AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #260 : GREEN GARTSIDE

A DEBUT GUEST POSTING by KHAYEM

Inspired by JC’s recent post, my first attempt at an ICA is Scritti Politti, or more specifically, the wonder that is Green Gartside. Like most, it’s been a challenge to pick just ten songs but I’ve tried to avoid straightforward ‘greatest hits’ and instead capture the breadth and consistency of Green’s output over several decades. Ironically, my first exposure to Scritti Politti wasn’t the music, but the lyrics to The ‘Sweetest Girl, printed in Smash Hits. The words alone and the accompanying striking image of Green & co. was enough for me to check out their records and I’ve been along for the ride ever since.

I think Green is one of the finest songwriters and singers and, whether DIY indie, anarcho-political, ‘perfect pop’, reggae, dancehall, electronica-acoustic or future folk, the trinity of words, music and voice is hard to beat.

SIDE ONE

1) Boom! There She Was (Sonic Property Mix ft. Roger) (UK 12” single, 1988)

Perfect pop sounds to begin. I got this 12” single before the accompanying album Provision and it’s remained the definitive version for me. There is a US edit of this song which, at 9 minutes, slightly outstays its welcome but the album and single versions feel too short. This is just the right balance of mid-80s sounds, enhanced by remix titans Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero and guest vox from talkbox champion Roger Troutman. Also, the second Scritti pop song (that I’m aware of) to reference philosopher and author Jacques Derrida.

2) A Little Knowledge (Cupid & Psyche 85, 1985)

This duet with B.J. Nelson is one of the highlights of the album and one of my favourite Scritti songs, full stop. It’s a perfect meld of sound and feeling, brimming with great lines including this one:

Got a little radio
Held to my body
I can feel your back beat boy
Moving a muscle of love

3) Petrococadollar (White Bread Black Beer, 2006)

Green often creates an unsettling mix of honeyed vocals and unsettling aural backdrops and this is a great example. It’s almost as if the music is coming through the walls from the neighbour next door whilst he’s riffing lyrics over the top. Comforting and creepy at the same time.

4) Take Me In Your Arms And Love Me (Nice Up The Area Mix ft. Sweetie Irie) (CD single, 1991)

Scritti Politti entered the 1990s with a trio of cover version singles, one with B.E.F. (see the ‘Bonus EP’ below) and two with on-the-money reggae guest vocalists. I prefer this cover of the Gladys Knight & The Pips song to The BeatlesShe’s A Woman. The latter was a bigger hit, but this is a better song and Sweetie Irie tops Shabba Ranks, no question. Of the multiple mixes on the 12” & CD this one by Green and Heaven 17/B.E.F.’s Ian Craig Marsh is the stripped-down superior.

5) Flesh & Blood (Version ft. Ranking Ann) (The Word Girl EP/Cupid & Psyche 85 bonus 12”, 1985)

Though 1999’s Anomie & Bonhomie was seen by many as a controversial departure, with Green frequently ‘guest vocalist’ on his own songs to rap artists, the seeds had been planted a decade and a half before. Limited copies of Cupid & Psyche 85 came with a bonus 4-track 12” of ‘Versions’ and this alternative take on reggae pop of The Word Girl is dominated by Ranking Ann, with an occasional snippet of Green in the background. This version also appeared on the single’s B-side, which remains Scritti Politti’s biggest UK hit to date, peaking at No. 6.

SIDE TWO

6) Confidence (4 ‘A Sides’ EP, 1979/Early, 2005)

Kicking off Side Two, this doesn’t quite go right back to the beginning but appeared on the aptly 4 ‘A Sides’ EP from 1979. I heard this for the first time on the Early compilation. As the EP title suggests, this is a shift towards pop, though as ever Green has an individual lyrical take on the relationship song:

Competence inherent in what a man must do
Facts I admit only in confidence to you
But you haven’t got the heart to tell me…

7) Tinseltown To The Boogiedown (Album Version ft. Mos Def & Lee Majors) (Anomie & Bonhomie, 1999)

I first heard and saw the video on The Chart Show and missed the opening few seconds and title, so I didn’t realise it was Scritti Politti until Green’s unmistakeable vocals appeared on the chorus. I loved this song and the Anomie & Bonhomie album and, for me, it seemed a natural evolution. The Black Keys did pretty much the same thing ten years later, with their Blackroc album, but Green was there first and this is better. And Mos Def is most definitely the rap chief.

8) Wishing Well (Tangled Man EP, 2020)

The release earlier this year of a two-song solo single of Anne Briggs cover versions was a welcome surprise. I belatedly picked up on an earlier Green Gartside cover version on a Nick Drake tribute album (Fruit Tree, on 2013’s Way To Blue) which kind of points the way to these songs. This song would also sit comfortably with the White Bread Black Beer album, and is further evidence of Green’s consummate skill as an interpreter of other people’s songs. And his voice grows ever richer with time.

9) Gettin’, Havin’ And Holdin’ (Songs To Remember, 1982)

With lyrical nods to Percy Sledge (“When a man loves a woman”) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (“It’s true like The Tractatus”), this also has the dubious distinction of allegedly inspiring Wet Wet Wet’s name. Why this song hasn’t been covered innumerable times is a mystery to me but it remains an all-time favourite and has been an essential inclusion on every Scritti Politti or ‘skewed love songs’ mix tape that I’ve done for friends over the years.

10) Forgiven (Live Acoustic Version) (Charles Hazlewood, BBC Radio 2, May 2007)

This was one of two new songs that Green premiered on the Charles Hazlewood show in 2007, both with working titles (the other being Unfrozen). Forgiven has synth-based bird tweets, broken acoustic chords and lyrical references to a shady character going to “settle scores with a man with a Nike holdall”.

The entire segment, including a short but fascinating interview with Green, is still available on the excellent Bibbly-O-Tek website (http://bibbly-o-tek.com/2007/05/17/green-gartside-in-the-charles-hazlewood-show/). I was fortunate to see Green Gartside a couple of weeks later as part of the Venn Festival in Bristol. Although billed as a solo gig, it was the full Scritti Politti touring band: Rodhri Marsden, Alyssa McDonald & Dave Ferrett. Although a relatively short set of 9 songs, 5 (including Forgiven) were brand new songs at the time and one song (Robert E. Lee) had been finished in the dressing room before coming on stage. As far as I’m aware, Forgiven has not been re-recorded or released since, but this version could appear on an album as it is and, in my opinion, is a perfect closer to this ICA.

BONUS EP “TOUCHED BY THE VOICE OF GREEN GARTSIDE”

A sampler of songs that Green has lent his voice to and which are all the better for it.

a) I Don’t Know Why I Love You (But I Love You) (Album Version) (B.E.F., Music Of Quality And Distinction Volume 2, 1991)
b) Come And Behold (Green Gartside Revoice) (King Midas Sound, Without You, 2011)
c) When It’s Over (7” Version) (Adele Bertei, UK 7” single, 1985)
d) Between The Clock And The Bed (Manic Street Preachers, Futurology, 2014)

The Adele Bertei song was also co-written and produced by David Gamson and Fred Maher and sounds entirely like a Scritti Politti backing track/outtake from the Cupid & Psyche 85 sessions.

KHAYEM

THE PERFECT POP SOUNDS OF THE MID-80s

Songs To Remember, the 1982 album from Scritti Politti, is and always will be one of my all-time favourites. I’ve written about it a couple of times previously, on both this and the old blog that was so brutally and callously murdered by google.

I haven’t ever focussed on the follow-up, Cupid and Psyche 85 but am intending to rectify that today.

It’s not that I didn’t like the album when it was released in June 1985, which was exactly as I was putting my student days behind me and getting set to start my first job that involved a salary rather than a wage. It’s an album that seemed to have a long gestation given that it hit the shops after four hit singles in a row, and when it did, it caused a bit of consternation as it only had nine tracks, and of these, only five were new tunes as all the singles had been included. Songs To Remember had seemed the perfect fit to how I imagined I was living my student life and the songs didn’t sound out of place on compilation tapes alongside tunes by The Smiths, The Bunnymen, The The, Talking Heads, New Order or countless other post-punk/new wave acts that made up the majority of the record collection.

The singles that had brought fame and fortune to Scritti Politti didn’t fit in comfortably with such sounds, although they didn’t sound out of place with the big new, brash pop sounds that were beginning to dominate the charts in the middle of the decade, and I’ve never been ashamed to admit of having a love for such music, albeit a lot of it has dated badly.

Cupid & Psyche 85 somehow manages to pull off something akin to a magic trick. One listen, even if you didn’t know the title of the album and you wouldn’t fail to notice it dates from the 80s given its production in which the latest technology of the day is harnessed to full effect. It has big synths and it has big drums (often of a synthetic nature). It has bass lines slapped over the tunes and the vocals are often multi-tracked. Sparse it most certainly is not. Low budget it most certainly is not. It’s an album that would likely have bankrupted Rough Trade if Scritti Politti hadn’t been allowed to take up the offer dangled in front of them by Virgin Records.  T

It’s an album that most certainly was aimed at the mass-market rather than bedsit land. It’s an album of pop at its purest and its finest…..but it was hard for this particular to admit a pure love for at the time of release.

In saying that, hearing the first new song post-Songs To Remember was a real joy.

Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) still sounds astonishingly good all these years later. Released in February 1984, it was accompanied by a stunning and glossy video that featured Michael Clark, the new superstar of modern ballet who had previously worked with The Fall. It sounded immense coming out of crackly radios and beyond belief when played over the sound system in the student union. It deservedly went Top 10 and enabled Green Gartside, with his new haircut that seemed to pay equal tribute to George Michael and Princess Diana, onto Top of The Pops.

The follow-up, released while Wood Beez was still hanging around the lower reached of the Top 75 some four months on, was Absolute. It didn’t do quite as well as Wood Beez, but still went Top 20 which was perhaps a reflection that while it was a more than decent enough sounding record and had the occasional moment of magic, especially around Green’s vocal harmonies with the backing singers, it didn’t have the same immediate or lasting impact.

The third single in a year was issued in November 1984. To be honest, until the following year and the eventual release of the album, I hadn’t realised that Hypnotize had been given a release as I couldn’t ever recall hearing it or indeed seeing it on sale in any record shops. It was a flop, only reaching #68 which was less than had been managed by any of the three singles from Songs To Remember. Maybe there was some thought that the Scritti Politti bubble had burst already.

It was a full six months before anything else was heard and this time around, Green & co. managed to again silence the doubters thanks to The Word Girl. It had been the slow, meandering and stylish sound of The ‘Sweetest’ Girl that had led many people to fall for charms of Scritti Politti back in 1981, myself included, and here it was four years on that history was repeating with a lovers-rock effort that was nigh on perfect for the times. The record-buying public loved it and bought enough copies to take it to #6 in mid-June 1985, providing the final building block for the release of the parent album which itself went top 5 on the week of its release where it stayed for a month.

And, if you want to look at the exalted company who were also near the top of the album charts that month, you’ll find Bryan Ferry, Bruce Springsteen, Dire Straits, Sting, and Tears for Fears. It was payola time and the album would eventually be certified as Gold with at least 500,000 sales in the UK.

The fact that there were only five new songs on the album did restrict the opportunities to further promote it through another single, but Perfect Way was issued in that format in August 1985. It did scrape into the Top 50 but given it didn’t prove to be a smash, any further thoughts to perhaps give Hypnotize the re-release treatment were put to one side.

As the years have passed, I’ve mellowed out a bit on Cupid & Psyche 85 and am not quite as hostile as I was back in the day. It did help that I’ve long had a love for Wood Beez and The Word Girl, but it remains an album, a bit like Our Favourite Shop by The Style Council (which came out around the same time), that I enjoy listening in full only every now and again, but have a lot of time for a number of the component parts.

I normally break up my longs posts with bits of music but there’s a reason I’ve not done so today. I’ve mentioned how the songs all have that big production and, as such they need to be played on a decent turntable with a good amp and speakers to get the best effect – which is why I have hunted down in recent weeks, as pristine a copy as I could of all the 12″ singles lifted from the album. And here they are:-

mp3: Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Absolute (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Hypnotize (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – The Word Girl/Flesh & Blood (version)
mp3: Scritti Politti – Perfect Way (version – extended mix)

Finally, it was brought to my attention that Green Gartside had, earlier this year released a 7″ single, on Rough Trade, the first under his own name. The two tracks on the release are both covers of songs originally recorded by Anne Briggs, regarded by many who follow the genre as one of the great British folk singers. It was a new name to and all I can say, having picked up the single, Ms. Briggs was a very fine writer.

JC

CONTRASTING THE ORIGINAL AND THE COVER

The original, technically, was in 1819 by Percy Bysshe Shelley as a response to the Peterloo massacre in Manchester in which a cavalry had charged into a crowd of 60,000–80,000 that had gathered to demand political reform. 15 people were killed and 400–700 were injured. The full poem, The Masque of Anarchy, has been held up by many commentators as the greatest political poem ever written by an Englishman, calling as it did on continued peaceful resistance as a way of achieving change.

Scritti Politti used part of the poem to inspire one of the many excellent tracks to be found on the 1983 LP Songs To Remember:-

mp3 : Scritti Politti – Lions After Slumber

In 2003, Rough Trade released a compilation LP entitled Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before in which their then current roster of artists covered songs from the label’s back-catalogue.

mp3 : The Veils – Lions After Slumber

A fine example of grabbing something that was quite distinctive and being able to turn it into something you can claim as your own. The New Zealanders raw and tribal take on this is well worth a listen.

JC

1982??? YOU ARE JOKING AREN’T YOU???

I actually wrote this ten years ago for the old blog as I was stunned that a full quarter-century had passed since its release.  I resurrected and modified it, again for the old blog, in March 2011 to coincide with the release of a ‘Greatest Hits’ effort and recently found that particular piece of writing among another search of the archives.  One of the most exciting things about the discovery was, unusually, being able to see the handful of comments left behind….including one from the mighty Echorich….which must have been among the first of what have been hundreds of shrewd contributions and observations over the years.  But I’ll get to that in due course.

As I may have said at least twice before…..

…….Scritti Politti, which in effect was really just a vehicle for the talents of Welsh-born singer-songwriter Green Gartside had been kicking around as a band since the late 1970s. Gartside had a reputation in the music press as a left-wing intellectual, which was maintained with the release of the debut single Skank Bloc Bologna which was regarded as a pro-feminist song that attacked the way that much of society expected young women to conform to a lifestyle of dull humdrum work and then raise families.

I never actually liked the debut single and still don’t listen to it much today. If there was ever such a thing as free-form new wave, then this was it. The production values were non-existent, the vocals are lost amidst all sorts of sharp and abrupt changes in rhythm and you couldn’t really dance to it. So I never thought I’d pay much attention to Scritti Politti again.

A couple of years later, I picked up a free cassette with the NME which featured a Scritti Politti song entitled The “Sweetest Girl”. It was absolutely gorgeous and as far removed from Bologna as you could imagine. It’s not quite a ballad, not quite a full-blown radio friendly pop-song. It was driven along sedately by a piano and a drum machine and a fantastic near-falsetto vocal performance by Green.

It was later released as a single on Rough Trade Records and topped the indie charts. I remember buying the single and after listening to the a-side a couple of times flipping it over to something called Lions After Slumber – a funk/rap number that just blew me away. I spent many many hours trying to decipher the lyric……

Into 1982 and another single came out in the summer. It was called Faithless. And it was joyful, soulful and with a hint of gospel. Three completely different song styles, and every one of them on heavy rotation.

And yet another single appeared later in the summer – a double a-side effort entitled Asylums in Jerusalem/Jacques Derrida – this time there were hints of reggae kicking around as well as a more pop-orientated feel. By now, I was itching for the album to appear.

It was a really brave move to call it Songs To Remember as it left Green (as he was by now calling himself) open to ridicule. It turned out not to be an outlandish statement. The track listing was:-

01 : Asylums in Jerusalem
02 : A Slow Soul
03 : Jacques Derrida
04 : Lions After Slumber
05 : Faithless
06 : Sex
07 : Rock-A-Boy Blue
08 : Gettin’ Havin’ & Holdin’
09 : The “Sweetest Girl”

There’s not a bad track on this album. My only gripe at the time was the fact it had only nine songs, of which only four were brand new. The new songs showed further musical talents, especially on the jazz-tinged Rock-A-Boy Blue which featured a lengthy double-bass solo.

I thought I was in a real minority falling in love with Scritti Politti in 1982 as I don’t recall them having any real chart success – certainly none of the singles did anything. So I was surprised to learn in doing a wee bit of research that Songs To Remember sold enough to reach #12 in the UK album charts.

Green was now a man in demand, and he signed a huge deal with Virgin Records. Within two years he was a bona-fide pop star crawling all over the UK and US charts with a succession of pop singles that were typical of that decade – synthesiser-led, big big production sounds and topped-up by expensive videos with Green wearing designer clothes and expensive haircuts. These hit singles, and the subsequent album Cupid & Psyche weren’t all that bad compared to an awful lot of the drivel that dominated the charts at the time, but the joy and beauty of the debut album had been left behind.

My vinyl copy of Songs To Remember was pretty much unplayable by around 1990. The only time I heard any of the songs was when they came up on any compilation cassette tapes that I had made up over the years. It wasn’t until 2001 that I again got to hear all of the album in its glory when it was finally given a long-delayed release on CD. It still sounded incredible and timeless. And………..it came with a lyric booklet, so I quickly discovered that I had gotten about 85% of the words to Lions After Slumber spot-on……

I suppose you all know that Scottish popsters Wet Wet Wet took their band name from a line from the song Gettin’ Havin’ & Holdin’…..well if you didn’t, you know now….

(at this point I posted the vinyl rips of the three singles lifted from the LP – and as mentioned above, there were a handful of comments, including this)

Echorich said

Green Gartside is the epitome of a pop music one off! There is NO ONE remotely like him. Sure he has a bit of a familiar mad genius temperment that we see occasionally in music, but the idea that the same artist wrote songs like Skank Bloc Bologna, Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) and Boom Boom Bap is really quite rare.

The two new songs on the greatest hits collection are pure Scritti, right down to the partnership with David Gamson. They will remind of Cupid and Psyche ’85 but are certainly more mature.

And back to Skank Bloc Bologna, this track, over all others is what comes to mind when anyone mentions Rough Trade Records to me. More than The Smiths, more than The Raincoats, Stiff Little Fingers or Swell Maps.

3:54 AM, March 17, 2011

Seems only right therefore to put a wider selection up today:-

mp3 : Scritti Politti – Skank Bloc Bologna
mp3 : Scritti Politti – Lions After Slumber
mp3 : Scritti Politti – Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin)
mp3 : Scritti Politti – The Boom Boom Bap
mp3 : Scritti Politti – A Day Late and A Dollar Short

Thanks Echorich for your unstinting support for so many years now.  This entire post and its songs are dedicated to you.

JC

 

A LAZY STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE : 45 45s AT 45 (28)

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL 2008

R-29301-1160324764.jpeg
I’m no connoisseur of art and paintings. I’ll see something hanging on a wall and decide pretty quickly whether I like it or not. There will even be times when one work by an artist will appeal, while another of their paintings will appal.

One thing I can’t do however, is really explain why that happens to be the case. I’m not able to dissect a work or art, nor can I really look beyond the immediate visual images that meet the naked eye for something that is more deep and meaningful. And sometimes this happens in music.

I chanced upon a brilliant piece of writing on the LP Songs To Remember by Scritti Politti. It highlights how the record, which on first listen appears to be a hotchpotch of soul, jazz, R&B and pop at its purest, is actually a very clever and subversive piece of work full of political sentiments that almost border on the anarchic.

Now I’m not saying I was never aware of the fact that Green Gartside had a strong and almost extreme left-wing ideology, but I kind of let it drift away on the wind whenever I played what has long been one of my favourite LPs of all time. There’s a lot to admire in the essay – for instance, I’d never have cottoned-on to the fact that the sleeves of the singles were a parody of the finer things in life such as cigars and Courvoisier. I also love the analysis that this was a record full of innovative acts of homage thanks to Green’s style and approach, but the use of soul would later be stolen by ‘the hideous mid-Eighties Live Aid Brigade with their own agenda’, with many of them believing ‘big hair and big volume equals soulfulness’ .

This is all very well and true, but I just can’t help but proclaim my love of the songs is all down to finding something classy sounding in among all the guitar-dominated songs that I was immersed in at the age of 18, which for some reason was of immediate appeal to my ear. Especially this:-

mp3 : Scritti Politti – Faithless (Triple Hep’n’Blue)

I loved the vocals, both lead and backing, and I loved the instrumentation and arrangement. I could never have said back in 1981, nor indeed now in 2008 that what made it so special was:-

“Proceeding at the sombre pace of a New Orleans funeral march, heavily lacquered in gospel shrieking, it is, as the title suggests, implicitly about the modern, probably white soulboy and lover addicted to the linguistic constructs of soul, the “oohs”, the “testifies”, the “I got souls” but who is disconnected from them in his contemporary, agnostic time and place – “Faithless”, indeed.”

That’s how it’s described by David Stubbs, author of the piece I was mentioning earlier. Read it in full right here.

Scritti Politti went on to be a chart success on both sides of the Atlantic a few years later when they left the Rough Trade label and signed for Virgin Records. But these later works of art, while pleasant enough in their own right, never appealed as much as the songs to remember from 1981.

 

RT 111T

Scritti-Politti-Asylums-In-Jerusa-299855

(My posts tend to be written in batches as and when I have time to sit down and work on the blog. Brian was first to comment on yesterday’s posting and displayed incredible psychic powers……)

Ok…the title of the posting looks like some kind of binary code gone wrong.  But it is in fact the catalogue number given to the 12″ release of this single on Rough Trade Records back in September 1982:-

mp3 : Scritti Politti – Asylums In Jerusalem
mp3 : Scritti Politti – Jacques Derrida
mp3 : Scritti Politti – A Slow Soul

The single was released a month after the LP Songs To Remember – which I will argue long into the night is one of THE greatest albums of all time – and it reached #43 in the UK singles charts which was a fair achievement for any band on Rough Trade far less one who got no daytime radio exposure whatsoever.

I should have given this a mention yesterday when I did the St Etienne A-AA sided single as being another great example of the genre. The 12″ release offers up a couple of different things in that Jacques Derrida is a fair bit longer than the album version while A Slow Soul is a completely different mix from that which was on Songs To Remember.

Little known fact. Until The Smiths came along, Songs To Remember was the biggest selling record that Rough Trade had ever released, reaching #12 in the album charts here in the UK.

Green Gartside was soon wooed by many a record label and he signed for Virgin Records. The band’s next album (featuring a completely different line-up from that when he was ‘indie’) went Top 5 while the singles got him his lifetime’s ambition of appearing on Top of The Pops.

Enjoy