28 January 2009
Label: For Us
Year of Release: 1998
I feel as if I'm on something of a roll on the whole topic of novelty tracks, the Internet, mash-ups, sampling, and suchlike. And it's curious how frequently the four things collide as well - there must be more novelty electronic sample city tracks out there than novelty rock records, certainly over the last two decades. I blame the KLF.
The Cuban Boys, however, were in some way deemed so radical that they regularly occupied the loftiest positions on John Peel's Festive Fifty, this despite the fact that to all intents and purposes they were creating populist ditties which probably excited Jonathan King on a daily basis as well. There were a number of factors which caused this situation to emerge - firstly, they were, to the best of my knowledge, one of the very first acts to spread the word about their music over the Internet. Whilst it's true to say that even the worst local bands have MySpace pages and their own sites at present, in 1998 this was considered strangely progressive, and a direct stab in the eyeballs for The Man and his wife.
They also used the Internet for source materials, their sole hit "Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia" sampling the Hamster Dance website - a site, lest we forget, consisting entirely of a bunch of badly animated hamsters grooving along to a yodelling soundtrack, which is clearly what passed for fun at some point in my lifetime, though I don't feel nostalgic about it. Some name this as being the first example of an Internet viral. "Cognoscenti Vs Intelligentsia" was certainly the first example of a band using an Internet viral as the basis for a song and having a massive hit with it. These days, of course, the makers of the site themselves would probably be sly enough to sell the music in mp3 form through their own domain (as Weebls Stuff have with "Badger Badger Badger" and other such viral classics).
Additionally, they were originally cloaked under a veil of anonymity, and rumours were spread - either by the band or excitable listeners - that they were a side project for any number of unlikely people, Paul Weller included. If the band did indeed make this up and spread it around themselves, I have to hand it to them as a stroke of genius. Who on Earth actually believed that the world's most dour man produced a record sampling the Hamster Dance website? He'd need to have had some kind of mental breakdown before even considering it. Spreading Internet rumours about Paul Weller doing all manner of unlikely, UnWellerish things should be a national pastime, and I would encourage you to all indulge this whim on a daily basis.
"Oh My God They Killed Kenny!" was (logically enough) a record which sampled both South Park and the glam rock band Kenny, a move of which I wholeheartedly approve. Far too fun to ever really grow irritating, and managing to sound messy, chaotic and anarchic rather than scrubbed and polished for provincial dancefloors, it still sounds unique today. The band's approach remains progressive today as well. I originally ripped the vinyl to upload on here, then discovered upon further investigation that the band include the A side and the B side as a free download on the website, so I actually need not have bothered. It's a night away from Sharebee's upload progress bar for me, then, as I just take you straight to their site via the below link.
For those of you who are wondering why the label states "We Salute You Captain Eastwood", it's because the band were often favourably reviewed by Stephen Eastwood on Teletext. It's peculiar to think that a band who used an invention which would lead to the death of Teletext as the foremost electronic information tool were also one who were wholeheartedly endorsed by it. The Cuban Boys are indeed just one big furry paradox.
25 January 2009
Label: Bam Caruso
Year of Release: 1999
Bam Caruso were well known for putting out lorryloads of compilation CDs focussing on obscure sixties pop and psychedelia, but the "Garagelands" duo of albums - which they might possibly have intended to turn into a fully fledged series, but I'm none too sure - were the rummest of them all. It was almost as if the people behind the label started off purely with the intention of releasing a lot of hard hitting, messy American garage rock, then ran out of records to choose from and began throwing on bits of soul and pop on there as well.
The liner notes are non-existent and so leave us none the wiser, but the scrappy nature of these albums is actually enormous fun if you're in the right frame of mind. Alongside The Cascades brilliant cover of Buffalo Springfield's "Flying On The Ground" sits The Stereo Shoestrings beserk garage version of The Pretty Things "Defecting Grey", retitled "On The South Road". Then there's The Epic Spleandor's superb take on The Smoke's "It Could Be Wonderful" which has the same clumsy soul about it as The Orange Juice would have two decades later, and Gene Vincent of all people screeching through "Bird Doggin". Questionable research rears its head on the same volume by the inclusion of The Polistyrene Jass Band's "Drano in Your Veins" - they were actually an experimental seventies punk outfit, and not a sixties one, but as it was on a white label and it sounds as if it completely belongs to the previous era, I suppose we can forgive all concerned.
Volume One is less diverse in its nature stylistically, but somehow less pleasing to my ears, although the psychedelic soul of The Sunliners "Land of Nod" is a curious and worthy inclusion, and early tracks involving Alice Cooper and Todd Rundgren (in The Spiders and The Nazz respectively) mean it focusses itself more on collector's curios, and less on high quality music.
Still though, both albums have returned to my stereo frequently over the last decade, and the fact that they were rushed out and then disappeared off record store shelves quite quickly would suggest that either there were copyright issues with one or two of the tracks, or else they were just a couple of limited edition runs which were never supposed to hang around forever. That means that you, the listener, have been missing out on a lot of great music for quite some time now, though, so please do at least download Volume Two below. You won't regret it.
Also, in case you were wondering, the Steve Davis singing "She Said Yeah" is definitely not the professional snooker player. I have frequently imagined it might be him, though, and that the accompanying promotional video would feature him singing down a snooker cue... but I'm sure you all have your own particular flights of fantasy which trouble you daily.
Volume One Tracklisting
1. The Leather Boy - On The Go
2. Corporate Image - Not Fade Away
3. The Third Booth - I Need Love
4. Jokers Wild - All I See Is You
5. The Wanted - Here To Stay
6. The Grim Reapers - Two Souls
7. The Plastic Blues Band - Gone
8. Gasoline Powered Clock - Forest Fire on Main Street (Run, Run, Run)
9. The Leather Boy - Soulin'
10. Peabody - Days of Rest
11. The Beckett Quintet - No Correspondence
12. The Spiders - Don't Blow Your Mind
13. The Peppermint Trolley Company - 9 o'Clock Business Man
14. The Gentrys - You Make Me Feel Good
15. Fountain of Youth - Don't Blame Me (For Trying)
16. The Nazz - Lay Down and Die, Goodbye
17. Mystery Track
18. The Sunliners - Land of Nod
19. Era of Sound - Girl in the Mini Skirt
20. The Wanted - Midnight Hour
21. The New Yorkers - Mr Kirby
22. The Cincinnati Music Co - Let's Do The Thing
23. The Household Sponge - Second Best
24. Vinnie Basile & The Staccatos - Gypsy Girl
25. The Shades - Ballot Bachs
26. The Household Sponge - Scars
27. The Onion Rings - She's Gonna Cry
28. The Grim Reepers - Joanne
29. The Wylde Maniacs - Why (Ain't Love Fair?)
30. 5 Americans - Don't Blame Me
31. The Shy Guys - We Gotta Go
1. Painted Faces - Anxious Colour
2. Velvet Illusions - Velvet Illusion
3. Painted Ship - Frustration
4. White Light - William
5. Stereo Shoestrings - On The South Road
6. Power - Children Ask
7. Polistyrene Jass Band - Circus Highlights
8. Polistyrene Jass Band - Drano In Your Veins
9. The New Life - Ha Lese (Le Di Khanna)
10. The Jefferson Handkerchief - I'm Allergic to Flowers
11. The Cascades - Flying on the Ground
12. C.A. Quintet - Doctor of Philosophy
13. The Barracuda - The Dance at St Francis
14. Cyrus Erie - Sparrow
15. Beacon Street Union - Four-O-Five
16. Iron Butterfly - Evil Temptation
17. The Accents - You Don't Love Me
18. Sid Herring and the Gants - Another Chance
19. Sid Herring and the Gants - Whats Your Name
20. Peter Fonda - November Nights
21. Randy Fuller - Temptation
22. The Epic Spleandor - It Could Be Wonderful
23. Steve Davis - She Said Yeah
24. Yellow Hand - Down To The Wire
25. Gene Vincent - Bird Doggin'
26. The Vita-Men - Frogs Legs
27. The Unclaimed - Memories Of Green Eyes
28. Noony Rickett - This is the Time
22 January 2009
Label: 2 Damn Loud
Year of Release: 1995
Yes folks, I most definitely was waiting for a quiet January day to upload this one, and that's for one pure and simple reason - Blessed Ethel don't seem to be quoted frequently enough as a reminder of just how much folly is involved with attempting to predict the future of music. Splattered all across the pages of the British broadsheets and music press this month we've heard all about how ladies with synthesisers are going to "define 2009". Based purely upon a bunch of guesstimates, wishful thinking and the close inspection of major label A&R activity (as plenty of other bloggers have already pointed out) I have real, serious doubts that this will come to pass, to the extent that I've been considering taking an actual bet against it down my local Paddy Power. I'm not too sure that the odds I'd receive would make it worth my while, though.
We need only look back to 1993 to witness the music industry making a similar bizarre prediction. At the Manchester In The City event, a bunch of journalists and music industry "movers and shakers" declared that Blessed Ethel were the best new act of the year. The band they beat were Oasis. Hopefully I don't need to point out how askew this particular prediction was. Blessed Ethel scraped the Indie Top 10 a few times before disappearing, whereas Oasis still have a successful career and a string of ridiculously highly selling albums behind them - somewhat baffling though their longevity actually is.
Blessed Ethel have now fallen by the wayside so badly that they don't even have a Wikipedia page - how's that for infamy? - but for the record, I can state that they hailed from Malvern, were fronted by Sara Doran, and much was made in the music press about their 'outsider' status. Although I don't have the article to hand anymore, I used to have a clipping from the NME which made much of the fact that they were considered weirdos in the very provincial, posh town they stemmed from. It made them sound like mutant renegades stuck in commuterville - although it was written by Steven Wells, so it's quite possible he was just projecting his rock and roll ideas on to them.
Whatever (no pun intended), the press they received definitely made them sound more interesting than Oasis, but unfortunately sometimes the weirdos don't necessarily have the best tunes. Blessed Ethel had one complete stormer entitled "Rat" which rightly received rave reviews, then a few other singles slipped out which were quite good - which obviously wasn't enough to justify their initial hype. "Fat Star" is but one of them, and whilst there's a creepy moodiness about the track which makes it sound comparable to Elastica at their darkest ("S.O.F.T." or "Never Here") there's nothing to suggest they were in any way unique or ahead of the pack at the time, although if we must lump them in with other female fronted bands, I'd argue they deserved success more than Echobelly or Sleeper ever did.
What we're left with seems to be the typical story of a band who the music press would rather forget about, purely because any mention of them just highlights their woeful wrongness in the past. They shouldn't be so coy - apparently Alan McGee was the only person at Creation Records who thought Oasis would make it as well.
Somebody has uploaded a clip of "Rat" to Youtube as well, but it's only thirty seconds long:
19 January 2009
Label: Black Melody
Year of Release: 2000
As we begin the final year of the "noughties", as this decade has been rather unsatisfyingly referred to by most people (is it really the best we could collectively do?) it's hard to think of many musical genres, innovations or even quirks which arrived as the 21st Century began to make itself comfortable. Whatever the quality of the music itself has been like - and that's probably no better or worse than most other decades, if we were to do a fair analysis of it - it's still a source of disappointment to me that a technological leap like the Fairlight didn't come along to change the way people thought about writing music. It seemed as if it should have done. In the early part of the nineties, revolutionary new sound recording systems were written about by hi-fi journalists, and we were told that music would soon wrap itself around your ears in three dimensions and smother you, even on ordinary, cheap steroes. Hasn't bloody happened yet, though, has it? The way we purchase music may have changed, but it still sounds much the same*.
In fact, the only real noughties trend which some people seem to argue is without precedent is the mash-up. Taking the melody of one record and splicing the vocals (or other aspects) of another across the top of it has become an online phenomenon, although the limits of such an idea meant that the whole affair appeared to have totally lost the interest of most record buyers by early 2005 (and I remain convinced that I first heard somebody say mash-ups were 'over' in 2001). I have heard that club promoters threaten DJs who play mash-ups now with their P45s. From starting life as a bold and exciting new way of crossing genres and making people realise that everything is, as Andy Partridge once said, pop, then becoming a worn and tired gimmick, it's perfectly possible that people will actually be nostalgic about mash-ups next year if things move fast enough.
For what it's worth, I was genuinely excited about them when they first became apparent to me. OK, admittedly the first I heard - Evolution Control Committee's "Rebel Without A Pause" in 1998 - seemed more like a laugh-up-one's-sleeve attempt to soften Public Enemy by mixing them with Herb Alpert than having any kind of particular point. By the time I caught some of the Girls On Top mixes by Richard X, however, I was totally and utterly sold on the idea. It seemed to me to be something that, far from being remixing at its most idle, utilised the new tools and the ease of access of knowledge available to the music lover. As more people began illegally downloading and therefore sampling a wider range of music from the present and the past, the idea of welding it together into one strangely workable whole seemed enticing. It could be distributed easily (the above is a bootleg seven inch white label single, but by the mid-part of the decade most people were doing this online), created without too much fuss, and - without being explicit, and perhaps in most cases purely by accident - toyed with people's ideas about such precious things as 'classic rock' or seminal sounds.
Whilst the best Girls On Top release by far was "We Don't Give A Damn About Our Friends" which later became "Freak Like Me" by the Sugababes (a cover of a mash-up? How preposterous), "Being Scrubbed" is still a great little chunk of vinyl, mixing TLC's "No Scrubs" with The Human League's "Being Boiled". It's low grade eighties electronic music mixed with sex, replacing something which seemed cold and calculated with urban sass. Every time I hear it, I think that it's probably what The Human League would have wanted to sound like eventually, if they'd actually stumbled across TLC rather than some girls at the Sheffield disco.
The other side mixes Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" with Kraftwerk's "Numbers", and comes out less successfully, but still works well enough to be more than just a casual gimmick. Whitney sounds better than she did on The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu's "Whitney Joins The Jams", which I've often suspected this is referencing - here she sounds like she belongs rather than gatecrashing into the mix. For all their pioneering work in illegal sampling, Drummond and Cauty could never quite master the art of making Abba, Whitney, Jimi Hendrix, or The Fall sound like anything other than rude interlopers. The best of these records, on the other hand, are inclusive, seamless affairs.
By the time 2010 rolls around it's unlikely anybody will still be bothering with this stuff apart from a few die-hard mixers on some Internet forums, keeping the flame alive for the sake of a sense of community rather than the end product itself. That shouldn't be surprising. There are limits to how far you can take this kind of idea before everybody gets bored. Nonetheless, whilst I frequently bemoan the fact that the sound of music didn't greatly change in the so-called noughties, I quite like the fact that, right at the starting block, we had a phenomenon that claimed that all music was just pop, and could be listened to as such - that artists who seemed to exist at polar opposites to each other actually weren't that far apart, and could co-exist happily. It's perhaps not the terrible start to the century some would say it is.
Now it's over with, let's move on to the future, shall we?
(*Yes, I know the big technological revolution in this decade has been the cheapness and ease of availability of decent home recording equipment. I'm not that daft.)
15 January 2009
It's been one of my aims since starting this blog to upload a compilation of novelty tracks. For decades, "novelty pop" has been a phrase which has been spat out in disgust by critics and consumers. If it's sent to journalists for review, it's generally stuffed straight into the bin or given a few savage sentences milking the supposedly sorry affair for as many laughs as possible.
In many respects, though, novelty tracks are the undiluted, raw essence of pop music, overpowering in their melodic punches, the sheer force of which repels a great many listeners. They were around before rock and roll even existed, in the guise of feelgood numbers about the most ridiculous nonsense imaginable (fruit seemed to feature a great deal, for some reason) and later covered by the Bonzo Dog Band. Then when rock music came along, they were swift to adapt, incorporating the sounds and noises of a gigging electric band, but still retaining the same basic rules. There are several key things most novelty tracks will have, although they won't necessarily contain all of the below:
* A jokey catchphrase or lyrical hookline - and the more frequently it can be repeated, the better. Novelty pop loves to take phrases or slogans of the day and make them its very centrepiece, and the composers seem to continually have their ears to the ground and their eyes on television shows to steal whatever they can. Where this isn't possible, a totally surreal, meaningless and yet somehow pleasing sentence will frequently suffice.
* The earworm factor. It has to be insanely, ridiculously catchy, like some kind of supernova pop music - as subtle as a brick in the face. It will sink in on the first listen alone, and then generally be destroyed by radio DJs who won't realise when the joke is over and everybody's had enough. Novelty pop does curious things to your brain, but that doesn't make it evil, just very effective at its job. You'll still remember "Star Trekkin'" note and lyric perfect long after you've forgotten what the verses to Madcon's "Beggin'" sound like.
* A slightly quirky attitude. Oddness abounds in novelty tracks, and they'll tend to emphasise eccentricity in a way that 'normal' pop hasn't really done in some time now. So Lieutenant Pigeon will happily invite their mother to play ragtime piano with them and have a stuffed pigeon sat on the drumkit. The KLF created a talking American police car for "Doctorin' The Tardis". Christ almighty, even The Tweets (not featured here, you'll be relieved to know) pranced around in giant bird costumes on Top of the Pops. Random curveballs are the novelty song's prerogative, and if they don't do it with the image, then by God they'll try to throw some odd sound or beat into the mix at some point. A good novelty record should stick out like a sore thumb in the chart rundown if it gets that far, but despite this will usually have got there by being playlisted. The normal rules seldom apply, which is why at the height of Madchester one of the biggest Christmas hits was "Donald Where's Your Troosers".
* Never out-stays its welcome. Radio DJs may play it ten times daily, and the appeal may wear thin as a result, but the track itself knows its sledgehammer effect will be massively reduced by being five minutes long. Good novelty is kept short and sharp, and if you feel you want to stick it on again immediately afterwards, then its job is especially well done.
Besides the above is also another tier of novelty pop, consisting of spin-off songs involving TV themes or characters, or actors or comedians attempting a serious career as musical artists. This kind of music doesn't always adhere to the rules laid out above, although, much like its session musician cousin, it is invariably never considered fashionable however effective the end results are. In fact, frequently sales are also disappointing. Vic Reeves "I Will Cure You" really might just as well never have existed as an album for all it gets talked about now (almost never) and yet in terms of production and wit it's a complete gem. And nobody bothered to buy any Kenny Everett records until he went into character on "Snot Rap" - missing out on a few sunshine sixties gems in the process, which are so under-referenced most people fail to realise they even exist.
Above all else, be cautious of just what is disparagingly labelled "novelty". "Popcorn" by Hot Butter, for instance, is a marvellous early piece of electronic music which the more tedious synthesiser experimentalists of the era couldn't have come up with. Compare and contrast their output, if you want - even the very poppy Jean Michel Jarre didn't manage to create sounds so effective and music so hook-laden at the same time.
Some of the below is huge fun, and frothy thrills abound - you won't want to hear other tracks more than a few times. That's fine. This is an excuse to have some fun rather than to sneer at the output of the people behind these discs. Longevity shouldn't be expected, and these aren't lost classics - but they are great diversions, for many different reasons.
A few points/ excuses. Firstly, I've tried to provide the year of release and label in the notes below, but it hasn't always been easy. Most of these songs are from my own collection, but quite a few have been sourced elsewhere, and as these records are seldom talked about even online, it's hard to find the missing information. Secondly, the sound quality may vary, for which I apologise. Thirdly, quite a few of these were hits, which breaks this blog's rules. However, this is fair in this instance (because I say so). Most of them won't have been played on the radio since the last week they sat in the Top 40, will have been unloved and untouched by classic rock radio, and ditched into Oxfam by their owners during the first major house move.
Now... enjoy yourselves. It's later than you think.
1. Denim – The New Potatoes (Emidisc – 1997)
There are precious few better tracks I could think of to kick off this compilation. Straight off Denim’s “Novelty Rock” album of B-sides and studio offcuts, “New Potatoes” manages to encapsulate everything that’s great about novelty tracks in a very short spintime. There’s ludicrous, childish humour, stupid voices, dated synth noises, and a tune that may very well earworm you to death. It sounds like a musical theme from a failed and outlandish eighties children’s TV show, but the entire concept of the adventures of some new potatoes seems to have come solely out of Lawrence’s demented mind rather than that of a television executive.
More to the point, Lawrence was one of the first musicians to speak out on behalf of the novelty or bubblegum record in the music press, attempting to turn what was considered a source of endless naffness into a virtue. Our cause was his cause first.
2. Big Cherry – Come In Bonzo (Penny Farthing – 1973)
Mind you, Big Cherry’s bizarro B-side “Come In Bonzo” is no less ludicrous, where the lead singer assumes the role of a disgruntled cockney canine grumbling on in detail about the finer points of his daily life, pissing up lamp-posts and eating cheap dog food included. Lyrically, there’s some rather classy comic lines in this track, which for what was an apparently off-the-cuff flipside to a bubblegum track is quite unexpected. Denim, it’s safe to say, would probably have given away their box of Bell 45s to have thought this one up.
3. Mike Melvoin – The Ballad of John and Yoko (Dot Records)
From the album “The Plastic Cow Goes Mooooog”, this analogue synth reimagining of The Beatles single is wobbly, freakish and slightly uneasy sounding, everything the original wasn’t, in fact, catching The Beatles during their “back to basics” phase as it did. Mike Melvoin is usually a jazz pianist, but the one-off Moog album he released is actually a cheering listen provided its not swallowed whole in one sitting. Be careful with your dosage, now.
4. Jumbo – He Goes Blah Blah (Accion – 1972)
This Dutch single describes the endless trials and tribulations of parenthood in direct and insistent terms, referring to sleepness nights, and most especially toddler nonsense-speak. “He goes blah blah/ he goes blah blah/ he goes blah blah/ he goes blah/ he is making mummy mad” runs the chorus. Minimalist genius, if you ask me.
5. The Who – Waspman (Track – 1973)
And here’s where the shit potentially hits the fan with a lot of casual surfers who might land on this page due to a Google search. Defending myself in advance of any attacks from rock purists out there, I fully appreciate that The Who were not in any sense a “novelty band”. Tucked away on the b-side of “Relay”, however, lies this little gem which really couldn’t be described in any other way. In it, Keith Moon spends three minutes making buzzing noises and saying “sting!” in a camp voice, whilst Roger Daltrey passionately cries “Waspman!” in background.
The idea for the track apparently came about when Pete Townshend observed Keith Moon running up and down the asile of an aeroplane wearing a baseball cap with a propeller on it and a stripey yellow and black top, doing impressions of a wasp for the entertainment of the passengers. That particular image makes this an even more pleasing, although no less absurd, three minutes.
6. Lurch – The Lurch (Capitol – 1965)
Spin-off singles from comedy series are of course standard novelty fare, and this particular Addams Family effort unexpectedly flopped on its release. That’s an undignified way to treat a single which attempts to teach you how to dance like Lurch, complete with bemused sounding commentary from the butler himself. Well, you’d be bemused as well if a bunch of teens turned up at your creepy residence demanding you show them your non-existent moves.
7. Lieutenant Pigeon – Gordon’s Rainbow Wranglers
No novelty compilation would really be complete without The Pigeon treating us to some Joe Meek inspired ragtime about nothing of any significance whatsoever. This track seems to be coercing a chap called Gordon to shake his rainbow coloured Wranglers, which predates Trevor and Simon’s antics by several years at least.
8. The Timelords – Gary In The Tardis (KLF Communications – 1988)
When the KLF’s Doctor Who and Gary Glitter sampling, proto-mash up single “Doctorin’ The Tardis” climbed the charts giving Drummond and Cauty their first hit, they hit upon the idea of having a Gary Glitter vocal version as a limited edition. And this is it – some readers may find the concept of Glitter asking “Do you wanna touch me?” rather uncomfortable, but for these people the ‘skip’ button exists.
9. Alexei Sayle – ‘Ullo John Gotta New Motor? (Spring – 1982)
Novelty and spin-off singles are generally regarded as being the preserve of naff light entertainment, so it’s genuinely surprising just how many of the alternative set in the eighties seemed to flock towards the recording studio to mixed results. “’Ullo John Gotta New Motor” is a bafflingly bare, repetitive piece of work during which Sayle barks out deranged slogans and cockney banter. It’s not as good as you remember it, but it’s still worth a few spins, and is possibly to Spinmaster Plantpot’s career what The Everley Brothers were to Lennon and McCartney.
10. Bad News – Bohemian Rhapsody (EMI – 1987)
And long after Sayle gave up on the idea of bothering the music industry, here are three of his ex-cohorts (Mayall, Edmondson and Planer) parodying a crap heavy metal band to accompany the Comic Strip spoof documentaries “Bad News” and “More Bad News”. It’s difficult to know what they were trying to achieve here – unlike Spinal Tap, this is the work of a band so unspeakably awful they would never have been signed. It’s also impossible to understand how they seem to have dropped several levels of proficiency since the bogus rockumentary aired. “Masturbike”, “Bad News” and “Warriors of Genghis Khan” had considerably more musicality and oomph to them than this.
Questions about plot continuity aside, this is possibly the worst rendition of the Queen song ever recorded.
11. Snuff – Theme From “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?” (Deceptive – 1996)
Snuff frequently managed to pack out venues with their punk cover versions of popular television adverts such as the “Shake n Vac” theme. TV themes were also something of a speciality, and this is handled with the same set of heavy hands, and a brilliant Chucklevision inspired “To me, to you” lyrical reinterpretation. The sound of two birds being killed with a very weighty stone.
12. A Tribe of Toffs – John Kettley is a Weatherman (Neat – 1988)
“They invented the Arctic Monkeys!” scoff lots of internet wags, which of course is patently false. What is curious about this record, though, is that it probably did suffer from the ill effects of Indie snobbery. Had it sold 500 copies and got John Peel airplay, there’s little doubt that somebody on Tweenet would probably be singing its praises and talking about its delightful charms right now. Because it got on Children’s BBC and charted within the Top 40 instead, it’s since been forgotten about. Consider balance restored.
13. Vic Reeves – Summer of ’75 (Sense – 1991)
From the “I Will Cure You” album, Reeves and Mortimer here aggressively tear into their folk parody with far more effective teeth than Shane MacGowan’s. Includes an utterly marvelous description of al fresco pissing.
14. The Firm – Arthur Daley (‘e’s Alright) (Bark – 1982)
Ask who recorded this in a pub quiz, and inevitably 95% of all correspondents will answer “Chas and Dave”. Incorrect. This was a minor hit and the work of the people behind “Star Trekkin” and (less favourably) Grahame Lister’s “Fish and Chips in Spain” which I’ve already spat out with disgust elsewhere on this blog. This unofficial tribute to the “Minder” series is notable for being more humorous and jaunty than the official single “What Are We Gonna Get For ‘Er Indoors”, which was lamentable.
15. The Majamood – 200 Million Red Ants (Twirl – 1966)
Proof positive that twee shambling records were around long before C86 was a twinkle in the fringe-obscured eyes of a thousand Gillespie clones, “200 Million Red Ants” is the biggest load of nonsense I’ve ever heard commited to seven inch vinyl, but it’s so absurdly gloomy in its delivery that it doesn’t deserve to languish in complete obscurity. The prospect of a mass invasion of red ants seems like a probable affair in the Majamood’s capable hands, although they don’t sound as if they’d be much help in such a crisis.
16. Velodrome 2000 – Bobby Gillespie is a Virgin (Bluefire – 1998)
And talking of Bobby Gillespie, this childish playground taunt of a track analyses the likelihood of the man having had zero sexual action in his life. “Whassa matter Bobby, are you afraid of GIRLS???!!” they sneer. There will be people out there who will argue this isn’t a ‘novelty’ track but a ‘twee’ one. Please ignore them. Velodrome 2000 may well be a twee band, but this is jokey crowd-pleasing and sloganeering at its best.
17. New World – Scheherazade (Saga)
A session musician’s workout from the budget label Saga’s “Golden Trumpet” compilation album, I have nothing to say about this particular piece apart from the fact that I have no idea what anyone involved with it was actually trying to achieve. It’s almost terrifying.
18. Robin Workman – I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do (1976)
More moog action here, only this time of an Abba shaped variety. Taken from the album “Moog Plays Abba”.
19. Larry Grayson – Shut That Door (York - 1972)
Novelty singles from light entertainers litter the seventies like endless bits of shrapnel. Hell, there’s even a Rod Hull and Emu one out there, and Emu doesn’t actually make any noises on it (as indeed he never did) so Lord knows what his function in the studio was. A Bez-like vibemaster, perhaps?
Larry Grayson, of course, is far from silent here, wittering away throughout this record, effectively managing to wear out all the catchphrases he used in his career across its playing time. It’s actually quite charming and harmless, and infinitely better than the studio work of many of his peers.
20. Tiny Tim – Daddy, Daddy, What Is Heaven Like? (Reprise – 1968)
I can’t help but feel guilty about bracketing Tiny Tim as a novelty artist. His debut long player “God Bless Tiny Tim” is actually a piece of heavily arranged absurdity which outshines many supposedly serious pieces of work from the same era, but then for the purposes of this compilation we have to assume that ‘novelty’ isn’t necessarily a dirty word. From the aforementioned disc, it’s hard to tell whether “Daddy…” is a sweet and innocent exercise or something much, much darker and meaner than that.
21. Ambrose and His Orchestra – The Sun Has Got His Hat On (1932)
Seldom heard in its original and uncensored incarnation, this is evidence that one decade’s novelty hit is another decade’s piece of political incorrectness. You’ll seldom, if ever, hear the lyrics as they’re meant to be sung, and that’s all I’m prepared to reveal at this juncture.
22. Miss X – Christine (Ember – 1964)
And at the other end of the spectrum, here’s a song which was considered “racey” at the time which would barely cause anybody to bat an eyelid these days. Performed by Lionel Blair’s sister Joyce, this was a very minor hit at the time.
23. Kenny Everett – A Little Train Number (Deram – 1969)
It’s peculiar to hear Kenny Everett singing a song about trainspotting in an entirely serious, non-comedic way, backed by a jaunty brass section. It’s actually a fine piece of pop music and utterly joke-free zone with affectionate references to Birmingham station and “watching British Rail pass painlessly through the heart of Britain”. Ah, well maybe that little line might be a stab at ironic humour, or perhaps a reminder of how much things have changed since its release.
24. Mud – Flower Power (CBS – 1967)
Novelty hippy cash-in records came flying out on to record store shelves in the late sixties, and before Mud found their (tiger) feet, that’s what they treated us to with “Flower Power”. It’s monumentally contrived, and failed to launch their career – but there’s still a lop-sided silliness to it which is more charming than grating.
25. Peter Wyngarde – Neville Thumbcatch (RCA – 1970)
The jury is still out for me where actor Peter Wyngarde’s “When Sex Leers Its Inquisitive Head” album is concerned – albums containing jokey songs about rape should generally be considered skating on thin ice by anybody’s sane standards – but this cover of The Attack’s psychedelic non-hit heightens the absurd nature of the original through its deadpan delivery and peculiar arrangements.
26. Peter Fonda – November Nights (Chisa – 1967)
This cover of Gram Parsons’ song has the actor singing rather weakly and uncertainly, but it adds to the frail nature of the lyrical subject matter. Fonda wouldn’t really bother us with much else on vinyl, and this isn’t a bad standalone attempt.
27. Leonard Rossiter – Rising Damp (Chips – 1980)
Back in the land of the bona-fide spin-off single, it’s a pity Rossiter didn’t grace TOTP with this Miss Jones seducing piece of disco, but there again… perhaps it’s best that we stop all this now before the fun runs completely dry. I hope it didn't.
13 January 2009
What: Blake's 7 Disco (b/w "Disco Jimmy")
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden
Cost: Two pounds (reduced from three pounds - I could almost feel cheerful about that)
Yes, another example of a reworked or otherwise tampered television theme finds its way into the "Left and to the Back" archives, although to be frank in this case it's easy to see what the BBC were playing at. They'd already released an approximation of the theme tune in 1978 (rather than the theme itself - hear here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMsvrS2IeXQ) and presumably thought that a cult sci-fi hit like "Blake's Seven" was always going to be good for a bit of milking. Hence (presumably) this "disco" version of the theme emerged in 1979 as well. And why did they stop there, you have to wonder? Why not a whole album full of alternate versions of the "Blake's Seven" theme done in a whole wide range of styles?
Perhaps the full stop to any such grand schemes coming into fruition really had to come when this flopped, and I'll be blunt, that might have a lot to do with the fact that it really isn't much cop - even the most desperate sci-fi completist would turn their noses up. Driven by a squeaky synth rendition of the theme which sounds for all the world as if it's being sung by Sweep (now actually, that would have been a version worth hearing) some hideous, half-asleep psuedo-funky basslines, and the irritating and unrealistic "handclap"* noise on a drum machine, this could be the demonstration setting on a Rumbelows home MIDI synthesiser unit and nobody would be any the wiser. It sounds like the work of session people who despised what they were being asked to do, and wanted to get the whole exercise over with as swiftly as possible so they could nip down to the pub.
I aim to upload a compilation of novelty tracks to this blog very soon, and in that there should hopefully be at least some evidence that for all their disposability, the best novelty records contributed something slightly interesting - if unfashionable - to the world of pop. As three minutes slices of entertainment they frequently only got irritating purely because Radio One DJs didn't seem to know when the joke had finished and insisted on playing them to death. For every weird or witty novelty disc there are at least four or five cash-ins that stink, however, and I don't think anybody could deny this is down there with the worst of them. "Blake's Seven Disco"? I challenge you to get on the dancefloor to this one, matey.
More interesting - and perplexing - is the flipside "Disco Jimmy", which so far as I know appears to have no connections with the programme at all, and just consists of some bagpipes, a disco beat, and a drunken Scotsman sounding off, although I think it's safe to say that the man isn't a native.
Equally confusing is the "Beeb" label, which seemed to run parallel to the BBC label in the seventies, but didn't really have a different release policy at all. You wouldn't get away with that now without the tabloid press running a week of headlines about the Beeb wasting licence payer's money. Nice cheerful picture of a bee in the logo, though.
(*Why did drum machines always used to have this option? Were handclaps something people desperately needed to simulate in the late seventies and eighties, due to a shortage of willing clappers?)
11 January 2009
Year of Release: 1966
I'm going against my own rules here slightly, since this did creep into the Top 40 in Britain for one week at number 38 - but I've made allowances for such borderline cases in the past, and I see no reason not to do it again here.
The Critters' "Younger Girl" was something of an offshore pirate station favourite back in the sixties, and its blissful purring could be heard up and down the dial. On one off-air recording I have from Radio London, it sticks out from the hits of the day admirably well, sounding so laidback it can't help but be a sudden piece of unexpected summer calm amidst the adverts, DJ banter and uptempo pop hits of the day. One can imagine almost every single DJ of the period uttering the words "Mmmm... that was lovely" afterwards.
Penned by John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful, "Younger Girl" is such a delicate piece of work that it perhaps didn't register with many other listeners, though. People with the radio burbling away as background noise might not have noticed its subtle charms - so quiet that they might have been drowned out by the refrigerator or perhaps some passing traffic - and as a result the predicted hit never really occurred.
As for the Critters, the New Jersey based band had slightly more success in America with their follow up singles, but ultimately didn't go on to a career with any longevity, although some of them went on to greater success in other acts. Lead guitarist Jim Ryan went on to join Carly Simon's backing band, and lead singer Don Ciccone joined Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. History (or Wikipedia) does not record what happened to the other chaps, however, apart from to say that bass guitarist Ken Gorka now owns the notorious Bitter End nightclub in Greenwich Village.
9 January 2009
Who: Hamburg Symphony Orchestra/ Royal Danish Symphony Orchestra
What: Morning - Peer Gynt Suite No. 1/ Welcome - Symphony No. 4 4th Movement
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden
Whatever interest you may or may not have in the contents of this disc, it is something of an oddity. Spark were a small label owned by the operators of Southern Studios in London who, when they first cranked into gear in the sixties, put out a lot of psychedelic pop which was largely ignored. The sight of their logo sitting amongst second hand racks is enough to get the hearts of psych lovers everywhere pounding.
In this case, however, clearly a change of tack was underway. Somebody within the label clearly hit upon the idea of using classical music from popular television advertisements to raid the singles charts - in this case, the A side was originally used to promote Nescafe, with the B side promoting an ad for Bass Charrington. This is an unorthodox approach to generating revenue to say the least. It's generally accepted that classical music singles do not sell unless there is astonishing demand for the piece in question, normally when it becomes tied in with a national sporting event. Otherwise, they're considered a complete white elephant - although it should be noted that the format was tried and tested for this purpose. Some of the first ever seven inch singles to be issued by RCA were classical ones.
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, however, and perhaps somebody had statistics from the companies in question which proved that a possible hit could arrive were the two excerpts bundled together in seven inch form. In effect, this kind of marketing of classical music due to its associations with television soundtracks or adverts predates many of the "Best Classical Music Album in the World... Ever!" compilations, and as such can perhaps be viewed as slightly ahead of its time. That it didn't pay off just meant that the timing was slightly wrong, and also that you're never going to convince many members of the public that sticking an excerpt from a longer classical piece on a three minute 45rpm spin is worth their while.
Spark would go on to greater success in the seventies, however, focussing much more on the pop and Northern Soul markets, even issuing records by Wigan's Chosen Few. What a rum little label they were.
The download of this single is available below, if you feel the need to experience it. Please don't ask me my opinion on the Hamburg Symphony Orchestra's delivery of this work. I wouldn't have the first clue whether it was better or worse than any of the alternative versions available, and nor would I have any strong views about whether listening to an excerpt rather than the full piece would be a complete disgrace.
6 January 2009
Year of Release: 2001
The last time I tried to do an entry on Birdie, Blogger decided to "eat" it for reasons best known to itself, and in a fit of frustration I ended up summarising the band with a brief paragraph. This was an unjust result which probably left the average reader with the impression I didn't give that much of a shit, really. Sorry if you walked away feeling no urge to click on the YouTube clip I provided - you should go back and look at it again. Now.
Birdie emerged at a time when the alternative end of the British music scene was in a rather confused and varied state, and as such was perhaps more interesting than we gave it credit for at the time. Whilst Post Rock was in full flow, Skunk Rock was trying to get off the ground, numerous techno acts threatened to be 'the future of music as we know it' and more dreary epic guitar-driven Wonderwall inspired ballads were strung together by half-wits than we sensibly needed, Birdie were frequently lazily slotted into another bracket altogether, that of the twee revival. One listen to this album should tell you that they had very little place there - this isn't the sound of some idle Belle and Sebastian copyists or a few kids with cheap jangly guitars, it's the noise of the best moments in sixties girl pop and summer cafe juke boxes combined. Lead singer Debsey Wykes has a voice which is so slick, smooth and honeyed that, whatever your feelings on the music itself, it's hard not to be awed. Had the numerous one-hit wonders of the era who peddled out music made for summer "chill out" compilation CDs gone more analogue and expanded the scope in their songwriting, this is what it would have sounded like.
Critics may well argue that the band were clearly inspired by both Stereolab and Saint Etienne, but neither are terrible places for any act to start. More than either of those two bands, however, they managed to create their songs with a conciseness that makes each track a warm, intoxicating hit. None of them outstay their welcome, and the fondness grows with repeated listens. "Such A Sound" in particular is a textbook example of effective atmospheric dream pop.
Despite (or perhaps because of) all this, of course, they didn't really go the distance, although Debsy still regularly produces material with Saint Etienne (with whom she co-starred on the hit "Who Do You Think You Are?"). At the last check, Birdie were on an extended break, and it seems unlikely it will be broken.
Oh, and the first person to say "Dave, you really should have uploaded this one during the summer months" gets a nasty boot up the rear. Just think of our poor Australian readers (of whom we have next-to-none). Just put this CD on, sit on top of the three-bar fire, and try to imagine it's July again.
1. The Original Strand
2. Such A Sound
3. Rosie's Drugstore
6. Blue Eyed Son
7. Silver Line
8. Twin I Love You
11. Blue Eyed Son (Reprise)
4 January 2009
Label: Product Inc/ Mute
Year of Release: 1987
The interesting thing about mid-eighties indie bands is that to be remembered, you really had to be involved specifically with the more fashionable or cultish scenes. Generally speaking, if you've had a single out on Sarah Records - just for example - it will be remembered by a surprising number of people even if the general consensus is that it's one of the worst things they ever released. Additionally (and moving slightly into the nineties as well) baggy bands have websites and blogs up and down the internet raving about their work, no matter how unsuccessful they were.
If, on the other hand, what you were doing didn't quite fit the general C86 scheme of things or leaned towards the dreaded 'g' word Grebo (and not "Goth" - those bands still appeared to be loved with affection by their chosen audience), chances are you won't crop up in conversation a lot. And so we must look with a certain sadness towards The Bambi Slam, a band with John Peel and Janice Long sessions under their belt, television exposure and press excitement who, by the time the decade was over, really might as well have not existed.
Being reasonable about this, their flash in the pan status might not be too surprising - at the time, their beatbox driven grooves combined with punky riffage probably seemed a bit daring, but now the dust has settled and the novelty has worn off, they do sound a lot tamer than their initial reputation would have had us believe. There was an accessibility to their work that other bands of the time just didn't have, as well as a frequently infectious energy. Bogshed they were not - but perhaps, in a sense, that's the problem. They just weren't mainstream enough to make the mark many predicted they would, but nor were they sufficiently "out there" to be remembered as wild eccentrics.
Still, the string of singles they left us behind are actually solid listening, and "Happy Birthday" is no exception at all. Driven by an insistent riff, a primitive, driving beatbox and hollered vocals, it was a fairly large Indie Top 10 hit at the time, and not without reason. Their Warner Brothers issued album didn't quite create as much interest, but we shouldn't kid ourselves that they simply laid down and gave up after being dropped - they are actually still going under the guidance of their original front man Roy Slam, and still releasing records.
Happy New Year, by the way. Yes, I know most other blogs are doing end of year round-ups or predicting what will happen in 2009, but that hardly seems appropriate for a backwards looking blogspace like this one. Rest assured I'll continue to dig up as many bits and bobs for as long as I can either get away with it, or have enough unripped CDs and vinyl left in my cupboard I feel strongly enough to be bothered writing about. If the price of secondhand vinyl begins to dip any lower, chances are it might be a very productive New Year.
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