Armed with a new set of earphones to replaces the old ones that were becoming very tatty, I switched on the iPod on the train this morning to be greeted by Cliff singing ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’, one of only two songs by this most pious of rock singers, the other of course being ‘Move It’, his first ever record and also his best. ‘We Don’t Talk’ is the only other Cliff song I can honestly say I like, a terrific production that rattles seamlessly along. Cliff Richard seems to exist in his own world that is separate from the regular musical industry. He never really registered with us on Melody Maker though I do seem to recall speaking to him on the phone in early 1973 when his song ‘Power To All Our Friends’ was a Eurovision entry and number four hit. All I can remember is that he spoke very quickly indeed which made it hard to write down what he was saying, my shorthand having deteriorated alarmingly since the days of reporting the transgressions of petty criminals and careless drivers at Skipton Magistrates Court. I met Cliff once, very briefly, at a press reception in the US around the time that ‘Devil Woman’ was released there, on Elton John’s Rocket Records as I recall. It was a top ten hit there but then someone pointed out to Cliff that its sentiments were less than Christian, so he declined to promote it. Cliff never had much of an impact in the US.
Cliff is followed by ‘Key To the Highway’ by Derek & The Dominos, a sturdy 12-bar rocking blues, quite traditional in that Eric lays down a fairly quiet solo then steps up the aggression before rushing back with the final verse and a tough solo to close, with plenty of emphasis on the passing chord change. Very much an on-the-move song, as is the next one, Joe Strummer’s ‘Road To Rock’n’Roll’, a track donated to me by Tony Fletcher from a CD he compiled that he called The Best Ride Of Our Lives. This was a song Joe recorded with the Mescaleros, the group he formed in the late nineties, long after The Clash had disbanded, and it’s great, lovely rolling acoustic guitars over a fine melody and lyrics about the trials and tribulations of the rock life.
“Shall we roll it Jimmy?” says engineer Eddie Kramer before Page and John Paul duet on guitar and mandolin respectively, soon to be joined by Robert on vocals and Bonzo on a fat pudding of a bass drum, his beat very metronomic. I always enjoy the more retrained side of Led Zep, and this acoustic blues, derivative as it is, is very welcome; from Physical Graffiti.
Next up is R.E.M. with ‘Staring Down The Barrel Of The Middle Distance’, the opening song from the live album they recorded at the Dublin Olympia in 2007. They were debuting this previously unreleased song here but it doesn’t sound like it. Though nearing the end of their time, R.E.M. show no signs of flagging at what Stipe tells us is a public rehearsal. One of the joys of R.E.M. was Mick Mills back-up vocals and when he joins Stipe on the choruses here, this short song steps up a gear and sounds great.
Jack Bruce’s high-pitched, rather ethereal vocals introduce ‘We’re Going Wrong’ by Cream, a song I haven’t heard since I saw the reunited group at the Royal Albert Hall in 2005. Ginger Backer’s insistent drums sound like he’s playing with mallets on a tom-tom and Eric guitar sound is softer, probably a Gibson, what he called his ‘woman tone’. The lyrics imply the end of the affair, but there’s not much to them, with verses both repeated and slight.
We’re rattling through Clapton Junction now and it’s the Arctic Monkeys, ‘Mad Sounds’ from their AM album, taken at around the same pace as the Cream song I’ve just heard but that’s the only similarity as the difference in clarity between a track recorded in 2013 and one recorded in 1967 is quite remarkable. Alex Turner’s enunciation on this mid-paced ballad holds the song and the interest.
After Led Zep’s homage comes the real thing: John Lee Hooker singing ‘Boogie Chillin’’, fantastic rhythm guitar, recorded in 1948 but it could have been yesterday. The best song of the morning so far, but as Waterloo rushes up Steely Dan arrive with ‘Doctor Wu’ which isn’t bad either. “Four Minutes of aural paradise,” is how SD expert Brian Sweet describes this song in his SD music guide that Omnibus published and I have to agree with him.
All in all, a very good morning’s music on the 8.56 from Guildford.