Monthly Archives: May 2011

Tony Joe White’s Sonic Boom

Do people’s voices reflect who they are as people? Or are they merely a product of anatomy? Be careful with this one.  It’s controversial, as I discovered through some random polling of friends.

It’s a question I started pondering as I lunged across the room to the radio for what seemed the umpteenth time, to turn off a new voice that’s appeared like a plague sore on my favourite public radio station. It’s a harsh, nasty voice that seems to be intent on beating me over the head with a piece of 4 x 2. A voice that may well cause me to not renew my membership. HELLO! DID YOU HEAR THAT, VOICE? Continue reading

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A web of mix tapes

I should have known that Nick Hornby – he of High Fidelity fame – would have beaten me to the punch in writing about keeping music fresh as you get older. His article, from two years ago, is all about music bloggers as today’s mix tape makers. I’ve always been grateful to those kind folk (actually, they were always guys) who spent hours putting together mix tapes, thereby introducing me to new musical worlds: so it was I came to know Afrobeat and late 80s Chicago house. I’ve still got that early house music tape! Continue reading

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Love At First Sight

It’s a funny ol’ world. The very night after I’d written a post in praise of seeking out the new in music and warned against the siren call of Nostalgia, I heard a song that beckoned irresistibly from my 80s youth.
It was at country rock musician Chris Altmann’s farewell gig. Guest singers took turns to serve up one perfectly cooked cover after another to the capacity crowd. Barb Waters sang The Stems ‘At First Sight’.
I didn’t immediately place it. I had to pay the price of the sanctimonious tone of my last blog post by having the melody stuck in my head for days before I finally succumbed and Googled the opening words. Then Nostalgia grabbed me by the throat and pulled me into its vortex.
I spent a rainy Sunday morning happily traipsing down the byways of 80s Australian rock, picking out chords on  guitar. Is it just the opiate of lost youth, or do these songs sound even better than they did when I was a teenager?
So for all those who are old enough to have loved these songs in the 80s, enjoy. For those who are too young to have heard these before, by all means feel free to tell me I’m wrong.
I listened to ‘At First Sight’, then the thoroughly phenomenal 60s garage sound of The Stems ‘Tears Me In Two’. That reminded me of one of my favourite songs to throw myself around to back in the day – another 60s-inspired tune – The Lime Spiders’ oh-so-wrong-but-so-right ‘Slave Girl’.You can hear it at this blog.

I listened to Died Pretty’s ‘Blue Sky Day’ and thought how perfect a song it is for a long car trip. I listened to a couple of songs by the Hoodoo Gurus and The Saints (‘Ghost Ships’). I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting Ed Kuepper’s ‘Also Sprach The King of Euro Disco’.

Finally, I moved across to 80s England, to what might have been the first album I bought with my own money (should I ever be asked on RockQuiz).  It was ‘This Are Two Tone’ – a compilation from the record company that brought to you The Specials and other wonderful ska bands. This album included The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’. It also included a track I’d completely forgotten about – ‘The Boiler’ by Rhoda Dakar and the The Special AKA – a precursor to Lily Allen’s Cockney storytelling style – but bleak, bleak, bleak.

The music is great, it’s an incredible piece of spoken word and vocal acting but I warn you, it’s about a rape. Ah, England. So glad I didn’t grow up there.

I can’t very well leave my trip down memory lane on that note. So here’s a song from The Saints’ Chris Bailey, from his solo record, ‘Casablanca’, a beautiful, understated record that is one of the few pieces of vinyl I’ve managed to hold onto to from that era.

So that’s the old, stay tuned for the new.  But before we move on, feel free to share a link to your own nostalgia sweet spot.

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Life beyond The Beatles

Ever had one of those moments when you can actually feel the muscles in your face trying to rearrange themselves into “Neutral Expression”?

I had one of those moments this week when I went out for coffee with someone I don’t normally go out for coffee with. As we don’t know each other that well, it took me by surprise when my coffee buddy said: “I haven’t really listened to any new music in about 20 years.”

I think I laughed a little nervously, before checking his face to see if he was serious. Then came my face rearranging, as I tried to remove “Incredulity”, “Bafflement” and the worst: “Compassion”. But really, it reminded me of one time when I met a guy who looked like Jarvis Cocker and my friend said to him “You look like Jarvis Cocker” and I said “Don’t ask me. I don’t know who Jarvis Cocker is.” The guy who looked like Jarvis Cocker said: “You know, the guy from Pulp.” I said: “Sorry but I lost a decade somewhere, the decade of one-word BritPop bands.” And he said: “What happened to you? Were you in jail?”

But back to Neutral Expression. I also remembered a recent conversation with a friend who’d said that the Rolling Stones should be banned for a while – “say, ten years” – as should The Beatles and Shakespeare. Put them on the bench. Make room on the team for new blood…and other sporting metaphors. I think I had one of those face rearranging moments then, too. Trust me, trying to get to ‘Neutral Expression’ from ‘Oh my god, he’s Chairman Mao’ is no small feat. But after what seemed a long period of consideration, the idea had appeal – especially if it was me who got to decide who would be banned.

As music is so tied up with memory, it’s also linked to nostalgia – the yearning for a golden past that may or may not have really existed. Let’s face it, it’s not for nothing there are radio stations whose sole output is “classic hits”. When you’re in your 40s, the music from your 20s, that time of your life when everything was shiny and new, begins to exert a special pull. Nostalgia calls seductively from memory’s cobwebbed corridor: “Trust me, nothing’s as good as it was back then. Why don’t you lie down there in the snow for a while?…Just rest your eyes…”

Don’t you sometimes wonder if Beethoven and Bach and Schubert would be laughing their heads off if they heard that orchestras are still compulsively playing music  composed more than 200 years ago, while contemporary composers can barely get a look-in?

I admire those people who remain open to the new in music while getting older – people like the late John Peel, who continued to introduce new bands to the world through his BBC radio show right up until his death  (although it’s apt to note that Peel’s headstone is inscribed with lyrics from his favourite song ‘Teenage Kicks’, a song from his youth: ‘Teenage dreams, so hard to beat’). In Melbourne, RRR’s Stephen Walker is another radio presenter whose musical rolling stone has gathered no moss. This week I made some new musical discoveries courtesy of the Talking Heads’ David Byrne, who was generously sharing on his website songs he liked from albums released so far this year.

I’m not saying the music of Bach and Beethoven is no good. Or that I don’t understand the enduring appeal of a song like the Stones’ ‘Paint It Black’ (I’m not crazy.) I’m just saying not to take Nostalgia’s word for it. Get out there and see a band you’ve never heard before.  Merrily wander along the goat tracks of Internet music websites, blogs and radio stations. Listen to radio stations that play new stuff. (The music of Cass McCombs had escaped my notice until this week when I heard, on community radio station PBS, County Line a divine song from McCombs’ new album.)

If your musical taste is in danger of calcifying, your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to make yourself a ‘mix tape’ for the new millennium – no Beatles, nor Stones; no Blur, nor Pulp.

Wake up from your Golden Slumbers. Get up out of the snow – and explore. Meanwhile, just for old times’ sake…and because I missed it the first time…

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Ten songs, ten tales

‘It’s four in the morning, the end of December…’, ‘Is she really going out with him? Well there she is, let’s ask her…’Charlie I’m pregnant and living on Ninth Street’…Regular readers (or should that be singular?) will recall that last week’s post paid homage to the noble art of the story-song. I gave some story clues for ten songs. Here I provide the clues and – as promised – the songs’ names.

  1. A black boxer is framed for a triple murder – Hurricane, Bob Dylan
  2. Girl dumps her boyfriend because Daddy doesn’t like him; feels regret when boy dies in motorbike accident – Leader of the Pack, The Shangri Las
  3. Man goes to rehab; returns triumphant to wife and kids – To Her Door, Paul Kelly
  4. Woman writes to ‘Charlie’ about how well her life’s going; turns out she’s in jail and wants him to send bail – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis, Tom Waits
  5. A man cries for the first time in his life; can’t stop crying; dies of dehydration – The Man Who Couldn’t Cry, Loudon Wainwright III
  6. Woman dreams of going out with the king of Sweden but ends up in jail, then in an asylum, then dead (Hint: has ridiculously cheery chorus) – Minnie The Moocher, Cab Calloway
  7. Man gets his girlfriend pregnant; has to marry her; his life turns to crap. – The River, Bruce Springsteen
  8. Man writes to friend to tell him he’s forgiven him for stealing his girlfriend (girlfriend has returned with a lock of girlfriend-stealer’s hair) – Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen
  9. A fan gets mad that his idol hasn’t written back to him and drives himself and his girlfriend off a bridge – Stan, Eminem
  10. A girl called Lottie writes a confession letter from the prison/asylum, having been convicted of murdering several folk in her town – The Curse of Millhaven, Nick Cave

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