Australia

‘Real cool time’ Half Japanese/Don Fleming – single (Split, 1989) plus Laughing Clowns, The Stooges

Never thought I’d be writing this about Jad Fair, but with this cover of The Stooges classic (no, this word is not over-used in relation to the spirit of Detroit, even their messiest/sloppiest/non-conscious moments were touched by greatness and this was maintained despite the lack of recognition, drug-induced conditions) he is switching it on, expressing some definite lustiness. 

I like this cover for many reasons: it reminds me of Laughing Clowns 

a sound/atmosphere that is inbuilt somehow, etched into my being, DNA-mapped even though I wasn’t going to see the Laughing Clowns shows, obviously. I think it’s something about the keeping it loose spirit and the warm, percussive sound – jazzy in the nicest, the most sinister-acting way. 

Yeah we danced around the golden calf
And we had a very sharp knife
And we never did anything by halves
We had a strong philosophy of life
And everything that flies is not a bird

Yeah we give it such a friendly reception
Disarm it and disembowel it with a feather
Hope for the best nothing’s too good
For the lords of the plague
When everything that flies is not a bird

You’re a part of my world here
You’re the air that I breathe in
You’re a part of my world here
The water I urinate in

And the wind and sea get up on their hind legs and walk across the land

I have to cut off the electricity to turn off the light
We had a strong philosophy on light
And everything that flies is not a bird
Is not a bird

“And now, introducing the wonderful Ed Kuepper ...” 

This brings me to the key reason for liking this track the drums, how beautiful is this performance, reminding me of the best loose-wristed, keeping it fluid and so solid at the same time performances by the drumming greats of the 70s transplanted to the rock idiom. I’m not 100 % but I think the drummer here is Gilles Reider. 

It’s the combination of Jad Fair’s switch to expressing longing/desire, the pared back poetry of the lyrics, simple and true like a koan and the drums:

Can I come over tonight?
Can I come over tonight?
What do you think I wanna do?
That's right
Can I come over tonight?
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I say we will have a real cool time
I say we will have a real cool time tonight
I'd say will have a real cool time tonight
I say will have a real cool time
We will have a real cool time
A real cool time tonight


To hear the original from The Stooges 1969 self-titled record: American poetry in its purest form, yes (three minutes or less).

Here’s an interview with Jad Fair from The Quietus (2013) on the reissue of Half Gentlemen/Half Beasts

Antipodean 'Soul music'* - 'Evie' parts 1, 2 & 3, Stevie Wright single (Hard Road, Albert, 1974)

Genre: Hard rock, blues rock (Part 1) soft rock (Part 2) rock (Part 3)

'Evie' was written by Harry Vanda and George Young. It has been suggested that it is the first 11-minute song to chart at #1 anywhere in the world. The song features three parts and some critics consider it as one of the most perfect rock n' roll songs ever, encapsulating the three basic themes of all love songs:

·         (I) Baby it'll be great once we're together (Let Your Hair Hang Down)

·         (II) Baby, it's so great now that we're together (Oh Evie... I'm nothing without you)

·         (III) Baby, it's so bad since you left me (I'm Losing You). However, the loss in this case is more tragic than the usual 'boy loses girl' scenario - it describes the singer's emotions following Evie's death in childbirth.

Part One is a guitar driven, hard rocking and bluesy, swaggering and swayful song. Part Two is more piano and string based, a much softer emotional ballad style. Part Three is more of a disco-rock style, being quicker, relatively urgent and guitar driven track with a great vocal.'

(summary comment/overview from Wik) 

I got some money in my pocket I got my car keys in my hand I got myself a couple of tickets
To see a rockin’ rollin’ band
Come on girl just get on your shoes
We’re gonna hear some sound
Come on babe you know there ain’t no time
Don’t mess around

World-famous, at the time, for his role as the lead singer of the 60s rock group, The Easybeats - the first Australian act to meet international stardom - that he led from age of 16, the story of Stevie Wright is one of great musical achievement in parallel with the worst aspects of addiction that ended up leaving him in his old age a frail, decrepit version of his former sprite-like self. He died in 2015 at the age of 68.

This song is much loved in Australia, as a classic representation of a particular national style (rarely expressed in public) that is at once kind of excessive, sentimental, but knowing to a certain extent, it is also a perfect example of a certain kind of male psychology, forever dreaming of the lost Eurydice. Knowing the tragic story of Stevie Wright's descent makes listening to this song a particularly piquant experience; as it sounds like he really means it.  

And it features a 21 year-old Malcolm Young (of AC/DC) on guitar ...

What I love especially in the first part is the call and response of the guitars and the phenomenal drumming by John Proud - who worked as a session musician on the AC/DC recording sessions of High Voltage in 1975. There's so much intelligence in Proud's performance here, the way he plays with moods, offering up unusual touches as commentary.     

Suzi Quatro covered part 1 - see here - which appeared on the European version of her album If You Knew Suzi... in 1978.

Check out this beautiful performance from 1979 where Stevie Wright and band fronted a crowd of 250,000 outside the Sydney Opera House in a billing dubbed the 'Concert of the decade' ...

'Karen' The Go-Betweens (Able Label, 1978)

I just want some affection
I just want some affection
I don't want no hoochie-coochie mama
No back door woman
No Queen Street sex thing
I want a tiger on bended knees
With all the kindness of the Japanese
I just want some affection
I wish I heard voices
Wish I was a telephone

Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah
Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah yeah
I said yeah, oh Karen!

I know this girl
This very special girl
And she works in a library, yeah
Standing there behind the counter
Willing to help
With all the problems that I encounter

Helps me find Hemingway
Helps me find Genet
Helps me find Brecht
Helps me find Chandler
Helps me find James Joyce
She always makes the right choice

She's no queen
She's no angel
Just a peasant from the village
She's my god, she's my god
She's my g-o-d, she's my god, yeah, yeah
She's my g-o-o-d, yeah

Oh, she's my god now Yeah!
Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah
Karen yeah-yeah, Karen yeah-yeah yeah
I said yeah, oh Karen!

And she stands there in the library
Like a nun in a church does
Like a nun in a church does
She stands there all alone
'Cos she gets me something that I
Just can't get now anywhere else
Cause the girls that I see
Walking around, yeah the ones I see
Walking on the street
Are so damn-da-da-da-damned cold
'Cos they must have eskimo blood in their veins
And the one that I want
I just can't see
I can't see her there
I can't see her anywhere

Alright!
Oh Karen yeah-yeah...
Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen, Karen!

How this song speaks to me ...  

P-p-po po-po muzik (Flamin' Groovies, Divinyls, The Jam, J Dilla etc.)

Years ago now when I first started out writing about pop/rock/punk music I thought up this earnest, forever totalising, thoughts in search of a system formula: to be truly great, such music needs to contain an impression that held within it, there was 'excess' that any moment just might break. 

It needed to be as if all the sonic elements were placed side by side, like primary-coloured cusinenaire rods, but that any moment it had the potential to shift ... as the singer, with her peroxide-blonde hair (so artificial) smiled. Self-aware, but innocent.

Other genres of music have this as well. Most notably Soul Music. Arguably, this concept is at the heart of much Jazz, where the musicians 'tame' it via solos (something I don't like personally, I get impatient when musicians expect the audience to praise them, after taking their money, and see it as a version of 'bad faith').

The Flamin' Groovies: a group from San Francisco, still going but best-known for the releases from the 1960s and 1970s, most notably 'Shake Some Action'.      

Need to control my enthusiasm for this song, as it strikes me as pure genius; just listen to the beginning, from 0 to 30 seconds, with the ponderous bass-line providing the structure while the other elements come into play. And I love the lyrics too: 

Shake some action’s what I need
To let me bust out at full speed.
I’m sure that’s all you need
To make it all right.

It’s taken me so long
To get where I belong
Oh, but, oh, please don’t send me back that way, yeah.
For I will make you pay.

(Refrain)

If you don’t dig what I say
Then I will go away.
And I won’t come back this way again. No.
’Cause I don’t need a friend.

If you're thinking about much thrash/Heavy Metal; some EDM or even disco (what?) the opposite effect is desired, what you want is to be carried by a unified force. This music needs to be absolute, complete and carry the listener as if it were a wave, surrounding them.

The musical intelligence of 'Shake Some Action' comes from the fact that it does both at once. The elements are clearly defined, but hear how they work together: this is the very same quality that intrigues me about hip-hop production, in fact.

To hear another example of pop music/excess that is more apparent, consider this (yes, I know the pin-up pix are distracting): 

Focus in on the bass/drums interaction, those two steps forward and back, perhaps you can see what I mean; notice how the vocalist's true gift shines through. (I don't think Chrissy Amphlett has been recognised for her songwriting/vocal talents, or skill as a performer; I even hesitated about including this song here because of the group's status as a very mainstream act). I once saw the group in front of a braying crowd of men in Australia who seemed completely unaware that she was playing with them. She carried their contempt and abuse, transforming it into a fuel for her performance.

Here, the song's transitions are subtle, but constant, see at 1 minute in where Amphlett sings: 'Oh well hope there's an angel looking out and watching over you ...' when it opens up.

Embedded in this song is a sweet pop-music 'excess'. Not only in the way all of the the musical elements shift and coalesce, opening up momentarily, but also in Amphlett's heartfelt delivery, especially towards the end when her voice becomes more desperate and urgent, with her spitting, tripping over words almost. Her phrasing has a certain magic too, stretching all those vowels unexpectedly, like an Antipodean Billie Holiday (the albino-mama of Danny Brown). 

You can hear her body, with all those aggressive intakes of breath.

And then at the same time, pop music needs to have a sense of order and completion about it - the construction has to be immaculate (The Jam, understood this in their greatest moments: just listen to that pop-pop-pop/or bah-bah-bah bridge at 1 min 50 before Paul Weller returns). But then if this order is so important, if not essential, where is the space for this excess?  

Perhaps this is just something personal to me, after all.  

Coda: J Dilla 'Fuck the Police' (single released in 2001) for the sweet melody and message. 

Antipodean 'soul music'* - The Saints

Compare this track with any other English 'punk' tune from 1978, say the Buzzocks 'Ever fallen in love'  and you get a sense of the essential temperamental difference of the two countries (Australia and England). Last Christmas, when staying in Brighton, I watched the 'silly antics' made manifest in the TV specials; with all that jolly banter and reindeer pullovers - the countdown of 70s joke songs, including one from Slade - and felt like I'd landed on Mars.

Formed in 1973, by a group of working-class boys in the (then) tropical backwater/police state of Queensland, the Saints were headed up by two mercurial greats - the self-important singer, Chris Bailey (who uses adjectives like 'Byronic' seriously) and one of the all-time musical legends and innovators, Ed Kuepper, who later went on to much greatness with the Laughing Clowns and with his solo work.

But as one observer put it, theirs was a 'marriage made in hell'. 

The band pressed 500 copies of their first record, the 1977 (I'm) Stranded sent 400 or so away, including a few to the music press in London, where a Sounds reviewer nominated their track 'single of this and every week' ...

Australian media picked up the story and the boys packed their bags.

The critical (and popular) savaging the band met in the UK is just another story that infeststhe white colonial mindset in Australia forever keen to take on the role of abandoned child (recall how the English betrayed 'us' at the fall of Singapore, how they ditched us when the country entered the Common Market, never forget how they tested nuclear weapons from 1956-1963 at Maralinga; the same desert region the Australian government imprisoned asylum-seekers three decades later). But I digress.

Listen to this track again; listen to that swampy grunt of the horn section and the guitars, lifting this music into another realm, pushing punk music into an entirely new direction, as the All Music site notes with the 'tempo changes; horn charts; keyboards and R & B accents'.

Their first Saints record included a cover of a tune made famous by Elvis ('Kissin Cousins' and a 1965 song from the Sydney garage rockers, The Missing Links, 'Wild about You' other cover choices by the band included songs from Ike and Tina, Otis Redding and ... Connie Francis). Such a range of influences can be heard in their music: the depth and instrumentation and the layering - ergo my labelling it 'soul' music.

And while the Saints, like any important band, is unique you can see a link between them and Radio Birdman (of course) who were re-inventing 1960s US surf rock in Sydney, but also earlier less known Australian groups from the 1970s, such as Chain.

And then with bands drawing on the legacy of the 1970s punk legends - the Saints and Radio Birdman - filtered via the king-hit of Bon Scott era AC/DC you end up in my formative musical milieu, with bands such as Powder Monkeys reinventing the creed.

the forgotten masterpiece

Digging, call it what you like whether it's in crates filled with vinyl, or something half-heard and then rediscovered online.

Kathy Iandoli's great article recreates perfectly the wonder and rush of the search (while also noting how all this fits with hip-hop as a reconstructed, a found music; 'Veteran producers of hip-hop were scientists dissecting tracks, librarians of musical culture, mathematicians of the BPM and above all musical historians').

In essence, Iandoli writes, it's 'the hunt for the DNA of a popular song you're in love with. An addiction to origins'. 

But what of the track that got away, the genius unrecognised? Coming from a country on the margins - albeit one that causes geopolitical havoc, pain and suffering in its own neighbourhood - I remember someone characterising the value of nations as the ones being the most written about, the most 'remembered' being the ones with the most power.

In this schema, entire schools of thought develop in obscure parts of the world on US-related subjects (the fetishisation of Native Americans in the former Soviet Bloc comes to mind); similarly, the glory of the French lifestyle and how the French discipline their children, or how they all wear scarves a certain way (fill entire books written in English by foreigners).

In all of this, myths are rewritten again and again to the point that they start to feel real.

Something similar happens in music;  Curtis Mayfield is held close by millions the world over, but not David Ruffin (okay, this point refers to majority opinion, there will always be obsessives with a sense of history and mission).

Certain songs that could have been champions fade - destined to being viewed by dozens, rather than thousands, or even millions, on YouTube.

Personally I don't care about any of this and see it as part of the landscape, thinking too that the beauty of some art lies in the fact that it is looking on in - slightly apart from the main game. 

Ripe, 'Something Fierce' from the album, 'The Plastic Hassle' (1994)  

Waratah Place: Melbourne, early 1990s, with my then boyfriend and a friend I lived in a disused office building above a sex shop and a 24-hour Chinese take-out with blood-red ducks hanging upside-down from hooks. 

That aforementioned friend who used to wear leather pants/no make-up and get away with it ended up marrying, I think, said ex-boyfriend, a Mexican-French guy from New York who endlessly studied chess, read Nietzsche and sometimes smoked a pipe; a guy who had dreadlocks down his back when I first met him and then shaved them off when he overheard someone say, 'so that's the grunge look, eh?' at Coney Island, I think it was, when he was going for an afternoon walk dressed in his khaki shirt and pants, always the same every day (a beautiful man in every sense, someone I loved a lot, even though he didn't talk much and was very young, maybe he was around 18/19 then). Anyway, this friend listened to this CD by Ripe on repeat.

Now, what I notice is the kick of the drum-beat, the way it interacts with the bassline. It is the sweetest, most perfect pop-song; an impression only further enhanced by the distortion overlay. Now what I notice - and I don't quite have the words for it - is the way the various tracks are split and layered, or maybe they are not, in fact, maybe it was recorded live in one take, after the sleepy beginning before the vocals come in. 

Someone, writing below this track on YouTube - 16,867 views - writes this: 'Just came here from SMH (Sydney Morning Herald), "..  this is still the most perfect song ever written and deserves a renaissance. This Melbourne band should have been the next Sonic Youth, dammit. There's no justice in the world."

One person liked that comment, ps, it was someone other than me.