First up is The Faces’ ‘You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything’, a title that went on for much longer on the single that was a minor hit in 1974. There’s more than a hint of Motown in this song, and not just the lyric ‘this old heart of mine’, the title of an Isley Brothers’ hit that Rod covered on one of his own albums. I always had a soft spot for The Faces, more live than on a record, and this is one of their best songs. A good start to the morning’s listening.
Next up was Simon & Garfunkel, though from its choppy guitar chord intro I thought for a second it was The Everly Brothers. ‘You Can Tell The World’ was track one side one of their debut album Wednesday Morning 3AM, the song that introduced them to the world, but is very unlike the type of music that we now associate with S&G. “A joyous gospel track sung with plenty of naïve enthusiasm but lacking real depth or subtlety,” I wrote in my little guide to their music, and my opinion remains unchanged. “The rather academic approach that S&G brought to their music was unlikely to befit a gospel song that was generally delivered with unfettered enthusiasm by black choirs immersed in the glory of the Lord,” I continued. “The most impressive feature is Simon's rhythmic guitar work, an early example of his strength as an accompanist, not just with precise, claw-hammer finger picking but with confident chord work as well.”
S&G are followed by Gillian Welch, for whom I also have a very soft spot as anyone who visits Just Backdated on a regular basis will surely know. ‘Everything Is Free’, a track from her third album Time (The Revelator) was instantly recognisable from her partner Dave Rawlings’ springy guitar introduction, a sound I’d recognise anywhere these days. This is one of Gillian’s more mournful songs, bemoaning the loss of innocence or maybe the impermanence of things that once mattered to her, and like everything she does it’s a joy on the ear.
Making his second appearance this morning, Rod Stewart belts out ‘You’re My Girl (I Don’t Want To Discuss It)’, a track from Gasoline Alley, an album that sat next to my first decent stereo system for the second half of 1970 and all of 1971, and one that brings back sharp memories of time and place, in my case a shared flat in Bayswater, and a girlfriend who loved Gasoline Alley as much as I did. This is a slab of pure funk, with great bass playing (Wood? Lane? I have no idea) and guitar (probably Wood). Nowadays my version comes from Reason To Believe: The Complete Mercury Studio Recordings, a 3-CD set that demonstrates how wonderful Rod really was before success skewered his focus and led him to prance about in the wrong trousers. Things were going a bit pear shaped by Smiler (1974) but the four albums that preceded it remain magnificent examples of the best of early 70s UK rock.
I wasn’t that keen on the orchestral Quadrophenia, though ‘Helpless Dancer’ by Alfie Boe and Phil Daniels is probably the one Quad track that lends itself to this treatment as well as anything. “A dramatic but lean operatic-style aria featuring a double tracked Roger over staccato piano chords, acoustic guitar and little else,” I wrote in my little guide to The Who’s music, thus foreseeing the symphonic Quad about 20 years before it happened. Still don’t like it much, sounds a bit like Townshend meets Gilbert & Sullivan.
Far more conducive to my morning mood is Clannad’s chill-out version of ‘Coinleach Glas An Fhómhair (Cantoma Mix)’ which sounds like it should be on one of those Café Del Mar compilations; soft, dreamy, laid-back and, in typical Clannad style, rather haunting too. I think I picked up this Clannad compilation for £1 in a charity shop a year or two ago. I became attuned to Café Del Mar music on a beach in the South of France back when our kids were little and we took them to Eurocamps down there.
Up next is Kirsty MacColl and ‘Rhythm Of The Real Thing’ from a great anthology called From Croydon To Cuba, though I’m not convinced this funk style is suited to her voice. Bass led with stabbing brass, Kirty’s warm personality doesn’t come across anywhere near as well as on the pure pop and Cuban material that makes up most of this collection. Tragic loss, and those responsible for her death have never been brought to justice.
I reviewed the Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl album at some length here last November and the next track up on shuffle is John singing ‘Help’ in which he mangles the lyrics slightly but makes a great effort against formidable odds thrown up by thousands of screaming girls. As I said then, this album presents a decent argument that JPG&R were much better live than they thought they were, especially in the circumstances.
‘One Step’ by Ronnie Lane takes the adrenalin quotient way down as my train pulls into Surbiton, a folksy song in the rural style that Ronnie moved towards after leaving The Faces, so much more satisfying that the direction the singer took. Lovely acoustic guitar picking on a gently rolling tune; from a fine compilation called How Come that all sane music lovers of a certain age ought to own.
‘Hello Little Girl’ by The Beatles from Anthology 1 doesn’t sound like The Beatles at all, lacking in confidence and more like a third rate Merseybeat band. John and Paul share the vocals but you’d never guess, and George’s solo is very lacklustre. There’s evidence, too, of why Pete Best had to go. This is taken from the January 1, 1962, Decca audition session and, to be honest, it’s no wonder they were rejected, at least on the evidence of this.
Oscar Petersen takes me into Wimbledon with ‘Band Call’, piano jazz, followed by Fairground Attraction and ‘The Wind Knows My Name’. Their 1988 album First Of A Million Kisses was a favourite of mine for a while, its highlight the wonderful voice of Eddi Reader whom I later discovered was singing anonymously (or enhancing the vocals) on hits by lots of bands that featured girl singers. ‘Perfect’ was their big hit, of course (which had a fabulous C&W feel guitar solo) and the album as a whole was chock full of grace and romance, with a nice London feel about it too.
Eddi was in the wrong place at the wrong time ever to have enhanced The Ronettes whose ‘Woman In Love (With You)’ comes up next, one of their lesser known songs but unmistakably A Wall Of Sound production by the inmate of the State Prison at Stockton, California. From the Back To Mono Spector set.
From its title alone ‘Origin Of The Species’ by U2 sounds like a pretentious slab of grandiosity worthy of Bono’s loftiest aspirations, but it turns out to be an inoffensive power ballad, from their album How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. I quite liked U2 around the time of Unforgettable Fire and Joshua Tree but indifference seems to have set in now.
We’re just pulling into Vauxhall as U2 give way to Diana Ross & The Supremes, a song called ‘No Matter What Sign You Are’, a bit Motown-by-numbers really but no matter. The subject matter reminds me of concerts in America by all those funk bands like Brass Construction, Ohio Players and EW&F, who at once point in their shows would invariably introduce each band member – and there were a lot of them – and state which star sign they were, thus inspiring big cheers from those in the crowd born around the same date. It always took ages – the funk equivalent of the prog rock drum solo – and was just as dreary.
Into Waterloo and R.E.M. are beginning ‘Belong’ from their Unplugged album, another record I’ve reviewed on this blog. Mike Mill’s bass is joined by Stipe’s mumbles, giving way to a gorgeous choral wash. Shame I have to switch it off and head for my lunch date.