had been around at the time of Apocalypse Now it would have been a shoe-in. It became the opening song on the ‘Green World Tour’. Everyone who knew anything fell in love with them and they never looked back.
It’s interesting to reflect that ‘Green’ preceded ‘Nevermind’ by a good 3 years – it sounds much fresher than anything Nirvana were doing. By using new instruments – the mandolin and accordion – they moved their sound up a level and, although the alienated some fans, the made thousands of new ones.
I saw R.E.M, at Hammersmith Odeon on the ‘Green’ tour and they were brilliant, missed out upon the Bingo Hand Job gig at The Borderline and saw them again when the headlined at Milton Keynes Bowl supported by Blur.
The band split up in 2011 and have completely ruled out ever returning to the fold.
Number 29 – Gary U.S Bonds – ‘Jole Blon’
Hugely influential 60’s artist in surprise early 80’s comeback alert. No-one beyond New Orleans knew anything about this chap apart from Bruce. He began covering ‘Quarter To Three’ as one of his encores during The River Tour in 195 where I witnessed Bruce & The E-Street Band do it on both occasions. By this time in the set I was hoarse, sweating and a little over excited. Maybe part of the Detroit Medley, maybe not – I immediately sought out Gary US Bonds version. I was unaware how close he had become to the epicentre of Bruce-land but was beyond thrill when Bob from Berkhamsted to me that he was releasing a Springsteen related album.
‘Dedication’ was released in 1981 swiftly followed by ‘On The Line’ the following year. Three tracks written by Bruce, one by Steve Van Zandt, one by Lennon/McCartney (a lovely version of ‘It’s Only Love’), Jackson Browne and this, which is by far my favourite track.
‘Jole Blon’ was originally going to be on ‘The River’ but he gifted it to Bonds instead – although he has performed this on stage. The earliest version of the song was by the Breaux Brothers and It was called ‘Ma blonde est partie’ and at that point it was known as ‘Jolie Blonde’. Known as an example of Cajun music (there were a couple of great LP’s on RCA at the time), this musical genre is quite niche – using French, utilising the accordion, the fiddle and the triangle it was an essential soundtrack if hosting a porch party, an all night house dance known as a “bal de maison”, or a public dance in a dance hall called a fais do-do. Yes a fais-do-do. I’d pay good money to attend one of those.
By all accounts Gary still occasionally performs, hooks up with Bruce and Van Zandt and treads the boards even though he will be 81 this year.
Number 28 – Turin Brakes – ‘Painkiller’
A British band that changed their sound ever so slightly with ‘Ether Song’ released in 2003. Their debut album was well received, this LP was more successful peaking in the album charts at Number 4 followed by a headline spot at the Brixton Academy. ‘Painkiller (Summer Rain)’ reached the UK singles charts settling into a spot in the Top 5.
I have a memory of seeing them headlining a small club night in Brighton (possibly The Pig In Paradise in Queen’s Road) and supporting David Gray (at the Concorde 2).
This is a lovely gentle and breezy song which has NOTHING to do with Repeat Prescriptions (the current bane of my life).
The US tour, in support of The Stereophonics, was scuppered by 9/11 and, rather oddly, were part of Band Aid 20 (not spotted them on the video though).
Olly Knights and Gale Paridjanian, the mainstays who ARE Turin Brakes, were childhood friends who became separated following a stint at film school and a stay in Toronto. They released their 8th album proper, ‘Invisible Storm, through Cooking Vinyl in 2018.
A classic of it’s kind then – think Stealers Wheel or Gallagher & Lyle or Simon & Garfunkel with shades of Radiohead, Elbow or Starsailor.
Number 27 – New Radicals – ‘You Get What You Give’
If you were allowed just one big hit of your musical career, you may as well make it something like this.
This single entered the Top 5 on the 28th March 1999 – peaking at the position it entered. Above it was ‘Flat Beat’ by Mr Oizo and ‘Witch Doctor’ by The Cartoons – neither of which have maintained any kind of longevity. Falling down the charts were some fantastic records – ‘Tender’, ‘It’s Not Right But It’s Okay’, ‘As’, ‘Nothing Really Matters’, ‘Erase/Rewind’, ‘Sing It Back’ are the best examples. Robbie Williams was the key artist at that point. Ronan Keating (more of him in a bit) was taking notes in the wings.
This could almost be a lost ELO single – vocally quite similar, harmonies very similar – it’s only missing the orchestral bits. And of course, ELO were very influenced by The Beatles. You can hear echoes of both these artists here.
New Radicals centred around Gregg Alexander and his side kick Danielle Brisebois. Their intention, I guess, was to form a band with a revolving door policy of employing other musicians. This became a massive global hit, and the New Radicals embarked upon the never-ending slog of touring, festival appearances and TV promo work. Rumours circulated that all of this was making a member of the band quite ill, they cancelled a UK tour and by July 1999, Alexander announced that he was breaking up the band.
“the fatigue of traveling & getting three hours sleep in a different hotel every night to do boring ‘hanging and schmoozing’ with radio and retail people, is definitely not for me”, and that he “lost interest in fronting a ‘One Hit Wonder’ to the point that I was wearing a hat while performing so that people wouldn’t see my lack of enthusiasm”
So, the New Radicals were a spent force. Gregg began a second career as a songwriter and producer – which is where Ronan Keating comes in. He wrote ‘Life Is A Rollercoaster’ for Ronan who released it in 2000 and could almost be a New Radicals record. The best Ronan Keating track and then some (although lacking the bite and celebrity baiting of YGWYG) – Ronan was at his peak and it was great to see him breaking away from the awful Boyzone. I wonder whether Ronan was eyeing up Robbie’s success – something a bit grittier and cooler and relevant. Was he involved in the negotiations & talks to release this record? Alexander also produced several of the songs on ‘Ronan’ the Album.
Gregg still writes and produces records and was even nominated for an Academy Award for ‘Lost Stars (by Maroon 5) for the movie ‘Begin Again’ (no, me neither).
‘You Get What You Give’ is the unofficial Newcastle United song, Joni Mitchell loves it, and The Edge said to ‘Time’ magazine that it was the song he is “most jealous of. I really would love to have written that.”
Amen to that Mr Edge.
Number 26 – Foreigner – ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You’
This was released from the 4th album from Foreigner, imaginatively entitled ‘4’. The title also reflected that they were now a 4-piece outfit, namely Mick Jones, Lou Gramm, Rick Ellis & Dennis Elliott. Mick was a Brit (from Portsmouth) who had been in Spooky Tooth and performing some session work in France working with Francois Hardy and Sylvie Vartan. Rick Willis, from Cambridge, cut his teeth playing with Peter Frampton, Roxy Music and the Small Faces. Dennis Elliott, from Peckham, was a touring drummer with Mott The Hoople and appeared on Ian Hunter’s debut album. Lou Gramm, the sole American, is a singer from Rochester, New York met up with Jones in 1976 and they formed the band. In 1997, he had a brain tumour and the surgery to remove it and recovery thereafter caused him to gain weight and impacted upon his vocal range (he really was a great Rock Singer).
The first three LP’s had some great moments (I especially like ‘Feels Like The First Time’ & ‘Cold As Ice’ from the debut album. However, with ‘4’ things seemed to click into place. ‘Urgent’ is a marvellous record compete with an astonishing sax appearance by Junior Walker.
‘4’ was produced by Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange, the maverick chap who also produced ‘Back In Black’ by AC/DC and ‘Hysteria’ by Def Leppard.
What really lifts this record to somewhere else is the synth theme by the little-known Thomas Dolby – a year before ‘Golden Age Of Wireless. Having just read ‘The Speed Of Sound’, I had absolutely no idea that he was involved in this record. It helped to pull Foreigner into the 80’s and this spent 10 weeks at Number 2 in the US charts (held off the top spot by Hall & Oates and Olivia Newton-John). It was their biggest hit until ‘I Want To Know What Love Is’ came around.
Tensions within the band, particularly between Jones & Gramm led to many changes, Lou leaving, joining, leaving again but are still touring with Kansas and Europe on the same bill.
Number 25 a) Joan Armatrading – ‘Save Me’
As the new decade settles in, I’ve been reflecting upon the previous one.
I was lucky enough to survive a stroke in 2009. It’s altered my life and the way that I lived it. I’m now working part-time which, although something of a struggle, is do-able. Working part-time allows me to spend some time with Fred and previously Rascal and to recharge my batteries – a day at work totally exhausts me. I do recognise that I occasionally need a boost of self-confidence or so reassurance or understanding but this is now who I am and am living with it.
During my recovery, I had the time to catch up on some of the television drama series (or seasons) which I had missed. DVD Boxed sets were so in-vogue and ‘binge watching’ became a thing. So, I bought the ‘Oz’ boxed set. I remember it being on Channel 4 right in the middle of the night. It would have been the first series, I didn’t really get it or like it, so I have no idea what inspired me to buy it – maybe someone recommended it to me. Once you get used to the odd camera angles, the atmosphere within the prison and get familiar with the format, this is one great TV series. Although the ending is a little underwhelming – along the way you are introduced to some great characters – who can ever forget Diane Whittlesey, Tobias Beecher, Vernon Schillinger, Simon Adebisi and Sister Peter Marie Reimondo. And then there was Chris Keller who was played by Christopher Meloni. A rarity in Drama – an LGBTQ+ character that was nasty yet complex and even tender – no mincing, all manliness and brutality. His relationship with Beecher was fascinating too and for a time they were the perfect, incarcerated power couple. First appearing in Season 2 – when the ‘Oz’ franchise really took wings – he almost survived until the end of the Sixth Season.
This made its appearance in the penultimate episode. To this day, it still haunts and upsets me. Joan Armatrading is the perfect choice. From her self-titled third album, tucked away at the end of Side 1, ‘Joan Armatrading’ really has stood the test of time. It’s incredible and full of beautiful songs, wonderfully performed.
From the series, this clip was used to illustrate Cyril’s pending execution whilst his brother paces around in metaphorical as well as real circles. The clip here is a ‘youtube’ composite showing some of the executions that took place in Emerald City. It’s quite a watch, particularly if you have never seen the series. Hardly comfortable viewing but a reminder that the Death Penalty is wrong, whatever the crime.
Number 25 b) Journey – ‘Don’t Stop Believing’
Whilst Oz was a rehearsal, The Sopranos was the real deal. Again, it started slowly. Funny but difficult to get into – then somewhere around Episode 6 it all clicked into place. I followed Oz with this and remember purchasing it from HMV (Virgin had long gone by then).
Tony Soprano was a believable thuggish but lovable rogue. Trying to keep his family together and his soul together. It ran from 1999 to June 2007 – a few years before I was on the Facebook. I’d read about it, but I was so involved in doing my degree for much of the time, that I was too busy to watch it and of course Netflix or NOW TV were non-existent – I cannot even remember whether it was show on C4 or E4. The writing is extraordinary, and the huge cast included some 27 actors who had previously appeared in Goodfellas. Mostly set in New Jersey – Springsteen’s stomping ground – we watched, sometimes between our fingers, character after character being bumped off. Some you hated, others you loved. And James Gandolfini was the oddest yet realest of sex-symbols (RIP).
The music used in the series was a diverse range of Doo-Wop and contemporary hip sounds. There was everything from Ella Fitzgerald to Pigeonhead from Springsteen, the Stones. Emmylou Harris to Aphex Twin. Whether it be a song on the car radio or in the background in a bar, the attention to detail was remarkable.
One of the scenes that stays with me most is the one where Adriana gets killed. Feisty as fuck, she is on the verge of blowing the whole family apart until she is taken for a drive into the country by Silvio (an excellent Steve Van Zandt from the E-Street Band), and routinely shot. You sense that she knows exactly what is going to happen en-route to the woods. It’s a tragic end and the musical accompaniment is ‘Barracuda’ by Heart.
‘Don’t Stop Believing’ is the last song played. From the 1981 ‘Escape’ album, The Sopranos saw a huge increase in downloads. Then came ‘Glee’ the TV show when the cast soared to the top of the charts with their version. Some pretty odd twists and turns in that journey. The final minute of The Sopranos has probably caused the most consternation amongst the viewing public ever. What exactly did happen? The debate will probably run and run, forever.
Number 25 c) New Seekers – ‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)’
The final episode of Mad Men aired on the 17th May 2015 and life has not been quite the same since. TV certainly hasn’t. Some have accused it over the misogynistic description of the 60’s workplace, the abundance of whiskey and the smoking of many many cigarettes. But for me, that was what this period of history was all about. Women WERE badly treated at work and expected to remain at home cooking hubbies dinner and perfectly raising their children – it was a thing and now has been put out with the trash. Yet the women in Mad Men were incredibly strong, amazingly well dressed, driven sorts. They, Don Draper aside, provided the best moments from this glittering 7 Series show.
Beginning life on BBC4 (then later repeated on BBC2), HBO were unable to secure the rights and instead it went to AMC – undoubtedly HBO regretted every single second of letting it slip through their fingers. It was proper water-cooler stuff (if one worked in an office with a water cooler. For it’s duration, I became obsessed with it – it changed my fashion, redesigned my life, introduced me to other styles of music. Incredibly it finished almost 5 years ago. Many have tried to copy it stylistically but have failed. Today there is SO much choice on television it is difficult to become engaged in a show the way one did even 5 years ago. That makes me quite sad.
The break-out star has been Elisabeth Moss, mainly for her role in The Handmaids Tale. Jon Hamm has also been fairly successful but Christine Hendricks, January Jones and Vincent Karthusier have all gone quiet.
The final scene shows Don, cross-legged on a hillside, gently chanting – but with a quizzical look on his face. He had been on the most incredible trip – leading a double life, being discovered, womanising several dozen women, taking drugs, making perfect pitches but at the end he was jobless, he’d said his goodbyes to Betty but seemed happier than he had been for any time in the previous years. Or was he just plotting? The suggestion is that Don was behind the ad campaign, although that would have been impossible because Don Draper was not a real person.
‘I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing’ was recorded by the New Seekers. Formed by Keith Potger as a replacement for The Seekers – they covered this following its inclusion in that famous Coca-Cola ad. Originally performed by The Hillsiders, this bright, poppy record took the New Seekers all the way to the UK Number 1 as well as reaching Number 7 in America.
I would watch all three of these series (you could also include The Wire and Six Feet Under in that) on a loop until the day I die.
Number 24 – Steve Miller Band – ‘Fly Like An Eagle’.
Tick-Tock-Tick Do, Do, doh…
It had been three years since we heard anything by Steve Miller when this was released. ‘The Joker’ had been a big hit in 1973, it’s the one that mentions the ‘midnight toker’ (or marijuana smoker for the uninitiated). It hit the Number One spot in 1990 following its usage in a Levi Commercial.
I love that but also there is more to Steve Miller. ‘Fly Like An Eagle’ swooped into our consciousness in 1976. It flew all the way to Number 2 in the US charts, kept off the top spot by Streisand who was basking in the glory of ‘A Star Is Born’ – it also reached Number 13 in this country. It pays homage to ‘Slip Into Darkness’ by War and is so mellow, dreamy and laid back as to almost be horizontal. There is a lovely space-y feel to it though. You can imagine yourself gliding above the clouds as a cosmonaut on Soyuz T-12. Interesting to note, however, the appearance of Cheech & Chong on the album. In 1978 he released ‘Greatest Hits 1974–78’ which was a monstrously bug seller – even if it doesn’t include ‘Abracadabra’ it’s a good place to start as any – it also features the 7” version of all of his hits.
His musical history dates to 1949 when Mum & Dad were matron of honour and best man to Les Paul & Mary Ford – subsequently they became his godparents.
He played with Paul Butterfield, released a single in 1965 and soon moved to San Francisco. Currently on his fourth marriage, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 2016 where he described the experience as being “unpleasant” and that the Hall of Fame was misogynistic and “need to respect the artists they say they’re honouring, which they don’t.”
Number 23 – Linda Ronstadt & Aaron Neville – ‘Don’t Know Much’
Anyone else find the video to this quite peculiar? Linda appears to be coaching Aaron in a penitentiary and seems to be his probation officer rather than his long-term partner…
The Eighties had been quite a difficult journey for us Ronstadt fans- her 70’sglory days, when she was the Queen Of Everything were behind her. It also didn’t help that she acquired a ‘bob’. She released three albums with Nelson Riddle where she, successfully, tackled The Great American Songbook. ‘Hasten Down The Wind’ it was not. To flummox us all further she released an album of traditional Mexican folk songs, appeared on stage in The Pirates of Penzance before returning to the pop arena, firstly with James Ingram for the soundtrack to An American Dream and then the release of ‘Cry Like A Rainstorm, Howl Like The Wind’ in 1989. It became, despite a mouthful of a title, one of her most successful outings. Doing what she does best, she covered Karla Bonoff, Jimmy Webb, Isaac Hayes and this written by Barry Mann, Cynthia Weill and Tom Snow.
Aaron Neville began his chart career way back in 1967, when ‘Tell It Like It Is’ reached Number Two in Billboard Top 100. It took literally years to achieve any kind of recognition other than critically. The General public just ignored him and his lovely songs and voice. ‘Yellow Moon’ was the closest that he and his Neville Brothers came – but they were almost too cool for most. His home in New Orleans was destroyed during Hurricane Katrina. I have a fascination for all things New Orleans. The Mardi Gras looks to be the best fun and of course, the music scene is very exciting.
Neville got his facial tattoo (of a cross) when he was 16 years old. Speaking to Billboard in 2019, he recalled, “My dad made me scrub it with Brillo Pads and Octagon Soap. The skin came off, but the tattoo stayed. But some years later, I had an album out called The Tattooed Heart [in 1995], and we were doing a special thing in a tattoo parlour, so I let them go over it and outline it — freshen it up.”
Over the years, this has grown on me immensely. With age comes wisdom etc etc. It has nothing to do about sex or lust but about love and respect – one person for another. Even if they both sound a little world weary, one has a right to be when you reach our age. Simple song with a great message.
‘Don’t Know Much’ is the biggest hit wither artist ha had in this country reaching Number 2 in 1989.
There is one criticism of La Ronstadt and that is her album artwork – some of the worst that I have ever seen – dreadful, out of focus photo’s, naff fonts, awful clothing. Yet ‘Hasten Down The Wind’ and ‘Simple Dreams’ are one of the BEST album covers ever. Weird.
In 2013, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease which meant that she had to give up singing. Sad and tragic.
Number 22 – Sarah McLachlan – ‘When She Loved Me’
This will break your little hearts. Any Disney fan will tell you that any Disney film requires a moment – especially a great heart-tugging song – ‘When You Wish Upon A Star’, ‘Let It Go’, ‘Baby Mine’, ‘Hush-A-Bye Mountain’, ‘Feed The Birds’, ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’, the list is endless. They managed to employ the best writers too – The Sherman Brothers, Elton John, Tim Rice and of course Randy Newman who, a TT’ed favourite, has written songs for all four films in the Toy Story franchise.
The back story is this. Jesse is a toy cowgirl. She is having a chat to Woody, the toy cowboy, as you do, about her life so far with Emily who, now a late teen has given her away as she has outgrown her.
It can and should be viewed as deeper stuff than that. The theme is Emotional abandonment – a subject that I became aware (or more specifically Separation Anxiety Disorder) during my Level 3 Counselling course (finished more than a year ago) and once I discovered that I also suffered from this Anxiety Disorder this is enormously ‘triggering’ (natch).
‘When She Loved Me’ has been described as a song that “captures the beauty of growing up and, for parents, the beauty of letting go.” Or one could simply view it as a love song – and, if you wish, a love song between two females. Or, perhaps, it is about the death of a pet or a loved one. Or the end of a relationship or friendship. Its theme is universal, significant and all encompassing.
Sam Adams joked that:
“There are two kinds of people: People who weep during the ‘When She Loved Me’ montage, and people who lie about it.”
I am definitely in the former category. Unfortunately for us, Steps have also covered this.
Sarah McLachlan is a Canadian singer-songwriter. She’s great, little heard but a beautiful clear voice. She was the instigator, along with Paula Cole of Lilith Fair which for a couple of years in the mid-late 90’s, promoted females in music.
Her biggest hit came with Delirium as featured vocalist on ‘Silence’ reaching Number 3 in 2000 and had two Top 40 hits with songs from her album ‘Surfacing’ which is well worth checking out.
I’d like to salute Dom for introducing me to this and to it’s emotional pull. Previously it was just a song that sprang out when I heard in Toy Story 2 but, once played at the Almanac, I recognised the message of never abandoning hope or discarding those that love and support you. We’ve played it again several times and it never fails to move me.
Pass me those tissues please.
Number 21 – Guns N’ Roses – ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’
Guns N’ Roses have been responsible for some of the worst records ever made – be it that awful cover of ‘Knockin’ On Heavens Door’ or that overblown dirge of ‘November Rain’ to the horrible vocals that appear on most of the records. Not to mention the downright offensive homophobia and racism contained on ‘One In A Million’. When working at Virgin we were invaded by placard waving members from the LGBTQ+ Community (the gays and the lesbians in those days). They clustered around t-shirts of Guns ‘N’ Roses and demanded that action should be taken to stop this filth. I supported them to a point but kept thinking ‘What about Sweet Child O’ Mine’ then?). I miss those days when our community took direct action.
Nowadays, one would take to Twitter or to Facebook to register their disgust. Time heals though. Axel & Co appeared with Elton Joh at the Freddie Mercury Memorial Concert (still some placards but less in evidence) and was on Geffen Records run by an out gay man. Axel has tried to justify his stance – he is undoubtably smarter and regrets his outburst. Nowadays, Guns N’ Roses are a shadow of the band they once were. Axl Rose is the only original member left – by ’97 all had left save Rose. However, Slash, Rose and Duff McKagan made up in 2015 and they embarked upon a lengthy tour taking in Wembley Stadium in 2017 and returning to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium for two might in May 2020 – the first musical act to play there.
‘What about ‘Sweet Child ‘O Mine’ then?
Inspired by Lynyrd Skynyrd and based upon Roses’ girlfriend at the time (Erin Everly, daughter of a Everly), it towers above everything else (combined) in the Guns N’ Roses catalogue. Okay, it does sound remarkably similar to Australian Crawl – ‘Unpublished Critics’ originally released in 1981, but that version lacks the urgency or the amazing guitar riff by Slash.
It reached Number 6 in this country, topped the charts in the States and suddenly, despite the controversy, by the end of 1989 Guns ‘N’ Roses were the biggest band in the whole world.
Rose has stated that the concept for the video initially focused on the theme of drug trafficking. According to Rose, the video was to depict an Asian woman carrying a baby into a foreign land, only to discover at the end that the child was dead and filled with heroin. Which may not have helped make the record such a huge hit.
Sheryl Crow is the only artist I can find that have covered this and she made a dreadful hash of it.
In his excellent bible of a book ‘The Heart Of Rock & Soul – The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made’, Dave Marsh said:
“Slash’s melodic opening solo establishes the record as an elegy – an ode to lost innocence, and a spur to the quest to recover that feeling. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ speaks to a new generation of kids and housewives – the latchkey generation, the children who basically raised each other. For those that have suffered such an upbringing, those lines (‘Her hair reminds me of some sweet place where as a child I’d hide/ And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by’) are as eloquent – if not as “poetic” as Joni Mitchell ever wrote, and you don’t have to wear tattoos to know it”
Indeed you do.
Number 20 – Olivia Newton-John – ‘Magic’
‘Xanadu’ the film was released in 1980. Olivia was flushed and fresh from the success of ‘Grease’ – and this was supposed to be her follow up film – the one that would maintain her movie star status. It’s a bloody mess.
Variety called it:
“a stupendously bad film whose only salvage is the music”
Michael Beck & Olivia was nominated for two Razzies – Worst Actor & Worst Actress for the first Golden Raspberries Awards – Neil Diamond won the Worst Actor & Brooke Shields – Worst Actress. It lost out for Worst Picture to ‘Can’t Stop The Music’ (which I quite like and actually own on DVD).
To sum it up – it plays out something like this. A Statue of the Nine Muses comes to life and one of the flies down to earth (played by Olivia). Sonny (Michael Beck) is commissioned to paint an album cover for a fictitious band called The Nine Sisters. He bumps into the Muse who flew to earth whilst out at a roller-disco. She kisses him, he becomes obsessed with her and starts stalking her (well not quite). He bumps into Danny MacGuire (Gene Kelly in his final film) on the beach who reveals to him that he had a muse but lost her in the 1940’s. In a flashback scene we see the muse and, lo, she looks exactly like Olivia Newton-John too. Sonny twigs, via some counselling with Danny that the only way he and Kir (Olivia) can be together is to gate-crash her world. He does this by ROLLER-SKAING INTO THE Mural, landing smack bang in the middle of Xanadu. There is a nightclub on earth also called Xanadu and blah blah blah, Sonny & Kira separate and get back together in silhouette whilst the credits roll and the excellent ‘Xanadu’ song plays.
Yet, the soundtrack is an absolute corker. The song is a guaranteed crowd pleaser that NEVER fails. Ever. Then we have the ELO side – containing 4 out of 5 singles of which ‘All Around The World’ is as good as anything from ‘Out Of The Blue’ or ‘Discovery’. Side One contains duets (or collaborations) between Olivia and Cliff Richard (the beautiful ‘Suddenly’), The Tubes (bizarrely) and Gene Kelly. But la crème de la crème is ‘Magic’.
It was a US number one, displaced by the Yacht Rock classic ‘Sailing’ by Christopher Cross lasting 4 weeks and coming in 3rd place for most popular single of the year. ‘Physical’ was an even bigger hit reigning for 10 weeks the following year. She looks stunningly beautiful here (she IS stunningly beautiful to be fair) – much better than she ever looked in as ‘Sandy’ better than she looked in ‘Physical’, better than Deborah Harry looked too. The song slinks along til’ it reaches that classic chorus.
This was written by John Farrar without who, they may not have even been an Olivia Newton-John, or 70’s Shadows or the vocoder bit In ‘Show Me The Way’ by Peter Frampton – who, seemingly stole the idea from his ‘No, No, Nina’ instrumental track.
You may have notice that Olivia has now been made a Dame. This makes my heart sing. Not bad for a girl from Cambridge who has done an enormous amount of work for charity whilst being struck by Stage IV cancer, that has spread to her bones.
God Bless Her.
Number 19 – Roy Orbison & k.d. lang – ‘Crying’
It’s always been one of my favourite songs. Like every single record in Roy’s exceptional cannon of work, it’s short, dramatic, emotional and sung with such control.
Dwight Yoakam stated that Orbison’s voice sounded like “the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window”. Barry Gibb of The Bee Gees went further to say that when he heard “Crying” for the first time, “That was it. To me that was the voice of God.” Elvis Presley stated his voice was the greatest and most distinctive he had ever heard. That is some accolade.
In 1987/88 his star was definitely in the ascendance again. ‘In Dreams’ was heavily featured in ‘Blue Velvet’ in 1986. He was working and recording more than he had even done – with The Travelling Wilburys, with k.d, with Bruce Springsteen and on the ‘Mystery Girl album – his first newly recorded solo album since 1979. It featured all of The Heartbreakers, Jeff Lynne, Bono and George Harrison. Talks were in place for him to write his autobiography and he wanted Martin Sheen to play him if it was ever filmed. He spoke to Johnny Cash and said that he was having chest pains and on December 6th 1988, he died from a massive heart attack. He was 52 years old.
k.d. lang is an absolute inspiration to me. On the verge of releasing the sublime ‘Shadowland’ she hooked up with Roy for this duet. It heled to give her greater exposure and the single climbed to Number 12 in the UK charts in 1987. Blessed with a mezzo-soprano voice of considerable power, she can sing absolutely anything that you care to give her. She is probably the most talented female singer of our generation. It’s been 9 years since anything approaching a solo record appeared (she has been globe trotting with her Ingenue Tour I guess).
Don McLean reached Number 1 with this in 1981 – it’s also a brilliant version, Don is a great singer – you have to be to tackle a song such as this.
“When (“Crying”) came out I don’t think anyone had accepted the fact that a man should cry when he wants to cry.”
Boys do cry.
Number 18 – Rainbow – ‘Since You Been Gone’
This is all about Graham Bonnet and his loudness. Released during his brief tenure with Rainbow, this was from ‘Down To Earth’ the only record he was featured on. His time with Rainbow did help to change his musical direction ever so slightly. He was with The Marbles, he appeared in a film with Adrienne Posta, his then girlfriend, when he appeared as Kook the lead singer of Billy Beethoven, has a hit in Australia with ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ and again with a Bee Gees song – ‘Warm Love’ which was left out of ‘Saturday Night Fever’. He ended up in a wide range of failed Heavy Metal & Rock acts – Michael Schenker Band, Alcatraz, Forcefield, Impellitteri. I really wish he had done more stuff like this.
‘Since You Been Gone’ has been a minor hit for Head East in 1978 in America. In comparison it sounds weedy, more like a rehearsal. But the cannier of you may remember that this was also performed in 1976 on the wonderful ‘Supersonic’ with Mike ‘Cue The Music’ Mansfield. Russ was an ex-member of Argent who had written for Colin Blunstone and would writ hits for Hot Chocolate and Frida as well as a moderately successful solo career.
‘Since You Been Gone’ peaked inside the UK Top Ten in the Summer of 1979. It’s the most commercial thing Rainbow ever recorded.
Number 17 – Alice Cooper – ‘Hello Hooray’
A little bit of History. I assumed until April 6th 2018, that this was written by Alice Cooper for his ‘Billion Dollar Babies’ album in 1973. I could not imagine anyone else doing it. Yet, this was written one Rolf Kempf, a Canadian back in 1968 and recorded by Judy Collins for her album – ‘Who Knows where The Time Goes’. Lovely though this version is – Stephen Stills on guitar and covers of Dylan, Cohen and Sandy Denny – I’m sure that she was totally surprised to hear Alice’s version.
Alice arrived fully formed with his fabulous Alice Cooper Band. Hi first US Hit was with ‘I’m Eighteen’ the song that Johnny Rotten used when auditioning for the Sex Pistols. In 1972 ‘School’s Out’ reached the top of the UK charts – just in time for school to break up. It became an Anthem for young kids around the country – everyone my ages were chanting this and the smart move of using school children doing the same – it stayed at Number One for three glorious weeks in, what I remember, was a scorcher of a Summer. I did not want to go back to school – nobody did.
Truth be told I was actually quite scared of Alice Cooper. That incendiary TV performance, the one where he grabs a girl by the hair (in my mind he had a sabre in his hand) is emblazoned upon my memory. His live show had it all, with a look inspired by Bette Davis, Anita Pallenburg and Emma Peel, live chickens, an electric chair, boa constrictors, an axe chopping the heads of bloodied baby dolls – the world had not seen anything quite like this. And that not even going near the amazingly long hair on most of the band members.
As time passed, so his look softened. He wrote ‘Only Women Bleed’ later recorded by our very own Julie Covington about a woman in an abusive marriage. He exchanged shocking the public with golf putting off six days a week with a handicap of 4.
‘Hello Hooray’ came out in 1973, reaching number 6 in this country. The band wanted their version of the song to sound like “Alice Cooper meets Cabaret” and they succeeded. The parent album was a huge hit too – the sleeve itself is iconic (a snakeskin wallet), it featured Donovan and was produced by Bob Ezrin who did such a great job with this.
Clearly an influence upon Bowie, upon the UK Glam rock scene – the album inspired David Byrne to write ‘Psycho Killer’.
Number 16 – Phil Collins – ‘In The Air Tonight’
Tiffany Twisted becomes, briefly, politic. Is Phil Collins a Leaver or a Remainer? Frankly, I don’t really care. He has had such negative press, particularly in the Eighties and Nineties that people seem to overlook what a great musician and songwriter he is. One of the biggest pop strs on the planet during the 1980’s he did not really have a hook – he couldn’t dance like Michael Jackson could dance, he was not overtly sexual like Madonna, he was not as mysterious or as musically talented as Prince, he was less authentic than Bruce Springsteen – yet he sold millions and millions of records. Maybe because he seemed so normal or his omnipresence., his multiple marriages, tax avoidance, bland music, right wing, ruining Genesis – the list of criticism was endless and vitriolic. If we only listened to people that we agreed with politically we’d only be left with Billy Bragg.
Other quarters have been kinder. He has become a god amongst the hip-hop community, lauded by Kanye West and Beyonce.
Guardian journalist Dave Simpson wrote:
“few pop figures have become as successful and yet reviled as Phil Collins”, he argued “it’s about time we recognised Collins’s vast influence as one of the godfathers of popular culture”.
‘In The Air Tonight’ was the lead off track from ‘Face Value’ his debut solo album on Virgin- Like all of his first 4 albums it features a simple headshot – a tool also used by Adele for her first three. Had John Lennon not been shot this might well have reached Number 1 it shares the same feel as some of Peter Gabriel’s stuff – also produced by Hugh Padgham. It’s an experimental song too. And he sings it brilliantly. Of course the drums are the thing here – the massive drum break has been used by air-drummers worldwide.
Stuart Maconie has said:
‘Musically, it’s an extraordinarily striking record, because almost nothing happens in it … It’s the drum sound in particular that’s amazing. You don’t hear it at all for the first two minutes of the song … then there’s that great doo-dom doo-dom doo-dom comes in, and the drums come in half way through the song, setting the template for all the Eighties drum songs after that’
And since you’re asking, I do really fancy him still.
Tonight, the UK leaves the EU. A historic day. There is so much to do still but the deed is done and I cannot, however hard I try, see a way back. Ever since the Referendum I have kept my countenance, not really engaged in either side of the argument though I Never wanted our country to be in this position. I consider myself to be a European, enjoy the freedom of movement that it affords me. Brexit has been divisive on so many fronts – it’s severed friendships, caused general suspicion and taken up so much parliamentary time since the referendum results way back inn 2016. The majority vote was to leave and I’ve come to accept that decision – although will never agree with it. We are where we are.
And as much as I hate the Tory’s and everything that they stand for, they played a blinder at the last election against a weak, feeble Labour party opposition and a frankly barmy campaign by the Lib Dems (Get Brexit Done was a genius bit of promtion repeated over and over again). Whilst recognising that it is not completely over, I have a sense of calm resignation – no more shouting outside the Houses of Parliament, less vox pops in the streets on the news, no more Nigel Farage or Ann Widdecombe and we can now concentrate upon making sure that the Tories do not ruin our country and it’s communities making sure that they protect the NHS and our education system, our workers rights, our planet and securing the best deal by the end of the year going forward. Fingers crossed.
There is an increase in people voting for right-wing political parties (some more extreme than others) in the whole of Europe – covered very interestingly in the three-part documentary by Ed Balls on BBC2 – ‘Travels In Euroland’. Nailing their colours to supporting the disenfranchised of a variety of countries around Europe – the fishing community in The Netherlands, the mining community in Poland, the bull fighters of Spain – all have mirrors about what has happened here and why. Dig a bit deeper though and you see worrying levels or xenophobia, homophobia and the like. It’s an uncomfortable thought. People are being hoodwinked. Maybe some of our own country are being hoodwinked. Most people voted as a protest vote against what they see as a political elite- politicians without any understanding of what life is really like in their shoes. Sad.
Tomorrow we shall all wake up, our lives will still be the same. Tonight, there is something in the air (but I certainly shall not be attending a ‘candlelight vigil’, that’s for sure).
Number 15 a) – Mariah Carey – ‘Vision Of Love’
Melisma (Greek) is the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. Music sung in this style is referred to as melismatic, as opposed to syllabic, in which each syllable of text is matched to a single note. An informal term for melisma is a vocal run. Mariah, Whitney and Aguilera were the Queens of Melisma. This vocal technique was everywhere in the 1990’s – Diva’s warbling their hearts out. Whitney has the biggest hit, of course, with ‘I Will Always Love You’ but perhaps this was the first record where it was heard so naturally.
It’s an extraordinary record – incredibly her first single. Co-written by Ms Carey, it came from her debut album – introduced to me by Dave Morrison on it’s release in the UK (‘Listen to the new Mariah Carey album – you’d love it’ he said. He was correct).
The New Yorker named “Vision of Love” the “Magna Carta of melisma” for its and Carey’s influence on pop and R&B singers.
Reaching the Top Ten in the UK, Number One in the States it made Carey an instant star. African-American and Irish-American parentage, Mum & Dad divorced up when Mariah was three and she grew up with her Mum. In 1993, she married Tommy Mottola, the Head of Colombia records, who saw her as a main competition to Madonna and Whitney. She became the first debut artist since The Jackson 5 to reach Number One in the Billboard Top 100 and her debut album was the best selling record Stateside. Some start. And it’s never really stopped. She may have moved away from her roots, producing singles with a more R&B influence (for Tiffany Twisted anyway). She has amassed 19 Number One singles and spent 89 weeks on top of the American charts. I’d be interested to see her tackle something gentle and reflective. Maybe someday she will.
And Christmas has never been quite the same either.
Number 15b) – Kate Bush – ‘Somewhere In Between’
Kate also shot to stardom with her debut single. ‘Wuthering Heights’ is one of the oddest records of 1978, nothing had ever been heard by a woman that was quite so striking and peculiar. It’s arty, graceful, mysterious and romantic – Kate shares her birthday with Emily Bronte. Johnny Rotten is a fan. She recorded her first 4 albums in four years. We waited a bit for ‘Hounds Of Love’ and there was a twelve year gap between ‘The Red Shoes’ and ‘Aerial’.
The album was released in November 2005 (yes I know, 14 years ago). I was working in the Cash Office un the Brighton Megastore the week that ‘King Of The Mountain’ was released and I made sure that I played the whole of both of the double albums whilst I was cashing up on that first Sunday. It was a thrilling event. It was so great to have her back. I have always preferred ‘A Sky Of Honey’ over ‘A Sea Of Honey’ (which contained the frankly desperate ‘Mrs Bartolozzi’.) The second disc is a song cycle beginning at the dawn of a new day and ending with the dawn of the next. It’s full of birdsong both sampled an imitated by Bush herself. At the time, the appearance of Rolf Harris did not cause me any bother but glad she replaced him on the recently released boxed set. It stands proudly alongside ‘The Ninth Wave’ from ‘Hounds Of Love’ which I believe to be the greatest side of an album EVER.
Her last album came out in 2011 – ’50 Words For Snow’ – an odd album that I’ve never quite got. That was nine years ago and I do wonder whether we will ever hear anything from her ever again.
She did play the Hammersmith Apollo for a 22-day residency in 2014 (yes I know 6 years ago). It was THE event of the year. Split into 3 acts, ignoring anything pre- Hounds Of Love, it was incredible to be sharing the same oxygen as her. ‘The Ninth Wave’ was just extraordinary – brilliantly staged, it was amazing to see it all brought to light – it was proper Drama.
‘Somewhere In Between’ sounded fantastic. It’s such a dreamy, seductive, ambient record. Sadly, for an artist who is so visual, this is the only decent video I can find. And equally sadly, the promised performance video from ‘Before The Dawn’ has never appeared.
Every piece of Bush news is swallowed up and chewed over by her adoring fans – who can forget the furore over her saying that she admired Theresa May?
I bet she’s a right laugh too.
Number 14 – Bob Dylan – ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’
Some Bob Statistics. Songs written – 658, number of covers versions – 2050, net worth $200 million, album sales 120 million, children 6, age 78, 2500 shows played since 2013, number of UK top 30 hits – 13. But number of times played at the Almanac – 4.
There is so much Bob ‘stuff’ in the ether, that it’s impossible to do him justice – and I suspect there is twice as much lurking in the Bob Archives. So, I’m going to focus upon this record and its accompanying album.
On paper, Bob shouldn’t really work. He has never been a definition of a sex symbol (even WITH a beard), his voice is more often than not quite whiney, his songs are not normally the traditional VERSE/CHORUS/VERSE. He has embraced Christianity, has released several albums of American Standards (okay these were in his 70’s) and he is in my Top 5 Most Boring Concerts EVER – 7th July 1984 at Wembley Stadium – 26 songs of utter tedium (it might have been the venues fault).
And yet…something often takes me back to his work…
‘Bringing It All Back Home’, Dylan’s 5th album, was released in 1965 and saw him embrace electricity. Pissing off half of his folk based audience, thrilling the other half. A tad influenced by meeting up with the Beatles, the album cover – a shot of him and Sally Grossman sat around his(?) flat surrounded by LP’s by The Impressions, Lotte Lenya, Robert Johnson, art, poetry books and a cat called Rolling Stone. Everything a student could wish for. It contained ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, ‘Maggie’s Farm, ‘It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue’ and this.
‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ was the first single and became his first US Top 40 single. Underground Dylan had suddenly become overground. This video clip is almost as famous as the song – copied and parodied by everyone from Richard Curtis, for ‘Love Actually’ to Belle & Sebastian. It was filmed upon the steps of The Savoy Hotel in London and the cards were written by Donovan, Allen Ginsberg, Bob Neuwirth and Dylan himself.
If there was anything hipper on either the UK or the US charts in 1965, point me in that direction.
Number 13 – Nazareth – ‘This Flight Tonight’
This track came to my attention as an 11-year-old lad. Pumping hard, incredible vocals – these were real men playing real rock music. I had a scrap pop book and with the help of Look In and Music Star, I collected snippets and photos of Nazareth – even knew their names by heart. Dan, Manny, Pete and Darrell from Dunfermline in Scotland became the most beloved sons of that town. They formed in 1968 and decamped to London to chase fame and fortune. They broke in to the big-time with their third album – ‘Razamanaz’ – spawning two Top Twenty hits in ‘Broken Down Angel’ and ‘Bad Bad Boy’.
‘This Flight Tonight’ came from ‘Loud ‘n’ Proud’ their fourth release on Mountain Records. Their chart career was over by the time it came to 1979 where they passed the baton to AC/DC who were clearly influenced by them.
Dan retired from touring after a diagnosis with COPD in 2013, Manny produced a couple of tracks for Guns ‘N’ Roses and is now a solo artist, Pete still performs with a version of Nazareth and Darrell sadly died in 1999 from a heart attack – his place was taken by Pete’s son – keeping it in the family.
‘This Flight Tonight’, of course, is from ‘Blue’ by Joni Mitchell. My 11-year-old self knew very little about her and had no idea how beautiful and influential that album was to become as an adult. It was the B side to ‘Carey’ and told the tale regret on flying away from her lover on a plane, wishing they could return.
I’d be fascinated to learn about the process Nazareth went through when choosing this song to record. It’s amazing that they were able to turn such a gentle plaintive song into such a brilliant rock record.
Writing in The Independent in 2012, Robert Webb said:
“The Dunfermline hard-rockers Nazareth loved Blue. You remember them: the gap-toothed vocalist, Dan McCafferty, had hair like a kitchen scourer and a voice to match. They were bad, bad boys. Among the tracks on their 1973 album Loud ‘n’ Proud, produced by the former Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover, is a taut version of “This Flight”. “We used to listen to Joni as we were travelling round in the van,” recalls Nazareth’s bass-player, Pete Agnew. “‘This Flight Tonight’ was a big favourite.”
Mitchell was impressed with the makeover:
“When she was recording at A&M, we were just starting an American tour,” explains Agnew. “We all happened to be in the studio the day the single was released, so we were introduced to her and told her what we had done. She said, ‘What, with a rock band?'” Joni paid the Scottish band the greatest compliment after “This Flight Tonight” became a worldwide hit for them, touching down at No 11 in the UK. “She was playing a gig in London and told the audience: ‘I’d like to open with a Nazareth song’!”.”
Not only is Darrell Sweet, the drummer, the epitome of Hot Drummers In Pop, the riff was stolen (and Nancy Wilson has admitted as much) for ‘Barracuda’ by Heart.
So, you see, Joni is a rocker too…
Number 12 – The Seekers – ‘The Carnival Is Over’
This song holds a very special place in my heart – but I have never been able to figure out why. I would have been 3 the year it became a Number 1 single in the UK so, perhaps, it is one of my earliest musical memories or, maybe, it reminds me of my Nan? Or maybe because Judith was my three year old first Gay Icon, I adored her hair style – especially the way it was swept over her one shoulder – I have distinct memories of wearing a woollen scarf over my head, styled in the same way – none of my relatives were very impressed at all (of course, if that were to happen today they would be accused of stifling my difference) (did I give a name to my ‘wig’? probably).
Judith Durham was the lead singer of The Seekers – she became the lead singer of this Australian combo in 1963, leaving them for a solo career in 1968. Don’t snigger, but she was Christened, Judith MAVIS COCK which alone should have catapulted to Camp Superstardom. Moving around in the Jazz circles in Malvern, she was asked to become the lead singer on the behest of Athol Guy, the bespectacled member of the band – (HOT actually). Together they provided the on- boat entertainment on the S.S. Fairsky and entered the Abbey Road studio and recorded ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’. In the late 1990s, Durham was stalked by a former president of a Judith Durham fan club, a woman who sent her dozens of DOORMATS through the post. The woman was subsequently prosecuted, and was later imprisoned for other serial crimes. How bizarre.
Her and the other members of The Seekers were regular fixture on Light Entertainment programmes throughout the 60’s. Aforementioned Athol Guy hosted some quiz shows in Australia and has moved into business becoming a patron for a number of Community Groups as well as being a member of the Liberal Party (Aussie Branch). Keith Potger – great 60’s name, handsome chap – moved into songwriting, became a patron for Motor Neurone Disease and in 2018, coined the word “mynonym” to be a synonym for the word palindrome. Bruce Woodey became a solo artist and released his first solo LP – ‘Just Good Friends’ in 1971 – with a cover featuring two naked models having sexual intercourse with a strong resemblance to The Good Sex Guide. Quite a shock for the blue-rinsed fans of The Seekers. All four of them have reunited for tours and the occasional album – but as they are all now well into their 70’s Seekers spotting has become a rarity.
‘The Carnival Is Over’ is, in fact, based upon a Russian Folk song from the 19th Century. Adapted by Tom Springfield, brother of Dusty, he wrote the lyrics after a trip to the Carnival in Rio. To me though, the lyrics and the song resonate much much deeper than a simple carnival. It’s about endings. Any kind of endings you care to mention – the ultimate ending, if you will. It’s rather cheerily, on my longer funeral songs list (don’t worry I have WRITTEN IT ALL DOWN). It never fails to bring a tear to my eye.
Boney M. covered it and it was awful. Nick Cave covered it and it was great but not as good as this – but he seemed to appreciate the sentiment behind it.
I would love hear Fleetwood Mac cover it. I think it would suit the classic Rumours line up to a T. But that is never going to happen.
Number 11 – Nancy Sinatra – ‘Sugar Town’
Or, more specifically, The Wrecking Crew. There really are not enough words, within my self-imposed word count to do them justice. In fact, many of you probably have no idea who they are or what I’m talking about. Well. The Wrecking Crew were a loose collective of session musician based in Los Angeles – similar to The Funk Brothers who played on the Motown hits or the Memphis Boys who appeared on Stax recording or The Section who played at The Troubadour and Laurel Canyon and appeared on records by Linda Ronstadt James Taylor and Warren Zevon to name just 3.
The Wrecking Crew were an astonishing lot. All remained pretty much anonymous, most had their musical roots based in classical or jazz and were exceptional at sight reading music. Phil Spector used them on all of his greatest records and as the Sixties rolled on, they were used on records by The Beach Boys, The Mamas & Papas, Cher – the list is endless. As are the amount of records that they appeared on. I read ‘The Wichita Lineman: Searching in the Sun for the World’s Greatest Unfinished Song’ by Dylan Jones which was as much about The Wrecking Crew as it was about Glen Campbell or Jimmy Webb. As ‘The Wichita Lineman’ remains one of the greatest records ever recorded, it served as reminder that without that exceptional backing by these session musicians, it would be only 75% of the record it ended up being.
Featured on ‘Sugar Town’ were Don Randi – keyboards, Hal Blaine – drums, Carol Kaye – bass, Al Casey – guitar, Glen Campbell – guitar, Gary Coleman – percussion, Roy Caton & Ollie Mitchell – trumpet.
Glen we are already familiar with. Don was classically trained and can be heard on ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ and ‘Good Vibrations’ etc etc. Hal Blaine was trained on the jazz and big band circuit and can be heard on ‘Mrs Robinson’, ‘Be My Baby’, ‘Mr Tambourine Man’ etc etc. Al Casey was more of a Rockabilly beginning with Duane Eddy and appearing on songs by Lee Hazelwood & the 5th Dimension etc etc. I apologise for the use of the etc but the list of songs that these have all appeared on is gob-smacking – you can google them if you are interested.
Perhaps the most interesting of the lot was Carol Kaye. In a male dominated world, women were normally stuck at the back of the stage providing backing vocals, occasionally at the front of the stage dressed in a ballgown but never ever providing some killer bass licks a la Carol. She looked like a cool Librarian, and taught herself the steel-guitar given to her by her Mum. Her first recording was for Sam Cooke and she moved onto working with Phil Spector playing acoustic guitar on ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. According to the New York Times, she played on 10,000 recording sessions. She appeared on sessions by Frank Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, The Supremes, The Temptations, the Four Tops and The Monkees. She played electric bass on Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Are Made For Walkin'”, while Chuck Berghofer played double bass. She also came up with the introduction on fellow session player Glen Campbell’s hit “Wichita Lineman”. Kaye later said that during the 1960s she would sometimes play three or four sessions per day, and was pleased that so many of them created hit records. She was featured in the 2008 film The Wrecking Crew (I’ve ordered that so I can see her) along with a cast of other studio musicians. In one interview segment, she said that she believed at the peak of her session activity she was making more money than the US President.
‘Sugar Town’ has a lazy sun-kissed, woozy feel to it. Clippity-clop backing and brilliant yawning vocal from Nancy.
Written by Lee Hazelwood, he explained:
“You had to make the lyric dingy enough where the kids knew what you were talking about—and they did. Double entendre. But not much more if you wanted to get it played on the radio. We used to have lotsa of trouble with lyrics, but I think it’s fun to keep it hidden a little bit.”
So potentially it is about the recreational use of LSD.
Not sure what her Dad would think of that.
Number 10 – Justin Hayward – ‘Forever Autumn’
I know it isn’t the done thing to criticise one’s deceased parents but God know why thy decided to decamp to Brookman’s Park in 1978, selling their nice three bedroomed house in Royston, causing me to commute back to school for my 6th Form, tearing me away from my friends and from a place I had lived in since I was born. Call me selfish, maybe I am (though don’t think so). I’ve processed this for the past 40 odd years and have reached the conclusion that one can only look forward rather than look back and what’s done is done and cannot be undone. However, if I had the opportunity to ask them why, you bet I would. It was never going to end well and it didn’t. It was difficult for me to make any friends – there were a few, some girls from Hatfield Girls School (the closest big town), some boys my age whom I went to Siouxsie & The Banshees in Hemel Hempstead with but not much else. I was struggling at school which was not helped by a 50-minute trip door-to-door. I often played at being sick and my attendance suffered as did my grades. I did have a good friend called Abbie who rode horses and lived around the corner from where our shop was situated. She came into the shop with her Mum and sister and we became firm friends – I think Mum had already ordered a hat and booked the church. Once we had a slow dance to The Commodores and I felt nothing. In 1979 Abbie moved away to Pagham nr Bognor and, as there was no Facebook or Text messages, we only sporadically kept up communication. I’d moved on – although there was nothing to move on from.
This record reminds me of her and that difficult time. The War Of The Worlds album has kept it’s charm all these years later – I was not a particular fan of it although David Essex, Philip Lynott and Julie Covington lifted it above other records of that era. Jeff Wayne has never really escaped its shadow. Previously he has co-produced the ‘Rock On’ album for David Essex and following the success – expecting an Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice career, instead he came up with ‘Spartacus (The Musical) which was a disaster, wrote the theme tune for ‘Good Morning Britain’ and the Turkish Delight adverts from the early 80’s. He is, though, a veteran tennis-player.
By far the biggest hit, was ‘Forever Autumn’. It began its life 9 years previously as a jingle for a Lego commercial before being recorded by Vigrass & Osbourne in 1972 – a Top Twenty hit in Japan. Instead of writing a new song, Wayne made the wise decision to rehash ‘Forever Autumn’ and employ Justin Hayward as the singer. And what a wise decision. Reaching Number 5 in the UK single charts, it helped to keep the War of The Worlds album resident in the album charts. It was reworked by Gary Barlow (not as good).
Justin, remains a real pop-dreamboat. A beautiful face, a curtain of golden hair (that gives me hair envy) and a lovely expressive voice (and pop sideburns to die for). By all accounts he is a sweetheart too. He still tours occasionally. And he wrote most of the Moody Blues best known records. It’s a shame that the original video is not available on you-tube. The only one I can find is a composite of that video – dressed in the most amazing floral shirt, cut-up with some live fottag. Or we have the TTOP’s performance where he is somewhat drowned out by the TOTP’s orchestra. Or this version which has dubbed the single version so sounds authentic but inadvertently states it’s by Justin Hayward & The Moody Blues. It isn’t.
I’ve wanted to post this for a while, it is the epitome of Autumn but, as TT’ed only exists from December to February, I’m just going to HAVE to include it now…
Number 9 – Redbone – ‘The Witch Queen Of New Orleans’
Growing up, you could write everything I knew about Native Americans on the back of a 7th Cavalry postcard. War whoops, feathered headdresses, wig-wams, The Wounded Knee Massacre – anything from your bog-standard Western. I was always pleased when the Indians on the screen triumphed over there white Cowboy enemies. I suppose that it was not until ‘Dances With Wolves’ where the cultures of these oppressed group of people were seen in the UK. We could see they were human, had the same hopes and fears, some were even Gay – it’s just they lived their life in a different way and believed different things. No-more would I be seen running around with my friends ith an imaginary tomahawk.
Native American Musicians are few and far between – something of a surprise considering their place in the History Of America – Buffy Saint-Marie, Grant-Lee Phillips, Blackfoot, Rita Coolidge, Link Wray, Willie DeVille and Robbie Robertson and that’s about it. NB Siouxsie of the Banshees comes from Bromley and does not have a Sioux let alone a Red bone in her body.
Redbone formed in 1969 and signed to Epic Records inspired by Jimi Hendrix who was part Cherokee. Brothers Patrick and Candido “Lolly” Vasquez-Vegas moved to Los Angeles in 1959 and played for 10 years in clubs under the name of Pat and Lolly Vegas. Pat won Coca-Cola’s first singing competition in 1958 at age 17. With Peter DePoe and Tony Bellamy on board, released two albums in 1970 and their third album ‘Message From A Drum’ (or ‘The Witch Queen Of New Orleans’ as it was known in Europe) the following year.
I am equally intrigued by New Orleans. It strikes me as a perfect blend of bonkersness, with some great music thrown in – and Angel Heart is one of my favourite films ever. Despite being embrace by the Halloween followers – ‘The Witch Queen Of New Orleans’ was about Marie Laveau (“Marie la Voodoo veau”) who was a Louisiana Creole practitioner of Voodoo, herbalist and midwife, who was renowned in New Orleans, and she has been the inspiration for hundreds of sings (mainly dealing with the theme of Voodoo and set in New Orleans) but Redbone had by far the biggest hit. It reached Number 2 in the UK – we probably considered it to be a novelty record – and reached Number 21 in the US Charts.
Number 8 – Prefab Sprout – ‘When Love Breaks Down’
Your Top 10 Sprout Questions answered.
1) What IS a Prefab Sprout?
Yes. According to the Guinness Book Of Hit Singles & Albums (19th Edition), the name was coined by Paddy who misheard the lyrics to ‘Jackson’ by Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazelwood (“We got married in a fever, hotter than a prefab sprout”) and, this Is known as a mondegreen – a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase as a result of near-homophony, in a way that gives it a new meaning. Mondegreens are most often created by a person listening to a poem or a song; the listener, being unable to clearly hear a lyric, substitutes words that sound similar and make some kind of sense. Other example in popular music can be heard in ‘Israelites’ by Desmond Dekker – ‘Israelites’ (‘my ears are alight’), The Skids – ‘Into The Valley’ (‘pea’s sure sound divine’, ‘there’s masses of lamb’, ‘my picture is Hugh’s toe’ etc), Jimi Hendrix – ‘Purple Haze (Excuse me while I kiss this guy’) – there are many many more – some might be unique to you, some might be translations into German of French you can even spot a mondegreen in film (‘Carnal Knowledge for example).
There is an alternative version which is that Paddy had devised the name in homage to the longwinded and equally silly band names of his late 1960s / early 1970s youth.
2) When were ‘The Sprout’ formed?
Paddy & his brother Martin formed The Dick Diver Band in 1977 in their hometown of Witton Gilbert in County Durham. They morphed into Prefab Sprout in 1978.
3) They’ve been going a while then. I always thought that their first hit was with ‘The King Of Rock & Roll?’
No. They released their first single – ‘Lions In My Own Garden’ (which deliberately spells out Limoges – a French city where Paddy’s girlfriend lived at the time – in 1982. They signed to Kitchenware in 1983 and released two albums before ‘From Langley Park To Memphis’
4) Isn’t that woman a bit annoying and a little superfluous?
Well possibly. ‘That woman’ is called Wendy Smith. She sprinkles a little bit of fairy dust over all of their recordings and she does play guitar also. Wendy is the current Musical Director at The Sage in Gateshead. Tim Fallon, one of the many ex-leaders of the Lib Dems has also said that he fancied her as a younger man.
5) What is Paddy doing now?
He IS Prefab Sprout now (and possibly always was. He almost lost his sight and lives with a detached retina and tinnitus. He still lives in County Durham with a wife and three daughters (the McLoons). He is still recording – although not frequently. He was training to be a Catholic Priest before committing to a career in music.
6) And the rest of the Sprouts?
Martin McAloon is an artist who goes under the artistic name of Feliks Culpa and Neil Conti, the drummer, has been the session drummer for artists such as Bowie, Will Young, Brian Eno and Cher. He currently resides in Montpellier in France where he produces and supplies drum tracks.
7) Isn’t there a Thomas Dolby connection?
Yes. Well Spotted. He was their producer of choice for ‘Steve McQueen’, ‘From Langley Park To Memphis’ and for ‘Jordan: The Comeback’ – they selected him when he picked ‘Don’t Sing’ on ‘Roundtable’ was invited up to Durham to meet with the band and was enchanted.
8) I live in America. I have never heard of an album called ‘Steve McQueen’?
Despite the fact that they were honouring the star of The Great Escape – even posing on the back of a Triumph motorcycle – the McQueen Estate took objection and threatened to sue. They changed the name of the album to ‘Two Wheels Good’
9) ‘When Love Breaks Down’ isn’t typical Tiffany Twisted fare – what is it doing here?
It’s my list and it’s a great song written by one of the UK’s most talented songwriters. There is something very literary within their work – very similar, in fact, to the work of Scritti Politti. It’s a bit of a heartbreaker (wel it can make me cry) and could easily be covered by anyone. It was not an immediate success – in fact it was released on three separate occasions (I remember the Sony rep trying to Hype it up the charts) and even then only reached Number 25 in the charts and making a ripple in the States. McAloon has recorded an acoustic version which was released on ‘the deluxe reissue of ‘Steve McQueen’ in 2007.
10) You seem to know a lot about nothing, mate. Would you like to marry me?
PM me babe.
Number 7 – Elvis Presley – ‘I Just Can’t Help Believin’’
What do the following have in common? Ronan Keating, Chris ‘Coldplay’ Martin, June Sarpong, Orlando Bloom, Kanye West, Danny Dyer & Donald Trump Jr.
Well. They were all born in 1977 and, therefore, are a year older than Elvis was when he shuffled off this mortal coil.
Elvis died on the 16th August 1977 – a date that has been burned into my psyche – much more than John Lennon, more that Amy Winehouse and as much as David Bowie. I have no idea why this might be. I was working as a Saturday boy in Tracks Records in Royston and the world went Elvis Bonkers. ‘Way Down’ climbed to Number 1 and stayed there for 5 weeks, and was followed by a raft of re-releases, picture discs, dodgy live albums and some awful tribute records (Danny Mirror – ‘I Remember Elvis Presley’ anyone? – it peaked at Number 4 and spent 9 weeks on the charts).
There was a very interesting programme called ‘Get Rich or Try Dying’ presented by Ana Matronic on BBC4 about 6 months ago which dealt with posthumous recording artists and the need for someone to take charge of the artists legacy and, in the absence of any more recording material, turning the artist into a ‘brand’. Featured were Bowie, Bob Marley, some Ramones and Prince – all have successfully (in Bowie’s case this was all pre=planned surely) made as much money, in some cases mor, when dead than when alive. Elvis’s estate has also employed such a marketeer – it was woefully in danger of becoming a joke, Graceland’s (the second most visited Historical House in the States) wasn’t really making vey much money and then with a rethink Elvis: The Legacy was born.
His death was just shocking as most of the world was protected about much of what was going on. We’d seen his bloating weight, heard rumours of a gargantuan appetite but were largely unaware of his prescription (or otherwise) drug habit which caused : glaucoma, high blood pressure, liver damage, and an enlarged colon. When he was found on the floor of the bathroom by his ex-Ginger Alden, the world went into an extended period of mourning – the like I had never previously seen.
Seven years earlier, this was part of the ‘That’s The Way It Is’ film documentary. Consisting of 8 studio tracks and 4 live tracks recorded at the International Hotel in Las Vegas where he played 636 times between 1969 & 1976 selling out every single one. He still seems fresh and vibrant – wearing his rhinestone trademark laced up jumpsuit, slashed to the waist, swivelling those hips. Damned sexy.
If he got his hands and voice on one of your songs, you were made for life. Massive record sales and considerable interest in who released it first. ‘I Just Can’t Help Believin’’ was written by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weill and initially recorded by BJ Thomas of ‘Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head’ fame. It’s recorded live – you can hear him chuckle too and can see the joy written all over his face. Those amazing girl singers are The Sweet Inspirations – who by this point were Sylvia Shermwell, Estelle Brown and Myrna Smith.
It’s always been a favourite of mine and Las Vegas Elvis is the equal to young Rock & Roll Elvis in this particular book. A masterclass performance (has anyone ever performed as well) , he is in total control and that twinkle in his eye told how much he was enjoying himself.
Number 6 – Peter Gabriel – ‘Solsbury Hill’
Did you know that Little Solsbury Hill (more commonly known as Solsbury Hill) is a small flat-topped hill and the site of an Iron Age hill fort? It is located above the village of Batheaston in Somerset. The hill rises to 625 feet (191 m) above the River Avon, which is just over 1 mile (2 km) to the south, and gives views of the city of Bath and the surrounding area. It is within the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
He wrote this after he had left Genesis and following a ‘Spiritual Experience’ atop of the hill. Drugs may or may not have been involved.
In Daryl Easlea’s excellent book, ‘Without Frontiers: The Life & Music Of Peter Gabriel’, he said of the song’s meaning, “It’s about being prepared to lose what you have for what you might get … It’s about letting go.” Letting go of Genesis, letting go of things that hold one down in general. The struggle can be heard in the structure of the song.
Technically, the song is mostly written in 7/4 time, an unusual time signature that has been described as “giving the song a constant sense of struggle”. The meter settles into 4/4 time only for the last two measures of each chorus. It is performed in the key of B major with a tempo of 102 beats per minute, with Gabriel’s vocals ranging from F♯3 to G♯4. And this is why I am so fascinated by the Science of Music. You can hear a flute introducing each part of the lyric, you might also be able to hear the banging of a telephone directory to aid the rhythmic texture of the song.
To see Peter stripped from his bubble costume, or foxes head, or flower-head was a revelation. Who knew that the man behind the mask was such a devastatingly handsome bloke – particularly around the ‘eye-area’ (and at aged 70 he has still got ‘it’).
A fellow Aquarian, Gabriel was born ion the 13th February 1950 in Woking, Surrey. He met Tony Banks & Mike Rutherford whilst a pupil at the private school, Charterhouse. He devised the story for ‘The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway’, gained some interest from William ‘The Exorcist’ Friedkin to work on a screenplay, causing frictions within the band and he left in 1975 leaving the future for both parties uncertain – but both flourished.
All of his first four albums on Charisma were entitled ‘Peter Gabriel’ – he said in Best publication:
“The idea is to do it like a magazine, which will only come out once a year,” he remarked in 1978: “So it’s the same title, the same lettering in the same place; only the photo is different.”
Every one of those albums are fine examples of a brave, courageous artist – willing to experiment and embrace different styles of music. ‘Peter Gabriel’ (or the one with the Windscreen), still sounds as fresh and innovative as the day it was made.
His other biggest notoriety has been the driving force behind WOMAD and the creation of the Real World Studios – helping to cement World Music upon the UK’s collective consciousness.
He has been married twice, has dated Roseanna Arquette and is currently wed to Meabh Flynn who is 21 years his junior. He may have dated Kate Bush – they certainly have an intimate friendship having appeared with her on telly in 1980 and collaborated with her on ‘Games Without Frontiers’, ‘No Self Control’ and of course ‘Don’t Give Up’. I also heard rumours that he had ‘experimented’ Tom Robinson too.
This song is full of hope and optimism, what better song to hear when you have come out of a crisis or a period of addiction or an ill-health concern. I would probably chose it as the last record I ever hear before I die too – see the lyrics “Son,” he said “Grab your things, I’ve come to take you home”.
Number 5 – Daryl Hall & John Oates – ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’
I have an aversion to House Parties. Not the Chicago style House parties, or the House of LaBeja but those ones where a gathering of people are squashed into a small room and end up getting trashed on Pomagne. I often end up wandering from kitchen, queuing for the bathroom or sitting on the floor looking miserable (worse still if people are smoking dope). I’d MUCH rather be in the pub. I have held two House parties at various times in my life – the first one was in Royston in 1981 where some ex-sixth formers descended upon my parents house for some drinks. Of course, my parents went mad and I ended up going to Sandra Oakley’s house for the rest of the evening. The second one was in Peterborough shortly after I had moved into a shared household. I spent ages preparing canopies and spent a small fortune on mixers and cheap beer – fortunately I was in charge of the music. But even that did not make me very happy. People were just laying around on my living room carpet, someone was sick in the garden, I could not wait for it to be over. This record reminds me of that night though. My Manager at the time came and danced to this record SOLO with sleeves rolled up on his jacket. It put me off it…
However, this has always stayed with me and is a perfect example of both their brilliance and of that niche musical genre that is Yacht Rock (more of that a little later in this list). Though not anywhere near as successful as they have been in the States, this was actually from their Tenth album. We had already experienced the wonders of Abandoned Luncheonette’ with ‘She’s Gone’ – one of the most perfect records ever made. We had seen them in make-up, glammed up (on the Silver Album) and seen John Oates naked on the inner sleeve. I think the UK found them a tad confusing. They covered the Righteous Brothers, George Harrison played with them, the wrote ‘Everytime You Go Away’ (later a hit for Paul Young). It clicked into place with ‘Private Eyes’ (well in this country anyway) and ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’ became their first top ten UK hit and their 4th US Number 1. Subsequent UK success was still a little bit sparse and their second biggest album success has been with a Best Of compilation (where at least those less knowing would get to hear ‘She’s Gone’).
With a rip-roaring bass-line – stolen for ‘Billie Jean’, the song is about their relationship with the music business rather than a relationship to a person. It was co-written by Sara Allen, Hall’s long-term girlfriend and the inspiration for ‘Sara Smile’. There are some lovely remixes which stretch the song too. They are both still great mates – not bad for a musical relationship of almost 50 years. And Daryl is one of the greatest white soul singer – little surprise that they have appeared alongside both David Ruffin & Eddie Kendricks from The Temptations.
Anyone interested should check out ‘Live From Daryl’s House’ in 2007 after having the idea of “playing with my friends and putting it up on the Internet”. The series features him jamming with various guest musicians in his house in the woods. Guest artists on the show have run the gamut of musical styles and influences, and have included Smokey Robinson, Robby Krieger from The Doors, Rumer, Nick Lowe, Cee-lo Green, K.T. Tunstall & Todd Rundgren – available to watch on You Tube and a nice relaxing watch too.
It’s the kind of House Party I WOULD enjoy.
Number 4 – Don McLean – ‘Vincent’
There are a number of ways of approaching Don McLean and this record in particular. I used to be a huge fan of Karaoke, grabbing the spotlight whenever it came my way. My specialities were the Rolling Stones, a bit of Glen Campbell, some Elton John and Joe Jackson. I was quite good and once I got over the initial nerves, got a proper adrenalin rush from it. I cringe now. I went to the Algarve for a weeks holiday with Becky Hyslop & Peter England – lovely place – very relaxing and full of golfers and cats with half – or was it two – faces. There was a bar in the resort called Figo’s after the Portuguese football player. We found it and spent a couple of evenings there, it was always very quiet and the (possibly) lesbian Karaoke hostess seemed to enjoy our (or more specifically my) attempts to entertain the revellers. ‘American Pie’ was one of the selections – I’d always fancied having a go so I submitted my request, started the song and 8 and a half minutes later I finished – totally exhausted and hoarse. Rudimentary text message were flying between Portugal and the UK saying things like ‘oh he’s only halfway through the song’ and ‘kill me now’. It was the full-length version of the song (8’ 33) rather that the much punchier 7” version made famous by Don McLean and Madonna.
‘Vincent’ was the second single from the ‘American Pie’ album topping the charts in the UK and peaking at Number 12 in America. Of course, it was written about Vincent Van Gogh – but could also be heard as a straight male-to-male love song (if one’s boyfriend were called Vincent). This is such a beautiful record – simply arranged with minimal instrumentation – just the guitar, a mandolin an accordion and some minimal strings.
In The Telegraph Mclean said:
McLean said the following about the genesis of the song:
“In the autumn of 1970 I had a job singing in the school system, playing my guitar in classrooms. I was sitting on the veranda one morning, reading a biography of Van Gogh, and suddenly I knew I had to write a song arguing that he wasn’t crazy. He had an illness and so did his brother Theo. This makes it different, in my mind, to the garden variety of ‘crazy’ – because he was rejected by a woman [as was commonly thought]. So I sat down with a print of Starry Night and wrote the lyrics out on a paper bag.”
Which is kind of, well, WOW. It was also on of Tupac Shakur’s favourite songs (he asked for it to be played on his deathbed).
Please don’t forget that Don is the man who inspired the writing of ‘Killing Me Softly (With His Song)’ and reaching Number One with a fabulous version of ‘Crying’ by Roy Orbison.
The opening lines of ‘Vincent’ refer to Van Gogh’s uber-famous painting ‘The Starry Night’ one of his finest of works and painted as the view from his asylum room in the Monastery Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in the South of Franc. Painted in 1889, it has been permanently displayed at the MOMA in New York since 1941 (and note to myself – VISIT MOMA WITHIN THE NEXT TWO YEARS). Plagued by Mental illness -suffering from depression, delusion, psychosis – he severed part of his left ear and shot himself with a revolver in 1890.
His place is rightly secured in the History of Art, quite rightly. And maybe my next project will be famous works of Art In Pop (or FWAP) as it would help me to remember and be able to place the great works of Art (what do you think?).
Number 3 – Toto – ‘Africa’
I’ve often wondered what it is about this record that I find so evocative. I did a bit of internet research and found a thread on the ‘reddit’ blog site called ‘Why is Africa by Toto so great?’. Here, as with most blogsites, several geeky musical types put in their two-pennethses as to the greatness of the song and more crucially, the songs composition, chord structure and the harmonic genius contained therein.
“The soft saw synth motif that starts and ends the track is very catchy, both in its rhythm (the syncopated “x–x-x-x” to the unsyncopated “x-x-X!”) and the resolving chords (VI-III6-i). The question–answer thing going on with the mallets carries the song. Mallet (marimba, kalimba) harmonies themselves are always beautiful, in every song, and are ameliorated here by the subtle tropical percussions interspersed throughout the soundscape.
Speaking of harmonies, there are tons of them in this song. More songs should harmonize vocal/instrument melodies. Not only is there great melodic interplay, but there is a satisfying interplay between synths and real instruments (e.g. guitars, electric guitars and subtle pianos). There is also the beautiful modulation between all the different sections, that makes the song perpetually interesting.
The flute/mallet solo is a perfect way to add a change of pace in the song, and again, mallet harmonies are always beautiful. The dynamics throughout the song are absolutely genius, how every chorus somehow manages to be more grandiose than the last, before ending with the lead motif that fades away in an emotionally resolvent way.”
“Africa’s verse is in both C#m and B, while the chorus is in F# minor. Now look at the inside of this circle, and where does F# fit?Right in the middle between C# and B.”
“The main structure is based on contrasting fast and slow rhythms. Syncopation is present for multiple note values: 8ths, 4ths, and whole notes are shifted.
Intro: Syncopation (synth, shakers) against emphasized off-beat (kick-snare), call-response counterpoint (synth lead to marimba), the snare ”mutes” the shaker syncopation for one beat reemphasizing the 8ths (this is further emphasized by the conga, which creates a ”heavy”/busy one). The bass in the final chorus also lines up with this pattern. The bass in the instrumental verse is coupled to the synth. The sonority of the low-pass on the synth brass is also significant, as I will explain below.
The ”busy one” pattern is also reflected by the synth, but three times slower as a ”busy measure” followed by sustained rest. There’s a contrast between even and odd measures throughout the song, with call-response between song and synth in the chorus.
Chorus: Vocals – octave up, counterpoint against synth (8ths are responded with hemiolas), the snares are louder with more energy (mixing stage).
Instrumental Verse: Return of instrumental verse in lower registry. Again, the absence of higher harmonics due to the low-pass in the synth, makes this transition even softer. Non-root notes in the bass also brings out some color (sic).”
“Combined with the lyric “gonna take a lot to drive me away from you” belted at a higher pitch, it’s cathartic. And it’s uniquely singable because it integrates harmonic theory into the song’s large-scale structure, in a way that most songs lack today.”
It continues. Who knew that a simple 5-minute piece of music would cause such an amount of analysis?
I have to admit to not really liking it very much when it was released in 1982. At this time, I was still deeply into ‘Dare’, loving ‘Friends’ by Shalamar, the Donna Summer album, ABC, Grandmaster Flash, Soft Cell, Depeche Mode, New Order, anything with a synthesiser and it was truly an epic year for music (and in my life too). I didn’t take much notice of it. I knew and had LOVED ‘Hold The Line’ but that was some years earlier. It has though, increased it’s place in my musical heart almost to the point when I end up singing it and analysing it when trying to get to sleep. Now I REALLY LOVE IT.
David Paich is the main writer and main singer and sings the song with Bobby Kimball alongside Jeff Pocaro – you can see David in his hirsute glory in this video. He based the lyrics off a late night documentary with depictions of African plight and suffering.
The viewing experience made a lasting impact on Paich:
“It both moved and appalled me, and the pictures just wouldn’t leave my head. I tried to imagine how I’d feel about it if I was there and what I’d do. Terrible death and suffering of the people in Africa.”
Jeff Porcaro elaborates further, explaining:
“A white boy is trying to write a song on Africa, but since he’s never been there, he can only tell what he’s seen on TV or remembers in the past.”
And this is the stumbling block – geographically it is impossible.
“Sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti”. Impossible because the Serengeti is at least 800 km away from Kilimanjaro (and Olympus is presumably Mount Olympus in GREECE) in Tanzania. Call it American Naivety or poetic licence – it did contain some of the most tongue twisting syllables in pop – it may also have served as an inspiration for Band Aid – who knows.
The actress in this video, incidentally, is Cynthia Rhodes who had appeared in ‘Flashdance’ and in ‘Staying Alive’ before marrying Richard Marx.
The other reason that this has climbed so high, is its inclusion within the ‘Yacht Rock’ “movement”. I was completely unaware really that this was even a ‘thing’ until I saw the fantastic two-part document entitled ‘I Can Go For That’ on BBC4 last year and presented by the wonderful and authoritative Katie Puckrik. It not only contains my favourite description of anything EVER using the phrase “ennui deluxe” to describe ‘Yacht Rock’. It such a beautiful duet of documentaries, it’s saved on my hard-drive so I regularly re-watch it and bask in the glories of Michael McDonald, Steely Dan, Hall & Oates and Toto. I felt validated that MY music, the type of music that I have built my whole life around, had finally become accepted as essential and even political.
Number 2 – The Rolling Stones – ‘Miss You’
Compare and contrast a couple of key songs in both The Beatles and The Stones huge cannon of works and it reveals this. The Stones directed their gayest lyrics towards our loins, the Beatles (with the exception of ‘Get Back’) directed their towards Brian Epstein. ‘Baby, You’re A Rich Man’ contains the following words in the fade out to the song = ‘Baby you’re a rich Jew fag’ sung by Lennon. In ‘You’ve Got To Hide You’re Love Away’ is kinder but still reeks slightly of veiled homophobia. ‘Honky Tonk Woman’ though is something else entirely. The tale of ‘a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis’ who hoiks Mick across his shoulder and takes him upstairs ‘for a ride’. More scandalous still is ‘Cocksucker Blues’ released whilst they were in the death throws of their contract with Decca Records – they refused to release it. It’s a lewd, fabulous tale of a schoolboy who comes to London in order to sample its’ pleasures – set to a classic blues, typical Stones back track. It remains unreleased. So, I know which band I’d side with.
The Stones were ‘Les Enfants Terribles’ of the English Music Scene – attracting outrage, the Law, controversy over mar bars, celebrity girlfriends and into the 70’s unfounded rumours that Angie Bowie caught Jagger and Bowie ‘at it’. By the time that ‘Some Girls’ was released they had settled down a bit – the death of Brian Jones – a distant memory – Mick was beginning his relationship with Jerry Hall, Ronnie Wood was a proper Stone, Charlie was still drumming away in an archetypal British Gentlemen style and Keith was still hanging on – despite further drug busts – one wonder how he has managed to outlive many of his contemporaries.
After a two-year break, The Stones returned to the fold with ‘Some Girls’ – in the wake of ‘Rumours’ and ‘Hotel California’ it went on to 6 million in the States alone. Here the sleeve proved to be both problematic and controversial. The album cover was conceived and designed by Peter Corriston (his artwork for ‘Physical Graffiti is the closest cousin design wise). An elaborate die-cut design, with the colours on the sleeves varying in different markets, it featured the Rolling Stones’ faces alongside those of select female celebrities inserted into a copy of an old Valmor Products Corporation advertisement. The cover design was challenged legally when Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett, Liza Minnelli (representing her mother Judy Garland), Raquel Welch, and the estate of Marilyn Monroe threatened to sue for the use of their likenesses without permission. The album was swiftly re-issued with a redesigned cover that removed ALL the celebrities, whether they had complained or not. The celebrity images were replaced with black and punk style garish colours with the phrase Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction.
It’s a brilliant album – arriving in the middle of the Punk/New Wave scene – it straddles country, characteristic rolling licks, even a hint of punk and, of course, Disco.
Mick was, and still is, no stranger to the disco – often popping into Studio 54 and much more recently showing his face at the Horse Meat Disco in Vauxhall (how exciting would THAT have been?).
Released in May 1978, I still have my pink 12” (vinyl) version – a record I shan’t ever part with. Four-to-the-floor rhythm pattern and TSOP drumming provided by Charlie. Within a year it was de rigueur for white acts to ‘go disco’ – some were BRILLIANT (‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy is probably the best) some less so (Ringo Starr’s 4th album). They branched out a bit from the four-piece format – it features several studio musicians – Sugar Blue who, according to Wood, was found by Jagger busking on the streets of Paris, Ian McLagan plays understated Wurlitzer electric piano, and Mel Collins provides the tenor saxophone solo for the instrumental break. It topped the US Charts (the final time the Stones would do that) and reached Number 3 in this country.
I had not noticed that Mick’s vocal is different in this promo clip either – I wonder what made him do that rather than to mime.
What. A. Band.
NUMBER 1 – Fleetwood Mac – ‘Tusk’
‘Tusk’ the album landed in the UK on October 12th 1979. I was beside myself with excitement. I’d lived with ‘Rumours’ for 2 and a half years and in that time, my musical passions had shifted away from the stuff my contemporaries were listening to – I had embraced EVERYTHING Mac related – Walter Egan, Bob Welch, Warren Zevon and John Stewart – it was quite the trip. ‘Tusk’ is a brilliant album. Considered by some a disappointment and by others as a commercial failure (not sure that I would consider sales of 4 million to be a commercial failure), particularly when it was preceded by the mammoth success that was ‘Rumours’. A double album – unheard of outside of the confines of the live album – it was heavily promoted with a brilliant campaign.
The cover first. The photo is a shot of Ken Calliat’s little dog called Scooter. Typical terrier, he is biting the leg of an unidentified owner (maybe that’s why I got Rascal?). Nothing else – just the title and the artists name and the track listing on the back – no pictures of the band, no Stevie/Mick snooker balls shot, no ‘Rumours’ font. It immediately looked different. When one took the records from the sleeve, one saw several arty photos, collages, different shots of Scooter, – looking slightly older, more suntanned but here was Lindsey without his trademark curly hair, and more crucially without his beard. There was no lyric sheet which meant that I was unable, at least until I had purchased the lyric book, to sing-a-long.
20 tracks, expensive too $16 about £11.99 (a small fortune for 1979), how did it fare? After about 6 plays in three days and once one got over the strangeness of some of the songs, it revealed itself to be the equal to ‘Rumours’. Stevie Nicks’ contributions are all in my Top Ten Stevie songs – ‘Angel’ (covered by Marianne Faithfull), ‘Storms’, ‘Beautiful Child’ and ‘Sister Of The Moon’ are typical Mac fare and, of course, ‘Sara’, which became the second hit single – never fails to enchant – Stevie’s songs helped me through my first ‘love’ too (Stuart: Photographer; Unrequited). Christine McVie was a bit less successful – nothing as catchy as ‘Don’t Stop’ nor as plaintive as ‘Songbird’ – her head had been turned by Dennis Wilson and I get the impression that she would rather be on his yacht than in the studio. But it was really Buckingham’s record. Beardless, Lindsey had become obsessed with New Wave – especially with Talking Heads. There was enough material to have an entire Lindsey Buckingham solo LP. Fans of ‘Tusk’ the album, should try and make a single album from the twenty tracks on offer and let me know.
Bob Stanley said Tusk was:
“unleavened weirdness, as close to its predecessor as the Beach Boys’ lo-fi Smiley Smile had been to Pet Sounds. Much of it sounded clattery, half-formed, with strange rhythmic leaps and offbeat tics.”
Critics were kind too – in Rolling Stone, Steve Holden said:
“Like The White Album, Tusk is less a collection of finished songs than a mosaic of pop-rock fragments by individual performers.”
It scored very highly in the ratings and reviews in Sounds, Melody Maker and the NME – quite a coup for a rock dinosaur.In February the following year Fleetwood Mac announced a string of European dates including 6 nights at Wembley Arena. I remember buying an Postal Order (remarkable) and sending it off to the Wembley Arena box office and waited. Even more remarkable was that it cost £7.50. A few weeks later my ticket arrived for the 21st June 1981. I was thrilled and moire thrilled to see that it was 5 rows from the front. I spent much of the week preceding the concert stalking Stevie Nicks – she had, I’d heard, visited a shop called Antiquarium in the King’s Road – I didn’t see her.
‘Tusk’ the single came out in the UK a month previously. In the NME (or maybe Sounds or MM), it was awarded joint single of the week with ‘Rowche Rumble’ by The Fall. A smart choice as both records ARE quite similar. I’ve never been able to catch what Lindsey is saying before the song starts (‘pass the tender honey?) but once we’re off the ride is quite a bumpy one. ‘Dreams’ it was not.
Producers Richard Dashut and Ken Caillat created a drum-driven production. In addition to normal drums, Fleetwood Mac also experimented with different sounds on the song. Fleetwood and Buckingham played lamb chops and a Kleenex box on the track respectively.
Mick Fleetwood said;
“I’m playing floor toms, and I overdubbed a lot of American Indian wood tribal drums. It’s a whole hodgepodge of Kleenex boxes, drums, weird stuff, slapping of lamb chops and things. I got a big leg of lamb in there somewhere – I’m hitting it with a spatula” – little wonder that Mick seems to enjoy playing this songs the most when performed live (but not quite as much as ‘World Turning’ I’ll wager).
The University of Southern California Trojan Marching Band are key. A genius move, the recording session took place at the Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium. Driven by John McVie’s throbbing bass, it contained the trademark Mac harmonies and the video featured much baton twirling by Stevie in a Sunhat.
It still sounds remarkable – unlike anything else in the Mac cannon before or since. It reached number 6 in this country (selling 250,000 copies) and the Top Ten in America.
See you later…