A trip into London yesterday for lunch with the US writer Bob Spitz offers an opportunity for a one-off i-Podding post similar to those I did regularly before I stopped commuting three years ago. The number of songs on my i-Pod continues to grow, with 19,6769 as of yesterday, which makes this trusty iPod 5th Generation Classic of mine, now no longer sold by Apple, all the more valuable to me. Sooner or later it’ll pack up and I’ll have to buy another on ebay, where I note that new ones sell for £92.99 or used from about £25.
First up on shuffle yesterday morning was Eric Clapton, ‘Going Away Baby’ from his 1994 album of blues covers From The Cradle, a fairly standard blues rock shuffle song with plenty of harmonica but not much guitar apart from a nagging little riff that builds during a solo at the end, albeit with the harp dominating the guitar. Not a bad start to the morning’s listening as my train slid smoothly out of Clandon towards Waterloo but, in truth, a bit on the boring side.
Eric was followed by John Mellencamp’s ‘Hurts So Good’, a song I acquired on one of those Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame CDs that voters used to be given before we were directed to a website, should we feel the need to listen to the nominees. I once encountered Mellencamp in a studio in New York when he was going under the name of Johnny Cougar and was managed by Bowie’s former svelgali Tony Defries who was clearly pointing him in the direction of Springsteen. ‘Hurts So Good’, a fine example of an oxymoron, was US number two hit in 1982 in that midwestern boogie style that was popular in the mid-seventies. Competent if a tad dull, with a predictable middle-eight, he sounds more like Bob Seger than Bruce to me.
The shuffle setting often throws up wholly inappropriate songs and next up is ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ by The Crystals from Phil Spector’s magical Christmas LP. Because we played this at Christmas year after year when our kids were growing up they came to associate Phil’s Wall Of Sound with Christmas, and so came to believe that songs by The Ronettes like ‘Be My Baby’ and ‘Baby I Love You’ and The Crystals (‘Da Do Ron Ron’ and ‘Then He Kissed Me’) heralded the imminent arrival in town of Santa Claus, as is apparent on this song. I never tire of this.
Next up is Crowded House singing ‘Pineapple Head’ from a live CD recorded at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park in 2004 when the bill topper was Bob Dylan. This is from a bootleg I bought when I couldn’t get enough of CH, and on it Neil Finn has a wild old time berating security men who stand with their backs to the band, and he sends his heartfelt best wishes to his Irish-born mum back in New Zealand. This is a great version of a CH favourite, lovely harmonies with some improvised vocals towards the end. Finn, of course, is currently a member of Fleetwood Mac – not a sentence I ever thought I’d write – along with Mike Campbell from Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, both enlisted as cover for the absent Lindsay Buckingham.
CH are followed by Eels and ‘What Is This Note’, the closing song from their Souljacker album of 2001. Played double time, fast and short like The Ramones, this was the first real surprise of the morning, with distorted guitar giving way to unexpected acoustic picking and a relatively gentle climax. I needed that to wake me up.
And then I was lulled back into a trancelike state by Alison Goldfrapp singing ‘Forever’ from Black Cherry, her second album. Smooth, soothing and breathy, with a pastoral feel, her synthesiser conjures up traces of birdsong and a hint of water flowing somewhere in the mix. I can’t remember where in hell I bought this CD; maybe it was from my daughter’s collection, now abandoned since she left home, or perhaps from a charity ship for a quid. Not a bad investment if that was the case.
Next up is John Legend singing ‘So High’ from an album called Get Lifted, another CD possibly acquired from the daughter, and quite the opposite of edgy with Legend creating the same feel and tempo as Marvin on What’s Going On. It’s a passionate but rather OTT piano ballad, a tad saccharine, with a guitar solo awash in echo that floats in at the half way stage as Legend begins to emote rather too expressively for my liking. His shoes scrape the sky, which is how love is supposed to feel, as he helpfully informs his listeners.
And on to Miles Davis, which is miles better. ‘Well You Needn’t’ is from a double CD set called Take Off: The Complete Blue Note Albums, all recorded during the fifties beginning with Young Man With A Horn, followed by Miles Vol 2 and Vol 3, and including a slew of outtakes. Being too wrapped up in rock during my Melody Maker years it wasn’t until the 1980s that I broadened my horizons into jazz, beginning with Ellington, then Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else and then Miles, stretching out from Kind Of Blue to this set and another from the Columbia Years. I really love this kind of jazz now, especially in the mornings, and I was lucky enough to discover it at just the right time, in my thirties.
We’re reaching Wimbledon now and heading for another challenge as the lyricism of Miles’ golden trumpet gives way to ‘European Son’ by the Velvets from the Banana album, perhaps the most influential LP ever and quite a lurch as my train slows down into the home of tennis. After a couple of chug-along verses Lou, John, Sterling and Maureen embark on over five minutes of distorted guitar improvisation, a master class in avant-garde punk soloing before punk was invented, as edgy as it gets and clearly the signpost for bands like Television. No wonder they found the going hard outside of New York, and after five minutes it becomes rather too challenging for me in the circumstances. I’d rather move along so for the first time today I fast forward…
… to ‘Ode To My Family’ by The Cranberries, from a Best Of I’ve had for a while. Lilting arpeggios accompany Dolores singing about family life back in County Limerick, a lovely song that reflects the group’s gift for melody and her unresolved desire to turn back time and return to her roots. Her death shocked me. Like everyone else, I was turned on to The Cranberries by ‘Dreams’, and we went to see them at Shepherds Bush Empire, my only disappointment the brevity of the show – less than one hour – when I’d been brought up on marathons by The Who, Bruce and Zep. Still, always had a soft spot for this group and their last offering, In The End, is among the CDs in my car right now.
This is followed by the second Christmas song of the morning, ‘A Change At Christmas’; by Flaming Lips which appeared on a Mojo collection of Christmas songs that I downloaded a long time ago. In truth I have over 100 Christmas songs on a playlist now and this gets wheeled out every December. I haven’t heard this Flaming Lips song in ages and it sounds very heartfelt, reminds me a bit of R.E.M., with poignant sleigh bells and an uplifting chorus expressing, obliquely, hope for a better future.
This is followed by The Shadows’ ‘Guitar Tango’ from a hits CD; Ennio Morricone territory really, as it sounds a bit like the theme from a western, all hot and dusty, with a South American tempo over pizzicato melody. To my delight I am now acquainted with Bruce Welch and Brian Bennett who are among those who attend the twice-yearly luncheons for old music biz pals at Barnes.
Finally, as my train cruises into Vauxhall before the final stretch to Waterloo, up comes the mighty Bruce and ‘Raise Your Hand’ from his ‘Live In 1978’ 3-CD set, recorded in Cleveland for a radio broadcast with the legendary WMMS DJ Kid Leo as MC. This is a truly great, uplifting, show-stopping E Street band performance of the Eddie Floyd stomper with everybody on stage and in the crowd having a whale of time. Chaotically uninhibited, Bruce and his men give it their all, winding down at one point for a false ending then surging back in as Bruce encourages all those listening at home to pull down their windows, blast it out at top volume and if anyone objects to tell them to send their complaints to Kid Leo. I can only hope his mail sack was full to the brim a day or two later. This is the penultimate track on the CD and the applause goes on for several minutes, still going as I fumble for my ticket at the Waterloo barrier and put my iPod away. Intrigued, when I got home I checked what happened next: a seven-minute ‘Twist And Shout’ no less.