#24 T. Rex – Chariot Choogle (1972)

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the tragic death, at 29, of Marc Bolan in a car crash. There isn’t anything that I can say about Bolan and his band T. Rex that hasn’t been already written 100,000 times, but I just wanted to pay tribute to him on this significant date, by selecting a lesser-known T.Rex song, (if there is such a thing), and sharing it. It’s a track from their 4th album, The Slider, and demonstrates how far ahead of his time Bolan was as a songwriter, arranger, and musician. It still has a freshness to it, even in 2017. I got into T.Rex relatively late in the day, when my copy of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s heavily Bolan-influenced 1988  single, Sidewalking, sparked an interest in me to get to the DNA of the track. I’ve loved T.Rex ever since, and have often wondered what Bolan might have gone on to do had he lived. T. Rex’s final two albums, Futuristic Dragon (1976) and Dandy in the Underworld (1977), are still not really like any other albums I’ve ever heard, and indicate perhaps that he could have taken rock into wildly new and uncharted territory. Sadly, we shall never know. So much potential. Only 29.

RIP #Forever29trex

#23 Hüsker Dü – Don’t Want To Know If You Are Lonely (1986)

This blog post is intended as a tribute to Grant Hart, drummer of Hüsker Dü, whose death I have just heard about. The reason I chose this song, apart from the fact that I love it, is that it showcases Hart’s fast drumming style. I probably could have chosen better examples of his musicianship, but this is the song that came to mind – it was, after all, the first song I’d ever heard by Hüsker Dü – a joyous highlight of an awful time in my life.

Born Grantzberg Hart, March 18, 1961 in St. Paul, Minnesota, in addition to being drummer of Hüsker Dü, (meaning “Do you remember?” in Danish and Norwegian), he was also a  co-songwriter. Hart formed the band in 1979 with Bob Mould and his friend, Greg Norton. The band were initially  part of the American hardcore punk movement of the early 1980s, but their song-writing ability and musicianship marked them out as different from the majority of such bands, who usually sank into obscurity after one or two singles/EPs. In 1986, Hüsker Dü became the first significant band from the American indie scene to sign with a major label, (Warner Bros.).

However, this did not herald a new period of success for the band. In fact, tensions developed in the band after this time, largely because of issues surrounding Hart’s heroin addiction, (which he never really fully recovered from), and he even accused Mould of ensuring that he could not have more than 45% of the songs on each of the band’s albums. The band broke up acrimoniously in 1987 after releasing ten albums, Hart stating that Mould’s songs had become increasingly “square.” (See Michael Azerrad’s book,  Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes from the American Indie Underground 1981-1991). After the band’s breakup in 1988, Hart formed the alternative rock trio Nova Mob, where he moved to vocals and guitar. Hart’s solo career became his main focus after the dissolution of Nova Mob in 1997.

There is a forthcoming 3-disc release of Hüsker Dü’ s earliest material, entitled Savage Young Du, which shows what prolific songwriters Hart and Mould were, and how influential they were on the American underground music scene in the 1990s. Indeed, the Chicago Tribune say that the band, “cast a wide shadow over American rock of the ’80s and ’90s and beyond, influencing untold thousands of fans and musicians, not least Foo Fighters frontman and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl.” This was echoed by Hart himself only recently, when said of Savage Young Du: “Hearing this stuff for the first time in a couple of decades, I [was] realizing the historical significance of what we were doing at the time. Of course, at the time, we were a bunch of kids playing rock ‘n’ roll in the basement. But the potential that Hüsker had showed right out of the gate.” RIP.

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#22 Bubblegum Splash! – Plastic Smile (1987)

Bubblegum Splash! were a short-lived indie band from Salisbury, England. The band featured Jim Harrison, Alan Harrison, Dave Todd, Marty Cummins, and Nikki Barr. The group disbanded in 1988. They recorded for indie label, the Subway Organisation, and their only release, (apart from an appearance on a split flexi-disc with the Darling Buds), was the 1987 EP “Splashdown”. Plastic Smile is taken from this EP.

The record showcases the typical sound, image and approach of the so-called post-post-punk “twee”, “shambling” “anorak” or “C86” movement, which churned out short, sweet and almost childlike pop melodies usually sung by girls, set against knowingly sloppy, fuzzed-out and feedback-seasoned guitars, and primitive drumming and tambourines. The sound had its roots in the Ramones’ minimalist three-chord structures, 60s girl group meldoies and harmonies, the buzzy punk-pop of the Buzzcocks, the DIY post-punk pop of Glasgow’s Postcard scene bands, (like Orange Juice), the Jesus and Mary Chain’s feedback-drenched melodies, and the melodic but raw sounds of early 80s bands like the Pastels and Television Personalities. The Scottishness of some of the key influences, (Postcard, Orange Juice, the Jesus and Mary Chain, the Pastels), perhaps explains why a plethora of these bands came from Scotland – e.g. the Shop Assistants, Jesse Garon and the Desperados, the Clouds, the Soup Dragons, the Fizzbombs, Baby Lemonade, the Bachelor Pad, Rote Kapelle, to name but a few. Supported by a virtual industry of DIY pop fanzines and free flexi-discs, both the bands and fans tended towards a certain look – 60s-style bowl-cuts, anoraks or leather jackets (not the punk or biker kind), stripey t-shirts (essential), tight black trousers and winkle-pickers. This scene, which only really lasted a couple of years, and ran out of steam by around 1989, (being the key influence on the so-called “Shoe-gazing” scene of the early 90s), is catalogued in Sam Knee’s A Scene in Between book. I was very much part of it, back in the day, (complete with bowl-cut, etc, etc.), and had a great time following all these bands around with my goth girlfriend, (who moderated her black lacquered look at these gigs).

But what always annoys me is that there is no settled name for this musical movement, (a fact perhaps demonstrated by the prosaic title of Sam Knee’s book), and the various names that we do have are either pejorative or inaccurate. “Twee” and ”anorak”, make it sound like the scene was a long children’s birthday party, and ”shambling”, (a John Peel-coined description, celebrating the deliberately sloppy nature of the music), suggests the music was crap, which it certainly wasn’t. “C86” is a lazy and inaccurate title, given on the back of the C86 cassette compilation released by the British music magazine NME, featuring new bands licensed from British independent record labels of the time.  (The tape was a belated follow-up to C81, a collection of new bands’ songs released by the NME in 1981 in conjunction with Rough Trade). It is stupid, however, to apply this name to the scene described in this blog post, because the C86 tape had a track list made up of various bands with very different sounds and influences, and cannot be shoe-horned into one scene. Anyway, if anything, bands like Bubblegum Splash! belonged to the class of 1987. So, we need a name for this “Scene in Between”. Any suggestions?

bubblegum

#21 Can – Paperhouse (1971)

I’m posting this as a tribute to Holger Czukay, co-founder and bassist of Can, whose death at the age of 79 was announced today. Can were in the vanguard of a 1970s musical movement in Germany, rather pejoratively dubbed “Krautrock” by the Western musical press, (why have we never come up with a better name than this?), which melded atonal and repetitive rock rhythms with psychedelic, jazz and electronic compositions. Alongside bands including Amon Duul, Ash Ra Temple, Neu!, Faust and Tangerine Dream, Can ushered in a new and exciting period for German, and indeed world, music in the 70s. After a period of study under avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen in the early 1960s, Czukay played on nine of Can’s albums, including their highly-rated Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi albums, before leaving the band in 1977 to go solo. This track, Paperhouse, is from the 1971 Tago Mago album, and showcases krautrock’s musical style perfectly. RIP.

Tago_Mago

#20 Del – Motorbike Annie (1973)

Motorbike Annie is a one-off single released in 1973 on UK Records under the moniker “Del”, by Derek Parrott, (although he released a few other records under his full name). There must have been something in the water around that time, because the UK in the early 70s seemed to produce a plethora of one-off, obscure, folk-tinged, beautifully-crafted pop singles like this, including by artists such as Hobbit, A & A North, Dog Rose, and Knocker Jungle, (amongst many others). All worth checking out. Motorbike Annie is a lovely acoustic guitar-led melody, nostalgic and winsome in tone, with understated mellotron, and obligatory 1970s motorbike sounds, before building up to a heavy psych-type finish. It’s exactly the sort of record that this blog intends to highlight – obscure and wonderful. It was compiled on the Bubblepop – 20 UK Pop Oddities CD compilation (RPM Records) from 2005, and also came out on a retrospective CD of Derek Parrott’s early releases Flashback – The Seventies Singles. Both these CD releases are almost as hard to get a hold of as the original Motorbike Annie single, which seems to be the only way to access the song on vinyl. (I got my copy from Discogs, for a not inconsiderable sum).

From North London, Parrott began his musical career as a folk musician in mid-60s London, where he rubbed shoulders with the likes of Donovan. It was Donovan in fact who suggested Parrott travel to Morocco, in order to “find himself” as a poet and musician. He duly did this at the start of the 70s, and honed his musical and song-writing abilities on the busker circuit there. On returning to the UK, it wasn’t too long before he managed, through a producer he was friendly with, to record Motorbike Annie. The song, despite some plays on the BBC, was not a hit. Nevertheless, Parrott had got the recording bug, and in 1977 he got the chance to record an album, as “Derek Parrott”, with quality session musicians, and a few soon-to-be-famous musicians, including Huey Lewis of The News (on harmonica), and Tony Robinson of reggae band, Aswad. It was even mastered at Abbey Road studios.

However, two weeks before the resulting album, Open Up, was due to be released, the record company changed their distributors, and the album was shelved. Worse was to follow, when it was found that the record company had lost the masters. Nevertheless, Derek had always had the A side on acetate, and discovered a friend had an original tape of the B side. The album eventually came out in 1999 (just 22 years late…) on his own “Parrotttracks” label. The cover artwork cleverly mimics the original intended cover for the album, with an older, 1999 Parrott in the same pose as the 1977 Parrott.

He became disillusioned by his Open Up experience, and dropped out of the recording business for some time, (starting a lawn care business amongst other ventures). Eventually, he began recording new material again in the 1990s, and released two albums, which though they were not successful, were undoubtedly of quality. He died in 2011, aged 63. His was a tale of “what might have been”, and like so many quality musicians who never “made it”, they were dogged by sheer bad luck.

del

#19 Svensk – Dream Magazine (1967)

Roger Hopkins and Jason Paul of Svensk, (very glamorously compared to most bands), met through Roger’s career as a fashion photographer and Jason’s role as an in-demand model. (I kid you not). Hopkins was also a music journalist, and became acquainted with many of the 1960s rock stars, which provided him with very useful musical and management contacts, and plenty of encouragement.  Formed in Bournemouth in 1967, as part of the town’s burgeoning underground music scene, Svensk, (meaning “Swedish” in Swedish. Erm…) wrote a clutch of songs, but got their big break when they played this song, Dream Magazine, to Hopkins’ long time friend, the legendary Roy Orbison, (I told you he had good contacts), who lined them up with record boss and Troggs creator, Larry Page, at Page One Records. He signed them immediately. The song was recorded within days. One other song followed in the same year with Page One, (You / All I have to Do is Dream), before they seemed to have called it a day. The song is a psychedelic cult classic, in the vein of The Troggs or early Pink Floyd.

svensk

 

 

#18 Charlie Feathers – Can’t Hardly Stand It (1956)

 

Feathers was born in Mississippi in 1932, of Irish and Cherokee descent. Having started out as a session musician at Sun Studios, he eventually recorded a string of rockabilly singles on Sun Records, Flip, Holiday Inn, Meteor and King Records in the 1950s. (His best-known recordings were on Meteor and King). It has been said, (mainly by himself, admittedly), that his hiccuping vocal style was a direct influence on other contemporary vocalists, (although Buddy Holly would probably have disputed that claim). Feathers indeed talked big, and appeared to resent the fact that he was not more widely recognised as a rockabilly pioneer. He said of Buddy Holly, for example, that, “Buddy Holly would listen to me and he wanted to get on Sun, man. Then he went to Clovis, New Mexico and did `Peggy Sue’. A lot of people say we sound alike, but he heard me do the hiccup, so who copied who?” He once claimed also that he, “brought Elvis to Sun Records in 1953, man. Not only did I get him there, but I got him doing rockabilly. Bill Monroe had done `Blue Moon of Kentucky’ but I showed Elvis how to do it his way, so I arranged that record. I didn’t play on it but I was at the controls.” A bordering-on-scathing obituary of Feathers by The Independent upon his death in 1998 after a stroke-induced coma, compared his jealousy of Elvis’ success to that of Salieri’s jealousy of Mozart in the 18th Century, and that Feathers had grossly over-emphasised his role as an artist of influence. As they put it, “he [Feathers] was in Memphis at the crucial time, even if no one took much notice of him.” (Ouch)

Few of Feathers’ records were released in the UK, and none of his songs were picked up by the British beat groups of the early 1960s. He had been the victim of poor management, but was also reputed to be very difficult to work with. Sam Phillips of Sun Records, for example, claimed that Feathers could have been a major star were it not for his fractious personality.  It is undoubtedly the case, however, that Feathers was a direct influence on a later generation of musicians. Having been pretty much ignored until the 1970s, some neo-rockabilly fans in the UK rediscovered, (or should that be “discovered”?) him, creating a demand for his records. He became something of a cult hero of the rockabilly genre. The late lamented Lux Interior of the wonderful Cramps claimed, for example, that Feathers was an influence on his vocal style, and the band recorded cover versions of some of his songs. Other fans include Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. The Can’t Hardly Stand It  track, with its slightly menacing feel, and slower in tempo than a typical Feathers song, was recorded in 1956, and showcases his vocal style beautifully. One could easily imagine that the song had actually been penned and performed by The Cramps, and indeed, they recorded a cover version of it. It is startling, therefore, just how influential he actually turned out to be on a newer generation of performers, and this must be set against the unkind views of The Independent, and others. Eventually, there was a recognition of his pioneering contribution to the rockabilly genre when he was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

 

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#17 Smith and Selway – 15.5 Remake (2000)

Straight-forward, ear-bludgeoning techno from the Swedish and American duo of Christian Smith-Solbakken and John Selway. Smith is a tech-house and techno DJ and producer, who began his house and techno label, Tronic, in 1994, then re-started it again in 2009, after a two-year hiatus. Selway has been heavily involved over a number of years since the 1990s in producing as a collaborator in many musical projects. It has been said of Selway that he, “has created and helped to create one of the most stylistically wide ranging bodies of work in the world of electronic dance music.” His first real success in the world of techno was as part of seminal New York duo, Disintegrator, but his most successful collaborations have been with Smith, as the duo “Smith & Selway”. Indeed, between 1999 and 2012, the duo have collaborated on 35 EPs and one album, which represents a pretty prolific volume of work. This one from 2000, 15.5 Remake, (superior to the more brutal 15.5 Edit on the other side), is a belter. It seems to encapsulate for me the sheer raw power, excitement, energy and threatening feel of well-produced techno. Like all techno, house, or disco, however, I implore you to listen to this at high volume on either a quality sound-system, (separates, powerful amps and speakers, etc. etc.),  or in the dome of privacy facilitated by high-quality headphones, (Sony MDRZX310 foldable ones should do the trick, fairly cheaply), otherwise it sounds tinny, repetitive and annoying.

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#16 The Metros – Since I Found My Baby (1967)

The Metros were a soul outfit from Detroit, and have been described as one of the least-known groups to have recorded on a major label – in their case, RCA Records. The group consisted of four members: Percy Williams (lead vocals), James Buckman, Robert Suttles, and Arthur Mitchell, and they released one album and three singles, in the 1966 to 1967 period. Their first single, Sweetest One (October 1966), was their most successful record, followed by this second, (superior, in my opinion), single, Since I Found My Baby, in March 1967. It’s a Northern Soul classic, with falsetto second tenor vocals, and showcases the genre’s heavy 4-4 beat and fast tempo, so ideally suited to the idiosyncratic flourishes of dancers on a well-sprung dance-floor. An original copy of this record would set you back at least £200.00, (have a look on Discogs), so thankfully, it appears on a plethora of Northern Soul compilations, and has come out as a vinyl reissue in 2011 on Outta Sight Records. (I got a copy of that one).

The Metros’ third RCA single, The Replacer b/w Let’s Groove, bombed, and ended the Metros time with RCA. A further two singles came out in 1967 and 1969 on Boss Records and 123 Records, (whose parent company was Capitol Records), respectively, but failed to make a significant impact, (even in Northern Soul circles).

metros

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