Monday, February 2, 2009

It Started With A Kiss

And, it did…

Today, the worst snow-falls during the last eighteen years in the South of England and, almost needless to say, that very same Southern part of the country comes to an abrupt, grinding halt.

Now, its not as if the snow arrived unexpectedly… in fact, far from it… its been forecast for a few days now; Britons have been urged to get ready to brave and combat this Siberian-borne cold snap… and, yet… what really happens? Everything stops.

Everyone knew it was coming and still… everything comes to a grinding halt.

It stopped to the extent that buses did not run in London today at all – yet, in the Blitz during war-torn years, they continued working. Does that say something or… is it just me? Trains were suspended; tubes likewise and the roads were awash with lorries in ditches, up embankments and across central-reservations. Travel chaos ruled and news reports suggested six million never made it to work.

Hardly a surprise then that the latest IFPI meeting called for late morning was a bit of a non-starter; five of the six who were to be round their corporate table either got stuck in the process of doing their own Captain Oates thing or simply looked out the window and said, bollocks to all of that. Three hours pointless extremely early morning travel trying to get from A to P and not progressing that much farther than C, I gave in to the inevitable. A flurry of ‘phone calls and e-mails – lets re-schedule for later in the week…

And, the last few days..? They’ve been mixed ones… There was the truly sad and totally unexpected discovery that the unique talent of John Martyn is no more – realising that’s all that’s left is his wonderful body of timeless music… and that, equally sadly, concluding that he’ll most probably become more famous in death than in his own lifetime.

And, of random discovery too – Voltaire, it seems was a frequent visitor to an exceedingly favourite place of mine, the Chateau of Chenonceau in the Loire Valley; arguably (I’d say) one of the most beautiful buildings anywhere on our climatically-challenged planet, let alone France.

Nowadays, walk up the long straight avenue and then, just after you step away from the shelter of the Plane trees, there is a choice of… either straight on or…

My recommendation isn’t to follow the hoards – instead, its to hang a left at about 11 o’clock; traverse the formal gardens originally laid out by Diane de Poitiers and head for the far corner. Once there, turn round about 45 degrees – and this remarkable piece of architecture, a jewel-like Chateau and its 60+ metre Renaissance Galleried bridge of six spans across the River Cher, comes into sharp relief. Quite breath-taking and absolutely, jaw-on-the-ground, staggeringly beautiful.

Previously a fortified mill, the Chateau of Chenonceau was built in the 16th century by Thomas Rohier but its fame (and notoriety) really came home to roost when occupied by the mistress of Henri 2nd, Diane de Poitiers, she of aforementioned green fingered bent.

However... Diane, somewhat unceremoniously, got chucked out of this really rather lovely estate on the former’s death: a tournament (why not); single combat (like you do); wrong end of a whacking great blow to the head (like you shouldn’t really) – as King, shouldn’t he have known better? You’d have thought so, eh? And who nabbed Chenonceau after the funeral? The second Henri’s widow, the formidable Catherine de Medici who, curiously enough, was a bit of a dirt under the fingernails-style gardener too – her box-hedged formal lay-out is the other side of the top end of the avenue.

Anyhow, that was all long before Voltaire’s time of course – he would have (been) driven in his carriage and four through the massive wrought iron gates that separate the village from the Chateau and down that same long avenue of Plane trees a couple of centuries later.

There, he’d have been welcomed by Madame Dupin who was the incumbent of the time; she’s credited as saving the Chateau from destruction during the Revolution as well as playing host to a veritable bevy of writers and free-thinkers alongside Monsieur V – Rousseau, Fontenelle, d’Alembert and many others.

So… I wonder – just as a random example – what they’d have made of climate change; I wonder how their liberally-contemplative minds would have reflected; on the basis that the globe was facing a monumental crisis and thus, out of necessity, would have to find ways to change its ways.

Two more centuries down the line and our, brave and new, world has – as an all encompassing generality –harnessed (much of) the technology to renew its own energy resources and yet, from this grassy knoll, seems somewhat unwilling to implement – on a wide-scale – such resources and technologies… And, therefore, this Voltaire sitting on his far-from-home suitcase, is wondering… why?

As one example, lets have a quick squint at the case of the River Severn. Far less an attractive waterway than the Cher winding its way downstream through France but, by all accounts, the Severn boasts a tidal surge that – if harnessed correctly – could provide enough energy to renew five percent of Britain’s annual requirement for power.

Bit of a step in the right direction, wouldn’t you say..? Of course – no debate about that.

However, with legions of boffins, white-coated scientists and clip-board wielding researchers on hand, I’m wondering just how long it is that that – as a fact – has been known. Plus… I’m also wondering why the date of 2050 is being bandied around to implement such a scheme?

Because, the other side of that particular coin says… climate change – and its clearly disastrous consequences – have been known about for decades. Yet, how long – for example – is it that we’ve known from scientific studies that carbon emissions would have to be reduced to more or less nil by the middle of this century?

Personally, I wasn’t aware (possibly for not paying attention at the back of the class). However… those in the know, the studiers of studies such as this – who are paid to know and to advise – would have known… or… weren’t they paying attention either?

Anyway as expected (and not before time), there are now committees, public enquiries and all those good things being set up – the not so small matter of wildlife and the ecological and environmental impact has to be looked into, duly considered and so forth. Of course… of course; even though their natural habitats are already being affected by rising sea-levels, migrating birds have their rights too.

Jolly good… but – should something like this have not been figured out twenty years ago? Wouldn’t it have been a bit of a better move to get ahead of the game as opposed to running the gauntlet of taking it to the wire?

Wind farms are another example – a natural source of renewable energy and yet the main detraction (as I see it) is that… they’re not pretty. That’s a subjective view (sic) wouldn’t you say… but, isn’t there an over-riding issue that says… necessity now really outweighs beauty?

Solar panels… and those dinky little solar lights that’ll be purchased by the dozen from those garden centres and DIY warehouses that’ll still be left standing as the depression’s teeth bite deeper and Spring morphs into Summer. They look very pretty as dusk falls, light up millions of gardens to a certain degree but… they’re only powered by a tiny strip of solar plasticy-stuff that’s about an inch square; most probably the reason they don’t give out a lot of light and light up a few blades of surrounding grass.

Yet – just as another indiscriminate example – why isn’t every single street-light around the world powered this way?

Of course it’d take time to convert them all – yes, true, there’d be a cost involved and the bit of plasticy-stuff would – out of necessity – have to be a bit bigger… sort of like a… yes, a Solar Panel…. but… the counter to that is – just how much (percentage wise) of global power is used to light urban streets and motorways? Maybe someone out there who reads this would know the answer to that – but the main point is, why are we (as a world) not doing something as simple as this. Or, am I just a simpleton?

The downside could, I suppose, be a rise in hoodie-crime whereby we’d see people shinning up lamp-posts to nab the solar panels to power their boom-boxes. Better than knife crime though.

Here’s another thought – wherever one travels, there is new building going on. Yes, I know that the construction sector has been hit bloody hard by the ‘credit-crunch’ and that the housing market is in free-fall… but, that’s not where I’m heading with this – again it’s just a little wonderment of mine, which says… why aren’t new houses being roofed with a combination of tiles and… solar panels?

The technology is there – plus, it’s a known fact that the mass-production of solar panels is not expensive – equals… why not? The upsides are obvious… and yet, all we see are endless television adverts for companies like Everest, fronted by a bloke who walks through these deeply irritating slices of television as if he’s suffering from a nasty dose of hemorrhoids, plying their wares.

Of course it makes sense to replace the replaceable… IF you have the spare cash nowadays – but, who has that? Equals – why not start the process with new builds? Seems so obvious, yet – I don’t see it happening… do you?

Nope… instead what I did see was that, in Northumbria, they’ve (that’d be a load of clip-board wielding researchers from, I guess, Newcastle University) discovered that cows are happier if they’re given names and… that if they’re named then they produce more milk; apparently an extra (nearly) two pints a day.

Highly laudable and a truly stonking bit of research… goodness knows how much the tax-payers have ploughed into that… but, if that’s the way forward with our bovine lady-friends – so be it.

However, I’d still argue that another product that they emit has as much value. Maybe there’d be an equation (sorry, I don’t have my calculator or clip-board to hand right now, nor do I have oodles of research Euros) that’d show (prove) cows’ production of methane multiplies by their being given names.

Come along Daisy, be a good girl and don’t struggle… I just need to insert this tube, I promise it won’t hurt… much.

HRH the Prince of Wales (allegedly) talks to his plants; we now have farmers talking to their cows… oh look, there’s an ocean wave over there – I think I’ll have a bit of a chat with one of them.

Time, I think, to burn a crumpet or three, make my small contribution to global warming and have a bit of a ponder on Project Y.

Although you never can tell, I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be something of a response to the random list of covers that I heaped up onto the world wide wait fairly recently – and Drew, from near to the best boulangerie in all of France, was first out of the traps with a few views of his own. An individual for whom the very words music and informed-thought go together like ripened carrot and dangled stick; it was no surprise that some of his own, stimulating, musings were proffered.

To be frank, I’d not really planned to write anything more on the subject… but… having done-so, I suppose the actual doing-so fired my own creative (?) juices, meaning that over the past few nights, I’ve tossed and turned in the borrowed bed with ever-lengthening lists appearing like so many rain-cloud speech-bubbles above my head.

Because… as each succeeding day-break approached, it equally dawned on me that I’d missed out quite a few that, frankly, should have been in there.

Equals, Drew’s nudge was a little bit of impetus in a direction in which my solar-powered-Voltaire-vehicle was already heading; find a few that really work and counter with one or two that don’t make the grade.

And so, ablaze with another bout of imagination; fuelled by a far from healthy intake of caffeine, ecologically energized by a colossal bacon sandwich swilled down by a rapid trawl through my trusty repository of music, the i-Tunes folder… and taking the place of time that should have been spent at the IFPI, off I go (again):

o Sweet Thing – The Waterboys / Van Morrison… how the hell did I miss this gem, an absolutely near-as-perfection rough diamond, from off the previous touted list. To be truthful, I’m not altogether sure if the Waterboys ever, officially, recorded their version of Van the Man’s classic from Astral Weeks… However, it was a staple of their live set on the mid-Eighties tour they did in both North America and across Europe with the guys from Dublin’s fair city. Which means I got to see it played quite a few times. Yeah, I know – bloody lucky. So… the version I’m thinking of was taken from a show in Toronto on one of the days off from the main run of concerts; a somewhat hastily put together gig was arranged at El Mocambo, the medium sized club in which the Stones had once played warm-up dates and where a stunning Elvis Costello bootleg had also been recorded. The place was absolutely jam-packed and it was one of those most magical of musical nights where everything was as good as it gets; the band played as well as – I think – I ever saw and yes, this really was a night when The Big Music came out to play. And, the entire show was recorded straight off of the desk and someone (can’t remember who) gave me a tape – this being long before the digital age. Back in Blighty it became an almost permanent fixture in my car-stereo until… the unthinkable occurred; the thin cassette tape wound its way around the innards of the machine and… broke. No copy, no back-up, no… nothing. Maybe a copy exists somewhere out there in www-land… if it does, I’d dearly love one… until then, Mike Scott’s take on Sweet Thing is filed away in my memory-bank of musical highlights as one of the greatest covers of all time.
o Twist & Shout – Chakka Demus & Pliers / The Beatles / The Isley Brothers… so strange and way out of the ordinary that it almost works; CD&P’s bump ‘n grind hip-swiveller got them an unlikely hit bringing a little ray of Jamaican sunshine that shook-up the charts almost as much as the mop-tops originally did. However, its worth searching out the bros Isley’s earlier cut (which gave them their first hit in over three years as a follow-up to Shout which, itself, is a worthy inclusion in that it was covered by Lulu & The Luvvers) to see just how far this song has travelled over the decades.
o Dancin’ Barefoot – U2 / Simple Minds / The Mission / Patti Smith… very occasionally played live, this is the U2 version that was used in the soundtrack to a film entitled Threesome and I have a sneaking suspicion that it might also have seen the light of day as a single b-side. Never saw the movie but, I’d imagine from its title that the plot involves some form of ménage a trois. Both The Mission’s and Simple Minds’ versions are – as one’d imagine – gruesomely bombastic and I’d wager that there is a definitive reading of the song still to be recorded.
o Light My Fire – Al Green / Jose Feliciano / The Doors… something tells me that the original is just such a timeless cut that nothing could top it – yet, in a peculiar way, both Al Green’s gospel cry and the blind Feliciano’s flamenco stab at it from behind his heavy-duty Roy Orbison sunglasses do add a certain something to the original; most especially through their singular vocal interpretation on the lyric.
o I Can’t Get Next To You – Annie Lennox / The Jess Roden Band / Al Green / The Temptations… the pen is mightier than the sword – it’s a song (for whatever reason) that simply doesn’t suit or work with the female voice; thus Annie’s brave attempt is a bit like the long-jumper who attempted the world record without the benefit of a run-up… close but no cigar. The Temps’ stone-ground classic is, needless to say, the benchmark variant but… for those who were lucky enough to witness the Kidderminster Kid and his own-named band in full flight during that long hot summer of ’76 would remember their truly inspired, sweat-soaked, attack’s on this northern-rock-face of soul… Ronnie Taylor’s sax was way out there but it was Jess’ voice that always lifted this into other-worldly places; the singer who should’ve but never quite did.
o Me & Mrs Jones – Amy Winehouse / Marvin Gaye / Curtis Mayfield / Al Green / Billy Paul… hmmm, what to say here then… its hard to pick a winner (not that this is a contest), the original stands up loud and proud even if a little pop-tastic to these ears; Mayfield, Gaye and Green all bring something special to the lyric and yet what do you say to the Amy and her wine-gum approach to Me & Mr Jones… she cuts it yet, somehow, there’s a flavour missing to her particular brand of this mustard.
o The Last Time – The Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra / The Who / The Damned / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Jimmy Nail / The Rolling Stones… a somewhat cheesy instrumental version put together by the Stones’ then manager… quite listenable yet not particularly noteworthy until… The Verve are factored in. One of the key hook-lines to Bittersweet Symphony is lifted directly – as a sample – from Oldham’s orchestral version of Mick ‘n Keef’s original. Somewhat foolishly, no one in The Verve camp thought to properly clear that sample (for publishing) thus, when that song became a monumental hit, law-suits were invoked… and its rare indeed to out-gun Allen Klein’s office… equals, Richard Ashcroft fell a long way short in royalty earnings (from memory – he eventually conceded the lot). The Who’s version leaves a lot to be desired having been rush-released (rush-recorded?) around the time of the writer’s being banged up after the infamous Who Breaks A Butterfly On A Wheel, Redlands, Mars Bar informed drugs bust. The least said the better about Jimmy Nail’s cover while the Damned’s full-on amphetamine fuelled version is interesting to say the least and altogether different to the RPO’s languid assault on what is, essentially, a very beautiful melody.
o The Thin Line Between Love And Hate – Annie Lennox / The Pretenders… ahhh… truly phenomenal… its quite extraordinary (to these ears) how much menace Ms Lennox is able to convey in what, on first hearing, sounds like such a simple reading of a song… sure, she’s working with a set of amazing Chrissie Hynde lyrics but even so… after two or three listens, its that exceptional ability of hers to mix the bitter-sweet with absolute intimidation within an incomparable arrangement that takes her version right out there into the ether of true greatness.
o She’s Lost Control – Grace Jones / Joy Division… who’d a thought it… Grace playing on the swings with Joy Division; chasing Ian Curtis’ lyric – that centers around a girl’s epileptic fits – around a musical climbing-frame constructed Sly ‘n Robbie. Forming a key moment in her Compass Point, Taxi All-Stars informed trilogy of albums, this was a truly genius spot of A&R direction by the 6’3” tall Captain – otherwise known as Bill Stewart; former cricket commentator and Guards Officer, whose credit for the content on all three of those records has been severely undervalued.
o A Whiter Shade Of Pale – Annie Lennox / Procul Harum… the original’s simply too good to muck about with and, sorry Annie, yours just doesn’t work. File under, big mistake – shouldn’t have bothered. However… the other song that does, off that same album of covers, and to absolutely epic effect – and I dunno who the original was by – is No More I Love You’s… God, but how glorious is that… an almost-hymn to the desolation of the final goodbye.
o Comin’ To Git Ya – The Beautiful People / Jimi Hendrix… oh Lordy Miss Clawdy, this is a curious one; The Beautiful People were (possibly still are) an electronica combo that had an absolute obsession with Jimi and… who came up with a bit of a beezer idea: to re-work some of Jimi’s songs within the genre they inhabited and to intercut all of that they did with a stack of samples from the original masters… Alan Douglas – head of the Hendrix estate at the time, went along with it and they were given a free run of those masters. This melds together dance and Jimi, though his bits come in at different angles and from a selection of different tracks… thus, I’m not quite sure if it properly qualifies as a straight-out cover… in any event, it’s a remarkable mixture with this track heading for where JMH was bound for anyway – musical outer space.
o My Sweet Lord – Billy Preston / George Harrison…this is a version taken from the Concert For George show… recorded, I think, not that long before Billy himself died… and, with him backed by a load of musical illuminati. Better than the original – jury’s out there – but still, in its own way, this is indispensible… basically because it sounds so utterly glorious and a real celebration of George’s unique talent.
o The Tide Is High – Blondie / The Paragons… a bit like making a sauce, so long as you have a few fresh ingredients, are able to work up a good base and as long as you get the rest of ‘em into the pan in more or less the right order and keep tasting… you’ll do just fine. The base here is a simple yet fantastic song that very few had heard outside of Jamaica; the other key ingredients are Chinn & Chapman’s staggeringly good production plus that special something (ingredient) of Blondie – Ms Harry in particular – themselves. Reggae-matic for the masses – yeah, of course… a signpost to world domination… true again… file under exceptional…oh yes, it is on my grassy knoll.
o Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door – U2 / Eric Clapton / Guns ‘n Roses / The Alarm / Bryan Ferry / Randy Crawford / Bob Dylan… where do you start with Dylan’s masterpiece that was written for the soundtrack of Pat Garret & Billy The Kid – perhaps with the truly dreadful screech of Axl Rose who almost single-handedly demolished the song beyond redemption (ok, so I’m a minority of one here but, I gotta say, I absolutely loathe not just the band but what they did to that song); Brain Ferarri’s take is hardly subtle or awe inspiring; The Alarm – Dylan nuts as they were, worked up a storm with it live even tho’ their own haircuts were a cumulative disaster; Clapton’s… a bit bland (though much beloved of his gigantic audience) and so – I’d suggest that if a killer-variant was out there, it’d be the one that contains U2 as Dylan’s backing band for the night; the foil provided by Bono to Bob’s lead vocal knocks this onto a different ledge all on its own.
o Stand By Me – John Lennon / Ben E King… what a song… what a bloody amazing song; and absolutely nothing to choose between either of ‘em. Suits both voices down to the proverbial T; suits you sir… oh yes.
o You’ve Got A Friend – Dusty Springfield / James Taylor / Ella Fitzgerald / Carole King… knit one, pearl one, perm any nine from ten as there are literally dozens of covers… its that archetypal situation isn’t it – a great song and everyone but everybody wants to have a bash at it, perhaps to see if they can truly stamp their own authority on it. The Carole King original by way of the Brill Building off of Tapestry is as good as it gets; Sweet Baby James Taylor’s is about as definitive as it comes with – as great as they are, the likes of Ella and Dusty coming in close(ish) behind.
o The Ballad Of Lucy Jordan – Marianne Faithfull / Dr Hook…the original by the bloke with the eye-patch who looked a bit like a slimmed down but 3rd rate Captain Pugwash-Sparrow, was, frankly, pretty bland but this – filled in by rippling keyboards courtesy a certain S. Winwood – is far from it; MF pushes the lyric so far that you can almost smell fresh baguettes as she drives in that open top car across Paris. Another inspired piece of A&R direction – possibly via Killer Tuesday (tho’ I don’t know for certain) – otherwise credited as Mark Miller Mundy, the producer of Broken English from which this landed MF into the lower reaches of the charts.
o The Long Black Veil – The Chieftains with Mick Jagger / The Band… yet another unlikely coupling, Paddy Maloney – chief Chieftain alongside the Big Boulder himself – launching in to a story of infidelity and the honour of non-betrayal as told from the scaffold, rope around the neck and the trap-door about to drop. There are echoes of The Band’s original in this, especially in Jagger’s vocal phrasing – being something of an aficionado of theirs, it’d be The Band’s original as choice #1 but… as odd as this might seem, the Chieftains variant on their theme is well worth checking out.
o Some Guys Have All The Luck – Robert Palmer / Junior Tucker / Rod Stewart / Maxi Priest / The Persuaders… just a great song equals, plenty of hits though, still for my money, the best of the many versions is that by Junior Tucker – who turned it into a rather sweet early-teen anthem of pubescent annoyance at his school-mates making out with all the best looking gals. Rod and Robert had variously laid their way around the world with a multiplicity of blonde bimbettes on the back of their hits with this so it would’ve been nice for Junior’d if had a hit too… but, he didn’t; still the superior version though.
o Downtown Train – Rod Stewart / Tom Waits… as much as Rod Stewart’s version made pop-sense of the song, Tom’s own gravel-based dirge is still miles ahead down the track. The only good thing that happened when the Modster covered it is that it brought the song – as quality a piece of writing as ever there was – to a much wider attention. Forget the cover, go download the original.
o I Am The Walrus – Spooky Tooth / The Beatles…traversing the peak district of the Beatles’ loaded canon is always a bit of dangerous undertaking; the chance of being blown straight out of the water by committing mediocrity being a distinct possibility. Not so here; recorded when the group, that started life in Carlisle as Art before mutating into the (much better named) Spooky Tooth, began falling to bits. Hence the title of their final offering being The Last Puff. The references to the original are all there but this is as heavy as lead-guttering and a more-than laudable precursor for what Kurt Cobain would be credited as inventing decades later in Seattle. If Nirvana was musical Renaissance by way of growled vocals and heavy guitars this, by definition, is Neolithic grunge.

So, there we go then… not any form of compilation – just a few arbitrary thoughts on a haphazard selection of songs… some downright miraculous, others – errr, not quite so bridled by out and out quality.

Time, I think, to leave the distracting world of potential Project Y and… re-enter the (su)real world of Project X…


Drew said...

Impeccable musings, and touched by the mention.
'No More I Love You's' was an 80's band called 'The Lover Speaks'. Worth a search.

Next list candidate- Jacques Brel/ Sensational Alex Harvey Band- 'Next'.
Why did this work?

Boulangerie open again, so I'll don my white coat and clip-board and head down there to research his wares.


Anonymous said...

How can you, how dare you say that Axl Rose 'demolished' Knockin' On Heaven's Door? That is rubbish. Brainless and idiotic - don't you appreciate great music? Gun's n Roses - the greatest band, ever.
Walt P, Chicago, IL.

Anonymous said...

How on earth you manage to combine hugely entertaining observations concerning a few selected cover songs with cows producing methane; a tourist's guide to a castle in France and the rights of migrating birds all linked to solar panels and wind farms and still manage to make it as entertaining and as spot on a set of observations and critiques is beyond me.

When are you going to post another of your Island compilations - I'm waiting!


Anonymous said...

Walt - you're talking bull.

Slash's top hat is cool and he's a good player Axl's voice is about as annoying as it gets - I'm with Neil on this one.


Anonymous said...

Just listened to the Spooky Tooth version of I Am The Walrus - the observation of neolithic grunge is dead on! Someone in Seattle should DEMAND that that is played there and then they'll properly understand where grunge really came from and what Kurt Cobain learned from.

'He ain't heavy - he's...' Do you know how that band got that sound? It's like a tank crossing a muddy field.


Fifi Dessein said...

I'm a bit partial to Booker T's version of Light My Fire myself

Anonymous said...

Interesting, as was the first post on the subject.

I'd add the following in as worthy inductees into this rather bizarre Hall of Fame - how about:

Hey Joe - original far outstripped by Hendrix;
Hush - Deep Purple's first big record;
If You Don't Know Me - Simply Red's hit from a Harold Melvin song;
Little Piece Of My Heart - Janis and Big Brother's cover;
Summertime Blues - Eddie Cochran -v- The Who;
Spoonful - Howlin' Wolf covered by Cream;
Blue Suede Shoes - Carl Perkins / Elvis the Pelvis.

Anymore for anymore?

Jon, Brooklyn Heights, NY

Anonymous said...

Great stuff... food for thought.

How about another couple?

Well Alright - Buddy Holly / Blind Faith

Free Ride - Nick Drake / Tir na Nog, probably very few know of their Strong In The Sun album but its well worth finding.

Jed, Tonbridge.