Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Mark "Jacko" Jackson - "I'm an Individual"

Don't you just love it when a celebrity, like a film or TV star, makes a pop record? Some are quite ok, usually they are tolerable, but at worst they can be unlistenable. (We're not naming names here!)

A special category should be reserved for sports stars who release records. With the exception of a couple, including Aussie indigenous boxer Lionel Rose whose efforts are widely respected, these records generally suck.

In Australia, footballers usually have larger than life personalities, but the idea of the larrikin footballer is dying out, with outrageous behaviour being frowned upon now. For my money, NRL (rugby league) personalities are just plain awful. The VFL/AFL ones are much more hilarious, but no less stupid than their NRL equivalents.

Enter Mark "Jacko" Jackson, former St Kilda, Melbourne Demons and Geelong AFL player. The man made a splash outside the field with a few records in the mid-80s. The biggest of which was "I'm an Individual" from 1985.

This turned up on my random mix at home the other day and I was struck by the fact that this is a half-decent song. It's sheer poetry:

"I'm an individual, you can't fool me.
An Inda-bloody-vidual, you can't fool me.
I'm a genuine original, you can't fool me..."

Poetry indeed. I was also struck by irony of the lyrics at the end of the chorus: "Gotta keep an open 'cos I'm thinking all the time". Huh? Since when are you being paid to think? Since when DO you think?

Notice, dear reader, that I said it was a "half-decent" song. What followed from both Jacko and his colleagues never came close to such a lofty perch.

Jacko's follow-up "My Brain Hurts" is simply tragic. Although, that's nothing compared to musical travesty that is (Sydney Swans AFL player) Warwick Capper's attempt at a single "I Only Take What's Mine", which he released after "I'm an Individual" started heading skyward on the charts. But that is so bad that I wouldn't denigrate my blog by posting the video here.

Later on, Jacko went on to great fame as the guy in the Energizer Battery advertisments, which were a stroke of larrikin genius back in the day.

A few years later he released another musical travesty, with the aforementioned Wazza Capper in tow; a techno track called "Rippin' Undies" which is so bad that even YouTube doesn't have the video for (thank heavens!!!) and Wikipedia doesn't even acknowledge it's existence.*

If nothing else, he kept us entertained for a brief few moments. Good on yer, Jacko.

* Andrew Denton's Breakfast Show on Triple M radio in Sydney uncovered this one in their search for the worst songs of all time some years ago.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

100 LPs Shortlist #11: The New Pornographers - "Twin Cinema"

Who says a supergroup can't produce a great record? Who says they can't produce numerous great records?

By definition, a supergroup usually is a gross collection of over-inflated musician egos that collapses under the weight of its own hype (Blind Faith, I'm looking at you). They usually struggle to create a decent set of songs together, all the while being mindful of justfiying their own existence as a legitimate band as opposed to an ego trip.

Canada's New Pornographers have been labelled a "supergroup", however, justifying that tag is sketchy. About the only way they meet the criteria is that all the members are moonlighting in other indie bands or are working on their own solo careers. The band is usually a six piece, featuring alt-country, red-headed bombshell Neko Case, fellow red-head A.C. (Carl) Newman, (from Zumpano), John Collins (from the Evaporators), Dan Bejar (from Destroyer), Kathryn Calder (from Immaculate Machine) and Kurt Dahle on drums.

The reason I hesitate to apply the supergroup label to them is that in their music, these musos genuinely leave their egos at the door and come together to play their instruments in an effort to make the best music possible, as opposed to having a excuse to show off. With a number of great songwriters on board their music is beautifully written and pperformed, lushly textured and layered with a sound that always reveals something new with each listen. The melodic gifts of the members are amazing.

I heard about these guys while living in remote Western Australia a few years ago. With nothing good on radio and TV, being in the middle of nowhere, with a record store or two with nothing beyond the basic stock that every record store has (read: general crap), how do you discover cool new music?

Thank you,

Unfortunately now they have blocked Australian users, but back then, their list of eMusic Summer Essentials was inspiring listening. I bought "Twin Cinema" on a chance based on the review I read on this list, and while it didn't grab me first off, after repeated listenings the real charms reveal themselves.

Neko Case's crystal clear voice lifts songs like "The Bleeding Heart Show" and "Bones of an Idol" into transcendent territory, while "Use It" simply just kicks butt, with some choruses that are just out of this world. The songs here are uniformly strong and there's hardly a bad track here.

This is arguably their most consistent and strongest record to date. The two follow-ups "Challengers" and especially "Together" are also highly recommended, but this is the first high point of a still burgeoning career.


Monday, 20 June 2011

Who the hell is Mary?

So just who is this "Mary" person who Bruce Springsteen is always singing about?

One thing that has always fascinated me about Bruce Springsteen, more than music, was his fascination with this mystery girl. There's always something quite interesting about the stories he weaves and the emotions he conjures up in his music.

It's not like he doesn't sing about other girls. After all there's Sandy, Candy, Rosalita, Linda, Crazy Janey, Cynthia, Gloria, Maria and Sherry among others.

Some years ago, an uncle of mine was raving about Bruce and he mentioned Bruce's fixation with a girl named "Mary". For some reason, that conversation has stayed with me and I keep hearing this "Mary" character mentioned more and more when I listen to Bruce's work.

So who is she? In certain songs, such as "Jesus Was An Only Son", "Terry's Song", and "Linda, Let Me Be The One" the name "Mary" is used as a religious image, that of St Mary, mother of Jesus. However the same reasoning cannot be applied to a song like "Thunder Road", surely!

Given the fact that the name turns up as the protagonists girlfriend in a number of songs, from "Thunder Road" to "The River" to "The Rising" it makes me think there is more to it than meets the eye.

I think that maybe "Mary" isn't a real person at all. I think she is a character sketch, a fictitious entity, a muse. An intangible, non-existent woman for the purposes of fictitious writings. She would most likely be a composite character, someone who's experiences and behaviours and other details would be borrowed from real people and ascribed to this fictitious entity for the purposes of the song. Plus the fact that the name is easy to say - it just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Considering it turns up quite a lot in his work, I think the topic is worth more than an inconspicuous footnote in Bruce's biography...

Indeed, the man himself has been quoted, from VH1 Storytellers no less, as saying something to the effect of "Mary can be many people. A mother Mary, Jesus' Mary, a fictional Mary... pretty much... whomever you want her to be."

Here is a celebration of Springsteen's "Mary" below.

"Mary's Place"
"Thunder Road"
"Mary, Queen of Arkansas"
"The Rising"
"The River"
"Gypsy Biker"
"Bring On The Night"
"Car Wash"


Oh, and R.I.P Mr Clarence Clemons.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

100 Lps Shortlist #10: James Brown - "Funk Power 1970"

James Brown - Funk Power: 1970: A Brand New Thang



If there's one example of a performer whose accolades, hype and hyperbole are justified, it has to be James Brown. A self made man, self taught musician who redefined R&B, Soul and even changed the way we think about the use of rhythm in popular music.

He redefined the live concert as a life-changing force. His groove is the backbeat of every hip-hop and rap record ever made. He wrote, produced and recorded an insane amount of music during his lifetime, as well as writing and producing a number of records for other artists. He worked hard, and he expected his fellow musicians and staff to follow suit.

For all this, his recorded discography is a shambles. He recorded a number of essential singles, but die to their length, cut them down into neat 3 minute pieces and slapped one on each side of a single. His albums were often studio records with dubbed audience noise on them. His albums were, more often than not, two sides of his latest single combined with a bunch of older studio cuts leftover in the vault. Not only that, there sheer volume of material he released during his time (well in excess of 80 LPs) makes his catalogue almost impenetrable.

In the age of the CD, reissue specialists have sought to make sense of Mr Brown's disco-graphical mess, to the point where the best records of his to own are actually compilation albums. In 1991, the definitive boxed set "Star Time" was issued. However, for my taste, the best buys, by far are the 1996 compendiums "Foundations of Funk 1964-1969", "Funk Power 1970: A Brand New Thang" and "Make It Funky: The Big Payback 1971-1975".

These albums take the original single mixes of some of James' greatest jams, and presents them in their uncut, unedited, unfaded-out glory. Some of these are presented in genuine live cuts, but mostly they are just live in studio jams. They are all seriously cool.

The album in question here is "Funk Power 1970". This album highlights the white-hot funk ensemble that was the original JBs, that included drummer Clyde Stubblefield, bass player extraordinaire William "Bootsy" Collins and his brother Phelps "Catfish" Collins on guitar, among others. This album is one, solid, 78 minute funk workout, with 9 killer jams (including two different versions of "Sex Machine", the longest of which is 10 minutes), all cut live in the studio with the band jamming up a storm.

The great thing about these recordings is you get to hear the band stretch out and have fun getting into what they're playing. And you can tell it's live because you can hear James directing the band when the changes are coming. None better than the example of "Give It Up Or Turn It Loose", where the arrangement scales back to just James ad-libbing over a bongo player's groove. Then he calls the drummer in - "CLYDE!" and he falls in with 4 bars of the funkiest drumming you've ever heard before James calls for the bass player to lead the rest of the band back into the song. "Huh. Huh! Bootsy!"

Don't let the length of the tracks scare you off - the first version of "Sex Machine" is the shortest track here at just over 5 minutes. Most are around 6-7 minutes, with "Soul Power" being 12 minutes, "Talkin' Loud and Sayin' Nothin'" is just shy of 15 minutes - you'll be dancing so hard you won't notice.

I defy anyone to listen to this album and not want to shake their backsides, even when sitting down. This is what dance music is all about. If you don't want to dance while listening to this, you either have no soul, you're dead, or your speakers are broken. Make sure you drink plenty of water because 70+ minutes is a long time to dance.


Monday, 6 June 2011

My first mix tape

I'm sure everybody over a certain age will be able to remember their first mix tape.

Over at Hidden Track, in a recent Friday Mix Tape, they surmised that everybody had a few of their choices on their first playlists. A couple of their selections came close to mine, but I didn't hear anything by the Grateful Dead for many years yet. (See their selections here .)

I thought that if I looked hard enough around my house I might be able to find a mixtape old enough to come close to being my "first" one that either was made for me, or that I had created for myself to listen to. (Pre-fab chart hits albums like "Throbbin' '84" and the like don't count.) As it turns out, all my old mix tapes (bar one or two later ones that I gave to my kids) I had thrown out before I moved to West Australia a few years back. I had to delve into the dark recesses of my mind to recall something...and here's what I came up with.

Around 1987, my uncle took a 6 month working holiday to Europe. He left his beloved '72 HQ Holden wagon with my dad to look after. The day after dad picked up the car, he presented me with something - a kings ransom of sorts; my uncle's in-car cassette collection. I listened, learned, discovered and educated myself about heaps of music that I'd never really heard before, and I made myself a number of mixtapes purely from this collection. Only one survived for a number of years, as I only had a limited number of tapes, and they had to be recycled in order to record more music. That original mix-tape is the oldest one I could remember and, although it didn't survive the great chuck-out of 2007, I can still remember most of the albums my uncle had in that tape box (as evidenced by the fact that I grew to love them all so much I bought copies for myself over the ensuing years), and the likely tracks I'd selected for my mix.

The selections that I can remember from the collection are below. It's pretty obvious that you could assume that I had "catholic" tastes at the time. But hey, what 11 year old doesn't? While a lot of this music was still fairly current at the time of the original compilation, it is now the type of music a dreadful commercial radio station like Triple M will play ad nauseum.

In this day and age, the art of the mix-tape is all but dead and buried. These days, it is replaced by "playlists" within iTunes. The art of sequencing and selecting the tracks in order not only to make them fit the length of the tape, but to get as much music on each side without the songs cutting out halfway through them (a common problem) and also to make it enjoyable to listen to from start to finish.

It's ironic then, that this recreation of the mix tape is presented to you now in a Grooveshark playlist...


What we have here:

  1. Beastie - Jethro Tull (from "Broadsword and the Beast")
  2. (I Love It When You) Call Me Names - Joan Armatrading (from "Track Record")
  3. Bad Boy For Love - Rose Tattoo (from "A Decade of Rock")
  4. Refugee - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from "Damn The Torpedoes")
  5. The Number Of The Beast - Iron Maiden (from "The Number of the Beast")
  6. Under Pressure - Queen and David Bowie (from "Greatest Hits")
  7. Down Under - Men At Work (from "Business As Usual")
  8. Espresso Love - Dire Straits (from "Making Movies")
  9. School's Out - Alice Cooper (from "Greatest Hits")
  10. Things Don't Seem - Australian Crawl (from "Crawl File")
  11. Bustin' Loose - Moving Pictures (from "Days Of Innocence")
  12. Don't Do Me Like That - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (from "Damn The Torpedoes")
  13. Hit Me With Your Best Shot - Pat Benatar (from "Crimes of Passion")
  14. Go Your Own Way - Fleetwood Mac (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  15. More Than A Feeling - Boston (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  16. She's Not There - Santana (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  17. Stay Young - INXS (from "Underneath The Colours")
  18. Cheap Wine - Cold Chisel (from "East")
  19. Solid Rock - Goanna (from "Spirit of Place")
  20. Another One Bites The Dust - Queen (from "Greatest Hits")
  21. Africa - Toto (from a commercially available classic rock Compilation album that I've forgotten the name of)
  22. And She Was - Talking Heads (from "Little Creatures")