Thursday, October 29, 2009

Only Looking For Fun

The Clash - White Man in Hammersmith Palais

Another old favourite of mine from a band with an almost impeachable discography, White Man.. begins with Joe Strummer recounting his disappointment at the choreographed moves and performance of Dillinger, Leroy Smart and Delroy Wilson, likening them to The Four Tops (which is a diss.. I think), at a reggae all-nighter in the aforementioned Hammersmith Palais. Strummer then addresses many of the prevalent social themes in The Clash's vocabulary - race, violence, the commercialisation of rebellion and, finally, Britain's descent to a maudlin celebrity culture - "If Adolf Hitler flew in today / They'd send a limousine anyway".

The lyrics are typical Strummer - a sardonic clarion call, mature, passionate and funny, sung in a breathless rasp over a backing that moves from typical big riffs to an understated, bass-driven reggae groove. And over all of this, Strummer manages to inject a sense of humour, poking fun at both himself (the scared white man), at other bands (The Jam in their "Burton suits") and at those who advocate violent rebellion ("Fooling with your guns / The British Army is waiting out there / An' it weighs fifteen hundred tons"). This song was also a particular favourite of Strummers, who finished most of his later gigs with it.

It's been argued that White Man .. may have been the first song to fuse punk and reggae. It wasn't the first attempt at ska by punk bands, but the fusion was both irresistable and critically acclaimed (Robert Christgau called it "a must") and set the tone for much of the later output of The Clash. It's magnificent, of course. Lyrically, thematically and musically, it may be a song from another time, but it still sounds so relevant and true. If you didn't think that Joe Strummer was a musical god, now may be a good time to reconsider. Songs like this are, arguably, the real reason why punk has managed to endure - who else was making music as socially-aware and relevant in those days? The serious, angry young yobs managed to strike chords on so many level that listening to them 30 years later is both a joyous experience and a depressing one, as so many of the issues that they protested are still around. For that reason, if for no other one, The Clash are deserving of a position in the pantheon of musical greats.

But how do they stack up on the Rock Nutter (tm) scale?

Joe Strummer's real name was John Mellor. Their original drummer was given the likely pseudonym of Tory Crimes. Chalk one up for "The Only Band That Matters".

Bad Behaviour:
In 1977, Strummer was arrested for spray-painting "The Clash" on a wall in a hotel. In 1980, he was arrested in Germany for bashing a violent audience member with his guitar and commented "I nearly murdered somebody, and it made me realise that you can't face violence with violence. It doesn't work". Joe Strummer was Lily Allen's godfather. If that's not inexplicable behaviour, then I don't know what is. Chalk up another point.

Headon spent time in jail for dealing. The rest of them were arrested continuously in the early days of the band for things like vandalism. Three out of three for The Clash.

They shot up more speed than should be humanly possible and smoked shedloads of dope. Topper Headon was a junkie. Make that four.

Weird History:
Strummer was born in Turkey and was a gravedigger and a busker before The Clash. Strummer and Jones went to art school. Strummer married a South African woman in 1975 in order to get her British citizenship. We'll give them the final point.

So, The Clash - true rock nutters? Yes, but in a socially responsible, serious way.

(P.S.: In a sad note, the Hammersmith Palais closed in March 2007)

Verdict: The best roots rock rebellion known to man

Solomon Burke - Everyone Needs Somebody to Love

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Who Ate All The Pies?

Fats Domino - Ain't That a Shame

Originally brought to prominance by being covered by Pat Boone and spending 2 weeks at number 1, Domino's original proceeded to eclipse the later cover version. Back in those days it wasn't uncommon for songs to be covered pretty soon after they were released, so it's entirely possible that both versions of the song were on the charts at the same time. Imagine two versions of a Cher song on the chart at the same time. I think that would probably be a signal to the future that she finally killed John Connor. I'd be waiting, happily, for the first nukes to hit.

Tangential detours aside, I'm pretty sure that this is one of those very rare songs that has been covered by two separate Beatles - Lennon on Rock and Roll (with.. ug.. Yoko) and McCartney on Tripping the Live Fantastic, so it must have some appeal. What that appeal is, I'm not entirely sure - it's .. short, somewhat sanitised, entirely unthreatening and sans any real emotion or edge. Musically, it's all jazzy-walking-blues - big horns, piano all up in the mix, and Fats' honeyed vocals telling you about how sad he is. Seems like Fats' girl done him wrong, but he doesn't seem particularly broken up about it. And therein lies the crux of my disagreement with this song. I know it's a thousand years old and that naked displays of emotion were probably frowned upon in those days, but if Fats has been wronged, why isn't he pissed? If his tears are falling like rain, why does it sound like he's ordering takeaways? It's just all a little too middle of the road for me, even if it is a supposedly iconic piece of rock and roll.

Oh, and at least Fats lived up to his name - dude may not have set the Rock Nutter (tm) scale alight, but there were probably some beignet vendors in New Orleans who put their kids through university with help from Fats.

Verdict: No-one ever said the Beatles had taste.

The Clash - White Man in Hammersmith Palais

Monday, October 26, 2009

ANNOUNCEMENT: This post brought to you by Corporate Douchebag Enterprises*

Gladys Knight and The Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia

Gladys Knight. Gladys Knight and The Pips. No relation to Michael Knight but I'm seeing a tie-in here, people. Think merchandising opportunities. Think collaborations. Think about that key over 50 housewife demographic! Wouldn't Gladys, the Pips and The Hoff break through in the lonely housewife market? I'm seeing gold records up on the walls. Think graphs heading towards the stratosphere and charts with little dots bouncing off the ceiling. Only in Germany, you say? Bollocks.

Well then, this is THE song for the key 50+ housewife/empty nester demographic. Young people will hate it, but that's ok because we hate them too. Look at how we've used the Backstreet Boys and N*Sync to destroy their minds. By the time they hit 50, if they hit 50, they'll be begging us for Gladys Knight.

The song? The song? Who cares about the song. It's family friendly, made by unthreatening black people. Hell, even the men with the deep voices are singing with smiles on their faces. THIS WILL SELL! SELL MILLIONS! IT WILL MAKE US ALL RICH!

First the airwaves. Then the television. Then the movies. Then the world. We will take over the world thanks to Gladys Knight and The Pups. Pips. Whatever. No-one really cares. The song is inconspicuous. Hell, no-one will know, and we can assume control of their thinking faculties. Everyone wants sweetly-sung songs about love. People don't want to be challenged. This song will not challenge them so they will buy it and, with that, erode their ability to think critically. Which will allow us to sell them more more more crap crap crap.

The world is ours.

(Tomorrow: Fats Domino - Ain't That A Shame)

* I know it's a bit late, but this post was written on friday when I was, unfortunately, dressed like a corporate douchebag and sitting in an airport. Wa-hey!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Frodo, Don't Wear The Ring

Led Zeppelin - Ramble On

Confession time: I hate The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There, I said it. It bores me to tears. I've read it twice. Once I even liked it. And I hated the movies, I couldn't stay awake through them. Every time I hear words like "hobbit" or "Baggins", I have to fight back an involuntary gag reflex.

More on that later, however.

Led Zeppelin are, of course, the source of some of the truly great rock songs of all time (as well as Stairway to Heaven), true rock nutters and performers of the absolute highest order. Stories of their nutterdom are legendary and everyone's heard Whole Lotta Love or Kashmir. That should make them and, by extension, their songs cool. Right? Right?

Wrong. So very wrong. Ramble On starts off all Led Zep-y - sunny, open chords courtesy of famed groupie bedpost-notcher Jimmy Page, a legato bassline courtesy of some old bearded guy, and inconspicuous percussion courtesy of John Bonham, a man who was clearly in a Rock Drummer Nutter competition with Keith Moon from The Who. Robert Plant's Wailing, slightly mournful vocals start the downward slide, which continues until the first chorus. The first chorus is classic Led Zeppelin - propulsive drumming; taut, powerful guitar; thumping bass and Plant's plaintive howls.

It's great. Most of the song is great, in fact.

Musically, it all amazingness and awesomeness - Page's guitar work is continually inventive and serves almost as a second vocalist, a musical counterpoint to Page's vocal lines - at times providing sweet relief and at times building tension. The rhythm section is tight, cohesive and serves the twin masters of the song (Page and Plant) perfectly, while never being understated. Unfortunately, the song moves into gag reflex territory when Plant starts singing about Mordor and Gollum and basically going all hobbit on us. This is pretty indicative of Led Zeppelin's quality - when they're doing the bluesy thing, they're phenomenal; when Page uses a little licence with the lyrics (a la Stairway to Heaven) they sound cod-folky, indulgent and, well, crap.

Does their headline contribution to rock nutterdom redeem them? Not in this instance. The hobbit crap just ruins it for me. Put together a venn diagram of rock and roll and hobbits, orcs and the like, and should look like an 8. Basically, as a result of this song, Led Zeppelin are solely responsible for Ronnie James Dio and the rest of the hobbits- and dragon-metal bullshit that crawled out of some godforsaken swamp later. And that is something I can't get over..

Verdict: Ramble off

Tomorrow: Gladys Night and the Pips - Midnight Train to Georgia

Fast Women, Cocaine and Guns, These Are a Few of Wilson Pickett's Favourite Things

Wilson Picket - Mustang Sally

Written by Mack Rice, with the name suggested by Aretha Franklin, this was a song revived and revitalised by film The Commitments. And it is funky. It's James Brown funky but not as frantic as Mr Brown's ouevre, which always leaves me thinking that Mr Brown couldn't really grab a microphone without it resulting in at least one high speed car chase.

But back to The Commitments - where that version was clean and well produced, this version has grit and production that is clearly boggled by the range of Pickett's voice. And, of course, this is the better version - Pickett has the range and emotion and soul of the deranged madman that he was. This was a man who, variously:
(1) Developed a reputation for a fondness for guns, as big as possible
(2) Was arrested with a loaded shotgun in his car
(3) Was arrested for yelling death threats while driving his car over his neighbours lawn. The neighbour also happenend to be the mayor of Englewood, California
(4) Was arrested for beating up his girlfriend
(5) Spent a year and a half in jail for drunkenly running over an octogenarian (no mention is made of whether he was driving a Mustang)
(6) Was known for settling what he called "disagreements of a personal nature" with his fists

Most of the above were accomplished whilst under the influence of significant amounts of cocaine.

Notwithstanding his lack of a pseudonym (Wilson Pickett is a pretty satisfactory name though), he obviously qualifies for rock nutter status.

The song? It's awesome. I wouldn't say anything less - mainly for fear that Mr Pickett would come around here and kick my ass (so what if he's dead?) but also because it really is an amazing example of soul music sung by a man who, despite being a hyperviolent lunatic gun nut, had a voice that sounds like the result of a Faustian pact.

Verdict: A worthwhile rival to James Brown, in every way

Tomorrow: Led Zeppelin - Ramble On


The Rolling Stones - Beast of Burden

Following on to a question that I think I asked back in the mists of time - can a song's qualitybe influenced by subsequent covers of it? I'll wager that the coolness of Dylan's version of All Along the Watchtower is enhanced by Hendrix's version and that Tom Waits' Ol' 55 is diminished due to having been covered by The Eagles. In this case, how can we look rationally on Beast of Burden, knowing that it's been covered by Bette Midler?

We can't, obviously. Knowing that Mick and Keith's fine, fine song has been raped and pillaged by mecha-Midler sickens me, but knowing that Mick actually appeared in her video for the song is enough to reduce me to Virgin of Guadaloupe-like tears of blood.

Taken in isolation, the song itself is so classic and Stones-y that it may actually be an archetype for 'that Stones sound'. Keith and Ronnie Wood run amok, guitar lines entangled like two drunken fencers - all twangy epees and subtlety one minute, then countrified sabers and a bit of argy-bargy the next. Bill Wyman's bass and Charley Watts drums are largely anonymous but compliment the dueling guitars and one of Jaggers' finest vocal performances - his voice conveying resilience and frustration in its wails and croons and shouts.

It's a pity that Midler got her sweaty claws on it then. More so given the Stones' propensity for scaling the heights of rock nutterdom, which would have made this song a Rocky-esque contender.

Verdict: Good, or bette-r?

Tomorrow: Wilson Picket - Mustang Sally

Monday, October 19, 2009

.. and we're back

2 months late, I know, I know.

Sorry for being so quiet. I've been .. busy.

But there'll be much more happening here from now on.