Saturday, 16 May 2015

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Now That's What I Call Music 12





(#369:  23 July 1988, 5 weeks)


Track Listing:  With A Little Help From My Friends (Wet Wet Wet)/Circle In The Sand (Belinda Carlisle)/Wild World (Maxi Priest)/Love Changes (Everything)(Climie Fisher)/I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That (Elton John)/Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry For Loverboy) (Scritti Politti)/In The Air Tonight ('88 Remix) (Phil Collins)/Don't Go (Hothouse Flowers)/Everyday Is Like Sunday (Morrissey)/Mary's Prayer (Danny Wilson)/Don't Call Me Baby (Voice Of The Beehive)/Can I Play With Madness (Iron Maiden)/These Dreams (Heart)/I Will Be With You (T'Pau)/Doctorin' The House (The Timelords)/Boys (Summertime Love)(Sabrina)/I Want You Back (Bananarama)/I Think We're Alone Now (Tiffany)/Who's Leaving Who (Hazell Dean)/There's More To Love (The Communards)/Get Lucky (Jermaine Stewart)/Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You (Glenn Medeiros)/Theme From S-Express (S-Express)/Push It (Salt 'N' Pepa)/Bad Young Brother (Derek B)/The Payback Mix (Part One) (James Brown)/Car Wash (Rose Royce)/Pink Cadillac (Natalie Cole)/Just A Mirage (Jellybean featuring Adele Bertei)/A Love Supreme (Radio Mix) (Will Downing)


"The interval between the decay of the old and the formation and the establishment of the new, constitutes a period of transition which must always necessarily be one of uncertainty, confusion, error and wild and fierce fanaticism." John C. Calhoun


This TPL piece is an important one for me as it closes, as it were, a kind of loop; a loop that, had things gone differently, never would have begun in the first place.  I would not be sitting here in London writing this had I not met a certain person, just as the loop, effectively, would not have begun had I not been in London and been told what I was told.  It is hard to write about this as some of what I was told turned out to be true, truer in much larger ways than I could comprehend at the time, and the very act of writing for this blog (or any music writing I do) is of course against what I was told.

My time in London was in many ways quite predictable - starting with my cheap night flight out of Hamilton Mountain Airport, sitting in the smoking section in the back (not because I smoked, but because I felt safer there) seated between a woman reading a horror novel and a man determined to get every liqueur offered, including a lurid green one that looked so awful, it could have been medicine - and for him, perhaps it was.  Both were English, and I'm not sure either were awake when the golden honey light of sunrise happened, a warm glow that I took symbolically (don't forget I'm a real Plath person now) that my new life was beginning, that I was plunging, however uncertainly, into The New.  The only thing I recall about Gatwick were some other passengers returning from a place called....Ibiza...wearing straw hats that indicated this, tans, t-shirts, and so on.  I found my way to the train, saw the crowded houses of whichever towns I passed, ended up in Victoria Station and dealt with the heavy change (compared to Canadian) and made my way up to Hampstead, where my hostel was and I was to stay for nearly a month.  (Yes, I could have stayed in Earl's Court, but Hampstead was a lot closer to Plath's London.)

So there I was, checking in at what seemed to be an old mansion turned into a huge hostel; I put my stuff away and went down to Hampstead to see what was what.  As you can imagine my memories of this trip are subjective in the extreme, fragmented because of my grief.  I am not nostalgic for this time save for the freedom I had - the freedom I really had to deal with, as there was no one (outside of the hostel's Cinderella-style curfew rules) who could tell me what to do.  Or so I thought...

At some point early on I must have met up with The Journalist; we went to Covent Garden for some free music/dance performance, and who knows if I had (by then) got my A-Z; I must have gotten it soon enough though, as even with it I found the streets puzzling.  I know I went (all hostelers got a coupon) to Madame Tussaud's for free, just as I remember seeing Hidden City at a cinema on Rupert St. (irritating) and going to every museum I could cheaply.  The city was polluted, busy on busy streets but somehow quiet and deserted on others.  There were no open-top tourist buses - if I wanted to go somewhere, I took the underground and then walked.  My Frommer's Guide and A-Z were the only guides I had, and besides a few errands to do with my mom's craft jewelry interests I had no real obligations, besides ones that were self-imposed.  I didn't eat meat, so did the best I could in that regard, and no, I don't remember the food being all that great save for Pizzaland, where I had a very fine pizza - their hot, spicy one - a few days before I left.

I went to the Tate as Turner was my father's favorite painter, only to be bossed by a man not that much older than me who was taking some class of 7-year-olds around the old section, the one where you have nothing but religious paintings with their gold halos.  He told me to bend down so I could see the gold halo as it was supposed to be seen, and of course I didn't; I had already handled - delicately! - gold leaf as part of my mom's jewelry production.  I didn't tell him this, as I was more privately irritated that someone who, hello, wasn't my father would tell me how to appreciate art.  I went on to the Turners and tried to feel my father's spirit - if it was anywhere in London, it would be there...

...and that, unfortunately, is pretty indicative of my experience in London - I was okay (well, relatively) by myself, but my encounters with others did not always go very well, outside of the hostel, where I got along with everyone, save for declining (politely) some custard someone there thought I should try.  These girls my age and younger were not bossy or brittle or bitter; some had a right to be, I guess, but they weren't.  (My own problem with the hostel was the women's bathroom which had moss on the ceiling - I kid you not - I felt unsafe in there, and didn't use it.  Otherwise, it was fine.)  I went to other museums, walked around Covent Garden and Charing Cross Road a lot, made forays down King's Road and Fulham Road and Portobello (to Rough Trade, where I heard "Peek-a-boo" by Siouxie and the Banshees and said it was good and the English girl next to me agreed).  I went to the Victoria & Albert Museum and Natural History Museum, and of course the National Gallery.

But at some point I must have bottomed out - it was a warm day, and I was in...Bloomsbury?....at a small museum of porcelain and other delicate things.  It was empty, unlike some of the larger places (which didn't seem all that crowded, mostly) and I went to the washroom and slumped down.  I was numb.  I was feeling so many things that I could feel, genuinely, nothing.  I did not know what to do but keep going, keep looking.  I expected more music in my time in London, to go see a gig somewhere, only to be stymied by the double problem of my curfew and there being not much to go see anyway.  The Journalist was remarkably uninterested in music for someone who had a radio show to do every week, so I didn't even know where any of the venues I'd read about in the NME or MM were, I didn't get to talk about music with him that much - we tended to see movies together instead.  We saw Wings Of Desire in Soho, and a suffocatingly awkward double bill in Finchley of My Life As A Dog and an Eric Rohmer movie called Four Adventures of Reinette and Mirabelle.  I read Time Out and Martin Millar novels and of course Plath, and the music weeklies.  The world of Smash Hits was too shiny and happy for me, as you'd expect, and things came to a head when I visited The Journalist in Catford.     

To preface this:  I liked to hang around the Vale of Health in Hampstead Heath a lot - I felt at home there.  It has a small deep pond and I once saw a dog go in and then dry itself out by shaking and getting its expensively-attired mistress very wet; she told him to stop, but of course he didn't.  I would sit and read on the bench there (not knowing that Shelley liked to hang out there, an age ago)*, minding my own business as usual.  And then I was sexually harassed - I won't say how, it wasn't directly physical as such, though the jogger in question asked me something and I politely refused.  Did I want to see him do that?  No, I did not. I was horrified, and when I told The Journalist he didn't seem to be that concerned that anything actually wrong or bad had happened.  If I'd had any sense I would have dropped him like the proverbial hot potato, but my stoic determination to keep going trumped it.  And so I went to Catford...  

...and if I said the high point was going over a bridge and seeing the Houses of Parliament reflected in the Thames, like a lovely Monet painting come to life, well, it was...

...because this is where I was defeated, where I was exhausted.  I must have talked about writing, about music writing in particular, only for The Journalist to tell me that my ambitions to write for the NME or MM were just plain wrong.  Never mind that I was the wrong gender (this went without saying); I hadn't gone to the proper university, made the right friends, I wasn't part of the gang and therefore would never be accepted.  Better I stay on at Ryerson and write straight journalism, rather than write about music.  Period.

I don't know what I said to him, but I know how empty I felt on the way back, and revolted.  The only thing I've read that is akin to how I felt is (and if you're eating right now, apologies) this:


"The whole thing becomes an awful brown goop.  I pour this into a baking dish and cover it with a lot of milk  Then I bake it. While it bakes, it smells like a rotting body.  Finally, after thirty minutes it is ready.  Now, I am no baby....Yet, when I open up my oven to get out my celery loaf, I begin to dry-heave. It smells just like I put vomit in a baking pan and baked it for thirty minutes. I slam the oven door shut, spray the entire place with Lysol, and leave my apartment." - Rebecca Harrington, I'll Have What She's Having, pg. 75


That I went back to see The Journalist - unannounced, to talk some more - is both terrible to me now and yet predictable as well.  I did not know what to do.  I cannot remember what I said or what he said, only that when I left to go back to my hostel, that was it.  I met up with him in a pub - before, after? - and gave him a copy of Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, by Lester Bangs.  I have no idea if he read it, though he at least thanked me.**

The door had been open, and now was shut.  No way was yours truly going back to the UK to write for a music paper after Ryerson; it was a closed shop, and I was not going to spend any time knocking on the door, when it was pointless to do so.  I did not consider how this situation was likely the case in many areas of UK culture in general - I didn't even think of which universities were involved, or anything.  It did not bear thinking about, like a math problem way too hard to understand.  Nor did I look at these papers, even, and try to figure out who these people were, maybe write to them and try to get some idea of how things actually were.  I was twenty-one, naive, alternately stubborn and easily influenced.  I did not know about the turbulence at the NME or the radicalization of MM, and again if someone had told me that my future husband knew some of the MM staff, well, that would have been an even further leap than the ones about Public Enemy and The Fall.  I flat-out would not have believed them.  I was condemned, as I saw it, to keep my musical discourses and enthusiasms and so on to the home front.  My instincts told me I wouldn't enjoy university, so I would have to teach myself.

I went to Pizzaland, I went to the Hayward Gallery to see the Ned Kelly paintings by Sidney Nolan, and flew back to Canada eating a huge Cadbury hazelnut bar and reading the NME, as ever.  I babbled happily to my mom about the Southbank experience and the Italian restaurant I'd been to that had phonetic spellings of everything on the menu but didn't know what a Shirley Temple was.   

It was with all this in my experience that I listened to NOW 12 and while no song brought everything back - I wouldn't want my experience to come back, it was too damaging, as good as it was to be out of Oakville, learning to live day to day with not much support of any kind, certainly not emotionally.

Thus, my views on the songs here are brief - I didn't really pay much attention to chart pop at the time, and even if I did and liked it, this increasing void in my life was bigger, more constant, and everything else became part of it, or was a dull mockery of it.  I bought a lottery ticket for the Terence Higgins Trust and the man wondered if I was Swedish.  I found out that being a young woman on my own in London period was difficult (not just in the Vale of Health but walking around Covent Garden).  The city had fewer people than now, but was more polluted.  My only refuges were my fellow female hostelers and music.  One of them told me that July 22nd was my 'name day' - my unofficial second birthday.  That this woman's last name and mine were almost the same was a nice coincidence too, but I liked that it was in the summer, when I always wanted a birthday, so I could go out and have fun, and not be stuck inside, avoiding the cold.  This reassured me that a new life was possible, new perspectives were good things to learn, from a new birthdate onwards.

NOW 12 is strictly a tale of the adults vs. the kids - very clearly the two tapes are organized this way, so if you know what you want, well, you can just get to it and not have to wait.  The first tape is for the adults and is just as exciting as you'd expect, ie not very.  I've been told it's what Radio One was like at the time, pretty tame, but there are joys in that too, along with boredom.   The Second Summer of Love is happening, grooviness is back in style, but I experienced none of that, and probably wouldn't have been able to, in any case.  I'm not even sure I envied them, though I could see they were having a good time, riding around in cars booming house music and drinking too much maybe and unbridledly enjoying themselves.  Meanwhile I walked around hot, mostly empty museums or puzzled over my A-Z or tried to enjoy vegetarian restaurants in Fulham or Bloomsbury....         

...to the music...


"With A Little Help From My Friends" by Wet Wet Wet is perfectly nice - Marti Pellow doesn't do very much to annoy me with his vocal, uh, stylings, and it's all for a good cause, of course.  Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father is one of those charity albums that pulls off the impossible by being good the whole way through, in part because the right bands/singers did the right songs; The Fall doing "A Day In The Life" at the end is just as good as Sonic Youth's epic "Within You Without You" and The Wedding Present and Amelia Fletcher  own "Getting Better."  There is a nod to jazz with Courtney Pine Quartet, just as there is a nod to Liverpool with The Christians. Billy Bragg and Cara Tivey have the b-side to Wet Wet Wet with the song at heart of the matter - "She's Leaving Home" - as the charity was Childline.  I'm still retrospectively pleased this got to #1 from an NME compilation, essentially, but that's how big the album was....

My main reaction to Belinda Carlisle is a lot like my reaction to all the wax figures I saw - nice, nearly right, but not quite believable somehow.  I can admire the art, the slight growl in her voice, but this is not the fierce young woman who once dyed her hair pink when The Go-Go's were a punk band; it's not even the older woman who made Talk Show in 1984.  Something has been lost; she now just sounds...professional, and just what the listeners of R1 then (and R2 now) consider to be good pop music. But my attitude then (as now) is that this is nice, sure, but not moving or necessary.

"Wild World" is a real early 70s song brought kinda-sorta up-to-date here by Maxi Priest, who does his best with Cat Stevens' song.  "I'll always remember you like a child girl" is one line, but I am always confused as to who is singing it to who.  Is it a song a guy sings as his (young) girlfriend leaves him?  Why does he hope she finds lots of nice clothes to wear?  Has she been in captivity or something?  If she's so naive, why doesn't he go with her?  Or is she leaving him for being so condescending all the time?  A lot of questions for a song that glides by easily and smoothly, riding the melody lightly.

"Give A Little Love" by Aswad is so Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood that it's hard to recall Aswad being tougher - Live And Direct being their key album.  This is stuff for school assemblies and in this context I guess it's an iron fist in about five velvet gloves.  It's reggae as volleyball background music, or, as the cover of NOW 12 suggests, hanging around the pool music.  It's so light, it's barely there.

"Love Changes (Everything)" is one of those songs that would have made me furious at the time.  You've been crying for weeks, pal?  I have heard many songs about love, but this just makes it sound so...weaksauce...even though I hadn't fallen in love yet, even I knew that real, actual love was not just someone saying it changed "everything."

I mean, ask Elton John what love is and by 1988 he will at least know it means being true to yourself and your code.  He had come out of a disastrous marriage to Renate Blauel and was now being all jaunty and himself again, and this song - wherein he will not be a multiple partner of another - is one of some strength-through-self-knowledge.  He's not upset with his Other; if s/he wants to be like that, fine, but include him out, as the phrase goes.  "I Don't Wanna Go On With You Like That" points directly to the future TPL subject The Scissor Sisters, sure, but this sounds like someone - unlike the previous song - who knows what the heck he's talking about.

Now, when I was on my way from Gatwick to London I had a hopeful idea that if I was lucky I would be walking along some fashionable street in London somewhere and suddenly - voila! - I would meet Green Gartside.  Of course this wasn't going to happen, I knew it, but I should have realized that he was living in New York City at the time and so seeing him (in his hat - the photo of him in NOW 12 was my idea of him) was impossible.  Oh how I longed to be in that rarefied world where I would wear nothing but jewelry from museums - not reproduction stuff but original work by living jewelers - eat really good vegetarian food and talk about how completely awesome Scritti Politti was with some guy about my age who would then explain to me - oh, not in a condescending way, for once! - that they started out as a post-punk DIY philosophical Camden collective, but now made pop good enough to make the rest of the singles in the chart sound even worse than they did.  That Miles Davis shows up is proof, I think, of how hip he was to said awesomeness.  I don't even know how to describe how great this is, as it just floats and has great changes and pushes away all the cliches about love, while sounding wildly, languidly romantic itself.  In the context of this whole first tape, it is the breath of fresh air, the inhaling of a delicate but powerful perfume, that indelible moment when the sun breaks through the clouds after the rain, and everything shines.  I would still like to meet Green Gartside, but I don't know if he'd take any of this praise - there is nothing, for instance, show-offy about Miles Davis here.  He comes in and plays and from what I can tell enjoys himself.  "He wants the world to love him but then goes and spoils it all...for love"  "Oh Patti (Don't Feel Sorry For Loverboy)" is one of those songs that should become a classic in pop and jazz, and there, I've just declared it to be one.   

"In The Air Tonight ('88 Remix)" is just about the same; I can't really say more about it than already is discussed here.  I think it's back due to its use in a commercial, possibly British Telecom.

End of side one....turn over...and...


"Don't Go" is by a band I got to see a couple of times in Toronto, Ireland's own Hothouse Flowers.  Ireland was experiencing something of a wonder year in pop terms in '88 (much more of that to come later on) and this song got a lot of exposure as they played during the all-important lull period in Eurovision when all the points all tallied and the audience is fairly exhausted and just wants something pleasant to while away the time before they complain about voting blocks and how (okay, this is just me) the French never seem to win the thing.  (No way were Twin Twin the worst thing in 2014; that's what happens when you express joie de vivre these days.)  "Don't Go" is a song sung to a dying friend of the narrator, and it's the only song I've ever heard where a black cat is a sign of life, of possibility, and not bad luck.  Maybe it's a Celtic thing?

"Everyday Is Like Sunday" is like the flipside of "Circle In The Sand."  Both used to be lead singers of popular 80s bands; both are out on the beach; both sound a little forlorn, though of course Morrissey is calling for a nuclear bomb to solve his woes, even though, I notice, he is with someone else.  Would Belinda Carlisle ever sing such a melodramatic, adolescent thing?  No she would not, though I suspect moody young men in little dumps of seaside towns all over the UK related to this song strongly.  The sort who would read Plath (maybe) and Larkin (for sure).  Those guys.  To his credit, Morrissey sings really well here, and it's the best song on his first album.

"Mary's Prayer" is by Dundee's own Danny Wilson, and despite all the religious imagery ("leave a light on in Heaven for me") it's a love song and not a song that an unsuspecting nun would think was about the Virgin Mary.  This is soulcialist pop by nature, but is not political unless you count making seemingly effortless pop that is as elegant as Bacharach political.  Their album Meet Danny Wilson has Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy as guests on a song, which points to how friendly chart pop acts were to jazz at this point - more, much more on this later...(Danny Wilson's main songwriter at this point was Gary Clark, who later on became a songwriter professionally, and Liz Phair and k.d. lang amongst others.  The more you know.)

...Johnny Hates Jazz has been dealt with here.

If there was a band I could identify with when I flew over to London, it was Voice Of The Beehive.  Not that I dressed like them, but they were fellow California girls who caught the Anglophile bug and came over as soon as they heard Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy" (or thereabouts).  They wore brilliant clothes, one of them  - Tracey Bryn I think - went out with Steve Mack of That Petrol Emotion, and their album Let It Bee is just amazing the whole way through - but the last song, a song about being an American girl in London, "Just A City" has always been my favorite.  "There's A Barbarian In The Back Of My Car" was co-written by Mark Manning a.k.a. Zodiac Mindwarp, about the then-happening grebo movement - and "Don't Call Me Baby" was the big single, a song about lost and perhaps maybe-one-day-again love, sung with joy and even generosity ("I think she's pretty" she says about her ex's new girlfriend).  But until they are together again, she wants her dignity - to be called by her name and not baby (echoing, oddly, Janet Jackson's "Nasty").

"Can I Play With Madness" by Iron Maiden is of course great, and its placement here next to Voice Of The Beehive has to be an inside joke (Daniel Woodgate, a.k.a. Woody, played drums for them).  Can we play with Madness?  Of course we can!

"These Dreams" by Heart is a big lush gothic-y ballad about living another life, written by Martin Page and Bernie Taupin.  It was originally offered to Stevie Nicks, but seeing as how she only ruled this sort of thing in the first place, she turned it down; Heart recorded it and got their first US #1.  I have never been goth or romantic enough to be swept away by such songs, but it is part of the whole female spectrum of experience and, well, what can I say?  Ann Wilson makes it her own song, so its being written by two men is not something I mind.  And as Bush Sr. looked to become the next US president, who wouldn't want to "live another life"?  There is something afoot, even in this calm song...

I wrote about "I Will Be With You" by T'Pau here.  And so ends the first tape; and thus begins the second...

1988 - What The Hell Is Going On?

The second tape of NOW 12 starts with a song that is not so much pop or rock as an art statement done in musical form.  There is something genuinely scary about it, beyond any obvious reasons for it giving me the creeps.

It all started so seemingly normal - Jimmy Cauty wanted to make a house record using the theme music to Doctor Who.  But try as he could, it would not work, and so (according to Cauty and Bill Drummond's The Manual) they had to use the glitterbeat shuffle, which they knew was dangerous, "clubfooted."  ("We think the British love/hate relationship with that said beat can only be tried once a decade.  They won't take it any more than that.")  Now, this is complicated, and while Jimmy Cauty and his bandmate Drummond (for they are The Timelords; having a car "be" Ford Timelords was a nice video idea, but wouldn't fly on TOTP) wrote The Manual afterwards to explain how to get a UK #1 single, they don't (or maybe can't?) hear their song as the spell it really is.  It's not a song with a narrative, a story to tell.  "Pump Up The Volume" jumped around from the 60s to the present and made the future sound really good; this monster of a song is like some kind of invocation of the early 70s - Sweet's "Blockbuster," the glitterbeat schaffel shuffle, the Doctor Who theme itself - all with Cauty and Drummond yelling "Doctor Whoooo-the Tardis!" and having a Dalek become a yuppie - mixing up Harry Enfield's Loadsamoney character ("Bish bash bosh!") with the yuppie idea of "We obey no one! We are the superior beings!"  This is not a novelty single, though I'm sure it was seen as such, and bought, I'd guess, by boys of all ages; this is art.

Yes, The Timelords (shortly to become The KLF) are an art project that are unwittingly heralding the entry of the time of uncertainty as mentioned at the beginning - a time where no one is quite sure what is going on, and self-released weird-ass things like this can get to #1.  I may have seen "Third Term Third Reich" graffiti near Camden in '88, but The Timelords have let something repressed be expressed, celebrated, even.  Gary Glitter came on TOTP to perform (I'm not sure how he did this; I don't really want to see it) the song, which then got him on the cover of the NME.  And suddenly a huge art song (it's not like Cauty and Drummond thought it was all that great, by the way) lets the Minotaur out again, and, well, you know.  Lowest common denominator is one thing, making Doctor Who hip again (and thus saving the show - this is detailed in John Higgs' book on The KLF) is another, but making that man more popular than he'd been in a decade....well...that is art.  It is dangerous, it unleashes things that can't be predicted or controlled, and this inane song - more a mash-up than song, really - interrupts the chart, detournes it, makes the whole thing into something of a...joke?  Regular pop dozes along, and there are The Timelords, waking something primal and scary up, something very male, very British (at the time I had no idea who Doctor Who was, let alone what a Tardis was, didn't get the musical or comedic references...).  It's about the least subtle #1 ever, and of course it was a huge hit.  "Doctorin' The Tardis" was where The KLF began; their project - to make music which would somehow end the music industry - will be covered here on TPL in full, one way or another.  We are going into The Void now - the "End of History" as it was called at the time, and this song marks the beginning of the "interval" mentioned already.  What the fuck is going on, indeed.

"Boys (Summertime Love)" is one of those Italo Eurodisco smashes that is a big hit because of the simplicity of the song (boys, love, good times) and the risque video that was made for Italian television, and was banned in the UK, leading to who-knows-what fantasies by boys who fancied Sabrina.  This song is just as concentrated as the previous one, and became a hit with the Ibiza crowd of 18-30, who brought it back to the UK, where it of course was a hit.  Sabrina herself was later produced by Giorgio Moroder, and has been a fixture, if I can put it that way, in Italian culture ever since.

"I Want You Back" by Bananarama is of course them and SAW; it's all about the narrator looking around her room - he's left her - and demanding that he come back.  (Nothing but brutal simplicity so far here on side one, tape two.)  The song's lyrics were written by Keren Woodward (who also plays bass), Siobahn Fahey and Sara Dallin; but by the time the single was released, Siobahn was out and Jacquie O'Sullivan was in her place instead.  There is something a little (appropriately) desperate about the it, as if the man in question really is going to come back if the 'ramas don't care what they have to do.  And suddenly, even though they were already stars, they are now SAW stars - and their next album doesn't appear until 1991, where SAW only produce a couple of songs.  I'm not sure if this is the last time Bananarama appear, but it feels like it is; like a whole decade is slowly sliding from view....

...and into this void appears, out of the shopping mall, Tiffany!  "I Think We're Alone Now" is shiny and efficient the way a mall is, but she can sing, the song still has its suggestiveness (starting with "Children behave!") and since Tiffany is a teenager herself, she can be trusted.  This is big music - not in the sense of Mike Scott's "The Big Music" but big as in forward, unironic, not even glancing backward to say, yeah, we know it's a cover.  Tiffany wasn't even around when this was a hit; bubblegum's second generation has begun...

Hazell Dean's "Who's Leaving Who" is - ta-da! - a cover version.  Jack White and Mark Spiro wrote it and it first appeared on Anne Murray's (yes) Something To Talk About from 1986.  One gay icon covering another gay icon's hit?  And making it into a big Hi-NRG song produced by, yup, SAW?  Well, how could it be bad?  I don't know the Murray original, but when Dean plaintively sings "I don't know the answers because I don't know the questions" well who can say they haven't been there themselves?  The song dizzies itself with one mind-boggling question like that after another, until you just want to lose yourself in it completely or sit down somewhere quiet and empty your mind of all thoughts.  Nearly the same thing, anyway.

The Communards' "There's More To Love Than Boy Meets Girl" is plaintive too, Jimmy Somerville having to explain to the listener that "I would like to shout it from the highest mountain" but "all around there's violence and laws to make me think again."  The song goes along in its modest way, polite, not as dramatic or orchestral as the Pet Shop Boys but almost classical (lest we forget where Richard Coles' roots are), taking a pretty melody and making a point with it, and the point is never to give up loving and fighting for that love to be seen as just that - not abnormal or heinous, but like any other love, unpredictable, uncontrollable, wild as this song is relatively tame.

Jermaine Stewart - say his name to me in '88 and then (as now) I would say - hmm, "Get Lucky" huh?  Okay song, nothing really there that grabs me though.  It's nice; but nice is not really enough anymore, really.  Whereas once he had a song called "The Word Is Out" that was pretty darn great.  Another "Get Lucky" has long since eclipsed this one, and you can only wonder how he's going to fare if he tells the other about cherry wine this time.

Only in my soppiest moment - perhaps while on my second cider at The Old Bull And Bush - would I even admit to liking Glenn Medeiros' "Nothing's Gonna Change My Love For You."  It was #1 the entire time I was in London and yet I don't remember hearing it anywhere, but then I didn't really listen to commercial radio or hang out in places where this would be played - not malls, I didn't see any, not gas stations either (as a native Angeleno I got a bit spooked by the absence of these two California staples).  It's a tremendously earnest song and sounds like it should be from a soap opera, and Medeiros himself is not my type.  It's something for girls younger and more feminine than me; girls who want fluffy gronks from their boyfriends and dowry chests and all that Seventeen magazine stuff.  This is drippy and unironic and of course huge for those who were missing Rick Astley.  This song was later covered by Englebert Humperdinck; that says it all, pretty much. 

And now, the last side....

What is that noise?  It zigs and zags, then pops up all disco and counts down in Spanish - why it's "Theme From S-Express" by S-Express!  Did someone say a song with no narrative?  Did I hear someone else say "Hmmm - that's Baaaaaaaad" only to be answered by a "No....that's Good"?  Karen Finley asks for the ghetto blaster to be turned off but it ain't gonna happen.  Rose Royce's sample gets mixed up but good by Mark Moore into all kinds of corners, and screams and "I got the hots for you" and laughter and lust and wide, clear open skies are here for those who dare to make records as heavy-breathing and yet light as this one.  Perhaps "Doctorin' The Tardis" was seen by some to be clubfooted indeed, as this came first and was slinkier, and is still played on the radio, unlike the former....

Salt 'n' Pepa's "Push It" is still an amazing record to hear; Salt and Pepa's voices are right up close so it seems as if they are somehow in your speakers with their semi-sarcastic "Oohhhhhbabybaby BabybabyOOOOOOOOOOhbabybaby" and Hurby "Love Bug" Azor's production is minimalist magic; "AAAAAAhpush it" the song starts, with the cowbell and tough beats from Spinderella;  it invites all the sexy people on to the floor, and then Salt 'n' Pepa take over, begging/ordering the boy to be like the music, to "push it good...push it real good."  Is that Ray Davies being quoted at the end?  Why yes, in one of those moments that indeed proves that "rap is not afraid of you."  Their joy at doing this song, the heavy breaths, the weird Devo turns in the song - this is the present that keeps ripping into the tidy world of Radio One, the song that was performed at the Mandela concert that took off, a kind of taking control that leads to loss of control ("boy...you got me so...I don't know what I'm doing.")  All that and a irrepressible sense of HERE WE ARE that is sexy and fun

Derek B's "Bad Young Brother" is not quite the UK equivalent to Public Enemy or Salt 'n' Pepa, but in his wordy way he gets across that he is indeed bad (no...that's good) and he is going to be around a long time.  He raps in an American accent (well, what can I say?  Grime is a ways off yet) and yet happily states that he gets paid in pounds not dollars.  Derek B had a great deal of attention and respect at a time when rap/hip-hop was only seen as a passing US fad, something the UK could enjoy but not actually participate in.  Well, Derek B was at the Mandela concert too, and who knows if he influenced those to come?  He certainly produced them, remixed them, after his career took him in that direction; he even co-wrote "Anfield Rap" despite being a West Ham fan, which is pretty remarkable in and of itself.  Not until Dizzee Rascal would anyone be as popular and that, as I said, is a long time coming...(but lest we forget from this time, Monie Love; and from the early 90s, Blade).  RIP, Derek Boland, DJ and rapper.  (Oh, and this song is a very good one, as all his were.)

James Brown!  JAMES BROWN!  "The Payback Mix (Part One)" is just that - you all have been listening to rap and hip-hop and now here are where all those samples came from in the first place.  A little confusing, since it's a medley that more or less starts with "Sex Machine" but this is a time when samples weren't cleared and paid for, and now is time for Mr. Brown to get his dues.  It's the funkier stuff - "Soul Power" is in here, as is "I Know You Got Soul" - anything where people might say "OMG, that's where that weird squeal in Public Enemy came from!"  It came from alto saxophone in The J.B.'s instrumental called "The Grunt," that's where.  (You're welcome.)

In case you think The Timelords have opened up a wormhole into the 70s, "Car Wash" got back in the charts as S-Express's use of Rose Royce's "Is It Love You're After" brought this previous hit of theirs, with its indelible claps, back into the chart.  I wonder if they used the same picture of the band - i.e. not them but an actual car wash big ol' mop - on TOTP at the time? And how many songs actually reflect work as it's experienced, tough at times, unglamorous, fun but also tiring?

Moving on from the car wash to the car, Natalie Cole's version of Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac" is all dance ready, lighter on the beat but not skimping on any lyrics.  That it's a woman singing about a guy's car is an interesting spin (miles away from "Fast Car" for sure) and she laughs at the end, as if you don't know the whole thing is hello metaphor after all.  The song starts out with a car revving up that sounds just like the beginning of - I can't help it! - Public Enemy's "You're Gonna Get Yours."  Love is bigger than a Honda, but then love is bigger than a Cadillac, too....

While Madonna is off doing some soul-searching and getting ready to divorce Sean Penn, her onetime producer Jellybean is here with another song - "Just A Mirage" - with Adele Bertei as the singer.  Bertei's life is quite something, coming straight out of the midwest (like Madonna) and being out in a time when the music industry wasn't quite ready for that yet; she sang in the background for many, but here is front and center for a song that is much like how I felt at the time...so much of what I thought would happen in London didn't happen, it felt at times as if the city, the real, palpable place, was unreal, and so on.  I had high hopes, higher than I thought they were, and they were dashed; I tried to have fun, but either bumped into people or was left haplessly on my own, a subject of prey to others...

...but I also was in the city where he was, not that I knew it...

...but there are other things.  Things that are much bigger.  I cannot paint my time in London as being thoroughly bad and disappointing.  The weather was good; the hostel was pleasant and nothing I had was stolen; I got to walk around a lot and by the time I was ready to leave, could help newcomers find their way around.  The place didn't scare me so much, even though I had seen relatively little of it.  (Apart from Catford, I never went south of the river, for instance, and certainly didn't travel east of Old Street station.)   Hanging around Covent Garden one day I saw a poster of a snappily dressed black guy photographed mid-jump. I guessed it was supposed to represent the hip jazz scene at the time, which was more about dressing up and going to a club and making the scene a la Robert Elms than actually sitting down and listening to jazz as something to do, either in a concentrated way or as background to doing other things.  I grew up in a household where jazz was the accepted music and always on if my father was around, unless he wanted to listen to something else.  I never saw it as a fad, or as odd, or difficult.  Nor was I ever given a short history lesson by my parents as to who was who and what was supposed to be good or valuable; I pieced it together myself, bit by bit, over the years.  (I found out about Glenn Miller and Duke Ellington, for instance, at the same time, and ragtime after that, not before.)

I say all this as I am sensitive to the fact that a lot of people are wary of jazz or intimidated by it, as they may have had some opinion or idea of theirs criticized when they heard something and didn't like it or (even worse to some) didn't know who it was.  Jazz has enough problems without people who are curious about it feeling this way, and I wish it was more in the mix on general radio (Radio Two, for instance) and not confined to one hour.  And you know what?  If you like some jazz folks and not others, that's fine.  There is no rule you have to like them all, or know precisely what is going on at all times (I've heard John Coltrane's Ascension and Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz; you need to listen to them a lot).  If you don't know where to start, ask around (though I'd say listen to Thelonious Monk, but then I would).  You've got to be courageous though; jazz is not going to come to you, always.  People who always want jazz to be pleasant and easy are going to be disappointed, and Philip Larkin's views on Coltrane are a good example.*** 

One way into jazz is through pop; and Will Downing's "A Love Supreme" is as good a place as any to get to John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.

A Love Supreme is a very fine album that came about in a few days in 1964 - once Coltrane pretty much knew what he wanted to do, he wrote out parts for his quartet and it was recorded a few months later fairly quickly, as jazz albums pretty much are.  The basis for the whole thing is simple; Coltrane had an experience - religious, mystical? - in 1957, and had been waiting and working away, trying to figure out how to put his response to it - maybe even his experience itself - into music.  As you can see this took a long time, and the modal and repetitive section "Acknowledgement" is where Will Downing's song comes from.  The bass of Jimmy Garrison goes "thum-THMB-thmp-thmp" and then Coltrane himself comes in and chants "A love supreme, a love supreme" right in time with that heartbeat rhythm, and after that is "Resolution" and "Pursuance" and "Psalm."  It's going to be an odd thing to say, but I suspect that if there is any dislike of this album it's due to the religious aspect of it rather than the music; Coltrane, in the liner notes, says:

"During the year 1957, I experienced, by the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead to a richer, fuller, more productive life.  At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music."

And that's what this album is about; it's a big thank you note to God, and if that idea gives you problems, well, then the whole album is going to be frustrating.  Not that it is necessary (I think) to believe; all you have to do is know that Coltrane does, that his gratitude is real and his relief that he is even able to express himself after so long ("as time and events moved on, a period of irresolution did prevail" - he was baffled as to what to do, as you'd expect).  He and his quartet are not making church music (he wrote his own psalm) as such, but expressing what must have been unfashionable to do - to thank God for what happened, for granting him that which he wanted - not fame or fortune, but to make others happy through music.

That this album did so well in 1965 was mainly due to the rock audience (particularly the Californian rock musicians and prominent culture types) getting into it and making it one of the jazz albums of the year; from what I can tell it became fashionable to listen to via these people and your more serious jazz types, rather than be a big hit album right away.

Santana, Jefferson Airplane, The Byrds, Grateful Dead, Ken Kesey and his pals - all of them were influenced, one way or another.**** This has hung on to make A Love Supreme one of the few crossover albums that people have, even if they don't own much jazz, because of its reputation.  (It is, for instance, #188 in the NME's best albums of all time list, c. 2013, and regularly appears on Greatest Albums Of All Time lists in general.)  What they might expect (the NME curiously calls Coltrane "angry" here; he isn't) and what they get are not always the same thing.  Such renown can turn others against this album or even Coltrane himself in general because of this supposed fashionability, and thus people who might actually enjoy him never even listen to him, prejudiced as they are.  As you can imagine, to someone brought up with jazz and classical and pop and rock and even Hee Haw - such thinking is needlessly labyrinthine.  I can understand loyalties in music - you just like the way someone sounds, and sound is everything in jazz - and you can prefer one player to another.  That's fine.  But I am now far and away from Will Downing...

....who did this song with Arthur Baker and wanted to pay tribute to Coltrane (who died of liver cancer at the age of 40; his early death has contributed to his mythos).  Alice Coltrane, his widow, said fine, but the song has to be about God, and so it is.  It is an r&b song based on that heartbeat thump that works very well (if only its author could have heard it!)  Downing sings and Baker produces and Stanley Turrentine, who does a fine job of playing without in any way trying to "be" Coltrane.

Was I aware of this song (or many of them) at the time?  No, not really.  I went to a free dance club night thing at the Old St. YMCA one night and may have heard some of them there; again I was at a pub in Muswell Hill and may have heard others.  Did I know A Love Supreme?  I'm sure I would have recognized it, even if my parents didn't own it, as parts of it were staples on jazz radio...    

In this odd and disturbing time, it's somehow very comforting that NOW 12 ends with a song that traces itself back to an act of humility and gratitude; the brutality that began this tape is now replaced by elation and elegance, a feeling and knowledge that there is something much bigger out there, bigger than can be contained by any hostel, pub, museum, underground carriage, restaurant or even bookshop.  Music was pretty much what brought me to London, and while I didn't get to see anyone perform or even talk about it much, music was going about its surprising, detourning, vivid and reassuring best.  As you can see there is a thread of jazz through all this; the interval periods over time are usually jazz-friendly, but of course they stand out for me as the best as having lost my father, they remind me of him, even if he wouldn't have liked them - and even The Timelords are here to redraw a line, or to wipe one out, to blow the dust off, just as jazz does.

A new time is here; the first and second tape show the diverging ways of music, and then they are drawn, however briefly, together by the music of a man who wanted to keep expanding his understanding of that beat, those rhythmic patterns, to create what he maybe heard when he had his experience.  He didn't get to do that, and others in jazz and other musics have taken up that search for him, with all kinds of results.  (As serious as your life by Valerie Wilmer is about this in particular; Jimmy Garrison's on the cover.)  I like to think my father was the same; and thus passed this down to me.  That search for the sound, more than anything else.

I flew back to Hamilton in early August, glad to be going back, away from people frowning at me in phone boxes, sleeping on bunk beds, feeling isolated and more alone than when I came over.  Music and some kind people are what kept me going; poetry and music would keep me going into the last year learning to write at Ryerson.  NOW 12 is a late gift, somehow, to hear; trashy and dull as some of this is, it's sweet and lovely as well.

I will end with a Coltrane quote:  "I think the best thing that I can do at this time is to try to get myself in shape and know myself.  If I can do that, then I'll just play, you see, and leave it at that...I think all that we need is sincerity, empathy."  

  



*In case you are wondering, I did go to Chalcot Square and sat in the park there and read Plath, and no one was around - it was very quiet - and at another point I was wandering around Hampstead Heath and found myself unexpectedly at Parliament Hill Fields, where I walked around contentedly until coming across a group of older women, one of whom was speaking rather meanly about another woman, spitefully even.  This did not detract from my experience - how close to the sky I felt (and still feel) up there, how wide and open and free I felt (and still feel)!  Everywhere else I felt hemmed in, oppressed.  And I got firsthand knowledge of how the women Plath would have encountered were like, or at least some of them.

**I may have written to him again once I got back home, once or twice.  Then I gave up.  Then I couldn't listen to him anymore - it was too traumatic.  Before I left I talked with him and he told me CFNY was being sold and turned into a more commercial station - one that would play - shudders -  George Michael.  At some point he must have left CFNY - early 90s I'd guess - but by then I was no longer paying any attention.
***Philip Larkin called A Love Supreme "turgid" and accused Coltrane, who was a modest and searching soul, "insolent." His biggest fault, though?  "He did not want to entertain his audience:  he wanted to lecture to them, even to annoy them."  Cough.

****As was, as you'd expect, Jimi Hendrix.  Recently I took a book out from the library about genius and it goes on about painters and scientists and writers and classical composers, but doesn't mention genius in 20th century music terms except for The Beatles and yep, Jimi Hendrix.  I know it's a short book and everything, but for no jazz people to be mentioned at all is pretty atrocious.  

2 comments:

jasl said...

Excellent writing and great post as always. A couple of quick comments:

-I got into jazz through hip-hop not pop and not just with Public Enemy but from several groups and acts in the late 80s and early 90s. I was not alone in this for sure and I do remember in college several of my friends slowly connecting in jazz because of the hip-hop samples.
-that Will Downing track is good but in 88, another track(traxx) showed that Ascension was possible from another path(definitely Coltrane influenced in some way). And we all could feel it in our fingers.
-one of my favorite Coltrane tribute albums is from Vanessa Daou and she comes from pop and now does jazz (in some way).

Robin Carmody said...

The return of "In the Air Tonight" was down to the launch ad for Mercury Communications (the start of UK telecom deregulation, and a company whose name has stuck to a certain music award which it originally sponsored long after it ceased to exist).

My favourite performance of "Push It" is the Albert Hall one from the Smash Hits awards (featured in the regularly BBC Four-rerun, though ignored on original transmission because 1996 was simply the wrong time, 'Sounds of the Eighties') - the setting really heightens the sense of insurrection. Also, the conflict between that song's phenomenal US sales and relatively low chart peak really showed what was wrong with the pre-SoundScan chart system.

Sometimes Ian MacDonald's views on pop and rock music which did not play by post-war social democratic rules remind me of Larkin's views on what he saw as The Wrong Kind Of Jazz, though at least IMac did not see Thatcher as any kind of saviour.