Monday, 8 March 2010

separated at birth?

Rather than do some work, I thought it would be far more productive if I spent my time creating the second in our occasional series of themed albums.  Whilst this sounds rather Nick Hornby as Mike pointed out after the last one, it has the serious intention of introducing a group of culture-starved teachers (all male, of course) to some music they probably would never come into contact with any other way.  So, on with the show. . .

The cover you may have recognised as a parody of Born To Run.  Unfortunately I didn't have a small plastic saxophone so a real harmonica stood in as a replacement.  Why the title?  Well, it's about Cover versions - er, never mind about that, it made sense to me.

If you've been paying attention, you'll be aware that you can only have 12 tracks and there are a few rules attached to the creation of the mini-masterpieces.  You can't have an artist doing a cover of their own song - so, for instance, Clapton's Unplugged Layla isn't allowed.  There were some other rules but I tended to ignore those.

First up is Steve Hillage's cover of Donovan's Hurdy Gurdy Man. The song itself  is a classic psychedelic track from the 1960s - and Hillage was a sort of second generation hippy.  After he left Gong he toured making slightly more commercial music for a while - it was all very far out, man for a second time.  Great use of drones on late 1970s synths and  the Shenai lending it an Eastern air.  After some nice lead guitar, Steve forgets the words and starts singing about the  "Roly Poly Man"; then the band all get bored and start making lots of funny noises on their various improvised electronic "instruments".  Steve shows he can widdle with the best of them even when stoned and it all speeds up and the tape gets swallowed up.

Next up is John Cale's version of Presley's Heartbreak Hotel.  As I was at the recording of this - as a member of the audience - it was always going to be on here. It was recorded at The Rainbow on June 4th 1974 (which happens to be the title of the album) by ACNE (Kevin Ayres, John Cale, Nico and Eno). The late, great Ollie Halsall plays some very  James Bond twangy guitar whilst Eno pretends he can play an instrument in the background irrespective of the actual song being played - much like members of Hillage's band in the previous song.  John Cale gives the song some real angst.  As much of the concert was improvised, it's all very moody and jolly good fun.

Martin Simpson plays the traditional blues of Highway 61 and segues into Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.  A fantastic live solo slide version which really shows Martin's understanding of the blues form and total mastery of the slide guitar.  He's on in Colchester in May, one not to be missed - if he's touring then try to get to see him, you won't be sorry.  It's actually unfair that Simpson can play like this, someone should break his fingers to give everyone else a chance.  Mind you Django Rheinhardt only had two fingers and he could play quite well.  Perhaps I should chop a few fingers off to improve my technique?  I was going to use Dave Alvin's version of this but really thought I should put Que Sera Sera on from his recent Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women cd.  I'd love to see Alvin live - I think I like him because his voice isn't that brilliant.  It's still better than mine, at least he can carry a tune in a bucket.  Mind you the female vocalist goes off-key a bit.  But it's good fun - anyone covering this song has to have fun with it.  The whole idea of Alvin travelling around the States with a band of top class female musicians must have lead to some great festival performances.

I've followed this up with John Tams singing Girl from Rubber Folk - itself a tribute to Rubber Soul.  What do you mean you haven't got it? Tams has a lovely warm voice and is usually heard singing his own traditionally-inspired songs.  You might remember him as Rifleman Daniel Hagman in Sharpe.  Here he sings the song straight with just a ukelele and his foot.  Oh, and a bit of whistling (not my favourite form of musical expression - I was traumatised by Roger Whittaker when young).  It sounds like they wouldn't let him into the studio and he recorded it outside. Quite a few of the songs I've chosen are short, well, except Hillage and Simpson. Next there's another appearance by Shelby Lynne - she was on the album of female singers - this is another one from the same album, A Little Lovin' - which is tribute to Dusty Springfield.  A lovely quiet version of Anybody Who Had A Heart with mainly piano accompaniment.  I know most people think that awful woman from Liverpool did the original.  Sorry, I can't bring myself to type her name.  You know, the one with the really irritating voice. But actually Dusty recorded it before her and anyway, Dionne Warwick got there before either of them. 

A nice version of The Everly Brother's When Will I Be Loved? next sung as a duet by Sandy Denny and Linda Peters (later Thompson).  RT himself plays guitar.  Basically, The Bunch was literally a bunch of folkies from the Fairport family tree who got together in The Manor to record their favourite Rock'n'Roll songs on an album called Rock On in much the same vein as Morris tunes were done on Morris On. There's just lovely singing and a nice, almost innocent charm about this album.

Peter Gabriel has recently released an album of covers and Waterloo Sunset is from that.  It's not on the ordinary version - this is from the extended download from iTunes.  This has always been a favourite song - let's face it, I don't know anyone who doesn't love it.  The album has been promoted as a "no guitars and no drums" album. I think that means "orchestral backing".  Old Ray himself has recently been working with an orchestra, I believe.  I've always loved Gabriel's voice. Originally I was going to use an obscure version of Strawberry Fields Forever that he recorded before he left Genesis but unfortunately when I found it on the internet it hasn't aged well.  If you can imagine Kermit the frog with a sore throat, you might get the picture. This is much better.  I'd love to be able to sing like Gabriel.  Actually, I'd just love to be able to sing.

What can I say about RT's Oops. . .I Did It Again?  Absolutely cracking.  Evidently Playboy asked various musicians what their favourite songs of the last 1000 years were.  What they meant was the last 50 years - ie since the R'n'R years.  RT gave them a list of songs that genuinely covered the last 1000 years.  Funnily enough they didn't use his list, but it gave him a great idea for a show.  It's well worth catching if you can (even if he does do an ABBA song - and you won't see that palindrome on these pages again).  He takes the song completely straight and it's recorded live with just an acoustic guitar.  It sounds ridiculous until you hear it.  Brilliant.  My son prefers this to the original.  I wonder if Britney will respond in kind - I can imagine her singing 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Or possibly Killerman Gold Posse. Well, perhaps not.

Keeping the RT theme going, The Blind Boys Of Alabama are next singing Dimming Of The Day.  They used to be The Five Blind Boys Of Alabama but some of them have died.  Eventually there will only be one.  I wonder if he'll go solo then or go out as The Blind Boy Of Alabama?  Anyway, this is from Beat The Retreat which has REM, Bonnie Raitt, David Byrne et al doing RT songs.  Everyone's doing Dimming now, David Gilmour does it and believe this or not, I hear that Michael Ball has covered it!  My mum liked him so I won't be rude.  David Hildago from Los Lobos (they're on it too) is playing the lap slide - I want one of those but my wife won't let me buy anymore guitars.  Unless Ikea start selling them. Simpson uses one well too. Anyway, where was I?

I was going to put 10,000 Maniacs doing Cat Stevens' Peace Train on here but you can't get it now after all that silliness about Rushdie's fatwa ( actually . . . no, I'd better not say it.  But I don't actually know anybody that reads his books) so I went for this excellent live Unplugged MTV version of Patti Smith's cover of  the Springsteen song (Ah! A connection to the cover!).  Natalie Merchant.  What a voice.  What a great band they were.  I believe she covered Sandy Denny's Who Knows Where The Time Goes?, so I must seek that out.  Acoustic guitars, drums and an orchestra and such a great powerful song.  Patti Smith is flavour of the month on Radio 4 at the moment.  It had nothing to do with this choice.  I'm not a Smith fan.

And finally, how could I not end with Ry Cooder covering Ledbelly's Goodnight Irene?  Joe Brown performed this on a ukelele at George Harrison's tribute gig - I think he may have played it at his funeral too.  Ukeleles, eh?  Cooder uses the full Chicken Skin Music band with old Flaco Jimenez wailing away on accordian.  Great song, great version.  I love that great fat Fender Strat sound Cooder used in the 1970s with a nice interplay between Ry and Flaco - this is done in Mexican waltz time and is a great way to finish . . .

. . .But then I couldn't resist a bonus track.  I saw Ade Edmundson & The Bad Shepherds last year at Cropredy.  Their version of old punk songs performed as folk songs is a brilliant crowd pleaser.  This version of The Jam's Down In The Tube Station At Midnight is spot on. It uses mandolin, acoustic guitar and fiddle to great effect.  A slightly querulous voice tells us of the unfortunate victim and the pathos of the last few lines as he realises in his dying moments that they have the keys to his house where his wife is waiting for him is quite touching.  When the song speeds up to lead in to the beating sequence and the backing vocals sing the "oh-oh-oh-ooohs" it all has the excitement of a ceilidh band.  Live they're fantastic.  This may be a little underpowered but it's good fun.  Okay, Edmundson isn't a great singer but I think they're great.  Catch them live.


Mike C. said...

Hmm, cover versions... I was going to get all philosophical and wonder out loud what a "cover version" is, strictly speaking, but...

Here are a few that have stuck in my mind:

Flying Lizards -- Money (Beatles)
John Coltrane -- My Favo(u)rite Things (Sound of Muzak)
Kelly Joe Phelps -- Good Night, Irene (Leadbelly)
The Bunch -- When Will I Be Loved? (Everly Bros.)
K.D. Lang -- Helpless (N. Young)
Rod Stewart & Faces -- Little Wing (Hendrix)
Steely Dan -- East St. Louis Toodle-oo (Duke Ellington)
Madeleine Peyroux -- Dance Me To the End of Love (Leonard Cohen)

I think for pure, interpretive mischief the Flying Lizards top the chart. If you don't know Phelps' version of "Irene" (from "Shine Eyed Mr. Zen") it's highly recommended.


Brendini said...

I would have included Tom Waits's version of Somewhere. For me it is almost heartbreaking in its poignancy.

Dave Leeke said...

Interesting, Mike, that we have both gone for When Will I Be Loved? by The Bunch - My Girl In The Month Of May is my favourite but I'm only allowed one RT number - and Oops was always going to be there! East St Louis Toodle-oo I totally agree with and am holding it back for the inevitable Instrumentals album. I'll check out Mr Phelps.

Brendan: I'm sure that part of Saturday evening will be given over to a discussion of this, but we will forever differ over TW, I'm afraid. But interestingly as you've said you'd put it on - what from my list would you take off?

Brendini said...

I think I would have to harden my heart and drop Ry Cooder. Right, you can stop that shouting right now, young man.
My reasoning would be that almost every Cooder album contains a cover in some form or other and it's time to give somebody else a fair crack of the whip. That somebody, in this instance, is Tom Waits. He doesn't often do covers and Somewhere is rather special.

Dave Leeke said...

Well, you're wrong.

Brendini said...

Dave, I realise that the beautifully constructed argument that you put forward is well nigh impossible to refute, but I shall attempt to do so.
The song, Somewhere, comes from West Side Story - a repositioning of Shakespeare's Verona to New York in the Fifties. The West Side of New York in the Fifties was very different from the current location of the Lincoln Centre (Center?). The racial prejudice, prostitution, drug-taking and small-time criminality are all made explicit in the musical. In short, the drama of West Side Story is set amidst severe social deprivation. From this social wasteland emerges a song of hopefull futility, Somewhere. For the protaginists of this song there is no "Somewhere". It is a futile dream. They will never get to their "Somewhere", their social circumstances will never allow it.
Enter Tom Waits and his down and out, drunken bar-fly, bum persona at the time of his recording of this song. From the lush, orchestrated strings of a deeply misunderstood show tune, rumbles a drunken whiskey-soaked growl of a voice looking for hope from the depths of despair. It even finds a strand of bravado during the middle eight, when it is accompanied by a solo (solo, mark you) trumpet that could be played by some lone soul on some New York tenement fire-escape on a hot summer's night. But I repeat, it is a futile hope and the futility of that hope is recognised by the softening of the singers' voice in the last three words: Someday, somehow, somewhere. The crushing of futile hope is realised in those last three words.
That is why I find this cover by Tom Waits so touching and so moving.

Dave Leeke said...

All joking aside - the nature of the admittedly Hornbyesque project is to introduce others to music that we like and feel that others would benefit from hearing. The very fact that music is based on mood (I can't always listen to, for instance, Lucinda Williams because her voice can grate after a while). It is also exciting, ephemeral, life-changing and life-affirming among other things. People even take it to War - bagpipes, drums, bugles etc.

The case you put forward is heartfelt and if you were a member of staff at my school you would have put it on your disc and others would listen and make their own judgement. I'm afraid that many people listen (to mix metaphors) in a blinkered way - especially me, as you know!

So, I'm expecting you to re-present your case tomorrow evening (with the evidence) with your usual sharp, sober panache.

Personally I can't stand him as he's an acquired taste like Laughing Len. I think both of them write great songs - I prefer the Jennifer Warnes' album "Jenny Sings Lennie" (aka "Famous Blue Raincoat"). I just can't get on with Tom. He was good as Renton in "Dracula".

And anyway, it's my list and should I do it tomorrow it would probably be quite different.

It still wouldn't have Tom Waits on it, though.

Mike C. said...

Bravo, Brendini -- an excellent case. I will go and listen to this now.

We had an artist/performer at our local art gallery last year called Jay Bolotin who sang some gravel-voiced songs falling in just this territory -- it was a very intense experience.


Dave Leeke said...

Now I feel like everyone's ganging up on me.

Brendini said...

Thank you, Mike, you are obviously a gentleman of breeding and good taste.
Dave, I'm afraid my re-presentation of my case will probably be along the lines of, "Dave, Dave! Come an' lissen t' this. It's fuggin' great it is. Lissen, lissen to this bit..." ad nauseum.

Dave Leeke said...

As I said, your usual sharp sober panache . . .

Andy Wright said...

Mmm.......I was going to talk about my passion for the 'Crazy Horses' album by the Osmonds circa 1971 but I'm too frightened.
I hope there is not too much blood on the walls after the Saturday evening discussion. Enjoy yourselves!