I have 14,896 songs on my iPod now, which is grossly OTT, but it does mean that when I switch it on to shuffle anything can happen. The oldest music is no doubt the 0.1% of classical that I have amidst the rock and pop, probably JS Bach, and the newest Paulo Nutini’s new album Caustic Love which is a revelation and which I’ll probably get to writing about later this week. Neither cropped up this morning, however, as the odds against any one song turning up are obviously 14,895 to one.
First up when I clamped my cans on my head as the 09.17 pulled out of Guildford were R.E.M. singing a song about an alligator on an escalator, not one with which I was particularly familiar, but it wasn’t a bad start. Even better, and wouldn’t it have been a great coincidence if this had come up first, was ‘Monday Monday’, not by the Mamas and Pappas but by Matthew Sweet and Susannah Hoffs from their delightful Under The Covers Vol 1 album. Sweet and Hoffs match the M&Ps note for note, with her harmonies in the left channel sufficiently arresting for me to put down my Guardian and stop reading about Qatar’s rapidly unravelling Football World Cup shambles, and listen to them as the Surrey countryside sped by. The production is superb and, indeed, I was enjoying this so much that I switched on my iPhone and began to jot down some notes from which this post was written. Until then I didn’t know what I’d post today.
Next up was ‘Mamma Mia’ by Abba, always a guilty pleasure of mine though this particular song isn’t in my Abba Top 10, followed by Pete Townshend’s ‘Give Blood’ from a hits CD, the one with the very long title, Coolwalking… etc. Shamefully (for me), I failed to recognise it from the quiet introduction but once it was off the starting blocks I began to fully appreciate it, especially the relentless rhythm track that seemed to match the speed of the train, the kind of circular guitar figure that the Edge brings to so many U2 songs, and the bubbling bass guitar underneath.
Pete was succeeded by a complete contrast, Scott Joplin playing a rag from an old CD of mine which sounded like it, complete with surface noise, and then we were into Cheap Trick’s ‘I Want You To Want Me’, the studio version not the live one from Budokan which is also on my iPod. I’ve always had a soft spot for Cheap Trick who at their best sounded a bit like early Who, especially their best song, ‘Surrender’. Never knew them personally but I went to see them in the early eighties at Hammersmith Odeon and before the show had a drink in the backstage bar. Come showtime I lost my way trying to get into the auditorium and walked into this otherwise empty room where all four of them were psyching themselves up for the gig. “Sorry,” I said, doing an about turn. “Have a good gig.” “Thanks a lot,” Rick Neilsen replied.
There’s 692 Who songs on the iPod, far more than any other act, so the odds on one cropping up on any train journey are quite high. This morning’s was ‘Heaven And Hell’ from Amsterdam, the show I mentioned the other day when I was commenting on the iffy live Tommy in the super delux package. Of course the fi isn’t so hi on this but I may have been overly critical when I said it was ‘flawed’, as for a warm up song ‘H&H’ sounded great here, especially the mid-section with Pete soloing over John’s thunderfingers and Keith’s flexing of the muscles and Rog giving it the ‘Never die’ treatment over the top.
‘Layla’ came next, Clapton of course, this one the long studio version with Bobby Whitlock’s gently moving piano coda, and this was followed by another blueser, Rory Gallagher, with ‘Born On The Wrong Side Of Time’ which I hadn’t heard in ages. The song’s in three parts, with an acoustic interlude followed by a storming solo before Rory picks up the verses again. Nice surprise, that one. So was the next track – cricket umpire Dickie Bird telling a hilarious story about stopping a test match in mid flow at Old Trafford because he needed what Americans call a comfort break. When he reappeared from the pavilion he was cheered all the way back to the wicket.
The first real disappointment of the morning came next, Elvis singing a piece of schmaltz called ‘Something Blue’ from the Sixties Masters box set. The compilers of this collection have weeded out most of the dodgy stuff that Elvis recorded during the sixties, especially the lousy film songs, but this one seems to have escaped the cull. I was at Waterloo by now so as I stepped off the train I fast forwarded and it was Anne Briggs, folk singer extraordinaire, singing the long unaccompanied ‘Young Tambling’, a Scottish traditional song about a fair maiden who falls prey to mystical agencies and winds up in the family way. Briggs is also a tad mystical, of whom the Irish music writer Colin Harper wrote: “Anne Briggs: hard as the weather, soft as the sound of the ocean; the wandering siren of the British folksong revival, shunning company for months on end and intermittently making a handful of records that every other woman singer then and after would cherish as god-like inspiration.” She’s someone who’s always fascinated me. When Colin visited her and told her that Jimmy Page wrote Led Zeppelin's ‘Black Mountain Side’ after hearing Briggs perform the traditional ballad ‘Blackwater Side’, she showed not the slightest shred of interest. Truth to tell I fast forwarded Briggs too because you can’t listen to her on the tube.
Tal Farlow’s jazz guitar came next, ‘How Deep Is The Ocean’. Farlow was a genius, of course, but he gave up music in the fifties to become a sign painter because that paid better. I picked up on him a long time ago when Steve Howe of Yes mentioned him to me. It’s smoky late night music really, barely audible on the Bakerloo line.
I’m not sure who comes second after The Who in terms of songs but it might well be Springsteen with 360. Today’s Bruce selection was ‘Erie Canal’ from his Seeger session album, and as I emerged from Oxford Street my ears were give the first serious jolt of the morning by the Jesus & Mary Chain’s version of ‘Tower Of Song’ which was probably not what Leonard Cohen had in mind when he wrote it. The JMC turned it into a 12-bar, all slow bluesy echo, and it was loud as hell as the volume varies enormously from song to song on iPods. Pretty good, though.
And that was it.
(Every now and again I’ll do similar posts about the happenstance of shuffle.)