I’ve written before – here and here – about my love of a spontaneous car-journey sing-a-long. It had bothered me, though, that I couldn’t recall a single example of this joyous, bonding experience ever making an appearance in a film or TV series.
Doubtless you’re all muttering moments under your breath right now, and you’re right, I had completely forgotten about one such sequence in a film, which I haven’t watched in donkey’s years, but happened to watch the other day, when it cropped up on one of the movie channels I subscribe to.
I speak, of course, of Cameron Crowe’s 2000 masterpiece Almost Famous, which tells the story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone magazine in the early 1970s, his touring with the fictitious rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published.
Anyway, here’s the clip:
Were he still around, then Llŷr and I would have raised bottles of beer to our mouths to hide the fact we didn’t know all the words many times throughout that, all the time giggling and giving each other knowing looks.
It’s not the first, nor the most recent, time the song has cropped up in a film. Perhaps less surprisingly, it features in the rather wonderful Rocketman, a film I wanted to hate (I’ll explain why some other time) but which I actually think is, as they say in the land of the luvvies, an absolute triumph (dahling!):
(For ages now, I’ve been meaning to write a post comparing Rocketman with the other biopic that came out around the same time, Bohemian Rhapsody. I’ll get round to it eventually, y’know, like I keep saying about the next episode of The Chain…)
And here’s the song itself, from Elton’s 1971 album Madman Across The Water; unbelievably, this never got released as a single in the UK (before the pedants leave comments: not until 2015, when it managed to reach #70 in the charts):
Having started off the month with a post a day, it had been my plan to continue in that vein for the whole of September.
Unfortunately, I’ve had really unbearably bad lower back pain all week, which has made it impossible to sit at either my desk to do actual work, or at my coffee table to write blog stuff.
I get back pain quite a lot; I’m one of those people who when at work, in an actual office, has a special chair and various other contraptions to ease my condition. Working from home, however, is a different kettle of fish, for whilst my employers had kindly arranged for my chair to be delivered home, and I had all the other paraphernalia, I’m still working at a laptop (a smaller one than my own personal one) rather than using a monitor and keyboard.
I’m not saying that’s definitely the cause, but it would seem to be the most likely.
Ordinarily, I’d manage the pain by using extra strength paracetamol, and, ordinarily, that works just fine. But not this week: they just didn’t seem to be having any effect whatsoever.
And then on Friday evening, having exhausted my supplies, and with neither the will nor the energy to travel to my local supermarket to stock up, I went to my local convenience store, which obviously didn’t stock the same supermarket own-brand I normally purchase, so I had to pick up a well-known brand instead.
I don’t normally bother with the name brands of things, not through any tightness, but because in the mid-1990s I worked for Boots the Chemist, where we were told that there was no point in buying brand names if there was an alternative on option, for they were all made in the same factory, with the same ingredients, and then just packaged differently. I’ve no idea if that was true, or just their way of getting us to flog more of the Boots own-brand stuff, but that little nugget stuck in my noggin to this day, some twenty-five years later.
Imagine my delight, then, when after quaffing a couple of the brand painkillers, I felt able to move without discomfort in a way I’d not been able to all week.
Now, I don’t want to overdo things, so I’m going to keep everything I post for the next few days brief (which is a shame, for a week of watching the news has given me much to rant about) and I’ve already gone on a lot longer than I intended to, so I’ll whizz on to some tunes sharpish before I do myself any damage.
In my teenage years, as I began to explore music which existed outside of my Quo-bubble, I borrowed a couple of Elton John’s Greatest Hits albums from a mate. I realise it isn’t fashionable to like John’s output these days, and I can’t really say I’ve been fond of anything he’s released since 1983’s Too Low For Zero album. But I loved all of those 1970s hits, mostly all of the singles which were lifted from his 1973 double album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
And it is to the title track of said album we’re turning to this morning:
In 2018 came one of those tribute albums, which are historically very hit-and-miss affairs. This may sound an obvious thing to say, but the quality of these albums very much depends on the artists selected to record a cover version, and which one they’ve been permitted to record.
Revamp: Reimagining the Songs of Elton John & Bernie Taupin is no different; I have a copy but must admit to having only skipped through it. I have no desire to hear Coldplay, Mumford & Sons or Ed Sheeran at all, let alone bastardising songs I like.
But there are a couple of peaches on there, not least today’s cover version.
Which leads me on today’s lesson: sometimes, it’s absolutely fine to just do a faithful cover version.
Sometimes things I write come back to haunt me. Last time I wrote anything in this thread, it was the words above.
And then I checked to see what records that I bought in 1985 I still had to write about.
Can I pretend I was talking about records I bought in 1986? No? Fair enough.
OK, let’s try and get through these then.
You know how stand-up comedians often talk of terrible gigs they played when they started out, before they found “their voice”? Well, that pretty much sums up the mish-mash of records that I’m going to post today: I hadn’t quite found my voice, my style just yet, and that’s as close as I’m going to get to justifying some of these.
So, first, one which proves that I was still a little easily-led. When I was 15, and for a few years beforehand, many of my friends were into bands like Pink Floyd and Rush. I bought into the first to an extent – I’ve talked about ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ on these pages before, and that remains the only record by them that I own a physical copy of – but I never fell for the ‘charms’ of Canadian rockers Rush at all.
But there was another band that loomed large amongst my peers, who I never really liked all that much, but who managed to score a couple of hits in 1985, the first of which I still quite like but didn’t buy, and the second which I did buy but don’t think I’ve played more than once or twice since:
That sleeve really tells you all you need to know about that record, doesn’t it?
Well, not quite. Marillion’s lead singer was called Fish. He chose that name because he thought it to be less ridiculous than his real name. Which was Derek Dick. So he had a point.
Moving swiftly on then, a record which I seem to remember a girl at school giving to me as a birthday present. I have no idea why she did that. I don’t recall ever saying I particularly liked it, and I don’t recall she and I ever being particularly great friends. Friendly, sure, but not friendly enough for birthday gifts. Maybe I’d mentioned it in passing and she decided to present me with it thinking I would be grateful, maybe I’d mentioned in in passing and she decided to present me with it knowing it would piss me off to actually own it. (In case any of you are now hollering “Maybe she fancied you, you idiot!” at your screen/tablet/phone, well I can rule that out, for she only ever had eyes for wrong ‘uns, and no amount of shoplifting white socks would have made me a wrong ‘un). So, I have no idea. All I know is that I not only own this, but also that it has inexplicably survived my lean years, when records that I genuinely loved were ruthlessly stripped from within my vinyl collection to assist me in the purchase of some unloved trinket or other:
I do hope that everyone of you is saying “Aye” right now, as requested.
There was still the occasional purchase from Britannia Music going on at this time, including this, which was actually released two years earlier in 1983, but which I bought through choice rather than one of their “Tick This Box and Send the Card Back if You Don’t Want This Record” scam. I have no qualms at all about owning this album; Elton John has been around for such a long time that I think tucked away somewhere in his back catalogue there’s at least one song that everyone loves, be it “Your Song”, “Tiny Dancer”, “Passengers” (God help you if that’s yours) or this, from the album in question, “Too Low For Zero”, which still has me singing along like nobody can hear me (although they can, they definitely can, as the guy who used to live in the flat above us in Cardiff once kindly pointed out to me) when I’ve had a few:
Of course, in 1985, Live Aid happened. I’ve already mentioned this in passing before, and besides, as I think I mentioned last time, I can’t really compete with the wonderful post over at Any Major Dude With Half a Heart from the 30th anniversary of the gig, which I would thoroughly recommend you go read, here.
The cynics amongst us – okay, including me – whilst applauding the honourable intentions of all those involved, couldn’t help but notice that appearing at either the UK or the USA concert (or both, as Phil Collins did when he famously got Concorde across the pond, thus leaving the sort of carbon footprint that required Live8 to happen years later), not only scored them bonus points for caring, or appearing to care, about world issues, it also had a seriously positive effect on their record sales.
None more so, than Queen.
In November, they released this single, often thought to have been inspired by the event of Live Aid, the lyrics to which, in drummer Roger Taylor’s own words, were “sort of half nicked off Martin Luther King’s famous speech”:
That’s Queen, who lest we forget, were roundly criticised for playing a run of shows at Sun City, the entertainment complex located in Bophutswana, despite the United Nations cultural boycott of South Africa whilst apartheid remained in situ.
But let’s not go off on another rant again, eh?
Queen were of course not the only act to appear at Live Aid to monopolise on their appearance. Precisely two months before Live Aid, Dire Straits released their “Brothers in Arms” album, which of course went on to claim a position in the Top 10 Best-Selling UK albums ever that as far as I can find, they still hold today (Number One? Queen’s “Greatest Hits”, natch). I by now was working my way through The Straits’ back catalogue as fast as my money would allow me, and next on the list was 1980s “Making Movies”.
Now I know that the mere mention of Dire Straits makes many of you reach for that little X in the corner that closes the window, but indulge me for a moment. For whilst “Brothers in Arms” may have been the album that made them all their bucks (helped in no small part by a coincidental correlation with CD sales taking off), if I were to look over their back catalogue, they were already past their best, with their absolute peak having been “Making Movies”. It’s an album I still own, and play semi-regularly today, mostly because of this:
When I was a kid, I was mildly obsessed with “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, a science fiction/comedy series, written by the late, great Douglas Adams, which first aired on BBC Radio 4 in 1978, but has been repeated many times since. In 1982, my brother recorded them all onto a series of C-60 cassettes, which he created sleeves for, little doodles, drawing and sketches of characters and scenes from the episodes contained within. (I know it was 1982 because there was an odd amount of episodes, which meant the second side of the last cassette was blank, a situation he resolved by recording songs from the Top 40 one week, one of which was Quo’s version of Tom Jones’ “Something ‘Bout You Baby”. Don’t fret, I’m not going to post it.)
Anyway, the radio series spawned a television version, a five book trilogy (The final one, “Mostly Harmless” came with the words “The fifth book in the increasingly inaccurately named ‘Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ trilogy” written on the front), and much, much later, a film version.
There were also novelty singles (“Marvin the Paranoid Android” by…erm…Marvin, The Paranoid Android – and fret not, I’m not posting that either), a stage show or three, not forgetting that Adams’ creative brilliance inspired the names of musicians (see: Level 42), and of course Radiohead, who named their biggest single, “Paranoid Android”, after the aforementioned character.
Oh go on then, I’ll play one of those three:
Why am I prattling on about Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, I hear you feel obliged to ask. Well, because in the fourth of the inaccurately named trilogy, “So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish”, Adams write this:
“Arthur put Dire Straits on the stereo…Mark Knopfler has an extraordinary ability to make a Schecter Custom Stratocaster hoot and sing like angels on a Saturday night, exhausted from being good all week and needing a stiff beer – which is not strictly relevant at this point since the record hadn’t yet got to that bit, but there will be too much else going on when it does…so it seems best to mention it now while things are still moving slowly”
A page later, he writes:
“She moved forward, put her arms round and kissed him, because the record had got to that bit which, if you knew the record, you would know made it impossible not to do this.”
I had always assumed, wrongly I find as I came to research this post, that Adams was talking about “Romeo & Juliet” when he wrote that, but it transpires he was actually referring to a different track from “Making Movies”, one which opens the album with an arrangement of the “Carousel Waltz” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel”. This song, in fact:
Say what you like about Dire Straits, they knew how to press home a concept on minimalist sleeve art. “Making Movies” is identical to the two above (but with the words “Making Movies” replacing the words “Romeo & Juliet” and “Tunnel of Love”, obviously).
If Peter Saville had done something similar with the sleeves of all the Factory Records releases, we’d all be hailing them as works of art. But as this is Dire Straits, and thus already on minus cool points, we’ve never heard of the bloke responsible for the original design and artwork. (A chap called Neil Terk, in case you’re interested. Brexiters are hoping he won’t gain access to our country.)
Which leaves me with just two other singles that I bought in 1985 to write about, and hopefully a sign of things to come.
These last two also come from the same band, a band who had already reincarnated from Southern Death Cult, to Death Cult, to The Cult, their sound spiralling to a more and more accessible version of Goth, and following the success they found with their “Love” album,, they changed once more, unleashing a full metal racket upon us (which I also loved).
But before that, following the release of “Love” and “She Sells Sanctuary”, which I’ve written about and posted previously, by the end of 1985, there were two more singles, both of which I bought on gatefold double 7″ format. I don’t think I’ve ever played anything other than the A side of either of them, which makes me think that it was around now that I was beginning to turn into the fully fledged, must collect everything, music nerd you see before you today.
So, here, to round things off for 1985 (as far as I can work out, that’s covered everything I bought, borrowed or stole), are two singles by The Cult, both of which seem to sum up Britain right now. And that’s all I’m going to say on the matter:
Happy to report that a steady number of suggestions to follow Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” were received this week (by which I mean the same as last week: two), both of which take us in directions I anticipated, albeit not the tunes I expected.
But first, some admin. I had a message from Dave a.k.a. The Great Gog who said:
“The original reasons for links are available online (or at least they were around eighteen months ago when I last looked) on an archived Radio 2 page from when Radcliffe and Maconie were on that station, but I guess that would be cheating.”
Well, Dave, yes it would, but it would also help us clarify why the official suggestion was made. So, I’ve had a peek – and I swear, I have resisted the temptation to look at the next record in the chain or how they got there – and can confirm the following:
I was right about the link between Booker T and Otis Redding
George was right about the link between Otis Redding and Lynyrd Skynyrd, which for those of you who haven’t read the comments is that Otis Redding died in a plane crash, as did several members of Lynyrd Skynyrd.
The other bit of admin I need to sort was prompted by George who asked:
“Am I allowed to make another chain suggestion?”
So, let’s clear this up. I’m always happy to get messages from any of you, especially when it’s suggesting songs that you think I might like, or a suggestion for something to post, or hopefully both (Cath – I’ll be getting to that one you sent me months ago soon, honest!). Plus, since George no longer blogs (unless I’m missing something…) it’s a delight to hear from him; as I’ve mentioned before, I used to absolutely love his old blog and the blogosphere (I hate that term, by the way) is a poorer place without him contributing to it, so I’m proud that he reads this and wants to chip in. I kinda feel like his surrogate blogger…!
Anyway, this is starting to sound like I’ve had few too many drinks and am about to verge into slurry “You’re my best mate, you are” territory, so I’ll delay no further.
Here’s George’s suggestion:
“Lynyrd Skynyrd were named after a PE teacher; track 2 on Elton John’s album Don’t Shoot Me I’m only The Piano Player (an album I have, by the way) is “Teacher I Need You”.”
Not a song I was familiar with, as it goes, but that shouldn’t stop me, in fact one of the things I’m enjoying about this thread – and, for that matter, the actual Chain feature on Radcliffe & Maconie’s show – is that it introduces me to “new” stuff ( can I legitimately refer to a song released in 1973 as “new”, I wonder? Yes, if it’s new to me, I unwonder.), so here it is:
If you haven’t already, then go read Auteurs main man Luke Haines’ brilliant book “Bad Vibes: Britpop and My Part in its Downfall”. Essential reading. Buy it here. (Actually, if you can buy it anywhere other than Amazon, like from someone who pays their taxes, please do.)
Follow him on Twitter to see what an entertainingly cantankerous old sod he is: @LukeHaines_News
It occurred to me that other than tracking down and posting the suggested songs, I haven’t really contributed much to this thread myself so far, and that’s not what you all pay your money for (You have all paid your Dubious Taste Subscription Fees, right…?)
So during the week I thought of a couple of songs which could link to the Lynyrd Skynyrd one, and funnily enough, they’re along the same lines as both George and Dave’s suggestions.
First, going with Dave’s “Len” suggestion, here’s one hit wonders and butter tart (whatever they are) enthusiasts Len:
Dunno what it is about that tune, but it always raises a smile on these old grizzle-chops.
The other suggestion I had was by a band that long-term readers will remember I enthused about some time ago as the act that guided me away from listening to Shakin’ Stevens when I was a nipper.
As you will probably know, former great record writer, terrible actor, commendable environmentalist and all-round pretentious prick Sting (your name’s Gordon, Sting, admit it!) used to be a teacher, amongst other things: less famously, he was also a bus conductor, a building labourer, a tantric lover (not a fighter) and a tax officer, which gives us another well founded reason to hate him.
He also wrote this, one of the greatest break-up records ever:
So, ladies and gentleman, your suggestions via the Comments function (at the bottom of the page) please for a) the reason the official Chain went from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama” to Ash’s “Girl From Mars”, and b) any record you’d like me to post which you can link to “Girl From Mars” by Ash, along with the explanation of the connection.