With 16,635 songs now on the new sound-enhanced iPod, the endless variety is amazing, and as the 8.54 shuffled out of Guildford this morning I was listening to Lester Flatt & Earls Scruggs, The Foggy Mountain Boys, singing ‘Is It Too Late Now?’, a plaintive love-song given the hoe-down treatment, from a Best Of CD I have called Mountain Breakdown. I have a soft spot for hillbilly mountain music and there ain’t no finer practitioners of the art than Flatt & Scruggs, the latter playing fine banjo on this one, the only other accompaniment Flatt’s acoustic guitar and a waltzing-style accordion, player unknown.
Derek & The Dominos, aka Eric Clapton and the crack American musicians he recorded with in the early seventies, was up next with ‘One More Chance’, which I think is what Flatt & Scruggs might have sounded like if they’d been born 30 years later: easy-going country rock, with what I think is a dobro and a nice slide acoustic, probably played by Duane Allman. This track wasn’t on the wonderful Layla And Other Assorted Love Songs album released in December 1970, and I think I came by it through buying a new version with bonus tracks from iTunes a few years ago. Far more laid back than its better known tracks, of which ‘Bell Bottom Blues’ and Eric’s Hendrix tribute ‘Little Wing’ remain long-term favourites.
Eric was followed by Crowded House, ‘Fall At Your Feet’ from a pirate CD called Taking The Weather, recorded live somewhere in America I think. When I discovered CH back in the early nineties, for which I can think Lisa (Mrs C), I bought three live CH albums from a company in Italy where they proliferated unchecked by the industry. All sounded like sound board recordings to me, and this one is superb: lovely harmonies, all the better for being genuinely live with no subsequent tampering, nice song too.
Next up was ‘Somewhere There’s A Girl’, smooth R&B, by The Valentinos, the group that introduced by Womack Brothers to the world, from a 23-track album called Looking For Love that I bought on the recommendation of my old Melody Maker colleague Richard Williams who extolled its virtues on his terrific Blue Moment blog. Wrote Richard: “What always struck me about the Valentinos was how, at a time when most soul hits gave the impression of having been moulded in a studio, the Womack brothers sounded like a band playing together on stage in front of an audience. There was an R&B-style rawness and immediacy about their records, a sense of rough edges left unpolished. It was probably that quality to which The Rolling Stones were responding when they heard the group’s record of ‘It’s All Over Now’, written by Bobby and Shirley Womack, and swiftly covered it, making it their first UK No 1 in July 1964, only a few weeks after the release of the original version in the US.” Thanks Richard.
Elvis followed, a segue of a song called ‘This Time’ into the Ray Charles’ hit ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, which sounds a like a studio jam, especially as EP starts laughing at the sound of a (very) down-tuned guitar. He stumbles over the lyrics until ‘Can’t Stop…’ explodes with magic as he finds his way, a fabulous voice singing a lovely song. From one of my many Elvis box sets.
Next up was the Four Seasons with ‘Rag Doll’, from a ‘Best of’ CD I have, which opens with that haunting baion drum sound. Funny to think that back in 1964 Vee-Jay Records in America actually released a two-record set entitled The Beatles v The Four Seasons which had the US album Introducing The Beatles in one side of a gatefold cover and a Four Seasons comp in the other. Pictured below:
The best part of ‘Quinn The Eskimo’, by Bob Dylan & Band recorded in 1967 and from the fairly recently released new Basement Tapes CD, is Garth Hudson’s swirling, fairground organ. Under the title ‘Mighty Quinn’, this was a hit for Manfred Mann in 1968, but I prefer Bob.
Next up was Bruce Springsteen singing ’Reason To Believe’, a live recording from the E Street Band 1975-85 album, which I think I bought as a three-LP vinyl set on the day of release, plucking it from a great pile of them just inside the door of the Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street which is now a downmarket clothes shop, a hellish place too. Bruce’s Nebraska album, from which this song is taken, is among his very best though it takes a while to love. When you do, however, you’ll remain faithful for ever.
‘I Wanna Be Yours’ by the Arctic Monkey is uncharacteristically laid-back by their standards but I can forgive them anything with lyrics like, ‘I wanna be your vacuum clear, breathing in your dust. I wanna be your Ford Cortina, I won’t ever rust’. Very nice.
And then it was back to The Band, ‘Endless Highway’ from the Dylan live album Before The Flood, sung – I think – by Richard Manuel, with Robbie contributing a fine guitar solo. The opening line ‘Take a silver dollar and put it in your pocket’, reminds me of a song by Perry Como that my dad liked called ‘Catch A Falling Star’ which Perry also put in his pocket. I probably heard The Band play this in early 1974 when I caught this memorable tour at the Garden in New York. Terrific.
And then it was back to doo wop, Ricky Nelson singing about ‘A Teenagers Romance’, a bit tame but enlivened by a sax solo. This was the B-side to ‘I’m Walking’, Nelson’s first US hit back in 1957 and my version comes from a massive retrospective I have with no fewer than 55 songs on it. Of course I bought it mainly to hear James Burton’s guitar.
Finally this morning I was charmed by James Whild Lea, aka Jim Lea of Slade with a lovely song called ‘The Smile Of Elvis’ from his 2007 solo album Therapy. Written, produced and recorded by Lea, it was never promoted which is a crying shame as many of the tracks are gorgeous, including this one, a lovely melody enhanced by orchestral woodwind and a fine chorus. I’ve known Jim for the best part of 45 years and we still meet up from time to time, and on the last occasion he played me some of his own work on the system in his car parked up the street from my office. I believe quite strongly that Jim doesn’t get the credit he deserves for his role in Slade, but there isn’t much he can do about it as he dislikes the limelight, unlike Noddy who nowadays seems to get all the acclaim. Still, you can buy Therapy on Amazon and, if these reviews are anything to do by, I’m not alone in thinking it’s a five star album: