Setting aside for a moment the two most recent albums added to the iPod, Currents by Tame Impala and a Bobby Fuller Four compilation, about which I will write something soon, I hit shuffle again this morning and up came another very varied selection.
The opener was David Bowie singing Paul Simon’s ‘America’, live from the the Concert For New York City, recorded on October 20, 2001, at Madison Square Garden to benefit the Robin Hood Relief Fund after the events of 9/11. As David Buckley put it in his recent book about Bowie’s music, “Bowie opened the concert brilliantly with the brave choice of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’, singing the song solo, sat cross-legged centre stage, accompanying himself on the Suzuki Omnichord. It is one of Bowie’s finest-ever cover versions and the fact that it is not available on a legal CD or as a download is a great shame. Then Bowie follows with an emotional version of ‘Heroes’.” David (Buckley) sent me a link to the two songs earlier this year, which I downloaded, and on ‘America’ Bowie sounds profoundly English, carefully enunciating the words, almost re-enacting the Anthony Newley vocalisms of his early albums, a touch of south London in his accent and quite charming. At the close he tells his audience, made up largely of NYC firemen, that it is an ‘absolute privilege’ to play for his fellow New Yorkers, particularly those men from his local ladder, as precinct fire stations are called in the Big Apple. ‘Heroes’ is fab too, by the way.
In complete contrast ‘Auntie Lulu’ by Junior Byles, from an album called Beat Down Babylon, sounds like a children’s song set to a reggae tempo, its highlight the drumming. In fact the drumming was so good, simply wild in parts, that I was minded to key the name of the track into Google and see what came up. Sure enough I was directed to the Roots Archive Message Board and found this post from a reggae fan who calls himself Flashman: “Just listened to ‘Auntie Lulu’ by Jr. Byles (on the Trojan comp When Will Better Come) and was blown away by the drumming. Not only are there a couple totally over the top fills but the drummer is going crazy on the kick drum almost the whole time. I'd love to know who drums on this track so I can know who I'm supposed to worship.” So Flashman and I think alike. And the next post revealed the answer: Lloyd ‘Tin Legs’ Adams. Thanks Tin Legs and this website – http://www.roots-archives.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=82879 – for the info.
Next is ‘Alfie’ by Lily Allen, written about her brother wasting away his life smoking dope in bed and his sister’s sweetly-sounding diatribe seems to have done the trick as Alfie Allen is now a recognised actor, noted for his portrayal of the much put-upon Theon Greyjoy in Game Of Thrones. Lily sounds very concerned about her brother and the song’s gentle, lilting melody makes a fine contrast with her barbed, acidic lyrics.
Ricky Nelson’s ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ from 1958, was Nelson’s first ever composition, straight rockabilly but a tad bland and lacking any signature input from James Burton, the great session guitarist who played on Nelson’s best recordings and influenced a generation of players here in the UK (even if they didn’t know who he was at the time). Not to be confused with the Gamble & Huff song of the same name that was a hit for Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes and, of course, the Communards.
Next we have The Who performing ‘Summertime Blues’ from Madison Square Garden on June 11, 1974, the second night of a four-night NY run that week, all shows attended by yours truly, and the second song they played that night after ‘Explain’. My recording of this comes from a now digitalised audience tape, not the sound board, so the quality is low-fi but PRJ&K sound on cracking form and, as I note elsewhere on Just Backdated, this second show was a great improvement on the rather disappointing (but very dramatic) opening night.
Next up are Hall & Oates with ‘Method Of Modern Love’, not an H&O track I was familiar with. A funky blue-eyed soul verse is followed by a more melodic chorus in which the title is repeated and brings to mind the song of the same name by David Bowie from Let’s Dance. A bit of research tells that Bowie got there first, in 1983, with H&O following a year behind. Hmmm…
Any Nick Drake track is identifiable from the opening notes of his deft finger-picked guitar and although I wasn’t familiar with ‘They’re Leaving Me Behind’, I wasn’t wrong. This is from the not-so-well-known Family Tree album of 2007, compiled by Nick’s sister Gabrielle from home recordings made by Nick during 1967 and ’68 and a few recorded on holiday in Aix En Provence in ’67. Breathily intimate, slow and bit despairing, it’s a folksy styled piece about opting out of the rat race
This is followed by the instantly recognisable and very wonderful ‘I Was Born To Love Her’ by Stevie Wonder, the 1967 Motown hit, from an SW comp I have. I met Stevie twice in NY during the seventies, once in a nightclub and once during a press preview of Songs In The Key Of Life, but on both occasions he was surrounded by others and I couldn’t really talk to him. The press preview was held in some studio in upstate New York where a plane load of critics was flown by Motown and on the day I fell into the company of Nik Cohn, always fun but potentially hazardous. Songs In The Key Of Life was a double LP, and at one point in the proceedings – during a break – Cohn and I discovered a pool table. We were in the midst of our game when the playback resumed and Motown personnel took a decidedly dim view of it when we elected to finish our game instead of joining the throng to listen to side three, which was pumped into the pool room anyway. I don’t recall the outcome but there was a good deal of tut-tutting.
‘Concrete Jungle’ by Bob Marley sounds equally good, deep reggae from a Mojo cover mount CD from May of 2008 called Dawning Of The New Era that celebrated The Specials reforming. This isn't the track from Catch A Fire, probably an earlier recording, quite short too.
The Who return for ‘Black Widows Eyes’ from 2006’s Endless Wire, not an album I enjoyed that much, though I was right behind Pete’s sentiments in ‘Man In A Purple Dress’, an anti-religion rant sung with true feeling by Roger, and ‘You Stand By Me’ which I assumed was Pete singing about Roger. This track is a bit like the old Who with Pete’s block chords to the fore, though Roger’s voice is far deeper than on their classic material.
‘Waggoner’s Lad’ finds Joan Baez singing unaccompanied and bemoaning the woman’s lot. ‘Oh hard is the fortune of all womankind, they’re always controlled, they’re always confined, confined by their parents until they are wives, then slaves to their husbands for the rest of their lives,’ she sings before going on to lament how she cannot marry her true love, of whom her family disapprove. Poor Joan, but she sings beautifully.
This is followed by a right old pick-me-up, ‘Carol’, by the Stones from their first album, a truly thrilling performance from a record I played to death in 1964. By Chuck Berry, of course, but the young and eager Stones do him proud, rattling through the song at 100mph. That fantastic first Stones album really did set them up as The Beatles’ greatest rivals, both groups streets ahead of anyone else, at least in 1964.
Finally this morning, we get ‘Sitting On Top Of The World’, not the Cream version of the old blues song, but the pop song popularised by Al Jolson, this a version by Les Paul & Mary Ford, complete with tricky guitar effects. I think it dates from the 1930s and I first heard it – oh the shame – sung by the Black & White Minstrels’ Jolson impersonator in 1960, when I was 13. In those days it didn’t seem that offensive to like the B&W Minstrels – their albums topped the charts for months on end after all – and I guess my family was no different. I also have this song on an Al Jolson compilation and whenever any of his songs crop up I’m reminded of those innocent days. It also turned me on to the work of Stephen Foster, the first and one of the greatest American popular songwriters who died penniless in 1864, aged 37 – truly the ‘Beautiful Dreamer’.