England

‘Why are we in love’ Furniture (When the boom was on, Premonition Records, 1983) & ‘Shadows from nowhere’ Blue Gas, 12” (1983) Theme*

This song captures perfectly a style that at one point typified white/male/English alternative rock musicians (and counterparts in the former colonies) - the finest example is arguably here (his skin’s pallor the same colour as the swinging light) that is, the quality of being earnest.

‘The 80s’ today is shorthand for a certain look/clothes style and dominates in a lot of pop-ironic music. Nothing wrong with this, even if such irony appears to go against this quality of being hyper sincere and unaware of your effect as mentioned above; the song encapsulates this style to me (even if it was a big part of the 80s sound, across genres). Being self-aware, as any disco-diva-lover knows, is a wonderful thing in-and-of-itself, but it’s a real stretch to aesthetically and conceptually play the innocent with an 80s-inflected musical naivete, while your image is transmitted via social media, or when talking endlessly, endlessly … endlessly.

Nostalgia for a period before you were alive, or just born interests me and is something I relate to, focussing in as I tend to on the 50s/the 70s, but it is an affectation on some level, a performance (even if only internal). I should add that I’m not comparing one era with another to the detriment of the present one etc. I find that kind of backward-looking stance supremely boring and have nothing invested in this, I wasn’t buying albums in this period, or seeing shows. And yes, here is one contemporary act that manages to do both: pilfer the style, while sounding unmasked, heartfelt while doing so.

To return to the aptly strange-named English group ‘Furniture’ - and that instance where he sings out, with an apparent loss of self-control, how they ‘sleepwalk back to each other’s arms’ just before the outburst that is just as quickly resolved. Musically this piece is special for the way the bass is so dense it almost overwhelms all the other elements, the swirling sound of the an instrument that sounds like a clarinet and the pock-marked percussion. And yet this effect seems to depend on how you hear the music; it lessened when I listened to the song with headphones, not via speakers. Here is some information about the group, some of whom went on to form Transglobal Underground. This song is pretty beautiful as well, ‘I miss you’ for the same sorts of reasons … 

Listen out for the minor explosion effect throughout this song by Blue Gas (a ‘one-off Italian electronic studio-project from Celso Valli’), a 12-inch from the same year, even if the effect sounds pretty standard here, I mean most pop commercial songs included these little blasts for emphasis.

Theme: *sudden explosions in music, 1983

Alternate versions: ‘Oh my lover’ PJ Harvey (Peel Session, 1991 & Dry, Too Pure, 1992) plus Nina Simone

To begin with the essential sweetness of this demo version …

Underneath one of the videos posted online someone had written how PJ Harvey had recorded this demo as a teenager to get her first record deal; she sounds so young here, her voice is noticeably different, lacking the magisterial nature of the final recorded version. What’s interesting is the way this youthful voice dilutes the ‘female masochistic-schtick’ critique that could be levelled at the lyrics, as what comes through is the giddy enthusiasm, the excitement, spinning in a lovely exuberance (that total devotion thing fed to women via a lifetime of fairy-tales of all kinds), it’s got total bounce.

Love the way she doubles her voice at the end, it’s so impressive on every level: song-writing, performance, creative vision. As for the recorded version that came out on 1992 debut:

From that opening moment, the intensity of it: this is just one of those extraordinary songs. Listen to that distorted bass/guitar and the unexpected phrasing of the drums. It is archetypal – a folk song transposed to the modern era, timeless. It reminds me of this similarly magical live 1969 performance by Nina Simone of ‘Black is the color of my true love’s hair’ for the same seriousness of intent, declaration: the strength of the woman’s voice.

Here’s the Peel Sessions version from 1991, which sounds almost the same as the recorded version, which further demonstrates the level of Harvey’s musicianship (she was born in 1969, so only was only 22-years-old or so at the time of recording). Check out this interesting video with Harvey speaking about her creative, song writing process put up in 2011.    

Coda:

Related article: PJ Harvey 'Silence' (White Chalk, Island Records 2007) published 27th February 2016

I have written a lot on Nina Simone on this site, go here to find all the references.   

‘I’d like to walk around in your mind,’ Vashti Bunyan (Some things just stick in your mind: Singles and demos, 1964-1967, Fat Cat, 2007)  

I’d like to walk around in your mind someday
I’d like to walk all over the things you say to me

I’d like to run and jump on your solitude
I’d like to rearrange your attitude to me

You say you just want peace and to never hurt anyone
You see the end before the beginning has ever begun

I would disturb your easy tranquillity
I’d turn away the sad impossibility of your smile

I’d sit there in the sun of the things I like about you
I’d sing my songs and find out just what they mean to you

But most of all I’d like you to be unaware
Then I’d just wander away, trailing palm leaves behind me
So you don’t even know I’ve been there

The quotation below comes from an appreciation by Mike Wojciechowski, published in Tiny Mix Tapes in 2012, yes, it is a bit explicit and literal and I'm not sure how you can be passive and vicious, but there is some interest here. At the end of his article he suggests that the song might in some way act as a premonition about Bunyan's lack of success - she received critical acclaim, but apparently didn't sell many records - but I cut that part.      

"The one song that has always stuck out for me in Bunyan’s catalog is 1967’s “I’d Like To Walk Around in Your Mind.” Produced by Mike Hurst (who also worked with Cat Stevens and the Spencer Davis Group) and intended to be a single for Immediate Records, it’s a sparse arrangement — double bass, cello, acoustic guitar, voice, and light percussion. Her voice is as beautiful as ever; floating calmly over the gently fingerpicked guitar.

The song appeals to me for many reasons, but primarily it seems to offer a raw line of communication into the mindset of a British female songwriter during the late 60s. Despite sounding sweet and folky, the lyrics are still passively vicious. “I’d like to walk all over the things you say to me/ I’d like to run and jump on your solitude… I would disturb your easy tranquility…”

You can read the rest of the article here. 

Dillinger ‘Bun Bagga Wire’ & Version, prod. Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee (Striker Lee, 2005, orig. release 1977) & ‘Live at Music Machine’ (Bellaphon, 1979) plus extras

Given his American-gangster name by Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, who also produced his first recording, Dillinger started out as a DJ and became famous in the late 70s and is best known for his 1977 hit ‘Cocaine/Cokane in my brain’ (a number 1 hit in Holland).

Dillinger at his best sounds like no-one else. His voice has real authority that when matched with the right producer, the overall effect is something truly unforgettable, simply because of the force of his delivery. Take this single ‘Bun Bagga Wire’ as a starting-point; the way Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee layers the various sound elements is so rich and impressive; layering the voice and gun-shot sound effect in a way that still sounds modern.

I first came across this song on the Dillinger 12” Collection release which has got a lot of interest but ‘Bun Bagga Wire’ jumped out at me, forcing me to take notice.  

It’s true that when you listen to a lot of Dillinger, his preferred sound (preferred kind of song) is so dominant it can sound a bit repetitive; you would never say this was an artist keen to play with moods or tone, but then again with such a distinctive musical style that would have been a bad move. He was, he became, his own trademark.

Here’s Dillinger’s first Lee Perry produced single, ‘music to make you stagger’ indeed …

My other favourite Dillinger track is ‘Flat Foot Hustling’ from the King Tubby produced compilation, 14 k Gold Golden Hits released in 1979 (there’s a reissue from 1996 on Scandal Bag) as Dillinger’s delivery is different here, becoming more conversational and almost intimate. It sounds like he’s expressing something personal. The straight delivery reminds me of contemporary hip-hop emcees, getting you to sit down and listen to their story of origins (and the gentle backing vocals track offers a fine contrast).

Dillinger appeared on MOJO’s 2014 list of '50 Greatest Reggae Albums' for his CB200 release (Island Records, 1977) that included his hit ‘Cocaine/Cokane’ in my brain’. Check out this uber-Soul Train video with all the chic groovy groovies getting down: 

There's a nice exchange beneath the video about the weird lyrics: ‘I wanna spell New York, "a knife a fork, a bottle and cork" prompting the reply: 'it's just Jamaican patois babble ,and refers to the knife(tip) to scoop the powder, a fork to squash it, and the bottle and cork ,the container where it came from. A somewhat simpleton view, but as long as it rhymes no one's complaining.’

Dillinger was part of the Jamaican/London nexus in the late 70s and name-checked in The Clash’s ‘(White man) in Hammersmith Palais

Midnight to six man
For the first time from Jamaica
Dillinger and Leroy Smart
Delroy Wilson, your cool operator

Ken Boothe for UK pop reggae
With backing bands sound systems
And if they’ve got anything to say
There’s many black ears here to listen

But it was Four Tops all night with encores from stage right
Charging from the bass knives to the treble
But onstage they ain’t got no roots rock rebel
Onstage they ain’t got no...roots rock rebel ...

Totally love this live recording from Dillinger in Germany, 1979, especially the opening track ‘Natty don’t need glasses’ (For info on the record, go here). 'Punk rock/Reggae' 

‘English Rose’ The Jam (All Mod Cons, Polydor, 1978) & ‘Ghosts’ – live, 1982

So in love with the underwater production sound of this song, and the unexpected chord changes that subtly mark a change in emotional direction even if the vocalist’s performance remains hidden; as if everything is at the same level, at all times.

It’s one of those songs to play to the disheartened, those confronted by the confines of their psychology; alongside this wonderfully over the top performance of ‘A Plea for Tenderness’ – so funny, sweet and urgent, as only a youthful Jonathan Richman knows how. 

Found this great information from a very useful website, Songfacts, so I’ll just cut/paste (rather than fake authorship): 

· Opening with the sounds of a train whistle, a ship's horn, and waves crashing on the shore, this romantic folk ballad was a surprise inclusion on The Jam's third full length album, All Mod Cons.

· Lyrically, the narrator likens himself to old sailors who would leave their mother country, and their lover, their fair English rose. It was inspired by Weller's homesickness when he was touring America and the absence of his girlfriend at the time, Gill Price.

Weller told Mojo magazine May 2010: "It was me emotionally naked, speaking openly about being in love. I was aware it was something that blokes from my background didn't do. They didn't reveal their feelings, their sensitive side." Embarrassed by its honesty, Weller left the track unlisted on the album cover.

· An inspiration for this song was the unpretentious verse of the '60s Liverpool poets. Weller told Mojo: "A fan had turned me on to Adrian Henri, and I leaned through these poets that you could be open about your thoughts and feelings and you could juxtapose a grand, classical image with a street one."

· The song later inspired the name of Manchester alternative rock band, the Stone Roses.

And here’s a live performance of that beautiful, beautiful song ‘Ghosts’ (from the 1982 Birmingham concert, I’m pretty sure).    

Why are you frightened - can’t you see that it’s you
That ain’t no ghost - it’s a reflection of you
Why do you turn away - an’ keep it out of sight
Oh - don’t live up to your given roles
There’s more inside you that you won’t show

But you keep it hidden just like everyone
You’re scared to show you care - it’ll make you vulnerable
So you wear that ghost around you for disguise

But there’s no need just ‘cos it’s all we’ve known
There’s more inside you that you haven’t shown

So keep on moving, moving, moving your feet
Keep on shuf-shuf-shuffling to this ghost dance beat
Just keep on walking down never ending streets

One day you’ll walk right out of this life
And then you’ll wonder why you didn’t try

To spread some loving all around
Old fashioned causes like that still stand
Gotta rid this prejudice that ties you down

How do you feel at the end of the day
Just like you’ve walked over your own grave

So why are you frightened - can’t you see that it’s you
At the moment there’s nothing - so there’s nothing to lose
Lift up your lonely heart and walk right on through

Live recordings: 'Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)' Rolling Stones, live in London, 1973*

One of my pet theories is that much time could be saved if on initial meeting you asked: which classic guitar group from the 60s/70s were you into as a teenager (and of course, this could be shifted to other genres depending on the context, say, which classic 90s hip-hop group did you like when you were 14-15 becoming human).  

Again, the key notion behind this is which music did you like as a younger version of you. Obviously such childish things would be supplanted with time, made more various and subtle and possibly even mysterious, hard to gauge, but this initial passion - that moment when your self in development said yes, I choose this, this speaks to me - would continue to say something essential about the character of the person facing you today. 

Now none of this is to say that those other musical choices were not respected, or liked by your younger self, but rather which one did you listen to under the blankets when your parents thought you were asleep; which one did you listen to when you walked to school to the point where you felt transfixed by it. 

For me it was the raw intensity of the Stooges, with a major Bowie infatuation before this ... I even used to wear a silver bangle when I was about twelve-thirteen so I'd resemble him on the cover of Diamond Dogs. Strange girl-self. 

But here would be another possibility, not for me, but others in the nascent musical-obsessive Melbourne milieu I grew up in: the Stones, though this group was never really of much interest to me (ditto, Jimi Hendrix, or the Beatles, or god forbid Led Zeppelin, or if you were a bit cooler, say MC5, though that'd be rare if that was someone's first love; the person is probably faking it).

If the guy, it was almost always a guy, said his first love was Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden: this indicated something else entirely.       

That part from just before 2'30" when it goes low to kick in with its full intensity is bliss, but the most amazing moment is from 3'10 when the bass-line/guitars gets funky with the drums, wow.

*There seems to be some debate about the location of the concert, some say London; some say Brussels.  

PJ Harvey 'Silence' (White Chalk, Island Records, 2007)

All those places
Where I recall the memories
That gripped me
And pinned me down

I go to these places
Intending to think
To think of nothing
No anticipate

And somehow expect
You’ll find me there
That by some miracle
You’d be aware

Ordinary, nothing special cars; super-imposed onto a screen and then the repeated close-up onto something that you can't see. Despite my default setting of teenage kicks, I keep wanting to write about 'quiet' (in hip-hop; in other music).

I love the way they have layered that soft drum-beat, sibilant over the rest of the sounds here: 'I freed myself from my family/I freed myself from work/I freed myself
I freed myself/And remained alone.'

This drumming, ever-present but disappearing makes me think of this beautiful song that we all know where the sweet confidence of the vocals is supported by a similarly reticent, but central syncopated drum-beat. 

(You could write an entire essay on the importance of the backing vocals in this song; 'forever and ever ... ' the way the sheer certainty of the delivery and clarity of sound become a driving force).   

PJ Harvey: all morning I tried to find a live recording, where her expressive vocals, her expression of longing was offered a counter-point by found noise, people speaking, the sound of glass; what the sound engineers used to call atmosphere ('atmos') and then I discovered this (again).