Dig His Sobriety

“When I Close My Eyes” is a perfect song.
I encounter few of those.
“For Your Consideration” is also a perfect song.
…. Now I’m interested.
Either would fit seamlessly onto a Nick Lowe album.
“Yours will be the currency….”
Brilliant.

You all know about Joel Plaskett.
But maybe you don’t know this;
“The Park Avenue Sobriety Test” is his best album.
By a mile.
His strongest songs.
Great writing.
Perfect delivery.
A sequence that was carefully considered.  Or outrageously lucky.
Either way.

Plaskett knows how to balance depth with fun.
That’s not easy.
I’ve lived with this record for a while and I’ve played it easily thirty times.
I recommend it to you all.
It sticks like glue.

It’s got surefire hits too.
And what’s wrong with hits?  I wish I had one.

This album is a welcomed destination, every time.
Not one of those that’s-good-file-it-away-and-forget-about-it albums.
This one’s permanent.
Enduring, like “The Impossible Bird” or “Braver Newer World”.
Okay, and “It’ll Be Alright”.
It doesn’t sound like any of them, but it’s as strong. 

Five Highlights;

1 Erin Costelo on “When I Close My Eyes”.

2  The backwards piano intro on “When I Close My Eyes”.

3 “Credits Roll”, which follows “When I Close My Eyes”.

4 “Captains Of Industry”, a resigned beauty that’s anything but resigned, unlike “When I Close My Eyes”.

5 “When I Close My Eyes”.

Six More;

1 “For Your Consideration”, because it strikes and sticks, like “When I Close My Eyes”.

2 The guitar solo on “Captains”, the best solo that Neil Young never played, whether on “When I Close My Eyes” or not.

3 The ever-reliable musical madness of Dale Murray, who plays for all the world like he has so many things to be angry about, but not on “When I Close My Eyes”.

4 Anchorman Tim Brennan, who also doesn’t play on “When I Close My Eyes”, yet savours a good Elvis movie.

5 Clive McNutt, because he’s brilliant, even when he closes his eyes.

6 The one that Joel left off the album, because it sounded too much like “When I Close My Eyes”.

Get the picture?

But “Hard Times” is the clincher.

To take an ancient Stephen Foster song and bring it to life like this is no small achievement.
I’ve always loved “Hard Times”.
It’s one of those great songs, like “Tonight You Belong To Me”, that were made into shitty records.
“Hard Times” is no longer a shitty record.
It’s a great record.
It’s right where it should be.
Soulful and thoughtful, from those marching drums to that sumptuous final chord.
A splendid performance.

What a great album.
And Plaskett’s a really good drummer…. I wonder how much he charges?

I’m sleepy now.

Must close my eyes.

No Joke

This started as a joke.  I suggested to Christina Martin & Dale Murray that I review her new album. After we had a laugh, she said “Why not?  There are no rules”.  Then I thought “If I’m writing for Come Undone Records, why can’t I come undone?”  So I have.  It’s my blog, folks, so deal with it.

Christina Martin is a brilliant artist.

We’re friends.  So what?  If she wrote a piece of shit, I’d be second in line to tell her so, right behind Dale.

She inhabits songs.  (I inhibit them.)

Her singing is soulful, strong and warm.

She’s made me cry a few times.  Trust me, that ain’t easy.

As for her writing…. Not a wasted word.

Everything fits perfectly.

Inspiration.  Then editing.  Then more of both.  Until she knows it’s right.

I often find myself lost in her music.

Then I’ll suddenly realize “Holy fuck, I know these people!”

Lucky me.

 

“It’ll Be Alright” is her best album.  No contest.

Thirty-nine minutes, start to finish, concise and clear.

Ten songs, and every one counts.

Murray’s production is bigger, in the very best way.  Not overboard bigger, just bigger.

I could say a lot more about him, but this isn’t his album.

When a song gets stuck in my head, I know it’s a good one, and every one of these sticks.

 

I love Martin’s dark, slightly twisted side and “Puppet Museum” is delightfully twisted;

 

“I dream of you nightly, I ration your coffee

When will I see you again?

I’m painting men by your canals, selling dirty postcards

How I miss you, you’re the city of my heart”

 

Amazing stuff.

When I asked her how she came up with the first two of those lines, she replied;

“Haven’t you ever missed someone or a place so badly that you would do such a thing, and ask that question?”

Well, yes, I have, but turning that feeling into those lyrics is something else entirely.

And if you’re looking for intuitive singing, check out her “yeah yeah” after “five thousand puppets dance nightly on rooftops”.  Confident and spot-on.

Murray’s deranged guitar playing on this song is the best I’ve heard in years, by anyone.  It’s the kind of solo where you freeze and wonder “What in the hell was that?”  And it’s absolutely right, making the song that much better.  And darker.

 

“I’ve Got A Gun”.  The title alone is better than most other writers’ entire songs.  And what a song this is.  An absolute original;

 

“Leave your last wishes with your family

Please don’t think that I won’t shoot

I will protect my solitude”

 

Where did that come from?  The way she sings that one word, “family”, says it all.

And again, Murray’s over-the-top guitar is a concise lesson in good taste.  He knows the song comes first.

 

But maybe the real centrepiece here is “Reaching Out”.

Turning the loss of a loved one into a great song is no easy task.

My friend Ryan Allen commented;

“It has that central feeling.  That’s what makes a song stand out.  When it’s about something real.”

So true.  When Martin sings “come on, wake up”, you know it’s her truth.

And that ending!  What a chord.  And what an ascension.

 

I could go on and on about this album….

About Brian Murray’s percussion on “Lines”.  And on everything else, for that matter.

About Jason Vautour’s never-too-busy, rock solid bass playing.

And John Boudreau’s subtle, but important, piano.

You can’t teach taste and they’ve all got it in spades.

I could mention how Dave Edmunds would surely love “Things You Can’t Tell By Looking Her Way”.

Or the rat-a-tat machine gun guitar and descending whoosh on the title track.

And what about that C-G-F Bang-Bang-Bang at around 2:30 on “Somewhere With You”?

Or that wonderful “Dancing Queen” piano on “You Ran From Me”?

And the way Martin sings “around holidays like Christmas, when she hangs my empty stocking” in “Take Me Back”.  Crying time.  What a blues singer.

 

Everything here sounds new, yet somehow familiar.  Like Dale said to me, “That’s the trick”.  Well, if that’s so, it’s a trick mastered by very few.

Musically, Martin and Murray are absolutely in synch.  It’s one thing when two people like each other but, when they love each other, it gives their music that indefinable thing.

You don’t hear it, you feel it.  It’s just there.

As for being “local” (a term I find ridiculous), this is no “local” album.  It’s world class music making.  After all, Tom Petty is “local” in Gainesville, Florida.

Some listeners expect Christina Martin to be who she started out to be in their minds, carving a career out of cloning “Two Hearts”.

But she’s moved on.  To far more challenging destinations.

 

Like I said, this album is brilliant.  Every time I play it, I hear something new.

It even sounds good on my iMac.

And no, she doesn’t pay me.

 

****

A Piece Of Crap, And I Ain’t Cryin’ Wolf

I love Neil Young.  Always have, ever since I watched Buffalo Springfield on Hollywood Palace in 1967.  They did “For What It’s Worth” and I noticed this cool looking fringed guy in the back.

I had no idea who he was but, when he stepped up front and tore into “Mr. Soul”, I wanted to know who he was.

And I found out.

A brave artist who always followed his own path, he could have made a fortune cloning “Harvest”, but playing it safe in the middle of the road was never in the cards for Neil.  He always headed for the ditch.

I love “Everybody’s Rockin’”.  It’s the real deal and it makes me wanna dance.

I smile every time I hear “Trans”.

So what if his last great album was “Sleeps With Angels”?

Some artists come back with big surprises.

Neil certainly has.

It’s called “Storytone” and it goes something like this….

 

“Oh!  Look at me!  I’m Neil Young and I can do whatever I like.  I’ve made so many shitty records over the last twenty years, I may as well make another one that’s even worse.

And I’m gonna pretend I’m a painter and paint the shitty cover too!

Let’s see…. what can I write about?

I know!  Trees and flowers and cars!  And my new girlfriend!

I’ll sing ‘I Want to Drive My Car’ over & over & over and….

Let’s see, what else?

I know!

I’ll pretend I’m Frank Sinatra, hire a big band, because I’ve got mountains of money, and I’ll write one called ‘Say Hello to Chicago’!  What an original thought!

It’ll be totally wrong and inappropriate, and it simply won’t work.  It won’t really begin or end or go anywhere at all.  It’ll be downright embarrassing but…. I’m Neil Young!

So what if I stopped smoking dope and it’s left me uninspired?

I can charge my gullible sheep, who still smoke dope, seventy bucks for the double LP!

They’ll buy anything!”

 

If I auditioned for a record label with this junk, I’d be laughed out of the room.

These lyrics are so shitty and lazy, they don’t even start.

“Everybody’s Rockin’” & “Trans” work.

This is just stupid.

And very sad.

There’s a great song on “Sleeps With Angels” called “Piece Of Crap”.

Well said, Neil.

 

****

 

Music On Vinyl has issued an essential album by Howlin’ Wolf called “Memphis Days, Volume 1”.  This is extraordinary music.  Deep and scary and real.

A thunderstorm on vinyl.

Sam Phillips wasn’t kidding when he exclaimed “This is where the soul of man never dies”.

Wolf made some incredible records when he headed north to Chicago and hooked up with the Chess brothers, but he never surpassed these fervent, intense, powerful performances that Phillips captured in his tiny Sun Studio in the early fifties, with Willie Johnson’s sublimely distorted guitar and Willie Steele’s unrelenting drums.

Wolf got inside a song like no one else.

Sure, he may sound a little raw to the uninitiated, but the rewards are well worth the journey.

Anyone who claims to like blues and doesn’t like Wolf is missing the point entirely.

I must say I find it amusing, maybe even a little silly, to see Howlin’ Wolf marketed on a “180 gram audiophile vinyl pressing” but his 78s are a little scarce these days.

 

****

 

Someone asked me the other day if I like Dawes.

I replied “I love The Dawes.  Light My Fire’s a great song.”

Art?

I’m listening to Dion singing “Drive My Car”.
Good job, old man.  He actually adds to it.
It’s on “The Art Of McCartney”.
What a piece of shit.
Sammy Hagar doing “Birthday”.
Roger Daltrey destroying “Helter Skelter”, so badly that I thought it was Sammy Hagar.
It’s a two disc set and BOTH discs start with Billy Joel.
The only thing I ever liked about that guy was his first name.
The cover of the album says “sung by the world’s greatest artists”.
No kidding.  Here they are, folks;
Heart, Kiss, Def Leppard, Steve Miller and Paul Rodgers.
Cat Stevens too.
And let’s not forget Perry Farrell & Owl City.
And, above all, The Airborne Toxic Event.
Oh my, oh my.
There are a few good ones here.
Bob Dylan nails “Things We Said Today”.  It’s ragged but Bob always means it and that counts.
Dr. John turns “Let ‘Em In” into a damn fine Mardi Gras, topping McCartney’s original.
And, oddly enough, Alice Cooper does a very respectful “Eleanor Rigby”.
But what’s the bloody point?
We know you’re good, Paul, but the originals are nearly always best.

Enough of those bloody Beatles.
Let’s move on to (no laughing) Sloan.
I’ve heard “Commonwealth” a dozen times.
I think that’s enough to form an opinion.  So I have.
This is my favourite Sloan album.

“No Fools, No Fun” by Puss N Boots.  Sasha Dobson, Norah Jones and Catherine Popper.
This really works.  Guitar, bass & drums.  Simple & live.
“Six Degrees Of Separation” and “Don’t Know What It Means” should be a 45.
Hide the rocker on the B side.  I’ve never heard Norah sing like she does on this one.

Rich Aucoin.  It’s called “Ephemeral”.
This record is loud, in the best way.  It doesn’t have to be played loudly to be loud.
Play it at ten or play it at one.
Either way, it’s still loud.
That’s the trick.
It’s melodic & inventive too.
Nice work, Rich.

Amelia Curran.  “They Promised You Mercy”.
Great writing and great delivery.
I love her voice & I love her style.
No pretension here.
An honest & engaging album.
I like it.

Tribal

“Tribal” by Imelda May is something else.
She’s an original.
That’s not easy in 2014.
I’m rather enthralled with this Irish hurricane.
She’s a strong woman with a commanding presence, one of those rare singers who I couldn’t compare to anyone else.
And that’s a compliment.

Some background;
I work in a record store, a real record store, five days a week.
It seems I’ve been asked every inane question, over forty entertaining years.
Except for the most expected one.
For some reason, I’ve never been asked the silliest question of all, and it’s one to which I actually have an answer;
“Billy, who’s your favourite guitar player?”
My answer;
“Jeff Beck.”
Why?
First off, he’s funny, in his playing and in his stage persona.
He also does impossible things with alarming regularity.
He’s always a step beyond my musical comprehension, throwing in some silly, yet technically astonishing stuff.
And, interestingly enough, he never ages.
Why not?
Because he doesn’t sing.
And because his musicianship doesn’t age.
It grows older & wiser & more knowledgable.  And even funnier.
But it doesn’t age.
Paul McCartney understands bass playing like no one else.
But McCartney’s known as a singer.  And his voice has seen better days.
Dylan?  Technically, his voice is a pile of gravel.
But, to those who get the point, he’s taught himself how to use that to his advantage.
Like Sinatra and Peggy Lee.
Jeff Beck doesn’t have to be concerned with that.
But I digress…

Imelda May was the subject.
In 1964, The Shangri-Las recorded “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)”.
It’s a mature song.
Those teenaged girls did a noble job of it, but it’s a mature song, extraordinary, unlike anything else, a forgotten treasure, and I’d always thought it could be re-interpreted in a much stronger way.
Then, a couple of years back, I switched on my TV to PBS, and there was Jeff Beck, tearing into “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)”!
I was transfixed.
Then, during the fourth verse, he played this woman onto the stage.  No kidding.
She strolled to the mic, started singing, and “Remember (Walkin’ In The Sand)” became what it was meant to be.
I was hooked…

Back to “Tribal”, a brave & accurate title.
It’s metallic, in the very best way, like the first Elvis album.  Like the Peter Gunn soundtrack.
Everything feels right.
It rocks and it rolls.  Great songs.  Great band.  Great arrangements.
And Darrel Higham is a monster guitar player.
Let’s have a party.

One, Two, Three, FOUR!

JFK.  I’d just turned twelve.  That awful moment changed the feel of everything around me.  I’d lived in a world that felt completely safe.  All I knew of barbaric behaviour was that it was something that happened a hundred years ago, in wilder times, to Abraham Lincoln.  It was unspoken and understood that I lived in a time that was peaceful and prosperous.  Then BANG!

So much for that bubble.

Christmas didn’t exist that year.  Respectfully so.

January was dreary.  It felt like a shadow had been cast over our lives.  Everyone, young and old, needed something to fill the void left by this cool, smart guy we all loved.

Then suddenly, the world righted itself, very much in debt to fortuitous timing.

I remember it well.  Mum & Dad said “Let’s watch Ed Sullivan.”  It seems, in retrospect, that everyone in the world said it.  I tumbled to the floor, grabbed a cushion, good old reliable Ed walked out, said something like “these four youngsters from Liverpool”.  I don’t remember the rest.  I only remember Ed hollering “The Beatles!” and hearing “Close your eyes and I’ll kiss you…”.  And my world was back.  Changed, yes, but it was back.  As far as timing goes, those Beatles were lucky guys.

They were precisely what we needed at precisely the right moment.  They were funny, charming, cool in a whole new way, saucy, sarcastic, charismatic, joyfully twisted, and they obviously really loved hanging out together.  Four best friends, from another land that was just like our land used to be.

They bounced off of one another, as only friends do;  John, the irreverent leader (he was billed as such), funny as holy hell, beyond cool, and a little scary.  Paul, the ‘other guy’, who was gracious, fun and just as good as John.

This was unheard of in rock & roll.  Two Elvises in one band.  And George.  When the other two momentarily ran out of steam at a press conference, George would step in and land a scandalous one liner that stole the show.

And then, there he was;  Ringo Starr!

In 1964, that pivotal year, Ringo received more fan mail than the other three combined.  Once we thought we’d seen and heard it all, he’d step up and make some dry crack that’d have the other three rolling around laughing, let alone the rest of us.

Ringo was the glue, the oldest, the guy the other three idolized from a distance in their teens, ‘the best bloody drummer in Liverpool’, who’d agreed join their band, at George’s prompting, just in time.  And he made them whole.  They’d likely all have been brilliant without him, but with Ringo, they gelled.  Those three single-minded guys managed, for seven magical years, to work as one, because of Ringo Starr.  His ability to pull them together, ego be damned, was formidable, musically intuitive, and beyond doubt.

Ringo was once asked about his proudest moment as a drummer.  Without hesitation, he answered “Rain”.  He and McCartney are locked together, playing as one.

Recorded on the 14th of April, 1966, in seven takes, start to finish.

Overdubbed, mixed, and mastered on the 16th.

Released on June 10th.

As the B side of “Paperback Writer”.  The B side.  Amazing.

Poor Ringo.  I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “he wasn’t very good”, when, in truth, he defined good taste.  He made them all sound better.  ‘Busy’ wasn’t in his vocabulary.

He frosted the cake with his brilliant percussive touches.

Before Rubber Soul, there was nothing that remotely resembled Rubber Soul.  Same for Revolver, Pepper, and you name it.  When The Beatles hit, they were new, best and first. They remained so until the final curtain of Abbey Road.

They influenced everyone.  They changed the rules and they always surprised us.

And they accomplished all this in a shade over six years.

They were revolutionary.  An ultimately flawed foursome who were never flawed as Beatles.  When I first heard Abbey Road, I didn’t know it was the end but I felt it.  They’d gone from Rubber Soul to Revolver to Pepper to Magical Mystery Tour to India to Revolution and Hey Jude, on to the white album in three years, reinventing everything each time.  And they ended at the perfect moment.

As for JFK, here’s another theory;  maybe it was Brian Epstein.

Sunshine, Sweet Breezes And Sour Grapes

I find myself playing the first two songs on Dennis Ellsworth’s latest record over & over. “Things I Want” and “Coke Machine Glow”. They’re smart & engaging & clever & real. And they stick. I’ve listened enough to both that I’m always gonna want to hear them back to back. They’d make a monstrous 45.
As a matter of fact, I think you should check out the whole album. It’s called “Hazy Sunshine”. I would have called it “Coke Machine Glow” but that’s my problem, not Ellsworth’s. Then again, hazy sunshine does have a Coke machine glow about it.

*****
I’ve been asked many times what I think of “Foreverly” by Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones. I like it. A lot. It’s spirited and respectful. Although I find “Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine” a tad rushed and clunky, the rest of their interpretations add up to a great album.
I love how Norah takes the lead on “I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail”, with Billie Joe singing Phil’s part underneath.
Who would have thought?
*****
Another thing that pisses me off;
Elvis Presley’s first record was called “That’s All Right”. NOT “That’s Alright Mama”. “That’s All Right” is the fuckin’ title! It’s like changing the name of The Titanic to “The Titanic, Mama”. To the best of my knowledge, they didn’t even have a blues band on deck, although the Blue Moon Of Kentucky was on the flip side of the sky. And unfortunately, there were plenty of Mamas on board.
*****
As for random thoughts;
Dennis Wilson uses Carol Kaye’s bass like a double-half-time snare drum on “Little Bird”, from “Friends”, 1968. An amazing idea. That’s Dennis on drums too.
And those harmonies at the end.
What a piece of work.
*****
Intros;
Check out the piano at the start of “Only The Lonely” by Sinatra. Unbelievable, as is the song (written by Sammy Cahn & Jimmy Van Heusen, at the artist’s request) and Frank’s performance. Absolutely magnificent. And heartbreaking.
Frank enunciates every syllable to perfection. He always did so. I’ve heard hundreds of Sinatra records and I’ve never once thought “What did he say?”
For the record, “Only The Lonely” was written two years before Orbison’s song.
*****
Here’s one to ponder;
Is “Sweet Breeze” by Vernon Green And The Phantoms in A major or A minor? Who knows? And maybe that’s the point.
It’s a little known Los Angeles R&B 45 from 1956. It was just too weird to make it, but it draws me in and takes me to a strange imaginary place. Anyone who asks the wind to bring his baby back is okay by me and Vernon sings like he means it. And The Phantoms really do sound like Phantoms.
*****
Self-Importance;
Joni Mitchell on Bob Dylan: “Bob is not authentic at all. He’s a plagiarist, and his name and voice are fake. Everything about Bob is a deception. We are like night and day, he and I.”
At least she’s got the last line right. I say the rest is delusional shit of the highest order. What’s ‘authentic’ supposed to mean? And who chooses who’s ‘authentic’? Joni, I guess.
Here’s another of her brilliant observations: “I like a lot of Bob Dylan’s songs, but he’s not very musically gifted.”
Whoa! Do I detect the scent of sour grapes?
Can’t follow that…

A Good Laugh

First things first.  Last time, I wrote about The Groove.

I received this message from Dave McConnell, Groove Aficionado;

“The best test of real groove is kids between, say, four to eight.  When you hit the real groove, no matter how simple, they just start to go like little possessed spirits.  They can’t help it and you can trust them implicitly.”

Spot on.  Have you ever noticed that?  Thanks, Dave.

A little girl, maybe four, was in Taz Records with her mother.  She was dancing.  I complimented her.  She looked up at me and said “I like Ray Charles.  I really like his gwoove.”

I just about fell over.

I’ve actually witnessed a three year old girl dance with abandon to “Let’s Get High” by Rosco Gordon.  Rosco’s the Memphis R&B singer and piano player who was a huge influence on Jamaican Ska.  His records were sloppy, infectious and fun.  He also propped his pet rooster atop his piano at gigs for added effect.  Check out “Shoobie Oobie” or “Cheese And Crackers”, his double hitter on Sun from 1956.  If you don’t get it, you’ll still have a good laugh.

I was listening to Guitar Slim (Eddie Jones), a Mississippi legend who’d rig up a 300 foot guitar cord, jump on his valet’s shoulders and play on the street to draw a crowd into the club where he was gigging.  This was in the mid 50s.  With a red suit, red guitar and dyed red hair, it always worked.

This one’s called “Bad Luck Blues”;

“bad luck is in my family

and it all have fell on me (twice, of course)

yes I’m the bad luckest fella, baby

that you most have ever see”

Top that.

Or Sonny Boy Williamson.  Rice Miller, the ‘second’ Sonny Boy.

“Have you Ever Been In Love”;

“the woman I’m talkin’ about, she’s specially built,

a heavied hipted woman, her shoulders are full filled,

she got knee action body, hydraulic hips,

air conditioned stomach makes her backbone slip”

Over the top.  From another era.  But I’m still curious about that woman.

Jimmy Reed decided he could do better with an education.

“Go On To School”;

“they got the readin’ and the writin’ makin’ rizzmatic”

At least I think that’s what he’s saying.  Good enough for me.

Jimmy Reed sold more blues records than anyone in the late fifties & early sixties, and he was up against Muddy, Wolf & BB King.  A solid argument for simplicity and economy.

Jimmy’s first two albums, “I’m Jimmy Reed” & “Rockin’ With Reed”, are still in print on vinyl.

They often sound out of tune because they usually are and Reed doesn’t seem to have a clue about how to change chords at the right time.  But this is highly addictive stuff.  Delightful.

*****

Talk about East meeting West;

“Traces Of You” by Anoushka Shankar is a warm twister of an album.  It’s one of those records that’ll nudge you gently into another world, if you’ll let it.  Ask George Bauer, a born Music Man.

Anoushka is a master of the sitar and an extraordinary writer.  Her sister Norah Jones graces this album with some of her very best singing.  I must have played this record fifty times by now and it just keeps getting better.

I always feel settled after hearing it.

*****

I rarely discuss guitar tones and techniques (Just bang the damn thing, I say), but Mac Demarco’s playing has gotten under my skin.  He’s a true original in a time when originality seems to be missing in action.  Very simple and very engaging.  “Salad Days” is his new LP and I like it.

However, he may have listened a little too closely to “Picture Book” by The Kinks.

P.S.  What’s another word for thesaurus?

THE GROOVE

The perfect groove is a rare and indefinable thing.  It just goes and it can’t stop.  It’s a locomotive.  It’s a leg mover.  It’s an aphrodisiac.  It can be fast, slow, in between.  Groove has nothing to do with tempo. It’s always live.  Live.  No cheating or fixing.  You’d never get away with it anyway.

Everything else is secondary to the groove.  Vocals, instruments, structure.  Mistakes and bum notes.  Actually, bum notes often improve upon it.

Follow me?

Okay, pretend you’re in the centre of a crowded dance floor, with the perfect partner, who sways like a careless angel…

Otis Redding – Sweet Lorene – Pure feel.  Al Jackson was a groover.

NRBQ – Want You To Feel Good Too – Only a band who’s played together a LOT could pull this off.  I get lost in this one.

Doug Sahm – Be Real  – The true country groove.  The endless waltz.  A romance of a song.

The Soul Stirrers with Sam Cooke – Touch The Hem Of His Garment – Oh, Sam, who was that woman?

Sam Cooke – Chain Gang – Sam gets two.  A totally original record.  There’s still been nothing else like it.

Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On? – Masterful.  There’s been nothing else like this either.

Streets – Dry Your Eyes – This flows.  Anything but flawlessly.  If you haven’t been where Mike Skinner is, lucky you.  And poor you too.

Elmore James – I Can’t Hold Out (the Chess version) – Elmore sounds so satisfied.  Confident, as if he knows from the first second that he’s got it.  He has.

Cliff Richard & The Shadows – Lucky Lips – This one flows.  And that piano sneaking in at the ending.  Love that idea.

Sonny Burgess – Ain’t Got A Thing – Relentless.  It’ll pin you against the wall.

B.T.O. – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet – Just kidding.

Slim Harpo – I’m A King Bee – That snare (or whatever it is) is so forceful.  The simplest guitar solo, ever.  Even I can play it.

The Ramones – I Don’t Care – It sounds so bloody dumb & easy, and therin was their genius.  I mean that.

Chris Montez – Let’s Dance – No wonder the Ramones did it.

Johnny London – Drivin’ Slow – The second Sun record was this stark alto instrumental.  A smooth, shimmering, full Friday night waltz.  It’s not bad on Saturday morning either.

Dion – Love Came To Me – A heroin-induced dream dance.  Whatever works.

Bob Dylan – Lonesome Day Blues – Unstoppable.  Is that why it fades out?  I remember a friend, lying on my bed, yelling “I don’t believe this!”

Phil Phillips with The Twilights – Sea Of Love – Auto-tuning would absolutely destroy this Louisiana treasure that sounds like it was recorded in a swamp.  Huge in 1959.  Couldn’t happen today.

Desmond Dekker & The Aces – It Mek – He actually managed to follow “Israelites”.

I’ve never danced to this.  Ladies?

*****

Think about it;

Elvis Presley.  Artist.

Go on.  Laugh.

But picture this…

From ‘54 to ‘58, Elvis was perfect.  No such thing as a bad record.  Unthinkable, actually.  And then, in February ‘59, in an alternate universe, Elvis was on tour in the frigid midwest, in a bus with a broken heater.  He was so fuckin’ cold & sick & tired of it that he decided to charter a plane to the next gig.

And Elvis Presley was frozen in time, with a perfect track record.

Holy shit, would he be viewed differently.  No jumpsuits.  No dyed black plastic hair.  No jelly doughnuts.  Not one shitty record.

We’d likely be saying “Just think of what he’d have done.”

Like we do with Buddy.

*****

In other news…

When some idiot belittles Ringo Starr, as in “He wasn’t a very good drummer”, (Translation:  He wasn’t busy & he had taste.), I tell them to listen to “Day Tripper”.

Wanna know about the tambourine?  “Day Tripper” again.

Or the toms on “A Day In The Life”.  Someone should steal those.

*****

One more thing… the opening guitar riff on “Shelter Song” by Temples is really friggin’ good.

PHIL AND DON

Don Everly once said to Rodney Crowell; “Want to get rid of your vibrato?  Try singing with my little brother Phillip.  Singing with him is like singing with a laser beam.”

I get it.  One listen to “Cathy’s Clown” and you’ll get it too.  What a respectful and revelatory quote.  It explains a large part of the Everly musical dynamic.

Don sang like a free bird, often outside the lines, all over the map.  As soon as Phil appeared, two voices synchronised into one.

Phil always stayed inside the lines.  The lines that defined The Everly Brothers’ “sound”.  Hell, he DREW the lines.

Then there’s DNA, that sibling blend.  Genetics.  Ask Brian Wilson.

As for two part harmony in rock & roll, The Everly Brothers set the bar and no one’s ever raised it.  They’ve never quite been taken as seriously as many of their peers, from Buddy Holly to The Louvin Brothers.

Yet, among their successors, they’re revered as the trailblazers they were.  Ask Norah & Billie Joe, Dawn McCarthy & Bonnie Prince Billy, Gram & Emmylou, The Byrds, Stones, Hollies, Rockpile and, most obviously, The Beatles.

Who else had the nerve to release an album of “Songs Our Daddy Taught Us” in 1958, at the dawn of their career?  Or 1968’s “Roots”, a forward-facing country record that beat “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” by six months.

Talk about taking a walk on the wild side.

They got knocked for recording Tin Pan Alley standards like “Don’t Blame Me” (exquisite) and “Temptation” (ingenious), but they came from a time when the aim was to make it in ‘show business’.

It’s unfair to condemn them for singing the very same style of material that we praise Sinatra for singing.

No one knocks James Brown for doing “Prisoner Of Love”.

The Everlys stopped recording in 1988.

Don, 1993;  “You can’t cut records unless you can sell’ em.  It gets self-indulgent”.

That’s a shame.  I’d always hoped that someone like Rick Rubin would helm one last great Everlys album.

As for “like singing with a laser beam”?

Provided you’re Don Everly.

Don’t miss;

Sleepless Nights (1960) – The definitive version.  And they’ve got the chords right.

I’m Afraid (1963) – Minor key paranoia at it’s prettiest.  Written by drummer Jim Gordon, who wrote the second half of “Layla”.  He also killed his mother.

Gone, Gone Gone (1964) – Written by Don & Phil, this should have been Number One.  It pulsates.  Formidable rhythm guitars.

The Price of Love (1965) – Another perfectly constructed Don & Phil original, and another hit that wasn’t.  Huge in England, where people weren’t as obsessed with all things British as we were.  When it comes to guitar intros, Don is the master.

Love Is Strange (1965) – A shade hokey, but the guitars and vocal interplay win out.

It’s All Over (1965) – Don at his bleakest.  So dark that it feels like a secret.

Empty Boxes (1968) – Sounds to me like Simon & Garfunkel with soul.  Nice.

Asleep (1984) – I can think of no other song that captures the feeling of escape-into-dreams like this one does.

Why Worry (1986) – Sublime.  Mark Knopfler must be proud.

Amanda Ruth (1986) – What an intro.  Maybe their hardest rocker.  Glorious harmonies.  Listen to them stretch “Amandaahhh…” into the stratosphere.

Born Yesterday (1986) – Don’s story of broken relationships in a desolate and unforgiving town.  Heartbreaking.