Best. Discumentary. Ever.

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It began with a friend's status update on Facebook, proudly announcing the imminent arrival of a newly purchased turntable, anticipating the opportunity to play "vinyl records". (Bravo for not calling them 'vinyls'!)

She posted a very nice image of a Crosley turntable - on a shelf in a shop, looking nice and new, despite also looking like the kind of vintage turntable that would have the 'warm' sound of 'tubes'.

So I googled 'Crosley'. And discovered, courtesy of a phonophile's YouTube clip, that it's just one of any number of mass-produced turntables marketed under a vintage brand name, out of China. Affordable. It certainly wasn't this easy when I bought mine, a good 15-0dd years ago. Although, I'm a bit happier, in a smug sort of way, about my one: I bought an authentically old turntable - not as old as these new Crosleys are made to look - that had been reconditioned, along with an amp and pre-amp, from Egg Records. There was an old-age pensioner who used to recondition them. He looked a lot like Hoggle from Labyrinth.

 Bowie and hoggle2

 

After the phonophile's Crosley profile, I discovered this brilliant paean to the pleasures for collecting records. The best discumentary ever. Simply entitled Vinyl.

Now, no more talk; just watch:

 

 

 


Remembering David Bowie

Bowie Memory MX

Last week the Sydney edition of MX - a bastion of journalism - threw up as its 'music memory' the day Bowie announced his Sound+Vision world…ish tour:

January 23, 1990

David Bowie announced his Sound+Vision tour during which he invited each local audience to decide on a "greatest hits" running order, organised through local radio stations. The tour spanned five continents in seven months.

What Sydney MX failed to tell you was… well, it was a lot.

See, cos I do remember the Sound+Vision tour of 1990. I don't remember what the five continents were in those seven months. What I do remember is that Australia wasn't one of them.

Sound+Vision - in addition to being a great song, and single, from the album Low - was also an excellent boxed set spanning Bowie's career and featuring a wealth of unreleased tracks and alternate mixes along with greatest hits, delivered chronologically, across a bunch of discs. Sound+Visioncame out in time for Christmas 1989 (I was working in a music shop at the time; I remember the arvo the order arrived in the store. Very exciting.) Makes sense there'd be a world tour behind it - a 'greatest hits of my life'. (There was a later edition of the boxed set, that took it up to the end of the next decade… that's another story for another blogpost.)

Sound+vision

It kick-started a furious Bowie re-issue campaign in which his albums were reissued on CD, lovingly remastered with bonus tracks and excellent booklets, often reproducing original artwork (the 'dress cover' of Man Who Sold the World , for example).

I remember vividly the disappointment I felt knowing Bowie wasn't heading downunder for the Sound+Vision tour. I'd only seen Bowie live once: the Glass Spider Tour a few years earlier. The Sound+Vision tour was putting a bit of distance between itself and that.

As I wasn't going to see Bowie live in 1990, I felt totally justified in splurging on a bootleg album from that tour: Sound + Vision Japan 90. I bought it from Red Eye Records in the city.

 

Sound+vision japan 90

Sound+vision japan 90_back
David Bowie: Sound + Vision Japan 90 bootleg vinyl cover art

It was a double album with both records in the one sleeve - no gatefold for those bootleggers, even if they did actually go to the trouble of printing labels Not all bootleg records come with labels; rarely so stylish, that's for sure. The bootleggers were going to some effort to draw from official cannon with this apocryphal release.

 

Sound+vision japan side one

Sound+vision japan side two

 

So back to MX from last week: I don't think the editors remember much about the Sound+Vision Tour of 1990. Because they've used a photo of Bowie from the wrong period. That's the thing about David Bowie: he changes image regularly. You can match photo of him to the time it was taken fairly easily. And that's the thing about News Ltd: with such an extensive database, if they wanted to, they could have got it right. Talk about Bowie in 1990? Find a photo of Bowie from 1990. Oh, you know, maybe employ someone who'll know the difference.

The Bowie image in the above clipping isn't from Sound+Vision 1990; it's from around the mid-t0-late-’90s - before the Reality tour, after Outside (or 1. Outside to give it its correct name; 1. Outside: The Nathan Adler Diaries if we're being pedantic). But I'm disingenuously being vague. Any fan worth their weight in Bowie Bonds knows it's from the tour that followed the Earthling album.

Still, good on 'em for trying.

 

 

 

 

 


A Hard Day's Nut: Chipmunks sing the Beatles

Chipmunkpunk

 

Today's record nerdery requires digging into my past.

My first introduction to the Chipmunks Alvin, Simon and Theodore, took place back in about third grade (1980) with the heavily TV advertised album Chipmunk Punk. I probably didn't recognise any of the song snippets at the time - 'My Sharona' and 'Call Me' - because I was a daggy kid; I knew I loved the Beatles, but it'd still be a couple of years before I'd by my first record ('The Beatles Movie Medley' 7-inch single, with 'I'm Happy Just To Dance With You' on the flip side, in a plain sleeve, from a shoebox full of singles at Mall Music, in 1982). So I wasn't going to know the 'punk' (actually 'new wave', if anything) songs like Blondie's 'Call Me' and 'My Sharona' by the Knack. (Okay, maybe Blondie are a punk band; the Knack weren't… much more than one-hit wonders in Australia at least. More on them in another blog, I promise! You can wait, I'm sure.)

 

The-beatles-the-beatles-movie-medley-parlophone-3

 

What I didn't know about the Chipmunks back then was a lot. At least until some feature-length animations from later in the ’80s made it to television. Maybe there were some other cartoons that made it to Australian television. There was a boss guy called David Seville who yelled at Alvin a lot to keep him in line. In fact, there must have been a Christmas special, because I can remember parody lyrics to 'Deck the Halls' where Alvin sings, "Don't forget your gift to me…" that causes Seville to yell, "Alvin…!" while the Chipmunks are fa-la-la-la-la-ing.

 

I didn't know that David Seville was the 'real' voice of Ross Bagdasarian, who engineered the high-pitched musical shenanigans way back in 1958 - after he'd already had a hit with a similarly high-pitched novelty song, 'Witch Doctor', also under the name David Seville. (You know the song - with the 'Oo ee oo ah ah walla walla bing bang' chorus.)

 

David-seville-witch-doctor-london

 

Here's David performing it on The Ed Sullivan Show:

 

 

Bagdasarian/Seville's next single after 'Witch Doctor' was 'The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late)' - where he got to use his novelty gimmick again. He performed that song on Ed Sullivan with hand puppets. It proved popular enough to warrant an album. By the time of Chipmunk Punk, David Seville was being played by Ross Bagdasarian, Jr.

 

 

As loathsome as The Chipmunks might be, just remember: without David Seville and The Chipmunks - or perhaps, just without 'The Witch Doctor - there'd be no David Bowie's 'Laughing Gnome'. And wouldn't the world be a poorer place then!

 

 

Here's another thing I didn't know about the Chipmunks: they originally looked like Chipmunks. Really.

Many years after Chipmunk Punk came out, I was working in a cool record shop called Egg Records, where I  stumbled upon a copy of Let's All Sing with the Chipmunks. An original pressing:

 

Original Chipmunks

 

I guess that's hardly earth-shattering news, seeing as the Chipmunks' most recent reboot sees them looking like chipmunks again. But after that album, the Chipmunks appeared in a comic book, and then on television in The Alvin Show, their images overhauled for these projects. (David Seville also got somewhat of a re-tweak). They now looked more like the Warner Brothers and Hanna-Barbera style of animation, popular at the time. The album was reissued, tying it in with The Alvin Show (as Theodore's libretto shows).

 

The-Chipmunks-Let's-All-Sing-with-the-Chipmunks

 

But that's not the only overhaul their image had - a few years later, Alvin and the Chipmunks were given Beatles wigs, Theodore lost the Alvin Show libretto (and Alvin and Theodore's right hands were slightly adapted) for an EP of Beatles covers.

I scored this at Revolve Records - an Erskineville emporium of eclectic vinyl, just a short walk away from Egg. Perhaps it was issued when the album and film of A Hard Day's Night were doing good business; everyone else was cashing in on the Beatles-led British Invasion in America, so why not the Chipmunks? No doublt the Beatles' version of 'A Hard Day's Night' had already topped the charts, since the cover of the record suggests this release shares the same title. But the  back cover and the record label gives the title as The Chipmunks Sing the Beatles Hits, with 'All My Loving', 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Do You Want To Know A Secret' comprising the rest of the tracklisting.

 

Chipmunks_beatles_smaller

 

So how faithful are the arrangements to the originals? Are they rockin' quartet recordings, or orchestral versions with sped-up vocals over the top? Do you want to know a secret? I've no idea. I've not listened to the record. Nor will I. I probably got it for the cover more than anything else. And the fact that it's an Indian pressing makes it a little more interesting. That's right; even though it's on the Liberty label, the fine print tells me it's "Made in India by: The Gramophone Co., Ltd. Calcutta". Technically, EMI - the parent company that owned Parlophone, to whom the Beatles were signed, was also The Gramophone Company, Ltd., (fine print on labels and covers would also have explained that, until EMI was restructured in the 1970s) so it's kind of fitting.

There was a full-length album of Beatles covers recorded. The vinyl proves quite expensive nowadays.

 

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Before I let you get on with your life, I'd just like to point out that Theodore-in-a-Beatles-wig, in either version of the Chipmunks as Beatles, looks quite a lot like northern comic Eric Morecambe in a Beatles wig. (The Beatles appeared on The Morecambe & Wise Show in 1963; music hall comics Morecambe & Wise would go on to be the most successful television comics of their time.)

 

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Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too
(More MasterChef Music)

As begun last week, this is the second instalment of the do-it-yourself series of compilation CDs that should rightfully put Matt Preston’s virtually foodless music compilation to shame.

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too:

  1. Muffin Man - Frank Zappa/Mothers/Captain Beefheart
  2. Meat City - John Lennon
  3. We Are Hungry Men - David Bowie
  4. America Eats Its Young - Funkadelic
  5. Too Many Cooks (Spoil The Soup) - Mick Jagger
  6. Cookin’ In The Kitchen Of Love - Ringo Starr
  7. Tandoori Chicken - Ronnie Spector
  8. Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters
  9. The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese
  10. Sugar Sugar - The Archies
  11. Boiled Beef And Carrots - Lenny Henry
  12. Bread and Butter - The Newbeats

(Unfortunately, if you are reading this post on your Apple iDevice, you won’t see the player below; it’s encoded in flash.)

Soup to Nuts: BastardChef Too from standanddeliver on 8tracks.

 

 

1: Muffin Man - Zappa/Beefheart/Mothers

Muffins occupy an interesting place on the food spectrum. Or perhaps two — since on the one hand, they’re that bready substitute you toast for brekky, to have hot with butter and the spread of your choice or with sausage and egg. But then they’re also a kind of cake – sometimes with fruit, so you can kid yourself that you’re having something healthy with your coffee or tea.

Although it takes its name from an innocent nursery rhyme (“do you know the muffin man/Who lives on Drury Lane?”) Frank Zappa brings a different muffin conundrum to the fore:

Girl, you thought it was a man
But it was a muffin.
The cries you heard in the night
Was on account of him stuffin’.

What’s he stuffing, exactly? (Or, as Tom Waits might ask, ‘What’s he building in there?’)

The tack piano that accompanies the mad narrative, reminiscent of the original soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis). But combined with Zappa’s declamatory narrative, it is a b-grade horror movie – about the Muffin Man in question, ensconced in his Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, working on “that prince of foods: the muffin”.

Every chef’s been in a similar situation. And not just chefs: every creative identifies with the archetypal ‘Frankenstein’ scenario of the mad scientist bringing their creation to life. Even Zappa himself – who’d use horror movie nomenclature for his work: follow-up songs and albums may be titled ‘Son of… and ‘Return of the Son of…’ (as in the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar series). He also named his home studio the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen.

It’s significant that the song graces Bongo Fury, the live album commemorating the mid-’70s tour undertaken with Captain Beefheart. The good Captain – entangled in contractual purgatory at the time – was a childhood friend of Zappa’s and they shared a love of music and cinema. Indeed, early on they sought to collaborate on a b-grade movie their own: Captain Beefheart vs the Grunt People. Beefheart’s dad used to drive a bread van, which the teenage pair would break into in order to steal pineapple buns. Muffins of their time, no doubt.

So – d'ya reckon anyone in the MasterChef utility research kitchen will have a stab at ‘that prince of foods, the muffin’? Who cares. It’s more exciting when the monstrous culinary equivalent of Frankenstein rises from the slab.

Find it: closing the album Bongo Fury as well as the compilation Strictly Commercial: The Best Of Frank Zappa.

 

2: Meat City - John Lennon

There’s clearly a fine art to cooking meat well – but that has nothing to do with this song from John Lennon’s fourth post-Beatles album.

Lennon seems to be a running theme on this volume of BastardChef; in addition to this offering, from his 1973 album Mind Games, you’ll find him twiddling Mick Jagger’s knobs on ‘Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup)’ and bashing Ringo Starr’s keys on Lennon’s own ‘Cookin’ (In the Kitchen of Love)’.

The Mind Games album dates from the beginning of Lennon’s ‘lost weekend’, its origins lying in Yoko Ono’s album Feeling the Space. Lennon dug the musicians her assistant May Pang had assembled. Turns out Lennon dug May Pang: by the time he’d written a bunch of songs and was ready to record, he’d split from Yoko, who’d somehow given her blessing on his taking May as his mistress. How did this affect John? Take a look at the album cover: Yoko still looms large over lonely Lennon.

So rather than wholesale butcheries with massive cool rooms featuring acres of fresh flesh on display, it would seem ‘Meat City’ is about Lennon’s visit to the world of singledom: pick-up bars, swingers parties and the massive hotbeds featuring acres of fresh flesh on display.

True to that period of unfocused rage, there are still elements of random political activism left over from previous album Sometime In New York City: that weird interlude that sounds like a synthesised chipmonk speaking alien is in fact Lennon’s own voice, sped up and run backwards, suggesting all pigs ought to be loved very much (my paraphrasing). The version on the flip side of the Mind Games single is a slightly different mix, where the synthesised chipmonk turns out to be saying “check the album” backwards.

Find it: on the album Mind Games.

 

3. We Are Hungry Men - David Bowie

Whomever said, 'the way to a man's heart is through his stomach' wasn't lying. All men are hungry men. But none more so than late-’60s David Bowie: hungry for success, and, to look at him – ‘Biafra-thin rabbit-in-the-headlights’ as one cultural commentator described him – literally hungry.

The hunger to make it as a recording artist meant the former David Robert Jones toyed with various styles and genres including cockney music hall, mod beats and whatever category this vision of a future dystopia fits into. The song opens with a Kenneth Williams impression (so it’s not meant to be taken so seriously, clearly), delivering the bleak news of over-population. Then Bowie takes on the role of a young, charismatic, crackpot leader offering more-or-less the same Modest Proposal as Jonathan Swift as a means to overcome the multitude of starving poor.

The early ‘hungry’ – or ‘lean’ period – of Bowie’s work includes a stack of songs that have been repackaged in various compilations over the decades. While the artist has all but disowned his oeuvre from that time, the collection was finally given its rightful release as a deluxe double CD collection, much to fans’ pleasure. Bowie himself cherry picked his favourites and re-recorded them for an album called Toy earlier this century – that still remains officially unavailable.

Find it: in both stereo and mono mixes on the 2-disc David Bowie [Deluxe Edition].Download it here.

 

4: America Eats Its Young - Funkadelic

Following on from the high-camp Bowie song about infantricide, ‘We Are Hungry Men’, comes the darker, down-beat bad acid trip of Funkadelic.

Are they proclaiming, on a metaphoric level, that America has failed its youth? The dark mutterings don’t quite lend themselves to transparent interpretation.

Instead, sit back and enjoy – as best you can – the grunted insinuations and squealed backing vocals as they slowly build to a grinding, faded frenzy. It helps if you imagine it the soundtrack of Matt Preston discovering the fish is still raw, the omlette contains eggshell and the rice hasn’t been fluffed; time to send the dish back, and the chef away in tears.

And if it gets too much, relax: a far more upbeat food-related funk will follow, courtesy of Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’.

Find it: on the album America Eats Its Young . Download it here.

 

5: Too Many Cooks (Spoil the Soup) - Mick Jagger

If it’s a Rolling Stones song about anything other than getting some nookie, you can bet that it is in fact a metaphor for getting some nookie. This is also the case with almost all of Mick Jagger’s solo oeuvre. ‘Too Many Gooks (Spoil the Soup)’ appears to be a more explicit reading of ‘Cook Cook Blues’. 'Cook Cook Blues' is an ’80s Stones blues jam that took a long time to prepare - finally served as a single flip side in 1989 (and features on BastardChef Volume 1) that uses food as its metaphor. But the funky ‘Too Many Cooks’ was not written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and its recording predates ‘Cook Cook Blues’ by about a decade – even though it took even longer - almost another decade! - to see the light of day. It has a far more interesting pedigree.

The song was produced by John Lennon during his ‘lost weekend’ – some 18 months of separation from Yoko Ono that involved revelry, debauchery and recording with various buddies. The sessions for ‘Too Many Cooks’ must have been quite debauched indeed, since Mick Jagger claims to have had no recollection of them, unaware the song existed until an acetate of it turned up many years later (and, knowing Mick, then taken back into the studio for tweaking, polishing and finishing properly before subsequent release).

If the food-as-sex metaphor is annoying, play this song on and on; what with the strange eroticism on display when you watch Nigella Lawson taste everything she’s preparing, and Matt Preston tasting absolutely anything, the appetite may sicken and so die…

Find it: along with two other previously unreleased tracks, on the Very Best of Mick Jagger compilation.

 

6: Cookin’ (In The Kitchen Of Love) - Ringo Starr

Stepping out first with an unlikely collection of old-time crooner’s standards, Sentimental Journey (“recorded for me mum!”) and then the country album Beaucoups of Blues , by his third album Ringo the erstwhile Beatles drummer had hit upon a system that’s pretty much served him well ever since: treat each album as a party and invite all your mates to rock up with a song (or, in Ringo’s case, ‘easy listening' up with a song).

Hence John Lennon’s contribution for Ringo’s 1976 album, Ringo's Rotogravure : a party song about getting through life, with Lennon himself guesting on piano.

Initially, the ‘cooking in the kitchen of love’ metaphor sounds as though it might reside in the same region as the Stones’ ‘Cook Cook Blues’ or Mick Jagger’s ‘Too Many Cooks’ (and more specifically, whichever Kiss song demands “let me put my log in your fireplace”). But by the second metaphor, "truckin’ down the highway of life” and subsequent philosophical exposition “It’s got to be high, it’s got to be low/’Cause in between we just don’t go” it turns out that there's no hidden message or any depth to these words whatsoever. Lennon saved that stuff - in songs like ‘Imagine’, ‘Instant Karma’ and ‘Power to the People’ - for himself.

Don’t hold it against him. It's been noted that Lennon – and Lennon & McCartney for that matter – were, more often than not, 'dozy lyricists' when tossing off a ditty for Ringo. And besides, by this stage the working class hero was about to go into musical hibernation; he’d spent his ‘lost weekend’ being high and was about to settle into being low for the next half-decade, the sessions for this song proving his last until he started recording Double Fantasy.

And remember: Lennon’s time away from the music industry as househusband and dedicated father would be marked by such domestic activities as baking bread, about which he’d speak at length when he finally came out of retirement. Cooking in the kitchen of love, indeed.

Find it: on Ringo's Rotogravure.

 

7: Tandoori Chicken - Ronnie Spector

51K9qnZSw1L._SL500_After John Lennon handed the hitherto ‘unreleasable’ Get Back tapes over to legendary ‘Wall of Sound’ producer Phil Spector – who refashioned them into Let It Be – both Lennon and George Harrison were keen to have him produce their post-Beatles solo albums.

Sessions for a proposed solo album for Spector’s wife – and former Ronette – Ronnie Spector followed on from George Harrison’s triple album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the album was shelved after only a handful of songs were recorded, the total official result being the 1971 single ‘Try Some Buy Some’.

While that song had been demoed by Harrison for All Things Must Pass and was given the Wall of Sound treatment, the flip side, ‘Tandoori Chicken’ sounds, lyrically, musically and instrumentally, pretty much as thrown together as the dinner arrangement that gave rise to it: Harrison sent Beatles roadie Mal Evans out for some takeaway during the recording sessions. Suddenly it’s a blues based b-side. It’s nice that Harrison’s Indian influences aren’t limited merely to instrumentation.

Find it: on the flip side of the ‘Try Some Buy Some’ 7-inch single; sadly not available on CD right now…

 

8: Saturday Night Fish Fry - The Coasters

The Coasters’ ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ is another hard-to-get food hit. The original version by the song’s author, Louis Jordan, and his jump blues backing band the Typany Five, is considered by some to be the very first rock’n’roll record. It’s the story of a party that gets out of hand and ends with an arrest.

A ‘fish fry’ is a kind of poor folks fundraiser – the person throwing it will cook and anyone willing to pay for the feed (and, no doubt, sly grog) is welcome. (The song takes place “down in New Orleans”, which, enjoying an excellent fishery until the BP oil spill pretty much killed the Gulf of Mexico, had access to excellent cheap seafood.) If you can help provide the food and drink, or serve it, or present some live entertainment, you get in free. In this song, the protagonist is the singer of the song, telling of a Saturday night fish fry that was so good, it had to be shut down by the cops. Although the protagonist never wants to hear about fish again, listening to it makes you hanker for a piping hot fish burger.

Jordan’s original version was over 5 minutes long, so it had to take up two sides of a 78rpm record. The Coasters’s version lived on the flip side of the single ‘She’s a Yum Yum’, dating from 1966 so part of the material recorded when they were signed to Atco – making it harder to get your hands on.

Find it: at the end of disc 3 of the excellent and exhaustive compilation, There’s a Riot Goin’ On: The Coasters on Atco.

 

9: The Rhubarb Tart Song - John Cleese/At Last The 1948 Show

Some people have never been subjected to the [dis]pleasure of rhubarb, but apparently it’s good for you, which is why it doesn’t taste particularly nice. And it’s used to make dessert-type foods, despite being a bitter vegetable that’s allegedly good for you. This alone makes it the perfect subject of a silly song, and who better to deliver it than John Cleese? The song gives the rhubarb tart a great deal of pomp and majesty, not just by listing great historical personages as fans of the food, but by accompanying the doggeral with one of John Phillip Sousa’s finest marches.

The song dates from 1968 sketch show At Last the 1948 Show , in which Cleese partook with fellow Python-to-be, Graham Chapman, and future The Goodie Tim Brooke-Tayler as well as Marty Feldman, with whom they’d all written for David Frost’s various satirical shows. (Frost in fact produced At Last The 1948 Show and was later slighted that he couldn’t be part of Monty Pythong’s Flying Circus.)

At Last the 1948 Show contains many elements that would go on to be seen as prime Python characteristics. Inded, The Four Yorkshiremen Sketch, so beloved of Python fans, originated in At Last the 1948 Show and the fact that it is still identified as a Python sketch continues to irritate Tim Brooke-Taylor, who co-wrote it.

As opposed to parodying a popular song with a new set of lyrics, ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ specifically takes a pre-existing instrumental and marries it to foolish words. This is a motif to which John Cleese would return. The song ‘Oliver Cromwell’, for example, appearing on the 1989 album Monty Python Sings, began as Frederic Chopin’s ‘Polonaise No. 6 Opus S3 in A flat’. The borrowing of a Sousa march also becomes a motif: the Pythons borrowed Sousa’s ‘The Liberty Bell’ to serve, this time wordlessly, as the theme to their television show.

Find it: ‘The Rhubarb Tart Song’ lives on the original album tie-in of sketches and songs from the television program, At Last the 1948 Show.

 

10: Sugar Suger - The Archies

Pure bubblegum pop at its best, ‘Sugar Sugar’ is said to have been offered to the Monkees, who turned it down as being too cheesy just as they were maturing to a point of playing their own instruments on far more mature albums. Although there are rumours of Monkee Davy Jones having sung lead on an instrumental backing recorded by session musicians (as most of the earlier Monkees songs were constructed) and Mike Nesmith punching a hole through a wall in anger at being expected to record the song, nowadays both stories are considered myths. Indeed, it’s more likely the Monkees resisted recording an entirely different song entitled ‘Sugar Man’, but over the years their dummy spit at ‘Sugar Sugar’ has proven the more entertaining anecdote.

Irrespective, Don Kirshner, the producer behind the launch of manufactured band The Monkees was also behind the manufactured band The Archies, which he prefered more since, being cartoon characters, they were far more easy to control than The Monkees. The Archies were never gonna complain that they should be writing their own songs, and playing their own instruments on the recordings. Although the session musos behind The Archies might have wanted to ark up, especially after ‘Sugar Sugar’ proved a massive hit.

Although Ron Dante’s lead vocals melt in the mouth more like fairy floss, they live up to the sweetness promised by the song title. And as any chef worth his weight in… well, weight, really, will tell you: there is no substitute, in the end, for cooking with sugar. When the recipe calls for it, use it; none of that chemical substitute, thank you!

Find it: on the remastered compilation, Absolutely the Best of the Archies. Download it here.

 

11: Boiled Beef and Carrots - Lenny Henry

You most likely won’t remember him as Gareth Blackstock in the BBC show Chef! irrespective of how fitting it would be for our purposes here. And just as likely you don’t remember Lenworth George Henry – or ‘Lenny’, as he’s better known – for his daliance with the music hall standard ‘Boiled Beef And Carrots’.

Fact is, Lenny would also prefer you don’t remember it. But it shouldn’t be so surprising that he had a go with a novelty hit, given his rise to showbiz success began on a telly talent show (New Faces) and included regular appearances on kids show TISWAS. The synthesiser arrangement dates this recording but also adds to its charm.

It’s fitting that Lenny would make the cut of BastardChef given his former Missus, Dawn French, is currently appearing in ads for MasterChef sponsor Coles. Part of me is asking, does she really need the money so badly? Maybe. She couldn’t afford to get her hair cut evenly on both sides. Could it be terms of the divorce? Does Dawn need to pay Lenny off? What’s a Lenworth after all? Maybe he is back to living on boiled beef and carrots…

Find it: alongside far more novelty songs by British comedy and light entertainment types than you’ll ever consume in one sitting, entitled You Are Awful But We Like You.

 

12: Bread and Butter - The Newbeats

If food can be a tool of seduction, it can also be the cause of a break-up, as evidenced in the Newbeats’ hit single of 1964, ‘Bread and Butter’. It sounds like another bubblegum hit with its precise and economic instrumentation, but it predates that movement by a few years. Indeed, in 1964, all pop was bubblegum pop; there was no sophistication to it just yet, so rock’n’roll hadn’t given way to rock. And besides, unlike ‘Yummy Yummy Yummy’ and ‘Chewy Chewy’, there’s a lot more going on in ‘Bread and Butter’.

The protagonist is a simple man, given to simple needs, which his “baby” provides perfectly: “bread and butter… toast and jam”. But one day he comes home to the ultimate betrayal: his baby “with some other man”. Not caught in flagrante delicto, as such. Or rather, yes, caught in the very act: if bread and butter and toast and jam are the proof of true love, then “chicken and dumplings” with the other guy is gross infidelity.

Lead vocalist Larry Henley (who would go on to serve as a co-writer of ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’) has a voice so thick you’d have to leave it out a while before you could spread it on a piece of bread; brothers Dean and Mark Mathis – if aliens attempted to replicate the Everly Brothers, this’d be them – provide the perfect bed for it.

Find it: on the compilation Bead And Butter: The Very Best of The Newbeats. Download it here.

 

Coming Soon 

BastardChef III: Just Desserts


Kick Out The Jams

 

I know ‘Kick Out The Jams’ is a song – and indeed, an album – by the MC5, a call to arms, a proselytising of the youth-, counter- and sub-culture to rise up against ‘The Man’. But I didn’t always.

Initially, I knew it as a lyric from a David Bowie song called ‘Cygnet Committee’ – an epic saga of a song that lives at the end of side one of the album Space Oddity. Now I realise it’s kind of a reply to ‘Kick Out The Jams’ – painting a bleak image of the kind of cult that follows an out-of-control messianic figure advocating slogans such as:

Kick Out The Jams
Kick Out Your Mother
Cut Up Your Friend
Screw Up Your Brother or He'll Get You In the End.

And even though I didn’t recognise the reference to MC5, there were other references and influences close to Bowie’s own heart. For example, when

the love machine lumbers through desolation rows

it's easy to assume it's lumbering through streets not unlike the one Dylan speaks of in his own epic song, ‘Desolation Row’, that closes his 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited. That Bowie was a big Dylan fan is evident in his tribute ‘Song for Bob Dylan’ on the album Hunky Dory:

Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman
I wrote a song for you
About a strange young man
called Dylan
With a voice like sand and glue.

Of course, Bowie went on to record Dylan’s ‘Maggie’s Farm’ at the end of the ’80s with Tin Machine. (The Dylan song, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home, had massive ironic overtones in England during the ’80s while Margaret Thatcher was still Prime Minister.)

The line 

Love is all we need

offers an obvious Beatles reference. Turns out Bowie was one of the many acts that Apple Records failed to sign in the late-’60s, despite his auditioning more than once. Bowie’s interaction with the Beatles continue throughout his career. There’s a cute story of Paul McCartney running into him in the street around about the same time as his pitch to Apple, Bowie carrying a life-size cut-out of McCartney as he appeared in the animated Yellow Submarine. Bowie of course covered ‘Across The Universe’ on the album Young Americans in the mid-’70s, the same album that contained his collaborative effort with John Lennon, the song ‘Fame’. On Bowie’s last official original release, Reality, he covers a song George Harrison wrote called ‘Try Some, Buy Some’.

If ‘Cygnet Committee’ didn’t seem to be so obvious a reply to ‘Kick Out The Jams’, I would cite the reference as a nice little tribute also. I don’t know that Bowie was a particular fan of the MC5, but he was fond of other Detroit-based punks, like Iggy Pop and the Stooges.

But as I say, at the time I didn’t realise the line ‘Kick out the jams’ had any life beyond the Bowie song. Now I’m kind of surprised I didn’t see – or imagine – some sort of link between the line in the Bowie song, and a line in a Beatles song: the John Lennon-penned ‘Come Together’ refers to ‘toe jam football’. Toe jam is the gunk that accumulates between dirty toes; kicking a football may lead to jamming your toes; neither of them amounts to ‘kicking out the jams’. But ‘Come Together’ seems, like ‘Cygnet Committee’, to be another ‘answer’ song to ‘Kick Out The Jams’, albeit a much more peaceful one. Recall that although Lennon identified, to a degree, with revolutionaries, he was never quite sure if, when the time came to lay it on the line, he wanted to be counted ‘in’ or ‘out’. His ambivalence is outlined in the different versions of the song ‘Revolution’.

The most interesting version of ‘Kick Out The Jams’ I ever heard was so unexpected…

Back in 1995 the angelic-voiced Jeff Buckley appeared out of nowhere charming the world. He visited Australia on a promotional tour, and, serving at the time as the music reviewer for an independent newsweekly called The Sydney CityHub, I managed to blag my way into his gig at the Phoenician Club. That venue, originally situated on Broadway, is long gone, but I still remember that day well: the venue crammed well beyond capacity, me surrounded by a heck of a lot of chicks making out (who knew that was his demographic? Well, the chicks did, probably.)

Everyone was in thrall to Buckley’s softc*ck shtick as he woo’d them with those gorgeously wussy ballads like ‘Grace‘, ‘So Real‘ and ‘Hallelujah’. But he won me over when he returned for his encore, because he hit the stage with guns blazing as he led with his version of ‘Kick Out The Jams’. You can hear him do it on the expanded Legacy Edition of the album Grace, but here he is delivering it live at Sin-è:

 

 

When I got to write about Super Detox Foot Patches for my job at JigoCity Australia, ‘Kick Out The Jams’ was the obvious cool reference to drop. Since the product is about jettisoning the toxins and stuff that jam you up via the feet, you are more-or-less kicking ’em out – so it’s the perfect call-to-arms. Or, in this case, call-to-feet.

A buddy pointed out that she leaves detoxing to her liver – politely telling me that, as far as she’s concerned, this product appears a bit dodgy. I’m not interested in engaging on that level – but when I do have a liver cleansing product to write copy about, I know that my starting point will be ‘Liver Let Die’.

Although, judging by the product image, it looks more like a case of ‘Kick Out The Teabags’!

 

00515330013257303326628footdetox-main-jigocity


Ground control to major faux pas

 

 

I went to see U2 at ANZ Stadium on the Monday night – the first night – of the Sydney leg of their 360° tour.

The writing that follows are the thoughts of someone who feels as if he should be fan, and wants to give deserved respect, but still doesn’t feel as if fandom and respect have rightfully been earnt. So it is, in turn, critical, praising and defensive. It was how I felt, looking back on the evening, the following day. With apologies to passionate life-long U2 fans who loved the show, I pick it up from my seat in the stadium, midway through support act Jay Z’s set…

 

After the obligatory ticket tout with the obligatory cockney accent made the obligatory offer to buy “any spare tickets” while I washed the obligatory dodgy kebab down with an obligatory flat, warm beer (choice between XXXX and Hahn Lite is not much of a choice at all, really, particularly since Brisbane punters got the choice of vodka or bourbon slurpees), I found myself up in the gods with a choice between squinting at the distant stage or squinting at the equally distant – though bigger – screen, wondering if a ticket costing $230 could ever be really worth it.

‘Compared to what?’ is, I suppose, the best way to approach the fairest answer.

The first big concert I ever went to produced a similar response, at the time, as far as ticket price is concerned, although I didn’t mind so much then: it was my first opportunity to go to a big concert, and it was to see a rather mighty and impressive act. It was a Sydney performance of David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour, at the Entertainment Centre, in 1986.

I was in Year 10, and a mate had to do the sleep-over in a queue outside a department store (either Grace Bros – which became Myer about a decade ago – or David Jones, I don’t remember which) at the local shopping centre (Warringah Mall) because that’s where the ticketing outlet was located. The outlet opened before the store, so security guards policed the desperate punters who, once allowed in, would barrel through various departments, knocking over whitegoods and racks of clothing in order to get to the ticketing counter fastest and secure the best possible tickets. That was in the days before Internet – dial-up or broadband.

A ticket to David Bowie cost $40 in 1986. I had friends who commented, at the time, that they had thought Bruce Springsteen two years earlier had been exorbitant at sixteen bucks. The excuse for Bowie being two-and-a-half times more expensive was that international performers were paid in American dollars and the Aussie dollar had been devalued, courtesy of Australian Treasurer Paul Keating, to somewhere in the vicinity of Monopoly™ money, as part of ‘the recession we had to have’ or something. This, our Treasurer assured us, was to aid exports and strengthen the country. To music nerds like me, it just meant that I could no longer afford to buy imported vinyl or bootleg releases on a schoolboy’s modest weekly allowance.

The forty-dollar price tag was so expensive that I had to get my sister, a uni student, to use a computer printer at uni (not many of us had home computers in 1986; it was, as stated, the pre-Internet dark ages) to forge a certificate of congratulations purporting to be from a radio station so that my strict dad wouldn’t crack the sh*ts. I so wish I’d kept that piece inkjet inscribed cardboard upon which two tickets were stapled and presented – as if they’d just arrived in the post.

Were tickets available at various pricepoints back then?  Could $40 buy you front row tickets to David Bowie’s Glass Spider tour at the Entertainment Centre? They certainly bought you tickets to Row W, because that’s where we were. And there was no Row X behind us – only a solid wall.

The princely sum of $230 bought me a seat to U2 in Row 15, Aisle 411 at ANZ Stadium. And there was no Row 16 behind us, only the solid wall. And though there were two tiers of paupers above us, I’ve no idea what those suckers paid.

Yet, try as I might, I can’t quite translate $40 in 1986 to $230 in 2010.

Not just because this is the year that the Aussie dollar hit parity with the US dollar, rendering ‘paid in US dollars’ meaningless for acts visiting Australia.

And not just because Ireland is broke, U2 are filthy rich, and both those reasons should mean U2, from Ireland, ought to be grateful and charge less.

And not even because, in 1986, $40 was only slightly more than 13 7-inch singles (26 songs – two more than U2 played last night). Depending which you bought, $40 was two-and-a-half long-playing albums.

$230 is – what? – a hundred individual song downloads on iTunes, or – depending which ones – ten albums. Unless, of course, you’re a kid. Then it’s infinite downloads because kids only ‘buy’ the files they can download for free. Mostly illegally.

Oh yeah, that's right: $230 will probably land you a re-issued version of one of U2’s albums if you’re part of the demographic being milked by musicians who have been making music for as long as you’ve been buying it, and you absolutely positively have to have a copy of the deluxe remastered, remixed multidisc hardcover book edition including b-sides, 12-inch mixes, a DVD of film clips and one more previously hitherto unreleased outtake than the last re-issued deluxe version you purchased of this album. Bringing it to the fourth or fifth copy you actually own of said album.


As I was sitting in Seat 47, Row 15, Aisle 411, I couldn’t help noting how much the U2 360° stage set – a space station, apparently, but one inspired by a crab – looked like Bowie’s Glass Spider.

The Glass Spider tour was long considered the epitome of self-indulgence. So much so that PopMart, U2’s late-90s over-the-top tour was considered by many to be their ‘Glass Spider’ tour. Being at a Sydney gig of U2’s current Plastic Crab tour was proving ironic not just for those reasons, however. I was here with my mate Damien – a life-long U2 fan with whom I saw one of U2’s Sydney PopMart gigs in 1998, at Sydney Stadium. In addition to organising this U2 ticket and the one in 1998, Damien was also the mate who did the sleep-over in 1986 in order to secure the Bowie tickets! At least, that’s how I remember it. I could be wrong.

Photo(2)

From up in Seat 47, Row 15, Aisle 411, the best seats I could see were on wheels. On the ground of the stadium, towards the back of the ‘standing’ area, was a raised platform accessed by ramp. It was where the people in wheelchairs, and their carers, enjoyed the show. By the time the standing area was full, this platform was surrounded on three sides by standing punters, makign it was a mosh pit in negative: raised and sparse, and square and rigid, whereas a regular mosh pit would be dense and low, its unfixed, curving edges undulating as it grows or shrinks to cater for its participants.

I decided there and then that I’d use my dead dad’s electric wheelchair to scam prime position in the cripple mosh pit at the next stadium Lou_Andy_Smurf_Outfit concert I attend. If he wants to, Damien can be my carer. We’ll be like Lou and Andy from Little Britain. I may even look a pillock and dress as a Smurf.

 

Before I move on from utterly offensive, I will continue being somewhat annoying and admit I’ve never loved U2. Never. I’ve only come to like them relatively recently.

I never wagged school with all my mates in Year 11 to see [P]Rattle and [Ho-]Hum in the cinema the day it opened in 1988. ‘Bullet The Blue Sky’ aside, I didn’t care much for that semi-live album of the same name, even despite the presence on it of Bob Dylan, and the Lennon-referencing ‘God Pt II’.

Over time, I got over my pretentious, haughty snobbery, relenting long enough to own the odd CD. I have two CD singles – ‘One’ and ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’ – two of the most beautiful, passionate ballads they ever recorded, in my humble opinion.

I even own one of the reissue versions of Joshua Tree. Not the super-deluxe-sell-your-children-into-slavery-so-you-can-afford-all-the-bells-and-whistles edition, and not the bog-standard edition, but one of the ones in between. I’d also go so far as to own similar – or bog standard – versions of Achtung Baby and Zooropa since they, similarly, strike me as the groundbreakers, the albums that stand out, that constitute the point at which U2 were Brian Eno’s best backing band since Talking Heads.

I should also admit – for fear that it comes back to haunt me – that I once owned a copy of the 7-inch single of ‘Angel of Harlem’. In a picture cover. Pressed on blue vinyl. And I parted with it, not recently, on eBay, when it would have been worth hundreds or possibly thousands of dollars.

No.

I purchased in the late-80s for $2.99, back when a 7-inch single gave you two songs for only slightly more than the cost of a solitary song download on iTunes, and you could physically own the source of music and even re-sell it if you wanted; let’s see you, some years from now, part with a ‘rare’ download with original artwork, pressed on coloured digital coding!

I admit, I bought it mostly because it came on blue vinyl. And I parted with it, also in the late-80s, not for an exorbitant amount of cash, rather an adequate amount of adolescent heartache. I gave my now rare and valuable copy of ‘Angel of Harlem’ on blue vinyl in a picture cover to a girl my own age, with whom I wished to make the beast with two backs. Or at least, with whom I wished to initiate an impressive expanse of pash rash. She was a U2 fan, though not a music nerd, and I somehow realise now she couldn’t love a disc of blue extruded polyvinyl chloride as much as I could, just as I realise now I could never have loved her as much as I loved that blue disc. The tone of regret is for the record, and not the woman, I let slip from my grasp.

So much for romance.

7_harlem_blue

I should also admit that I own Pop – the album where U2 embrace techno really late and piss off all but their most loyal fans. In fact, And I owned Pop before I owned Joshua Tree – clearly some purists would like to kill me now.

Point is, I finally relented on U2 in time to buy their worst album (still pretty bloody impressive by virtually other band’s standards, and – as far as I’m concerned – not as bad as [P]Rattle and {Ho-]Hum). And I went to see a show from their most self-indulgent tour.

I still remember being rained upon in shitty seats at Sydney Stadium. But what I learnt in the process is that U2 really are a brilliant live band. They were being rained upon also, albeit not as much as their fans, as they were at least able to seek shelter beneath bits of their elaborate, indulgent set. A set which, to be honest, no longer seems that over-the-top when compared to the 360° crabbulent space station. And come to think of it, PopMart was delivered ‘in the round’ as well, so this ‘360°’ nonsense is a bit of bull.

 

Back to the gig. It began with further synchronicity since U2’s appearance – with Oprah, I’m told by someone sitting close enough to the stage (whose ticket also cost $230!) – was preceded by David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ playing over the speakers. I know, they thought it was a case of ‘space station=space oddity, we’re as awesome as David Bowie’. I couldn’t help feeling ‘Crabbulent Space Station=Glass Spider… it may take a while living this one down.’

U2 really are an awesome band. Musicianship was excellent. They were tight as ever. If they were miming, they still mime flawlessly. Bono’s vocals were faultless at least to my ears. The use of the screen – which was also ‘in the round’ – was well-integrated, sometimes showing images of the band as they were performing then and there, at other times intercut and overlayed with pre-recorded imagery. The limb mandalas – swirling patterns made up of hands and arms – during ‘Mysterious Ways’ were particularly cool. Or ‘trippy’, had I been in a different age group or socio-economic demographic. Even without age- and genre-specific chemical enhancement (apart from warm XXXX beer), every song and its accompanying sequence of imagery and light show pattern was delivered spectacularly enough to transport you out of your sh*t seat in a concrete stadium, into… wherever it is you drift off to when utterly enjoying fantastic music accompanied by spectacular imagery. Until, of course, the pontificating started.

Desmond Tutu banging on like a caricature of himself proved significantly less engaging than the limb mandalas, for example. In his clip, he insisted that all the African kids we’ve saved – by buying over-priced tickets? By making further donations to Amnesty International? – could now grow up to be doctors and scientists and poets and writers and musicians.

Aw, c’mon, Desmond, face it: some are gonna grow up to be prostitutes, drug manufacturers, arms dealers and politicians. They have to, otherwise what are the poets and writers and musicians – the politically aware ones especially – gonna use as inspiration? The Amnesty International interlude was a bit dreary. I’d like to believe that being enough of a fan to pay $230 per ticket to a bunch of multimillionaires who don’t pay tax in their own bankrupt country, could actually make the sort of difference that gets Aung San Suu Kyi released from house arrest in Burma. I would love to believe that. But I just don't. But even if I did, it feels like U2 are preaching to the choir and patronising everyone else. If I believed that, would I need to be reminded at this point in a concert?

Perhaps U2 actually have fans who are dumb enough to need that sort of heavy-handed message. Perhaps there are people hip enough to love U2, rich enough to pay that sort of money, and still be ignorant about the world. It almost doesn’t matter to me, though, because I can forgive all of Bono’s didactic posing when it comes back to bite him on his leather-clad arse. And it came back spectacularly, early in the night.

 

Towards the end of ‘Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of’, Bono broke into lines of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, in honour of another self-important Irishman, Bob Geldof, whom, Bono said, was “in the house”. (Indeed. Bob’s playing the Lyric Theatre at Star City this week.)

From there, Bono played another of his ‘the audience will love this’ cards. When performing to Aussies, Bono likes to pander to his Antipodean fans by commemorating a fallen Aussie son, his mate Michael Hutchence.

And so he did.

WHAT?

Bono, you fool, use your noggin. Hutchence stole Geldof’s wife, remember? And she later ‘overdosed’ (or ‘suicided’ – your call). Shortly after Hutchence’s own tragic demise. By ‘suicide’ (or ‘misadventure’ – your call). So you’ve just acknowledged Geldof’s presence and in the next sentence, paid tribute to the man who cuckolded him and made his life a misery.

Ground control to major faux pas.

Bono realised. The words were barely out of his mouth when he stumbled for a second. ‘Where are we?’ he said. Rather than back down, he proceeded into an awkward introduction to a song about “having an argument with himself” or somesuch. And no wonder the awkwardness. The song was ‘Bad’, but this version contained lines from the songs ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Need You Tonight’ – two classics from Kick. That was the album that made INXS internationally successful: it helped them crack the UK, the culmination of which led to selling out Wembley Arena. No subsequent release Hutchence had a hand in ever made quite as much of a splash – until that one in November 21, 1997, from the wardrobe door in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Double Bay, of course. By 21 November, 1997, Bob Geldof would have identified more than ever with ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ and ‘Need You Tonight’. Of course, by that stage, there’s no way he’d ever be able to listen to them. Onya, Bono!

 

Still, by the end of the two-hours-plus show, you’d have to be a bigger boofhead than me not to have enjoyed it. So many good songs performed well, including ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’. The first encore began with ‘One’. The second began – well, the second one began with a cute, trippy, short animation involving two aliens in a saucer, discussing the show as they fly home – the space station theme again. We got some more ‘Space Oddity’ before the second encore began with U2’s contribution to the Batman Returns soundtrack, ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me’. Yes, even as a non-fan, I’m chuffed to get a relatively obscure soundtrack single as part of the set. That’s because I’m a nerd.

I did think the evening ran a bit long, but only  because, whenever I was drifting off enjoying it, I was brought back to earth by tedious, sanctimonious preaching. That’s when I wasn’t getting exhausted by perpetually squinting at the stage.

And yet, now I have to admit: the preaching works.

I can tell you off the top of my head that after Aung San Suu Kyi, there are still 2203 political prisoners in the world we need to set free. I’m not sure if paying Bono $230 to tell me about it in between songs is the way to go about securing their freedom. But if it is, guess what: once I've paid $230, I don’t particularly want to be preached to between songs by anyone, let alone Bono. Unless, by ‘preaching’, you mean ‘being intimately caressed’, and by ‘between songs’, you mean ‘for several hours’, and by ‘anyone let alone Bono’, you mean ‘a high class courtesan who is particularly adept at intimate caressing’.

 

The ticket price also covers transport to and from the venue. How much of a ‘transport levy’ are we being slugged with? Doesn’t matter. Having a designated bus go from the venue to my neighbourhood is much nicer than having to squeeze on pre-existing public transport that hasn’t taken a mob of concert-goers into account.

And I certainly got value for my money.

Remember how I suggested you’d have to be a bigger boofhead than me not to have enjoyed the show?

That boofhead entertained me from the seat behind mine, all the way home.

She voiced her disappointment in the evening as vehemently as I have here, though with less humour, logic or intelligence. And it wasn’t the ticket price that got her down; nor the preaching. It wasn’t a lousy seat. It wasn’t even the flat, warm XXXX beer.

No.

Her problem was that U2 didn’t play ‘New Year’s Day’.

“I’ve seen them three times now,” she said. Ad infinitem. For the entire journey. Each time adding, “The other two times were better. They played ‘New Year’s Day’.”

I was happy enough to try and filter out the drone of her voice, but she proved hard to ignore when backing up opinions with ‘argument’.

“U2 not playing ‘New Year’s Day’ is like John Lennon not playing ‘Imagine’,” she argued.

No.

No it isn’t.

‘New Year’s Day’ doesn’t carry nearly the weight, in U2’s career, as ‘Imagine’ does in John Lennon’s oeuvre. Lennon had to come the other end of the Beatles and produce a song that cancelled out the weird middle bit of experimental albums with Yoko Ono, as well create a song that was an anthem or a hymn of some sort. ‘Imagine’ succeeds in doing that. U2 never had to overcome a past legacy followed by a weird interlude; their songs that stand tall, just do so, with no one song towering above the others as ‘Imagine’ towers above so much of – let’s face it – the little that he subsequently did.

And furthermore, by the time Lennon recorded ‘Imagine’, he’d all but ended his career as a performer. He only played a handful of gigs before a five-year ‘retirement’ followed by tragic murder before he could resume touring again. So chances are he only played ‘Imagine’ two out of three times. Still, I’m sure given the choice between early death and sharting up an ignorant, lippy bird on a long bus ride, Lennon would have happily played ‘Imagine’!

And yet, had John Lennon toured extensively, Yoko Ono would have still been shrieking from within a bag for half the show; that would have made an ignorant, lippy fan such as the one sounding off behind me to get up and leave before the encore in which Lennon would have played ‘Imagine’… and so it would have been to no avail.

But perhaps I’m being too rash. Perhaps the lippy bird would surprise me and stay for the entire show out of  respect for Yoko’s art – despite it’s often being somewhat impenetrable, particuarly to ignorant, lippy birds – and Lennon’s love for his missus – usually resented by ignorant, lippy birds. But if the she staid to teh end of the Lennon/Ono concert, I expect the woman behind me would still be on the bus home from the gig, complaining. Although, this time around, it'd be because Yoko failed to squeal anything from Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions. And the last to Lennon/Ono shows were perfect, because she had squealed something from Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions.

But still, annoying lady behind me, bemoaning the lack of ‘New Year’s Day’: U2 may have neglected your favourite song, but they came close to it by playing a much better song: ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’. That's like John Lennon not playing ‘Imagine’ but instead playing ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ or ‘Give Peace A Chance’, which would please a genuine fan even more than ‘Imagine’.

“It’s not about the music, it’s about the songs,” the woman insisted, elaborating: “Like MasterChef. You can cook as fancy as you like, make it look as good as you like, but in the end, it’s all about the taste…”

No, no, no. Surely that metaphor of MasterChef being about the taste rather than the exotic ingredients and the plating means exactly that it’s about the music, and not the songs. Foolish woman. And yet, she was right about something, I couldn’t help realise as she continued: taste

“…they should have played ‘New Year’s Day’.”

Yeah, but they played ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’. And they even did ‘Miss Sarajevo’ from the Original Soundtracks 1 album (when U2 and Brian Eno were recording, as equal partners, under the ironic name Passengers; who was carrying whom on that one?) If you don’t rate that song choice, noisy, annoying lady behind me, you’re a bigger pretender than me, going to see U2…

They don’t rock out,” she reasoned; “their music rocks out.”

I don’t even know what that means. Is it a criticism or a compliment? Doesn’t matter – she was back to the original refrain:

“I mean, two out of three…” she said. “No ‘New Year’s Day’…”

Christ How long? How loo-oo-oo-oo-ong must you sing this song?

Then she dropped this gem:

“I would rather U2 played ‘New Year’s Day’ than listen to that last hour…”

Right, that’s it! How very dare you!

The show went for over two hours. The second half with its two encores was clearly better than the first half, and the first half was not much short of brilliant, even if the supreme entertainment of one sanctimonious Irishman inadvertently offending another sanctimonious Irishman didn't take place until the second half.

But I'd prefer not to have listened to the last hour. Because the last hour consisted of the bus ride with the stupid woman behind me bleating incessantly about not getting to hear ‘New Years Day’.

 

Addendum

By the time I finished writing and posting this, I was informed that there were forty-dollar ‘general admission’ tickets available on the second night that would have availed more intrepid concert goers access to the inner circle, close to the stage. Of course I’m annoyed. But I’m still glad I got to see the band live. Especially on the night of the major faux pas. Thanks Damien.


David Bowie: A Reality Tour

Appearing in this month’s FilmInk is the following article. Handed a pre-release video of the new David Bowie concert DVD and a copy of the press release that I could re-write as I saw fit – with the understanding that I include some quotes from the Sydney press conference of Bowie’s recent world tour – I decided to re-write a decade-old (more-or-less) piece celebrating the great album that was Outside. Writing from the position of arrogant self-righteousness is remarkably easy, particularly when you believe it to be justified. However, in ‘reality’ (so to speak) I like Bowie’s ‘Tin Machine’ output a lot more, and Heathen slightly less than I make out below. However, if you don’t care enough to own a lot of David Bowie music (more the fool you, I say!) the essential releases of the last decade or so are the soundtrack to the BBC miniseries Buddha of Suburbia (not covered in the article), Outside, Earthling and the new David Bowie: A Reality Tour DVD. Oh, and of course, if you live anywhere else than Australia, where the DVD has already been available for at least a fortnight, you’re probably already over it. That’s just the nature of DVD consumption in the modern age.


In 1995 David Bowie served notice with the single ‘The Heart’s Filthy Lesson’, the opening salvo of his greatest return-to-form album in just about forever. The album was 1. Outside: The Nathan Adler Diaries, the first in a proposed series of concept albums set in the future and featuring detective Nathan Adler. On Outside, Adler was in pursuit of a serial killer who perpetrated ‘art murder’ – the ritualistic re-arrangement of the victim’s body parts in a pretty pattern. Whatever you think of the concept, any Bowie fan will tell you Outside was a brilliant album – bringing together some of Bowie’s best collaborators.

Bowie’s next album Earthling was not part two of the Nathan Adler diaries but was still a fantastic album, even if some people want to dismiss it as merely ‘Bowie’s drum ’n’ bass album’. (Ask them to define ‘drum ’n’ bass’ and see if you get a decent answer. Then ask them if the Beatles are now ‘drum ’n’ bass’ since they’re down to just the rhythm section: Paul and Ringo. And then tell them to piss off; Earthling is a fantastic album.)

By the new millennium, David Bowie had inked a deal to form an all-new label (ISO) with a new distributor (Sony), the first release tipped to be Contamination – part two of the Nathan Adler diaries. The deal went ahead, but the album never eventuated. Instead Bowie released Heathen, reuniting him with Tony Visconti, a producer he seems to return to whenever it’s time to regroup. ‘Heathen’ was universally dubbed a fantastic album (true!), a ‘return to form’ (true!) and Bowie’s best album in the last decade (Ba-bow! Thanks for playing. That prize goes to ‘Outside’). Heathen was followed by Reality, and David Bowie did something he hadn’t done since Earthling: he’d produced two fantastic albums in a row. Then the announcement came: David Bowie was embarking on his ‘Reality Tour’, his most extensive trip around the world in about a decade, and his first tour to Australia since the 80s.

At the press conference the most important question, “You used to record concept albums about the ritual art-murder of children – before you had one of your own in the house. Will Contamination ever see the light of day?” wasn’t asked. But “How has being married and becoming a father changed and influenced you this time around?” was. Bowie had married supermodel Iman at the front end of the 90s, his 1993 album Black Tie, White Noise, opening with the celebratory instrumental ‘The Wedding’. It was a new beginning: his 1990 ‘Sound + Vision’ world tour had put all of his previous stage personae – and (thank God!) his erstwhile ‘heavy metal’ band Tin Machine – to bed. But, David pointed out, he hadn’t changed because he got married and became a dad again, he got married and became a dad again because he’d changed.

“I seemed to have come to a place where I felt grounded and I understood a lot more about myself and my immediate environment and how I react to things,” he said, “and my writing has taken a turn for the positive.” Readily admitting a tendency to vacillate between good and bad moods, the decade’s domesticity had enabled David Bowie to avoid a “pessimistic, negative, even nihilistic frame of mind”. Clearly then, there would be no Contamination or any other continuation of the Nathan Adler diaries. David Bowie may have begun his career as an outsider, a space oddity loving the alien, but the man had finally fallen to earth. Reality was an attempt to ensure that he remained grounded.

“It’s been pretty depressing in New York over the last two or three years,” he said, “and I really wanted to put something out that had some strong positive point to it and that was just a joy to play on stage.” The result was an exciting live show that concentrated on the music. According to Bowie, his performances had “never been so clean and so unencumbered.” Considering, particularly, that our last view of Bowie in Australia was with his ‘Glass Spider’ tour, this was an amazing proposition. “I’m up with there with a really, really, great, strong band,” he insisted, “just interpreting my songs that I’ve done over the last thirty-five years.” From a rotating set list of sixty songs, some of which haven’t been performed live in the last couple of decades, the ‘Reality Tour’ offered over two hours of hits, significant album cuts, and the best bits of his last two albums played by an excellent band that featured some of the best musicians he’d worked with throughout his career. They even taped a gig – in Dublin, two months into the tour.

Unfortunately, before the tour ended, David Bowie was taught his own heart’s filthy lesson: he stopped mid-show due to pain from a ‘pinched nerve’ in his shoulder. Then the final eleven dates of the ‘Reality Tour’ were cancelled as Bowie underwent emergency heart surgery to clear a blocked artery. Who knows how long it will be before he prepares a band and a tour like that again? You’ve just got to be grateful that you got to see it – if you did get to see it. And if you didn’t, you’re about to get a second chance: David Bowie: A Reality Tour is being released on DVD, mixed in 5.1 surround sound by Tony Visconti. Think about it: David Bowie, live in concert with one of his best bands, on his best tour, at one of his best gigs. The release of Contamination notwithstanding, it couldn’t really get much better than this.


David Bowie On Film

David Bowie On Film

(Rather similar to the other Bowie piece that I put together for ABC NewsRadio, seeing as how it is based on one major quote from it, and a similar premise. Unless you’ve a bent for comparative studies or some such, there’s no need to read both; if you've already read the NewsRadio version, skip to ‘Off The Record’.)


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Having brought so many characters to life in his music, it’s no surprise that David Bowie has been acting for almost as long as he has been singing. However, Bowie's current role is as a family man. Married to model Iman for a decade, he recently became a dad, and his mindset lies more towards being himself on stage and in his music. Likewise, David Bowie seems to have virtually turned his back on acting.

“I’d love to be a movie star and have my name on posters and photographs forty foot high and all that,” he said at his Sydney press conference. “But you’ve got to work so hard at it – the acting, and all that you gotta do. It really takes up time and I don’t think I’ve got a commitment to it, really. I don’t think I’m serious enough about it, and quite rightly, that’s why I’m not offered a huge amount of stuff to do because it’s not my profession.”

Bowie’s first significant film role was as an alien stranded on earth in Nicolas Roeg’s The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). By this point, having established himself as an international star, Bowie had ‘retired’ from the concert stage and was in need of other creative diversions. Roeg advised Bowie to “just play yourself” and Bowie did just that – his alien was another of the other-worldly characters he’d been playing on stage and on record. Thus, although the plot of The Man Who Fell To Earth was flimsy, Bowie’s acting was quite robust. No such luck with his next attempt, unfortunately, portraying Prussian soldier Paul van Przygodsky in Just a Jigolo (1979). “You were disappointed and you weren’t even in it,” Bowie has said of the film. “Imagine how I felt. It was my thirty-two Elvis movies rolled into one.”

David Bowie is most proud of his performance in the prison camp drama of Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence (1983). It certainly stands up better than his Dorien Gray-like vampire in The Hunger the same year, or his cameos in the ill-conceived Yellowbeard (also 1983) and John Landis’s Into the Night (1985). Bowie’s pantomime turn as Jareth the Goblin King in The Labyrinth (1986) was fun, as was his role in Julian Temple’s wretched adaptation of mockneyphile Colin MacInnes’s Absolute Beginners. However, David Bowie’s born-to-play role was clearly that of Andy Warhol in Basquiat (1996).

Nowadays, Bowie is happy just to accept cameos. “It’s just wonderful if someone like a Scorsese says, ‘do you want to wander on and do Pontius Pilate for five minutes?’ ‘Yes, smashing, what a crack that’ll be just to do that!’ I still choose anything I do on the strength of the director. If it’s somebody that I really admire, or it’s a new guy and I think, ‘he looks like he’d be interesting to work with’, I generally go on that. But Russell Crowe can sleep safely…”






David Bowie story for ABC NewsRadio


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I put this story together from a series of answers David Bowie gave to questions I didn’t have an opportunity to ask, at the Sydney press conference, Monday 16 February 2004. It was broadcast Saturday 21 February. The dialogue is book-ended with the songs ‘Changes’ – yes, a bit crass and predictable, but it actually suits the story – and ‘Try Some Buy Some’. I also managed to recycle info for a FilmInk version of the article. You can also listen to the story as you read.

Music: ‘Changes’ - David Bowie

Demetrius Romeo: David Bowie’s been making music for the better part of forty years. His career has been punctuated by embracing various musical genres – from cockney music hall to glam rock to soul to heavy metal – and his bringing to life numerous characters on stage and on record, including Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane. Now David Bowie’s role is as a family man. After ten years of marriage to super model Iman, David’s a dad again, and, he says, he quite likes the role.

DAVID BOWIE: I mean I only got married because I was in a place that felt right about getting married, so I think that the change in me probably started a lot longer before. You know what I mean? I didn’t get married and suddenly I changed, I felt that I was, uh… I just felt that emotionally and mentally, I seemed to have come to a place where I felt grounded and I understood a lot more about myself and my immediate environment and how things are for me and how I react to things and all that. A lot better than I ever did before: and my writing has taken a turn for the positive, which, I think, if I were not married, and if things were as traumatic as they had been over the last few years, and being at the age that I am, I can quite see that I would have easily have found myself falling over into far more pessimistic, negative, even nihilistic frame of mind in my writing. And I do have to be careful; it’s very easy for me. I really swing. I can vascillate between very good moods and very bad moods, you know.

Demetrius Romeo: It seems that the contentment that David Bowie has with being himself in real life coincides with a contentment in being himself on stage. This is an underlying theme of Reality, his latest album, and his current tour. So, does the absence of the colourful characters on the stage and in the music rule them out of David Bowie’s future work?

DAVID BOWIE: I think it’s wise to say ‘never say never’, but I’m very happy as a performer doing what I’m doing at the moment. It’s never been so clean and so unencumbered with anything. It’s just a very simple performance in that way: I’m up with there with my really, really, great, strong band and we’re just interpreting my songs that I’ve done over the last thirty-five years. But I love writing little theatrical things and I can see it in the future as something I might want to do. Whether I’d be in it or not, I don’t know, these days, maybe not.

Demetrius Romeo: David Bowie has had an acting career running parallel to his music career. But, he says, the acting doesn’t seem as important these days.

DAVID BOWIE: I’d love to be a movie star, you know, and have my name on posters and photographs forty foot high and all that. But you’ve got to work so hard at it, the acting and all that you gotta do. And that really takes up time and I don’t think I’ve got a commitment to it, really. It’s great being offered little cameos now, which is generally what I have always been offered. I’ve had a couple of larger roles. But I don’t think I’m serious enough about it, and quite rightly, that’s why I’m not offered a huge amount of stuff to do because it’s not my profession, and it’s just wonderful if somebody like a Scorsese says, ‘do you want to wander on and do Pontius Pilate for five minutes?’ ‘Yes, smashing, what a crack that’ll be just to do that!’ I still choose anything that I do on the strength of the director. If it’s somebody that I really admire, or it’s a new guy and I think, ‘he really looks like he’d be interesting to work with’, I generally go on that. But Russell can sleep safely…

Demetrius Romeo: One place David Bowie does continue to engage in role-playing is in the performance of other people’s songs. Throughout his career, Bowie has frequently recorded cover versions, and there are three on the tour version of his current CD, Reality. One of them turns out to be an inadvertent tribute to George Harrison, ‘Try Some, Buy Some’.

Music: ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ - David Bowie

DAVID BOWIE: Ironically, I didn’t know it was a George Harrison song. Well, I must have known, but it never went in. For me it was the Ronnie Spector single that came out in 1974. And I knew it was the last – I think it was the last – single released by Apple Records at that particular time before it folded. It was just a phenomenal single. It didn’t do anything because I think Apple had run out of money, so they couldn’t promote it. Sounds like 2004, doesn’t it! I truly love the single; I thought it was just a wonderful piece of work. It was only when I was writing out all the data for the album cover that I recognised it as a George Harrison song. Course it is! It rather poignantly became an homage to George without actually trying… oh, you know what I mean.

Music: ‘Try Some, Buy Some’ - David Bowie

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