The Sound in The Crowd

With so many great bands in the Post-Punk era it’s not surprising that some were forgotten and fell behind the sofa cushions of history.

Take London group The Sound for example. Not only had I forgotten all about them, but also that I used to own their 1980 debut album Jeopardy until a track from it popped up on one of my YouTube wanderings recently.

This isn’t really a slight on them or their music because 1980 was also the year of Colossal Youth, Closer, Sound Affects, The Correct Use Of Soap, Kilimanjaro, Searching For The Young Soul Rebels, and Remain In Light (fuck, what a year) so it had a lot of competition. The Sound were good they just came along at a time when that wasn’t enough, you needed to be really special to stand out.

They were typically Post-Punk with scratchy guitars, primitive drums, rumbling bass, and moody vocals and I remember liking the album at the time, but not enough to buy their next four releases. I wasn’t the only one either as the band broke up in 1988 after failing to have any success, and their story came to an even sadder end in 1999 when lead singer Adrian Borland committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train at Wimbledon station.

Download: I Can’t Escape Myself – The Sound (mp3)
Download: Night Versus Day – The Sound (mp3)


Jive Talkin’

Last week we also lost the great Jazz singer Jon Hendricks. Called “the James Joyce of Jive” by Time magazine, he was a brilliant practitioner of vocalese which is the art of adding lyrics to instrumental Jazz tracks. He first became famous with the trio Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross in the late 50s before going solo and if you’ve never heard anything by them or him before you’re missing a treat.

Here he is working his magic on a Herbie Hancock tune.

Download: Watermelon Man (Live) – Jon Hendricks (mp3)

My Sister’s Records

Originally published in February 2008, reposting in honor of David Cassidy.

Like every other girl her age in the early 1970s my sister had a major crush on David Cassidy who was the archetypal 70s teen heartthrob: a slim pretty boy with dimples and soft, feather-cut hair who exuded a fresh, tanned, and clean all-American healthiness.

Cassidy initially appeared on our radar as lead singer of The Partridge Family which was the first introduction into pop fandom for both me and my sister. They were the first pop group she ever had on her bedroom wall* (to be precise it was our bedroom wall at the time, we shared a room until I was 10) and the first single I remember owning (not one I bought myself) was their version of “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” We both watched the TV show every week and while she was swooning over David I had a thing for Susan Dey — though she looked a little too much like my sister for me to be entirely comfortable with that thought now.

Until the Bay City Rollers came along David was bigger than sliced bread and Jesus among the teenybopper set, at one point his fan club had more members than any other in pop history and in 1973 he sold out Wembley Arena six nights in a row which was a record at the time. Unfortunately David-mania got badly out of hand the following year when a fan was killed and hundreds were hospitalized in the hysterical crush at his White City Stadium concert. At the inquest the coroner blamed “trendy, high platform shoes” for so many girls falling over and being trampled — so 1970s fashions weren’t just ugly, they could kill you too (as I can attest to myself after once getting my flares caught in the front wheel of a speeding bike and being hurled head-first over the handlebars.)

I really liked his 1972 single “Could It Be Forever” because I was only 10 when it came out and hadn’t yet learned that I was supposed to regard my sister’s taste as a bit naff and girly. With it’s whispery vocal and pillowy mountains of strings it’s as soft and dreamy as David’s smile, and listening to it now I don’t mind saying I still think it actually is rather good, beautifully-produced soft pop in the mold of The Carpenters. I still wouldn’t stick a picture of him on my bedroom wall though.

Download: Could It Be Forever – David Cassidy (mp3)

*The first pop poster I put on the wall was The Jackson Five so I like to think I was hipper than my sister even then.

The Sunday Matinee

The highlight of a boring, rainy Sunday in my youth was often the film on BBC1 in the afternoon. This was usually an old black and white movie, perfectly timed to come on after we’d had our Sunday roast and were very happy to laze in front of the gas fire and wallow in some musty melodrama.

One of our favourite Sunday afternoon films was The Way To The Stars, a beautiful WWII weepie made in 1945 that should be better known than it is. Set in an English village near an RAF base during the war, it’s about the lives and loves of the pilots and the locals as they deal with war and death in a quietly English way by papering over their emotions and trying to carry on.

The above scene is when RAF pilot Peter (John Mills) tells local-hotel manageress Toddy (Rosamund John) that her husband has been killed. What makes it doubly-heartbreaking is that Toddy has just had a baby, and because of this Peter breaks up with the girl he loves because he doesn’t think it’s fair to be involved with her when he could be killed at any time himself. If you’re able to make it through this scene without at least getting a little lump in your throat you must have a black hole where your heart should be.

The poem Mills recites was actually written by John Pudney.

Do not despair, for Johnny head in air.
He sleeps as sound as Johnny under ground.

Fetch out no shroud for Johnny in the cloud,
and keep your tears for him in after years.

Better by far for Johnny the bright star,
to keep your head and see his children fed.

This is “war” film where the only battle shown is an emotional one. It does have its lighter moments but mostly it’s a three-hankie heartbreaker and it never fails to hit me in my sentimental English soul.

The whole film is on the internets if you fancy a good wallow.

Download: He Wears A Pair Of Silver Wings – Gordon Jenkins & His Orchestra (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Haven’t had any Paul and the boys here for absolute yonks so here’s a double dose as I couldn’t decide between these two.

If he wrote this song now it would probably be called “Gourmet Coffee Shop In Wardour Street”

I thought this single was a bit throwaway when it first came out but over the years it’s become my favourite Jam song. Probably because I’m now an old bastard and I miss being young.

Virtual High

Last weekend we drove out to visit the terrific Mass MoCA in western Massachusetts. Like the Tate Modern, it’s a contemporary art gallery in a big old industrial complex and one of the best such places I’ve ever been too.

We’ve been several times before and our main reason for going this time was the two Laurie Anderson virtual reality experiences called Aloft and Chalk Room that are currently playing there. Space was very limited so the wife did the first one and I went to the latter.

In Chalk Room (shown in the above video) you put on a VR headset and, with two hand controllers, navigate through a labyrinth of dark rooms, corridors, and halls decorated with chalk graffiti and drawings. Along the way you can choose to draw on the walls, play sound sculptures, or dive into a massive tree of words. But the most exhilarating part of the experience is that you can “fly” through the space which makes you feel like Superman. It’s an immersive, mind-expanding trip and, when you take the headset off and come back to boring reality, the only reaction is “Wow” and you walk out of the room feeling happily discombobulated.

Another enjoyable thing about it is that you have Laurie Anderson talking softly in your ear. She has a warm, musical voice that is a pleasure to the ears and I could literally listen to her reciting the phone book – which she may well have done for a piece as far as I know. This is from her 1984 live album United States Live.

Download: Language is a Virus From Outer Space – Laurie Anderson (mp3)

French Kiss

If you were alive during the 80s chances are you knew someone with this picture on their wall. The Athena poster of Robert Doisneau’s 1950 photo Le Baiser De L’Hotel De Ville sold by the truck load and became as iconic as “Man & Baby” and “Tennis Girl”. It was a cheap way of adding some French chic to your Habitat- and Reject Shop-furnished flat. Or if you were a student it filled your grotty digs with dreams of a life beyond Pot Noodles and fumbling with boys on your futon.

“In France They Kiss On Main Street” is my favourite Joni song from my favourite Joni album which makes it the best of the best. This demo version is terrific too, even without the jazzy adornment of the original the song is still a beautiful thing.

Download: In France They Kiss On Main Street (acoustic demo) – Joni Mitchell (mp3)