Friday, 28 March 2008

It's the Curse I tell you!

Oh Wow! This is getting very spooky indeed. In fact, it could be a case for Mulder and Scully if only I knew how to contact them. Regular readers will recall how I posted a piece about The Waitresses only to find that their lead singer, Patty Donahue, had died. This was followed a short time later by a piece on Shocking Blue, where once again it transpired that their female singer, Mariska Veres, had died.

You will not be surprised, therefore, to learn that I was going to write a bit about those late sixties hippies, It’s a Beautiful Day, only to discover yet again, that their woman at the mike, Patti Santos, died in a car accident in 1989.

WARNING: if you are female and sing in a band and you find that I am researching you for a post on this blog, be very afraid. The Curse of the Music Obsessive is alive and operating in your vicinity. Hahahaha....

(Ahem) where was I? Oh yes, IABD. Like everyone else, I discovered this band around 1971 through airplay of their one good song, ‘White Bird’ which, if you close your eyes, will transport you magically back to 1960s California in an instant. (Time travel as well as Curses – I should sell the rights of this post to some Hollywood mogul). Don’t bother to buy the eponymous album from which it comes as the rest of it is fairly nondescript, just download it – it is a wonderful period piece of hippie lyrics and great rock violin, courtesy of David LaFlamme, carrying a sunny Californian melody. You can almost smell the hot air and hear the cicadas, so evocative is it. It’s one of those must-have tunes that should grace any collection. Being a massive fan of Darryl Way, Curved Air’s violinist at that time, I was open to anyone who played a rock inspired violin. David’s solo on ‘White Bird’ is one of those float away moments that those addicted to music experience every once in a while.

Unfortunately, the follow up album, ‘Marrying Maiden’ was not that great but their third, ‘Choice Quality Stuff...Anytime’ was much better and I had a cassette copy of it at one time but it seems to have gone AWOL (the Curse again?) and it doesn’t seem to be commercially available now, except by download and I do like to have the CD where possible, which is a bit of a pain.

Does anybody know whether it can still be bought anywhere? I guarantee that no harm will come to you!

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Guilty Pleasures Pt3

In post-war Britain, members of the armed forces often found themselves stationed in countries like West Germany or other global pinch points as our contribution to the cold war. In order to provide servicemen and women with a link home to Blighty, the BBC broadcast ‘Two-Way Family Favourites’ every Sunday lunchtime on Radio 2 and the World Service, a programme designed to allow families to request songs to be played for those in far flung places.

This preamble leads me to my own experience of listening to this programme as a child during the 1960s. Perhaps ‘listening to’ is a bit too strong. ‘Being vaguely aware of’ would be a better description but stuff was absorbed nevertheless. It is only now that I realise that many of the tunes I know so well actually emanated from these broadcasts – show tunes (West Side Story, My Fair Lady), pop classics of the day, novelty songs ('Goodness Gracious Me', 'My Brother!') and war-time nostalgia ('We’ll Meet Again'). In particular, it imbued my soul with one particular song from the late 1960s; ‘Wichita Lineman’.

The problem with ‘Wichita Lineman’ is that it is sung by Glen Campbell, an artist that anyone into Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple would automatically hold at arm’s length. OK, I know he was briefly a member of the Beach Boys but even knowing that doesn’t help. This is why, for me, ‘Wichita Lineman is such a guilty pleasure, but what a guilty pleasure it is. It is one of the most magnificently melancholic songs I know. If push came to shove, it could well be my favourite song of all time. It’s just that Country connotation.

The lyric tells of a maintenance lineman working in the desolate isolation of America’s great outdoors whilst he yearns for his distant lover.
‘I hear you singing in the wire’
Everything conspires to paint the impression of sheer loneliness in the vast expanse of uninhabited plains. The lyrics are heartbreaking, the vocal performance beautifully judged and the orchestral string arrangement suitably emotional. Writer Jimmy Web has never matched this creation, even with the leaving-cake-in-rain weirdness of MacArthur Park.
‘I can hear you thru the whine’

Here’s another confession. In the days before single song downloads, I actually bought an entire double album (Glen Campbell: The Capitol Years), the majority of which I have never played, just to own ‘Wichita Lineman’. This is where music obsession starts to get a little scary but it is, in my humble opinion, a must have song.
‘And the Wichita Lineman
Is still on the line’

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

'Who the Hell Doesn't Like Springsteen...?'

Here is the news (courtesy of The Scotsman):

‘An Australian woman who stabbed her common law husband to death because she was tired of being bossed around said a row over her playing a Bruce Springsteen CD was the last straw.
Karen Lee Cooper, 50, pleaded guilty to manslaughter yesterday and was sentenced to eight years in prison for killing partner Kevin Watson, 49.
"I mean, who the hell doesn't like Bruce Springsteen, for God's sake?" Cooper told police.’

Well, exactly. Who doesn’t?, actually. This is not to say that I hate him with a vengeance, it’s just that I am entirely neutral and am not really that bothered whether I listen to him or not, which is probably just as well judging by the above snippet. In fact this little vignette of life under the influence of pop music could well be played out at our house (note to self: hide all kitchen knives). My wife is also a big fan of the Boss (show me a female who isn’t) and owns a fair amount of his output whereas I do not. But she tends to play his stuff when I’m out of the house so a murderous assault will hopefully be avoided. If this blog suddenly stops, you’ll know why.

Let’s face it, there are much worse things to end up killing someone over: ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, ‘Agadoo’, ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon’ and I could go on...and don’t get me started. If someone played any of these at ear-splitting volume in the same house as me I could very well see myself reaching for the carving knife. I’ve long suspected that pop music has a meaningful role to play in international torture – perhaps some dubious dictatorship could employ me as a consultant?

However, whilst I profess to be neutral in respect of Bruce, I did buy her his latest offering, ‘Magic’ as a Christmas present, and I admit to having listened to it a few times and begrudgingly have become rather fond of it. Especially ‘Girls in their Summer Clothes’ which has one of those incredibly annoying melodies that you catch yourself humming by the photocopier just as your boss walks by.

But what this all amounts to is that it is in the nature of all Music Obsessives to treat most music as a life or death passion - literally in Mrs Cooper’s case – because it matters to us. And what a shame it would be if it didn’t.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Away with the Angels

Dear Marge

I am writing to you as I consider you to be my last hope. You see, I need advice badly and there is no one else who would understand. The problem is that there is a certain woman that I have admired from afar for what seems all my life and frankly, I don’t know what to do about it. Is it too late?

I first came across her on children’s television when I was only 11 but being somewhat older than me and living such a sophisticated and glamorous lifestyle, I knew she would never look at me, a mere boy. You see, she flew a gleaming white fighter jet and worked for a global security organisation and to an 11 year old you can’t get better than that. Of course, in those days she was a little wooden and barely showed any emotion at all so it was difficult to know what she was thinking. Also, she didn’t say much except to accept and confirm orders from some white-haired old chap in her sexy French accent.

However, as I grew older she faded from my life and we lost touch but you never forget your first love, do you? Sure enough, we bumped into each other again just recently as DVDs of her new updated CGI adventures have been released and it’s as if we’d never been apart. Funnily enough, she doesn’t seem to have aged a single day but now she has blossomed from that rigid character of old to a free moving, free speaking spirit, dressed in her usual skin-tight white/silver jumpsuit and flying helmet. Clearly, years of working in a global environment has caused her to lose her French accent, but hey. It seems like her mentor, Uncle Gerry has guided her well over the years and is to be applauded for her transformation to the fully fleshed out woman she is today. In fact she seems to have rounded out in more ways than one. Lara Croft eat your heart out!

Although still working for the same firm, she now not only leads the fighter pilot team, but involves herself in the combat side of the organisation and it is here that there may be a fly in the ointment. I have noticed that she seems quite keen on one of her fellow operatives, a fellow going by the codename of Scarlet.

So here is my dilemma, Marge. Will a woman such as her with a high profile career ever look at me? Does she hold a torch for this other bloke? Is it normal to fancy a virtual woman? I await your advice with breathless anticipation.

Oh, her name? It’s Destiny. Destiny Angel.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Siouxsie Sioux

For this post my subject is Susan Ballion, or Siouxsie Sioux of Banshees fame to you and me. She has always been an icon as far as I’m concerned and as Amazon is still trying hard to sell me her new solo album, ‘Mantaray’, I thought the time is right for a bit of a re-appraisal. But not of her 30 year musical legacy as that is a given, but more to do with that infinitely more intangible attribute – style.

Traditionally, Siouxsie has been put in a box with a huge tag around her neck which reads ‘Gothic, handle with care’. I suppose it’s the general blackness and the connection with punk, but the more I think about it the more I feel this is wrong. Siouxsie and the Banshees were never really Punks in the true sense. Admittedly, they started on the road to fame with the no-need-to-learn-to-play attitude that embodied early punk, and hung around the Sex Pistols-to-be, but it wasn’t long before they had outgrown all that and become an extremely accomplished band with a more measured musical style to the prevalent thrash, in direct opposition to the punk doctrine of the late 1970s.

The stage persona of Siouxsie herself was more a product of the androgynous glam era of the mid 1970s rather than the more overtly sexual fetishist dress of the punk movement. Bowie and Bolan were her antecedents and it seems that it was mere coincidence that the Banshees appeared on the scene during the punk uprising. Having ridden that bandwagon for a bit they developed beyond their peers and forged a long and successful career.

It occurs to me that Siouxsie’s later style inspiration is actually drawn from the Roaring Twenties, the age of silent film and Art Deco. With her black bobbed hair and strikingly black-shadowed eyes, she could be one of those silent heroines, tied to the railway track, legs kicking and mournful eyes pleading whilst the hero struggles with the points in the face of the on-rushing 10.37 to Pennsylvania. A bit like Railtrack now, in fact.

As a further nod towards the 1920s, her dress is very often Deco in style, using Egyptian, Greek or Aztec lines and motifs and well as the geometric patterns and the design modernism culture of that school. She could easily pass for a modern day Cleopatra. The Art Deco movement seems to describe her much more accurately than the ripped T-shirts and bondage trousers of the real punks.

It just occurs to me how frighteningly easy it is to pigeonhole people.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Guilty Pleasures Pt2

After part 1 of this series fell foul of just about everybody and his dog naming Karen Carpenter in their Guilty Pleasures List, I thought I’d better be a bit more left-field this time. After some thought the following occurrence gave me some inspiration.

I was chatting to a work colleague in the way that you do, about this and that, and he happened to mention that whilst taking his weekend rugby coaching session, he had noticed a spectator skulking on the sidelines. On further investigation that person turned out to be Dave Robinson, original founder of Stiff Records, the label that kick-started the post-punk revolution in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This sort of thing seems to happen to my colleague a lot so I didn’t bat an eyelid.

This got us talking about the label and we surprised ourselves by reeling off a whole raft of top acts that had started life at Stiff. The likes of The Damned, Madness, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, Kirsty MacColl and Dr Feelgood (and even Motorhead) all signed up. A pretty impressive roster for a newly formed recording enterprise.

Of more interest were some of the lesser known talents to be taken on. The likes of Rachel Sweet and Wreckless Eric came up in conversation but the one that really hit a sensitive spot was Lene Lovich. This is where I have to admit that her big single ‘Lucky Number’ is nestling in my never-played-now singles collection and I loved it, even though I wince at it a bit now. Lene was right up my street, exotic, enigmatic and completely mad. All the attributes a proper pop star should have and which were probably derived from the combination of her English and Eastern European heritage.

This is the bit where I should on and on about how good it is but suffice to say that I find its roller-coaster melody and hiccoughing vocal delivery rather fun and what’s music for if not to entertain us? My interest in her pretty much expired after the release of that single and I have not bothered to look her up since.

However, Wikipedia informs me that she is now knocking on the door of her 60th year and that her last album was released in 2005. Good grief! Not only that, her original collaborator on ‘Lucky Number’, Les Chappell, is still with her and still collaborating. Amazing! Even mad women have a life it seems.

I shall go and play (guiltily, natch!) my copy of ‘Lucky Number’ just for old time’s sake...but I don’t think I’ll be leaping out to buy her latest effort. I mean, let’s be sensible about this!