Tuesday, 30 December 2014

We Built This City...

One of the most requested songs in our house of late, largely thanks to the recent Jason Segal "Muppets" movie is "We Built This City" by Starship.

Having heard it closely again recently, for the 50th time or so, I was reminded that recently this song was voted as one of the worst songs of all time. In fact, it has been voted as such many times, In 2004 it made international news when Blender magazine declared the song as the worst song of all time. It was then voted as the worst song of all time in a Rolling Stone readers poll.

But seriously, why do people hate this song so much? My kids are blissfully indifferent to any criticism of it, but I've found the debate surrounding the song to be fascinating.

The performing artists responsible for the song are Starship. The San Francisco band has its origins as Jefferson Airplane, a hippie band that found fame in the Summer of Love in 1967 and played large gigs such as Woodstock and the Rolling Stones' ill-fated Altamont Festival. They changed their name in the mid 1970s to Jefferson Starship. Once Paul Kantner, who had been with the band since the very beginning, left from the band he sued the band to prevent them using the Jefferson Starship name, so they reverted to the name Starship instead.

With vocalist Grace Slick as the only remaining member, they relaunched their career with a slick corporate rock album "Knee Deep In The Hoopla" and the lead single "We Built This City (On Rock and Roll)". All the songs on the album were outsourced to professional songwriters and the production was polished within an inch of its life. Partially written by Elton John's long time collaborator Bernie Taupin, it was a song allegedly describing 1970s L.A., if Bernie is to be believed...

What the song is in the writers hands is totally different in the hands of Starship. Here you have a band who started as staunchly anti-corporate in the 1960s, is now grotesquely being corporate. They sing out avoiding "corporation games", corporations taking over the music industry and forcing bands out of the inner city. They appear to be singing out against the very thing they have become, complete with a soulless commercial pop soundtrack.

The backlash may have been delayed but it was harsh. Blender magazine in their original 2004 story rightly (in my opinion) called the band out for being hypocrites; for chastising those who take the corporate dollar all the while taking the corporate dollar themselves. Singer Mickey Thomas doesn't see it that way: " "I'm really proud of that song. For me it was a response to lost innocence. It was about rock music growing up and losing its idealism" he says.

Blender apparently copped heaps of flak over it and ultmately retracted their criticism, with the magazine folding for good in 2009. Singer Grace Slick left the band in 1987, citing her age as the reason she wanted to retire ("old people don't belong on stage") while Mickey Thomas keeps the band alive and touring to moderate sized audiences in casinos around the US.

As a piece of nostalgia it's a bit of fun. I loved the song when it came out and it is no surprise the next generation of kids like it either, as it was designed to be uber-catchy.

Friday, 26 December 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #44: Icecream Hands - "Sweeter Than The Radio"

An awesome name for a band: one that could induce a sugar craving.

And an apt title for an album, if ever there was one. Here is a bunch of songs so sweet and so well written that they seem almost too good to share the airwaves with most of the crap that commercial radio deems fit for broadcast...

..however, I digress.

"Sweeter than the Radio" is an album that is probably the finest work in the relatively thin canon of works by Chuck Jenkins and his band the Icecream Hands. On this album, the songs were the smartest, most clever and eloquently written pieces, up until that point, of the band's career. Deep and complex lyrics married to gorgeous melodies and arrangements that float delicately around the room whenever this album is playing.

Only a band like Icecream Hands could write a song about a girlfriend having an accidental wardrobe malfunction and make it sound like a lost pop classic ("Nipple"). "Dodgy" was the hit single that never was, a complex lyric set against a charging arrangement. Only Chuck, a former record store clerk, could write a break up song framed around the splitting up of a record collection.

"Sweeter Than The Radio" is an album that aches at its core but cushions the pain in uplifting music. It is music that will meet the listener where they are at and takes them to a better place, almost sympathising with them. This music really is sweeter than most radio fodder because it has a beating heart at the centre of it. It is real music, human music, where so much other stuff around is vacuous and shallow.

This was the album that should have broken the band nationally and should have sold double platinum. It earned the band two ARIA nominations but the band carried away no awards. This album was followed up by Broken UFO in 2002 and The Good China in 2007, both fine albums in their own right. However it is this one that stands tall as their finest, in my view.

Take a listen for yourself below.

Have a funky Christmas!!!

Hi all,

On behalf of the crew here at The Sound and the Fury, we'd like to wish each and every one of our readers a very merry christmas and a funky new year.

We'll see you again in the new year.


Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Vale Joe Cocker

Now here's one we didn't see coming.

Joe Cocker was one of the great British rock and soul vocalists, with a unique voice and signature performance style. Being internationally renowned, this is a big loss to the music world.

Joe had a somewhat storied career starting as a Sheffield gas fitter who sang in bands on weekends. He started a songwriting partnership with Chris Stainton in 1968 and had a minor hit with their first collaboration "Marjorine" soon after.

While he was a songwriter in his own right, he was more or less known as an interpreter of other people's songs. The follow up to "Marjorine" was a daring reworking of a recent track by the Beatles "With a Little Help From My Friends", which featured a young Jimmy Page on lead guitar. Soon after he hit big with a cover of the Traffic song "Feelin' Alright" and another Beatles tune "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window".

His legend was cemented by appearing at Woodstock, his uncontrollable flailing arm routine making him an prime target for imitation (John Belushi's dead on satire of him in National Lampoon's Lemmings is a sight to behold).

He hit the drugs and drink pretty hard in the 1970s and this caused him many problems. He embarked on a gruelling tour of the USA in 1970. A 65-shows-in-57-days tour across 48 cities with 30+ musicians plus roadies. Despite being a sell out tour, and producing a million selling album and feature film, it left Joe exhausted and heavily in debt. When he toured Australia soon after in 1971, he'd had a vicious fight with his girlfriend in a hotel lobby which resulted in the police being called. He was busted with marijuana in Melbourne and was deported back to England.

He battled booze and drugs for most of the 1970s and, once clean, saw a career rebirth with hits like "Unchain My Heart" and "You Can Leave Your Hat On" in the 1980s. He kept making albums up until his latest, "Fire It Up" in 2012.

Joe was a performer who gave 110% in every performance. The arm flailing was largely uncontrolled and just him losing control in the heat of the moment. His unique performance style and his uncanny way with a song made him loved the world over and the best of his work still sounds great.

Vale Joe. You will be missed.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Guide for Parents Managing their Children's Music Tastes

My kids have finally taken possession of their own music tastes. It's been dormant for a long time and it has just exploded with a vengeance in my house. It has manifested itself in the form of playing the latest tracks on Billboards Hit 100 singles, on MY Spotify account, at full volume. Sitting in the lounge room between two bedrooms at opposite ends of the house, you get similar sounding tunes clashing against each other in stereo, and it leaves very little space for me to play what I want to listen to. When I drive the kids to school I routinely get told to play other music more suited to their taste. It appears to be a rejection of and a reaction against any music that I stand for.

This happens in every household where there are children and parents. At some point or other, kids try to rationalise their tastes and define themselves in some way independent of their parents. You probably did it yourself. I know I did, and it drove my parents nuts.

So if you are being driven nuts by your kids and their music, how do you manage it? Here are a few ideas to manage this phenomenon.

1. Don't critique their music taste.

OK, so I don't necessarily like what the kids are playing music you don't like. Big deal. When our parents were loving the Beatles and the Easybeats, our grandparents thought they were the sole reason for the decline of civilisation.

It's at this point that the generation gap can either be contained or exacerbated. Your kids are going to see you as old and outdated and "uncool" by default, so don't give them any ammunition. My childhood listening experiences were often punctuated by my father poking his head in my room and asking "What's this shit, son?" At that point I knew I was onto a good thing. But on the other side, you are making yourself and your ideas on music instantly redundant should you try.

2. You don't have to like it.

In fact, liking some of their music is to place the kiss of death on it for the kids. And is there anything more ridiculous than a 40 year old bopping along with Nicki Minaj?

3. Engage with your kids and their music.

By now, your kids are not looking for your approval with what they're listening to. But they will still need guidance. Engage with kids and find out what they know about the music they like. Find out why they like it and you'll probably learn something about them in the process.

In my view a lot of modern music, specifically Hip-Hop, still presents a negative stereotype towards women and presents violence as normal and acceptable. If you're child is listening to Eminem or NWA or their ilk, it needs to be a discussion point to talk about these issues. Can they tell the difference between art as fiction and reality? It's one thing for people to talk about in their songs, but is it ok to copy those ideas in the real world? There's also plenty of great hip hop that doesn't trade in these ideas, so can you find some?

Adverse criticism will just drive certain listening habits underground. It's probably better to arm kids with knowledge on issues within lyrics as opposed to banning an artist outright.

4. Good Music is ageless and timeless.

There is a reason why Jimi Hendrix's face is still printed on T-shirts nearly 45 years after his death. There's a reason why Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon" has just returned towards the top of the US album charts after 41 years. Good music will outlive us all and will always find fresh ears.

I reckon my kids are starting their musical exploration. They're looking for immediate gratification now, and will find the stuff that will stay with them for years to come as they get further into it. They're looking for their Beatles or Pearl Jam - a cultural signifier that will identify them and their generation that will stay with them forever. They haven't found it yet, but they will in time. Within time we will meet in the middle musically, as I have with my father. We don't like the exact same things, but I have found parts of his music that work for me.

5. This is a passing phase.

The Top 40 singles charts are a transient beast. More so now than ever before. Already, I see kids discarding hit singles of 18 months ago as "old" and "unworthy". And let's face it. There's a lot of stuff that my mates and I bought on 7-inch vinyl and cd-single back in the day that we would be embarrassed about now. In 10 years time my kids will be embarrassed to think that they even listened to "The Gummy Bear Song", let alone danced their little backsides off to it.

Out of what they listen to now, the good music will stick, the crap will be consigned to the skip bin of history soon enough.

Have we hit the nail on the head? What other suggestions do you have? Let us know in the comments.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

They Might Be Giants Re-activate Dial-A-Song

They Might Be Giants are returning to their roots and are re-activating their "Dial-A-Song" service, albeit in a slightly revised form, from January 2015. They intend to deliver one new song every week for 52 weeks.

For those unaware of the "Dial A Song" concept, in 1984, after a theft of musical equipment from their Brooklyn apartment, the two Johns in TMBG decided to buy an answering machine and record their music onto the device. There was usually only one line in, so only one person could listen at a time, and it was NOT a free call. It was a charged at standard rates (a local call for Brooklyn residents, long distance elsewhere, international rates for overseas callers). I'm not sure how much money they made from it, if any, but it had a massive effect on their lifestyle and their songwriting technique.

It had an effect on their lives because the phone would ring at all hours of the day or night relentlessly.

It affected their songwriting because the habits of the callers would tell an interesting tale. The music had to be short and to the point, or people would hang up. It had to be extremely catchy. The intros had to be short, otherwise callers would hang up before hearing the end of the song. Instrumental solos had to be kept to a minimum, because callers would hang up. Certain keyboard notes had to be avoided otherwise the machine would think it is the "end of message" tone and stop the recording before the band had finished performing!

All of these factors went into shaping the sound of They Might Be Giants as we know and love them today. The slogan "Always Busy, Often Broken" was apt, as the service was highly unreliable. But the project gave the band ample songs for the track-heavy albums, which frequently had 20 or more short songs on them. Some estimates claim that the phone service delivered more than 500 unique recordings to callers before being officially retired in 2008.

This is also not the first time TMBG has tried the online, web-based Dial-A-Song either, but this one will be different as it will offer a premium, subscription based model where you can download all the songs to keep as well as a free version where you can just stream them all. The band will also be issuing the saongs via YouTube as well

Either way, it is still a fascinating initiative that would be great to be part of. Find out more here at theymightbegiants.Com

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Vale Ian MacLagan

As time gets on more of those who have shaped our musical thinking and direction start to leave us.

It is with sadness that I report that Small Faces (and later Billy Bragg) keyboardist Ian MacLagan has passed on.

The Small Faces were a band who, along with the Who, closely steered the 1960s British "Mod" movement into legendary status. With a rough-hewn R&B sound they created a number of great singles and a few classic LPs that still hold up well now.

Ian joined the Small Faces at the behest of their manager Don Arden (father of Sharon Osbourne) right before they became famous in 1965 with their single "Whatcha Gonna Do About It".

The band lasted four years until Steve Marriot left and Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood joined, shortening their name to Faces. The faces released four unimpeachable studio records before calling it a day in 1975. Mac, as he was known to his friends and hardcore fans, then started on a sporadic solo career before doing session work, most notably in albums by Billy Bragg such as "Talking with the Taxman About Poetry".

Mac's playing was always subtle and he never overplayed anything. He was always complimentary to the song, having an uncanny knack of knowing exactly the right note or sound to play at the right spot. His playing on his most famous records can be overlooked but it was a joy to hear.

Vale Ian, you will be missed.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

New Music: Beans on Toast - "The Grand Scheme of Things"

What we have here is the sixth annual release from Beans on Toast, released yesterday. He seems to be as regular as clockwork, releasing an album every year in late November or early December. Yet again, the British anti-folk singer has delivered another set of tunes in his own inimitable style.

For those who are unfamiliar with Jay (aka Beans on Toast)'s work, imagine a scruffier (if that's at all possible) early-era Billy Bragg-styled singer songwriter who is no less passionate but far more pointed and acerbic. If folk music is designed to be left-leaning, Jay profoundly rattles the cages of conservatism such as to completely offend and turn away anybody who can't see past the end of their own opinions. He's a folk singer who is passionate about what he does, stands up for what he believes in - and if he finds himself to be wrong he stands up and admits his failings. He simply calls it as he sees it.

He makes no bones about his own perceived lack of talent, and I admire that. But that's precisely the charm of this, and what folk music is all about. It is music of the people. A simple music that doesn't require huge amounts of technical skill, but gets the message out to those who want to (and probably a lot more who should and need to) hear it.

I've been following Jay's music for a while now, starting with the mammoth 50-track debut album "Standing on a Chair". Jay and I don't see eye-to-eye on certain issues, particularly around tobacco and other drug use (although I'm very glad he's given up all the substances now). However there is a noticeable conviction in what he sings about, as well as a wicked sense of humour.

The latest album "The Grand Scheme of Things" gives us more of what Jay does best: one man, a guitar, and delivering equal amounts of vitriol and sentimentality with plenty of fire in the belly. Certain tracks on the album deviate from the folk base and incorporate country elements similar to those on the second album "Writing On The Wall". He even dabbles in a type of off-the-wall, New Orleans Trad Jazz on "Nola Honeymoon".

The targets of Jay's anger this time around are as deserving as ever: Inhumane chicken farming, the UK Independent Party (UKIP), Young people's inability to connect with nature, the vacuousness of war, inner city gentrification. However, probably his most disturbing tendency of late is to take a shot at those who won't give him a chance. Like the Glastonbury festival on his last LP "Giving Everything", this time he takes aim at the insular mainstream Country Music fraternity in Nashville on the elegantly named song "F*** You Nashville". It goes without saying that, while one can understand his frustrations, writing a song like that isn't going to make anybody change their minds about him.

Mixed in with that is some beautifully written and passionate songs dedicated to mateship across generations ("Flying Clothes Line"), the joys of home cooking ("Lizzy's Cooking"), being a DIY performer ("Folk Singer"), and the excited anticipation of the new year ahead ("NYE").

Speaking of "NYE", in the songs dying seconds Jay sings "Welcome to the last verse of the album, I'd be amazed if anybody got this far...".

For the record, I did. And it was fun, too. It was no more or less than what I'd expected.

This is not a record laden with studio polish. It is rough round the edges, like I imagine Jay Toast himself to be. Through the murk you get a raw earnestness and passion all too rare in modern music.
Be warned that Jay's sharp tongue means that this isn't a family listening album, although there are noticeably fewer choice words on this album than on the previous ones. And as mentioned earlier, anyone on the right wing of the political debate should be prepared to be shocked and offended too. But bring an open mind to the issues discussed within and there is plenty to be gained from a few listens.

Recommended. Be challenged and inspired.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Ice Sea Dead People split up

Recent favourites of mine Ice, Sea, Dead People have split up. The band had been touring around the UK as support to Traams and many other bands, and out of the blue an announcement came via the band's Facebook page that the band had split.

Starting about 2009, ISDP started with a focus to play loudly, but with an arts focus. They incorporated their music with fine arts and clever visual arts ideas on their records, not least with their 2013 7-inch single release "You Could Be A Model".

The band made a tentative start with the self released LP "Teeth Union" in 2010 but the band nailed their sound in 2013 with a thumping, squalling noise fest befitting its title "If It's Broken, Break It More".

I'm sure being totally independent, touring and releasing your own records in 2014 was a real challenge and probably brought the band members to boiling point. I am, of course, surmising as the band have given no official reason for splitting up. This is a clear example of a band with a unique sound and a unique vision about their art whom I thought deserved a bright future. Alas it's not to be. The band whose name described the plot of the film "Titanic" with the precision of a haiku is now no more.

Go over to their bandcamp page and buy some music. Check out the band's latest blaster of an album below on Spotify.

Icehouse in the National Archive

The National Film and Sound Archive have just announced their 10 selections for their annual intake. Among them are the sounds of a howling dingo, two erotic electronic pieces, "Khe Sanh" and Icehouse's track "Great Southern Land".

I've written about "Great Southern Land" extensively elsewhere and the story of the song's genesis is fascinating. The fact that such an iconic song is being recognised is wonderful, but why is there only 10 every year? There's a lot more that could be done by the national archive to maintain our musical heritage than just logging a mere 10 songs (or at least that's how it looks). They have a huge collection but there is a lot of great material made by Australians that we don't want to see lost, so i do hope to see more local music making the archive in times to come.

The versatility of the work of Icehouse is an oft-overlooked aspect to the band. The fact that their music rocked hard and yet could be remixed in a number of different styles successfully. Not being a fan of remixes myself, it takes a pretty special remix to capture my attention and this one is probably the greatest thing ever. It is the "BIRRALKU DHANGUDHA" remix featuring indigenous performers singing in language that elevates the song to heights it had only previously hinted at.

Take a list below. Enjoy!

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.

Friday, 10 October 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #43: Fleetwood Mac - "Tusk"

Since when is an album selling 3 million copies considered a flop?
Even then, since when is a Fleetwood Mac album, by the classic lineup considered a flop?

Well, the reasoning goes a little like this:

1. This album is a double album, which (in those days) was significantly more expensive than a standard album. Plus the fact it has a lot of music to digest, at a hefty 20 songs and 75 minutes long
2. Its release follows immediately on the heels of what fans and critics alike consider an unimpeachable album, the 10+ million selling "Rumours" in 1977.
3. When that album is called "Tusk".

By the time this record was in the process of being conceived, the band were in turmoil. The two couples in the band had split up were at each others' throats. They were consuming copious amounts of cocaine, and that was just for breakfast. As a result, things were all a bit nuts.

In amongst all this drug-induced lunacy, Lindsay Buckingham asserted himself as the de facto leader of the band. He hated touring, but loved the studio, so this was his place to dominate. He had been listening to a lot of punk and new wave music during this period and decided that, after "Rumours", the 'Mac were one of the "dinosaur" bands the British punk bands were hellbent on eradicating. He wanted to change the band's sound to appear relevant again.

What you end up with, after 10 months in the studio and well over $1 million spent, is a record that sounds neither new wave, nor punk, nor overly Fleetwood Mac like. And after the one-two punch of 1975's "Fleetwood Mac" and its mega-selling 1977 follow-up, the first impression most people get is that this record is weird. Really weird. All the songs on the record, including the sublime Christine McVie ballad moments and pop gems of Stevie Nicks, are given oddball arrangements and other tweaks to suit Lindsay's twisted paranoiac vision. About half the album is devoted to Lindsay's sonic experiments, many of which sounded like rewrites of "Never Going Back Again" (i.e. "The Ledge") but with new, strange sounding instrumentation.

Such a brave (or stupid, depending on your viewpoint) risk resulted in the lowest selling album since their newfound fame in 1975. Sure it sold 3 million, but in comparison to "Rumours"' then 10+ million, this was considered a failure. If you were looking to get "Rumours Volume 2" with this album, as many people probably were, you were sorely mistaken.

However, it is precisely because of the fact that it is not a rehash of past glories that this album succeeds. There are many slow burning gems on this record that have mostly been forgotten. However many of the band's best ever songs are within the grooves of these two LPs.

Probably the album's most daring and unique single is one of Lindsay's aforementioned sonic experiments. The title track "Tusk" features a marching band, heavy tribal drums and almost no discernible lyrics. Equally fascinating are Lindsay's "That's All For Everyone", "That's Enough For Me", "Save Me A Place", "What Makes You Think You're The One", "I Know I'm Not Wrong" and the stellar "The Ledge".

The album's oddness may even be cemented by the fact that it opens with a ballad ("Over and Over"), as opposed to a barnstorming opener on the previous few records. It subsequently ebbs and flows between Lindsay's short, sharp and concise noisy pounding, sublime gorgeousness from Stevie ("Storms", "Sara", "Sisters of the Moon"), and soulful crooning from Christine ("Never Forget", "Honey Hi"). The pace is relentless until the slow burning side 4 starts (track 16 for CD and streaming listeners).

The jewel in the crown of the album however is the largely forgotten single "Think About Me" which, for my money, is one of the best things Christine ever composed. Despite having an incongruously-placed guitar solo it is a perfect pop song, with a soaring chorus some fat crunchy guitars.

Despite the dubious influences of the album, once the dust settled (pun intended) we are left with an album that stands on its own as a unique piece of work unto itself. It could use a spot of editing (what double record doesn't?) but this album is perfect in the way that the Beatles' "White Album" is - it is an album that dared to be different regardless of the consequences. It is bold and uncompromising, and it ultimately succeeds despite the odds suggesting it would fail. It creates a world of its own to get immersed into, and subsequently welcomes you back into time and time again.

I came to this album after hearing "Rumours" as a high school student in 1993, and to this day it still inspires me.

Take a listen again below on Spotify.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

100 LPs shortlist #42: Primal Scream - "Give Out But Don't Give Up"

Primal Scream were darlings of the English music press in 1991, with their soundtrack of the then-burgeoning rave scene "Screamadelica". The album is regarded in the hallowed annals of publications like Mojo and the NME as a masterpiece, capturing the zeitgeist of a brave new underground movement.

So what do you do when you're the darling of the hipper-than-thou music rags, to follow up said masterpiece?

Commit something close to career suicide: release a rock album.

The band had released two indie rock albums in the late 1980s that were quite average sellers. "Screamadelica" saw a huge shift in sound and saw them at the vanguard of a new sound influenced heavily by house music and other forms of European dance music. They became the accessible and visible face of an otherwise hidden, clandestine cultural movement.

When "Give Out but Don't Give Up" landed in stores and journalists desks in 1994, the reception was hostile. The criticism was largely the same. In summary: "Who the hell does Bobby Gillespie think he is, making an album that sounds like a poor imitation of 'Exile on Main Street'?" The NME even went so far to label the band as "dance traitors".

So what is the problem here? The album's biggest crime is that it wasn't "Screamadelica Volume 2". It wasn't anything like the extended heavy dance grooves of its predecessor. There were very few drum machines or synths to be heard.

Mind you, all the tracks here all pack mighty danceable grooves within their structures. The difference is that they are all played on real instruments: acoustic drums, electric guitars and basses and brass. It even features guest vocals from soul singer Deneice Williams and Parliament/Funkadelic leader George Clinton. To further round out the P-Funk connection, the back cover even has a grainy photo of Funkadelic's recently deceased guitarist Eddie Hazel.

If anything, the grooves are not as high energy as what they were previously or as they would become on subsequent albums such as "Vanishing Point" and "XTRMNTR". But that does not mean this is a wasted effort.

The record starts off with the two best and strongest tracks "Jailbird" and "Rocks", both guitar-heavy jams that are just plain good fun, as is "Call on Me" later on. Mr Clinton runs riot on a few tracks, most notably "Funky Jam" and the title track. While the latter is a sexy slow burning groove, the former is a bit of a throwaway, overlong by half and failing to develop the themes, opting to keep them the same.

Not being a huge fan of dance music, the charm of "Screamadelica" has largely been lost on me. While I'm also not a fan of slavish imitations of vintage artists (take Jet for example) the Stones, Faces and P-funk nods on this record are obvious but not derivative. While the middle of the record has a few flat spots, it's still a far better record than the then-recent effort by a more famous band of Faces copyists, "Amorica" by the Black Crowes...

Take a listen to the album below and give us your opinions in the comments section below.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Silverchair and the tall poppy syndrome

20 years ago Silverchair released "Tomorrow", their debut EP. Faster Louder were reporting that no major label would go near the band based on their demo, before winning a competition jointly run by Triple J and the SBS TV program Nomad in 1994.

A bit of disclosure here. I received a diploma in Sound Engineering from Platinum Studios in Newcastle, as they were known then. As I finished my degree, I remember hearing a demo that had recently been recorded in the studio during what was to be my last visit there. It was the Innocent Criminals, and the guys in the studio were saying how they predicted them to be huge. I was impressed at the time that the band were only 14 - he sounded much older than his years. And so the buzz had started.

They thought the name "Innocent Criminals" sounded a bit childish so they changed it to Silverchair (they should have kept the original one, I reckon). The EP was issued, it hit number one, largely because "Rage played the shit out of it. As did every radio station.". As the writer of the companion piece to the Faster Louder piece above, writes: "...And no one ever got sick of it.". Maybe from her little patch of life on the northern beaches of Sydney, but not in their hometown....

I was 18 and a private guitar tutor in and around Newcastle at the time. At the time, the music was impressive for the fact that the band were all in Year 9 at school, but musically it sounded like every other grunge band to me. I thought "Tomorrow" had a high burn rate, as I was sick of it by about the third or fourth listen. Upon closer inspection, I didn't even think it was that great a tune. I felt it was a pretty budget effort, even for a 13 year old, with lyrics that made no sense and a garden variety riff. And the fact that "Pure Massacre" was a direct lift from a Pearl Jam riff slowed down (it's "Glorified G" for the trainspotters) didn't endear me to them either.

It turns out I was not alone. If Newcastle people are good at anything - besides working hard and drinking hard - is cutting down people who get too successful. Stories became rife among my students that the band would become smug little brats at school, not handing out autographs unless the requestor went to the tuckshop for them a minimum of 10 times, along with a number of just general displays of teenage arrogance. There was even a rumour that their guitar tech had to play the guitar solo on the recording because Daniel couldn't play lead guitar at all. It was all petty, and the validity of these stories cannot be authenticated, but it all fueled the growing hatred of the band.

The backlash was further heightened by the (legitimate) fact that they were booed off stage during a poorly planned opening slot for Pantera at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre on 11 November 1994. Again, not necessarily their fault (I mean seriously, in what lifetime is adding Powderfinger and Daniel John's boys on a Pantera tour ever a good idea?) but it all adds up. The experience so wounded Daniel John's ego that he used to rant about Newy audiences on stage, and at one point I vaguely remember him pledging never to play in town ever again. None of this did anything to endear him to the townspeople.

During this time Newcastle people didn't buy the records in droves. Silverchair fans were laughed at at school. Second hand stores were flooded with copies of "Tomorrow" once this shit hit the fan. In retrospect it was ugly. Very, very ugly.

I was actually shocked at just how profound the influence of "Tomorrow" was. None moreso than when the recent Hottest 100 of the last 20 years on Triple J happened. But then it occurred to me - the young bands of today all were kids when this record first hit the stores. They'd saved up their pocket money to buy the EP, fell in love with music and went out and bought guitars and started their own bands.

Those same kids also gave me heaps of work as a guitar tutor. So while having to teach "Tomorrow" drove me nuts, at least it kept me employed...

Monday, 15 September 2014

On U2 and Apple, Part 2

So, is everybody enjoying their new free U2 album?

We know that plenty of people are well and truly NOT enjoying it. But, more to the point, why is this happening?

I have many questions to ask about the entire thing. Does the CEO of Apple still think U2 are still relevant and popular? If so, I think there needs to be questions asked as to whether he really has the finger on the pulse of popular culture. Aside from that, the $100 million marketing campaign can only be beneficial for both U2 and the new Apple iPhone 6, as well as re-drawing attention to the fact that iTunes actually sells music, and not just apps.

What are U2 getting out of this? They still get paid. The band and their record label would get paid accordingly. And I decry people who claim this is selling out. Who, honestly, would knock back the chance at that kind of money, even if you were rich? What is certain is that while the public, at this stage, don't have to pay money for the album currently, the band were compensated for their work.

On the other side of the coin, their last album, 2009's "No Line on the Horizon", was considered something of a flop, having sold less than 400,000 copies in the UK. This would at least ensure that the record gets put into the hands of music fans everywhere, and setting up the album for big sales when it is released for sale in October.

The Guardian published a debate on the subject with one writer claiming that this stunt devalues, in the mind of some punters, the album as a product that needs to be purchased, and not downloaded illegally via a torrent site. This attitude, to me, is disingenuous, as a lot of people do actually download it to "try before they buy". Streaming services like Spotify can perform a similar function, and thus the copyright owner gets more sales. Either way, artists need to be compensated for their efforts so that they can pay their rent. This stunt is just another way to ensure that U2 get there rent money (as if they need it these days) and the punter gets something for free

However, the outrage from this is very real and it begs the question as to who whether the marketeers really understand their target market. U2 have reportedly sold 150 million records worldwide. With 13 studio albums and a couple of hits compilations, on average that is around 10 million per LP. All the hardcore fans would own each and every one. Factor in the people who don't own the entire back catalog, but own maybe a few albums here and there, you're looking at, conservatively, 30 million people the world over, who would love the idea of a free U2 album. That means that there is a good chance you could pick up a few new fans in the other 470 million, but there would also be a whole heap of people who are going to be royally ticked off by this stunt, or at the very least indifferent to it.

The other side of the coin is that this is a free gift. As the saying goes "never look a gift horse in the mouth". Accept it graciously, and if you don't like it, delete it.

I certainly would, if I owned an iPhone...

Sunday, 14 September 2014

U2 have hacked my iPhone

U2 have pulled off one mean little publicity stunt this week by releasing their new album to every iTunes user on the planet: all 500 million of them.

And not everybody is happy about it:

The idea was that this was supposed to be a free gift to every iTunes user, to co-incide with the release of the iPhone 6. It was a cross-marketing exercise of epic proportions. U2 stand to receive heaps of free publicity for this, Apple have lost (at the time of writing) $100 million on this venture.

And despite selling over 150 million records worldwide, Twitter was ablaze of people who had still never heard of the band:

Of course, this sort of thing has got people very worried for their online privacy:

And to be fair, who could blame them? Because despite the fact that cloud storage is a reality for many smart phone users, they still don't know how it works or what the safety implications of it are. For example, all your storage is kept in the trust of a third party who you have no direct contact with. You don't know if they're trustworthy or not. You don't know exactly who could be looking at your data that is stored remotely somewhere else in the world.

Also, many people don't know how to configure their phone correctly. Most of the complaints are because they have automatic downloads enabled, and so if the user was oblivious to the news of a free album, they would have had a nice (or nasty, depending on your taste) little surprise in your iTunes folder.

Personally, I don't own an iPhone, so I won't be getting the free record. I generally think that the last decent record U2 released was in 1988 ("Rattle and Hum") so I don't have much of a desire to listen to this new one. I could be proven wrong of course, and this album could be the best thing they have ever done.

Time will tell...

Sunday Sessions: Sugar

It's been a while since we've had a Sunday Session! But this one is truly a cracker.

Sugar were a sadly short-lived 90s indie band fronted by ex-Husker Du frontman Bob Mould. Musically,the band had leanings towards grunge but were far more melodic than any most of the bands tagged with the term.

The band only lasted two albums but such was the calibre of their output that everything Bob Mould released during his subsequent solo career has been compared (often unfavourably) to his work in Sugar.

This track, "Your Favourite Thing" was a single from the band's second album "File Under Easy Listening", from 1994. If you like what you hear here, seek out the album and their unimpeachable first record "Copper Blue".

So, enjoy Sugar!

Saturday, 13 September 2014

I used to love that band...

In conversation with a colleague of mine recently, he told me that when he mentioned the name of a favourite band of his to a few people, they each responded "I used to be so into that band".

"Used to be into them?" he replied? "So what's changed?"

Does music change in the minds of people over time? Have people become mere consumers of music now, engaging with a band for a while and then discarding them and moving on? If so, what hope is there for the future of current bands?

Have generations Y and Z done away with nostalgia? It could also be that they are still too young for that sort of thing. But there doesn't seem to be a tendency to "look back" and reconnect with art and music history. 

This doesn't bode well for the current crop of artists. Where boomers and Gen X-ers seem happy to shell out for deluxe reissues of albums they already own in the their original configurations, will subsequent generations be inclined to do so? 

Personally I don't understand how, if you were into a band once before, how come you are not now? 

Some bands and artists lose their street cred. For example, once Milli Vanilli were outed as frauds, everybody dropped them like a hot potato. Look at Rolf Harris after his paedophilia conviction. His popularity stocks have plummeted. But those are rare examples. 

Have you ever moved on from a band? Who were they and why?


Monday, 8 September 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #41: Fela Kuti: "Fela Ransome-Kuti and the Africa '70 Live with Ginger Baker"

Lists (and their subsequent books) like "1001 Albums you Must Hear Before You Die" are pointless, contentious and needlessly divisive by their very nature. What they leave out is almost as infuriating as what has been kept in.

And yet, lists like this amuse the hell out of me. Not least because they try their hardest to convince me that records I can't stand are worth listening to, but also because they illuminate things to me that I hadn't noticed before.

Based on an entry in the aforementioned book, I went and discovered the mighty Fela Kuti and this live album. Nowhere in the pages of this book was there a caveat emptor for listeners to be wary: One jolt of the surging power of this record and there's no going back. Lives will be changed. Attitudes will be re-shaped. Non-dancers will dance as though no one is watching, and no one will care because anyone within the same building will probably be doing likewise.

Oppressive, militaristic third-world governments fear the contents within the sleeve of this record, and the effects they have on the people listening to it. Tables and horizontal surfaces the world over dread this album, for fear that any human listening will drum so hard on them that they will be reduced to woodchip and hardware.

Fela Kuti knew that music can not only move the hips and the feet, but also touch the heart and soul of a person. If you can do that, you can also impact the mind. The Nigerian government of the time liked to control its people by fear and threats of death by machine gun. Fela Kuti, through music, was opening the eyes of the people. The government saw him as an insurgent as a result, and he paid the price dearly. He was arrested over 100 times in his lifetime, jailed on trumped up charges, bashed and beaten regularly, his home and master tapes destroyed by fire - all punishments maliciously handed out by a government threatened by his message.

This is why the music he created was so insistent - he needed to make a strong message felt as powerfully and as deeply as he could.

This album was recorded live in Abbey Road Studios in London late in 1970 with Cream drummer Ginger Baker guesting on drums. With Fela's percussion troupe and Baker all playing away like a fury, the polyrhythm count is huge. The urge to bang on a desk with your fingers in time to these tunes is irresistable.

You just don't listen to this album. Your life will be transformed by it. You have been warned.

NOTE: The version of the album below is the new remaster and for some reason it is in mono, with part of the band, which in stereo would have been panned to the right speaker (or left, I'm not sure), is now buried deep in the mix. Sadly, all reissues on CD, digital and vinyl all carry this erroneous mix, and the original stereo mix on the 1971 vinyl issue is seemingly nowhere to be found.

Having said that, the music is so powerful that such quibbles are rendered inconsequential.


Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Hoax is Over...

In 1967, Billy Thorpe had an epiphany. He'd worked out his audience was starting to change. No longer were teenage girls screaming themselves hoarse at his gigs. A new breed of music fan was starting to appear at his inner-Sydney residencies. A tougher, hard-drinking, self-medicating type of bloke, brutalized by experiences in an (ultimately) unwinable war in Asia. These guys didn't want to hear Thorpie chirp his way through "Over The Rainbow". These guys were fans of a new, harder sort of music, by performers with strange names like Jimi Hendrix and Cream, with loud guitars, even louder clothes, and wild haircuts.

After declaring bankruptcy in 1968, he decided to try and start again in England, thanks to a lifeline from ex-pat Aussie and former Epstein-protege Robert Stigwood, who was managing Cream and The Bee Gees at the time. He had six weeks of shows booked in Melbourne to complete before he left, but ended up staying for 6 years.

Forming a new band of Aztecs with Paul Wheeler, Warren Morgan, and Lobby Loyde, the band became an extremely loud jamming blues band. He grew his hair long, wore dirty jeans and T-shirts and turned up the amps to deafening levels. Initially, audiences and promoters alike reacted violently, but soon after, the cult of the "Sharpie" was born and the band were embraced by them.

After an initial single issued by Festival in 1969, the band reconvened in September 1970 to cut an album. Rumour has it that the band got completely out of their collective gourds on psychedelics and told the engineer just to keep tapes rolling until they were done. "The Hoax is Over" is the result.

Issued late in 1970, the album sold respectably but didn't set the charts alight.

The original album had four songs over a running time of just over 51 minutes. 3 originals, one cover. The opening track is a cover of the Johnny "Guitar" Watson track "Gangster of Love". In its original form, its duration was around 2 minutes 45 seconds (2:45). When Steve Miller covered it on his LP "Sailor", 1 minute 23. In the hands of the Aztecs on acid, it rolls on for an epic 24 minutes and 30 seconds. Drum solos and manic Lobby Loyde soloing are part and parcel of this, and they completely go to town on this. It's all kinds of awesome. The two short tracks are "Goodbye Baby" and "Truth", clocking out at just over 4 minutes each and break up the tedium. Especially after "Born In Mississippi", a slow blues jam which drags on for a lethargic 19+ minutes.

The album has been out of print since the 1970s and vinyl copies these days are rarer than rocking horse do-do. Most copies that still exist are thrashed to the point of unplayable. If they are in good nick, they sell for well over $100. There was talk of a reissue by Aztec Music but nothing has eventuated as of yet. Here's hoping...

For the time being, take a listen to the album below via YouTube. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Leave the night light on...

How many hit records can you name whose lyrics are all about a night light?

I can name one: "Birdhouse in your Soul" by They Might Be Giants.

They Might Be Giants are a duo of New Yorkers John Linnell and John Flansburgh who got their start in music with an ingenious idea: record a song every day, record it to an answering machine, attach said answering machine to a local New York state phone number and charge people to call it and hear the song.

The Dial-a-Song idea influenced their songwriting. It meant the songs had to be short, as catchy as possible and and as clearly articulated as possible so as to be properly heard down a phone line. Catchy, in so much as they warrant repeated listens and you don't get tired of them. The songs are clever enough that detail keeps unraveling in every listen.

"Birdhouse..." is classic TMBG: If you have a musicological bent, there is heaps to learn and appreciate, and yet it is charming enough to be appealing to children. It's genius.

And yes this is a song about a night light. One with a blue canary on it.

"Blue canary.in the outlet by the light switch
Who watches over you..."

The cleverness of the lyrics is offset by the bouncy music driven by their ever faithful drum machine. Lay upon layer of keyboards and a sneaky accordion snuck in there as well.

Written from the point of view of the night light itself, it makes an astonishing assessment of its abilities in the second verse:

"There's a picture opposite me
Of my primitive ancestry
Which stood on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free
Though I respect that a lot
I'd be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts..."

Comparing a nightlight to a lighthouse and to the various functions they perform, where one keeps ships safe from real dangers and the other keeps a little person safe from (in some cases) imagined dangers is surreal. At the same time it's a viewpoint that has completely escaped me previously.

It's very clever stuff. Despite only being three minutes long, there's so much going on that you more than get your money's worth.

This is regarded as one of They Might Be Giants' finest songs, along side a rich catalog of many, many more great songs. If you've never heard them before, start with this one and then dig deeper into their works.

August 2014 Mixtape

We've hit Spring on the east coast! But it's still bloody cold and wet. Time to heat things up with another great mix tape.

200+ songs including great tunes from:

  • Bellowhead
  • Richard Clapton
  • Gaslight Anthem
  • Weird Al Yankovic
  • Free
  • Sensitive New Age Cowpersons
  • The Hummingbirds
  • Phil Ochs
  • The Sundays

and heaps heaps more.

Set it to shuffle, crank it up and ENJOY!!!

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Albert Productions turns 50

Australian Independent record label Albert Productions is celebrating their 50th Anniversary currently, with a lavishly produced 5 CD boxed set and a reissue program of sorts to follow.

Albert Productions was the brainchild of 4th generation music publisher Ted Albert, of music publishing firm J. Albert and Sons. Their stock in trade was largely sheet music sales but Ted saw a future in recordings, and so put pressure on his father to let him start a label in the family name in 1964.

What followed was a legacy rich in great (and some not so great) records that have made more than their fair share of impact on music both locally in Australia and around the world. As such Albert Productions is rightly regarded as one of Australia's most seminal record labels.

Their first signing was the fledgling Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, who had just had a number one single, "Poison Ivy" on a tiny indie label "Linda Lee" in early 1964. From there, Ted signed a group who started in the Villawood migrant hostel who went by the name of the Easybeats.

They also handled some hardcore R&B and Beat groups that other labels wouldn't touch, like the Missing Links and the Throb. In the late 1960s and 1970s, the label churned out records of heavy boogie and rock by the likes of the Ted Mulry Gang, Dallimore, and Newcastle band The Heroes (the band playing on stage the night of the Star Hotel Riot in 1979). However, the label's biggest success were in a few bands whom, as per tradition, no-one else would touch: Rose Tattoo, The Angels, and a little band whom no-one thought would do any good...AC/DC.

They also gave a start to the Choirboys and Dallas Crane, and issued later career albums for Knievel and The Cruel Sea.

From 1970 onwards, former Easybeats George Young and Harry Vanda had a major role in shaping the label's catalog. They wrote many songs for the label's young solo artists and, from 1973, started producing artists on the label, including the two comeback albums for former Easybeats singer Stevie Wright.

Alberts were a canny label, inasmuch as they were clever enough to keep one foot in the heavy rock camp, while keeping one firmly in the teen pop/top 40 camp with artists like Alison McCallum and William Shakespeare. During the 1970s, one of the label's major successes was a big seller to teenage girls: one John Paul Young, whose 1978 single "Love Is In The Air" (written by Vanda and Young) is well known around the world thanks to its inclusion in a Baz Luhrmann movie.

By the 1980s most of the stalwarts of the label had jumped ship or split up. AC/DC being the only major constant. Aside from them, the labels releases hardly troubled the charts during the 1990s, with a couple of pop releases from the likes of soapie star Daniel Amalm towards the end of the decade making any real waves. The label hit back in a big way with Knievel and Dallas Crane in the 2000s.

It is interesting to chart the ups and downs of the label and the new 5 CD box does that nicely. It is effectively a replacement article for the 1988 release "Good Times: 25 Years of Australian Hits", including all but two of the 34 tracks on that release. Some of the mastering sounds to me like it has some in-built digital distortion to it, as is the case with most modern album releases. The digital remastering still leaves behind a lot of the tape hiss and certain tracks do sound a little bit digitally over-processed, leaving a few strange artifacts. However, it is great to see not only the label's most well known tracks, but plenty of rare tracks on CDs 4 and 5, with certain EP tracks and B-sides making their first appearance on CD. For $40, you really can't go wrong with this.

Happy 50th Albert Productions. May you stay around for another 50, and then some.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #40: Something for Kate - "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes"

February 1998. I'm in Surfer's Paradise with a couple of mates. The penultimate day of the trip and I'm waiting for the bus to a local theme park. I've had a bad night, with little sleep, after a dodgy feed at a Mongolian barbeque place in Mermaid Beach. Fatigued, and on the verge of throwing up, an unwelcome earworm is slowly consuming my sanity. One short fragment of music and lyrics playing over and over...

"...at a million miles an hour..."

At that point, I hate that song. The band has a stupid name, the music doesn't make much sense. I just don't get it.

And yet, at that point, I would rather have been sent to build a colony on the planet Pluto* than I would have being on the Corkscrew at Dreamworld. In hindsight, the earworm was wholly appropriate.

Upon returning home, I went and purchased "Elsewhere for 8 Minutes", the first album by Something for Kate on double vinyl. Maybe the earworm was a sign...

Within the sleeve was an album of music that was colourful, tuneful, intense, passionate, literate, poetic, depressing and compelling all at once. With such a limited palette of just one guitar, bass and drums, Paul Dempsey and his bandmates weave intricate musical tapestries that are beguiling and confusing on first listen, but slowly unravel as they are consumed further.

The aforementioned earworm was the album's centrepiece and lead single "Captain (Million Miles an Hour)". After a couple of listens the all-consuming passion of the song is unavoidable. And, if you have musicologist tendencies, the song construction is extremely clever. Where English teachers teach you to write poetry with a meter and with evenly spaced lines, Dempsey dispenses with traditional lyrical form but rather weaves lyrics as he feels they need their emotional directness. To wit, the uneven and un-rhyming couplets in the opening verse:

"...Built an aeroplane,
It was just like the real ones that I saw when I was younger,
But it was too small for me,
To crawl inside the cockpit and fly away...
At a million miles an hour."

The song is pure escapism; a child's mechanism for escaping the ills of his little world, using elements of his environment to inform his more comforting imaginary scenario. The plane a symbol of his desire one day to get the hell out of where he is.

"...and it's just a model,
built with plastic and with glue.
But every day I go down to the airport,
and I'll fly away from you."

The emotion is real. For the listener it is gripping.

Paul spends his time ruminating on Love in many forms: lost love, unrequited love, relationship breakups, turbulence in relationships, all done with earnestness and passion. On stage, he stands up with his guitar, eyes closed, playing complex guitar lines all over the fretboard while these emotionally-wrought, almost stream-of-consciousness lyrics leave his mouth with a dream-like fancy to them. In terms of the great Australian music cannon, it is truly unique.

Paul's lyrics are at once deep, profound and mystifying. He has such a literate way of describing the cracks appearing in a relationship heading for the rocks: "Not much time has passed, but already she likes concrete better than grass". On the other hand, fans have spent hours trying to work out what the hell he is on about. One lyric that has kept fans guessing is from the song "Pinstripes": "You're the last day of April every year...". What? Huh? But it is delivered with such conviction that, whatever it means, Paul is absolutely, dead set certain of its meaning and its placement within the song.

From the darkness of "The Last Minute", the swooping beauty of "Paintbrushes", the joyous melancholy of "Roll Credit", slamming rock of "Working Against Me", the longing sadness of "Strategy" and the intense guitar onslaught of "Prick" this is a truly remarkable record and one that is outstanding in a catalog of outstanding albums, if only because this is the one album where Paul has his whole heart on his sleeve, delivered in purity without cluttered production. The band's playing is tight and complex. To this day I have no idea how Paul plays the guitar part on "Prick" - it is truly a force of nature, only to then sing over the top of such a intricate piece at the same time. It's breathtaking.

Be warned, for most people this will not be a one listen album. It wasn't for me at first. This is worth a good few listens. It is worth the effort.

Take a listen below. The version below is the 2014 20th Anniversary reissue with the original 12 tracks plus all the b-sides taken from each of the singles. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Vale Jay Curley

Jay Curley, bassist for Wollongong rockers Tumbleweed has been found dead in his home. He was 42.

It's truly sad to hear this news. From all accounts the party never ended for him, whatever that means....

Tumbleweed were a crushingly loud band, anchored in Jay's rich, sonorous bass. He was the lynch pin on which pivoted a very tight, very heavy band.

In a live setting, the band's high volume riffage was cathartic. The band's two finest records, 1995's "Galactaphonic" and 1997's "Return to Earth" are probably the best examples of the band's work, with Curley's deep pulsating bass runs vibrating through your rib cage - there's nothing finer.

Jay, you will be missed. Vale.

Friday, 22 August 2014

100 LPs Shortlist #39: Richard Clapton - "Goodbye Tiger"

It seems to be the season for anniversaries within Australian music circles right now. Something for Kate celebrating their 20th anniversary, Albert Productions celebrating their 50th, and Richard Clapton celebrating 40 years.

Despite being influenced by the Rolling Stones initially, Richard Clapton (a stage name created as a nod to Keith Richards and Eric Clapton) fashioned himself as a narrative story teller and songwriter, in the mold of Jackson Browne or Neil Young. With arrangements lush with delicate and intricately woven guitar lines and deep, image-heavy lyrics, Clapton seems at once out of place in the context of the classic Pub-rock era, and yet so inextricably part of the same scene that it's hard to imagine it without him.

Album number four for Richard (not counting the surf movie soundtrack "Highway One" to which he contributed 6 songs in 1976), "Goodbye Tiger" was issued in 1977 and was his first to go platinum (selling over 70,000 copies domestically). Being a seasoned European traveler, many of his experiences abroad inform the lyrics of this album. From debauched nights stranded in Holland ("Wintertime In Amsterdam") to general madness elsewhere on the continent ("Out on the Edge Again"). One of the songs "I Can Talk To You" was worked up in the studio on a bet.

Most of these songs were written while snowed in at a resort in Denmark. Fueled by beer and isolation, the songs just poured out of him. Probably having respectful distance from Australia at that point, it makes songs like "Deeper Water" and "Down In The Lucky Country" sound nostalgic and longing as opposed to jingoistic.

Despite the fact the songs originated from afar, the album was recorded at Festival Studios in Sydney. As per the aforementioned description, the guitars are lushly arranged and copiously applied throughout this album. The production still sounds fresh and the sound on the original vinyl sounds warm and inviting. It rewards repeated playing because of the fact that there is so much tastefully going on in these songs, both in the music and in the lyrics.

Songs like "Deep Water" are so embedded in my psyche that I can't help but recalling the last half of the song whenever I'm in Palm Beach, looking out to sea, even though I'm inevitably sober and my car is in good working order...

"...Sitting out on the Palm Beach Road,
I'm so drunk and the car won't go,
My crazy eyes still looking out to sea..."

Take a listen to the album below:

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Dave Miller Set - "Mr Guy Fawkes"

In the history of Australian Music there is always going to be someone who is all but forgotten about amid the rush to celebrate anniversaries and define legacies. It's hard to remember every musician who ever released a single, but the history of popular music created in this country is so deep and rich that inevitably someone is going to miss out.

The Dave Miller Set released a number of singles for Festival sub-label Spin between 1967 and 1970, pushing the barrow locally for Psychedelic music. They largely performed elongated covers of overseas hits, like "Get Together" by the Youngbloods and Chicago's "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?". However, their biggest success was taking an obscure album track by an odd British act and turning it into one of the defining psychedelic singles this country has ever seen.

The band took a track by a now-forgotten band called Eire Apparent (who apparently were championed initially by Jimi Hendrix). The song "Mr Guy Fawkes" was a strange experience in the hands of its original creators, the vocalist having a rather odd timbre to his voice. In the hands of Dave Miller and pop producer du jour Pat Aulton, it is a masterpiece.

Taking a slight left turn away from the typical sunshine-y psych pop, this song takes a melancholic, almost sinister edge to it, making for some compelling listening. As such, it is highly regarded as a classic freak-beat single in high demand for collectors (with the inseparable high prices that go along with it).

It sounds as though house producer Aulton threw every resource they had available at the time into the production of this track, almost as if to compete with Russell Morris' hit "The Real Thing" which was also released in 1969. Bomb blast sound effects, strings, phasing and flanging, you name it - its all on here, crammed into 4 and a half short minutes. Considering the very limited, 4-track mono recording equipment Festival Studios had to content with, the richness of the production is truly a marvel of audio engineering.

It is a strong arrangement, with plenty of instruments hogging the limelight, but the runaway star of the record is the bass player, who is running all over the fretboard for the entire record, creating counter-melody after counter-melody. The use of the strings is chilling, giving an extra dimension for added goosebump effect.

I discovered this song in 1991 in the resources of the music department at my high school. It completely fried my little teenage mind and it still sounds fresh today.

Take a listen below.