SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 23)

It’s been a while since this irregular series last appeared.

The song being featured today is most closely associated with Elvis Presley, but has been covered quite extensively since its first airing in 1969.

As the snow flies
On a cold and grey Chicago mornin’
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto

And his mama cries
‘cos if there’s one thing that she don’t need
It’s another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto

People, don’t you understand
The child needs a helping hand
Or he’ll grow to be an angry young man some day
Take a look at you and me
Are we too blind to see
Do we simply turn our head and look the other way?

Well the world turns
And a hungry little boy with a runny nose
Plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto

And his hunger burns
So he starts to roam the streets at night
And he learns how to steal and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto

Then one night in desperation
The young man breaks away
He buys a gun, steals a car
Tries to run, but he don’t get far
And his mama cries

As a crowd gathers ’round an angry young man
Face down on the street with a gun in his hand
In the ghetto

As her young man dies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin’
Another little baby child is born
In the ghetto

And his mama cries
In the ghetto

The song’s composer was Mac Davis, a Texas-born songwriter who got his first break working with Nancy Sinatra before gaining fame for his work with the king of rock’n’roll. The original title of the songs was The Vicious Circle, reflecting its narrative of grinding and continuing poverty that inevitable escalates into violence. It’s a heart breaking tale that has come true on far too many occasions in towns and cities across the world, and not merely Chicago.

In The Ghetto provided Elvis Presley with his first hit single in the UK in three years, and likewise in many other parts of the world and, as mentioned earlier, has been recorded by numerous singers over the year and also spawned a number of parody versions.

I have to say that when I first heard the Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds take on it, I wasn’t quite sure it was a tribute or a parody, but given that it was recorded at a time when the singer and his acolytes were almost permanently is a state of substance dependency, it’s hardly a surprise that it turned out the way it did:-

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – In The Ghetto

The single seemingly hit the shops on 18 June 1984, the very day that I celebrated by 21st birthday by getting drunk and playing all the early Smiths songs at full blast in my flat, with Girl Afraid being on very heavy rotation! Who’d have thought back then that Nick Cave would still be alive in 2019 and reaching the level of popularity he is currently enjoying while the lead singer of the Mancunians would be held in such contempt for his statements and political leanings?

JC

THE JOY OF (a mixed) SEX (duet) : Couple #5

Adapted from wiki:-

“Young Hunting” is a traditional folk song that has its origin in Scotland. It can be traced back as far as the 18th century, being the tale of the eponymous protagonist, Young Hunting, who tells a woman, who may have borne him a child, that he is in love with another, more beautiful woman. Despite this, she persuades him to drink until he is drunk, then to come to her bedroom, or at least kiss her farewell. The woman then stabs him to death.

The tormented murderer then throws the body in the river but in doing so is taunted by a bird. She tries to lure the bird down from the tree but it tells her that she will kill it if it comes within reach. When the search for Young Hunting starts, she either denies seeing him or claims that he left earlier, but when Hunting’s remains are found, in order to revoke her guilt, she reveals that she murdered him and is later burned at the stake.

Like most traditional songs, numerous variants of the song exist worldwide, notably under the title of “Henry Lee” and “Love Henry” in the United States.

Nick Cave decided that he’d like to record a version of Henry Lee for inclusion as part of the Bad Seeds‘ ambitious 1996 album Murder Ballads, being a work (almost) entirely devoted to asongs of violent death, most often in tragic circumstances. He recorded a vocal in Australia and brought on board PJ Harvey who recorded her vocal separately in England.

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Henry Lee

The results were astonishing and led to Mute Records demanding it be released as a single, for which this promo was shot:-

The couple, having met, embarked on a short relationship (seemingly just four months in length), the aftermath of which led to Cave composing a number of break-up songs that would appear on his next album The Boatman’s Call – it should be noted, however, that most of the album’s material, including the haunting Into My Arms, deals with the six-year marriage he had enjoyed with Brazilian journalist Viviane Carneiro.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 18)

Today’s offering tells the story of a birth taking place in the middle of one almighty thunderstorm. The date is 8 January 1935 and the location is a small house in a town in Mississippi.

Looka yonder! Looka yonder! Looka yonder! A big black cloud come! O comes to Tupelo. Comes to Tupelo

Yonder on the horizon. Stopped at the mighty river and. Sucked the damn thing dry. Tupelo-o-o, O Tupelo. In a valley hides a town called Tupelo.

Distant thunder rumble. Rumble hungry like the Beast. The Beast it cometh, cometh down. Wo wo wo-o-o. Tupelo bound. Tupelo-o-o. Yeah Tupelo. The Beast it cometh, Tupelo bound.

Why the hen won’t lay no egg. Can’t get that cock to crow. The nag is spooked and crazy. O God help Tupelo! O God help Tupelo!

Ya can say these streets are rivers. Ya can call these rivers streets. Ya can tell ya self ya dreaming buddy. But no sleep runs this deep. No! No sleep runs this deep. No sleep runs this deep. Women at their windows. Rain crashing on the pane. Writing in the frost. Tupelos’ shame. Tupelo’s shame. O God help Tupelo! O God help Tupelo!

O go to sleep lil children. The sandmans on his way. O go to sleep lil children. The sandmans on his way. But the lil children know. They listen to the beating of their blood.

They listen to the beating of their blood. The sandman’s mud! The sandman’s mud! And the black rain come down. Water water everywhere. Where no bird can fly no fish can swim. Where no bird can fly no fish can swim. No fish can swim. Until The King is born! Until The King is born! In Tupelo! Tupelo-o-o! Til The King is born in Tupelo!

In a clap-board shack with a roof of tin. Where the rain came down and leaked within. A young mother frozen on a concrete floor. With a bottle and a box and a cradle of straw. Tupelo-o-o! O Tupelo! With a bundle and a box and a cradle of straw.

Well Saturday gives what Sunday steals. And a child is born on his brothers heels. Come Sunday morn the first-born dead. In a shoe-box tied with a ribbon of red. Tupelo-o-o! Hey Tupelo! In a shoe-box buried with a ribbon of red.

O ma-ma rock you lil’ one slow. O ma-ma rock your baby. O ma-ma rock your lil’ one slow. O God help Tupelo! O God help Tupelo! Mama rock your lil’ one slow. The lil one will walk on Tupelo. Tupelo-o-o! Yeah Tupelo! And carry the burden of Tupelo. Tupelo-o-o! O Tupelo! Yeah! The King will walk on Tupelo! Tupelo-o-o! O Tupelo! He carried the burden outa Tupelo! Tupelo-o-o! Hey Tupelo! You will reap just what you sow.

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tupelo

I wasn’t sure whether to include this in this series given that the lyric is very much based on an actual event, namely that of the stillborn birth of Jesse Garon Presley, the elder twin, by 35 minutes, of the later to be crowned king of rock’n’roll. But there is a huge amount of imagination in the lyric given that the thunderstorm which engulfed Tupelo wasn’t until April 1936 when more than 200 people died after a deadly tornado tore through the city.

Nick Cave’s brilliance in forging these two events creates a tale of gothic horror, one which is made all the more spine-chilling thanks to the rollicking and memorable music, written by Mick Harvey and Barry Adamson, in which the sound effects of claps thunder and lightning bolts are fully justified.

This is from when Nick Cave was more Birthday Party than latter day Bad Seed. There is more than a nod to the blues with the opening line referencing Black Betty by Leadbelly (which itself would later be covered by The Bad Seeds) and the wider lyric being based on an old number by John Lee Hooker, who himself had written and recorded a song entitled Tupelo all about the deadly storm and the havoc it had reaped.

JC

SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter Four)

Again, it was only a matter of when, and which song, that Nick Cave would feature in this series. I’ve gone for  Mrs Villain’s all-time favourite:-

I live in a town called Millhaven
And it’s small and it’s mean and it’s cold
But if you come around just as the sun goes down
You can watch the whole town turn to gold
It’s around about then that I used to go a-roaming
Singing La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they all gotta die

My name is Loretta but I prefer Lottie
I’m closing in on my fifteenth year
And if you think you have seen a pair of eyes more green
Then you sure didn’t see them around here
My hair is yellow and I’m always a-combing
La la la la La la la lie
Mama often told me we all got to die

You must have heard about The Curse Of Millhaven
How last Christmas Bill Blake’s little boy didn’t come home
They found him next week in One Mile Creek
His head bashed in and his pockets full of stones
Well, just imagine all the wailing and moaning
La la la la La la la lie
Even little Billy Blake’s boy, he had to die

Then Professor O’Rye from Millhaven High
Found nailed to his door his prize-winning terrier
Then next day the old fool brought little Biko to school
And we all had to watch as he buried her
His eulogy to Biko had all the tears a-flowing
La la la la La la la lie
Even God’s little creatures, they have to die

Our little town fell into a state of shock
A lot of people were saying things that made little sense
Then the next thing you know the head of Handyman Joe
Was found in the fountain of the Mayor’s residence
Foul play can really get a small town going
La la la la La la la lie
Even God’s children all have to die

Then, in a cruel twist of fate, old Mrs Colgate
Was stabbed but the job was not complete
The last thing she said before the cops pronounced her dead
Was, “My killer is Loretta and she lives across the street!”
Twenty cops burst through my door without even phoning
La la la la La la la lie
The young ones, the old ones, they all gotta die

Yes, it is I, Lottie. The Curse Of Millhaven
I’ve struck horror in the heart of this town
Like my eyes ain’t green and my hair ain’t yellow
It’s more like the other way around
I gotta pretty little mouth underneath all the foaming
La la la la La la la lie
Sooner or later we all gotta die

Since I was no bigger than a weavil they’ve been saying I was evil
That if “bad” was a boot that I’d fit it
That I’m a wicked young lady, but I’ve been trying hard lately
O fuck it! I’m a monster! I admit it!
It makes me so mad my blood really starts a-going
La la la la La la la lie
Mama always told me that we all gotta die

Yeah, I drowned the Blakey kid, stabbed Mrs. Colgate, I admit
Did the handyman with his circular saw in his garden shed
But I never crucified little Biko, that was two junior high school psychos
Stinky Bohoon and his friend with the pumpkin-sized head
I’ll sing to the lot, now you got me going
La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children have all gotta die

There were all the others, all our sisters and brothers
You assumed were accidents, best forgotten
Recall the children who broke through the ice on Lake Tahoo?
Everyone assumed the “Warning” signs had followed them to the bottom
Well, they’re underneath the house where I do quite a bit of stowing
La la la la La la la lie
Even twenty little children, they had to die

And the fire of ’91 that razed the Bella Vista slum
There was the biggest shit-fight this country’s ever seen
Insurance companies ruined, land lords getting sued
All cause of wee girl with a can of gasoline
Those flames really roared when the wind started blowing
La la la la La la la lie
Rich man, poor man, all got to die

Well I confessed to all these crimes and they put me on trial
I was laughing when they took me away
Off to the asylum in an old black Mariah
It ain’t home, but you know, it’s fucking better than jail
It ain’t such bad old place to have a home in
La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they all gotta die

Now I got shrinks that will not rest with their endless Rorschach tests
I keep telling them they’re out to get me
They ask me if I feel remorse and I answer, “Why of course!
There is so much more I could have done if they’d let me!”
So it’s Rorschach and Prozac and everything is groovy

Singing La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they all have to die
La la la la La la la lie
I’m happy as a lark and everything is fine
Singing La la la la La la la lie
Yeah, everything is groovy and everything is fine
Singing La la la la La la la lie
All God’s children they gotta die.

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Curse of Millhaven

JC

SAILING STRAIGHT INTO YOUR HEART

110726-shipsong

Up until March 1990, Nick Cave was best known for fierce and uncompromising music. There had been the occasional ballad but never an all-out soppy love song. His new 45 was as far removed from the goth-rock, dark- as-night singles such as Tupelo, The Mercy Seat and Deanna as you could imagine. It was the first sign of a singer-songwriter maturing as he aged and not being afraid to put his feelings down on paper.

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Ship Song

It’s still, all these years on, seen as one one his finest ever moments, always getting a huge cheer and prolonged applause whenever he plays it in the live setting.

The b-side also had a mode of transport referenced:-

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Train Song

Another stripped-back effort that took long-standing fans by surprise. It’s maybe not one of Nick’s greatest lyrics or tunes but it is still a sign of him looking to do things a bit differently than in the past.

JC

OVERDOSING ON COVER VERSIONS (2)

All the greats eventually get the full-blooded cover version treatment with singers and bands queing up to pay tribute to those who greatly influenced them. The late Leonard Cohen has had his songs covered more than most, including various compilation LPs over the years which have been commercially released or given away free with music magazines. There’s even been specially curated gigs at which some of the great and good have appeared on stage to pay tribute.

So many tracks to choose from, but I’ve gone for one which, in its original recording, is not much more than a gravelled voice and some backing oohs and aahs over a toy synthesiser with its cheap drum pattern:-

mp3 : Leonard Cohen – Tower of Song

The opposite tack was taken by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds who, in a drink and drug fuelled frenzy one day in a studio, eventually cut what became an infamous 33 minute version of the track in which all sorts of musical genres are eventually thrown in. It’s not for the faint hearted:-

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tower of Song (full length)

An edited version was made available for inclusion of the tribute/compilation album I’m Your Fan, released in 1991:-

mp3 : Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Tower of Song (album version)

Here’s two more versions worth giving a listen:-

mp3 : Lloyd Cole – Tower of Song
mp3 : Martha Wainwright – Tower of Song

And finally, the daddy of them all in which Lenny C is given the shoegaze treatment:-

mp3 : The Jesus & Mary Chain – Tower of Song

Outstanding.

ONE MORE TIME WITH FEELING

one-more-time

Those of you who are fans of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds will know today marks the release of the new album, Skeleton Tree. You’ll also know that the release was preceded by the one-off showing last night in more than 650 cinemas worldwide of One More Time With Feeling, a documentary about the making of the record in which fans had the first opportunity to hear the new material.

Album launches tend to be happy and joyous affairs – indeed just a mile or so at the other end of the city centre of Glasgow from the cinema I was sitting in, such an event involving the wonderful and exciting Teen Canteen was taking place (with early reports from friends who were there indicating it was one of the gigs of the year). After such launches, the singer or band tends to take to the road and promote the new material via the live setting (such as Teenage Fanclub did earlier this week).

Neither of these options would have been appropriate for the launch of Skeleton Tree.

For those of you who don’t know, work was already underway on the new record when Nick Cave and his family were hit with the most unimaginable personal tragedy.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jul/15/nick-cave-son-arthur-dies-brighton-chalk-cliff-fall

The subsequent inquest, in November 2015, found that Arthur had taken some form of hallucinogenic drug, most likely for the first ever time, shortly before he fell to his death.

At some point in time, and I’m sure as part of the grieving process, Nick Cave returned to the studio to finish work on the new record. He knew that at some point when work was complete that he would need to promote the record but he could not, understandably, bring himself to be subject to widespread media attention nor go on stage not knowing just how he would react.

In December 2016, he called up his film-making friend Andrew Dominik and floated the idea of a documentary to capture the band performing the new album. Work began in February 2016 at a time when the band came together again to mix the record but it soon became clear that the bond between the two men, and the trust placed in the film-maker by the Cave family and circle of friends, would allow something much more substantial to emerge from the process.

The finished work, shot almost exclusively in black and white and 3D, has long sections in which Nick Cave tries to talk and muse on what has happened to him over the past year and a bit. It also has some of the most astounding performances of some of the most astounding songs that the Bad Seeds have ever recorded.

It is an extraordinary, powerful and moving piece of film. It goes beyond belief that Nick and his wife Susie should so openly share their feelings about their sense of loss and grief in such a bold and frank fashion without ever looking for the man behind the camera, and by extension the audience, to offer up any pity.

The other thing that was most striking was watching a man whose very strength has always been his lyrics and prose at such a loss to find the words to adequately articulate the pain he feels every waking day.

One More Time With Feeling wasn’t something to be enjoyed in the same way as other music documentaries. It was haunting and sad and yet it was full of beauty and dignity. It’ll stay with me a long long time and I’ll recall many of its scenes any time I play the new album.