Famous for having rudely dismissed Led Zeppelin’s first two LPs in Rolling Stone, John Mendelsson somehow avoided being hexed by their touchy guitarist but probably still watched his back when we last dined together, in 2004 in Holland Park, a stone’s throw from The Tower House. The occasion was to celebrate the publication of his Omnibus Press book Waiting For Kate Bush which opened with an unlikely story about a Bush fan threatening to throw himself from a tall building unless Kate herself appeared to talk him down. Eventually a policeman who was also a fan appeared on the scene and, after a conversation about the arcane tributaries of her career, he came down without the need for La Bush to rouse herself. The originality of this approach persuaded me to sign up the book.
I first became aware of John through The Kink Kronikles, a 1972 double compilation LP which he compiled on behalf of the group and for which he wrote some of the best sleeve notes you’ll read anywhere. Deliberately eschewing their earliest singles, it remains the most thoughtful Kinks collection ever assembled. He was also partial to The Who, at least until they became a stadium band, and gave a helping hand to David Bowie before anyone else in America knew who he was.
John also belongs to that bold assemblage of music writers who juggle a musical career with occasional blasphemous ravings in print and lately he’s pressed me into service to draw attention to The Internettes, a duo that comprises himself and his partner, Dame Zelda Hyde, who sings while John does everything else, writing the songs and arranging them.
Now in the normal scheme of things your man at Just Backdated is likely to ignore such requests but the truth is I was charmed by the songs and, if you’re prepared to overlook the rather amateurish backings tracks – probably sourced from one of those electronic keyboards that do everything if you press the right buttons – you might as well.
Showing impeccable taste, Dame Zelda has a strangely deep, slightly melancholy voice and manages to sound like a cross between Debbie Harry, Frida from Abba, Dusty Springfield and Marlene Dietrich, all crossed with a hint of Phil Spector though it’s not so much a wall of sound, more a small barrier. If anything it's a homage to the pre-Beatles girl groups, just the sort of thing that drew John towards his vocation in life. There are hints of Stephen Foster (‘Irish Spring’), fifties musicals (‘Petticoat Lane’) and film noire (‘A Gangster’s Moll’) and, as you would expect from a subversive character like John, the lyrics on those songs that avoid matters of the heart deal with his pet peeves: organised religion (‘The Jesus Who Loves Me’ and ‘Aqmed’) and Trump/Fox News (‘When The Monsters Smothered In His Sleep’). Also, oddly, the cock crowing on ‘The Hired Hand’, a song about menial servitude, sounds like it was sampled from the beginning of The Beatles ‘Good Morning’ on Pepper.
It’s all lots of fun, even if the backing tracks get a bit repetitive after a while. Still, that’s more than compensated for by the lingering taste of Dame Zelda’s haunting vocals. In a note to me last week John, delivered in his characteristic brand of sardonic tongue-in-cheekness, John suggested I use the phrase, ‘A work of life-transforming brilliance no home should be without’, which is going a bit far but I couldn’t help thinking how different his life would have been if only he’d said that about Led Zeppelin II.
A taste of The Internettes can be found here, along with a helpful pictorial guide to their influences: