Mystery Track Special (Best Picture: Isabelle)

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I do like a mystery.

As a youngster in the 1970s, I would get taken on coach trips for the day during the summer holidays. These would whisk me and my family away to all manner of exotic locations. Ayr. Ardrossan. Even Oban one time.

The idea of the ‘mystery trip’ somehow, though, held the most appeal for the young me. Theoretically, the bus could be headed in any direction within, say, a three and a half hour journey from where we were picked up. Edinburgh possibly, Fort William, maybe even Blackpool although even back then I would have figured out that it would likely just mean a wee jaunt down to the Ayrshire coast.

All the same, I began pestering my parents with pleas for them to choose this option next time around.

This didn’t last long though. A pattern quickly emerged. The first ‘mystery’ outing arrived in Largs. The second ‘mystery’ outing arrived in Largs. The third? You’ve guessed it.

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I’ve also always enjoyed hearing music for the first time without knowing the identity of the artist. No preconceptions or expectations. Just trusting your ears.

You might already know the track featured below or at least have heard about it (and I have to admit this post is much delayed due to my best of the year blogs getting in the way). When I visited a pal a few months back, he was playing it on YouTube as he ushered me into his living room.

‘Who’s that?’ I asked, instantly intrigued.

‘Who do you think it is?’

‘It wouldn’t be Best Picture and Isabelle by any chance?’ I answered, stepping closer to his laptop and reading from the screen.

‘Aye. Very good but can you name any of the band? Where d’you reckon they’re from, and which era d’you think the song comes from?’

Questions. Questions. Questions.

‘I’ll let you see the video from the start,’ he said, reloading the page, although this didn’t offer up many clues. The band playing in that looked as if they were from the mid 1960s, and this was likely an attempt to steer me off the scent.

Isabelle Video - Best Picture

Umming and awwing, I desperately searched for the kind of inspired answer that would demonstrate my encyclopedic knowledge of guitar bands. Or at least not come up with something so embarrassing that it would be cast up against me for years to come.

Once upon a time I’d played him The Four Vandals’ Wrong Side of Town and told him I’d buy him free drinks all night if he could name the singer. But not being a) someone who watches crap Saturday night TV, or b) a northern soul fan, he failed to recognise the dulcet tones of ex X-Factor winner Steve Brookstein. Great record incidentally and, yeah, I do still occasionally tease him about some of his answers.

We can be a mean bunch.

He further explained that there was a well known face on vocal duties that I’d featured on this blog and a guitarist who’d been part of a successful 1980s chart act that I’ve also mentioned on here.

The answer, therefore, was likely tucked away in some sealed-off compartment of my brain but I still couldn’t offer up any answer that I would’ve been tempted to wager any cash on.

‘Have to hurry you!’

‘Dunno,’ I said, before blurting out, ‘Sounds a bit Liverpool.’

He gave me an unhelpful blank look.

‘Maybe,’ I continued, a wee ooze of panic possibly seeping into my voice due to the fear of saying something incredibly stupid, ‘from around about the time that The Coral and The Zutons first came out?’

My guess wasn’t remotely close. He offered me another go at it.

I gave him a shrug and admitted I had no idea. ‘I like it though. Definitely.’

What do you think? Assuming you don’t already know all about the track.


I won’t reveal the identities of the band members but obviously in the age of the internet it won’t take the detective skills of Inspector Morse or John Rebus to find out all about the band in a matter of minutes. I’ve even added a link to their record label below the video.

For more on Best Picture & Oriel Records click here.

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Lo-Fi Heartache Pop v Psychedelic Witch Prog: Best New Music of 2017

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Best Music 2017

This year, a bumper Christmas post featuring my top twenty tracks of the year. And just to crank up the excitement levels to 11, I’m going to sort them into a chart.

Was this a good year for music? If you mean by that, was there bucketloads of good music released, then yes. I heard John Robb on 6 Music a couple of weeks ago claiming there were more good bands around just now than ever before.

This is in all likelihood true. But are there more truly great bands than ever before?

And how does music in 2017 compare with, say, 1967 or 1977?

Oh, those excitement levels might just have dropped but here are twenty very fine tracks. Before I begin though, a quick mention for some of the artists hovering just outside: Catholic Action, Charlotte Gainsbourg, The Moonlandingz, Wire, The Hare and Hoofe, Brix and The Extricated, The Eastern Swell, The Secret Goldfish and Peter Perrett.

Okay, time to break out the Christmas sherry, sit down, relax and enjoy!

20. Mogwai: Coolverine
Every Country’s Son is far from the best ever Mogwai release but the track that kicked it off is mightily impressive. Is Coolverine an amusing pun, though, or just a plain cack title? I’m still not sure.


19. Sister John: Thinner Air
The best new Scottish act to emerge in 2017 and seemingly loved by every blogger out there. Sister John’s album Returned From Sea is out on the Last Night From Glasgow label and well worth seeking out.

18. John Foxx and The Maths: Genetic Hymnal
If Heaven actually existed this might just be the soundtrack.

17. Jesus and Mary Chain: Mood Rider

16. Goldfrapp: Anymore

15. Alvvays: Dreams Tonite
Album #2 from Canadian indie pop classicists proves that album #2 doesn’t neccessarily have to disappoint. Coming to Glasgow early next year.

14. The Orielles: I Only Bought It For The Bottle
Featured on this blog back in August, where I declared them ‘The Best Thing to Come Out of Halifax since John Noakes’.

13. LCD Soundsystem: Call the Police
The least surprising reunion ever probably had hipsters taking to the streets of Hoxton and Williamsburg in celebration all the same. It also produced some rip-roaring tunes.

12. Sparks: Sparks – Edith Piaf (Said It Better Than Me)

11. Alien Stadium: This One’s for the Humans
Steve Mason and Primal Scream’s Martin Duffy join together and make a four-track concept mini-album about pisshead aliens invading Earth. Or something like that.


10. Beck: Dear Life

9. The Breeders: Wait in the Car
One of the comebacks of the year although their Glasgow concert is unlikely to go down in Barrowlands folklore.

8. Young Fathers ft. Leith Congregational Choir: Only God Knows
God Only Knows why this band aren’t bigger. One of the best tracks on the T2 Trainspotting soundtrack.

7. Slowdive: Don’t Know Why
Another successful reunion, this time from one of the great showgazing bands.

 
6. Arcade Fire: Everything Now
As featured previously here, where I compared some of the songs on their latest album to the sort of stuff David Brent sang on his Life On the Road tour.

5. The Sexual Objects: Sometimes (Boards of Canada remix)
Within the space of the first note of this remix you know Boards of Canada are involved. So you know you’re in good hands.

4. Morrissey: Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage
Well, I still like his music anyway.

3. PINS with Iggy Pop: Aggrophobe
I had high hopes when I heard the news that Eno was heading into the studio with the sonic genius that is Kevin Shields but it’s this single from some young Lancastrian lasses and a gnarled old American man that proved to be the collaboration of the year.

 
2. Girl Ray: Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) 
Just as theatre critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote that he ‘could not love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger’, I couldn’t be friends with anybody that doesn’t think Earl Grey is a fabby album. My favourite of the year in fact. Just.

Girl Ray will play The Art School in Glasgow on 13 Apr 2018.

1. Madonnatron: Headless Children
Featured back here.

Earl Grey just edged out Madonnatrons’ self-titled album as my favourite album of the year but Madonnatron, in turn, just edged out Girl Ray’s Earl Grey (Stuck in a Groove) as my favourite track of the year. Girl Ray incidentally were described as ‘Lo-fi Heartache Pop’ in the Guardian while Madonnatron describe themselves on their Facebook page as ‘Psychedelic Witch Prog’.

Mesmerizing, angry and disturbing here is Headless Children:

 
For more on Madonnatron click here.

 

Saint Jack & A Musselburgh Superstar

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Jock Scot Albums

During the week I watched Saint Jack, an under-rated Peter Bogdanovich movie from 1979 that starred Ben Gazzara as Jack Flowers, a fatalistic Italian-American washed up in Singapore. Here he makes a living taking care of the needs of English-speaking expats and visitors, mainly American GIs, touring and whoring while on leave from Vietnam.

Filmed on location, Saint Jack was produced by Roger Corman, who’d given Bogdanovich his first directorial break on the 1968 movie Targets.

Gazzara, Bogdanovich and Corman, that’s a combination of talents you’ve got to like the sound of.

The movie doesn’t offer that much in the way of a plot and it could be accused of lacking real tension until its final act when Jack’s offered a wad of money to take uncompromising photos of an anti-war American Senator. But I do like Saint Jack a lot, mainly due to Gazzara’s performance.

A Korean vet who’s handy with a quip, generous with a tip and fond of a Scotch, Gazzara’s role as Flowers shares many similarities with his turn as Cosmo Vittelli in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and in a fairer world, he might have found himself with a Best Actor Oscar nomination for at least one of these parts.

Saint Jack, incidentally, was banned in Singapore, due to the seedy portrayal of the country although this ridiculous piece of censorship was rescinded in 2006. Here’s the trailer:


Watching Saint Jack inevitably got me musing on the 1995 album of the same name by The Nectarine N°9. Released on the reactivated Postcard label, this was one of the best Scottish albums of the ’90s despite being routinely ignored by many on its release.

It could easily be argued that Postcard Mark II, like Gazzara, was underestimated. Back then Alan Horne was still at his irascible best, fuming about local bores like Deacon Blue; the media (which was the ‘most evil thing in the world) and indie groups – telling Tom Lappin in The List: ‘They all tend to come across as public schoolboys who want to be in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.’

Whether you agreed with him or not, it was a pity that albums like Saint Jack and Vic Godard’s The End of the Surrey People failed to garner the critical kudos experienced by Postcard in the early ’80s especially when you think of all those journeymen Britpoppers like Gene and Shed Seven who, as Saint Jack hit record stores, were being feted with two page spreads in the music press and singles and albums in the charts.

On Saint Jack, NN9 were joined in the studio by Jock Scot, who memorably contributed Just Another Fucked-Up Little Druggy On The Scene.

Jock’s poetry might have struck some as simplistic but therein lies a big daud of his talent, making the difficult look simple. Autobiographical, unflinching and literally laugh out loud funny (LLOL?), he only ever published a single poetry collection, 1993’s Where Is My Heroine? Jock, though, was always more of a performance poet and took as much inspiration from the everyday world as from traditional poets. Think a madcap mix of Chuck Bukowski and Matt McGinn.

I remember seeing him live at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Festival in the second half of the 1990s, a raucous night where most of the audience was every bit as drunk as Jock, myself included. A fun-filled evening as enjoyable as any standard concert I attended around this time.

A patter merchant par excellence, Jock immediately struck me as the sorta guy that you would have loved to spend a night in the pub with (or maybe an afternoon and night with). A close pal of The Clash, Libertines and Ian Dury, I bet he would have supplied many reasons to be cheerful.

My Personal Culloden from 1997 was the final album released by Postcard and like those two albums mentioned earlier, it failed to generate the interest it clearly deserved. Heavenly Recordings reissued it in 2015 with an option of vinyl for the first time and a recommendation from Irvine Welsh: ‘Jock Scot is, along with Iggy Pop and Paddy Stanton, one of my all-time heroes. A Musselburgh superstar.’

This time round the reaction was more favourable with Uncut praising it as ‘a minor masterpiece of Scottish independent rock’ and Mojo magazine declaring him ‘Alba’s Greatest Poet’.

Sadly Jock died from cancer last year. His funeral in April 2016 was attended by a large and varied cast of mourners including senior Pop artist Peter Blake, drinking buddy Shane MacGowan, author Will Self and designer Pam Hogg.

Jock’s Mod Poem is one of only two poems I could recite, the other being Burns’s My Heart’s in the Highlands, drummed into me as a child in the early seventies – one every twenty odd years, maybe it’s time to add a third to the memory banks. Maybe it’ll be another one of Jock’s.

Apparently written in less than 6 minutes while waiting on the Underground, here is Mod Poem from The Caledonian Blues, the album he collaborated on with Gareth Sager:

Carry On Controversy (The Queen is Dead Again)

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Morrissey & Smiths Triology

It’s been an interesting second half of the year for Morrissey fans. Firstly there was the England Is Mine biopic. Not the worst film I’ve seen this year but it stands the same chance of ending up in my best of 2017 list as Morrissey deciding to serve up a platter of halal meat at his next birthday bash followed by a tray of Chicken McNuggets.

More recently there’s been the super-dooper deluxe re-release of The Queen is Dead which I decided to fork out for despite already owning it firstly as a cassette then as an LP and then CD, as well as owning the four B-sides featured on the second disc here.

There are three versions on this package of the title track. Obviously the original from the 1986 album, a demo without the opening sample but with added instrumental interplay with Rourke’s powerhouse bass sharking round some Johnny Marr guitar that call to mind Lou Reed’s choogling style. There’s also a version performed in Boston which sounds like the band have been snorting line after line of the only sulph in the world that hasn’t been cut to fuck. Very unlikely in the case of Morrissey I know. Its breakneck speed even made me think of punk.

The original kicks off with a snippet of the jingoistic Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty lifted from The L-Shaped Room, one of those early ’60s kitchen sink dramas that Morrissey so adores. Me too.

Of course you really know the party is getting started when someone strikes up Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty. Fun and frivolity surely beckon.

Well, maybe not. The lead character, who’s pregnant, collapses during it, hence the song trailing off unexpectedly.

Cue a slow ooze of feedback and Mike Joyce’s furious tribal drumbeat, those thundering tom-tom thumps sounding like they want a square go. Maybe the whole song does. And by the time Andy Rourke’s muscular bassline joins in and Johnny Marr adds some ninja guitar lines you know this would pulverise just about any potential opponent.

Listening to the song now makes me wish I could hear it fresh for the first time again. It must have been thrilling wondering where Morrissey was going to go with these lyrics – and at this point he was undoubtedly penning some of the most imaginative, unpredictable lyrical content I have ever come across (apart from the six minute didactic dirge that had given his last album its title). Here on the Queen he surpasses himself, mixing surreal Joe Orton-esque fantasy with music hall comedy; Carry On comedy with Hubert Selby Jr’s subversive Last Exit to Brooklyn.

Johnny Marr is at the top of his game too, supplying some amazingly inventive guitar to those idiosyncratic words and making it sound utterly effortless.

Here, I’ll air what might be seen as a controversial viewpoint myself. A controversial musical viewpoint that is regarding the best guitar work heard on a record accompanying Morrissey’s voice. For a long time now I’ve cited Vini Reilly’s contribution to Suedehead but when Marr launches into a wah-wah frenzy here I do at least raise an eyebrow at this opinion.

Smiths - The Queen is Dead Deluxe Edition Tracklisting

By turns emotionally charged and exhilarating, absurdist and adventurous, th entire album remains a very special listen. Granted, no matter how many painstaking tweaks and tinkering go into any remastering, I’ll never truly love Frankly, Mr Shankly and Vicar in a Tutu. After all his pessimism and past provocations, though, it was pleasing to hear Morrissey giving way just occasionally to some carefree kicks, even if those two tracks ensure for me that the album just misses out on belonging in the absolute classics category along with The Velvet Underground and Nico, Berlin, Never Mind the Bollocks and Loveless.

Am I glad that I got my hands on a copy?

Hell yeah. Johnny’s glimmering guitar on a demo of Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others is a joy; the remastered Boy With the Boy with the Thorn in His Side sparkles beautifully as does I Know It’s Over. Listening to the latter pulsing ballad with my Sennhausers on instantly re-ignited my infatuation with this devastating tale of unrequited love. And I did play it over and over and over and over again. Morrissey’s finest ever vocal performance I reckon and a melancholic masterpiece.

Oh, and the demo of Never Had No One Ever with the jazzy trumpet prompted a very different response. It made me laugh. And Morrissey too towards the end of the track.

And at least two of those remastered B-sides, Asleep and Unloveable, are as good as any A-side singles I’ve heard in 2017.

The soundboard recording of the 1986 Boston show is of a pretty high quality too albeit I’ll likely only listen to it sporadically at best. I think too that ditching the British racing green and pink artwork is a mistake but I’m already hoping that my own favourite Smiths album Strangeways receives the same kind of treatment ASAP. Go on Rhino. Re-issue! Re-package! Re-package!

Here’s the impressionistic three track promo featuring The Queen, The Boy With the Boy with the Thorn in His Side and Panic directed by Derek Jarman:


Morrissey has also made the headlines this year, especially in the wake of some comments made regarding the Manchester bombing.

Keeping your fingers crossed that this arch contrarian won’t stray into some controversy or other is as daft as hoping that the next series of Game of Thrones might cut out the brutality.

Reviews of his forthcoming album Low in High School haven’t been too enthusiastic. In Uncut Stephen Trousse gave it 5/10 and banged on about his politics as much as his music while Mojo‘s Pat Gilbert awarded it B+ for music but C- for attitude. Yes, marked on his attitude.

I’ll let you make your own mind about recent Morrissey controversies but I do suspect if Bigmouth hadn’t struck again, these reviews would have been much more favourable. The first taster for the new album was definitely promising.

This is Spent the Day in Bed:


Recorded at La Fabrique Studios in France and at Ennio Morricone’s Forum Studios in Rome, Low in High School comes out on November 17 via BMG.

Morrissey will tour the UK and Ireland early next year including a date at the Hydro in Glasgow on February 17.

Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage

New single Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up On The Stage is out today, the cover being a (cropped) photo by Miron Zownir. Which I like a lot but which Twitter doesn’t.

What the story behind the picture is I have no idea although I do know that it was taken in New York in the 1980s and that the sign says SOHO IS FULL OF SHIT.

Here is Morrissey performing the track live for BBC 6 Music:


For more on the album: http://morrisseyofficial.com/

 

Fab 5 Freddie Told Me Everybody’s Fly

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Jean-Michel Basquiat - Two Heads

Over the weekend I’ll be spending some time in London where one highlight of the trip should be the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition Boom For Real at the Barbican.

Back in the 1980s I remember reading a copy of Art Monthly magazine, the cover reproducing a painting by Hans Haacke titled Taking Stock that acted as a conceptual critique of the involvement of Saatchi and Saatchi in the international art world, the Saatchis at the time being the favoured PR company of the Tory Party. This was Haacke’s favoured modus operandi, investigating the links between the art world and capitalist corporations. A key to the work was necessary to understand it fully.

The artist might be making valid points but I doubt that Taking Stock changed the opinion of a single person who viewed it and could Haacke not just have written an essay on the subject instead?

Much more satisfying was an article focussing on New York artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, a self-taught painter still only in his early 20s, who’d started out as a graffiti artist, using the tag Samo on the streets of SoHo and the East Village. Fiercely creative, his improvisatory work was bold and vividly coloured. It engaged the eye and mind rigorously with a mixture of hieroglyphics, tribal art, bits of mysterious text and logos while referencing a diverse range of sources such as Gray’s Anatomy and Leonardo Da Vinci’s sketchbooks.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's Hollywood Africans (1983)

For me, the NYC of this era conjures up images of scuzzy lo-fi movies like Abel Ferrara’s Driller Killer and Susan Seidelman’s Smithereens; early rap, no wave and punk funk; and graffiti art by the likes of Kenny Scharf, Futura 2000, Keith Haring, Fab 5 Freddy and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

A member of the Brooklyn based graffiti collective the Fabulous 5, Freddy also rapped while Jean-Michel co-founded his own ‘noise’ band Gray. Both became regular guests on Glen O’Brien’s live cable show TV Party where they would meet many other talented young artists from varying fields and make connections.

The city had transformed itself into a cultural melting pot where ‘high’ and ‘low’ art, uptown and downtown increasingly collided. The burgeoning graffiti scene was moving from subway train to art gallery, just as other underground movements manoeuvred themselves overground.

Fab 5 Freddy's SoupCans

Early in 1981, Jean-Michel and Freddy took part in the New York/New Wave exhibition at PS. 1. Later dubbed ‘The Armory Show of the ’80s’, this mammoth show embraced art, music, fashion, photography and cartoons. A few months later Jean-Michel was shown at the seminal Beyond Words graffiti show at the Mudd Club in Lower Manhattan, an exhibition co-curated by Futura 2000 (who went on to colloborate with The Clash) and Fab 5 Freddy, the venue being a favoured hangout for a variety of artists from Robert Mapplethorpe to Madonna, Kathy Acker to Klaus Nomi.

Arguably the highpoint of all this artistic cross-pollination was Blondie’s American #1 single Rapture with Freddy and Jean-Michel both making cameo appearances in the promo – that’s Freddy in the background creating some graffiti while Jean-Michel is the DJ that Debbie Harry gets chatting to around the two-minute mark. He was actually standing in for Grandmaster Flash who couldn’t make the shoot.

And who was the first person to buy a Basquiat?

Debbie Harry, that’s who.

 
I have read a coupla eejits online writing off Rapture as another example of ‘whitey’ stealing black culture and dumbing down the content but, firstly, this fails to point out that this kind of thing was a two-way street. A number of hiphop related acts repeatedly sampled acts like Kraftwerk, Queen and The Incredible Bongo Band. Or, as another example, look at how Fab 5 Freddy reappropriated Andy Warhol’s soup cans for a massive mural on a subway train.

As for dumbing down, well, Debbie’s rap certainly doesn’t take itself very seriously and could even be called spectacularly daft but in the days before the release of The Message, rap wasn’t exactly socially conscious and thought-provoking, the average track consisting mainly of egotistical boasting together with a few ‘throw your hands up in the air’ or ‘Lemme hear you say paaaaaarrrrrty’ chants and some overused sample (and if in doubt chuck in a little Good Times seemed to be the motto of many on the scene).

And finally some more NYC music from the era. This is Afrika Bambaataa & Soulsonic Force with Planet Rock, a track that sampled Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express and Numbers very imaginatively:


The Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition continues in London until 28 Jan 2018. For more information click here.

If you fancy having a gander at the recent BBC documentary Basquiat – Rage to Riches head here. You have seventeen days left to view it if you pay your license or know your way round a good proxy site.

The three images used in this post are Untitled (Two Heads on Gold) & Hollywood Africans by Jean-Michel Basquiat, both from 1982, and Fab 5 Freddy’s Soup Cans of 1980.

The Group That Should’ve Written Star Wars

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seven-by-seven 77 logo (2016)

Hawkwind – Quark, Strangeness and Charm (Charisma)

Me and science fiction have never been the closest of buddies. Yes, I have enjoyed a number of sci-fi films over the years from Metropolis through to Blade Runner 2049 (a Hollywood sequel definitely worth seeing, whatever next?) If I ever had to appear on Mastermind, though, sci-fi would not be my specialist subject, believe me. In fact, I only finally got round to watching Star Wars for the first time a few months ago, aged 55.

Hawkwind – Quark, Strangeness and Charm album cover

As 1977 dawned and punk increasingly made an impact on British music, Hawkwind seemed pretty much irrelevant to me. Past their sell by date psychedelic crusaders whose following consisted mainly of acid casualties and the kind of space cadets who might have seriously struggled to distinguish between New Year and New York.

Lemmy had been sacked and their dancer Stacia left to settle down to family life.

‘What did you do before you got married, Mummy?’

‘Well darling, I used to paint my body with luminescent blue paint and dance naked with Hawkwind.’

According to Ian Abrahams in his book Hawkwind: Sonic Assassins, Robert Calvert wasn’t making any effort to get the new generation on his side despite privately appreciating some of the music. He dismissed The Clash as ‘The most orthodox band I’ve ever heard. They just play three-minute pop songs and throw in a few slogans’ and he slagged them off for not playing enough benefits.

Which is ironic as Joe Strummer’s initial thoughts on the idea of covering Police and Thieves was to do it like Hawkwind. Famously, the pre-Pistols John Lydon had been a big Hawkwind fan and Robert Calvert was by this point on friendly terms with the younger man and surely, while I’m at it, the single Quark, Strangeness and Charm betrays a definite punk/new wave influence?

Calvert really seems to have missed a trick by declining to publically embrace punk. Doing so certainly hadn’t harmed Marc Bolan’s career.

And – speaking of Bolan – one afternoon, just over forty years ago, I came home from school and switched on the TV to watch Marc where the great man introduced the band as ‘The group that should’ve written Star Wars and didn’t.’


Doesn’t Marc look very relaxed in that clip? I suspect a few glasses of champers may have been quaffed on the day. Funnily enough, I only discovered a few years ago that when he called Hawkwind ‘my best friends’ he was totally fibbing but, hey, this is showbiz and they shared the same management.

The truth is that guitarist Dave Brock didn’t even bother turning up at the Granada studios for the recording as he’d maintained a grudge against Bolan since the early 1970s after they’d taken a dislike to one another at a party. He wasn’t very keen on miming the song either.

*

‘Even this doggerel that flows from my pen has just been written by another twenty telepathic men…’

No, that’s not me (and any telepathic twins). This is a lyric from Spirit of the Age, a chilling Robert Calvert poem set to music and the longest – and possibly best – track on the Quark album.

Here it is.


And if you’re wondering about my thoughts on Star Wars and why I’d never seen it until this year. Well, when it came out I was sixteen and very adult in my own head at least and didn’t remotely fancy paying good money to see a blockbuster featuring badly designed robots and furry animal thingies in lead roles. Nope, that money was instead likely spent on buying records by the likes of XTC, The Stranglers and Wire.

A few months ago, though, I watched a documentary Elstree 1976 which focussed on a number of the minor actors and extras who’d appeared in the movie. The main reason for seeking this out being that I’d did a number of stints as an extra myself decades ago. Not on anything as grand as Star Wars mind you.

Anyway, seeing Elstree 1976 did persuade me to finally give Star Wars a go. Even if I didn’t rate the movie myself I could at least maybe gain an insight into the mindset of the kind of uber-fan who turns up at a convention and voluntarily queues for half an hour to get their mitts on a signed photo of someone who’d only ever been briefly glimpsed in a couple of scenes. Maybe even behind a mask or helmet.

Perhaps inevitably, the film bored me at times and I truly cannot begin to understand why it ever became such a global phenomenon. The plot was predictable, the acting and dialogue often mediocre at best and I suspect if Ed Wood had still been making movies at the time, even he might have been slightly embarrassed by the scene in the intergalactic boozer.

Star Wars? It might actually have been better if Hawkwind had written it.

PowerPop Saturday

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When I was young, I never needed anyone. And makin’ love was just for fun. Those days are gone.

So sang Eric Carmen on his big breakup hit All By Myself, a parent pleasing couple of minutes during Top of the Pops. Huge in the mid ’70s, the song signalled the man as a major contender whose career was about to go stellar.

At the time I despised the song thinking it was maudlin balladeering at its worst although those days are gone too and I’ve developed a sneaking admiration for its grandiose piano, George Harrison guitars and Carmen’s soaring vocal delivery.

You may well disagree but it is a good tune and stands the test of time and I can back this up with proof – it ‘borrows’ heavily from Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2, composed in the early days of the twentieth century.

Before all this, Carmen was the singer in The Raspberries, a powerpop combo from Cleveland that also tasted success in the States and were tipped for very big things.

Incessantly catchy and with a great punchy guitar riff and exquisite harmonies, the first thirty seconds of Go All the Way sounds like Steve Marriot fronting Big Star as do the final thirty seconds, which is surely no bad thing. The in-between bits are pretty damned good too.

Here it is, three and a half minutes of powerpop gorgeosity:


According to Wikipedia, young people like myself though didn’t get the chance to hear Go All the Way at the time of its release in Britain because the BBC banned their wholesome DJs from playing it due to its suggestive title. Well, they wouldn’t want us corrupted by listening to a pop song, would they?

The Raspberries continued on a high in America. In 1974, their single Overnight Sensation charted in the Billboard top twenty and Rolling Stone raved about their Starting Over album. And maybe even better, when they played L.A.’s Whisky a Go Go, Keith Moon jammed with them.

They broke up, though, after playing a show in Pennsylvania in the spring of 1975 and Eric decided that he actually did want to go forward all by himself.

PowerPop Raspberries & The Knack

And now for a song that in 1979 became the fastest selling American single since I Want to Hold Your Hand in the Beatlemania days of 1964. This came on the jukebox in one of my locals a while back and my pal was more than a little surprised when I admitted that I was a big fan of The Knack’s finest moment.

‘The Knack? The Cack, more like.’

Admittedly this was a band that were never going to be deemed remotely cool with their identikit American ‘new wave’ skinny ties and suits and lack of charisma. Apparently George W. Bush is a fan too which doen’t retrospectively help but then again, David Cameron likes The Smiths and The Jam.

I know very little about The Knack other than My Sharona was written about a girl that that singer Doug Fieger had a major crush on. Luckily she wasn’t called Elizabeth or Lesley or even Sharon or Rhona. Just imagine Muh muh muh muh muh my Rhona. Would just not have been as good, would it?

Here’s a tip if you want to impress any female you might have a crush on yourself. Write a song about her that goes to #1 and stays there for six weeks, selling more copies than any other single in America in the year of its release. This certainly worked for Doug and the pair soon started dating but separated after four years. Sharona rose to the top herself. In the real estate business anyway, selling mansions to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio.

And who is that good looking gal on the cover of the single?

Well, apparently that is Sharona (Alperin).

The only other Knack related story I know is that Quentin Tarantino wanted to use My Sharona in the middle section of Pulp Fiction when some rednecks take Marsellus and Butch hostage in the basement of a pawnshop, intending to do things to them that the pair really don’t want done to them.

Talking to Movieline magazine, Quentin claimed of the song: ‘It’s got a good butt-fucking beat to it.’

Something I personally hadn’t equated with it previously.

Sadly, he couldn’t secure the rights to the track, which was used instead on 1994’s Reality Bites, a Generation X romcom directed by Ben Stiller which is worth a watch if you haven’t seen it.

Anyway, here is My Sharona.


More PowerPop again next week, folks.

 

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