British music

Elton John Sings “Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)”

Elton John Rocket ManListen to this track by million-selling piano man and singular ’70s rock clothes horse Elton John. It’s “Rocket Man (I think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)”, a hit single in the spring of 1972, and a key track as taken from his Honky Chateau album that year.

In line with the times when space missions were more common perhaps than they are today, or simply more celebrated, this song stormed the charts with top ten showings all over the world. It also marked a change in approach for Elton John who used his road band on the entirety of the recording instead of sessioners; Dee Murray on bass, Davey Johnstone on guitars and other assorted stringed instruments, and Nigel Olssen behind the kit.

Addtionally on this track, he worked with studio whiz, composer, and keyboardist David Hentschel who added the distinctive ARP synthesizer lines to this track, which gave it an appropriately futurist feel. This is not to minimize John’s own contribution, in particular his singing which is some of the finest of his career, completely selling this tale of space travel and emotional disconnectedness.

The result of all these elements would be one of Elton John’s best known and best loved songs. But, how does it perhaps apply to the touring rock star as much as it does to the story of the Rocket Man? (more…)

Aztec Camera Play “Walk Out To Winter”

High Land Hard RainListen to this track by Scottish pop sophisticate musical outfit Aztec Camera. It’s “Walk Out To Winter” as taken from the landmark 1983 debut  record High Land Hard Rain. The song was a single, scoring a top ten showing on the UK indie chart, with the album scoring top thirty on the UK album chart.

In the 1980s, this act would become grouped in with several musical outfits that would take the template of new wave and post punk, and mix it with more traditional pop threads; soft rock, latin music, light jazz, and R&B. But, that’s not to say that Aztec Camera was just another act in this vein.

Under principle songwriter and sole constant member Roddy Frame’s creative guidance, the results would be something that not many were able to achieve; a classic record, and with a single (this one) and other singles that would make for both an album band, and a singles band, too.

And what of this song? What does it mean to “walk out to winter” anyway? (more…)

Primal Scream Play “Loaded”

Listen to this track by Scottish dance rock proponents and musical genre crossover adventurers Primal Scream. It’s “Loaded”, a hit song as taken from their seminal 1991record Screamadelica. The single was released in February 1990, over a year before the full album came out.

Primal Scream ScreamadelicaThe song would be something of an anthem to the dance scenes all over Britain on its release, with a dash of ’60s iconoclast ingredients worked into its fabric. There are certainly musical ingredients to be found in what was once a humble remix that most assuredly helped to turn it into a hit single.

One of the defining elements to the song of course is the use of audio clips from the 1966 film The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda as a hard-riding member of a motorcycle gang, and a guy who knows what he wants to do; to be free, to get loaded, have a good time, to have a party.

Some themes never get old.

And beyond that, it certainly spoke to the burgeoning acid house scene at the same time. (more…)

PJ Harvey Performs “Rid Of Me”

PJ Harvey Rid of MeListen to this track by serial Mercury Prize nominee and envelope-pushing singer-songwriter PJ Harvey. It’s “Rid of Me”, the title track  from her 1993 record Rid Of Me.

This song, and the record off of which it comes, forsaw a few trends that we would see in the ensuing years and decades; stripped down arrangements in a rock context, fusion of the blues with post-punk indie strains, and harshly autobiographical songwriting from the point of view of a woman, but without the wistfulness that is often associated with that dynamic. A good deal of this came from Harvey’s influences at the time. most notably Chicago blues, and specifically Howlin’ Wolf.

This ingredient is not unknown in the development of British rock music. This very same influence inspired a whole generation of bands, of course. But, Harvey’s approach to the blues wasn’t about hero worship or faithful renderings of existing recordings. She was able to do something that her contemporaries hadn’t really tried on the same scale; to include the blues, and to include herself as an author with an undeniable voice without being crowded out by it. That’s a tall order.

This is how I think she manages it.

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Jake Bugg Sings “Lightning Bolt”

Listen to this track by British singer-songwriter and folk-indie up-and-comer Jake Bugg. It’s “Lightning Bolt”, a hit single as taken from his self-titled 2012 record Jake Bugg. The song was released in April of that year in the UK, and a year later in North America in March.

Jake BuggIn addition to its modest chart action, Bugg did the rounds with this record, performing it on late night TV shows and at SXSW, and making inroads to building up respect with indie tastemakers on both sides of the Atlantic. Instead of holding the usual list of obscure influences, Bugg stuck with the  classics; the Beatles, early Dylan, Johnny Cash, Hendrix, plus a genuflect for Elvis and the Everly Brothers, too.

With this track, it’s really that classic approach that comes through in the performance and in the production, too. It sounds as if it’s from another era. But it also sounds throughly fresh. I think this has to do with a number of factors, not the least of which has to do with some striking and universal themes it hits on.

Lightning bolts are primal, and quite literally elemental. But, they also have long stood as a symbol for coming to a violent realization. They are a useful metaphor for the experience of walking along, minding your own business, and then suddenly have something happen so unexpected, so radical  happen to you that you cannot help but be transformed in some way.

That’s what’s happening in this song; being hit by a force for good ultimately, but one that isn’t exactly comfortable either. It’s one of those experiences that we crave and we fear at the same time. Once again, we see in this song that the human experience isn’t exactly easy to pin down, with fear and wisdom, order and chaos, violence and peace all living together in one inscrutable space. The question remains as always; will we seek the lightning bolt, or do what we can to avoid it?

You can learn more about Jake Bugg predictably by visiting jakebugg.com.

Enjoy!

The Beatles Play “A Day In The Life”

The Beatles Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club BandListen to this track by former mop-top British Invasion spearheads and pop music boundary pushers The Beatles. It’s “A Day In The Life” as taken from the modestly successful little platter Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released at the top of the summer of love in June 1967.

By the time work was undertaken to begin the making of this song, and this record, the rules hadn’t really been written as to what an album could be – like, say, a way to create a band inside of a band, and to have the record itself do the job of touring instead of the people behind it having to do it.  No one had ever really applied an artistic filter to a record, or to a band in quite this way.

As such, it was a risky approach. There again, the Beatles records always sold well, and I’m sure the project wasn’t thought of as being risky other than by those who undertook it, and who wanted it to be as great as it was on a musical level. The stories around that album, and this track specifically, are fairly well-traveled.  But, there is one common thread running through all of those stories; everything about the project drove everyone involved in making it deep into a place of artistic and technological lateral thinking .

Personally, I think the biggest force behind the record’s success didn’t have anything to do with lofty and unifying artistic concepts or technological innovation. I think it had more to do with an honest expression of where the Beatles were at during that time as it was expressed in the songwriting.  “A Day In The Life” was one of the first songs the band tackled, helping to set the tone and expectations surrounding the project as a whole.

As such, it’s always seemed kind of ironic to me that this final track on an album that is otherwise thought of as the most technicolour of all Beatles records is so full of forboding.

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Squeeze Plays “Another Nail In My Heart”

Squeeze Another Nail In My HeartListen to this track by Deptford, London quintet and three-minute pop song master architects Squeeze. It’s “Another Nail In My Heart” as taken from their 1980 record Argybargy. The song would score them considerable success internationally, in particular amping up the reputations of head writers Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook.

The scene set in the song is one of a broken relationship and a bereft man  left with nothing, found in the bar – or at least what’s left of him. This would be subject matter pretty common to the Squeeze canon up until this point. But, this was their biggest hit to date outside of Britain, soon to grace set lists for the decades to follow, both as a band and in Tilbrook  solo sets too.

The reasons for success of this song may be because it contains elements that are both expected, as well as unexpected. (more…)