Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Why won't Australians buy British-sounding music?

In a conversation with Laughing Outlaw Records store manager Stuart Coupe some years ago now, he mentioned to me that a radio programmer told him that "Australians don't buy British-sounding music".

A sweeping generalisation, to be sure. But having said that, explain why Radiohead, Adele, Gorillaz and Coldplay continue to sell heaps of records and resonate with listeners here?

On the other side, it goes a long way to explain why The Jam, The Smiths, Cast, The Bluetones, Blur (before they released "Song 2"), The Fratellis, Teenage Fanclub, and any number of great bands from the UK could barely sell a record here.

With the advent of Beatlemania in the 1960s, all any band here wanted to do was sound English. These days it seems to be of detriment to want to sound even remotely like anything coming from the sceptered isle these days.

But why?

From what I've seen in observing the radio industry over many years, Radio programmers seem very quick to program the latest tunes coming from America, but have looked down on and otherwise avoided local talent. Why else would there be a federally legislated local music quota for all radio stations in this country? How else do you explain the stream of bands who needed to break overseas before even being recognised here? Think The Saints, The Go Betweens, The Birthday Party, The Triffids, The Reels, The Vines et al.

Is it because British music is idiosyncratic and sounds too different from the American stuff they cram their daily playlists with? It seems to make no sense.

I think it all has to do with exposure. With the right marketing push and support from the media you could almost sell anything. After all, if One Direction were given no marketing push they'd die in the marketplace too.

What is missing from this equation? is there any logic to this that I am missing? Leave a comment below.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #38: Joe Jackson - "Look Sharp"



"New Wave", "Punk", "New Wave of British Heavy Metal", "New Romantics", "New Wave of New Wave" - all terms thrown around by professional music writers like confettti at a wedding. And they're all largely ridiculous. And do they describe the music and the fashion?

They all become meaningless when trying to describe some of the artists who sprung up at the time most of these labels were invented in the late 1970s. Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, Ian Dury and Graham Parker all got saddled with at least two of these descriptions when they started but they ended up with a musical legacy that defied the classification.

Joe Jackson's debut was one of the best records that appeared during this period. It's probably one of the best debut records of all time. The songs are short, sharp and very pointed lyrically. The playing is tight, the arrangements spare and the attack is blunt.

Joe demonstrated a great grasp of lyrical directness. This probably best summed up in the sexually frustrated first single "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" with its opening line:

"Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street..."

It's as hilarious as it probably was accurate when he wrote it.

Joe was originally saddled with the description of one of "British music's angry young men" when this record came out. And to be sure, there's plenty of bile contained within the grooves. His pet subjects on this outing include relationship breakups ("One More Time"), romantic couples affronting his singledom ("Happy Loving Couples", "Fools In Love"), tabloid newspapers ("Sunday Papers"), short-lived cultural fads ("Do The Instant Mash"), the daily grind ("Got The Time") and of course, the aforementioned sexual frustration ("Pretty Girls"). All subjects are handled with his characteristic candor.

It's a great listen from top to bottom. As I was an adult singleton at the time I first heard this album, it resonated profoundly. I just wish the guitars were a little louder in the mix, which would give the songs a lot more bite. Still, the energy in a lot of these songs is at fever pitch.

Anthrax made an inspired choice to take the hardest rocking song on this album "Got The Time" and make it their own in 1990. Ironically, by giving the guitars much more bite. They copy the arrangement so closely that they even include a bass solo in their cover. Hearing this version lead me to seek out Joe's original version, contained herein.

In my view, Joe never bettered this album. Less than 12 months after this release, he released what could arguably be described as "Look Sharp Volume 2", a slightly inferior album called "I'm The Man" before confounding audience and critics expectations with a dub reggae LP "Beat Crazy" in 1980, then a Jump Blues album of Cab Calloway tunes called "Jumping Jive" and then smooth pop on "Night and Day" in 1982.

No wonder the "New Wave" tag didn't sit well with him.

Take a listen and let me know what you think in the comments.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Hell Hath No Fury Like A Woman Scorned

William Cosgreve once wrote "Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned."

I, for one, concur. I would also add that if said woman is in possession of a guitar and a propensity to write music, then may God have mercy on the soul of the one who would dare cause such dire offense. Because, there is a good chance that the rogue in question will be hearing about it for the term of his natural life.

Heartbreak has inspired some of the best music ever made. There's no better medium than music for expressing one's emotions. And yet, I'd imagine most people, of either gender, would be horrified to hear themselves described in less than glowing terms in a song blasting out of the radio.

Women are capable of intense emotions. The expressions below of these emotions are enough to make the flesh crawl of every bloke within a five mile radius.

Alanis Morrisette - You Outta Know



This song used to terrify the hell out of me, and I'm sure it did for a heap of other guys as well. But that was the desired effect. And holy crap is she pissed off! Alanis has never disclosed who the song was written about, but you could bet that the lawsuits would have flown around thick and fast once the truth was out there.

Loretta Lynn - Don't Come Home a'Drinkin' (with Lovin' On Your Mind).



Loretta had a rough start to life. She was married not long before her 15th birthday and was 7 months pregnant by the time she turned 16 to a philandering alcoholic. Loretta makes it plain, in no uncertain terms, what to expect the next time he comes home after a boozy night with the boys. The steely determination of her vocal delivery leaves you with no doubt in your mind that she's serious, either.

Melissa Etheridge - Like The Way I Do



The five stages of grief are well documented, and it sounds like Melissa has recorded the exact moment when she goes from Denial (stage 1) to Anger (stage 2) on this track (around the 3:15 mark). It's compelling, to be sure, but you can't help thinking that you'd feel weird watching this if she didn't offer us this window into her pain.

Pat Benetar - Hit Me With Your Best Shot



Given that Pat Benetar's records were helmed by pop music genius Mike Chapman, her rage has been tamed and boiled down somewhat on this track. One still gets the sense that the rage is just simmering below the surface, however...

Bikini Kill - Star Bellied Boy



Kathleen Hanna keeps no skeletons in the closet. Everything she committed to tape was a pure expression of her deepest emotions. On this one, she demands the boy she's interested in proves he's different, and unlike the rest. You won't doubt her intent.

Big Brother and the Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin - Piece of My Heart



Written by pop svengali Bert Berns, Janis, as always, channels her raw emotions and puts 110% into her performance on this. Subsequent versions haven't been as bracing as this one...

Liz Phair - Divorce Song



The entire "Exile in Guyville" LP is one long expression of rage and pain after a breakup. We could have chosen any one of the 18 tracks on the original double LP, but this one meets the brief more than others. She never sounded this angry again...

This is not an exhaustive list. Which tracks have we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Enjoy!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Sunday Sessions: The Dave Clark Five


One of the forgotten bands of the British Invasion of the 1960s was ironically one of the most popular, for a period - the Dave Clark Five.

The band were apparently part of a music movement that supposedly rivaled Merseybeat, known as the "Tottenham Sound", to delineate that the band were from North London (Were there any other bands part of the Tottenham Scene? No-one seems to remember...). For about five seconds in 1964, they were considered the biggest threat to the Beatles.

The Five were unusual in as much as they had a band leader who was the drummer. As such, Dave Clark would often position himself in front of, or in a straight line alongside, the guitarists. Dave Clark also sang in unison with keyboard player Mike Smith, while the rest of the band sang harmonies. They were also unusual in that Dave Clark also managed the band, produced their records, co-wrote a lot of the hits and owned the rights to the band's master tapes - an unprecedented feat in the 1960s.

Musically the band were tight, with a huge, drum-heavy sound. Dave Clark was a archetypal "caveman" drummer - his playing was extremely simple, on the beat and extremely heavy handed, with very little flourish or embellishment. He was the model of efficiency compared to Keith Moon's frantic whirlwind of arms and hair and sweat.

Musically, the band followed the mold of the Merseybeat bands, churning out short, sharp, punchy pop tunes with the occasional stylistic detour - such as the mild bluebeat/ska feel introduced on "Bits and Pieces" (see below). They had moments when they branched into Cliff Richard-esque syrupy pop on singles like "Everybody Knows", as well as R&B on covers of Chuck Berry's "Reelin' and Rockin'" and the Contours Motown classic "Do You Love Me", the latter a far heavier version than the tepid one done earlier by Brian Poole and the Tremoloes.

The band took a while to go professional. While their first singles and first LP were in the charts, the band members were still working their day jobs. The band only had one #1 hit in the UK, "Glad All Over" in 1964. They has 12 UK top 40 hits. However the band were popular enough to have their own feature film. On the coattails of the Beatles films "Help!" and "A Hard Day's Night" they released a gritty fly-on-the-wall portrayal of the band called "Catch Us If You Can" in 1965.

They were far more popular in the US, playing on US TV more times than any other British band and racking up 17 consecutive top 40 hits. They imploded in 1970 after declining fortunes in the last few years of the 1960s. They failed to both keep up with the new directions in pop music and failed to hold onto their audience. They were also massively inconsistent on LP, failing to produce anything that could be regarded as a classic album. They fell into the standard record company trap of producing LPs simply for the sake of creating product, because they had to. Record companies of the period demanded two LPs a year back then. As such their albums are full of filler. Their British LPs were cannibalised by their US label Epic for a huge series of LPs, issuing as much as four LPs a year in 1965 and 1966.

Still their early singles have a sound that paved the way for the stomping sound of bands like Slade and the Sweet in the next decade. Although, gladly, their cutesy little synchronised dance moves were largely ignored by those who they influenced.

Check out the highlights of the band's work below. Enjoy!

Bits and Pieces:


Glad All Over:


Catch Us If You Can:


Any Way you Want It

Friday, 25 July 2014

News Flash! Manager rips off musician

Reports this week are that a conman calling himself Harry O'Connor has shut down his 6 week old Sydney-based touring and booking agency amidst fraud allegations. The musicians who were signed to the label are said to be not out of pocket, however a number of large debts for studio time were about to be assigned to the artists in question, potentially costing them thousands of dollars.

This has become big news in Australia. I'm not sure why, but there haven't been too many of these sorts of stories in the music media lately. The allegations of fraud by this guy are well documented on other music industry websites. The thing is, this isn't the first industry scam, not the will it be the last.

This got me thinking of some of the most famous music industry scams. Band managers and other industry types have a reputation as rip-off merchants. And while that is not true of everyone in the industry, it's not an undeserving reputation.

It has been said that Colonel Tom Parker (not his real name) was siphoning off 50% of Elvis's royalties during the latter half of his career. It may be true that Tom helped Elvis's career and kept him a profitable star, but 50%? seriously?

The Beatles struck gold with Brian Epstein as a manager. Brian looked after the band like his own family, until his own suspicious death in 1967. This left the Beatles quite rudderless. When they wanted to form Apple Corps, the band ran it themselves, and found that money was walking out of the venture at a rate of knots. Mick Jagger recommended his manager Allen Klein to sort things out. McCartney hated the idea and didn't sign the contract, while the other three did.

Klein started off well, negotiating the highest royalty rate in the industry at the time. However it was soon apparent that he screwed both the Stones and the Beatles out of heaps of money, making a mess of the business affairs of both bands. Post Beatles, Klein helped George organise the Concert for Bangladesh. Klein was found guilty in 1979 of having defrauded both the accounts of the Concert for Bangladesh and UNICEF.

The rumour going around, at least according to Eric Burdon, with whom he shared a manager, that Jimi Hendrix was killed off by hired goons set upon him by his then manager Mike Jeffries. And what was his crime? Jimi wanted to find a new manager because he thought he was being ripped off...

Recently, R&B singer Beyonce has dropped her manager, on the grounds he was ripping her off to the tune of millions of dollars. The plot thickens when you realise her manager was actually her dad...

Billy Joel, Chicago, Bob Dylan, Soundgarden, Aerosmith, Leonard Cohen, Bo Diddley and heaps of others have been dudded by their managers as well.

However, probably the worst of them all was Welsh band Badfinger, who got screwed over twice. Firstly, on a number of occasions by Allen Klein as a part of the aforementioned Apple Corps, and then by manager Stan Polley. Stan ensured all money they made was funneled into holding accounts of his own and then doles out proceeds to himself. Between late 1970 and the end of 1971, a financial statement claimed that each band member was paid between $6,000 and $9,000, while the business got a profit of $24,000 and Stan's management commission was $74,000. Go figure.

When the band left Apple to sign with Warner Brothers, there were more money issues between the three parties and lawsuits flew around like confetti. The lack of fair dealing, legal confusion and income held in escrow lead the two main songwriters to commit suicide within 8 years of each other, citing Stan Polley and money problems as a main source of despair.

In the 1960s, in the wake of the Beatlemania explosion, managers and record labels sprung up out of nowhere hoping to cash in and sign what they thought might be the next big thing. Unscrupulous minds took on naive young artists and ripped them off blind. Van Morrison claims his first band Them was never paid. Joan Jett and the band she was in as a teenager The Runaways couldn't get money out of their manager Kim Fowley. Vocal group The Coasters were paid next to nothing through their label and management deals in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

But why?

Largely, I think, because they could. There was a lot of money to go around and those with the know how cleaned up through dodgy deals and trick accounting practices. It was usually the bands, every trusting of these people, who lost out. The manager, with the intimate access to the finances, were usually able to fleece the naive. It's truly sad, but that's how it has been for years.

It is encouraging somewhat to hear from students in Music Industry courses today that lecturers implore future managers to "do the right thing" and look after their artists. They want to get rid of the concept of being rip-off merchants and, quite rightly, the only way that perception will change is when the actual business practices of managers start changing for the better.

Here's hoping things change soon then.....

Little Quirks - "Neverland"

A family fun day on a Sunday in a local pub is not necessarily the place to discover new musical talent. But, in amongst the petting zoo and the jumping castle, a handful of young performers played. One group was a group calling themselves Little Quirks, an all female group with 13 year old lead singer/guitarist Abbey, a 16-year old mandolinist/vocalist Jaymi, and a 10 year old drummer Mia.

Hailing from the New South Wales Central Coast region, they are currently doing busking sets at market days around the place. The vocal harmonies these ladies produce are astonishing. The talent within is pretty obvious. Currently their set consists of covers of recent indie folk tunes by the likes of Angus and Julia Stone and Of Monsters and Men, as well as classics by Fleetwood Mac (their cover of "Dreams" is particularly cool) in a style that compliments the song choices well.

At their appearances they are selling their debut EP, home recorded and printed, entitled "Neverland". A professional sounding recording, containing the core of their main set. Containing six songs, it's a great sampler of what the girls are about, with some bass overdubs from Dad to fill out the sound. The package is nicely presented with each copy having the side seams machine stitched together. It's a nice touch. All told, it's certainly worth laying down the asking price of a fiver next time you happen to bump into them around the place.

With this much talent, I hope they go far. It'd be great to hear them work up their own material as they experience life a bit more, if they haven't already. Certainly a band to watch.

Here's a couple of tracks for your perusal, via their soundcloud page. Enjoy.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Calling All Astronauts - "Hands Up Who Wants To Die?" EP

So here's the latest from Calling All Astronauts.

"Hands Up, Who Wants to Die?" Cheery imposition, isn't it? And, not surprisingly, I don't see too many hands up either.

What's interesting about this release is also one of the more confusing aspects to it. The contents of the EP are made up of 6 remixes of the eponymous song. Each remix is retitled after the style of music it has been remixed into - "Hands up who Wants EBM?", "Hands Up Who Wants Metal?", "Hands Up Who Wants Dubstep?" and so on. A novel concept, to be sure. But it's confusing because what does the original version sound like? Which version on the EP is actually the original version?

Still, what you have here is a version in one of 6 different styles, playing to the strengths of the band and cleverly using a broad knowledge of music in which to transmute their sound. The result allows the song to be played in different arenas for different purposes - on alternative rock radio, in a goth club, in a warehouse rave party DJ set.

The "Metal" version is probably the closest to the Astronauts signature sound. Chugging guitars, swirling synths and David Bury's strangled-seagull vocal delivery. He tends to oscillate wildly between a man channeling Johnny Cash in goth makeup and someone having their teeth extracted as the numbness wears off. Seriously, it's a very arresting combination, and it's the version that works best in my view. That's not to take anything away from the remixes, each of which have their own unique character and flavour, while staying true to the core elements of the band's sound.

It's an interesting experiment, and one worthy of a serious listen. Get into it below.