Sunday Morning Coming Down

A few posts ago, I mentioned Spillers Records in Cardiff, and this morning’s selection comes from an album I picked up there when I was at college, I think one of the first CDs that I ever purchased there. Definitely not the first, for that honour went to a compilation CD I bought which included a song by today’s artiste, and which prompted me to buy what I thought was the source album.

I went through a phase in my late teens/early twenties where I would buy compilation albums that contained a couple of tracks by bands I liked, figuring that the remainder of the songs would be of a similar ilk, I’d maybe unearth a new band and could start to investigate more of their stuff. Method in my madness, see?

So, one day I strode from Spillers, the proud owner of a compilation CD called “CD88”, in a blatant call-back to the NME C86 cassette released two years earlier. I’d bought it because it had songs by The Wedding Present, The Soup Dragons and Half Man Half Biscuit on it, and bar a couple of exceptions, all were cut from roughly the same Indie cloth.

One of those exceptions was the track by today’s artist, and her track stuck out, not quite like the proverbial sore thumb, for that would imply something unpleasant. The song in question was “Fog Town” by Michelle Shocked, which turned out to be lifted from her recorded-on-a-Sony-Walkman debut album (I had no idea you could record stuff on a Walkman. Did anyone else have one you could record stuff on?), “Texas Campfire Tapes”.

So the next thing I purchased from Spillers Records was her sophomore album (that’s what music journalists call a second album, right?) “Short Sharp Shocked”, which contained an altogether rockier version of “Fog Town” as a bonus track (hence my confusion at the time), but more importantly it contained this little beauty:

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Michelle Shocked – Anchorage

‘Anchorage’ tells the bitter-sweet tale of Michelle exchanging letters with her old friend for the first time in a couple of years, finding that she’s moved from Texas to Alaska, that their circumstances have changed, that they have very little in common anymore bar shared memories. You come away from it feeling that both are a little jealous of the other’s lifestyle; Michelle of her friend’s family life and domesticity, her friend of Michelle’s free spiritedness (is that a word?). You also get the feeling that this will be the last contact between them (this is pre-Facebook days, pre-Friends Reunited, even, when staying in touch with old friends was such a hassle. I know, I’ve lost plenty of them.)

Whilst I was at college, my Dad got made redundant from the job he’d been in for twenty-plus years. He retrained as a driving instructor and, since I’d managed to fail my test first time around (when he hadn’t taught me), whenever I was home from college he would give me lessons. We looked on it as a reciprocal deal, I think (and an opportunity to have a sneaky cigarette): he was teaching me, and at the same time he was learning how to teach someone. Luckily, our hourly rates cancelled each other out.

Once, he suggested that I drive part of the leg from our family home in Cambridgeshire, down to South Wales, where I was at college. I agreed on the proviso that his rule that the driver chooses the music still applied. I could tell he didn’t look keen, worried about what horrors I might unleash, but he reluctantly agreed.

When it got to my turn to drive, I slipped a cassette of “Short Sharp Shocked” into the cassette player, and watched as Dad’s body tensed up, not at the standard of my driving (I was still in neutral, quite the feat as you approach the toll booths on the Severn Bridge), but in anticipation as to what I was going to subject him to.

Two songs in and he’d relaxed.

“What is this we’re listening to?” he finally enquired.

“Surprised you don’t recognise it”, I replied, “I gave you a copy of this album a few months ago.”

“He won’t have listened to that unless you told him it sounded like this,” my Mum sagely advised from the back seat.

Nowadays, we have a system: if I post something he’d like anywhere other than in this thread, I have to send him a text to tell him there’s a song he’d probably like. It saves there being a repeat incident of him “accidentally” attempting to watch the uncensored “Girls on Film” video I posted the other week.

Anyway, safe ground here Dad. You’ll like this one. That’s if you don’t remember it, of course.

More soon.

Friday Night Music Club

Evening all. Hope you’ve all had a decent week since I last graced these pages with anything new for you to chow down on. It’s Friday Night and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for the latest additions to the Music Club canon.

And this week, we’re going a bit country. Well actually, quite a lot country.

No wait, come back!

It’s not all ten gallon hats and Republican rednecks, I promise! That’s Country and Western, and we are most definitely not going Western tonight.

So saddle up (doh!), stick around, and you never know, you might learn – or even like – something.

First up, and to carry on where I left it last week, a song by The Fall. Well, almost. A song which The Fall released as an extra track on the UK CD version of their 1991 album “Shift-Work”.

The song was written by J.P. Richardson, who is perhaps better known as The Big Bopper, and perhaps even better known for having died in the same plane crash as claimed the lives of Buddy Holly and Richie Valens – the infamous “day the music died” Don McLean wrote about in “American Pie”.

Alas, Richardson didn’t have chance to record it before his untimely death, leaving the late great George Jones to record this rollickingly definitive version:

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97. George Jones – White Lightning

George of course is renowned for two things: being married to Queen of Country Tammy Wynette, and having a drink problem that makes it a minor miracle he lasted until he reached the grand old age of 81. The latter makes his choice to cover this record – a tale of family-produced moonshine – rather unsurprising.

Two examples to illustrate how much George liked a tipple: when he turned up at the studio to record White Lightning, he was so bladdered he needed around 80 attempts to get it right. The bass player, Buddy Killen was rumoured to have so many blisters on his fingers from playing it so many times, he not only threatened to quit the recording session, but also threatened George with a bit of ABH. When the session producer ultimately chose the first cut they had done that day to release, I’m sure he saw the funny side though.

The second example is one that has gone down in country music folklore. Here, then, from his aptly-titled autobiography “I Lived To Tell It All”, in his own words:

“Once, when I had been drunk for several days, Shirley [his second wife] decided she would make it physically impossible for me to buy liquor. I lived about eight miles from Beaumont and the nearest liquor store. She knew I wouldn’t walk that far to get booze, so she hid the keys to every car we owned and left.

But she forgot about the lawn mower. I can vaguely remember my anger at not being able to find keys to anything that moved and looking longingly out a window at a light that shone over our property. There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat; a key glistening in the ignition.

I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.”

You will notice that booze plays quite a part in a few of tonight’s choice. Before we go any further though, I owe you one Fall song, so here’s their version (and unofficial video):

Moving on, another country legend who I’ve waxed lyrical about on these pages before, and another artist who, I think it’s fair to say has battled a few of his own demons in his time:

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98. Kris Kristofferson – Out of Mind, Out of Sight

“Let’s keep drinking ’til we’re blind”, indeed.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was brought up listening to Kristofferson, and whilst he has continued recording, railing against the authorities and touring right up to the present day (I was gutted to be too slow to manage to grab a ticket for his recent gig at the Union Chapel in Islington, but did manage to catch about half of one of his gigs in Bristol a few years back – I’ll explain why some other time), for me his real purple patch was from 1970 – 1972. If you’re curious to dig a little deeper (though they will be featured at some point in these pages if you want to stick around), or if you like the kind of alt-country that folks like Wilco or Ryan Adams produce, then I can heartily recommend 1970’s “Kristofferson” (which was re-released in 1971 under the title “Me and Bobby McGee” after Janis Joplin had released her simply stunning version of said song), 1971’s “The Silver Tongued Devil and I” and 1972’s “Jesus Was A Capricorn”, each displaying his flawless ear for a tune.

Now, just to prove that country music ain’t just about boys and their booze, here’s Michelle Shocked from her sophomore album “Short Sharp Shocked”, with a tale about Saturday night drinking and the rush to get to the local liquor store before it closed (presumably not on a lawn-mower):

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99. Michelle Shocked – (Making the Run to) Gladewater

As I mentioned last time Michelle’s name came up on the pages, she seems to have developed some rather questionable views on gay and lesbian issues which I’m not going to give time to here, partly because I don’t think I agree with her views which seem rather unclear at best, but partly because if I do I’d have to mention Piers Morgan, and we all know the only thing worse than having questionable views on gay and lesbian issues is being Piers Morgan, so I’ll leave it there. If you’d like to read more though, you can do here.

So, having established booze is playing a large part in tonight’s Yee-Hawing, we may as well expand that to include the other thing on your bona fide country star’s list of forbidden fruits. So here, for the none-more-country-named Broken Family Band:

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100. The Broken Family Band – The Booze And The Drugs

It seems apt that a song about booze and drugs, two things which will feature fairly large in my A History of Dubious Taste thread, should be the 100th record here.

Surprisingly, The Broken Family Band are not, as you might assume from their name and their sound, from some sleepy southern state backwater; rather they actually hail from that most un-country-music-esque of towns: Cambridge, England. It’s not just their country credentials which are exemplary: they recorded two sessions for Peel, did a cover version of Neutral Milk Hotel’s “The King Of Carrot Flowers Part 2” on their mini-album “Jesus Songs”, and in 2007 their Welcome Home Loser” album was included in The Guardian newspaper’s ‘1000 Albums To Hear Before You Die’.

Next on to a band who from their album titles (such as Kiss My Grass: A Hillbilly Tribute to Kiss”) you can tell a) love a pun (their very name is a pun on Aussie rockers AC/DC), b) love a cover version, and c) haven’t really grasped the idea of making decent album covers. Yup, from their “Weapons of Grass Destruction” (see??) album, it’s Hayseed Dixie, and no prizes for guessing which of their oh-so-many- covers I’ve plumped for (I’ve not mentioned the folks who recorded the original for absolutely aaaaaaaaages):

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101. Hayseed Dixie – Down Down

Relax ladies, they’re married.

No further comment needed, I think we’ll leave that there, shall we?

To more contemporary tuneage, and two songs which are in no way country, other than having the word “Country” in their titles (and the first one featuring a banjo). First, the lead single from their eighth studio album, which I’m slightly surprised to learn, is their highest ever UK chart-placed single. No further introduction required, the magnificent:

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102. Primal Scream – Country Girl

A change in pace now. In 1997, fresh(ish) from winning the race to Number One in the UK Singles chart, a Pyhrric victory if ever there was one, given the battering they subsequently took in the album sales, Blur regrouped and came back with an album which was such a departure from their previous “sound” they were almost unrecognisable.

Oasis may have won the day in terms of popularity and record sales, but for my money, with the follow-up to 1995’s “The Great Escape”, Blur demonstrated a musicality and diversity which their rivals could only dream of.

It can’t be underestimated quite what a surprise it was back in January 1997 when Blur released first the lead single (and UK Number One) “Beetlebum”, swiftly followed in April by second single (and UK Number Two, appropriately) “Song 2”, and there, sandwiched in between, was the wonderful, if not wonderfully titled, “Blur” album, from which this next track is lifted:

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103. Blur – Country Sad Ballad Man

Bit different to “Country House”, that, innit?

And finally, what better way to round things off for tonight than a truly iconic record from a truly iconic album capturing a truly iconic live performance by a truly iconic country star, perhaps the greatest country star:

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104. Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues

You don’t need me to explain this one do you? Thought not.

More soon.

And please remember to drink responsibly.

 

 

Sunday Morning Coming Down

Okay, okay, so I jinxed the weather last week by posting summery songs. I’m sorry. Here’s a more accurate reflection of a British summer:

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Madness – The Sun and The Rain

Madness are one of those bands that I have a soft spot for, but who I managed to never buy any records by at the time. I do remember me and some friends ribbing a lad at school (who shall remain anonymous. Let’s call him Phil. Ah no, that’s his actual name…bugger) back in 1982 because he thought “House of Fun” was actually about a funfair, rather than…y’know…*looks shifty and embarrased*…what it’s actually about…is there a male member of staff I can talk to please, Miss?

Mind you, he also thought that Olivia Newton John’s “Physical” was about her desire to get fat blokes thin, so maybe he deserved everything he got.

Anyway, I digress. The Sun and The Rain finds the Nutty Boys in sombre, non-Nutty mode, and I’d probably say it’s my favourite record they ever did.

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Morrissey – Everyday is Like Sunday

2nd solo single from the Mozster. Not sure how I’ve managed to get to here in my Sunday Morning selections without picking it, to be honest. I will always remember, as the Moz finished miming on Top of the Pops, Simon Mayo announcing “Okay, I’ll go out on a limb. That’s a Number One.”

“Everyday is Like Sunday” peaked at Number 9 in the UK charts. But what does Mayo know?  I mean, did you see that shirt??

It has just occured to me that perhaps Mayo was offering more of a critique than a prediction.

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Michelle Shocked – Come a Long Way

There’s a lot to love about Michelle Shocked’s recorded output, and she will feature on these pages again soon. But there’s a lot less to love about her since she became a born-again Christian. Nuff said.

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Manic Street Preachers – Motorcycle Emptiness

I love the Manics, and they will be subject to a CLANG! name-drop moment at some point in these pages. But for now, this, a song which I don’t think they’ve ever bettered. Maybe they should have given up after their first album, as threatened.

I’ve just realised I seem to be on a bit of an ‘M’ trip this morning. Maybe it’s because I saw the trailer for the new Bond film yesterday. In which case, there’s only one song I can end today’s post with, right?

At the risk of sounding all Alan Partridge (whoever did that, is a fricking genius, by the way): the greatest Bond theme ever:

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Carly Simon – Nobody Does It Better

Shame she isn’t called Marly Mimon just to make this totally M, but hey we can’t have everything, can we?

NB – Shit. McCartney. I forgot McCartney.

More soon.