Friday, 18 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #20

This might be the last post in the series. It might not. The future of the blog has been up in the air for some time now. I'm running very short of ideas and I'm feeling less and less inspired, less and less motivated and less and less excited about the whole thing. This series should have enthused me, but while it started out strong, it has frustrated me a few times and as it has gone on I've found it harder to continue. To be frank - it's all becoming a bit of a chore and, perhaps worse, a bit of a bore also. Yeah yeah, I know, I've said this all before. I'll probably find another second wind from somewhere and get back to business as usual...

So here's what's happening: after today, there's going to be a bit of a hiatus while MrsRobster and I enjoy a late summer break. The Reggae Wednesday series will continue as I have the last few instalments already written and prepared. In September I'll think again. I have loads of great things to share which would keep this series going up to Christmas at least, it's just whether I can be arsed to write about them. The blog needs a new focus if it's to continue, something that I enjoy doing. I don't really know what that is at the moment though, so we'll see.

In the meantime, to bring the series to a (maybe temporary, maybe permanent) close, we're going back to where we started - that very early Tyrone's gig from October 1980 that to date remains the earliest known recording of R.E.M. in circulation. Three songs all with very different futures ahead of them. Dangerous Times was a favourite of R.E.M.'s early live sets and may have been demoed once or twice, but it didn't survive long once the band's songwriting had moved on. As far as their earliest material goes, Dangerous Times isn't bad but it's hardly up there with Gardening At Night.

All The Right Friends did make it onto record. Although credited to Berry/Buck/Mills/Stipe, it was actually written by Buck and Stipe before they'd even met Mills and Berry. The song was originally recorded for 'Murmur' but not used. That version later appeared on the European reissue of 'Dead Letter Office' a decade later. During the 'Reckoning' sessions, the band gave it another go but again it was discarded. A third attempt was made for 'Lifes Rich Pageant' and once more it was passed over. The 25th Anniversary reissue of 'LRP' contains that one. Finally, in 2001, one final attempt was made, more than 21 years after it was written. Having been asked at very short notice to provide a song for the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's Vanilla Sky, the band recorded All The Right Friends (with new lyrics) and deemed it good enough to issue. What you're getting here though is possibly the earliest known version of the song.

To round off, a song that was not only recorded, but ended up on an album and released as a single. (Don't Go Back To) Rockville was penned by Mike Mills as a plea to his then girlfriend not to leave town. In fact it's Mills who often sang lead vocal in the band's late era, the song remaining in the live set right to the end. You can hear how fast the original was played, "kind of like how Buddy Holly would've played it" as Peter Buck once recalled. It enjoyed a country-style makeover for its eventual release on 'Reckoning' four years later, but very little else was done to it.

See you in a few weeks. Maybe.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

One of John Peel's favourite records of all time was 'Live At The Counter Eurovision', the debut album by Misty In Roots. The London collective became one of the most popular British reggae acts, spreading the word of Jah in their shamelessly Rastafarian-themed songs. Never terribly prolific in the studio, they nonetheless toured relentlessly, being the first reggae band to tour South Africa, Poland and Russia.

As a result of spending a lot of time in West Africa, the band integrated more and more African sounds and rhythms into their music, but that's no bad thing; it was something that set them apart from their peers.

Misty In Roots recorded no fewer than nine Peel Sessions between 1979 and 2002 and credit the legendary DJ for much of their success. A compilation of Peel highlights was released in 1995. It included many songs the band never released in any other form, including today's track True Rasta Man. This was from their second session in 1979 and features an impressive line-up of 11 singers and musicians.

I'll be taking a couple weeks off after Friday, but I've pre-written and scheduled Reggae Wednesday for the next fortnight to tide you over. No need to deprive you of some tasty irie vibes.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The Genius of Nick Cave

#25: From Her To Eternity [live]

This tale of the girl upstairs "wearin' them bloo stockin's", the title track of the first Bad Seeds album from 1984, remains a highlight of Nick's entire career. But in the live setting it becomes even more visceral. This particular performance at Belgium's Rock Werchter Festival in 1989 is probably the best I've seen. Nick gives an absolutely blistering rendition. The rest of the Bad Seeds aren't half bad either; Harvey, Powers, Bargeld, Wydler... the whole damn lot of 'em. This is why the Bad Seeds sell out every time they play, whatever the line-up. This is a real 'wow!' moment.

Friday, 11 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #19

It's back to the Green Tour this week and a boot I bought on vinyl which has subsequently been issued on CD and digital formats. There seems to be some kind of loophole which allows some bootlegs to be commercially issued kind of semi-officially without infringing any laws. That's the case with this one. You can buy it on Amazon if you like the sound of it.

Anyway, I played this one quite a bit back in the day as it was great-sounding, probably as a result of it being taken directly from an FM radio broadcast. The sleeve claims the show was recorded in Orlando, Florida on 30 April 1989, but the majority of the record seems to be taken from a show in Miami the previous night. Exactly what tracks are taken from which show is unclear, but it's hardly important. It's the most widely-booted R.E.M. performance but probably not one that those who are not R.E.M. collectors are likely to have heard. The boot has been released under various titles but there are many versions called 'Songs For A Green World' which happens to be what my vinyl copy is called.

I've chosen three tracks from it to share with you. Crazy is the Pylon song. Pylon supported R.E.M. during the final leg of the Green Tour from late October to mid-November across the southern US states. Up to then, Crazy featured in R.E.M.'s set and I reckon this is a more than decent rendition. Get Up was one of 'Green''s poppiest moments. It works well live as the calls to "Get up, get up" could be hollered by the crowd. Apparently, Stipe wrote it as a call to Mike Mills to get his lazy arse out of bed during the recording sessions. And the simultaneous musical boxes in the bridge were Bill Berry's idea after it came to him in a dream. OK, enough Get Up facts...

The final track is dedicated to MrsRobster. It's her birthday today and the title reflects all that she is and forever will be. "I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music." You Are The Everything was a surprise highlight on 'Green' and hinted strongly at the direction the band would take next. Live, Bill Berry played bass, Peter Buck played mandolin and Mike Mills played accordian. It's a phenomenal track and Stipe sings it so, so well.

Happy Birthday babe. "The stars are the greatest thing you've ever seen / And they're there for you."

(Mind you, the first of these songs might relate to her too...)

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

For the fourth week in a row, it's a cover version, although to be fair in this case it's the cover that is probably better known. In 1982, Rita Marley released her second solo album 'Harambé'. It included this fantastic version of a song originally by The Love Joys. And it is a joy. It's basically about getting stoned.

Now I know I usually write more than this, but you surely don't need me to tell you who Rita Marley is and her history, etc. If you do, you're definitely reading the wrong blog and are probably not into music. Try this instead. For everyone else, well one listen to the tune and you'll realise that, in all honesty, words are not necessary - this is all you need.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Feeling Feisty?

Leslie Feist has been rather busy just lately. As well as releasing her fifth solo album back in the spring, she also teamed back up with her old mates Broken Social Scene for their first record in seven years. Both albums have been played A LOT around here, so here's a track from each.

Century features Jarvis Cocker musing on how long a century is. His maths is wrong and he fails to account for leap years, but putting that aside, it's Jarvis so he can get away with it. The video features The Jarv and a brilliant face off between Feist and Maria Doyle Kennedy, formerly of the Hothouse Flowers but best known as an actress in Father Ted, Downton Abbey and, currently, Orphan Black. She kills it here, too! The only downside is the way the song ends. Yes, it's intentional, but I still find it bloody annoying...

Feist takes lead vocal on the title track of Broken Social Scene's 'Hug Of Thunder'. No video exists for this track, and she hasn't performed live with the band during the current round of pormotional duties, but the studio version still sounds wonderful on its own.

Friday, 4 August 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #18

OK, so I teased you a bit on Monday. I had every intention of posting the two exclusive R.E.M. tracks from 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' even though many of you probably have them. 'Lifes Rich Pageant' was the second R.E.M. album I ever heard. The same guy who tipped me off about 'Document' also lent me his cassette of its predecessor. I loved that too. I still think the first four tracks are flawless in their sequencing.

Interestingly, 'LRP' contains two of the band's earliest songs that to that point they'd never recorded. These Days was being played as far back as 1980, the very year they formed, while What If We Give It Away dates from just a year or so later and was originally called Get On Their Way. I'm not sure why it took until 1986 for them both to be finally recorded, but there is a feeling the band may have been short of material. Surely not? Well, when you consider the original tracklist comprised just 10 songs with two more - a cover version and a cheesy bossa-nova filler track - flung on at the last minute, you can see where such an idea came from. The final 12-track version still weighed in at less than 40 minutes. Yet, listening to it even now is 40 minutes well spent.

In 1992, all the band's IRS albums were reissued in Europe with bonus tracks. I bought a few of them as imports. While some of the bonus tracks were previously released as b-sides, one or two exclusives did emerge. One such track was on the 'Lifes Rich Pageant' release. Tired Of Singing Trouble is a short pseudo-gospel pastiche which seems to act as a vehicle for Stipe's vocal experimentation. His voice was now venturing much higher into the mix on record and tracks like this might have helped him establish the vocal style he would adopt on subsequent albums. Tired Of Singing Trouble has never appeared on any other reissue so it remains something of a rarity.

Also on that European reissue were the tracks recorded for the 'Athens GA.: Inside/Out' documentary. Swan Swan H. was on the original album but this live rendition is wonderful. As is its companion piece, a take on the Everly Brothers classic All I Have To Do Is Dream. This is even more wonderful. I love the way Stipe and Mills sing together. Mills' harmonies were rarely anything other than spot on, and his harmonic basslines served to compliment things further (as you can hear on Swan Swan H.). I've never understood why he has never made a solo record.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Reggae Wednesday

Another interesting cover version for you this week. The Voice Of Thunder, more commonly known as Prince Far I, was one very interesting character. Having deejayed around Jamaica for a number of years, Prince Far I became one of the country's most respected recording artists during the 1970s. While his vocal style has been dubbed 'toasting', he preferred to label himself a 'chanter' rather than a 'toaster'.

His first album, 'Psalms For I', in 1975 was a collection of psalms and prayers for illiterate people who could not read the Bible themselves. Far I's faith cropped up in numerous tracks throughout his career, but he wasn't shy of politics either. The title of his second album 'Under Heavy Manners' referred to the state of emergency rule imposed by the Jamaican government in 1976, many tenets of which he disagreed with.

Today's song is taken from that album. Deck Of Cards was written and originally performed in 1948 by country singer T. Texas Tyler, although the story told in the song dates back to 1762 as penned by British farmer's wife Mary Bacon. Since Tyler's version, there have been many takes on it. The one I remember is by Max Bygraves. No, really. He had a huge hit with it in the UK in 1973 and my mum and dad had one of his albums that contained it. It was played a lot when I was a wee nipper. The song's style is ripe for parody - and in fact there have been many of those. From the Soft Boys to Eric Idle; Penn and Teller to Bill Oddie; Mike Harding to Max Boyce (whose version was about the Welsh national rugby team).

Prince Far I turned the tale of a Christian soldier into a dub masterpiece. Produced by the Mighty Two and backed by Joe Gibbs' house band The Professionals, it is one heavy beast. Certainly, Max never did it this way...

Prince Far I was shot dead in 1983. Some accounts say it was a robbery, while others claim it was because of the political symbols he painted on the outside of his house. Either way it was a tragic end.

I need to post more dub in this series, though there aren't many chapters left. Hmmm, might squeeze one more in somewhere...

Monday, 31 July 2017

Compiled #5

(Problems with Pixeldrain again, so today's links come courtesy of Nippyshare...)

I had originally planned to write about some of my other favourite compilations like 'Ruby Trax' and 'Alvin Lives (In Leeds)' but I decided against it in the end. Why? Well JC did some in-depth pieces on the former a little while ago and I can't add much more to what he wrote, while the latter has been written about in some form or other by plenty of others over the years. I'm sure Brian must have done something about it at some point.

So, the final episode in this mini-series is a bit of a cheat, really. You see, I never actually owned a physical copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack so it can't really be considered influential in my life. But it's a really good, varied record that deserves revisiting. And it's not even a proper compilation album, more a soundtrack; most of the songs included were recorded live specially. So maybe it doesn't belong in this series at all. Regardless...

If you didn't know, 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' was a documentary released in 1986 about the music scene in the town of Athens, Georgia. I only ever wanted the soundtrack to 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' for the R.E.M. tracks. For some reason it seemed practically impossible to track down. Not sure why, but I just never saw it anywhere and my local record shops were unable to order it in. I finally got hold of the R.E.M. songs as bonus tracks on a European reissue of 'Lifes Rich Pageant' on CD, so never pursued it any further.

I did, however, buy the video of the film at some point and found it intriguing. I'd never heard of most of the bands who featured. Of course, R.E.M. and the B-52s were by far the most successful of the lot, and I'd heard of Pylon purely because of R.E.M.'s cover of Crazy. But some of the other bands went on to have quite lengthy careers. Take the Flat Duo Jets, for instance. Not only did they release eight albums before they broke up in 1998, but they were a massive influence on the raucous two-piece blues rock bands who followed in their wake. No less than Jack White name-checked them often.

Love Tractor were another lot who had staying power, releasing four albums before they split (and a further three post-reforming). Pretty originally appeared on their second record 'Around The Bend', but this live version was captured at the legendary 40 Watt Club.

Most of the songs on the soundtrack were recorded live as a way of capturing 'the scene'. There were one or two studio tracks though. The mighty Pylon contributed a song from their debut album, 1980's 'Gyrate'. Stop It remains one of Vanessa Briscoe Hay's best vocals.

Dreams So Real is a band I still know almost nothing about. They did release four albums before breaking up in 1990. Golden, the track that appears on the Athens, GA. soundtrack curiously didn't feature in the film itself. Nor did it appear on any of their albums, though it was included on the 1992 compilation 'Nocturnal Omissions'.

Of course, the R.E.M. tracks will feature at some point in my ongoing Friday series. Maybe. Perhaps if the B-52s had a track on the album I might have included that, but strangely there wasn't one. In the film all we got from them was some very unsatisfactory archive clips and a couple of interviews. So instead, I'll sign off with the opening track on the soundtrack which also found itself being put out as a single. The Squalls released just two albums that very few people bought. This track, however, is incredibly hummable. Well, the chorus is. It's made it onto a few compilations I've done over the years.

Eventually, I finally managed to get hold of a copy of the 'Athens, GA: Inside/Out' soundtrack, albeit digitally. Not the same, I know, but better than nothing.

Friday, 28 July 2017

The hidden world of R.E.M. #17

The 1999 fan club single was the first to be issued on CD. My guess is any plans to make it a 7" were scuppered by the running times. Both songs were recorded live in October 1998 at Neil Young's annual Bridge School Benefit concert in California. Young, in fact, features on both tracks. On one side was Young backed by R.E.M. (minus Stipe) performing Ambulance Blues, originally the closing track on Young's 1974 album 'On The Beach'. However, you're getting the other side.

As you probably know, Country Feedback is my favourite R.E.M. song. It's also Michael Stipe's. This epic nine-minute acoustic version features the then-touring line-up of the band with Young guesting on guitar. He plays a particularly long solo, but that's not wholly surprising I suppose. It sounds very different to the album version, mainly because of the piano and acoustic guitars-a-plenty. The album version will never be beaten, but this one is hardly inferior.

1999 was the year of Man On The Moon, the movie about US comedian Andy Kaufman. R.E.M. wrote and scored the mainly orchestral soundtrack which also included a couple of new songs along with the established title track. Kaufman was played in the movie by Jim Carrey who performed one of those new songs with the band. This Friendly World is a disposable pop song that Stipe sings nicely while Jim Carrey larks around supposedly in character in his annoying over-acting kind of way. No, I'm not a fan.

Not many people bought the soundtrack other than devoted R.E.M. fans, even though the single released from it - The Great Beyond - was the band's highest-charting hit in the UK. This Friendly World is a silly, non-essential piece, but a fairly unknown curio which is why I'm including here.