Sunday, 29 May 2016

Oliver: Tiger & Freddie McGregor - One Room Shack (2 February 1992)

"To be poor is a crime" sings Freddie McGregor at the start of this collaboration with Norman Washington Jackson AKA Tiger, and he's absolutely correct but isn't it amazing how many of us are repeat offenders.

After love, sex, dancing, and getting high, poverty ranks very high in the themes for tracks across the history of music.  Nowhere more so than in reggae music where calling out the injustices that pass for everyday living in the Carribean have been a staple since the genre's earliest releases.  Jackson who provided the singjay updates to Still Cool's original may have been influenced by Al Campbell's track of the same name from 1983.  But whereas Campbell's song despaired over the state of those crammed into one room and looked to Jah for help, the Tiger/McGregor duet is far more get-up and go, albeit aware that outside of music, there are other ways out of poverty which must be resisted.  That poverty can be a generational problem is also acknowledged as McGregor sings about how he saw it affect his mother, father, brother and sister.  But it puts the emphasis on the individual to sort themselves out, providing they are aware that the system will probably do more to hinder than support them.

This is a thoughtful and engaged piece of social commentary, but it is in danger of being derailed from its narrative by the foolish "quack quack" refrains which almost turn it into a party record.

Videos courtesy of Exe-Soundz Dubs

Friday, 27 May 2016

Oliver: WC and The Maad Circle - Out On a Furlough (2 February 1992)

A fortnight or so ago, I was rather fulsome in my praise for Poor Georgie by MC Lyte. As time has passed though, I've started to find it trite and lightweight, probably because my observations about it were equally flawed.  I praised it because I was happy to hear a hip-hop track that wasn't rooted in crime or self-aggrandisement.  But when a track like Out On A Furlough comes along, it makes a lot of other hip-hop tracks sound like pretenders.

Out On a Furlough deals with some well worn themes - a brother, who's been going legit, finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and ends up behind bars - but manages to do something fresh with it, as well as being deeply troubling.  WC - Willie Calhoun - finds himself set up by friends, but old loyalties die hard, and in refusing to speak up, he finds himself in jail.  The theme of the first half of the song refers to the disproportionate sentences that young black men find themselves on the end of when they get sent down.  My hearing wasn't sharp enough to catch whether the " two five" sentence refers to 2.5 or 25 years, but nevertheless, WC and the Maad Circle find it excessive.  However, the twist in the tale comes when, after 7 months in jail, WC is let out on a furlough - compassionate leave granted to prisoners in the U.S.  Realising that one day out of jail will be followed by many more years inside it, WC goes into hiding, protected by the casbah-like Maad Circle featuring the soon to be huge, Coolio.  The point is made more explicit by a memorable chorus refrain:
Time again, you wanna lock me up.
Lock me up, lock me up.
People like you wanna lock me up.
A n****r like me, you wanna lock me up.

A sample from an interview with a penitentiary inmate, lamenting the fact that he has spent 18 years in prison already and is expected to spend another 20 years inside helps to frame the argument further, and makes the track even more depressing and multi-layered. The implication being that if you're innocent but compromised (WC used to sell dope for the man who has ultimately set him up) you have to choose between whether you get hunted down by the guys on the street, or whether you take it in the ass from the fixed sum game that is the American judicial system.  The one disappointment is that the track doesn't make more out of this terrible Hobson's Choice, but then complaining about The Man was probably considerably less life-threatening for many rappers than calling out their brothers.

When he played this, Peel said that it featured "clever editing of rude words".  However, the n-word slipped through, undisturbed.

When it comes to penitentiary, I go to Richard Pryor:

"Arizona State Penitentiary real popular?"

Videos courtesy of ShamrockHipHop (WC) and Bojan Mrdja (Pryor).

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Oliver: The Jesus and Mary Chain - Guitarman (2 February 1992)

Guitar Man, to give the track its correct title, was recorded in 1967 by country singer, Jerry Reed and featured on his debut album.  Reed's version scored a minor hit in the Billboard Country Charts but became more renumerative when Elvis Presley recorded it as part of the soundtrack to his 1967 film, Clambake.  Presley's version hit the top of the country charts while hitting the top 30 and top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 and UK Top 50 respectively.  At this distance, the song's wider significance is that it took Presley a little closer to the more rootsier end of his repertoire - not exactly rock'n'roll but certainly country pop and more interesting than anything which had gone out with his name attached to it for several years.  It can be seen as a push towards the '68 Comeback Special which would, briefly at least, resurrect his credibility.  The choice of Guitar Man, together with Trouble to open the whole shebang signifies it's importance.  Regrettably, the dawn provided by the comeback show proved to be a false one as Elvis moved towards gospel music, MOR rock, sentimental weepies and an eternity playing in Vegas.  There was no Rick Rubin figure who could have persuaded him to keep taking risks.  I still dream of a musical alternative universe where Presley took on The End.

If Elvis had lived into the 80s, he would have been a cinch to have covered something by The Jesus and Mary Chain, particularly given how Jim and William Reid based so much of their look and sound on a bastard hybrid of Elvis/Gene Vincent/ PJ Proby and all those other artists from the 50s/60s whose doomy melodramas could be mashed through a soundscape that was equal parts Sun Records/Phil Spector Wall of Sound/Velvet Underground/Raw Power era Stooges.  But by 1992, The Jesus and Mary Chain were still trying to party up their sound as best they could. Their take on Guitarman, as they labelled it on the B-side of the Lalo Schifrin tinged funk of Reverence, evokes the Presley of Viva Las Vegas as their titular hero jacks in working a car wash to hitch across the U.S. and try to make a living as a musician.  The sample at the end in which a helium-voiced lush talks of "the degenerate's degenerate" is a suitably JAMC-like touch with its implications of how the Guitar Man may find that being a "Swinging little guitar man" could lead to many more rewards than simply pleasure in the music.

Curiously, Peel chose only to play the JAMC version of the tune, but the other versions are well worth hearing as well.

Jerry Reed's original

Elvis's version featuring Jerry Reed on guitar

Videos courtesy of Copshootcop74 (Jesus and Mary Chain), madgab5 (Reed) and David Doleen (Elvis).

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Oliver: The Safehouse - Music (2 February 1992)

There must be a suitable phrase for that particular synthesiser chord that opens so many dance tracks. You'll hear it at the top of this track, Music, the lead track on The Safehouse's Full Therapy EP.  It sounds like shimmering heat haze and dry ice all in one and it leads the listener into a coin toss over whether to stay with it or not.  Once underway we're into ambient bleeps and blomps territory, interlaced with vocal refrains.  Pleasant enough, but I'm still ambivalent.  And then the moment of truth at 1:46, a stupidly exciting midsection which sounds like a sped up Chinese marimba.  It's only about 10  to 15 seconds long, but it's THE moment here.  So many selections qualify on fractions of the track, rather than the full totality of the thing.  Rhinoceros by The Smashing Pumpkins nearly qualified on the last show purely on the strength of it's last 30 seconds, but it wasn't as exciting as the Chinese marimba here.

The importance of an aural diamond glinting through a turd within one track was first shown to me by a track which Huw Stephens played on OneMusic in mid 2006.  Where the Stress Falls by The Playwrights features a number of bugbears: feedback wankery at the start, lyrics which tax the patience, an unpleasant angular tune allied to a vocal which sets the teeth on edge.  But all is rescued in the extended coda which brings in a trumpet part that works in brilliant counterpoint to the band's outgoing thrash and incoherent poetry duet.  The lesson being that you have to listen out for every detail and discount nothing too quickly.

Video courtesy of yellowidhouse.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Oliver: Jacob's Mouse - Twist (2 February 1992)

At some point in 2002, when I was foolishly moving away from Peel, one of my gripes against him was that any band in East Anglia stood a chance of getting played on his show - even if they were playing When The Saints Go Marching In on a comb and paper - simply because they would be local to him. God, I was such a curmudgeon back then and needlessly so.  After all, I liked The Vaults and Miss Black America weren't a bad band at all.

If only I'd had access to these shows back then, because if I had, then I would have seen a pattern emerging - what linked Raw Noise, Bleach and "the toast of Bury St. Edmunds", Jacob's Mouse was less their shared proximity to Peel's home and more the fact that in their different ways, they created a storming racket of the type that appealed to Peel's appreciation of the dramatic musical gesture.  That this was happening on his back door must have been tremendously interesting for him

The potential for off-putting band names has already been discussed on this blog and will doubtless resurface in years to come.  I have to confess that the name Jacob's Mouse didn't suggest great things to me, the Whimsyometer flashing dangerously, but this is a great track - funky, tight and with guitar pyrotechnics to rival Graham Coxon at his most virtuostic.  Peel really had a thing for bands who cut loose on their pedals, didn't he?  The Blur comparison isn't too far off, I don't think, as I can hear traces of their Get Out of Cities in this track, except Jacob's Mouse were 6 years ahead.

Twist was taken from an album called No Fish Shop Parking.  Silly album titles were the bread and butter of Peel's playlists but he was able to use his local knowledge to shed some light on the title's background:
"It's called that actually because there's a sign next to a chip shop in Bury St. Edmunds - one of those welcoming signs that you see in this country, but nowhere else on Earth, which says things like 'No Turning in this Driveway' and you always think what damage can it possibly do to anyone to have a car turn round in their driveway...anyway No Fish Shop Parking is a sign that I know well."

Video courtesy of Matt Edmonds.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Oliver: John Peel Show - Radio 1 (Saturday 1 February 1992)

And in a flash, we plunge into February 1992.  The first night of Falmouth School's production of Oliver is only 2 months away.  But we'll be a while off moving on to The Comedy of Errors yet, because while January 1992 only offered 1 show per weekend due to availability and timing issues, February '92 is complete except for Saturday 15 February - quite a few complete 3 hour shows in among them as well.  But the selections in the next couple of posts came from the last 80 minutes of the 1/2/92 show.

"I like the guitar on this" was Peel's understated intro to Walking Backwards by Manifesto, which becomes the current holder of the title for "track I would love to share on this blog, but can't!"  Still if you click on the correct part of the 1/2/92 page on the John Peel wiki, you'll be able to hear it yourself.  Neither, grunge nor shoegaze but a solid, epic pop song.  One of those tracks that transcends genre labels but still surprises one that Peel played it.  However, it's a great example of what Peel may have had in mind when he talked about his programmes being an addition to Radio 1's mainstream output rather than an alternative to it.

Other tracks that may have made the mixtape included:
Cobra - Licence Fi Bad (reggae track which uses the melody of From a Distance to wonderful effect).

There were a large number of tracks which fell from favour when it came to writing about them and which missed out a place on the mixtape:

Smashing Pumpkins - Rhinoceros (just too dull for words)
Heavenly - Escort Crash on Marston Street (sounded anaemic to me ultimately, especially as a Nirvana track came after it).
United Future Organisation - I Love My Baby, My Baby Loves Jazz (nice idea but ultimately still lounge music).

Plot your way to hearing Walking Backwards from here.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Oliver: Badgewearer - N'Alien Head (1 February 1992)

NOTE - The original video of N'Alien Head on this blog was taken down from YouTube a while ago.  To hear it in the new video, go to 1:21. (8/7/17).

A feature of Peel's shows in January and February '92 were tracks by bands on the Gruff Wit Records label, operating out of Glasgow.  We recently had a taste of a Gruff Wit signing on this blog.  The label appears to have been a home for acts who were:
a) Scottish
b) Punk influenced
c) Incredibly angry
d) Incredibly exciting to listen to.

Badgewearer show the label at its best.  Starting out with a guitar riff that sounds like a hornet attacking a glass with a drill, this track piles on like Rage Against the Machine if they had a sense of economy.  In fact, listening to this, I'm happily imagining a future where "He is another piece of cake" beats out "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" as a piece of 90s zeitgeist.  It could have been Badgewearer  soundtracking Bruno Brookes's most subversive act on Radio 1 or kicking Simon Cowell in the bollocks.  I wish it had been.

Video courtesy of Myrna Minkoff.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Oliver: Catherine Wheel - Balloon (1 February 1992)

"A cult band who should have been superstars" - I stand by that judgement after listening to their 1992 single, Balloon.  The Nirvana tracks I've added to this blog have engaged and thrilled me, and they would have definitely been going on a 1992 era mixtape had I been doing one at the time, but I cannot tell a lie - had I been buying records in 1992, then Catherine Wheel would have been getting my paper-round money ahead of Nirvana.

What I like here is the shiny immediacy of the song.  There's a spirit of inclusiveness in here which, if you were going to pick a side to participate with rather than observe, would have turned my heart away from the scary if fascinating antics of the grunge crowd.  But is it right to talk in terms of picking sides?  It's happened throughout pop music history whether it be between bands or scenes.  And it's not just clean fun here.  The "come down" refrain towards the end might not entirely be referring to altitude descension.
The drug references in the song and their open-mind/open door encouragement are nothing new, even in 1992 - but the attitude underpinning it isn't so different from that found in grunge music.  You had the choice to soar into the sky or crawl beneath the covers, but the fact that the ascent would inevitably lead to the comedown and all its attendant horrors, makes Balloon a far more subversive and dangerous song than it might otherwise seem to be.

Fades in quietly, by the way...

Video courtesy of Young Coconut.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Oliver: Gallon Drunk - Just One More (1 February 1992)

I've heard quite a bit of  Gallon Drunk on the Peel recordings I've been making selections from, but this is the first track that I've liked enough to include on the mix tape.  I think that this is more a failing on my part than theirs, because their tracks are sonically very interesting.  Just One More features twangy Duane Eddy-esque guitar, sludgy bass, tango piano, ballistic Doors-like organ, bicycle spokes and copious maraca.  No wonder Peel described them as not sounding like anyone else, and that might be why they haven't featured more often here.  My ears are not as receptive as Peel's and bands who don't sound like anyone else are often condemned to plough a lonely furrow.  This is a good track to listen to what Gallon Drunk were sowing.

Video courtesy of World Tunes.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Oliver: MC Lyte - Poor Georgie (1 February 1992)

I could be wrong, but apart from a cameo by Sister Souljah on the Public Enemy joint, By The Time I Get to Arizona, this may be the first female fronted hip hop selection on this blog.  Either way, I love this track; a friends with benefits account of MC Lyte's relationship with a serial philanderer, but given the spin that as long as he keeps the other girls out of her sight and treats her with respect, it will be fine.  Lucky old George, but MC Lyte pulls it off thanks to her wordplay and some dreamy samples, especially the piano part taken from Georgy Porgy by Toto.
The goodwill is nearly squandered by a melodramatic final verse, and those who prefer MC Lyte's more earthier material may find it a bit tame, but I'm just grateful to be writing about a hip-hop track that doesn't feature either the police or self-aggrandisement.

In case you've heard that piano part before and can't place it.

Videos courtesy of rok c (MC Lyte) and Bembadin (Toto).

Monday, 2 May 2016

Oliver: Nirvana - Beeswax (1 February 1992)

This track was one of the 10 recorded by a nascent Nirvana on the demo tape they gave to Sub Pop Records in 1988. Dale Crover, who would subsequently go on to play with The Melvins, provides the superb drums here.
The song is a mix of free associative lyrics mixing together materials (fibreglass and cotton candy stand out in particular) together with Kurt Cobain's sense of revulsion and fear at the sexual act, though he does appear to be encouraging the recipient of the song to take him anally at one point.  All most unedifying, but given substance by a genius chorus hook line, "I got my diddly spayed" and a guitar riff that makes him sound like he's Hulking out at various stages.  Somewhere on the Internet there has to be a mash up of Family Guy's Glenn Quagmire singing the chorus of this song.

Peel played it as it was on arguably the seminal grunge (before anyone was calling it that) compilation of the time, Kill Rock Stars.

Video courtesy of All Nirvana Songs and Albums in High Quality.