Saturday, December 10, 2005

I get high / I get high / I get high…

Johnny, Johnny….what a bloody waste. The world is a lesser place because of the existence of certain people. One of those people was the now globally infamous Mark David Chapman. He wanted to become famous and the fucker did…he’s a household name. It worked.

Damn him…

I wasn’t going to write anything particular on the death or life of John Lennon, so many words, worthier than mine, although no more heartfelt to be sure, have been written and I’ve written a few that I’m a little proud of.

But this sad little piece by fading UK hack Robert Elms made me change my mind. I often wonder what certain people have done to repeatedly get published. Who they have slept with or what connections they have to keep on getting their opinions in print. A blog is one thing, hundreds of thousands of us burble on and on, and opine which is neither here nor there, and despite the social revolution that it may be, it is still recognisably a blog and should be viewed accordingly.

However Elm’s unworthy burst was on the BBC’s web site. I guess, to steal a phrase from George Galloway, standards have slipped.

The British have always have an attraction to these sort of know nothing, ego ridden overly verbose twats and Elms comes from an era that was particularly plagued by them: the late seventies, early eighties, NME, Face, ID era. They sounded smart, obnoxiously opinionated and connected then but later you realise that they knew no more than we did, perhaps less because they were sheltered by the need always to be, to use the term of the era, “crucial”. Elms aside there was Parsons, Burchill, Morley (Morley at least did something with ZTT and FGTH) and a whole bunch more.

These people all claim to have been where it mattered when it happened but in reality were largely peripheral accessories, unlike the truly great journalists of their era, the likes of Nick Kent or Charles Murray, and their “claim” is largely by association rather than action…they hung out with the doers rather than ever actually doing; they may have been in the car but they were neither driving nor navigating, and Elms is more guilty of this than anyone.

It’s not just this piece that’s annoyed me but the last 25 years of accidentally bumping into this man’s opinions. He may well be a pleasant enough guy in person, and all indications from people that I know that've spent time with him, are that he is, if a little over forthright.

so, moving up to said BBC piece, Robert ventures forth with a badly argued opinion that the fabulous four, were not all they were cracked up to be, were a lesser “blues boom” act than The Rolling Stones or Them, both bands who made some killer singles and were, by all accounts astounding live in the early to mid sixties. Them, however, as magnificent as those records are, were largely out of step with their incredibly fast moving times and The Rolling Stones, once they got in their stride about 65 made some wonderful records but only on 45. Their albums, until the end of the decade were largely nothing affairs, often in the shadow of The Beatles, with perhaps the exception of their debut, even that pales beside With The Beatles, arguably the first Rock album ever. I say arguably because it’s a toss up between that and A Hard Days Night and Live at The Apollo....there are no other real contenders.

To imply The Beatles were a lesser “blues boom” act is indicative. This is the first time, ever, anywhere, in all the verbose screeds I’ve read about The Beatles where they were called a “blues” band or alleged to be part of that movement. As I said, it’s indicative that he says that as it indicates a vacuum of historical knowledge and perspective which is even more strongly indicated elsewhere. But it begs the obvious question…how can one be a social commentator if one has no understanding of the context?

And go and listen to the extraordinary live version of Money on the first Anthology and tell me that The Beatles couldn’t cut it as a live beat act. Or ask the thousands who queued in Liverpool or the north before the frenzy took over whether they could cut it. Statements like that just make Elms look silly and I guess are made for effect…we all do it , but if you can’t at least make a stab at backing it…

A fair argument could be made that without Lennon et al no-one would ever have heard of Them or The Rolling Stones beyond a few smelly bars in Belfast or Richmond. And that brings me to the crux of the failure of his arguments.

The social and musical revolution that the Beatles drove....

Without The Beatles, The Rolling Stones could never have become “The Rolling Stones”, The Band, who he obviously rates, could never have become “The Band”, Little Feat, likewise would not have been who or what they were if Roger McGuinn hadn’t, after A Hard Days Night, added the jangle to Dylan. In Dylan’s own words, it was listening to I Wanna Hold Your Hand on a car radio that took him in the direction that led to Blonde On Blonde. He may well have gotten there via another route but The Beatles were his self admitted catalyst that took him to Newport and to shouts of Judas in the UK. And opened a new world to everything that Bob Dylan inspired thereafter….

Likewise, after With the Beatles and A Hard Days Night we were given the concept of the album as an album. Rock’n’roll records became more than two hits and a few fillers (12 in the UK and 8 in the US). Go and look at the album charts pre and post A Hard Days Nights. Other acts wrote their songs…Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Gene Vincent, but none were ever album forces. In a flash the Beatles invented the force which drives popular music, the artist album, oh, and tossed in a concept called “rock” at the same time.

There were, at the same time countless studio innovations led by a belief that the word “no” didn’t matter anymore...anything was possible because and you could at least try. The power of musical invention was given a new, ruthlessly inventive voice. The studio innovations that revolutionised popular music didn’t all come from The Beatles (although many did), but the motivation and ethos to drive forward most certainly and inescapably did.

The Beatles were able to take what was being done in the US and toss it back at them, saying...look, this is where you can take it. It was the power of The Beatles and the voice it gave the “British Invasion” that filled the garages of the USA with thousands of bands, not the least of whom were likes of The Stooges. That the Velvets could have existed without The Beatles is simply naïve.

Naïve….like statements like “truly great bands don’t make terrible records”…which is then followed by the incredible line “that lack of editorial control and judgement is a large part of what I have against them…”. What lack of “editorial control” allowed a line like “truly great bands don’t make terrible records” to even make it to the screen.

What insipid nonsense….what, like The Rolling Stones, Rob? Like Their Satanic Majesties or like a few of the Miracles’ lesser moments, or Coltrane’s drug infused indulgences or Miles Davis’ rather embarrassing attempts at hip hop…these people aren’t truly great? What a silly thing to say…

Whole concepts changed courtesy of The Beatles. The Beatles gave the UK a musical voice that it had never had before and a music industry that mattered internationally, it was the Beatles that made The Gang of Four or The Clash or Oasis¸ or The Chemical Bros possible. It was The Beatles and their momentum that made Robert Elms possible.

Musically, you won’t get much argument from me about the slippery road to bloated indulgence that Sgt Pepper opened the doors to. But that is like blaming Steve Silk Hurley for Lola’s Theme…it’s a silly stretch of logic.

They recognised the drift themselves, they were after all still northern lads, and within a few months were retrenching towards the magnificence of the White album. A Day in the Life and Mr Kite aside, I don’t think its one of their finer moments, Revolver, With The Beatles , A Hard Days Night, Rubber Soul, The Beatles and Abbey Road all eclipse it and are pretty much universally regarded as doing so. As I said earlier, understanding your subject before you write about it is important.

Elms says that punk was needed to burn away the excesses of Pepper, but punk was just a return to the place where The Beatles were at in 1963, and it was a place that they had returned to themselves by 1969. If you don’t think Cold Turkey or Ballad of John & Yoko aren’t punk records then you aren’t listening. But then again, I think it’s pretty evident that Mr Elms hasn’t listened.

Lennon was still there at the end. The unreleased rock version of I’m Losing You is a magnificent beast, but more to the point, his last recording (and it was more him than Yoko despite the name on the sleeve), in his hand as he was shot, was Walking on Thin Ice, a revolutionary record on its release in 1981 (although maybe not as revolutionary as Spandau Ballet whom Robert was involved with then…Spandau Ballet…oh dear) and an underground and club anthem for years that inspired the No Wave movement in NYC.

How can a truly great songwriter write a song like All You Need is Love, a song that went around the world and engrained itself in the global consciousness as a part of mankind’s vocabulary until this day? Easy….when it’s written in the same twelve month period that he wrote A Day in The Life, I Am The Walrus and Strawberry Fields.

Yellow Submarine is dismissed and yet it appears on the same album as Tomorrow Never Knows, a song that set the blueprint for much of the next forty odd years. Yellow Submarine, rather than reflecting poor song writing or editorial control blatantly reflects exactly the obvious. It is indicative of a wry sense of Northern humour, a sense of understanding exactly where they come from, of a sophistication that Little Feat or The Rolling Stones could never aspire to. The Beatles were never monochromatic. Those other acts made some fine records but, seriously, even a superficial overview and a little knowledge of popular musical history, and indeed history itself, dismisses any fantasy that they had the same impact or musical vision as Lennon—McCartney-Harrison-Starr.

not your finest moment Robert…

Thursday, December 08, 2005

How the hell do you do a top five…..

Ok, list time. End of the year, almost, but close enough as matters, another best of. I guess it’s an excuse really for me to bleat on about the records I liked best this year.

In the assumption that there is someone out there that cares? No not really.

It’s a personal thing that may or may not make any difference to anything or anybody, I don’t care, but music is and I hope always will be a crucial part of my existence on this increasingly shaky rock. And the urge I’ve always had has been to share that, something that kept me on the radio for close to two decades (and, once again, to those that may care, there is an Extended Play on George FM on Wednesday 21st courtesy of Mr Fell who has given up his spot for a week, ta Grant).

Is it an ego thing, maybe it is without consciously intending it to be, but more, simply put, I like playing music to people and talking about it. God knows I’ve dragged more than a few through the more obscure regions of my record collection in the early hours of the morning. I guess most of them want me to actually finish a record before I move onto the next.

Anyway, without to much more tu-tuing around (have you ever tried to explain that phrase to a barely-English speaking Indonesian crowd…bemusement doesn’t describe the looks), these, for better or worse are the records I’ve liked lot, and there are a few, over the past eleven and a bit months:

Ok disco re-edits and the like: It goes without saying, but I will regardless, there are good, indifferent, and, countless bad. This little cottage industry has exploded in the past twelve months. Every hack bedroom DJ seems to think they have the ability to, here we go again, tu-tu around with classic and not so classic tracks (being old does not make a record good). It’s a step beyond the shoddy Grant Nelson school of time stretching a song then banging a rolling 4/4 under it. Still the hack approach is the same. The essence of dance music is its punk element, the D.I.Y, bedroom-ness, but that doesn’t make any D.I.Y. record right, especially when we all have access to a copy of Acid. At least when tape and a razor were used the skill level required, and the determination to actually do it made the bar higher. I love the way you can read in a book about the edit at 1:16, and then when you listen to the bugger you can actually hear it, you can almost see the sticky tape slipping across the head. With that in mind, I like most of Greg Wilson’s Credit to the Edit. Not all of it, there is the odd track which grates a little but, although these are actually re-created turntable edits mostly, the ethic is the same. His hard to find I was a Teenage DJ is the same, especially the killer title track which was on DJ friendly 12” too. In a similar style, the Original Block Party Edits, from Frank Tope’s OST label has too many killer sharp edits to name here but the Black Science Orchestra’s edit of Patti Jo’s stone classic “Let Me Believe In You” was an often repeated 10 minutes in recent months for me. Both these albums take me back to a time when I first started hanging out in dark clubs listening to black music so they may be more of a personal thing…

12” wise on the edit front, I loved the Italian Neroli Slam Jam singles, snippets of things you may never have heard before, like kraut rock, severely fucked with; Todd Terje’s Michael Jackson and George McCrae tweaks; the NYC2 single was a lovely revisit of an old Nu Groove record I liked a lot the first time around about 17 years ago; Prins Thomas did a pretty neat four track EP on Rong which was a turntable fixture for me in the early part of the year, especially the old French disco tune, the name of which escapes me right now, which he mutated into some warped noisy techno thing; the Moxie 12”s were all reliably essential, but that’s about it for me

The fashion victim in me went gaga over the rise of Big Apple punk funk in recent years, once again, because of where I was musically a long time ago, and I’m still there I suppose. The Out Hud album Let Us Never Speak of It Again, but more especially the single One to Leave were quirky, irreverent and fun; the Tussle album Kling Klang was initially one dimensional but its Bootsy goes to CBGBs grind was pretty appealing and I played it a lot; the DFA album, went all major labelish with EMI but still managed to put out three of the years best albums, from LCD Soundsystem, The Juan Maclean with the wonderful Less Than Human, and the glorious synth punk wash of Delia Gonzalez & Gavin Russom’s Day’s of Mars. There are so many ghosts in these records but they effortlessly look forward too. Somebody at EMI is smart…LCD could be massive.

After a gap of god knows how many years the house releases from New York City finally recaptured some of the spirit it once had, moving away from the post MAW house by numbers which fed the Defected compilations but not much else. And they did it by toughening up, by adding at times a techier edge, almost moving back to the Tribal (as in the label), almost epic feel that symbolised so much of the best music from this city in early to mid of the last decade. Kerri Chandler, still, after all these years, had a string of killer records, Bar a Tym was one of the year’s anthems, and worthy it was too, I loved, big loud thing it is, it but hated the unnecessary UK remixes; the follow up Sunset was almost as good, if more subtle, but got overshadowed by Bar; Back 2 The Acid, was better than either of those but in itself was overshadowed by the majestic Six Pianos, an epic trek to Detroit in the mid nineties and one of my singles of the year; and then there was A Demo by 6:23 Quentin Harris, of course was justifiably one of the producers of the year, his Lets Be Young, both in its original and Community Vocal remix takes are simply fantastic, big, dance records that are of their time; his bootleg mix of Luther Vandross’ Apologise has been a huge favourite of mine in 2005, its simplicity and beauty is worthy obituary for one the great voices, placing him firmly in a contemporary surrounding, somewhere he’d not been for too long ; his Ron Trent collaboration, Happiness, was in a similar vein; and The Shelter Anthem which was simply an old school reference point for the kids to try and understand where this all comes from. Its all disco y’see…it never went away…

Also from the NY axis, on Ibadan, I’m a sucker for Jerome Sydenham’s dark dubby symphonies and Road to Calabar and Stockholm Go Bang were well cool, as was another favourite for the year, Herb Martin’s one sided percussion fest, Soul Drums.

I bought a copy of Kraftwerk’s live double, Maximum Minimum in Singapore and after finally getting past the copy protection nonsense, thrashed it relentlessly for a month or two…and was sorely tempted by the boxed vinyl but common sense won out for a change. More records by old soldiers: I liked the loud tracks, and a couple of the ballads on the Paul Weller album As Is Now, but it was more a whim for the past than a genuine “damn this works”. I have a soft spot for Paul simply because of The Jam and the early Style Council records but it’s a soft spot anchored firmly in pleasant memories and he does little to enthral me now; the Elvis Costello return to form The Delivery Man really was that and it bloody well worked; finally, guilty pleasures time, I loved big slabs of the Paul McCartney Chaos and Creation in the Backyard, one of my most played albums of 2005. I guess when one gets to, the quaintly named, middle age, you can listen to virtually anything without shame. I’m certainly not going to hide from my musical past and the first couple of McCartney albums were a part of them.

I also warmed pretty much to the New Order re-comeback, Waiting for the Siren’s Call, which fitted pretty well with their Singles compilation which gave me warm fuzzies.

The Norwegian connection got massive amounts of attention this year, and deservedly so. The Lindstrom & Prins Thomas album was a wonderfully textured collection that is still growing on me, and the twisted mutant disco of the Major Swellings album from Thomas alone is perhaps my album of the year. These guys were relentless in their rush of singles this year but the ones that hit the mark for me included Paaskeyld off the Lindstrom Plague the Kid II ep and the 10” Violent Group, and Thomas’s shimmering Goettsching and the remix of Chicken Lips’ Sweet Cow, and the Tribulations remix and the…actually most of them, truth be known.

And to Carl Craig, yep one after another ballistic and breathtaking in their quality, barely taking a breath and only faltering, for me, with the Fabric 25 album which I found quite a letdown after his Auckland live set earlier this year. The Another Day ep, with its subliminal Sandstorms only got better after the release of the remixed, and totally revisited Darkness backed with Angel. He reissued Landcrusing, albeit in re-visited form, maybe the greatest album of the post Detroit electronic era; sympathetically tweaked Hugh Masekela’s Doing it for the Boys on the otherwise redundant Verve Remixed 3; but saved the best for the end of the year, the sensual climatic remix of Laurent GarniersBarbiturik Blues, the classic tech soul of Terry Brookes and Aaron Soul’s City Life, and the monumental Falling Up from Theo Parrish for some reason only on Japanese 10” to date but a record, that in itself justifies virtually everything that’s ever been said about C2

I’ve long lost track of hip hop and its something I’m a little sad about. Until a few years ago I bought and consumed hip hop with a hunger. But I still buy the odd thing…I’ve always bought Common’s albums, and whilst I still regard 2003’s Electric Circus as his masterpiece, I loved Be this year, I could just feel the hand of some A&R guy at Universal a little too strongly. I liked Damian Marley’s Welcome to Jamrock a lot in the sunshine in Bali.

There were dozens of singles that worked for me this year and I’ll never remember them all, especially since most of my vinyl is a long way from me as I write. So…..Quiet Village’s Can’t be Beat ; Black Joy’s La Stache; the Frantic Flowers Sampler and the Hutton Drive 324 single on the same label; Soul Mekanik’s Wanna Get Wet; I:Cube’s Chicago Sur Seine; FK & U-Roy’s Rootsman, especially the dub; Ame’s Rej; two remixes from Abe Duque: Take Care from Chloe, and the neat Expression from Vinny Troia; New Young Pony Club’s cool post Blondie 7” Ice Cream; on the same label, Tirk, Maurice Fulton’s Mom, The Video Broke, and his production of Kathy Diamond’s Sunshine on Cottage; Yukari Fresh’s incredibly limited Break remixes; Blake Baxter & Mark Romboy’s acidic Freakin’; Mathew Jonson’s stunning Followed by Angels; Vince Watson’s Sunrise; Slam’s Human as remixed by Vector Lovers; a few by Anders Trentemoller….his mix of Fred Everything’s Friday, and his very cool mix of Oh You and I by Unai, and his own Sunstroke; David Duriez’s mix of Ok Rocks on Artofdisco; Nick Chacona’s Angel Dust Swan Dive; and finally two from Patrick Chardronnet, which were and are big records for me in 2005, Phonix, with Afrilounge, and the minimally beautiful Eve by Day which is, happily, playing as I write.

I listened to lots of old soul, disco, funk, jazz, reggae, house and rock records in 2005 but this is not really the place to write about them. Suffice to say that Eddie Kendrick’s Philly drenched He’s a Friend was a major discovery and got rather thrashed.

Locally, and I write this from a desk outdoors in Bali, so I mean enzild, I lost touch a bit but failed to find an album which really did too much. I own quite a few local albums from 2005 and kinda liked the Phoenix Foundation album. Many of the uusal suspects (Roger Perry, Joost, Cuffy) were noticeably quiet in 2005 so I expect to hear things in the new year...please. Tomorrowpeople did a killer remix for Pluto, which, sticking their heads in the sand, they refused to sanction…when will these people learn about expanding their markets. He, TP, that is, provided me with an unnamed track which I played a lot and still do; many of the best things I heard in 2005 were unreleased demos, that arrived in the mail and Tom Ward sent me a series of very cool mix CDs which were quite a soundtrack to a few days and nights, as did the Soultrust guys; The Others released a wicked 7” and I acquired a bunch of forthcoming demos; Greg Churchill’s mix of SJD was seriously good but his own Automatique and the new Lesser Meaning (Techno single of the week in the UK’s influential Update and number 7 on their overall chart)are the real deal and the latter is gonna be huge. He offered to do a mix of Savage but got turned down….as I said, when are these guys gonna work out marketing 101. Greg also, despite his international success, got ignored in New Zealand outside the dance scene, especially by the recording industry and it associated agenices…Budonkadonk is probably the biggest inner city anthem of the past decade but gets ignored….its indicative….

And if you think I’m gong to spend half a week linking to that lot on 64kbs Indonesian “broadband”……

I still believe in….

It’s been 25 years since I wrote, in tears, an obituary for John Lennon for Murray Cammick’s Rip It Up, and I still miss the bugger and hear him in virtually every note I listen many of my generation, he changed my life, it’s that simple.

I’ve been meaning toss together something more and probably will at some time in the near future

But in the interim….love ya John….always will