Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Song of the day

"Change", by Tears For Fears.

The place where I have worked for the past 13 years is not actually a family, but it can feel like one. Today I found out that a part of that family, someone who has been a part of the reason I still enjoy my job, against the odds, after all that time -- someone who, in fact, has become an important part of my life over the time that we have worked together -- is about to leave.

This song is for him.

Everybody gets a card when they go. Everybody gets a parting gift. Not everybody gets a blog post.

It's comforting, at times like this, to know that there is a place, amongst the infinite number of parallel universes out there, where it is still the 1980s.

And, because it is the 1980s, it must be the extended version.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

This Goes With This (The More You Listen The More You Learn Edition)

1. "It's So Easy Falling", by Manfred Mann.

Listen (from the 2.07 mark) here; or download here.

(The YouTube clip linked to above compiles two Manfred Mann songs, with "It's So Easy Falling" appearing second. They are both worth a listen; if you thought that Manfred Mann's career started and ended with "Blinded By The Light" (and oh how I love that electric piano), you might be pleasantly surprised.)

2. "After Hours", by Caribou.

It is no secret that Caribou's particular skill lies in crafting songs (which are frequently excellent in their own right) using bits of other people's songs. But until I stumbled upon the first few seconds of "It's So Easy Falling", from Manfred Mann's "Mighty Garvey!" album (from 1968), I had never had a clear example of him actually doing it. (It may be that his sources are almost uniformly obscure; or I may be a not particularly good listener.)

And while we are on the subject, I recently had the opportunity, courtesy of our local library (your taxes at work), to finally listen to Isaac Hayes's "Black Moses" album. (He was much more than the voice of Chef.) Therein lay a surprise, even if I am the last to have discovered it. It goes like this.

First, refamiliarise yourself with Portishead's "Glory Box":

Then, listen to "Ike's Rap II":

See how easy this is?

If it is true that all the good songs have already been written, then I suppose you might as well use them as building blocks for your own songs. (But query what is going to happen in a few years' time when the songs that are based on other songs are themselves used as the basis for other songs. My head hurts.)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Song of the day

"Ill Wind", by Ed Kuepper.

The High Quality Audio Reproduction Fairy paid us a visit not long ago, bringing with him/her a Cambridge Audio amplifier and CD player (people still buy CD players?). They must have been a good choice: they even make Ed Kuepper sound good. Not his voice, obviously (I think the expression is "lol"?), but the crispness of his guitar playing really stands out on a song like this. Especially at the kind of volume that can only be employed when the other family members are far away from home.

I have no idea how long it is since I listened to this album ("Character Assassination"), but it really is much better than I remember it. That can't just be the hi-fi talking, can it?

(Obviously, sound quality is a stupid thing to be talking about when linking to a youtube clip, but you can enjoy the pastoral images and imagine the sound of the strings.)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Song of the day

"I Feel Love", by Donna Summer.

Well, obviously.

It's not every day a song comes along that turns on its head the accepted understanding of what popular music can be.

Thank you, Donna Summer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

YouTube(s) of the day

If you have been following Dangerous Minds (and you should have been) then you will have already seen this. If not, now is your chance to enjoy Martin Denny and his pals whooping it up on television some time around the early 1950s. Those were different times.

Bonus beats: John Cleese is the devil.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mad Man

May, 1945. Fifteen years before "Mad Men". The Second World War (not yet given a capital "S") is drawing to a close. Those outside of Germany, hitherto not prepared to believe the stories that had been dribbling out from that country about the concentration camps, are suddenly forced to believe it, as the evidence, in the form of emaciated, destroyed humans returning to Paris from the camps as they are liberated, is laid out before them. In amongst these stories, of a combination we are unable to comprehend of exhilaration, exhaustion, and foreboding (the horror is not yet over, not that many people at this particular time would have been aware of its magnitude), there is this advertisement, occupying page 9 of the issue of the New Yorker cover-dated 19 May 1945.

(Open it in a new window to get a better view, then click to enlarge. It's worth it.)

One can only imagine the extra weight this ad would have carried in May 1945. Paris, and French perfume, had been lost to the rest of the world since 1940. Nobody knew what state it, or what was left of its residents, would be in until it was liberated. So, there's that. But there's also the drawings themselves, by Saul Steinberg. I always associate Steinberg with Picasso, both because of the extraordinary number of pictures they were able to create, and because of their ability to do magical things with a few lines on a page. (They also both were able to create art out of things the rest of us would never see as the basis of art.) Picasso, though, hangs in museums, while Steinberg is known, if he is known at all, as a New Yorker cartoonist and illustrator of advertisements. (At least there are now Steinberg books that you can buy.)

But take a closer look at this ad. It simply oozes Paris, from the Arc de Triomphe in the centre to the policeman (or is it M. Hulot?) on a bicycle in the bottom right corner. And there, over on the far right, nearer the top: is that Steinberg himself, in his garret, working on his next picture? I would like to think so.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Crash Landing

Continuing a series we started, and then abandoned, many moons ago, we put our hand into the bag and draw out at random another post-1970s Neil Young album, with a view to determining whether you should listen to it.

This week / month / year: "Landing On Water", from 1986.

Which can only be described as a very bad record. 

It is difficult to say what happened to Young, musically, in the '80s: specifically, whether his musical fragmentation was driven by his seemingly uncomfortable fit with Geffen Records, or whether his trouble with Geffen stemmed from his inability to give David Geffen what David Geffen thought David Geffen wanted, or whether the two things were entirely coincidental. Certainly, Young didn't automatically revert to his previous heights when he returned to Reprise (viz, "This Note's For You"), but it didn't take long for him to get back, at least sporadically, to what he did best, with "Freedom". And from that point on his embrace by the flannel-shirted grunge generation seemed to kick-start its own, still continuing, period of productivity.

(Young, like Dylan, Richard Thompson, and Ed Kuepper, seems to view releasing albums as just something that someone in his line of work has to do every couple of years, whether there is any particular inspiration or drive behind it or not. All four of those artists are best viewed through a combination of studio albums, compilations (often with songs that in hindsight inexplicably were left off studio albums) and live recordings. In what is, still, very much an album-driven market, the esteem in which all of them are held, notwithstanding this, is remarkable.)

When you listen to this album, you are inclined to think that Geffen had a point. It sounds like it was produced either by an untrained monkey or by the hearing impaired. Or maybe by a drummer: the drum sound is as close to perfect as a drum sound can be. The problem is that the rest of the musicians, and Young himself, sound like they were squashed together in the back corner and/or given collectively around two percent of the recording budget. Now, Young is no cloth-eared slouch when it comes to sound quality, so we can only assume that one of two things happened: he deliberately gave these recordings, in this state, to Geffen for release, in a rather spectacular "fuck you" gesture; or Geffen, in a fit of pique, messed with the recordings, in a rather spectacular, if self-defeating, "no, fuck you" gesture. (Either is plausible.)

Whichever way you cut it (or whichever way it was cut), the poor old listener is the loser. It is difficult, through the fog of everything except those up-close-and-personal drums, to ascertain the quality of the underlying songs. For myself, I can only give the benefit of the doubt, and then only provisionally, to one song, "Hippie Dream", which at least has the potential to sound like a Neil Young song, and would appear to tackle the kind of subject matter that might have made it seem not out of place on one of his raw, dissolute where-did-the-sixties-go? albums, referred to now as the "ditch trilogy".

(It also, I now discover, is the only "Landing On Water" recording to appear on Young's Geffen-era compilation album, "Lucky Thirteen". So perhaps I am not altogether misguided in hearing something in it.)

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Song of the day

"Happy Birthday", by Altered Images.

Well, if I can't have Clare Grogan (circa 1981, of course) jumping out of a giant birthday cake, I guess I'll just have to settle for watching her on Top of the Pops.