Thursday, 28 February 2013

100 LPs Shortlist #29a: The Beatles - "Sgt Pepper..."



There's very little to say about The Beatles that hasn't already been said more eloquently somewhere else. The same thought can be applied to their 1967 LP "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band". But what probably makes this album interesting, before a note has even been heard, is the innovation that this record was.

The Beatles were nothing if not game-changers for the Music industry back in the day.
  • They were the first band to write their own songs, thus becoming one of the first self contained artistic units.
  • They were the first band to insist that all their singles (and thus tracks played on most radio stations) contained original material, not covers of existing songs.
  • They were the first band to insist on choosing their own album art-work.
  • They were the first band to use the LP as an art-form, a statement of intent unto itself, as a means of artistic expression.
  • They were the first band to really extend the basic vocabulary of rock music by introducing new structures and instrumentation to the form.
  • The were the first band to introduce foreign musical ideas into a largely western music.
"Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" continues on with these innovations, and then takes them further again. It was a record that well and truly broke the mold, for better or for worse, in terms of what a pop record could be and what it could look and sound like.

Let's look at some of its innovations:
  • It was the first single LP to have a gatefold sleeve. Gatefold sleeves were common with double LPs (themselves were not common in rock music at that point).
  • It was the first album really to have the songs join up with each other with no gaps between them: The opening two tracks and the final three tracks on side two had no silence between them.
  • It was one of the first LPs to present the music as a conceptual piece - of a variety show.
  • It was the first rock LP to feature all the lyrics for all the songs on the cover.
  • It was the first LP to have such lavish cover artwork.
  • It was also the first record to have all the bands (or track separation marks) on the vinyl removed, making it difficult to see where the tracks started and ended, effectively forcing you to listen to each side all the way through.
  • A vinyl record with the tracks separated into "bands"
    An unbanded vinyl record.

  • It was the first LP to have a closed loop sound effect played at the end of the run-out groove on side two.



  • Most of these innovations would only be of note to people who have heard the album on vinyl. On CD, most of these things don't actually matter. But for the time, they were major innovations that no-one had actually seen before.

    Of course, all this would amount to nothing if the music was no good. Fortunately, it is brilliant.

    There are not many records, then or now, that start with the sound of an orchestra warming up before a performance. The title track appears twice, and while not one of the Beatles greatest songs, it is perfect for an intro and the outro of the album. The intro segues straight into Ringo's jolly singalong "With a Little Help From My Friends".

    We take a trip (no pun intended) through all the styles the Beatles had attempted before on earlier records, such as Indian classical music ("Within You, Without You"), English-styled Music Hall ("Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite", "When I'm 64"), bouncy pop ("Fixing A Hole"), chamber pop ("She's Leaving Home") and hard rock ("Good Morning, Good Morning").  But the best examples of their attempts at these styles are featured here.

    The whole thing concludes with "A Day In The Life", which somehow managed to fuse three disparate song ideas together and incorporate large scale, avant-garde, free-improvisation in the form of the orchestral climax at the end of the piece. It finishes with the longest sustained E Major chord in the history of recorded music.

    This is a record that is designed to be played from start to finish with no tracks being skipped. And the good thing is, you can do just that without a problem. It is a thrilling journey through numerous styles of music played by a very talented quartet of musicians who were never content to stand still. They were always willing to try new things and push boundaries, and yet still remaining inviting, familiar and listenable.

    Enjoy!

    Note: there are no online streaming sources available for this LP.

    Wednesday, 27 February 2013

    Johnny Cash and friends vs The Record Industry

    This is an archive piece written and posted on LiveJournal in 2006, albeit slightly edited and re-published in 2013: 

    How high's the water mama?
    I watched the Johnny Cash biopic last night entitled "Walk The Line" and that song didn't even make an appearance: "Five Feet High and Rising".

    I didn't know that June Carter was such a tough nut to crack - she didn't want to have a bar of poor old Johnny for ages! I have to applaud him for his tenacity. I would have given up ages ago if it was me, no matter how great the girl was.

    The thing that struck me though was, and like the Ray Charles biopic I saw last week, is how clueless record company execs can be. Columbia Records didn't see any merit in Johnny recording a live album at a prison. The "Live at Folsom Prison LP" turned out to be his biggest selling record ever, closely followed by its sequel "Johnny Cash at San Quentin". These are the same people who didn't see any faith in releasing Dave Brubeck's landmark 1959 LP "Time Out" because it wasn't "commercial" enough. Those bean-counters were eating their words when that album became the first ever jazz LP to chart in Billboard top 40 LPs and the first jazz album to spawn a hit single ("Take Five"). Go figure.

    History is littered with stories like these. Around the same time as Johnny was arguing with Columbia's record execs, they passed on signing Frank Zappa and the Mothers.

    We all know the story of the Beatles being snubbed by Decca in London in 1962. They were so annoyed with their decision they signed the Rolling Stones immediately after hearing their demo.

    Ray Charles had the same problem. Atlantic didn't want to release "What'd I Say" as a single because it was over 6 minutes long. When they did, it was a massive hit - the biggest in the company's history.

    Same deal with James Brown and his landmark album "Live at the Apollo" - the record company vetoed the idea. James funded the recording himself and it was the biggest selling LP record of his career (and it still is).

    I wonder if these experiences have hardened the record company people now so that they don't take any risks on new talent or new ideas. Maybe that's why a lot of modern music on the radio sucks and all the good stuff is on the internet or on indie labels that get no media coverage. 

    Or maybe i'm a curmudgeon. I dunno. Meh. Bah humbug. Turn the record over...

    Johnny Cash's birthday

    This is an archive piece written and posted on LiveJournal in 2006, albeit slightly edited and re-published in 2013: 

    In honour of Johnny Cash's 80th birthday, I present part of my review of the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk The Line" from 2006.


    image source: www.johnnycash.com

    "I keep a close watch on this heart of mine...


    ...I keep my eyes wide open all the time
    I keep the ends out for the ties that bind
    Because you're mine..."

    Back again on the subject of the Johnny Cash documentary "Walk The Line" that I recently viewed, I thought that Reese Witherspoon was a fairly convincing June Carter but Joaquin Phoenix's performance left a lot to be desired. Take into account I had just watched "Ray" recently and Jamie Foxx's portrayal of Ray Charles was so realistic he deserved that Oscar he won. I can't really say the same for poor ol' Joaquin. After listening to "Johnny Cash at San Quentin" yesterday it became apparent to me just how far off the mark Joaquin really was:- Sorry mate.

    I think it's so cool that Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two arrived at their unique sound because they were playing at the limit of their abilities. In short, they couldn't play any better. And while Johnny was once a labelmate of Elvis Presley, Johnny's legacy is way more vital that Elvis's ever was. At least Johnny wrote his own songs...

    Johnny's legacy is unfortunately hampered by the fact that he will forever be tied to the genre of Country music. That is a great shame as his music really was genreless - it was a seamless mix of Gospel, Folk, Blues, Rockabilly AND Country. He crossed genres so seamlessly he created his own sound, and style. He became idiosyncratic, and the words he sang were, in most cases, real. They felt lived in, and he believed in what he sang about and made that known. No wonder his fans are as diverse as Nick Cave and James Hetfield from Metallica.

    Johnny was associated with a movement in music called the "Outlaw" movement. Although in the eyes of most people that title stuck because he sang songs about spending time in jail and various social injustices, oh and killing people too. But that is not in itself correct, although it probably helped. The title was applied to people like Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and others because what they did was "outside" the accepted conventions of country music, whose aristocracy is based around the all powerful Nashville music scene and "The Grand Ole Opry". Jim Reeves, Keith Urban, Dolly Parton and Tammy Wynette were/are "Nashville-approved", Johnny Cash, strictly speaking, was not. He, like the others I've mentioned, chose to do things their way and flipped the bird at Nashville. Thus the title "outlaw".


    image source: mirandoenlared.blogspot.com

    And I think popular music on the whole is all the better for it.

    Tuesday, 26 February 2013

    100 LPs Shortlist #28: Even - "Less Is More"



    At the end of 1996, I'd finished tertiary study and was about to take a leap into the workforce for the first time. On the day I walked out of college, I went to my local indie record store wanting to buy a new LP to celebrate my new found freedom. The album I wanted was "One Hot Minute" by Red Hot Chili Peppers. And I bought it, on shiny new double vinyl.

    However, while perusing the racks, I noticed another LP by a band that I'd never heard of, but it looked like it was an Australian band. The back cover showed a Rickenbaker guitar leaning up against a Vox AC30 amp, so right away that should have triggered thoughts about this being a classicist pop record. It was also a limited, numbered edition and it was only around $22 or so. I asked the man behind the counter "What does this sound like?" He said "well it's full of short, three chord jangle pop songs - very Beatle-esque. You'll love it". He'd known I was a Beatles fan, and I was also in a celebratory mood, so I bought this record as well as "One Hot Minute" and then caught the train back home.

    The album was "Less Is More", the first LP by a three piece from Melbourne named Even. All the songs are written by lead singer and guitarist Ashley Naylor.

    Saying that it is "Beatles-esque" and full of "three chord jangle pop songs" is a somewhat applicable description, and yet it is underselling the music as well. The Beatles may be an obvious reference point, but Even's sound runs deeper than that. Most guitar-pop bands can trace their roots back to the Beatles, so that really is a lazy comparison. Within these songs you'll hear distant echoes of The Who, The Kinks, You Am I, Big Star, David Bowie and T.Rex.

    Stylistically this album runs the gamut of pop music, from short power pop tunes, epic sing-alongs, psychedelic experiments, sweet melancholy, to balls-out rock'n'roll, all delivered with the deft touch of Mr Naylor and his fully capable bandmates.

    This record has some of the most catchy melodies with an earworm-like quality - and I mean that in a good way. These are songs that you would want to have in your head; that when you can't get rid of that awful Britney Spears song in your head, you can play this record and all those horrible thoughts about crappy music will be washed away. The instrumental playing is such that, while it used the REM-styled jangle pop as a basis, other dimensions are added to make it sound all their own: Wally Meanie on bass adds a bottom-end rumble that is rock solid, while Ash's occasionally self-deprecating lyrics elevate this above the ordinary, capturing the mood of some of those within the "Alternative Nation" at the time.

    Even released this album in an extraordinary age of Alternative music in Australia where there were many different bands, and yet very few sounded like each other, making a scene that was fully vibrant, diverse and constantly exciting. Probably the closest sounding bands to them would have been Snout and You Am I, and even then they didn't sound much like Even. There was no rush to have a sound or a style that was consistent with someone else or some other prevailing trend. Within this environment, many great bands flourished and Even were one of the best. This was the start of a series of great albums that went sorely unrecognised by the public at large.

    ...and despite the fact I purchased this at the same time as a Red Hot Chili Peppers LP, I've played "Less Is More" about a million times more than "One Hot Minute"!

    Check it out and enjoy!

    Learning music


    image source: teachingmusic.tumblr.com

    Don't like the music? Well maybe the music is not the problem, but rather YOU might be, according to this story from our friends at Tone Deaf. A new Australian study has attempted to confirm that musical knowledge is not innate but can be learned.

    I've been thinking on this theme for ages and i tend to believe that a little bit of music appreciation 101 would be beneficial to everybody. You don't need to be an expert, but a little bit of knowledge goes a long way. It does appear that, even though most of us learn music to some degree in high school, we forget it as soon as it is over. The great shame of that is that is one of the most valuable skills you can take with you throughout your life.

    Years ago, albums came with lots of sleeve notes that informed you of some of the ideas concepts at work in the music on the record. Jazz and classical records have been doing it for years and still do. Pop records started to include them and then after about 1970, the practice was to including more photos of the band and much less text. My guess is that on pop records, the sleeve notes were not much more than PR spin conjured up by someone in the band's organisation. Some record companies even became quite opportunistic and added heaps of text plugging other LPs by other artists on the back covers of their LPs. But in hindsight, it probably wouldn't have hurt to have kept something of substance there.

    If I'm listening to a piece of music I've never heard before, and i just can't get into it, I'll research a bit about the piece or the artist on The All Music Guide or Wikipedia and that often helps me to get some context behind the music and it helps me to make sense of it a bit more. In a lot of cases, the music you hear for the first time may be years old, and therefore you are quite removed from the hype and the spin of the time. All you have is the music in the grooves of the record. But if that doesn't make sense, I need to dig a little deeper to find out more information. In some cases, merely listening to an album over and over again doesn't help matters.


    image source: lyrics.wikia.com

    A case in point: "Trout Mask Replica" by Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band. This is a tough album to listen to, but it is routinely cited as one of the greatest LPs of all time - that was the premise upon which I was motivated to buy the album. Listening to the album over and over again will soften the initial shock of hearing the music for the first time, but it still doesn't make much sense until you read up on the history of the band, the history of the Captain and some of Lester Bangs' writings about the album. Then, you get an idea of what the Captain was trying to achieve with this music, and then the music makes some semblance (notice I said some, not complete) of sense.  Before long, you appreciate the record for the true piece of genius that it really is.

    So, a little bit of knowledge beyond the everyday is not a bad thing when it comes to music.  We can't all be experts, and not everybody needs to be.  Besides, you learn it in school, why not use it?  It can make listening to music a much more rewarding experience.  Learn the rules, and then develop an appreciation for they way they can be used, and the ways they can be broken too!  In an ideal world, this would assist in helping to remove the snobbish elitism than music fans tend to harbor.

    Then again, it could make it worse...

    Friday, 22 February 2013

    The science of Mosh Pits

    There was an interesting story published in the music press recently about a scientific study on the movement of bodies in a moshpit. This sounds like the kinds of science that the Ig Nobel prize was created for: pointless, useless and utterly mind-boggling things that science wouldn't normally bother with.

    The study was conducted by Jesse L. Silverberg, Matthew Bierbaum, James P. Sethna, Itai Cohen from Cornell University in New York.

    It's an interesting read and it is only 4 pages long. I had to laugh when they compared the bodies in the mosh pit as similar to molecules in a gas: "this phenomenon resembles the kinetics of gaseous particles, even though moshers are self-propelled agents that experience dissipative collisions."

    The thing that makes this study worthy of the science of say, Dr Sheldon Cooper in the "Big Bang Theory" is that none of the participants actually went into a moshpit for the purposes of the study: they only watched a number of YouTube videos. That's a bit like second-hand science to me, although I could imagine Sheldon opting to do likewise...

    One of the physicists who conducted the study, Matthew Bierbaum, has created an interactive Java-based simulation of the moshpit which is fun to play with, but I don't know whether I'm any the wiser from playing it! Check it out below, and read the paper here: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1302.1886v1.pdf (Adobe PDF format)

    Enjoy!



    Monday, 18 February 2013

    Songs that name check other artists


    Have you ever noticed how certain musicians make reference to other musicians in song? And why would they bother?

    It really works on a case by case basis. Some writers tend to namecheck other artists in an affectionate tribute, like "When the Birdmen Fly" by The Fun Things, or "Pissing with the Catman" by The Pictures.  In fact the back-story of this song is great - lead singer of The Pictures, Davey Lane, met KISS drummer Peter Criss at a urinal in a club somewhere in America.



    Others tend to do it to set the scene or to paint a picture, like Bruce Springsteen's "Thunder Road" or "Looking Out my Back Door" by CCR.

    Some are designed to be an insult, like "Sweet Home Alabama" by Lynyrd Skynyrd, which is an attack on Neil Young for his attacks on the state government of Alabama in songs like "Southern Man" and "Alabama". 

    Of course, Frenzal Rhomb leave nothing to the imagination with their track "Russell Crowe's Band".

    Either way it is a curious and unusual idea and i have compiled as many of them as i can think of for you to check out.









    Here's a spotify playlist with all the other ones I can think of!!!

    Enjoy!!

    RIPs today

    It's been a big day for musicians passing today.

    In the news today there were no less than four musicians who have shuffled off the mortal coil.  Let's a take a look at the recent acts at The Great Gig In The Sky:

    Tony Sheridan



    Tony was a musician in the red-light district of Hanburg in the 1960s.  He took a young group from Liverpool under his wing by the name of The (Silver) Beatles) and they played many shows together.  They even recorded an LP under the auspices of Bert Kaempfert, of all people.  Their first single together, "My Bonnie" was the record that piqued the interest of one Brian Epstein, and the rest, as they say, is history...

    Tony didn't live to have anywhere near the success as his proteges did.  Nonetheless, he will be missed...



    Shadow Morton



    Shadow Morton was a record producer who originally discovered the Shangri-Las and produced their hit records "Leader of the Pack" and "Remember (Walking In The Sand)".  He also produced the first Vanilla Fudge LP and allegedly produced Iron Butterfly's epic "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".



    Mindy McCready




    Mindy McCready was a Nashville-country startlet who has had a reasonably successful career until now.  Her husband had only died a few weeks before now and she had found this extremely traumatic.  She has had two previous suicide attempts and today, unfortunately it looks like she was successful - authorities believe her gunshot would was self inflicted.  A very tragic story.  She was 37.




    Kevin Peek



    Kevin Peek was an Australian session guitarist and a member of Classical/Rock fusion band Sky.  He played on sessions for Manfred Mann and T.Rex before becoming a member of Cliff Richard's touring band.  His greatest success was with Sky, however he always seemed to play second fiddle to the main star of the band, guitarist John Williams.  There doesn't seem to be a lot of information around about the cause of his death but according to the Noise11 website it was cancer.

    Sky's rocked up version of Bach's "Toccata an Fugue In D Minor" is, in my view, the definitive version of the song. Have a listen below.



    May all the above rest in peace.

    The Cultural Cringe


    source: Boropulse.com

    Alecia Simmonds, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald on the weekend, wrote this fascinating article on a curious phenomenon we have in this country called "The Cultural Cringe".

    It ponders on why people both those who live here and some of those who visit here, seem to feel that our culture is inferior to, say, European culture. It's not as though we don't have any top scientists or any good filmmakers here. And let's face it, an Australian artist just won the 2012 Grammy award for the Record of the Year (Goyte). There are some manifestations of the culture however that are a little less than impressive (see Alan Jones, Ray Hadley or anything on The Anti-Bogan for proof), but by and large we have a deep, rich and varied culture that is wholly unique, despite its origins.

    Australians, as I see it, when they're not flag-waving and being nationalistic, do at times think that local product is inferior to the overseas one. We've seen this for years. The Bee Gees, The Seekers, The Saints, The Go-Betweens, The Triffids, Nick Cave and The Birthday Party were all homegrown acts who all needed to go overseas to be noticed and respected, before anyone here took notice. In the mid-1980s, the "Buy Australian" campaign had to remind us that we do sctually have a manufacturing sector in this country and that we do produce good products, instead of opting for the cheaper Chinese imported version.

    Unfortunately, the cultural cringe has manifested itself at an institutional level. Commercial radio won't touch Australian music as most of it "doesn't fit the format". Australian support acts on big concert bills get little attention from audiences. Australian TV stations won't invest in locally produced content, aside from news, morning shows and soap operas. With this in mind, what incentive is there for the punters to support it?

    Culture needs to develop by local content being produced and media outlets supporting it. It's cyclical - one feeds the other and everyone benefits. By incorporating our own voices with the best of overseas, we could be a more vibrant culture than ever.

    Friday, 15 February 2013

    100 LPs Shortlist #27: The Eagles - "Hotel California"



    Growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, you couldn't escape the Eagles. Any radio station that claimed to play "Rock" music, even if their mantra was the latest music, always played The Eagles. In a lot of cases, unless they're pure Top 40 stations or alternative or specialist stations, they still do play them. As a collector of vinyl, both new and second hand, Eagles records are plentiful and usually you can get them in good condition very cheaply. All of them are expertly played with loads of great guitar work on them which makes them pleasant enough to listen to, but the experience can ring a little hollow sometimes. After all, they're no longer the coolest band on the block, and we're all a bit tired of the exposure to them, aren't we?

    When the Eagles started in the 1970s, radio in Australia wouldn't touch them. The only station that would was 2JJ (later Triple J), as they were considered to be "alternative". They were too country for the rock stations, too rock for the country stations. Of course, by 1975 they'd developed a big enough following to be one of the biggest selling bands in the world with the release of their next record.

    "Hotel California" is a record that is completely of its time. It stands as one of the signposts of the debauched post-hippie 1970s, along with "Rumours" (Fleetwood Mac) and "Running On Empty" (Jackson Browne). These were records that highlighted the excess and indulgence that apparently was the late 1970s. They are products by musicians at the height of fame, with stupidly insane amounts of money, loads of groupies and copious amounts of drugs, seeming all on tap. Considering the amount of drugs these bands were rumoured to be taking, it's a wonder any music was made at all, let along stuff this great.

    This is a record that contains great songs, but it also has been polished with a studio sheen that makes the music sparkle, despite the woozy, almost hung-over atmosphere of tunes like "Wasted Time" and "Victim of Love". "The Last Resort", with it's plaintive piano figure throughout, is an 8 minute tour-de-force through the US frontier's economic and social history. But most of the songs deal with the fallout of the heady and debauched post-free love era that was starting to burn people out, as evidenced on "Life In The Fast Lane" and "Hotel California". All the hippy idealism of the 1960s had now evolved into grown-up life and clearly it wasn't working for some people.

    The bulk of "Hotel California" is still played on radio and in live sets by the band. The title track, "New Kid In Town", "Victim of Love", "Life In The Fast Lane" all get regular runs on classic hits radio even to this day, while on the 1994 comeback special "Hell Freezes Over" they played "Pretty Maids All In A Row", "Wasted Time" and "The Last Resort", as well as two of the aforementioned radio tracks. The only song on the record that gets short shrift is the Randy Meisener composition "Try and Love Again", not that there's anything wrong with it, but it really is the black sheep of the family in terms of appreciation - it's the hidden jewel tucked away at the back of the record. The other part of the record that, in my view, is superfluous, is the orchestral reprise of "Wasted Time" at the start of side 2 - what's the point of it?

    The band peaked with this record. They couldn't follow it up quick enough and turned out the flaccid "The Long Run" in 1979. Listening to that record, it really sounded like the drugs had gotten the better of them. Nonetheless, "Hotel California" is the band's piece de resistance, and provided you listen to it on your own terms and not when oldies radio batters you constantly with it, it's still a great listen.

    Eagles - Hotel California by David Kowalski on Grooveshark

    BBC Radio2 Recreates "Please Please Me"

    BBC Radio 2 have attempted to recreate the recording of the Beatles LP "Please Please Me", under similar conditions (i.e. in 12 hours on the 11th of February in Studio 2 at Abbey Road) but with 11 different artists, including Beatle peers The Merseybeats, Paul Jones (ex-Manfred Mann), Chris Difford and Glen Tilbrook from Squeeze, Joss Stone and more.

    Is it a bold move or a stunt? You be the judge. I would have thought that the two remaining Beatles should have been involved with this, but alas they weren't. Ringo was in Australia with his All-Starr band, and who knows where Paul was and what he was up to.

    Actually, it would have been interesting to see if the offspring of the Beatles, who recently hinted to the press they might get a band together (Dhani Harrison, Sean Ono Lennon, Zak Starkey and Mike(?) McCartney), could pull off playing those songs in 12 hours at Abbey Road.

    I've only heard a couple of performances from this broadcast - one by the Stereophonics and one by Mick Hucknall. I don't care much for Mick, but the Stereophonics took "I Saw Her Standing There" and smashed it out of the park in one take. Take a listen below:



    You can read my review of the First Beatles LP right here

    Enjoy.

    Wednesday, 13 February 2013

    50 Years of "Please Please Me"

    The Beatles - Please Please Me

    50 years ago, on February 11, 1962, the Beatles recorded their first LP at the Abbey Road Studios of EMI, under the guidance of producer George Martin.

    It was recorded in 12 hours, with only 10 songs recorded in that time, live with some basic overdubbing, to two-track tape. The balance of the LP was padded out with both sides of the previously released singles "Love me Do" and "Please Please Me". The latter of which gives the album its name.

    It's interesting how times have changed. Nobody in professional music circles records albums in 12 hours anymore. And what's more, the band made it abundantly clear that the lion's share of music on their albums was to be original. As a result, 8 of the 14 tracks were written by John and Paul. That in itself was a game-changer: before this, most bands and performers sourced their material from external professional song writers and never gave a thought to composing a song themselves.

    The album is not one of my personal favourites by The Beatles. They would go onto bigger and better things, but this is a pretty decent start. It contains some great originals, some questionable cover choices and a handful of insipid performances, but their energy and passion are evident throughout.

    By now, the band were a lean, mean performing machine. They tight as performers, they were tight as a group of friends. They could own the stage on any given night. They could bash out these songs competently and confidently, as they had been doing for months. However, performing to an audience of two from behind sound-proof glass must have been intimidating for them. All members took the lead vocal on at least one song. John shreds his vocal chords on "Twist and Shout", Ringo sounds confident on "Boys", George sounds a little intimidated by the studio on "Do You Want To Know A Secret".

    Paul's energy is evident almost from the moment the needle hits the groove on side 1. One of the most famous count-ins in music history begins the album and it hints at the solid energy to come in tracks like "I Saw Her Standing There", "Boys" and "Twist and Shout". However, some of the song choices, while they demonstrate their versatility of taste and style, are a little of the naff side. "Chains" and "A Taste Of Honey" are quite twee, while "Anna (Go To Him)" is quite watered down compared to Arthur Alexander's original.

    One thing that is quite noticeable about the sound of the original stereo mix is the amount of bleeding across channels you can hear. The album was recorded onto two-track reel-to-reel tape - instruments on one track, vocals on the other. As it was recorded without the luxury of isolating instruments and voices, there's heaps of sound seeping into the vocal mics, giving a weird echo effect that is not noticeable on the mono version. They did subsequent retakes of certain songs but others were cut in one take, like "Twist and Shout", which has to be one of the greatest one-take live-in-the-studio performances ever. Also, the guitars are quite tinny, because the bigwigs at Abbey Road wouldn't let the band turn up the amps to stage volume!!!

    Plenty of bands have created amazing first records, only to see their second LP pale in comparison (here's looking at you Boston, The Jam, Dire Straits, Franz Ferdinand, Arctic Monkeys, Aerosmith, Bob Seger, Cold Chisel, Guns 'n' Roses et al) but the Beatles started off on the front foot, and got better and better in a rapid space of time. Their second LP "With The Beatles" has stronger material and stronger performances all round, while still maintaining the 8-orignals/6-covers template. With album number three, then they went stratospheric in terms of popularity.

    One thing I didn't know is that this album topped the UK album charts in 1963 for 30 weeks once it was released in March 1963. Decca Records were surely kicking themselves once they saw that...

    Monday, 11 February 2013

    TSATF Recommends: Sutton Althisar

    So who's ever heard the sound of a siren from a parallel dimension? What sounds like a distress signal from a floating skyscraper in zero gravity? An emergency beacon from an international space station in a distant galaxy?

    Welcome to "Fire and Smoke" by Sutton Althisar, an indie-electro-folk musician who has not long arrived in Australia from LA. Here is a new work of a musician who has developed a sound that is not altogether immediate at first, but is rich enough to reward repeated listenings. "Fire and Smoke" has plenty going on within its other-worldly-styled arrangement, but at its core is a warm melody carried forth by the tones of Sutton's voice. There's a lot to be gained from close listening to this track. The B-side of this digital single "Let The Sun" is more immediate, with some interesting string textures throughout, but it adds a mellower compliment to the wilder A-side.

    Definitely recommended.

    Featured below is both the aforementioned tracks for you to check out, and then swing by Sutton's Bandcamp page and buy yourself a copy.

    Enjoy!



    ABBA - A reflection

    ABBA was never my thing. And, outside of a handful of songs, they're still not, really. They were, however, a group my mother was quite fond of. She was into them when she was in her mid-20s and a young mum, so I was really too young to see the huge buzz surrounding the band first hand.

    Despite not being a massive fan, I watched Alan Brough's documentary "ABBA - Bang a Boomerang" last night on ABC iView. It eloquently outlined the story of ABBA's success primarily as it related to Australian audiences, who were probably the most rabid fans of the band on the planet in the 1970s.

    As we all know, ABBA are the most visible and most successful graduate of that most (tongue firmly planted in cheek) prestigious school of pop culture and arts: Eurovision. These days, the Eurovision Song Contest gets national exposure in Australia, but in 1973, I doubt it got much coverage here at all. Nonetheless, I think both Eurovision and ABBA have benefited from their mutual association.

    In Alan Brough's program, Ian "Molly" Meldrum, erstwhile producer and presenter of "Countdown", the most watched music show in Australia probably in the history of television, says that he flogged ABBA's videos on the show in the early days. Countdown was a live show that went to air every week and it was hungry for new music and talent. ABBA, being from Sweden, couldn't just pop into the studios in Melbourne and bang out a performance, so they made some music videos to be shown in their absence.

    It's fair to say that Molly and Countdown were responsible for bringing ABBA to the Australian public (they were also responsible for inflicting Madonna and Culture Club on an unsuspecting Australian public as well, but that's another story). The were perfect foil for a pop show - the girls were cute, the songs were sharp and catchy, the melodies stick in your head for weeks.

    ABBA's songs are remarkably well produced. They used the studio well and you can hear the layers of studio sheen they put into their work, if you're willing to listen hard enough. And full credit to them for learning to sing in a foreign language that is so at odds with their native tongue. I remember my dad telling me about his favourite ABBA song of all time, a track called "Tropical Loveland". I listened to it once - it's their attempt at Reggae. That may sound hard to process: a group of Swedes doing Jamaican music, but it just shows the depth and strength of the boys' ambition as songwriters, who were willing to attempt something new and different.

    For me however, the Australian public's voracious demand for ABBA's music and the Media's willingness to cater to it means that, even now, their music is ubiquitous and that drives me mental. There is such a thing as "too much of a good thing" sometimes and having "Dancing Queen" played everywhere all the time really lessens its impact.

    I hear that in the school yard the demarcation lines were set over which four-letter superstar band you were a fan of: ABBA, or KISS. You were either one or the other, never both. If that was me in those days, I'd be well and truly in the KISS camp - "Fernando", to this day, makes me break out in a bad rash.

    I found it interesting that after their big tour of Australia in 1977 that the Australian public went soft on the band. They had turned their allegiances around and a backlash set in. Not long after, the same happened to KISS.

    We really can be a fickle bunch, the Australian public. "Tall Poppy Syndrome" is a bitch - just ask Daniel Johns of Silverchair. However, I don't think the backlash was ABBA's fault. KISS' backlash was almost entirely their fault - they over-marketed themselves with merchandise and, by releasing no less than five LPs in 1978 alone (and two a year for ever year of their existence before that) they'd milked us for all we were worth...and then some.

    In the program, Rockwiz host Julia Zemiro summed it up nicely when she said that by then, the young fans were well and truly teenagers and they needed music that made them feel "touched" - read: risque, or sexually charged. ABBA were releasing records like "The Winner Takes it All" and "One of Us" which told the story, albeit in thinly veiled code, of the breakups of the two couples within the band. The music was still sophisticated, but it was more grown up and less immediate than, say, "Dancing Queen". The band and their young fans had both grown up, but they were growing in opposite directions.

    That backlash lasted a long time though. I remember starting school in the early 1980s and hearing some of the pithy parodies of ABBA songs going around:

    "Mamma Mia,
    I got diahorrhea,
    Ten-four,
    open up the dunny door..."

    The band's resurgence in the 1990s and beyond defies logic in some respects (it raises many questions regarding the dubious fashion sense of the era), but it demonstrates the power and quality of the songs (and the fact that a hell of a lot of people still really like the band!!!). The production on some of those songs hasn't dated at all: "Knowing Me, Knowing You" sounds like it was recorded yesterday - it still sounds fresh. It is harmonically beautiful in the use of chords and melody, but lyrically it is a very uncomfortable breakup song. "Dancing Queen" on the other hand, as well as "Voulez Vous" could only have come out of the 1970s - they still sound tied to their era. "SOS" has this gorgeous piano run at the end of each verse (as the build-up to the chorus) that sounds like it was lifted from Mozart, but it still sounds great.

    The band is still so popular in this country that it can be said that 1-in-3 households own an ABBA album. Based on the Wikipedia article on the band, they have had 69 platinum certifications (platinum is 70000 copies) so that makes 4.83 million albums sold in a country of 23 million people. It makes the mind boggle.

    Of course, if I never had to hear "Fernando" ever again, that day cannot come soon enough.

    Saturday, 9 February 2013

    The Fun Things



    Recently I was browsing eBay and I became quite heavily depressed when I saw some great Aussie punk 7-inch singles and EPs and the prices they were going for. I knew then and there that there was probably no chance, ever, that I was going to own the original vinyl of some of this great music. A lot of this music has been reissued on amazing CDs like 4ZZZ-FM's long out of print album "Behind The Banana Curtain" and on Tim Pittman's essential 2 volume "Tales from The Australian Underground" albums. However, it is not quite the same as owning the original vinyl.

    Last night on eBay, a seller offered an original copy of a 7-inch, 4-track EP by an obscure Brisbane band called The Fun Things. It was only pressed in a limited edition of 500 copies originally in 1980. It was repressed in another limited edition circa 2000, but only of 1000 copies. The auction for the record closed at 9pm last night and the winning bidder paid AU$1626.50, plus $3.95 postage. No matter how desperate I was to own this, I just couldn't justify that amount of money on a 7-inch vinyl EP.

    Why is this record so sought after?

    Well, for a start, the lead singer, songwriter and guitarist in the band is a guy named Brad Shepherd. This little record would probably have been consigned to the dustbins of history if only he hadn't have joined a little Sydney pub band called the Hoodoo Gurus and went on to be internationally successful within said band.

    The other reason it is in such demand is that, well, the music just @#$%ing ROCKS!!! By 1980, when this was released, most of the east coast bands were still enthralled with Radio Birdman and the Saints. The Fun Things were no exception. In fact, the lead track on their only EP was called "When The Birdmen Fly", a deliberate tribute to Deniz Tek and his crew. However, what you have in the grooves is raw, unbridled, teenage angst, rebellion, sweat and passion. It's raw, unpolished, and it just plain kicks ass.

    Brad would probably blush at the thought of someone gushing over his naive teenage exuberance, but let's face it, the closing track on the EP, "Savage", is one of the greatest songs ever cut in the country, bar none.

    I really hope the buyer of that copy of the EP really treasures it and looks after it well. A hell of a lot of other people would love to own it, but sadly that won't be the case. Anyway, enough laments - check out The Fun Things in all their ragged glory with "Savage".

    Enjoy!

    Wednesday, 6 February 2013

    Rockmelons

    I really felt like some funk today, and I haven't heard this in ages. It's from the Rockmelons' first LP in 1987 called "Tales from the City" and it's a cover of the 1975 Al Green tune "Rhymes". Aussie bands have never really done funk all that well (well, maybe except Swoop and Skunkhour) but this has such a cool groove to it.

    Enjoy!

    Saturday, 2 February 2013

    Columbia Records turns 125



    Columbia Records, formerly known in Britain and the Antipodes as CBS records, turns 125 this year. It started in 1888 and has survived long enough to see the evolution of recorded music from wax cylinders, shellac 78 rpms, vinyl (it was the label that introduced the 33 1/3 RPM Long playing record), reel-to-reel tape, 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs, Minidiscs and MP3 downloads.

    What was once an independent major-sized label, it has been absorbed into the Sony Corporation now, but it remains a flagship label of the company. I'm not going to detail the history of the label here in detail, but as part of their Legacy app in Spotify they have posted a very thorough playlist covering the history of the label's releases from 1890 through to the current day. There's some 220+ tunes here, and while I can't say that I like each and every one, it covers every conceivable style of music and it covers most of their landmark recordings from the legendary recording by Glenn Gould of Bach's Goldberg Variations through to Miles Davis's classic "Kind of Blue" through Bruce Springsteen and Beyonce and Adele.

    It's an absolutely fascinating listen. Check it out.





    January 2013 Playlist

    Wet and cold on the east coast of Australia today. But despite this comes the latest Spotify playlist from The Sound and the Fury. And it's cool and groovy and warm and delectable and awesome.

    You'll find delights within such as:


    • New stuff from San Cisco, Biffy Clyro, Birds of Tokyo, Calling All Astronauts and Bored Nothing
    • Hidden gems from Andy Clockwise, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Buffalo Tom and Hey Ocean!
    • Classics from Free, Herman's Hermits, Small Faces, Bo Diddley, Louis Jordan and Hunters and Collectors
    • Extended jams and workouts from Branford Marsalis, Jimi Hendrix and Healing Force
    • Classic Oz tracks in honour of Australia Day from INXS, Matt Finish, Mondo Rock, Mental as Anything and Screamfeeder
    • Laid back grooves from Bob Marley, Damian Marley and The Melodians, not to mention an appearance from Rastamouse & Da Easy Crew!!!
    • and some crazy crap from Peter Sellers, Scared Weird Little Guys, Parry Gripp and Tripod


    and heaps more. Put it on random, crank it up and have some fun. Discover your new favourite tune.

    Enjoy!!!


    Friday, 1 February 2013

    Sick Puppies!

    One-time Sydney Triple J Unearthed winners Sick Puppies are now based in LA. There's a new LP coming later this year (that would be number 4) but in the meantime, let's check out some classic stuff from their first record "Welcome to the Real World". This was the song (albeit in re-recorded form) that won them the Unearthed prize: "Nothing Really Matters".

    Enjoy.