Oneida – ‘Captain Bo Dignifies the Allegations With A Response’ (08:07)
This week I was reminded, while reading the Quietus feature Quietus Writers’ Top 40 Noise Rock Tracks, how much I liked Oneida, especially their album Secret Wars which I bought unheard years ago as it was on sale and I knew the record label, JagJaguwar.
It’s all about the organ on this track.
Michael Jackson – ‘Beat It’
It’s almost too easy to play this to get people dancing; it feels like cheating because it’s just too good. When the vocal explodes in for the first time, one experiences it as a kind of physical jolt; part of this is to do with the knowledge of everything Michael Jackson was and what he would later become; and the other part is that which compels those to have a dance.
Songs: Ohia – ‘Darlin…’
Jason Molina died three years ago this week. He was 39 years old. The first record I bought of his was in the early 2000s, Songs: Ohia’s bleak but beautiful Ghost Tropic. From then on I bought everything he released, all the way up to 2009’s Josephine. And in those rare small gaps when he wasn’t touring or releasing a record I had his albums, split 7″s, EPs from the late 90s to find. So this is maybe why, when his illness, then eventual death, signalled an end I was taken by surprise at the depth of loss I felt. I suppose it speaks to that certain mystery music holds over the listener that the death of human being, ostensibly a stranger to me, could have had such an effect.
At the time of his death stories were told of him. Memories were recalled. I had my own. I met him once at All Tomorrows Parties festival. It was around the same time he had taken to wearing a Stetson hat onstage (he didn’t mean it ironically you sensed), so in my story I have him wearing it. I complimented him on the gig he had just played. Asked him where he was off to next. I meant tour wise. He pointed in the opposite direction to where I had just walked from. I let the confusion stand.
But the stories people told were mainly about his music. Molina was a talented songwriter. And this was evident in the many different musicians, working in quite different fields and genres, who wrote about how much his music had come to matter to them. His sometimes simple songs (songs such as ‘Darling…’), while hermetically sealed within each album by his recurring use of images and tropes, paradoxically connected to a wider sphere.
Molina achieves this connection on ‘Darling…’ by using the lyrics to the opening of Al Green’s ‘Funny How Time Slips Away’. Set to a different time, an austere instrumentation, Molina is able to negotiate through Al Green so the sentiment becomes part of the Songs: Ohia aesthetic. An aesthetic Jason forged carefully until he retired the group in 2003, and began again with Magnolia Electric Co. And that’s probably part of the loss identified there: even though the many recordings can be gone back to, it’s now always with the knowledge he will never begin something again.
The Bangles – Eternal Flame
There are moments in his book Yeah Yeah Yeah where Bob Stanley makes an assertion so curious I’m compelled to track down the music to see if he’s right. This I did when he claimed the Bangles as ‘one of the best girl groups of the decade [the 80s]’. Listening to ‘Eternal Flame’ he has a point. If part of his point is (and I think it is) being able to detect traces of the girl groups of the sixties in the Bangles’ DNA. ‘Eternal Flame’ is as dramatic and impassioned as such songs as ‘Remember (Walkin’ in the Sand)’ by The Shangri-Las or ‘Baby, I Love You’ by The Ronettes. And sound wise, though the production of those early 60s records is replaced by music box drum machine (a good thing – nullifying any ballad pretensions that ‘Eternal Flame’ might have had), you can hear in the timpani and reverb snare a nod to those first girl groups. It all becomes even more apparent if you watch the video to the song – the beginning’s slow fade and dissolve of each band member ratcheting up the drama. But if the singling out of Susannah Hoffs as lead singer in this video makes you hanker for the more democratic earlier days of the Bangles, watch the video to the woozy ‘Going Down to Liverpool’ (‘[one] of the greatest singles of the eighties’ – Stanley), featuring none other than, and why not, Leonard Nimoy.
Sometimes the saddest songs are the simplest. Sometimes these songs are country songs. ‘If I Could Only Fly’ would be unbearably sad if it wasn’t for that line “You know sometimes I write happy songs”. You can almost hear Foley give a wry smile as he sings it.
Cowboy Junkies – Blue Moon Revisited (A Song For Elvis)
Those already familiar with ‘Blue Moon’, written by Rodgers and Hart in the 1930s, most likely came to know it, as I did, through Elvis’s version. But if I’m being honest all I could remember of ‘Blue Moon’ was its chorus. Now a chorus can get you to forgive a lot in a song, but it can also prove to be so effective it overrides the rest in the memory. I thought this was what had happened to me. But on listening back to Elvis’s version I was struck, not by just how very odd it sounds, but to find that apart from some falsetto the chorus is all there is. And if it is all there is, is it right to call it a chorus?
The Cowboy Junkies interpretation of ‘Blue Moon’ uses the listener’s expectation of this chorus (for want of a better word). The guitar initially hides behind a descending bass line, as Margo Timmins hopes “pehaps…my baby walks back into my arms”, until it finally emerges to pick out a familiar melody. This is followed by Timmins’s voice as a crystal clear cold lake in which the chorus descends. And you realise this is what you’ve been waiting for. Then it’s gone; the song’s images slowly enveloping in on themselves, leaving you where you were in the beginning, listening to Timmins’s quiet unresolved hope.
John Martyn – Spencer the Rover
It’s a fact in my mind at least about any great bassist (Krist Novoselic or Carol Kaye to name two) the songs they played on would most likely have been great without them, but they would have been quite different and, yes ok, not as great. My current favourite bass player is Danny Thompson. He was a member of Pentangle and bass player with John Martyn, playing on many of Martyn’s 1970s albums. It was his attitude to playing music with Martyn, told to a BBC4 documentary on Martyn, which first endeared him to me: “We never ever discussed his poetry, his songs, the music content. We just got together and did it”.
‘Spencer the Rover’ is a good example of how this attitude transferred over to his playing: it’s sensitive but with no sentiment. He bows the double bass, entering on the third verse, and its low sweep anchors Martyn’s treated acoustic guitar and particular vocal delivery. And though the song has Martyn’s name on it, the sound of this traditional ballad is very much reached through collaboration. That it maybe doesn’t often get credited as such is another reason why Danny Thompson is such a great bassist.