Saturday, May 1, 2010

New Amsterdam (so good, they named it twice)

Two, maybe three weeks ago… cruising along in the overtaking lane on the world-wide super-wait, and hey… what’s this hoving into view at

Its entitled A Knife, A Fork, A Bottle… and as sure as eggs are eggs – it’s the latest in a pretty much matchless line of Tom Southam’s thoughts and, as is fairly often the case, it’s a bit of word-play from him that doesn’t involve his profession but the next best thing… music.

In this instance, Tom and his Rapha / Condor / Sharp cohorts (including Kristian House, the reigning British Champion and the effervescent Dean Downing – all under the watchful eye of Bald Eagle (aka John Herety, the R/C/S team manager) are heading to the city of blinding lights.

First on the agenda, a spot of promo for their Rapha pay-meisters before heading upstate to indulge in a serious bit of racing at The Tour Of The Battenkill which is staged in Washington County.

This trip involves taking the silver-bird for as many hours as it actually takes – up a bit, along a bit, down a bit… bump, bump, bump… and clearly Tom’s i-Pod has been primed for the task…

So much so, that he’s posted his thoughts on the subject matter at hand.

But, while beguiling as his selection is – and I’ll tip my Trilby in a chapeau sort of manner to his proposals… here is a suggested companion CD to his original compilation.

Lets kick off with Take Me For A Night In New York – Elbow Bones & The Racketeers which, in brief, was a quasi amalgam of Dr Savannah & Kid Creole – under the baton of the zoot-suited ringmaster August Darnell himself.

This tune was the opening cut to their one and only record – but, it’s the full-length, six minute or so 12” version (a video of which is easily found on YouTube) that really late-night swings from its big-drums kick-in right through the truly sublime horn arrangements all topped off by a yearning, starry-morning-dewey-eyed, Cory Daye vocal.

Whats next..? Gawd, but there’s so much to choose from and… I think it should be…

Harlem Shuffle
– yes, there’s the Stones version from 1986 but it’s the bump ‘n grind Bob & Earl original that cuts the mustard this end. It didn’t much bother the chart-compilers in America but the opposite was true in the UK when it slid gracefully into the top ten during 1969. Still sounds like it was recorded yesterday too.

Empire State Of Mind
– ok, ok, I confess – after Grand Master Flash bewitched an unsuspecting world with his Wheels Of Steel and Tom Tom Club hit first base with Wordy Rappinghood, pretty much the entire genre of Rap and self became uneasy bedfellows…

I simply couldn’t get a grip on all that clutch-your-crotch / wear-your-jeans-halfway-down-your-arse and sport dark-glasses-indoors bollox until… Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ total out-of-the-park homerun with its entirely glorious hook that fizzed the airwaves from Brooklyn to Fulham Broadway Station.

King Of The New York Streets – and, long ago, Dion DiMucci was precisely that. The man who gave up his seat in the plane that took off from Iowa on a frozen winter’s night in 1959 that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper had a string of majestic 60’s hits (The Wanderer et al) before drink and drugs took hold.

Cleaned-up and having found God along the way, this is culled from his Dave Edmunds’ produced 1989 magnum opus Yo Frankie (that album also includes Written On A Subway Wall on which Paul Simon sings).

On Broadway – there are a zillion different versions of the timeless classic from the collaborative pens of Mann/ Weill / Leiber & Stoller that was first made famous by The Drifters (with a young Phil Spector playing guitar)…

For my money, however, the uber-reading is by the Kidderminster-kid – Jess Roden… originally demo’d in London, re-worked under Allen Toussaint in Memphis, re-mixed by Chris Blackwell in London and the opening cut on Jess’ first solo record. A stunning cut above the rest.

Take The 'A' Train – Billy Strayhorn’s classic / Duke Ellington’s signature tune that’s about as synonymous with the Big Apple as any song could be. It’s a toss up between Dave Brubeck’s version or Ella Fitzgerald demonstrating just how scat-singing should be with Brubeck winning by a short head.

Walking Down Madison – written by Johnny Marr and Kirtsy MacColl and opening cut to her Electric Landlady album… but… it’s the ‘6am ambient mix’ which gets the vote… looped percussion that resonates the city’s street drummers – the guys who sit on the sidewalks and ply their beats on tin cans and upturned plastic paint-tins… “from an uptown apartment to a knife on the A train, its not that far; from the sharks in the penthouse to the rats in the basement to the bag lady frozen asleep on the church steps… its not that far… I can show you if you’d like to…” A voice like no other.

The Apple Stretching – this paean to the city that barely sleeps wakening-up was originally included on Ms Jones’ Living My Life album (the last of her Sly & Robbie-centric Compass Point trilogy). Grace’s bitter-sweet snarl matched to the rolling thunder which is Sly & Robbie’s ridim section is, however, at its optimum on the hard-to-find eight+ minute version of Melvin Peebles’ original Broadway tune.

Hey, Manhattan – from the prolific pen of chief Sprout, Paddy McAloon – peerless lounge-lizard lyrics in amongst a beguiling swirl of Thomas Dolby infused strings and harps and an all-too-rare outing for Wendy Smith’s backing vocals. Genius stuff… Don’t believe me..? Try these rhyming couplets for size then:
The Brooklyn Bridge stretches below me
A billion souls all dying to know me
Well here I am ! Loaded with promise
And knee deep in grace
What I want is here on my face and
I feel like I own the whole damn place
Hey Manhattan ! Here I am !
Call me star-struck Uncle Sam.
Strolling Fifth Avenue
Just think… Sinatra's been here too
These myths we can't undo they lie in wait for you

Doesn’t get much better than that…

Downtown Train – its highly probable that Tom Waits’ grand-children will never need to work with the dollars their grandfather will have earned via covers of his songs.

This, 24-carat masterpiece is from his Rain Dogs album – and, for those who only know the ‘other’ the original makes Rod the Mod’s version sound pale, paltry and… well, basically pretty shit actually. Weirdly, though, that was the one that got Rod a Grammy nomination… which probably goes a long way to proving that people who judge those sort of things have limited (not to say, peculiar) taste.

With Tom’s song, you actually feel like you’re goin’ downtown.. a long, hard day up on 33rd and 9th and going home via Cortland Place or Rector St… That’s the difference between genius and plagiarism.

New York, New York – impossible to leave out (sorry Tom)… and despite Ms Minelli’s brave stab, there’s only the one that’ll do here. Yep, Ol’ Blue Eyes tonsils wrap themselves seamlessly around the song that’s about as synonymous with the city as any.

Last Exit To Brooklyn
– the theme from the film from the book of the same name - Hubert Selby’s 1964 novel that documented working class Brooklyn of the 50’s seen through the eyes of all manner of low life including junkies and alcoholics.

The whole album’s worthwhile actually – a stunning soundtrack by the twang-meister himself – Mark Knopfler.

Times Square – three versions to choose from and, you know what… I’m really not sure which to go for.

There’s the live one from Blazing Away, Marianne Faithfull’s album recorded in St Anne’s Church in Brooklyn on which La Faithfull’s sixty-a-day voice is at its cracked finest; there’s her studio original from Dangerous Acquaintances and there is co-writer Barry Reynolds’ own from his hard-to-find solo album, I Scare Myself.

Damn, decisions, decisions…

Hooverville – biggish (British) hit for The Christians (and, yes, they were all named Christian) that centered around the popular name for the shanty towns that grew up in the Depression era in Central Park (among other places) that were named after US president Herbert Hoover.

First We Take Manhattan – torn again; should it be Jennifer Warne’s from Famous Blue Raincoat, should it be the bard’s original with its stir-fried concoction of synths (well, that’d be souped-up Leonard-style) or Joe Cocker’s windmill-armed Sheffield steel throat-like-gravel roar?

Cohen’s own – from his 1991 Live In London - just shades it

Downtown – Petula Clark, Frank Sinatra, The Killer Barbies… errr, nope… it has to be Athens, Georgia’s be-wigged finest - The B52’s… final cut on their eponymous debut – original vinyl copies of which came shrink-wrapped with their first 45, Rock Lobster.

And, finally…

Fairytale Of New York
– a stone-ground, bona-fide classic and probably (very probably) the greatest Christmas song ever written.

Yes.. there is a version by Coldplay (honestly..!) and a truly terrible one by someone called Ronan Keating with Maire Brennan (Clannaad's chanteuse who, frankly, should have known better) and Kristy Moore chips in one of his own but… Shane, his no-teeth and band of drunken reprobates – The Pogues – trading bickering, hopes-crushed-insults with Kirsty MacColl win the day.

Little known factoid – Kirsty wasn’t actually due to sing on this, she only provided guide-vocals since her then husband Steve Lillywhite was producing the Pogues at the time. However, MacGowan liked what she’d done and the rest as they say, became history. And, for the uber train-spotters (factoid collectors) out there, a version survives that pre-dates the Shane / Kirsty version… we digress.

From those first minor chords… its all bittersweet call and response…

You took my dreams from me, when I found you

I kept them with me babe
I put them with my own
Can't make it all alone
I built my dreams around you..

But then… just as we get to the instrumental bit underpinned by “The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay”... I’ll share a secret… when those drums and strings come in (at 3.24 exactly) I start to tear-up… because … the lost longing of Christmases passed is all forgotten...

That’s the moment of healing; its like the start of the most delicious waltz down a snow-filled 5th Avenue – when nothing else matters; you’re sailing in redemption, wrapped within the arms of the one you love.

Now… where the hell did I put that number for BA..?


Mirth Travers said...

Trouble is, everyone has been dummed down to digital crap recording. I was fooled also until I heard a vinyl version the other day. Why eat hamburgers when you can have steak?

Would love to hear Jess Roden's/Allen Toussaint version, but can't find it.. any clues?

Bill Peter said...

Just off to google BMT, to find out what it is, then to Toutube for the Elbow Bones and the Racketeers.