Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Song of the day

"It's Magic", by Pilot. Because I am in the middle of reading a piece by Adam Gopnik, from a recent issue of the New Yorker (what else?), about the place of the magician in the modern world, or some such thing. It's a good article, actually: it could do with being about five times longer. Maybe he'll turn it into a book. It would make a good book, too. Anyway, in it he mentions Tannen's Magic, a shop in New York where magicians hang out, a bit, I suppose, like the Warhammer shop here in Canberra is a place for "enthusiasts" to hang out. It then dawned on me that this very same shop, Tannen's, plays a small but pivotal role in Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay", which I am still slowly making my way through, (a) because I am a very slow reader, (b) because reading is what I do for a living, and it's sometimes hard to front up in the evening for more words on paper, and (c) because it's such a fine damn book that it will be a shame to get to the end of it. It has moved from an inventive and entertaining story to something altogether broader, and deeper. You should read it.

Nothing to do with "It's Magic", by Pilot, of course, but we like to throw in gratuitous references to 1970s pop songs whenever we get a chance. It's probably in Darren's list of songs. If so, I'll perhaps have more to say about it on another occasion.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Don't Wanna Go Down To The Basement

What is it with Austrians and cellars? It's like there's some kind of thought process that happens over there which goes, "I've got a bit of extra space under the house that's not being used. What can I do with it? I know, I'll kidnap somebody and make them my prisoner down there." Seems to me there's a bit of a breakdown in logical reasoning there (I mean, how is that the first thing that comes to mind? What about building a train set, for example), but then, I'm not Austrian. (I am part Swiss, but don't worry, we don't have a cellar.)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Songs from Darren, Day 3

"Magic Bus", by The Who. Like a lot of the songs on this list, I didn't know this song by name, but I did know the song. "Magic Bus" strikes me as being simultaneously a carbon copy of "My Generation" and the closest The Who ever came to sounding like The Rolling Stones. Oh, and just a little bit dull in its forced excitement. The Who did better songs.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Culture Wars, Revisited

It is curious that “Bye Bye Baby”, by the Bay City Rollers, is the second song to rise to the surface in the 1,305-song lottery provided by Darren. It is one of the last things I can remember, musically, before the great dividing line of the Sex Pistols. At Fish Creek Primary School, in 1975, when I was in grade six, the girls were into the Bay City Rollers. The boys were not. We were men’s men. We had already lived through the Skyhooks vs Sherbet battles, convinced, then as now, that Skyhooks were the only possible winner. By 1975, If it wasn’t by The Sweet, or Suzi Quatro, or Alice Cooper, we weren’t interested. (Well, I had, and still have, an unputintowordsable soft spot for “I’m Not In Love”, by 10cc, but I kept that to myself. And, although I hate to admit it, the firt album I ever bought, probably only a year or so earlier, was by Paper Lace, who it now strikes me may have been one of the reasons for the Bay City Rollers’ existence, or particular shape.) The hate we felt for the Bay City Rollers knew no bounds.

None of us, girls or boys, had any understanding of the Bay City Rollers’ background, personal or cultural. Tartan? What was that? They just looked like poofy clothes to us. They girls we figured, were just into their undoubted good looks (another reason to hate them). I suppose it might seem a bit odd that an advertisement for (or against?) Scottish nationalism should be postered on pre-teen bedrooms the world over. But stranger things have happened.

What does it sound like in 2008? Wet, certainly. Naively innocent. About as far from punk as you could imagine. But it is easy to see why this was, and deserved to be, a hit. What’s not to like? At two and a half minutes (including the pseudo-doowop introduction) it lasts the perfect amount of time. And you can detect at least a hint of Belle and Sebastian in its structure, its inclusiveness and its exuberance.

The funny thing is that, even after thirty-three years, I can’t hear this song without superimposing over it the sound of thousands of young girls screaming.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Song of the day

"Nothing Grows In Texas", by the Sacred Cowboys. One of the small pleasures of living in Canberra in Autumn is the occasional chance to sit out on the back deck, in the tepid but welcome morning sun, with a cup of coffee straight from the Bialetti, and a copy of the Saturday Age. Which, today, contained a review of a gig by the Sacred Cowboys, a staple of the Melbourne cowpunk/psychobilly scene of the early to mid-eighties. "Nothing Grows In Texas" was also a Triple R favourite for many a long year. I don't actually remember ever seeing the Cowboys play, but I'm sure I must have. (There is much I can't remember.)

Anyway, here they are miming on Countdown. Watching this feels like it all happened a long time ago, while simultaneously making it seem like it was only yesterday.

(Bonus Australian cowboy connection: this purports to be recent live footage of the Beasts of Bourbon. Tex seems to be aging unexpectedly well.)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Song of the day

"We Are The Sleepyheads", by Belle and Sebastian. "The Life Pursuit", in case you were wondering, is a record that grows and grows. My first impression, which was that it was lacking what made "Dear Catastrophe Waitress" so special (i.e., Trevor Horn), has proved to be rather wide of the mark.

Today I was allowed to have the car (it doesn't happen often, and is not as green as taking the bus: hey, I'm a hypocrite) and it has been a pleasure to have this album as accompaniment. Stevie Jackson is one of the finest guitarists of the modern era, I reckon. I wonder what they're up to.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Song of the day

"Don and Sherri", by Matthew Dear, from the album "Asa Breed". The interesting, and unexpected, thing about this song is how closely it channels the sound and, more difficult to do, the essence of Yellow Magic Orchestra. Now, where did I put that copy of "Technodelic"?

Friday, April 18, 2008

Song of the day

"No Time To Stop Believing In Love", by Daisy Chain, on the fabulous Ze label, and containing a monster of a guitar solo, in fact a very strong challenger to the one in "Beat It". Which, of course, will never be dethroned.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The sound of Canberra in autumn

I emerged from the bathroom this morning, freshly showered, to be met with the unmistakable sound of "Smoke On The Water" played on a melodica by an eight-year-old. (He can also play it on the piano and the fife. To come: the harmonica and the kazoo.)

I wish I had (a) a Moog and (b) a Hammond B-3.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


Well, it may not yet be available in the shops, but "Third", the fourth album by Portishead, is certainly "out there". In both senses: to say that it is going to surprise a lot of people is to say nothing that is going to surprise anyone. If you know what I'm sayin'. Sasha likes it. Reynolds likes it. It took me eight years to "get" "Portishead", their second album, so I'm not going to stick my neck out just yet. (Yes I am: it's stunning; backward-looking in many ways, but not in the sense of having much if any connection to the specific music they have done before.)

Whether you have or haven't heard the album yet, you need to watch this. In particular, the third song (I haven't yet got titles figured out), which starts about nine minutes in - it's the one with two drummers, always a good sign - will stop you in your tracks. It has the same propulsion as the best krautrock, on which it builds, and builds, and ... stops.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Plot Thickens

Further to the final part of my previous entry: like many a well-framed multiple-choice question, the least likely answer is the correct answer. It turns out that The Raconteurs, from the point of view of Australia only, are a band from somewhere in Queensland. The Raconteurs, from the point of view of Jack White, Brendan Benson et al, are in Australia The Saboteurs. This was confirmed by a visit to JB Hi-Fi on the weekend (en route to a rendezvous with two young boys at the local Warhammer store: now there's an oddly comforting combination of male teenage body odors, death metal music, and impeccable good manners): nothing under Raconteurs, plenty of Raconteurs records under "Saboteurs".

Well, good luck to the Queenslanders, I suppose, in holding out for the use of their own name. But two things come to mind.

1. This type of thing was all very well when all media were local, but such is no longer the case. Folks who are interested in the music of The Raconteurs (the real Raconteurs, that is) probably are also users of the Internet. On the Internet, you will not find many references to The Saboteurs. You will find lots of references to The Raconteurs. Not many of those are references to the Queensland Raconteurs.

2. What happens if the Queensland Raconteurs suddenly find themselves big in a land where the other Raconteurs are allowed to be called The Raconteurs? (They could call themselves The Saboteurs, I suppose. That would be a laff riot, wouldn't it?)

And while we're on the subject of The Raconteurs, does Joe Jackson get a songwriting credit for "Steady As She Goes"? It's in the bass line.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Two Nuns And A Pack Mule

Actually, two songs and a puzzle.

Song one: "Life On Mars", by David Bowie.

Having spent the last week or so gazing unhealthily at the contents of several unfortunate handkerchiefs, I have just now got around to watching the final episode of the second series of the wonderful "Life On Mars". This has been almost a textbook example of the kind of television I like: action, suspense, a wicked sense of humour, attention to detail, solid characterisation (the kind that makes you actually care), well chosen and frequently not obvious music, individual weekly storylines contained inside a deeper overarching narrative. It's not Dennis Potter but it's not "Home And Away" either.

(Actually, one of my favourite aspects of the show was the pub where the officers retired after (or during) work hours, run by a cheery Jamaican who, at least in the early episodes of the first series, seemed to have a direct line to Kingston record bins of the era (1973). It is interesting to speculate whether, in real life 1973, working geezers would have been exposed to deep-rooted reggae music, and if so how that affected, or would have affected, their outlook on life. Did reggae actually permeate as far as Manchester pubs in 1973, or ever? It stands to reason: Manchester was in many ways where punk, and especially what came after, was born, three years later, and we know that Lydon (down in London) and others were heavily influenced by Lee "Scratch" Perry et al. Don Letts probably knows the answer.)

And, of course, the eponymous theme song. If the 1970s belonged to Neil Young, they also belonged to David Bowie (and perhaps Brian Eno, who was moving in vaguely concentric circles with Bowie for much of it). "Life On Mars", and what it evokes, takes you so completely back to that decade that it was an obvious scene-setting choice. But it is also a totally brilliant song. This is proved as follows: you can update it for the glowsticks, tracksuit pants and smiley badges generation (C.O.), or have it played, in Portuguese, on a boat, for the entertainment of Bill Murray and his red-knitted-capped crew (Seu Jorge, as seen in "The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou"), and it still carries the same emotional weight as the original (whether that would be the case if you had never heard the song before and didn't know Portuguese is something I can't answer).

Song two: "Anarchy In The UK", by the Sex Pistols.

Those readers with long memories and nothing better to store in their brain cavities might remember that I mentioned some time ago having been provided by Darren with something over 1,000 songs, not so much songs that I don't know (although that too) as songs that I should have paid more attention to or not dismissed as knee-jerkily as I am inclined to do. These songs have now been added to a couple of hundred of a similar nature that he foisted upon me a year or two previously. I have also culled those songs that I already own (legally) on CD. The number is currently 1305. They have been stuck in a randomiser and duly scrambled. I will deal with them one at a time. I have no expectation of getting very far. What I don't want is for this to turn into some private conversation between him and me, because is there anything more boring than private conversations conducted in public?

It is somehow fitting that the first spin of the wheel landed on "Anarchy In The UK" because, for me, this song was Year Zero. To be precise, seeing the Sex Pistols on "Countdown" opened a door that could never be closed. There I was, twelve years old, having started to be interested, thanks to my crazy Melbourne cousins and some friends' older brothers (if you are somebody's older brother, please remember, your musical tastes will be taken very seriously by small children of your younger siblings' acquaintance; don't take this responsibility lightly), in music that was outside the orbit or 3UL: David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Supertramp, Jethro Tull, Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and other "heavy" type music. The Sex Pistols picked all of that up like a hurricane and blew it to who knows where. Suddenly the possibilities were limitless. And so it has proved. And yet.

And yet. I never owned "Never Mind The Bollocks". My twelve-year-old self somehow intuited that a best-of collection had no place outside of the world that the Sex Pistols had destroyed, and it felt like a betrayal, or a selling out. (I may have missed some notional quote marks around the enterprise, but I suspect that it was exactly what it looked like: an item of product created by a record company in order to make money for that record company.) I did (and do) own the "Pretty Vacant" seven-inch (picture sleeve), but my Pistols collection went no further (although I have always enjoyed Sid's version of "My Way"). I think it's like this: the Pistols weren't as important for the music they made as for, I dunno, blowing open a hole for scores of similarly disaffected youth to scramble through. This is not a new story. Read Jon Savage's "England's Dreaming". (Read it anyway, it's a great book.) The Sex Pistols were negative energy. ("No Future".) The Clash, Gang of Four, Wire, The Fall, they were the ones who saw a future. (Well, nobody knows precisely what Mark E Smith saw.) Nevertheless, the opening seconds of this song are always thrilling to hear, and always will be.

The puzzle.

In a weak and fevered state, I was listening to Triple J last Friday evening (something I haven't done for ages). Twice they played a promo tape advertising the Triple J Album Of The Week. It was "Consolers of the Lonely", by "The Saboteurs". Who? She said it twice. Look. There it is again. "The Saboteurs". What does this mean?

1. For legal reasons The Raconteurs can't be called The Raconteurs in Australia?

2. There happens to be a band called The Saboteurs featuring a Jack White sound-alike on vocals and guitar, who happen to have a new album with the same name as the new Raconteurs album? And Triple J chose that album as its Album Of The Week?

3. Quality control on The Js is not what it was?

I don't know on which day Triple J's "Week" starts, but given that I was listening on a Friday it's at least possible that the promo had been running for a good few days, which raises an interesting, and sad, question: is anybody listening? Triple J, back in the days before it gained the third "J", had as much, if not more, influence on my impressionable mind than seeing the Pistols on "Countdown". It would be a shame to watch it die.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Third time lucky

Wikipedia random page of the day: Irene Purcell, screen actress, who cruelly warrants only two lines of text in her Wikipedia entry. And no photograph! For an actress! Come on, peoples. Still, we discover that her birthplace was Hammond, Indiana, which gives us licence to use as our matching song "The Hammond Song", by The Roches, which we never hesitate to plug around here. Whether The Roches are singing about Hammond, Indiana I have no idea. Maybe Hammond is like Springfield: everywhere.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Party Favors Two

(Do you see what I did there? No, you probably don't, unless you happen to hold the view that 1982 was the sine qua non for pop music.)

Okay, this Wikipedia random article thing was going to change my life until Day Two, in which the random article was for a band, and not only that, a band of which I know nothing at all, the Golden Horde. What to do? I can't pick one of their songs (don't know any), I could pick one from one of the other bands mentioned on that page (but that would lead me into the world of U2: no thanks; or "Whiter Shade of Pale": too obvious), I could go all elliptical/obtuse but nothing is coming to me on that score, either. So I'm going to pass.

As for the band, nothing I am reading is telling me to investigate further, although any album that contains spoken-word contributions from novelist/maverick Robert Anton Wilson can't be all bad. Or can it?

Monday, April 07, 2008

Party favors

Here's a fun idea: click the Wikipedia random article button, and pick a song to match what comes up. Today's example: Paldiski, a seemingly godforsaken town in western Estonia. What music? Arvo Pärt perhaps, because he is Estonian, but his music is way too beautiful. How about "Without You" by Peter Ham, because both are barren, bleak and lonely.