The Only Ones – The Only Ones: Round 50 – Tom’s Selection

onlyDuring my first year at university I became infatuated by what I knew at the time as (but now am not so sure) the debut album by The House of Love…the one with Christine on it rather than the one with Shine On on it. Whatever, for a while (until the disappointing 2nd/3rd album was released) I, perhaps unwisely in some respects, hung on every word Guy Chadwick offered and I couldn’t help but notice his obsession with Peter Perrett and his band The Only Ones. It seemed that pretty much every issue of Melody Maker had some reference to The Only Ones by Chadwick and before long my record store browsing priorities had shifted from ‘H’ to ‘O’. Eventually I found myself a copy of The Only Ones’ final album, Baby’s Got A Gun and, although I need to remind myself of it in light of my recent full conversion to the first two albums, my initial impression was that it wasn’t very good…at all. So I stopped looking for Only Ones albums and moved onto something else – to be honest, I had probably given up on The House of Love by then as well.

But, as is so often the case, I chanced upon The Only Ones first two albums when they weren’t on my radar, bought them (thinking that at the very least I would now have a copy of Another Girl, Another Planet) and then played them for while, enjoying them well enough but still not really falling under their spell. I dug out the debut a few months back thinking it could be interesting DRC fodder, gave it a cursory listen and dismissed it as not good enough. However, a second (crucially?) LOUD listen brought it to life and since then I have listened to little else, alternating between The Only Ones and Even Serpents Shine both in terms of what’s on the turntable and in terms of which one I prefer.

Having given it much more thought than is necessary (or healthy) I have come to the conclusion (in contrast to most internet blogs I have seen) that there is nothing to choose between these two fine, scuzzy, exciting and spontaneous sounding records. After all, internet preferences seem to split the vote between those who favour the punkier immediacy of the debut or the more consistent uniformity of the sophomore offering. For me, they’re both great records and, the deeper I delve, the closer I get to seeing what Chadwick was on about all those years ago. Fabulous song-writing, excellent musicianship, messy production and over all, Perrett’s whiny, note imperfect and definitely acquired taste of a voice. I love Perrett’s guts to have a go with such limited vocal chords (although, after all, many of the biggest names in rock’s pantheon – Dylan, Reed, Young, Cohen – could hardly hold a tune) but I have a feeling there are those (I include Nick in this list) for whom his voice will prove too difficult to see past. It really is their loss as, by (proper and loud) listen three or four, you will not even notice those flat and warbled tones as you anticipate the complexities of what is coming next, reveling in the fine melodies on offer and wonderful interactions of the band.

The Only Ones kicks off with a red herring. The Whole of The Law is as gentle a song as Perrett ever wrote and, sweet and melodious as it is in its own right, it doubles up as the ideal appetite whetter for what comes next – only the best intro in modern music bar none! Another Girl, Another Planet is a true classic but to my mind the intro is so good that the rest of the song doesn’t quite compete and I enjoy the other punk rockers on the album (City of Fun, Language Problem, The Immortal Story) just as much. Interspersed between these energy fueled anthems to doomed youth are longer, brooding exercises such as Breaking Down and The Beast, in which Perrett’s voice is really put through its paces. He just about holds onto those long notes as if heroically highlighting his own shortcomings and laying himself bare just as much through his singing as through his lyrics. Either Perrett had very little self-awareness, supreme and mis-placed self-confidence or (most likely) wanted to really challenge himself and play to his weaknesses as his voice on these tracks is far less conventionally effective than on the faster numbers, if no less affecting.

So whilst The Only Ones may well be an acquired taste (and Even Serpents Shine perhaps even more so – the songs twist and turn more unpredictably even though the singing is stronger), with the benefit of volume, openness of mind and an acceptance of that voice, you will be able to welcome another couple of classics into your home, classics that will keep on smouldering away, giving pleasure long after the latest flavour of the month has burnt itself out.

Nick listened: Tom’s right, of course, that PP’s voice is… rubbish. To be frank. But, I reckon I could get used to it, because musically this record was great – intricate, tuneful, exciting, varied, and great fun. I was aware of the name The Only Ones, and Another Girl, Another Planet, but knew nothing of the context at all. A really good choice.

Rob listened: The Fall are my favourite band. Perrett sounded like Pavarotti as far as i’m concerned, so no problems there. No real problems at all, in fact. Having only known ‘Another Girl…’ previously, this was a real surprise, rich and deep where I had expected scratchy surface. For a band who could, and in the minds of millions may well, have stopped after just one track, The Only Ones certainly seem to have taken their chance to make something much more substantial then your average one hit wonders.


Dusty Springfield – Dusty In Memphis: Round 50, Nick’s choice

dustyinmemphisSupposedly, the first song Mary O’Brien ever recorded, age 12, was “When The Midnight Choo Choo Leaves For Alabam’”, an old Irving Berlin composition. She sang it in one of those booths where you could record yourself, and took it home to West Hampstead for her mum and dad, where they listened to her sing with an affectation of a southern drawl.

Which is to say that, by the time Mary was in her late 20s, a successful, if wracked with conflictions pop singer known as Dusty, and undertook an experiment to transplant herself to Memphis and see what would happen if her breathy, sensual, impassioned vocals were backed by the muscle of the Atlantic Records house band, produced by Jerry Wexler and Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd, she’d already been fascinated by, if not obsessed with, the American South for well over half her lifetime.

Warren Zanes’ excellent 33 & 1/3 book (the first in the series) on this album is less about the music or the singer than it is the mythology – cultural, social, anthropological – that compels a certain type of person to look for authenticity – that most intangible, vague, and magnetic quality (I have some pairs of pants from Marks & Spencer which are adorned with the word ‘authentic’ across the waistband, as if some other, lesser pants exist which are ‘inauthentic’) – and specifically those people, like Dusty, or Alan Lomax, the musical anthropologist who collated a songbook of American ‘primitive’ music, who go looking for the ‘authentic’ determinedly in the American South.

Either Mary O’Brien was a fantastic actress of the method school, or the idea of Dusty Springfield was as virulent as a consumptive disease, because ‘Dusty’, invented as… more than a pseudonym or a mask… more even than a persona… as an alternative way for the former, a shy girl from the west of London, to manage to live in the accelerating modern and post-modern world that she was born into, eventually obliterated Mary, leaving barely a trace of the girl that was beneath a never-removed disguise of mascara.

Riddled with insecurities and taboo desires, Mary-as-Dusty / Dusty-as-Mary was a perfectionist in search of the ultimate performance every time she stepped into the recording booth to cut a vocal track. She was, apparently, the only person involved in the experiment that was Dusty In Memphis (and those involved do all refer to it as an experiment if you read up on it) who doubted that it could work, despite dismissing 80 out of 80 songs offered to her by Wexler at the start of the process. (Later she asked to be given more songs to choose from, and he offered her 20 of those original 80 once again, and she loved them all instantly.)

Wexler, Mardin, and Dowd had an outstanding pedigree selecting and arranging songs and producing albums for artists. For Dusty In Memphis they collected tunes by the greatest American writers of popular song – Bacharach and David, Goffin and King, Randy Newman – and created something which, at the time, seemed like a radical hybridisation of ‘white’ pop music and ‘black’ rhythm and blues. We’re so used to cross-pollination amongst genres now that the idea seems quaint. You’ll recognise “Son Of A Preacher Man” no doubt, a cover of “The Windmills Of Your Mind”, and “No Easy Way Down”, and perhaps “Breakfast In Bed”, but, despite enormous critical affection, Dusty In Memphis was seen as something of a commercial failure, only registering one bona fide hit single and not selling anywhere near as many copies as was hoped.

Used to performing over meticulously completed arrangements, working in Memphis with Wexler, Mardin, and Dowd cast Dusty into the role of co-creator as well as interpreter, as arrangements were created from the song upwards with her involved at every stage; she was effectively a fourth producer of the record, as well as its singer, helping to match the songs’ DNA to her vision, rather than paint her emotions over the top. Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly given her fastidious perfectionism and near-crippling self-doubt, her vocals were recorded separately, in New York.

Dusty In Memphis gave poor Mary-as-Dusty chance to finally inhabit, however briefly and falsely, the mythological American South, its traditions preserved in aspic and its sexuality unfettered and free, the polar opposite of Mary-as-Dusty’s own self, a perpetual act of transformation and deception. It gave the rest of us an amazing record of outstanding songs, loaded with emotion, with stories and situations to project ourselves into and bask in the reflected glow of their illusory authenticity.

Like so many records I’ve played at our club, I bought this while I was a student. I bought it because I wanted the hit, and had a vague inclination that the album itself was held in high esteem by the kind of people who use words like ‘esteem’ in relation to pop records. They’re not wrong. I can’t claim to feel the same connection to the mythology of the American South as Dusty, or Jerry Wexler, or Alan Lomax, or Warren Zanes, to feel its sense of otherness and integrity and sensuality as an oasis from the speed and falsity of what Jamerson might call “later-period consumer capitalism”. But I do feel a stomach-punch and head-rush of emotion when I listen to it.

(Interestingly, one of my favourite songs on Dusty In Memphis isn’t on Dusty In Memphis; the version I have is the 1995 CD release, with appends 3 additional tunes recorded at the sessions, the last of which is “What Do You Do When Love Dies?”, which remained unreleased until it emerged as a b-side some years later. An observation on walking city streets alone that you used to walk hand-in-hand, at one point Dusty wails “somebody help me / I’m losing my mind” and you can hear her soul break into pieces.)

Tom Listened: An acknowledged classic and a record that more than lived up to its billing – Dusty makes it all sound so effortless (although, from the sound of Nick’s account, this couldn’t be further from the truth) and, crucially, gives the listener a glimpse into her soul in a way that so many ‘accomplished’ female vocalists – Mariah, Whitney, Celine to name but three – do not (at least as far as I am concerned).

Mark Eitzel’s version of No Easy Way Down has long been one of my favourite songs and the fact that Dusty’s version sounded quite different yet similarly awesome is testament to the quality of this album – it’s rare for me to hear a song I love in an alternative form to the one I am used to and not react negatively…in this case I got goose bumps but in a good way!

Rob listened: Yep, terrific. As I grew up, Dusty Springfield was, somehow, attached in my mind to the light entertainment roster, before her cameo appearance with the Pet Shop Boys (‘What Have I Done To Deserve This?’ was Dusty’s biggest US hit). I knew she was revered, but only after her death did I realise the hinterland. Clearly Springfield was no cabaret belter. Still, this was a first listen for me, and quite wonderful, combining the sweep and majesty of Bacharach and Barry with the Southern grit and heat I’ve loved since Lee Hazlewood reached me via Tindersticks. Wonderful stuff, and now up at the top of my ‘must have’ list.

Graham Parker and the Rumour – Howlin’ Wind – Round 49 – Graham’s Choice

Up until recently this album has been harmlessly gathering dust in a forgotten pile (the almost prefect cue for fellow members to suggest it should go back there!). I still have no recollection of where it came from, but apart from the last few weeks, it hasn’t seen a turntable in around 30 years.

For most people, I guess Graham Parker has been resting in the equivalent of the “where are they now and who were they in the first place category”, for around 30 years now. However last few months has seen him receiving a sudden flood (in Parker terms) of coverage  via an appearance in the movie, ‘This is Forty’, along with a BBC4 documentary,  featuring a reunion with ‘the Rumour’ after 30 years apart.

In the ‘Don’t ask me questions’ (last and best track from this album) film, people like Springsteen and Black Francis queue up to sing his praises and bemoan the wider public for not recognising his talent. Moreover, Parker comes over as a genuinely nice guy, quite happy with his lot. If you can imagine Derek Smalls (the Lord of the Bass) filming a documentary of his post ‘Spinal Tap’ career, you get fairly close. Bad career moves, timing and record deals seemed to have all conspired against Parker.

Watching early footage of his performances, the tracks from this album come over as edgy, acerbic and positively dangerous for a 1976 ‘pub rocker’. Finally inspired, I dusted off the album and tried it again.

The album itself feels much mellower than his live performances and it seems the cover could be of a completely different artist than the image he seemed to project on his early ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’ performances. To take an angry young man in his mid-20s and make the album cover look like the final album by washed up 50 year old country music star, takes quite a skill. To be honest, cover art seems to have been a weakness through Parker’s career, including such low points as ‘Carp fishing on Valium’, along with his recent reunion with ‘the Rumour’, on ‘Three Chords Good’ (I think Bungle and Zippy should consult a lawyer).


As for the album itself  listening properly was a bit of a revelation. Simply 12 good songs lumped together and trying to do nothing more than achieve that. He benefited from having an experienced band assembled for him and giving him an energetic but pretty loose, bar room sound from the off.  Some of side one borders on the thin line between joyful and twee, but side 2 signals the type of Parker sound I had been expecting from his live footage. Sounding like Costello before he had arrived on the scene, there are touches of Van Morrison along the way. In addition to ‘….Questions’, the title track and‚ ‘You got to be kidding’ stand out for me.

I’m now on to  his second album and still enjoying it after a few listens. I’ll not sure if I’ll go any further, but I’m glad I gave him a chance after all these years.

Tom Listened: Once again sacrificing his record for the dreaded ‘take away slot’, Grahams Parker and Pollock suffered a little from dinner chatter and monosodium glutamate blues. It was also about two years ago that we listened to it! Dredging the memory banks, I seem to recall an album of two halves – the angrier Elvis Costello type compositions sounding much better (punchy and vibrant) to the more workmanlike filler (?) that populated the centre of the album. I too had caught some footage of Graham Parker on one of those BBC retrospectives recently and thought he sounded worth checking out…and I guess I have now, and liking about half of what I heard I think that’s probably enough for the time being.

Mind you, if the album had a reasonable cover, one that made you think that the people releasing it cared at all about the product, I would probably be feeling differently about it – which is stupid but (sadly) true.

Nick listened: I’m gonna have to be honest and say that I can’t remember a thing about this apart from the… ahem… artwork. It was on during takeaway, and it was months ago. It did sound a bit like Elvis Costello, I suppose. I seem to remember saying on the night that if this guy had been around 15 years before he’d probably have been a behind-the-scenes dude rather than an on-the-sleeve dude.

Violent Femmes – ‘Violent Femmes’: Round 49 – Rob’s choice

Violent FemmesI always thought that, for music nerds, clubbing presented a number of challenges. Principle among these was how on earth to retain the air of authority and composure which surely set you out as a mastermind among dunces when literally any track could be coming up next, bearing in mind that constantly trekking over to the booth to ask “what’s this?” wasn’t an option. With the invention of acid house things got simpler – no-one cared – and nowadays, one imagines, the invention of the portable telephone and the applications therein has rendered anyone able to surreptitiously fire up SoundHound or Shazam a total know-it-all.

My heyday (and what a day of heys it was) was from 1987 to 1992 and for that period, by and large, I had the Student Indie Disco Canon pretty much nailed. Nonetheless there would always be one or two tracks I couldn’t quite place, or hadn’t heard before. And sometimes these felt gripping, even life-changing. So it was with ‘Add It Up’ by Violent Femmes, which was in irregular rotation through the Saturday Night crates at DeVille’s in Manchester. It’s hard to imagine a song which would make more of an impact on an unfamiliar crowd, with it’s plaintive accapela intro, brusque, irresistible ignition and point blank lyrics. It came and went like a mysterious superhero, there and gone some weeks then absent for months, leaving half the dancefloor wondering what it was (and presumably the other half wondering why they couldn’t get just one screw).

When we found out, the album it came from was also both a mystery and a revelation. ‘Violent Femmes’ is the work of three teenagers from Milwaukee, with most of the songs apparently written whilst singer Gordon Gano was in high school. It’s almost all acoustic, including the bass guitar and brushed snare drum, but it’s played with the pace and spirit of heads-down punk rock. It’s completely distinctive, one of those records that sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard, but also, from the moment you hear it, entirely archetypal, like it had to happen.

Musically, it’s undeniable. The songs rattle and tumble and jerk along with such momentum and gusto that there’s nothing to do but give in. The sheer energy and brio of the playing communicates itself directly to the listener. It takes real magic to use these three instruments over and over again and turn in such a delirious, captivating set.

Add to this Gano’s lyrics and vocal performance and the album deserves every little bit of its late-bestowed classic status. He is the bratty loner with a spiteful comeback for every girl who ever ignored him, every jock who ever got there before him. If there’s a better encapsulation of teenage angst and self-loathing then I haven’t heard it. Which is not to say that this is just a hormonal splatterfest. Take ‘The Promise’ for example, its lyrics following Gano’s half of an imagined dialogue (“Could you ever want me to love you?/Could you ever want me to care?”) and spiraling in on themselves as he tortuously talks himself into and out of the reckoning (“You know that I want your loving/But Mr logic tells me ain’t never gonna happen/But then my defences say I didn’t want it anyway/But you know, sometimes I’m a liar”). There is simply no better evocation of what it is to be a lovelorn teenage boy.

‘Violent Femmes’ achieved what is claimed to be a unique feat by going gold in the States four years after its release, without ever making an appearance on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart. It’s one of the records that, when I play it, make me feel glad, giddy even, that I love music. Treasures like this are out there. They can give you a charge like nothing else on earth, and ultimately be life-changing. I still cling to ‘Violent Femmes’ 25 years after I first heard Gano snarling “Why can’t I get just one kiss?” across a packed Manchester basement. I don’t wonder that anymore, but I do wonder what I’d do without this record.

Nick listened: Being that bit younger than Rob, I was at youth clubs playing board games and pool or playing round at friends houses when he was hearing this in nightclubs, and so my first exposure to Violent Femmes came when I saw Grosse Point Blank (still a great film) several year later in the mid-to-late 90s. Blister In The Sun featured prominently in the soundtrack, and I loved it; I seem to recall that the album was either hard to get or else expensive at the time though, so I never picked it up. Plus, there was something so bizarre, so snotty and compelling and hooky and weird and alternative, about Blister In The Sun that I think my brain decided it must be some kind of freaky one-off. Hearing the whole album for the first time, it clearly wasn’t; there are hooks and energy and great moments all over the place. Brilliant.

Tom Listened: My oldest mate, Alex Phillips, went to Camp America and brought back, amongst other things, this weird record by some band with a weird name that featured weird little songs and a VERY weird singer. I couldn’t stand it!

Of course, I was wrong and the record was The Violent Femmes and I went on to really like it; for me it is one of those records that I could do quite happily without but that I always enjoy whenever I hear it (usually by chance as I rarely seek it out). There’s a great energy to the songs and a playfulness and lack of pretentiousness that lifts the material into something unique and delightful.

That said, I definitely get something different from the record to Rob. We discussed this on the night but, for me, when I listen to The Violent Femmes I have always pictured snotty frat boys who are a little too clever for their own good (part of the problem I have always had with the musically very dissimilar Vampire Weekend). I’m not sure where this image has come from as Rob has assured me that the truth couldn’t be more different (and he is usually right in such matters) but it seems to remain unshakably in my mind and it always slightly mars my enjoyment of this excellent record a touch.

Graham listened: Despite being older than Rob, four years in work before I went back to being a student means my days of hey were fairly similar. It was a joy to hear this again. Somewhere lurking in a box is a TDK C90 (those were the days) with this on. I’m not sure they featured so much on the student nightclub scene “daan sarf”, but were certainly on my radar at the time.

Grace Jones – Nightclubbing: Round 49 – Tom’s Selection

nightclubbing-As I recall, my first exposure to the phenomenon that is Grace Jones was the car crash TV experience of her infamous appearance on the Russell Harty chat show in the mid 80s. I guess that at the time she was out promoting Island Life (her Best Of compilation) and Slave to the Rhythm was vamping its way up the charts. Settling down to an undemanding 30 minutes of light celebrity chat I was confronted by the sight of Jones pummeling Harty (in hilarious flappy hands fashion) on live TV because he had the gall to slightly turn his back on her as he tried to interview one of his other guests. It was all way too much for my sensitive teenage self and I ran away, cowering, to hide behind the sofa. And that was that….

…until, that is, I was given a copy of the wonderful compilation Funky Nassau: The Compass Point Story. Amongst its sunny grooves and extended funk work outs is My Jamaican Guy (or My Usain Bolt Guy as my 8 year old son likes to sing) an infectious number that, although far from Jones’ finest song, was enough to pique my interest in her back catalogue and, following some internet research, it wasn’t long before Nightclubbing had risen to the top of my ‘most wanted’ list.

Nightclubbing is no way near as scary as my 14 year old self would have feared – listening to it, it seems as though Jones had yet to develop that terrifying yet cartoonish (if you’re reading this Grace, please don’t be angry) diva thing – on Nightclubbing she comes across as ominous and otherworldly but, crucially, genuine and real; more ‘Alien’ than ‘Godzilla’ if you see what I mean. Consistently excellent throughout and surprisingly accessible, I suppose Nightclubbing’s most well known track is Pull Up to The Bumper; a song so crammed full of innuendo that it is incredible that Mike Read (or any of his virtuous, upstanding chums at Radio 1 at the time) didn’t choke on their (hairy) cornflakes and immediately ban it from the airwaves, hence saving our delicate sensibilities from its possibly prurient content whilst they could carry on….doing all that fine work for charity!

But Pull Up To The Bumper is by no means the standout in the set, just one of the many highs. It is preceded by Walking in the Rain, a song that sounds like it could have been written for a James Bond film and a hell of a lot better than A View to a Kill it is too (not hard admittedly). Following it is Jones’ radical reinterpretation of Bill Withers’ Use Me which is transformed from a soulful strumalong into a gargantuan slab of reggae/funk that crawls along like some slithery, hungry jungle-based animal for its riveting five minutes or so – listen to it and tell me you don’t think of a crocodile or python or something.

One thing that speaks volumes about the quality of Nightclubbing are the cover versions – as well as the ones already mentioned, Jones also has a stab at Iggy’s Nightclubbing (unsurprisingly, given the album’s title) and somehow makes it her own, whilst sounding unmistakably Iggyish in the process. Jones also covers Sting’s Demolition Man (from Ghost in the Machine) and, whilst it’s easy to forget that Sting used to write good songs every now and again, next to this The Police sound decidedly safe (I like both versions and, to me, neither sound like filler – still not sure about what constitutes ‘filler’, despite Nick and Rob’s best efforts to educate me – but Jones’ version is surely less fillery than The Police’s).

And there we have it – Nightclubbing: exciting, vital, as fresh as it ever was and no where near as scary as one might expect.

Rating: PG

Rob listened: I had the same introduction to Tom, and the same reaction. Growing up I had no idea what Grace Jones was. Singer? Model? Robot? Insurrectionist? Mental case? A prim 10-year old, I rejected her. Way too scary. Despite the fact that less than 5 tears later I’d be dragging Public Image Limited and The Fall into the house, I retained a subconcious view of Jones as a dangerously transgressive figure best avoided, a Ballardian anti-hero.

Of course, throughout that time her music was seeping in via the radio and TV, but really it was only seeing her astonishing performance at last year’s Diamond Jubilee concert that the penny dropped and I began to think of her as an International Treasure.

‘Nightclubbing’ was great, although credit to Graham for observing that ‘having Sly and Robbie as your rhythm section helps’. I’ve since bought ‘Warm Leatherette’ which on early inspection sounds equally alluring and distinctive. I like Grace.

Nick listened: I know this pretty well, having got acquainted with it a decade or or so ago when I worked in the library – we had a copy on 12″ and there was a period when it got a battering on Friday afternoons. As intimated by Tom and Rob, Grace is an amazing, ageless, alien presence in our culture; I think my first encounter with her was in the film Vamp, which was… influential… to my pre-adolescent self. As I said on the night, I hope the new Daft Punk album sounds like, and is almost as good, as this. A brilliant record. I should probably buy my own copy now.

Graham listened: For all the reasons the others have mentioned, I never understood, or liked, Grace Jones. She seemed to emerge from a gratuitous New York nightclub/fashion/modelling scene which I completely despised in the late 70’s/early 80’s. I was convinced she only got the breaks because of her physical attributes and that there were others more deserving of the support from record companies. Her image and diva-like behaviour left me cold. This album felt cold and detached with her image being as important as the sound. Annoyingly, it is very good.

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