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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Maria Doyle Kennedy November 21, 2020

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What a talent Maria Doyle Kennedy is, a wonderful singer and a wonderful actress too. I remember seeing her first with The Hothouse Flowers many moons ago. Saw her a few times in the intervening years and she has such a wonderful voice.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to…The Presidents of the United States of America November 7, 2020

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Given the week that was in it, couldn’t really be any other choice but Seattle band The Presidents of the United States of America…..

This Weekend I’ll be Listening to… Some Jazz October 24, 2020

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I lived in Cork for a period in the 90’s and the Jazz weekend was always a highlight. Not that I got to see much Jazz but there would be some amount drunk and the place was hopping. Friends would come down for the weekend and for many in Cork and beyond it was the highlight of the year. The October bank holiday weekend is traditionally Jazz Weekend, so it’s an awful pity we won’t have the same at all this year with Covid.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to….. Brushy One String October 10, 2020

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Brushy One String (real name Tony Quinlan), is a Jamaican singer and guitarist that uses just one string on his guitar and combines that string with using the guitar for percussion. It’s quite something to have become a success with such limited instrumentation yet it’s fairly good listening.

This Weekend I will mostly be listening to…Exile on Main Street. October 3, 2020

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A very welcome guest post from SonofStan…

The Rolling Stones. You’ve probably heard of them, and this one is usually considered their best record (though it wasn’t universally well received on release). So what is there to say about it?

All I can offer is that I was provoked: in a piece in this slot back in April, IEL talked about the Doors and in the comments WbS suggested that the Doors were ‘vastly better than the Stones’. Now my view of the Doors is much like Churchill on liberalism: anyone who doesn’t like the Doors when they’re 20 has no heart and anyone who still likes them when they’re 30 … maybe stop there. Some of you will be aware that I’ve been researching how we arrive at our judgements of taste around music and one of the things I’m interested in the way we build up a personal canon, a sense of what’s important. And for some – me, for example – this looks a bit like a mental league table, or at least a categorisation of artists and records according to some criteria, often obscure, certainly influenced by others, but internalised as ones ‘own’ taste. And in my table, the Stones are infinitely more significant than the Doors.

Funny thing is, a year ago, I probably would have been annoyed about the comment, but no more: but, over the past months, I’ve become obsessed with this record, and a few other Stones songs to an extent that I find perplexing. Either I’ve finally succumbed to the lure of classic rock and am about to become one of those guys who goes on about ‘real music’ in YouTube comments, or ….well actually I don’t have an ‘or’.

It started, I think, with Knives Out, an entertaining piece of hokum with Daniel Craig doing the worst Brit version of a southern accent since, well probably Mick Jagger. The credits played out over “Sweet Virginia” and next day at work, I played it on YouTube. Then I followed it up with “Rocks Off”, and everything changed. It’s a song I’ve known for over 40 years, but it hit me like a ton of freshly moulded bricks. The mysteries of the song are many: here is a singer whose persona is usually one of often offensive sexual bragging singing about impotence and doubt, about being unable to keep (it) up, both literally and figuratively, being out of step, haunted by voices on the street. The desperation of the voice, the way it comes in and out of focus, de-centred, fighting the guitars and horns for attention, the defeat in the midst of the exuberant riffing and extraordinary drumming, is transfigurative.

Once I got past “Rocks Off”, 50 plays later, I cued up the rest of the record on the tube. Then I went out and bought the CD and played it to death in the office for a few weeks. This was better, but still not quite the ideal form of the record I remembered. Back in Dublin, I dug out the album on vinyl, and found myself doing something I’d barely done since my teens: listening to a whole double album through on headphones, in order, and over and over.

There are a few things everyone knows about Exile. It was recorded in the south of France, in a chateau rented by Keith Richards, the logic being than he couldn’t be habitually late for recording if it was happening in his own house. The sessions were – it is generally believed – a nightmare world of drugs, debauchery, and cruelty, in a basement with no air con. There were limits though: Gram Parsons was sent away as a bad influence. It’s Keith’s favourite Stones record, but not Mick’s and it’s easy enough to see and hear why. Nevertheless, no Stone, not even Keith, plays on every track. The record is as much about Bobby Keys and Jim Price on horns, Ian Stewart and Nicky Hopkins on piano, and producer Jimmy Miller on drums and percussion as it is about the band whose name is on the cover. By some alchemy though, all these disparate line ups produce a record that sound exactly like itself at every moment, and like nothing in either the rest of the Stones’ catalogue or anyone else’s. It’s also the last real Stones record: after Exile, they set out to invent stadium rock. Jagger, at any rate, understood that their future – and the future of the music industry – lay in touring, and that the marketing of the band’s ‘classic’ period would be their meal ticket as their own tribute act. There’s probably an album’s worth of decent material in the 40 years of recording that followed, but nothing to match anything on Exile – or at least nothing that sounds as simultaneously haunted and alive.

Bill Janovitz, formerly of Buffalo Tom, wrote a maddeningly inconsistent book in the 33 1/3 series about Exile: maddening, because he’s far too impressed with the legends, but useful and forensic in working out who played what on what song, and with generally good understanding of what’s going on in the peculiar sound-world of the record. Really, the drugs and sex and such are of no interest: the sound of the record is enough for a lifetime. Mick Taylor is quoted in Janovitz’ book as saying that when he joined, he couldn’t get over how bad the Stones were as musicians, but when they got it right, generally after hours or days, there were things they could do that no one else could. On Exile, most tracks have at least two rhythm guitar parts, often playing lines that, taken separately, make little harmonic or even rhythmic sense but, as they mesh, have a sense of both moving forwards and falling backwards at the same time. You can hear this most clearly on “Tumbling Dice”: the signature riff is distinctive enough, but when anyone covers it, even the Stones themselves, the lazy other rhythm part, strumming loosely through the changes like someone playing along to the record half -heard from the other room is missing, and consequently the song sounds nothing like itself. This curious ‘propulsive delay’ creates a weird sense of envelopment, sometimes claustrophobia: often, particularly on side 3, there is a feeling that you may never get out of this place. It’s a feeling familiar from say the Velvets of “Sister Ray”, or early Can, or maybe PIL, but the Stones achieve it with relatively short songs, knitted together into a whole that is more of a whole the more disparate the fragments become.

Jagger has tended to be a bit dismissive of Exile, and its status in the Stones canon and on one level, it’s not hard to see why. His voice is mixed way down on many of the songs and a lot of the lyrics are nearly indecipherable. Nevertheless, it contains some fantastic singing, and particularly great examples of Jagger’s ability to inhabit a persona. On “Rip This Joint” he does Little Richard to perfection, for example. Weirder though, and something I can’t quite explain, is what he does in the next track, “Shake Your Hips” by Slim Harpo, one of two covers on the record. On the lines “met a little girl/ in a country town/ she said ‘what do you know?/ it’s Slim Harpo” he haunts the original in quite uncanny way: to the point where the country girl’s wonder might be interpreted as wonder at Jagger’s ability to be Slim Harpo. But the whole song is also sung not as if Jagger were really an African-American blues singer, but as a performance of African-American blues singing by a virtuoso impressionist. There is sometimes a more than uncomfortable echo of blackface minstrelsy in much of Jagger’s singing, but, and this is the mystery: because he knows it, and because he doesn’t insist on the authenticity of the performance, it avoids -not all the time – appropriation. Jagger overdoes it on songs such as “Prodigal Son”, originally by the Rev. Robert Wilkins, on Beggars’ Banquet to emphasis the provisionality of his licence to sing such songs. Authenticity, as Allan Moore (not that one) writes, is always ascribed, never inscribed: no performance is intrinsically ‘authentic’. Jagger never solicits belief in any kind of ‘first person’ authenticity: we’re never supposed to think that this is a window into Mick’s innermost thoughts – in fact, the secrets of Mick’s soul have nothing to do with the Stones, one way or the other. Which may be why he can be great soul singer….

Jagger can do whiteface as well, of course: my gateway back into this mess was “Sweet Virginia” and that and “Torn and Frayed” inhabit the world of cosmic American music that the Byrds built with Sweetheart of the Rodeo and Parsons extended with the Burritos. Which is the other great mystery of the Stones at this point: how they managed to be so effortlessly American. Or maybe not so mysterious: the other great proto-Americana band of this era, the Band, were, after all, Canadians. The Stones’ journey through country music is less noted than their adventures in RnB, but you can tell there is a real love there too. There’s a great version on You Tube of “Bob Wills is Still the King”, live in Austin, where Ronnie Wood just about holds down the pedal steel part until the solo, and promptly falls to pieces. Jagger does it straight, and quite affectingly.

Anyway, it is, unarguably I think, the Stones’ greatest record, and also their last great one. A few picks and a bonus to support my ‘Jagger as a great soul singer’ contention.

Rocks Off (with visuals by Robert Franks, who did the Exile cover)

Shake your Hips

Just Want to See his Face

And a great version of “Drift Away” from the It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll sessions – better than anything on that record to my mind.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Twisted Sister September 26, 2020

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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I was reading recently how Dee Snider had spoken out against anti mask protests using the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” as part of their protests. He was quoted as saying ….

“No…these selfish a—holes do not have my permission or blessing to use my song for their moronic cause. #cuttheshit,” 

I looked up the song and it brought me back to an era of Music Videos I suppose aimed at teenage boys. Yet they’re excellently done. There is a whole genre of these type of videos.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Carolina Eyck September 12, 2020

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Carolina Eyck plays an instrument known as a theremin, it’s unusual in that to play it you don’t touch it. This year is the centenary of the instrument

Russian physicist and amateur cellist Lev Sergeyvich Termen (1896–1993) — known to Westerners as Léon Theremin — worked on an electronic sensor that whistled over headphones as intruders approached. The sound changed pitch as he moved his hand closer to and further away from the device, a feature Theremin found so intriguing that he refashioned the invention as the first purely electronic instrument, initially called the etherophone. 

Lenin loved the instrument and Theremin was sent on a tour of Europe and the United States to show off the strength of Soviet technology. It looks incredibly difficult to play but Carolina Eyck is probably one of the best exponent of it at the moment.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Winters Reign August 29, 2020

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Saw a clip of these recently and it bought back some awful memories. Winter’s Reign were an Irish AOR band that released two albums “The Mini Album” and “The Beginning”. I gather Louis Walsh was involved with them, they were managed by former Mamas Boys manager Joe Wynne. Despite a good bit of record company backing, they never quite made it.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… CAN August 15, 2020

Posted by irishelectionliterature in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....
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Formed in Cologne in 1968, CAN were a German Rock band, their influences were everything from Jazz, Rock and Funk. Their recording output between 1968 and 1979 was considered incredibly influential. Their live performances featured a lot of improvisation, so often live versions of their songs were rarely the same.

This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Marianne Faithfull August 8, 2020

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At the start of the pandemic there was the bad news that Marianne Faithfull had contracted Covid-19. Thankfully she has made a good recovery and more power to her. But that made me go back and listen to her 1979 album.. I’ve got to be honest, I hadn’t listened to songs from it since the early to mid-1980s and I’m fairly sure I never heard it in its entirety then or since.

Which is my loss and perhaps my gain since it was peculiarly enjoyable to listen to a very varied, knotty, complex set of songs that touch on new wave, punk, disco, rock and other genres with an adeptness that is remarkable given her previous musical homes – consider that by the time Broken English was released this was her eight album proper (and her second of the 1970s). Granted things had gone significantly awry for her in that period, not least serious addiction and living on the streets.

It would be wrong to say that the album is quite punk, or quite rock. The song that is most clearly positioned in those areas, ‘Why’d Ya Do It’ is the last on the album, lyrically excoriating and with guitar lines that are not unreminiscent of Bowie. The other tracks are less clearly so, the title track – a work of genius – is synth driven with (natch) reverbed guitar riffs and that certainly foreshadows a lot of good and bad that was to come down the musical line (and dedicated to Ulrike Meinhof). Steve Winwood was brought in late in proceedings to beef up the sound with a touch of electronica (got to love the curious sounds in the background of Witches Song). To good effect. But the songs themselves are pretty great (and Tim Hardin co-wrote Brain Drain). And then there’s her voice and the lyrics. This is an emphatically feminist album with a stark, uncompromising view of the world delivered by Faithfull (to take but one example the cover of The Ballad of Lucy Jordan).

Amazingly Allmusic devotes just two sentences to the album.

After a lengthy absence, Faithfull resurfaced on this 1979 album, which took the edgy and brittle sound of punk rock and gave it a shot of studio-smooth dance rock. Faithfull’s whiskey-worn vocals perfectly match the bitter and biting “Why’d Ya Do It” and revitalize John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.”

Robert Christgau wrote of the album:

A punk-disco fusion so uncompromised it will scare away fans of both genres, which share a taste for nasty girls that rarely extends to females past thirty with rat’s-nest hair and last night’s makeup on. The raw dance music isn’t exactly original, and sometimes the offhandedness of the lyrics can be annoying, but I like this even when it’s pro forma and/or sloppy, or maybe because it’s pro forma and/or sloppy, like Dylan when he’s good. “Why’d ya spit on my snatch?” indeed–the music’s harshest account of a woman fending with the world

It’s that sort of an album. The songs are smart, honest and resonant, perhaps particularly now. The mood is dark but thoughtful. Also included Sister Morphine that was recorded during the sessions for the album (or re-recorded given it originally was recorded in 1969), released around the same time and wound up on 12” (dispiritingly she had to fight to get the co-credit along with Jagger and Richards. Is it my imagination or did Fanning play this a fair bit?).

The Ballad of Lucy Jordan

Broken English

Why’d Ya Do It?

Witches Song

Working Class Hero

Sister Morphine

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