Archive for May, 2016

Life In Vinyl 1984 – Vol. 1

May 26th, 2016 5 comments

Life in Vinyl 1984

The year 1984 in vinyl comes to you in two parts; not because 1984 was a particularly good year — it wasn’t — but because to me it was two years in one. For eight months I lived in South Africa; then I moved to London via a two-month European road trip. Part 1 concern itself with the South African half of 1984.

I see 1984 as the year that gave rise to the corporate mega-star. Michael Jackson’s Thriller had hit big in 1983 and was still hitting big, Lionel Richie’s Can’t Slow Down was mega big, Bruce Springsteen turned out his most commercial album, Prince donned the dandyish purple and became an icon, in Britain Wham! and Duran Duran hit heights of superstardom, U2 hit their stride, and towards the end of the year Madonna released an album that would turn her into the quintessential 1980s star.

It all felt artificial, even if not all of it was. While Springsteen must have been aware that he was putting out a commercial album, most of the songs wouldn’t have been out of place on The River four years earlier — but I don’t think he knew just how stratospheric it would go. And I defy anyone to claim that Prince compromised his art for anything. Rather, it was the corporate icon-building, as if music was a Hollywood dream machine from the 1930s, that felt artificial.

And music has never recovered the already compromised innocence it lost in the mid-’80s. There were moments in the ’90s when it felt it might do so. The grunge scene was a rebellion to the corporate hi-jack of music. Hip hop briefly offered an antidote. But the corporates simply poisoned the well by co-opting whom they could or promoting hack acts to replace those who were threatening the hegemony.

Now nobody threatens the hegemony any longer. We have our megastars and they hang around longer than their ancestors did. In the past, a teen star like Justin Bieber would have been off the scene the moment his fans grew pubic hair. Now he has unlimited shelf life, a star for the sake of being a star. The process of raising and maintaining stardom is driven by image management; new blood is added as needed, but the process is entirely in corporate hands. And 1984 was a watershed in the inexorable process that, of course, had begun much earlier.covers gallery 1This collection, and certainly the second part, would better be called “A Life in Cassette Tapes”. Of the 19 tracks here, I had five on record (Grandmaster & Melle Mel, Tubes, Cars, Style Council on LP; Frankie on 12″. And I bought the Sade LP as a present for my sister). The rest I had on tape — bought or taped off records. Once I had a car, having stuff on tape was necessary.

As always, I don’t endorse everything on these mixes which are supposed to evoke that particular year for me. I can’t say many good things about Laura Branigan’s Italo-pop hit other than that hearing it takes me back to the driver seat of the blue Beetle I was driving in 1984. But I am also cheating a little by omission. When I think of May 1984, I might also think Matthew Wilder’s The Kid’s American, a song so bad I really cannot inflict it on you, no matter what other liberties I’m taking here. There are a few others. Ollie & Jerry’s breakdancing anthem Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us anyone? But I do include as a bonus track Break Machine’s rather good Street Dance, because breakdancing mattered.

Some songs here have personal meaning, a couple of them deeply emotional (including the Chris Rea song), others quite comedic. On the latter front, the Thompson Twins’ Doctor Doctor represents a series of songs, which also included the two Jumps by van Halen and the Pointer Sisters, that soundtracked my curation of my younger brother’s first drunken barroom adventure. It culminated in little brother covering the interior of my friend’s car in vomit. To his credit, my friend took it in good spirits and cleaned the car while I put little brother to bed.

I might also have included Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, which accompanied the sound of my first broken heart, or Prince’s When Doves Cry, which excited me like no other song that year (Prince didn’t like his stuff to be featured on the web, so I’ll leave that one out). I went to see Purple Rain at the movies in consecutive screenings. The only other time I did that was later in the year, with the infinitely greater Once Upon A Time In America. I also watched the Sylvester Stallone & Dolly Parton vehicle Rhinestone twice in a day, first in the afternoon on my own and in the evening with friends, but let’s leave that bizarre decision alone. (Apparently Stallone turned down leads in Romancing the Stone and Beverly Hills Cop to film Rhinestone!).

I might have bought the Sade album for my sister but I loved it. I was torn about whether to include Your Love Is King or her wonderful cover version of Timmy Thomas’ Why Can”t We Live Together. Soul music gets short shrift on this mix. I also would have liked to include Patrice Rushen’s Feel So Real, Deniece William’s Let”s Hear It for the Boy or Cherelle’s I Didn”t Mean To Turn You On (later a hit for Robert Palmer). 

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes covers. PW in comments.

covers gallery 2

1. Grandmaster & Melle Mel – White Lines
2. Via Afrika – Hey Boy
3. The Tubes – She’s A Beauty
4. The Cars – You Might Think
5. Snowy White – Bird Of Paradise
6. Marillion – Punch And Judy
7. Style Council – You’re The Best Thing
8. Re-flex – The Politics Of Dancing
9. Frankie Goes To Hollywood – Two Tribes
10. Alphaville – Big In Japan
11. Nena – 99 Luftballons
12. Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
13. Bronski Beat – Smalltown Boy
14. Evelyn Thomas – High Energy
15. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor
16. Sade – Your Love Is King
17. Laura Branigan – Self Control
18. Chris Rea – I Don’t Know What It Is (But I Love It)
19. Mel Brooks – To Be Or Not To Be
Bonus Track: Break Machine – Street Dance


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Any Major Night Vol. 1

May 19th, 2016 7 comments

Any Major Night

A couple of years ago I posted a couple of mixes on the theme of mornings; I have played Any Major Morning Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 many times, especially in the car. I have also test-driven this mix, on the theme of night.

Obviously there are hundreds more songs one could choose; I hope the reaction to this collection will justify a few more mixes on the theme.

The opening track is one of those songs that could work on more than one Any Major Mix. The Nightfly might have gone on to the Any Major Radio mix, or on to the Any Major Road Trip ““ Stage 2 mix (with DJ Lester”s greetings to Baton Rouge).

I enjoy the whole mix, but I love especially the sequence from the Lloyd Cole track to that by the excellent Justin Townes Earle which builds up to the great country cover of AC/DC”s You Shook Me All Night Long by The Twang. The German group specialises in covering pop hits in country and bluegrass fashion. It sounds like a novelty thing, and in a way it is. But these covers are not there to be laughed at, even if it is amusing to hear the lyrics to the Village People hit YMCA (“You can hang out with all of them boys”) or the Ramones” Blitzkrieg Bop set to the sound of country music, and that done well. Some of the covers work better than others “” see how you like You Shook Me All Night Long in a Nudie suit.

Two other songs here are covers: Martha Reeves channels the grumpy Ulsterman, while The Dells cover themselves. They first recorded Oh, What A Night as a doo wop number in 1956; featured here is a reworking of the song from 1969, with Marvin Junior still on lead vocals, sharing them with Johnny Carter, who had replaced original co-singer Johnny Funches in 1960. Poor health by Marvin Junior and fellow founding member Chuck Barksdale ended the band”s run of exactly 60 years in 2012. Marvin died a year later at 77.

As always, the mix is timed to fit on a standard CD-R and includes home-dreamt-up covers. PW in comments.


1. Donald Fagen – The Nightfly (1982)
2. Little Feat – Walkin” All Night (1973)
3. Barry Ryan – Loneliest Night of the Year (1972)
4. Paul McCartney – Every Night (1970)
5. Carole King – A Night This Side Of Dying (1974)
6. Lamont Dozier – Let Me Start Tonite (1974)
7. Martha Reeves – Wild Night (1974)
8. The Dells – Oh What A Night (1968)
9. The Walker Brothers – Saddest Night In The World (1966)
10. Sammy Davis Jr. – Night Song (1964)
11. Nancy Sinatra – The City Never Sleeps At Night (1965)
12. Sammi Smith – Help Me Make It Through The Night (1971)
13. Buckingham Nicks – Crying In The Night (1973)
14. Bruce Springsteen – Prove It All Night (1976)
15. Nils Lofgren – Night Fades Away (1981)
16. Everything But The Girl – The Night I Heard Caruso Sing (1988)
17. Missy Higgins – Nightminds (2004)
18. Lloyd Cole – Late Night, Early Town (2003)
19. Richard Hawley – The Nights Are Made For Us (2003)
20. Neil Diamond – Save Me A Saturday Night (2005)
21. Justin Townes Earle – One More Night in Brooklyn (2010)
22. Thompson Square – If It Takes All Night (2011)
23. The Twang – You Shook Me All Night Long (2003)


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Any Major Flute Vol. 2

May 12th, 2016 28 comments

Any Major Flute Vol. 2

The first volume of the flute in pop (rock and soul) was well received. Perhaps there was a gap in the market. So here’s the second volume, with a third one in the works. Thank you to those who have given some very good ideas — in the comments section, on Facebook (become my friend) and elsewhere — seven years ago, when I first posted this, and on the recycled Any Major Flute Vol. 1, which ran in early April. You’ll find some suggestions from the first time around incorporated here, or in Volume 3. I think I will do fourth mix at some point of tracks recommended by readers (in 2016 and 2009). And, yes, I’ve caved and included the Tull. What next? Glockenspiel in rock?.

As ever, CD-R length, home-blown covers. PW in comments.

1. Manfred Mann – Mighty Quinn (1968)
Flutastic Moment: 0:01 Appropriately, the mix kicks off with the flute. What came first, the Mighty Quinn or Come Together?

2. The Coasters – Love Potion No 9 (1970)
Flutastic Moment: 1:38 The flute starts up suddenly and quite frantically as the whole Leiber & Stoller classic goes into funk mode.

3. Canned Heat – Going Up Country (1968)
Flutastic Moment: 0:01 The flute introduces the song until Alan Wilson’s odd counter-tenor vocals begin, making the occasional cameo appearance throughout.

4. Jethro Tull – Up To Me (1971)
Flutastic Moment: 0:02 The Tull giggle as though they are high (surely not!), and the almost percussive flute comes in.

5. Donovan – Sunny Goodge Street (1965)
Flutastic Moment: 1:33 Alas, poor Donovan. History underrates him dreadfully. But hear this and tell me he did not profoundly influence Nick Drake. The flute solo is quite lovely.

6. Minnie Riperton – Light My Fire (1979)
Flutastic Moment: 1:59 The interplay between keyboard and flute is impressive. José Feliciano comes in later to duet on this (superior) cover of his interpretation. One wonders how big Riperton might have been had cancer not claimed her. She had one of the most beautiful, sexiest voices in music, apart from her ability to surf the octaves.

7. Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. – You Don’t Have To Be A Star (1976)
Flutastic Moment: 0:04 The flute hook introduces the song by these two former 5th Dimensions, who by then had gone soul.

8. Albert Hammond – It Never Rains In Southern California (1972)
Flutastic Moment:0:08 The brief flute interlude, which recurs at 1:56, sets the scene for the vocals.

9. George Harrison – Dark Horse (1974)
Flutastic Moment: 1:08 The flute is going discreetly in the background until it decides to let its presence felt.

10. Marshall Tucker Band – Take The Highway (1973)
Flutastic Moment: 0:05 The flute drives this song from the start. A flute rock classic.

11. CCS – Whole Lotta Love (1970)
Flutastic Moment: 0:35 The purring flute holds its own against the thumping rhythms in the Collective Consciousness Society”s fantastic cover of boring old Led Zep, which British readers may know better as a theme for Top Of The Pops.

12. The The – Uncertain Smile (1982)
Flutastic Moment: 1:21 I don”t know if The The ever appeared on TOTP. For the flute in this, they (well, he) should have. Hear where Lloyd Cole got his ideas from.

13. Men At Work – Down Under (1981)
Flutastic Moment: 0:03 One of the most famous flute songs in pop, with perhaps the most recognisable flute riff. Men At Work are often seen as a naff “80s outfit (and written off as — calumny! — a one-hit wonder). They were fronted by Colin Hay, who is not in any way naff. And his recent letter of advice to the ghastly Ted Cruz was quite satisfying.

14. Saint Etienne Nothing Can Stop Us (1991)
Flutastic Moment: 1:17 The whole thing is a chilled-out house thing, but when the flute comes in, the song gets soul.

15. Esther Williams – Last Night Changed It All (1976)
Flutastic Moment: 0:30 Dance music in the mid-“70s made great use of flute hooks (and, yes, The Hustle will feature in Volume 3). What a groove!

16. The Chiffons – Just For Tonight (1968)
Flutastic Moment: 1:14 The alto flute solo gives the latter-day girl-band a whole new sound.

17. Marvin Gaye – Stubborn Kind Of Fellow (1962)
Flute Moment: 1:04 But the flute solo also did a fine job in early Motown.

18. Love – Orange Skies (1966)
Flutastic Moment: 0:31 The flute comes in to echo and emphasise the singers declaration of love. When he sings about how happy he is, the flute responds as if it was a cartoon bird. It”s like Mary Poppins for love-struck hippies.

19. Chicago – Color My World (1970)
Flutastic Moment: 1:54 Damn, Chicago were good before the group was hijacked by the extravagantly coiffured Peter Cetera. The flute solo takes a long time coming, but when it arrives, it is quite beautiful and it sees out the remaining minute of the song.

20. The Guess Who – Undun (1969)
Flutastic Moment: 2:15 The Guess Who might have given English teachers nightmares, but they knew how to use a flute to good, albeit far too brief, effect.

21. Lou Reed – Sad Song (1973)
Flutastic Moment: 0:01 Is the flautist trying to get to the melody of Somewhere Over The Rainbow?


Any Major Flute Vol. 1
Any Major Flute Vol. 3
Any Major Flute Vol. 4
Any Major Flute Vol. 5

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In Memoriam – April 2016

May 5th, 2016 9 comments

This year is a real bastard; in my years of doing this monthly round-up I cannot remember a sequence of months in which the Grim Reaper picked off fixtures in my music collection at such a relentless rate. At this point I fear for Stevie Wonder, Kris Kristofferson, Van Morrison, Donald Fagen, Burt Bacharach, Frankie Beverley, Hal Blaine and all four members of ABBA.IM0416_gallery_1In the great 1980s battle between Michael Jackson and Prince (who were born just 73 days apart), I was a cheerleader for the latter. Don”t misunderstand, Jackson was immense, and I”ll sooner listen to Off The Wall than to any Prince album (on the other hand, Purple Rain easily trumps Thriller, as I showed HERE). But Prince wrote his own songs (and for others), arranged them, played on them, was a fine dancer and great showman, and he played the guitar so beautifully. And he had something to say. Prince was a genius, and if he had not been so obsessed with hunting down the use of his music on blogs and YouTube, he”d feature heavily on Any Major collections.

April didn”t claim not one but two absolute legends: Prince, but also Merle Haggard, one of the true country giants. Merle was outlaw before Outlaw Country was a thing. In fact, he was a real outlaw in his younger days, and his life of robbery and larceny ended with him locked up at San Quentin prison, near San Francisco. Even in jail, Haggard was a troublemaker “” until the day when Johnny Cash played one of concerts there (not his first one there in 1958, as is often written, but one of those he did in 1959 and 1960). Watching Cash “” and having had a few other formative experiences before that “” Merle decided to go on to the straight and narrow and finally make it in the music business. Which he did. Merle Haggard died of pneumonia on his 79th birthday. It”s not right that people should die on their birthday.

Controversy followed the gifted Philly soul singer Billy Paul, who had a massive hit in 1972 with Me And Mrs Jones. Against his express wishes, his label, PIR, released as the follow-up the provocative Am I Black Enough For You (Paul wanted the milder Brown Baby as the follow-up). It was indeed the second-best track on the 360 Degrees Of Billy Paul album, but predictably the white pop stations weren”t ready for a black consciousness song by a soul crooner. The episode sabotaged Billy Paul”s career, some first-class releases notwithstanding. More controversy hit the singer in 1975 with the gorgeous Let’s Make A Baby when the Rev Jesse Jackson and his Operation PUSH campaigned for a boycott of the song on grounds of its supposed lewdness (the good reverend seemed to have been unaware by what act babies are made). A year later, Billy Paul”s wonderful cover of Paul McCartney”s Let “Em In caused some controversy, and also earned effusive praise, for its name-checks of deceased black leaders such as Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Elijah Muhammad, Medgar Evers and Louis Armstrong.

On the same day the master guitarist Prince died, one of the men who pioneered rock guitar playing, especially in the blues-rock field that was the domain of the likes of Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and Duane Allman, passed away. Lonnie Mack“s 1963 instrumentals such as Wham! and Memphis have been acclaimed as being milestones in the development of rock music, particularly the nascent blues-infused rock guitar solo. Mack was also a great soul singer, but when R&B stations discovered that he was white, they stopped playing his records. He returned in the 1970s as a country singer before reverting to blues-rock, recording with the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan.IM0416_gallery_2Congolese soukos singer Papa Wemba, who has died at 66, was one of Africa”s most popular musicians, Read more…

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