If you’ve read the interview I did with Creation Records, then you’ll have seen me enthusing wildly about the long-lost days of compilation tapes, and the thrill of discovering a ‘new’ track by a relatively obscure artist, who then became your new favourite artist as you desperately hunted for more of their more than likely not currently available back catalogue. Usually, the only answer was to ask the same friend to do you another tape. And another. Which you then promptly damaged through overuse, which may be amusing in retrospect but not matter how wistful I may be being here, let’s put a stop to this nonsense about reviving the cassette tape as a format. Please. It is possible to take ‘retro’ too far.
As the long legacy of tapes stretched beyond playability will attest, though, I only ever discovered some of my absolute favourite artists – whether Neu!, Françoise Hardy, Big Star or The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – through compilation tapes, and that feeling of being handed a cassette first thing in the morning at school and sitting there all day trying to imagine what the songs sounded like still underpins my interest in music if I’m being honest about it. Needless to say, there is a good deal about compilation tapes in Can’t Help Thinking About Me (available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here), and to tie in with it I put together this virtual ‘C90’ crammed with tracks that I originally discovered through that route, and named after an actual genuine tape that someone did me back in the day. It was full of seventies country rock and singer-songwriters and I no longer have it which worryingly suggests that I might not have heeded the warning. But you know where you can read more about that.
Anyway, if you want to have a listen to some of the tracks I discovered courtesy of lovingly-compiled compliations, and maybe discover a couple of new favourites yourself, press ‘Play’ below…
In The Street – Big Star
The gloriously fish-out-of-water early seventies American ‘Power Pop’ outfit were a band I’d heard a lot about long before I’d ever heard them – in fact, as you can find out in Higher Than The Sun, I’d actually heard close musical relative Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub first – but once I heard this I was hooked. I asked the same friend to tape #1 Record and Radio City for me in full and played that tape endlessly until I was able to afford them both on CD (closely followed by Third and I Am The Cosmos, both of which I was initially underwhelmed by but later changed my opinion of dramatically). Later I was pleasantly surprised to find In The Street being used to tremendous effect as the theme to That ’70s Show, one of my absolute favourite sitcoms and which you can read much more about in Can’t Help Thinking About Me.
What? – Judy Street
Essentially my introduction to Northern Soul – again, something that I’d read a lot about long before I’d ever actually heard any of it – in the wilderness years between the genre’s seventies heyday and its post-Britpop resurgence. Although I was familiar with Soft Cell’s cover, this was like nothing I’d ever heard before and sounded like Motown gone out of control; I had no idea at the time that it had inspired such energetic and acrobatic dance moves at the Wigan Casino and its contemporaries, but would later spend many a Saturday night attempting hazardously unregulated footspins in time to the “over and over and over and over again” bit.
Kije’s Ouija – The Free Design
One of my later tape-facilitated discoveries – so-called ‘Sunshine Pop’ didn’t undergo a re-evaluation until relatively late on, and was something I’d been a tad wary of anyway, associating it perhaps unfairly with twee hippy drippy nonsense about being sure to wear some flowers in your hair – but one that was well worth waiting for as pretty much every last bit of soaring close harmony baroque-meets-muzak by this surprisingly self-aware and satirical comment-friendly outfit is a work of brilliance. You can hear their decidedly offbeat Christmas Single Close Your Mouth (It’s Christmas) as part of my ‘Christmas In The Sixties’ playlist here, and there’s a piece on Kije’s Ouija and the bewildering late sixties trend for Prokofiev-inspired pop singles here.
Firebird – White Noise
White Noise were a late sixties electronic rock act formed by Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and avant-garde composer David Vorhaus; as you are probably imagining, this is one of the lighter and more upbeat offerings from their alarming first album, which deals elsewhere with such jaunty themes as the emotional fallout from promiscuity, torment by phantom motorcyclists, and the the mid-term weather forecast for Satan, all of it set to a backdrop of juddering electronic scrapes. If that’s not put you off, you can hear their little-heard Peel Session track Silence Is Requested In The Ultimate Abyss in my BBC Records And Tapes playlist here, and read about their unlikely collaboration with The Beatles in Can’t Help Thinking About Me.
The Garden Of Earthly Delights – The United States Of America
More early electronica but this time from the sarcastically named outfit who recorded an entire album cheerfully saluting their homeland’s longstanding love affair with perverted sex, torture as entertainment, and dropping atom bombs on Japanese cities – the original ‘Stars And Stripes On Fire’ cover design never got past the initial suggestion to their record label – all of it delivered in a frantic garage rock style with the roaring vocals of Dorothy Moskowitz, who it has to said delivers Hard Coming Love like she’s got some idea of what she’s talking about. This particular jaunty ditty reels off a list of nightmarishly toxic plants and fungi that can be found “in her eyes”. Probably best cancel that second date, then.
Hallogallo – Neu!
Nowadays, people seem to regard an interest in ‘Kosmische Musik’ (and never ‘Krautrock’ like you and Jodie Marsh and Take A Break magazine and some Tesco Value Lasagne think, my goodness me no) as a legally watertight permit to snort derisively down their nose at anyone who isn’t as ‘clever’ or cultured as them, which must really thrill their seventy followers. Back then, however, tracks like this that sounded like more like Maths homework tapping its foot than rock music were simply dense, driving and exotic slabs of proto-electronica that you always suspected were sneaked onto tapes to use up as much space as possible, but that never seemed to matter really. ‘Editing’ tracks for compilation tapes was an offence punishable by punching anyway.
One Note Samba/Spanish Flea – Perrey And Kingsley
Some electronic early adopters were simply interested in creating silly blippering muzak that they imagined the people of ‘the future’ might listen to, and never more so than in the case of this Moog-toting duo whose sole ambition seemed to be to get their poster onto Judy Jetson and Vicki From Doctor Who‘s bedroom walls. This unlikely arrangement of Sergio Mendes And Brasil ’66’s already unlikely medley of self-referential Bossa Nova satire and Tijuana Brass silliness is possibly the only record in the history of recorded sound that can both clear and fill a dancefloor at the same time.
Crickets Sing For Anamaria – Astrud Gilberto
Authentic Bossa Nova that doesn’t sound like a breakdancing robot as the genre’s defining artist relates a chirpy tale of insects making a racket while a young couple on the verge of getting it on are interrupted by the arrival of pretty much their entire extended families, who are in fact still arriving one by one as the song fades out; presumably they eventually ran out of relatives and moved on to the likes of ‘Blue Monster’ (Monster Munch). You can find a feature on Astrud’s later horn-tastic jazz-funk epic Beginnings, and its appropriateness as background music in, um. certain situations, in Can’t Help Thinking About Me.
Canção Latina – Brazilian Octopus
Sadly an eight-strong jazz ensemble rather than an actual octopus, who performed in undecodably colour-coded shirts and recorded a lone album full of exotic samba shuffles and vibraphoned-up readings of proto-ambient classical pieces. Which may all sound a bit Pebble Mill At One but it’s a lot more far-out than that, though quite how a copy of the album – given it was only released in Brazil in 1969 and didn’t quite trouble the soundtrack from The Sound Of Music in the sales racks – found its way into the hands of a slightly posh schoolgirl making tapes in 1991 is a question that even she doesn’t now have an answer to.
As Long As He Lies Perfectly Still – Soft Machine
One of the few ‘proper’ songs to be found on the jam-happy jazz-psych outfit’s second album – much of the rest of which is taken up with lengthy gag-heavy suites poking fun at academics and ‘nude’ women (oh and reading out the alphabet backwards) – and usually overlooked in favour of the Monty Python-inspiring love song from someone trapped in a well Dedicated To You But You Weren’t Listening, this is an almighty funked-up salute to errant frontman Kevin Ayers and his love of brown rice and commercial self-sabotage and disdain for screaming girls. Presumably they needed to be more ‘nude’.
Gideon’s Bible – John Cale
Drawn from a concept album about some sort of sub-Addams Family ancestral murder mystery thing that nobody has ever quite understood, least of all John Cale himself if his autobiography is anything to go by, this is possibly the only song ever to boast both lyrics about some Empirical decadent peering through his own self-inflicted wrist wound at ‘Grand Old Mother Greedy’ and – of course – a cheerful singalong country and western melody and backing complete with copious amounts of slide guitar. Well, when you’ve only just left The Velvet Underground, you have to push the boat out a bit. Though we’d better gloss over that tape with an extract from Church Of Anthrax on it…
69 Année Érotique – Serge Gainsbourg And Jane Birkin
Je T’aime… Moi Non Plus was the one that topped the charts and had Mary Whitehouse fainting and Top Of The Pops baffled about how to represent it before ultimately being ‘banned’ ‘by’ ‘The Pope’, but obviously nobody ever heard this even slinkier ode to literally falling, erm, head over heels on a boat, and as close as you’re going to get to a dry run for the equally compilation-tape pervading masterwork Histoire De Melody Nelson. Not one to let your parents overhear unless you wanted them to start expressing passive-aggressive concerns about your ‘new’ friends.
A Child’s Guide To Good And Evil – The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band
It’s probably hard to explain this to anyone who wasn’t there at the time, but this bunch of face-obscuring far-out weirdos with their tribal chants and Lenny Bruce-inspired anti-government rants and scary lyrics about turning to stone and being violently sick always felt like the ‘hard stuff’ compared to your average sixties garage-psych outfit – even more so than The Velvet Underground – and their albums would sit there daring you to so much as buy them, let alone listen to them, so it was always helpful when someone spiked a C90 with something like this sitar-driven lesson in telling The Wizard Of Oz apart from rabid dogs. The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band Fact – If anyone has any copies of Bob Markley’s solo stuff that they want to sell, contact me c/o BBC Worldwide Limited.
Signed D.C. – Love
As I explain at some length in Can’t Help Thinking About Me, Love’s provocative social commentary lyrics – in some ways a primitive precursor to rap – are pretty much Exhibit ‘A’ in the argument against any suggestion that all sixties pop music was either sexist or empty-headed, and this wailing, blood-curdling acoustic first-person account of a heroin addict in the throes of a possibly fatal overdose is no exception, and entirely appropriate to put at the end of a tape for a younger relative who was just discovering ‘the sixties’. Even if the line “I’ve got one foot in the grave” does tend to make listeners of a certain age and geographical origin immediately think of Victor Meldrew (“Ha-llo! What are you saying? You… can’t unfold your arms? I’ve never heard a bigger load of bloody rubbish in all my born days!”). Though let’s just leave that there before trying to shoehorn in an awful joke about The Red Telephone (That Was Actually A Small Dog). When not busy playing this on the harmonica, I’ve never quite been able to decide which of Love’s first three albums I like the most (Four Sail can sod off though), but if pressed I’d probably have to say it was this first one; which you can read more about here…
A House For Everyone – Traffic
Poor old Steve Winwood and company have been somewhat overlooked and undervalued in recent times in the rush to celebrate more revered exponents of tape trickery and psychedelia – probably on account of their having one and a half feet in that pesky ‘jazz’ business – but there weren’t many songs in 1967 that started off cued in from a not-fully-wound-yet clockwork thingy before going on to adapt that ‘the parrot on the left always tells the truth’ riddle to stuff about picture books and blancmange. From the same album as Utterly Simple, which can only realistically have been inspired by Jonathan Miller’s adaptation of Alice In Wonderland, which you can hear me talking about here.
Electricity – Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band
He went to school with Frank Zappa, got dropped by A&M Records for sounding ‘too negative’ for teenagers, retired once he felt he had nothing more to say musically, sent a rude rebuttal to ‘Bongo’ following repeated attempts to drag him out of retirement to guest – guest – on a U2 album (The Edge hasn’t even had nightmares about the guitar riff on Trust Us), and destroyed a high quality studio microphone by singing the word ‘Electricity’ into it. You don’t need a compilation tape to persuade you, frankly.
Father Cannot Yell – Can
Seven whole minutes – and it’s not even the longest track on their debut album – of propulsive riffing, unexpected chord changes and yodelled stream of consciousness gibberish about a kitchen sink drama invaded by a psychotherapy session, complete with what sounds like a Hammond Organ being kicked into space, that almost seems to threaten not to end like that football match in The Day Today. It really annoys the Kling Klang-worshipping dimwits we mentioned earlier when you treat Can – or, worse still, refer to them using the contemporaneous monicker The Can – as a really good rock band with monster disco-friendly grooves whose records were a formative influence on early Hip-Hop DJs, so please do this as often and as loudly as you can. Or indeed as you the can. They were never above jokes like that themselves after all.
Indian Rope Man – Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger And The Trinity
A classic example of ‘there’s more to them than that one you know’ as the glittery-eyed starey woman and her band of amplifier-abusing jazzers tear their Hammond-scorching way through this rip-roaring tribute to Shahid from Playboard. Any resemblance to any single by The Charlatans is something you’ll have to ask them about, frankly. If anyone taped the ‘Safety Film’ compilation for you – which was the only one that was easy to find back then – on one side of a C90, the tape would always run out about two seconds into this, so it was always a popular choice for compilations.
Chanson Indienne – France Gall
You can find a whole feature about how I discovered France Gall here, and this wonky, woozy hashish-scented (“tobacco in bloom” indeed) travelogue was the first track that was taped for me from that infamous French charity shop haul, on the basis that I was more likely to connect with over-orchestrated sitar-plunking psychedelic girl voyager nonsense – not least on account of being able to understand the lyrics – than the four-to-the-floor Mod stompers everyone else was going crazy over. It worked.
One Of These Things First – Nick Drake
I first heard Nick Drake when The Thoughts Of Mary Jane was played on daytime Radio 1 in the late eighties – so can we please put paid to all that ‘he fell into obscurity until some Hollywood actors and some plank or other (possibly multiple) out of some dull post-Coldplay band started saying they liked him about three minutes ago’ nonsense now – but although his albums were still available and in fact always had been, they were still a pricey investment and asking people to tape some more of his output for you first was always a preferred move. There is one song from his back catalogue, however, that most people probably only now own on compilation tapes due to its disappearance from the accepted ‘canon’, which you can read me getting annoyed about here or even hear me getting annoyed about here.
Barterers And Their Wives – The Left Banke
The punch-up friendly harpischord-toting bookish sensitive boys of Garage Psych take time out from hitting each other in a bid to impress the real-life ‘Renee’ and treat us to a medieval-sounding swipe at the businessman in his suit and tie, sounding for all the world like Gabriel The Toad is racing towards Trump Tower fists flying. I heard this first, then heard Walk Away Renee, then heard Desiree playing in a record shop and raced up to the counter… but you’ll have to get Can’t Help Thinking About Me to read about that.
Buzzin’ Fly – Tim Buckley
One of the few halfway decent people ever to have that dreadful first name, Tim Buckley was already well into the process of unravelling from a chirpy psychedelic folk troubadour into an alarming avant-garde jazz yodeller babbling through dense washes of echo about women forcing themselves on you and what bees do for winter or something when he recorded this rewrite of the Camberwick Green closing theme cunningly disguised as a hazy ode to summer flings so nobody would suspect a thing (least of all The Stone Roses when they ‘borrowed’ it), but even so, it didn’t exactly prepare you for the next of his albums you randomly bought after Happy Sad being Starsailor… incidentally there’s a bit about his earlier albums here.
Le Temps De Souvenirs – Françoise Hardy
Or, as most people originally heard it on account of Françoise Hardy Sings In English being just that bit easier to find in your average local Help The Aged, Just Call And I’ll Be There. Popularity with the UK press and media (if not necessarily record-buyers) – and, latterly, association with Blur – made Françoise arguably the ultimate gateway drug for Frenchpop, as a small army of Jacques Dutronc and Brigitte Bardot devotees who don’t quite understand the lyrics will attest. Even more importantly still, this track found its way into the very first edition of Chris Morris’ Blue Jam, as you can read more about here.
Amsterdam – Scott Walker
With every hip pop star from Julian Cope to David Bowie singing his praises, and even oldies radio shunning anything any weirder than that nice Lights Of Cincinnati, Scott Walker was tailor made for tape-making and many a young existentialist with a penchant for blazers got their first taste of “his mother called him Ivan – then she died”, “GODDANEWSUIT!”and that business with the kid who thinks William Hartnell is a balloon or something through this route (and you can find some of my thoughts on why he was a lot funnier than the long-faced Diderot-bothering types would have you believe here). As they did of course with the never-bettered Jacques Brel interpretations – now there was a hardcore second level of compilation tape trading – including this histrionic tale of sailors spending their shore leave drinking, whoring, and swallowing fish whole for some reason. Don’t forget to do what Scott says and go out and sleep with The Girls From The Streets!
The London Boys – David Bowie
Ha ha ha, they say. And indeed he he he. The Laughing Gnome! The sixties stuff was rubbish novelty rubbish! He didn’t get good until Hunky Dory! Oh hang on there’s The Man Who Sold The World and I don’t know if I properly understand what was going on at that point and erm um hey look a horsey! Just fling them a tape with this chilly lament for the drug-guzzling Mod who “got what you wanted, but you’re on your own” – so potent that Deram vetoed it both as a single a-side and an album track – and watch their opinion change. Or more likely act as though they didn’t hear it and continue snorting as normal. Anyway The Laughing Gnome is good, so there. There’s plenty more on Bowie over here, by the way…
The Statues – Jake Thackray
Swaledale’s droll chronicler of all human mundanity rounds proceedings off with the unlikely tale of how he and Uncle Samuel ended up before the beak on a trumped up charge of hitting a statue of Sir Robert Walpole that they caught having its wicked way with a nearby granite nymph. You don’t really get lyrics like “went for him like buffaloes, like windmills going berserk” any more, and indeed neither do you get orchestration like that, which is why I have such little time for the purists moaning that the recordings should have been left Jake-only. Which, you’ve guessed it, I have plenty more to say about here and indeed here…
You can find playlists of sixties comedy records here, sixties Christmas singles here, highlights from the BBC Records And Tapes catalogue here, and records I discovered through Radio 2’s Sounds Of The 60s here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.