This post goes out to my friend Tim who is cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats, daft bugger, who told me on the train the other day that he enjoyed my post about what popped up in my iPod on the way to work.
First up this morning was Hanuman with a live track called the ‘Essence Is Dhalia’. They are a Seattle based acoustic jam band that I discovered years ago when we spent Christmas in Montana at a big house in the woods near the town of Whitefish where my wife’s sister and her family lived, and many of the rest of the US side of our family joined us. We’d rented the virtually snow-bound house and amongst the CDs left there was Pedalhorse by Hanuman. It took me a while to figure out whether Pedalhorse was the name of the group or the album, but once I did I started to like them, laid-back guitar-based acoustic music that occasionally veered off into the unknown. So when I got back to the UK I sent off to Seattle for a few more of their CDs. This particular song begins like ‘Spoonful’ and then does the veering, into some frantic jazz rock much to the delight of the crowd who whoop and holler until the end when one of the guys in the band says, “This guy’s out of control,” clearly referring to one of his bandmates.
After that came John Wesley Harding, aka Wesley Stace, singing ‘Roy Orbison Knows’. Now an unusual combination of novelist and singer-songwriter, Wes was managed by a pal of mine in the late ’80s and he recorded a live album, It Happened One Night, in a bar in West London, the reverse cover of which features a picture of my Gibson acoustic which he played a lot in my Hammersmith flat in those days. He went on to become a big pal of R.E.M., sometimes opening for them, and now lives in San Francisco. As it happens this song, about a best man who knows the bride in the biblical sense and would prefer to be the groom, works the Big O into intriguing lyrics and is my favourite on the album, and there’s a lot to choose from, 33 in fact now that it's been augmented by other early JWH material. Worth checking out. Here’s a link - http://www.acousticmusic.com/fame/p03060.htm
David Crosby’s ‘What’s Happening’ from The Byrds’ psychedelic period came next, complete with piercing 12-string by McGuinn, then the first disappointment of the morning, a very cheesy ‘Every Time We Say Goodbye’ by Rod Stewart, not from his American Songbook series, which I seem to have avoided, but from the 3-CD set Reason To Believe: The Complete Mercury Sessions that contains his first five solo albums, plus some outtakes and for reasons I can’t believe, this tacked on the end, presumably as a ‘taster’ for the American Songbook albums. Deary me! Sufficient to say that this set is 95% brilliant – the only Rod Stewart you’ll ever need in fact – but 5% strains the patience and this, and a few songs from Smiler, comes from that.
Next Lou Reed renewed my faith in music with ‘Busload Of Faith’ from his excellent New York album, surely the high point of Lou’s late career along with Songs For Drella. This was followed, strangely, by 22 seconds of ‘Rip It Up’ by Elvis from the Million Dollar Quartet sessions CD in which our god-fearing boy deliberately gets the opening words wrong: “It's Saturday night and I just got paid… laid.” What would Gladys have said?
‘The Look Of Love’ by Dusty Springfield, the best song of the day so far, popped up next, sufficiently arresting for me to stop reading the paper and simply listen. Madam Dusty was unquestionably our best female singer of the sixties, retaining her integrity in almost everything she did. I never had the pleasure of interviewing her which might have been a good thing as I heard she had her waspish side, but the hits CD I downloaded is one I always go back to.
Johnny Cash singing about the ‘Wreck Of Old ‘97’ came next, pure country from his Sun Sessions collection, followed by Free, always a band I loved, and ‘Soon I Will Be Gone’, a slow blues that opens with Paul Rodgers asking Paul Kossoff for a fag (cigarettes, US readers). It comes from a box set of outtakes and the like called Songs Of Yesterday. I saw Free a lot in ’71 and ’72, including a memorable night at Middlesboro Locarno, I think, when they brought the house down. Too bad they didn’t stay together for longer and even more too bad that Koss came a cropper as he was a terrific guitarist, one of those superb touch players who always knew what to leave out, a bit like Peter Green.
We moved on to The Kinks singing ‘I Gotta Go Now’ a track an EP called Kinksize Session which topped the EP charts in 1964 and has been helpfully added to the CD of their first album which sits amongst the Ks on my shelf. It’s a melodic 12-bar ballad, nice harmonies from the brothers about young lovers parting company.
Then it was ‘Itchycoo Park’ by The Small Faces, a pleasant surprise, their second best song after ‘All Or Nothing’. I came to MM too late to see The Small Faces but I did encounter Steve Marriott once or twice, a man for whom modesty was a foreign concept. Personally I preferred Ronnie Lane’s take on music and would recommend his How Come collection to anyone who likes their music understated and homespun.
A Private Eye sketch about Mary Quant cropped up next, from a CD given away free with the mag I think, and then we had Prince at his filthiest, ‘Get Off’, singing about 23 positions in a one night stand no less which was a bit rude for 9.45 in the morning. Nevertheless, I love Prince, especially his flashy guitar playing, and feel the need to advise readers, if they haven’t already, to watch on Youtube his performance during George Harrison’s posthumous induction into the R&R Hall of Fame, specifically his roof-raising solo at the end of an all-star jam on ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. Here’s the link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SFNW5F8K9Y&feature=kp
Not a moment too soon in the light of the time of day, Prince gave way to ‘Black Dog’ by Led Zep. Say what you like about the legendary Jimmy P but he’s never really been one who knows what to leave out. What he puts in is another matter and you don’t need me to tell you this is one of his greatest ever riffs. Now ‘Black Dog’ is from Zep’s fourth, of course, and my iPod next threw up one of those weird coincidences that always blow me away: Memphis Minnie’s original, slightly ragtime, version of ‘When The Levee Breaks’, which is lovely. And for my money Led Zep’s version on Zoso is one of the best (and most muscular) songs they ever recorded.
Next up was a disappointing Elvis ballad ‘I’ll Hold You In My Heart’ which was followed by the truly fabulous Gillian Welch singing ‘Wichita’ from her live 10-track EP Music From The Revelator. I think I have every track Gillian (and Dave Rawlings) have ever recorded on my iPod and as soon as I discover anything new from her I rush out and get it. It’s the only time I run faster than our dog.
The last track that popped up this morning, having ridden for 45 minutes and got a ticket, was The Beatles’ ‘Ticket To Ride’. Or did they mean ‘Ticket To Ryde’, the town on the Isle of Wight. Always wondered about that…