Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #12 - if Roy Orbison covered "Some Candy Talking"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

Twelfth guest contributor Davy, from the late lamented blog The Ghost Of Electricity. I should explain that the excellent suggestion is Davy's - the waffly, explanatory wrap around it is mine. Davy's suggestion is this:

What if Roy Orbison covered The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Some Candy Talking". Here's the original..

For starters, how easy is it to imagine The Big O strumming those opening bars on a big old Gretsch? Pretty easy, I reckon. Then throw in the fact that his mid-90s album Covers clearly demonstrates an affinity for reinterpreting others' material, and the evidence is mounting. And if that wasn't enough, consider his rather more famous cover (yes, I know it was originally written for him, but who recorded it first, Roy or Cyndi?) of a more contemporary song, I Drove All Night:

Clock that "uh-huh, yeah" at about 28 seconds in and tell me you can't imagine Roy delivering Jim Reid's words? And while you're at it, tell me those ascending chords wouldn't suit him down to the ground, as would the classic four chord structure. Tailor-made for The Big O.

Works for me, Davy. After all, it's clearly a song that lends itself to a decent cover version, as ably demonstrated by Richard Hawley.

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Good guys, bad guys, plausibility, likeability

Television, the drug of a nation. And with on-demand services like iPlayer, which is how I watch the vast majority of my television these days, the next hit is never more than a couple of clicks away.

I want to talk about three programmes that I've watched this year, all loosely bracketed in the crime/thriller genre.

The first is Strike, the Beeb's adaptation of J. K. Rowling's foray into adult fiction (as Robert Galbraith). If you're unfamiliar, these stories concern ex military policeman Cormoran Strike who, after losing a leg on a tour of duty, sets up as a private investigator. He takes on a temp to help with admin and she ends up becoming his sidekick. He's rugged and a bit maverick and, no doubt, flutters the hearts of a few ladies. She's bright and funny and pretty, and all the rest. There's a bit of a will they/won't they subtext, even though she's engaged to be married to someone the polar opposite of Strike. Oh, and did I mention Cormoran's dad was a bona fide rock star?

In other words, it's slightly nonsense. Now don't get me wrong, I watched both parts of this story, as I watched the previous series last year. And its not because I've read the books (I haven't) or that I'm a rabid Rowling fan (I'm not). But here's the thing - although the whole premise stretches plausibility to the limit, it's an enjoyable show. In fact, it feels like the sort of show that used to get made in the 80s, you know, that was a bit far fetched but that didn't matter because ultimately the good guys all come out on top and manage to look good on screen in the process. Despite the attempts at grittiness (and this is a post-watershed programme, if that still means anything), you know what you're going to get when you sit down to watch Strike. It's not plausible, but it wins because it is likeable.

Compare this to recent four-parter Collateral, on BBC2. With its star-studded cast (Carey Mulligan, John Simm, Nicola Walker, Billie Piper) and lauded writer (David Hare), this looked a sure thing before it even hit the screen. It's people-trafficking plot could not have been more timely, nor could its many sub-plots (political parties and the media, asylum seekers and detention centres, church attitudes to homosexuality, and more - they squeezed a lot into four hours). It ought to have been brilliant, it really ought. And yet... and yet. Did I mention that DI Kate Glaspie (Mulligan) used to be an elite athlete? And not just any old discipline, oh no, but a more niche event - she was a pole vaulter whose career, you guessed it, ended in a very public failure and humiliation. At this, my plausibility sense was already tingling. But worse was to come, for this was a(nother) gritty drama, and so, of course, Glaspie said "fuck" a lot. And I didn't buy it. That word, coming forcefully out of Mulligan's mouth, just didn't work. It felt like a stretch for credibility, a grasp at authenticity, yet each time it happened I felt like Mulligan had never sworn in her life before. Remember that time, at school, when kids decided that swearing a lot made themselves seem hard/cool? That's what this felt like, every time. Oh, and did I mention this is Glaspie's first big case? And she's pregnant?

Of course, Collateral was still a fine drama, and I watched all four episodes in their entirety. But it wasn't great and, as far as I could tell, generated no water-cooler discussions in the workplace. And part of the reason, I think, is that it was hard to root for anyone, even the heroes. Pretty much everyone in the programme was flawed and most, with the possible exception of Nicola Walker's vicar, strayed the wrong side of likeable too often. So well made, yes, well acted (for the most part, though reluctantly I must add that the normally excellent Mulligan seemed on autopilot to this reviewer), and with a multi-layered plot, this was decent television. But it didn't feel plausible and was hard to like. A shame, I think.

All of which brings us to the third programme in this little tryptich. McMafia told the story of Alex Godman, Russian born but raised in Britain, devoted family man, loving partner to English rose Rebecca, and successful city banker. A conventional good guy. Yet when his uncle was murdered by Russian gangsters, Alex risked everything in his quest for vengeance: his business, his family, his fiancée... Over the course of eight tense episodes (and it was a tension that rarely let up), Alex left his legitimate life behind, crossed line after line (sometimes accidentally, sometimes intentionally) and became the thing he reviled ... and this was deftly handled by creators Hossein Amini and James Watkins. Alex's metamorphosis from good guy to bad guy was gradual and understandable such that, even at the end, when that change was complete, you stilled root for him - you still wanted him to succeed. An anti-hero is still a hero, after all.

The plot, and numerous sub-plots, again felt timely and relevant. Russians who exploited the fall of the Soviet Union to get rich quickly by any means now bestriding the globe, to all intents and purposes as legitimate businessman, all the while running multi-million dollar criminal enterprises? That seemed plausible to me. Ordering hits on ex-pat Russians living new lives in the West? That seemed pretty plausible too. Corruption between Russian police, politicians and gangsters? Plausible. In fact, it all felt nailed on - a drama for our times. And all with a hero who treads the line between good and bad, yet remains likeable.

These programmes have all been good. All from the BBC too - aren't we lucky to have it? And if it sounds like I didn't enjoy Collateral, and re-reading this I can see how it might, well, let me clarify and say that is was good. But scriptwriters, take note for that crime/thriller project you're drafting: make it plausible, or likeable, or (preferably) both. Because, to summarise: implausible but likeable Strike, that's one to watch again, next time it's on, either repeats or a new series; implausible and unlikeable Collateral, whilst good, was consigned to BBC2 for a reason, despite all those star names (and scheduled against another John Simm drama on ITV); and plausible, likeable McMafia? That's one for the boxset collection.

Monday, 26 March 2018

Brexitland

The recent news that Soft Cell are to reunite for one night only at the O2 (or that they require a pension top-up, some might say), has given me cause to dig out their out career retrospective, Memorabilia. And it's terrific, of course - you forget how great they were.

Slight problem - I can't get Bedsitter out of my head now, except that some part of my subconscious that has been saturated by too much political coverage for the last two years insists on substituting the word Brexitland into the chorus. All together now:

Dancing, laughing, drinking, loving. And now I'm all alone in Brexitland, my only home...

Which might be funny if I wasn't such a Remainer...

Great video too - love the underground shots at the start, the London streets, the coin-op phone box, the bottle of Quink ink (Royal Blue, of course). How we used to live, etc.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Great moments in music video history #2 - Smack My Bitch Up (NSFW)

The second in a very occasional series, and my first post in 13+ years of blogging to require a NSFW warning (hence posting it at the weekend when, presumably, most of you aren't at work).

Today's great moment in music video history is the obvious one, coming, as it does, from the promo to accompany The Prodigy's 1997 single Smack My Bitch Up. It got to number eight in the UK chart and, aside from Firestarter, was their only single to crack the Billboard Hot 100 in the US. So it must have been doing something right. For me, it's not their finest hour but the video... well, even 21 years down the line, it's a powerful four and a half minutes of anyone's time. Sex, drugs, violence and a terribly messed-up protagonist, this has all of that. And it's still sufficiently shocking, a generation later, to be hard to find on YouTube. No doubt it violates their terms of service, or some such. Thank goodness for Vimeo, then.

In the very unlikely event that there is someone out there reading this who doesn't know the big reveal, I won't spoil it by saying what happens at 4m20s, other than that the video rewards a second watch, to spot all the clues. But I repeat, NSFW. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Friday, 23 March 2018

Pow!

Fine and dandy, indeed. Not what I was hoping to find, when I went Googling, but how could I not post it?

Anyway, this is all the excuse I need for...

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

“Quiet people have the loudest minds.”

Just going to leave these here. R.I.P. Stephen - you'll never know how excited your book made our sixth form Physics set. I still failed the S-level though.

And if you only read one thing about Hawking today, make it this.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Moz lives

Firstly, to all those who have had their fill of Morrissey ... well, you'll want to give the following a swerve. Why not read this recent Fantasy Cover Version suggestion instead?

Morrissey opening with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys

Still here? Then let's talk about Moz and, specifically, his gig at the Royal Albert Hall last night. It was my seventh time seeing the Mozfather live and, having needed a telescope to see him last time I went (at the O2), this time I had splashed out on a good seat. I treated myself, in other words, and I'm glad I did, because being up close really made the evening. And not just for the photos (click 'em to embiggen) and videos I took, but for the details ... the looks on his face, the hand gestures. All of that. You don't get it from the back of an enormodome, even with Jumbotrons to help. But anyway. After a quick perusal of the merchandise stall (offering scarves, fans, badges and pillowcases as well as the obligatory t-shirts, none of which featured contemporary photographs of Moz), I took my seat early and, if I'm honest, with a little trepidation. Reviews of earlier shows on the tour had been mixed, with The Guardian very much determined not to enjoy themselves. Also, I'm often a little unsure how gigs in all-seater venues will play out - often, the atmosphere is different, I think. Less of a spark. And I was concerned that, although my ticket clearly said "Morrissey plus special guests", I had read that the support act was a film show, not a band... At precisely 8.15pm the pre-show back-drop picture of the late Peter Wyngarde as Jason King disappeared, and the film show started.

Morrissey with beads

To be honest, "film show" is over stating it a bit. YouTube clips spliced together is more accurate. But it was an eclectic selection - with links to the clips used where possible, the montage included: early Ramones; Something Here In My Heart by 60s girl group The Paper Dolls; Tatu covering How Soon Is Now? on a German retread of TOTP; The Sound Of The Crowd by The Human League; Say It Loud, I'm Black And I'm Proud by James Brown; a spoken word Candy Darling clip (I think); Dionne Warwick singing Don't Make Me Over; a drag artist joking about nationality; The Sex Pistols singing God Save The Queen; a 60s-looking civil rights speech for racial equality that I couldn't ID; Sally's Song by Amy Lee; a Germaine Greer talking head spot; a clip from L'Insoumis of Alain Delon reclining into his Queen Is Dead sleeve art pose (which got a big cheer); It's The Same Old Song by The Four Tops; Jet Boy by The New York Dolls ... and probably more besides. Throughout this, the bloke sitting next to me kept looking up the songs on Shazam - when he couldn't get a match for the James Brown track, I had to lean over and help him out. He even Shazam'ed the Sex Pistols track, surely one of the least ambiguous tracks of the last fifty years. But I digress.

At precisely 8.50pm the screen that all this had been projected on was whipped down, and out strode Morrissey and his band. He cuts a substantial figure these days, does Moz - not fat but no longer the skinny, callow figure of yesteryear. Middle-aged spread comes to us all if you we eat too many pies, even vegetarian pies. And the fabled quiff is largely a thing of the past, a victim of a receding hairline. But he is still magnetic on stage, owning the space. Dressed top to toe in dark clothes, a string of beads and a dangling key fob completed Morrissey's look. The band, by contrast, were all in white shirts. The stage was lit with neon prefect badge shapes, a nod to the Low In High School theme.

Red Morrissey for Jack The Ripper

After opening strongly with The Last Of The Famous International Playboys and I Wish You Lonely, the audience was treated to the first of many asides from a pleasantly chatty Moz: "So amazingly, I'm still alive. The question is, are you?" This was followed by Jacky's Only Happy When She's Up On The Stage, which slowed things down a bit, before a stomping Suedehead, which sped them back up again. The crowd, predictably, went wild for this, even though many of them weren't alive when it was released.

After this, there was a bit of a pause whilst Moz dispensed with the line of security at the front of the stage who were spoiling the devoted's view, and complained to unseen crew member Max about a spotlight giving him a headache. When it was turned off, he remarked, "Now you can't see me, which is pretty perfect." This was followed by recent album track When You Open Your Legs, before another aside between tracks: a propos of nothing, Moz appeared to say something like, "Please believe me, I'm not. People are extremely ignorant. They can't be controlled, so don't control them." Was this a reference to Der Spiegel's recent portrayal of him? We may never know.

Slightly unexpectedly, for me at least, Munich Air Disaster 1958 was next, complete with archive footage of Busby's Babes projected on the back screen. "We miss them," Moz concluded. This was swiftly followed by Home Is A Question Mark, for which Jesse Tobias unleashed an electric 12-string and I got a sudden bout of guitarist's envy. After My Love, I'd Do Anything For You, the stage lighting switched to red and yellow as a clue for what was coming next. "This song is delightful," said Moz. "About slavery and servitude in Espana." After which the band launched into The Bullfighter Dies, accompanied by fairly explicit video footage of bulls being stabbed by matadors (during the verses) and matadors being gored (during the "hooray, hooray" chorus). The point was well, if graphically, made.

A clean shirt for the encore. Also pictured: Boz Boorer, Mando Lopez, Jesse Tobias

The only real lull in the show followed, with a slightly flat run-through of If You Don't Like Me, Don't Look At Me. Quite a lot of people went for drinks. Not me though. So I was there to see the cover of Pretenders' track Back On The Chain Gang that followed (backdropped with Chrissie Hynde's yearbook photo), and Moz introducing World Peace Is None Of Your Business by saying, "We invented democracy. We invented free speech. I think it's time we got it back."

The next track was a personal favourite, Hold On To Your Friends, at the end of which (slightly bizarrely) Moz signed some vinyl for people in the front row, whilst the crowd chanted his name. Then pianist Gustavo Manzur teased an elongated version of the piano intro to In Your Lap before the band launched into Everyday Is Like Sunday and the crowd combusted. This was the first in a run of five blistering tracks: Jack The Ripper was next, with the stage bathed in red light and smoke; then came recent single Spent The Day In Bed, quite a singalong for the crowd; this was followed by live favourite Speedway, which has lost none of its power; and then, the only Smiths track of the night, How Soon Is Now?, ending with drummer Matthew Ira Walker letting loose on the gong and timpani.

This might have been the obvious point at which to end the main set, but no. Who Will Protect Us From The Police? and I'm Not Sorry followed, before the band lined up to take a bow. Then they slipped off-stage, only to return minutes later, for Morrissey to say goodnight with "As always, be good to yourself, be kind to animals and look after each other. And that's it really." Moz had changed his shirt, donning a plain white number that, predictably enough, was thrown into the crowd at the end of the sole encore track, a thumping Irish Blood, English heart. As the band scooted off-stage, Jesse launched a plectrum into the crowd too, but not many noticed - they were too busy forming a polite but determined scrum around the shirt.

And then the house lights came up and it was all over. I have to tell you, I felt ecstatic. As I've already said, sitting so close to the action made a real difference and changed, for me, what might have just been Morrissey singing into Morrissey performing. And although I'd taken my proper camera, rather than rely on my phone, I came away feeling I wanted an actual souvenir, a keepsake more substantial than digital photographs ... so I bought a set of Moz lapel badges from the merch stall on the way out. As I trudged through a dark Hyde Park to Lancaster Gate tube, I reflected that this was, if not the best I had seen Moz, certainly in the top three. All that was missing, for me at least, was the company of oldest friend and perennial gig-buddy The Man Of Cheese, with whom I had seen five of the previous six Moz gigs. I was still buzzing when I finally got home and crawled into bed, at ten to two this morning. And I'm very happy to report that, despite all the slings and arrows he's faced (and invited) in recent times, Moz lives ...

I'm no cameraman, and my camera is nothing special, but I shot a few videos. You may like them.

Morrissey Setlist Royal Albert Hall, London, England 2018, Low in High School

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Old Musical Express

So, the inevitable has happened: the NME has called time on its print edition. Whilst sad in many ways, this news, presumably, comes as a surprise to precisely no-one. Making it free didn't halt the decline. Attempts to broaden its raison-d'être, and hence its readership, by being less about music and more about, well, just about everything else, that didn't halt the decline either. In my view, it may even have accelerated it, because if you just want a music publication you don't really want to have to wade through all the other toss too, do you? Time Inc, the NME's owner, might do well to remember that as they seek to further develop its online offering.

Who's next, I wonder? I had two emails in one day yesterday from Uncut magazine, trying to get me to take out a subscription deal that equated to £2.50 per issue... that's for a magazine which, last time I bought one in a shop, cost me £5.25. Feels a little desperate to me.

Anyway, to mark the disappearance on an icon of the music press, here's a classic cover of theirs from 1988, a poster copy of which adorned my bedroom wall for years. Which, given that I'm off to see the cover star this very evening seems entirely appropriate.

Bye, NME.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Fantasy Cover Version #11 - if Lana Del Rey covered "She's Got You"...

A blog series that you can contribute to...(please)...

Here's the gist. I want to hear about your fantasy cover versions. Simply make the case for the cover version that you'd love to hear but, fairly obviously, does not actually exist. And send me that case, here. By case, I mean explain why artist X covering song Y would be good, don't just send me their respective names.

In the continued absence of any new suggestions from readers, the eleventh contributor to this series is me, again. Sorry.

I've been looking for the right way to feature Alma Cogan on this blog for a long time, partly because without her I wouldn't exist (not as long a story as it sounds) but mostly because her music was often on in our house when I was small. And when I say "on", I don't necessary mean spinning on the record player - often her songs were just being sung, by my parents. And those songs stick in the mind, and heart. My favourite from the girl with a giggle in her voice (yes, that really is how she was known) was itself a cover of Patsy Cline's She's Got You, released in 1962. I loved the harmonica intro, the despairing lyrics, the literal highs and lows of the chorus... I don't know about a giggle, I heard heartbreak in Alma's vocal performance. Here it is, and it's bloody great.

Whose voice from now has the right tonal quality to do this justice, can reach the highs and lows, can emote in the same way? Possibly no-one, but I'd like to make the case for Lana Del Rey. Take a listen to breakout hit Videogames, and see if you agree:

Or Born To Die?

I think Lana could carry it off, more than passably. And she has a recent track record for doing good cover versions too - here she is, covering Radiohead:

I have to add, as a post-script, that however good it might be, this fantasy cover by Lana could not measure up to Alma's version. Just as Cline fans would argue that Alma's cover doesn't measure to Patsy. But I'm right and they're wrong, of course. Also, I know that technically what I'm suggesting above is Lana covering Patsy but I've said it before and I'll doubtless say it again: my gaff, my rules...

Think you can suggest a fantasy cover version this good? Then please, try your luck and remember - the more you make the case, the better! The list of past submissions may inspire you.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Clandestine Classic LVI - One Night Stand

The fifty-sixth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

I've been thinking a bit about Pete Tong and his Heritage Orchestra, who've been all over my radio lately. You know - Pete has taken another load of old house and Ibiza tunes and got a proper orchestra to play them, the idea being (presumably) to take some "classic" club tunes and give them an actual classical music style makeover. Seems this kind of cultural pretence has been very popular indeed with middle-aged ex-clubbers, with sell-out shows at large venues and not one but two albums of this kind of stuff. That new version of Killer by Seal that you've been hearing? This is where it comes from. You knew all that already, right?

But it's hardly a new idea. Today's classic comes from 90s band The Aloof, which Wikipedia tells me were "a British electronica group, mixing electronic and dance elements with dub influences." So there you go. I know nothing else about them, and today's track, One Night Stand, is the only thing by them in my collection, courtesy of a compilation album. And although it's not my usual cup of tea, I think this is excellent.

Firstly, there are the world-weary vocals, sounding not dissimilar in some respects to David McAlmont but actually belonging to one Ricky Barrow. Then there are the lyrics which, if I can borrow from a series over at The (New) Vinyl Villain, would make an excellent short story:

What am I doing here? Your face is a mess.
You walk back in the room and you put on your dress.
I say, I'll see you soon and I, I'll give you a call.
I hear the door slam and feel nothing at all.

What am I doing here? I've been here for weeks.
Gotta get outta of this room and go, go clean these sheets.
Why am I lying here and with what was her name?
I feel nothing at all; I feel no shame.

It's another one night stand
'cause it makes me feel like a real man.

Lyrically melancholic, and with those minor keys throughout, this is a real come-down track, filled with unhappiness and a touch of self-loathing. And then there's that orchestral arrangement, that's probably been smouldering in the back of Pete Tong's mind for twenty years.

One Night Stand was The Aloof's commercial highpoint, peaking at #30 in 1996. There were other singles, but none like this. And interestingly, fact fans, Radio 1 playing an extended instrumental version of this every thirty minutes for several hours on the day Princess Diana died. I didn't remember that, by the way, it's another Wikipedia fact, so caveat emptor when you throw that little nugget into pub conversation.

You can scoop up One Night Stand on The Aloof's second album, Sinking, or (like me) on none-more-90s compilation The Dogs...! Anyway, here's the track - great video too, isn't it?