WHATEVER YOU DO….DON’T TELL ANYONE

I’ve written before about deciding to write about a song and being shocked/stunned/horrified to discover that it was released much further back in time that I would have guessed.

It’s happened yet again with this:-

mp3 : Queens of The Stone Age – The Lost Art Of Keeping A Secret

QoSTA are a rock band, occasionally bordering on heavy but managing to cross over enough to appeal to the indie, stoner and teen brigades. They came into being in the late 90s but I didn’t pick up on them until the summer of 2000 when Lost Art….became something of a minor hit in the UK, reaching #31 in the single chart and leading me to go out and purchase parent album Rated R. It was an album that had some very exceptional moments, including the infectiously catchy chant-a-long other single lifted from it:-

mp3 : Queens of the Stone Age – Feel Good Hit Of The Summer

One listen and you’ll realise why it struggled to get air time on mainstream/daytime radio.

I think what’s really hit me is that I’ve come to a realisation that having not really kept up with much new music outside of Scotland since the turn of the century, everything I have somehow feels newish and I’ve no real focal or reference points with which to gauge things. It’s a total contrast to the late 70s and 80s where music really was the be-all and end-all and hearing many a song from that era will take me immediately back to a place, time and/or incident which can spring to mind without delay. I certainly wouldn’t have had any issue, back in 2000, coming to terms with the fact that some great song or other dated back to 1982. But I just can’t get my head around that it’s been 18 years since I went out and purchased a QoSTA album for the one and only time.

The CD I got back for my cash featured a five-track bonus disc, with one of the songs being a surprising yet enjoyable cover:-

mp3 : Queens of the Stone Age – Who’ll Be The Next In Line

I’ve long been quite fond of the 1965 original:-

mp3 : The Kinks – Who’ll Be The Next In Line

JC

THIS WAS BOLD AND BRAVE

I’ve mentioned the past couple of Sundays how Paul Haig’s solo output would go to catch a few folk out, thanks to the music being far removed from the sounds associated with his former band, Josef K.

In a similar vein, the former frontman of Buzzcocks stunned many, fans and critics alike, when he released his debut solo single in September 1981:-

mp3 : Pete Shelley – Homosapien

I’m certain that I would have first heard this played at a night in the Strathclyde University Student Union on the basis that it had been banned by the BBC. I do recall, vaguely it has to be admitted, one of the weekly music papers having a real go at the record and its singer, accusing him of betraying his punk roots by sliding over onto the dance floor and jumping on the bandwagon of what the writer thought would be a short-lived craze for electronic music. Long live rock’n’roll and all that….

Did I take an instant liking to the track? Truth be told, not really as I wanted Pete Shelley to somehow create MkII of his former band. But, as I grew increasingly familiar with the song, I came to the realisation that it was an absolute belter of a new-era dance track, with as catchy a hook via the synths as had been managed previously with the guitars. Indeed, it is a close cousin to the new pop-savvy sounds that were being released by The Human League, which is no coincidence when you consider that Martin Rushent was could be found in the producer’s chair in both instances.

Few people knew that Pete Shelley was in fact revisiting his first love, having dabbled unsuccessfully in electronic music before meeting Howard Devoto at college and forming one of the most important punk/new wave bands to emerge out of the UK. It was something he had kept quiet about all the time his band becoming a success; in much the same way, he’d previously stayed schtum about his bisexuality, but the release of Homosapien, with its far from subtle references (e.g. ‘Homo Superior, in my interior) provided him with a perfect opportunity to be open about things.

It was a far less tolerant world back then, and there was a sense of a substantial number of fans moving towards disowning Pete Shelley. The excuse given was the shift in music, but there were other unsaid things at play…..

The debut album, also entitled Homospaien, was largely panned on its release, but it is one which has been somewhat reevaluated over time with many now acknowledging that, while not perhaps as instantly accessible as those of the big-hitting and chart-friendly acts such as Depeche Mode, Heaven 17, OMD and Ultravox, it certainly was a decent stab at things.

Here’s the b-side to the original release of the debut single….again it’s a bit different from the Buzzcocks without being aimed squarely at the disco floor:-

mp3 : Pete Shelley – Keats’ Song

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF PAUL HAIG (Part 2)

The proper debut single was released in May 1982. Paul Haig, as mentioned last week, had signed to Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule, but his debut 45 appeared on Operation Twilight in his homeland, a label which was in fact the UK side of his Belgian operations but with some input and support from Rough Trade.

mp3 : Paul Haig – Running Away

A fairly honest update of the original written and recorded back in 1970 with synths replacing the original horns.

mp3 : Sly & The Family Stone – Runnin’ Away

Truth be told, it did feel a little bit underwhelming at the time with very few Josef K fans able to believe their ears. It’s one which has grown on me somewhat, but it does still seem a bit rudimental, almost as if Paul was himself very unsure what his next steps should be.

The b-side is quite different, and isn’t a million miles away from the sound of pre-hit Human League. Again, it took a bit of getting used to, but once it was accepted the angular guitars were now a thing of the past and the electronica had to be embraced fully, this became an early favourite of the solo era.

mp3 : Paul Haig – Time

Both tracks today have been ripped from 7″ vinyl and as a consequence are a touch lo-fi.

JC

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #133 : HIS LATEST FLAME

Named after an Elvis Presley song, and formed in the mid 80s in Glasgow, His Latest Flame were thought by many as the nearest Scotland ever got to producing an all-girl pop band akin to The Bangles, albeit many of their songs had a political kick to them. The early singles were on Go! Discs but the latter material, including their only LP, was issued via London Records.

The initial band members were Jacqueline Bradley (drums), Irene Brown (guitars), Laura Mazzolini (bass), Moira Rankin (vocals) and Tricia Reid (guitar and vocals) who all played on this rather fine but very 80s sounding debut single.

mp3 : His Latest Flame – Somebody’s Gonna Get Hurt

Tricia Reid was by far and away the principal songwriter in the band. There would be a handful of 45s and one LP, In The Neighbourhood, before they called it a day in 1990.

JC

LAND OF SEX AND GLORY

Aye…..I’ve gone for a post title that might pick up casual passers-by not neccesarily trawling for music.  It’s actually a guest posting from my very dear friend Walter, over in Germany, whose A Few Good Times In My Life is an excellent read.

Hi Jim,

I embrace your offer for a guest contribution on your site in thanks. There are plenty of bands gone by that are worth to remember. As you know I feature a lot of new stuff on my own site but from times to times I grab out a record that is covered with dust and I put it on the turntable with you. Most of the times I feature the band or the singer on the blog. My first thought was to feature The Flys in a guest comment and remembered that I did this almost one year ago.

So I had to decide for another band and found Land Of Sex And Glory. It was a short living band and as far as I know released only a 12-inch mini album back in 1986 called Showdown.

I was searching the internet for more informations but you can find a lot of informations about a Munich based band that is now active with the same name but has nothing to do with the band I am writing about. Also the band’s personal is vanished and can’t be found. So what is their legacy to music? For me one of the best German bands from the mid 80’s playing a stripped down new wave sound with stoic bass lines and a guitar that gets fuzzy at the end of the song. I liked to play this song often when I was DJ-ing in my very younger days. Hope you like it also a little bit.

mp3 : Land of Sex and Glory – Drowning

WALTER

JC adds…..

Walter is right in that there isn’t much info out there.  I went onto Discogs and learned that in 1984 Land of Sex and Glory released a nine-track self-titled cassette which may have been instrumental in them being picked up by Big Store Records, a Geman independent label for whom, in 1986, there was the six-track mini-album mentioned by Walter.  There was also a sole single – (I Always Wanted To Be) Andy Warhol’s Moviestar which was backed with a cover of Ruby Tuesday, which was put out by Big Store in 1988.

Looking at the artwork available on the Discogs site, I’ve been able to work out the band consisted of Martin Popolek (guitar, backing vocals), Berthold Pesch (drums, percussion and vocals) and George Infame (bass and vocals).  The six songs on the mini-album are credited to the band.  The later single was written by George Infame who also designed its sleeve, the reverse of which gave a contact address and telephone number in Munich for Berthold.

 

INSPIRED BY YESTERDAY’S ICA

As I said when I included the original in my stab at a Leonard Cohen ICA just last December:-

Marianne Ihlen was the inspiration for so many of Cohen’s writings, songs and poems alike. They had met in early 1960, when they were both in their mid-20s, on the Greek island of Hydra. They would end up living together for the best part of that decade in Montreal, NYC and Greece. So Long Marianne, like many songs composed by others over the years, deals with a break-up. It is hugely autobiographical and its release in 1967 was a very early indication that Leonard Cohen was a different sort of songwriter and that indeed he was, at heart, a poet.

This doesn’t mope over the ending of a relationship, but instead looks back joyfully over an extended period in which two perfectly matched and compatible people had enjoyed life to the full, the ending caused by Cohen feeling he could not be content in a monogamous relationship. “You left when I told you I was curious / I never told you I was brave”. And not once did he blame her for what she did.

PS : In 2016, Cohen learned that Marianne was dying from leukaemia. He also knew, at this time, that his cancer was likely to result in his death. He was able to compose a final letter which was read to her, by a friend, as she lay on her death-bed.

“Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and for your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

If that doesn’t bring moisture to your eyes, then there really is no hope for you.

And here’s one of my favourite cover versions of the song….

mp3 : Bill Callahan – So Long Marianne

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #192 : SMOG

A GUEST POSTING by RICHARD

I don’t know why, there’s no reason for it and I can honestly offer no explanation … but for a few weeks every year, I’ll binge listen to Smog. And I mean really binge. A total, all-consuming obsession descends on me for 2 or 3 weeks (normally around February or March). In that time, I’ll fill my ears with Bill Callahan’s wry, dry, baritone and nothing else. There’s no other band or artist I do it with on such a regular basis and, as quickly as the urge comes over me, it passes. It’s happened for the past few years and no doubt it’ll happen again.

The reason I’m telling you this, is that I don’t want to fool anyone into thinking I picked Smog as the subject of my ICA because I’m some kind of obsessive super fan who listens to them constantly. I’m not. If you asked me to name my favourite bands off the top of my head, I very much doubt that Smog would spring immediately to mind. Yet when I stop and think about it, Smog is one of the most consistent acts in my record collection. One that I often overlook but consistently return to.

So if you’re looking to know every last detail about every single song that Bill Callahan has ever put out under that moniker, you’re looking in the wrong place. I’ve simply got enough Smog albums and enjoy them enough to be able to offer a fairly decent introduction to those who don’t.

Besides which, it just kind of seemed like an obvious choice. Without being an actual obvious choice. I could easily have gone with Radiohead or Nick Cave or The Smiths or Suede any other band that I would consider myself a big fan of. But I think most of those have either been done already or most people know enough about them, that an ICA seems a little pointless. Whereas Smog… well Smog don’t seem to get that much of a mention in many places.

As I suspect with most ICAs, picking the actual songs wasn’t as easy as I’d expected. Looking back at the final selection now, I could easily swap out a bunch of the songs and still be happy with it. That’s how good Smog are/is, so seriously, delve deeper if you like what you hear.

But before we get to the music, a little disclaimer…

I started my blog years ago. Back when I was a recently single twenty-something with plenty of spare time on my hands. I updated it regularly and really enjoyed writing about the thing I’d been obsessing over since I heard ‘This Charming Man’ blaring out of my brother’s university room when I went with my parents to collect him one wintery Friday. Then births, deaths and marriages happened (the only reasons to get dressed up, if you’ll allow me to misquote Aidan Moffat slightly) and writing about music just didn’t seem quite so important anymore.

So the dust settled on the blog. I tried occasionally to start it up again but the impetus and motivation wasn’t there. Nor was the time. Not in the way I felt would make it a worthy venture. I can’t tell you how I admire JC and many of you guys reading this now for how you’ve managed to continue where I couldn’t. The commitment it takes is admirable. The quality you maintain is truly impressive. But enough of the gushing… what I’m trying to say is that I haven’t really written about music in such a long time, that I’m not entirely sure I still can. There’s a good chance that this may just descend into a list of songs with little more comment than, ‘I like this because it sounds good’. So don’t go expecting too much in terms of insight or quality. Not from me anyway. The quality is all from Smog.

Oh and in case you don’t know… Smog was essentially a solo project of Bill Callahan. Sometimes with parenthesis, sometimes without. He released 13 albums under that name between 1990 and 2005 (of which I have 8) and since then he’s been releasing records under his real name. Given the deceptively simple, repetitive nature of his music and his deep voice and glib, morose half spoken, semi crooned delivery, it would be easy to label his sound as depressing. Dig deeper and there’s a great deal of complexity and sardonic humour in his writing. Indeed, his lyrics are a wonderful thing to lose yourself in. I hope you enjoy.

SIDE A

The Well (from A River Ain’t Too Much To Love)

The Well is track 3 on its parent album but I’ve always thought it could easily have been an album opener. Indeed, I went through a phase where I included it as the opening track on every mixtape (should that be mix-cd) I made. It’s a track that sets out Smog’s stall from the off. A simple repeated musical refrain that grows and builds and dips and builds again as the protagonist comes across a well deep in the woods. It’s a song that could easily be part of JC’s feature about songs that could be short stories. If you like this, chances are you’ll enjoy the 9 tracks that follow.

Truth Serum (from Supper)

Track 2 is another 7-minute song. And what a doozy it is. A duet of sorts that sounds so gentle and relaxed and unrushed and mesmerising and hazy as it reveals the answers to the big questions of life and love in the way that only drink and drugs usually do.

Dress Sexy At My Funeral (from Dongs Of Sevotion)

As far as songs about eulogies go, this is an oddly romantic one.

Bathysphere (from Wild Love)

For years I was more familiar with Cat Power’s cover than Smog’s original version and honestly it’s a tough call as to which I prefer. With its lo-fi drums and cheap sounding keyboard stabs, this version has a bit of an 80s feel to it as Bill shows how easily and cruelly dreams can be crushed.

I Break Horses (John Peel Session) (from Accumulation:None)

The original studio version of this track isn’t a patch on this version. That one is a mostly solo acoustic affair with Bill singing at a slightly higher register than normal. Compared to this version from a Peel session, it’s frankly a little underwhelming. This version is slower, longer, more morose and utterly, utterly compelling.

SIDE B

I Could Drive Forever (from Knock Knock)

This is the first Smog song I ever heard. It came on a free CD with Uncut magazine and sounded so other worldly compared to the sort of indie bands I was listening to at the time. A song about escaping that doesn’t sound like you’ll ever escape what you’re trying to escaping.

Blood Red Bird (from Red Apple Falls)

This is one of those songs where I couldn’t really tell you what it’s about or why I love it but it’s a fucking great song. While it doesn’t really go anywhere, it takes you all sorts of places.

Butterflies Drowned In Wine (from Supper)

A chugging insistent track with probably my favourite Smog title ever. It feels like a skewed version of a blues track that switches to a gentle country lilt before hitting you again with it’s chug-chug rhythm.

Permanent Smile (from Dongs Of Sevotion)

Is this a prayer? A cry of despair? A meditation on death? Probably all of the above and more. Musically it leans on a Spector-esque drum beat that’s been slowed to a funereal pace and sprinkled with a twinkly piano and jingly guitar.

I Feel Like The Mother Of The World (from A River Ain’t Too Much To Love)

An anti-war song that’s trying it’s hardest not to be an anti-war song. In today’s world, its message feels ever more prescient and necessary. ‘Just stop fighting’ indeed.

RICHARD

JC adds……Richard was one of the guys I turned to a great deal in the very early days of the original blog for help, advice and the occasional piece of support.  I’ve long been a fan of his writing and am genuinely thrilled that he’s made this superb contribution to the ICA series.  I’ve long wanted to feature Dress Sexy At My Funeral round these parts, so thanks amigo.