11/06/2018: “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself” by The White Stripes

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I don’t know what the word is for songs that have restrained, calm verses, and choruses that hit like a freight train, or Anthony Joshua.

This is one of those songs. The intro leads into a slow tempo couple of verses. About a minute in, the song comes crashing down from its languid musing with a distorted surge of power and energy.

Jack White is on top form on vocals and guitar here, with the drums adding an excellent contrast between the verses and chorus.

In fairness they didn’t do all the work themselves, as the song was originally written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, and original recorded in 1962 by Tommy Hunt. I don’t particularly rate that version, but Dusty Springfield’s 1964 version has some breathtakingly amazing singing.

The White Stripes’ rock cover of the song came out on Elephant, their 2003 magnum opus.

Do check out Dusty Springfield’s version, but for me The White Stripes really nailed this one!

10/06/2018: “Modus Operandi” by Photek

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When I pick the title track of an album, I feel a bit guilty for leaving the others out; I tell myself I’ll write about the others later on. But sometimes, even on a great album, the title track is the title track for a reason.

Modus Operandi is one such great album, with a very distinctive and quite unique sound that straddles between drum and bass, experimental electronica, and jazz!

The 1997 album is something of a masterpiece, and shows why Photek is one of the most respected names in drum and bass/jungle. The drum programming is truly next level.

The song “Modus Operandi” is probably the song on the album that leans most heavily in the direction of jazz. The intelligent drum and bass pedigree of Photek is still clearly evident, but the song feels slower than a typical dance track. The bass twangs delightfully, as the carefree drums scatter about, and the piano conjures up moods of late evenings and good times with its jazzy twinkling.

Still sounds as fresh as the day it was made!

 

 

09/06/2018: “Don’t Be Cruel” by The Million Dollar Quartet

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The credit here really, should go to Elvis Presley. He is the one who recorded the hit song in 1956, after all.

However, Elvis didn’t write the song, Otis Blackwell did. Blackwell also wrote hits like “All Shook Up” and Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls Of Fire”.

The Million Dollar Quartet wasn’t a formal group, but the name of an informal recording session with Elvis Presley (main singer), Jerry Lee Lewis (piano), Carl Perkins (guitar), and Johnny Cash, who mainly hung about but does have some vocals.

This version of “Don’t Be Cruel” is a rawer, slower, more relaxed take than the rock and roll hit version. The original is much better produced and recorded in many ways, but there’s something quite authentic about the jam session track.

Elvis had seen Jackie Wilson and sung in his style instead. The song is a typical 1956 rock n roll song but the talent in the group’s performance shines through.

The King!

08/06/2018: “Bladerunner Love Theme” by Vangelis

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The music in films plays such a massive part in creating the atmosphere of the whole thing, and so a good film becomes a great one when the soundtrack is good. I can’t even really thing of a popular movie without almost omnipresent music in it.

The Bladerunner soundtrack is one of the special ones. Written by the Greek composer Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou, who is mostly known, thankfully, by the shorter Vangelis name, it tries to capture the bleak dystopian vibe of the film. It’s dark, melancholy music, played on synthesizers and with orchestration.

Deckard is very alone, and the Love Theme is a reflection of this. The haunting saxophone, played by Dick Morrissey on the final release, provides the most recognisable melody, backed up by a rich array of strings, and some delightful twinkling noise that I can’t quite work out what it is, possibly a piano with a lot of reverb effects on. It’s a regal piece, evocative of a stately and sombre reflection on love and heartbreak whilst staring out of raining windows…

The soundtrack itself was obviously on the film in 1982, but a legal dispute meant that only a reduced soundtrack performed by the New American Orchestra was released. In 1994, the true Vangelis version was released, to critical acclaim.

Beautiful music.

 

07/06/2018: “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” by Bob Dylan

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I never really listened to Bob Dylan when I was younger. He’s really grown on me since though. There’s no denying that his songwriting ability is very special.

However, the melody of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” derives from Paul Clayton’s “Who’s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I’m Gone?”, which in turn is from an old folk song.

There’s even a few line shared between the two songs. But Dylan’s performance and arrangement is just classic. The song is essentially him saying to an ex that it’s all fine and they should move on. That’s why the comma in the song title is important!

The song was released in 1963 on The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. As a single it was the B-side to the legendary “Blowin’ In The Wind”.

The song is simple, with just a fingerpicking guitar as a accompaniment. Sometimes, that’s the best way to do it…

06/06/2018: “All I Do” by Stevie Wonder

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“All I Do” was  written by a 16 year old Stevie Wonder in 1966 with Clarence Paul. It was first performed by Tammie Terrell in that year. Her version, however, wasn’t released until 2002. She unfortunately died in 1970 from brain cancer.

Stevie Wonder released the song in 1980 on the classic album Hotter Than July.

Wonder’s own recording of the song is very soulful, with a lovely keyboard riff, great singing from Wonder himself and also some great backing vocals from an accomplished group of artists including Micheal Jackson!

The flutes in the chorus are just a fantastic touch; the saxophone is also played excellently.

The end section after 3 minutes 30 seconds or so really brings out the colour of the melodies, and the backing singers perform admirably.

It’s a very nice song, bursting with soul, and shows why Stevie Wonder’s instinctive grasp of melody ensures his place in history as one of the best pop writers ever.

05/06/2018: “Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden

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“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden is so slow it almost drips. The drums bash away lackadaisically yet powerfully, with the guitar on the verses having a ethereal quality to them.

The chorus contrasts with this as a wall of sound kicks in, like a tidal wave. The whole song is easily recognisable, but the chorus in particular really stands out. There’s a breakdown 3 minutes in with some seriously neat guitar solos.

The whole thing is very doom laden and psychedelic, with pessimistic lyrics that contradict the more positive melodies. The song uses a lot of imagery, not least the seemingly contradictory “Black Hole Sun”. It’s a very atmospheric piece.

The song came out in 1994 on Superunknown, and is easily Soundgarden’s biggest hit.

Can’t think of many that songs like it to be honest.

 

04/06/2018: “Good Times” by The Persuasions

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Of all the various sounds, instruments, and tools that humans have for creating instrument, the most expressive and powerful is still the human vocal cords.

I’m not into a capella groups or barbershop quartets in a big way, but they can undoubtedly be effective, and are really able to showcase the versatility of the voice.

The Persuasions are an a capella group from the 60s who have endured until today. They originally were street singers, but went into recording when they were discovered by Frank Zappa.

“Good Times” is fronted by Jerry Lawson, who provides the main verses. The rest of the band provides backing vocals at higher and lower pitches. They’re all great singers, and work together so well.

It’s a nice song about how love is non-materialistic, and good times can be had without loads of money.

The song was released in 1972, on Street Corner Symphony.

It has been sampled  in a modern hit by Jamie XX and Young Thug, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the original…

03/06/2018: “Leisure Suit Preben” by Todd Terje

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Todd Terje produces songs with a certain, rather indefinable style. He is very well known for his updated disco edits of old funk and disco songs, where he splashes tracks with his colourful style and makes them more dancefloor friendly and more… Todd Terje-esque.

The Norwegian scene where Todd Terje made his name showcases more of this nu-disco style, a style of lightweight, very pleasant, impeccably constructed tracks that have a tinge of 80s retro-futurism about them without taking it too far and becoming cliche.

“Leisure Suit Preben” is taken from the rather whimsically named It’s Album Time, released in 2014. It’s his own production rather than a remix, and has a dreamy quality about it.

The music video is very weird, and fits the song perfectly, giving the instrumental song a bit of a narrative. It’s basically the stages of a guy’s heavy night out, paying homage to an old video game called “Leisure Suit Larry”.

The song starts off in a sedated, lo-fi way, with a bassline drunkenly staggering about. After that, a rich orchestration builds up, until the soundscape is awash with lush strings and celestial harps.

Suddenly, as Preben enters the club, the song becomes much more disco, with an  arpeggiated bass and some reverb heavy synths.

All in all, a nicely done little track.

02/06/2018: “Love And Death” by Ebo Taylor

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Ebo Taylor was a key figure in the 1970s Ghanaian highlife and afrobeat scenes. “Love And Death” originally appeared on Conflict in 1980, but was the title track of a reworked selection of songs released in 2010 as well.

It’s a tasty feast of jazz-funk goodness, starting with a short breakdown before the triumphant trumpet riff, some off beat drumming, and a funky bassline all drop into place. In the background a guitar plucks along in a very easy going manner.

Taylor’s vocals are perfectly capable, starting with an English bit before doing the rest of the song in Ghanaian. “Love and death, walk hand in hand”.

It’s another African song that makes for easy listening, and the influence of Fela Kuti on Taylor is very much in evidence.

Lovely stuff.