Unenlightened

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on 27 July 2009 by eT

Unenlightened: adjective not enlightened in outlook.

Histories of ages past
Unenlightened shadows cast
Down through all eternity
The crying of humanity

-Donovan, ‘Hurdy Gurdy Man’

Another lyric that doesn’t exactly ring out through the ages with its clarity and insight, but still, Hurdy Gurdy Man is very much of its time.  Released in 1968 and charting in the top 5 in both the UK and US, the song exemplified the increasing commerciality of psychedelic-tinged pop songs laden with unusual effects.  Donovan claims that Jimmy Page played lead guitar on the recording, but others involved with the recording dispute this.  Devotees of unusual cover versions should examine the film of Eartha Kitt performing a menacingly odd renditionof the song on German TV in 1970 – it’s short, sweet, and frankly loopy.  Personally, whenever I hear Hurdy Gurdy Man I can’t help but remember the made-up lyrics on Neil from The Young Ones’ Neil’s Heavy Concept Album‘Flaky pastry, flaky pastry he sa-a-ang…’

Imperfection

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 20 July 2009 by eT

Imperfection: noun (uncountable) Those qualities or features that are imperfect; the characteristic, state, or quality of being imperfect, (countable) Something that makes something else less than perfect; a blemish, impurity, error, etc.

Now and then I’ve suffered imperfection
I’ve studied marble flaws
And faces drawn pale and worn
By many tears
I am that I am from out of nowhere
to fight without a cause
Roots strain against the grain
With brute force you’d better
Hold out when you’re in doubt
Question what you see
And when you find an answer
Bring it home to me.

(Roxy Music, ‘Manifesto’)

The title track from Roxy Music’s 1979 album Manifesto, this track opened the album with an electric fanfare and set the scene for the two hit singles that appeared on the album: Dance Away and Angel Eyes.  Rolling Stone reviewer Greil Marcus wasn’t impressed with the track at the time:

[T]he record has its moments—moments few bands even know about—but as with the brazenly (and meaninglessly) titled “Manifesto,” they add up to little. Ferry announces he’s for the guy “who’d rather die than be tied down”; he’s rarely traded on such banality, and he mouths the lyrics as if he hopes no one will hear them. The sound may be alive, but the story is almost silent.

Oh well, you can’t please everyone.  Here’s a performance of the song from the Manchester Apollo in 1979.  (Nice pink suit, Mr Ferry).

Wingding

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 10 July 2009 by eT

Wingding: noun a party.

Yes we’re gonna have a wingding
A summer smoker underground
It’s just a dugout that my dad built
In case the Reds decide to push the button down
We’ve got provisions and lots of beer
The key word is survival on the new frontier

(Donald Fagen, ‘New Frontier’)

Donald Fagen‘s classic 1982 debut solo album, The Nightfly, allowed the performer to indulge his fascination with the rose-tinted view of the future that dominated his own early years.  In tracks like ‘I.G.Y.’ (named for the International Geophysical Year) he sung of the technological wonders that were reputed to be just around the corner, like lightning-fast train journeys from New York to Paris via undersea railways and ‘Spandex jackets for everyone’, while in the album’s title track he romanticised the dying breed of late-night radio DJs he idolised as a kid.

In ‘New Frontier’, Fagen conjures a world of sophistication far from the suburban youth he spent in New Jersey, leading with the description of a fine ‘wingding’ in an old nuclear fallout shelter, echoing the preoccupations of 1950s American suburbia that jarred with the glowing optimism of the modern age: how were the kids going to enjoy their flying cars and trips to the Moon if a nuclear war destroyed humanity?  The track is a winning example of Fagen’s keen observation and his command of the swinging jazz-rock style that made Steely Dan, his group with fellow talented musician Walter Becker, such stalwarts of FM radio in the 1970s.

Here’s a dodgy concert recording of Steely Dan performing the track at a Colorado festival in July 2008:

Rehabilitate

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 3 July 2009 by eT

Rehabilitate: verb 1 restore to health or normal life by training and therapy after imprisonment, addiction, or illness. 2 restore the standing or reputation of. 3 restore to a former condition — ORIGIN Latin rehabilitare, from habilitare ‘make able’.

No sense thinking I could rehabilitate her
When she’s fine, fine, fine
She’s got so many ideas travelling around in her head
She doesn’t need nothing from mine

(The Bangles, ‘If She Knew What She Wants’)

Jules Shear‘s skilled song-writing is displayed to full effect in this 1986 single by The Bangles, from their second album, Different Light.  (Shear also wrote All Through The Night from Cyndi Lauper’s breakthrough album).  The Bangles often found it difficult to operate in a heavily male-dominated music industry, and tensions rose within the band as image-conscious media coverage focused on Susanna Hoffs’ good looks to the exclusion of the other talented performers in the band.

The video for If She Knew What She Wants was revised after the band apparently didn’t like the original one produced in England (well, according to the person who posted it on Youtube, anyway), presumably disliking the elaborate set design and the lack of emphasis on the band’s playing.  The revised, simpler version of the video that screened on American TV was directed by Susanna’s mother, Tamar Hoffs.  In it, the Bangles get more ‘band time’ with plenty of shots illustrating their playing ability, plus a few shots of snogging random boys thrown in for good measure:

Mediocrity

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 1 July 2009 by eT

Mediocrity: noun 1 the quality or state of being mediocre. 2 a person of mediocre ability.

Tonight I’ll sing my songs again
I’ll play the game and pretend
But all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity
Like emptiness in harmony I need someone to comfort me

(Simon & Garfunkel, ‘Homeward Bound’)

In the coffee houses of Soho in the ’60s few folked as folksily and successfully as Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel.  Sure, they dressed like The Wiggles in their roll-necked sweaters, but then so did everyone else.  Simon & Garfunkel‘s blending of the intellectual spirit of folk music with the indelible teachings of the pop canon ensured the duo’s standing as one of the pre-eminent pop acts of the decade.  Homeward Bound, a 1966 single release reputedly written by Simon whilst on tour in England, having been stranded overnight in a Widnes railway station, reached number 5 in the US charts and number 9 in the UK.  The video below shows the duo performing the song at the Monterey Pop festival in California, in June 1967:

Anomaly

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 30 June 2009 by eT

Anomaly: noun something that deviates from what is standard or normal.

She got to know his mind (x2)

Intimately

She was surprised to find (x2)

Something of an anomaly

(The Pipettes, ‘Dirty Mind’)

The Brighton girl-group The Pipettes, formed to tap into a modern fascination for Phil Spector-style pop, have had a core membership with about as many changes as the serially revolving door-style Sugababes.  But their debut album, 2006’s We Are The Pipettes, contains a batch of singles of particular interest to listeners with a penchant for quality pop.  On Dirty Mind, the girls lament a liaison with a fellow with a pretty face, but whose behaviour left a lot to be desired: ‘You see this perfect boy wasn’t quite so pristine / He had ideas that would make the devil scream’.  Carried off with the band’s characteristic whimsical humour, and benefitting from deftly interwoven female harmonies, Dirty Mind only reached number 63 in the UK charts when it was released in 2005, but it paved the way for two stronger performances in 2006, when Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me and Pull Shapes both entered the top 40.  Here they are in the official video, singing a bit and messing about with some balloons.

Apathy

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on 30 June 2009 by eT

Apathy: noun lack of interest or enthusiasm — ORIGIN Greek apatheia, from apathes ‘without feeling’.

Oh don’t look in those eyes
Bluer than blue
Rules on the rise
And if I wear apathy‘s crown
Don’t call me highness
It’s a long way down

(Michael Penn, ‘Long Way Down’)

Watching a promo for New Zealand-born director Christine Jeffs’ new film Sunshine Cleaning recently, I noticed that the soundtrack was arranged by Michael Penn, an artist that I’ve been following for around 15 years now.  Penn, the talented brother of actors Sean and Chris Penn, came to prominence in 1990 when he won Best New Artist at the MTV Awards, but like several other artists I’ve posted about here, he’s never attained the fame that is his due.

I first came across Penn through his 1992 album Free-For-All, and I instantly fell in love with his songs – particularly their melding of slightly off-kilter lyrics with a rare sense of how to construct a great tune.  Later I found out that he’d married fellow singer-songwriter Aimee Mann, who I’d also been following for years, and it seemed a perfect match.  Now if I only lived in the US and could track them down on a joint tour!

In Long Way Down (Look What The Cat Drug In), the opening track from Free-For-All, Penn deploys the word ‘apathy’ to useful effect in his tale of jealousy.  Admittedly, it’s not a fully-fledged 25-cent word – maybe only 15 cents?  But it’s still a great song.  Here he is performing it on an undated Tonight Show sometime in the 90s: