Sunday 28 February 2021

Clandestine Classic LXIV - Saudade

The sixty-fourth 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.

Well now, I haven't done one of these for a while, and with good reason: how many classics are there, that I rate but you haven't heard of? It gets harder and harder to think of them. But today's song, the closing track from Love and Rockets' debut album, is worth five minutes of anyone's time.

Let's get the facts out of the way: Love and Rockets were formed by three members of Bauhaus, once that band had split in '83. With a marginably more accessible sound, the band's first album Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven, released in 1985, did well enough to set the tone for a further fifteen years of output before the band called time (though neither album nor the related singles charted on either side of the pond). Today's choice is the instrumental album closer, five minutes of blissful steel-strung guitar, somewhat at odds with the 6/7/8-minute opuses that make up the rest of the album. Oh, and saudade is a Portuguese word with no direct translation in English, but that can be defined as the nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves, but you knew that already. Appropriate, wouldn't you say, for a trio of musicians who were moving on from what had got them where they were?

So what makes this a clandestine classic? Musically, it's lovely though hardly exceptional - the guitar part, for example, is beautiful but not complicated, simple chords, simple picking (even I can play it). And it maybe goes on a bit too long (see other similar bands of the era: I'm looking at you, The Church). But, but, but... I came by this song in my first year at university, living in halls. A hall-mate had a copy of Seventh Dream on cassette (TDK SA90, since you ask, the preferred cassette brand and type of the day) and, at the end of that halcyon first year, when she returned to her home country, she bequeathed that tape (and several others) to me, on the basis that she could record them from the vinyl again when she got home, and giving me her tapes would make her luggage lighter.

I still have all those cassettes, though I haven't played them in years - they'll be too fragile now, brittle ribbons of oxidised tape. But I cherish them for the memories they encapsulate, their hand-written, hand-decorated inlay cards in my friend's handwriting. Everything about them speaks to me of a golden time in my life, of unrepeatable experiences, of connection, of what was and what might have been, of paths not taken, of Jonbar points, of friendship that endures despite separation, of nostalgia, of wistfulness, of melancholy, of saudade. So whilst there are other songs from that clutch of cassettes that evoke the same feelings (Skyway by The Replacements, for one, Surfer Rosa and Come On Pilgrim by Pixies and anything from the first two R.E.M. albums, especially), it feels entirely fitting and appropriate that this is the song I feature to capture that set of very personal feelings. So I'm sorry if this song doesn't move you in the same way (and let's face it, that would be very unlikely) but remember, my gaff, my rules...

You can pick up Saudade on that debut album in your format of choice, right here, or it also closes their retrospective best of, Sorted, if that appeals. Me, I'm off to wallow...

Saturday 27 February 2021

Anniversaries of anniversaries

A couple of nights ago, I watched a documentary on BBC4 about the Secret Policeman's Ball. I missed the start, but it quickly became apparent from the age of the talking heads that this was not a new, or recent, programme. Turns out that it was celebrating the 25th anniversary of the first Secret Policeman's Ball, and was first screened in 2004... in other words, it won't be long before we can celebrate the 20th anniversary of a documentary celebrating a 25th anniversary.

Anyway, it was a great watch, particularly with regard to the first two balls - I've got nothing against Dawn French, but I think Peter Cook was funnier, that's all. You can, and probably should, take a squizz whilst you still can, over on the iPlayer.

The point of this post? Well, the doc drew attention to the fact that the balls weren't just about comedy, but music too. A clip was shown from 1979, I think, in which Pete Townshend performed Won't Get Fooled Again acoustically, ably (though barely audibly) accompanied by John Williams of Cavatina fame. Turns out that this was the first time Pete had ever performed the song acoustically. I think it's brilliant, and shows what a great song it is, even shorn of Roger's shredding vocals, John's thunderous bass and Keith's carpet-bomb drums. Here it is.

For comparison, here's what can only be described as an incendiary full-band live performance of the same track from a year before, in what was Keith's last live performance. Note how Pete's pointed "Do ya?", after the line Oh I know that the hypnotized never lie, is aimed squarely at the audience in both performances.

A final thought before we move on, and for the sake of completeness, let's all take a moment to remember Roger's pre- and post-Brexit stance, and acknowledge that, ironically, he was fooled again.

Friday 26 February 2021

Blue Friday: The Next Life (live)

I wanted an excuse to post The Next Life, by Bernard-era Suede. Finding this clip of a live performance on Later, from 1993, gave me that excuse.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - what might they have achieved, if only Bernard had stuck around?

Friday 19 February 2021

Blue Friday: Suck

Here's Such Small Hands covering The Wedding Present. The original is excellent, as Wedding Present songs tend to be. But this cover elevates it still higher, I think, replacing the power of Seamonsters-era Gedge with something altogether more delicate. There's a rare fragile beauty here that, to my mind, adds to the desperate yearning of the lyrics.

Monday 15 February 2021

Monday long song: Rock Lobster

Sorry, I know it's a little late in the day for a Monday long song being, as it is, only about three hours from Tuesday. But this came up in conversation over dinner, and I remembered how much I love it. That's all the reason I need, really.

God, this was 1978. I had The B-52's first album, from whence this comes, on cassette; probably still got it somewhere. And it's probably oxidised into an unplayable ferrous lump. Oh, to be young again.

Thursday 11 February 2021

Our friends...

Our Friends in the North debuted on British TV screens in January 1996. 25 years ago... man alive. I've written about my love for it before - I think is has been seldom equalled and never bettered. But that's just me.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to draw attention to a really good piece on the BBC Culture website about it, specifically this: Our Friends in the North: One of the greatest ever TV dramas - definitely worth a read.

Oh, and I even used a minor OFITN character as partial visual inspiration for a minor character in my novel, and made an oblique reference to the actor that played that character in my character's surname. Not that anyone is interested in that.

Anyway, here's a nice talking-head piece about the show, and the now-famous last scene. You can, and should, do yourself a favour and buy this on DVD right now, which you can do here. Go on! I genuinely can't think of many better ways to spend £13.99

25 years though. God.

Monday 8 February 2021

Monday long song: Station to Station

Reading Charity Chic's musings today on filling Bowie-shaped record collection gaps, it suddenly occurred to me that Station to Station would make a good Monday long song. So here it is...

Friday 5 February 2021

Blue Friday: Home

Dawn Landes is an American singer-songwriter. I saw her live (remember gigs?) back in 2008, supporting The Wedding Present; as I recall, I was beguiled.

This track, Home, is taken from Dawn's 2014 album Bluebird. Whilst it's seven years old, our current inability to visit loved ones, to see the places we might think of as home, makes this song feel very now. And besides that, it's excellent, I think.

Tuesday 2 February 2021

Don't judge me

I heard the new Tom Jones single the other day - Cerys played it on the radio. And I hesitate to say this, but I think I quite like it.

It's not quite what it aspires to be. Tom's voice doesn't have the grizzled, broken gruffness of, say, a late-era Cash spoke word piece. Oh, and there's a moment when this famously Welsh superstar borders on being too Welsh (it could almost be Bryn from Gavin and Stacey describing the moonwalk as "sliding backwards really"). And although this is Tom's new single, it already feels like the past - its critique of television comes at a time when the online world's influence makes TV look so twentieth century; its damnation of Trump ("an old man with a comb-over had sold us the moon ... reality killed by a reality star") comes as we (hopefully) see the back of the orange one. And some critics (and lots of YouTube commenters) think the guitar riff is a Radiohead rip-off. Well, it's just three chords, in a certain order. Tom's musicians aren't the first to put them in that order, and they won't be the last. Sounds great, if you ask me.

The video is a real piece of work too, taking a wide aim and hitting most of its targets. As well as Trump, Boris, Zuckerberg, OJ, Weinstein, Jacko and a whole host of others fall within the crosshairs.

I don't know what it says about me that the first song of 2021 to really catch my ear is a spoken word piece by an eighty year old, about a medium in decline. Also, I don't care what it says about me. It think this is good, simple as. Others might disagree, but I don't care about that either, not any more.

More power to you, Tom. I don't know what I'll be doing at 80 (walking with a stick and losing my marbles, probably) but I doubt it will be as good as this.

Monday 1 February 2021

Monday long song: Money-Go-Round (parts 1 and 2)

Sorry, having a bit of a Style Council jag here at New Amusements Towers. Here's a long song for your Monday, the Introducing version of Money-Go-Round. God, I loved that EP, so much so that I shelled out to get a 9-track European imported version from Our Price, rather than just the 7-track UK release.