The Sample Life

This post started off as being the next in my Late Night Stargazing thread, but as I was writing it, it struck me it would be much better served resurrecting another old thread.

I think we’ll start by breaking this one down into it’s composite parts.

Firstly, the main vocal part of the tune is provided by none other than Miss Nina Simone, the song lifted from¬†her ground-breaking 1961 album “Forbidden Fruit”:

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Nina Simone – Rags And Old Iron

Next, the bass line is stolen from this bunch of wonderful nerdos:

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Devo – Mongoloid

In the words of a now disgraced and imprisoned antipodean, can you tell what it is yet?

It’s this:

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Layo & Bushwacka! – Love Story (Original Version)

Anyone who thinks DJs, remixers, call them what you will are not talented musicians in their own right need to have a word with themselves. It takes a very special creative mind to hear a Nina Simone¬†record and think “You know what that needs? A bit of Devo, that’s what!”¬†and then to pull it off with such aplomb. Chapeau, Monsieur Layo et ton ami¬†Monsieur Bushwacka! (No idea where the French accent has come from, by the way. I seem to have come over all ‘Allo! ‘Allo!. Their real names are Layo (no, really) and Matthew, which doesn’t really have the same impact, even if you do add an exclamation mark after it.)

Anyway, released in 2002, “Love Story”¬†takes me right back to a club in Cardiff that me and my buddies used to frequent. Now closed, due, I think, to some alleged misdemeanour over fire regulations, The Emporium to my mind was the best club in the city. Not especially big, but just dark and dingy enough that you could get lost in it – or lose yourself in it, if you prefer –¬†it was spread over two floors and three rooms; as you entered there was a funky little bar, which by the end of the night had inevitably turned into a chill-out area; in the corner was a spiral staircase leading up to The Attic, where things usually got a little harder and faster, across to the opposite staircase, stopping only to warn those on the way up to “Mind The Step” (right at the top there was one step which was slightly higher than the others, and it was a rare event when you walked up or down it that you didn’t see someone¬†trip over it and end up spread-eagled on the floor outside the Ladies – not a good look), and into the main room.

The great thing about the main room – well, one of the many great things about the main room – in The Emporium was that it had¬†a sprung wooden floor (the club itself was situated above a row of shops, so we’re actually¬†on the first floor now) so that when the bass kicked in on any particular tune you could really feel it. Often the combination of that and the crowd going mental meant that you were, literally, bouncing, almost to the point where you began to fear the floor would give way and we’d all be hurtled down into the shop below.¬†At which point you’d realise you were heading into a paranoia hole and decide now was probably a good time to pop another pill, sniff another popper, or whatever your stimulant of choice was. After all, they’d never survive the fall, would they? Best make the most of them now, eh?

“Love Story” was most definitely one of those tunes, especially if the DJ knew to¬†crank the bass up just as it kicks back in at the 05:40 mark.

A year later, “Love Story”¬†took on a whole new lease of life, when Tim Deluxe did one of them there mash-up things, taking this:

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Kings of Tomorrow (feat. Julie McKnight) – Finally

and added it to “Love Story” making this:

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Layo & Bushwacka! – Love Story vs Finally

Much as I love that version, it’s the original that does it for me every time.

Guess I’d better go and dig something out for the Late Night Stargazing thread then, hadn’t I?

More soon.

How Not To Do a Cover Version

I’d decided to put this thread on ice. “If you’ve got nothing good to say, perhaps it’s better to say nothing at all”, I thought.

Plus I was struggling to think of any more truly awful cover versions (suggestions welcome!)

But then when I was writing this week’s “Friday Night Music Club” one just fell into my lap.

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Madonna – American Pie

Now. Don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of Madge, me. Whilst I might struggle to find much to love in her recent output, I cannot deny that for around twenty years or so, from say¬†1984’s¬†“Like a Virgin” album onwards (and yes, I know there was an album before that), she was incredibly influential,¬†released stone-cold¬†classic after stone-cold classic (and, admittedly, a few clunkers), many of which I own, and¬†which deservedly made her one of the most iconic and enduring pop stars in history.

But for me, her decision to cover “American Pie” marked the point where she began to go off the boil. It’s taken from the 2000¬†movie “The Next Best Thing” (nope, me neither) in which she starred alongside Rupert Everett. She won an award for it, it says here. Ah, it was a Razzie for Worst Actress though.

For a start her version¬†is much shorter than the original, containing just¬†the beginning of the first verse and all of the second and sixth verses, which does makes we wonder what the point was. The song’s meaning is puzzling enough as it is (the song’s composer would rarely elucidate: “You will find many interpretations of my lyrics but none of them by me … Sorry to leave you all on your own like this but long ago I realized that songwriters should make their statements and move on, maintaining a dignified silence.”)¬†without slicing off over 50% of it. The NME, mind you, considered this a blessing, calling it: “sub-karaoke fluff” and adding “it’s a blessing she didn’t bother recording the whole thing.”

Play me the original though, and I’m reminded of when I was learning to play the guitar and shelled out on the sheet music for the song; back then I was working at a motorway caf√© and¬†after hours those of us who’d been on the late shift would end up at one of our houses, having a few beers and singing along to records (usually Simon & Garfunkel and The Carpenters, partly¬†because they were the ones that most people knew most of the words to, and partly because there’s some fricking great tunes in there). Every now and then, when my parents were out of town, we’d end up at mine and I’d be coaxed into getting my acoustic¬†out. Inevitably,¬†I’d play this, on the condition that someone turned the pages of the music book for me. I would have been 17 or 18 then, without a care in the world. Great days.

Later, when I lived in Cardiff, we would end up of a Friday night in “Branningans”, one of those cheesy bar-come-clubs that attracts after-work groups, since¬†they’re unlikely to¬†play anything that such inevitably¬†disparate groups could object to, and around 10:00pm every week the original of “American Pie” would get played, the shorter, single version. The first time it happened I was surprised – it’s not exactly a floor filler. But when you’ve been drinking since 5:00pm,¬†10:00pm is a significant point in the evening – it’s when you’re¬†just bladdered enough to let your defences down enough to join in a mass communal sing-song. And let me tell you, if you’re going to indulge in a late night sing-a-long in public, you could do a lot worse than heading to Wales. Land of the song, see?

Anyway, this would have been around 2001-ish, and I can categorically say that not once did I hear the Madonna version being played, and there’s a reason for that: it’s just not as good, is it?

Judge for yourself. Here in all of it’s 08:36 glory, is the original version:

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Don McLean – American Pie

More soon.

How To Do A Cover Version

Another three for the price of one bargain today, which I’m going to do in a slightly unusual order.

First, the famous version:

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The Four Tops – Walk Away Renee

This is another one of those songs where this version is so famous you just assume it’s the original, although it would be rather foolish to think that any but the most accomplished of acts on the Tamla Motown label were regularly recording their own material.

No, wonderful as The Four Tops version is, it’s not the original; their version came out in 1968, while the original first surfaced in 1966, and for me it’s waaay better than their version:

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The Left Banke – Walk Away Renee

Unbelievable as it may seem, this was written by the band’s sixteen year old keyboard player, Michael Brown (no, not the former (in order) Manchester City, Hartlepool, Portsmouth, Sheffield United, Spurs, Fulham, Wigan, Portsmouth (again), Leeds, and apparently still playing for Port Vale midfielder – it would have been much quicker if I just typed the word “journeyman”, wouldn’t it?) along with Tony Sansone and Bob Calilli – but there seems to be a little bit of a difference of opinion in the accounts of how it came into being.

According to Brown, the song was one of many he wrote about one Renee Fladen-Kamm, who just so happened to be the girlfriend of The Left Banke’s bass player Tom Finn. Oh those crazy rock-love-triangles, eh?

Brown claims to have written “Walk Away Renee” along with follow up songs “Pretty Ballerina” and “She Might Call You Up Tonight” as his only way of expressing the frustration he felt. He’s quoted of saying of his unrequited love:

“I was just sort of mythologically in love, if you know what I mean, without having evidence in fact or in deed…But I was as close as anybody could be to the real thing”

That “sort of mythologically in love” bit’s quite telling isn’t it? Sounds to me like he was sixteen and had a crush on someone unattainable – something I imagine most of us can identify with. For me it was Debbie Harry, and Jay Aston of Bucks Fizz – both utterly unattainable- and a whole host of girls from school, who I won’t embarrass here. Well, not just yet, anyway.

Co-writer Tony Sansone, however, begs to differ (and not about my teenage crushes). According to several interviews Sansone has given, he wrote the lyrics for the song, and he claims that he randomly chose the name Renee because it sounded French, and in the aftermath of The Beatles’ “Michelle” he thought this was a smart thing to do.

Who’s right? You decide.

Or if you prefer (and you should), soak up the absolute king of versions. From the B-Side of his “Levi Stubbs Tears” single, which will doubtless feature very soon in my Name That Tune thread (but, though wonderful, is probably a bit too gloomy to do this weekend), here’s Billy doing his amazing monologue, and Johnny Marr doing what Johnny Marr does best: play guitar.

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Billy Bragg – Walk Away Renee

When I was at college, a friend leant me a copy of this, and I was utterly transfixed. I was already a Billy fan by then, but this was something else. Soon afterwards, we went to see Billy play at the Cardiff Student’s Union on his tour to promote “The Internationale EP” and he gloriously did an hilarious ten-minute version.

I had the pleasure of meeting Billy afterwards. Postcards to promote the EP had been scattered around the venue, and I’d liberated one and thrust it under the nose of the Big Nosed Boy from Barking and asked him to sign it for me. He kindly obliged, but gave me a rather withering look when I asked “When’s the next proper album coming out, Bill?”.

Copy book well and truly blotted.

Anyway, his version, which contains none of the words from the original, is both funny and poignant, and if you’ve never heard it, then click the link. You won’t regret it.

I’ve mentioned before that while I pretty much wholly subscribe to Billy’s political perspective (fuck it, he’s one of the reasons I have the political views I have), and love his anti-establishment songs which point out prejudice and bigotry, it’s his love songs, and specifically his unrequited love songs that touch a nerve most.

In short, I think anyone who singularly went through the fickleness of teenage crushes will identify with the lyric: “Then she cut her hair, and I stopped loving her”.

More soon.

Apropos of Nothing

As always, not Apropos of Nothing at all, but sparked by something much cheerier than my last couple of posts.

This week it was announced that the Legends Slot at Glastonbury this year is to filled by ELO.

This would be great news if I had a ticket, but never mind, let’s not get all gloomy again.

And without wishing to be all “I Told You So” about it (by which I mean I intend to be all “I Told You So” about it) back in 2014, I tweeted this (please ignore the glorious absence of any retweets or likes, such is my life):

See, a year late, but I’ve still got it!

So in celebration of all things Jeff, here’s something bloody glorious:

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ELO – Sweet Talking Woman

I can think of no finer way to celebrate my 150th post here. Actually I probably could if I really tried…..

Anyway, bring on the Glasto ticket resale, I say.

More soon.

 

Name That Tune

Following on from last night’s Country wig-out, comes this little beauty from First Aid Kit.

For a lot of people in the UK Рmyself included Рmy first encounter with First Aid Kit came as I sat jealously watching the live-ish coverage of the Sunday afternoon shenanigans from Glastonbury in 2013.

If memory serves, the BBC had just finished showing Kenny Rogers’ Legends slot on the Pyramid Stage, and then, with no word of an introduction, the camera faded to the view over the Park Stage area, before pulling back to reveal sisters Klara and Johanna S√∂derberg. A bit like this. Well, a lot like this actually. In fact, exactly like this:

Like so many others, judging by the comments under clip, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I’d never heard anything so beautiful; shortly afterwards my phone started buzzing as I got text after text from similarly smitten friends asking if I’d seen them.

So here then is the bar set high, not just in terms of gorgeous Swedish folk music, but in terms of the amount of famous people (four! count ’em!) to get a name-check in the song (for that’s why we’re here, remember?)

For those who don’t know who those named are, the titular Emmylou is Emmylou Harris, one of the most influential female country artists of all time. I had always thought that she and the Gram from the song – Gram Parsons, that is, formerly of The Byrds and alt-country forefathers The Flying Burrito Brothers – had been lovers, but on researching this post I find that may not actually be the case. Instead, it seems that their relationships may be¬†one of the great unrequited love stories in music history.

The two recorded together, most famously their version of Everly Brothers classic “Love Hurts”:

Their chemistry was undeniable , but Parsons was married and Emmylou was a respectable Southern girl. Then Parsons filed for divorce, but not, it seems, as I had thought, to be with Emmylou. Instead, he had his eye on Margaret Fisher, a high-school sweetheart of his with whom he had rekindled a relationship. Emmylou, however, seemed to be blissfully unaware of this.

Parsons was due to head out on tour with Emmylou and the band in September 1973, but before he did so he headed out to the Joshua Tree National¬†Park (or Monument as it was then known) with Fisher, personal assistant Michael Martin, and Dale McElroy, Martin’s girlfriend.

Two days later, he was found dead in his bedroom, killed by an unintentional overdose of morphine and alcohol. He was just 26. I say it was unintentional as the autopsy revelealed that¬†Parsons had consumed enough morphine to kill¬†three regular users, and so with a new leaf starting in his life it seems unlikely that his death was intentional.¬†More likely is that¬†he had¬†overestimated his tolerance considering his experience with opiates. In¬†the 2004 documentary “Fallen Angel” Keith Richards, perhaps a little unsympathetically, said that¬†Parsons understood the danger of combining opiates and alcohol, and¬†should have known better. But then I guess it’s easy to be dismissive when you’ve done as many drugs as Keef has.

Anyway, I say that Emmylou was unaware of his taking up with Fisher because in an interview after his death she said: “A couple of weeks before, I‚Äôd finally accepted the fact that I was in love with him. But, you know, why even tell him? I was going to see him in a few weeks. I had all the time in the world . . . I was¬†savouring the moment. I didn‚Äôt want to say it to him over the phone. I wanted to say it to him in person. But I never got the chance.”

If only, eh?

To cheerier matters. Or maybe not. The other two name-checkees in the song are John and June, who of course are Johnny Cash¬†and June Carter Cash, and I imagine you don’t need me to fill in quite so many blanks with them.

They first met in 1955 backstage at the Grand Ole Oprey and were married in 1968. The couple¬†continued to work and tour together¬†for 35 years – in fact June co-wrote Cash’s biggest hit “Ring of Fire” with Merle Kilgore (“Ring of Fire” is one of those songs which is so synonymous with one particular artiste that many assume Cash himself¬†had some hand in writing it, but no).

In March 2003, Cash released the now legendary cover version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and the video that accompanied it is also the stuff of legend, ¬†featuring images from Cash’s life interspersed with footage of – well, let’s just say he doesn’t look well –¬†Cash performing the track as best he can.

Similarities can, of course,¬†be drawn with the recent passing of Bowie, and his video for¬†“Lazarus” (although as someone far wiser than I commented on Twitter “We were so pleased to have him back, we didn’t realise he was saying goodbye”).¬†But with Johnny, well this was undeniably his¬†farewell, and¬†we knew it.

For what it’s worth, the promo¬†was named¬†the best video of the year by the Grammy Awards and Country Music Association¬†Awards, and in July 2011 the NME voted it the best video of all time by NME¬†in July 2011.

I can’t not show it now, can I?

The bit that gets me every time I watch that is not the frail state that Cash is in, distressing and uncomfortable as it is, nor the reliving of past glories¬†– it’s the moment at around 02:35 when you¬†suddenly see June standing on the staircase, adoringly watching over him.

And the reason it gets me every time is this: June died in May 2003. Cash, as if he could see no reason to carry on without her, died four months later.

Jesus, was that thirteen years ago??

Well, this has all got rather gloomy, hasn’t it? I think it must be the hangover from the far too many rock star deaths¬†in Black January, a trend which sadly seems to be continuing into February too.

So let’s bring this back to the original song I came here to write about:

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First Aid Kit – Emmylou

More soon. And something more cheery, I promise.