Graham Parker & The Rumour Play “Local Girls”

Squeezing_out_sparks_coverListen to this track by London-born, Deepcut Surrey raised singer-songwriter and original angry young man Graham Parker, along with his crack team of pub rock compatriots, The Rumour. It’s a hot should-have-been-huge single “Local Girls”, featured on Rolling Stone’s retroactively appreciative top 500 albums of all time record Squeezing Out Sparks, produced by none other than Jack Nitzsche, arranger and one-time co-orchestrator to Phil Spectre in the 1960s.

Before his career as a musician with an unbeatable backing band on the pub rock scene in London, Graham Parker was a wanderer, travelling to various places, and working different jobs while his ambitions as a full-time songwriter and touring musician were percolating.

That’s why I think “Local Girls” is less about a disdain for women at bus stops, and more about finding a personal sense of location for a songwriter from a small town.

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Bram Tchaikovsky Plays “Girl Of My Dreams”

Bram Tchaikovsky Strange Man Changed ManListen to this track by former  member of pub rockers The Motors and power pop proponent in his own right Bram Tchiakovsky, also the name of the band. It’s “Girl Of My Dreams”, a minor hit as featured on his 1979 solo album Strange Man, Changed Man.

The track scored attention on both sides of the Atlantic, with a sort of stylistic reversal at work. By that I mean that Bram Tchaikovsky was a British musician, playing American-style power pop, a style which had been influenced in turn by British musicians in the ’60s.

Influences in rock music had become pretty permeable by the end of the Seventies in that way, with an incredible and seemingly simultaneous shift back to the musical basics on both sides of the pond that made rock music so vital in the first place; hooks, lyrics that spoke to the experiences of an audience, and a simple is best approach to everything, from solos, to arrangements, to production.

All of that can be found here in this unassuming pop song. So where did it come from? Read more

Graham Parker Sings “Partner For Life”

Listen to this track by former angry young man turned happily-married stalwart singer-songwriter Graham Parker. It’s “Partner For Life”, an ode to love, commitment, and the realities of adult relationships as featured on Parker’s 1995 album 12 Haunted Episodes.

By the 1990s, Parker had been prolific as a writer and performer, even if his mainstream success didn’t match that of his contemporaries to whom he is often compared; Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, both of whom held Parker as an influence. He had become, and remained to be, a cult artist.

Parker had been through the wringer with various major label record companies as a result, suffering a lack of support and poor sales of his albums. Or was it the other way around, with the lack of support resulting in his cult status?

Either way, he’d established himself as an artist with a consistent body of work, despite the hardships and vicious cycles he’d experienced while tangling with the majors. He  certainly succeeded in consolidating a lasting core audience, doing so by being a steadfast songwriter, record maker, and tireless live performer.

By this record, he’d cut the shackles of major label skulduggery loose and gone indie on the Razor & Tie label. As such, there is a certain liberation that can be heard in a song like “Partner For Life”. And there is another kind of liberation to be found in this song, too.

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The Stranglers Perform ‘Peaches’

the stranglers 'peaches'Listen to this track by punk-cum-pub rock BBC-baters The Stranglers. It’s their 1977 single “Peaches”, a lascivious tale of girl-watching (leching?) on a summer’s day, bolstered by one of my favourite musical elements – the tenacious bassline, this time courtesy of bassist JJ Burnel, who plays his instrument close to the bridge, and with a plectrum, for a rattling, trebly sound that makes that bassline one of his best contributions to the band’s oeuvre .

The song was released as a double-A-side with another song – “Go Buddy Go”. But, it’s this one that stands as one of the key tracks from this band, who mixed the snottiness of punk with ’60s garage rock during a time just before punk rock became fodder for the British tabloids at the end of the ’70s. Read more

Brinsley Schwarz Plays “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding”

Listen to this track by British pub rock kings Brinsley Schwarz, featuring one Nick Lowe on bass and vocals, and the author of this song.  It’s the anthemic “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding”, as featured on the group’s 1974 The New Favourites of Brinsley Schwartz, and more recently on the Nick Lowe compilation album, Quiet Please: The New Best of Nick Lowe.

Lowe would later pass this tune along to one of his charges in the studio as a producer – Elvis Costello – who went on to make it famous.

The band, named perhaps confusingly after lead guitarist Brinsley Schwarz, is known as one of the key groups in the early 70s British pub rock scenes, which began to spring up all over England at that time.

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The Kings Play “This Beat Goes On/Switching To Glide”

the-kings-are-hereListen to this track by Canadian pub rockers and exuberant and unabashed one-hit wonders, the Kings, originating from two towns close to my heart; Vancouver B.C (where I work now) and Oakville Ontario (where I grew up).  It’s their giant 1980 radio hit “This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide”, a sort of two-fer rock n’ roll suite that kept them on the Billboard charts for six months, and led to an appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand TV show.  The song is taken from their debut record The Kings Are Here.

The song, and the record off of which it comes, was produced by Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel collaborator Bob Ezrin.  When they entered a Toronto recording studio, he heard them and decided to produce them from scratch in Los Angeles.

But, rather unlike the Floyd and Gabriel, The Kings were a meat and potatoes rock ‘n’ roll band, and a hard-touring one at that.  And it’s this emphasis on live playing that really comes through on this track (or really two twinned tracks), a series of snapshots of late night rock ‘n’ roll shows and appreciative audiences.  This is not to say that Ezrin was out of his element.  Remember, Ezrin produced another meat and potatoes band; Alice Cooper, more specifically their 1973 breakthrough album Million Dollar Babies.  And for the Kings, working with Ezrin was a dream come true to a young and hungry touring band.

But as far as “This Beat Goes On/Switching to Glide” is concerned, where it stands out for me is the transition between one section of the song and the next, creating a rock song that is instantly accessible with miles of pop appeal, along with being ambitious on the arrangement front that is bolstered by solid musicianship.  In short, the Kings were pub rock.  And when new wave came along, and was embraced by top forty radio at the end of the 1970s, the Kings were ripe for radio play, first in Canada and eventually in the States, too.

And in listening to it, who can deny its irrepressible charm?  But, the idea to meld the two sections was a studio creation, even if its written and played by a band who’s main strength was in stage presentation more so than in their expertise as record-makers.  From The Kings official website:

That is what happened with This Beat Goes On. It was a simpler chord structure that was not as hooky with lyrics that were not as direct. [lead singer and bassist] David Diamond understood what Ezrin was getting at regarding the chords and went and changed the parts so that although more complicated musically, it sounded better and was way more catchy. That is when [guitarist and band songwriter Mr.] Zero re-wrote the lyrics to the B-verse which is where all this improvement was taking place so instead of the original “Lots of dusty mentals can be blown at any time…” we now have “I have lots of friends that I can ding at any time…” It’s pretty obvious which is better and there was more than just that example … In The Kings minds This Beat and Switchin’ were always supposed to be together as a segue. They were not too happy when Elektra Records decided to release Switchin’ on its own. It did get some play but finally after pressure from the band the segue was released and it was only then that radio really picked up on it.

Bob Ezrin stayed with them for a second album, even if it never replicated the success of “This Beat Goes On/Switching To Glide”.  The Kings took their drive for live rock ‘n’ roll into the Twenty-First Century, currently touring and celebrating their history.

For more information, make sure and visit the Kings’ official site.

Enjoy!

[UPDATE: July 16, 2017 – Check out this video that has Zero and Dave Diamond talking about how this song came about.]

Wreckless Eric Plays ‘Whole Wide World’

Listen to this track by Stiff Records urchin and new wave scrapper Wreckless Eric.  It’s ‘Whole Wide World’ as taken from his self-titled, 1978 LP Wreckless Eric. The song had previously been released as a single (twinned with ‘Semaphor Signals’), as produced by Stiff house producer Nick Lowe.

This song is one of the results of a keen interest that Wreckless Eric (born Eric Goulden) had in pub rock, a scene that grew up alongside punk rock, and in fact pre-dated it.  ‘Whole Wide World’ and the innocence it exudes was used to great effect in the film Stranger Than Fiction, when Will Farrell’s repressed IRS agent finally falls in love, getting the girl by singing this song to her.

Wreckless Eric’s sound was looked upon as something of the runt in the Stiff Records litter, basic three-chord constructions that drew from 60s garage rock, girl groups, and early 70s glam poppers Slade. His music is idiosyncratic, and sometimes half-baked, making him something of an English Jonathan Richman.  But, like Richman, Wreckless Eric got by on his ability to charm, even while demonstrating a sort of studied ineptitude when it comes to traditional pop subject matter.

It’s arguable that Wreckless Eric was the most ‘punk’ of the Stiff stable, with a adenoidal whine of a voice matched with a muddy, bludgeoning stomp of a beat behind it.  But with this song, you’re hearing something of a return to  classic pop songwriting aimed at teenagers.  This is a tried and true approach to rock ‘n’ roll songwriting, and has been from the beginning.

There is something endearingly juvenile about this song, with some truly clunky lyrics and bare bones arrangement.  To me, this tune is a look inside the mind of an early teen, a snapshot of a kid’s idea about romance.  As such, this song does what the best rock ‘n’ roll songs do; it gives a voice to the awkward teen audience it’s aimed at.  For all of Wreckless Eric’s wide-eyed innocence here on this song, it’s clear that his approach to songwriting betrayed the mark of experience, too. And with this tune, he captures a kernel of truth, which is another aspect to be found in the best of pop songwriting.

For more information about Wreckless Eric, check out Wrecklesseric.com

Enjoy!

Rockpile Featuring Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds Perform ‘When I Write The Book’

Listen to this track from pub-rock holdovers and back to basics rock-pop craftsmen Rockpile, featuring singer, songwriter, bassist, and producer Nick Lowe, along with rock n roll revivalist Dave Edmunds.  It’s ‘When I Write The Book’, a tuneful treat for the ear as featured on the band’s sole album, Seconds of Pleasure from 1980.

A album like this from musicians of this caliber had tons and tons of promise.  Yet, it would be something of a burst of energy that ultimately fizzled out.  But, that has nothing to do with the songwriting, particularly not on this tune which is rooted in the best tradition of early rock n roll and early 60s Brill Building pop.  The passions felt by both Lowe and Edmunds for this period of musical history is palpable.  And what’s best, they were able to translate that enthusiasm in a live setting, as well as here on vinyl.

Perhaps expectations for this album were based on the more ragged, visceral ferocity of the back-to-basics approach as championed on the pub rock scene out of which both Edmunds and Lowe sprang.  ‘When I Write The Book’, for instance is not a growling R&B number, but more like a Goffin-King girl group throwback which sounds like a more sensible second cousin to the type of skinny tie new wave being made by people like Wreckless Eric, who also sprang from pub rock and from the Stiff Records crowd.

But in Nick Lowe’s case, he had always veered closer to the poppier end of the pop rock spectrum, where Dave Edmunds mined the Sun Records rockabilly end to a greater extent.  Perhaps it’s this tension which makes this song, and the rest of the album, pop with such jubilance.  It could also be the reason Rockpile never made it past their debut, and that Lowe and Edmunds would continue separately.

This band consisted of Lowe on bass, Edmunds on guitar, Terry Williams on drums, and Billy Bremner on guitar.  Since the mid-70s, they played on solo records by leaders Edmunds and Lowe (who were on different labels as solo artists), and gained a reputation as a forced to be reckoned with as a live act before this debut.  They in fact had recorded three other albums together as a unit.  Two were Edmunds solo albums (Tracks on Wax 4 and Repeat When Necessary), and a third was one of Lowe’s Labour of Lust on which his most recognizable song “Cruel to Be Kind” is also featured . And as if to prove their range of musical talent even further, they also backed up country singer Carlene Carter (to whom Lowe had been married at the time).

Their musical range presented both a huge potential, and something of a detriment, too. When you’ve got a record with cover versions by 60s psych band the Creation, soul man Joe Tex, rock pioneer Chuck Berry, and by Difford & Tilbrook of  new wave pop outfit Squeeze, you know your getting an eclectic listening experience. But, perhaps you’re not getting a record by a band who’s found their focus.

Besides how well or not the songs sit together, ‘When I Write The Book’ is an enormously charming pop song, with stunning harmony and call-and-response verve.  If there was ever any doubt about Nick Lowe as a songwriter with an ear for big pop song hooks, then let them be banished here.  He would take this talent and build on it into his continuing solo career with songs like ‘Rose of England’, which is another one of my favourites of his.  And Edmunds would continue to wave the banner high for traditional rock n’ roll in the spirit of the Founding Fathers.

Who knows what the key factor was for the false start which was Rockpile.  Perhaps they were individually too big for their boots to keep the band together, which perhaps explains why the project arguably lacks a certain cohesion in the ears of critics.   Of course, despite the dissolution of Rockpile as a formal band, the members would continue to collaborate through the 1980s and into the 1990s.  A fierce love of rock n’ roll between colleagues is hard to kill, after all.

To read more, check out the full story of Rockpile.

Enjoy!

Graham Parker & the Rumour Perform ‘Black Honey’

Heat_treatment_coverListen to this track by pub rock heroes Graham Parker & the Rumour.  It’s the contemplative “Black Honey” as taken from the band’s 1976 album Heat Treatment, their second LP, and one which is held as one of the most enduring of its kind out of the mid-70s British pub rock scene.

Parker was a key figure in British pub rock, inspired by Dr. Feelgood and American soul music, with a splash of Bob Dylan for good measure.  His sound takes in all of that, plus later to incorporate reggae and even country music.  His band The Rumour were all notable players, and one of the best live acts in the circuit, known for their mastery over a wide range of styles.  As such, Parker’s considerable songwriting capacity was given free rein.

And this is one of my favourite songs of his, full of soulful contemplation and world weariness.  His vocal is a rough instrument, yet infused with emotional connectedness that gives the song real impact.  “Black Honey” frames Parker as a songwriter of note, offering something beyond the usual crowd-pleasing fare when it came to his contemporaries, some of which would come into their own during ensuing years (Squeeze, Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Elvis Costello, The Stranglers, and others).

Pub rock was the rough British equivalent to the early New York punk scene, yet was not punk in the truest sense of the word.  All of the bands prided themselves on a key area that many punks would shun, to wit: an ability to play very well.  This aspect of the scene is well exemplified on this track, and on the rest of Parker’s early material.  An overt acknowledgment of the debt rock ‘n’ roll has to American roots music, including soul is another marker of the scene.  This can certainly be heard on ‘Black Honey’ with the Steve Cropper-esque guitar, the moaning Hammond organ, and even in Parker’s delivery with an almost gospel approach to the phrasing.

One of the things that can be viewed as a parallel to punk of course is a back-to-basics approach to performance, a reaction perhaps to the lofty ambitions of progressive rock which came out of the early 70s.  This certainly plays to Parker’s strengths, a songwriter looking to put across songs, rather than a series of chances to impress an audience with instrumental prowess.  And yet, with this emphasis, he and the Rumour impress anyway, with a live sound that made them something of the British equivalent to Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers who were enjoying parallel success in America at the time.

For the most part, Elvis Costello would steal Parker’s thunder on the world stage, coming out of the same scene and part of a sort of angry young man new wave triumvirate with another writer and performer, Joe Jackson . But, Graham Parker would put out solid album after solid album from the mid-70s to the present day, a respected rock craftsman of singular talent and range to be ulimately compared to no one.

For more information about Graham Parker, check out grahamparker.net

Enjoy!

Squeeze Perform “Up The Junction”

Here’s a clip of South-East London  new wave pop craftsmen Squeeze with their 1979 hit single ‘Up the Junction’ as taken from their album Cool for Cats.

If this song seems more like a novel or a film than it does a chart-topping pop song, its because it sort of is.  Nell Dunn wrote a novel called Up the Junction, depicting life in the Clapham-Battersea area of London in the early 60s.  And much like the song, it uses colloquial speech, and deals with the gritty lives of an industrial sector of London.  That seems like a weighty series of subjects to jam into a three-minute plus pop song, doesn’t it?  And while Squeeze songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook aren’t telling the same story as depicted in the novel, they are able to capture some of its spirit. This is what writers Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford brought to the table – storytelling, with plenty of pop hooks.

As for the song they wrote, there are a few people I know who think that this tune is lyrically lightweight, with many of the couplets falling flat.  But to me, that’s kind of the point.   This is a story about a schlub, a chancer who’s caught in a relationship that is ultimately beyond him.  It was always doomed to failure, perhaps given away by the first line “I never thought it would happen with me and a girl from Clapham…”.   You expect a schlub to talk like that, and it wouldn’t do if the guy spoke like Shelley and Keats.

Difford &Tilbrook pack all kinds of interesting tidbits in between with a narrative that is both funny and sad, too.  And I think that they understand that conveying characters, and the way the language sounds in the context of the song is just as important as the melody and the chords that carry them along.  And listen to all of those chord changes!  And the chunky drum fill at the beginning after the riff – didda-dit-DAT(and)didda-dit-DAT – I love that!

At the time that Squeeze began churning out impossibly hook-laden tunes – “Goodbye Girl”, “Cool For Cats”, “Take Me I’m Yours”, and many others – they were gaining the burdensome reputation for being ‘the new Lennon & McCartney’.  Where there are similarities, mostly having to do with  how  they focused so well on melody and unexpected chord progressions while still making their music accessible, the comparison was always just music journalism hyperbole in which comparisons almost always do a disservice to both parties.

Difford & Tilbrook are unique.

For more information about Squeeze, check the official Squeeze website.

And for even more, investigate the Squeeze MySpace Page.

Enjoy!