Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 104 - Jeff Lynne 'Armchair Theatre'

If you, like me, are an ‘out’ ELO fan (let’s face it, it’s 2013 and we should all be able to openly discuss our own particular musical preferences*) then you’ll bemoan the fact that it’s light years since ELO released an album of original material, and even longer since they released a good one.
Many ELO fans have had to seek their pleasures elsewhere – I always feel the spirit of Birmingham’s finest is alive and well in the form of Super Furry Animals, but maybe that’s just me, and they possibly wouldn’t thank me for saying so!
You could, of course, seek solace in some of permanently aviator-shaded Jeff Lynne’s solo or collaborative work with The Travelling Wilburys or the legends that were or are George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Del Shannon. Jeff was actually named at number 4 in The Washington Times’ ‘Top 5 knob-twiddlers’ (!) poll in 2008. Edged out of top place by the unknown trio of George Martin, Phil Spector and Quincy Jones apparently.
George and Del (if you’ll excuse my informality) appear alongside Jeff on our cassette of the day, Jeff’s 1990 release, ‘Armchair Theatre’. It has to be said that for the ELO fan there’s a lot to love on this slightly understated album.
Del turns in a fine vocal performance on the wonderful ‘Blown away’ which was written by Jeff and Tom Petty. There’s a tribute to Mr Shannon on the cassette insert as unfortunately the album was released a few short months after Del was.
By far and away the best track for my money (99p from Brotherton’s in Bishop Auckland if the sticker on the case is anything to go by) is the closing track on side 1, ‘Now you’re gone’. It’s probably the most ELO-like too.
‘Lift me up’, ‘Don’t say goodbye’ and ‘What would it take’ also deserve honourable mentions, and George Harrison’s performance on the first of this trio, and a number of others on the album, exert a major positive feel-good influence on proceedings.
Covers of the standards ‘September Song’ and ‘September Song’ are reasonably pleasant affairs, but they’re both just a little too pedestrian. Neither really lives up to the rest of the album’s vitality.
Incidentally, I’ve always thought that Jeff was starting to knock on a bit when he made this album – I’ve realised while writing this, however, that he was five years younger than I am now when ‘Armchair Theatre’ was released. How he maintains that lustrous head of curly hair I’ll never know.
Label – Reprise records
Year – 1990
*if you’re tempted by the growing number of frankly barking cranks who claim that they can cure you, psychologically, of your love of ELO please feel free to give them seriously short shrift. Tell them I sent you, if necessary.

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Friday, 28 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 103 - Jean Michel Jarre 'Oxygene'

Living in the shadow of a famous father can’t be very easy.
Julian Lennon struggled to live up to the successful musical standards set by his iconic Dad. I imagine the pressure on little Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John to be an accomplished ivory-tinkler may also be fairly strong.
And when your Dad was the ‘Oscar’ winning composer of the music for ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ you could have been forgiven for choosing a life down any avenue other than a musical one. But little Jean Michel, son of soundtrack man Maurice Jarre didn’t shy away from music. In fact he made his own extremely successful career out of it.
I’d love to tell you at this point that my first foray into electronic music in the 1970s involved those iconic Germans, Kraftwerk. But it wouldn’t be true. Actually my first electronic 1970s love was Jean Michel Jarre’s second album, ‘Equinoxe’, bought, just like the Boomtown Rats LP discussed two days ago, from my Mam’s catalogue. Grattan’s and Kay’s catalogues were the 1970s equivalent of Amazon, but with a more limited choice of things to buy and a more relaxed, weekly way to pay for your LPs or clothes or toys.
Our cassette of the day today isn’t my catalogue purchase of 1978, but Jean Michel’s breakthrough album from 1977, ‘Oxygene’.
It’s a six track album (and as we know from right back on day 1 I love six track albums!) with the tracks imaginatively titled ‘Oxygene (Part 1)’ through to ‘Oxygene (Part 6)’.
If you’re looking for some pointers then it’s the even-numbered tracks that are more obviously commercial – let’s not forget that ‘Part 4’ was a top 5 hit single back in Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee Year, sharing the same chart with those other electronic classics ‘Magic Fly’ by Space and ‘The Crunch’ by Rah Band.
The odd-numbered tracks have more of an ambient feel - musicians, of course, don’t exist in a vacuum, and I can’t imagine after hearing ‘Part 5’ that Maurice’s boy hadn’t, like the rest of us, spent some time listening to Kraftwerk’s classic ‘Autobahn’.
There was a follow-up album to ‘Oxygene’, including parts 7-13, released twenty years after the first six parts first saw the light of day.
I very much enjoyed listening to the first six parts again today. They proved the ideal soundtrack to a big traffic jam in Knaresborough.
Label – Polydor
Year – 1977

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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 102 - Daft Punk 'Homework'

It’s the science fiction that I’m really wishing would become science fact. Imagine being able to send someone else to work in your place.
Kraftwerk, Daft Punk and Frank Farian have been toying with the idea for years. Kraftwerk have their robots, Daft Punk will deny until they’re blue in their faces (of course you can’t see their faces) that they’d never send anyone in stage in their stead wearing their distinctive helmets and Frank Farian worked with what turned out to be his alter-egos, ‘Milli Vanilli’ until they were unceremoniously rumbled in a great lip-synching scandal. (Incidentally the deadline to claim your refund for Milli Vanilli recordings and/or concert tickets expired 21 years ago).
If I was going to send someone else to work wearing my shiny helmet I’d choose Danny DeVito. He’s approximately the same build and more than approximately the same disposition to pull the whole thing off with honours.
Daft Punk (or France’s equivalent of The Proclaimers as I like to think of them) are now, after only four albums and one soundtrack, perhaps disputably, the world’s biggest popular musical combo. But it wasn’t always so – sixteen long years ago they released upon the world their debut album, ‘Homework’ which is our cassette experiment subject today.
This is a remarkable album, more for what it foretold than for what it sounds like. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good album but it’s typical of a group that’s going places rather than a one that’s arrived anywhere.
For the most part it’s the mighty ‘Da Funk’ (one of the best pieces of electronic music from the last twenty years) and it’s shorter, reversed little brother ‘Funk Ad’ that tower above everything else here, although ‘Around the World’ does play a creditable second fiddle.
Some of the tracks, sacrilegious as it may sound, tend to go on a bit – ‘Fresh’ for example doesn’t stay particularly fresh for very long. And on a good day ‘Alive’ is a brilliant, thudding, repetitive dance track. And on a bad day it’s a thudding, repetitive dance track. If you can imagine having a basketball bounced off your forehead for 5 mins 15 secs then you’re pretty much there. The fact that I was listening to this while lost in central Leeds with the ring-road closed may partly explain my Danny DeVito-like disposition towards it.
And ‘Oh Yeah’ is good fun but, disappointingly, it isn’t a cover of either of the Roxy Music or Ash tracks of the same name.
Thankfully for all of us, with their next fantastic album ‘Discovery’, Daft Punk got better. And harder. And faster. And stronger.
Label – Virgin
Year – 1997

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Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 101 - Bob Geldof 'The Vegetarians of Love'

Swearing. Blaspheming. Cussing.
It’s not big and it’s not f*****g clever. (sorry Mam – those asterisks are for you!)
Until ‘punk happened’ swearing and recorded music were only occasional bedfellows. Then some punk records started to cause cracks to appear in the appropriately named dam, and, subsequently, rap and hip-hop flooded the whole damn valley.
Long before there were Parental Guidance stickers to warn the unwary I took delivery (in 1978 from my Mam’s Grattan’s catalogue) of my first ever record to include a swearword. The record was The Boomtown Rats’ LP ‘Tonic for the troops’ and the word, which seems incredibly tame in 2013, was ‘bugger’.
I started to worry that my Mam and Dad would realise that I owned this deeply offensive disc, so I made sure that I only ever listened to it via a pair of very big 1970s headphones. Not long afterwards I bought ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’, which I stored with the spine facing inwards so that anyone glancing through my LP collection wouldn’t spot the brutally shocking punk classic.
Actually my family has a history of this type of behaviour, as my Grandad had once threatened to throw my Dad out of the house when he returned home one day with a copy of ‘Nut Rocker’ by B. Bumble and The Stingers, objecting to the bastardisation (sorry again, Mam) of one of Tchaikovsky’s finest.
Which all brings me, rather belatedly, to our cassette of the day, ‘The vegetarians of love’, by that old potty-mouth himself, Bob Geldof.
It’s a fairly mixed affair to be honest, mainly due to the fact that Bob doesn’t seem able to decide if he wants to be The Waterboys, Bob Dylan or, strangely enough, Dire Straits. On occasions he tries to be all three at the same time, with varying results.
The album takes one or two Bob Dylanish tunes to get going, but when it finally does, on track 3 ‘The great song of indifference’ it does so with a massive helping of aplomb and quite a bit of gusto. It’s a list song (and you know how much I love a list song!) in which Sir Bob sets to a very lively jig all the things that he can’t be arsed about. Not only is it very lively, but it plays brilliantly to Bob’s grumpy strengths.
Other tunes worth hearing (and there are quite a few despite the stylistic mish-mash) include the wonderful ‘A rose at night’ and the beautifully drawled ‘No small wonder’, which has more than a hint of Dire Straits’ ‘Private investigations’ but survives the comparison no worse for wear.
Of course Bob finds it difficult to avoid the ‘F word’ for which he became world famous in 1985, so he drops it into ‘Crucified me’ a couple of times for good measure.
Note also how the normally crotchety Bob has to have a smile superimposed on the cover picture. The grouchy bugger.
Label – Mercury
Year – 1990

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Sunday, 23 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 100 - Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers 'Back in your life'

And they said it wouldn’t last!
On day 100 of the cassette experiment you’d expect me to be listening to something pretty special and – guess what? – I am!
Our cassette experiment subject on day 100 is probably the best album ever recorded, although I fear that not many people will agree. In fact, after 34 years of loving this album I’ve never met one single other person who considers it to be the best ever.
But, here goes anyway. Unless you’ve missed it writ large at the top of this page, our album today is ‘Back in your life’ released way back in 1979 by Jonathan Richman and The Modern Lovers.
It’s short and it’s sweet. It’s funny and it’s stupid. It’s knowing and it’s na├»ve.
The album opens with the yearning love song ‘Abdul and Cleopatra’. In which Abdul hasn’t seen the object of his affection for almost a year and he’s starting to wonder ‘where she’s at-ra’. It’s the kind of rhyme that only Jonathan could pull off.
Listen in wonder when Jonathan royally fluffs his lines on ‘Respect me’, a tale in which he wisely checks the room for ladies before telling his male friends how he’s going to make his woman respect him. Part of his plan seems to involve singing ‘Hi-ho silver’ repeatedly.
Gasp in awe as Jonathan wanders unselfconsciously into the Doo-wop classic ‘Buzz, buzz, buzz’.
Shed a little tear as Jonathan pleads to be taken back by his onetime girlfriend on the album’s title track. Part of the plan seems to involve Jonathan referring to himself in the third person (annoying when perpetrated by sportsmen and women, but endearing here) and trying to enlist his ex’s parents to help to persuade her that he deserves another shot. Maple syrup also appears to be involved.
But it’s in the album’s last three tracks that its heart truly lies. Two girl’s name tunes, the touching courting song ‘Emaline’ and the doo-wop ‘Lydia’ pave the way for the best track on the album, the boys take on a heartbreaking tune from 1908, ‘I hear you calling me’. A song to a departed lover so full of sadness that Jonathan’s (always slightly ‘crackly’) voice almost gives out completely at one point of deep emotion.
If you’ve never heard this album before then I guarantee your life will be changed forever by it.
I’m not allowed to listen to it while Suz is in the house though. She doesn’t like it.
Label – Beserkley
Year – 1979

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Saturday, 22 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 99 - Teenage Fanclub 'Songs From Northern Britain'

Our school had a rather bizarre (but probably typical) approach to physical education. We were never allowed to play football (presumably because we might enjoy it) and instead we’d be forced to do all the sports that we didn’t really want to, from cross-country running to rugby, from athletics to gymnastics. I’m convinced that our P.E. teachers (why do they have to have their hands down their shorts all the time?) thought that they were teaching sporting excellence at an elite public school and not some mundane comprehensive in a North East coastal town.
Instead of a fun kick-about, we’d be forced to set up the hurdles on the inaccurately named ‘all-weather’ track, instead of running up a wing we’d be climbing up a rope.
I was, until the age of about 13, a fairly useful sprinter though. Since then I’ve become pretty certain that I’m built for comfort rather than speed, and as the years have rolled by I’ve become more and more comfortable.
The 100m sprint (why is it known as the 100m sprint? Presumably to distinguish it from the 100m dawdle) is the epitome of athletic ability. In a world championship or Olympic final the runners are often so evenly matched that they have to be separated with the assistance of a ‘photo finish’, and there’s somewhat of a photo finish involved in the cassette experiment today.
In 1995, Teenage Fanclub released what is undoubtedly one of the finest albums ever released, ‘Grand Prix’. Then, two years later, they released another one, the subject of the cassette experiment today, the glorious ‘Songs from Northern Britain’. The subject of heated debates amongst ‘Fannies’ (as Teenage Fanclub aficionados are affectionately known) these are two albums that can only be separated by the music geek’s equivalent of a ‘photo finish’.
For me the former just narrowly edges it, but I’ve become increasingly aware as the years go by that this opinion may be due to the fact that I feel more loyal to ‘Grand Prix’ because I met it first. As decisions go, it’s right up there with ‘Sophie’s Choice’ as far as I’m concerned.
The album opens a little more tentatively than ‘Grand Prix’, and I always feel that the first three tunes don’t quite hit their stride - and this is probably where the race is lost because from track 4 onwards, ‘I don’t want control of you’ , the tremendous hymn to a constantly developing relationship, it’s an album that never stumbles.
Side 1 track 5, ‘Planets’ is my personal favourite here – I can never hear this track without thinking of handing in my notice at work, instructing an estate agent to get what he can for the house and loading the whole family into a station wagon (or Renault Clio) and heading north to start a brand new life. It gets me absolutely every time. Without fail.
It’s not easy to single out tracks for individual praise here, but if you were to twist my arm I’d grimace and blurt out, ‘Mount Everest’ and ‘Speed of light’. The latter is the album’s closer and it builds wonderfully until the point where it leaves the building with an unceremonious final chord.
Teenage Fanclub albums are like Weetabixes. One just isn’t ever enough, so if you’ll excuse me I’m off to listen to ‘Thirteen’
It’s been fun.
Label – Creation
Year – 1997
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Friday, 21 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 98 - Run-D.M.C. 'Raising Hell'

I think we’ve pretty much established beyond a reasonable doubt that I have no musical talent whatsoever. My ill-fated period as tuba player in the school brass band was perhaps my finest musical hour, but set against the yardstick of some unproductive piano lessons at age 10, ‘Three blind mice’ squeaked on the recorder at age 12 and an undeniable failure to master ‘Streets of London’ on the guitar at age 16, we’re not really saying too much.
There is, however, one track on today’s cassette of the day that regularly threatens to draw me back into a life in music – further details of which are outlined below.
Throughout the ‘Cassette experiment’s’ lifetime I feel I’ve made a very strong case for De la Soul having recorded the best hip-hop album ever made. I’ve also made a cheeky (and, let’s be honest, scurrilous) claim that the Beastie Boys ‘Licensed to ill’ is one of the few truly ‘game-changing’ musical recordings.
The Beastie Boys’ debut album was released in the wake of our cassette of the day, Run-D.M.C.’s third and possibly best, album, the gloriously raucous and aptly titled ‘Raising Hell’ and I like to think of these two albums as the cornerstones of mid-1980s hip-hop, when the genre was mischievously naughty rather than downright nasty.
‘Raising Hell’ was the first major commercially successful album to mix rock and hip-hop, most obviously on the internationally known collaboration with Aerosmith ‘Walk this way’. Rock influences abound elsewhere too, with ‘It’s tricky’ ‘borrowing’ heavily from The Knack’s power-pop classic ‘My Sharona’, but as far as I’m concerned it’s the title track where the highest highs are well and truly hit.
Special mention for the wonderful ‘My Adidas’ which includes the immortal lines ‘I stepped on stage at Live Aid, All the people gave and the poor got paid’. I own a pair of Adidas’ finest vintage (a.k.a. old) ‘Comptown’ trainers in beige and fluorescent green and can never resist the urge to break into a tuneless rendition of ‘My Adidas’ whenever I put them on.
But the tune that inspires me to another foray into musicality is the penultimate track on side 1. ‘Is it live’ displays such wonderful bongos (they can’t touch you for it!) that I’m always tempted to rifle through our dusty loft in search of my trusty Nintendo* ‘Donkey Konga’ drums and rattle off a little riff. Maybe my musical days aren’t as far behind me as I thought.
Label – London
Year – 1986
*Other bongo drum manufacturers are available.


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Thursday, 20 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 97 - Massive Attack 'Mezzanine'

Since the very dawn of Rock and Roll, music and cars have been inextricably linked. From Eddie Cochran’s mean old Pop denying him the use of his car in ‘Summertime Blues’ to Prince judging a partner’s likely fidelity by the way she parks her ‘Little Red Corvette’ and every Bruce Springsteen track in between, the automobile has loomed large in the world of recorded popular music.
Whenever I'm thinking about changing my car I tend to consider the following parameters;
  • How good is the ‘stereo’ (I still tend to call it a car ‘stereo’ even though there are always more than just two speakers now!)
  • How ‘cool’ does the car look
  • How fast does it go
  • How economical will it be
I would always rather have an ugly car with a good ‘stereo’ than a beautiful car with a poor ‘stereo’. Whenever a beautiful car goes thundering by I like to imagine that the driver is listening to Simply Red.
On assuming ownership of a new car it’s always vitally important that the sound system is christened with something very special. I’ve only ever had two brand new cars in my life (I’ve had quite a lot of old ones though!), and, while awaiting delivery of my first brand new motor in 1998 I had a new cassette burning a hole in my pocket.
The cassette in question was Massive Attack’s ‘Mezzanine’ and it’s our cassette of the day today.
I didn’t know it at the time (because I’d never heard it before), but ‘Mezzanine’ turned out to be one of the greatest car ‘stereo’ testing albums ever made. All thundering bass lines and walloping drums, it’s dominated by the soaring ‘Tear drop’ (if you’ve got Elizabeth Fraser it’s very difficult to go wrong). There isn’t a track on the album that dips below the 7 out of 10 mark – and there isn’t a track on side 1 that ever comes close to dipping below an 8.
It’s one of the most stunning side 1s ever – opening with the six minute superbness of ‘Angel’, which runs ‘Tear drop’ a very close race for the album’s best tune. ‘Angel’ wobbles the speakers in your car like very few others can. ‘Inertia creeps’ is also deserving of a mention, with its inventive and seductive sleazy tone.
The insert states;
‘Sampled – The Cure, Velvet Underground, Isaac Hayes and John Holt’
Pretty much as good a sample line-up as you could wish for.
Mezzanine is, literally, on another level.
Label – Circa Records Ltd
Year – 1998*
*So far, I’ve only found one more recent cassette in my collection – and we’ll be listening to it in the next few days.

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Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 96 - ABBA 'Voulez-vous'

There are times when I’ve been known to say things just to be controversial and to see what reaction will follow.
I may have done so in my last post when I suggested that The Beastie Boys’ ‘Licensed to ill’ is one of the very few albums that could be described as truly game-changing. I assume that you’re not quite sure whether the aforementioned is a serious or a flippant statement. I’ll be entirely honest with you – I’m not quite sure myself.
I am though going to say something that you may consider to be equally flippant, but is, in fact, deadly serious. One of the ten best pop songs ever recorded resides, largely unrecognised, as an album track on our cassette of the day, ABBA’s ‘Voulez-vous’. The tune I’m talking about wasn’t even released as a single (unless you’re reading this in Mexico or Argentina) but it gives me goose-bumps every single time I hear it.
In 1979 ABBA were on top of their game – world famous but not yet world weary, they looked around at the successful musical genres of the day, New Wave (or Post-punk as it seems to be increasingly called nowadays) and Disco. Unsurprisingly they decided against the former and embraced the latter, releasing an album of classic disco flavoured pop music that took on the world and won.
The album opens with the track that I described earlier, namely ‘As good as new’, which opens dramatically with strings, then impressively negotiates the higher echelons of pure pop towards one of the most satisfying pop song conclusions ever committed to vinyl (or in this case, tape). It doesn’t just end like most pop songs do (i.e. when it’s run out of steam), it starts as if it knows how the end will happen, and never loses sight of the conclusion all the way through – it’s as if the whole song is designed purely to justify the magnificent ending.
‘Voulez-vous’, ‘I have a dream’, ‘Angel eyes’ and ‘Chiquitita’ are all massively familiar tunes, all upbeat in their own individual ways, with ‘Chiquitita’ nodding more than just its cap in the direction of ‘Those were the days’ by another Eurovision favourite, Mary Hopkin.
‘Does your mother know’ a rocker (or ABBA’s equivalent of a rocker) is sung by Bjorn and is about a young girl who decides to pursue the perennially grinning singer. Bjorn, in turn, commendably rebuffs her advances, but not until he’s put the young girl down just a little bit. Not a particularly savoury tale when broken down to its constituent parts. Presumably Bjorn takes the vocal lead on this one because Agnetha felt a bit queasy about the subject matter. Incidentally, Ash recorded a scorching version of this tune.
So ABBA’s last happy album, and, as long as you’re looking for shallow pop classics (a massive compliment in my book) and not tunes with the emotional depth of, say, ‘Super Trouper’ or ‘The day before you came’ then you may well consider this to be ABBA’s best album.
I do. I do. I do. I do. I do.
Label – Epic
Year – 1979
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Thursday, 13 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 95 - Kraftwerk 'Autobahn'

In the entire history of pop music the number of genuinely game-changing albums actually doesn’t break into double figures. I’m not just talking about inspirational albums, there are thousands of those. I’m talking about albums that changed the musical landscape forever.
‘Revolver’ is probably one, ‘What’s going on’ is another, ‘Never mind the bollocks’ is a third. More controversially it’s also possible (in my brain at least) that ‘Licensed to ill’ might also be one.
Today’s cassette is one of the biggest game-changers of all time. Released in 1974 (in the same week as ‘Rollin’ by the Bay City Rollers was the Number 1 album in the UK) Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ really did change music for ever.
Previously only witnessed on classical and ‘Prog’ albums, side 1 consists entirely of just one track, the titular ‘Autobahn’, which, from the first slamming of the car door and the turning of the key in the ignition, slowly but surely transforms and develops across just over 22 minutes of electronic music and robotic voices. Until the advent of in-car CD players, this truly was an album best experienced on cassette in the car, preferably on a motorway* in a 1970s Mercedes. Although it was no less exciting this morning on the B1285 from Hetton le Hole to Murton in picturesque County Durham in my Renault Clio.
The four tracks on side 2 are inevitably the supporting act to the main event here, the tiramisu to the carbonara. Effectively they have to perform in front of the curtain to make sure they don’t mess up the headlining act’s instruments. But even though they’re often overlooked, there’s still a lot to like in tracks 2,3,4 and 5. Side 2 highlight is definitely the final track, with unexpected but welcome flute, ‘Morgenspaziergang’. Very pastoral – definitely not what you would expect from a Kraftwerk album.
Thousands of new bands formed in the wake of this and subsequent Kraftwerk albums and became some of the most successful musical acts of the late 1970 and early 1980s (and, in some cases, far beyond). And like Brian Wilson trying to emulate The Beatles’ best, David Bowie (with considerable help from Brian Eno) released three fantastic albums that undoubtedly took this as one source of inspiration.
Strange that taking all of this into account, this isn’t Kraftwerk’s best album. ‘Trans-Europe Express’, ‘The Man-Machine’ and ‘Computer World’ are all better and all equally inspirational. But they didn’t break into a different world. ‘Autobahn’ was the one that kicked those doors down.
Label – Vertigo
Year – 1974
*For the avoidance of doubt, the second best motorway song is undoubtedly the fantastic (Kraftwerk influenced) ‘Like a motorway’ from Saint Etienne’s equally fantastic album ‘Tiger Bay’.

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 94 - Brian Eno 'Before and after Science'

It’s not a fashionable notion to be an intelligent popular musician. Many clever musicians are keen to hide their smartness under a fairly considerable bushel. In fact some musicians have been known to dumb down by adopting ridiculous regional accents to hide their well-educated roots.
There is however one major exception, someone who has unashamedly worn his intelligence on his immaculately tailored sleeve. He’s the boffin’s boffin and he’s the man behind our cassette of the day, the tremendous ‘Before and after science’, ladies and gentlemen I give you, Mr Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno.
As we’ve already established in previous posts, 1977 was a great year for classic music releases and for this one our Brian gathered together a veritable who’s who of collaborating musicians from sources as diverse and unusual as Fairport Convention and Can.
The album sets off at a crack with the brilliant ‘No-one receiving’, a track that would become the blueprint for much of Talking Heads’ music that Brian would later produce. Some of the tracks are dreamlike and some of the tracks are straightforward pop music. If it’s possible some tracks manage to be both.
In general the more immediate stuff tends to be on side 1, and my two favourites are here – the lyrically brilliant and driving ‘Backwater’ and the anagrammatic ‘King’s lead hat’, which always springs to mind when I see a pile of ironing due to the fabulous line, ‘the passage of my life is measured out in shirts’.
The dreamier offerings on side 2 tend to feel like instrumentals even though they aren’t, largely as a result of being so musically strong that the lyrics (although outstanding) take on an almost incidental nature.
Criminally, this is the only Brian Eno album that I possess. There could be many reasons for this, but I’m convinced that it’s because I can’t imagine that anything else would come close!
Label – Polydor
Year – 1977

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 93 - David Bowie 'The Buddha of Suburbia'

I wonder if you, like me, were ever a member of the mighty Boy Scout ‘movement’. I started as a cute little Cub with a cap and a woggle and tassels on my socks, and progressed, inevitably to become a fully fledged Boy Scout resplendent in green Frank Spencer beret.
Our Scout patrol had a famously useless football team (most embarrassing score 0-31) but boy oh boy could we knock up a magnificent bivouac.
The Scouting year had four major highlights;
1.    Annual Scout Camp, with camp-fires, knots’ billy cans and sunstroke.
2.    ‘Bob-a-job’ week, when we all spent seven days washing cars, digging gardens, walking dogs and fetching shopping for old ladies in return for a small remuneration.
3.    Indoor sports day (one year I was cruelly denied the Subbuteo championship, losing on penalties when the referee allowed my opponent to move his goalkeeper before the penalty was taken. It still smarts over 30 years later as I’m sure you can tell. Family pride was restored the following year when my little brother (Hi Andrew!) took back the Subbuteo crown).
4.    The Gang Show. I was never in a Gang Show, but I did have a slight brush with show business when asked to act as a Gang Show usher at Sunderland Empire. Dressed in my lovely green uniform I’d show members of the audience to their seats and then marvel from ‘The Gods’ as the more musically talented Scouts sang their Gin Gang Goolies out.
Someone else who has recently been ‘Riding along on the crest of a wave’ is David Bowie. A recent (and unexpected) album release has seen David’s star well and truly in the ascendant, but it’s easy to forget that for quite a while this wasn’t the case. In fact for a while David, unlike many entertainers who were at their most successful in the 1970s, couldn’t get arrested.
So much so that in the early 1990s David recorded and released a soundtrack album to a TV series that didn’t trouble the top 40 album charts at all. It’s this album, the original soundtrack to ‘The Buddha of Suburbia’ that is our cassette of the day.
Many of the tracks are not particularly standard David Bowie fare (if there is such a thing), with only the two versions of the title track (the second with a brilliant Lenny Kravitz guitar) and the side 2 opener, ‘Strangers when we meet’ likely to have made any of David’s 1970s albums – even then they wouldn’t get within a hundred miles of the better ones!
The sleeve notes from David himself tell us that ‘South Horizon’ is his own favourite here, but it’s a ‘tune’ that only its own composer could love. The rest of us would have to be fairly charitable to consider it anything other than 5min 26secs of tuneless piano noise.
‘Bleed like a craze, Dad’ shows that David had been spending, like most of the rest of us at the time, more time listening to The Stone Roses than was strictly healthy.
My favourite is the understated ‘Untitled No. 1’ which proves very difficult to dislodge from your mind once it’s nestled in there.
The sleeve/insert notes are fantastically comprehensive, and as such I think it’s probably best to leave the final word to David himself. I’m sure you’ll appreciate David giving us all a few pointers on the art of lyric writing;
‘Fifty percent of the lyrical content is used merely semiotically, the rest either with implied abstruse connotation or just because I like the sound of the word’.
Label – Arista
Year – 1993
Bought for 99p from the sorely missed Brotherton’s Music in Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland.
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Monday, 10 June 2013

Cassette experiment day 92 - Yello 'You gotta say yes to another excess'

There are many things for which the Swiss are justifiably famous. Cuckoo clocks, Army Knives, cheese with holes, bank accounts, triangular chocolate (with triangular honey from triangular bees), hiring Celine Dion* to win the 1988 Eurovision Song Contest and, of course, rolls.
One thing for which the Swiss aren’t particularly famous is critically acclaimed popular music.
Needless to say however, as with all things, there are exceptions and our exception today arrives in the form (or forms) of Boris Blank and Dieter Meier, known collectively as Yello with their classic 1983 EDM (as it now has to be legally called) album, ‘You gotta say yes to another excess’.
By law (‘The electronic popular music duo Act of 1979) all 1980s electronic duos had to have one genius musician (Boris) and in Yello’s case he was paired with a millionaire international industrialist (Dieter). Have you ever noticed that industrialists only ever seem to come in millionaire international guise? There never seem to be any penniless parochial ones.
‘You gotta say yes to another excess’ arrives with more than a hint of fabulously flippant Belgian electronic music pioneers, Telex and a considerable dash of German pace-setters, Kraftwerk. In fact in one place on side 2 (the fantastic ‘Pumping Velvet’ to be precise) the Trans-Europe Express passes so closely by that you may fear that you’re standing too close to the edge of the platform. Having acknowledged these influences (or possibly ‘inspirations’) the album also succeeds in standing alone – it’s one of those albums that nobody else could have made.
The album opens with the three better know tracks,
1.    The monumental ‘I love you’
2.    One of the best and least appreciated electronic tracks of the 1980s, the bittersweet ‘Lost again’
3.    ‘No more words’ which, if I didn’t know better (and I do due to the fact that he was a 16 year old footballing apprentice at Newcastle United at the time) I’d swear was rounded off by the inclusion of a young Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne shouting ‘Soopacool, Soopacool’ in his best Dunston accent.
An album that’s barking and brilliant in equal measure, other tunes of particular note are the combination of ‘Great mission’ and the title track that close side 1 in such a unique fashion and the side 2 opener ‘Swing’ with one of the world’s only known examples of electronic tap-dancing.
When the histories of 1980s music are written, Yello, unfairly, barely merit a footnote. When I finally get around to writing my own history of 1980s music (you think I’m kidding don’t you?) you can rest assured that they’ll feature much more prominently.
Label – Mercury
Year – 1983
*Celine Dion fact of the day – Celine is the youngest of 14 children..