A delay through Wimbledon due to a broken down empty train caused this morning’s journey into Waterloo to be a bit longer than usual but that meant more music, the iPod shuffling up 14 tracks for me from the ever increasing well, now 16,452 songs deep.
The morning began with Joni Mitchell at the grand piano, the sole accompaniment on ‘My Old Man’, presumably a song about James Taylor with whom she was enjoying a relationship following the rather difficult break-up with Graham Nash. From the frighteningly wonderful Blue album, released in 1971, though my favourite track from that LP remains ‘The Last Time I Saw Richard’.
‘Allá en el Rancho Grande’ took me by surprise but there was no mistaking the voice of Elvis, brimming with enthusiasm while rehearsing a Mexican song, taken at a good clip with some great guitar, probably James Burton, and sung in Spanish. I don’t think I’d heard this before. From Walk A Mile In My Shoes: The Essential '70s Masters, a 5-CD box set that I bought fairly recently to complete my Elvis box set collection of ’50s Masters, ’60s Masters and now this. It’s the least attractive of the bunch, of course, but with 120 tracks still worth the £18.99 Amazon are selling it for.
Next up was ‘Persuasion, a lovely ballad by Richard Thompson that he co-wrote with Tim Finn, brother of Neil, founder of Split Enz and occasional occupant of the Crowded House. This version of the song was from Thompson’s Acoustic Classics album which I reviewed here (http://justbackdated.blogspot.co.uk/2014/08/richard-thompson-guitar-player.html) but you can find a lovely version on UTube from Jules Holland’s Later show, with Tim singing backed by Richard.
‘Rough And Ready’ is from Emmylou Harris’ Blue Kentucky Girl album of 1979, an excursion into more traditional country music after the rock route that Emmylou favoured earlier in the decade. This Lester Flatt/Earl Scruggs song has a fairly predictable melody enhanced by some fine mandolin playing, and Emmylou’s lovely voice soars as she sings about a faithless man who broke her fragile heart. On the same album she does a fine version of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ and another lovely song called ‘Beneath Still Waters’.
In complete contrast Emmylou was followed by Howling Wolf and ‘Killing Floor’ from his London Sessions album, recorded in 1970. Backed by Eric Clapton with the Stones rhythm section of Bill and Charlie, this is sturdy but unremarkable, the stellar line-up content to chug along behind the great Chicago bluesman, which is probably why this track was left off the original album but tacked on the 2003 CD reissue I have.
Ray Davies rarely sounded more world-weary that he does on ‘The World Keeps Going Round’ from 1965’s Kinks Kontroversy album. Not even Nicky Hopkins on piano can rescue one of Ray’s more plodding, not to mention depressing, songs. “What’s the use of worrying because you’ll die alone,” sings Ray, sounding like he’s just been handed an unexpectedly high gas bill.
The rather fey Laura Marling followed with ‘Shine’ from her album Alas, I Cannot Swim which I think was given away with the Observer newspaper. Her brand of delicate folk music and guitar accompaniment isn’t really to my taste, but The Who woke me up, albeit briefly, with their Coca-Cola jingle, a bonus track that Jon Astley and I added to The Who Sell Out when it was re-issued for the first time back in the ’90s. John and Keith pound away, but I feel duty bound to point out that more often than not their coke was laced with brandy.
Talking of John Entwistle, he absolutely hated Television when I took him (and Keith and Pete) to see them at Club 82 in New York in June 1974, but I rather like Tom Verlaine’s hesitant, jerky beat and slightly discordant, spikey guitar on ‘Prove it’ from their now immortal Marquee Moon album of 1977. It took me a while to warm to this album, used as I was to the big production of rock that had gone before, but after half a dozen plays I was convinced.
Such production was just getting into gear when Traffic released their second album in 1968, and I can remember hearing it for the first time at a party back home in Skipton that year – and heading down to the record shop the next day to buy it. ‘Pearly Queen’ has Steve Winwood all over it, on vocals, lead guitar, bass and organ, a great song too. What with all his other talents it’s easy to forget that Winwood was right up there with the best of the great guitar players that the UK nurtured in the ’60s. This is actually taken from a double-CD Traffic compilation I have, and I’m holding out for a decent Traffic box set which – unusually – doesn’t seem to exist.
Next up was ‘Ascent Of Man’ from R.E.M.’s 2004 album Around The Sun, for which I’ll hand the spotlight over to Tony Fletcher for an extract from his Omnibus Press R.E.M. biography Perfect Circle: “… it would be easy to mark ‘The Worst Joke Ever’ and ‘Ascent Of Man’ as two of a pair, both equally slow, both conforming to the predictable verse-chorus format, both buried in a sea of stifling production gloss that sounded as far away from the concert R.E.M. as imaginable. Yet ‘The Ascent Of Man’, in particular, had considerable merit, both lyrically (‘I try to float like a telegram sam/I’m trying to divine you’) and phonetically, as Stipe – whose strong delivery was generally Around The Sun’s lone saving grace – embarked on a series of high-pitched ‘yeah yeahs’ under which his spoken word counterpoint sounded like something closer to ‘Country Feedback’, oft-stated as his favorite R.E.M. song of all. And yet, once again, the song was snuffed out by what had now become the ballad band’s obligatory solo – this time on a big swirling organ. To hear R.E.M.’s multiple individual and collective talents succumb to formula like this was positively painful.” Thanks Tony, and to a degree I agree with you though it was far from painful to my ears.
The similarities between R.E.M. and Radiohead were brought into sharp focus for me when ‘Ascent Of Man’ was immediately followed by ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ from Kid A. Thom Yorke’s voice has a comparable timbre to Michael Stipe on songs like this, a melancholy builder with great a sweeping chorus that creeps up on you until the choral background takes on an almost angelic sweep. “At just over one and a half minutes, it’s as if the heavens have opened and the forest has come alive,” wrote Mark Paytress in a Radiohead Music Guide I commissioned years ago. “Jonny Greenwood teases out ‘angel voices’ on his Ondes Martenot, sampled harps conjure up lyre-plucking sirens at the Pearly Gates, and you’d be forgiven that this was some bizarre remake of The Beatles’ ‘Goodnight’, which closes the White Album. Though Yorke, who stumbles though the Disney-like scenario, complaining that ‘It's not like the movies/They fed us on little white lies’, is hardly in the mood for Ringo Starr.” Oddly, the song fades for a minute’s silence before the choir and sirens return, only to disappear again for another two minutes’ silence before the track ends, so its seven minute duration is really only about four minutes.
The penultimate song this morning was ‘Hey Saturday Sun’ an instrumental from the oddly-named and rather mysterious Scottish electronic duo Boards of Canada from their album The Campfire Headphase, bought for me by my son Sam who noted my fondness for Kraftwerk though this is a bit removed from the German robots. It’s much rounder than KW, sort of chill out but not too chilly, and very pleasing. Finally, just as my train was pulling into Waterloo, R.E.M. cranked up again with ‘Mr Richards’, a rocker from Accelerate, their return to form album of 2008. Peter Buck’s distorted guitar chords are starting to kick into gear as the train draws to halt and I guess I’ll listen to the rest on my way home tonight.