I am returning to my folly and taking up teaching exercise classes again. And the first one I am doing is eighties-themed, so I have been tracking down songs from the eighties that are the right tempo (ideally you want songs upward of 135bpm for the high-impact stuff… which is suprisingly difficult) and if at all possible, nicely divided into 32-count sections. You can imagine my delight at discovering that “Fiesta” by The Pogues fits both of those criteria. And my disappointment that “Ace Of Spades” by Motorhead doesn’t (annoyingly, each verse has a single measure where it drops into 3/4 – you wouldn’t even notice it unless you were trying to fit an exercise routine to it and kept mysteriously finding yourself a beat behind. Sometimes you can edit odd beats and half-measures out, but you can’t really edit them in).
Anyway, one thing I’m pondering is how much one can go off the beaten track. I figure most people are going to have a hit song they don’t recognise, especially if they’re under about 35. (I’m guessing “Last Night A DJ Saved My Life” by Indeep might get a few blank looks.) So if I throw in something nobody will know, maybe everyone will think it’s just them. Such as this:
Slapp Happy never get all that much attention in their own right, though they’re prone to appear amid long lists of influences on other bands. Comprising Peter Blegvad, Anthony Moore and Dagmar Krause, they were essentially three avant-gardists coming together to make pop music, and their initial run was short but fruitful. Within three years (from mid-1972 to mid-75) they completed five albums, of which four were released at the time: “Sort Of”, backed by Faust, “Slapp Happy”, a kind of proto-chamber-pop album with session musicians, and two collaborations with prog-folk-jazzers Henry Cow, the cabaret-influenced “Desperate Straights” and the Henry Cow-led prog album “In Praise Of Learning”. The self-titled album is the one to seek out. The other album, “Acnalbasac Noom”, is the Faust-backed first attempt at recording the “Slapp Happy” tracklist, which Polydor rejected. It’s quite good too.
So anyway, by mid-75, the Henry Cow collaboration had run its course, but Krause opted to stay with them instead of returning to Slapp Happy, and that was pretty much the end of the group… for a while. But fast foward seven years to 1982, and Slapp Happy were back! Back! Back! Temporarily. The one-off single “Everybody’s Slimmin’!” preceded their first ever live show, after which… they split again. And then there were various other reunions, but maybe we’ll discuss those another time.
“Everybody’s Slimmin'” is a pretty wacky single, and one could imagine it being a hit in the musical climate of 1982, which is an interesting thought. Slapp Happy as one hit wonders, their catalogue overshadowed by a novelty hit? Stranger things have happened. Stranger things have happened to Slapp Happy. But this one didn’t.
To finish, here’s some classic Slapp Happy, with one of their better known songs, “The Drum”:
I suppose it must be about 20 years ago that Melody Maker gave away a free book called, I think, “Unknown Pleasures” in which various MM journos wrote essays about underrated and unfairly maligned albums. I’m sure I’ve still got it somewhere, and I do remember a few of the albums covered within. One was “The Lexicon of Love” by ABC, and it seems strange to think that was once an underrated album, considering it’s now rightly recognised as one of the great albums of its era. Another was “Risque” by Chic, selected by (I think) Paul Mathur, and it was reading that essay which got me interested in Chic’s work.
Back in the late 1990s, Chic were not a lauded act. In fact they were pretty much a completely forgotten act. However, that essay sparked my interest, and as it turns out, Mathur (or whoever it was) was right, they were pretty damn good. I think the phrase he used as “the Lennon and McCartney of disco”. Though for me their second album “C’est Chic” edges out “Risque” as their best work. (For those not familiar with the oeuvre, “C’est Chic” has “Le Freak ” and “I Want Your Love” on it, while “Risque”‘s big hit was “Good Times”). Anyway, from there it’s been a bit strange to watch Chic’s reputation being restored. I think the real turning point was in 2011 when Nile Rodgers published his autobiography (titled… Le Freak, of course. What else could it have been?). Suddenly he was everywhere, doing interviews to promote it, and the knock-on effect was that his musical legacy suddenly got a whole lot more attention too. Then there was “Get Lucky”… and suddenly it was as if Chic had always been an admired and acclaimed band. Which of course they were, in certain very small circles, but now they’d gone mainstream again. Kings of disco.
Sadly Rodgers’ writing partner, Chic bassist and sometimes vocalist Bernard Edwards, didn’t live to see it. He died of pneumonia during a concert trip to Japan in 1996, shortly after recording the album I’m sharing today (and just hours after recording “Live at the Budokan”, a much better tribute to their work together). It’s not strictly a Chic album, though a later reissue attempted to pass it off as one, but rather a Nile Rodgers solo project with some old friends, Edwards among them, along for the ride. And honestly, it’s not that great. If you want an introduction to Chic, this is definitely not the place to start (go for “C’est Chic”, the compilations “Ultimate Groove Collection” or “Up All Night”, or even the first Chic/Sister Sledge collaboration “We Are Family” instead) but it’s long out of print and never seems to get shared, so somebody might find it interesting.
Link: Nile Rodgers – Chic Freak and More Treats (password: salad)
- Everybody Dance
- Dance Dance Dance
- Let’s Dance (ft Christopher Max)
- Le Freak
- Upside Down (ft Ashford & Simpson)
- Do That Dance (ft Simon Le Bon)
- He’s The Greatest Dancer (ft Taja Sevelle)
- Good Times
- I Want Your Love
- Music Is My House (ft Christopher Max)
- We Are Family
- Do That Dance (Dancehall Rap Remix) (ft Wayne Thompson)
- Just One World (ft Christopher Max)
No, not Colin Vearncombe.
Before becoming Kid Creole, the man listed on his birth certificate as Thomas August Darnell Browder, sometimes known as Tommy Browder but more usually as August Darnell, was an in-house producer at new York’s uber-cool art-pop indie label Ze Records. (And before that, he was in his brother Stony’s Grammy-winning, genre-busting disco group Doctor Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band, but that’s for another post sometime.)
For an overview of Darnell’s pre-Coconuts work, I very much recommend the compilation Going Places: The August Darnell Years 1976-83. It’s a somewhat scattershot collection, but full of gems, including this, a proper stop-you-dead-in-your-tracks reworking of Leiber and Stoller‘s 1969 composition for Peggy Lee, “Is That All There Is?”. The original was bleak enough, but this version is seriously out there.
Leiber and Stoller didn’t take kindly to this treatment of their song, and got it withdrawn, which led to the few existing copies becoming insanely valuable. Fortunately, by the time Cristina’s catalogue was reissued in 2002, Leiber and Stoller’s feelings toward the reinterpretation had softened somewhat, and they finally gave their blessing for it to be made legally available once more.
The download also includes the original B-side, a Darnell original which would have suited Bow Wow Wow.
Link: Cristina – Is That All There Is? (1980 single) (password: salad)
1. Is That All There Is?
2. Jungle Love
Just a note for anyone who may be interested… the new A.R.Kane material that’s been in the pipeline for a while, is finally on the way! Except that it’s not A.R.Kane anymore, it’s now called Jübl, consisting of Rudy and Maggie Tambala and Andy Taylor. If you count downloads as “singles”, then the single “drops” on 20 June. If not, well, there will be some songs available to download anyway.
I think it’s fair to say Siouxsie and the Banshees is one of those bands who enjoyed a long and pretty successful career without ever quite going mainstream. Everybody’s heard of them, but not to the point where your average punter actually knows any songs. They did have some pretty big hits but I can’t remember the last time I heard them played on the radio.
Which is beside the point, because this single – the first from their acclaimed fourth LP A Kiss In The Dreamhouse – wasn’t even a hit really, only hobbling to a disappointing #41. And it’s aimed more at the dancefloor than the radio anyway. It’s pretty funky in a weirdly British psychedelic way, though.
I wouldn’t say the B-sides are hidden gems, but for those who want them, here they are. Both quite doomy and gloomy; “Obsession II” is the instrumental of album track “Obsession”.
Slowdive would of course later be the name of a shoegaze band, due to it being one of singer/guitarist Rachel Goswell‘s favourite songs. And so in 1990, they released “Slowdive” as their debut single… but wait! This isn’t the same song at all! No, having been inspired by Siouxsie and the Banshees, they stole the title and wrote their own song instead. Well there’s gratitude for you. But it’s a good song full of shimmering loveliness, so I guess I’ll let them off…
Here’s Slowdive’s “Slowdive” along with its B-sides:
Spoiler if you haven’t seen the end of Dr Strangelove: everybody dies. Well, presumably they do, since the film ends with the outbreak of nuclear war. Soundtracked, naturally, with Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again”.
I haven’t found a definitive answer as to which recording the film used, but it seems to be the same arrangement done by Roland Shaw for Lynn’s 1953 remake version. An A/B comparison quickly reveals it’s not the same performance though (for one thing, on the film version the backing vocals are noticeably out of time), so my best guess is that it’s an alternative take from the 1953 session. Speculation: could Kubrick’s people have been supplied with an out-take by mistake? In any case, it’s certainly neither the original 1939 version (on which Lynn was accompanied by a Novachord, a pioneering if temperamental and ultimately not very successful analogue synthesiser), nor the better-known orchestral recording from 1943. Nor even the dashed-off remake from Lynn’s 1962 Hits of the Blitz LP. I can tell you this, I really didn’t expect to be delving quite so deeply into Vera Lynn scholarship. Which, incidentally, doesn’t appear to exist, as you’d think somebody in the last 50-odd years would have attempted to identify the Dr Strangelove take already… but apparently not.
I wasn’t intending to post any Vera Lynn today… or ever… but the fact that the original version used a synthesiser, in 1939, is actually rather interesting, so here is that version:
However, what I’m really here for is the fallout (pardon the pun) from Kubrick’s use of the song. “We’ll Meet Again” wasn’t entirely unknown in the States before then: Benny Goodman laid down a really rather fun swing version in 1942, with a young Peggy Lee on vocals; and Frank Sinatra cut a slow and boring version on his 1962 album Songs From Great Britain. But after Dr Strangelove‘s concluding mushroom cloud montage, the song suddenly became hip in the US counterculture as well. First to the punch were The Byrds, who used the song to close their 1965 debut album Mr Tambourine Man. That the song was considered quintessentially British is reflected in the performance, which is marred by some terrible mock-English accents…
Also playing up the Englishness is this recording by The Turtles, an unsuccessful US single which British audiences got to hear when it was issued as the B-side to the UK pressing of “Happy Together”. This is my favourite version, an upbeat celebratory arrangement with a pub-style piano.
There were other versions as well, and they didn’t always go for the Anglophile angle. For example, this attempt at a Beach Boys-style rendition by The Cryan’ Shames:
The song was well established as a peacetime, as well as wartime, standard by the time P. J. Proby gave it the lounge treatment in 1972 (stick with it, it starts slow but it goes full Vegas by the end):
Proby’s version demonstrates a perennial problem for interpreters of this song: there’s not a lot to it. You basically have to do the entire song twice to stretch it out to a reasonable length. It doesn’t help that none of the later versions (even Lynn’s own) bother with the opening verse present on the 1939 Novachord original. Proby’s partial answer to the problem, a spoken-word section, is also used by Johnny Cash on American IV, his last album released during his lifetime. This was the same album which included his acclaimed version of Nine Inch Nails‘ “Hurt”. “We’ll Meet Again” is the closing song (of course), and it’s a rather sweet acoustic version. Special mention has to go to Terry Harrington for his understated clarinet solo.
I was going to leave it there, but it occurred to me that we haven’t heard a female performance since, well, the original. So to take us full circle (kinda), here’s the version from She & Him‘s 2014 covers album, Classics. It’s actually quite strange to hear the song done straight again…
And we’ll meet again… in a few days. It may even still be sunny.
Whatever happened to them? Oh, the usual story: bad deals, label meddling, not getting paid… they did re-emerge a while later as Psychodelicates and while they don’t seem to have been active for about a decade, their website still exists at http://www.psychodelicates.com.
Link: Sexus – The Official End Of It All (password: salad)
1. The Official End Of It All
2. Longing Without Belonging
3. King Of The Fairground Swing
4. The Official End Of It All (Hi-Lux Not Enough Clothes Mix)
I’m not hugely familiar with 90s alt-dance group Wubble-U, and they haven’t struck enough of a chord with anyone to have much more than a stub on Wikipedia. They seem to be remembered pretty much solely for the bouncy, Stanley Unwin-featuring microhit “Petal”, but today I’m sharing the only other slab of Wubble-U in my collection, and it’s not very much like “Petal” at all, more like a high-velocity version of Fat Les. It seems it was supposed to be the follow-up to “Petal” but… wasn’t. And it wasn’t even on their album, so this one-track promo is all there ever was.
Here’s a full album for you, from riot grrrl quartet Mambo Taxi. The thanks list for this album (which takes up most of the inlay card) is a wonderful catalogue of great bands of the early-to-mid 90s…. Stereolab, Th’ Faith healers, Velocity Girl, John Spencer Blues Explosion, Pram, Cornershop, Senseless Things, Prolapse, Heavenly, Huggy Bear, Transglobal Underground… and bands I’d forgotten even existed, like Killdozer and Palace Brothers. And ones I’m only guessing from context were bands: Saffron’s Daughter, Frantic Spiders, Gorgeous Space Virus, Ascoyne d’Ascoynes, Punjab Rovers… heck, who needs the music when just the acknowlegements are such a rush of nostalgia?
But here’s the music anyway.
Link: Mambo Taxi – In Love With… (password: salad)
2. Kiss Kiss Kiss
3. Belgian Blues
4. 2 Nice Boys
5. Happy Claire
6. (Push That) Pram (Under The Train)
8. Screaming In Public
9. Poems on the underground
10. Reasons To Live
12. My Room
13. Velvet Youth
As the original links are long gone from The New Vinyl Villain blog, here’s the Imaginary Compilation Album I assembled for dreampop innovators A.R.Kane. Note that the password here is NOT salad, but anitina.
Link: A.R. Kane – Is This Is? (An Imaginary Compilation Album) (password: anitina)
1. Baby Milk Snatcher (EP version)
2. When You’re Sad (short version)
3. Sperm Whale Trip Over
4. The Butterfly Collector
5. Is This Dub?
6. Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance) (original 12″ mix)
7. Miles Apart (Robin Guthrie mix)
8. In A Circle
9. A Love from Outer Space (John Luongo solar equinox mix)
10. Sea Like A Child (album version)
You can find the write-up here: https://thenewvinylvillain.com/2015/12/21/an-imaginary-compilation-album-53-a-r-kane/