Friday, 21 November 2014

Russell Morris: The Real Thing

All the hoo-hah surrounding the release of Molly Meldrum's autobiography has reminded me of what I consider to be his finest achievement. It's not his contribution via Countdown, or as a rock writer or as a band manager, but rather his work as a record producer.

In my view, Ian "Molly" Meldrum's career high point was his production work on the Russell Morris single "The Real Thing". It is also one of the high watermarks of Australian pop music production, considering the limited studio technology available in 1969.

Molly started in the music industry as the roadie for Brian Cadd's band The Groop. He learnt all he could about the production process by sitting on the band's recording sessions. He then moved onto being the manager of Russell Morris, around the time he left the band Somebody's Image. Molly had produced a few other records, notably Ronnie Burn's massive number 1 "Smiley" and the modest selling "Little Roland Lost" by Zoot.

Molly was looking for the perfect song launch Russell's solo career and he heard it when (former pop star and future Young Talent Time host) Johnny Young was jamming on the idea backstage of a music TV show . Johnny was saving it for Ronnie Burns, but Molly demanded he use it for Russell. Allegedly, he turned up to Johhny's house with a tape recorder and refused to leave until Johnny had recorded a demo of the song.

Molly enlisted his mates in The Groop to play on the record, however they were denied a label credit as they were signed to CBS and Russell's single was to be released on EMI. Molly holed up in Armstrong studios in Melbourne with house engineer John Sayers and set out applying his crazed vision for the song...

Johhny Young's original vision for the track was to be a modest chamber ballad, acoustic-based with strings, somewhat like "Yesterday" by The Beatles I imagine. What it became, to perpetuate the Beatles comparison, was more like "I Am The Walrus". How the originator and producer saw the end product were at polar opposites.

The song was a scathing indictment of the ideas being imposed on musicians at the time. "You have to do this, because it's real". On the companion CD to the ABC's Documentary series "A Long Way To The Top", Johnny says it refers to the marketing of the soft drink Coco-Cola, "You can't beat the real thing". "When you look into it, it's all bullshit" he says. Thsi is reflected in the lyric:

"...There's a meaning there, but the meaning there doesn't really mean a thing..."

Russell was also quoted in an interview with the Coodabeen Champions on ABC radio that "Molly is a maniac". His vision for the piece was to create something indicative of the social climate. He wanted to include flanging into the piece (no small feat in 1969), as he loved the sound of it on "Itchycoo Park" by The Small Faces. He ended up including air-raid sirens, sound effects of exploding bombs, a Winston Churchill impersonation (done by Molly) and the Hitler Youth Choir singing "Die Jugend Marschiert" (Youth on the March). Towards the end of the epic song, Russell's voice is backward-masked.

Groop guitarist Brian Cadd also had a guest speaking role on the record, reading the warranty conditions off the reel-to-reel tape box through a megaphone with a faux-German accent.

The entire piece of inspired lunacy lasted for 6 minutes and 20 seconds and cost over AU$10000 and 8 months to record. This was unheard of back then, when most albums were completed in under a week and for an average cost of $2000. When EMI executives came to Melbourne from Sydney to hear the finished product, Molly freaked out and ran out of the studio with the master tape and hid in the bushes of the park across the road from the studio. After seeking him out of the dark with a torch, he returned and played the tape for the EMI people who left without saying a word.

EMI reluctantly pressed the record, but in two formats: one with the first part of the song on side 1 and the noise collage on side two, and one copy with the entire piece on side 1 and "It's Only A Matter of Time" on side 2. Russell had to make many personal appearances at radio stations to persuade them to play the record, the longest Australian single ever made (despite radio stations playing The Beatles' 7-and-a-half minute "Hey Jude" the previous year). It became the highest selling Australian single of the year in 1969 and was in the charts for an unprecendented 23 weeks.

The follow-up single was an explicit sequel "Part 3: Into Paper Walls" which tops out at 7 full minutes, also produced by Molly, but, like most sequels isn't anywhere near as compelling as the original. "The Real Thing" has inspired covers by Midnight Oil and Kylie Minogue and the original has been included in the National Film and Sound Archives as a landmark in Australian music history.

Take a listen again below. Enjoy!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Countdown: Do Yourself a Favour

Countdown: Do Yourself a Favour
ABC1, concludes Sunday 23/11/2014 at 7:40pm.

For those not in the know, Countdown was THE pop culture show to be part of in the 1970s and 1980s in Australia. If you were in a band, you wanted to be on it. If you were of an age where you could work the controls of the television and you were into music, you absolutely had to watch it, and then you debated endlessly the merits (or lack thereof) of the bands on that week. They gave the first television exposure to AC/DC, ABBA, Rose Tattoo, Skyhooks, Iggy Pop, Cold Chisel and thousands of other bands and artists.

The lynchpin of this program was a bloke forever known with a girl's name, Ian "Molly" Meldrum". He started with the program as a talent co-ordinator, selecting the acts to appear every week. But after a while, he was thrust into the spotlight as the presenter. On screen he was bumbling, incoherent and random, with his hilariously incompetent interview style that really has to be seen to believed.

It is the kind of spontaneous, semi-live television that is rarely attempted anymore. Its style has been attempted many times in the intervening years but rarely has anything matched up to it (although the Dylan Lewis-hosted "Recovery" in the late 1990s came close).

It was a program that was not only a reflection of the culture of the day, but it had a great effect in altering it. It led Australians to take their own talent seriously, by having it beamed into homes around the nation every Sunday night at 6pm. It gave exposure to a lot of great bands that really deserved to get noticed, and a lot of acts who probably didn't. Dictating the taste wasn't the objective, but rather reflect it back to Australia, and occasionally shape it. It shone a spotlight on the world of music that Commercial television and radio were missing out on. If a band was on Countdown, invariably their sales went up the following week, and commercial radio were basically forced as a result to play the record soon after.

Putting aside the nostalgia for a moment, the one thing that sticks out about this program is how much the world and music in general has changed. Even for pop stars in the 1970s, live performance was an important part of what they did. And not the large stadium sized events either. They needed to be able to present themselves to a small, localised audience and come across successfully. So a lot of Countdown stuff was mimed is irrelevant - stage presence was the key.

Not only that, music has so many things going on that it would be extremely difficult to nail it all in a single one hour slot every week. Countdown had a focus on the mainstream and top 40, but it allowed space for those on the margins and the fringes, such as La Femme, Painters and Dockers, Iggy Pop and (at the time) AC/DC. There's so much going on in music right now that i imagine it would be extremely difficult to capture the feel and excitement of what is going on.

Teenagers are also discovering music under their own steam these days anyway. There is also so many other things demanding their attention that there is every chance that a one hour program of this type would appeal to them in the way that Countdown did for teenagers in the 70s and 80s. A countdown styled program may not be the best way for young people to hear new music. Conversely, there are a hell of a lot of new bands out there who would benefit from the kind of national TV exposure that a show like Countdown would bring.

For all the sentimentality for a long finished show, the celebration of Countdown, in my view, is wholly necessary because it shows a portrait of a period when innovative TV programming was encouraged and that local music and culture was highly valued. Many bands have Countdown to thank for their success, although many like Radio Birdman, Midnight Oil, Nick Cave and Richard Clapton all avoided it like the plague and it did nothing to hurt their careers.

I look forward to seeing the next installment next Sunday.

Do yourself a favour and tune in.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

News Roundup 18/11/2014

I must apologise for the lack of posts lately. It's been hard to break away from life to get anything written in here!

Anyway, I'm going to condense down a few stories into one post for you all to take a look at.

The archetypical celebrity charity project Band Aid are celebrating the 30th anniversary of the first release with a re-recording of the song for Ebola relief. The new version of the song features almost none of the original artists (except Bono) and, if Geldof is to be believed, made a million pounds within four minutes of going to air on British X Factor on Sunday night.

In other Band Aid news, Adele was supposed to be in it, but was a no-show at the recording. Make of that what you will...

The winners of the 2014 Mercury Prize for new music in England were a Scottish Hip-hop act called Young Fathers. We're still trying to find out why they won...

In Australia, it's been announced that the publicly funded ABC network will be hit with a $50 million budget cut for each of the next 5 years, representing about an average of 5% of their overall budget. This is in clear contrast to the promise of the prime minister, who pledged not to cut funds to ABC the night before the election on SBS. Ultimately, programming will suffer, and preliminary reports suggest that the ABC's classical music station ABC-FM will be hit the hardest, along with overseas terrestrial broadcaster Radio Australia.

Iconic Australian music program Countdown is celebrating its 40th anniversary with a special on the ABC over two Sundays. The first episode is available here on ABC iView. Hosted by Rockwiz host Julia Zamero, it runs the gamut of memorable performances and crazy antics, as well as host Molly Meldrum's train-wreck interview style. As the title says, "Do Youself a Favour" and take a look. The second episode airs next Sunday 23rd at 8:30pm. We'll write about the show a bit more shortly.

We recently wrote about the up and coming Texan band Purple. Their debut album landed last week and it is all killer and no filler. Check it out below.

Have a good one. We'll see you again very shortly, we promise!


Thursday, 30 October 2014

New Music: Purple

Screaming and thumping their way out of Texas is a three piece indie-punks Purple. They are just starting to make waves in indie circles with a thumping, punk-infused sound that is full of energy and spunk.

The band is unusual in that it is led by singing drummer Hannah Brewer, whose riot-grrl inspired vocals set the tone for the band's music - huge mosh-pit anthems, high on energy, dripping with attitude and with heaps of memorable choruses. In Purple videos and in their press shots, Hannah has positioned herself with an image as one slightly unhinged and crazy girl. But her talent is undeniable, and her ability to sing with such passion and drum those intricate drum parts is incredible.

The band is fleshed out with Taylor Busby on guitars and Smitty Smith on Bass. They provide a front line sound that is solid and accessible.

The band are currently making waves in England doing a small club tour in advance of their debut LP, which drops on November 10.

There's plenty of great music on the band's YouTube Channel. Check some of it out below. I think they have a bright future ahead of them and I hope they get to play in Australia in support of this album.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Vale Jack Bruce

Bass player Jack Bruce has died at age 71, following complications from liver disease.

Jack was classically trained in playing the stand-up double bass. He wanted to learn to play jazz but was denied by the institute he studied at, the Royal Glasgow Academy of Music (now known as the Royal Conservatoire) encouraged him not to. He moved to London and started playing stand-up bass in the local jazz clubs but then switched to electric bass (then popular in Britain thanks to the pioneering use of the instrument by Jet Black in the Shadows) and joined Alexis Korner's incubator of R&B talent Blues Incorporated. He left to join the Graham Bond Organisation, then he spent three weeks in John Mayall's Bluesbreakers (where he met Eric Clapton and he was succeeded by future Fleetwood Mac bassist John McVie), spent a couple of months in Manfred Mann early in 1966 and then formed a band called Cream...

...and then proceeded to change music forever.

Cream was arguably Jack's brainchild and the music the three members produced influenced countless musicians over the next few generations (and continues to). With their freeform improvisations, they were arguably as important to the development of jazz rock fusion as Miles Davis was. However, the legacy they left us was the insufferable 15 minute in concert drum solo.

Jack's bass playing, at least in Cream, was melodic and rhythmic all at once, making up for a lack of a rhythm guitarist simply by creating a bass tone so thick it filled out the arrangment completely.

The loose jamming around a conventional song structure was influential to bands such as The Grateful Dead, Phish, Govt. Mule, Neil Young and Crazy Horse and many many others.

In the midst of a Clapton obsession as a teenager, I purchased a copy of Cream's final LP "Goodbye". The whole jamming thing was wildly out of step with the grunge and Alt rock that was going on at the time, but that mattered little. I was struck not by Clapton's playing on that album (at least not on side one) but by the sound and the technique of Jack's playing. It was like nothing I'd ever heard before. The way the instruments were separated in the mix, with Clapton in the right channel, Jack in the left Ginger thundering out all across the stereo spread, i found myself regularly adjusting the balance to remove Eric altogether just to listen to that bass...

The band's closest competition was the Jimi Hendrix Experience, although there were many bands who sprung up in their wake, peddling the same sound in the same format (i.e. The Gun, Grand Funk). As Cream imploded from ever clashing egos and other artistic problems in late 1968, Jimi interrupted a performance on the Lulu show to pay tribute to Cream, launching into a wild impromptu version of "Sunshine of your Love" on air.

Jack's contribution to popular music will be admired and poured over for years to come. He will be missed.

R.I.P. Jack.

Below is a hand-picked collection from the short career of Cream, featuring Jack's incendiary bass playing.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Life gets in the way...

We here at TSATF HQ ask for your pardon as we get our collective heads together, after a few big life events and hectic periods at our day jobs.

We're working hard to get back in the swing of things.

Stay tuned!

Meanwhile, check out this great live performance of this post's meta-song, "Life Gets In The Way" by Even.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Complete Works of The New Pornographers

14 years is a long time in the life of a supergroup. And how many supergroups can you think of that survive for a decent length of time before collapsing under the weight of the members' collective egos?

Hailing from Canada, the New Pornographers have always resolved to leave the egos at the door and to come together to make the best music they can. They gather the tag "supergroup" largely because the three principle members have careers elsewhere: Carl Newman has a solo career as well as playing in the band Zumpano; Dan Bejar is in Destroyer and Neko Case is an acclaimed singer songwriter. The band have recently issued album #6, "Brill Bruisers", but here at TSATF HQ we thought we'd look back on their entire back catalog - not just because the contents of which are quite brilliant, but also as an introduction to the uninitiated.

"Mass Romantic" (2000)

An auspicious, if tepid start. The album shows hints of greatness but the total was less than the sum of the parts in this one.
Highlights include: "Mass Romantic", "Fake Headlines", "Slow Descent into Alcoholism" and "Letter To An Occupant".

"Electric Version" (2002)

This is the moment when things came together for this unusual collective. The songs are strong, the performances spirited, and the members sound like they are comfortable with each other now.
Highlights include: "The Laws have Changed", "Electric Version", "All For Swinging You Around".

"Twin Cinema" (2005)

Widely regarded as the band's masterpiece, and it's hard to disagree. Track for track it is the strongest record to date and the songs are absolutely top notch. They reward repeated listenings for the simple fact that they continue to reveal new aspects of themselves each time you play them. Brilliant.
Highlights include: pretty much everything on here, but if you must nit-pick then listen to: "Use It", "The Bleeding Heart Show", "Twin Cinema", "Sing Me Spanish Techno", "Jackie, Dressed in Cobras".

"Challengers" (2007)

After the high point of "Twin Cinema", anything was going to feel inferior. "Challengers" isn't so much as inferior, but it is subdued, and not as energetic as its predecessor. Very much the slow burner, it is no less rewarding, but it takes a little more work to wade through.
Highlights include: "Challengers", "My Rights Versus Yours", "All The Things That Go To Make Heaven and Earth", "All The Old Showstopppers".

"Together" (2010)

It was a long wait for this album, but when it dropped, it was the summer album of the year. Bouncy and vibrant, this album is serious fun.
Highlights include: "Crash Years", "Moves", "Sweet Talk, Sweet Talk".

"Brill Bruisers" (2014)

If we thought the wait between albums four and five was long, it was a very long four years before this one hit us in August 2014. This record has plenty of energy, but it is not as immediate. It takes a few listens to hear the hooks in these songs. Once you crack the veneer, you're in - the rewards are rich and plentiful.
Highlights include: "Brill Bruisers", "Born With A Sound", "Fantasy Fools".

Take a listen below to our Hand Picked selection from the entire catalog of The New Pornographers. There's plenty of gems within. Once you've sampled, check out the full albums.

Enjoy! Let us know your favourite of the bands albums in the comments below.