Monday, 30 March 2020

Substitute


With everyone's life currently on hold (parked up), and staying in becomes the new going out, we now have to embrace a whole new world of substitutes. Depending on how lavish your lifestyle was BC will dictate how adversely this new regime will affect you PC; if and when when normality (normalcy) ever returns it will of course all centre around freedom of movement - the taboo subject (elephant in the room) linking Coronavirus (Covid-19) with Brexit (the UK's slow and painful suicide).

But that's a debate for another day; a debate which will be, I'm sure (be in no doubt), front and centre - pushing its way up both the political and cultural agenda for a long, long time to come. Substitute your lies for fact.

Today's musical selection is not, as you may have been expecting, from the 'Oo. (They're no longer young, but still backdated.) No, it is instead a song written by Willie Nelson released nearly a decade on from the single Pete Townshend famously called 'our first number four.'

The Righteous Brothers - Substitute (1975)


A couple of years later it would go on to be a number one smash in South Africa for a female five piece from Johannesberg. However, I've substituted the lip gloss and spandex of Clout for a bunch of ageing London mods whose front man has got that don't fuck with me look about him. A look you often see in lead singers.

Smashing Time - Substitute (2008)

Sunday, 22 March 2020

!


Quite by chance, at a recent vinyl evening (in those dim and distant pre-self isolating days when I quite really did get out more), two tracks were played back-to-back that both had exclamation marks in the title; a point (literally) not picked up at the time (why would it?). But as they were both from my collection it was only when I was putting them away that I clocked the fact.
As something of a musical pedant I'm pretty big on musical punctuation and generally getting song titles right - therefore, Sweet's 1973 Number 1 hit is not Blockbuster, it's Block Buster! And the song that followed it on the night in question was Mél Torme's Right Now! Although a B side, it's every bit as special as the lounge/mod classic you'll find when you flip it over.

Mel Tormé - Comin' Home Baby (1962)



A recent discovery of mine from a freakbeat collection titled Sugar Lumps comes courtesy of a band calling themselves Smashing Time. To my shame I know vey little about Smashing Time (an out of date Facebook page would lead you to believe they came from London and called it a day c.2015/16). It's a belter and although it doesn't have an exclamation mark it does have a question mark.

Smashing Time - Is it Her? (2005) 



I'm playing it on heavy rotation here at Medd Towers; it's got under my skin well and truly. Not least, I think, as it tips the wink to Comin' Home Baby. Yes, no? Its other influence, IMHO, is this beauty written by Rod Argent. Again, see what you think.

The Zombies - She's not There (1964)

Friday, 20 March 2020

Lifeline


In these new dystopian times I'm trying to stay positive; my overriding sense of humour is being, and will continue to be, tested to its absolute limits. And because the landscape is changing on an hourly basis, it's a struggle to keep to the path; and to stay sane.

Don't get me wrong, my personal situation is by comparison (judging by the decimation of my local high street and the number of desperate callers currently ringing James O'Brien on LBC - to use just two indicators) not as perilous as I know it is for some. But at this critical time in all our lives, we need decisive leadership and reassurance. And a modicum of hope. All of which are in short supply at the moment. 

We're all clinging on to whatever lifelines we can - family, friends beer, music, whatever. Though, for some, even those touchstones may not be enough.

The corner shop at the top of my road has always been 'there for me'. And never more so than now. Recent footfall has increased considerably and, despite now being increasingly populated by Tesco refugees, it will, I'm sure, be vital to my physical and mental wellbeing as social distancing becomes the new normal. 


Cornershop: St Marie Under Canon - 2020


Wednesday, 18 March 2020

1970 (5/5)


The final song in this mini series hasn't just popped into my head, its been kipping in the attic ever since my son was born. Sweet Baby James is 50% cowboy song, 50% lullaby, 100% immaculate. There may well have been better songs written than this; but not many. Even its writer, James Taylor, said it's the song he's most proud of. I can't disagree with that.


James Taylor: Sweet Baby James (1970)

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

1970 (4/5)


Did he? Or didn't he? We can talk till the cows come home about how George Harrison accidentally or otherwise plagiarised He's so Fine by the Chiffons, but it won't change the outcome. In 1976 the judge - after years of legal wrangling - found Harrison guilty as charged. Beatle George never saw a dime from his multi-million selling chart topper - ironic as he was the first of the post-Fab Four to land a Number One single on both sides of the Atlantic.

So, whether I'm singing the George Harrison original (well, as original as a song with a nicked riff/motif can be), or the version George produced for his mate Billy Preston - before Harrison committed his to tape - My Sweet Lord is the 4h. selection of songs currently pin-balling round my skull 24/7.

Billy Preston: My Sweet Lord (1970)


John Lennon once famously said that whenever he heard My Sweet Lord he was convinced there was a God. Even as a non believer, I think I know where he was coming from.

George Harrison - My Sweet Lord (1970)


And, finally, the elephant in the room. It's hard to believe nobody (not even Phil Spector) told the ex-Beatle he was treading on very thin ice. But, hey, it made for a great rock and roll story.

The Chiffons - He's so Fine (1963)

Monday, 16 March 2020

1970 (3/5)


Only three songs in to my mini series and already I'm floundering with the concept of themed blogs; I've said before that lists, running themes etc. are an anathema to me. And do you wanna know why? I'll tell you why: the third song from 1970 that I've been singing like a madmancap isn't even from 1970. Yikes!

All this time I thought I was singing a Syd Barrett song from his 'A Madcap Laughs' album; turns out I was actually singing an Andy Ellison pastiche recorded some 35 years later. There never were such times.

So, to demonstrate what a chump I've been, here are the (offending) tunes in all their glory:


Exhibit A

Andy Ellison - Heather Lane (2005)


Exhibit B

Syd Barrett - Octopus (1970)

Sunday, 15 March 2020

1970 (2/5)


The conceit for this mini series - songs from 1970 buzzing round my head - is, of course, deeply flawed: how can there only be five songs in there and why are all from 1970? Busted.
But, at the time of conception, you've gotta believe me that this clutch of songs were pretty much front and centre of what passes for my brain and, yes, I was, and still am, singing them at traffic lights. In the supermarket. In the shower. Don't tell me you've never been afflicted too.

This one is a funny one. Unlike the last ear worm which is from a band I kind of know inside out and back to front, Cat Stevens is an outsider to me; albeit an outsider who, for a handful of years in the late sixties and early seventies, wrote some real touchstone songs. Maybe I was too young, maybe I wasn't emotionally invested enough to buy into his brand, maybe he was just too gospel-y for me. But 'Wild World' pierced my armour. It got thru. And still hasn't left.

Cat Stevens - Wild World (1970)

Friday, 13 March 2020

1970 (1/5)

It was Sandy Denny who asked the perennial question: Who knows where the time goes? And having recently compiled a photo book for James' 30th - a job that saw me rifling thru literally thousands of photographs, slides and digital images - I know. God, I know. But, like asking how they get the stripes into a tube of toothpaste - we all kinda pretend not to.

Which brings me to today's offering. Anyone still following me after all these years will know the glue that binds this whole shaky caravan together is four parts shooting from the hip, one part premeditated. Themes or lists (apart from annual roundups) happen when they happen, or, most likely, don't happen when they don't happen. But, for some unfathomable reason I have five songs in my head that were all released in 1970. And even those at the back of the class will know that that's 50 years ago in anyone's language.

So, rather than blurt them all out in one hit I'm going to release them into the ether one at a time.

First up, Slade. Long before Noddy Holder discovered mirrored top hats and indeed before Dave Hill found an alternative use for Bacofoil, Slade were a bunch of Black Country skinheads trying to catch a break. They obviously succeeeded, but not before dispensing with the Ben Shermans, Sta Press and 14 eye DMs (your mum probably called 'em bovver boots). And they sounded like this:

Slade: One Way Hotel (1970)

Monday, 9 March 2020

Different Drum


I''m really looking forward to reading the Michael Nesmith autobiography I've just ordered - Infinite Tuesday. Whilst I think all four Monkees are fascinating individuals, there's something about the one they call Nez that I can't quite put my finger on. And no, it's not his trademark wooly hat, though I will be hugely disappointed if I find his titfer hasn't been granted its own chapter.

As part of a research project I'm currently carrying out - putting the case for his 1972 album And the Hits Just Keep on Comin' being one of the greatest recordings of the 20th Century - it will, I'm sure, prove invaluable. In 1972 you won't be surprised to learn that I was still watching the Monkees syndicated TV reruns on our newly acquired Radio Rentals telly; I had no idea that Nesmith had already left the band, ditched the hat, grown a beard and single handedly invented Alt. Country. All I knew back in 1972 was that Last Train to Clarksville was a song I knew I would love for the rest of my life* and that I really wanted my dad to trade in his J reg. Hillman Hunter for a Monkeemobile**.

* I have
** He didn't

Michael Nesmith: Different Drum/Harmony Constant - 1972

Monday, 2 March 2020

Heaven Only Knows


In the ten years this blog has been in existence I can honestly say I've lost count of the number of truly great songs I've written about and shared. Just when you think - not for the first time - that all the gold has been mined, a nugget so big and so bright rises to the surface just begging to be heard.

Geraint Watkins, he of the Balham Alligators and Nick Lowe sidekick (to name but two senior positions he's held over the years) knows a thing or two about the art of songwriting. I think I said as much here. With Watkins there is no fat; no filler. Any excess will have been trimmed in the editing suite (if not before) so all that's left is a song in its purest form. Not a word (or indeed syllable) too many or too few set against a melody so achingly beautiful you wonder why more artists aren't covering his stuff.

This is from his latest long player, Rush of Blood, which came out last September. I can't stop playing it. And I can't stop loving it.

Geraint Watkins - Heaven Only Knows (2019)