Archive for the ‘This Day’ Category

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This Day: March 13

March 13, 2010

A not as obvious as you think song today. It’s the anniversary of Pablo Picasso marrying the model Jacqueline Rocque in 1961. Pablo was 79, Jacqueline was 37. No surprise Jonathan Richman wrote: girls could not resist his stare in the song Pablo Picasso.

As art critic Matthew Collings once rightly pointed out, the song is all lies. Picasso was not 5″ 3′ feet tall and he had never been to New York. The song drones along in E, its lyrics meaningless and delivery flat. Collings loved that the song minimalism aligned with the band’s name: The Modern Lovers.

On the other hand David Bowie turns the song into a frenzied fan gush. The sitar and guitars are anything but minimal. Bowie ditches some lyrics, adds others. Where Richman adds a posturing “Alright”, Bowie screams “Wow”. No wonder in Bowie’s version, Picasso is:

Hanging by his finger nails

Released in 2003, Bowie’s version is meaningless in a different way. Where Richman sings as if his words cannot be challenged, sneering at the thought someone could disagree, Bowie sings with the glitz and glamour of the paparazzi feeding a 24 hour news cycle. In Bowie’s world, it doesn’t matter if the lyrics are lies, because in the modern world another useless non-fact will take its place in a few minutes. Considering the gimmicky nature of modern art, with its lights going on and off and Turner Prize controversies, I’m sure Collings would approve of Bowie’s update.

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This Day: March 8

March 8, 2010

On this day in 1993, Fela Kuti was arrested again on suspicion of murder relating to a body found near his house. He was not convicted, the latest in a long line of arrests by the Nigerian Government.

This is not the place to go to far into the Fela Kuti story – it is well told elsewhere, but I would like to highlight an intriguing encounter he had ten years before his arrest. In 1983, he jammed on stage with Jetho Tull’s Iain Anderson in 1983. Discovering this video surprises me. Kuti jamming with Jack Bruce – here playing keyboards – yes; but Anderson?

I’ve long had a soft spot for Tull, having first heard “Thick As A Brick” when I was in my mid-teens (not long after I first heard “Tubular Bells”: this was the year both albums held 20th anniversaries), plus a girl I met a few years later owned most of Tull’s back catalogue.

Of course Anderson as improviser is not such a surprise, considering how many flute solos he’s produced over the years – especially fiery solos not normally keeping with the flute’s polite demeanour. But playing over a tight rock band is different from weaving in and out of Fela Kuti’s instrumental tapestry, and Anderson doesn’t sound out-of-place. Maybe Tull should have used the 80s to go freer instead of poppier.

So Afro-beat flute. Enjoy.

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This Day: March 7, plus an apology

March 7, 2010

Today, in 322, Aristotle died. So here is a commiserating drink from the Pythoners.

But also, here’s an apology. The idea of these posting is every day I use history to bring forth a song, either linked to a specific event or a jump a song more tangential (tenuous?).

Obviously, I’ve missed a few days, and will in all probability continue to do so for the forseeable future. All I can say is the reasons are outside my control, but are more important than maintaining any music blog.

The reason I set up this blog is to re-stimulate by writing bug after an absence of a couple of years from music writing. This remains the aim, but at the moment I’m aiming to posting as regularly as possibly until life (and this blog) returns to normal service.

In the meantime, enjoy your Sunday silliness.

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This Day: March 4

March 4, 2010

On this day, in 1972, the last train ran between Penrith to Keswick in the UK.

I’ve always been quite sad about the closing of railways. My father grew up in a small country station in Australia, where my grandfather was stationmaster. After he died, my family moved back to the town. Soon afterwards the station buildings were sold off. The station itself was moved to the local speedway and painted bright pink.

Railways are etched into people memories, because as children they meant escape from the regular routine. Most of the regional passenger lines in Australia are gone, but I still hear older relatives talk about the sleeper trains and railway food.

In England, the closures were more extensive, especially in the 60s due to the Beeching Axe, the name given to Richard Beeching’s plan to overcome the Government’s loss of income from the railways. During these years comic duo Flanders and Swann reacted to the cuts with the very uncomic song Slow Train, which laments the loss of stations and the way of the train traveller.

Throughout the song, Flanders lists stations to be gone forever, though history will record a few of these stations were to win reprieves. But ultimately most of the stations were lost, leaving just their tantalising names. With names like Mow Cop and Scholar Green, and Trouble House Halt, the song relays the wonder the UK railways has for the outsider, a sense of history, a sense of place.

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This Day: March 3

March 3, 2010

I don’t have much time today, but according to the radio marmalade was introduced into the UK on this day sometime in the 15th century.

There was also a band called The Marmalade around in the 60s and 70s. Their most famous hit was a cover of the Beatles tune Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. The Marmalade took it to #1 in the UK. For their part the Beatles the song as a single in 1976.

The Maralade’s version was released four years after Millie’s version of My Boy Lollipop, often considered the first ever Jamaican influenced international hit, reaching #2 in the UK.

Surprisingly, it seems the first UK #1 with a Jamaican beat is The Marmalade’s version of Ob-La-Di. It reached #1 before Desmond Dekker’s Israelites, despite being released a month later. (The Desmond of Ob-La-Di is named in honour of Dekker).

I’m happy to be corrected here, as it seems staggering four Scottish guys with a Beatles song could get ska to #1 before anyone else.

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This Day: March 2

March 1, 2010

The radio keeps reminding me today is the birthday of Dr Sues, but there aren’t too many songs about him. But it is also the birthday of Philip K Dick, whose work has influenced many a muso.

To be perfectly frank though, I’ve read a couple of his books, seen a couple of movie adaptations and am not well versed in his philosophy and mystique. During my SF reading years, I preferred Asimov and Doctor Who novelisations.

Sonic Youth know a lot more than I do, and their 1987 album “Sister” is, according to a number of sources, heavily influenced by Dick’s work. I’m not well versed on Sonic Youth’s mystique either. I’ve seen them live, I own a few albums (some of which I enjoy), but I’m not a SY tragic. My favourite album is “Murray St”, but I do consider “EVOL” and “Sister” to be better albums than the much vaunted “Daydream Nation”.

I especially enjoy “Sister”. The song structures are cleaner than their earlier albums, while losing nothing of their explorative nature. The opener, Schizophrenia, is a work of restraint – a simple drumbeat allowing plenty of room for the guitars to mooch and brood. This is the first time Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon share vocal duties, though Gordon is especially calm. Even the closing guitar noise is kept on a leash, straining; it’s not quite Talk Talk’s After the Flood guitar solo, but still impressive.

The tension created is released on the following (I’ve Got a) Catholic Block as the album gets into gear. But nothing quite matches Schizophrenia for pure presence.

Exactly how Dick fits into the album is a question for others: apparently he is quoted verbatim in lyrics throughout the album, but I can’t find a cast iron example. Feel free to comment if you know more.

Apparently, too, “Sister” is named after Dick’s fraternal twin, who died a few weeks after birth, something which haunted Dick for the rest of his life.

So Happy Birthday to both Dick twins, wherever you may be…

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This Day: March 1

March 1, 2010

I’ve always wondered what Heligoland meant. It was only today, on the anniversary of its hand over from the British to the Germans I realised it was an actual place.

I first heard the name from the ethereal Melbourne band of the same name; subsequently I realised the name was shared with the solo vehicle for ex-Talk Talk’s Tim Friese-Greene. Plus, of course, it is the name of the new Massive Attack album.

For the actual islands’ part, they has been variously owned by the Denmark, Germany and England. They have been used for fishing, a popular tourist spot, naval base, bombing range, and tourist spot (again, with added tax dodges), and as a major navigation and piloting point for shipping into the German ports.

Which leads to that most English of traditions: the shipping forecasts, set here to a lazy trip-hoppy beat by Overseer on his song Heligoland. Listen lazily and the mix of ambient washes and the formal, droning announcer lulls. That is until you realise Sole Lundy Fastnet is due gales, confusion, nausea and boiling seas, while Humber Thames is relatively calm with goosebumps.

Despite the crazy weather, Overseer played this straight. Heligoland is never silly, like, for instance Mr Scruff’s fishier tales. Instead the mix of real weather with unfortunate ailments gives me a wry smile whilst winding me down.

For your information, it’s best to avoid sailing around Heligoland at the moment, due to:

Planet-struck and spellbound.
The wreck of matter and the crush of worlds.

Goodnight and good sailing…