Everybody talk about Pop Muzik

I’ve always had an odd taste in music. I was pretty much ‘down wiv da kids’ all the way up until the early 80s, but then The Jam broke up, punk was long gone, and the ska and reggae revivals had pretty much had their day. So I started going back in time to discover sounds new to my ears, but old hat to everyone else.

I can probably trace this first spark of curiosity to when I first saw the John Landis movie The Blues Brothers. I was captivated by the music of all these people I’d vaguely heard of but never actually heard nor seen: “Ah, so that’s what James Brown looks like ? He’s the man !” ” Jesus – I now see what all the fuss about Aretha Franklin‘s all about.” “Do love that John Lee Hooker. What a cool dude.” ” WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ????  “Oh- that’s a Cab Calloway. Wonderful stuff.”

It was but a few short steps from hearing that stuff for the first time to discovering Buddy Holly, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley (and any other old popular acts which will boost me up the Google rankings).

I was in my element and I loved it. For the next 20-odd years all I ever did was listen to old stuff (ok, ok, of course I kept tabs on Status Quo and Chas n Dave, but a man’s gotta keep up with the times, ain’t he ?). I was experimenting with music in the way young kids in the 60s dabbled in The Doors, The Rolling Stones and hallucinogenic drugs. It was the same music for me, just 15 years later and with tea & peanut M&Ms.

In the early 21st century I left my shaded safe haven of Leonard Cohen, Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell albums, into bright new world of singer-songwriters like Nora Jones, William Elliott Whitmore, Diana Krall, Jack Johnson and the like. You know, the singers that sound exactly like  Joplin, Dylan, Cash and Mitchell. At least I was consistent. Like a Japanese soldier, I emerged into the light, not asking “Is the war over yet?” more like “has Kurt Cobain stopped wailing shite yet?”.

And as luck would have it, he had.

In this way I (thankfully) missed New Romantics, Rap, Housey Housey, Hiphop, Britpop or anything else masquerading as entertainment.  When most were listening to the Gallagher Brothers, I was more than likely listening to the Everly Brothers or even the Doobies. When the naive easily-led young fools of the world were discovering The Smiths, I was genning up on The Temptations. I didn’t think anything could be as abhorrent or sounds as bad as Soft Cell or Morrissey – until I accidentally overheard Oasis and Eminem.

So (and this is where we get to the bit where I disclose why I’ve been wasting your time with all this self-opinionated rubbish) it was with some surprise that I stumbled across this (by way of a Viz magazine tweet) today and found myself wondering: why the hell haven seen this before ? I have never listened to Depeche Mode back-to-back before, but I sure had at least one second-take at this one. If I’d had known back in 1982 that this existed I’m sure I would have hit paue on my tape deck on which Songs for Swinging Lovers was playing (or was that 12 Gold Bars ?)

So in case you missed it (and, as I say, I could have saved us all a lot of time) I give you: Deepche Mode. Performing (miming to) See You.   Holding chickens.

I dunno what the hell they were thinking, but from being a song I couldn’t stand to hear, this video is now strangely alluring.    Chickens.

Old Country for Bald Men

Back when I was a kid growing up at home, our family were serenaded, often against our will, by a neighbour who fancied himself as a bit of a country & western singer. He would sit in his garden, strumming the chords of some Charlie Rich song, and sing the words to a Hank Williams number, usually at the same time, much to the amusement of small children and large dogs in the area. He was persistent but rarely pitch-perfect. I guess I have to thank him for my life-long appreciation of Johnny Cash, and for my father buying me a clarinet in an attempt to get his own back.

I only mention this because a friend just sent me yet another list of The Best of the Worst Country and Western Song Titles. We’ve all seen these before, but it’s worth going though them again, if only for old times’ sake.

There are the lovely relationship songs, with such beautiful titles as “I’m so Miserable Without you, it’s like Having you Here”; “Get your Tongue outta my Mouth ’cause I’m Kissing you Goodbye”; “How can I Miss you if you Won’t go Away?” and the mournful “I keep Forgettin’ I Forgot about you”

There’re the funny ones, such as “You Can’t Have Your Kate And Edith Too”; “You’re The Reason Our Kids Are So Ugly”; “If The Phone Doesn’t Ring, It’s Me” and of course “You Done Tore Out My Heart And Stomped That Sucker Flat”

And then there’s downright bizarre titles such as “I Don’t Know Whether To Kill Myself Or Go Bowling”; “I Wanna Whip Your Cow”; “Mama Get The Hammer (There’s A Fly On Papa’s Head)” and the ever popular “I’ve Got Hair Oil On My Ears And My Glasses Are Slipping Down, But Baby I Can See Through You”. All timeless classics.

These lists never seem to come with any info as to who sang what and when, and I’ve always been suspicious of their authenticity. But the web being the web, you can find out all sorts of things if you really want to, and have the odd six weeks on your hands.

I have managed to find out that three of these numbers were recorded by a guy called Bobby Bare. Dear old Bobby is (or was) a country singer born in Ohio in 1935, and is the father of the imaginatively named Bobby Bare Jnr. In his time he was known as “The Springsteen of Country Music”, but I now know him as the artist who recorded such gems as “Look who I’m cheatin’ on tonight”; “I’ve never gone to bed with an ugly women (But I’ve sure woke up with a few.)” and the immortal “Drop kick me Jesus through the goalposts of life”.

No other genre of music has the capacity or feels the need to deliver such wonderful song titles, and take so much stick for doing so. Me ? I love it, and as I enter my dotage I find myself downloading more and more. It’s probably an age thing, but I find the lyrics mean more to me than they ever did when I sat as a kid on the back step, with my hands over my ears, trying to drown out the sound the bloke next door. I wish I’d listen to more then, but thanks to Youtube and Itunes I’m gradually rediscovering all those long lost favourites.

And it’s not just me. I have friends who’d leave a bar and walk for miles across muddy fields just to listen to great music. So for Dave, Kevin, Rita, and music lovers everywhere, this one’s for you.


Brothers in Arms

A couple of years ago I spent several great nights in a fantastic bar. And not just any old fantastic bar, but Robert’s Western World in Nashville, Tennessee, probably one of the great bars anywhere. On the face of it, there’s nothing remarkable about it: It’s a small, glass-fronted boozer, with the bar running down the length of one side, shelves full of cowboy boots running down the other and the beers pretty dire (we are in the State’s after all). But there’s enough whisky (sipping or otherwise), stetsons, dancing, good ol’ boys and sensational live bands to keep anyone happy for oh, about 12 hours a night, I reckon.

I’d been recommended this bar by my old mate and former colleague Jim Frederick (that’s him above, left , trying to keep the author upright, in front of the stage in Robert’s). Jim knew that me and my pal Shaun would be in Nashville and arranged to meet us there.

He had left the UK to return home to the States to write a book of the true story of some US soldiers who go into a spot of bother in Iraq. In fact they got into a lot of bother. A lot of his research took Jim to Kentucky and Tennessee and the Army posts and barracks thereabouts.

The three of us settled in for a long night of chat and booze, country music playing and boots stamping all around us. As the three of us drank and jawed our way though the evening, Jim had Shaun and I spellbound by his story, a sad, occasionally horrific, always gripping tale of boys plucked from the suburbs, given a gun, shouted at and sent abroad to fight. What happened to them created headlines all around the world and is an astounding yarn of the effects and the stresses of battle on our fighting forces. I demanded a copy of the book when it came out.

A night or two later (or it may have been that same night, my memory isn’t what it was) into this maelstrom of Johnny Cash tribute bands, blue-grass guitars, hoopings-and-a-hollerings, and yee-haws, walked a young lad and his family. The relatives had come into town for a drink and to toast this young man and wish him good luck. He was off overseas to fight in one of the wars in which America was involved.
He was in his number 1’s, USMC mess uniform, immaculately turned out, tightly cropped blonde hair and looked about 17 years old.

And he looked absolutely terrified.

Then a very strange thing happened to me: I stood up as he walked by and I shook his hand, wishing him good luck. Dunno why I did that. Have never considered myself a war-monger, and am no great patriot (even in my own country, let alone theirs) but yet I felt this was the correct thing to do. I guess it was because I could see the fear in this lads eyes, and got angry at the madness and folly of sending our youth to the slaughter, leaving the politicians thousands of miles behind at home to spin their corrupt webs.

I’ve never been that close to a Marine before or since (during our stay, everywhere was swarming with young soldiers on their way to, or returning from some conflict-or-other). It’s not something you see very often back home, thank god. But without getting too daft about it, I will remember that boy’s face for a very, very long time.

Anyway, the book’s out now, and I’m about to order it. So should you.

And you can buy it on Amazon here