Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Music That Moves Me by Epic Soundtracks

Late 1995 and through the post comes a package from Epic including a photocopy of his contribution to Rolling Stone magazine's "Alt-Rock-A-Rama" which was eventually published in 1996, and a note....

"Hey Chris
Here's my piece
Dig it Man!

And here is that piece, together with "videos" of the tracks he selects....all bar one. If anybody has a copy of  Harold Smith's Majestic Choir - “We Can All Walk A Little Bit Prouder” single from 1968, it would be pretty cool if you could rustle me up an MP3 of it. Thank-you.

And with that, we're back....

Music That Moves Me

by Epic Soundtracks

Epic Soundtracks (aka Paul Godley) began playing music in 1972 and made his first record in 1977 as drummer with the influential Swell Maps, which also included his brother Nikki Sudden. More recently Epic has re-emerged as a singer, songwriter, and piano player, recording solo albums that reflect many of the influences discussed below.

The last time I sat down and wrote about music was in 1984. I interviewed Alex Chilton for the 'zine What A Nice Way To Turn Seventeen and the now defunct Sounds. Before that I wrote a long sprawling article on Brian Wilson and the effect his music had on me.

Trying to put down on paper just exactly why you like a particular piece of music isn't the easiest thing in the world. I was planning to just jot down an enormous list of stuff I liked, but the editors of this book wouldn't let me do that. “You've got to say why you like it!” Okay, I gave in.

I also couldn't mention everything I like, so what you get are just the first things that came into my head. My favourite music changes according to my general state of mind, but hopefully there are a few different areas covered here. And there are other records I could easily have included; “I Just Wasn't Made For These Times” by the Beach Boys, “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Sam Cooke, “Babe I'm Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin, “Gimme Shelter” by the Stones, “There Was A Time” by James Brown, “Let It Rock” by Chuck Berry, “Wailing Wall” by Todd Rundgren and “I'm Only Sleeping” by the Beatles.

Oh yeah, I left out the Kinks, the Impressions, Aretha Franklin, Don Covay, Carole King, the Stooges...I better stop...this is becoming a list.

T Rex - “Baby Strange” (from The Slider) 1972

I first started buying records in 1972. At my school at the time you were either into “serious rock” or “teeny bopper stuff”. Thing is, I liked music from both of these invented categories. I loved Free and Led Zep and I loved T.Rex also. I was either very broad-minded or very confused. I loved the Carpenters...hmmm...”Say You Don't Mind” and “I Don't Believe In Miracles” by Colin Blunstone...there was some logical thread running through my mind at the time I suppose. Another amazing record that sticks in my mind is Kevin Ayers' “Song From The Bottom Of A Well” with its eerie guitar sound that sonically captures the song title so well.

Anyway, I liked a lot of stuff then that sounds more than just a little ridiculous now, but I have certain affection for it in my own muddled way. Now if someone at school had had some Big Star or James Carr to lend me...pretty unlikely though. Whatever, I'm rambling. I mentioned T.Rex. Electric Warrior, The Slider, Bolan Boogie. Classic records with classic sleeves. T.Rex sound as fresh to me today as they did then. An aural melting pot for everything rock & roll had been up till that point, but at the same time nothing like anything else. There were various elements cooked up by Marc Bolan and producer Tony Visconti in this particular musical stew; boogie rhythms, Sun lap-back echo, deep strings, honking saxophones, cool guitar licks, hand-claps, surreal backing voices, ever so slightly altered R & B riffs, and a few bricks borrowed from Phil Spector's Wall Of Sound. On top of this there was Marc Bolan's non macho/macho vocalizing. Big Star had the taste to cover T.Rex's “Baby Strange” in the early seventies. Now that must mean something.

Can - “Pinch” (from Ege Bamyasi) 1972

What is this music? Rock? Jazz? Avant Garde? Who cares? Can never got hung up about labels so why should we? There's so much going on in this track. I must have heard it hundreds ot times but I still hear new things. Can were formed in Germany in 1968, originally with black New Yorker Malcolm Mooney as vocalist, then between 1970 and '73 with Japanese former busker Damo Suzuki with his wonderful scat pidgin English vocalizing. This is my favourite period of Can, the albums Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi, Future Days...check them out. Unlike anything that had really gone before. Hypnotic, unfolding all the time. Can sure knew how to explore and exploit a good groove.

They soaked up a million different influences. There's bits of James Brown, V.U., musics from every time and every place, ancient and modern, but it all came out sounding like nobody else...except...Can.

Faces - “Ooh La La” (from Ooh La La) 1973

Rod Stewart and the Faces seem to sound better with each passing year. You realise there'll never be another band quite like them. It's almost as if they were so busy having a good time that they didn't even realise just how great and lasting their music really was. There was nothing intellectual about the Faces, but they sure knew how to play it from the heart.

There's something so English about them and yet a lot of their influences were so obviously American, especially Rod's love of Soul legend Sam Cooke. Ron Wood's guitar playing from ths period is so unique, just listen to his work on a track like “Just Another Honky” from Ooh La La. There's so much great music on the Faces and early Rod albums (which usually feature most if not all of the band). The title song of Ooh La La actually has Ron Wood handling the lead vocal and has been one of my favourite songs for a long time. There's something so down home and relaxed (but not laid back) about it. Try finding some bootlegs of Faces live shows. They overflow with good times. May their music live on forever.

MC5 - “Sister Anne” (from High Time) 1971

Total sonic overload. Truly one of the most transcendental moments in rock & roll. If I'm in the mood for a party, this is one of the records I grab for, crank up and kick out the jams to! Can't say much else....

Alex Chilton - “My Rival” (from Like Flies On Sherbert) 1979

One of Alex's best songs from a much-maligned album full of songs dealing in sexual innuendo, jealousy, revenge and so on. The lyrics of “My Rival” are to the point. My rival, I'm gonna stab him on arrival, shoot him dead with my rifle”. The backing by Jim Dickinson and his cohorts is sloppy in the extreme, but raw and alive. The music threatens to fall apart at every moment, just teetering on the edge but somehow hangs together. Most people probably hear this stuff and just hear a chaotic din, but when you're familiar with other records that these guys have made, you'll know there's more to it than that. It takes a lot of talent to play music as badly as this! For those familiar with Big Star's Sister Lovers, I guess the musical missing link between the two albums could well be “Walking Dead”, a controlled piece of mayhem that was recorded in 1975 and eventually surfaced on the Lost Decade album.

Frank Sinatra - “Blues In The Night” (from Frank Sinatra Sings For Only The Lonely) 1958

To me, Sinatra's Only The Lonely album stands above all his other work, with the closest set being In The Wee Small Hours. This is a dark, bluesy, late-night album. The singing is emotional and expressive and Nelson Riddle's arrangements are suitably deep. Sinatra had recorded some of these songs earlier in his career but they never sounded quite like this. Basically he sings as if he's been there...which he no doubt had. “Blues In The Night” is one great performance on a record full of them.

Laura Nyro and Labelle - “Desiree” (from Gonna Take A Miracle) 1971

The essential Laura Nyro albums are her first, originally titled More Than A New Discovery, a self-composed set of pop/soul classics, and Gonna Take A Miracle, a perfect collection of soul covers showing the roots of her style.

Laura's voice harmonises beautifully with those of Labelle, especially on gorgeous cuts like “The Bells” and “Desiree”. We hear an evocative, sparse arrangement – the voices virtually carrying the whole track. A heavenly sound.

Slim Harpo - “Tip On In” (from Tip On In) 1968

Slim Harpo is one of the very best rhythm & blues artists. This is such a cool groove...the way the guitar works with the bass and drums. It's subtle and lazy but funky. I dig this stuff: “Te-Ni-Nee-Ni-Nu”, “Shake Your Hips”. Slim Harpo is an important figure in the scheme of things. Ask Alex Chilton...ask the Stones.

The Replacements - “The Last” (from All Shook Down) 1990

Paul Westerberg is my favourite songwriter from post-punk America. I like the way the Replacements came out of the hardcore scene but wore all their influences on their sleeves; bubblegum pop, R & B, Faces-y rock & roll, Beatles, Led Zep and, of course, a little Big Star. There's not much abut the 'Mats that was new wave, which is why they'll age a lot better than most of their contemporaries. Key songs are “If Only You Were Lonely”, “Swingin' Party” and “Achin' To Be”. This is my favourite, however. From the last 'Mats album (though really the first Westerberg solo album), this song is a real heartbreaker. Right out there on the edge...but subtly so.

Ike and Tina Turner - “Doin' It” (from Come Together) 1970

In the same way that “River Deep, Mountain High” wasn't a smash hit in America because it was too pop for the R & B charts and too R & B for the pop chats, Ike and Tina Turner seem to have been overlooked by a lot of people who should (and probably would) really dig some of their stuff. From 1970, the Come Together album is a red hot mixture of R & B, rock & roll and soul styles. Alternatively rockin' and/or low-down and dirty in all the right places, and always tight. Come Together kicks off great with “It Aint Right (Lovin' tTo Be Lovin')” and ends with “Doin' It”, one of the best sleazy tracks ever recorded (along with “Take It Off” by Groundhog Richardson). It would be nice if Ike Turner could go down in the history books for his contribution to music rather than all that other stuff. Underrated.

Harold Smith's Majestic Choir - “We Can All Walk A Little Bit Prouder” (single) 1968

A totally over-the -top joyous sound; gospel-choir-drenched R & B. It kind of reminds me of the Right On Be Free album by the Voices Of East Harlem from a couple of years later. This is the sort of record you put on really loud first thing in the morning to start the day off on the right track.

Arthur Alexander - “Rainbow Road” (from Arthur Alexander) 1972

Written by the great Dan Penn and his sometime collaborator Donnie Fritts, this classic song is sung by the late Arthur Alexander as only he could have. Alexander had a beautiful country-tinged, soulful voice. It had a certain vulnerability which made it unique. You an feel the bad luck the man had in his life when you hear him sing. Record company rip-offs and bad deals made Alexander shy away from the music industry to the extent that he made relatively few recordings in his over thirty-year recording career. He was an important influence on more than a few, however, as John Lennon would no doubt have testified. Alexander was a great songwriter himself, giving the world classics like “You Better Move On”, “Anna (Go To Him)”, “Everyday I Have To Cry” and “Mr. John”. In 1993 Alexander released his first record for years, and he hadn't lost his magic. Tragically, though, he died soon afterwards. “Rainbow Road” from the early seventies, sounds as achingly beautiful now as it did then. It was never a hit; in fact it was never even a single. But it was, and always will be, a classic.

Gram Parsons - “She” (from GP) 1973

The late Gram Parsons. A walking contradiction. An angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other...sounds like someone I could have related to. Gram's voice hangs on a thread on “She”, a sublime country ballad with lilting melody, subtle rhythmic shifts and gorgeous chord changes. Just hearing the way Gram sings the word “Hallelujah” is enough to make the most fervent unbeliever put their faith in the Lord above. Gram's singing was always so assured and yet so naked and fragile. I once had the honour of meeting Keith Richards and asked him about Gram: “Man, I never been so angry about anyone checkin' out early as that guy...he was totally on the right track.” Keith sounded sad when he said this, thinking of his friend who had slipped away in 1973. I guess Keith was made of stronger stuff than Gram, the visionary Southern boy who was blessed with good looks and charm as well as a burning love of soulful music, particularly of the country variety. He also had a lust for hedonistic excess, but he wouldn't have been Gram if he hadn't. Listen to any number of songs; the good feeling of “Older Guys” or the heartbreakers “A Song For You” or “Brass Buttons”, and you'll know why Gram Parsons is one of the greatest artists ever.

Dion - “Your Own Backyard” (from Born To Be With You) 1970

Such a powerful song. Such a powerful performance. An ex-junkie sings about how good he now feels to have kicked his habit. But nothing about Dion's song is preachy. He's telling you about his own experiences, he's not telling anybody what to do. When Columbia signed Dion DiMucci in 1962, he was still hot property. A seemingly clean-cut teen idol with just a hint of Bronx street suss. The label tried to groom him for the MOR market, but little did they know he was going to veer off down his own idiosyncratic path, experimenting with and absorbing blues and folk forms. Initially Dion continued with the stomping doo-wop sound which had given him smash hits like “The Wanderer” with the Belmonts for Laurie Records. He soon stopped having hits, however, and lost a large percentage of his audience, as his records became more and more “un-Dion”. In 1967 he got back with the Belmonts for the bizarre reunion album Together Again. Sort of like the missing link between the Velvet Underground and doo-wop (amongst other things). The Dion album from 1968 is strange, consisting of sparse, haunting arrangements of mostly other people's songs. “Your Own Backyard” dates from 1970 and was originally available only on a single, but a few years later was added to a bunch of mostly Phil Spector-produced cuts for the underrated Born To Be With You album (1975). I believe this song to be one of the best I've ever heard. The backing includes another of my idols, Jim Dickinson, uncredited, on piano. This is an inspiring record.. It's real. Try and hear it.

1 comment:

  1. This is great. I thought this sounded so familiar. Ripple was rock'n'roll bible for Finns.