Monday, 29 December 2008

The History of Music 19Seventy Something to The Present Day - Part One

This morning I was reading an article on pre-writing activities for EFL classes. The general idea is that you do a series of things before the actual writing, in order to make it easier yet more rewarding for your students. A good example for this is simply asking your students to 'write a story', to which they reply 'About what? I can't think of anything!' Whereas, compare this to playing them pieces of music, and asking them to decide what kind os scene in a movie this might be the soundtrack to, and they are off and running with a bag of ideas.

One of many ideas with music in the classroom included asking people to write a kind of personal music history, as placing a song in a time and a place tends to bring back lots of memories. You hear a snippet of the song in your head and the memories come flooding back, great for 'jumping off points' for a piece of writing. What did you listen to when you were a kid? What music was in the house? What did your parents listen to? What was your older brother or sister listening to? What about at school? Who were the heroes of the day? And do you and your loved one have that special song too?

Does it work though? As a poor man's muso, with anorak tendencies, I decided to put it to the test. Obviously, I took it to the absolute extreme, and rather than making a note of a few songs I liked, I thought I'd map out my entire listening history, just for the hell of it. And, don't you know, the memories did come flowing back. It was interesting to see how much more conservative my tastes have become, which is natural I guess, but also to notice that essentialy, I always go back to the same. The change in formats mean that you lose a lot of stuff along the way. Jesus there was a lot of rubbish, some of which sems to have come full circle and sound almost contemporary again. So, without further ado (it's a real word, look it up), and with links to all the audio rubbish that makes me who I am today, here is the

Official Musical History of Shropshire Lad Birth to 1980

I looked through the pop charts for 1975, but can't remember anything, although the charts from 1976 throw up clear memories, which would make me musically aware at the age of 7. Showaddywaddy's Under The Moon of Love is a clear memory, as are gangs of Teddy Boys in Blackpool on a day out with my grandmother (I thought they were exclusive to Blackpool at the time). Darts popped up in about 1977 and I loved Daddy Cool. The only punk related memory from this time was some talk of 'the lad round the block', who wore a 'bum bag', although I was never really sure what this was (the bitter Darts entry in Wikipedia reads "The band is still in the Top 250 selling list according to the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles. Despite this, and the fact that they remain Britain's best-known doo-wop vocal group, they receive almost no coverage compared to other doo-wop revival groups of the period such as Showaddywaddy").

I guess we also start with the music in the house, I certainly did. There were plenty of records to choose from including Elvis, (who now lives in Argentina, and may well have gone to the World Cup Final mentioned below), and, though I hate to say it, Cliff Richard's 'Thank You Very Much' live album with The Shadows got a lot of airplay in our living room around 1978. You can't really go wrong with Willie & The Hand Jive or Apache, can you? Also in the rack was Neil Diamond's 'Hot August Night', and his throaty "Good Lord!" at the start of the album got a good airing. It was the heaviest piece of rock in the house, apart from the rocks my Dad brought back from geology trips. I'm not making this up.

Of course, 1978 was the year of Grease, and all those singles seemed to dominate Top of the Pops for ever. For ever is a long time when you're 9. I also had a World Cup Final Birthday Party, and we saw Argentina beat Holland 3-1 (and the fixed 6-0 against Peru before???). I'd end up in a bar in Buenos Aires 25 years later, watching Birmingham v Arsenal with my brother.

1976 may have been the coming of punk, sweeping away the old guard, but it went unnoticed by me apart from an unsuspecting DJ playing 'Frigging in the Rigging' (B Side of the 'Somethin Else' cover) at a Park Junior School disco 3 years later. You'd think the title may have given him a clue to why he'd had so many requests for it. The year it all changed for me was 1979 (we watched The Waltons on BBC2 while we ate our tea), as in the same year up popped The Specials, 'Oliver's Army' by Elvis Costello, and the Smokey Robinson cover of 'Tears of a Clown' by The Beat. This was music by serious people in odd suits. Of course, I was equally as interested in Racey and 'Some Girls'.

The Jam's 'Going Underground', The Specials 'Too Much Too Young', Dexy's 'Geno', The Vapours 'Turning Japanese', all came out in 1980, and were all purchased in John Menzies in Wellington by the future fat Shropshire Lad. But, beating all of them hands down? 'Midnite Dynamos' by Matchbox.

This period was also notable for K-Tel's timeless classic, 'Axe Attack', surely the finest metal compilation to find its way into Haygate Drive. Just reading the track list gives you shivers. It was the music your mates big brother listened to. It was ROCK. Apart from Aerosmith's 'Sweet Emotion', it's music for 12 year olds. If you were still listening to The Scorpions years later you were a bit soft in the head, or coming out of east Berlin. Even then I thought Iron Maiden plainly ridiculous, although you can't knock an album too much that has Rainbow's 'All Night Long' and ACDC's 'Highway to Hell'.

Sunday, 21 December 2008


Back injury and work, when it comes to blogging they are pitiful excuses, but excuses they are, the blight of Kev and myself, work for me and back problems for Kev. So it is apologetically I put this post together.

This year for me musically it has been dull, for some people out there it was a year for gleeful joy that new albums by Coldplay, Keane and Oasis hit the shelves, that Chinese Democracy stopped becoming a story and became a reality, a year where Dido returned and indie boybands took over the charts.

Not me though, 2008 was the year I despaired at the state of modern music, the year that I stayed away from festivals, the year that I enjoyed mainly back catalogue tunes.

Normally around this time of year I would compile my top ten tracks and albums, the music that made the year special, I can’t this year, I would struggle to think of ten, therefore following Kevs lead, 3 of the best new albums and 3 of the best new to me albums, followed by my favourite singles of the year, the latter may be very short.

So my favourite new album of the year, Glasvegas, their self titled debut is still magnificent and swooping and retrospective whilst being circa now, the mangled cod Reid posturing aside their influences all be them worn so publicly are just a façade to their own sound, their own style of songwriting, JAMC, Primal Scream, even the BMX Bandits all jostle for space, Buddy Holly, Doo Wop, The Beach Boys the influences are there, but they are the right influences and I listen to the album again and again and think if this is what they do now, how glorious will they be in 5 years time, hopefully not friends of Bono or a Gallagher.

Flowers and Football Tops (Demo) - Glasvegas

My second favourite album and a possible contender for my favourite of the year is Save The World, Get The Girl by The King Blues, a punk, ska, reggae, rap hybrid of an album that sounds like none of them and all of them at the same time, its punk ska but not [Spunge], its reggae rap and dub but its not King Tubby, It’s The Clash, but its 3rd side of Sandinista, not London Calling. The album deals with being young, squat life, punks and ultimately getting the girl. Think Jaimie T but sans his London set, where he has his bass guitar this punk has a ukulele. This band could be, could be my new favourite band.

My Boulder - My Boulder

Finally my third new favourite album is Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pips’ Angles. This album is phenomenal, if this is hip hop then this is the future, as the track recites, intelligent hip hop not that channel U malarkey, no guns bitches or bling, but Scroobius rapping the periodic table, a beautiful tribute to Tommy Cooper, a song about self harm and oh so much more. Glasvegas and King Blues are purely personal things but Dan le Sac and Scroobius Pip, once you hear it, you WILL love it so I really do stress that you listen to this, savour the lyrics, the music and the production, this record will mess with you preconceptions.

Tommy C - Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip

My favourite new to me album this year is American Beauty by The Grateful Dead, this went from a passing reference in the TV show Freaks and Geeks to being a musical revelation. Men, and they are always nearly always men, but men who take drugs discuss the virtues of The Grateful Dead, but in doing so they unfortunately put you off for life, think also Pink Floyd, Phish and early Genesis. They make them sound like some prog rock experiment, that teases the ears and is a wonder for the eyeballs, noodling 20 minute solos designed to numb the senses. With heavy heart I thought I would give American Beauty a try. Oh my life, noodle free, psychedelic whoop de do it was not, a slab of Americana Gene Clark would be proud of and disciplined with it. I was later told that I only need to listen to two Dead albums, American Beauty and Workingmans Dead, I have only listened to them two, and loved them like a child.

Box of Rain - The Grateful Dead

My second favourite new to me album is an album that wasn’t new to me, I had heard it maybe once, maybe twice at a push, but this year I really listened to it and listened to it a lot and that is Metamorphosis by The Rolling Stones. A very interesting Stones album out of band whose output I love more than any other band barring NOFX or The D. A often overlooked compilation of rare and different versions, I am still listening to alot.

Family - The Rolling Stones

My third favourite new to me album is the reissue of Arthur by The Kinks, both this and Percy also by The Kinks have received a lot of play over the last 12 months and The Kinks 70’s output has been the real surprise for me, I was aware of their hits and some of which appear on Arthur, but it’s the stuff that wasn’t released as a single which has done it for me. The news that Ray and Dave may be working together in 2009 was really good to hear and hopefully they will be a band concentrating on going forward and not resting on former glories. That all said Arthur is by a fair chalk the third best album in 2008 that was new to me.

Arthur - The Kinks

So that leads us on to singles.

This year has been a bit bereft of classic singles, the rather pedestrian but altogether nice, mainly for its use of the minor chord, Human by The Killers really earwormed it’s way in late in the year, there is no shame in that, however you know it appears when you say this in mixed company, people tend not to hear Human is an alright song, but actually hear, I have been sleeping with my nan. This is not my favourite track of the year though, it illustrates perfectly how bad it has been for singles.

Now I am discounting any song by anyone that appeared on any of the albums that made up the best of the year or I would be hear with Mans letter to god, get the girl and Flowers and football tops.

Another record that I really liked was the Adele cover of the Dylan track, To Make You Feel My Love. Its Dylan a few miles away from his classic period covered by Adele, I shouldn’t like it, at least it isn’t the troll like Duffy. This song though I prefer by Adele, there is something about her that charms me, unlike Duffy. The thing that I find with Adele though is even though she isn’t some talent show reject, she seems like she is. That’s a bad thing and not the reason why I like her.

To Make You Feel My Love - Adele

Finally then its Heart Song by Weezer, from their first for me, disappointing album, a band that I have followed since their debut single and I will follow for many years to come, but Heart Song was probably the only good song on a bad album, one of my favourite bands Ballboy also produced a new album and that too was a disappointment, I am nervouse thinking about Camera Obscuras new one next year. Back to Weezer though, Heart Songs lists a load of songs, that’s the long and short of it, and unless I can think otherwise those are my favourite new tracks of the year.

Heart Songs/Sliver - Weezer

My most played track according to Last FM is Don’t Stop Believing by Journey so make of that what you will.

Don't Stop Believing - Journey

Friday, 12 December 2008


I'm currently suffering with back-knack. Today I had to go to a clinic and put on one of those robes that's open at the back, and designed so that you are unable to do up the cord, thus treating everyone to a glimpse of your lillywhite torso. Following the robe I had to climb into a giant tube while some woman magnetically scanned me in order to find out the extent of back-knack. What does this have to do with music, you might ask. Nothing, I would answer.

My favourite song for today is taken from an advert for Kenzo perfume. It's by Shanghai Restoration Project, and is called Introduction (1936). It seems to be on heavy rotation here in Chile, and I love it. I think they are one of those outfits like the Gotan Project, or Moby, who like to blend original music of a certain ilk with bleeps and beats and squirts. With a name like Shanghai Restoration Project they really should be building more public toilets.

I was looking up some info on Shanghai jazz from the 30's, which is more interesting and easy to listen to than you might think, and I stumbled across NPR Music, which kept my attention for a while and is well worth a look. It's National Public Radio in the U.S.

Anyway, here's the ad.
Shanghai Restoration Project

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

The Non Carpenters Carpenters

A friend of mine actually made a request for a post, on the subject of The Carpenters. This is a first, and a landmark in the short, glorious, unknown and undiscovered history of I Taught Myself How to Grow Old. Unfortunately, having been driven to distraction by a workmate who used to play The Carpenters endlessly, I have been forced to expunge all things Karen and Richard from my already fogged up brain, although I do remember a good tribute album featuring a Sonic Youth cover of Superstar.

So, unable to provide even a half decent post on The Carpenters, I've made a stab at a Carpenters related post, as you will see.

First up, Bobby Davro, I mean Bobby Darin, making Tim Hardin's If I was a Carpenter famous (Carpenter! Wehey!).

Second batter up is the music from Halloween, composed by John Carpenter. He didn't just write it and direct it you know.

And finally, in this non Carpenters Carpenters list is House Carpenter's Daughter by Natalie Merchant, who appears to have changed her name to 'Ex Ten Thousand Maniac Natalie Merchant'. She released an album of traditional folk songs in 2003, and this was one of them. Is it possible that the carpenter's daughter went to school with the blower's daughter, in some special performing arts school for tradesmen's offspring?

And that concludes my knowledge of Carpentry in music.

House Carpenter's Daughter by Natalie Merchant

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Odetta RIP

Odetta Holmes died on December 2nd 2008. I'd read that she was going to sing at Obama's inauguration, so it's a shame she didn't make it. My Dad had an album of hers and I remember some of the songs actually scaring me when I played it, not that he played it. Maybe they scared him too. Have a look at the video for Water Boy and you'll see what I mean. She was a big influence on Dylan, and he went on to make some frightening music himself. Her voice had a tone too it that made whatever she sang totally unquestionable, if that doesn't sound too harsh. She was pretty remarkable.
Glory Glory sung by Odetta