This is a story about a CD that I made for someone who didn’t have a CD player. No, really.
Before we get to that, though, it’s important to get some context out of the way. Literally out of the way. It would be very easy – and indeed tempting – to make this into some variety of entertainingly end-of-tether rant about the exasperation and unpredictability of modern dating, and how technology has insisted on providing ‘solutions’ that nobody asked for and in doing so taken an already desperately flawed concept and made it even more complicated still precisely on account of its lack of complication, and how the old ‘rules’ no longer apply which given that they were roughly equivalent to the rules of those sort of games called things like Petting Zoo KABLAMMO! that you get in hipster board game cafes only played with blindfolds on in a force ten gale should probably be something of a welcome relief but isn’t, and how people you know who aren’t single seethe with polite envy about how easy it must be now with all the apps and everything while your internal monologue continually runs “me and you, and you and me, no matter how they toss the dice, it had to be, the only one for me is you, and y-… oh right, they’ve stopped replying”, and how these are really just trivial weary observations from the male side of the equation and lord alone knows what women have to put up with on an unrelenting basis, but that won’t be happening here. Partly on account of a lack of inclination to stray into excessively personal territory within what is already by definition an atypically personal diversion, and partly because this really is about the CD itself, or rather the music on it but let’s not start sounding like a 6Music phone-in that nobody has quite worked out a format for here. If you really want to know more about my thoughts on all things dating and modern, then you can listen to me talking about Ant-Man And The Wasp – a screwball romantic comedy crime caper with size-changing biotech suits that I somehow still felt alarmingly ‘seen’ by – here. Putting it very bluntly, no confession, no religion, I don’t believe in modern love. It doesn’t even get me to the church on time. Anyway, that’s as much as I have to say on the subject for now, although I would nonetheless still be interested to know what The Guyliner makes of all of this.
It’s probable that The Guyliner would have slightly less to say – though I would be equally interested to hear it regardless – on the subject of the other major constituent element of this story. There was a time when compilation tapes – lovingly curated collections of your favourite or indeed least favourite music on a C60 or C90 cassette, put together for the entertainment of a friend or lover or even enemy – were as ubiquitous and proliferate as unwanted and unshiftable five pence pieces. Some designed their own covers, some just wrote the title of the song and the name of the artist on the inlay card and invariably ran out of space three letters before the end of European Son (To Delmore Schwartz) by The Velvet Underground And Nico, but it was what was on the actual tapes that really mattered. As it all had to be done by hand and in real time – it’s staggering to think of how accustomed everyone once was to gauging how many minutes were left on a side of a cassette just by looking at how much tape was still on the left hand spool – it was an artform that demanded effort and dedication and in the process usually inadvertently revealed more about the individual frantically slamming tapes in and out of the double cassette deck than they perhaps would have accounted for. Depending on who the intended recipient was, you had to carefully consider what would make a good opening track, what would make a good closing track, what would go well in what order between them, not to mention how to avoid filling space with the dialogue bits from the Pulp Fiction soundtrack which Adam And Joe rightly identified as ‘an offence punishable by punching’. They were above all a heartfelt and genuine way of sharing your enthusiasm for music – you can find my thoughts on some of the less widely known personal favourites that I initially discovered through compilation tapes way back when here – which carried more weight than a casual Spotify link that doesn’t actually work when you click on it. Also, nobody ever bloody called them ‘Mixtapes’ back then and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
That said, there is no getting away from the fact that cassette tapes were a dreadful, hissy, noisy, damage-prone format that usually ended up discarded unspooled on the kerb when your Walkman decided it had had enough – there is reportedly a hipster-fuelled drive at the moment to ‘revive’ it as a format but frankly anyone who tries to insist that ‘aaaaaaaaahhhhh, but it sounds better, do you not see?’ needs to get tangled up in a Binatone Galaxy playback mechanism with immediate effect – and although cassettes fuelled such creative invention and inadvertent emotional honesty, it is also literally true that they were all we had to work with. By the time that it became possible and practical and indeed cost-effective to burn your own CDs, the very first stirrings of the streaming age were already buffering and there simply wasn’t the same imperative to share your tastes in this manner; also, for all their flaws, CDs simply did not have have the same oddly endearing aesthetic quality as cassettes. I still have a row of much-loved compilation tapes with titles like Breakfast At Timothy’s, It’s The Arts!, Music To Wash Girls By, The Marvellous Mechanical Anita-Organ and These Are The Breaks Of The Mysterons that remind me of people and places – I’ll leave it to you to try and work out what might have been on them, and indeed who might have done them and why – lined up on a shelf; meanwhile, I cannot remember one single thing about one single compilation CD that anyone ever did for me.
I can remember a fair amount about a compilation CD that I did for somebody else, though. Cutting a short story even shorter, not that long ago I met someone through one of those pesky ‘apps’ and we went on a couple of dates that actually seemed to somehow sidestep all of the frustrations of the exciting futuristic new world of modern dating and were, well, refreshingly uncomplicated and fun. However, although we turned out to have a great deal in common – not least both being fans of Roxy Music, David Bowie (I can’t say it’s been especially often that I’ve found myself sharing a house whiskey with someone who knew the lyrics to Did You Ever Have A Dream?) and The Box Of Delights – ultimately we just didn’t really ‘click’ and that was that. Sometimes, that’s just how these things play out, and while I can’t pretend that I wasn’t a little disappointed, hitting the crossbar may feel world-stoppingly heartbreaking when you’re a teenager but with a little more experience of the world behind you it really just leaves you thinking ‘oh well, back to the drawing board’. In any case, it went better than another certain date from around the same time, with someone who had Googled me beforehand to make sure that I wasn’t a serial killer, found about my links to Jo Cox by alighting on this piece here, and proceeded to antagonise me with relentless theorising on how it was all a plot by Remainers to derail Brexit and blahdi blahdi blah until I got up and left. I can only hope that she subsequently found herself a bit of a ‘lone wolf’ on the dating front.
Anyway, back to the markedly more likeable short-term coffee and cinema companion who had also Googled me and found “…loads of stuff about Monster Munch?”. As it felt as though there had been a pleasantly old-fashioned atmosphere to proceedings, and as this had also involved a fair few conversations about musical tastes, I decided it would probably be a nice idea to put together a suitably old-fashioned CD with some of my favourite music on it. Which I did in about three minutes flat, literally just dragging the first examples that came to mind over to the disc and rearranging them in something vaguely resembling a coherent order, which in itself emphasised just how much of a lost art this has become. I duly presented it to her that evening, and she pulled a slightly awkward face and replied “…I don’t have a CD player”. This was followed by a couple of seconds of silence, a blast of mutual laughter, and me putting the CD back in my jacket pocket, where it remained – unloved and unlistened to – until we all had reason to actually venture outdoors again.
When I did listen back to it, I found that I actually quite enjoyed my deceptively random selection of tracks, but that they also left me with something of a question. Although – more for convenience than anything – I had avoided the careful and deliberate track selection excesses of the tape-fiddling era, and had literally just scanned through some folders and thought ‘that, that and that’, there must still have been something informing these apparently impulsive choices. Whatever I had picked out even on this apparently random basis would not have been – at least consciously – an attempt to show off about the extent and eclectic extremes of my record collection. Nor would it have been a deliberate attempt to look ‘interesting’ – anyone who likes David Bowie and Roxy Music would scarcely be impressed by you putting Father Cannot Yell by Can on there and saying ‘aaaaaaaahhhhhh!’ – or to force any kind of a startled admission that, yes, B.A. Robertson is actually quite good after all. If I was ‘using’ this compilation in any way at all, I was using it to try and communicate something about myself to someone I liked and found exciting and interesting, whether I fully realised it or not. If I’d had any other intention at all, then I probably would have put Beagle 2 by Blur on there and if I had done, let’s just say Theme From Ghost Squad by Tony Hatch would likely not have been an inappropriate closing track.
So what was I trying to communicate? Was there some sort of subconscious rationale behind choosing these songs – if they even in fact all had lyrics – based on a past well versed in choosing songs for specific and deliberate reasons? Was the selection process informed by background impulses that previously would have necessitated hours of overthinking; or had technology, with no small irony, made it all that much easier to the extent that it all just literally slotted into place with nothing more than a satisfying listening experience in mind? Well, you may be ahead of me here, as there really is only one way to figure this out – and that’s to have another listen to a CD that was never actually heard by its intended audience in the first place…
The Beach Boys – Our Prayer
The wordless chorale that would have opened The Beach Boys’ legendary unreleased 1967 psychedelic masterpiece that never was, SMiLE; essentially the sound of a clean-cut fresh-faced high school religious studies class hitting the beach with a surfboard in one hand and a bible in the other.
This is almost certainly something that has been lost in the age of streaming playlists, but any halfway decent compilation should open with what is effectively an ‘overture’; a short and exciting musical build-up that sets the tone and crucially makes its point so quickly and decisively that there isn’t enough time to stop the tape or indeed the CD. Handily, many of these can be conveniently found at the start of – or the start of a side of – actual albums. Anything like Satan by Teenage Fanclub, The Magic Garden by 5th Dimension or Mike Mercury March by The Barry Gray Orchestra would fit the bill depending on the intended mood or theme. In theory you could even use Overture by Bernard Cribbins, although probably not if you intended to actually see your prospective paramour again.
Our Prayer – even though it wasn’t actually ‘from’ SMiLE at that point, hiding instead in plain sight towards the end of 1968’s 20/20 – was a suitably short track that I had previously used for this precise purpose on a regular basis. It features familiar voices in an unfamiliar context, is understated but still sounds like the onset of something epic, and gives a very good indication that dusty loungey and faintly psychedelic sounds emanating from some blissed out turquoise and white musical dimension hidden between two late sixties big band albums with pouting models on the cover in a charity shop are liable to follow. As, in my case, they generally are.
Given my ongoing obsession with the long and bizarre story of SMiLE – which you can read much more about here – it’s hardly a surprise to find Our Prayer here even on musical terms alone. Could there have been another deeper subconscious reason behind its presence that would have had Mike Love screaming down the studio walls demanding to know what these lyrics actually mean, though? Well, it’s something of a conversational win-win really. Either you find yourself in the company of a fellow SMiLE obsessive and start exchanging theories about where I’m In Great Shape was originally supposed to fit, or else you get asked about why The Beach Boys were being so weird and quasi-religious and you have a hopefully willing audience for your excitable babbling about how amazing Cabinessence is and the amusingly bleak irony of that blithely optimistic Capitol ad breezily boasting that with ‘a happy album cover, the really happy sounds inside and a happy in-store display piece’ they ‘can’t miss’ and are ‘sure to sell a million units’ when SMiLE hits record stores. Not that far removed from the misplaced confidence that usually comes hand in hand – or not – with online dating, in fact. Anyway, moving on…
Big Star – In The Street
Atypically punchy big night out-heralding pop rock – at least by early seventies standards – from a band way out of their time, who for a long time were the archive-scouring record collecting community’s best kept secret. Everyone had heard of them but few had actually heard them.
Avoiding pretty much every major and minor trend and fashion of the early seventies – well, apart from big sideburns – Big Star were formed by Alex Chilton, previously a major pop star with The Box Tops and still only twenty at the time, with some of his associates from pre-fame high school bands. Welding a love of the British Invasion to then-current radio-friendly guitar pop sounds, Big Star in some ways anticipated the New Wave bands that would emerge later in the decade, but although this distinctive musical and visual route initially seemed likely to lead them to megastardom, it ultimately… didn’t. A brief flurry of interest in the UK in particular soon faded and they were all but forgotten until the mid-eighties, when their reputation began to spread courtesy of, well, compilation tapes. I originally fell in love with Big Star via shaky cassette copies of their three elusive albums – and Chris Bell’s solo album – although more importantly someone else somewhere else also shoved some of their songs onto a couple of compilation tapes that were made for future members of a band called Teenage Fanclub, inspiring them to make an album called Bandwagonesque and in turn inspiring me to write a book about that and three other albums made by similarly compilation-educated outfits and released by Creation Records in the same month in 1991; you can find out much more about that here.
On account of subsequently being used as the perfectly-fitting theme to That ’70s Show – which I wrote about my love of and corresponding disdain for the infamous UK remake Days Like These here – In The Street is probably Big Star’s best known and most widely heard song. It’s also a rousing singalong promising good times ahead, as Jackie, Donna, Kelso and company made all too obvious in the show’s opening titles, so there is almost certainly some subconscious scene-setting at work. Although when it comes down to it In The Street really just goes really well next to Our Prayer, it probably in fact found its way there for much the same reason – either you will find yourself locked in a heated debate with someone who doesn’t quite share your opinion that India Song is actually really good and not rubbish like everyone else thinks, or alternatively someone you can introduce to the wonders of Watch The Sunrise, ST 100/6, I Am The Cosmos and the tantalising mystery of exactly what the narrator of Thirteen‘s date told her father about Paint It, Black. Probably best avoiding Holocaust, though.
Saint Etienne – Nothing Can Stop Us
Sample-tastic indiepop that sounds like it’s coming out of a cheap transistor radio relayed through swanky hi-fi speakers, with the dial jammed halfway between The Evening Session and a sixties pirate station. The sort of accidental musical genius that might even inspire somebody to write a book about it.
I am not especially inclined towards nominating anything as my favourite example of anything, as proper and genuine artistic enthusiasm is much more complicated and fluctuating and nuanced and impulsive than that realistically allows for. There are numerous albums that could legitimately qualify as my ‘favourite’ album – notably one particular outer space-bothering example from 1967 that is mysteriously unrepresented on this disc – but Foxbase Alpha by Saint Etienne is definitely one of the strongest and most persistent contenders for that non-existent honour. The rough-edged fusion of pop sounds ancient and modern in the name of making something new arrived at exactly the right time for me; it was not a million miles away from the sort of mish-mash of sounds I was then putting on compilation tapes for others, and started off my lengthy adoration of a band who always just seemed to like the same things as me, but it was that first album in particular that really spoke to me and it’s little wonder – as you can find out here – that I later ended up writing a book about it, which I make absolutely no apologies for mentioning again. There was definitely some genuine affection driving this choice, although it may also have been an unwitting route to talking about my published work with someone who, let’s face it, was more likely to understand why someone might want to write about four early nineties indie albums that they had almost certainly heard than how anyone could find anything to say about The King’s Singers doing witty counter-harmonic puns about Radio 3 changing frequencies. More significantly, I actually had tickets for an imminent live performance of the entire Tiger Bay album – my second favourite Saint Etienne album after Foxbase Alpha – and this would doubtless have been a convenient prelude for bringing that up. As for who I eventually went to that with… well, that’s a different story.
As much as I love Nothing Can Stop Us, though, there are several Saint Etienne songs even from around the time of Foxbase Alpha alone that I like even more, so while Only Love Can Break Your Heart would probably not have been sending out entirely the right message, it’s a little surprising that I didn’t go for, say, Spring instead. Perhaps all these choices really were just that random. After all, we’re three tracks in, and so far there has not been the slightest hint of anything deeper than a vague potential conversation starter and a general sense of what music might be conceivably running through my mind while standing around in train stations. Well, just you wait.
Nick Drake – At The Chime Of A City Clock
Everyone’s favourite big-shoe-favouring blazer-sporter with a smile on his face and a song in his heart gets a bit wistful about apparently walking round in circles in the middle of Trumpton; and that flippancy is a little more pointed than you might expect…
I am a huge admirer of the music of Nick Drake. I also have what you might term ‘opinions’ about him.
I first heard – and indeed first heard of – Nick Drake when The Thoughts Of Mary Jane was played on daytime Radio 1 in the late eighties and went on to eagerly collect every last scrap of music recorded during his all too brief career, even including that A Treasury compilation with less than fifty seconds’ worth of guitar voluntary previously shaved off the side of the already alarmingly brief Pink Moon album hidden away at the end of it. That said, I have not been on board with the ‘classic rock’-skewed licence to print money that Nick Drake’s back catalogue has become in more recent times, especially that box set called Frisps 10 Bag Family Pack or whatever it was that came with free inflatable replicas of his school reports but absolutely no previously unavailable music whatsoever. Although it is again difficult to express any kind of preference, I would probably say that the Nick Drake album that I’m the most fond of is the original rarities collection Time Of No Reply, not least because it includes a track that was later erased from history because of the sort of attitudes that we’re about to glower disdainfully at; but more about that – and indeed plenty more of those ‘opinions’ – here, or indeed here if you’d rather listen to me ranting about them.
My predominant and most vehement opinion about Nick Drake is that I detest the manner in which he has become a totem for prurient attempts to define yourself through exploiting someone else’s mental health problems, and I destest it with an intensity that it is actually quite difficult to put into words. It cheapens and devalues his actual music and is frankly deplorable behaviour. I had no sense of Nick Drake as a ‘doomed genius’ who had been ‘suicided by society’ when I first discovered his music, and I have no sense of it now. A long time ago, in a fanzine feature that probably does not bear revisiting in full now, I remarked on how this attitude displays “more of a love of yourself than a love of his music”, and I stand by this without qualification; the same is also true of Arthur Lee, Syd Barrett and, well, Brian Wilson. One of the finest books ever written about archive entertainment, Tony Hancock – Artiste by Roger Wilmut, opens with a declaration that “it is not the brief of this book to enquire into his private affairs, except in so far as they directly affected his work; mention has to be made of some of his difficulties, but the details have been aired often enough – what matters is the legacy of his work, much of the best of which still exists”, and it is a shame that more ‘historians’ and indeed just everyday ‘fans’ do not adhere to this adage.
With this in mind, would I consider anyone arguing that we should regard Nick Drake first and foremost as a deeply troubled young man who suffered on our behalf and that we should relentlessly search for ‘clues’ in his lyrics to be a whopping great red flag? Yes indeed I probably would, and maybe that’s part of the reason why it ended up on here. That said, I also really, really like At The Chime Of A City Clock and have particularly fond memories of playing it while cruising around in a friend’s car in the small hours as in those days there just wasn’t much else to do. It’s not like there were any dating apps you could be pointlessly swiping on or anything.
Tim Buckley – Buzzin’ Fly
A yodelling ode to languid summer romance, set to yet another apparent attempt to rewrite the Camberwick Green theme with a few notes changed so ‘Clown’ didn’t notice.
Tim Buckley is a hugely important artist to me, and not solely because he is one of the few public figures ever to share this name who wasn’t a total embarrassment. Although he had a good deal in common musically with Nick Drake, in all other respects Tim Buckley was the as good as the exact opposite on a personal level, breezing through his folk rock superstardom with tremendous enthusiasm, then deliberately making weird and alienating – and absolutely brilliant – free jazz albums when he got bored of that, then when the money ran out getting in on the ground floor of the rapidly expanding funk movement and steadily finding a whole new audience when his conspicuous fondness for ‘recreational’ drug use extended a little too far. There is nothing remotely tortured or haunted about his embrace of celebrity and well-intentioned hard-partying hedonism, and correspondingly nothing for self-obsessed types to latch on to and claim that only they properly ‘understand’ him, which is perhaps why you don’t really hear as much about him as you do far too many of his contemporaries. More importantly, however, Tim Buckley made a lot of tremendous music and took an impulsive and impressionistic approach to live performance that saw even his best known songs given a fresh interpretation every time, as the sheer number of brilliantly presented live albums winning five stars across the board will attest. Seriously, you might assume that if you’ve heard one version of Morning Glory then you’ve heard them all, but you absolutely have not. For example, there was the performance last thing at night on BBC2 in 1968, where he stripped it down into a meditation verging on a devotional mantra, losing himself in the dreamlike intensity as he literally faded away into the very last thing seen on television that day. I struggle to put how much that particular moment means to me into words, although I did have a go at it here.
Whether in the album version included here or the live rendition on Greetings From West Hollywood with the hastily abandoned whistling interlude, Buzzin’ Fly is simply an astonishingly good song, although it does also include the telling refrain “you’re the one I talk about, you’re the one I think about, everywhere I go”; this is, after all, what we’re all really looking for deep down, and I’m not sure that Venice Mating Call would have quite worked in this context. Also, as Tim Buckley never gets quite the same sort or level of attention as the tortured genii purely on account of the fact that he wasn’t one, there’s another handy impassioned rant in there too.
The Left Banke – Barterers And Their Wives
Harpsichord-toting sensitive garage psych souls who preferred Yesterday and Michelle to She Loves You tell ye olde capitalismme that it can verily go fucketh itself.
It isn’t really possible to talk about the long-lost world of exchanging compilation tapes – or at least my own experiences of it, though I suspect this particular one will be verging on universal – without at least touching on the ‘garage’ bands of the mid sixties. At the risk of 13th Floor Elevatorsplaining, the ‘British Invasion’ inspired millions of teenagers across the USA to form their own Beatles and Stones-‘inspired’ outfits overnight, and the massed combination of noisy cheap equipment, exposure to the first spirals of psychedelia and a refusal to allow anything as trivial as a distinct lack of musical proficiency to get in their way made for a spectacular noise reverberating around rasping distorted guitars, swirling organs and snarled lyrics about how ‘far out’ a painting was or how the singer was born to fail and that is that. From The Kingsmen’s FBI-enraging Louie Louie, through 96 Tears by ? And The Mysterians right the way through to Green Tambourine by The Lemon Pipers, a truly staggering number of ‘garage’ bands scored stray hits – some even making inroads into the UK charts – and enjoyed an ascent and descent so rapid that some believe it may well have been the inspiration for Andy Warhol’s celebrated if frequently misinterpreted musing about being world famous for fifteen minutes. If you want a note-perfect recreation of the alarmingly brief career of any of these outfits, then the absolutely brilliant That Thing You Do! pretty much nails it. Then the world decided that what it actually needed was ‘serious’ music like Van Morrison, Iron Butterfly and of course Apricot Brandy by Rhinoceros, and the ‘garage’ bands disappeared into one-hit wonder obscurity, awaiting rediscovery when Elektra Records decided to jump on the newly arrived reissue bandwagon with a double-album collecting some of these stray singles in 1972… but we should be keeping this brief really, shouldn’t we. Or at least as brief as Talk Talk by The Music Machine.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, The Left Banke – who did the original and best version of Walk Away Renee – were more Lady Jane than Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing In The Shadow?, crafting haunting baroque ballads built around woodwind and harpsichord fused with Beatle-inspired beat stylings. What makes all of this even more bizarre is how sharply it contrasts with the rampant disharmony within the band itself; frequently at odds over the intricate arrangements – and with more than one hit single written by different band members about the same woman – they at one point actually split into two separate factions, literally racing each other to get to radio promo appearances first. One of these Multiversal Left Bankes briefly included an aspirant young guitarist named Michael McKean, and the fact that he later went on to create Spinal Tap is presumably a total coincidence. Discovering ‘new’ garage tracks from compilation tapes and indeed from the many, many commercially available compilations called things like Wild Michigan Beat Goes Washington and often including thrillingly battered dubs from the lone surviving vinyl copy of an ignored single on a local record label was a thrilling pathway into what felt like a ‘lost’ world – albeit not one that that I ever wanted to inhabit in quite the same way as those blokes who dress like a very bad Austin Powers auditioning for The Byrds at the same time as believing themselves to be too ‘cool’ to need to audition and who get annoyed when anyone more conventional looking has heard of an obscure sixties record – but I discovered The Left Banke when I heard one of their songs playing in a local record shop and walked up to the counter, pointed up in the air and said “I’ll have THIS, please!”; you can find out more about that particular incident in Can’t Help Thinking About Me here, incidentally. That all said, highlighting garage psych so prominently does call into question how I omitted to include any Northern Soul, despite having an almost identical backstory of personal discovery and more or less equal levels of enthusiasm for it. Time was when no tape I did for anyone would have been complete without You’ve Got Your Mind On Other Things by Beverly Ann, and in fact I had actually threatened to show off my not remotely rusty Northern Soul dance moves in a previous conversation. Anyway.
The highlight amongst many highlights on The Left Banke’s hilariously bluntly titled debut album Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina, Barterers And Their Wives is a disconcertingly convincing attempt at medieval plainsong redirected via the River Mersey, and essentially the musical equivalent of Paul McCartney deciding he has missed his vocation as a town crier. Although it paints an extremely verbose image of the hustle and bustle of a medieval market and the avaricious traders “pitching on what they loan, after seeding people pleading, spending the heat alone”, their ire was very clearly focused on a post-war America where the poor had very little and the ethnic communities even less, and it is a powerful if measured frown of disdain that is still every bit as relevant now; indeed, it’s difficult to hear the lyric “crowding the city gate, shunning the master’s fate, low decisions, they envision, cleaning the pauper’s plate” without involuntarily thinking of Jacob Bastard Rees-Mogg. How deliciously ironic, then, that it is delivered in the sort of language that all those ‘Forsooth! by St. Cremberforce, Mistress Meaker, mayhap we have perchance chancified uponeth a triggered liberal, I’ll be bound and I should very much say so, let us encelebrate with a cool crisp soothing, delightful, estimable, nourishing, nutritious pint of soothing beer, and supped without a mask, by jingo – by The Ballad Of Snivelling And Grudge, handeth me my KP Wickers, hey nonny no!’ jerks use whenever anyone makes a vague suggestion that bandying about casually racist terminology is not a tremendously good idea.
Aside from the fact that I am enormously keen on The Left Banke in general and Barterers And Their Wives in particular, this is an obvious non-obvious choice for several reasons. It’s another excuse to enthuse on just this side of overenthusiasm about another musical and popular cultural obsession and no doubt recount my story about discovering The Left Banke in the first place, and the lyrics were likely to provoke conversation too; in case you were wondering, let us just say that it had been well established that there was no risk of a repeat of the political awkwardness of that other date, although we did disagree about the best Monster Munch flavour. Meanwhile, following on a tangent from that, one of my most longstanding soapbox provocations is a ferocious resistance to the increasingly accepted generalism that all sixties pop and rock songs were either about peace and love or disrespectful to women. I am the first to admit that a sizeable proportion of the lyrics do leave a lot to be desired even when considered in their original context, but even above and beyond, say, The Yardbirds’ early ecological pleas, The Small Faces’ rows with their noise-averse neighbours and mystical musings about being a baker before you are a baker or something, Pink Floyd’s obsession with space travel and scarecrows although sadly never at the same time, The Kinks’ acute social satires aimed primarily at men, Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick And Tich’s and The Honeycombs’ lurid paranoid tales of what are very clearly illicit gay encounters and Love’s equally paranoid obsession with the FBI tailing black public figures – not to mention the many angry and dissatisfied statements by black and female artists – this is pretty much Exhibit ‘A’. Apparently, David Bowie did a song about a gnome as well. People seem extremely keen to point that out to me for some reason.
A reluctant addendum to this as I cannot be bothered with dealing with rude people on Twitter – yes I am fully aware that other individuals claim that the ‘Warhol’ quote was actually theirs, but while he literally turned plagiarism into an art form, they will need a stronger account than ‘he didn’t say it – I did when there was nobody around to hear me!’ to convince me of the need to append long laborious explanations of Pop Art’s Perkin Warbeck and Lambert Simnel to any mention of it. Also if anyone was going to claim it was their idea, it was Lou Reed, and as far as is known, he didn’t.
France Gall – Chanson Indienne
Serge Gainsbourg protege buys a Hendrix jacket, ramps up the dry ice, rolls a joint and starts singing about hallucinating ‘tobacco’ colours in the middle of a Delhi market with sitars all over the shop. Not suspicious in any way at all, officer.
From early fascination with The Magic Roundabout, The Singing Ringing Tree and Barnaby, through discovering the disparate cinematic thrills of Prima Della Rivoluzione, Vampyros Lesbos and Suspiria, via misspent evenings watching Sat1 and Rai Uno and trying to work out what they were actually saying in all those lurid seventies movies that would never have come within a million miles of cinemas in the dull old UK (and if anyone can put a name to the Spanish – I think – thriller I talked about in this, please let me know), right up to coffee and cuisine preferences and my ongoing obsession with those big massive trays of Ferrero Prestige as I had a good long rant about here, it’s fair to say that my tastes always have been fairly European. Even if you somehow had managed to somehow miss all of the whopping great Festa di Santa Domenica illuminations spelling it out in giant letters nearly every time I put more than one word after another, my standpoint on certain depressingly still-current international events should be more than obvious if you spend more than about fifteen seconds looking around anything with my name attached to it. Indeed, hopefully that’s exactly what the Googling woman did, and if the theme from Belle And Sebastian subsequently kept her up at night then Plastic Bertrand and those Eurocrats in Brussels did win after all.
Needless to say I was always thrilled to find a stray Jacques Dutronc EP sitting around unloved in a charity shop – complete with the attendant unresolvable mystery of exactly how and why it had ended up there – as sixties French pop music was as exotic and mysterious yet infinitely explorable a musical world as both garage psych and Northern Soul, inhabiting an entire alternate reality made up of singers who were household names over there yet barely if at all known over here. What’s more, when the French pop scene went ‘psychedelic’, they did it on entirely their own terms too, with a sound roughly equivalent to what might have happened if someone had dipped the soundtrack from Barnaby into some mild hallucinogens and headed off in search of enlightenment in La Rochelle; which, if you’ve ready my feature about Barnaby here, you’ll know isn’t that unlikely a course of events after all. France Gall’s appropriately named album 1968 – barely two years after but an entire hallucinogenic vista away from her better known Eurovision-trouncing 1965 effort Poupee de Cire, Poupee de Son – is arguably the greatest example of this underacknowledged diversion, with its fusion of sitars, distorted guitars and big Eurovision-friendly orchestral arrangements underpinning hazy odes to Nefertiti, baby alligators and the joys of inviting boys to, erm, ‘snack’ on her, not to mention the celebrated cautionary acid trip tale Teenie Weenie Boppie. I was introduced to 1968 when someone put Chanson Indienne – pretty much equatable to one of those takeaway leaflets you get through the door offering a baffling combination of Indian and French cuisine set to music – on a compilation tape for me suspecting I would enjoy it; I really very much did indeed, as you can find out in significantly more detail here.
There were of course many other equally fascinating variants on the psychedelic pop sound across Europe, the majority of which show up Eric Clapton’s eighteen million hour directionless blues riff soloing ‘epics’ as the base laziness they honestly are – not least Sweden’s wintry Moomin-skewed take on the phenomenon, which brings to mind one particular conspicuous omission from this disc in the form of Doris’ Did You Give The World Some Love Today, Baby? – so why did sounds from across la Manche come to enjoy such disproportionate prominence on this compilation? Well, although it will not have been a conscious decision, there is something of an éléphant dans la chambre here. Due to a confluence of A-Level subject choices, having no option in the pre-Internet world but to consult French language books about French popular culture and really, really wanting to know what the lyrics of the theme song from Le Manège Enchanté meant (“Hello, I am Mr. Rusty”, essentially), I am reasonably fluent in French and not averse to showing off about this, usually through translating non-subtitled films and the bilingual bits of Ionesco plays whether anyone actually asks me to or not. So let’s face it, including this here was practically begging to be asked what the lyrics meant. En attendant, si vous êtes l’un de ces imbéciles qui me suivent à cause de «vieux trucs» (ou même cette femme googler) et que vous vous fâchez quand je donne la moindre indication que j’étais peut-être en faveur de rester dans l’UE – n’hésitez pas à commencer à me crier dessus twitter qu’il aurait dû y avoir plus de ROCK CLASSIQUE COMME DES ROLLING STONES VOTRE GRAND-MÈRE A AIMÉ C’ÉTAIT ASSEZ BIEN POUR ELLE POURQUOI CE N’EST PAS ASSEZ BIEN POUR VOUS et je me sens aussi libre de vous ignorer. Hourra! Meanwhile, moving very rapidly on for so many reasons…
Françoise Hardy – Les Temps Des Souvenirs
Moody sha-la-la-fuelled existential rumination on how easy it is to get tongue-tied on the phone and how it’s much better to conduct a romance in person. A lost world in more ways than one.
Barring Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin’s literally organ-driven ruminations on how l’amour physique est sans issue – of which more in a moment – and that thing from Un Homme Et Une Femme that later became the Panorama theme, Françoise Hardy was unquestionably the best known sixties French pop star in the UK. Her willingness to slog around looking moody and mysterious on every single last radio and television pop show, tendency towards working with everyone from Jimmy Page to Nick Drake, unerring ability to catch photographers’ attention at big showbiz events by putting a great deal of effort into looking effortless, and above all her enthusiasm for re-recording her songs in English ensured she enjoyed a higher profile even than many halfway successful homegrown popular beat combos, but her original French records actually enjoyed a surprising degree of leverage into the public consciousness too, to the extent that they were later exceptionally easy to find in charity shops. This is how and why I came to own a truly terrifying amount of Francoise Hardy records, including that one where she tells a mouse to wipe its feet before it comes in or something, and also how and why I had actually heard Les Temps Des Souvenirs before someone put the translated version Just Call And I’ll Be There on a compilation tape for me.
Les Temps Des Souvenirs, which I was once thrilled to hear looped in the ridiculously early hours of the morning in the very first game-changing edition of Chris Morris’ late night Radio 1 ambient music show with nightmare comedy interludes Blue Jam (and you can read more about the remarkable effect that particular hour of radio had on me at the exact precise moment that it was needed here), has long been a huge personal favourite, and a record that I try to crowbar into anything anywhere at the slightest possible hint of an excuse, but all the same I cannot think of any other more fundamental reason why I might have included it here. Bon sang moi non.
Another reluctant addendum – I am of course well aware that the soundtrack item from Un Homme Et Une Femme that subsequently became the theme from Panorama is the instrumental version of Aujourd’hiu, C’est Toi. It’s just that it’s sometimes fun to put jokes in things. Also I know why Boss Cat was called Boss Cat. Thanks.
Serge Gainsbourg And Brigitte Bardot – Bonnie Et Clyde
Ominous duet of doomed love between Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway, as later played at chucking out time at every last ‘Loungecore’ club night, and which Chris Morris only played the four times on Blue Jam.
In a world of ‘Classic Movies’ reduced to on-demand content, it’s easy to lose sight of the impact that something like 1967’s Bonnie And Clyde had on its original release. In fairness this is hardly surprising when you consider that it has almost been completely forgotten that it was initially released as Bonnie And Clyde… Were Killers!, then hastily retitled when the studio realised they had an even bigger hit than expected on their hands and wanted to avoid deterring casual viewers, but even so, having two acclaimed actors – who won Oscar nominations for their performances – in a witty and quaintly stylised heavyweight true life costume drama that still littered the screen with bodies and bullets in slow motion was a deliberate and effective shock to the system. It caused headaches for the censors on both sides of the Atlantic, though not for audiences who flocked to see it, and the extent of its impact can be measured by three particular direct influences that it had on mainstream popular culture. Georgie Fame was so dazzled by what he had seen that his attempts to relate the plot rapidly evolved into a song that went on to top the UK singles chart and which many now mistakenly assume was actually from the movie; he later of course wrote a song under similar circumstances about Morph (which definitely did exist and you can actually hear it here) which did not quite enjoy a similar impact. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore rapidly turned out a razor-sharp parody with brilliantly observed visuals recasting Bonnie and Clyde as two London pensioners on the rampage, which stands as one of the few genuine highlights in their largely off-target ‘Gone To ITV’ series Goodbye Again. Then there’s this remarkable duet.
Serge Gainsbourg is primarily if not only known over here for Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus, a steamy chart-topping duet with Jane Birkin that was, in eighties tabloid speak, ‘banned’ by ‘The Pope’, and for somewhat overenthusiastically announcing his intentions towards Whitney Houston on a chat show, seemingly without any expectation or even desire that it would be reciprocated but as if it simply needed stating as casually as mentioning that the sky is blue. Meanwhile, most people probably aren’t even aware that Brigitte Bardot made any records at all. Across the channel, of course, both were at the forefront of the arts scene and frequently made increasingly off-kilter musical collaborations, including an earlier even steamier version of Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus that nobody dared release, and this dramatic psychedelic in-character dialogue between the lovey-dovey mobsters, which they duly performed on television dressed as Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. Thanks to the bizarre ‘Loungecore’ offshoot from Britpop – or at least what became ‘Britpop’, which initially had a slightly wider focus of interest than just some dull men with dull haircuts trying to sound like a bad Freddie And The Dreamers and then falling over (which you can find me frowning further about here) – sixties French pop music started to find a wider audience over here in the mid-nineties; it was quite common to hear Bonnie And Clyde at chucking out time in Lounge-inspired club nights for a while, and thanks to a protracted row about a certain sketch reacting to a certain world-rocking event , it ended up being heard in Blue Jam a grand total of four times. You can find the story behind this remarkable instance of modern censorship here.
You will probably hardly exactly be startled into silence to learn that I am a huge fan both of Serge Gainsbourg and of Brigitte Bardot in particular – I would go as far as to say that the likes of Harley Davidson, Une Histoire de Plage, Contact and Le Diable est Anglais are amongst the best records of the the sixties that the least people have heard, although I possibly wouldn’t go that far about Oh, Qu’il est Vilain! – so it’s equally hardly a surprise that Bonnie And Clyde should have found its way onto here. Did I mention speaking French though? Not sure if you knew that.
Jake Thackray – The Castleford Ladies’ Magic Circle
BBC Local News-friendly folk club drollery about respectable suburban housewives practicing devilish jiggery-poke and rub-a-dub-dub with their Woolworths broomsticks and tabby cats.
It’s probably worth being upfront and admitting that I’m really not sure what this is doing here. I love Jake Thackray even if certain of his songs do veer into language and subject matter that would make even the most forgiving listener wince now – you can find a more detailed and nuanced appreciation of his work here, which I would especially recommend having a look at if you’re planning to get huffy and defensive about that previous statement – and, having spent so long scouring charity shops in vain for the Country Boy single and Live Performance, later laughed for about an hour on discovering that his music had more recently been ‘discovered’ by hipsters. Something tells me that they may not necessarily be in quite so much of a hurry to declare cultural ownership of Songs From The Frost Report Vol. 2 by Julie Felix.
The Castleford Ladies’ Magic Circle is certainly a superlative example of Jake Thackray’s highly individual art, with exceptionally clever wordplay, a naggingly catchy hook and amusing broad brushes of social satire with a genuinely unsettling air and even a vague hint of menace, but in the middle of a compilation with a purpose – as we’re assuming it did have one, even if subconsciously – it doesn’t really represent anything at all. What conversation could you possibly get going on the back of this? There is of course the faint possibility that your cinemagoing companion is in fact a practicing Wiccan, albeit one with a Woolworths broomstick and a tabby cat, but that would almost certainly necessitate them returning a very long explanation of how he’d got it all wrong and there’s actually very little in the way of wittering twittering petty poltergeists involved. I may have a thing about witches – as hinted at in a look at their role in sixties popular culture here and which a Looks Unfamiliar guest nearly got me to elaborate on here – but, frankly, mind your own. Haven’t you got a cup of cocoa and the epilogue to be getting on with?
Miles Davis – Freddie Freeloader
A modal impressionistic sound portrait of some shady ‘local character’ ne’er-do-well trying to bunk his way into one of the Miles Davis Sextet’s gigs with a woman on each arm and a winning card up his sleeve. Probably not even hidden that cautiously either.
Over half a century later, Miles Davis’ pivotal experiment with communicating moods through chord changes Kind Of Blue still stands tall and sounds fresh and enjoys pride of place in the Library of Congress, which is frankly more of a mark than any screeching haystack crying about ‘antifa’ in his gold lift will ever make on history. It is, as Stewart Lee once pointed out, something that we could hold up as an entire collective civilisation and proclaim “we achieved this“. From the opening moments of the album, where the band appear to be testing the water and momentarily catching their musical breath before launching into So What?, Kind Of Blue is one long collection of impulsive and expressionistic moments that genuinely do take the listener aback if they’re not too busy just allowing themselves to become totally immersed in it, not least the one towards the end of Freddie Freeloader where the main melody saunters back in as if – much like the title character – it has just been leaning on the bar waiting for the ideal moment to make its entrance. Thanks to the severely economical approach to studio time back in 1959, it’s also one of few landmark albums that nobody has been able to bore everyone else to tears with via the relentless addition of endless and pointless ‘bonus tracks’, with only a lone alternate – and appreciably different in temperament if not melody – take of Flamenco Sketches that is sufficiently worthwhile for the album to arguably now not feel complete without it. Meanwhile, Kind Of Blue also apparently comes in very handy for slapping over washed-out black and white archive footage of the West End and/or Broadway in the bit where the narrator says ‘…but change was in the air’ in any given BBC Four documentary.
Quite what Freddie Freeloader is doing here, though, is something more of a mystery. It doesn’t really fit thematically, sequentially or musically even with the rest of the already haphazardly flung-together collection, and, well, as it transpired change was most definitely not in the air. Sandwiched between wry folk about suburban witches and wistful folk about bored princesses, it simply could not sound more out of place. On face value, this could easily be interpreted as a conspicuous incidence of that dreaded showing off about arch and sophisticated musical tastes – evidently not that easy to subconsciously avoid after all – but there’s a little more to it than that.
Without wanting to give too much away – well, any more than is being inadvertently revealed by every single track on this CD, at any rate – Kind Of Blue, along with A Love Supreme by John Coltrane and Time Out by The Dave Brubeck Quartet (which you can read more about my love of here), is an album that I have a tendency to hammer whenever things aren’t necessarily going too brilliantly. There is something about the thought of that astonishing and culturally pivotal music being recorded across one or two sessions in a studio you wouldn’t use to record a WhatsApp voice note in these days that has a calming, reassuring and inspirational effect – and of course they’re tremendous albums as well, which isn’t exactly a hindrance – and while it might be wildly hilarious to denounce anyone with an interest in vintage jazz as a ‘bad danger’ for clicks and retweets, it is always possible that some listeners might actually connect with the creative and cultural legacy of the artform at that particular moment in time for pretty much the exact opposite reasons. Alternatively you could just post that ‘Niiiiice’ GIF as you’re almost certainly the first person to ever think of doing that in the entire history of anything ever.
For a number of relatively undramatic reasons that are, frankly, none of your fucking business, matters were not spectacularly upbeat around this time; which – let’s be brutal about it – is more than likely a substantial contributory factor towards anything that doesn’t work out not working out. As much as we might all like to think that we’re exceptionally skilled at hiding our moods and mindsets, the blunt reality is that they will still inform and influence your demeanour and disposition, to the extent that – despite appearances – you may as well have a giant flashing neon sign above your head announcing to the world that you’re in ‘a place’. So while Freddie Freeloader may evidently have been dragged across to the playlist on an entirely random whim, it is also true to say that it will have been on my mind as I had been listening to it a lot, and that it may well have found its way onto here more as a nudge to myself than a cry for help, but honestly, there is probably a lot to unpack in this choice for someone who doesn’t even want to open the parcel to begin with. Feel free to wilfully misinterpret this as supporting evidence for being a ‘bad danger’ though. Niiiiiiiiiice.
John Faulkner And Sandra Kerr – The Princess Suite
Gabriel The Toad and Madeline The Rag Doll turn the mice’s flight of Mouse Organ-fuelled fancy about boring regal suitors turning into dragonflies into a hypnotic spell of plainsong, much to Professor Yaffle’s more rational chagrin.
Well, if I was expecting someone to wake up and look at this thing that I bring – well, listen to, and probably actually literally wake up after I’d finished reciting entire episodes of The Flashing Blade in the original French – then it’s only right that Bagpuss should find his way onto here. There probably won’t be very many people reading this who are unaware of my enthusiasm for the stop-motion animated children’s shows made by Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin – the BBC didn’t introduce me as ‘Clangers Expert’ for nothing – and I have always felt a special affection towards Bagpuss in particular. Partly on account of the fact that it is one of the very first television programmes that I can actually remember watching; partly a fascination with the manner in which, despite later becoming a lazy touchstone for ‘OMG remember x and y although I have probably got them the wrong way around?’ nostalgic tedium, there genuinely was a brief period when Bagpuss was unavailable and unloved and to all intents and purposes forgotten; and partly the incredible musical contributions of John Faulkner and Sandra Kerr in character as Gabriel and Madeleine, which were not available anywhere outside the Bagpuss episodes themselves for a tantalisingly ridiculous amount of time. In fact I wrote about all of the above, and why I love the Frog Princess episode – which this song comes from – over and above all of the others, here.
Even aside from my fondness for The Princess Suite – which, it has to be said, isn’t that distant either musically or even thematically from Barterers And Their Wives – it’s not particularly difficult to see why this ended up finding its way onto this most unlistened to of compilations. Bagpuss is a reliable and straightforward route into a conversation about early childhood memories with anyone inside a particular age bracket, and in my particular case is also a good way of giving context to what can sometimes doubtless appear a baffling set of interests and creative pursuits; in fact, only the other day, someone on one of those bloody apps responded to an explanation of what I do with “this is a hobby rather than a profession methinks”, winning herself a one-way ticket to Unmatchville. I’m sure there are some Barterers out there who would appreciate the sentiment, though. Meanwhile, someone else with slightly greater capacity for actually using Google once swiped right on me specifically because she had read that feature on Bagpuss. Now that’s a long story, and one that there almost certainly isn’t a roll of music for The Mouse-Organ about.
David Bowie – The London Boys
Britpop-haired Ziggy-in-waiting sketches out the cautionary tale of a drug-guzzling Mod who followed the crowd only to find that “you’ve got what you wanted, but you’re on your own”. The Gnome didn’t exactly have much to laugh about here.
It will hardly come as much of a surprise – especially if you have seen my thoughts on that unfairly maligned cinematic masterpiece Absolute Beginners here – to learn that I have many, many opinions about David Bowie. This of course is as good an opportunity as any to launch into a lengthy diatribe about the main overriding opinion of all of these – how much I loathe and detest and actually feel a bit sorry for anyone who unquestioningly believes in the lazy off-the-peg argument-closer myth that David Bowie was ‘a fascist’. If you actually look into this beyond the tedious and tiresome perceived need to have ‘a stance’ on everything from the past these days, it’s genuinely quite ridiculous that an artist whose first album included warnings against those who claim to have all the ‘answers’ – an obsession that persisted on a disconcertingly regular basis right up to If You Can See Me in 2013 – statements of acceptance for the freaks and outsiders and even in a clumsy fashion alternative sexualities, and indeed sympathy for the drug-guzzling Mod who followed the crowd only to find “you’ve got what you wanted, but you’re on your own”, who dedicated a live performance of I’m Afraid Of Americans to ‘our visitor this week’ when George W. Bush was in town, who literally pleaded with warring religions to try Loving The Alien, who whatever you may think of them (and I think very highly of them indeed, as you can find out here) formed a band called Tin Machine specifically to allow him to shout back at the fuckheads, the apathetics who can’t tell a book from Countdown, the clean tricks shopping for girls and the right-wing dicks washing their heads in the toilet bowl when his existing Live Aid-level audience would have recoiled in horror at him saying a naughty word instead of doing that nice Let’s Dance, and on more than one occasion unequivocally denounced far-right politics as “an answer to an idiot’s dream” has come to be defined by one admittedly idiotic drug-addled arrogance-fuelled in-character outburst which is usually presented in conveniently truncated form and is less strong than what the average shrieking car alarm belches out on Twitter unchallenged nowadays anyway. I did actually write something about this once, in the context of Nigel Farage and Donald Trump attempting to appropriate Bowie’s music – Boris Johnson of course probably actually does think he was called Derek Bowie and would respond to any correction of this with a dimwitted boggle-eyed grin and a sentence that included approximately fifteen thousand syllables but no actual definable words whatsoever – but it was a little too incendiary to put online, of if you will I could not be bothered with boneheaded replies from planks who hadn’t actually read it, so it ended up in Can’t Help Thinking About Me instead, Which is here, if you’re interested.
Speaking of judging something entirely on the basis of one contentious detail, my other major line of Bowie debate is a legendarily forceful rejection of the assumption that because he once did a song called The Laughing Gnome, which is actually both funnier and more musically inventive than it is really ever given credit for anyway, that his entire pre-fame output – which has somehow stealthily expanded to now incorporate The Man Who Sold The World, a situation which I had plenty more to say about on the excellent Bowie podcast Album To Album here – should be disregarded without further comment. Needless to say, I have very strident thoughts on this matter. All that said, I’m really not entirely sure what I was driving at by putting The London Boys on here. It may be a song I adore, and it may well be objectively better than the entire contents of certain more widely accepted Bowie albums, but anyone who knew the lyrics to Did You Ever Have A Dream? would almost certainly be familiar with it and probably even know their Conversation Piece from their Can’t Help Thinking About Me. In fact there had already been a few exchanges of ‘opinion’ about the less well regarded corners of his discography. So why did I reach straight for the Mod-styled Sergeant Pepper-jacketed Deram-era David? Who ‘gnome’s!
Pizzicato 5 – Peace Music
Cross-dressing retro-futurists wax lyrical about the power of love to turn fairground rides in the opposite direction, to the accompaniment of a sixties-inspired brass section and one of those things that went ‘WHEEE’ when The Goodies fell over.
If one act exemplifies the artistic – if not cultural or commercial, nor indeed whatever you would call just having straight up uncomplicated fun with a decent soundtrack after a miserable decade or so; an aspect that appears to be lost of on any of the long-faced pretentious bores frantically borrowing Chris Morris-style compound insults for their latest diatribe blaming everyone who bought an Elastica single for Brexit – wrong turning that Britpop took before it had even been labelled ‘Britpop’, it was – bizarrely – Japanese sixties-influenced techno-popsters Pizzicato 5. Having been causing a sensation in their homeland for some time, and already established as a favourite on John Peel’s Radio 1 show, Pizzicato 5 were given a huge UK-wide launch early in 1994. The timing seemed to be right; whatever was actually happening, it did initially seem to be opening minds to more exotic strains of pop music both archive and modern, and their musical kindred spirits Saint Etienne were nudging ever closer to the top ten. Further Radio 1 support came from Kevin Greening, The Evening Session, Mark Radcliffe and Lee And Herring, who treated listeners to their own unique interpretation of This Year’s Girl. Unfortunately, around the same time as Pizzicato 5 made a splash with an alarmingly energetic performance of Twiggy Twiggy on The Word, another band made an even bigger splash on the same show with a song about a dog flying some Alka Seltzer or something and that was that. The media still attempted to push Pizzicato 5 at every available opportunity – in fact the tremendous Mon Amour Tokyo was playlisted by Radio 1 just as the radio was starting to trepidatiously return to normality following the muted cultural fog that followed a certain event in the late summer of 1997 (a genuinely peculiar time that I had a good deal to say about here) – but it was never quite the same and they gradually slipped out of sight. Those who fell in love with them continued to love them, though, so the urge to share this sweet ode to staring up at the stars together was always going to be a strong one. Itsu made mo ‘love and peace’.
Given the wealth of previous evidence in this collection, you may well be assuming that I speak Japanese as well as French. I have to admit that I don’t, other than occasionally translating statements that Brock from the Hanna-Barbera Godzilla cartoon is official Godzilla ‘canon’, but that’s another matter entirely. Presumably Peace Music found its way onto here simply as it is a nicely musically fitting ‘we’re almost finished’ song with a mild romantic sentiment, although how anyone would have been supposed to pick up on that without being provided with a full translation is another question. Some other meanings were clearly intended to be picked up on, though…
Astrud Gilberto – Beginnings
The girl who got all hot and sweaty over The Girl From Ipanema turns her wildly funky attention to a certain somebody else who gives her a cover of chills all over her boh-wa-di-ha-ooh-wa-da-dee-hee. Cold showers are in order all round, frankly.
Beginnings, as you’ll already know if you’ve read my lengthy and admittedly somewhat excitable extended enthusing over it in Can’t Help Thinking About Me (which can be found here if you haven’t), originally appeared on Astrud Gilberto’s live-in-the-studio album September 17, 1969. Judging from the presence of several tracks so charged up with what the young people might term ‘horny on main’ that you can practically see the steam rising from the grooves – including a sultry reading of Light My Fire and the hardly exactly lyrically punch-pulling Let’s Have The Morning After (Instead Of The Night Before) – it’s clear that the recently single Bossanova legend may have had something on her mind, but Beginnings is way off the scale. Across eight aggressively yearning and aggressively funky minutes, it sketches out one of the most honest, seductive and if you will naked expressions of full-tilt fired-up female sexuality ever set to music, and you can only honestly conclude that whoever she went back to after that recording session – it could even have been The Girl From Ipanema for all we know – was one lucky fucker indeed. Especially as it was ‘only the beginning’ of what she planned to do to them.
From the moment I first discovered September 17, 1969 in a hazardously mouldy box in a charity shop – and you can read more about that particular discovery here – Beginnings has been, give or take the Jackson Sisters shouting in harmony at a boy who is apparently both a miracle and/or dynamite and Tim Buckley yodelling at some woman to talk a walk with him down on the borderline, the last word in all things hot under the collar made music. So I may well have been kidding myself that was an entirely random choice of something that would work well as a climactic – stop that – closing track, but I don’t think you would really need to call in a crack team of psychologists to work out what I might have been subconsciously driving at here. Ahem.
Anyway, before we all pass out with the excitement of Astrud’s thousand different feelings and her attempts to try to decide which one to put into words, we should probably move on to something infinitely more clean-cut and improving…
Roger Limb – The Box Of Delights (Closing Theme)
The Radiophonically-treated extract from Victor Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony as originally performed by the Pro Arte Orchestra that saw out Kay Harker’s battle of posset-fuelled wits with Foxy-Faced Charles and Chubby Joe.
As you will be all too aware if you have read Ghosts, Monsters And Legends (And Tennis Prodigies) here, I hold the annual supernaturally themed BBC children’s serials broadcast in the run-up to Christmas in the seventies and eighties – and The Box Of Delights in particular – in very high regard indeed. Although I do admittedly think that there is an extent to which The Box Of Delights may be moderately overrated – at least in terms of the manner in which it is continually referenced where none of its direct contemporaries including those from the same production team ever are – it remains a series that has fascinated me ever since the original broadcast. In fact, you can hear more about what it was like to watch that initial broadcast, and the years that followed where it was at least for a time a half-remembered series at best rather than the ‘groundbreaking’ ‘classic’ it has since come to be universally accepted as, in Looks Unfamiliar here. A large part of the reason behind this enduring obsession was the soundtrack music, and the associated effort involved in tracking down what little was actually freely available of Roger Limb’s skilful blend of traditional seasonal music and modern cutting edge Radiophonics. A brilliant soundtrack album is happily now available – you can find out more about that here – and it’s from there, rather than a noisy cassette dub made from an off-air video copy, that the jubilant and triumphant closing titles version of the main theme was taken.
There’s really not very much to speculate on here, as this was an entirely deliberate and intentional choice, put there as a surprise and to elicit a smile. And, well, that’s pretty much that.
With the possible and presumable exception of The London Boys and The Box Of Delights (Closing Theme) respectively, I’ve no idea what my date for the evening – and it was quite an evening, eventually stretching to over ten hours; that’s longer than a series of Iron Fist, and frankly the fact that someone didn’t get bored of me probably going on about Iron Fist for the entire time too is in itself something of a miracle – made of any of the musical selections I’d picked out on a possibly not so random basis after all. The not owning a CD player was obviously something of a barrier to that. What is perhaps most surprising about this CD now, however, is who isn’t on it. If I was trying – whether subconsciously or intentionally – to get across some semblance of a sense of who I am, then a disconcerting number of my favourite artists are missing, and there would more than likely have been room for them on the disc too. While it isn’t too difficult to understand why The Visitations by White Noise or After Rapidly Circling The Plaza by AMM might not have made the cut, where were – amongst others – Syd Barrett, Love, Sandy Denny, Mike Westbrook, 5th Dimension, The Free Design and Ride? Probably on some alternate universe version of the CD featuring Leave Them All Behind, Long Gone, The Girls’ Song, Signed D.C., Love Song No. 3, Blackwaterslide and Make The Madness Stop, which, let’s face it, may not exactly have been sending out the right message.
So, yes, it may be increasingly difficult to believe in modern love, but in the words of David Bowie at a time when he was in a similarly exasperated frame of mind over the vacuum created by the arrival of freedom and the possibilities it seems to offer, up the hill backwards. We’ll be alright. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to work out how to fit Sorry Mr. Green by The Walham Green East Wapping Carpet Cleaning Rodent And Boggit Extermination Association onto this inlay card…
Buy A Book!
If you enjoyed this, then you’ll definitely enjoy Can’t Help Thinking About Me, a collection of columns and features with a personal twist. Can’t Help Thinking About Me is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here.
Alternately, if you’re just feeling generous, you can buy me a coffee here. You don’t even have to swipe right on me first.
Shine Like Stars is about someone I once did many, many compilation tapes for, and vice versa; you can find it here. Alternatively, you can find plenty of similar musings to the above in my responses to Richard Herring’s Emergency Questions here and Christmas Emergency Questions here.
Ant-Man And The Wasp may be a screwball crime caper movie tying in to a larger story about some less than benevolent intergalactic plans involving the Infinity Stones, but it’s also an unexpectedly profound comment on modern dating; and I had plenty to say about it on It’s Good, Except It Sucks here.
© Tim Worthington.
Please don’t copy this only with more italics and exclamation marks.