Thursday, May 25, 2017




purchase [Lulu]


[Un] fortuitously, this comes more or less upon Roger Moore's demise. I had already started in on this topic when I read the news this week about his passing.

More than once, the James Bond series has shown its affinity for gold: the word appears in more than one film title: Goldfinger, GoldenEye, The Man with a Golden Gun. And the metal itself appears even more often - you know, the root of all evil.  Ask yourself: Why does one rock dug out of the ground have such value? Go figure. Gold ... Silver...  Diamonds and more.


The James Bond film series is a serious production process - not least the selection of its music - both throughout each film, but more emphatically, in the film's  intro section. Over the years, the honor of singing the films' intro music has fallen to  the top of the pop: Paul McCartney, Louis Armstrong, Nancy Sinatra, Carly Simon, Rita Coolridge, Tina Turner  ... the list goes on and on. Kind of like  how the list of Bond films that include <gold> goes on and on.

 
The Bond <gold> selection I highlight  spans a number of musical genres, but there seems to be an over-arching theme to them all: lots of [studio] production. I don't mean to necessarily place this in a bad sense. In fact, the Bond music over0-production is appropriate, but it's obvious. That's probably a given for anything Bond - the whole operation is tightly managed - and that's part of what makes the series classic.


Herewith, 3 golden Bond theme songs:


Tina:

 

Lulu:

 


Shirley Bassey:

Gold: Killerman Gold Posse


French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson: Killerman Gold Posse
[purchase]

A theme within a theme—two “Gold” related posts about 1980s Richard Thompson side projects. To follow up last week’s post about the Golden Palominos, this week we look at French, Frith, Kaiser, Thompson, a more traditional “supergroup” in form, if not sound or popularity. FFKT released two albums, 1987’s Live, Love, Larf & Loaf, from which today’s featured song comes, and Invisible Means, released in 1990.

Thompson is both a personal favorite, and a SMM regular. His cohorts in FFKT, though, are somewhat lesser known. John French is a drummer, although he contributed some vocals to the project, and is probably best known as “Drumbo” from Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band. Fred Frith, best known as a guitarist, although he mostly played bass and violin in this group, was a founder of the English avant-garde rock group Henry Cow, and has played with and produced a wide variety of mostly experimental and unconventional musicians (including Golden Palomino Bill Laswell). Frith is Professor of Composition in the Music Department at Mills College and is also a writer. Henry Kaiser is another experimental guitarist and ethnomusicologist whose body of work stretches across the spectrum of jazz, rock, electronic and world music.

As could be expected from this crew, Live, Love, Larf & Loaf is an eclectic set of music which seems to also reflect the members’ off-kilter senses of humor. The album includes, among other things, experimental, noisy songs, an Okinawan folk song, a version of the Beach Boys' “Surfin’ U.S.A.” played in the style of Chuck Berry before descending into chaos, and a few songs that sound like slightly twisted Richard Thompson songs.

“Killerman Gold Posse” is one of these, a song about a London youth gang, in which Thompson recounts the gang’s practices of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, although he notes that “the poor are we, and the poor are we.” However, the narrative is interrupted by a chorus, which sings, “We are children, please don't take our freedom away.”

It is an odd song, and one that probably is exactly long enough at 1:47.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Gold: Days of Gold


Purchase The Cadillac Three's Days of Gold

The Cadillac Three is a three-piece, hot-shit, slide guitar, honky-tonk stompin’ outfit that churns out sizzlin’ hot southern-fried country rock. The band is a showcase for lead singer and songwriter Jaren Johnston’s considerable and prodigious talents as a hit maker. Johnston has been around Nashville for a long time (he literally grew up at the Grand Ol’ Opry, where his father was band drummer). But, what sets him apart is his job that has him writing hits for everyone from Keith Urban to Tim McGraw—Johnston maintains a publishing deal with Warner Brothers while still fronting The Cadillac Three.  Which is pretty amazing, but when you listen to the swaggering, brawling, booze-soaked country rock of the TC3, its hard to think of the likes of Keith Urban or any other pop country signer being anywhere near the same league as Johnston’s band.

TC3 channels the best of all genre’s of rock: there’s the laid back lyrical sense of breathing in deep the humid, bug filled air of a backyard party somewhere way down south, to the hyped up giddy kind of buzz that comes from cold beers and shots of Old # 7. Johnston’s a visual writer, who turns phrases expertly and can delve in country clichés without being cliché in the least. TC3 captures everything you might love, or not even realize you love, about not just southern/ country rock, but rock ‘n roll in general: exuberant, down and dirty, crunchy and raw.


Take a listen to “Days of Gold”, a hymn to good time southern summers—whiskey, beers, a smoking grill—set to a quick time, hand clapping, boot stomping lap-steel-driven beat. TC3 are kind of the best kind of party you can find on disc: down home and all revved up. Here’s to summer and all the parties to come!

I'll post two versions of the song: the original, and live version, so you can get a taste of what these three guys can do, which is pretty much tear it up!




Sunday, May 21, 2017

GOLD: FOOL'S GOLD

Iron, actually, iron pyrites, but, given its name, not to say the myriad songs so entitled, hopefully quite worthy of a mention here. And clearly a theme of some inspiration, the age old tale of being taken in by all that glitters. Akin to buying a record unheard on the strength of a review. Or a cover.


The Stone Roses were huge for a moment at the rump of the '80s, their debut single blazing a trail that could never quite be replicated, a blend of dance and guitars, heralding the era of 'Mad'chester. For a while (that still lingers) all drums sounded like this, leading rather than riding. I found it exhilarating and still do, but the combination of management and internal rancour effectively leaves it a much better epitaph than the much delayed later product and ill-advised ongoing reformation. Lyrically this is an odd concoction, seemingly both a warning and expectation, about the discovery/dessert of riches the final lines almost apocryphal:

'Gold's just around the corner
Breakdown's coming up round the bend'



Graham Parker and the Rumour are/were, in my opinion, the closest thing to Bruce Springsteen produced in the UK, Parker's gritty songs and presentation pre-dating the passion of punk by a year or two too soon, arguably then diminished by its onslaught. The Rumour were the epitome of classic bar band, grizzled pros even then, most still playing, not least when quirk and circumstance put the original line-up back on the road a few years back. Parker was the angriest man in music, spitting his words out with a venom barely believable from his slight frame. On his last tour of Britain, last year, in duo form with the exemplary Brinsley Schwarz on guitar, he seems finally to have found some mellow. The lyrics here seem to suggest a knowingness, suggesting not only is the music biz paved with fool's gold, but the searching of it is a fool's errand. Or it could be about girls:

'I'm a fool so I'm told I get left in the cold
'Cause I will search the world for that fool's gold, fool's gold'

Ryan Adams is almost frustratingly prolific and terrifyingly inconsistent, at least in live performance, previous shows often marred by his various demons. The story around Fools' Gold is almost typical of his battles. Gold was the name of his 2nd long player, to my mind his best, but not what he wanted or had intended, the idea being of a double set, thwarted by his record company. Some songs came in a limited edition extra disc, others sneaked out, like this, as a b-side for a single, the rest sneaking out as a bootlegged recording. As is so often the way with Adams, his best work is sometimes the hardest to source. The words perhaps display a well-learnt cynicism:

'Fool's gold can buy you anything you want
Fool's gold, fool's gold'



What hasn't ever been said about Amy Winehouse that I could add here, the backline almost lifted from any of the recent posts about Songs From Movies About Musicians,  riches and recognition to ruin. Whilst only putting out 2 records, she was prolific enough to have a swell of other material, b-sides, outtakes and more, and this is one, appearing on a later de-luxe edition of Frank. Of all the 4 songs I feature, it is lyrically the most poignantly apposite, a warning as to the falsehoods that can arise from the entrapment of a band of gold on your finger:

'For me it ain't real, it's fools gold
There too many fools sold, not an excuse, oh
For me it ain't real, it's fools gold
I don't hear everything I'm told'

There are other songs by other artists about this shiny deceitful stone, from Thin Lizzy to One Direction, citing it both a subject and a metaphor for the desperation of hope versus the disappointment of discovery. How apt for popular music, this most fickle of industries.

So, what Fool's Gold old are you going to buy? Fill yer boots!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Gold: Fields of Gold

Sting: Fields of Gold

[purchase]

When I first heard Fields of Gold, I thought I was hearing a traditional English folk song that had somehow escaped my notice. I am no expert, but surely I would have heard someone’s version of a song this good before this? The song features the repetition of alternating lines “fields of barley” and fields of gold” in a way that can be found in many traditional English songs. But there was a reason I had not heard the song before. Fields of Gold is a Sting original, although it shows a strong knowledge of English folk music. This is a side of Sting he had not really shown before. We knew he loved rock and reggae from the sound of his band the Police. On his first solo album, Sting returned to his jazz roots. Since then, he has explored classical music and continued to make his own brand of what must be called pop for lack of a better term. Fields of Gold is the only original folk song of his that I have heard, but it really works. I could hear in my head a more “traditional” arrangement the first time I heard it.

Eva Cassidy: Fields of Gold

[purchase]

In searching for such a version, my first stop was Eva Cassidy’s version. Here we can ignite a whole argument about what is and is not “folk”. Cassidy didn’t care. While she is a revered figure among folk fans, her music is not purely folk. She drew songs from a rich array of genres and sources, and her arrangements were not always what one might consider folk. But if you consider the role that folk music served in society when the songs we are most familiar with were being written, you realize that songs like Froggy Went A’Courting were the pop music of their day. On that basis, any song is fair game, and it is the job of any modern folk artist to make their choice of songs their own. Eva Cassidy did that job brilliantly.

Richard Bennett: Fields of Gold

[purchase]

Still, I wanted to see if I could find an even folkier version without sacrificing either quality or authenticity. Bennett’s Fields of Gold still isn’t what I heard in my head. For that I would need an Irish singer, backed by just guitar and uillean pipes. But Bennett does the next best thing, giving me a small acoustic ensemble, and featuring the cello in the role I assigned to the piper. Bennett’s voice is perfect here. Like Cassidy, Bennett takes his material from a wide range of sources, and he too makes his songs his own.

Fields of Gold has become a standard since Sting wrote it. You can find multiple versions on Amazon by looking either for wedding music or lullabyes. There are also many covers of varying quality and in various genres. So the song may have started life as a Sting original, but I would argue that the place it has taken in our culture now qualifies it as a folk song.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Gold: Heart of Gold





purchase [Heart of Gold]


Sad disclosure to apologize for the quality of my research: Turkey continues to block Wikipedia - limiting my ability to access further steps related to my ideas. (It needs to be said)


Crosby, Stills and Nash came out with their first album at the end of the 60s. A veritable powerhouse/Supergroup that included some of the best from Bufallo Springfield, the Byrds ... the top of the charts. (And as JDavid just said, they had their personality problems.)


The album [link] they came out with in '69 includes a collection of rock classics: Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Marrakesh Express, Guinevere,Wooden Ships, Helplessly Hoping, Long Time Gone. Heck .. they're all good.  The collaboration lead them to Woodstock. No small feat.


It appears that it was Ahmet Ertegun (back once again to Turkey!) who convinced CSN that another Atlantic artist by the name of Neil Young might fit in with the original 3. It wasn't exactly a smooth transition, but ... the result was historical: CSNY.


Neil Young brought in an element of edgy-ness, and probably some additional discord in the process: it's hard enough to get 3 musicians aligned. Adding one more only exacerbates the issues. But the roughness of Young's style took the group to a new level and arguably maintained, if not increased their appeal. Thankfully, they managed to hold it together for longer than most people predicted, and we ended up with Deja Vu and 4 Way Street as they helped lead the political voice of America into the 70's.


In '71, Neil Young came out with Harvest - another rock classic that includes Old Man, The Needle and the Damage Done and Heart of Gold. The album was panned by critics but the public was of another mind - one of his most successful works to this day.


Further disclosure: 2-3 years back our blogger Andy LaRayGun, some friends and I did a Neil Young cover at about this time of year in front of maybe 500 students. Andy on the left, me next to him (black guitar doing the vocals)

video

Gold: The Golden Palominos


Golden Palominos: Boy(Go)
[purchase]

The legendary supergroups like Cream or Blind Faith or CSN&Y were attempts to join musicians famous from other projects into a, well, super group, but they often foundered due to the conflicting egos of the members. The Golden Palominos, often referred to as an “indie-rock supergroup,” was different, gathering changing groups of generally less famous artists for each album.

Originally founded in the early 1980s by Anton Fier, a drummer who had been an early member of, among other bands, The Feelies, the first incarnation of the Golden Palominos was filled with avant-garde musicians like Fred Frith, Arto Lindsay and Bill Laswell, many of whom were influenced by the “No Wave” movement and often had as much jazz influence as indie-rock. Their self-titled debut was experimental, noisy and even featured turntable scratching, a rarity outside of hip-hop in that era.

My introduction to the band was from their very different second album, 1985’s Visions of Excess, which was significantly more accessible. The original attraction was “Boy (Go),” featuring lead vocals from R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe, and guitar from Richard Thompson. The album also featured vocals from John Lydon (a/k/a Johnny Rotten) and supergroup veteran Jack Bruce, as well as the debut appearance of singer Syd Straw, who is on the list of people who should be way more famous. Despite the unusual roster of musicians, the album hangs together pretty well, and is never dull. Also, there’s a great cover of Moby Grape’s “Omaha,” also sung by Stipe.

The Golden Palominos put out albums every few years throughout the 1980s and 1990s, a few of which I own, with a constantly changing group of performers, including Matthew Sweet, T-Bone Burnett, Bernie Worrell, Bob Mould and Bootsy Collins, with Stipe, Thompson and Straw dropping by occasionally, joining core members Fier, bassist Laswell and guitarist Nicky Skopelitis for, not surprisingly, varied sounds and results. In 2012 Fier, and a different group of musicians joined Kevn Kinney of Drivin’ & Cryin’ for a new album, A Good Country Mile. That album includes a cover of a Jason Isbell written Drive-By Truckers song, “Never Gonna Change.” (Self-promoting side note—Drivin’ & Cryin’ was the band that Trucker Patterson Hood was opening for when he saw the incident that inspired the song “Opening Act,” which you can read more about here.)

Give Fier and his Golden Palominos sidekicks credit for pushing the envelope, trying new things and always making interesting music. They cannot be pigeonholed, and if that hindered them from gaining an identity and becoming a true “supergroup,” it never prevented them from following their muse wherever it took them. In a world filled with artists mining the same groove until it turns into a rut (thanks, Nick Lowe), it is refreshing, if not always easy, to listen to a project like the Golden Palominos that constantly challenges.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

GOLD: EN BROWN



I already had been a fan of the Stranglers when this came out, but my appreciation went atmospheric on this release, sounding nothing like anything else around at the time, a wistful harpsichord led ballad in what seemed to be waltz time. It was also quite different to the music of the Stranglers output ahead of that, previous offerings being of a more aggressive mien, barely suppressed violence and misogyny lurking beneath the surface of not only the songs, but also their audience.

In 1981, when the song came out,  I was both married and gainfully employed in my first job as a junior hospital doctor. Hardly, then, typical punk demographic, yet the UK punk explosion of 1975/6 had earlier grabbed my imagination, shortening my hair and straightening my trousers. I felt, it's true, a little too square for the Pistols and the Clash, but the Stranglers were older, uglier and, a bonus, had a keyboard sound redolent of my beloved Doors. They were the first band in that idiom I caught in a live context, on a bill with U.S. band the Dictators in support, at fabled London venue, the Roundhouse, my first and only visit. November 1977, still a student. Of course I was scared, but it was terrific, taking the opportunity to catch them whenever I could, including the infamous open air concert at Battersea Park, with a newly solo Peter Gabriel amongst the support acts. (Infamous? Well, let's say that the headline act were faithfully nice'n'sleazy......... )

But respectability and commitment had to figure in my life, so it was a couple of years before I revisited the legacy of the band, hearing the eponymous song of this piece burst out of the radio one lunchtime. I was now too 'old' for the more dance-oriented Radio 1, the youth radio of the nation, moving to the young fogey-dom of Radio 2. Lo and behold, this staider and more conservative channel had made this song, by the 'Bring on the Nubiles' hitmakers their record of the week. And they were on Top of the Pops, miming valiantly, the impossible to hum melody imprinting in my brain. What strange things could the lanky Hugh Cornwell be singing about, his voice now a croon compared to the spat out venom of yore? Well the drummer, Jet Black, one part of the melodic inspiration behind the tune, along with keyboard man, Dave Greenfield, suggested it may have been Marmite, which I have mentioned before, a yeast based spread either loved or hated. Cornwell suggested possibly a woman, but his already well-known lifestyle and habits probably gave a better idea. This was a man, after all, who had spent time in London's Pentonville prison for possession of Class A drugs, as described here. Shock and horror, Radio 2 seen to be promoting a song about the joys of Heroin.

By now the Stranglers had almost totally morphed their earlier sound into a far more refined and delicate style, described by some commentators as 'Baroque Pop', a phrase I like, and I saw them a couple of more times. Eventually the steam ran out, or possibly the elephant in the room of 'musical differences', and after a couple of lack-lustre cover versions, Cornwell left the band. The remaining 3 members lurched on, and still do, with various replacements, never quite finding their feet or their glory days. Cornwell has embarked on a solo career of mixed provenance, still the highlights of his shows being when he plays some old. Now, if one day they could patch up their differences and play together as the original band, that would be worth seeing, but the chances of that fade by the year. Somehow the spectre of notoriously spiky black belt in Karate bassist, Jean Jacques Burnel, cosying back up with Cornwell seems unlikely, not least as Jet Black, already in his 40s in their 70s heyday, has had to retire from live shows. As I said, they were already older back in the day.

But the song remains a classic and one I return to often. Remarkably, it has been covered, albeit often in spoof or post-modern ironic style, never matching the original. The version below, actually featuring Cornwell, is, however quite fun!


As a final aside, and one that gives me great pleasure, is the knowledge that Cornwell, junkie post-graduate research chemist, was actually a contemporary of Richard Thompson, guitar hero and icon, ex of Fairport Convention. Indeed, as school mates together, Thompson had included Cornwell, on bass, in his first band, 'Emil and the Detectives'. Which led to a later and somewhat unlikely reunion onstage. As Thompson regularly says, or sings, 'It all Comes Around Again'.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Songs From Movies About Musicians/ Gold: Golden Slumbers/ The End

k d lang: Golden Slumbers/ The End

[purchase]

Are tap dancers musicians? Because, if they aren’t, making this a transition song from our Songs From Movies About Musicians theme is admittedly a stretch. The main character is a penguin from a group who are great singers, but he can not sing. Instead, his talent is tap dancing, and the movie is about him proving his value to a culture that initially rejects him. Themewise, it only makes matters worse when you know that the song Golden Slumbers/ The End was later used in a movie that definitely would fit both themes: last year’s Sing. There are two reasons why I didn’t want to use Jennifer Hudson’s version from that film: the movie and recording are too new; and k d lang’s version from Happy Feet is just so much better.

Golden Slumbers/ The End is a song that invites overblown bombastic treatments. It is all too tempting to give the song a big production, and have everything crescendo to a big finish. k d lang and producer T-Bone Burnette know better. They understand the power of subtlety here, and they know they have the singer to pull it off. So lang is backed here by piano and the percussion of Medeski, Martin, and Wood, plus very light orchestration and stand-up bass. Burnette trusts his singer to do the rest, and she does, beautifully.