THE MONDAY MORNING HI-QUALITY VINYL RIP : Part Two : A NEW ENGLAND

Many thanks for such great and supportive feedback to the first installment of this new feature.  The suggestions that have been made will feature in coming weeks, but for today I want to focus on a song that is very dear to me.

I don’t think anyone will disagree with my proposal that A New England is a classic.  Written in late 1982/early 1983, it has always been one of the most popular of Billy Bragg songs, one that gets as loud a cheer as any when he plays it live.

It’s a song that came to wider public attention back when Kirsty MacColl covered it and took it all the way to #7 in the UK charts in the early months of 1985.

Wiki tells the story quite accurately:-

The opening lines of the song (“I was 21 years when I wrote this song/I’m 22 now, but I won’t be for long”) are identical to the opening lines of Paul Simon’s song “Leaves that Are Green”, which appears on Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 album Sounds of Silence. During a concert in Winnipeg, Canada on 27 September 2006, Bragg stated Simon and Garfunkel had a strong influence on him and that he took the line from their song intentionally.

Bragg has said the song had its origins in seeing two satellites flying alongside each other. Searching for romantic inspiration, he had to make do with “space hardware”. He told a BBC interviewer he “stole” the melody from Thin Lizzy’s “Cowboy Song”

Kirsty MacColl recorded the song the year after its release by Bragg. Her version was produced by her then-husband Steve Lillywhite. Entering the UK chart in 1985, it was her biggest solo hit, reaching number 7 in the UK Singles Chart and number 8 in the Irish Singles Chart.

Bragg’s original version of the song had only two verses. MacColl thought the song was too short, and so Bragg wrote a further two verses for her which she consolidated into one. Since MacColl’s death, Bragg has included the additional verse in performances of the song as a tribute.

The recording of “A New England” was the first collaboration between MacColl and her husband Steve Lillywhite on one of her own solo recordings.

MacColl first discovered Bragg in 1983 when she went to see one of his live performances. One of the songs Bragg played was “A New England”, which MacColl immediately identified as having hit potential. MacColl told Smash Hits in 1985: “I always thought ‘A New England’ would be great with loads of harmonies, it’s such a good melody. Billy does it in a very rough way, and it’s like a busker doing a really good Beatles song. She added to Gilbert Blecken in 1994: “I knew the song was fantastic, but [Bragg’s] version was just the skeleton of the song, so I wanted to dress it up.”

I bought the single on, or very shorty after, the day it was released, without ever hearing it, which is why my copy has the quite rare ‘bombsite’ cover on the front of the sleeve rather than on the reverse.  The purchase was on the basis that I was a Billy Bragg fan who had enjoyed previous singles by Kirsty MacColl, so there was very little that really could go wrong.  The piece on vinyl has remained a favourite ever since, with it now being quite poignant given the tragic and horrific death of Kirsty back in 2000.  I’ve also managed to take good enough care of the vinyl that It remains free from cracks and hisses.

Credit does have to go to both Kirsty for the way she re-interpreted the song, turning it into a bonafide pop classic while keeping the innocence and charm that was such a hallmark of the original, and to Steve Lillywhite whose deft and crisp production has ensured the song hasn’t dated.

mp3: Kirsty MacColl – A New England (extended version)

The 12″ version is almost eight minutes long, with a very lengthy fade-out.  I trust this 320kbps rip meets with your collective approval.

JC

THE JOY OF (a mixed) SEX (duet) : Couple #10

Today’s offering is a cover of a song written and released in 1977 by Johnny Moped.

I’ll be honest, the only info I have on the band has been courtesy of t’internet. They have been described as a pioneering punk band but it would seem this reputation is based largely on the fact that so many on the scene in London in 76/77 were veterans of the pub circuit, often not quite as competent as those who took things seriously. They had formed in May 1974, initially as Johnny Moped and the 5 Arrogant Superstars, before changing their name to Assault and Buggery, then the Commercial Band, before reverting to just Johnny Moped, all in the space of eight months. One of their initial members was Ray Burns who would, as punk broke, change his name to Captain Sensible and run off to join The Damned, but in doing so he ensured his old mates got to play a few gigs as support act. They were one of the bands that appeared on a very early punk compilation LP, the Live At The Roxy album in 1977 (the others being Slaughter & The Dogs, The Unwanted, Wire, The Adverts, Eater, X-Ray Spex and Buzzcocks) and that helped them ink a deal with Chiswick Records for whom there were three singles and an album before calling it a day in 1978 (albeit there have been various reunions over the years since).

Were they any good? Well, given that one review has described the cut on Live At The Roxy as “….archetypal Moped: heavy R&B slobbering through a meat grinder and hung out for the fire ants. It sounded incompetent, but the best Moped gigs always did, a fumbling, bumbling, grumbling noise that boasted all the proficiency of a blind man playing poker….”, it’s fair to say they were an acquired taste.

But many music journalists seemed to love them, choosing to make their second 45 as single of the week in three of the weekly papers around at the time. Despite this, it sold miserably, probably shifting very few copies outside of the capital, but it would inspire this take on it:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl and Billy Bragg – Darling, Let’s Have Another Baby

It was recorded as part of a BBC Radio 1 session for the Nicky Campbell show that was broadcast on 26 June 1991 and later included as a b-side on the Walking From Madison single.

Kirsty and Billy were great friends, going back many years and it really does sound as if they had an absolute ball working together on this one. Likewise with this, that was also recorded for the same session:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl and Billy Bragg – A New England

RIP Kirsty. You’re still much missed

JC

OVERDOSING ON COVER VERSIONS (6)

This was played at a funeral I attended just before Christmas.

It’s a song that was chosen by a good friend of mine as the final piece of music as he said goodbye to someone who had been by his side for 49 years since their first date. He and his wife had both been fans of The Kinks back in the day. It was a wonderful way to get across their love for one another and, as often happens with music at funerals, it choked me up:-

mp3 : The Kinks – Days

And yes, the early pressings of this #12 hit from 1968 did appear as Day’s, a grammatical error on the part of someone at Pye Records which must have infuriated Ray Davies.

Twenty-one years later, Kirsty MacColl recorded the songs and released it as single. Strange as it may seem, it too reached #12 in the charts:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Days

A little bit of research threw up that a few other folk have had a go at the song over the years:-

mp3 : Elvis Costello – Days
(as featured on the soundtrack to the movie Until The End Of The World, released in 1991)

mp3 : Petula Clark – Days
(released in 1968, just a matter of months after the original)

mp3 : Luke Kelly – Days
(not sure of the actual release date of this, from the late lead singer of The Dubliners; it’s proof however, that this is a superb folk as well as pop song)

Enjoy.

THE BOY DONE GOOD…THE GIRL DONE BETTER

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There’s a couple of reasons why I still adore this single more than 30 years after it was released (I know, I was staggered and left speechless by that fact too!!),  For one, crashing into the Top 10 took Kirsty McColl away from ever having the stigma of ‘one-hit wonder’ given her lack of chart success since the 1981 success of There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis. Secondly, it helped raise the profile of Billy Bragg and showed the world there was an awful lot more to his song-writing talents than rabble-rousing anthems for left-wingers.

I remember paying a few shillings extra to buy the 12″ version of this single at the time – a move I have never regretted. Yes, the song is more than double the length of the version played on the radio, but there’s not a single second wasted on what is a superb production by Kirsty’s then husband, Steve Lillywhite uber-producer of the 80s who was rich and famous from his collaborations with U2.

And the b-sides, both penned by Kirsty, aren’t bad efforts either:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – A New England (12″ version)
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Patrick
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – I’m Going Out With An Eighty Year Old Millionaire

Enjoy

CHECK OUT THE TALENT ON SHOW TODAY…

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It was just a week after the break-up of The Smiths that Johnny Marr penned a tune he quickly sent onto Kirsty MacColl who, at the time, was needing a bit of help overcoming a bout of writer’s block. It turned out to be exactly what she was looking for although it still took a few years, with the addition of lyrics, a bit of melody and a little bit of rap, before it was shaped into the hit single Walking Down Madison.

It reached #23 in the summer of 1991 with Johnny contributing guitar to the recording process. It was released in a number of formats and it is CD2 I’ve turned to today for the fact that it also enables contributions from Ray Davies, Billy Bragg and Johnny Moped.

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Walking Down Madison (urban mix)
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Days
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Darling, Let’s Have Another Baby
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Walking Down Madison (LP extended version)

The second of the tracks is of course the record company being lazy by including Kirsty’s #12 hit from just two years earlier, the rich and gorgeous take on the song first made famous by The Kinks.

The third of the tracks is a duet with the Bard of Barking which sounds as if it was great fun to make. It’s a cover of a song by the infamously legendary Johnny Moped, a mid 70s pub/punk band considered by many to be pretty talentless in the grand scheme of things, although their number at one point in time did include the man who would become Captain Sensible of The Damned and then later on provide us with a novelty #1 hit single.

Woth mentioning too that Johnny Moped scored a #15 appearance in the 1977 edition of the John Peel Festive Fifty (which that year was NOT a listener’s chart but entirely the choices of the late DJ):-

mp3 : Johnny Moped – Incendiary Device

Enjoy

A POP SONG THAT STAYS JUST ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF NOVELTY

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I won’t insult anyone by recounting the life and times and ultimately the tragic and untimely death of Kirsty MacColl.

Like most of you who are aged 40 and upwards, I’m guessing the first time she would have appeared on your radar was when she took this into the charts back in the spring of 1981:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis

Released in an era when many refused to believe the ‘King of Rock’nRoll’ had really died four years earlier, this is a  humourous pop song that just stays on the right side of novelty from the pen of someone who Johnny Marr has described as one of England’s greatest-ever lyricists….and from a man who has worked so closely with Morrissey and Matt Johnson, then that has to be seen as praise of the highest order.

It’s a single I picked up cheap quite recently and outside of maybe a couple of plays on radio I haven’t heard it much over the past 33 years.  Sad to say, I found myself a bit underwhelmed by it – it was a lot duller and far more mainstream that I had ever remembered and I found it all a bit disappointing.

For a long time after ‘Chip Shop’ it looked as if Kirsty was going to go down as a one-hit wonder, but thanks to her cracking cover of a Billy Bragg song she was able to kick-start her career in 1984, and while she rarely made an impact on the higher echelons of the chart, all of her records were afforded critical acclaim and respectable sales.

There were two b-sides to ‘Chip Shop’, one of which is features an alternative take on the single:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Hard To Believe
mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis (country version)

Again, I was left a little disappointed by these.  They are certainly not as good as the later material she would release.

Enjoy.

A POLITICAL PROTEST SONG

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The 1980s was a decade when pop and politics were mixed like no other, certainly here in the UK.

The threat of a nuclear holocaust, the miners’ strike, the struggle for democracy in South Africa, homophobia, the efforts to bring an end to the Iron Curtain, famine in Africa, the worries around the growth of a fascist state in the UK, the ever-increasing gaps in living standards between those who had and those who hadn’t, the Falklands War, the UK riots and the ‘greed is best’ ethos were common subject matters in pop music during the Thatcher-era which began and ended just either side of the 80s.

There’s loads of great and memorable songs from that era, none more so than Nelson Mandela which helped take a decades-old campaign to places it hadn’t been before or Ghost Town which perfectly captured the grim despair that many parts of the UK felt as the full effects of laissez-faire capitalism took a firm grip.

In 1989, Kirsty MacColl slipped out a tremendously jaunty sounding single whose lyrics encapsulate much of what the previous decade had been all about:-

I thought of you when they closed down the school
And the hospital too
Did they think that you were better?
They were wrong
You had so many friends
They all left you in the end
‘Cause they couldn’t take the patter

And I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by a struggle
Going down
You’ve got to walk into the water
With your sister and your daughter
In this free world

If I wore your shades could I share your point of view?
Could I make you feel better?
Paint a picture, write a letter?
Well I know what you’re saying
But I see the things you do
And it’s much too dangerous
To get closer to you

But I will see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
Going down
With a pocketful of plastic
Like a dollar on elastic
In this free world
I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t care

I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
And the ghettos are full of Mercedes Benz
And you’d never hurt a friend
Who wouldn’t tell you

It’s cold and it’s going to get colder
You may not get much older
You’re much too scared of living
And to die is a reliable exit
So you push it and you test it
With Thunderbird and Rivin

I’ll see you baby when the clans rise again
Women and men united by the struggle
In this free world baby
Got to take it got to grab it
Got to get it up and shag it
In this free world

Going down
You’ve got to get into the water
Like a lamb goes to the slaughter
In this free world baby
Going down
With a pocketful of plastic
Like a dollar on elastic
In this free world
I wouldn’t tell you if I didn’t care

Sadly, the single didn’t crack the charts and so has become one of the many forgotten political protest songs of the era:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Free World

The 12″ of this had an exceptional cover version:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby

Johnny Marr himself contributed guitar to this particular recording and in doing so, combined with Kirsty’s tremendous vocal delivery, has made this a rare instance of when the fresh take was better than the original.

The final track was this:-

mp3 : Kirsty MacColl – Closer to God?

I really wish the record bosses had made this a double-A side of Free World and You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet Baby for I’m certain there would have been more airplay and sales.  And who knows, there might even have been a wonderful post-Smiths appearance for Johnny on Top of the Pops.

Enjoy!!

PS : I’d like to invite T(n)VV readers to contribute their own favourite or memorable political protest songs along with a few lines of explanation with the idea of starting up a new series.  If you fancy joining in, please send it over to thevinylvillain@hotmail.co.uk

Cheers.