Friday, 14 October 2016

Warren Zevon

An Excitable Boy

I don't think there's anyone who did wry, dark, impish, witty madness quite like Warren Zevon.

A talented pianist and guitarist, blessed with a commanding and theatrical but by no means conventional singing voice, and a sense of humour too twisted for conventional tastes, Zevon can be a marmite musician, but if you love him, you really love him.

His early career is like a who's who of random rock trivia; he played with The Everly Brothers, wrote for The Turtles, lived with Buckingham Nicks and was produced by Kim Fowley.
From the mid 70's, collaborations with and contributions from Jackson Browne and others from that Laurel Canyon LA scene (Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, The Eagles, Lowell George) ensured his place as a new force to be reckoned with. The Boss himself Bruce Springsteen said, when inducting Jackson Brown into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, that if Brian Wilson had settled down early in a kind of hypothetical Californian world utopia and had two sons, Jackson would have been the well-tempered Abel, and 'Cain of course, would have been Jackson's brother in arms, Warren Zevon.'

This sentiment has stuck with me for the years since I've seen it and I can't necessarily put my finger on why. Partly because it is delightfully poetic imagery, but partly because it reinforces this concept that Zevon was essentially one of the naughty ones. He obviously had an often difficult or wild nature, particularly when he was younger, but how much of that was a front? I feel the reputation may have overtaken the truth somewhat, as especially in the later years the romantic songs came as freely as the witty ones. They just were quite cloaked and witty still.

I was born to rock the boat
Some may sink but we will float
Grab your coat- let's get out of here
You're my witness
I'm your mutineer

His hit song Werewolves Of London is often seen as a novelty song, a viewpoint that only makes sense if you haven't heard it alongside the rest of his output. A lot of it is daft, a lot silly, but there's commitment to the comedy, and to the darkness. Whilst he has written some incredibly tender and heartfelt love songs, he has created his own particular niche for classic rock and roll storytelling songs with great wordplay and a dry twist. A great example is 'Poor Poor Pitiful Me', a hit for friend Linda Ronstadt and later Terri Clark, a martyr's take on life's various dissatisfactions; "these young girls won't let me be, poor poor pitiful me......."
In fact he does a pretty good line in tongue in cheek woe-is-me tracks, as classic 'Lawyers, Guns and Money' is a more urgent appeal for help from the pampered hedonistic protagonist. I think also you could say he writes damn good love songs for people who don't do love songs. Self depreciating and never overly sentimental yet all the more touching for it, his particular brand of romantic expression has surely been the open door or translation tool for many likeminded folk to get their feelings out there.

His parting shot in his final months? 
Enjoy every sandwich.

Some tunes for enjoying.....

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Jonny Strikes Up The Band

Frank and Jesse James


Joe Tex

Soul Country

For those musical adventurers in search for something special that lies nestled in the rock/soul/funk/country categories, Joe Tex is a winner.

This is my copy of country soul. There's almost more crackle than melody, which I know would drive some people up the wall, but sound quality in that sense has never really bothered me, which is helpful (and appropriately suited) for my bank balance.

Along with other soul artists of his generation, he touched on many musical genres throughout his career, but this is the style I prefer him doing.  Being based in Nashville he had plenty of access to country players, and as the sleeve notes say, one of his earliest idols was Hank Williams. It initially begins very much in soul territory (he covers Dark End of The Street, and Ode to Billie Joe) and ends side one somewhat bizarrely in country territory with Roger Miller's Engine Engine Number 9. Side two is mixed again with a lovely Green Green Grass of Home and By The Time I Get To Memphis, but let down by Set Me Free, which I think does not demonstrate his high vocal standard fairly. It's not tender enough and seems fairly throwaway.

So 9/10 ain't bad!
His voice is mellow and warm, and this is a lovely set of songs.

If you would like to follow up on some more Joe Tex, you could take the direction of his earlier work, tracks like Pneumonia (he wasn't allocated a writing credit for the song 'Fever' so wrote his own answer song based on the same theme). His sense of humour is often evident.

Skinny Legs
Bear in mind it's very much of it's time lyrically. 

Buying a Book

Or follow his later soul funk period, where his and James Brown's feud rumbled along for years, a bitchy whirl of capes, splits and sequins. James Brown thinks he's No 1, Joe Tex is offended because he thinks Little Willie John is No.1, Little Richard wades in and says James Brown stole all Joe Tex's moves, Joe Tex thinks James Brown stole his ex and backing singer, James Brown is generally dismissive, yaddayaddayadda....
This song is is directly to James Brown, and it's downright rude. Most offensively to her.
You Keep Her

I Gotcha
Check out the amazing Damita Jo Freeman, queen of moves on Soul Train

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The show must go on

Great songs with stuff going wrong, artists laughing, whether it be a great belly laugh, a creeping case of the giggles or a snort. Sometimes equipment breaks, sometimes lyrics are forgotten. The phone will often ring. It doesn´t matter.

I love them. It reminds us that our talented, mysterious music heroes are just normal folks, trying to hold it together.
Or not, as the case may be.

Apart from Ella, she´s a pro.

Elvis - tons of laughing tracks.

Elvis´s recording of Are You Lonesome Tonight interspersed with some serious giggles (  became quite well known, but it wasn´t a one off. Elvis quite often had to contend with questionable lyrics, and gloriously failed to hold it together.
These attempts at Beach Shack are lovely. Looks like we caught him at the "silly hour".
This attempt at Datin´never stood a chance.

George Harrison - Miss O´Dell

Miss O´Dell was Chris, an employee at Apple and general assistant to the Harrison gang. Harrison reportedly promised to write a song about her (as Leon Russell had, with Pisces Apple Lady) and instead came up with a much more insightful song about himself. It is rare in this period of Harrison´s career to be sounding so socially apathetic, or maybe it´s more of an exhaustion witht he pretence of the people around him. He has nothing to say about the war or poverty and is bored to tears of pollution. It´s not desolate, just tired, and maybe a little playful. Maybe he is just having a little fun with people´s expectations of him.
Anyway, he says "rice" instead of "night", and the concept of rice "rolling on right up to his front porch" sets him off. He tries but fails, relapsing a few more times before the end.
There´s an especially delightful chuckle at 1.17

Led Zeppelin - In my Time of Dying

Right at the end there when plant is singing his last few notes, Bonzo coughs and splutters. Plant in a singing reply says "cough" and Bonham yells "That´s gonna be the one isn´t it?!"

Bob Dylan - Rainy Day Woman #12 &35

Rather than one specific incident, it seems that this song was born out of one big laugh. Dylan himself cracks a few times and there´s numerous whoops from the party gathering in the background.

Ella Fitzgerald - Mack The Knife

"Oh whats the next chorus, to this song now.... it´s the one now, I don´t know"
Ella can even make buying time and hoping for a prompt sound wonderful. She forgets the words but keeps it together and whips out a mean Louis Armstrong impression.

The Police - Roxanne

You´ve probably never noticed, but there´s a fluffed piano note and laugh in the first few bars.

Genesis - Anything She Does

Just after the final note of this song Phil makes the exact noise my Dad makes when he fluffs a shot in golf. It sounds like a noise of dissatisfaction, but they kept the (wonderful) take, so who knows?

The Kingsmen - Louie Louie

At 0.56 the drummer Lynn Easton says "Fuck!" apparently because he fluffed something. Also, after the guitar solo, singer Jacky Ely comes in too early and drummer Easton redeems himself by filling the time with some interesting drum work. Great song, but it´s all gloriously ramshackle, who knows what´s going on.

The Mamas and The Papas - I Saw Her Again

Quite a well known one, this, but it did begin as a mistake. Doherty comes in too early for the chorus at 2.44, but it worked, so they kept it. It was written by John Phillip supposedly about his feelings on his fling with Mama Cass, which in turn was some kind of revenge for Michelle and Denny´s affair. Messy or what......

The Rolling Stones FEATURING all hail the queen MERRY CLAYTON - Gimme Shelter

Merry Clayton was called last minute, in the middle of the night, to join this session. Hair still in curlers she decided to blow them out of the room.
As her voice breaks the second time in her phenomenal vocal solo we hear Mick exclaim "wooo!" 3.02

Friday, 10 April 2015

There are music films, and films about music

These are my favourites.
It may be a direct musical theme, it may be just a really good soundtrack.
Films for music lovers.

Empire Records

Whether you´ve worked in a record store or not, this will make you feel like you have. It´s got everything; great tunes, great camraderie, quotable lines, a struggle, humour and a character for everyone. Also featuring a great young cast who went on to bigger fame.

If you want blood......

Blues Brothers

Another great film about working together to pull something off. It´s offbeat, funny and totally unexpected. The lineup is frankly ridiculous. Aside from John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, you´ve got Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Donald " Duck "Dunn and Steve Cropper among many others. Buckets of fun.

What I would give to be a dancer in this scene.....

Almost Famous

A beautiful semi-autobiographical film by Cameron Crowe, about his time as a young rock writer in the early 70´s. It´s warm, honest and sweet with a phenomenal backing track, changing songs almost every minute, but seamlessly. It is one of the films that has most accurately held up a mirror to my love of music and how the journey of discovery feels. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is heartbreakingly exquisite as Lester Bangs, Kate Hudson embodies the queen groupie composite, a perfect combination of life and soul of the party glamour and vulnerability. In fact everyone is glorious. Just watch it, you´ll fall in love.

Here, this scene didn´t make it in. It´s excellent.

Human Traffic

I don´t really know what the point is writing about this, I don´t really know what to say. It became so much a part of my youth and every time I watch it I realise more and more of what we say to this day is ripped from this film. Effectively a group of mates, a serious weekend in a Cardiff club and house parties. It doesn´t matter if you aren´t into clubbing or house music, there is so much to relate to, and it´s brilliantly well done. The record shop scene is perfection. The weekend has landed. Featuring a glorious performance from a young Danny Dyer.


High Fidelity

This is working in a record shop. It´s funny, it´s sad and it all rings pretty true. Our protaganist Rob is delving through his relationship history to understand his current, failed endeavour with Laura, all to a fine and varied soundtrack. Jack Black´s Barry, his record shop co-worker/employee is utterly perfect. Everyone knows a Barry (don´t worry, if you are self aware enough to worry it´s you, it´s not you). The top 5s, the arguments, competition, the recommendations, evreything. Spot on. How do you order yours? Chronological? Alphabetical? Autobiographical.

An excellent deleted scene.

The Last Waltz

This is a little different. It is a recording of a live concert, interspersed with interviews. Directed by Scorcese, and filmed at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, it is beautifully staged and lighted. It feels warm and grand, suitable for a farewell to such a well loved group. The concert included cameos from such delights as Van Morrison, Dr John, Joni Mitchell, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Hawkins and Bob Dylan, cut with candid interviews with the band. It is indicative of, if nothing else, the pure joy they have inspired that so many glorious artists should take the time to come and play with them. For me, however, a lovely bonus is how these artists really raise their game to share an equal footing on the stage with these guys. Neil Young announces it´s one of the pleasures of his life to be on the stage with them, I´m pretty sure Dr John is thanking them profusely before his glittering performance of Such A Night but it´s rather unintelligable. Van Morrison wears sparkles, for god´s sake. There are delightful studio performances from The Staples and Emmy Lou too. Levon talking about travelling shows  (Wallcott´s Rabbitfoot Minstrels) is lovely. Richard Manuel smiles discussing The Band´s less iconic previous names. The scene where Rick Danko plays a recording of his solo track Sip The Wine is bliss. Overall though, the solo performances by The Band are the ultimate demonstration that nothing and nobody else is needed but their talent, and their tunes.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Travelling home

There are many things you can call home, a country, a neighbourhood, a house, a van, a person..... or your local pub.

I am lucky, in that I have all those things to call home.

There are few things that render me such an emotional nostalgic wreck as the idea of coming home, and seeing as this feeling resonates with me in so many aspects, it´s a feeling I am well accustomed to.

Music gives this feeling a partner in sound,  and these to me are the best examples.

Tim Buckley- Happy Time

Sweet and warm and light, the sound of´s a happy time inside my mind when a melody does find a rhyme, says to me i´m comin home to stay...... It´s beautiful, advising his mama to "let the morning sun warm your bed while i´m away".

John Martyn- Over The Hill

This beautiful little ditty seems as conflicted and baffling as the man himself. On first listen it´s a yearning for a countryside home and his wife, but it seems the touring life isn´t going to let go too easily. It seems more that home seems to him like an easy escape from ´sweet cocaine and mary jane´, as "there´s just one place for a man to be when he´s worried about his life". Not so romantic then, but a charming tune nonetheless.

Bonnie Raitt- Home

I love this woman and will not rest till she is worshipped for the goddess she is. Her voice to me has a sense of mourning, and is put to great use in this song. "Home sings me of sweet things, my life there has it´s own wings", beautiful stuff, and great imagery.
Travelling at night, the headlights were bright.....

Terry Reid- Faith To Arise

This is such a sweet honest song. He describes being far away, away from his loved one and missing her, and he is on the phone to her and finds he has nothing to say, he just wants to BE THERE. Beautiful lyrics and gorgeous country slide in the mix.

Jethro Tull- Home

It´s so beautiful! So epic, slightly sad.....yet triumphant. Utterly romantic. Under 3 minutes of grand orchestration. "As the dawn breaks over sleepy gardens, I´ll be here to do all things to comfort you. And though I´ve been away, left you alone this way, why don´t you come awake and let your first smile take me home".

Monday, 14 April 2014

If you got it, a truck brought it

 Another example of glorious artwork, a bootleg this time......
Little Feat- On the other foot

Although the sound is slightly muffled, this recording undeniably catches the raw incendiary groove that Little Feat are so well loved for.

It is endearingly created, in very much a rough and homemade style. It is labelled as 'a big boot prod', and uses a name logo that I have never seen on other Little Feat releases.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

The sensual stuff

If you grow up listening to listening to the kind of stuff I did, regardless of how varied it is, you are still presented with sexuality from a very skewed, and very 'male' point of view. Perhaps this is because the women who write and sing openly and confidently about sexuality have been historically suppressed, or tend to be more underground, simply because mainstream press get all uncomfortable about it? I can't think of any parent I know having any major objections to their child listening to say Led Zep's talk of lemon squeezing and juice running, or frankly everything by AC/DC, or the mythical fecundity of early British folk, or any of Leonard Cohen's musings. I don't know if that is because they are respectively, too cryptic, too jokey, too  traditional or too artfully poetic, but however you look at it, male sexuality, whilst not necessarily 'celebrated', is very much the given lyrical content in classic pop music of the 20th century. Female sexuality in pop music lyrics has been harder to seek out, and still has an idiotic element of taboo, which is probably partly why I find it so fascinating.

It would be ignorant and patronising to one-dimensionally categorise relevant examples in the depressing way women often are in the music industry (predator, virgin, scorned harpee....? All relatively familiar) but it has been an exciting adventure to more recently discover such glorious and varied examples of honest and open female songwriting that do not play a role, and do not distinguish between topics of sex and of love, rather to weave them together in an honest reflection of life. It is wonderful to discover lyrical celebrations of wilder sexual fantasies and desires, of smiles at blissful memories, of humiliations, of insecurities and of desperation.

Within this spectrum, likewise, it comes packaged as cryptic, jokey and artfully poetic along with the wonderfully sly, and brass balls bold. The shame would be for anything to be enjoyed for the novelty.....  but perhaps half of its effect comes from the fact that relative to male sexuality, it is still a novelty to hear about?
I don't know.
What I do know is, as much as I love music from a man's point of view, its thrilling to hear from the ladies.

Anyway, here's some stuff.

Joni Mitchell- Coyote
On this live version she really flies, and her face says it all, delicious memories, tinges of disappointment but no regrets.
....dancing close and slow now he's got a woman at home, he's got another woman down the hall he seems to want me anyway, why'd you have to get so drunk and lead me on that way?....

Cowboy Junkies- Black Eyed Man
Her face at this point :
....and he did things to me, things of which I dream of still........
Just elated, and ever so slightly fondly rueful.

Liz Phair- Flower
If I quote any sentence from this it will become a fairly X-rated post and I can't work out if this song has a predatory swagger or a 'sit outside your house with binoculars' kind of vibe but either way... brilliant.

Georgia White- Was I Drunk
Every time I think of him do I shiver?

Tori Amos- Precious Things
Resentful, insecure, angry, defiant.
...So you can make me come it doesn't make you jesus....

Sippie Wallace- I'm A Mighty Tight Woman

Tori Amos- Leather
..I can scream as loud as your last one, but i can't claim innocence....

Ani DiFranco- Dilate