Tuesday, 16 October 2018

The Kinks - Village Green Preservation Society

Will be celebrating it's 50th Anniversary very soon.
And there's the great irony (if that is the correct term?) - it will be 50 years old, and still sounds relevant because it was dealing with a nostalgic view of some 50 years in it's own past.

Nostalgia - never gets old

I think the two prime lessons learned from this albums original release were:
  • Making an album which goes against current trends (in this case psychedelia, experimentation, a bit of mysticism perhaps) may not always be a commercial success 
  • If you are going to release something you've laboured over for 12 months or more, try not to do it on the same day The Beatles are releasing their new album'.
    And if you do delay it a week or so, then you'll be up against the new Rolling Stones offering - so its lose-lose really
Village Green Preservation Society was ostensibly a Concept Album - although it contained no story/narrative.
It was a collection of songs based around memories, reveries and an evocations of the past, that (possibly) never actually existed.
The collection of songs is, very probably, the strongest set in Ray Davies's monumental catalogue (which when you consider the cannon contains "Waterloo Sunset", "Lola" and "Shangri-La", that is no faint praise).
And not forgetting that this set was so strong, they could afford to leave preceding single "Days" off of it.

Originally delivered as a 12 track album, Ray Davies was given more time to complete his thoughts and a 15 track version was eventually sanctioned and delivered (Ray was originally looking for a 20+ track double album.  Who releases a double album one month before Christmas in 1968?)

The album contains it's share of character songs ("Johnny Thunder", "Monica", "Wicked Annabella"), memories and loss "Do You Remember Walter", "Picture Book", "People Take Picture Of Each Other", "Village Green".
"All My Friends Were There" recounts a true story of embarrassment on stage, set to a music-hall type backing.
And never scared of a bit of plagiarism, the riff to Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin'" is lifted to provide the backing for "The Last Of The Steam Powered Trains" - a song that can be read as a withering acceptance of being out of time and out of step with the moment, or just a mourning of the loss of the Steam Railways.
And then the album is topped off (or more correctly opened) by a celebration of quintessentially English "things", and an attempt to lever in as many alternative terms for groups as possible.

Upon release, it sold next to nothing and laboured to less than 100,000 worldwide sales over the next 20 years.
And then Ray's magnum opus was re-discovered (along with a critical re-appraisal of all things Kinky).  It was making regular appearances in those "You Have To Listen To This ..." lists, and it's author was recognised as one of the great English songwriters.
Despite it's commercial shortcomings, what it did do was open a sustained fit of endeavor, soon followed by 'Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)', 'Lola Versus Powerman and the Moneygoround, Part One' and the often overlooked, but mighty fine, 'Muswell Hillbillies'.

Later Kinks albums (post 1971) are a hit and miss affair.  The early Kinks albums were focused on hit making, money making sounds - they have their moments, but you never feel the writer or the band is being stretched.
The period between 1968 and 1971 may not have garnered sales and public recognition, but ranks alongside the best work of anyones catalogue.

Village Green Preservation Society

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Paul Anka - Rock Swings

In my continuing quest to do something original with this blog thing, I now find myself nicking another idea for a post by visiting a Charity Shop and spending 50p on something, and then reporting back the "wonderfulness" of my purchase.

Paul Anka - singer, actor, composer.  He wrote the English lyrics for "My Way", wrote a song for Princess Di before Princess Di even existed, co-wrote a song with Michael Jackson, and was never covered by The Rolling Stones (none of his songs were covered by Generation X either - so that last statement is a bit irrelevant)

Released in 2004, the basic idea of taking contemporary songs and giving them a big band, swinging, easy listening make-over was nothing new - Pat Boone had done something similar in 1997, and The Mike Flowers Pops had brief success with an Easy Listening version of Oasis "Wonderwall" in late 1995.  They also managed to release an album, including re-imaginings of Prince's "1999", The Doors "Light My Fire" and a Velvet Underground Medley.
The idea of the album was perhaps pushing the flimsy idea a bit - there's a certain tongue-in-cheek subversion about it all, but it's interest is fleeting.
Robbie Williams then went all out in the belief that he was the re-incarnation of Frank Sinatra with his 2001 album "Swing When You're Winning".
All this activity led to a mini-revival (of sorts) of a kind of soft, easy listening, swinging, lounge music.
No matter how flimsy or previously used an idea is, it's all about the execution.
And with this one, it sounds like an honest attempt to properly re-set these songs in Mr Anka's universe, without irony or tongue-in-cheek re-position of an old-time crooner for a new generation.

With echoes of Mike Flowers, Paul Anka tackles "Wonderwall" - and if I'm honest, doesn't come up with a winner.  It's all a bit strained, familiar and schmaltz-y.
But other re-arrangements work much better, and there is the surprise of some of the song choices given a big band makeover.
A great deal of the angst is lost from songs such as "Smells Like Teen Spirit" or "Black Hole Sun", but the songs still work in their new setting. "Jump" and "It's A Sin" bounce along nicely (and harmlessly).

Surely proof that in the right hands, a good song is a good song in whatever genre it's cast into.

Black Hole Sun

The Lovecats









Thursday, 27 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - The Compilations - Sound Of The Suburbs / Sound Of The City

Two compilations from the same stable released within a year of each other, and went some way (at least in my little world of acquaintance) to sparking some interest in punky/new wave stuff that had been long, long, forgotten about (all of about 10 or 12 years, which when you're only 20 represents 50% of your life - this stuff was old).
So as they are form the same gene pool, they are considered, in my head at least, as a double album, and for the purpose of this musing I am maintaining that belief.

From 1991, 'Sound Of The Suburbs' is basically a "starter kit" for late 70s/early 80s post-punk and new wave.
I recall it's release being salivated over in the pages of Select Magazine, who also bigged up the release of 'Singles from The Specials around the same time.
Re-discovery of a period not so long past was in the air - a couple of years later Select were the one's who first mentioned Britpop - could these compilations be the catalyst that started a movement? (probably not).

'Sound Of The Suburbs' picks the prime tracks of the period, and every one is a winner.  And like all the best, heavily listened to compilations, one track MUST follow another.  Once the sequence is in your mind (and ears), if the playout of Only Ones "Another Girl Another Planet" is not immediately followed by the drum crack and guitar intro of Undertones "Teenage Kicks" then there is something going wrong inside my brain.

'Sound Of The City' gives the bigger names a second outing (proving they are not One Hit Wonders), adds a nod to the US with The Ramones, Blondie and The Pretenders (OK, they're only 25% American) and gives a spotlight to some of the lesser known names (less obvious choices?) of the era, like The Ruts, Spizz Energi and The Jags (who were an actual One Hit Wonder).

So what do you get?
Well, rather than pick out highlights (which is too damn difficult, because they are all highlights), the track listings are:

Sound Of The Suburbs
  1. Jam - The Eton Rifles
  2. Adam & The Ants - Antmusic
  3. Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen in Love
  4. Only Ones - Another Girl Another Planet
  5. Undertones - Teenage Kicks
  6. Martha & The Muffins - Echo Beach
  7. Altered Images - Happy Birthday
  8. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Oliver's Army
  9. Tom Robinson Band - 2-4-6-8 Motorway
  10. Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick
  11. Blondie - Call Me
  12. Teardrop Explodes - Reward
  13. Boomtown Rats - I Don't Like Mondays
  14. Psychedelic Furs - Pretty in Pink
  15. Stranglers - No More Heroes
  16. Vapors - Turning Japanese
  17. Eddie & The Hot Rods - Do Anything You Wanna Do
  18. The Members - The Sound of the Suburbs

Sound Of The City
  1. Boomtown Rats - She's So Modern
  2. Ramones - Sheena Is a Punk Rocker
  3. Blondie - Denis
  4. The Ruts - Staring at the Rude Boys
  5. The Buzzcocks - Promises
  6. The Damned - Love Song
  7. The Jags - Back of My Hand
  8. Spizz Energi - Where's Captain Kirk
  9. The Jam - Down in the Tube Station at Midnight
  10. The Stranglers - Hanging Around
  11. Sham 69 - If the Kids Are United
  12. Ian Dury and The Blockheads - Reasons to Be Cheerful (Part Three)
  13. The Pretenders - Brass in Pocket
  14. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - (I Don't Want to Go To) Chelsea
  15. Adam and the Ants - Dog Eat Dog
  16. Generation X - Dancing With Myself
  17. Stiff Little Fingers - At the Edge

More compilations of this type would follow, invariably titled Teenage Kicks (I have 5 different compilations with that title) or No More Heroes or Alternative 80s or Punk & New Wave Classics, and would contain much of the same tracks.
This is the original, and the one responsible for re-igniting populist interest in this period/genre of music (and allowing record companies to trawl and re-package their archives)
It may not be to everyone's taste (especially with the word "Punk" in the title), but theses sets contains some absolutely sublime pop records of the period, and some surprisingly popular "Big Hits"
(Surprising?  Sham69 - a possibly niche concern, and certainly now a "cartoon" of their former selves manged 4 Top 10 singles in this period)



The Members - Sound Of The Suburbs (the track that gives it's name to the original compilation)


Buzzcocks - Ever Fallen In Love (probably one of the finest Punk/New Wave/Pop Singles ... ever)


Blondie - Denis (a nod to the US, and one their very best)


The Jags - Back Of My Hand (one hit wonders (with a soup├žon of Elvis Costello-ism going on))


Friday, 21 September 2018

Paul Weller - True Meanings

There are certain truisms in life that can never be avoided - Births, Deaths, Taxes, Reading FC failing to win a League game ... and each year will bring forth a new Paul Weller album.

And 'True Meanings' has arrived.
Across his 14 solo albums he has re-appropriated Traffic and jazzy moments, gone pastoral and folky, picked up his guitar again and made some "Modfather Of Britpop" noises, indulged his experimental side, become the "Doyen Of Dad Rock", stripped backed and gone folky again, added a touch of soul, mixed Indie and Krautrock, gone psychedelic and spacey - he really is The Changingman (see what I did there?).

As is his want. 'True Meanings' signals another left turn from previous outings, but also revisits the earlier folky leanings - a simple redux explanation of this album is "A slightly less pastoral 'Wild Wood' with added strings.

Whilst I may have raved about them at the time, 'Saturns Pattern' and 'A Kind Revolution' were good albums, but didn't have enough to make me want to revisit them in the way 'Stanley Road', 'As Is Now' (my personal favourite) or 'Sonik Kicks' continue to provide.

The prime difference here is the appearance of a co-writer in the credits - a rare occurrence with Paul Weller output.
And the co-write has perhaps enhanced the quality control or taken the songs to a different place that Weller may have gone down on his own.
It wouldn't' be a Paul Weller album without appearances from Noel Gallagher and Steve Craddock.  The guest list on this one is expanded with Rod Argent offering Hammond interjections on (opener) "Soul Searchers" and (closer) "White Horses", and appearances from Folk royalty Danny Thompson and Martin Carthy on "Come Along".

The songs themselves are possibly rooted in "standard Weller acoustic" type material, but are lifted by bathing in strings, providing another string to the already full style-catalogue his career has inhabited.  And there is a slight dabble with Eastern-sounding backing on "Books".
There are moments when the song feels like they begin to descend in to Easy Listening/Crooning territory, but are quickly lifted by a key change or a wallop of swelling strings.
All theses moments, and the aforementioned perceived increase in quality control, go a long way to maintain interest from start to finish - yes there are specific tracks that one would want to extract and listen to in isolation, but this is (to my ears) and "Album" to be listened to as the artist intended (sounds a bit high-brow-arty-w*nky, but ...)

I admit in recent years to being probably more pleased with the existence, and concept, of Paul Weller than the actual albums, but this one goes off in another direction and renews interest.
This is definitely one to be pulled off the shelf again in future times.


Glide


White Horses

Friday, 14 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - The Compilations - Now Thats What I Call Music 5

My original plan to fill up 2018 with 26 fortnightly posts about random choices from the record collection has come to an end.
(26 x 2 = 52.  How did I manage it in around 40 weeks?)

So ... where next?
Let's go and randomly delve into the compilations - there are a lot of them and are organised alphabetically.  I did try be genre (with the alphabet attached) but I could never find anything.
This strictly alphabetical method does, however, throw up some interesting juxtapositions:

Love Songs Album > Love, Honour & Obey Soundtrack > Mary Poppins > Massive Dance 98 *
(* a compilation of have no recollection of buying (or indeed listening to) and must have "acquired" it from somewhere for some purpose (now lost in the mists of time)).

This Year has seen a (sort of) Now Thats What I Call Music "frenzy" with the release of Now100, and the 35th Anniversary of the series.
First released in 1983, the "compilation of chart hits" was not a new thing - KTel and Ronco had been doing very nicely with their offerings - but the Now compilation was just that bit different.
A collaboration between EMI and Virgin.  And as they owned much of the material, licensing difficulties were pushed to the back burner, and the full weight of major label marketing could be employed.
Yes, there was still some licensing that needed to be sorted - CBS/WEA didn't/wouldn't release their big names (Madonna and Bruce Springsteen have never appeared on a Now album, and Michael Jackson's solitary appearance was with an old track that caught the record company by surprise),and ended up putting out their own rival 'The Hits Album' which initially matched the Now albums, but ultimately, as the world moved towards fewer labels until the point there were only 2 or 3 left in charge of everything, the Now series won the race.
The release schedule was (and still is) 3 per year, appearing at Easter, Summer and Christmas.

Now Thats What I Call Music 5 was the Summer of 1985 offering, and was the first one I actually went to a shop and bought (WHSmith, £5.99).

So whats on it ...

There is a sort of rose-tinted view that 80s Pop was a fine, fine thing, but reading through the track-listing here I think it was wheezing a bit in mid-1985.
Yes, "proper" 1980s pop royalty opens the album with Duran Duran "View To A Kill", and the ever ubiquitous Phil Collins is represented by "One More Night", but there are also of few "you had to be there" moments with Jaki Graham ("Round and Round"), The Conway Brothers ("Turn It Up" - me neither?) and Dead Or Alive's follow-up to the massive selling "You Spin Me Round" - represented here by "In Too Deep" which did not do nearly as well.

Elsewhere the 80s Dollar-seeking Simple Minds give us "Don't You Forget About Me" and Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away" (which, in my humble opinion, is a brilliant pop/soul song, and one of his best).
And the joy of the novelty song is here too in the shape of The Commentators (aka Rory Bremner) where he moves the location from Vietnam to The Oval for his re-write of Paul Hardcastle's "19"
(a bit of a case of Mike Yarwood-meets-The Barron Knights?).

For this rock-bloke, it is Side 4 that wins out (bar a couple of tracks).

U2 - "The Unforgettable Fire"
Style Council - "Walls Come Tumbling Down"
Katrina & The Waves - "Walking On Sunshine"
Gary Moore And Phil Lynott - "Out In The Fields"
The Damned - "The Shadow Of Love"
Howard Jones - "Life In One Day"
Jimmy Nail - "Love Don't Live Here Anymore"

If I could swap the last to tracks out for Marillion - "Kayleigh" and Fine Young Cannibals - "Johnny Come Home", then that would be a side to savour.

"Out In The Fields" would be the last Top 10 appearance for Phil Lynott before his passing in January 1986, so it seems only right that I choose this track as the "illustrative point" of this post.

Out In The Fields



And as a special bonus treat (!)
N-n-n-nineten Not Out




Sunday, 9 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Z: Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reaction - Tattooed Beat Messiah


Zodiac Mindwarp's first EP release was titled 'High Priest Of Love' in 1986.
It was basically a bit of punk mixed with recycled AC/DC riffs, with a massive dollop of sleaze added.
Band members listed on record are very likely to be psuedonyms (Kid Chaos?  Trash D Garbage? Flash Bastard?  Evil Bastard?), and the accompanying text on the back cover all feels a bit self-important, pretend poetry - like their playing up to a character, and pushing it as far as they can.  But that aside, the content is brilliant.
It sold f*** all, but Zodiac was not deterred and embarked on the follow-up (no doubt hastened by the success of The Cult's 'Electric' which re-cycled much the same AC/DC riffs).

Trailed by the single "Prime Mover" - opening with an almost gospel/quasi-religious organ herald, and then (attempted?) blood curdling scream (with a touch of Lemmy), the fun commences.
Guitar riff, thumping drums and straight solid bass underpinning a near-Lemmy-ish vocal.
In the first line he declares that he loves both TV and T.Rex.  In fact he loves T.Rex so much, he christens himself The Groover in the chorus.
At the tone is set ... over 12 tracks (13 if you have the CD which includes a brave (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempt at "Born To Be Wild"), there is little variance.
Don't go looking for arch-musicianship - there isn't any.  Don't hunt down lyrical meanings or unexpected turns of phrase, because they're pretty much absent too.
But it is immense "fun" - and calls to be played very loud whilst bouncing around like a loony.
It can't last though - by the middle of Side 2 the album begins to run out of steam and dwindles to the end.
On the plus side, the previously mentioned "Prime Mover" and other big single "Back Seat Education" rank as some of the better sleaze-infused HM/HR songs of the late 80s (if you like that sort of thing)


And then time, cynicism, and actually reading the album cover properly reveals certain back-stories and "truths" (suggestions?)

Zodiac Mindwarp was the creation of sometime artist, sometime editor of Flexi-pop magazine, Mark Manning.  The original line-up of the band included Jimmy Cauty (later of The Orb and KLF) and Kid Chaos (soon to join The Cult and play (part-time) with Guns n Roses).
Their first EP was released on Dave Balfe's Food Label, and leading up to this album the band were signed up to major label Mercury.  Balfe continued as the band's manager, and called up his old sparring partner Bill Drummond to assist production - and knowing Bill Drummond, probably artistic placement, marketing and a touch of agitation into the mix too.

And so to paraphrase Loyd Grossman "the clues are all there":
  • Sometime artist
  • created character and pseudonymous band
  • evasiveness and/or over-confidence in interviews
  • maxed out sleaze content
  • Bill Drummond
  • No long term future career ("get in, get paid, get out")
It was all a big Art Project - and not a bad one at that


Prime Mover


Back Seat Education


Sunday, 2 September 2018

Record Collection Random Choice (RCRC) - Y: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Live Rust


After the worldwide success of 'Harvest' in 1972, Neil Young's album sales were reducing.  The albums were still getting relatively good sales, but over a longer period of time from release, and not in the numbers that 'Harvest' achieved.
He remained a massive live draw, and equally in demand by peers and former band-mates (Young appeared in The Band's Last Waltz and reformed Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1974).

During his 1978 Tour, a number of shows were recorded.
Performances were then selected and over-dubbed in the studio where necessary and then released under the title 'Rust Never Sleeps' in June 1979.
And then 6 months later, another show (or set of shows - I'm not 100% sure?) was selected and released as 'Live Rust'.

Two live albums within 6 months of each other - taken from similar recordings from the same tour.  Add the fact that Neil Young had only a couple of years earlier released a Greatest Hits/Best Of set ('Decade'), there is the feeling that he was just milking the cash cow in lieu of any new inspiration.

'Live Rust' was intended as the soundtrack accompaniment to the Rust Never Sleeps film that was also doing the rounds (at one point old Neil was informing the record company this album was also to be called 'Rust Never Sleeps').

The earlier album contains 9 tracks, 'Live Rust' was a double-disc set with 16 tracks
Only "Sedan Delivery", "Powderfinger" and "Hey Hey My My" (in both acoustic (Out Of The Blue) and electric (Into The Black) variants) appear on both.

But which is better?
'Rust Never Sleeps' is the shorter and perhaps the easiest to consume, but also was cleaned up and overdubbed in the studio - as a result the audience noise is muted.  'Live Rust' however gives a more "full show" feeling.
'Live Rust' repeats the trick of 'Rust Never Sleeps' by starting in acoustic territory and then going into  full-on incendiary electric land.
And when it comes to the second half, one can only revel in the tightness and power of Crazy Horse.
Personal choice: the presence of "Like A Hurricane" means 'Live Rust' wins.

Hey Hey My My (Out Of The Blue)


Hey Hey My My (Into The Black)


Like A Hurricane