Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Wedding Songs

What music did you play at your wedding?

As someone who has recently left behind his bachelor days, I'm curious. When my wife-to-be and I were shortlisting the songs we wanted to be played at the march-ins, it had seemed to be a pretty simple task. We knew that they would be 70s Soul songs, as that's the genre where our musical tastes overlap the most. Outside of that, she likes Air Supply, while I like Black Sabbath. She says Tomato, I say Rat Salad.

So it should have been pretty easy to find a couple of nice slices of Philadelphia or some Stax tracks, right? But once we started shortlisting, it turned out to be a bit more difficult than we thought, as favourites started tumbling at early hurdles and sent off to the UHU factory. "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)?" by the Delfonics was an early frontrunner. We both love the song, and that beautiful introduction sets the stage for a soppy old love song, right? Wrong; he's leaving her, and the title is his kiss-off (and it's a surprisingly mean-spirited one at that. This is a Thom Bell song, remember).

Next up were Earth, Wind & Fire. "Reasons" doesn't quite have the romantic lyrics you might expect from its lovely arrangement, while for "After the Love Has Gone" we didn't even need to look at the lyrics.

Luckily, in the end we had Stevie Wonder and The Stylistics to step up and deliver the goods. "You are the Sunshine of My Life" may not be the most original choice, but I'm damned if I care: it's a beautiful song and performance, and I think that the fact that it's written by a blind man provides the lyrics with a melancholic coating that strengthens the song. And Thom Bell came good in the end with "Betcha By Golly Wow", though to be honest we could have taken just about anything from that first "Best of The Stylistics" album.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Joe's MAC

The photo above is of Joe's Music and Audio Club, a second hand record, musical instrument, book, magazine and well, who knows what else exactly shop in Kuala Lumpur.

Shopping for second hand records in places like Singapore (where I live) and Kuala Lumpur is always an interesting experience. As retail rents are high, and vinyl hunting is - despite its current trendiness - still very much a niche interest, you end up in far-flung shopping arcades and warehouses that don't tend to be in the Lonely Planet guides. You rarely find a record shop next to a Starbucks if you know what I mean.

Joe's MAC is a great place to shop in. It's a good bit bigger inside than it looks from outside, and it reveals itself gradually as you walk through it, a bit like the Alcazar in Seville, but with more copies of "A Hard Day's Night". Rooms lead into other rooms with crates of records labelled "New Releases".  In fact, it's a bit like wandering through a video game: you keep glancing for vases in the corner to search for gold coins. I liked that it was organised enough for browsing, but disorganised enough to spring a few surprises, such as finding the NWOBHM band Dark Star's debut album in the Motown section.

Anyway, I picked up Millie Jackson's "It Hurts So Good", "Slade in Flame" and "Now That's What I Call Music II". The Slade album is my favourite one of theirs: you can almost smell the mid 70s from it, and I reckon that all Rock drummers should look the way that Don Powell looks on the cover. The NOW album is from 1984, when pop music was on the turn, and it's patchy: there's still some good stuff on it ("Relax", "Michael Caine", "Radio Ga Ga", "What Difference Does it Make?") but they're distributed pretty sparsely across the two records. One interesting point is how late 1983 and early 1984 saw some big names from the 70s (Rolling Stones, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Hot Chocolate, Slade) still having hits, but with songs that range from forgettable to dreadful ("Undercover of the Night", "Modern Love", "Pipes of Peace", "I Gave You my Heart Didn't I" and Lord help me, "Run Runaway"). It's the Millie Jackson album I'm happiest with though, I'd been looking for a it for a while and was pleasantly surprised to find it there.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Middle Age Lament '15

When do you stop buying the latest record from one of your favourite artists? I'm wondering if there's a helpful checklist or flow chart that I can follow to determine when it really is time to call it a day, remember the good times and have an amicable parting of the ways.

The question has been prompted by the news that Alice Cooper is about to release a covers album of songs by his peers from the 60s and 70s. Honestly, I don't like the sound of it. Covers albums tend to be the ignored stepchildren of artists' discographies, so why should this one be any different? To make things worse, it's got "special guests". Uh-oh.

The problem is that Alice and I go back a long way, about 30 years in fact. A long time that, one which has seen 5 Prime Ministers, 8 World Cups, 5 US Presidents and 256 Spurs managers. I've been listening to Alice longer than the guy from Smokie was living next door to him.

I must have over 30 Alice Cooper records. I've definitely got all the studio albums, this despite the fact that he's only made two really good ones since the 1970s: 1983's "Da Da" and 2003's "The Eyes of Alice Cooper". Having said that, there are surprisingly few clunkers in the catalogue: 1987's "Raise Your Fist and Yell" definitely qualifies: a shrill, Heavy Metal album which manages to contain music even worse than both its title and cover, while 2001's "Dragontown" and 2008's "Along Came a Spider" aren't much fun either. On the whole though, he's managed to keep going by constructing a discography using competent mediocrity as the primary raw material. And I've kept buying them.

Believe it or not, the music is worse than the cover.
Believe it or not, the music is worse than the cover.
But recently he's been testing my patience, with live album after live album recorded with the same band playing the same songs. I've stopped buying them and I really think I should do the same with the studio albums as well. At heart I realise that this is an internal struggle: do I let my irrational record collector side override my logical, decision-making side? Now, I've broken ties before; I've never felt any compulsion to own a Black Sabbath record that doesn't have Ozzy or Dio on it, and I gave up with Queen after "Made in Heaven". It feels like it's time to say goodbye here too.

What about you? I can't be alone here. How many long time Simple Minds fans found themselves in HMV staring at the cover of "Street Fighting Years" and thinking "Do I really need this?" John Peel stopped playing T. Rex records after realising that if "Hot Love" and "Get it On" had been recorded by other artists he wouldn't have been playing them. Ever changed your Facebook status with an artist?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hair Metal: The Unforgiven

In Sam Dunn's Metal Evolution TV series, the presenter covers every type of Hard Rock and Heavy Metal you can think of, plus a few you can't. He shows enthusiasm for almost all of them: Power Metal, Progressive Metal, Shock Rock, even Grunge. All apart from one. At the start of the episode of Hair Metal he confesses that it's a form of Metal that we was never able to warm to. And he's not alone.

The first I heard of what would come to be Hair Metal was 1981 or so when Tommy Vance played songs from an album called Too Fast For Love by some American band called Motley Crue on his Friday Rock Show. They had been getting mentions for a while in Kerrang! and this must have been one of the first times they were played on the radio in the UK. God almighty, I thought to myself, this'll never catch on.

The thing is, I should have liked Hair Metal. After all, I was a fan of most of the genre's major influences. I loved the 70s Alice Cooper and Kiss records. (still do). I also liked Van Halen and Aerosmith. So, yes, I should have been a fan really. So why did I end up hating the bloody thing?

I think the main reason was the sound. Hair Metal records sounded really terrible with all that compression. Those thudding snares. Those squawking lead guitars. Perhaps the records were mastered to sound effective on FM radio (or on MTV), but there's something cold and shrill about them. And they don't sound any better thirty years on either. I've become quite forgiving about a lot of 80s music these days (I even own a copy of Rio by Duran Duran). But Hair Metal leaves me as cold today as it did back in the day.

Of course, the irony is I became a fan by proxy. So many of my friends became fans of these bands in the mid 80s that it was pretty much impossible not to become familiar with the latest David Lee Roth, Poison and Cinderella releases. I knew them all. And of course if you listen to any genre enough you'll find something you like. so the track below is from the only Hair Metal album I've heard that I think is really any good, Aerosmith's Permanent Vacation. To me, it's a collection of good songs that are strong enough to withstand Bruce Fairbairn's 80s production. the follow-up Pump was pretty good too, though after that I lost interest.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


I regularly listen to the free CDs that come with Classic Rock magazine. It normally doesn't take me long, as I find myself changing tracks after a minute or so; there's a lot of new bands out there, and they mostly make records that sound like ones by the old bands that I already own. One thing I'm noticing is that the interesting stuff tends to be tucked away at the end, so you only get to it after you've waded through rubbish like Black Motorcycle Bourbon and Albatroth. Last month's CD had a song called Words by the Swedish band Goat tucked away in the cheap seats. It's wonderful, it sounds like Jefferson Airplane soundchecking with Venom's In League with Satan.

I've since downloaded their albums from eMusic and I'm hooked. The Guardian describes their music as "weaving together rock, Afrobeat, funk, chants and tribal drums into an intoxicating, psychedelic stew", but then The Guardian would. Actually, it's a fair description, though it makes them sound a bit dry and earnest. Which they're not, as you can probably guess from the picture above. I reckon they  look like what you imagine Slipknot would if they came from Brighton. 

The new album Commune is full of catchy riffs, chanted singing and time signatures that Frank Zappa probably had on his To Do list. Some of the songs have lyrics that could fit on a King Size Rizla, which may make sense as it's probably what they were written down on in the first place. The album is 38 minutes long and fairly flies by: Talk to God and Words kick things off in style, and To Travel the Path Unknown slows things down nicely Planet Caravan-style. There's a slight mid-album lull, before the wonderful Hide from the Sun gives the album its second wind and carries us to the end. It's great fun.