SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 31)

A song I got to know from a version recorded by Johnny Cash and later on by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Ten years ago, on a cold dark night
There was someone killed ‘neath the town hall light
There were few at the scene, but they all agreed
That the slayer who ran looked a lot like me

The judge said, “Son what is your alibi?
If you were somewhere else then you won’t have to die”
I spoke not a word though it meant my life
For I had been in the arms of my best friend’s wife

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me

The scaffold is high, and eternity nears
She stood in the crowd and shed not a tear
But sometimes at night when the cold wind mourns
In a long black veil she cries over my bones

She walks these hills in a long black veil
She visits my grave when the night winds wail
Nobody knows, nobody sees
Nobody knows but me, nobody knows but me, nobody knows but me

It was written in 1959 by Danny Dill and Marijohn Wilkin, the latter being one of the few females able to make any sort of living as a songwriter in those days.  Her most famous composition, written in the mid-70s alongside Kris Kristofferson, is the country/christian ballad, One Day At A Time, a version of which, recorded by Scottish cabaret singer Lena Martell, spent three weeks at #1 in the UK in November 1979, much to the disgust of my 16-year old self.

Long Black Veil has been recorded by hundreds of different singers and groups, and just last year, the original version was selected by the Library of Congress in the USA for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

mp3 : Lefty Frizzell – Long Black Veil

JC

AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #237 : WARREN ZEVON

A GUEST POSTING by ROL HIRST

mastermind behind My Top Ten blog

Warren Zevon is known to the great unwashed for one song and one song only. It’s a great song, don’t get me wrong. I never tire of hearing it and it contains the best example of alliteration-meets-assonance I’ve ever heard in a pop song.

Little old lady got mutilated late last night

Sorry. We English teachers have to get our kicks where we can.

For many years, I didn’t know much more about Warren Zevon, and then I bought his “Greatest Hits” album Genius and found myself loving all the songs. Zevon’s songwriting has wit and attitude, a real edge that separates him from many of his contemporaries… and he swore a hell of a lot on record, even back in the 70s. Swearing on record is pretty much de rigueur these days – even Lloyd Cole sings “Motherfucker” on his latest album – but Zevon led the way… which might explain why many of his best songs never got any airplay.

Eventually I started digging into Zevon’s back catalogue proper, and that’s when my love affair with his work really began. Over the last few years, rarely a week has gone by where I haven’t listened to something by Zevon… and I can’t think of any other artist I could say that about, even my all-time favourites.

I thought it was about time I got around to inflicting a Warren Zevon ICA on JC… but there were so many great tunes to choose from, I had to restrict myself. So… no Werewolves, and none of the other “hits” from Genius. This means I couldn’t include Excitable Boy; A Certain Girl; The French Inhaler (an absolute classic); Poor, Poor Pitiful Me; Splendid Isolation; or Roland, The Headless Thompson Gunner. I wouldn’t even allow myself the greatest Prince cover ever recorded… Raspberry Beret by The Hindu Love Gods (aka Warren with Peter Buck, Bill Berry and Mike Mills).

Despite all those omissions, I was still spoilt for choice, and it took me some time to narrow this list down. Hope you enjoy my selections… there’s many more great tunes where these came from.

1. Play It All Night Long : from ‘Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School’ (1980)

In 1970, Neil Young wrote Southern Man, criticising the southern states of the USA for their history of racism and slavery. In 1972, Lynyrd Skynyrd responded “I hope Neil Young will remember: a southern man don’t need him around anyhow” on Sweet Home Alabama. In 1980, Warren Zevon wrote a “satirical homage” to Sweet Home Alabama while stoned. It’s the perfect threequel, though the lyrics kept it well away from the radio.

Grandpa pissed his pants again
He don’t give a damn
Brother Billy has both guns drawn
He ain’t been right since Vietnam
Daddy’s doing Sister Sally
Grandma’s dying of cancer now
The cattle all have brucellosis
We’ll get through somehow

I’m going down to the Dew Drop Inn
See if I can drink enough
There ain’t much to country living
Sweat, piss, jizz and blood

“Sweet Home Alabama”
Play that dead band’s song
Turn those speakers up full blast
Play it all night long

How many other pop songs can you name which contain the word “brucellosis”?

Oh, there’s one more link in this chain (that I know of). In 2007, southern man Kid Rock released All Summer Long which samples both Sweet Home Alabama and Werewolves of London. Its chorus also echoes Play It All Night Long as Rock sings “Singing Sweet Home Alabama all summer long”. It’s pretty good, for a Kid Rock song.

2. For My Next Trick, I’ll Need A Volunteer : From Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)

One of my favourite Prefab Sprout songs is The Old Magician, in which Paddy McAloon uses his titular magician as a metaphor for old age, failure and regret. Here’s Warren doing similar, although his magician represents being useless in love.

Well I can saw a woman in two
But you won’t want to look in the box when I am through
I can make love disappear
For my next trick I’ll need a volunteer

I can pull a rabbit out of a hat
I can pull it out, but I can’t put it back
I can make love disappear
For my next trick I’ll need a volunteer

Both magicians end up alone on an empty stage.

3. Night Time In The Switching Yard : From Excitable Boy (1978)

It’s not always the lyrics that draw me to Warren’s work. There are very few in this track. What grabs me instead is the funky bassline – you’d be forgiven for thinking Warren had dragged Nile Rodgers into the studio. Night Time In The Switching Yard has an incredibly hypnotic quality. Great late night chill-out listening, on repeat, forever.

4. Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School : From Bad Luck Streak In Dancing School (1980)

Here’s another one that doesn’t get in primarily on its lyrics – though that title alone surely deserves a place in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. Dancing School is a metaphor for brothels, apparently. I love the way this opens with strings and then kicks into an edgy rocker, and Warren’s voice is perfect for pleading.

5. Frank And Jessie James : From Warren Zevon (1976)

Not his debut album, but considered by many to be so. Prior to this, way back in 1969, Warren had released one other record, under the name Zevon, partly produced by Kim Fowley, until the pair of them fell out. It took Warren 7 years to recover and get another record out, this one produced by Jackson Browne. You can hear that very clearly in the production, which appropriately evokes the wide open spaces of the old west. A story song: no jokes, no snark, just well told and emotive. (Though it may be a bit too Billy Joel for JC.)

6. Desperados Under The Eaves : From Warren Zevon (1976)

In a similar vein musically, but one of the first times that the true character of Warren Zevon shows through in the lyrics. Cynical, world weary, with a bruised heart and an eye for devastating detail.

I was sitting in the Hollywood Hawaiian Hotel
I was staring in my empty coffee cup
I was thinking that the gypsy wasn’t lyin’
All the salty margaritas in Los Angeles
I’m gonna drink ’em up

And if California slides into the ocean
Like the mystics and statistics say it will
I predict this motel will be standing until I pay my bill

Obviously this was the one that most inspired the band Lucero to pen: Went Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles.

7. Disorder In The House : From The Wind (2003)

OK, enough of the slow stuff. let’s kick it up a notch. Shortly after his death in 2004, a number of celebrity admirers contributed to a Warren Zevon tribute album titled Enjoy Every Sandwich (his own philosophy, after he was asked how he was coping with the cancer that eventually killed him). Covers were contributed by Bob Dylan, The Pixies, Van Dyke Parks and Don Henley, among others, as well as one track from a big Zevon fan and collaborator, Bruce Springsteen. The pair first worked together on Warren’s 1982 album The Envoy, but this track comes from Zevon’s final album, released 21 years later. Springsteen’s guitar and backing vocals mix well with another of Warren’s witty takes on mortality. He’s really enjoying every sandwich on this one.

It also contains the line:

I’m sprawled across the davenport of despair

I mean, come on… beat that! (Oh, there’s also a Lhasa Apso in this song. Just saying.)

8. Let Nothing Come Between You : From The Envoy (1984)

A love song, plain and simple. Zevon-style.

Got the license – got the ring
Got back the blood tests and everything
Putting on my boutonniere – It’s her favourite flower
Then I’m walking down the altar and I’m gonna take the vow
De de de de de de de de de de
Don’t let nothing come between us

Brucellosis, boutonniere, Lhasa Apso, davenport… truly there was no word Warren Zevon was afraid of using in a lyric.

9. My Shit’s Fucked Up : From Life’ll Kill Ya (2000)

Surprisingly written some time before his terminal diagnosis, although this one does confirm his phobia of doctors. One to turn up loud if you’re feeling your age this morning. (I know I am.)

Well, I went to the doctor
I said, “I’m feeling kind of rough”
“Let me break it to you, son”
“Your shit’s fucked up.”
I said, “my shit’s fucked up?”
Well, I don’t see how–“
He said, “The shit that used to work–
It won’t work now.”

10. My Ride’s Here : From My Ride’s Here (2002)

This one, on the other hand, was written shortly after Warren learned that he was dying. I can’t help but think that the hotel he’s waiting at here is the same one where he sat drinking salty margaritas in Desperados Under The Eaves. I like the way he appears to be tempted back into religion (Zevon came from a Jewish background) but appears to reject it at the end. Where is that ride taking him?

I was staying at the Westin
I was playing to a draw
When in walked Charlton Heston
With the Tablets of the Law
He said, “It’s still the Greatest Story”
I said, “Man, I’d like to stay
But I’m bound for glory
I’m on my way
My ride’s here”

11. Keep Me In Your Heart : From The Wind (2003)

The final Warren Zevon song. Last track of his last album. If this doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, get yourself some eyedrops.

I want this song played at my own funeral.

Sometimes when you’re doing simple things around the house
Maybe you’ll think of me and smile
You know I’m tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for a while

ROL

45 45s @ 45 : SWC STYLE (Part 3)

A GUEST SERIES

43. Dirty Boots – Sonic Youth (1990 DGC Records)

Released as a Single in April 1991 (Did not Chart)

‘Dirty Boots’ was the third and final release from Sonic Youth’s sixth album ‘Goo’ which some people will say is Sonic Youth’s finest hour (it’s not ‘Daydream Nation’ is but let’s not argue). ‘Goo’ was my introduction to Sonic Youth and by including this in the list allows me to reintroduce Our Price Girl to these pages, and her brother, albeit briefly.

In the late part of 1991 I was in the start of relationship with Our Price Girl, I was a naïve 16 year old who still mainly listened to whatever the NME or Melody Maker told me to listen to that week. At the time that was ‘Nevermind’ by Nirvana and a bunch of other American rock acts that had started to get some press.

One evening Our Price Girls brother, Dan picked me and her up from a pub in downtown Chatham and on the way back, ‘Goo’ filled the car. As we parked up I asked Dan what the music was and he told me – he flipped the cassette (ask your parents, kids) out the stereo and gave it to me. Have a listen he said.

At five am, I left Our Price Girls house, via, as usual, the back door, I was walking the mile or so down to the small newsagents that I worked at. The shop was run by two brothers who from now on will be known as the Indian Organised Crime Syndicate, because that is basically what the shop was a front for (allegedly in case they are reading). As I was leaving I grabbed the cassette of ‘Goo’ from the kitchen workshop and stuck it in my Walkman.

Side One Track One is ‘Dirty Boots’ and I can remember vividly walking down a track to get onto the hockey pitches behind OPG’s house as it all kicks in and every time I listen to it I am taken back there.

I can picture it now, I’m stood in this field, from which I can see most of my journey ahead. The field runs down to a path where it joins a road to the ice rink, there is a small hill to clamber down to reach the path, behind the ice rink there is a factory, (which is no longer there) where meat pies are made and the smell of them is just starting to fill the air, you can almost taste them (in fact that factory and its smells are one of the reasons I turned vegetarian at the age of 14). Beyond the factory lies the huge site of the new Tesco and the road which leads to my dad’s house and the shop.

I was 16, I was probably experiencing my first real feelings of love, and I was deliriously happy and right then, right there, I didn’t have a care in the world.

‘Dirty Boots’ was released as EP it was backed with a bunch of live tracks.

This was one of them

Eric’s Trip

SWC

JC adds…….Here’s a bonus of the other live tracks that backed the EP version of Dirty Boots:-

White Kross
Cinderella’s Big Score
Dirty Boots
The Bedroom

EVIL

Interpol had been around for a few years before making a breakthrough with the album Turn On The Bright Lights in 2002, which was bang in the middle of a period when a number of bands from New York City, such as The Strokes and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were coming to wider attention, and which coincided with an explosion in what was labelled a post-punk revival thanks to guitar bands again coming to the fore and taking their influences from the 70s and 80s, both in terms of sound and vision.

There was, however, something more to Interpol than most, possibly because they had a level of craft and musicianship that seemed to be a bit above the norm, something which became particularly apparent with their second album, Antics, which hit the shops in September 2004 and immediately became lauded as one of the essential records of the year. It certainly ticked all my boxes, and where the debut had been at times felt moody and slightly impenetrable, the new collection of songs seemed destined to get the festival audiences on board, thanks to irresistible, upbeat tunes over which ambiguous and multi-meaning lyrics were sung. It felt like the best elements of Joy Division/New Order, the Bunnymen and The Cure had been meshed into one band, although there were a number of critics, especially in America, who had a real go at the band for failing to develop their own style and for becoming a pastiche of a bygone age.

The album had been preceded by the single Slow Hands, which took Interpol into Top 40 of the UK singles charts for the first ever time. The album provided a few obvious candidates for a follow-up, but the record company held back for a period of time, deciding that the first week of January 2015 would be the best time for the release of the next 45. Maybe that fact that it would be accompanied by what I have long felt to be the most creepy and genuinely disturbing music video ever made was a factor……it certainly would have been a sobering and cheerless view in the run-up to Christmas:-

It’s certainly an unforgettable promo, even if it is one that I can only watch on an intermittent basis. It’s a terrific piece of music, driven along relentlessly by the basslines of Carlos D but to which all the other members of the band make the most marvellous of contributions. It was a song that deserved to be a huge chart hit, and while it would prove to be the biggest single success enjoyed by Interpol, it deserved a better fate than stalling at #18. Maybe the fact that so many folk already owned the song, via the purchase of the album over the previous four months, was more of a factor than anyone at the record company had realised.

The period following the release of Antics was when Interpol cashed in, taking its their own headlining tours across the world, appearing as special guests at outdoor gigs by some of the giants of the stadium-rock gigs (including U2 in Glasgow and Coldplay in London), as well as taking their place high on the bills of various summer festivals. Evil was the track that got folk dancing and singing along more than any other.

mp3 : Interpol – Evil

Here’s the rather excellent b-side of the CD single, one that was otherwise unavailable:-

mp3 : Interpol – Song Seven

Incidentally, if you want to waste a few minutes of your life, you could browse around the internet and read all the different interpretations of what Evil is meant to represent, despite its composer, the aforementioned Carlos D never ever uttering any words of explanation.

JC

STUFF BOUGHT IN 2019 (1)

Most folk do end of year lists to highlight all the great new music they picked up in 2019. I’m too lazy/alternative for that……plus there’s the fact that I tend not to buy too much later in in any given year so that Santa Claus can come up with some goodies.

Every now and then over the coming weeks and months I’m going to bring your attention to stuff that I did spend money on/was gifted at Xmas that was released during 2019.

The very first album that I bought in 2019 (on limitede edition blue vinyl!!) turned out to be my favourite album of 2019. I don’t think I’ve ever gone a calendar year before when that was the case.

I’ve covered The Twilight Sad many times before, and I do appreciate that they they are not to everyone’s liking. The new album was a long time coming and there was an incredible amount of anticipation, and some intrepidation too, given that there had been some more personnel changes during the intervening years with the departure of long-time drummer Mark Devine, a man who had provided much to their sound in the studio and in the live setting.

Catching them live in June 2018, at their first UK gig for the best part of three years and hearing some new songs had been a great experience, but there was always the nervousness about how the recorded versions would sound. As has become typical nowadays, there was a drip-feed of new material, with tracks being made available digitally via the band’s website and videos posted up on you tube etc. There was also a 10″ single released in late 2018 with a remix of a new track and then finally, on 18 January 2019, It Won/t Be Like This All The Time came out, on Rock Action Records, a label owned and run by Mogwai.

The critical acclaim was near-unanimous and deservedly so. It’s the band’s fifth studio album and contains their strongest and most consistent collection of songs yet. It is a loud album, but in a totally different way from the earlier material released at the tail end of the first decade of this century. There’s a great deal more electronica and bass on it than before but not at the expense of some incredible guitar work from Andy McFarlane, one of just two members left from the original line-up. The other, of course, is singer James Graham, and on this record he again spits out an incredible set of raw and emotional lyrics in that unique way of his – he sounds just as good when he sings soft and quiet ballads as he does when he is competing with the five-piece band going at full pelt. He’s one of the few these days who can get me right in the chest every single fucking time.

mp3 : The Twilight Sad – VTr
mp3 : The Twilight Sad – I/m Not Here (missing face)
mp3 : The Twilight Sad – Auge/Maschine

There’s a live show coming up at Glasgow Barrowlands in April 2020. It will be a triumphant homecoming and probably the occasion that puts this album to bed and signals the start of a whole new set of songs. It’s one of my most eagerly awaited events of the next 12 months, and believe me, it’s a year that is going to be packed with all sorts of highlights.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF LUKE HAINES (17)

I bet some of you had thought I’d forgotten all about this series.  Apologies for the unexpectedly long delay since Part 15, but I wanted to make sure none of the postings got lost in the festive stuff and the Steve dropped in his wonderful review of Rockaway Beach that just couldn’t be held back.

The Guardian, in December 2006, carried a superb appreciation of Luke Haines, penned by the always-readable Alexis Petridis. The article looked back with a bit of nostalgia to the days of the Auteurs and Black Box Recorder, but in the main was rightly full of praise for a solo album released in October 2006 as I will now aim to demonstrate via a lengthy extract:-

Luke Haines is such an extravagantly talented songwriter, both unique and, one suspects, uniquely unsuited to mainstream success. It’s a fact underlined by the title track and lead single from his 11th album: for Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop, Haines called upon the services of sometime Sugababes and Rachel Stevens producer Richard X, then put him to work remixing a song that references transgressive performance artists the Viennese Aktionists, the 1914 Vorticist art journal Blast, Hungarian photographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and Nazi anthem The Horst Wessel Song. Despite the producer’s ministrations, the charts remained mysteriously un-busted.

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, which manages to be both accessible and deeply unsettling, matching crunching glam-rock guitar riffs and huge choruses to subject matter most songwriters would steer well clear of. The Walton Hop makes blackly comic capital from the topic of the teenage disco frequented by convicted child sex offenders including Jonathan King.

Pop-related paedophilia crops up again on the closing Bad Reputation, which retells the story of Gary Glitter’s downfall from the perspective of a member of his backing group, aghast at the effect The Leader’s sexual proclivities are having on his own standing. It offers perhaps the most improbable singalong chorus of the year: “Gary Glitter – he’s a dirty old man, ruining the reputation of the Glitter Band.” Leeds United is both naggingly catchy and about the Yorkshire Ripper murders. In the same way that the topics explored on Haines’ remarkable terrorism-obsessed 1996 album Baader Meinhof suddenly seemed far less esoteric five years after its release, it makes for pretty queasy listening in light of current events: “In the House of Lords, the Chamber of Horrors at Madam Tussauds, out with the old, we’ve got to make room for them all.”

Occasionally, Haines’ desire to provoke verges on the suicidal. That Off My Rocker at the Art School Bop was released to a response muted even by Haines’ standards may have less to do with its quality than with the presence of Heritage Rock, a viciously funny satire apparently aimed at the handful of magazines that usually champion him. Then again, one of the artists lovingly alluded to on the title track is Wyndham Lewis, the brilliant painter and sculptor whose belligerence effectively scuppered his own career, leaving him, as one contemporary put it, a “lonely old volcano”.

It’s a description that fits Luke Haines pretty well, but as Off My Rocker proves, when he erupts, it’s still pretty spectacular.

Off My Rocker At The Art School Bop is a tremendous listen, as good as anything he had ever released previously. It was an audacious and ambitious piece of work, full of humour, pathos and great tunes laced with knowing and cynical lyrics, as alluded to in the Petridis piece quoted above.

mp3 : Luke Haines – Off My RockerAt The Art School Bop (Richard X single mix)
mp3 : Luke Haines – I Am The Best Artist / Skinny White Girls

Should have been a huge hit…..tailor made for daytime radio!

The following year, another track was lifted from the album, to which three new songs and a live rendition of the title track were added to make a new EP, released only on CD, but given that the subject matter was a mass murderer and the failure of the police to track him down for years, it can be no real surprise that it was largely ignored by the media and received little, if any, airplay:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Leeds United
mp3 : Luke Haines – Bovver Boys
mp3 : Luke Haines – Country Life
mp3 : Luke Haines – Queen Elizabeth I
mp3 : Luke Haines – Leeds United (live in Leeds)

I can’t let this week’s posting go without giving space to the dig at the man born as Paul Gadd, whose loud, anthemic and stomping glam-pop music of the 70s was a staging post for many a young boy and young girl on the road to them becoming post-punk/new wave/indie devotees:-

mp3 : Luke Haines – Bad Reputation

As a great philosopher once wrote – naughty, naughty, very naughty. But absolute genius.

JC

 

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #196 : LUCKY PIERRE

I’ve one 7” item by Lucky Pierre in the collection. It’s called Pierre’s Final Thought and it dates from 2000, being picked up on the basis that Lucky Pierre was the name adopted by Aidan Moffat for a side-project. It was a name he kept in use until 2005 when he shortened it to L Pierre, and over the years he has released five albums and eight singles/EPs of music that, shall we say, is a long way removed from his stuff with Arab Strap, Bill Wells or RM Hubbert, or indeed any of the solo material he’s issued under his own name.

It’s actually best to rely on what other, more talented writers have said at various junctures. This was Betty Clarke, in The Guardian in 2002, reviewing Hypnogogia, the debut album:-

Lucky Pierre – aka Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat – makes songs full of childlike innocence and fairy-tale fears, with the intensity and claustrophobia of nightmares frighteningly evoked. The pictures on the album sleeve sum up the nature of Moffat’s dance-influenced dreams. A painting of a young boy’s smiling face, faded from years of display, adorns the front, while a dark, blurred image of a ghoul graces the back. Hope and sadness are entwined. Moffat is wonderful at conveying dense emotions, but the misery is overwhelming.

And from Fiona Shepherd, writing in The List in 2017, reviewing 1948-  , the final ever release by L Pierre:-

Over the past 15 years, Arab Strap mainman Aidan Moffat has sporadically indulged as L Pierre, his DIY repository for soothing found sound, scratchy samples and field recordings. For his fifth and final fling, he has lifted wholesale (from Youtube) samples of the recording of Felix Mendelssohn’s ‘Violin Concerto in E Minor’ by esteemed soloist Nathan Milstein with the New York Philharmonic. The original recording became the first ever 12-inch long player release in 1948, hence the title, with the date left hanging pointedly because, despite persistent whispers of its demise, vinyl isn’t dead yet.

The music comes pre-distressed, with the tremulous, slightly creaky strings sounding a little warped and the concerto chopped up and stuck through a blender. Following a tantalizingly slow fade-in, a mournful melody takes subtle hold, running through the piece like a blue mist, the patina of distortion conjuring up images of European melodramas from the 70s, a realm of long doleful glances, lurid eyeshadow and fur coats. These moody moments are punctuated with stirring, urgent passages and dramatic crescendos before fading out on an exquisite haunting requiem which hits a locked groove at the end so that the listener can lick that wound for as long as they wish. It’s what Pierre would have wanted.

Make of those what you will. It doesn’t appeal much to me and I was quite disappointed with both sides of the single I picked up:-

mp3 : Lucky Pierre – Chloe
mp3 : Lucky Pierre – Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child

JC