Archive for April, 2012

Step back to 1980 – Part 4

April 26th, 2012 5 comments

I have a few specific memories of the final quarter of 1980, but one stands out, as it probably does for most western teenagers growing up in 1980. On 9 December the radio alarm clock went off. I was just rising when the announcer said that John Lennon had been shot dead while we were sleeping. On my turntable was the second LP from The Beatles 1967-70 collection, which I had listened to, for the first time in a long while, just the previous evening, when Lennon was still alive. That bitterly cold morning at school my fellow Beatles fan Thorsten and I were greeted by our more cynical mates with “congratulations” on the death of John Lennon. For Thorsten and me, and probably millions others, the next few months were our generation”s version of Beatlemania. I quickly completed my collection of Beatles LPs, buying a few on a post-Christmas holiday in Greece, and the US releases on Japanese pressings.


Robert Palmer – Johnny & Mary.mp3
I had been a bit of a Robert Palmer fan, so I was quite excited by Johnny & Mary, a song that bought into the nascent New Wave Zeitgeist, with its liberal use of the synth and Palmer”s cool lyrics. Remember that Visage, Human League and Ultravox had not yet had their synth-based hits; these would come in 1981. So Johnny And Mary sounded quite exciting at the time. Moreover, the song has no chorus, which was rare in 1980 (and still is), and the vocals are delivered in a laconic monotone, which was also unusual in pop. On strength of Johnny & Mary, Palmers Clues album made it on to my Christmas wishlist of LPs. And when I opened my gifts at Christmas, it was among them. Listening to it I had the sinking feeling one gets when the lead single is the only really good track on an LP. Palmer totally lost me a few years later with his Addicted To Love, a song with an over-praised sexist video which I still despise.

Kate Bush ““ Army Dreamers.mp3
Kate Bush”s Never For Ever album was also in that bunch of Christmas present LPs. I loved lead single Babooshka, with its sound of breaking glass that was created by a synthesizer, but I had real affection for Army Dreamers, a song that didn”t get as much attention as Babooshka. Of course, I had recorded both off the radio. I was politically engaged, and naturally opposed to all things military (I didn”t even like war movies), so an anti-martial song appealed to me, especially one with an unusual waltz tempo. I didn”t know the promo video for the song yet, but it seems to have made quite an impact at the time. It is indeed striking. That thing she does with her eyes is particularly good. (HERE)    *

Bots ““ Sieben Tage Lang.mp3
Bots was a Dutch folk-rock group of the left-wing protest song variety. Their Sieben Tage Lang was a hit, of sorts, in West Germany in 1980, a cover of their Dutch original from 1976 which in turn was based on the traditional Breton drinking song Son ar Chistr which in 1971 was a minor hit for the harpist Alan Stivell. The drum beat is martial, and the lyrics offer a vision of socialist revolution.

The German lyrics were co-written by the investigative journalist Günter Wallraff, who by reputation is Germany”s equivalent of Michael Moore, but without the populist polemic. Wallraff made a name for himself in the 1970s by infiltrating the mass-circulation Bild daily newspaper, a reactionary rag that trades in sensation, gossip, tits and sports. It would not be unfair to say that Bild“s ethics, at least in the 1970s and “80s, were on the level of those now exposed in Rupert Murdoch”s media empire; perhaps even worse. The newspaper cheerfully destroyed lives with lies. It was widely called “das Lügenblatt” (the rag of lies). Wallraff exposed all that.

Co-writing the German lyrics with Wallraff was one Lerryn, the pseudonym of leftist songwriter and manager Dieter Dehm. After the reunification of Germany it was alleged that Dehm had reported to East Germany”s secret service, the Stasi, on the activities of another leftist songwriter, Wolf Biermann (stepfather of Nina Hagen), before the communist regime expelled Biermann from the GDR. Dehm denies having spied for the Stasi.

Paul Simon – Late In The Evening (YouTube live clip)
Paul Simon”s One Trick Pony LP was another Christmas present LP which I had wanted on strength of a great lead single and never really enjoyed. Which means that the album title is quite ironic itself “” it had only one trick. Ah, but what a trick. It has a casual drug reference, which didn”t get the song banned! The fantastic Latin horn part was arranged by Dave Grusin, who did the instrumental score for the soundtrack for The Graduate, which Simon & Garfunkel had significantly contributed to.  And check out the exquisite drumming by Steve Gadd. Then there are the masterful percussions of Ralph MacDonald, who died in December, and the guitar work of the late Eric Gale. And on backing vocals is Lani Groves, who sang the opening verse of Stevie Wonder”s You Are The Sunshine Of My Life with Jim Gilstrap. (The MP3 file was found and zapped before the post was even up. Hence the YouTube clip.)

Air Supply – All Out Of Love.mp3
I always stress that in this series, the songs are chosen because they have the power to transport me back to the time when they came out, not because I endorse them. This one can in an instance recreate in me that nagging teenage feeling in the stomach, the desire for romance, and the smell of my bedroom. I don”t really want to endorse the song; on the contrary, I want to hate it as the spineless power ballad it really is. And still ““ and I don”t know if it is the nostalgia for an unhappy youth or my advancing age ““ listening to it as I”m writing this, I rather enjoy it. So much so, that I”ll play it again. But then, I have previously publicly defended Chicago”s If You Leave Me Now, an act that has earned me some derision, so I might as well confess my (no longer) secret affection for wimpy power ballads.

Karat – Ãœber sieben Brücken mußt du gehn.mp3
On my family”s periodic visits to East Germany, I would try and satisfy my record-buying impulse by purchasing albums by local rock bands. It was also a good way of spending East German marks, which was quite challenge in a country which did not go in for quality consumer goods. You couldn”t even buy a replica Dynamo Dresden football shirt (just as you couldn”t buy a Dukla Prague away shirt in Czechoslovakia; though you could do so from western mail order companies). And that”s how I came to own LPs by the likes of City and the Puhdys. I never really listened to them. But the biggest East German band, Karat, had passed me by until they suddenly had a hit in West Germany with Ãœber sieben Brücken mußt du gehn (You”ll have to cross seven bridges). The rather lovely prog-rock ballad, originally released in East Germany in 1978, was covered by Peter Maffay, one of West Germany”s biggest stars who styled himself (and still does) as a bit of an outlaw. Maffay had the bigger hit with it, but in the slipstream of his version”s success, Karat”s original received much radio airplay (by East German law they were not allowed to appear on West German TV). I preferred the Karat version.

David Bowie – Up The Hill Backwards.mp3
Here”s another Christmas present album, which made my wishlist on strength of Ashes To Ashes and the even more fabulous Fashion. Unlike the LPs by Palmer and Simon, I liked the Scary Monsters LP a lot, and I particularly loved Up The Hill Backwards with its anthemic vocals, Robert Fripp”s crazy guitars and the staccato drumming. Bruce Springsteen”s piano man Roy Bittan did ivory tinkling duty here, as he did on Ashes To Ashes and Teenage Wildlife, and the album”s co-producer, Tony Visconti played the acoustic guitar. Up The Hill Backwards was released as the album”s fourth single in Britain. It stalled at #32, not entirely surprisingly, because it is not really commercial.


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A History of Country Vol. 17: 1984-89

April 19th, 2012 5 comments

The 1980s were the MTV years; as radio once helped spread country beyond its natural habitat, so did TV channels dedicated to broadcasting country music disseminate the new crop of stars. As importantly, for the first time since Jennings and Nelson attracted the attention of rock fans, some country singers, such as Earle and Yoakam, were acknowledged by the rock press. County, or at least some strands of it, was hip again. The rock press also rediscovered legends such as George Jones and Dolly Parton. So Parton”s collaboration with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt was celebrated as a music event well outside country circles.

At the same time, some acts were reviled for what was seen as their insipidity “” most of all country-rockers Alabama, who nonetheless have continued to shift huge amounts of records to the present day, more than three decades since the demise of The Eagles and The Marshall Tucker Band, whose blueprints Alabama predicated their career on. And just as Strait and Skaggs shaped the rise of the cowboy-hatted superstars, and Earle, Lovett and Yoakam inspired, so did Alabama and Restless Heart give rise to a cluster of country-rock bands, such as Atlanta (by then naming a band after a city should have been declared illegal in some form of anti-cliché law), Highway 101 and Shenandoah.

Fans of the Originals will appreciate Whitey Shafer’s incipient version of the George Strait hit All My Ex’s Live In Texas (an earworm if ever there was one). As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and homebaked front and back covers are included.

1. Ricky Skaggs – Country Boy
2. The Judds – Girls Night Out
3. The Highwaymen – The Last Cowboy Song
4. Reba McEntire – Somebody Should Leave
5. John Prine – Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness
6. Lyle Lovett – Closing Time
7. Randy Travis – 1982
8. Lionel Richie with Alabama – Deep River Woman
9. Emmylou Harris – Who Will Sing For Me
10. Ricky Van Shelton – Life Turned Her That Way
11. Whitey Shafer – All My Ex’s Live In Texas
12. Hank Williams Jr. – Born To Boogie
13. Dwight Yoakam – I Sang Dixie
14. Steve Earle – Copperhead Road
15. Rodney Crowell – I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried
16. Earl Thomas Conley – What I’d Say
17. Keith Whitley – I’m No Stranger To The Rain
18. Merle Haggard – Wouldn’t That Be Something
19. Shenandoah – The Church On Cumberland Road
20. Patty Loveless – Chains
21. Clint Black – A Better Man
22. Steve Wariner – Where Did I Go Wrong
23. Travis Tritt – Country Club

(includes front and back covers. PW here)



Previously in A History of Country
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That sinking feeling

April 11th, 2012 4 comments

Sunday, 15 April, will see the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic. There is little need for me to go into the story of that most famous of all maritime disasters. Movies will be shown on TV (including a new mini-series), the History Channel will take time off from Nazis, aliens and truckers to provide all sorts of perspectives, and all kinds of background and new insights will be offered in newspaper, magazine and Internet articles.

So, here I add to the saturation with a mix of songs about maritime disasters, including several that record the sinking of the monument to hubris.

Ex-Byrds man Roger McGuinn”s adaptation of the folk number Titanic was recorded especially for the Folk Den website in reaction to the sinking earlier this year of the Costa Concordia on the Italian coast. One Titanic song that has been recorded many times under different titles features twice here, first by The Sacred Shakers and then by marvellous Ruthie Foster, though in quite different interpretations.

The strangest of the Titanic songs here must be Jamie Brockett”s extensive rant about the African-American boxing champ Jack Johnson being barred from travelling on the Titanic, and how that relates to the ocean liner”s unhappy fate.

The mix ends with the hymn Nearer My God To Thee, in a version recorded as close to 1912 as I could find, sung by the renowned Irish tenor John McCormack. This, of course, is what the band is said to have played as the Titanic was sinking, though it isn”t clear whether it was to the melody favoured in England or the one more commonly used in the United States. McCormack”s version is, I think, the Bethany tune from 1859, which is the version better known in the US.

One can argue about the meaning of Procol Harum”s Salty Dog; its haunting melody suggests some sort of nautical distress.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R; home-brewed covers are included.

1. Roger McGuinn – Titanic (2012)
2. The Sacred Shakers – Titanic (2008)
3. Cisco Houston & Woody Guthrie – What Did the Deep Sea Say (1944)
4. Johnny Horton – Sink The Bismarck (1960)
5. The Dixon Brothers – Down With The Old Canoe (1938)
6. Ruthie Foster – The Titanic (God Moves On The Water) (2012)
7. Sinead O”Connor – Lord Franklin (2002)
8. Hans Theessink – Titanic (2005)
9. Gordon Lightfoot – The Wreck Of The Edmund Fitzgerald (1976)
10. Procol Harum – Salty Dog (1969)
11. Son Volt – Sultana (2009)
12. The Pogues – Turkish Song Of The Damned (1988)
13. The Ventures – Cruel Sea (1964)
14. Frank Hutchison – The Last Scene Of The Titanic (1927)
15. Blind Alfred Reed – The Wreck Of The Virginian (1927)
16. The Highwaymen – The Sinking Of The Reuben James (1964)
17. Jamie Brockett – Legend Of The U.S.S. Titanic (2005)
18. John McCormack – Nearer My God To Thee (1914)


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Saved! Vol. 3

April 5th, 2012 6 comments

With Easter approaching, here’s a third mix of songs that relate in some way or another to the Christian faith, following the Saved! 1 and Saved! 2 mixes. The first drew from verious ages and genres of music, the second comprised soul musicians doing God music. This lot comes from rock, folk, country and indie backgrounds.

Some artists featured here are devout believers, some are sceptics, some are people one wouldn’t necessarily have down as being even remotely religious. Most are original songs, a few are covers (for example, Wilco covers Woody Guthrie, and Emmylou Harris covers Bob Dylan). All are, in my view, beautifully performed. And even the most devout atheist must feel what it feels like to have faith when they hear Alison Krauss’ voice on A Loving Prayer.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R, and includes home-sanctified covers. To those who believe, have a happy Easter; to those who don’t, enjoy the chocolates and this excellent mix.

1. Prefab Sprout – Earth, The Story So Far (2009)
2. Wilco – Airline To Heaven (live) (2005)
3. Bap Kennedy – Please Return To Jesus (2012)
4. Mindy Smith – Come To Jesus (2004)
5. Tift Merritt – Tender Branch (2008)
6. Emmylou Harris – Every Grain Of Sand (1995)
7. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds – Bless His Ever Loving Heart (2001)
8. Natalie Merchant with Karen Paris – When They Ring The Golden Bells (1998)
9. Sufjan Stevens – To Be Alone With You (2001)
10. Iron & Wine – Jezebel (2005)
11. Rosanne Cash – God Is In the Roses (2006)
13. Lyle Lovett – Church (1992)
14. Johnny Cash – Oh, Bury Me Not (1994)
15. Ralph Stanley – He Suffered For My Reward (2011)
16. Maria Doyle Kennedy & Kieran Kennedy – To The Work (2011)
17. Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band – Pilgrim (1999)
18. Alison Krauss – A Living Prayer (2004)
19. The Welcome Wagon – But For You Who Fear My Name (2008)

GET IT! (PW in comments)

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In Memoriam – March 2012

April 2nd, 2012 3 comments

The Grim Reaper took it relatively easy this month. The headline deaths were those of bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs and Robert B Sherman, who with his brother wrote Disney standards for films such as 101 Dalmations, The Jungle Book and Mary Poppins. The idea for Let’s Go Fly A Kite, from Mary Poppins, apparently was inspired by the Sherman brothers’ father, Al Sherman, who was a songwriter and hobby kitemaker.

But perhaps the most interesting lifestory to reach its end in March was that of Australian musician and AIDS activist Vince Lovegrove, who as a young man in the 1960s played in a group with Bon Scott, whom he is said to have introduced to AC/DC. He worked as a journalist and as a manager. His clients included the Divinyls, before they found international fame with I Touch Myself. Lovegrove resigned from management to care for his wife, Sue Sidewinder, and little son Troy who were HIV-infected. A 1987 documentary on their struggle, which premiered just a few weeks after Sue”s death, has been credited with doing much to overcome the false notion of AIDS as a “gay disease”. Troy died in 1993 at the age of eight, also just before a screening of a documentary about him. Lovegrove made international headlines when in a biography on INXS frontman Michael Hutchence he claimed that Paula Yates entrapped the singer with a pregnancy. A libel case was settled out of court. Read more…