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Step back to 1979 – Part 3

August 31st, 2011 9 comments

And here we leave the 1970s. The first year of the 1980s would turn out to be a fantastic year. If I’m still going to run this blog (as I am writing, I am short on time and, to be honest, motivation), I’ll look forward to sharing the records that take me back to that year.

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B.A. Robertson – Bang Bang.mp3
A pal of mine tells a great story about he lost his virginity to this song, in a shed, of all places. Imagine that, losing your cherry to a song called Bang Bang about hanky panky. I suspect it was not a carefully orchestrated scene of romantic seduction. Bang Bang contains half of the plot of season 2 of Rome in two verses: “Tony and Cleo struck out for the freedom down Egypt”s way, but Caesar had squeezed her in Rome on his quilt for a day, hey hey. Now Anthony got really angry about old Caesar”s hanky panky. She told “em she would use “em, and boy did she abuse “em. Fall in love and blew “em away.” Can this be used as a Grade 8 tutorial for Shakespeare”s play about shenanigans in the Roman Empire?

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Boomtown Rats – Diamond Smiles.mp3
I had long been a bit of a Boomtown Rats fan, from the debut album, and welcomed the success of I Don”t Like Mondays, just so that I could point out to my less sophisticated pals that I had been a fan longer than they had been (and at 13, a year or so is a mighty long time). I Don”t Like Mondays is a great song, but spoiled forever at Live Aid by Geldof”s pregnant pause after the line “and the lesson today is how to die”. Bob, mate, it’s a song about a high school shooting, not about famine. A pregnant pause would”ve been appropriate at a Columbine benefit. In relation to famine, it was as appropriate as playing Too Drunk To Fuck would be at a wedding ““ there might be alcohol-induced libido inhibitors at wedding receptions, but it”s not the drift which the gentlemen from Dead Kennedy were hoping to impart. So instead silicon chips set to overload (in 1979, Geldof knew how to anticipate the halcyon “80s), let”s hear it for one of a trio of outstanding tracks on the Rats” The Fine Art Of Surfacing LP (the other being Someone”s Looking At You). Diamond Smiles is one of the great entries in the canon of suicide anthems. Keep it in mind for that essential self-annihilation mix-tape!

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Tubeway Army – Are ‘Friends’ Electric?.mp3
This Kraftwerk-influenced song was quite unique when it came out, and may well be regarded as the prototype for the New Romantic sound which would take residence in the charts the following year with acts such as Visage and Orchestral Manouevres in the Dark. Much as I liked Are “˜Friends” Electric?, I later found it difficult to regard it fondly when Gary Numan revealed himself as a Thatcherite Tory. That, of course, raises the question of whether an artist”s politics should influence our appreciation of his or her music. I still resent Neil Young for his Reagan/Bush-supporting ways, and I would have none of Ted Nugent”s music even if it was actually any good. At the same time, I don”t care that Elvis or Sammy Davis Jr were in love with Richard Nixon. But they are Americans, a nation that votes for tax cuts for the rich at the expense of social services for the poor (and the difference between the two parties on that count is, in real terms, minimal). In Britain the battlelines were more clearly drawn:  you knew what your vote would get you. Numan cheerfully stated his support for the apartheid-loving, pro-rich and anti-poor Klassenfeind Margaret Thatcher. Are  “Friends” Tories? I damn well hope not.

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Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3
Who said Americans have no sense of irony? This was first music video ever to be shown on MTV, setting out the new channel”s ideology of domination by playing a song that anticipated and bemoaned the age of the music video. Trevor Horn, who also anticipated the appalling advertising yuppie look of the mid-“80s, regretted the name Buggles: “I know the name”s awful, but at the time it was the era of the great punk thing. I”d got fed up of producing people who were generally idiots but called themselves all sorts of clever names like The Unwanted, The Unwashed, The Unheard… when it came to choosing our name I thought I”d pick the most disgusting name possible.” My brother gave this to me as a present, redeeming himself for his transgression in early 1978 of desecrating my Sex Pistols LP with a biro in revenge of some transgression that might have involved damage to his poster of Winnetou, the Native American character of a German TV show based on a book by a chap who had never even been to America.

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Status Quo – Living On An Island.mp3
When I was younger I spent much of my childhood at my grandmother”s place. As I”ve noted before, she lived her appreciation of the German Schlager vicariously through me, and later she helped finance my fast-growing record collection. I don”t know if Status Quo”s Living On An Island ““ their bid at mid-tempo AOR and a rather nice number ““ was the last record I bought while staying with her, but it”s the last one I remember bringing to her warm house that always smelled of freshly made coffee. I know it was in December; her last. Soon I visited her less and less. I was a teenager now, after all. And she didn”t like my new interest in politics, much less my leftist leanings. She was still my grandmother, but I had changed, and a gap had appeared in our once close relationship.

Living On An Island transports me to her flat, with the white-and-gold patterned wallpaper in the living room, the display cabinet with delicate porcelain figures (some of them nudes, which I found interesting), the veranda which looked out on the garden with trees and bushes which in summer would bear cherries, apples, pears, plums and currants (red, white and black, like the German flag my grandmother saluted in two world wars). I felt safe in that place, even at 13.

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Thom Pace – Maybe.mp3
This is the theme song of a TV series, The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams (known in Germany as Der Mann in den Bergen), which was produced in 1977/78 but came to German TV only in 1979, finding greater success there than it did in the country of its origin. Like the TV series, the title song is pretty soft. It can be enjoyed only in the pursuit of feeding nostalgia, though my grandmother was very fond of it (maybe this was the last record I bought while staying with her).  The single topped the West German charts at the height of disco. To be honest, though, I wouldn”t mind watching an episode of Grizzly Adams again ““ just for the nostalgia, of course.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1979 – Part 2

July 21st, 2011 9 comments

In the second part of three in which I revisit songs from 1979 that have the power to transport me back to the day, we”ll go back to the summer of that year. We had just moved into a new house which my mother, a woman of excellent taste and artistic flair, turned into a place that exuded both sophistication and warmth. And my younger brother and I attended the last of three summer camps run by the local church parish. As always, I take no responsibility for the quality of the songs featured.

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Lene Lovich  – Lucky Number.mp3
This was quite unlike anything I had heard before. Lene Lovich was a bit like an anglophone Nina Hagen, without all that which makes Hagen so unattractive (and, looking it up, I”ve just learned that Hagen covered Lucky Number). I remember hearing a radio interview with John Lennon around that time in which the semi-retired pop master mentioned a few acts he found interesting. Among them was “Lene Loverich”. I thought Lennon was a bit of a senile git for not knowing her proper name. But he was very old by then, almost 39. My stepfather, four years younger, didn”t even know any of the acts I liked (except for Bob Seger, whose music I introduced stepfather to). Lovich eventually gave rise to Toyah and Hazel O”Connor. You decide whether that was a good thing or not.

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Art Garfunkel ““ Bright Eyes (Video)
This was the theme from the animated film that made everyone cry but me, Watership Down. The reason I didn”t cry is that I have never seen it, deterred from doing so by tales of people crying. The song sounds appropriately sad but tinged with a surge of hopefulness, which I understand ties in with the scene in the film it scores. At the time I thought it was the most beautiful song I had ever heard. Actually, I still think it is beautiful, though I have heard a great many contenders for the title since. Bright Eyes and I Don”t Like Mondays (which I won”t feature as the Boomtown Rats will be included in the third part) were my anthems for the summer of 1979. [Link removed by Mediafire]

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Amii Stewart ““ Knock On Wood.mp3
What did I know of the old soul masters then? This is one of the great cover versions, an explosion of disco joy, co-produced by Simon May, who wrote the theme of the BBC soapie Eastenders. And then there was the cover. I had seen exotic before, but Amii Stewart was something quite beyond that; she was flamboyantly beautiful while wearing silly headgear which only the spawn of royal bottom feeders would not reject as too daft. Knock On Wood was a massive hit almost everywhere, but strangely not in West Germany, where it stalled at #13. Amii Stewart is the step-sister of HiNRG queen Miquel Brown (whose Close To Perfection is an old favourite of mine) and thereby aunt of 1980s disco starlet Sinitta, she of much cuteness and modest artistry.

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Kiss – I Was Made For Loving You.mp3
By 1979 everybody seemed to buy into that disco thing. In retrospect it shouldn”t be surprising that a rock group whose members liked to wear chest-hair revealing leather outfits and wore far too much make-up should have dabbled in a genre that owed much to its evolution to the gay scene. But those were the days when fans of Freddie Mercury would be glad to resort to violence in defence of their hero”s honour should one have questioned the Queen singer”s uncompromising heterosexuality. Anyway, so in 1979 Kiss went disco in a bid to revive their flagging career. And it provided them their first UK chart entry (albeit peaking at only #50) and for me a birthday present for my little brother.

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Gibson Brothers ““ Cuba.mp3
Cuba provides a specific if slightly hazy memory involving a fair we visited after a boring afternoon at an old man”s garden allotment. I remember being bored at the fair, and how the Gibson Brother”s epic disco number lifted my flagging spirits. It is, of course, a most banal memory, as the reader will have noted already with a zeal that is almost rude. The point though is that sometimes music sticks with us not because of a significant event or constant exposure over a period of time, but because it just does. And Cuba still has the capacity to lift my spirits, though not as much as their next hit single, the brilliant Que Sera Mi Vida.

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Kevin Keegan – Head Over Heels In Love.mp3
American readers won”t know what to do with this, but German and British readers will luv it, just luv it. Kevin Keegan was a famous English football player (the football played with feet, not the one with the shoulderpads) who in 1977 transferred from Liverpool to the German club SV Hamburg. In 1979, he helped Hamburg win the German championship and was the country”s biggest football star. So Mighty Mouse, as he was known, crowned his sporting accomplishment by recording a single with Smokie, and it sounds just like the horrors that group used to perpetrate at the time. To Keegan”s credit, he could hold a tune better than he could hold a lead, as fans of Newcastle United would later discover. Here is a video of King Kev violating a poor woman as he sings his song in the Saturday night sports show Das Aktuelle Sportstudio, having been flown in from Bielefeld after Hamburg”s game there on 2 June 1979.

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Donna Summer – Hot Stuff.mp3
If Kiss could go disco, then Donna Summer could go rock. And I”d say that Donna rocked harder on Hot Stuff than Kiss ever did. The song reminds me in particular of the summer camp that my brother and I went on. The previous one we went had been a great experience. It had a wonderful group and I had my slow-dance with my first love, having shoulder-charged my beastly rival out of the way on the dancefloor (see the entry for Sailing in Step Back to 1977  Part 1). This time, the crowd was less lovely and some were absolute assholes. I had taken some records along for the “dance evening”; when I discovered that some had been stolen from my suitcase, the camp leaders took no interest in the violation of the seventh Commandment, perhaps being too busy worshipping craven images. We never went on another camp again.

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Umberto Tozzi ““ Gloria.mp3
When Laura Branigan had a huge hit with her English version of Gloria in 1984, I was quite annoyed. It”s Umberto Tozzi”s song. It has been covered many times in many languages, but in Tozzi”s synth-driven original it smells of sunshine and Pizza Margharita. Gloria was huge in the German summer of 1979; I didn”t buy the record, but welcomed hearing it in the background to provide the soundtrack for that rather dull summer. Where Branigan”s lyrics observe someone alled Gloria, Tozzi sings a love song to the eponymous woman. “Monkey to malaria,” as Tozzi so memorably sings.

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Cliff Richard – We Don’t Talk Anymore.mp3
The song German radio played to death. Apart from the fact that I have always resented the stardom of that feckless Cliff Richard, this was an insidious tune. Where some songs are earworms, this was an eartumor. But if I listen to the song with as much detachment and objectivity as I can muster, I must admit that it is a very good pop song. I must concede that the “Taaaalk anymore, anymooooore” bit at 3:14 is fantastic. It seems at least 5 million people worldwide agreed: that”s how many copies the single sold. In West Germany it topped the charts for five weeks, but it felt like it did for half a year.

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The Knack ““ My Sharona.mp3
Incredibly, the Knack were hyped as “The New Beatles” (part 85) when this came out. They had a couple of decent songs, but their quick return to obscurity cannot be described as an injustice. Still, “My Sharona” totally rocks, from the staccato guitar riff and vocal delivery to the “woooooo”s. And the cover of the single rocked even more, at least for a 13-year-old lad, depicting a gorgeous brunette in a vest with protruding nipples (gasp!). And, I didn”t know at the time, it was the Sharona of the title herself. Sharona Alperin was at the time Knack frontman Doug Fieger”s 17-year-old girlfriend. To German ears, the band’s name was a cause for mirth. Knack means pop (as in a popping sound), with the best variant being the adjective beknackt, which loosely translated means “off his rocker”, or Knackwurst, the sausage named after the popping sound it makes when you bite into it.

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ELO – Don’t Bring Me Down.mp3
I know that opinion is deeply divided about this song. ELO purists tend to disown it, normal pop fans love it. Don”t Bring Me Down has that great guitar, the drum loop, and that strange word that Lynne sings which sounds like “Bruce” (it is, if you listen carefully or read the LP linernotes, grooooss, which means nothing). Trivia fans will be interested to note that this was the first ELO single not to feature strings, apparently. Don”t Bring Me Down also reminds me of marshmallow mice I liked eating at the time, 20 Pfennig from the kiosk down the road.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1979 – Part 1

June 2nd, 2011 4 comments

As we enter 1979 and the songs that take me back to that time, I”m still living in the house in which I had spent the first 13 years of my life. In early summer we moved into a new house. So this lot of songs are old-house songs. In May, at the end of the time under review in part 1, I went to Bavaria for a week or two on a “cure”, organised by the medical aid scheme, for stressed kids. Because a stressed kid I certainly was.

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Gebrüder Blattschuss ““ Kreuzberger Nächte.mp3
It was a time for comic novelty songs in Germany. Big-nosed Mike Krüger had Germans in a LOL hysteria with his instruction ditty playing on the word “nipple”, while swathes of Germans were engaging in a collective ROFLMAO at the frankly unhilarious antics of comedians Dieter Hallervoorden and Helga Feddersen in their cover of the Grease hit You”re The One That I Want (their hit riffed on the phonetic rendition of the English title, “Du die Wanne ist voll”, which roughly means ““ be still, chuckling heart ““ “Hey, the bathtub is full”), and some fuckwit from Hamburg split a nation”s side just by virtue of his moniker, Gottlieb Wendehals (you see, an uncool first name and a surname that means “twist-neck” is as close to Monty Python”s funniest joke ever as you”ll get). And the brothers Blattschuss joined the comedy revolution by singing this song about prolific beer-drinking in the working-class Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, where the nights apparently are long. It includes a few good puns and a rousing chorus which even the most inebriated joker can sing, which elevates the song above the rest of the mirthless comedy. Obviously I didn”t buy or even like the record. I remember the song chiefly for its performance on the Disco music TV show, during which leadsinger  Jürgen von der Lippe, who”d become a big German TV personality, lit up a cigarette.

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Status Quo – Accident Prone.mp3
For years, the chorus of this mid-tempo number resided in my repertoire of permanent earworms, the songs whose lines I might absent-mindedly sing as I go about buttering my toast, or whatever. The critics didn”t love it ““ I”ve read that some believed Accident Prone to be the Quo”s nod to disco, but I really can”t hear that at all. It certainly is a Rick Parfitt song though, less boogie than Francis Rossi”s material. The guitar solo is pretty good. I bought the single, as I had bought Again And Again (featured in part 3 of 1978). Then I bought the If You Can”t Stand The Heat album, and never listened to it in its entirety. In fact, of the three Quo LPs I have owned (the live double set, Rocking All Over The World, and “¦Heat), I don”t think I ever listened to any of them in full.

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Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live).mp3
Rosalie was my introduction to Thin Lizzy. This version is from the great Live And Dangerous album. Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott was one cool guy. He is so cool when he expresses his appreciation for the audience participation on this live version of the song written by Bob Seger (whose Hollywood Nights might have featured in this series, come to think of it). Of course, towards the end, Lynott was not cool, in the ways heroin addiction is not cool. His death in early 1986 (from pneumonia, not an overdose) was a tragedy; the man had so much more to give. So it”s much better to remember Lynot as the charismatic frontman of a great live band, not a tragic junkie. On that subject, can anyone explain to me why intelligent individuals ignore everything they know about the hyper-addictive dangers of heroin, and try it anyway? Fun trivia fact: heroin got its name from the German pharma-giant Bayer (who in their guise as IG Farben supplied the Nazis with the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers).

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Hot Chocolate ““ I”ll Put You Together Again.mp3
Man, I loved Hot Chocolate”s disco stuff. Heaven”s In The Backseat Of My Cadillac and You Sexy Thing and all that. I also loved the slower songs, especially So You Win Again and Emma. This was one of those slower songs, and I think I got the single for my 13th birthday, on which my friends and I were allowed to share a bottle of white wine (well, it amounted to a small glass each). Errol Brown’s vocals are fine, but it’s the melody, which I’m sure was inspired by some piece of classical music, that really appealed to me. Brown had had a hand in writing all big Hot Chocolate hits other than this and So You Win Again (written by Russ Ballard). I”ll Put You Together Again was co-written by Geoff Stephens, one of those songwriters whose work is much better known than his name. Among the songs he wrote are The Crying Game, There’s A Kind Of Hush, Winchester Cathedral, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James, Sorry Suzanne, It’s Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas, The Lights Of Cincinnati, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, and Silver Lady.

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Queen ““ Mustapha.mp3
My friend Arne was a big Queen fan, and introduced me to more Queen stuff than News Of The World, which I already had. So when Jazz came out, I bought it ““ and put up the poster of all the naked women on bicycles (or Fat Bottomed Girls on a Bicycle Race) on my wall. And my mother didn”t mind, tolerant woman that she was. Mustapha was the strangest thing I had ever heard in rock. It still is bizarre. Presumably inspired by Freddie Mercury”s experience as Faroukh Bulsara in his birthplace of Zanzibar, it sounds like a Muslim call to prayer which halfway through gets the pomp rock treatment. Muezzin rock, if you like.

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Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love.mp3
I liked Suzi Quatro back in the day. Too Big was my favourite sing of hers. Recently I saw her Top of the Pops performance of Devil Gate Drive, which sparkles with the exuberance and rocking choreography. Suzi Quatro opened doors for chicks with guitars (and I”m using the word in the nicest possible way). So her comeback in 1979 was anticipated. Alas, Suzi had grown pout of rock-chickdom. A few months earlier, she had recorded a duet with Smokie singer and fellow RKA label mate Chris Norman, Stumblin” In, the contemplation of which makes me feel slightly ill. And yet, I bought the LP, titled If You Knew Suzi… Well,I thought I knew Suzi. High-kicking, guitar-thrashing, super-gurning Suzi. This was housewive Suzi whose Smokie music was going to appeal to our mothers. I couldn’t give her love, and I gave it to somebody else.

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Clout – Save Me.mp3
The South African band featured in 1978 with Substitute (and I”m still looking for the original of that by the Righteous Brothers, as well as for Gloria Gaynor”s take). Save Me was also a cover version of a Merrilee Rush”s 1977 original (she had the first hit version of Angel In The Morning, as recounted in The Originals Vol. 39). Rush”s version was a mid-tempo country-pop affair; Clout turned it into a proper pop song.  Save Me is almost as good as Substitute, which I”d designate as a perfect pop song. By now Clout had lost their gorgeous keyboardist Glenda Hyams, and wasn”t even an all-girl group anymore, with the inclusion of two dudes (who”d later join Johnny Clegg in Juluka). I don”t know what became of the Clout members, other than Cindy Alter, one of the lead singers, who now performs with South African pop veteran Stewart Irving.

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Gerard Kenny ““ New York New York.mp3
So good they named it twice, sings Mr Kenny as he fellates the Big Apple. I had this on a compilation album (titled Disco Laser, it also included hits by the likes of Leif Garrett, Racey, Supermax and Chic, among a whole lot of people that were never heard of again, such as Wallensten and Snoopy). I rather liked it as a companion piece to Billy Joel”s My Life, a favourite at the time. It really should accompany New York State Of Mind; either way, it belongs in the same genre as Billy Joel (with whom Kenny once was in a band, apparently). Gerard Kenny has been something of a prolific songwriter; his resumé includes Barry Manilow”s I Made it Through The Rain and I Could Be So Good For You by Dennis Waterman (off TV”s Minder). He continues to perform.

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Patrick Hernandez ““ Born To Be Alive.mp3
This was the anthem of every school disco in the West-Germany of 1979. I wonder if schools in other cities did that stupid aerobic dance: legs together and jumping from one side to the other, if possible in beat to the music. The song, by a French Euro disco singer with a football player”s bubble perm, was absolutely ubiquitous, and there are no words to describe how much I hated it. Just as I hated school discos, with their bad music, cheap crisps and ban on Coca Cola, because somebody decreed it was not good for 13-year-olds, whereas Fanta was. For that reason Born To Be Alive does not conjure cheerful memories, but today I can acknowledge just how good a Euro-disco song it is. Hernandez later gave the young Madonna her first break as a dancer.

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Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan.mp3
Germans have earned themselves a reputation of having slowly developed an awareness of and sensitivity to their country”s terrible history in relation to the Holocaust; the noble project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (and bless the German language for its compound words). In 1979, all good intentions notwithstanding, West-Germany was not quite there yet. The country”s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest that year was a rousing ensemble number extolling the masculine virility of the Mongol warrior Genghis Khan, whose name the performing group adopted for good measure. All that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, except that the host city of the contest was Jerusalem. It does not send a message of Vergangenheitsbewältigungsbestätigung when Germany sends its minstrels to Israel to sing about a genocidal megalomaniac. The Austrian entry was much more sensitive with the title “Today in Jerusalem” (presumably not a protest song about the condition of Palestinans in that city).

In the event, the German entry placed fourth (ahead of Britain”s Black Lace, who took revenge a few years later with the appalling Agadoo), while Israel defended their title with Milk & Honey”s melodious and very annoying Hallelujah, a song a visitor to Israel cannot avoid hearing even three decades later.

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Frank Mills – Music Box Dancer.mp3
I think it”s fair to say that I bought some pretty decent singles when I was 13, though that will reveal itself only in parts 2 and 3. And amid all those cool records, I bought this, a record which Richard Clayderman must have condemned as too soft. I have no interest in hearing his cover version (of course he recorded one!), but by comparison it probably rocks hard. It has to. Musicx Box Dancer has as pretty melody, admittedly, and as such is a very dangerous earworm. It”s no accident that ice cream vans around the world are playing the tune. It”s not surprising then to learn that one town has declared ice cream van music illegal. Oh yes, if you signal the availability of soft-serve in Stafford, New Jersey, you”ll go down, man. “At no time shall a vendor be permitted to use a sound device, mechanical bell, mechanical music, mechanical noise, speakers, amplifiers or any other similar type of sound device,” The Man has ordained. You may use a bicycle bell, however. Can you play Music Box Dancer on a bicycle bell?

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George Harrison ““ Blow Away.mp3
As mentioned in the intro, in May 1979 the medical scheme packed me and a few dozen other kids from across West-Germany off to a cure in Bavaria. On the train journey there, we encountered a pederast who liked to suck the feet of pubescent boys (not mine, I”m relieved to report). In Bavaria I met for the first time a person named Adolf, our bus driver on excursions, though he tried to disguise his unfortunate name by inviting us to call him Dolf. He was a nice guy, so we didn”t even make jokes about him. The small town where we stayed, with the satisfying name Pfronten, had a small record shop. One day we were passing it when our group, probably headed for another bloody uphill hike through Bavarian forest, paused for a few minutes. I quickly jumped into the shop to see what was new. And what was new was George Harrison”s new single, which I bought unheard. Happily George”s bubble perm did not deter me, for Blow Away is a great song; indeed, it”s my favourite solo song by Harrison, with a great sing-along chorus.

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More Stepping Back

Music for a royal wedding

April 27th, 2011 10 comments

The alert reader might have noticed that one William von Saxe-Coburg und Gotha is going to marry his blushing bride Catherine on Friday. Perhaps young William is better known by his family”s stage name Windsor, the name of one of the joints his family owns, chosen in order to distance the family from its German provenance during World War I.

This blog likes a good wedding, and in the spirit of the nuptial celebration would like to offer Wilhelm and his Frau a few sincerely selected party tunes for the reception, to be played when the wedding band takes a break from doing Come On Eileen. We mean it, man.

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The Redskins ““ Bring It Down (This Inane Thing) (1985).mp3
“You”ve never had it so good; the favourite phrase of those who”ve always had it better. You never had so much, is the cry of those who”ve always had much more, much more than you and I. Burn brother burn, fight together, this altogether”s an insane thing, insane thing. Bring it down.”

The Men They Couldn’t Hang – The Colours (1988).mp3
“I was woken from my misery by the words of Thomas Paine. On my barren soil they fell like the sweetest drops of rain. Red is the colour of the new republic, blue is the colour of the sea, white is the colour of my innocence, not surrender to your mercy.”

Stone Roses – Elizabeth My Dear (1989).mp3
“Tear me apart and boil my bones, I”ll not rest till she’s lost her throne. My aim is true my message is clear: It”s curtains for you, Elizabeth my dear.”

The Housemartins – Flag Day (single version, 1985).mp3
“So you thought you”d like to change the world, decided to stage a jumble sale for the poor, for the poor. It”s a waste of time if you know what they mean, try shaking a box in front of the queen “cause her purse is fat and bursting at the seams. It”s a waste of time if you know what they mean.”

Manic Street Preachers ““ Repeat (1992).mp3
“Repeat after me: Fuck queen and country. Repeat after me: Royal Khymer Rouge. Repeat after me: Imitation demi-gods!”

Moțrhead РGod Save The Queen (2000).mp3
“God save the queen, she ain”t no human being. There is no future in England’s dreaming” etc.

Billy Bragg – Take Down The Union Jack (2002).mp3
“Is this the 19th century that I”m watching on TV? The dear old Queen of England handing out those MBEs. Member of the British Empire; that doesn”t sound too good to me”¦ Take down the Union Jack; it clashes with the sunset.”

The Smiths ““ The Queen Is Dead (1986).mp3
“Farewell to this land’s cheerless marshes hemmed in like a boar between arches. Her very Lowness with a head in a sling, I’m truly sorry, but it sounds like a wonderful thing.”

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Step back to 1978 – Part 3

March 24th, 2011 10 comments

By the second half of 1978 I was clearly done with punk “” much like the rest of the civilised world. Now the word was Grease, even if You”re The One That I Want became unbearably overplayed. Other than a really great roadtrip holiday, the latter part of 1978 seems to have been quite uneventful for me: I cannot remember anything interesting at all happening other than playing football in ankle-deep snow in winter.

John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air.mp3
I knew this track by the Australian singer who prompted two popes to adopt his name in 1978 for quite a while before the event I associate it most with: a summer holiday in what was then East-Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. Love Is In The Air was on a K-Tel type sampler cassette we played ad nauseam on that road trip in a Volkswagen camper, mainly because we didn”t have much else with us by way of musical entertainment. The tape also included J.J. Cale”s Cocaine, Eric Clapton”s Lay Down Sally, and Eruption”s cover of I Can”t Stand The Rain. I think the latter might have followed Love Is In The Air, because when Young”s song ends, I expect to hear the opening synth notes from the Eruption number. It could be that we gave that tape away to an East German family we met in Prague, with whom we struck up a friendship that extended beyond the holiday (I met the daughter again last year, for the first time in 29 years). To East Germans, all forms of Western media were like golddust. On our later visits to our friends, I”d smuggle Bravo magazines over the border, and act that was regarded as quite audacious, indeed almost heroic.  Love Is In The Air was also the first song I ever sung at a karaoke.

Clout – Substitute.mp3
In this series I have reported on my barely pubescent crushes on Agnetha of ABBA and Debbie Harry of Blondie. They were joined by another blonde in the form of the Glenda Hyam, the keyboard player of South African girl group Clout. The thing is, I turned out have a greater preference for darker women (not that I am inclined to discriminate on the basis of excessive pheomelanin). Alas, Glenda soon left the group, to be replaced by two much less fanciable but more hirsute blokes (who would later joined Johnny Clegg in Juluka). The dudes, no less curly than the rest of Clout, turned up for the follow-up hit Save Me, which will feature in the course of this series. Substitute, a great unrequited love number, is a cover version of a song by the Righteous Brothers. If anyone has the original, I”d be most grateful to receive it.

Supermax – Love Machine.mp3
Austrian disco, long before Falco! Goodness, this played everywhere in Germany, and at the time I hated it. Now I actually like it. Imagine Pink Floyd going disco (in which case the lyrics, with gems like “I am a love machine in town, the best you can get 50 miles around”, would need to be read ironically). Long-haired, moustachoid Kurt Hauenstein”s band was multi-racial (though not as predominantly black as the single cover would lead us to believe), and as such it became the first international multi-racial band to tour South Africa in 1981. It was a thankless venture. The apartheid authorities were not exactly pleased at the racial mixing ““ just imagine the potential of miscegenation among these degenerate disco hippies! ““ especially since the Austrians were also playing in the “homeland” of Venda, which is so off the beaten track that it probably has not seen any international music acts since. And the international artistic community failed to see the humour in anybody touring apartheid South Africa, racial diversity notwithstanding. Even if just a few years earlier the likes of Percy Sledge and George Benson had done exactly that.

Umberto Tozzi – Tu.mp3
A year earlier, Umberto Tozzi had enjoyed a big hit with Ti Amo. I liked that song very much. In 1978, Tozzi had a hit with Tu. By then I was wary of Italian balladeers whose schlock lent themselves to German covers by Schlager singers with an excess of blow-dried hair. Oddly, I don”t recall this being turned into a Schlager. Perhaps the absence of a chorus deterred the Schlager industry. Or perhaps they didn”t know how to translate “ba-badda-darm” into German. A year later, Tozzi released Gloria, which in 1984 became, much to my astonishment, a hit for Laura Branagan. I must confess that I do have a bit of a weakness for the Italian San Remo festival kind of songs.

Robert Palmer – Best Of Both Worlds.mp3
Much as I liked the song back then, it”s a bit of a mess, with its cod-Reggae beat and aggressively out-of-tune vocals. It was a fair hit in Europe, I think, but didn”t even dent the Top 75 in Britain. I think what I found most attractive about it are the minor notes 2:12 into the song. A year later Palmer had a bigger hit with Bad Case Of Loving You. At the bumper car rink at the local Rummel (as a travelling funfair is known in German) that year, the ticket-booth DJ held a name-the-artist competition when Bad Case Of Loving You came on. The prize was something like tokens for five free rides. Trouble was, I was already driving in a bumper car. To my frustration, nobody knew the answer, which I did. I called the answer out to my younger brother, but all I got in return was a deaf “heh?”. Of course, he wasn”t the idiot in that situation. I was. Obviously I should have abandoned my single ride in order to get five freebies ““ and the satisfaction of strutting to cash in my free rides knowing the answer to a tough question none of the assembled ignoramuses knew. File under “Regrets, I”ve had a few”.

Nina Hagen Band – TV-Glotzer.mp3
I must be honest: I don”t like Nina Hagen”s obnoxious vocals much. I bought this single (the cover of which seems to have been used for every Hagen release around that time) because it seemed the rebellious thing to do. There simply was very little of this kind of thing in German music at the time. The indictment of consumerism and the public”s passive, indeed mindless, acceptance of it appealed to my nascent leftist tendencies (translated lyrics are here). The consumerism must have been striking to Hagen, who had come from East-Germany only two years earlier after her singer stepfather, Wolf Biermann, was expelled by the communist regime. Backed by what would become the Neue Deutsche Welle band Spliff, TV Glotzer is a cover of The Tubes” far superior White Punks On Dope.  So Hagen and especially TV Glotzer were hugely influential in the rise of the German new wave movement.

Status Quo – Again And Again.mp3
For the first three years of my record-buying career, I bought loads of Status Quo records. Then I went off them, righteously repudiating the Quo. By the time I was a young adult, I joined the consensus that they were rather ridiculous and easily spoofed cliché mongering two-chord wonders. What utter foolishness! What deprivation did I subject myself to? No good case can be made for Status Quo being rock & roll”s equivalent of Dietrich Buxtehude, but, damn it, for pure energy and fun it”s hard to beat songs like Again And Again. Denims on, strike pose standing with legs apart (position of mirror optional), engage air guitar, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with imaginary fellow guitarist rocking forward and backward, jump in the air with final chord, look in panic at doors and windows to ensure that they were shut…

Olivia Newton-John – A Little More Love.mp3
Livvy”s career was stuttering to a bit of a halt before her appearance in Grease. On strength of that movie I bought her Totally Hot album, which contained rather too much disco-pop and too little by way of quality ballads, such as the wonderful Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease. It really set the scene for the later Physical, the opening chord for the ghastly “80s. A Little More Love is one of those songs that suffers from a lack of direction. It”s not clear whether it”s supposed to be a West Coast rock number or a disco track. The pedestrian verses call to mind a b-side recorded under duress by Linda Ronstadt, but the glorious chorus sounds like it was written by the Bee Gees in their pomp, even though the song”s composer was John Farrar (who also wrote Hopelessly Devoted To You and You”re The One That I Want). As much as I hate Physical, I was pleased to see Newton-John appear on Glee last year; not as the sweet individual of her doubtless merited reputation, but as a bitch who outdoes the wonderfully ruthless Sue Sylvester.

Al Stewart – Song On The Radio.mp3
I had ended 1977 by buying singles by Harpo and The Runaways. I ended the following year by buying an Al Stewart album. I was staying with family friends in another city for a week or so over New Year”s Eve. They were quite different from my family. To begin with, they were communists. Not communists of the variety that had beards (even the men), carried Mao”s pocketbook and a displayed velvet poster of Che Guevara. These were proper activists, registered members of the German Communist Party, the DKP, and as critical of the corruption of communism in the East as they were of the capitalist society in the West. Communists of the ilk of Nina Hagen’s stepfather Biermann. I never adopted their politics, but I was influenced by them to see the word in a different way. So I was with them when I bought Al Stewart”s Time Passages album. When I asked them to play it, they appeared less than keen; much as I would feel if a 12-year-old asked me to put on their latest favourite record by what I would presume to be an autotuned muppet or derivative emo goon. When they finally relented, they liked what they heard and even asked if they could tape the LP (buying it would just have given profits to owners of the means of production, of course). I felt great validation that adults of intellectual character would like the music I bought.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1978 – Part 2

February 17th, 2011 5 comments

In the belated second part of the 1978 instalment in this series (in which I revisit songs that have the capacity to take me back to the time when they were hits), the 12-year-old version of Any Major Dude shows himself to be an eclectic sort. In the first part, which covered the first three months of 1978, we became reacquainted with Blondie”s X-Offender and songs by the likes of Uriah Heep, Bonnie Tyler, Tom Robinson Band, Sex Pistols, Wings  and The Stranglers. Here we revisit Blondie, Sham 69, Boomtown Rats, a couple of Italians, and some prog-rockers.

Blondie – (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence Dear.mp3
Blondie – Denis.mp3

In the first part of 1978 I described how it was the image of Debbie Harry that made me buy X-Offender unheard. I loved the song, and when on a trip to Amsterdam I bought the Presence Dear single (with the pictured cover) I became even more smitten. Deborah looks positively post-coital on the cover, though I don”t think that at the time I quite realised that. Her smile was appealing though. On the same trip I bought a fold-out Blondie fan magazine thing; a rather odd thing, because there wasn”t a big poster on the reverse side of all the photos and articles. And these were in Dutch, which I could more or less translate into German. Not that the text fascinated me much; far more agreeable were the pictures ““ and in particular a nude shot of the lovely Ms Harry (I have tried to locate in, unsuccessfully). Needless to say, it went up my wall; on the concealed side where I guessed ““ possibly incorrectly ““ my mother would not look.

I”m not sure about the release dates of Blondie singles. Most references date the release of Denis before Presence Dear. Perhaps the Dutch did things differently, or maybe they released Denis long before it came out in Germany. Anyhow, I bought the single soon after our return from the Amsterdam trip. By now I was so much a Blondie fan that I insisted our new kitten be named Denis. The song is one of those Blondie covers which the band chose astutely; that is, the originals tended to be not very well known. The original of Denis, by Randy & the Rainbows, was discussed in The Originals Vol. 1. Other Blondie covers treated in the series are Hanging On The Telephone and The Tide Is High. My unconditional love for Blondie reached an end a year later with Heart Of Glass, a discofied number which in a fit of misplaced self-righteousness I regarded as a sell-out.

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Sham 69 ““ Angels With Dirty Faces.mp3
Coming late into my barely pubescent punk career, this is still a favourite. I bought this single before it was a hit in Britain. It entered the UK charts in mid-May; I bought it in late April, even if I did so unheard and only because the cover suggested that this was a punk song (I might have listened to it on headphones in department store’s record bar though). I was so taken with the song that I bought a big yellow badge with some sort of reflector pattern and in red the name Sham 69, “the people you don’t wanna know”. It was the most disco item I have ever owned, but at the time the irony of that passed me by completely. I”ve often wondered about the name Sham 69. For many years I had no clue, and the idea that it refers to a faked position in the mutual administration of oral sex just made no sense. Apparently it”s lifted from a graffito that said, “Walton and Hersham “69”, a reference to the band”s local football club winning an amateur league in 1969.

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Genesis – Follow You, Follow Me.mp3
In the mid-80s I left my record collection back home while living in London for three years. When I returned I found that almost all of my many singles and several LPs disappeared. I suspect they were stolen by a particular someone (ironically with the initials CD) and sold on to feed whatever partying habit he was maintaining. Among the few records he did not take were this and the late Gerry Rafferty”s Baker Street (which might have featured here, but I”ve heard it too often since to let it transport me to April “78). The Genesis single was the first the group released after Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett”s departure and the first with Phil Collins at lead vocals. At that point we had no idea just how unloved Collins would become among right-thinking people. There isn”t much Genesis v.2 has done that I approve of, and a lot I positively despise (I Can”t Dance and its supposedly satirical video above all), but I do like Follow You, Follow Me, especially Tony Banks” keyboards.

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El Pasador – Amada mia, amore mia.mp3
At this point I must emphasise that the songs featured in this series are those that take me back, when I hear them, to the time when they were hits. Many of them I had on record, others I recorded off the radio. Most I still rather like. And then there are songs like this, the single of which I decidedly did not own (I mean, look at the guy”s comedy moustache!). But it was everywhere in the first half of 1978. I never owned the record, and much as I was a student of popular music, I never even knew the name of the performer until I came across the song by pure coincident a few years ago. And yet, when I hear it (preferably not too often), I can smell the corridor of my school, and taste the sickly sweet cold drinks the machine in the hall dispensed in flimsy plastic cups. I can feel the heat of the slightly more agreeable hot chocolate dispensed in the same flimsy plastic cups (the same machine also offered clear broth; surely nobody ever bought that). A Schlager herbert by the name of Roland Kaiser, who had a bit of a line in covering Mediterranean hits, made a German version of this, incoporating the Italian title in a feeble seduction routine. Some people thought it was very amusing; to me there was no mirth to be derived from Schlager singers; not until the following year when I was faintly amused, for a moment, by a song about drinking in suburban Berlin.

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La Bionda – One For You, One For Me.mp3
Likewise, One For You, One For Me wasn”t really my bag either. Though when the Italo-disco track was performed on the Musikladen TV show, I thought it was rather sexy, what with the cover girl cut-out”s nipple caps and the dancer”s very transparent blouse. Remember, I was 12; I would have considered surrealist art depicting deboned chicken breasts sublimely sexy. Surely the Zappa-lite on guitar and that absurd drummer should”ve persuaded me that there are sights that involuntarily and sometimes abruptly unsettle the libido.  I cannot say that my opinion of the song has improved greatly, though if it played at a retro party, I”d get up and boogie. The opening piano riff is actually pretty good. The La Bionda brothers, Michelangelo and Carmelo, apparently specialised in folk and prog-rock before jumping aboard the disco gravy train.

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Jethro Tull – Moths.mp3
I might have been on the cutting scene of punk, but I also took an apparent interest in prog rock. Hell, I had two Barclay James Harvest albums by then. I liked neither of them (except for their song Hymn), but pretended that they were spiritually enriching. But I did love Manfred Mann”s Earth Band”s Davy”s On The Road Again. Anyway, at around this time my older brother by six years began to introduce me to the music he listened to, mostly prog rock stuff (plus, I remember, Them and Donovan). When you”re 12, six years is a massive age difference, of course. Plus he was a DJ for the church youth group. And he had a party cellar populated by people with moustaches and girls with make-up who all smoked (Marlboro packets look really good when stuck on the ceiling next to each other) and probably drunk too. And perhaps had sex (even the lovely Sandra!). So when so cool a role model introduces you to the wonders of Jethro Tull”s Aqualung, and soon after you happen upon the brand new single by that group, you obviously buy it, unheard, to impress the old guy. Happily, the song was quite nice. Anderson looked a bit like the British TV character Catweazle, and I supposed that he might sound like Catweazle in the programme”s original English dub.

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Goldie – Making Up Again.mp3
More rock stuff, so these chaps are not to be confused with the British artist of dental misfortune and Strictly Come Dancing appearance. In fact, I don”t know much about this Goldie lot at all. I know they were label mates of Uriah Heep on the Bronze label, and that they were English (from Northumberland, a bastion of rock). Their founder, Dave Black, toured with David Bowie in 1976, which would have given the group some cool factor which their sole hit must have quickly negated. Their look, seriously rivalling that of REO Speedwagon, can”t have helped either. Making Up Again, a UK Top 10 hit, sounds like a song which Boston refused as being too soft. I may sound like I”m mocking it, but I actually rather like the song.

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The Boomtown Rats – Like Clockwork.mp3
The kind reader may regard this writer as an individual of entirely sinless record, but there were times when he deserved punishment. One such merited punishment included, apart from a good thrashing, the confiscation of my record collection, for the crime of redistributing the familial wealth. The cruel penalty would prove, contrary to initial threats, transient (a little over a month, perhaps). In the interim, my dear grandmother financed my unabated record-purchasing addiction, and in a spirit of clandestine conspiracy let me keep new acquisitions at her place, to be played on her gleaming old music box. It was a gorgeous piece of furniture, with a mirrored liquor cabinet that smelt of brandy. To access the record player, you had to press a button, whereupon the middle front of the cabinet opened. The record player had known opera and classical music, Schlager and the dreadful German Volksmusik that always seemed to include too much yodelling. Now it could add the pub-rock of the Boomtown Rats to its playlist. The alarm clock bell at the end of the song is pretty good.

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The Motors ““ Airport.mp3
In those heady days of 1977/78 any rock act that wasn”t prog or glam was prone to be called punk. Pub rocker Elvis Costello was initially called punk, for pity”s sake. So were The Motors. Look at their picture on the sleeve for Airport. None of them is likely to kill their girlfriend in a crazed heroin rush. They look like the third-choice goalkeeper for Rochdale, a geography teacher at a secondary school in North Wales, a trainer in telesales for Tupperware products, and a university economics major dropout battling his way through by working as a bus conductor to finance the modern arts course he really wanted to do but his father vetoed. All noble conditions of existence, of course, but unequivocally not punk (though the bus conductor might join the other arts students in being punks when he re-enters academic pursuits). And Airport is much better than most punk records. It”s a splendid song. In his marvellous memoir of growing up with vinyl, Lost In Music, Giles Smith recalls how he and his mates would endeavour to time the high-pitched background cries of “airport”. I did the same, as did a fellow with whom I discussed Airport at, of all places, the Dead Sea.

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More Stepping Back

Star-making

December 13th, 2010 4 comments

The two of you who wish you could have more of Any Major Dude With A Too Long Name, there is some respite: I am now part of the collective over at Star Maker Machine that blogs and posts music on a weekly theme. The SMM blog has long been a favourite (I think I found it through the now sadly defunct and much missed Setting The Woods On Fire country music blog). Readers who have sampled my blogroll might also have happened upon Cover Laydown (or came here via Boyhowdy”s fine blog).

Star Maker Machine is named after a phrase in Joni Mitchell”s 1974 song Free Man In Paris: “I”d go back there tomorrow but for the work I”ve taken on stoking the star-maker machinery behind the popular song.” So I”ll post that song and six others (look at the URL of Star Maker Machine to see why that number) that deal with the concept of stars and stardom (or in one case, the lack of necessity to be one).

Hope to see you over at Star Maker Machine.

Joni Mitchell – Free Man In Paris (1974).mp3
Kiki Dee ““ Star (1981).mp3
Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. – You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be in My Show) (1976).mp3
Mojave 3 – Big Star Baby (2006).mp3
Roger Miller – Kansas City Star (1965).mp3
The Kinks ““ Starstruck (1969).mp3
Altered Images – Dead Pop Stars (1981).mp3

Step back to 1978 – Part 1

November 11th, 2010 11 comments

In 1977 I started to build a record collection; in 1978, the year I turned 12, I began to be really serious about music, buying singles by the Sex Pistols and Jethro Tull alike. And I became a Blondie fan before anyone else I knew was even aware of them. In early 1978 I had my first kiss (which also was the last for a while), went to my first rock concert (ditto), and made a friend whom I recently met again for the first time in 29 years (but more of that at a later stage). The first part of my 1978 nostalgia trip ““ on which songs are chosen only if they have the power to transport me back to the time ““ covers the first three months or so of the year.

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Blondie – X-Offender.mp3
What a difference a couple of months make when you”re 11. In the autumn I had bought a single by teen herbert Leif Garrett; in winter I bought a single by NYC punk scene regulars Blondie. Or, better put, my not yet impressive penis bought it. I saw the cover of the re-released X-Offender single (it had originally been issued in 1976), and fell for Debbie Harry. Like a week or so before with the Runaways record, I tingled with excitement at the thought of hearing Debbie Harry sing. The very sexy spoken intro followed by the rapid drums and that guitar which sounded unlike anything I had heard before instantly broadened my musical horizon. I am still impressed with my nascent trendspotting talents: Blondie”s breakthrough with Denis was still a couple months off, but I already was a fan, even if I knew only X-Offender and the rather good b-side, Man Overboard.

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Long Tall Ernie & the Shakers – Do You Remember.mp3
A few years before Stars on 45 afflicted us, fellow Dutch nostalgia merchants Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers visited their Sha Na Na stylings upon us in medley format. Actually, it isn”t at all bad, as these things go. In the song lead singer Arnie Treffers introduces the notion of nostalgia and memories of Buddy Holly, and then the rest of the band lets go with songs like Little Richard”s Lucille, the New Beats” Bread And Butter and the Everly Brother”s excellent Bird Dog (one of my constant earworms), occasionally enquiring of us whether we can remember. Obviously I couldn”t, having been not even nearly alive in the 1950s. In fact, those early days of rock & roll seemed very distant to me in 1978, so that the song was something of a history lesson for me. Considering that the songs in the medley were all about 20 years old at the time, today”s corollary medley might include songs by Tracy Chapman, U2, Kylie Minogue, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Crowded House and Babyface.

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Uriah Heep – Lady In Black.mp3
Uriah Heep – Free Me.mp3

Originally from 1971, Lady In Black was re-released in Germany in 1977, and became a Top 20 hit. This and Free Me, which I bought in March or thereabouts, are the only Heep records I have ever acquired. But Lady In Black is important for a very good reason: it reminds me of my first kiss. I would like to say that it was a beautiful moment, like Kevin and Winnie”s first kiss in The Wonder Years. Alas, it was more the product of a bet. My friend, who was just half a year older than me but much more advanced, dared me and my “girlfriend” to French kiss. So we accepted the dare, rather unsure about what to do with our tongues once our open mouths met. Our tongues touched lightly before we both withdrew them in mild disgust, yet excited by the sensation. It was dark and it was winter. I felt her warm breath exhaling on my face, which was probably more sensual than the meeting of lips. And, er, her long hair was blowing in the mid-winter wind”¦

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Tom Robinson Band – 2-4-6-8 Motorway.mp3
Around the time I bought this, Tom Robinson was causing a bit of a furore with his song Glad To Be Gay, sentiments that were not often publicly expressed. At a time when punk was finally seeping into the German consciousness, Robinson”s proclamation was so counter-cultural as to include him in the movement. Of course, like many others who were included under the punk banner, Robinson was more of a pub rocker. Or pop rocker. Still, his lyrics were militant for their time (Motorway itself has a gay subtext, of course), and I think I can credit Robinson for making an important contribution to my unconditional rejection of homophobia.

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Bonnie Tyler – It”s A Heartache.mp3
In February 1978 I saw my first live concert, a multiple bill organised by Bravo magazine, headed by Slade. It was not in our city, so my friends Jens and Andreas and I took a train to the town where the gig was held, about 250km away. Jens, the leader was 12, Andreas and I were 11 (and some fraction which I”m sure we were willing to state as an indication that we were, in fact, closer to being 12 than 11). Times have changed, I think. I have no memory of how we found our way from the station to the arena, but we got there. The bill included a British teen outfit called The Busters (whose identifying gimmick consisted of having black hair and wearing identical denim jackets), Schlager singer Bernhard Brink (who had a white man”s “fro) and Bonnie Tyler, who was just then having a big hit with It”s A Heartache. A year previously ““ hell, two months previously ““ I would have liked the song. Now I had tasted Blondie, and Jens and I were into punk. Tyler was for the housewives. We enjoyed Slade though. Dave Hill, he of the stupid haircut, no longer had a stupid haircut: he was now completely bold, at a time when shaved heads were very unusual. I cannot say whether it was a good gig, but I remember emerging from the hall into the cold winter’s evening air soaked in sweat.

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Sweet – Love Is Like Oxygen.mp3
My affection for Sweet was such that I bought the Level Headed LP when they made their comeback on the Polydor label, a big financial outlay which requireed much sacrifice (that is, at least that of three singles). By now, Andy Scott was wearing a middle-aged men”s beard, as though he was going to join the Beach Boys; Steve Priests looked sober and serious, and Mick Tucker and Brian Connolly were about to shear their locks. The music now was much more prog than pop rock. The lads obviously wanted to be taken seriously. Well, they might have been, had they not produced an album that was even more boring than one by Barclay James Harvest, and less deprived of the Zeitgeist than Emerson Lake Palmer. The lead single, however, was pretty good, like a song by the Electric Light Orchestra.

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Darts – Come Back My Love.mp3
The inclusion of Long Tall Ernie may have tipped off the reader that I rather enjoyed the odd bit of retro-rock & roll, even if I fancied myself at the time as a bit punk (though I didn”t dress punk, or act  punk, or hated society any more than my non-punk mates). Among the revivalists, The Darts were the greatest. I remember buying the Darts LP, alongside The Tubes” What Do You Want from Live, on a trip to Stockholm. I still have the Darts album; the Tubes LP was lost long ago. Daddy Cool/The Girl Can”t Help It was the bigger hit, and it was that song which turned me on to Darts. But soon I preferred the cover of the Wrens 1954 song, which featured in The Originals Vol. 3 (as did the original of Daddy Cool by The Rays).

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Sex Pistols – No One Is Innocent.mp3
Sex Pistols – My Way.mp3
At the time it seemed the height of impertinence: Sid Vicious ““ we didn”t know yet just how undeserving of adulation that miscreant junkie was ““ first warbling and then quite amusingly violating My Way, by way of telling Sinatra: “Oi, old geezer, your song is shit!” We had no idea at the time that Sinatra himself hated the song and, if he had cared to acquaint himself with Mr Vicious” interpretation, he probably applauded its defilement, in the principle of it, if not in execution. My Way just is too easy and obvious a target to be subversive, really. Roping in Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs for what was initially presumed to be the a-side was a touch more seditious. Musically, the song was, well, not very good. Biggs deserved to be locked up just for singing in public.

Of course, at the time I also had The Sex Pistols” Never Mind The Bollocks LP. It is fair to say that my brother, two years younger than I, did not like their music much. So one day he scribbled on the vinyl with a ballpoint pen, apparently in retaliation to my alleged act of iconoclasm involving his poster of Winnetou, the noble Native American friend of Old Shatterhand dreamt up by the 19th century German author Karl May (who had never been to the USA, never mind the Wild West, but whose stories are still hugely popular in Germany). As far as disproportionate responses go, my brother belonged in the camp of those who sought to exterminate and subjugate Winnetou and his people”¦

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The Stranglers – Nice “n Sleazy.mp3
My friend Jens had a fine collection of punk albums, which I tried to match with punk singles. Of course, time would show that most of the stuff we called punk wasn”t punk at all. Still, Jens had albums by the Damned, Boomtown Rats, Ultravoxx and so on. I had Holiday In The Sun and later No One Is Innocent/My Way. And I had this single, a fine track with expert sneering featuring one of my favourite rock riffs ever, though I had no idea what sleazy was (till I looked it up and found the answer richly satisfying). The pun, of course, passed me by, seeing as I was still learning English. Same day I bought a single by an outfit called The Killers (not to be confused with the currently successful band). That single “” it had a German shepherd on the cover ““ was utterly horrible.

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Brian & Michael – Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs.mp3
One of the great discoveries in 1978 was the weekly radio broadcast of the latest UK charts ““ it might have been the Top 10 or Top 20 ““ by which I got to know all the latest tunes (like Brian & Michael”s number) before they would finally make it in West-Germany. So I would sit with my grandmother”s cassette-radio portable and recorded most songs. The recorder very usefully had a fade-out button, so the shock of the inevitable cut forced by jabbering DJs was not as brutal as it otherwise might have been. At the time, I might have bought records by the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers, and by Gerry Rafferty and Kate Bush and the Rolling Stones ““ but I was still 12. Of course I liked Matchstick Men & Matchstick Cats & Dogs, even if I didn”t buy the record, because that certainly would not have been at all cool. And how could a song featuring a children”s choir be cool? Here it was the St Winifred”s School Choir, who would later torment Britain with songs about their collective grandma. On Matchstalk Men, they are singing the children”s song The Big Ship Sails On The Alley-Alley-O. Matchstalk Men, incidentally, was a tribute to the northern English artist LS Lowry, who died in 1976 and is mentioned in the song.

.

Wings – With A Little Luck.mp3
I admit it: I liked Mull Of Kintyre, which I bought the week it came out in 1977. By the time With A Little Luck was released, Kintyre was still a massive hit in Germany, and I was beginning to get sick of it. In fact, I liked With A Little Luck better; so much so that I bought the London Town album (or it might have been on the Greatest Hits album, which I think came out before that, and which I also bought. Anyone know which came first?). It’s a charming little tune, with a synth that actually sounded warm. I liked the “with a-little-luck-a-little-luck-a-little-luck” bit, and the double “we can do it”, which sounds like it was a production mistake. Now, do I have an unnecessarily dirty mind when I detect a sexual meaning in this line: “With a little love, we could shake it up, don”t you feel the comet exploding”?

.

More Stepping Back

WTF Moments in Pop: Jim Reeves in Afrikaans

September 10th, 2010 12 comments

This might become a new series: moments in pop that you really would not have expected. One of these would be the case of the country legend and everybody”s dad”s favourite singer recording an album of original songs in Afrikaans. So it was with Jim Reeves, who in 1963 recorded an album solely for the small South African market.

The linernotes for the re-release of the Jy Is My Liefling album on CD in 1995, written by the album”s producer Louis Combrinck, recall Gentleman Jim”s huge popularity in South Africa, where he was by far the biggest-selling star. Long before the cultural anti-apartheid boycott took hold, Reeves toured South Africa in the early 1960s, with a line-up that included the great Chet Atkins and legendary piano tinkler Floyd Cramer (the tour was plugged as RCA, punning on the artists” label and the initials of their surnames). In the Orange Free State capital of Bloemfontein, a bastion of Afrikanerdom, Reeves took to the stage shouting “Vrystaat! The best!” By shouting Vrystaat, Reeves expressed the archetypal South African cliché.

While in Johannesburg, Reeves recorded a cover version of a popular song at the time, From A Jack To A King by Ned Miller. The single went on to top the South African charts, and inspired in RCA the idea of Reeves recording an album in Afrikaans. Combrinck was tasked with putting together a bunch of songs with lyrics in easily pronounceable Afrikaans, which Reeves could sing phonetically while back in South Africa to tour and appear in the film Kimberley Jim (about an American singer during the 1880 goldrush in the Northern Cape town). Reeves” American-accented Afrikaans is quite passable; he clearly made an effort. The songs themselves are the sort of sentimental Reeves fare that got your dad hooked (and you probably truly put off).

In 2003, almost 40 years after Reeves” death in a plane crash in 1964, South African singer Patricia Lewis pulled a Natalie Cole by releasing a duet of the album’s title track, Jy Is My Liefling (You Are My Darling).

Here is the full album, which I think is out of print.

GET IT!

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2010 listening

September 7th, 2010 1 comment

Last year I wrote a series of my ten favourite albums in each year of the past decade. When the “10s end, I”ll be stuck to produce a list for 2010. I”ve fallen off Planet Latest Releases, encountering the occasional new release by accident or recommendation. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new album by the lovely Weepies (out 31 August), and I”m intrigued to hear Ben Folds” collaboration with the writer Nick Hornby, which is scheduled for release later this month. Some albums I looked forward to have disappointed me (Josh Rouse, where are you going?). Here then are a couple of albums from 2010 that made me prick up my ears.

*     *     *

Willie Nelson ““ Country Music

Willie Nelson lost me before he could have had me when he did that duet with Julio Iglesias, who was as uncool as uncool would ever get (and collaborator of promiscuous character, Willie has duetted indiscriminately with some pretty dodgy characters). I never liked On The Road Again much, nor his version of Always On My Mind.  It was only when I became familiar with his 1960s output that I began to appreciate Willie Nelson “” and how much I missed by writing him off for crooning with greasy grannies” favourites.

Country Music, his T-Bone Burnett-produced tribute to the country songs that reside in the juke box of his memory may be my favourite Nelson collection. Cover albums are a precarious beast. Some artists feel they need to re-interpret, re-invent and update the songs they profess to love. Others will give us the very best in karaoke. Nelson just damn well sings the songs, straight and without bullshit. He knows these songs and their context, and preserves them there. The sound is timeless. And some of the song choices are inspired, including that of one of my all-time favourites, Al Dexter”s Pistol-Packing Mama (which we”ll revisit in the history of country series, as well as the Delmore Brothers” Freight Train Boogie). I love Nelson”s version of Merle Travis” Dark As The Dungeons, which is probably better known in  Johnny Cash”s version on the Folsom Prison album. (Buy it here)
Willie Nelson ““ Dark As The Dungeons.mp3
Willie Nelson ““ Pistol-Packing Mama.mp3

Johnny Cash – American VI – Ain’t No Grave

How much is enough? Seven years after Johnny Cash died, we get another collection of his Rick Rubin-produced American series. Did Cash really die, or is he speaking to us from the beyond, the way Tupac Shakur did with such punctual regularity? Apparently this is the final release in the series, and it is a fine way of going out. There”s nothing new here but the special poignancy of knowing that Cash recorded these ten songs in the four months between the death of his beloved June Carter”s in May 2003 and his own in September, with Cash acutely aware of his mortality without descending into morbidity, and to the end insusting on communicating his deep religious faith. Some songs I can live without (Aloha Oe!), and some cannot compete with the previous versions (Kristofferson”s For The Good Times). But the minimalist arrangements and intimacy of Cash”s fragile yet forceful and soulful voice wrap the songs in a warmth and appealing sense of yearning. Like Pistol-Packing Mama, the original of Cool Water will feature in the history of country very soon.
Johnny Cash – Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.mp3
Johnny Cash ““ Cool Water.mp3

….

Walt Cronin – California I Gotta Run

One of my favourite songs of the last decade was 2005″s A Desperate Cry for Help by the sadly rather obscure and now disbanded alt-country group The Beauty Shop. Walt Cronin”s third album reminds me a lot of the Beauty Shop, right down to his gravelly baritone and lovely Americana arrangements. Already in his 50s “” this post so far seems to specialise in grey follicles “” Cronin”s voice and sound reflect the experience of life, wistfully and defiantly. “I would never count the days of my life, but I”ll always let the dawn greet my eyes,” the former medic in the Vietnam war sings in Shinin” Through, one of several sweet love songs on this most appealing set. (Walt Cronin’s homepage)
Walt Cronin – If My Words.mp3
Walt Cronin – Shining Through.mp3

Berry Jones ““ Tonight

And moving away from silver foxes with guitars, here”s Philadelphia band Berry Jones who wanted to see if “we can try to make Thriller in a basement; like, can we get Quincy Jones-era production techniques on a shoe string budget” (the band”s name pays tribute to Quincy and Berry Gordy). Of course, with modern digital technology it is much easier to produce effects which a Quincy Jones would have to apply his genius to achieve. One need only listen to Sweden”s Loney, Dear to hear what wonderful sounds can be produced by one man in his bedroom (in terms of music, I mean). Indeed, Berry Jones” opening track, Work It Out, starts a bit like a Loney, Dear song. But quickly it becomes a pop number that recalls the 1980s. It”s all an upbeat stew of different “˜80s influences, from Culture Club and Shalamar to two-tone to indie ““ and, yeah, Michael Jackson (especially on Philly Nights) “” and a dash of Gordy’s Motown.  The vocals call to mind The Cure”s Robert Smith. The album might not quite evoke the genius of Quincy Jones, but the first half of it is a fine set of numbers to play while dressing for a party or on the way to the beach, and the soul-infused second half when coming home from the party or from the beach. (Berry Jones’s homepage)
Berry Jones ““ Philly Nights.mp3
Berry Jones ““ Your Old Ways.mp3

Dana Wells ““ The Evergreen EP

Here I”m cheating a bit: The Evergreen EP came out in 2009. But singer-songwriter Dana Wells is so talented, I want to include her in this selection. Dana may be young “” just out of her teens “” but this is no Taylor Swift. The Washington Post“s reviewer might need a better sub-editor, but suggested rightly that “there”s a settled maturity to the lyrics and tempered voice of this strummy smartie that”s usually reserved for older artists”. Let”s not be put off by the language of “strummy smartie” (who writes that kind of rubbish, and what editor passes it?). Wells is an engaging singer; one wants to get to know her. Her voice and delivery are very appealing, reminiscent of the lovely Mindy Smith. And, somehow, I really like Dana”s diction. It”s not easy for singer-songwriters to break through, but with her talent and beauty, Dana Wells might just be one who will make it big. (Dana Wells on MySpace)
Dana Wells -Watching Winter Melt Away.mp3
Dana Wells – Leave Me.mp3

Last year I wrote a series of my ten favourite albums in each year of the past decade. When the “10s end, I”ll be stuck to produce a list for 2010. I”ve fallen off Planet Latest Releases, encountering the occasional new release by accident or recommendation. I am looking forward to getting my hands on the new album by the lovely Weepies (out 31 August), and I”m intrigued to hear Ben Folds” collaboration with the writer Nick Hornby, which is scheduled for release later this month. Some albums disappointed me (Josh Rouse, where are you going?). Here then are a couple of albums from 2010 that made me prick up my ears, and a couple of songs by a singer-songwriter of whom I will want to hear more.

Willie Nelson ““ Country Music
Willie Nelson lost me before he could have had me when he did that duet with Julio Iglesias, who was as uncool as uncool would ever get (and collaborator of promiscuous character, he has duetted with some pretty dodgy character). I never liked On The Road Again or his version of Always On My Mind.  It was only when I became familiar with his 1960s output that I began to appreciate Willie Nelson “” and how much I missed by writing him off for crooning with greasy grannies” favourite Iglesias.

Country Music, his T-Bone Burnett-produced tribute to the country songs that reside in the juke box of his memory may be my favourite Nelson collection. Cover albums are a precarious beast. Some artists feel they need to re-interpret, re-invent and update the songs they profess to love. Others will give us the very best in karaoke. Nelson just damn well sings the songs, straight and without bullshit. He knows these songs and their context, and preserves them there. The sound is timeless. And some of the song choices are inspired, including that of one of my all-time favourites, Al Dexter”s Pistol-Packing Mama (which we”ll revisit in the history of country series, as well as the Delmore Brothers” Freight Train Boogie). I love Nelson”s version of Merle Travis” Dark As The Dungeons, which is probably better known in  Johnny Cash”s version on the Folsom Prison album. (Buy it here)
Willie Nelson ““ Pistol-Packing Mama.mp3
Willie Nelson ““ Dark As The Dungeons.mp3

Johnny Cash – American VI – Ain’t No Grave
How much is enough? Seven years after Johnny Cash died, we get another collection of his Rick Rubin-produced American series. Did Cash really die, or is he ending us messages from the beyond, the way Tupac Shakur did? Apparently this is the final release in the series, and it is a fine way of going out. There”s nothing new here except the special poignancy of knowing that Cash recorded these ten songs in the four months between the death of his beloved June Carter”s and his own, with Cash acutely aware of his mortality without descending into morbidity, and to the end insusting on communicating his deep religious faith. Some songs I can live without (Aloha Oe!), and some cannot compete with the previous versions (Kristofferson”s For The Good Times). But the minimalist arrangements and intimacy of Cash”s fragile yet forceful and soulful voice wrap the songs in a warmth and appealing sense of yearning.
Johnny Cash – Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream.mp3
Johnny Cash ““ Cool Water.mp3

….

Walt Cronin – California I Gotta Run
One of my favourite songs of the last decade was 2005″s A Desperate Cry for Help by the sadly rather obscure and now disbanded alt-country group The Beauty Shop. Walter Cronin”s third album reminds me a lot of the Beauty Shop, right down to his gravelly baritone and lovely Americana arrangements. Already in his 50s “” this post so far seems to specialise in grey follicles “” Cronin”s voice and sound reflect the experience of life, wistfully and defiantly. “I would never count the days of my life, but I”ll always let the dawn greet my eyes,” the former medic in the Vietnam war sings in Shinin” Through, one of several sweet love songs on this most appealing set. (Walt Cronin’s homepage)
Walt Cronin – If My Words.mp3
Walt Cronin – Shining Through.mp3

Berry Jones ““ Tonight
And moving away from silver fixes with guitars, here”s Philadelphia”s Berry Jones who wanted to see if “we can try to make Thriller in a basement; like, can we get Quincy Jones-era production techniques on a shoe string budget” (the band”s name pays tribute to Quincy and Berry Gordy). Of course, with modern digital technology it is much easier to produce effects which a Quincy Jones would have to apply his genius to achieve. One need only listen to Sweden”s Loney, Dear to hear what wonderful sounds can be produced by one man in his bedroom (in terms of music, I mean). Indeed, Berry Jones” opening track, Work It Out, starts a bit like a Loney, Dear song. But quickly it becomes a pop number that recalls the 1980s. It”s all an upbeat stew of different “˜80s influences, from Culture Club and Shalamar to two-tone to indie ““ and, yeah, Michael Jackson (especially on Philly Nights).  The vocals call to mind The Cure”s Robert Smith. The album might not quite evoke the genius of Quincy Jones, but the first half of it is a fine set of numbers to play while dressing for a party or on the way to the beach, and the soul-infused second half when coming home from the party or from the beach. (Berry Jones’s homepage)
Berry Jones ““ Philly Nights.mp3
Berry Jones ““ Your Old Ways.mp3

Dana Wells ““ The Evergreen EP
Here I”m cheating a bit: The Evergreen EP came out in 2009. But singer-songwriter Dana Wells is so talented, I want to include her in this selection. Dana may be young “” just out of her teens “” but this is no Taylor Swift. The Washington Post”s reviewer might need a better sub-editor, but suggested rightly that “there”s a settled maturity to the lyrics and tempered voice of this strummy smartie that”s usually reserved for older artists”. Let”s not be put off by the language of “strummy smartie” (who writes that kind of rubbish?). Wells is an engaging singer; one wants to get to know her. Her voice and delivery are very appealing, reminiscent of the lovely Mindy Smith. And, somehow, I really like Dana”s diction. It”s not easy for singer-songwriters to break through, but with her talent and beauty, Dana Wells might just be one who will make it big. (Dana Wells on MySpace)
Dana Wells -Watching Winter Melt Away.mp3
Dana Wells – Leave Me.mp3