Friday, October 29, 2010

When Pop Cultures Collide: Top of the Punks

Today sees the first instalment of a two-part post from Terry TOTP -  mastermind and
curator of the online goldmine that is The Top of  The Pops Definitive Website. And what a treat, as Terry hand-picks his top ten highlights from the unlikely alliance formed when punk's pinch-eyed, spit and spikes songbook was refashioned for Hallmarks budget priced audience - filtering exploding dayglo rage through rose tinted studio arrangements...

Top of the Punks - Part 1

Most readers of this blog will be familiar with the old “Top of the Pops” LPs, which ran to some 92 volumes, spanning the whole of the 1970s. The idea was to cherry-pick songs from the hit parade and give them the anonymous cover treatment. On the way the series charted the rise and fall of styles such as glam, disco, soft soul, Eurovision and so on, all interspersed with outbreaks of Wombles, Smurfs, Osmonds and the like.

It was all wholesome family stuff of course; the Poppers had, after all, safely bleeped out a mild expletive on their adventurous version of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” (volume 50) to keep things respectable. But then something else happened: punk arrived in the pop charts, thereby kicking and spitting its way to Top of the Pops’ door. How would they react?

The response was initially predictable, with producer Bruce Baxter simply turning a deaf ear. Top of the Pops was, after all, the stuff at which punk’s venom was most sharply targeted – middle-of-the-road pop which had no interest in confronting mums and dads (who usually bought the things for their kids). But when the Pistols placed “God Save the Queen” at number 2 (or number 1, depending which version of history you prefer), the Poppers were forced to take notice, and as the Pistols’ follow-up, “Pretty Vacant”, headed for the top 10, the Poppers captured a celebrated cover version, their first foray into the world of punk (which will be looked at in greater detail in part 2 of this blog).

By the start of 1978, punk and the associated New Wave bands were starting to invade the charts regularly. But strangely, there was a meeting of minds, with Top of the Pops enthusiastically putting their unique spin on these new styles with no trace of irony, many of them fascinating to hear in hindsight.

This selection kicks off with the Poppers’ take on The Stranglers’ “No More Heroes”, from volume 62 (October 1977). The vocalist here sounds a little more like Douglas Hurd than Hugh Cornwell, but we can forgive that thanks to the overall tightness of the backing music.

No More Heroes from vol. 62

Next up is “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes”, originally a hit for The Adverts, with its subject matter the use of the murderer’s corneas for transplants after his execution. Unable to decipher all the lyrics (eg “I’m wincing in the light”), the Poppers’ man ad-libbed in places, Adverts singer Tim ‘TV’ Smith apparently amused on hearing it and commenting, “It would have been terrible if he'd got the words right”! It can be found on volume 61.

Gary Gilmore’s Eyes from vol. 61

Moving into 1978, we have the Poppers’ version of Blondie’s “Denis” (volume 65). This is actually quite a spirited attempt, and to the casual listener is a fair facsimile. Credit as well to the singer for having a confident stab at the French vocals. In fact, Blondie’s “original” was also a cover version, the song first recorded by Randy & The Rainbows back in 1963!

Denis from vol. 65

Top of the Pops volume 68 from August 1978 is one of the more punk-inflected LPs in the series, which we will dip into a couple of times here. It includes one of the most admirable Poppers covers in “Jilted John”, which is arguably a better listen than Graham Fellows’ original! It’s funny, and for all the right reasons.

Jilted John from vol. 68

For the last track in part 1 of this survey, we’re sticking with volume 68, and a recording which, Like “Denis”, was an updated cover of a 60s tune. Thus, The Kinks’ “David Watts” arrives via The Jam, marking their arrival in the Top of the Pops series. Here, you can certainly spot the difference, but it’s a solid stab nonetheless.

David Watts from vol. 68

Part 2 of this post will follow, with the story behind “Pretty Vacant”!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Keeping It Peel: Podrophenia 11 - Sound-a-likes (and a Pop Quiz)

Organized and arranged by Webbie from the Football and Music blog, The John Peel memorial day Keeping It Peel blazes it's way across the blogs today. Piley and I are chipping into the days doings with Podrophenia 11: Sound-a-likes is the theme so, expect an ear-opening, eye-popping playlist of lifted riffs, recycled styles, stolen vocal tones and even own brand versions of bigger bands.

With a playlist featuring some of Peel's favourites and Peely peeves, you can grab and stream below - or take away via iTunes..

Podrophenia 11

It's a Pop Quiz - we didn't have the space to fit this comp into the Poddy, so have a punt here pop pickers. Seven snippets of sound-a-like licks and riffs. I'll give 1 point for spotting the original riff and 1 point for the rip off . A total of 14 points to be bagged then: but how many can you manage? Be warned, it's a bit nippy, so you may need to replay a few times

Once you've lent an ear here - why not zip about the blogs and see what other Peely treats are on offer. The list of participating sites can be found here...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dear Diary - October

Hormonal boys and bangers: a teenage rampage of fidgety trigger fingers and blue touch papers. So what were the targets on our pocket-size pyromania hit list? Old boys dozing in cars waiting to collect their wives from the WRVS (bangers under, not in the cars) Mr Whippy dollops of doggy doings and poor ol' Heidi Roxborough (30th) discreetly reading in the park, had her library book lifted and a fast-fizzing banger placed bookmark style between the pages. Cue offstage pops, puffs and ever-diminishing smoking scorch holes receding from cover to cover.

Punky trimmings are taking hold with two T-shirts leopard skin and Sid Vicious bought from Nasty in Southend (now the brilliantly named Threads Atomic Dustbin)

Picture courtesy of Southend Punk
The Pistols may have been the Pied Pipers of punk who reeled me in - but The Damned were the band that maintained my momentum (note Love Song scrawled at the heading of last month's entry and Smash It Up on this.)

Oh, and the tick system for sick days - I uncovered these decoding notes scribbled on a back page. You'll notice most calendar sick day ticks are downward...

All this and a new scarf (black and white Grimsby colours - but inspired by The Stranglers). October's chart for this week of '79 looked like this - and singles added to the collection included...

I haven't ripped the vinyl of Smash It Up, but a version that appears to be demo, found on this compilation

The Damned - Smash It Up

Possibly the only song to ever feature the word 'gerrymander'

The Stranglers - Nuclear Device

John Du Cann - Don't Be a Dummy

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Top Pop Hits At Pocket Money Prices

Top of the Pips - the infamous nipples edition (Vol 16)

If there's one format that's a precision indicator of  70s pop culture fashions and flavours, it's those bumper bundles of refitted hits at budget prices - Hallmarks' Top of the Pops albums. Omnipresent and affordable, new and updated editons of TOTP repopulated the record racks of Woolworths, Boots and sometimes supermarkets with an industrial efficiency and unrelenting refresh rate of 'every six to eight weeks' according to volume 60's sleeve blurb from ..

It's too easy to raise a purist eyebrow over these popular compilations. Dig about the genre and you'll find it's not all charity shop fodder, some highly prized items are buried in the back catalogue: the 'nipples' cover of Vol 16 ,  the bondage gatefold (Best of 71) - and the golden nugget I've spent too long scouring cyberspace for  - Volume 60,  with a playlist pulling together I Feel Love, Oh Lori and Pretty Vacant.

From what was a mostly cottage industry of session musicians and production anono-bods,  moments of glowing self-sufficient invention and thrifty studio trickery can be found. Take Bohemian Rap (or Bo Rap to give it's full title)  as Ben Soundhog says....

The version of Bohemian Rhapsody is bordering on genius, considering it was done in about a day rather than the seventy million years the original took.

Top of the Poppers - Bohemian Rhapsody

An online goldmine and encyclopedia of all that is TOTP (and TOTP related) is available here at the wonderful - Top of the Pops: The Definitive Website. Did you know TOTP series ran until 1985, that Larry Adler and Tina Charles appear on some editions? That two volumes topped the charts, Find out which models make multiple cover appearances, thumb through a breakdown of acts, tracks, sleeve notes and international variations.

If you have any interest in 70s retro-ology, spin over and browse away - I guarantee TOTP - TDW will be right up your Hit Parade...

PS - wonder if there were ever any outtakes that never made the final edit, perhaps it's time for TOTP expanded or deluxe editions?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Autumn Tales

Is it really that time of year already? Time for blackberry picking, pumpkin
sculpting, showing out the hiding spiders, russety-woodland walks and cosying up in country pubs.

This year's harvest of seasonal songs - featuring selections from Clair of Woo (Angel Eyes) and Davy of H (Celebrated Summer) - is more of a UK/US crossover comp than usual, with each tune telling a tale of love, loss or longing. And, in what at first appears to be a Fab free zone, 'Hari Georgeson' can be spotted hiding in the writing credits for So Sad, while adding slide and bass guitars alongside Ron Wood's 12 string and Mick Fleetwood's drums.

So settle yourself around the fireside and let this patchwork platter warm you through the winter, as Auntie Enid sets the tone for this year's autumn trail.....

Dear Boys and Girls,
I wish you could come with me and walk over the hills, through the fields and down by the river, finding a hundred exciting or beautiful things by the way. I should like to take you fishing in the ponds, and fill your jars with snails and tadpoles. I should like to help you to make a bird table, or to prepare a splendid aquarium. I should like to give you a garden of your own and show you how to make it a place of bright colours and sweet scents.
- Round the Year with Enid Blyton, Autumn Book. 1935.

Autumn Tales

The tracklist is in the comms to avoid being blog whacked. If you're new to the Lazy Sunday series you can dip into previous postings here or more Mondo Mixes here...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Behold:The Holy Grail of Guitar Chords

It sounds like this........

The secret of The Beatles sound (well, Lennon's technique mostly) was revealed to me in a local pub, by an old boy known as Music John - 'He played Banjo chords on guitar' John whispered with lowered tones and knowing nods. If you've ever dabbled with guitar techniques and Beatles tunes, you'll know the Fab's catalogue is coloured with quirky chord shapes and unique sequences, unlike anything you'll find in other rocker's songbooks. It's these same singing, ringing chords and magical combo's that defines a demarcation line between disciples and disbelievers....

Roger McGuinn 'The chord changes really had magic in them'

Bob Dylan 'They were doing things nobody was doing. Their chords were outrageous, just outrageous'

Steve Jones 'The rest of us hate the Beatles. And it turned out he (Glen Matlock) loves them. He came up with all these Beatles influenced chords and melodies that I couldn't play.

From the moment it's first Cllaaaaaanggggg rang around the world, the opening chord to A Hard Day's Night has been the Holy Grail (and basis for raging debates and dissertations on the mechanics of the chord) for  guitar anoraks, plectrum analysers and Beatologists. George Harrison settled, but didn't solve the mystery in 2001.

George Harrison' It is F with a G on top (on the 12-string), but you'll have to ask Paul about the bass note to get the proper story'

The principles of the 'proper story' are:Fadd9  is the George chord, (you'll hear this being picked during the closing coda) but the recording is a composite of overdubbed instruments playing additional notes. Meaning,  the chord required for solo players is - G7sus4. The full theory and breakdown is here. My home made recreation of Fadd9 and extra instrumentation is here.......

But, getting back to Music John's revelation, Lennon was shown banjo shapes by his mother Julia. As his style developed he rounded out his chord library with more conventional shapes, but always coloured his compositions with these peculiar voicings. But it wasn't just the chords that were non-standard. Musicians of the early sixties typically favoured, shiny new Fenders in jet age shapes and Cadillac colours. Not The Beatles - their kit and instruments were a collection of oddities and eye-openers.

Lemmy on seeing The Beatles at The Cavern....

Music John's banjo chords theory, is only one component tone of The Beatles signature mix. Build in Lennon's love of descending bass lines, Ringo's left handed drummer/right handed kit arrangement Macca being the reluctant bass player reinventing the form, and the north-south divide of blues boomers versus country lovers (why the Stones honk out riffs and the Fabs chime with arpeggios) and inspiration and influences taken from an assortment of sources, soul imports, Little Richard squeals, Motown hits, music hall melodies - and the harmonics of the hit makers starts to take shape.

Zip to 00:48 of Chuck Berry's You Can't Catch Me - and you'll find a line mainly famous as Beatles refrain, or Bobby Parker's opening riff for Watch Your Step, which Lennon openly admits was recycled for handful of Fab anthems.

Piley and I set about our eleventh podcast later this week, with sound-a-likes being the motif of the moment. So expect to hear some more 'sounds familiar' acts and tracks at some point soon.

Shabby Road Studios - keyboard not pictured

Friday, October 8, 2010

Rhythm, Riots and Revolution

Whatever your take on him (and the more I read the more mixed my opinion becomes) the musical legacy of John Lennon (and fellow Fabbers) is a body of work, that in the coming decades and centuries will be buffed, studied and beard-stroked over by academic experts and amateur enthusiasts alike. The beatification was already underway in the sixties. Fifty years on The Beatles, as an institution, have become so stately they now outrank the Royals. It follows then that their catalogue will, over time, be elevated to the level of historical classics.

Lennon was always a sprinter compared McCartney's marathon stamina and long-distance game play. Bullish at first, buzzing with rough-boy beans and bravado - later throwing himself deeply and completely into any new fashion, fad or thrill. His gang leader looning and mop-top song writing rush were an early creative growth spurt that spluttered and slowed just as Macca's late-onset ascent began to bloom, blossom and focus.

I'm no musicologist or phsycologist but my guess, for what it's worth is - that Lennon's attention deficit drive and fidgety, creative tics inform his signature songwriting style: shifting rhythms and twitchy time signatures,  more than his fractured background. That history gets written in the lyrics and interviews.

Like most heavyweight greats Lennon's life story can be a minefield of hypocrisy, silly mistakes and high irony:an abandoned child who had little to do with his first son, the working class hero in white Rolls Royce, a peace campaigner gunned to death. Whatever your thoughts, angles or arguments on him may be, the best of Lennon is defined by his legacy not his Legend.
Part of me suspects that I'm a loser, and the other part of me thinks I'm God Almighty - John Lennon

 So what's on the 70th birthday playlist ....

(Take 1 fumbles then) Take 2 of an overlooked Fab fave of mine.

An updated take on their trippiest track.

Dr Winston O'Boogie getting two songs from one chord sequence.

Late period Lennon with sort of riffing  contemporary Weller dips into

The Beatles - Tomorrow Never Knows (Leftside Wobble Edit)

I'll leave the last word to Lennon - with a poppermost quote on Beatlemania at 20 seconds in

Thanks to all at the Unfinished Lennon site for helping locate the above clip and quote

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Disco Dolly

It's Mrs Mond's birthday today - she's loves a bit of disco and a little spot of Dolly. So what say we fuse the two in one camp and funky bundle topped with a big blonde bow. Take your partners for some 12" disco-jiggery and a special dedi' to my endlessly patient, ever-glowin' birthday lovely...

Dolly Parton - Baby I'm Burnin

Dolly Parton - I Wanna Fall In Love

Dolly's roots are showing and they're Northern - one of her earliest singles from 1965...

Dolly Parton - Busy signal

Friday, October 1, 2010

Caining It

Here's something I've been meaning to clonk in the blog for yonks. A Michael Caine what's it all about Alfie?

Typically I'm not one for autograph hunting - and unlike Pileys legendary and  weighty volumes of celebrity scratchings my collection runs to a can-you-even-call-it-a-collection total of two: a signed summer season programme (Eastbourne '76) with Ray Allen and Cilla's sig's contained therein (BTW she tousled my hair and called me 'chucky egg'. She also wore a fur coat and sunglasses. At Night. In the summer. In Eastbourne). And a George Melly concert ticket - personalised 'yours always'

But, when the unblinking, heavyweight ledge that is Sir Michael of Micklewhite is hosting a biog-signing sesh quite literally around the corner from the office - I'll happily take a place in the queue.

Roy Budd - Get Carter Theme

Quincy Jones - The Self Preservation Society

Nancy Wilson - Alfie

If you're in any way a fan of Get Carter this online tour of the filming locations is well worth a squint

Update: Mike meets Mondo