Monday, 21 December 2015

Festive alternatives

Festive Alternatives


Christmas comes but once a year, but like a junkie relative who turns up to sleep on the couch, each visit seems to be a longer and more unpleasant intrusion. Having to endure Macca’s “Wonderful Christmas Time” & Mariah Carey’s “All I want For Christmas is for you to shut the f*** up” since October, it certainly puts the Christ back in Christmas every time I walk into a shop. 

Fear not vinyl lovers, for here is a feast of alternatives with not a hint of Slade or Wizard to sour the cranberry sauce.


Christmas Carols From St Paul’s Cathedral – The Choir Of St Pauls Cathedral Conducted By Dr J Dykes Bower

Whilst I’m not what you would describe as a religious person, the sound of a Choir recorded in St Paul’s Cathedral in 1967 is so beautiful as to be a spiritual experience in itself, the music masterfully invokes the festive season without the need for descending major scales or the jingling of bells. 

Scrooge & Scrooged – Original Soundtrack Recordings

Two completely different takes on one of my favourite Charles Dickins stories. The Wonderful Albert Finney musical version is a film I watch every year and is a genuinely moving and fun adaptation of the book. It features a rare moment of Alec Guinness’ vocal ability, not too dissimilar from Oliver Reed’s musical delights from Tommy. It’s not been re-issued since its release in 1970 due to contractual issues but it’s still available on the second hand market for around £5. The Bill Murray Scrooged album features some fairly good covers, the highlight being Miles Davis, Larry Carlton, David Sanborn & Paul Shaffer performing “We Three Kings Of Orient Are”.


The Beatles Christmas Album

Members of the Beatles fan club would get a flexi disc around Christmas time with various well wishes, songs and skits from the fab four. The 7 discs from 1963 to 1969 were put on a compilation in 1970 for fan club members, my version is an unofficial 2010 pressing on green vinyl. If you want an original 1970 pressing, be prepared to dig deep and watch out for counterfeits. 

Squeeze – Christmas Day

Whilst not Squeeze’s finest moment by any stretch of the imagination, for anyone who enjoyed Christmas in the seventies this will bring some memories back and a welcome diversion from Mum playing Wham’s ” Last Christmas” again.

A Charlie Brown Christmas – Vince Guarldi Trio 

For me this is the ultimate Christmas album, festive but without choking on the tinsel. Released  50 years ago in December 1965, this album on the San Francisco based Fantasy label still sounds amazing on this green vinyl re-issueGive the “Now That’s What I Call A Repetitive Christmas” CD a short vacation and enjoy this wonderful album. 

Which just leaves me to wish you all a Merry Christmas, I’ll be returning in the New Year so until then, thank you for reading. 




Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Groundbreaking Singles - The Boiler ~ Rhoda with the Special AKA

Groundbreaking Singles – The Boiler ~ Rhoda with the Special AKA


The Specials in their classic recording form lasted a brief but bright two years from 79 to 81, releasing some of the finest British pop to ever land on the turntable. Along with bands like The Clash and The Jam, The Specials were not afraid to confront and challenge their audience and released songs that tackled many issues including racism, birth control, social deprivation and drunk driving. 

Following the exit of Terry Hall, Neville Staple & Lynval Golding who went on to form the Fun Boy Three, Jerry Dammers continued with the renamed Special AKA in 1982 with a more fluid lineup similar to Paul Weller and Mick Talbot’s Style Council. Rhoda Daker who had previously been in the Two Tone signed band The Bodysnatchers and had sung on “I Can’t Stand It” from the  More Specials LP, joined on a more permanent role. The first song the Bodysnatchers had written together was the song “The Boiler” which they and Dammers  wanted to record as their first single. Label owners Chrysalis baulked at the lyrical content of the song and forced them to record the more poppy “Let’s Do Rocksteady”. The Special AKA issued The Boiler on the 23rd of January 1982 after protracted recording sessions and despite the A side getting no airplay it reached number 35, the instrumental version on the B side was the version that was used on radio. The Special AKA would continue to issue subversive singles such as “War Crimes”, “Racist Friend” and “Free Nelson Mandela” until Dammers dissolved the band in 1985. 

In the early nineties I was thumbing through a friend’s record collection and came across a Specials compilation that had “The Boiler” on it, I’ve never heard it before and I asked him what it was like. “I can’t listen to it” he said “It’s horrible; it’s brilliant but just makes me feel sick”. He refused any more information than that and naturally my interest was piqued. Shortly after this I picked up this copy of the single, listened to it and understood exactly why he had made these extraordinary remarks about a pop song. 

The BBC argue that they have never officially banned any songs, but clearly directives like this one issued in 1942 show that they had a clear policy over what was acceptable to broadcast over the airwaves during World War 2.

"We have recently adopted a policy of excluding sickly sentimentality which, particularly when sung by certain vocalists, can become nauseating and not at all in keeping with what we feel to be the need of the public in this country in the fourth year of war."

Sourced by Stanley, Bob (6 August 2008). "The music the BBC banned". The Times (London).

So various songs over the years, whilst not banned have been outside acceptable policy and either not played or put on the restricted list which meant it could not be played on general entertainment programs. Barry Maguire’s Eve Of Destruction (too political), The Who’s My Generation (offensive to stutterers), The Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds (drugs), Split Enz’s Six Months In A Leaky Boat (Falkland’s War) The Sex Pistols’ God Save The Queen (it might cause offence) & Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax (overtly obscene) are just a small number of censorship casualties of their times. All of these and virtually all the other records that have been banned or restricted have subsequently received radio airplay; “The Boiler” has not.

 (Further research and some wisdom from Allan Crockford has revealed that the mighty John Peel did indeed play this at least once on his show, The Bodysnatchers had already recorded an as yet unreleased version of this song on an earlier Peel Session.)

The song is without doubt the most uncomfortable and disturbing records I have ever heard, listening to it before I wrote this blog entry is only the 4th time I’ve ever played it. The song tells the story of a woman who has a low self-image and refers to herself as an old boiler, she subsequently goes on a date with a man who rapes her, the song concludes with her harrowing screams and crying. 

I believe the time for this to be played on radio is now, in a world that believes it’s acceptable to tap its feet to Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines whilst humming along to “you know you want it”, at a time where rape culture continues to thrive, “The Boiler” is a powerful antidote to a sick industry.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Happy 50th Birthday Rubber Soul and My Generation

Happy 50th Birthday Rubber Soul and My Generation

Two great albums released on this day in 1965, it must have been a great time to be a teenager.
Listening to the Rubber Soul’s original mono mix on the 2014 reissue is a real treat, if you’ve only heard the 87 mix (from which all stereo CD’s & vinyl are sourced from) you are missing out. 

Over the past several years I’ve heard people remark that the US Rubber Soul is better than the UK version. Due to the fact that Capitol were late to the Beatles party and to wring some extra cash from the US fans by putting 12 tracks on a LP (rather than 14), the US Rubber Soul had four tracks removed and replaced by two from Help (I’ve Just Seen A Face & It’s Only Love) each one respectively opening side 1 & 2. Sonics, different mixes and false starts aside (all peculiarities of the US Stereo version) this sets a very different tone for the whole album that could be appealing to the folk rock crowd. 
Here’s someone making the case for the US version

 Whilst I respect his opinion, he is completely and utterly wrong.
The loss of “What Goes On” isn’t a deal breaker, however without “Drive My Car”, “If I Needed Someone” and “Nowhere Man” this album stops sounding like one of the greatest albums of all time and might even be considered a stop gap. Whilst the US version does tick all the boxes of “folk rock” and I’m sure it’s a great stoners album, without those three key tracks it begins to sound bland. That’s not to say it still contains some of the finest Beatles songs ever written, but the strength and legacy of the Fabs albums was always their diversity and contrast. Whilst it’s fun and often educational to hear tracks out of sequence, part of the genius of these albums is the way tracks set up the next one. I would argue “I’ve just seen a face” undermines “Norwegian Wood” rather than setting it up. 

A similar though less dramatic fate occurred with the US version of My Generation, renamed “The Who sings My Generation” released by US Decca in Stereo & Mono  (and on 8 track cartridge too) with the omission of “I’m A Man” (apparently considered to risqué for the American audience), swapping “The Ox” with “Legal Matter” and closing side two with “Instant Party”. Whilst it’s difficult to make a case for what is a fine cover against a stonking good Townshend original, the UK sequencing makes it sound like a far superior album. 

Both Rubber Soul & My Generation are currently available in mono on vinyl and both these reissues are highly recommended. 

For downloaders My Generation is available in mono, there is also a stereo version that whilst is not as kick ass, it is superior to the 2002 CD reissue in that it has all the overdub parts that were on the original ( for more on this see )

Sadly digital listeners have a tougher ride with Rubber Soul, all of the CD’s & downloads are sourced from the 87 remix, which whilst it’s better than the Help remix of the same time, it’s still a pale version of the originals. The only option are the 2009 mono CD boxset (but beware as there are quite a few fakes of this about) which contains the original Mono & Stereo mixes. Although there is a rare Canadian CD issue that contains the original stereo mix.

If you want to hear the original Capitol versions on CD then you need the original Capitol Boxsets (2004 & 2006) as the current US re-issues are sourced from the 2009 re-masters so you would be better off re-sequencing  your own tracks from the comfort of a warm playlist. 

1965, what a year, I wish I’d been there.