Listen to this track by Animalistic, leaping gnome-like singer Eric Burdon as backed by Latin-influenced Long Beach L.A funkateers War. It’s “Spill The Wine”, a 1970 hit as featured on the collaborative and self-referentially titled album Eric Burdon Declares War. It was initially released as a single, scoring a top ten chart result.
The song bridges the gaps between British rock, R&B, and Latin music, with a long portion of it being something of a spoken-word short story. That story is a rather dreamlike excursion, filled with images of tall grass, afternoon naps, dreams, Hollywood movies, and visions of “every kind of girl”. There aren’t too many tunes like it. Since its release, it’s been featured on soundtracks in movies and on TV, and covered by a number of artists from The Isley Brothers, to Michael Hutchence.
War was an outfit that started out as a socio-political concern, with statements against racism, crime, poverty, and other negative forces that were becoming serious issues in their native Los Angeles. Eric Burdon had moved to the West Coast from Britain after having dissolved the second incarnation of the Animals, with the original group having split by the mid-60s. In some ways, it was kind of an odd pairing, with Burdon being a student of Chicago blues, and War being more of a funk outfit who’d left the blues behind for a more contemporary Latin R&B funk hybrid sound.
But, “Spill The Wine” consolidated their success, and with an approach that was stylistically off the map in many ways. Here are a few of them. Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by taboo-bating, industry-undercutting, Malcolm McLaren-abetted punk-pop band Bow Wow Wow. It’s “C30 C60 C90 Go”, their 1980 single that stands as an ode to creative music collecting.
The song showcases the band as an amalgam of punk, pop, and Burundi drumming, which (Adam & The Ants notwithstanding) was something of a unique approach by the early ’80s. But, they also managed to incorporate surf music, and Latin American music into their songs, all of which were aimed at a pop audience. They had a sound of their own to say the least.
The band features then 14-year old singer Annabella Lwin, which adds a bit of realism to the tale of a young record buying fan who, tired of the records she wants not being accessible to her, chooses to (!) tape them instead. This song would represent one of many controversies that the band stirred up during their relatively short initial run in the early 1980s.
But, is this song a really a political tune made to stir up controversy? Why would an up and coming band record a song about not buying music unless they were trying to shoot themselves in the foot?
Why, indeed? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Mark Kozelek-led folk-rock-slowcore musical concern Sun Kil Moon. It’s “Lost Verses”, the opening track to the stellar 2008 album April. This record was the second to be released under the Sun Kil Moon moniker. But, Kozelek had been in the game for a lot longer, initially as the prime mover behind Red House Painters, as well as in the release of albums under his own name.
This particular musical vehicle was named after a Korean boxer Sung Kil Moon with boxing being a sport to which Kozelek has made reference before in his other material. Boxers Ruben Olivares and Salvadore Sanchez also serve as references in song titles. Yet, the music is far from what you’d consider to be combative. As evidenced here, it is music that takes its time, delivering a contemplative, expansive, and emotive tone.
This is not to say that the music is one-dimensionally gentle and with no punch – pardon the pun. “Lost Verses” is imbued with folk-rock textures, including a crunchy Neil Young with Crazy Horse-style outro to underpin it. Further to that, this particular song deals with a theme that certainly requires a great deal of bravery, both as something to write about and get right, as well as something to actually face when the time comes.
Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Calgarian art-rock quartet Boreal Sons. It’s “Spin”, the opening track to a thematically connected EP Bedtime Briar, their 2012 follow up to 2010′s Whom Thunder Hath Made Greater EP. This song, and the others on this new EP explores the ideas of inner life, outer appearances, and the nature of identity that are culminated in both. These are big themes indeed. But, the starting point of all of that comes from a simple and single image that forms the central concept of the release; that of a sleeping golden retriever, he being the titular Briar.
“Spin” is rife with changes in tonal direction, lots of momentum built up and then gently wound down again, and sonic spaciousness that gives it all a sense of depth. This makes it a great backdrop to the idea of delving into the mind, and ultimately into the root nature of a sleeping figure whose true identity is hidden from view.
That this figure is a golden retriever, a fact not mentioned directly in the song, or in other tracks, brings out the dimensions of the material. After all, if the dreams of animals can reveal a full-colour sense of spirituality, then how much more complex is the universe itself than how we understand it as human beings? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by superlative Swindonian pop trio XTC. It’s “Chalkhills and Children”, the closing track as taken from their 1989 record Oranges & Lemons, which was their official follow-up to the high-watermark Skylarking album, and their ninth overall not counting the Dukes of Stratosphear releases, their alter-ego band.
The new record was to be released after a stunning Stateside success with the “Dear God” single, which had been added to US versions of Skylarking. It was crunch time for the band to come up with the next big thing. That’s the deal for the not-quite-widely-accepted band. It’s not much of a draw for someone like singer-guitarist and songwriter Andy Partridge who writes great songs, but isn’t interested in getting caught up in the gears of the star-maker machinery.
“Chalkhills and Children” catches Partridge right in the middle of this situation. Partridge and the rest of the band were on a journey further upward toward the next echelon of fame after a successful single in “Dear God”. All the while, they were still on tenterhooks when it came to being secure in the world of showbiz commerce.
So, how does this song reflect all of that? And what does it deliver outside of the life of its writer? Read the rest of this entry
Here’s a clip of British blues-rock good ol’ boys when they’re asleep, the Faces. It’s “Richmond” a track that appears on their 1971 record Long Player. This performance is from Top of The Pops that very same year.
Rod Stewart sang lead on many of the band’s tunes. But in this clip, that’s him playing rudimentary stand-up bass. This track was written and led by singer, bassist, and guitarist Ronnie Lane, AKA ‘Plonk’ who was born this day in 1946. He would have been 67 today.
Lane died in 1997 of a debilitating and drawn out fight with multiple sclerosis. But, before his death, he was a valued, and well-liked musician among everyone in the upper tiers of his generation of musicians. But, beyond being a rock ‘n’ roll mensch, what else did Ronnie Lane bring to the table?
Let’s start with this tune.
Read the rest of this entry
Here’s a clip of left-leaning young soul rebels and bona fide pop collective The Style Council. It’s “Shout To The Top”, a single which appeared on the UK album Our Favourite Shop, and on the US album Internationalists, both released in their respective markets in 1985. The single appeared in October of 1984 on the British charts where it reached a respectable top ten showing.
This was during a time when social and economic issues were particularly polarized in Britain, and in North America as well, which may explain the political undercurrents in this song about being at the end of one’s rope, with nothing left to do but rage against the machine, so to speak. The Style Council helped to pioneer this approach to writing politically informed material as established on their earlier album Café Bleu aka My Ever Changing Moods as it was known in North America. The result was the creation of a sort of pop music political manifesto. Our Favourite Shop puts the band into their sharpest focus.
This artistic fluidity of the band was extensive, mixing Northern soul, jazz, mod-rock, and even early hip-hop sounds. Thematically speaking, they’d aim pretty high too, often bordering on the polemical, and sometimes into downright pretension. This would go south for them later in the decade when they strayed a bit too far, and when popularity and sales began to wane. But, in the mid-80s, leader Paul Weller, who had gained some similar thematic traction when he fronted The Jam, demonstrated his full array of pop smarts in this new musical milleu, along with the political content to be found in his lyics to go along with them.
That’s why this song just zings. This is a bright, bouncy song about not taking it anymore, a shining soul-pop gem about being tired of being oppressed. You might wonder how it’s possible to get a top ten showing on the charts while making such strident statements about society, even if it is wrapped in a stunning pop sheen. But, this was the ’80s, friends!
Does that mean that audiences were more receptive to political messages in their pop at the time? Or did it mean that they weren’t listening very carefully? Was their another reason? Read the rest of this entry
Here’s a clip of L.A-based orchestral pop meets the hymn book singer-songwriter Judee Sill. It’s “Lopin’ Along Through the Cosmos” a deep-cut featured on her 1971 self-titled record Judee Sill. It would be only one of two records that would be released during her lifetime.
Like many of her songs, this one just bursts with spiritual longing carried by a melody that flows like honey, while also falling between the cracks of standard musical pigeonholes. Luckily for Sill, a boom in contemplative singer-songwriters was happening around the time she was writing songs. So she was the first to be signed to David Geffen’s now-famous Asylum label, home to many now associated with the era of classic confessional songwriting centered around Los Angeles.
Of course, Judee Sill took a less than conventional path to being signed to a successful record label. She pursued her career after a teenaged period of getting into trouble, landing herself in reform schools, and using hard drugs. Songwriting was her way out.
And with that in mind, it’s a wonder that her music doesn’t sound more jaded. In fact, it sounds completely the opposite. As evidenced by “Lopin’ Along Through The Cosmos”, this is the voice of an idealist, a dreamer who perhaps doesn’t expect the best, but hopes for it anyway. And Judee Sill certainly had reason to doubt it. Read the rest of this entry
Photo by Michael D’Amico
Here’s a clip featuring Canadian national treasure and songwriting savant from St. Catharines Ontario Ron Sexsmith. It’s “Nowhere To Go”, the opening track to this year’s Forever Endeavour, the follow up to his career-high success in 2011′s Long Player Late Bloomer.
This song is something of a bridge between the two records, in that it explores territory that Sexsmith took on head-first while working up that earlier record. It was during that earlier period that his hopes to be heard by more people, while struggling with the feeling that he wasn’t really getting anywhere, were at their strongest. Discouragement had been nipping at his artistic heels.
It’s not like Sexsmith was an unknown at the time. It’s not as if he is now unaware of how loyal his “Ronhead” fans have been through out his career, nor is he unaware that his own peers, and a great many of his heroes too, hold him in high esteem. During Sexsmith’s efforts at building a body of work, the fame game had become an even more complicated treacherous labyrinth than it ever was. Raw talent and artistry had become something very often sidelined in favour of other more measurable (read: more immediately marketable) forces. And it started out to be predatory in this way to begin with, not suffering fools or introverts gladly.
So, where is this song coming from in the light of that? Read the rest of this entry
Listen to this track by Texan first-generation rock ‘n’ roll revivalist Bobby Fuller, and his three compatriots, making up the Bobby Fuller Four. It’s “Let Her Dance”, their June of 1965 single. This song was a local-to-Los Angeles hit that served as an example of authentic Tex-Mex flavoured rock ‘n’ roll in the spirit of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens.
“Let Her Dance” proves that rock ‘n’ roll was not a forgotten form in America that only British groups were bringing to the table by the early to mid 1960s. It’s true that American rock ‘n’ roll had morphed somewhat by the early 1960s, with a number of other “Bobby’s” on hand that were more of the teen idol persuasion rather than inheritors of Buddy Holly’s independent rock ‘n’ roll songwriting spirit. But, Bobby Fuller wasn’t like them. Like Holly, Fuller was a songwriter, singer, guitar player, bandleader, and an enthusiastic record maker.
Yet, he is also a musical figure surrounded by mystery, and tragedy.
Read the rest of this entry