Wednesday 13 March 2024

Knockin' On Heavens Door

Written for the 1973 film Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid, the original single release hit the Top 20 in majority of countries (except France and Germany for some reason? - maybe they're just not big Dylan fan's there).

Based around 4 chords - G D Am / G D C (and repeat) - even the most ham-fisted of guitarists (ie me) can get their chubby fingers around that

Referring to the Second Hand Songs site, which counts the numbers of different versions available:

"Yesterday" = 1252 versions

"My Way" = 679 versions

"Hallelujah" = 608 versions

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" = 406 versions

Note: at the other end of the scale The Cockney Rejects "Greatest Cockney Rip Off" has only 2 versions

"Knockin' On Heaven's Door" shows 251 versions

James Last had quickly done a loungey/big band/easy listening version in 1973, before Arthur Louis reggaefied it in 1975, and Eric Clapton (who had played on the Louis version) placed his own stamp on it..

Kevin Coyne - hippified it

Booker T Jones - Stax-ed it

Sisters Of Mercy - added darkness

The Alarm - enormodomed it in a U2 wannabe moment (and came close for a time, but ultimately fell away and returned to small venues)

Guns n Roses - just cos it sold the most, don't make it the best

Bryan Ferry - stylised it on 'Dylanesque'

Tracy Chapman - infused it with raw emotion

Randy Crawford - gospelises it, imbues a bit of soul, but ultimately places it in the middle of the road

Avril Lavigne - delivers a Canadian pop princess version (but how many teenyboppers note the darkness in the lyrics?)

Wyclef Jean - locates it in New York, and casts it as a tribute to Biggie Smalls, Tupac, Princess Aaliyah and other departed R&B rappers (and does a fine Bob Marely impression in the mix too)

Roger Waters - Waters always sounds a bit angry or in pain, and it's no different here

Tom Petty - the  Live At The Filmore sounds more like Dylan than Dylan at times

Warren Zevon - adds a certain poignancy, because he was ...

Enjoy every sandwich

Tuesday 5 March 2024

Physical Product vs Streaming

How does one consume music?
Well, both methods are acceptable, seemingly with streaming being the preferred method of many.

But not me ... me, dinosaur.  I like physical product (CD mainly, but I maintain a vinyl collection) and only really use streaming as a "try before you buy" option, or in the case of Youtube, something to listen to as the muse and the moment occurs.

There is an element of ritual, and perseverance, with physical product.  One must go through in the order given to arrive at favourite choices, and who knows by doing this you just might find new delights in an album you thought you knew inside out.
Cherry picking is all very well, and has it's place (see the Youtube reference above), but you wouldn't choose to watch a film and fast-forward through to your favourite scenes, spin on again to another, and then select another film for a 30 second scene.
No, so why do it with music?

I do "get" the concept, and inexorable rise of streaming but just do not indulge myself.
But I am more than happy for others of my acquaintance to go down this route (even if I have to put up with the conversation telling me how many albums they have stored on their phone).
Why?  Because as they have decluttered themselves and are now living with 1s and 0s, I am gradually filling up my house with the unwanted product.

Weekends and evenings can be spent going through boxes saying "Got, Got, Need, Interesting ..." in a sort of musically-flavoured shoutback to collecting Panini Football stickers as a kid.
So I'm filling gaps in the collection, finding new stuff I never got round to buying first time out or never actually knew I wanted.  But, I'm also finding myself stumbling across stuff that I have no interest in, but at least can claim ownership.

A great voyage of discovery is on the cards, but I am constantly asked (and my wife does have a good point here): "where are you going to put it all?".
And this is true - I am rapidly running out of storage space (again!), and now need to start getting creative about my storage solutions.
There is some shelf space I can commandeer - basically, that space that was left unshelved/unfilled with the express intention of breaking up the flow with ornaments and general toys and (so I'm told) "it doesn't look like a flipping record shop".
Well, some of the boxsets I can move to the top of the units, some of the inaccessible spaces can be made accessible. but ... space is becoming premium.
The compilations may have to be moved to another bookcase (sadly, in another room - which breaks the cardinal rule of having the collection all in one place).
The second option is to do a bit of pruning by getting shot of the things I'm just never going to listen to, but have ownership of (does anyone want a complete set of Robbie Williams CDs?).

When asked where I will put it all, my response is the same: "It's OK, I'll find room"
Thing is, I'm not so sure at the moment.

There's a fine line between a collector and a hoarder ... but I don't believe I have crossed it yet

Friday 1 March 2024

Sniffin’ Glue: And Other Rock ‘n’ Roll Habits

In July 1976, Glam Rock fan and Bank Clerk Mark Perry was wandering his favourite record stores when he asked at the Rock On Stall in Soho Market if they had any magazines about this new “Punk thing” he’d been reading about in the NME – his interest piqued by the first Ramones album, The Flamin’ Groovies at the Roundhouse, and the spying of familiar faces at Gigs.

The Rock On Stall had nothing to offer other than an American publication, but nothing about what was clearly happening in London.
The man on the stall – half-jokingly – suggested that he start one himself if he can’t find what he was looking for. So that’s just what he did – he returned to his bedroom in Deptford, armed himself with a ream of paper, a cheap typewriter, and some felt tip pins and produced Issue 1 of Sniffin’ Glue.
He went back to Rock On with the 50 copies he’d photocopied, and to his surprise they sold and Rock On gave him some money to produce more.

Issue 1 was pieced together on enthusiasm and adrenaline, rather than a journalistic ideal. And it was this DIY style that appealed and gave the confidence to produce more – not on a regular basis, but as and when the moment took him.

One thing to note: at the time of publication, they were few bands about and even fewer records – Issue 1 featured 2 pages reviewing Blue Oyster Cult albums.

By Issue 2, Mark Perry had been invited, along with Caroline Coon (Melody Maker) and Jonh Ingham (Sounds) to Eddie & The Hot Rods gigs, travelling in the back of their van.
He got to see the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club, and as Sniffin’ Glues reputation spread, Brian James asked to be on the cover of the next issue and offered The Damned up for interview. 3 issues in, and they’re getting exclusive access already.
Just after Issue 4 in October 1976, Sniffin’ Glue moved from a Deptford bedroom to a backroom at the Rough Trade shop, and then onto office space provided by Miles Copeland, who also gave Mark Perry his own record label.

From 50 hand made copies to quitting his job at the bank inside 3 months. He also roped in 2 friends to help with the scribbling and reviewing – Steve Mick and Danny Baker – and Sniffin’ Glue became a job, rather than something knocked up cheaply and flogged off quickly.

Sniffin’ Glue was now a mainstay of the scene, and even started to take on advertising – mostly from Rock On and Chiswick Records, but also offering advance membership of the (yet to open) Roxy in Covent Garden.
The style was becoming more confident, the content richer, more photos and more (freebie) records to review, and still for the bargain price of 30p

Issue 12 was the last, appearing some 14 months after the first issue (Note: although nominally Issue 12, it was actually Issue 15 as the had been 3½, 7½, and a Christmas Special (Sniffin’ Snow). The final print run was 20,000 copies. What started as a mouthpiece for enthusiasm, was becoming a commercial enterprise, and Sniffin’ Glue – although the first – was now just one of many fanzines competing for attention.
Better to end it while it was still “fun” – and the perfect opportunity to promote your next venture by sticking a flexi-disc of your new band Alternative TV on the cover.

This book (first published in 2000, re-published in 2009, and now available again) collects together all those issues, and through the pages one can see the rise and fall (or should that be disillusionment?) of Punk from it’s DIY, small scene London-centric beginnings, ending (I think) presciently before both Punk and Sniffin’ Glue became a bloated parody.

One of the last items written is from Danny Baker expressing annoyance with the cheering reaction from the crowd when the DJ at The Vortex announced that Elvis Presley had died.

What is surprising about the book is that what on the face off it essentially a disposal artefact has now been preserved. One can only assume that the copies are drawn from Mark Perry’s Master copies as it’s unlikely that any of the purchased copies survived and probably ended up littering the floors of The Roxy and The Vortex, or floating in the wind down Wardour Street.

Learning point: Don’t go looking for the “Here’s chord, here’s another, here’s a third – now form a band” headline. That was another fanzine – Sideburns – in January 1977, but is attributed to Sniffin’ Glue – so much so, you can buy a t-shirt with the Sniffin’ Glue headline, and the picture from Sideburns.

Sunday 18 February 2024


 A positive title for a largely positive post.

Tough job getting back into this "spilling your brains on a given subject" blogging thing.
And my return has been further delayed by a certain malaise because I have spent more time than is probably healthy listening to the catalogue of Yes.

Actually, that's not fair - much if it (very much of it) was a fine listen - wonky guitar solos and over-indulgent keyboard tinklings included.  But it has taken a while, and much re-listening, to get my thoughts clear on a few of the offerings (particularly the later ones)

Yes came together in 1968 - Chris Squire was bassist in Mabel Greer's Toyshop alongside guitarist Peter Banks.  Drummer Bill Bruford joined the line-up in mid-1968, followed soon by pianist Tony Kaye.
Jon Anderson worked in the club that Mabel Greer's Toyshop often played live, and had become friends with Chris Squire.  He was drafted in as vocalist in late 1968, just as the band were concluding that their name had run it's course, and it was time for a fresh start.  The suggested name came from Peter Banks but one can't be sure if it was a suggestion, or whether he was just answering one of the other suggested names when he said "Yes".
The newly-monikered 5 piece went straight into the rehearsal rooms and into performance wherever a gig could be found in London, and by the end of the year had snuck onto the bottom of the bill at Cream's final show at the Royal Albert Hall - a performance Bill Bruford had to be convinced to return for as he had quite the band to go to University.
In Spring 1969, after more gigging, the band were invited to audition for Atlantic Records, and secured a contract.  And by Summer, their first album was on the shelves.

Now, this is something new to me that I never knew before starting this thing - I always believed that the first Yes album was 1971s 'The Yes Album', I was completely unaware of the existence of 2 albums before it, and that guitarist Steve Howe is on neither of them.

The first Yes album was released in Summer 1969, and if you have a slight knowledge of Yes in their heyday, the sound and content of this one is very different.  It has the sound of equal parts The Byrds, The 5th Dimension, and the musical Hair.
The musicianship - especially the rhythm section of Squire and Bruford - is exceptionally tight, with Jon Anderson's falsetto sitting on top of everything.  There is a suggestion in some of the tracks where the band would head later, but only in slight moments (and perhaps more with the benefit of hindsight.  Commercially it was a flop, but Atlantic (At that time) were loyal to their charges, and a second album was planned.

Time and a Word
And their second chance 12 months later probably wasn't what Atlantic had hoped for on their investment.  In terms of scope, it isn't a huge step forward from it's predecessor, but does start to incorporate more of the future tropes, including orchestral parts, and referencing back to classical music and passages.  Unlike the debut album, this one actually feels like it was planned and has an endpoint, where the debut just seemed to stop.
And on the subject of endings, this album marked the final turn of guitarist Peter Banks, who was replaced by Steve Howe soon after work on the album was finished (the US Rel;ease featured a picture of the band, including Howe, on the back cover even though he didn't actually play on it.

The Yes Album
After the commercial non-performance of their previous 2 albums, Atlantic were on the verge of pulling the plug.  A change of manager, and renewed inspiration with the presence of Steve Howe who had a wider scope and style than Peter Banks, gave Yes a reprieve and studio time.
With stronger production, and a more technical approach to song (including multi-part songs, and  moments where the band play different tunes in different time signatures but make it sound tuneful rather than cacophonous), The Yes Album starts to give a return to record company patience, and is the launch pad for what many cliche quoting commentators term as "Classic Yes"

With increasing confidence, Yes were looking to expand their sound and songs.  However, organist Tony Kaye wasn't so sure it was the correct move, and soon found himself replaced by Rick Wakeman - someone who did want to expand and explore.
On the same day as the Yes offer, David Bowie invited him to join his touring band.  Rick declined believing he would get more artistic freedom with Yes.
And they got to work quickly - within a couple of days of rehearsals they had the shape of two key songs from the album - "Roundabout" and "Heart Of The Sunrise", and a collective desire to share ideas and get this next record done.  These 2 songs bookend the album, with 6 of the remaining seven clocking in under 3 minutes (and one barely breaking 35 seconds).
Who says Yes songs are over-expanded and bloated ...

Close To The Edge
Well ... here's the opportunity to level that very accusation - a 40 minute album consisting of just 3 tracks.  Track 1 (basically side one) is the title track in 4 movements ... stand by for Prog tropes in excelsis ... inspired by  J R R Tolkien, Symphonies #6 and #7 by Sibelius, and Herman Hesse.
There's a lot of ideas and playing going on - almost like the band is fighting each other to get their "bits" heard.  And there is much truth in that thought - by the end of the recording drummer Bill Bruford (tired of being asked to play a certain way to match Chris Squire's bass parts, and general bad feeling in the studio) downed sticks and left Yes.  Side 2 (which contains 2 tracks) is for my money the more enjoyable half, but can still feel ponderous. 
And talking of ponderous...

Tales from Topographic Oceans 
Rick Wakeman's take on the album was "we had too much for a single, not enough for a double, so we padded it.  And it wasn't very well padded."
Alan White (late of John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, George Harrison's 'All Things Must Pass', and stints with Ginger Baker's Airforce and Steve Winwood) joined up after Bill Bruford's departure, and ushered in a more sol,id rock based style and opposed to the jazz-esque swing of Bruford.
Not that it was truly in evidence here.  As is usual  with Yes, the creation and development of the album was fraught with disagreements and confusion - "what is the concept?", "how do I get my little flourish heard?", "why is the studio dressed up like a farm?", "remind me, what actually is the concept here?".
In fairness, despite it being hard work and not truly feeling like it hangs together, it isn't actually that bad (it just takes several listens).
The stories of Rick Wakeman eating a take-away Curry on stage during some of the instrumental passages may be an urban myth, but by the end of the tour Rick Wakeman had left the band.

Rick Wakeman has gone, Patrick Moraz is in - it was going to be Vangelis (who Jon Anderson would work with later in the 80s), but despite shipping his keyboard rig to London, Brain Lane (Yes manager) was informed of Vangelis fear of flying, so potentially putting elongated US Tours at a bit of a risk.
Patrick Moraz was invited to audition (using Vangelis rig) and then went straight into the studio to finish writing, buff up existing demos and commit to tape.
'Relayer' continued the "3 tracks, 1 on side one, 2 on side 2" principle, as per 'Close To The Edge'.  Economic times were tough in 1974, so Yes made sure of optimum use of vinyl be squeezing 22 minute in to 1 track.
This is an odd album in the timeline - it is well played, with some great invention and experiments, well produced, and hangs together as well as anything before - but it doesn't truly hit "the spot"

Going For The One
As the tour in support of 'Relayer' ended, the band took a break, and each member recorded a solo album.  Reconvening a year later ,and as is often the case in the late 70s, for Tax reasons many big bands spent time working and living abroad, and Yes decamped to Switzerland - home land of new keyboarder Patrick Moraz.  However, within weeks of starting rehearsals for the next album, Rick Wakeman returned to the fold and Patrick Moraz was out.  Stories/reasons vary, ranging from Moraz was "playing, but not participating", his sound was too clean for the what the band wanted to do, and Rick Wakeman was skint.  Whatever the reasoning, and possibly down to being outside the UK, the newly reconvened band was often getting on in the studio and seemed to be pulling in the same direction and supporting each others work.  That is, until the departure of producer Eddy Offord, and the bands decision to produce the record themselves.  Then the relationships in the band returned to old ways, where they were effectively working on their own and arguing for their own contributions.  Without a producer, one would expect the resultant album to be something of a mess.
They still had the one long song (in this case "Awaken" clocking in at 15 minutes) but 'Going For The One', but the supporting songs were shorter and more direct (allowing a total of 5 tracks this time), and the album as a whole is one of their stronger outings (if not always held in that esteem by contemporary reviewers)

Apocryphally, Punk was supposed to kill off Prog Rock excess like Yes and ELP.
Recorded and released during the ending days of Punk, The original intention was to have 2 albums at each of the year, but when it came down to it, there was only really enough strong material for a single album
And lack of self-discipline in the self production, the continuing deterioration of inter-band relationships (again), their propensity to try and fit more notes into a single bar than each other, and some terrible artwork saw to it that 'Tormato' is perhaps the least fondly remembered of all the albums (certainly by the band, as proved by the lack of live outings for these songs since release).
Punk killed off the Prog hippies?  Nope, Yes were managing to do that for themselves.

The creation of 'Tormato' was difficult, as was the ensuing tour.  By the time the band got back to the studio for the next opus, divisions were forming over direction, sound and presentation.  The division was strong enough for Jon Anderson and Rick Wakeman to leave.
Yes manager Brian Lane had recently taken on The Buggles as clients, so rather than cast around for auditions, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes were drafted in.  A seemingly peculiar move on the face of it, but both Horn and Downes were Yes fans, and Chris Squire wanted to move into a more new wave-esque direction (and the presence of The Buggles may facilitate that).  'Drama' was fairly quickly recorded (at least in comparison to previous Yes albums), but what came out was neither a Yes album, nor a Buggles album, nor a hybrid.  It's not a bad album, just not a good one either.
Steve Howe and Geoff Downes would - within a year - join forces again in Asia.  For my money, the first Asia album is what 'Drama' could've been

Yes effectively disbanded in 1981, but a year later Chris Squire and Alan White starting to seek new musicians to work with the band.  Session musician Trevor Rabin was found (pre-armed with a bunch of demos, which appalled to Chris Squires desire for a change of sound), and the new band was named Cinema.  And in the circular world of Yes membership, original keyboard player Tony Kaye was back in the band.  With more circularity, Trevor Horn was engaged as producer.  With the music recorded, Horn expressed doubts with Rabin's vocal abilities for the material, and Jon Anderson was invited to add vocals.  At this point, the Cinema name was dropped and the Yes flag raised again.
It may say Yes on the title, but the album is a shift in sound resulting from Rabin's drive and Horn's production.  Despite being Prog royalty and over a decade in the game, this album was their biggest seller in America and gave them a new calling card in the shape of "Owner Of A Lonely Heart" 

Big Generator
After the success of '90125', the record company wanted more of the same.  And Trevor Rabin had a bunch of songs that could deliver on that.  But the drawn out recording process, and the loss of Trevor Horn as producer meant the 4 year gap between releases lost any momentum.
It wasn't really '90125 Part 2', but it could certainly be seen/heard as an accompanying album, almost like the off-cuts that didn't make the original.
Jon Anderson, who had been sidelined in the creation and recording process, left the band and soon after re-joined with Bill Bruford, Rick Wakeman and Steve Howe to release the album 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' - which I believe is a stronger album, and despite the absence of Chris Squire, is the last Yes album.

I do know that the 2 factions of the band came together for the album 'Union' in 1991, but never actually played together as a collective and split the tracks between the 2 groupings - one suspects a record company thought it a good idea (Rick Wakeman renamed this album Onion "as it makes me cry!").
But I believed that 'Big Generator' and 'Anderson, Bruford, Wakeman, and Howe' were the last outings for the band.  Not so, wikipedia tells me there are 10 more albums to listen to (with possibly another coming in 2024).
I'm sure that these will be spotified at some point in the future, but right now I think I am Yessed-out ...