Holiday listening pt 3. Going Back

Starting this blog I quickly developed a single rule: don’t bother slagging off anything. Why bother? We can all agree that Coldplay are pants. Can’t we? Do we really need to read why?

Listening to the radio recently I heard the following announcement – “Lars has texted us with a request. He wants to hear Pride In The Name Of Love. But not by U2… here’s Michael Bolton”. There, my friends, is a sentence with so many complex layers of crapness that I wouldn’t know where to begin. To be fair to the boy Bolton he gave it a fair crack, but faced with such source material he was always on a hiding to nothing. But still, what made it bearable was the thought of legions of U2 fans up in arms at the Bolton mullet blaspheming the Hewson mullet. In much the same way that I was unable to suppress a cackle of glee when Rolf Harris attempted a wobbleboard-heavy cover of hitherto untouchable prog behemoth Stairway To Heaven. The greeks had a name for it: schadenfreude. Joy in the discomfort of others. Try it, it’s hilarious. Until it happens to you.

And thus it is so that I now need to break my self-imposed golden rule of bloging. I’m being public-service minded you understand. I wouldn’t want any of you to make the mistake of listening to the poisonous abomination I’m about to describe.

Some weeks after the audio experience described above, I was brewing the first coffee of the day when the same radio station announced, possible at the request of the same Lars who so much appreciated the creator of How Am I Supposed To Live Without You and Can I Touch You There, “Here’s Dusty Springfield’s classic Going Back”. 

A wave of anticipation broke over me. Here is a song that struck me as the standout track on the Phillips Nice Price cheapo compilation that first introduced me to Dusty in the early 80’s. That stood by me during my mid 90’s realisation that I was growing from “young” to “adult”. That nudged me towards a rare aquaintance with the dancefloor during early noughties visits to The Actionettes swinging 60’s shows in London. And that has since proved to be a mutual obsession with She I took for better or for worse via Dusty’s outstanding Complete A And B Sides 63-70. I understand that many of you reading this will be sniffy at the idea of CD reissues when there remains vinyl still to be purchased, but I stand by this as one of my top10 favourite albums. Quite apart from the obvious enjoyment to be had listening to one of the world’s greatest vocalists, there is also a fascination to be had in the order of the songs. Were you to be presented with Dusty’s 21 singles from the decade with no prior knowledge of release dates, it would be difficult, nay impossible, to arrange them in a more satisfying sequence that the purely chronological. It offers a perfectly paced journey through the 60’s, illustrating not only changes in arrangements and recording technology but also social mores. From the innocent girlish confession of I Only Want To Be With You to the empowered woman of How I Can I Be Sure, confidently belting her way through to the brave new world of the space age 70’s.

And right in the centre, Going Back. Nostalgic for the past. Unapologetic for mistakes. Optimistic for the future. Just perfect.

Imagine then my revulsion as the DJ continued his introduction with the eight most feared words in the english language: “…in a new guise, courtesy of Phil Collins”. Still I failed to spot the yawning chasm gaping in front of me. I’ve long since come to terms my fear of both Collins’ anaemic interpretations of classic rock and of emulating his receding hairline. Fair play to the bloke. He’s found an audience. He has on the face of it decent taste. He’s overcome his unconventional attractiveness to find success. Who would begrudge him the opportunity to earn a few bob?

And then bit by bit over the course of a 276 second purgatory this 67 year old son of Chiswick procedes to piss all over my past, his crazed mephistophelean features illuminated by the hellish fires of Dante playing with a box of Swan Vestas. He lures you in by playing it straight. The intro, lilting like a childhood piano exercise is as you expect. “Relax” he whispers in the soothing tones learned at the Barbara Speake Stage School, “I understand how you feel. I’m going to treat the song with respect”, before grinding your trust beneath his Zildjian hi-hat pedal. An unecessary synth fanfare here, a self-conciously smug pause between words there, like Frank Sinatra bowdlerising Blowin’ In The Wind. “The answer. My. Friend. Is. Blowininthe… wind”. Before his most heinous crime kicks in. The centrepiece of the song, where Dusty simply wails over a triumphal brass section, walzing drunkenly through a stratospheric soundscape, is delivered with the enthusiasm of a man for whom one too many nights on the diazepam will never be enough. Like you, I’ve heard plenty of songs I dislike, some that I’ve hated and a thankful few that make me feel wretched. This though is the first time that I’ve felt truly affronted. The balls of the man, to suppose that we’re going to tolerate this meekly and with no word of protest. There are no insults strong enough and I can only invoke the succinct words of The Sex Pistols Steve Jones when he unleashed filth and fury on the people of post-war Britain – “What a fucking rotter”.

  • This then is why I will tolerate no Collins on my watch. The summer vacation chez Slender will be soundtracked as always by John Franz’s note perfect arrangement of the Goffin/King philosophical masterpiece. For as Ph**, unlike Dusty, will never understand “a little bit of courage is all we lack. So catch me if you can; I’m Going Back”.

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Holiday listening pt 2. Timbuktu and Damn! And The Kingsmen

Do you like Louie Louie?

Well who doesn’t? No, seriously. It’s not a rhetorical question. Hands up and leave the room ‘cos Louie Louie is one of those records we should all agree on. I say records as opposed to songs as despite there being well over 1000 versions of Richard Berry’s 1957 original, we are, are we not, in complete agreement that The Kingsmen recorded the only version we need.

How can you not like a song that was the subject of a two and a half year FBI investigation over allegations of obscenity? Only for all charges to be dropped when the good people at Quantico realised they couldn’t understand a word of Jack Ely’s hysterical delivery of the patois lyrics. They even managed to overlook the far more anglo-saxon contribution of drummer Lynn Easton who yells “fuck!” at approximately 55 seconds when he drops a stick. They presumably chose to forgive the absent dexterity on the grounds that the band warmed up for the session by playing a 90 minute gig the night before. A performance which consisted of a single 90 minute version of Louie Louie. Stitch that, John Cage.

Louie Louie is the rock’n’roll equivalent of a flint arrow head. You and me, brothers and sisters, just see a sharp pebble. Yer anthropologist on the other hand can see the entire timeline of civilization, beginning when the apes discovered the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey up to the zenith of human achievement; the invention of velcro by George de Mestral in 1941. Even if you want to push mankind a little further down the line by inventing the longbow, you still need to understand flint arrow heads.

One man who not only invented the longbow but went on to defeat the french at the battle of Agincourt, is Timbuktu.

You need to know about Timbuktu. Unreasonably short as he is handsome, owner of the perviest moustache since Little Richard and tormentor of the swedish far-right, Timbuktu (or Jason as his Mum and Dad call him) is as equally likely to perform solo with just an iphone for accompaniment as he is to turn up with an ass-kicking ten piece band. In the case of the hard-partying Stanna Kvar it’s the latter who make up the brigade of archers. Taking the not unreasonable view that you can’t rock any harder than Louie Louie, Jase simply appropiates the classic riff, adds essential cowbells and gang handclaps and garnishes the whole with the funkiest 70’s afro flute since Brian Jackson teamed up with Gil Scott-Heron.

Best enjoyed from the hotel balcony at sunset with a gin & tonic. Stanna Kvar is the soundtrack to the long hot summer of 2018 chez Slender. Slice of lemon optional.

Holiday listening pt 1. Pixies.

I’m in the car. I travel to Mallorca in two days. What do I listen to in order to enhance my holiday mood? As luck would have it, Bacharos, the God of perfect soundtracking, is watching over me and places a copy of Pixies Surfer Rosa/Come On Pilgrim in the glove compartment. Ay caramba, I’m living la vida loca. Innit!

If I’m being brutally honest about my cred crredentials I was never a massive fan of Pixies, suspicious as I am of bands that deliberately neglect the definite article (embarrassingly I’ve just spent 10 minutes checking this online. You’d think I could have just looked at the album covers but it’s Sunday morning and I don’t want to go clanking around shelves whilst the rest of the house is asleep, OK?). More that I liked people who liked The (it just looks better that way, doesn’t it?) Pixies. Indeed, I even went so far as to marry one of them; she who worships at the feet of Bacharos and slumbers in the arms of Morpheus as we speak. And in my defence it doesn’t look good on paper: four east coast intellectuals playing cod-spanish californian surf-punk and singing about space travel… oh OK, it sounds great on paper, I’m just slow.

30 years too slow.

But it’s never too late to get a grip. Or even too early. As Kim Deal endearingly slurs the final syllables of Isla de Encanta, a voice makes itself heard from the back seat.

“Daddy, was that rock’n’roll?”

“Yes Greta. Did you like it?”

“It’s even better than the girl with white hair”

For those of you who aren’t parents of Greta, aged 5 years and 8 months, the girl with white hair is Patti Smith, creator of Horses, Greta’s favourite album.

Pixies. Bald, intellectual and better than Patti Smith. Pass me the sun cream – I’m diving in.

The Stroppies – Melbourne and other groovy scenes to dig.

Scenes. I love ’em. From the moment the gloriously simple two note intro to Echo And The Bunnymen’s Rescue kicked in and I discovered that this, apparently, was the neo-psychedelic sound of the Liverpool scene, I was sold. Disregard, if you can, the fact that it has taken 38 years to learn how to spell psychedelic. What intrigued me was the suggestion that everybody, literally everybody in Liverpool knew each other and were forming bands like a post-punk version of musical chairs. Appropriately enough, as given the tender age at which I heard the record it’s entirely possible that hitherto, musical chairs had been my primary pursuit.

I’ve always been drawn to bands rather than solo artists. Something about the urgent crusading of a gang of mates struck a chord with my earliest literary experiences spent in the company of The Swallows & Amazons and The Secret Seven. Liverpool, for a couple of years either side of 1980 was chock full of crusading gangs from the mysterious Bunnymen to the technicolour Teardrop Explodes via the intense Pink Military and to the outer reaches of the known universe with the futuristic Dalek, I Love You.

And I just assumed they all went to the same youth club.

Mind you, there was some veracity to my assumption. Most of the band cross-pollination at this time in Liverpool centered on the punk nights at Eric’s night club, Matthew Street. Just a few doors down from the site of the Cavern. Pete Frame, the author of those entertainingly complex rock family trees, could (and I’m pretty sure, did) make a beautiful spreading chestnut tree of the relationship between the above mentioned as most of them kept bumping into each other at the bar every night.

The same could not be said of my next all consuming obsession, the Scottish scene. No sane person would believe that groups as geographically diverse as Dundee’s Associates, Edinburgh’s Josef K and East Kilbride’s Aztec Camera could somehow be meeting down the pub every night. Ladies and gentlemen, I was that insane person. But if my interest in Liverpool merely left me with a love of overcoats and a lifetimes unfulfilled ambition to grow a bowl cut like Will Sergeant, my flirtation with all points north of Hadrian’s Wall would change me both musically and personally.

First up, Orange Juice, premier league signings to the iconic Postcard label (“the sound of young Scotland!”). We’ve become so inured to twee indie pop since the explosion of independent record labels apres punk, that it’s easy to forget how revolutionary Orange Juice were. For all of punk’s supposed meritocracy it was still a very agressively male scene with the likes of Siouxsie Sioux, Pauline Murray and The Slits only gaining parity by spitting further. Orange Juice, co-fronted by singers Edwyn Collins (verbally brash and head turningly handsome ersatz-Elvis) and James Kirk (borderline autistic modeller of safari suits and sandals) were shockingly, shockingly unmacho. These boys clearly were no “lads”, but “gentlemen”. Indeed, their manifesto, if such it were, read “1880’s, not 1980’s”. If their achingly gorgeous melodies were not provocation enough they compounded the offence with boyish grins hidden beneath floppy fringes and the kind of sensible hard wearing checked shirts your Mum would buy.

However, fey and twee they most certainly were not. To perform in front of a lager-fuelled Glasgow audience demanded the ability to “look after” yourself and Orange Juice were not content to waft a bunch of gladioli in the air and feel sorry for themselves as one former fan was later to do to great effect. Edwyn’s quest was to marry the sophistication of Chic to the romance and confrontation of Buzzcocks and like the latter’s frontmen, Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley he was more than happy to turn the grin to a grimace whilst cutting the nasty bullies down to size with a Gillette-sharp tongue.

Much as I can admire the wit and irony in retrospect, at the time any sublety was lost on me. Smirking in what I assumed to be an irresistably adorable way, I challenged my inability to “look after” myself by wandering around town with a sunflower in my lapel and waiting for women to fall at my feet. No women, but plenty of teeth, fell at my feet as regular “slappings” reminded me that chivalrous romance died with Ivanhoe and that dressing like Oscar Wilde doesn’t get you very far in a hosiery manufacturing town where a high percentage of women basked in the evocative job title of “gusseter”.

The soaring twin guitar attack of Edwyn and James was as foreign to my primitive axe skills as King Crimson but after hearing Edinburgh quartet Fire Engines’ 1981 single Meat Whiplash, I finally understood the punk “anyone can do it” ethos. Actually, I never could and still can’t “do it” anything like Fire Engines but the message was clear – they’re not terribly good musicians but it still sounds great. Hey, (I thought) I’m not a terribly good musician (in every sense) but maybe I could still sound great. More evidence was needed, so on a smash and grab shopping visit to London I dug out their splendidly titled Aufgeladen Und Bereit För Aktion Und Spass album. And there on the back we find the following holy script.

Beat noise and pop songs. Just roll it around on your tongue. Beat noise and pop songs. THAT, I decided, is what I want to hear. Hey, Kid Slender. Want to form a band? Sure. Will we be playing beat noise and pop songs? Is there anything else worth playing? And the answer to this day has been no. Everything I hear has been filtered through Fire Engines’ sensibilities. The Walker Brothers? Beat noise and pop songs. Sonic Youth? Beat noise and pop songs. Thelonious Monk? Beat noise and pop songs. If it can’t, in any way, shape or form, be described as beat noise and pop songs then I’m not interested. Beat noise and pop songs hold no truck with lyrics such as Well I came home, like a stone and fell heavy into your arms. Yes Mr Mumford and your satanic progeny, I’m talking to you. Take a tip from Fire Engines’ Davy Henderson: I love the labels on food cartons; they’re so important to me.

That’s art. That’s beat noise and pop songs.

That, of course, was 37 years ago. Scenes came and went but always felt unfulfilling by comparison. The Norwich scene. The Portland scene. The Mali scene. And then salvation appeared

Elevator Operator. Courtney Barnett’s life affirming no.2 entry on the chart of all-time great album openers. A song which can have you (and in my case has had me) dancing in carparks. A band so moronically simple you wonder why no one else thought of it first. A litany of fantastic lyrics – she looks him up and down with a botox frown – I’m not suicidal just idling insignificantly – twenty years old, thick head of hair, worries he’s going bald – and in Melbourne, a hometown so far away as to preclude regular gigs in Karlstad, Sweden.

Bugger.

But wait. There’s more. Much more. Courtney is merely a single jewel in a much bigger crown. Join me now as we get down on our knees and pray to the Lord in His infinite mercy to hide all evidence of the Melbourne scene from Pete Frame, because at the ripe old age of 75 the sheer numbers and rate of change of same will give the poor sod a coronary. Try to keep up, this gets complicated.

The scene appears to revolve around Dick Diver who contain former members of Lower Plenty and UV Race whose drummer got together with the guitarist from Eddy Current Suppression Ring to form Total Control who shared their producer with The Stevens who suffered line-up problems when members defected to The Twerps whose celebrity fan Jessica Alba may or may not be aware of Blank Statements who along with all of the above mentioned supplied personnel that put together equal, laydeez’n’gennelmun your new favourite band and mine, The Stroppies!

Barrelling along somewhat in the style of The Modern Lovers, The Stroppies only album (you want more albums? Go and form your own band) races through its seven songs (you want more songs? Go write them yourself – we’re too busy) with the urgency of musicians itching to go and form other bands. Harmonies? Harmonies are for workshy slackers with too much time on their hands. The Stroppies just sing the same tune in unison and move on to the next song. Solos? Are you kidding? Who’s got time for solos? You’ll be expecting us to waste time mixing songs next.

In fact why are you idling insignificantly reading this nonsense when there’s plans to make and things to buy? C’mon, there’s a whole world of beat noise and pop songs out there. Get up and use them.

 

 

 

 

Bitesize! S-Club 7

Insidious things, oldies radio stations. You tune in with the harmless intention of soundtracking your working day, hoping for a little Carl Perkins here, a dash of The Animals there, a sprinkling of The Walker Brothers all over, only to find yourself the victim of heretical thoughts such as, “actually, Bachman Turner Overdrive really weren’t that bad”. Once in a while though they drag up a lump of coal from the stygian gloom of the past, give it a swift polish, et voila: a priceless diamond. Good people, suspend your cynicism for two minutes while I present to you the rather immense, S-Club 7.

There was a time I was ironically proud of being able to name all of S-Club 7. Their cheeky winning drama school smiles illuminated seemingly every Saturday morning kids programme and rekindled my fondness for manufactured bands. A love affair begun in the early 70’s with the weekly appearance of The Partridge Family and nurtured during school holiday reruns of The Monkees and The Doubledeckers. OK, I know The Doubledeckers weren’t actually a band, but containing, as they did, a future member of Aswad, they count. Even without recourse to Allmusic I find I can still remember six Sclubbers, including two surnames!

However, unlike The Monkees, S-Club 7 product was always unlikely to grace my record collection. I appreciated what the Italia Conti Academy of acting had done for these young tykes but the likes of It’s An S-Club Thing and Two In A Million were never going to shift Bikini Girls With Machine Guns by The Cramps from the turntable.

And then in 2001 Lux and Ivy were forced to step aside. Armed with a vocoder and one of those rhythms that seems designed to practice CPR to, The 7 momentarily conquered the nation. As autumn crept over the country,  grizzled veterans of a thousand London pubs, clubs and live venues were to be found glaring at each other with the astonishment of trench artillerymen hearing the armistice klaxon. “By crikey, they’ve done it, they’ve really done it!”

The anthrax infectious Don’t Stop Moving proved to be one of those landmark records by which, like it or not, you map out your past, and which gradually transcends the world of criticism and just… is. I have, for example, no idea whether Bill Withers Lovely Day is a good song or not, but when the sunlight hits my eyes I’ll be singing along regardless. Yes, occasionally I DO feel like a room without a roof, but I now know that Pharrell Williams will always be there to clap along with me. Yes, I was the black sheep of my family and although my Dad tried to teach me right from wrong you may well ask how, with too much wine and too much song, I got along. Easy – I had Terry Jacks to show me the way.

So good people, forget about your fears tonight and listen to your heart. See that uncoordinated guy on the dancefloor? The one dancing behind Hannah, Jon, Paul, Jo, Tina, Bradley and the other one? Well that’s me and I’m NEVER going to stop moving to that funky, funky beat.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix – Isaac Hayes and the greatest chord change in history.

In his 2005 book, Like A Rolling Stone, Greil Marcus essays a theory that the single snare beat that introduces Dylan’s masterpiece of spleen and sarcasm opens a kind of musical Pandora’s box, paving the way for all of rock’s innovation to come, from The Beatles yea unto The Pet Shop Boys. Apparently. Not only that, it was also the percussive fanfare that heralded the swinging 60’s, flower power, the Vietnam war, the space age, neo-liberalism, the internet and reality TV. Or something. It’s often a little difficult to keep up with yer man Marcus. However I think I managed to grasp the central conceit that everything Bob had achieved up to that point was condensed into a single moment producing a cultural big bang.

It’s Bob.

 

As Dr Stephen Hawking says in The Simpsons, your theory of a donut shaped universe intrigues me Homer, I may have to steal it.

Naturally, Greil, whilst well intentioned, had it hopelessly wrong. Right idea but four years too early.

A world away from Bob Dylan’s bohemian New York, Memphis (home of Elvis and the ancient Greeks), Tennesse to be exact, Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton’s Stax label had spent the 1960’s… well, being Stax really. By simply doing their thing and getting on with it, the label had soundtracked the decade as adroitly as any number of Blowin’ In The Winds. Due, in no small part, to the songwriting team of David Porter and Isaac Hayes – the Memphis Goffin and King. Always assuming of course that you’re willing to imagine Carole King saying things like you put the hurt on me, Mamma.

Having built up a breathtaking back catalogue with the likes of Sam and Dave, William Bell and Carla Thomas, the Stax wheels then came off in spectacular fashion. If the death of their most iconic star, Otis Redding, in 1967 wasn’t enough, a year later their distribution deal with Atlantic came to an end leaving the New York label with the rights to all Stax recordings.

Not being one to hang around moping, executive vice president Al Bell simply ordered his charges to record a new batch of classics, turning first of all to in house songwriter and producer Ike Hayes. This was by no means the no-brainer it sounds. Ike’s solo debut had flopped embarrassingly and being a prudent, circumspect soul he was in no great measure as keen to re-enter the spotlight as the later recording of such classics as Chocolate Salty Balls might lead you to believe.

Ike gave it some thought. Stax was known predominently for its singles output but Ike bridled somewhat at the suggestion that black audiences were only good for hanging round the jukebox in the nearest roadhouse. The core demographic that had paid the Stax rent these last years was, he reasoned, capable of a little more sophistication. Ike laid down the law. He may even have put the hurt on a few mammas. Total control. Over content, arrangements and of course production. Un production d’Ike. This would be his Sergeant Pepper. Sort of.

The result of course was the towering behemoth that is Hot Buttered Soul.

Bursting into life with his staggering version of Walk On By, Ike sets out his stall and it’s a stall that will be trading in melodrama, grandiosity, angst and downright cissy-struttin’ funkyness. Where Dionne Warwick warbles stylishly, Isaac Hayes wails his pain, building up to a crescendo of soul-searching with the confession that (you guessed it brothers and sisters) you put the hurt on me Mamma. In between choruses The Bar-Kays bring it down abruptly with some deep, deep, deep reverb guitar that, for some reason, always reminds me of the bit in Apocalypse Now when the sniper is shooting the guy off the bridge.

Next up, the preposterously titled Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic turns down the heartache and ups the funk quota whilst overlooked side 2 opener the relentlessly optimistic One Woman strays admirably into the territory occupied by Gladys Knight. And there you have it.

But wait, how to fill the remaining 18 minutes of side 2? Are you ever in for a treat boys and girls.

Since Ray Charles recorded Georgia On My Mind in 1960 the idea of cross-pollinating genres had become perfectly acceptable. So it was really a shock to no one that an artist like Isaac Hayes would tackle Jimmy Webb’s geography defying country anthem By The Time I Get To Phoenix. What was surprising was how he transformed it from a tale of wistful melancholia to a mind-expanding cultural event. Choosing to take a prequal approach to the song, Ike begins by filling in the story before our hero legs it in the (very rough) direction of Oklahoma. This he does in the style of a declaiming preacher getting old testament on our collective skinny white ass. A role backed up by a single church organ note, played without pause. Or perceptible change in volume. Or change in vibrato. FOR EIGHT MINUTES! After 30 seconds you’re thinking mmm, ecclesiastical. After two minutes you’re considering shifting the needle along a bit. After five minutes you’ve lost the power of free will, labouring with a thousand yard stare and under the illusion that you’ve morphed into a giant insect.

But Ike knew what he what doing. The tension builds up so that after eight minutes it’s a massive relief when the song proper kicks in and he makes it as far as Arizona. What Ike had been doing all along was delivering a state of the nation address.  His tale of love gone sour was the story of post-war America.

If sunny side up doo-wop was the soundtrack to the optimistic Kennedy years, the national loss of innocence that came with Johnson and the looming spectre of Nixon needed something darker.

She’ll laugh when she reads the part that says I’m leaving, ‘cos I’ve left that girl so many times before. Regular readers will recall that I’m not much of a lyric man but that line just slays me. Twenty words, only two of them longer that one syllable, that savage both parties. The one for being fickle and capricious, the other for failing to take that caprice seriously. This wasn’t just some dude leaving his lady (as I believe cats used to call their chicks back then) but a country questioning their leader. A leader with a self-satisfied smirk who can’t believe that the proles would ever question his authority. An establishment that knows it can’t stop change but continues to send in the national guard with batons drawn. This, to be sure, was putting the hurt on me. Mamma.

And as Ike reminds us, she just didn’t know I would really go.

It’s Ike.

He could of course have left the song to fade satisfyingly at this point and it would still have been a major musical milestone. But no, Ike realised that somewhere around 1992 a muscularly challenged East Midlander with dodgy hearing would discover his magnum opus and need not only lyrical but also sonic persuasion.

Welding a magnificent coda to a work of almost perfect execution, he anticipates, by some 40 years, Wikipedia’s definition of a coda as “technically, an expanded cadence”, by technically expanding the shit out his cadence. Strings swell, percussion rumbles and horns do whatever it is they do as the song builds and builds to a colossal tsunami of emotion. And then it hits you. At precisely 11 minutes and 31 seconds the world, musically, politically, culturally, shifts on its axis as The Bar-Kays shift key with the fluid ease of a young bream being released from a net into the River Spey. It’s the sound of Dr Dave Bowman in the previous year’s 2001, entering a technicolour hyperspace. And in the summer of 1969 it’s the sound of Apollo 11 landing on the moon, not the glory of Armstrong’s giant leap but the sad resignation of Michael Collins stranded in the command module. It’s the sound of the senseless, bloody slaughter at Hamburger Hill and Nixon’s knee-jerk reaction to introduce the draft lottery. It’s the sound of the police wading in to break up the Stonewall riots and ultimately being defeated by L.O.V.E love, brothers and sisters. It’s UCLA sacking Angela Davies for daring to have a voice. It’s the sound of Young America waking up and shouting “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore”.

I’ve been listening to Hot Buttered Soul for over 25 years now and that chord change gets me every time. My skin tingles, I shush the family quiet as I hear it approaching. I get glassy-eyed and barely hear my daughter ask “Dad, 1969 really was the heaviest year, wasn’t it?”

Two years later Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder made black lives matter even more conspicuously with What’s Going On and Where I’m Coming From respectively. But let’s not forget that it was Isaac Hayes that did it first, did it baddest and did it best.

 

R.I.P.M.E.S

We’re all fans of The Fall so with the untimely passing of Mark E. Smith we’re all mourning buckets right now.

I long ago let go of my dream to play for Leicester City and with the passing of the years and the emergence of no obvious talent, the possibility of the Booker prize or an Oscar seem increasingly remote. Now I’m forced to lay to one side my ambition to play in The Fall. A daydream which, if a little far fetched, was at least always statistically possible given the baffling number of bandmates Smith went through during his career. A revolving door policy which made Art Blakey and Jerry Garcia appear to be positively dependable employers.

Truth be told I was never the obsessive fan that friends and, notably, former bandmates were, but like a long running soap opera (a similie which I don’t use carelessly) they were a band I checked up on periodically, always meaning to spend more time on but never quite getting around to it.

Shamefully I only ever saw them twice, but one of those gigs rates among my top 5 for the sheer joy of seeing Mark E smirking throughout due to the unabashed enthusiasm of support band Elastica, pogoing behind the drummer.

It’s both routine and polite to say of recently deceased artists that they were a one off and we’ll never see their like again. For once this is true. The Fall weren’t in any way the sum total of the band members influences. They were of course the warped nightmarish vision of one man and quite simply no one else on Earth could possibly have spent their youth listening to Link Wray and Can and then combined them to create records like Hex Enduction Hour and The Infotainment Scan.

The Fall, for my generation at least, were a part of the landscape and indeed life itself that you just didn’t question. Like Marmite and Terry Wogan, everyone had an opinion on them and even if that opinion wasn’t always complimentary, you couldn’t deny its cultural influence. Everywhere you looked, everywhere you listened,, The Fall would rear their snaggle toothed head.

Not since John Peel died have I felt like a period of my youth has been lost and it seems unthinkable that there’ll be no more Fall albums.

R.I.P.M.E.S