Mash-ups. I rather like’em. There’s something simple and primitive about just welding one song on to another that seems in keeping with the original DIY spirit of rock’n’roll. No pretensions to artistry. No marathon sessions in the studio. Just two songs and one outcome.
I first became aware of them when swedish radio began, some years ago, to give serious airtime to a mash-up of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and the point at which it all began to go wrong for Michael Jackson, “Bad”. The joy was not simply the seamless way in which the two songs would morph into each other but also the way in which Cash appeared to prick Jackson’s ego. As the latter’s yelping, hiccoughing and vast aray of other vocal affectations reaches a climax, the effect is magnificently deflated by the sudden introduction of Luther Perkins’ wonderful self-effacing honky-tonk guitar.
Equally, Kid Slender favourites the Dandy Warhols had, in one fell swoop, all the sneering sarcasm wiped away from global mega-hit “Bohemian Like You” when someone thought to add their iconic Keef-esque guitar riff to the vocal track from cheeky chavettes Mousse T’s hormonal school disco anthem “I’m Horny”.
Madonna achieved something of the same effect when opening 2005 album “Confessions On A Dancefloor” with “Hung Up”, borrowing wholesale from Abba’s “Gimme Gimme Gimme” in the process. A canny move as it left her free to knock together a riotously hedonistic disco pop album, free from the slight whiff of earnestness which lurked over “Ray Of Light”, excellent as it was.
A more articulate writer could probably essay a great thesis here about the effect of copywrite considerations on music in general and hip-hop in particular as it’s only the likes of Madonna and Kanye who can afford to sample these days. But there you go, Björn and Benny got the royalties and nobody is the poorer for it.
The quality control doesn’t let up, but the further you delve into the album the more you begin reaching for the liner notes to check the credits. “Sorry” still feels naggingly familiar. “Future Lovers” could easily be a Giorgio Moroder outtake and once we get to album highlight “I Love New York” it all clicks into place.
The album credits offered a huge clue, although you could forgive me for dismissing as mere cooncidence the fact that co-writer and producer Stuart Price shares his name with my eldest brother. Nevertheless, the Midlands have, as I suspected they always would, had a key role in moulding one of pop music’s greatest innovators. It might take a few listens but I have not a doubt that you, like me, will eventually find yourselves exclaiming, bugger me Madge, it’s Bela Lugosi’s dead!
Now B-movie horror imagery was nothing new to rock’n’roll from Bobby “Boris” Pickett to the Cramps, but nobody before had adopted the look with such single-minded unsmiling zeal as Bauhaus. This combination of Ed Wood style and Weimar pretension caught on quickly. Its names were legion and many. We came to know and love it as GOTH. And for some reason I have difficulty imagining its creation in the hands of anyone but four sons of the boot belt. Northampton.
I have a little first hand experience here. My hometown (apparently) 32.3 miles away was laid waste by the shockwaves from the GOTH explosion with many shops rationing hair gel and escalating stock prices for the manufacturers of hair crimpers. At least those stocked by the local Co-op. Something about GOTH’s melodrama and a lack of self awareness appealed to those in small towns and the provinces seeking an, albeit illusory, escape route. Oh no, this was in no way a metropolitan youth cult as GOTH could not survive sophistication or humour. No hint of reality could be allowed to intrude on GOTH or the whole shebang collapsed like a house of cards. A friend of mine once found himself, by the classic friend of a friend route, backstage at the first gig of former Sister of Mercy Patricia Morrison’s new band. Gliding majestically into the room this patent leathered amazon Goddess smashed GOTH’s fragile facade by announcing “OK girls, we’re on in five minutes. Now, has everyone been to the toilet?”.
Another son of the Midlands to arrive at the same three chords as Ms Ciccone was Julian Cope. The 32 years which have passed since he recorded second album “Fried” have in no way dented my conviction that it is the perfect soundtrack to the Midlands. Or rather the East Midlands. Or maybe just the Watling Street corridor. No matter. It’s an album brittle as the frozen farmland surrounding the Ashby canal. Heavy with bucolic memories of family days out to local ruins. An album that captures the longing to escape to a place more urbane and the comfortable resignation that you’ll keep coming back. It somehow manages to embrace the contradictions of the Midlands, combining the ballsy moronic thwump of Slade, the introspection of Nick Drake, the folksy artisanship of Family and a willingness to party seemingly at times to have been borrowed from, yes, Showaddywaddy.
But on the final track, “Torpedo” the joking abrubtly ceases and Copey delivers something approaching a manifesto, assuring us that, yes, I’m kneeling on Alvecote Mound with a tortoiseshell on my back but I’m actually serious about this. Sure, sometimes I just shamelessly rip off my heroes. With a smirk. But I’m no less sincere or respectful for all that.
Julian Cope recognises that playing rock music is a preposterously silly pursuit unworthy of anyone with intelligence but that it is in the spirit of rock’n’roll that we don’t care. Like a dog that licks his balls in polite company, we love it anyway.
Bauhaus recognised the same fact and were equally unapologetic over bellowing nonsense about bell towers and bleeding victims. When an eyebrow pencil is all that’s standing between you and a shift down the Doc Martens factory the only reasonable course of action is to suck in your cheeks and really go for it.
Madonna was clearly channelling the same Midlands spirit when she thought to punctuate one of her finest songs with one of the most stomach-churningly dreadful lines in her or anyone else’s back catalogue. “If you don’t like my attitude you can f-off”. ‘Scuse me, did you really just sing “f-off”? Madonna, the iconoclast who cavorted at the feet off a black Christ in a basque and who published a coffee table book of her breasts being fondled by Vanilla Ice. Now reduced to the self-censorship of “f-off”? You betcha! And you know what? She’s Madonna, she can do whatever she likes. Frankly, if she’d really said fuck, would anyone bother writing a blog about it?
That’s the Midlands for you. We’ll give you Shakespeare, George Eliot and Joe Orton but you’ll remember us for Tiswas, Crossroads and Hobbits.
Now then Madge me owd duck. Lend us a plaggy bag and I’ll get down the jitty for a crusty cob and some dobbers.