Monday, February 26, 2024

The Stylistics - Sing Baby Sing

On May 22, 1975, I was definitely glued to TV. It was a Thursday night and Top of the Pops was on British TV. I was an impressionable nine-year old, but every single (well, almost every single) act on the show was something that made a deep impression on me. Slade's not-so-well-known but utterly brilliant four-on-the-floor rock "Thanks for the Memory" was followed by "Send in the Clowns," a late period classic from Judy Collins that I am sure perplexed me with its inscrutable lyrics. Then there was Desmond Decker's proto-reggae classic "Israelites" which, originally recorded and released in 1968, was a "re-release," a notion that was just as applicable to the final song on the show that night, Tammy Wynette's beautiful "Stand By Your Man," also originally from 1968, but a hit in 1975 again.

But let's face it, the star of the show was "Sing Baby Sing" by the Stylistics, the Philly soul troupe that went from strength to strength in the seventies with a slew of beautifully crafted falsetto gems. Their zenith in my mind was "Sing Baby Sing" which infused a touch of grandeur to their soul, the cadence of the chorus lifting it to the level of angels harmonizing in some heavenly stage. That feeling always stayed with me.

Monday, February 12, 2024

Stop the Genocide

This song, "There Will Be No Morning Copy" by the long ago band Clann Zú, an Australian-Irish band is one of the few that takes a direct and honest look at Palestinian liberation. The band existed only for a short time, from 1999 to 2005 but were incendiary in the right ways, speaking truth to power. Their second and last album, Black Coats & Bandages (2004) was a broadside against imperialism, war, and organized religion. Turn this up real loud:

Your borders are bloody mirages that expand and contract at the will of the blade drawn across the back of a people in shadow.

We are on the ropes. 

Tasting the blood in our mouths, mixing with what little hope we have left as it slides down our throats constricted by hands of avarice, soft media, oxymorons and military might. 

How long must we live in the shadow of your wall that divides our lives, our loves and our hopes? 

How long must we live in the daily fear of returning home to find it gone? 

We are refugees in our own land, waiting in hope for the day when we can walk our own streets

Just because you have the biggest gun doesn't mean your war is won

Just because you take our homes doesn't mean our hope is gone

Just because you claim your cause as just doesn't mean that you're still not wrong. 

Just because you build a wall doesn't mean it will last that long. 

A bullet flies through the head of another ten-year-old boy who held a rock in his hand against a thirty-ton tank in his people's land.

Sunday, February 11, 2024

Happy Birthday (II)

One last song for the birthday -- "Junk" originally released on McCartney (1970). My mother's older brother, who we called Boro Mamu, lived downstairs to us in our flat in Lalmatia in Dhaka in the late '70s and early '80s. He owned a copy of McCartney but for some reason, side one of the album was totally damaged and unlistenable so when I borrowed the album, I could only listen to side two, which included an instrumental version of the track which was called "Singalong Junk." For like decades I had no idea that there was a version of the track with actual words called "Junk," because it was on side one which I never heard until like the '90s or something.

Anyway, here is the instrumental version:

Here is the version with words, just called "Junk":

And here is the version from the Beatle days (1968) when McCartney demoed the track for possible inclusion on The White Album:

Happy Birthday

It is my birthday today so I thought I would post a song or two. Recently, I've bought a lot of vinyl, just kind of splurged. Today I got (in the mail) the new vinyl remaster of Television's Marquee Moon. Now, normally, I don't really care for remastering old albums -- these are mostly just scams, but word on the street was that this was a significant upgrade of the musty old warhorse. So I just succumbed and bought it from Rhino. It was super pricey. But I will tell you that it was well worth it. Yes, what more could you possibly wring out of this record? And how many more times can you hear it to discern some deeper truth about life? Anyway, it's a fucking monumental piece of sound that never gets old.

I will, however, not post a song from Marquee Moon -- just go listen to it yourself. But I will post a live version of the opening track from their highly-underrated and completely forgotten self-titled album from 1992, a song called "1880 or so." Both Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd produce serrated, distended, and orchestral solos, which they drop from like warp-speed torpedoes that zone out and into the cosmic ether. Close your eyes and prepare yourself:

Happy Birthday to me:

And in the spirit of the crime of time, here are the Rolling Stones with the classic (and also forgotten) "Time Waits for No One" from the album It's Only Rock 'n' Roll (1974) in which Mick Taylor crafts a beautiful solo, the aural equivalent of unraveling a beautiful tapestry, string by string as it falls apart in front of you. I have a memory of this from the fall of 1984, perhaps lying in my bed, dreaming of better things.

Happy Birthday to me:

Damo Suzuki (1950-2024)

Damo Suzuki has passed away. A giant in the field of ... well, modern music, but hardly known to most, Suzuki was the vocalist (or, more precisely, contributed vocals, because Can didn't really have a 'vocalist') of the krautrock band, Can, during what I consider the absolute zenith of Can, the early 1970s. His articulations grace three 'proper' Can albums, Tago Mago (1971), Eye Bamyasi (1972), and Future Days (1973) plus he's also on a soundtrack album, Soundtracks (1970) which collects some loose ends.

I came to Can rather late, sometime in the early '90s when I picked up a compilation album Tyranny of the Beat: Original Soundtracks from the Grey Area (1991) issued by Mute records that collects experimental progenitor tracks from the early days of electronic music, including works by Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Einstürzende Neubaten, Wire, Swell Maps, Loop, Fad Gadget, etc.

One of the tracks ("Oh Yeah") was by Can and it completely blew my mind. The song appears to start with the sound of a distant explosion, perhaps a bomb set off in a few miles away, and then goes into a hypnotizing metronomic percussive sound. When I first heard it, I just assumed it was some kind of electronic drum machine sequencer, but as you enter the second minute of it, as the sound becomes louder and more legible, your brain adjusts and you realize, no, it's actually a real drum set played by a real human being (Jaki Liebezeit, one of the greatest rock drummers, bar none). That adjustment in my brain really threw me for a loop. But the real reward is Damo's nonsensical yelps and outbursts, wordless, or maybe not, punctuating the song, giving it an emotional feel, sometimes mysterious, sometimes playful and sometimes both.

Later, I picked up Tago Mago (1971), the album on which "Oh Yeah" was taken from, and like probably many other young people listening to Can for the first time, it was a revelation. The minimalist machine-like discipline in their beat-making was as mesmerizing as it was unlike anything I'd heard before. I can see why, for some, Can could be an endurance test, but what I found, especially in Damo's vocals was, again, a playfulness and whimsy which seemed to undercut all the serious we-are-here-to-transport-you ethic that the other musicians in the band brought to bear.

It may be heresy to say so, but the most likely contemporary of Damo's was probably Yoko Ono, another worlds-breaking Japanese artist who, also during this very period. was experimenting with her vocals on some incredibly trancelike albums alluding to the cosmos, including Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band (1970), Fly (1971), and Approximately Infinite Universe (1973). One wonders if their worlds ever collided.

Can and Can-adjacent people have a long discography, and it can be bewildering to know where to enter, but those three albums are perfect entry points. Or you could do worse with The Singles (2017) which collects all the high points from 1969 to 1979, even though the band were not known for their chart action.

I would be remiss not to mention one of my favorite Can-infuenced tracks, by Flaming Lips from their brilliant album In a Priest-Driven Ambulance (1990) which includes a song "Take Meta Mars" which was their attempt to copy the Tago Mago track "Mushroom." What they came up with was completely different and rather brilliant:

Thursday, January 11, 2024

Lankum - Go Dig My Grave

Lankum are four people from Dublin who have been around for a while, almost 20 years I think. They seem to have honed their sound to a perfection in the past few albums, especially 2019's The Livelong Day, taking English folk songs from the 16th and 17th centuries (such as "The Wild Rover") and completely rethinking them as, I don't know, done by Swans or something like that. Intense stuff.

Their new album, False Lankum (2023) is not quite as brilliant as the last one, but it is really good if you're in the zone for that kind of thing. The instrumentation is really original, crystal clear, the vibe is ominous and they are not here to fuck around, evoking that perfect moment when you cut yourself really bad, and you see the blood, all beautiful and glinting in the sun while the actual gash on your arm is screaming in pain. And it's the year 1534 so there are no antibiotics.

"Go Dig My Grave" is the opening number of False Lankum, a motley combination of various English and old American ballads, including "The Butcher's Boy" which has been variously done by Elvis Costello and Sinéad O'Connor and Joan Baez.

Thursday, January 04, 2024

Beck - Colors

Speaking of Beck (or, I guess 'speaking Beck'), here's a RECENT song by Beck. I realize Beck has been naff since 1997 but I may be the only person on Earth who finds some of his recent party records quite fruit-juicy fun. Don't tell anyone but I really liked his last album Hyperspace (2019) which literally three people heard, all of them scientology heads. But more to the point, I really liked Colors (2017), especially the title track, which proves that dance-party Beck is way better than NPR-liberal-Starbucks-sad-sack Beck. How many Gen-Xers made good dance pop? One, Beck. Put on your dance shoes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2024

Dua Lipa - Dance the Night

Disco circa 1976-77 has come back to haunt us in Dua Lipa's spectacular contribution to the Barbie (2023) movie soundtrack. Yes, it sounds like something that sounds like something that might have been Silver Convention or Andrea True Connection, or even a 1997-era Beck track lost to a compilation.

Written by Dua Lipa (the best thing to come out of Albania this side of Imperialism and the Revolution by Enver Hoxha) and Caroline Ailin, the Norwegian pop-song-writing svengali based in London, this is literally the best jam of 2023. (See Ailin's songwriting credits and weep).

Can you not dance?

Tuesday, January 02, 2024

Thom Yorke & Jonny Greenwood - The Numbers

So here's Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood doing a live version of "The Numbers" in the back yard of the home of filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, a home which is in the city of Tarzana (yes, that's a real place), California. Tarzana is a kind of narcotically bourgeois suburb way past the Getty Museum, north of Topanga State Park, in northern Los Angeles. Apparently, Paul Thomas Anderson lives there because why not. (Apparently lots of famous people live there).

The song "The Numbers" was originally a slightly unremarkable track from A Moon Shaped Pool (2016), the last album released by Radiohead. With the help of a beatbox (a late 1970s vintage Roland CR-78 drum machine), Thom and Jonny transform what was a bit of ho-hum into a truly striking piece of guitar pop. Brilliant.

They recorded this on August 3, 2016. The video itself was directed by Paul Thomas Anderson.

Anyway, this is the opening theme to 2024.