Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Six Months with a Leaky Tune.......

Sitting in a Belgian Beer bar in Vulcan Lane tonight with a glass of dark overpriced lager of some sort, sharing a large bowl of mussels with Lemongrass curry (a weakness I admit but not a bad one) and the in house system was spinning a mix of Al Green, Barry White & Otis Redding. I’m fairly partial to both Otis and Al (and a few Barry’s but mostly his productions or his more obscure stuff) and pretty much all these acts can reasonably be said to have produced a standard or two. Seriously, “Respect” (Otis still does the best cut, Stevie next, Aretha is a take it or leave it for me after one movie soundtrack too many, but that’s what I’m getting to I suppose), “Take Me to the River”, “Dock of the Bay” etc, are about as close to a standard as it gets. What is a standard? I guess it’s a) a song which has ceased to be simply a song, and now just is…it’s ingrained in the planet for all the ages, b) its reached the muzak in the supermarket level…like “Yesterday”, or “Summertime” or “Satisfaction” or “Walk on By” or “Home on the Range” (American supermarkets play it, honest), and c) most importantly, it also needs to be a song that inspires others to cover it….which is why “Let’s Get It On” or “Stairway to Heaven” don’t count (and yes I know Rolf did it but that was a piss take)…those are classic performances but the nature of the song defies the rise to standard level….no-one could successfully take either of those songs on and only a truly brave or foolish person would try.

I’m not sure where this is going but it occurred to me that New Zealand, as a songwriting nation, for all the classic performances (and there have been countless) hasn’t yet matured sufficiently to produce standards as Australia, for example has. Perhaps it’s the result of a largely moribund recording industry for many years and the lack of any airplay (and the sad over compensation now that leads to ghetto-isation like the recent Kiwi FM, where a song is played because of its origin, not its quality..it does no-one any favours); I mean in 1982 I received the equivalent of a lifetime award from RIANZ in a funny little hotel room in Greenlane which was ludicrous, not only because I was 26 but because I was only awarded it because my label, Propeller, had had a few big hits (including a number one) and no other NZ indie had had any for about a decade (even the Dudes and Sailor hadn’t really had chart hits).

So what have we got in the standards list….you really have to think hard…”Ten Guitars”…wasn’t written here, we adopted it off the B side of an Englebert Humperdinck single, but, yep, it’s a kiwi standard but not eligible; “Nature”, largely ignored for years but Don McGlashan’s worthy cover made it a standard, so yeah, that’s one legit one; “How Bizarre”..got the muzak thing all over the world and might be our biggest selling single but it’s a novelty record; “Pokarekareana”, I think that was written here in the early 20th century, so that’s two; nothing from the ENZ or Dobbyn camp, classic performances but not standards, although there was that truly appalling r’n’b cover of an ENZ tune some years back; “In The Neighbourhood”, maybe..a recent cover from Brooke Fraser and one each in Australia & the UK too and I’ve heard it in Woolworths & on TV2 for two years, but too new to be a standard..lets call it, like “Don’t Dream Its Over” a-standard-in-waiting. And that’s about it. I looked at the tracklisting of the Natures Best comps, which are full of great performances (plus a few complete embarrassments that really defy explanation..I mean “Glorafila”...(or anything by the appalling Zed) please, for gods sake, “Julia”? “Lydia”?….I don’t suppose the vast over-representation of Chunn related items had anything to do with the fact that the voting system was never clearly defined beyond “the members voted”..btw I’m not trying to get at Mike, his input to revive a moribund APRA and the NZ music industry in toto was quite obviously quite phenomenal and aside from that he’s one hell of a nice guy…..but the absence of the two greatest pop singles released in the past thirty years (no, I’m not going to name them…oh ok……”True Love” by the Marching Girls and “Saturday Night Stay at Home” by the Reps) calls the whole process into question. Not that I’m biased at all…….) but not necessarily great standalone songs. The cover of Bic Runga’s “Sway” at the APRA 75th illustrated that well. The original is a great performance but it didn’t cope well with a cover, even from Graham, one of our greatest performers. Incidentally, the failure of Brazier’s “Billy Bold” to enter the top 30 was another reason to question the rankings. My feeling is in the rush to prove our worth we failed because were simply too young to attempt something like the Nature’s Best series….we might have a recording history going back fifty years but we’ve only really had a mature recording industry for a decade or so….

But I guess I would’ve loved to have been involved with a standard or two…some sort of legacy thing, but when you’ve gotten your Lifetime achievement award at 26 for fucks sake, why bother? Bitter and twisted? Me? Naaaaahhhhh………

2 comments:

Peter said...

great post, Simon! Heave you seen this? Any comments?

ATLANTA - If Coca-Cola should have learned anything from its embarrassing 1985 attempt to introduce New Coke, it's that you never needlessly risk the loyalty of your most passionate customers.
But that is exactly what the world's largest soft drink maker may have set in motion on Monday, when it unveiled plans to sell Diet Coke sweetened with the popular sugar substitute Splenda, analysts and beverage industry consultants said.

Simon said...

I've weaned myself....I don't drink the evil fluid anymore!!! I took a stand last week...it was tougher than giving up fags but I did it...Thank god. Now its Phoenix Ginger Beer again just like the old days