The Voice of Yoof

Something Else was a great show (The Specials!) but this comes across at times like a parody of “Yoof” television. It’s all a bit earnest and awkward and that twat in the pajamas (who the hell is he? I have no memory of him) is, I assume, an “alternative poet” or something equally embarrassing. The footage of different youth cults is terrific though.

You might recognize the chap in the purple suit, three years before he became world famous.


New Monday

Being rather big Saint Etienne fans around these parts (maybe you noticed) we’re well happy about the single “Tonight” — their first new record in seven years (what have they been doing?) — and the arrival of a new album “Words and Music by Saint Etienne” in May. It’s the sort of classy dancepop they do so well and a celebration of the joy of a night out in a great city. In this case the city being London of course.

Londoners watching the video can play a game of Spot The Location too. I was particularly happy to see the sign for Soho pizza joint Lorelai, one of my favourite “secret” places for cheap food in the West End. Not many gaffs like that left in Soho now, I still mourn the loss of The Pollo Bar.

My Mother’s Records

My mum liked what I think of as “grown-up” songs, ones where the subject matter was adults doing, um, adult things instead of the usual wide-eyed, adolescent innocence of most pop songs — records like “Me and Mrs. Jones”, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”, and “Harper Valley PTA” which weren’t about holding hands at the bus stop but dealt with infidelity, sex, and being a single parent. Another big favourite of hers was “Behind Closed Doors” by Charlie Rich from 1973 which, you know, wasn’t about two people going home to play table tennis. Besides the sublime melody and production a big part of its appeal was Rich himself: the big, burly “Silver Fox” with the soulful voice who sounded like he’d been around the block a few times and taken a few punches along the way, but his woman letting her hair down made him glad to be a man. What woman could resist that kind of bruised poet?

Download: Behind Closed Doors – Charlie Rich (mp3)

But there was a lot more to Charlie Rich than smooth MoR ballads loved by mums which I found out for myself back in the 1980s when, loving his voice and wanting to hear more, I started following the dusty, overgrown trail that led from “Behind Closed Doors” back to his brilliant earlier recordings. At the time Rich was semi-retired and mostly forgotten so I thought I’d found the best-kept secret in popular music because it was literally like discovering another Elvis – one who had the voice and looks (plus genuine musical and songwriting chops) but hadn’t blown his talent on shitty records and movies and cheeseburgers.

If Rich sounded like he’d been around the block a few times it was because he had, having spent years making records that no one bought and jumping from label to label. He started his career back in the 1950s at Sun Records but, with only a couple of minor hits to his name, had to wait until the 1970s before his big breakthrough singing string-laden “Countrypolitan” love songs which must have been a bittersweet pill to swallow as he preferred Jazz and Soul to Country — so even when he finally became famous it wasn’t for what he preferred doing, no wonder he started drinking heavily.

Those years of struggle and not-making-it probably inspired his wife Margaret to write the beautiful, heartbreaking “Life’s Little Ups And Downs” which should bring a lump to your throat, a tear to your eye, and a shiver to your spine. If it doesn’t then there’s a black chasm where your heart should be. This is the track that really turned me on to his greatness.

Download: Life’s Little Ups And Downs – Charlie Rich (mp3)

His apparent “problem” making it big early on was that he didn’t fit into any one box and wasn’t just a little bit Country and a little bit Rock n’ Roll, but also (more than) a little bit Jazz, and a little bit R&B, Gospel, and Blues too — sometimes all in the same song. His 60s recordings are particularly eclectic, ranging from hip-shaking groovers like “Party Girl” (my personal favourite) and “That’s My Way” to Jazz-Gospel-Blues ballads like “River, Stay ‘Way From My Door” — the common denominator being Rich’s soulful voice and rolling, jazzy piano-playing.

Download: Party Girl – Charlie Rich (mp3)
Download: That’s My Way – Charlie Rich (mp3)
Download: River, Stay ‘Way From My Door – Charlie Rich (mp3)

Having spent most of his life as the poster boy for unappreciated genius Rich finally got the recognition he deserved before he died in 1995 — better late than never I guess — and now he’s not such a big secret. A friend of mine called him “the introvert’s Elvis”, the King of that alternate pop universe we music geeks wished was real, the one where all the “right” people are famous.

Buy: “Behind Closed Doors” (album)
Buy: “Feel Like Going Home: The Essential Charlie Rich” (album)
Buy: “It Ain’t Gonna Be That Way: The Complete Smash Sessions” (album)

New Monday

I have a love-hate relationship with Sleigh Bells. One the one hand I love their catchy tunes, fun image, and cute lead singer, but their records are so brutally, viscerally NOISY — full of shuddering jackhammer beats and screeching metal guitars — that my aging ears can’t handle it so I also hate them for making me feel old. Which I guess is what proper modern pop music should do, ancient farts like me aren’t supposed to like it. So then I sort of love them again for making records I have a hard time with. It’s complicated.

Their latest single “Comeback Kid” is relatively easy listening for them, sounding almost at times like Katy Perry singing with My Bloody Valentine or something, but from what I’ve heard of their new album “Reign of Terror” they’re still a band that make you bang a broom on the ceiling and tell them to turn the bloody racket down. Which is good. And bad.

Something for the Weekend

Watching the Grammys on Sunday night they did their usual “In Memoriam” thing about the people who’d died recently and in among Whitney Houston, Etta James, Amy Winehouse, Dobie Gray and all the others there was Andrew Gold. That was a shock because I had no idea he’d died. Why didn’t someone tell me???

I wouldn’t claim that he was some kind of musical giant or anything but this was/is one of my favourite singles of the 1970s.

I Love Your Live Action

I went to see Cate Le Bon live last week, it was the first night of her US tour and there were probably only about 30 people in the small club (now that’s what I call a cult following) which was a little disappointing and made me worry about the atmosphere. But then Cate hit the stage looking like a Wiccan Mary Quant, all Mod hair, dark eye makeup, and long black cape (or whatever that was she was wearing) and I didn’t care if there were 30, three, or 30,000 people there because she and her band were fantastic, cooking up a spiky, jangly, spooky, psych-folky noise with Cate’s voice sounding especially fine. She plays a mean guitar too and you know how much I like a girl with a guitar.

Standing at the bar after the show finishing my beer who should come up and order a drink right next to me but Cate Le Bon herself. So I said hello, told her the gig was great, and she asked me if I wanted a drink too which was very, very nice of her — I had what she was having, a Jameson’s on the rocks. First time in my life I’ve been bought a drink by someone I own records by (OK, not exactly “bought”, she got free drinks but it’s the thought that counts).

I wish I could tell you we had a profound conversation about the meaning of her songs and her influences and all that jazz, but instead we mostly chatted about the snowy weather back home and how long it takes to drive across America (her tour ends in LA). That’s me, the sad bastard who talks to sexy female rock singers about the weather and long-distance driving.

Download: Puts Me To Work – Cate Le Bon (mp3)
Buy: “Cyrk” (album)

Something for The Weekend

Haven’t had any Saint Etienne here for, oh, at least a couple of weeks. This was their first single (but you knew that) with a terrific video that screams “late 80s/early 90s London” to me with its collision of a trippy, happy Second Summer of Love vibe with twee Indie — not to mention the football shirts. It’s odd seeing Pete and Bob without Sarah Cracknell in front of them but that Moira Lambert was pretty cute too.