The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, November 27, 2006

Time of the schism.

20. Eric Burdon & the Animals – San Franciscan Nights
Not played. Burdon’s voice is half paean, half leer, but the record works almost despite itself and its Dragnet intro. However! “Trans-Love Airways!” A concept so cool that Don Cherry named a tune after it (it’s on Relativity Suite, and is a gorgeous feature for Charlie Haden’s bass, supported by Moki Cherry’s fluent tamboura)!

19. Monkees – Daydream Believer
Bookended by the twin puncta of studio chatter (“SEVEN! A!!”) and querulous soprano sax, John Stewart’s song beseeches love of the common people (funnily enough, in the New Releases section, Dale unveiled an original Everly Brothers version of the song murdered by Paul Young last week, which I’d never heard before) and Davy Jones’ wavering, quavering lead vocal wraps itself around the song’s textures and emotions with amateur care.

18. The Who – I Can See For Miles
It took Petra Haden’s startling acappella reading from last year to remind me of the underlying enormous power of perhaps the greatest number one single to peak at number ten. The Who’s absolute apex – and its parent album, The Who Sell Out!, knocks a colony of zebras’ spots off Tommy – its vision lies in the fact that structurally the record is all tension and no release; Moon’s drums keep hammering towards a build-up which never actually explodes, Townshend’s guitar teeth are permanently on edge, and Daltrey proclaism his miraculous ability to see all and through all, but how sure is his sneer? In tantric tantalisation terms the record has no precedents; its most notable heirs are My Bloody Valentine – Townshend’s unattributable howls and ruptues foresee the glorious groundlessness of Loveless; only the Merman Hendrix, and Derek Bailey, in his similarly body-free contribution to Tony Oxley’s quintet recording of “Stone Garden” were doing anything remotely comparable at the time.

17. Kinks – Autumn Almanac
You can sense from this that Ray Davies is ready to leave pop, and perhaps us, behind; he grins as sneakily as ever, but he’s already halfway to the Village Green, to secretive whimsy, to the greenest-looking escape route.

16. Bee Gees - Massachusetts
15. Bee Gees – World

The first on the way down, the second on the way up (and therefore only the second one was played). And “World” certainly bears the more serrated edge; the mood is stranger, more psychedelic, with an astringent lead guitar and a lead vocal from a Barry Gibb drowning in his Leslie cabinet.

14. Donovan – There Is A Mountain
Irretrievably silly acoustic knockabout with a preposterous cod-Jamaican lead vocal and the general air of a very early Tyrannosaurus Rex parody.

13. Tom Jones – I’m Coming Home
One year after “Green, Green Grass Of Home,” the single which assassinated pop, he’s on his way back home again, but not this time in a coffin; he’s hurt her, but his world is now falling apart, and the obligatory huge orchestra and choir (along with an unnecessarily hyperactive conga player) do their best to light his dingy, dodgy way. This time, however, he’d be the one who had to settle for number two.

12. Felice Taylor – I Feel Love Comin’ On
The first bona fide Northern Soul crossover hit? Certainly it was the first hit single to involve Barry White (as co-writer and producer). Of course it’s a Motown pastiche to its JC Penney boots (think Diana Ross singing “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” transposed to a major key) but a fine record nonetheless.

11. Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich – Zabadak!
One of the lads’ numerous Dave Clark Five meets World Music hits (and one of the better ones) but Dale did not spin it.

10. Des O’Connor – Careless Hands
Curious how Des sounds so much plumier and harsher of voice in his early hits, and unattractively so; the song was already a venerable chestnut and his reading sounds a generation out of its time, as though it should have been a musical interlude midway through Much-Binding-In-The-Marsh.

9. Beatles – Hello Goodbye
Is the Love album Margo Integer’s revenge on John Oswald? Those familiar with Plunderphonics – which year by year reveals itself to be one of the key texts in post-war music – will know that the “btls” track combines the final chord of “A Day In The Life” with the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.” As Love warms up we hear the final chord of “A Day In The Life” played backwards and segueing into the opening chord of “A Hard Day’s Night.” Key people had clearly been listening clearly.

There are moments early on in Love when you momentarily think that they might actually pull it off – the discordant Gothic whirlpool in which “Eleanor Rigby” floats, the inspired and apt transition from the radio static of “Walrus” to the white noise of screaming teenagers at the Hollywood Bowl heralding “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” Ultimately, though, the concept cops out. The obvious comparisons with “Stars On 45” have already been made, and I think the latter to be the more successful piece of work, since it concentrates on the Moptop days which are largely, and I think determinedly, left off Love, is admirably non-obvious in its song selections (“I’ll Be Back Again,” “No Reply”) and, very crucially, reminded the Lennon mourners of spring 1981 that the Beatles had not all been about sorrow, regret or ceremony.

Love, in contrast, suffocates itself with its own worthiness and caution. Compare the quite beautiful “Blackbird” bootleg credited to Beatlejuice – briefly available as a seven-inch single two winters ago – with the timidity of the “Blackbird” guitar motif serving only to introduce a largely untouched and unnecessary “Yesterday.” Similarly, while the “Strawberry Fields Forever” track is a useful evolutionary précis of the song’s development, it does not equal or surpass the hypnotic wonder of listening to all twenty-seven takes in sequence, and its overblown ending – eventually emerging as the mock-Hawaiian chant which concludes “Hello Goodbye” – is crass and thoughtless.

The much-trumpeted “Within You, Without You”/”Tomorrow Never Knows” mash-up has to be judged conservative, a decade after “Setting Sun” (and imagine if that had been the “new” Beatles single rather than “Free As A Bird”) and at times the juxtaposition (e.g. “Octopus’s Garden” vocal with “Good Night” strings) is shockingly clumsy. And things like “Lucy In The Sky” and “Come Together” are interfered with so little that the only argument for their inclusion would be as a useful pointer to someone actually doing a proper CD remastering/reissue programme of the Beatles’ work. Possibly the most pointless moment of all is Martin senior’s syrupy strings over the Anthology 3 solo George demo of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” arguably a greater aural and moral offence (in light of considerable hindsight) than the strings and choir on “The Long And Winding Road.” And, bearing in mind the origins of the project (Cirque du Soleil – along with John Oswald, it’s enough to make one wish that the Fab Four had come from Canada), Apple have missed a golden opportunity to give “Carnival Of Light” its first legal release.

But then again, the latter, as with any bolder tinkering, might have alienated the ill-defined “international” audience who just want a Radio 2 Beatles-lite, platitudinous and unthreatening; the kind who get played on Sunday afternoon radio nostalgia programmes in order to remind us all of the days when everyone knew their place and they would never have dreamed of giving “I Am The Walrus” double A-side status.

8. Cliff Richard – All My Love
See Des O’Connor above; one can just see him crooning this straight-jawed saccharine weepie on the Billy Cotton Band Show, in his frilly shirt and pre-Jarvis hornrims.

7. Gene Pitney – Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart
One of the greatest Cook and Greenaway songs; Pitney wonders in (mostly) quiet awe about this love which has turned his world upside down and made it worth abiding in. The trouble of course is that the original now sounds like a necessarily jejeune demo for the version Pitney recorded with Marc Almond in 1988, which latter is one of the most perfect of all number ones.

6. Troggs – Love Is All Around
Bearing in mind that the Troggs Tapes were based on the group’s hapless and hopeless attempts to record a song called “Tranquility,” the idea of the Troggs doing ballads might still appear far-fetched. However, there is a nicely sensual humility about both this and “Any Way That You Want Me” with their apricot hazes of fading psychedelia, still tripping – Spiritualized understood them instinctively with their cover of the latter, whereas Wet Wet Wet’s cheery yet cheerless cover of the former demonstrates that they, or Richard Curtis, just weren’t listening.

5. Engelbert Humperdinck – The Last Waltz
And meanwhile our parents struggled not to disintegrate.

4. Foundations – Baby, Now That I’ve Found You
Treble-heavy, energetic pop-soul seemingly done in one take (which turns out to have been the case) and still superb, including co-writer John MacLeod’s jangling Russ Conway piano.

3. Val Doonican – If The Whole World Stopped Loving
Same tempo and key as “The Last Waltz,” but with Engelbert’s dissolute echoes replaced by workaday strings and Home Service choir (which, as you may already have noticed, are present in abundance in this list). Like Westlife, hugely popular at the time; and like Westlife, unlikely to be recalled a decade hence – today was the first time I’d heard the Doonican record on radio for maybe quarter of a century.

2. Dave Clark Five – Everybody Knows
What a strange hybrid of a record this is – the Les Reed/Barry Mason writing credit predicts the sickly opulent MoR mood, but then there’s that “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” cymbalom-like piano and Mike Smith’s frankly stoned-sounding lead vocal. Probably the worst record the DC5 ever made – and at their best, be it “Glad All Over” or “Everybody Get Together,” they were a very fine and hugely underrated group indeed – and, couldn’t you guess it, one of their biggest.

1. Long John Baldry – Let The Heartaches Begin
Four out of the top five all following the same epic studium weepie formula; was this how we commemorated the Winter of Love? Strange and sad how both of the musicians from whom Reg Dwight derived his stage name have passed away this year. With Baldry it was very much a case of there but for his grace go Elton and Rod (at the very least) and he deserved much, much more than to be remembered for this dull, hammy ballad which even its singer couldn’t abide. One tends to think that, in joining Soft Machine, Elton Dean got the better deal.

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