A blog about the things I find accidentally on Spotify while looking for something else

Monday, 8 September 2014

Nippon Go West

If, like me, you have been kept up at night, wondering what Japanese rock 'n' roll sounded like, then wonder no more. This album contains 34 Japanese period cover versions of Western rock 'n' roll and country hits, in Japanese and/or English. Highlights include 'Lucille' by Massaki Hiarri, 'Heartbreak Hotel' by Kozaka Kazuya, and 'Sixteen Tons' by 'Unknown'.  'Riders in the Sky' by the Wagonmasters has some beautifully eerie guitar-work and some random shouting at the end. There is also a version in Japanese of 'Itsy-Bitsy Teeny-Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini'.  You want it.  Don't lie.

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Monday, 21 July 2014

40 Classic Tracks - Lee Wiley

Lee Wiley was a jazz singer during the '30s and '40s who achieved reasonable success before sinking into obscurity, then getting rescued from obscurity several times during her lifetime, before sinking into a deeper obscurity following her death so profound she now only has 432 followers on Spotify.  To put that in perspective, Ella Fitzgerald has 174,819.
   Wiley was Cole Porter's favourite interpreter of his work, most likely because she pretty much sung the notes he wrote.  This is a different approach to the Great American Songbook that we're now used to, with the singer doing little to get in the way of the song as opposed to vomiting themselves all over it..  It's easy to forget that such an expressive singer as Billie Holiday was an exception to the rule at the time she has come to embody.  Lee Wiley was the rule, but she was one of the best at it.
   Although at first she may seem too reserved, the way her voice allows melodies to songs such as 'Anytime, Anyday, Anywhere' (co-written by Wiley), 'I've Got a Crush on You' and 'It's Only a Paper Moon' to glide on air can be exquisite.
   Ultimately, Wiley is a Rich Tea jazz biscuit and not a Fox's Crunch Cream, but sometimes that's all you want.

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Monday, 30 June 2014

The Essential Recordings - Don Gibson

A while back, I wrote about an album of Roy Orbison's on which he showcased the songs of country artist Don Gibson, which I enjoyed very much.  This ultimately sent me back to the original recordings.  Although very much respected in country circles, Gibson's name hasn't gravitated out to the more casual music fan in the way his contemporaries Johnny Cash, George Jones or Patsy Cline have.  This is perhaps due to Gibson never really finding a consistent voice.  Some tracks here are sung politely, while with others he adopts a more ragged approach.
   What is undeniable, however, is the quality of his songwriting.  This is pre-outlaw country pop at its most tuneful and toe-tapping.  Occasionally melancholy, rarely morose, it's a bag well worth dipping into, and you may well recognise a few.  'Sweet Dreams' was made famous by Cline, while others would get the full country treatment from Ray Charles and Elvis.  Oh, and 'Oh, Lonesome Me' from After the Goldrush by Neil Young is here as well, albeit sounding a lot chirpier.

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Monday, 9 June 2014

The Prima Generation '72 - Louis Prima

By the mid-sixties, swingin' trumpeter Louis 'King Louis from Jungle Book' Prima had split from his wife and duet partner Keely Smith and set up his own label, Prima One Records.  His later albums are a strange affair as he used them to promote artists signed to his label, giving over whole tracks to them, interspersed with his own now slightly tired-sounding contributions of comedy Italian schtick swing.  This album from 1972, for instance, contains a version of the Rolling Stones's 'Sympathy For the Devil' featuring the fine jazz organist Little Richie Varola, which deviates from the original so much one wonders if it was meant to be a cover of 'Jesus Christ Superstar' that got mis-labelled.  What fans of prime Prima made of his apparent new jazz-rock direction is anyone's guess.  Elsewhere Prima's band the Witnesses get soulful on Stevie Wonder's 'If You Really Love Me' and Prima himself tackles Joe South's 'Rose Garden' in a manner that suggests even he knows it's not really working.
   Although many tracks are just plain failures, Prima's last albums are worth listening to purely for the sheer fascination of hearing someone venturing where they were never meant to go. To understand what Prima was really all about, however, check out 1956's The Wildest, where he channels Louis Armstrong, puts him through an Italian American filter, and explodes with so much energy he nearly makes that new-fangled rock 'n' roll redundant.  Primia, Smith and the Witnesses come across as a bunch of swing renegades.  'I ain't got nobody', they all sing together.  They may be freaks, but they've got each other's backs.  Also, check out any videos of him performing with Keely Smith on Youtube.  They are bloody funny.

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Sunday, 29 December 2013

It's the End of Year 'It Crawled Into My Ear, Honest' Annual Playlist!

The blog is one year-old, (pretty much) and here is a big playlist of the best bits from the albums covered so far.  Please listen and share, so that it becomes the most talked-about toy in the playground next year.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Yummy, Yummy, Yummy - Julie London

Like many artists of the pre-rock 'n' roll era, Julie London found the sixties pop scene difficult to negotiate.  There was no longer a clear divide between adult and kids' pop, as serious but mellow young-folk such as Simon & Garfunkel, Jimmy Webb and that nice Paul McCartney moved in on the oldsters' turf.  So what to do?  By the later years of the decade, swingers and jazzers such as Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett and even Sinatra were dipping their toes with varying degrees of enthusiasm in the waters of the new emerging pop canon, with multiple covers of Yesterday, Something, and Gentle on My Mind threatening to sink the Western seaboard.  This trend had run out of steam by the time of Sinatra's seventies comeback, where he effectively invented the 'vintage artist' career path that most ageing rockers now follow.
   So how did Julie 'Cry Me a River' London fare during this period?  On this 1969 album, and her final for Liberty, we can find out.  The thing is, Julie didn't really do 'fast'.  She was pretty much stuck on the 'slow and sultry' setting.  At best, she could work her way up to 'moderate'.  So here, everything is slower than you're used to.  This is fine on something like 'Light My Fire' as that's always being bloody slowed down, but 'The Mighty Quinn' is practically soporific, and seeing as it is the most inherently un-sexy composition this side of the Frog Song, 'sultry' isn't much use here.  The bubblegum title track is taken to somewhere that lies beyond ideas of 'good' and 'bad', while 'Louie Louie' has never rocked less, and having such a gloriously stupid song sung as if it means something can only end badly.  The version of 'Hushabye Mountain' here, however, is definitive.

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Thursday, 12 December 2013

The Queen Does Her Thing - La Lupe

Before the Cuban revolution, La Lupe was a nightclub act with fans including Hemingway, Sartre, de Beauvoir, Brando and Charles Hawtrey.  Later exiled to the United States, she became the Queen of Cuban Soul.  This particular album is heavy on pop/rock covers, notably 'Touch Me' by the Doors and Down On Me by Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Contains manic laughing on most tracks.

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Thursday, 5 December 2013

From Here to Eternity - Giorgio Moroder

I'm guessing loads of people know about this album already, but it's my blog, so, you know, deal with it.  Up until this point the only Moroder stuff I was aware of under his own name was the infamous Electric Dreams collab with Phil Oakey-Dokey, and that thing with Freddie Mercury doing guest shouty opera vocals over a film that didn't want them.  This 1977 album, however, is classic-era Moroder, very much a continuation of his work with Donna Summer, and prefiguring what he would soon get up to with Sparks.  Indeed, Moroder's Teutonic non-singer's singing voice is uncannily similar to the one Russell Mael would employ on their recordings together, although whatever weird-ass accent Russell Mael is singing in remains undetermined.
   The album kicks off with the hit 'From Here to Eternity' and it's obvious that Moroder has been giving the newly-released Trans-Europe Express by Kraftwerk a bit of a spin.  What also quickly become obvious, however, is that this album predicts the musical future of now more accurately than the Kraftsers managed to.  Obviously, they are massively important and influential and legendary and velodrome-filling, but whereas they sing about trains, German Expressionist halls of mirrors and showroom dummies, Moroder goes on about love and all that soppy stuff, at one point even covering (although radically transforming) the old country heartbreak standard, 'I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone'.  Often this is done in a disco-robot voice, and the album feels uncannily contemporary.
   Because this is where we are now with pop music, with heartfelt explosions of emotion only seeming 'real' if drenched in autotune.  Pop stars now are singing cyborgs.  Even someone playing towards left-field like Frank Ocean uses it extensively.  Not because he needs it - I understand he can hold a note without wavering very well - but because it seems the right thing to do at this point.  Maybe because our emotional lives are conducted via our devices to the point they almost seem part of us, and autotune is shorthand for this.  Anyway, this is what From Here to Eternity by Giorgio Moroder made me think of, so there you go.

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Thursday, 28 November 2013

Sonrise

There are various compilations of vintage Christian rock from the Sonrise label on Spotify.  Some of  it is hard to date precisely, but I'm guessing the earliest material is from the late '60s/early '70s, and the latest from about a decade later.  Listening to them is an odd experience.  It is a parallel history of rock, with the same styles gone through - acid rock, soft harmony pop, country rock, bad white reggae etc. - but always with the focus on God-related matters.  It definitely feels like something is askew, but why should this be? After all, mainstream rock is littered with songs that, taken in isolation, seem to convey an explicitly Christian message.  It is probably down to the fact that while something like 'Spirit in the Sky' would have emerged organically, and was just one of the things Norman Greenbaum wanted to express (other Greenbaum songs include 'Canned Ham' and 'The Eggplant that Ate Chicago') these musicians were unwilling or felt unable to talk about anything else.  It's a form of music designed for personal expression being used for the purposes of a higher authority.  Like a dog walking on its hind legs, it's physically possible but maybe not the best thing for the dog.
   Anyway, here are three of the more musically interesting Sonrise compilations, organised in what seems like a chronological order.

Mystery Revealed

Once you get past the mind-expanding cover, there is a smorgasbord of late-60s styles here.  Sample track title: 'Song of the Antichrist'.  God makes an appearance on the closing number.



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Jesus Festival of Music

The cover will give you nightmares. 'Jesus, come in me', begins one song, innocently.  Contains a cover of Jake Holmes's 'Genuine Imitation Life' I actually prefer to the version by the Four Seasons.



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Jesus Power

A bit of a rootsier feel, and some of it live.  Spirit in the Sky actually turns up here, as does a 'high-on-Jesus' gospel monologue from Arthur Blessit & the Eternal Rush.  Some nice tunes here and there.



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Thursday, 21 November 2013

'50s and '60s Lost and Found Records Vol. 1

Here I attempt to solve one of the great mysteries of Spotify, this being the various unfeasibly long and curiously selected compilations floating around on it.  This one is a full 80 tracks long and collects various tunes from the '50s and '60s, but not ones that anyone would realistically ever want to listen to sequenced together.  There are big hits like Serge Gainsbourg's 'Je t'aime... mon non plus' and 'Cinderella Rockefella' by those people who did it, alongside obscurities from the Tornados, 'My Boy Lollipop' Millie, Bobby Darin and other established names, and a whole bunch of other stuff by people you've never heard of.  Some of it's credible rock 'n' roll, some of it the easiest of easy.  Some of it's good, much of it is dreadful.
  So why do compilations like this exist?  It's not simply a case of someone bunging a load of out-of-copyright stuff out there just to see what cash they can make off of it, as some of it won't lapse into the public domain for a number of years.  The clue is in the company name - Master Classics Records.  This is an imprint owned by The Orchard, a music distribution company which sub-licences recordings, many of them languishing with record companies who have long lost interest in them, and attempts to push them back out there for consumption.  Compilations such as these, then, are presumably a sort of sampler, so actually listening to it is a bit like trying to read the Argos Catalogue.
   Having said all that, the re's some good stuff on there amongst the chaff which you won't have heard, so worth a flick.  My personal fave - 'If You Want This Love' by Sonny Knight.  More on whom later.

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