Wednesday, 26 August 2009

52. 12 Songs which borrow from Phil Spector and the Wall of Sound

Wouldn't It Be Nice - Beach Boys
Born to Run - Bruce Springsteen
Yes - McAlmont and Butler
The Card Cheat - The Clash
The Late Greats - Wilco
You are the Generation that Bought More Shoes and You Get What You Deserve - Johnny Boy
Rockferry - Duffy
In a Funny Way - Mercury Rev
The Pledge - Brendan Benson
Daddy's Gone - Glasvegas
Run-away - Super Furry Animals
Mahgeetah - My Morning Jacket

Sorry, am finding it harder to arbitrarily keep the tapes down to 10 songs.

I've just been reading about exactly what the Wall of Sound was and how it was achieved, which is pretty interesting stuff, but I'm not terribly musical, so I don't want to get out of my depth.
It's just a sound, isn't? A sound you hear on a song which makes you know that someone, somewhere, has described it as Spector-esque.
Maybe the two definitive Phil Spector productions are Be My Baby and River Deep, Mountain High, very different songs which do sound very different - without reading too much, the first is all about control, the second is all about excess - i suppose that reflects the drugs Spector had taken throughout the 60s. In any case, they're both magnificent records.
I love the sound, I love it when people have a go at copying it or updating - Bernard Butler is the modern producer who has harnessed it best - he was behind two of these records.
What a lot of these records take from Spector and what a lot of people are thinking of when they invoke Spector is the drum sound - the Benson song and the Mercury Rev song are good examples of this, while the Johnny Boy song is a superb steal from Be My Baby.

Then it comes to Phil Spector the person, and enough has been written about that recently, really. The mugshots and the wigs are what will stick with me. Just so, so weird.
I only saw fit to address Spector in as glib a way as possible, and of course there's nothing I could write which could reasonably comment on the music, so I merely reflected on one of the most surreal aspects of the later days of Spector.

As i sit, denied an ipod,
in my 10 by 10
thinking 'bout the good sounds,
thinking 'bout the bad,
i recall the wall i built
brick by perfect brick,
i recall the life i took
and how it finally stuck.
There may be deeds i do regret,
jokes i took too far,
studios i terrorised,
dischord in the screams
but if i am a haunted man
tumbling to his grave
angry and dissatisfied
just one cause is there
after all the hurricanes
and tempests i produced,
that of all the ships i steered
Starsailor's was the last.
As i sit, denied the music
that was my only strength
how cruel that my legacy
should be so reduced.

Starsailor, eh? Haha

Monday, 17 August 2009

51. 10 Soldier's Songs

Phew, now this takes me past the halfway mark and the whole enterprise is obviously getting tougher. If I believe, though, I can achieve.
Anyway, this topic isn't really intended to be in keeping with the mood of the nation, though everyone is talking about soldiers these days, for better or worse.

A Soldier's Tale - The Good, The Bad and the Queen
Soldier Girl - The Polyphonic Spree
Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die Rag - Country Joe and the Fish
Broken Boy Soldier - The Raconteurs
In the Army Now - Status Quo
Buffalo Soldier - Bob Marley
Like Soldiers Do - Billy Bragg
Brothers In Arms - Dire Straits
Universal Soldier - Buffy Sainte-Marie
Soldier Man - Shack

Rock'n'Roll songs about war don't have the same immediacy and power as great war poetry, obviously, as you don't have time to form a band do a quick recording session in the middle of a war, while the war poets could recount their experiences at the time. And just generally, there hasn't been too much conscription in the rock'n'roll years so not too many rock stars have been in the army. Shaggy ... Elvis ... Jimi Hendrix ... Billy Bragg ... James Blunt, i think he has a song about being a soldier but, you know, i really hate his songs. not in a nasty way, i just hate them. Not that I don't also hate Status Quo, but i guess they're funny, so I'm less churlish about including them.
There have been plenty of protest songs about war but most pretty general and vague along the brilliant "War! What is it good for?" or the terrible "War is stupid" lines. Bob Dylan wrote about war, but he didn't, as far as i can recall, write about soldiers.
One could say that rock'n'roll has mainly failed the test on great, emotive war lyricism. Having written that, I've just remembered a superb song called Round Eye Blues by a band called Marah, a proper piece of heavy war poetry written from the point of view of a soldier in Vietnam. And i'd forgotten Paul Hardcastle. D-d-d-d-damn. And Born in the USA. In fact there's loads coming into my head now which is more suited than the list above ... oh well
I've rather chickened out of trying to write a genuine soldier's tale and I'm going to rather chicken out of saying anything about soldiering and war in general. I just don't know anything about that stuff. To be able to write well about that may be a test of good writing, or film-making, or whatever, but i wouldn't be so bold.
I think what I've written is very schooly - in fact it was written, a few years ago, after a class in how to teach poetry to children, so reminded me of the lessons in writing poetry I had as a kid, and the stuff I liked writing best, as you've no doubt guessed, was in the ballad form, whether comic or otherwise. I notice that as it progresses i take increasing delight in getting medieval on yo ass.
So this is

A soldier with a steady heart
throughout the land went roaming
for one sweet maid with ready wit
to make his sad soul's home in

For a vision to his brash brain'd come
when barely out of boyhood
of the one woman for whose embrace
through all those years he laboured.

He wandered north, he wandered south,
his wealth he used up slowly;
At night, he paused and pondered, "does
the one I seek yet know me?"

He looked within the greatest cities,
he combed each inch of the widest moors,
he made brief friends on the eastern sands,
brave foes on the western shores.

One day, when some years past his prime
(for his cheeks were rough and hollowed
and his temples coarse and grizzled)
a smooth country path he followed;

espied he by this virgin route
a verdant sapling leftways leaning;
and by the tree the maiden sat
of whom he'd long been dreaming.

"Lord knight, although my faith was strong
that someday you would find me,
I do confess years have there been
when i thought my hopes behind me,"

the maiden spoke with gentle smile,
face lined by age and laughter,
"Rest now, I know you've journeyed long,
rest now and ever after."

"Fair lady, fain would I e'er rest,
now my eyes at last behold you.
True, long I've wandered, now I pray,
e'en longer my arms t'enfold you."

Elision, ne'er can you have too much elision, muthafuckas!

Friday, 14 August 2009

50. 10 David Songs

Woohoo, i make the half-century and I'm almost halfway there. In honour of this remarkable happening, I celebrate me! or rather my own name - I'm pretty surprised to have got to 10 songs on this one, but I have had to sink pretty low ...

Remember David - A Flock of Seagulls
Who Killed Davey Moore? - Bob Dylan
David - Nellie McKay
Hallelujah - Jeff Buckley
Once in Royal David's City - Sufjan Stevens
Who's David - Busted
Can't Help Thinking About Me - David Bowie
David Watts - The Jam
Jonathan David - Belle and Sebastian
Argument with David Rawlings about Morrissey - Ryan Adams

A pretty shoddy collection, the last one's not even a song, it is really just an argument, but it does lead into the splendid To be Young is to be sad is to be high, and also Ryan Adams' first name is actually David, so i guess it's ok.
The Bowie song is hilarious, it's from his pre-fame mid-60s, and is on because it contains the line "My girl calls my name 'hi Dave',
drop in, see around, come back
if you're this way again"
which i once heard him saying was the worst lyric he'd ever written. Awesome.
Hallelujah is of course about King David - I once began an actual compilation tape with the start of the song, then cut it at "but you don't really care for music, do you?" ha ha which was pretty clever in the days of stopping and rewinding and cutting and pasting.
In fact, come to think about it, three of the songs refer to King David. I quite like Jonathan David, though it's a bit uneven. When I was a 5/6 year old kid, there were three Davids in my class, and i tried to change my name to John, my middle name, but everyone just called me David John, which wasn't the point at all - rather like when I finally made clear that I was 100% David and not Dave, and various people would call me Dave ... sorry ... id or say things like When did you change your name to David? These were morons.
Anyway, it's a pretty good name, it was everywhere when i was growing up. Cricket was, as already mentioned, my favourite thing, so the fact that the England captain was left-handed and called David meant I had a readymade hero. And what a solid broadcaster he's become ...
Anyway, this is about the prevalence of the name - don't worry too much about it

This blessed name gave a fine pair of heroes
protecting me in and out the school gate.
In white, on left, England's captain drove me
on and picked me up or sent Willis instead ...
In black dress, with wit and gentle teachings,
Father, friend and noble headmaster, you
told us to be wary of the strange men
in dark cars with no place at the Abbey.

Forty thousand pounds, I hear, was enough
to buy a few years' silence from some frightened
Catholic boy's own greedy shameful family,
Father David, failing to buck bitter
cliches, lazy jokes about everything about you -
you just had to go and make them come true.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

49. 10 +1 Songs about People

Up With People - Lambchop
People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
People - Barbra Streisand
All You Good Good People - Embrace
People Help the People - Cherry Ghost
Common People - Pulp
Parklife - Blur
Pull Up the People - M.I.A
Everyday People - Sly and the Family Stone
People Get Ready - Curtis Mayfield
People Power (in the Disco Hour) - Cornershop

"It ain't that in their hearts they're bad, they can comfort you, some even try, they'll nurse you when you're ill of health, they'll bury you when you go and die. It ain't that in their hearts they're bad, they'd stick by you if they could. Aah, but that's just bullshit, baby, people just ain't no good."

What else is there to say, really? It's one of the great lyrics. I remember the genuine sense of shock the first time I heard that resigned "aah" and then "baby" and i pretty much decided this was the song for me forever and so it's stayed.

People are ok, really, I have a higher opinion of them than Morrissey does, I really love the stuff they do and have done, and, try as I might to see them as equivalent to other animals, i guess i don't. That would be like thinking other people are as important as me ... ha, an absurd notion.

Most of the songs above have lots of love for people and lots of belief in what they're capable of, and I think the way the preservation instinct extends beyond just trying to preserve yourself, but your family, your country, your species - that's excellent and rather beyond me and other cynics.

I wouldn't normally write something about "people" - it's slightly daft, but that's the game, innit, so got in the zone and gave it a shot. I attempted to write something in a suitable spirit of naivety, i tried to channel the 60s protest and folk singers who didn't have the grit and gravel of Bob Dylan, i think I've ended up with something very gentle, childlike, what I was hoping for (in feel though not execution), really ...

I wanted to study the stars in the sky -
the lines between the angels and heavens,
to feel fresh dimensions and godly dominions
but all I could see were people.

They told me of spirits, satyrs and centaurs,
of winds and fires and mighty floods.
They told me of worlds and worlds within worlds
but all I knew was people.

Some started looking beyond good and evil
and some started tracing unending spirals
and some started digging the deepest wells
but all that I've found are people.

Some wanted to be like a god on a cross
free from all sins and new to the world
blessed to bear all burdens with glory
but all they could be were people.

Some looked for their gods in nearer fields,
begged to portray them in pomp and grandeur
but when my eyes behold these icons of heroes
all I can make out are people.

I want to escape from these idle towns
shut my sore eyes and disappear,
but empty as my head may become,
still it flows over with people.

Some consider the lilies of the field
and some concentrate on the ice of the north
some are conserving the fish in the sea
but all they're concerned with are people.

It's been said many times that we all die alone,
it's been said many times that we're food for the worms,
but I've never believed it for one fleeting second
I've always thought better of people.

Right on, brother

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

48. 10 Ghost Songs

Is There A Ghost - Band of Horses
The Ghosts Parade - Ed Harcourt
Easter Parade - Emmy the Great
Ghosts - Laura Marling
Walking With a Ghost - Tegan and Sara
Lithuania - Dan Bern
Theologians - Wilco
Ghosts - The Jam
Haunted - Shane McGowan and Sinead O'Connor
Ghostbusters - Ray Parker Jr

This is a slightly odd one, as while Ghosts have produced lots of fine songs, I can't say they mean anything to me.
The Band of Horses song is one of those great spare rock songs where dynamics are all, and you're amazed to see in retrospect how little there is to the song, as there seems to be a lot more, (like a lot of Micah P Hinson songs). The only words the song has are "I could sleep when I lived alone. Is there a ghost in my house?" but they somehow manage to build an epic out of that.
Of course, generally, when songs refer to 'ghosts' they don't mean scary ghouls etc (Ghostbusters an honourable exception) they mean, like, you know, figuratively, and people often refer to their ghosts as being things like their regrets, guilts, past relationships, ancestors etc or someone can be a ghost if they're not the person they were. So, when I say ghosts don't really mean anything to me, I mean in both senses really. I don't believe in ghosts and I don't really have a large collection of ghosts in my head or on my back or wherever they go. I can't say I'm the most haunted of people, a good thing in a way, though equally one can't help wondering if the quantity and quality of the ghosts one acquires give the measure of how fiercely one has lived.
Many people refer to the Holy Ghost as being part of the trinity, but when we were growing up we called it the Holy Spirit, and there is a subtle distinction which meant there was a time I could embrace spirit but dismiss ghost*. Spirit is used as an almost tangible quality, esprit de corps, the human spirit, something always real, always alive, whereas ghost doesn't have that meaning, its meaning is entirely supernatural. Ghosts always seemed silly to me, quite frankly. Maybe that is the job Ghostbusters did on my generation.
*though now my attitude to both concepts is pretty much equal.
When we used to tell ghost stories as kids, mine never really were ghost stories, I was much happier in the realm of the escaped psychopath, and i used to insist that my story really had happened and i wouldn't tell anything that contravened my boundaries of physics. That's just the way some people are.
Consequently, while I very much enjoy the above work with ghosts, I struggle to come up with anything meaningful of my own.
There are a couple of extraordinary songs in the list, which I've never been able to decide if they're the greatest ever or too much. The Dan Bern song is an 11-minute speaky-singy song about Americanness and Jewishness and ancestry and the holocaust and cars and lots of things which emerges in the middle with one of the prettiest refrains I've ever heard - I've always found it very powerful, but if someone told me it was indulgent cack, i wouldn't be surprised.
Likewise, the McGowan/O'Connor song is the definition of a jolie-laid song, their two weird voices going up against each other, telling the ugly story of Sid and Nancy in a rather striking way. Again, it could well be awful, but I've always had a very soft spot for it.
Unable to come up with anything so meaningful, I struggled in my bunker and finally came up with this new form which best exemplified my light attitude to the subject form. So here it is, it's pretty mindblowing - the first two lines rhyme, the third and fourth line rhyme, then the fifth rhymes with the first two. Revolutionary, I know, but it may just catch on. I don't know what I'll call it, the Galway perhaps, the Waterford, hmm ...

I once knew a poor ghost called Fred
who'd no benefits from being undead.
He'd died young and whole,
so scared no living soul -
and a ghost can't cut off his own head.

There was once a bad murderin' hombre
who packed up the corpse in his Kombi.
Though the stench became strong
he left it too long
and his own life was stripped by the zombie.

Awful, i know, but, hey, this is a new form to me, i did my best.