Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 67 - Big Daddy 'Cutting their own groove'

You may well have gathered by now that I have fairly unusual musical tastes, particularly in light of evidence given to you in the blog yesterday!
Today’s cassette may add further fuel to that particular fire, as it’s by the band credited in some quarters as the inventor of the ‘mash-up’ (which may be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view), Big Daddy, with their 1991 album ‘Cutting their own groove’.
I’m no great fan of the lazy shorthand description of being a ‘Marmite’ band, but in this case it’s extremely accurate, you’ll either love them or hate them. When I played it in the car yesterday Susan gave me the impression that she’d rather be having teeth pulled. She doesn’t like Marmite either. Or its slightly less strident antipodean cousin, Vegemite.
So, what we have here is an album consisting entirely of cover versions (and you know how much I love those!) of modern (in 1991) tunes recorded in the style of classic tunes and artists from the 1950s and 1960s.
So we have the unique experience of hearing ‘Nothing compares 2 U’ performed as Little Richard’s ‘The girl can’t help it’, ‘Once in a lifetime’ re-imagined as Harry Belafonte’s ‘Day O (the banana boat song)’ and, logically, Welcome to the jungle’ as ‘The lion sleeps tonight’ (or is it the other way around?).
There are some misfires too, for every inspired choice – ‘Like a virgin’ being sung in Frankie Avalon ‘Venus’ style is one – there is a lame Elvis style version of ‘Graceland’. And I’m not that interested in hearing ‘Money for nothing’ re-recorded by anybody if brutally honest.
It is fun though to hear the pompous bubble that is Mike and The Mechanics’ ‘The living years’ pricked and brought back to life as one of the great ‘death songs’ of the 1960s, ‘Leader of the pack’
One last thing – ‘Ice ice baby’ (already a mash-up of sorts anyway) as ‘Johnny B Goode’ really has to be heard to be believed!
Label - Rhino
Year – 1991

Monday, 29 April 2013

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Cassette experiment day 66 - Boney M 'Love for sale'

We live in an age of musical rehabilitation. Acts previously sneered at are now the height of fashion again. The phenomenon probably started with ABBA and we’ve all slowly started to re-embrace musicians that we would previously never have admitted to loving.
So now we all love Showaddywaddy again, Bucks Fizz albums are considered to be pop classics and groups like Dollar for example are being cited as influences on many of the current crop of musical trailblazers.
As if to illustrate the truth behind this theory, I proudly purchased the 1978 Bee Gees classic ‘Spirits having flown’ last weekend (for the princely sum of £2 from a charity shop in Leyburn). Come on, you know you love it. If you’ve got a copy I urge you to dig it out and listen to it with fresh, 2013 ears. I’d also be interested to know if you think the boys’ shorts have been arranged for dramatic effect on the inserts’ silhouette picture.
There is, however, one group whose rehabilitation seems a million miles away. Boney M. Maybe it’s the fact that only some of them performed on their recordings. Possibly the reason is that the musical driver (and major performer) was the German producer behind the Milli Vanilli ‘scandal’, Frank Farian. Could it be that our cassette of the day, their second album, ‘Love for sale’ had a hugely inappropriate cover. (The girls, naked and bound with gold chains, with Bobby (gloriously asymmetrically haired as usual) standing over them, wearing only a gold lamé posing pouch). The fact that an alternative cover was later produced probably tells its own story.
Can you think of a less appropriate act to record, and have a major hit single with, a tune about ‘the troubles’? You can believe it or not, but the evidence is here in side 2’s opening track, ‘Belfast’.
Essentially a singles band rather than an album band, there really only is one other decent track here, and that’s the international mega-hit, ‘Ma Baker’, about a criminal matriarch who met a sticky end in a bank raid.
The only other two tracks of any interest are an ‘interesting’ re-working of the Yardbirds’ ‘Still I’m sad’ which crops up again later on some of the group’s many Greatest Hit collections, and my nomination for the strangest title of a track ever to grace vinyl, tape or CD, ‘Gloria can you waddle’, which is nowhere near as much fun as the title suggests it might be.
I am prepared to accept that I may still be the only person campaigning for Boney M’s acceptance into cheesey pop’s hall of fame.
Label – Atlantic
Year – 1977

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 65 - Sailor 'Checkpoint'

The 1970s were a very weird and wonderful time. Generally, if you wanted mainstream musical success you had to be prepared to dress the part. The Bay City Rollers dressed like tartan ‘bovver boys’, The Rubettes loved their wide-lapelled white suits and flat caps and Showaddywaddy liked nothing better than to turn up in their brightly covered ‘Teddy boy’ suits and ‘brothel creeper’ shoes.
Our subjects today, Sailor, weren’t averse to raiding the dressing up box themselves. While punks raged in safety pins and bondage trousers you could often find our boys on Top of the Pops dressed as slightly seedy sailors trotting out their finely honed pop nuggets.
By the time of their fourth album, 1977’s ‘Checkpoint’ their star was pretty much on the wane, but, while it’s not their best there are still some very good tunes to be found on today’s cassette.
My ‘track No 7 theory’ holds good here, with ‘Put your mouth where the money is’ not only being representative of the album as a whole, but also probably the best on offer – the cautionary tale of Iron Man McGuinn who challenges all-comers to a round in the boxing ring, only to lose when his drink is spiked. I think there’s a lesson there for all of us.
Others of note are the energetic ‘My girl (she knows what to do)’ and ‘Joe’s pianola’ the sad tale of a relationship break-up set to the mournful tinkling of a tinny upright.
Interestingly, group member Phil Pickett, who wrote absolutely nothing on this album, went on to co-write ‘Karma Chameleon’ with Culture Club.
Label – Epic
Year – 1977

Friday, 26 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 64 - Edie Brickell & New Bohemians

Like many people I know approximately two things about Edie Brickell. She’s married to Paul Simon (the little one out of that famous boy band) and she’s just released an album with Steve Martin (the one with the hat in ‘The man with two brains’).
The other thing I know about Edie is that her album with New Bohemians ‘Ghost of a dog’, released in 1990 is so good that it’s what I like to refer it as a ‘two-formater’. In other words I own it on two formats, in this case vinyl and cassette tape. It lives in my collection with many other ‘two-formaters’, such as our recent experiment subject, Danny Wilson’s ‘Be Bop Moptop’, Kraftwerk’s ‘Trans Europe Express’, Jonathan’ Richman’s ‘Back in your life’ and The Human League’s ‘Dare’ to name just a few. I’ve got some ‘three-formaters’ too, Prince’s fantastic ‘Sign ‘o’ the times’ being the first that springs to mind.
There are some brilliantly written ‘story songs’ on ‘Ghost of a dog’, such as ‘Carmelito’ where Edie tells us all about Carmelito and Vandito and how the latter slept with the former’s wife. I don’t think I’m spoiling anything if I tell you that one of theses two doesn’t make it through tom the end of the song.
Side 2 opens with the title track, where Edie recounts being puzzled after seeing and hearing an old dog that she ran over and buried years ago. Touching.
‘Strings of love’ apparently features a Mr John Lydon on background vocal. If you can hear him then you have better ears than I have. I sincerely hope that you do have better ears than I have, because one of mine sticks out a lot further than the other one.
The album’s two top tunes though, tucked part-way through the second side are the wonderful ‘Oak Cliff bra’ and the dark but beautiful ‘This eye’. On the former, Edie regales us with the tale of sitting on the front porch, in Oak Cliff, with her bra (which I think we can all relate to) and on the latter she explains how one eye looks with love and the other with judgement, and how she would like the sight to be taken out of one of them (but she doesn’t specify which, so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions).
Incidentally, this album is credited to Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, rather than the New Bohemians. Presumably this allows Edie to work with any New Bohemians who turn up off the street, rather than with specific New Bohemians.
Label – Geffen
Year – 1990
By the way, if you'd like to you can now purchase 'The great cassette experiment - The first 40 days' from Amazon for your Kindle (other e-readers are available but you can't get 'The great cassette experiment - The first 40 days' for them)

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 63 - Scritti Politti 'Songs to remember'

In 1981 I walked into HMV in High Street, Sunderland only to be enveloped by a beautiful noise (no, not Neil Diamond!). I walked over to the two assistants at the counter and asked for the details of this wonderful lilting tune and was told by one of the men that it was a new single by Scritti Politti, called ‘The sweetest girl’. Then in an aside typical of record shop assistants everywhere (designed both to put down the customer and simultaneously show off their own knowledge), he said to his colleague ‘It’s nowhere near as good as the old Scritti’.
I purchased the single on the spot and it’s still one of my all-time favourites, the B-side, ‘Lions after slumber‘ is a cracker too. It’s a list song, and as you may already know I’m a list-song aficionado. Both of these tunes feature in different versions on our cassette of the day, Scritti Politti’s appropriately titled ‘Songs to remember’.
Opening up one of the best side 1s ever recorded with a lovely, tinny drum roll is the classic ‘Asylums in Jerusalem’, followed by ‘A slow soul’, ‘Jacques Derrida’ (released as a double A-side with the album’s opener), ‘Lions after slumber’. The first side closes with another fantastic single, ‘Faithless’, complete with another of my favourite song traits, the ‘robot voice’.
Side 2 understandably struggles to maintain the standard of side 1. I’ve always been a bit unconvinced by ‘Sex’ (There’s your headline for the Daily Mail serialisation). ‘Rock-A-Boy Blue’ and ‘Getting’ Havin’ & Holdin’’ would have been stand-out tracks on all other Scritti Politti albums – here they blend into the background ever so slightly, although ‘Rock-A-Boy Blue’ does have a fantastic double bass solo.
This all leaves us where we started, ‘The sweetest girl’. It can be a mistake to leave the biggest track until last. Here it works perfectly.
N.B. This album does contain reggae perpetrated by white people. In this case (but not many others) there’s no reason to be afraid.
Label – Rough Trade
Year – 1982

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 62 - Paul King 'Joy'

I grasped a nettle today. Not literally. I wasn’t really near any and I’ve never been entirely convinced that you wouldn’t still get stung regardless of such a gung-ho approach.
You know how it’s always better to quickly yank a sticking plaster from your hairy arm (I’m not making presumptions here, you may not have a hairy arm, but I do. In fact I have two), well I decided to tackle today the cassette sitting firmly atop my ‘dreadzone’ pile, Paul King’s one and only solo album, ‘Joy’, with Paul, it has to be said, looking ominously pensive rather than joyful on the cover.
Admittedly brilliantly produced by the legendary Dan Hartman, this turned out, as I’d feared, to be what can most kindly described as an inconsequential album. You’ll probably have to take my word for it, as I fear I may have bought the only copy.
Performances by all concerned are faultless, and there, I fear, lies the problem. It’s definitely lacklustre, although it certainly doesn’t lack lustre.
The other weakness here is the quality of the songs, and my scientifically unproven ‘track 7 theory’ (where I suggest you can judge the overall quality of an album by listening to its track 7) certainly hold true. Track 7 ‘It’s up to you’ is truly representative of the album – it’s just as ordinary as all of the other tracks.
Rather like a doomed football club the album does raise it’s game slightly towards the end, but the damage was really done at the beginning of the season and inevitably relegation beckons.
Not really awful, just very ordinary.
If you’re a fan of Paul King and you’re tempted to try and find your very own copy of ‘Joy’ then can I suggest instead that you hunt out his best work – ‘She has changed not you’ by ‘The Reluctant Stereotypes’. One of the great lost pop singles of the early 1980s.
 Label – CBS
Year – 1987

Monday, 22 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 61 - Bauhaus 'Mask'

The five big boxes of cassettes that I started this experiment with, once so neatly arranged and stacked, are now in complete disarray. The 60 cassettes that have gone before now sit happily together on a shelf, but the ones still to come are absolutely all over the place.
Some are sorted into piles (or perhaps more accurately, heaps) ready to be listened to, others lie discarded in the ‘maybe next month’ box and yet more, as mentioned previously, make up the ‘dreadzone’. Here languish Nick Heyward’s later solo works, Bowie’s ‘Buddha of suburbia’ soundtrack, ABC’s ‘How to be a zillionaire’, Thompson Twins’ ‘Quick step and side kick’ and the one I’m maybe dreading the most, Paul King’s potentially inappropriately titled ‘Joy’.
Also in the ‘dreadzone’ sit my two Bauhaus cassettes, ‘The sky’s gone out’ and our subject today 1981’s ‘Mask’.
For a while in the early 1980’s I loved Bauhaus. I think. I certainly listened to them a lot, so I guess I must’ve done. Originally attracted by their cover of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, I sought out their other works. I can clearly remember buying ‘Mask’ from a second-hand shop in North Shields.
With the exception of a few singles, I hadn’t listened to Bauhaus for donkey’s years, so I approached ‘Mask’ with a little anxiety. Guess what – apart from a couple of filler tracks that were never that great in the first place, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
I still find the mainly spoken ‘Of lilies and remains’ amusing, but was never sure if that was the band’s intention. ‘Passion of lovers’ still sounds reasonably fresh and exciting and ‘Hollow hills’ still sounds wonderfully murky, possibly assisted by 32 years of oxidation of magnetic tape.
So, all in all, an uplifting experience. If you’ve got a copy you might like to dig it out and give this dark and downbeat piece of 1981 musical history another listen. I’m actually rather looking forward to ‘The sky’s gone out’ now!   
Label – Beggars Banquet
Year – 1981
Started on my 5th set of AA batteries today.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 60 - Bobby Valentino 'You're in the groove, Jackson'

In the mythical 1980s if you needed somebody to fiddle on your track Bobby Valentino was your ‘go-to guy’. With his Clark Gable looks and his jazz moustache (I realise that inserting the word jazz before a great number of words can create a myriad of euphemisms, but in this case all we’re talking about is a ‘tache in the style of Django Reinhardt’s), Bobby and his fiddle graced a truckload of songs from the era. The Bluebells, Red Box, The men they couldn’t hang, Nick Lowe and his cowboy outfit, Billy Bragg, Big County and the Style Council were just a few of the artists that called upon Bobby’s considerable talents.
Our cassette today is Bobby’s 1990 release, ‘You’re in the groove, Jackson’. Well to the fore are Bobby’s trademark fiddling and what I believe is a warm, distinctive baritone (as we’ve already established, my knowledge of musical theory is limited, with the high point of my own musical career being a spell playing the tuba in my school brass band, which didn’t require a great deal of musical ability. At least not the way I played it).
Impressive tracks abound here and I enjoyed re-listening to this an awful lot more than I presumed I would. I have a very shaky theory that you can always judge an album by its track number 7. In today’s case this particular spot is occupied by the Gary Clark co-written ‘Guaran-damn-tee’ and a very high quality representative of the album it turns out to be. If you ever have the opportunity to hear the Gary Clark version (included in demo form on his ‘Freefloating’ CD single) then I recommend that you grab it with both hands.
There’s a great intelligence about the song writing too, with ‘A way with women’ , ‘The man who invented jazz’ and ‘Expected in Texas’ all cropping up again like old friends on this re-listen. The first of these casually dropping in the fantastic word ‘ilk’ with abandon and the last sounding like something that Hank Williams forgot to record.
History (and a court case) have shown that Bobby also co-wrote one of the pop classics of our times – ‘Young at heart’ - first recorded without violin by Bananarama on their ‘Deep sea skiving’ album, then subsequently in ‘violined-up’ form by The Bluebells.
Label – Big Life
Year - 1990

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 59 - Billy Bragg 'Don't try this at home'

Lyrically, for a long while, as Gary Byrd might have put it, Elvis Costello wore ‘The Crown’.
Rhymes and puns second to none poured forth from Declan’s pen with apparent ease and some style. I’d like to talk today though about the album that signalled the coronation of a ‘Young pretender’, Billy Bragg.
Billy quipped, punned and threw about wonderfully cutting comments slightly clumsily at first (I’m thinking ‘Milkman of human kindness' here). Slowly but surely Billy got better and better until hitting his lyrical high with today’s cassette, ‘Don’t try this at home’.
The album seamlessly mixes pop and politics and is suitably bookended by two of Billy’s ‘loud and spiky’ tunes. The first, including the now legendary ‘dedicated swallower of fascism’ line is the wonderfully powerful ‘Accident waiting to happen’, the last ‘Body of water’ includes the similarly wonderful ‘out of bed experience’ lyric.
With top-notch guest artists like Kirsty MacColl, Johnny Marr, Danny Thompson, Peter Buck and Michael Stipe it’s no the wonder that a high quality is maintained throughout, with brilliant tunes like ‘You woke up my neighbourhood’, ‘Tank park salute’ and ‘Moving the goalposts’ shining brightly.
Two tracks are of particular note;
‘Sexuality’ has one of the most intelligent lyrics ever written about ...well…sexuality. At the time this tape was on ‘heavy rotation’ in my Mitsubishi L300 van, so I would always loudly substitute ‘I drive a Mitsubishi L300’ at the point at which Billy would tell us he drove a Mitsubishi Zero.
And the thought-provoking ‘Rumours of war’ about a country preparing for war is essentially a part 2 to Billy’s own early classic ‘Between the wars’.
This turned out to be Billy’s most successful album, possibly not quite his best, but certainly in the same tank park.
Label – Go! Discs
Year - 1991

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 57 - Art Garfunkel 'Watermark'

How many times while watching one of our quality entertainment programmes, such as The X Factor, Britain’s got Talent or The Voice, have you heard the esteemed judges/mentors explain that they could quite happily listen to a singer steeped long in Mariah Carey ‘sing the phonebook’?
In reality you wouldn’t want to hear any of the previous winners of any of these contests breaking out the Yellow Pages. It’s also difficult to think of anyone that could do justice to my Durham and Wearside edition of BT’s finest publication.
Possible nominations could be Harry Belafonte. Or, if still with us, Nina Simone. Or possibly the embarrassingly haired Art Garfunkel.
Or so I thought until I re-listened to Art’s ‘Watermark’ for the first time in at least 25 years.
The pedigree looks good – one of the finest singers in the world (Mr A Garfunkel) is teamed with songwriting genius (Mr J Webb); there’s the additional benefit of a cover version of one of the best love songs ever written (with backing vocals provided by Paul Simon and James Taylor). Sounds like a ‘slam dunk’.
Standing much more than head ands shoulders above everything else here is Art’s fabulous version of Sam Cooke’s ‘What a wonderful world’. Perhaps Art and Paul’s finest vocal performance. Maybe James Taylor’s too.
Jimmy Webb’s songwriting genius is very much in evidence on the heart-wrenching opening track ‘Crying in my sleep’ and on the beautiful ‘Watermark’. However when he wrote/arranged the remainder of the tracks, particularly the clumsy ‘Marionette’ and the awful ‘Mr Shuck ‘n’ Jive’ his genius was patently on holiday on the other side of the world.
Listen carefully for one of the most painful moments in pop – when Art attempts a scat interlude on ‘Mr Shuck ‘n’ Jive’. You’ll either laugh out loud or pull a Scooby Doo ‘Huh?’ face. I did both.
Incidentally, I always use Art’s hair on the cover of this album (and on ‘Fate for breakfast’) as a barometer for determining when my own hair is ready for a trip to the legendary Bishop’s Barbers.
Label – CBS
Year - 1978

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 56 - De La Soul '3 feet high and rising'

True innovators are a rare breed. There aren’t many albums around that don’t remind you of something that’s gone before.
To be innovational (it’s a real word, I checked!) in a musical genre that’s been around for a while is even more impressive, and yet that’s exactly what De La Soul did with their 1989 debut ‘3 feet high and rising’.
The concept of sampling had been around since ‘The rapper’s delight’ and to an even greater extent ‘The adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the wheels of steel’, but De La Soul jerked it out of a rut with an album that with the brief introduction of ‘The daisy age’ sails perilously close to a ‘concept’.
In fact some considered ‘3 feet high and rising’ to be Hip Hop’s ‘Dark side of the moon’, in reality it’s much more fun, and has proven to be much more influential than Pink Floyd’s classic.
Mixing skits, fake quiz shows and using unlikely samples (Billy Joel, Steely Dan, Eric Burdon and War, Otis Redding, or Hall and Oates for example) to devastating effect on tracks like ‘Eye know’, ‘Me, Myself and I’ and ‘Plug tunin’’ this album has now justifiably achieved near-mythical status.
Unbelievably they came reasonably close to this standard again with their next two albums, the darker ‘De La Soul is dead’ and the jazzier ‘Buhloone mindstate’. The former I own on cassette, the latter an ex public library copy on CD.
This is definitely the only Hip Hop album I own that has inspired me to listen to Billy Joel’s ‘52nd Street’ again – I’m just off to look for it now!
Oh, and by the way, ‘How many times did the Batmobile catch a flat?’
Label – Tommy Boy
Year - 1989

Monday, 15 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 55 - Various artists 'Hip Hop Electro13'

Unbelievable as it may seem now, in the days before bitches, Benzes and muthaf***as, Hip Hop used to be fun.
The Street Sounds Hip Hop Electro series captured, mixed and released the finest Hip Hop examples of the day to create great big albums of bodypopping loveliness.
I don’t have all of them, but I do have most and pretty good collections they are too. Early albums (the low numbers, obviously) consisted of four or five full length classics of the day on each side, but by the time the heady heights of the series’ 13th incarnation the albums consisted of (generally badly) mixed together versions of 10 tunes or more per side.
As evidenced by this 1986 collection, Hip Hop of this era was almost universally hilarious, from the horror-film cartoony (Lovebug Starski’s ‘Amityville (House on the hill)’) to the unfeasibly pompous (MC Chill’s ‘The Prophecy Part 1 (in the beginning)’) and all points in between.
All of the usual suspects are present, Grandmaster Flash (with ‘Style (Peter Gunn theme)’), Afrika Bambaataa and Family (with ‘Bambaataa’s theme (Assault on Precinct 13)’), Eric B featuring Rakim with a rare unbracketed track (‘Eric B is President’) and Mantronix (with the very briefly titled ‘Ladies’).
Also making an appearance are the two Roxannes (The real one with Hitman Howie Tee and, by implication, the not real one, Roxanne Shante). The girls’ bitter rivalry shook the Hip Hop world as they traded cutting insults via the medium of vinyl and magnetic tape and, presumably, as this is 1986, CD too.
Picking favourites is a pretty tricky task on an album of this quality, but the two that make me grin the most are Sir Mix-a-lot’s ‘Square dance rap’ and Joe Ski Love’s masterful ‘Pee-Wee’s dance’.
These collections are not easy to find nowadays, but if you, like me, love Hip Hop of this vintage then you’ll have to part with at least 20 quid sterling to prise one from a seller on Ebay or Amazon.
Label – Street Sounds
Year - 1986

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 54 - Sinead O'Connor 'Am I not your girl?'

I’m writing a book about great cover versions (in my head though – in the real world I haven’t started it yet).
For me there’s only one thing that’s more exciting than a fantastic cover version and that’s a whole album full of the little blighters.
To take this whole thing up a notch further, there’s something that’s even better than an album of cover versions and that’s a screamingly unhinged album of cover versions.
Sitting atop this mighty pile like two great controversial colossi sit Kevin Rowland’s dress-sporting ‘My beauty’ and the subject of today’s experiment, Sinead O’Connor’s 1992 collection ‘Am I not your girl?’
Stunningly performed by Sinead with beautiful orchestration and arrangements (I’m not classically trained so these may both mean the same thing). What makes this album stand out from the crowd is partly the selection of songs, partly the faultless but slightly venomous vocal delivery and partly the bit at the end of side 2 where Sinead ‘goes off on one’.
Songwise, the side 1 opener ‘Why don’t you do right?’ is infused with a menace never before experienced in any other version of this particular tune; mischievous Sinead changes the ‘Bewitched, bothered and bewildered’ lyrics just slightly with brilliant effect and even the usually avoidable ‘Don’t cry for me Argentina’ sounds eminently listenable. The instrumental version of Sir Tim Rice and Lord Lloyd-Webber’s classic that almost finishes side 2 should be avoided at all costs however, unless you’re a great fan of Radio 2’s Clare Teal on a Sunday night - and of course many are. Incidentally, on tomorrow night’s programme Clare pays tribute to Ray Anthony, known, apparently as ‘The Young Man with a Horn’. I’m not sure how you gain a reputation like that.
Meanwhile, with the first track on side 2, ‘I want to be loved by you’, Sinead channels Marilyn (which conjures a slightly disturbing mental image). The moving ‘Scarlet Ribbons’, in a version very close in quality to that of the great Harry Belafonte, is a tune that always possesses the power to leave me in a sobbing heap in the middle of the floor.
Label – Ensign
Year - 1992

Friday, 12 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 53 - Danny Wilson 'Bebop Moptop'

I’d like to talk for a little while today about a subject very dear to my heart – Life’s (and more specifically music’s) great under-achievers.
Britain’s musical history is absolutely littered with them, fabulous acts who shone briefly then faded, or in some cases never really shone at all.
The Bible for example presented us with some of the very finest singles and albums (2 No.) of the 1980s. Critical acclaim – tick, major mainstream success – no tick.
Success also evaded The Pale Fountains. Tremendous singles, enjoyable albums (also 2 No.), negligible acclaim.
Our cassette experiment subject today is the second and last album from another bunch who deserved to have the world at their feet, but despite a little more success than The Bible and The Pale Fountains, barely merit a mention when the lists of great acts and albums are regularly trotted out by those supposedly in the know.
Armed with a slightly worrying penchant for berets and, like many other acts of the time, guilty of being more than a little under the influence of Steely Dan, Danny Wilson released in 1989 one of the greatest under-achieving albums of the era, ‘Bebop Moptop’.
The album kicks off with the sound of rainfall (or possibly frying bacon) before breaking into a number that wouldn’t be out of place in a big Hollywood musical (and I mean that as a compliment) ‘Imaginary girl’. One of the best ‘side 1’s’ of the 80s continues with the best-known track on the album ‘The second summer of love’. My favourite though is side 1 track 4 ‘If you really love me (let me go)’ a beautiful track with similar sentiment to Sting’s ‘If you love somebody set them free’ but with the added bonus that this one won’t make you throw up.
Side 1 concludes with the epic yet wonderfully claustrophobic ‘Loneliness’.
Inevitably side 2 doesn’t quite reach the heights of its over-achieving brother with the most notable tunes being ‘Never gonna be the same’ and ‘N.Y.C. Shanty’ a track vaguely reminiscent of one of my favourite 70s under-achievers, Sailor. (Please don’t laugh, I’m being deadly serious here!).
Danny Wilson were tremendous live, and when we saw them at Newcastle University they were supported by an act who we will feature within the next few days – The Indian Givers.
A cassette by the aforementioned Sailor might be about to creep up on us too!
Label – Virgin
Year - 1989

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 52 - The Lemonheads 'Come on feel The Lemonheads'

One of the things that has surprised me about the cassette experiment so far has been the totally unexpected discovery of some classic cassettes from the early 1990s – we’ve already had Depeche Mode, Half Man Half Biscuit, Matthew Sweet and Steve Earle.
Today we’re going to have another minor classic from the early ‘90s, 1993’s ‘Come on feel The Lemonheads’ by (you’ve guessed it) The Lemonheads.
Evan and the gang (with a mixed bag of guests including Belinda Carlisle, Rick James and, inevitably, Juliana Hatfield) set off at a cracking rate with one of the great opening threesomes of the 1990s, ‘The great big no’, ‘Into your arms’ and ‘It’s about time’. It’s fairly obvious that pace and quality of this nature can’t be maintained, so after the opening trio the album becomes a little more erratic.
‘Being around’ is one of the all-time great ‘unorthodox’ love songs with tremendous and constantly inventive lyrics throughout. My personal favourite on the album is ‘Big gay heart’ with lyrics famously altered to ‘duck my sick’ for the radio-friendly single version. I can confirm from recent personal experience that ‘Big gay heart’ is one of the greatest wall-emulsioning sing-along tunes ever penned.
‘Rick James Style’ features the legendary Mr James himself popping up with guest vocals on a side 2 re-working of the side 1 track ‘Style’. I love Rick James, but was a touch disappointed to find that the lyrics relate being stoned (or not being stoned). I’d rather hoped that the lyrics would be a tribute to Mr James own particular penchant for tight trousers and the wet-look curly perm.
One final note – ‘The Jello fund’ may just be what is generally known as tuneless rubbish.
Label – Atlantic
Year - 1993

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 51 - The Kane Gang 'The bad and lowdown world of The Kane Gang'

Hen’s teeth. Rocking horse poo. Successful musical acts from North East England.
Rarities all.
In the 1980s though, with a bit of help from the now sadly defunct Kitchenware Records, North East music experienced what could be described as a purple patch. Martin Stephenson and The Daintees, Prefab Sprout and The Kane Gang all did their best to put us lot (briefly) on the musical map.
And it’s to the last of these that we turn today for the fantastically titled ‘The bad and lowdown world of The Kane Gang’, released on Kitchenware Records (who include a fantastic John Lewis quotation on the cassette insert) back in the halcyon days now widely known as 1985.
This album oozes quality, with the boys’ best known tune, ‘Closest thing to heaven’, sitting comfortably alongside fantastic tunes like ‘Gun law’ (complete with authentic Morricone style intro) and ‘Smalltown creed’. I’m still not sure how he’s going to feed those seven mouths with only one gumball machine, but that’s ‘Austerity Britain’ for you – we’re all going to have to tighten our belts. At least I think that was the lyric.
One of the most under-rated albums of the 1980s, and, to the best of my knowledge, the only album ever to give a sleeve/insert credit to Easington District Council (now also sadly defunct) - for cover photographs.
Label – Kitchenware records (serial No. KWC2)
Year - 1985

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 50 - Electric Light Orchestra 'Eldorado'

I love cover versions. You’ve probably heard me bang on about this subject before. You’re about to hear me bang on about it again!
One of the best cover versions I’ve ever heard was at one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended – Boo Hewerdine playing live in a little coffee bar on Tynemouth Metro station. In attendance, around 30-40 eager Boo fans, one of whom, heroically stepped in and played keyboards when the scheduled ivory-tinkler didn’t show. They’d never met before, Boo and the keyboard man, but he contributed to a tremendous concert, adding to the friendly atmosphere as we all rooted for him in his corner, next to the caramel slices and scones.
Anyway, as part of this tremendous gig, Boo, armed only with his acoustic guitar, played a blistering version of Electric Light Orchestra’s ‘Can’t get it out of my head’.
Nowadays, in a world where it’s entirely acceptable to admit that you love ABBA and Darts and The Bay City Rollers, ELO remain firmly in the uncool section of the record collection. To help to explain why this situation is an absolute travesty, I’d like to introduce you our cassette today, their 1974 offering, ‘Eldorado’.
If a group were to release this album in 2013 it would be hailed as a masterpiece by many, and if you’re reluctant to dip into the world of ELO having only previously heard stuff like ‘The diary of Horace Wimp’, then I’d suggest this album as a better place to start than Jeff and the boys’ better known albums that arrived just a few short years afterwards.
Tuneful and orchestral, it’s like proper music with an overture and a finale and recurring musical themes and… everything, even if Jet Records do get the track-listing order slightly arse about face on this cassette version. ‘Can’t get it out of my head’ is the best known track for good reason, but for something a little bit different you might like to try ‘Boy Blue’ or the soaring ‘Laredo Tornado’.
Go on, try it – you might like it! You certainly won’t be able to get it out of your head.
Label – Jet Records Inc.
Year - 1974

Monday, 8 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 49 - Sweetmouth 'Goodbye to songtown'

I’d like to talk today about the Grandaddy of ‘Superstar DJs’, Sir Terry Wogan. Cheery of demeanour, Irish of birth, rambling of delivery, seriously middle-of-the-road of musical taste.
And – born on exactly the same day as my Mam. So we always know that when she has a birthday, Sir Terry is having exactly the same birthday. Except that he’s probably having his at his chateaux in France, not at his terraced house in Sunderland. Just to be clear, Terry doesn’t have a terraced house in Sunderland, he may or may not still have all of those forests though.
The reason why I have adopted Sir Terry’s own rambling style myself today should become apparent later, when we discuss today’s cassette, Sweetmouth’s ‘Goodbye to songtown’.
Not so much a supergroup, but more of a super-duo, Sweetmouth were the hugely talented songwriter and former member of Fairground Attraction, Mark E Nevin, and the wonderfully voiced brother of Bap and future backing singer of Van, Brian Kennedy.
‘Goodbye to songtown’ finds these two collaborating on an album of extremely high quality, which nonetheless dips its toes ever so slightly into Sir Terry’s musical territory somewhere around the middle.
Side 1 is scorching (in a very restrained way) with the stand-outs being ‘Forgiveness’, ‘I know why the willow weeps’ and the touching ‘Home to heartache’, which mines a similar seam to Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes’ ‘I don’t want to go home’ with similar disturbing effect.
Side 2, with the exception of the single ‘Fear is the enemy of love’, is where it all goes just a little bit too Wogan, because if your music is pleasant and unchallenging (and this is, in the nicest possible way), Terry’ll love you. If you’re Irish too, as Brian is, Terry’ll love you even more. This may also explain Terry’s otherwise inexplicable adoration of Imelda May.
In conclusion, a very ‘nice’ album to listen to every once in a while, and well worth the 49p that I paid for it.
Label – RCA.
Year - 1991

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 48 - The Proclaimers 'This is the story'


As a long-time spectacle wearer myself, I spent much of my youth hoping upon hope that some cool, bespectacled, musical heroes would turn up, rendering yours truly just a little bit hipper in their wake.
Then, lo and behold, after years of waiting two turn up, just like buses.
Hardly the coolest guys on the planet (I’m sure they’d admit that themselves), Charlie and Craig, collectively The Proclaimers, burst forth from Auchtermuchty onto the music scene in1987, with ‘This is the story’
The album includes some great tracks that leave an Englishman in no doubt that the Scots are the finest and proudest nation on the planet – the opening track ‘Throw the ‘R’ away’ explains the boys’ unwillingness to moderate their local accents, and their biggest hit from this album, ‘Letter from America’ tells of the lack of opportunities for the Scottish people, and the subsequent pressure to move abroad. Included in two versions here, the ‘Band’ version is produced by another legendary spectacle-sporter, Gerry Rafferty.
Side 2 is not quite up to side 1’s high standard (with a number of the songs apparently consisting of the boys strumming guitars while shouiting ‘hup, hup, hup’ a lot), but ‘Beautiful truth’ lives up to its title and the second side does feature the alternative version of ‘Letter from America’.
Incidentally I saw The Proclaimers in concert at the Newcastle Mayfair (sadly now demolished) and they appeared to be the grumpiest individuals I’ve ever seen live (and I’ve seen Van Morrison). Their demeanour may have been linked to the fact that they were blown off the stage by their support act, the never heard before or since (unless you bought their tape at the gig, which I did) ‘Critterhill Varmints’. Glorying in the title of ‘Pump up the turkey’, this may feature in future, but only if you’re very good.
Label – Chrysalis.
Year - 1987

Friday, 5 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 47 - Bryan Ferry 'Let's stick together'

Have you ever had to complete a report at work and you think to yourself, ‘you know what, if I use the introduction from the one about the air conditioning project that I did three weeks ago, then modify the contents of the one I did about alternative energy sources last Monday and then use as the conclusion a slightly altered version of my report about water filtration systems nobody will suspect a thing? Me neither, I’m a far more responsible employee than that.
But some people would.
Bryan Ferry did pretty much just that on his 1976 album ‘Let’s stick together’, released when Roxy Music were ‘on a break’. Five of the eleven tunes present here are re-recordings of tracks from the first and fourth Roxy Music albums – the remaining six are perfectly executed cover versions of well-known standards ranging in quality from soulful to soulless.
Recorded between 1973 and 1976 (I’m struggling to avoid the words ‘cobbled’ and ‘together’ here), this disjointed album still has the distinction of containing some classic tracks and is surprisingly listenable. Of the Roxy Music tunes, ‘2HB’ is probably best, and of the cover versions it’s the opening tracks on each side that really stand out – ‘Let’s stick together’ (with additional ‘vocals’ by Jerry Hall) opens side 1 in fine style, while a blistering version of The Everly Brothers’ ‘The price of love’ introduces us to side 2.
One major word of caution though (particularly for fans of the first Roxy Music album); If you possess a ten-foot bargepole you might want to hunt it out in readiness for Bryan’s ‘cheesy listening’ reworking of ‘Re-Make Re-Model’. Difficult to believe that this is the same amazing track that, in its original version, ushered in one of the most astonishing albums ever made.
Always stylishly turned-out, the look that Bryan seeks to achieve on the album cover is ‘Private Walker from Dad’s Army’. He pulls this off with considerable aplomb.
Label – E.G. Records Ltd.
Year - 1976

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 46 - Sinead O'Connor 'Universal mother'

We all know that the best way to keep out of trouble is to avoid wading in to the twin subjects of politics and religion. Somewhere down the line it seems that Sinead O’Connor didn’t receive that particular memo.
Sinead’s famous flirtations with both of these subjects are well documented elsewhere, so I won’t elaborate here. Sufficient to say, however that both are front and centre on today’s cassette, Sinead’s 1994 album ‘Universal mother’.
Many people find these aspects of Sinead’s beliefs annoying or off-putting, but they run the risk of missing out on some tremendous music if they do.
Opening with a speech by Germaine Greer (no, please, come back, it’s quite short!), the album then opens musically with the tremendous (although seriously grim of subject) ‘Fire on Babylon’.
Other tracks of note on side 1 include the heartfelt ‘My darling child’, Sinead’s interesting (but not particularly exceptional) version of ‘All apologies’ and ‘A perfect Indian’ which is a bit of a hidden gem as far as I’m concerned.
If possible side 2 takes on an even more serious tone than side 1 and includes a version of Phil Coulter’s ‘Scorn not his simplicity’ (with Phil himself guesting on piano), which is guaranteed to transform the hardest of souls into a quivering wreck, and “Famine” deliberately encapsulated within double quotation marks to portray Sinead’s message that there never really was a famine in Ireland. You probably need to give it a listen to get the full gist!
So, not many laughs (in fact probably none unless you count the ‘Me little ninja’ line in ‘My darling child’ which always makes me smile for probably the wrong reasons), some feminism, some religion, some politics, some child abuse. But all still fairly beautiful in its own way for around 85-90% of the time.
I can tell that some of you still aren’t convinced!
Label – Ensign
Year - 1994

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Cassette experiment day 45 - The Housemartins 'The people who grinned themselves to death'

In the mid 1980s, a band emerged from Hull in the North of England (or as I prefer to think of it, the South!) who briefly threatened to change the world.
In many ways the first Britpop band, The Housemartins wafted fresh air through a music world fixated on Nick Berry’s ‘Every loser wins’ and Chris de Burgh’s ‘The lady in red’. They released two great pop albums in two years, and then promptly went their own separate musical ways.
Many of the tracks on this their second (and final) album have become over-familiar in the nostalgia-obsessed world of music radio, but they’re none the worse for it. ‘Me and the farmer’ (with musical use of the word ‘blister’ a full eight years before one of  Britpop’s greatest moments, Oasis’ ‘She’s electric’), the thoughtful ‘Build’ and the wonderfully energetic and aptly titled ‘Five get over excited’ are all now bright and brilliant staples of daytime radio.
For me though, it’s in the lesser known tunes that much of the joy of this album still resides, ‘I can’t put my finger on it’ is a peeing standing up pop masterpiece, and how Paul (or P.d. as he’s credited here) manages to hit the highest note of ‘The world’s on fire’ I’ll never know. I still give a one-man round of applause every time it happens.
Please note that St. Winifred’s School Choir appears on this album, but that’s no reason to be afraid.
Also receiving honourable mention within are the popular culture touchstones of Scalextric, Rupert, James Dean, Abba, The Thunderbirds, Motown, Meccano and Legoland. You don’t get those on a Chris de Burgh album
Label – Go! Discs
Year - 1987