Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Stumbling Upon the Vinyl Archive. 6. Singles.

The BBC used to have a lunchtime programme called "Pebble Mill at One". While I recalled the show being rather lame, a quick trip to YouTube stunned me - it was actually worse than I remembered! Despite this, I still remember the band they had arranged to close the show one day, and the song they played. The band was Del Amitri, and the song was Nothing Ever Happens. I still have the single, and was delighted to unearth it in the attic last week. Along with some of these other gems and turkeys..

It's often pointed out that when Vinyl gave way to little CDs, it spelt the end of the era of great cover-art. Of course, it also meant the end of the 'picture-disc'. Record companies knew that countless fans would part with more cash, to get a copy of the same song pressed onto a picture of their musical hero, or band logo. Here's a particularly splendid picture disc, from MSG. Quite honestly, the design on the plastic 7" does look quite jolly spinning round at 45 rpm. Of course, turning the sound off assists with the enjoyment of this particular disc; if only it sounded as good as it looked!

Whaddayamean it's about drugs? I thought it was all just innocent childish fun!

Roy Buchanan was a guitarist who never received the recognition he deserved - especially in the UK. Yet his performances on tracks like the bluesy instrumental The Messiah Will Come Again, have been hugely influential on many subsequent players. Gary Moore is the obvious beneficiary of his legacy, with his solos in songs in the Parisiene Walkways/Still Got the Blues, vein drawing deeply on Buchanan's work. Moore acknowledged this in his cover version of this single, and his own work The Prophet, which develops the theme. Buchanan also sounds uncannily like Richie Blackmore would, in several passages on Pete's Blues.

Oooh look, red Vinyl! Surely the kids will buy it in bright red!? "Only You Can Rock Me". UFOs lyrics were hardly the finest poetry, but the music was fun, and in their prime, rather well executed.

Sam Brown's hit "Stop!", was a great song, sung brilliantly with immense passion - an arresting vocal performance. The cardboard sleeve for the single contained not only the black Vinyl disc, but also a large folded poster of the lovely Ms Brown. I had two posters on my wall when I was about 15, one was Ian Paice, just visible behind an enormous drum-kit; the other was Sam Brown. I am sure Mr Paice wouldn't be the least bit offended if I was to point out that he was the less alluring of the two images.

"Don't Believe a Word", I think is the definitive Thin Lizzy song. It has all the ingredients that went to make the Irish rockers into legends, by the spadeful. Lynott's writing is both heartfelt, sentimental, and confessional - despite presenting his own failings as if he were a victim of them; a fiendishly morally ambiguous song. It has upbeat shuffle-rhythm and the distinctive dual-guitar lead, and a scorching solo from Brian Robertson. Two and a half minutes of genius, with a perfect ending.

On a quite different note, Paul Simon's "Still Crazy After All These Years" is a tender little ballad - and rightly considered to amongst his finest works. As delicate and quirky as perhaps only Paul Simon can be, a charming little song - which so nicely invokes nostalgia for times gone, with the story of a chance encounter.

By the time Barclay James Harvest recorded John Lees' composition, Cheap the Bullet, they had been treading the boards for decades. Orchestra's and choirs had come and gone, enormous proggy-soundscapes had been used, swathes of new-fangled synths bathed their 80s output, backing singers had had a turn, their music had evolved and changed almost constantly. This then was a surprise, a no-nonsense guitar-driven mid-paced, rocker. The single predictably didn't sell anything like the quantities it deserved at the time - perhaps by then they were exclusively an 'album band'. At least polydor made a decent effort of the sleeve though.

I always thought that Bob Dylan's "Just Like a Woman", and Billy Joel's "Always a Woman to Me" would form a fascinating double-A side of a bizarre single!

When the Righteous Brothers re-release of Unchained Melody became a smash-hit in 1990 on the back of its use on a film; the BBC did the decent thing a issues Milligan and Sellers definitive rendition of the classic song. "I need your love, I need your love, ying-tong, ying-tong iddle i-po, play my ukele as the ship went down" - genius!

And then something comes out of the archive and it sort of vaguely rings a bell - and then you can't remember why it was there in the first place. Apparently this band Marseille flourished for a while...

And then something I had forgotten about but was pleased to find again! This is Gary Moore's cover of the Yardbirds song, "Shapes of Things", a heavy, powerful version of their 60s pop-tune. I heard Moore do this track live a couple of times, the extended solo of which was a particularly fine point of his live-shows in those days. It's backed by Blinder, an instrumental with an uncanny resemblance to a Rainbow song! These are tracks which I haven't heard for a very, very long time!

Fat n' Frantic - A band whose energetic live-shows were gloriously eccentric, riotous fun, but whose studio performances never had the same energy. "Last Night My Wife Hoovered My Head" was one of their most profound efforts, and indeed gained some national airplay in the hands of Simon Mayo. Those crazy-boys in the psychedelic suits, playing their mixture of punk and skiffle (called piffle), I wonder where they are now? I suspect not moshing as vigorously as they were two decades ago.

Other marketing ploys of the Vinyl singles era included the 12" (as big as an album but only a single, played at 45rpm - allegedly better sound quality) and the EP. Here's an EP (extended player), that I have unearthed from the vaults. The EP is the size of a single, but played a 33rpm, so you get more on it! This one features Barclay James Harvest's Rock n Roll Star, and Medicine Man (part one). Medicine Man (part two) is found on the B-side, and the listener has to flip the disc over midway to enjoy the rest of the song. I wonder how many people spent how many hours trying to record this song onto their TDK D90 blank audio cassettes, trying to time the 'pause' so that it played back seamlessly. Or perhaps I am uniquely sad in this respect...

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