I AM A MEDIA MAXI-PAD ABSORBING THE CONTINUAL FLOW OF POP CULTURE.
THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?
THIS JOURNAL DOCUMENTS MY INTAKE OF ONE BOOK, ZINE, CD OR DVD A DAY. RATINGS ARE: ***** = Godhead, **** = Great, *** = Good, ** = Fair, * = Why Bother?
Monday, January 30, 2012
A Different Compilation
(Cooking Vinyl, 2011)
Pete Shelley: “The original records now sound like demos. These new versions, honed by years on the road, showcase the songs as we know they should be, the way we know audiences love to hear them.”
Steve Diggle: “What were songs of sophisticated innocence are now songs of experience. ‘Harmony In My Head’ and ‘Why She’s A Girl From The Chainstore’ now have a full panoramic view!”
Founding Buzzcocks Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle have taken their most popular songs over the last 30+ years and not just remastered or updated or played them live; rather, they've gone back to the studio to rerecord their back catalogue to showcase what the songs sound like now as played by the contempo 'cocks: Shelley, Diggle, bassist (and Steve Winwood lookalike) Chris Remmington and drummer Danny Farrant.
That said, I always thought Buzzcocks got it right the first time round - the songs represented here are as good as it gets in terms of punk-pop music and lyrically the sonnets of Manchester's Shelley are always reliably clever when they're not being downright brilliant (typical verbal gem from "Whatever Happened To?": "Your emotions are a compact case you carry") - leading to the inevitable question: Why buy these songs again?
The answer is twofold. The main reason to buy A Different Compilation (the first new Buzzcocks release since 2006's Flat-Pack Philosophy) is to experience what a Buzzcocks concert 30+ years later sounds like - which is still GREAT! All the excitement of a live show recorded with today's technology. Pete's voice is basically the same and Diggle's guitarmanship has only gotten better, and both guitars are beefed up with that Green Day Dookie-wall-of-sound metallic k.o. that kids today totally dig. The second reason is, well, this really is a different kind of compilation, one in which the "older, wiser" 'cocks can offer variations on their time-tested themes. An added riff here (like the wacka-wacka backbeat strumming on "Why Can't I Touch It?"), an extended solo there (e.g., "I Believe"). Even Buzzcocks tire of playing their greatest hits the same way every night and variety, that spice of life, keeps it interesting for them as well.
Steve Diggle gets to showcase seven of his songs, as well as two collaborations with Shelley ("Promises," "Fast Cars"), including adding a little Stuart Adamson-flavored electric guitar riff to the mostly acoustic closer "Love Is Lies," which makes it sound now like a Big Country song. The new recording of "Why She's a Girl From the Chainstore" is particularly inspired, while the beefed up guitars in "Autonomy" and "Harmony In My Head" lend these hard-rocking Diggle ditties a Wagnerian sturm und drang epic-ness. And the rerecording of "Alive Tonight" (the song celebrating "armchair groovers"!) marks at least the third time Diggle's recorded this one (it was originally released on 1991's Alive Tonight EP as a Stone Roses-influenced slice of neo-psychedelia, followed by the grunged-up 1993 Trade Test Transmissions album version).
And then there's Shelley's masterpiece "I Believe." The last "great" single from the (1978-1980) golden era Buzzcocks is here turned into a virtual set-closing jam session, with Diggle and Shelley's guitars duking it out for an extended three minute solo, with Chris Remmington and Danny Farrant both getting solos as well. That's new and certainly worth hearing - I would have made it the last song on the CD, but Diggle's acoustic "Love Is Lies" works well as a catch-you-breath cooldown after I Believe"'s guitar workout, kind of like The Beatles's "Her Majesty" on Abbey Road.
My only quibble with the compilation is the absence of a decent recording of my fave Buzzcocks song "Times Up," which was one of the four original recordings released on their 1977 Spiral Scratch EP. But two other spiral scratches, "Breakdown" and "Boredom," are showcased here and have never sounded better.
Finally, no dis to Danny Farrant, but listening to this set also reminded me that there's no substitute for original drummer John Maher. Danny Farrant is an excellent drummer, but John Mayer is arguably one of the top 5 rock drummers of all-time, one who seemed to have an extra gear when it came to lightning-fast rolls. I think he may even have had an extra limb or two that gave him the ability to beat out that extra measure in Buzzcocks songs. Still, he's gone and Farrant is probably as good a sub as possible.
2. Fast Cars
3. I Don't Mind
5. Get On Our Own
6. What Ever Happened To?
7. When Love Turns Around You
8. Why She's A Girl From The Chainstore
9. Why Can't I Touch It?
10. Alive Tonight
11. I Don't Know What To Do With My Life
12. You Say You Don't Love Me
13. Turn Of The Screw
14. Noise Annoys
17. Love You More
18. What Do I Get?
19. Harmony In My Head
20. Oh Shit!
21. Ever Fallen In Love (with Someone You Shouldn't've)?
22. Orgasm Addict
23. I Believe
24. Love Is Lies
Monday, January 16, 2012
Starry Eyes: UK Pop II (1978-79)
(Rhino, D.I.Y. Series, 1993)
My MLK Day shopping score of the day (well, after nabbing the last two pairs of Medium 60-40 Cotton-Poly Blend Men's Pajamas at WalMart for my 7-fresh-PJs-per-week-wearing dad!) was this Rhino "D.I.Y." compilation of UK punk and powerpop singles from 1978-1979, which I picked up for $5.99 from the Soundgarden used record bins. I thought maybe I had it already, but he who hesitates is not only lost but also not worthy of the name "hoarder," so I took a chance and am glad I did because it turns out that all of Rhino's excellent 1993 D.I.Y. series titles are out-of-print and hence expensive and hard to come by except for used copies.
I have most of the tunes included here - as a card-carrying Punk and Powerpop enthusiast, I have everything by Buzzcocks and The Undertones and most of the other groups on vinyl 45s or albums (e.g., The Yachts, Bram Tchaikovsky, The Jags, The Records, The Tourists - the latter featuring future Eurythmics Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart) - so this was a score mainly for car- and boombox-listening convenience, not to mention the half dozen tracks that were truly obscure/rare and probably unavailable anywhere else but this compilation: Belfast's Starjets ("Schooldays"), Dublin's The Radiators (who no doubt resent being lumped in with "United Kingdom" bands and whose leader Phil Chevron went on to join The Pogues; "Let's Talk About the Weather"), Leeds' The Squares ("This Is Airebeat"), Manchester's The Distractions ("Time Goes By So Slow" - one of the first singles on Factory Records), Glasgow's The Zones ("Mourning Star"; Zones bassist Russell Webb and drummer Kenny Hyslop later joined The Skids), and London's Mod revivalists Purple Hearts ("Millions Like Us").
The Jags: "Back of My Hand" 45
And I really, really wanted a digital version of my Jags 45 "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number)" (UK #17) because not only is it a great powerpop song, it's also one of my favorite Telephone Songs (if only for the lines "I'm not a fuck machine, a 1960s dream" and "When I call you I get a stack of lies/You whip them out before you dry your eyes," the latter line sounding to my ears like "You wipe 'em out before you dry yer ass" thanks to singer Nick Watkinson's oft-indecipherable brogue).
Watch The Jags play "Back Of My Hand (I've Got Your Number" (TOTP)
You see, every pre-New Millennium pop band worth its salt either had a Girl's Name Song, a Car Song, or a Phone Song in their setlist and, yes, I compile those sort of playlists (especially Phone Songs - from The Marvelettes' "Beechwood 4-5789" and Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" in the '60s to ELO's "Telephone Line" in the '70s, and Tommy Tutone's "Jenny (867-5309)" in the '80s to contemporaries like Lady Gaga's "Telephone").
The compilation takes its title from The Records' bitter anti-Record Biz rant (set to possibly the most beautifully disarming jingly-jangly 12-string guitar chords ever) "Starry Eyes," but it's another Records' tune, Will Burch's "Hearts In Her Eyes" that is of greater interest here, because we get to hear it covered by an original, 1st Gen powerpop band (then just called "Merseybeat"), Liverpool's The Searchers.
And speaking of Merseybeat, there's even an answer song to Liverpool's famed beat group-inspiring river in this anthology: "This is Airebeat" by The Squares. The Aire river runs through Leeds and though no anthemic "Ferry Cross the Airey" song emerged to rival Merseybeat's place in history, "This is Airebeat" ("This is Airebeat for deadbeats/This is Airebeat for sound freaks/Airebeat it's so neat/Airebeat keeps me off of the street") amused John Peel enough to get played on his radio show, which led Sire Records to sign the Leeds lads - Paddy Hogan (bass & vocals), Brian Hogan (guitar & backing vocals), and Kev Bates (drums, maracas, organ) - in 1979.
Listen to The Squares play "This Is Airebeat."
Bram Tchaikovsky's "Girl of My Dreams" is a great pop song that belongs on another Rock Songs List - to wit, songs about inflatable girlfriends. Add it to the short list alongside The Police's "Be My Girl Sally" and Bryan Ferry's Roxy Music paen to the emptiness of opulence, "In Every Dream Home a Heartache."
"Girl of My Dreams": Cheap, portable, lightweight & never talks back!
And, lest I forget, there's the fun single "Where's the Boy For Me" by The Revillos, the band (named after a cafe in a Marvel comic) singers Faye Fife and Eugene Reynolds formed after the breakup of (the Jo Callis-led) Glaswegian New Wave retro-rockers The Rezillos - whose Can't Stand the Rezillos has been called by some (OK, well, by one!) The Greatest Rock & Roll Record of All-Time. (I still rue missing The Revillos when they played Baltimore's Marble Bar back in the 1980s! What could I possibly have been doing more important than that?)
Watch The Revillos play "Where's the Boy for Me?"
Needless to say, the all-femme post-punk Mo-Dettes are great fun as well, and years of enjoying "White Mice" on various punk/D.I.Y. compilations such as this led me to purchase their 2008 anthology The Story So Far, a digitally remastered reissue of their lone 1981 album plus some bonus tracks. These gals, fronted by Swiss singer Ramona Carlier (who sounds like she either has a speech impediment or is singing with a mouthful of food), were once London squatmates of Joe Strummer and Sid Vicious. Guitarist Kate Korus (nee Katherine Corris) was a Yank and an original member of The Slits, while bassist Jane Crockford went on to marry Daniel Woodgate of Madness and drummer June Miles-Kingston ended up playing with Fun Boy Three, Everything But the Girl, Thompson Twins, and The Communards. They also did a song about the Kray Twins, which would have made them OK in my book even without the gem that is "White Mice."
Watch Mo-Dettes play "White Mice."
Besides all the great music on offer, the Starry Eyes liner notes are quite nice and accurately point out the massive late '70s influence of one Elvis Costello who, though not appearing on this compilation, clearly influenced the fierce rock, rapid-fire clever wordplay, and mumbly invective of The Jags and Joe Jackson. And I like the observation that the members of XTC (whose Colin Moulding-penned "Life Begins At the Hop" appears here) "grew up to make the most quintessential English records that are loved everywhere but England."
"Starry Eyes" Tracks and Artists:
1. Ever Fallen in Love? - Buzzcocks
2. Get Over You - The Undertones
3. Yachting Types - The Yachts
4. Is She Really Going Out With Him? - Joe Jackson
5. Schooldays - Starjets (bonus track) *
6. Girl of My Dreams - Bram Tchaikovsky
7. This Is Airebeat - Squares
8. Life Begins at the Hop - XTC
9. Up the Junction - Squeeze
10. Back of My Hand (I've Got Your Number) - Jags
11. Let's Talk About the Weather - The Radiators
12. Starry Eyes - The Records
13. Mourning Star - Zones
14. Millions Like Us - Purple Hearts
15. Time Goes by So Slow - Distractions
16. Hearts in Her Eyes - The Searchers
17. Where's the Boy for Me? - Revillos
18. White Mice - Mo-Dettes (bonus track) *
19. So Good to Be Back Home Again - The Tourists
"Starry Eyed" Videos:
Watch Buzzcocks play "Ever Fallen in Love" (live).
Watch The Undertones play "Get Over You."
Watch The Records play "Starry Eyes" (live)
Watch Squeeze play "Up the Junction."
Watch XTC play "Life Begins atthe Hop" (TOTP)
Watch Joe Jackson play "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" (TOTP)
Watch Purple Hearts play "Millions Like Us."
Watch Starjets play "Schooldays."
Watch Radiators play "Let's Talk About the Weather."
Watch The Tourists play "So Good To Be Home Again" (TOTP)
Watch The Yachts play "Yachting Type."
Listen to The Searchers play "Hearts In Her Eyes."
Listen to the Distractions play "Time Goes By So Slow."
Listen to The Zones play "Mourning Star."
Listen to Bram Tchaikovsky play "Girl of My Dreams."
Thursday, January 5, 2012
The Graham Gouldman Thing
(BMG-UK, RCA-US, 1968)
Graham Gouldman: vocals, acoustic and lead guitars
John Paul Jones: bass
Clem Cantini: drums
The Capsule Description Thing: The Graham Gouldman Thing was the debut album by singer and songwriter Graham Gouldman. Gouldman had already written hit singles for Herman's Hermits ("No Milk Today" and "Listen People"), the Yardbirds ("For Your Love," "Heart Full of Soul," "Evil Hearted You"), the Hollies ("Look Through Any Window," "Bus Stop") and Wayne Fontana ("Pamela, Pamela", "The Impossible Years") and on this album Gouldman delivered his own versions of some of those songs as well as other new compositions. Gouldman, who would later become a founding member of 10cc, recorded the album at Olympic Studios in London, a studio that would later be extensively used by Led Zeppelin. It was recorded with the assistance of John Paul Jones and Eddie Kramer, both of whom would also achieve considerable success with Led Zeppelin. All songs composed by Graham Gouldman.
"From behind the counter of a gents' outfitters shop in a grimy Manchester suburb to a place in the front rank of the world's leading songwriters in three years. This is the achievement of Graham Gouldman - six feet, rangy and dreamy-eyed...There are many great artists who have paid tribute to Gouldman by recording his music...Citations and reviews also pay tribute to the melodic invention and distinctive style of what has become known as the Graham Gouldman Thing." - Original sleeve note, 1968
Birds of a Feather
Graham Gouldman entered the pop scene at age 19 with "For Your Love," a song he wrote while working behind the counter at Bargains Unlimited - a men's clothing store near Salford Docks in Manchester, England - and which would eventually make its way to The Yardbirds and provide them with their first (and biggest) hit. Bargains Unlimited was Gouldman's day job; by night, he was gigging with his semi-professional local band The Mockingbirds, whose drummer was none other than his future 10cc bandmate Kevin Godley (whom he'd met while rehearsing at the Jewish Lads Brigade in north Manchester). The other 'birds were the aptly named bass player Bernard Basso and guitarist Steve Jacobson.
"I was sleeping most of the time because I'd been gigging with the Mockingbirds the night before, and then during the day when I'd got any spare time I'd write in the shop," Gouldman recalled. He favored "soulful" minor chords, explaining that "Major chords seemed pale and white. We used to go to the synagogue which must have had some sort of influence, the melodies there were very beautiful, mournful and aching."
Gouldman explained, "I used to shut up the shop at lunch time and sit in the back writing. I’d sort of dabbled a bit in song-writing but I had a band and we wanted to make a record and so we went down to Denmark Street - Tin Pan Alley was Denmark Street, where all the songwriters were - in London, and went round all the publishers trying to find a song. And anyway we didn’t get any songs that we liked or we weren’t given any songs period and the Beatles had started and I thought ‘well, I’m gonna really have a crack at song-writing.’ I had dabbled a bit but they were really my inspiration and gave me and I think gave a lot of other people the courage to actually do it. We all wanted to be like the Beatles...most of us anyway."
Beatles-inspired fledgling songwriter Gouldman had written two songs for the Mockingbirds that he thought had potential, "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" and "For Your Love," the latter envisioned as their first single. The mental giants at the record company, however, turned down "For Your Love" and instead chose "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" to be the Mockingbirds' first single. "That's How (It's Gonna Stay)" did nothing for Gouldman's band but Mockingbirds manager Harvey Lisberg - who also managed Herman's Hermits and would later go on to manage 10cc - was so impressed by "For Your Love" that he advised Gouldman to offer it to the Beatles.
"I said, 'I think they're doing alright in the songwriting department, actually'," Gouldman replied with considerable understatement. "What he was thinking was that they did covers of Motown songs and rhythm and blues stuff." The Beatles's publishing company passed but, undeterred, Lisberg gave a demo of the song to publisher Ronnie Beck of Feldman's, who took it to the Hammersmith Odeon, where the Beatles were performing on a Christmas show. By coincidence the Yardbirds were also on the bill at the venue and Beck played the song to their manager, Giorgio Gomelsky, and the band.
With the lone exception of their guitarist, the Yardbirds loved it. "They were a blues band who wanted some chart success so they'd started looking around for outside material. It was a simple as that," Gouldman told Andy Morten in the liner notes to The Graham Gouldman Thing. "[Georgio Gomelsky] played it to them and it fitted into what they wanted to do."
In fact, the Yardbirds would go to parrot many of its unusual (for its time) songwriting traits - the minor chords, the slow-fast/start-stop tempo changes, the droning (almost Gregorian) harmonies - in their subsequent chart efforts. The Yardbirds' recording of "For Your Love" peaked at No. 3 on the UK charts, selling two million copies worldwide and becoming their highest charting single in the US at No. 6. And it also famously caused their blues-purist guitarist Eric Clapton to leave the 'birds' nest and join John Mayall's Bluesbreakers in protest at this new "commercial sound."
"That song, I think I read somewhere, was kind of responsible for Eric Clapton leaving the Yardbirds – he thought ‘I can’t play that, it’s too poppy’," Gouldman recalled in an interview with Alan Thompson for the BBC Radio Wales program I Write the Songs. "I think it was more like the last straw rather than any other reason, because the Yardbirds had wanted to get a hit record and they were playing rhythm and blues, and they were a fantastic rhythm and blues band and when they made this change to being commercial, Eric couldn’t take it and he left. And," he added facetiously, "they got another crap guitarist - Jeff Beck, and then Jimmy Page."
Rumor has it that another factor contributing to Clapton's departure was "Slowhand" having to recreate the song's harpsichord on a 12-string guitar when performing it live. It would later be handily handled by post-Clapton "crap" guitarist Jeff Beck, as shown in the clip below.
Watch the Yardbirds play "For Your Love."
Though "For Your Love" may have been the final straw that caused Eric Clapton to leave the Yardbirds roost, it was undoubtably the song that helped propel the Yardbirds from being just another London blues-rock band into a chart-topping commercial pop presence, ushering in the sonic experimentations of new guitar whiz Jeff Beck and beginning what would blossom into a fruitful songwriting relationship with Gouldman.
"I saw The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck and and he just blew me away. To me he was and still is the ultimate player, so it was very exciting to be working with them," Gouldman told Andy Morten. "They ended up doing two more of mine and another one they didn't finish. I wrote those with them in mind." Those two Gouldman followup hits for the Yardbirds were "Heart Full of Soul" (UK #2, US #9) and "Evil Hearted You" (UK #3).
And so began a two-year period when Gouldman had the "Midas Touch" writing hit songs for other pop groups. The next act to reap chart success from Gouldman's songwriting pen was The Hollies. Inspired by the the view looking out a railway carriage on one of his trips to London to peddle songs, he wrote "Look Through Any Window." "They had separate compartments then," he told Bob Stanley (a member of the pop group Saint Etienne who writes the fantastic blog Croydon Municipal), "a great environment for writing."
Hollies Hits in Transit
"Look Through Any Window" - co-written with Charles Silverman and originally offered to the Country Gentleman (a group fronted by Gouldman's friend and frequent musical collaborator Peter Cowap) - was "placed" with the Hollies by his manager and became a Top 5 hit for his fellow Mancunians. But it was "Bus Stop" - specifically written with The Hollies in mind - that became their breakthrough U.S. hit, reaching #5 on the Billboard Top 100. Gouldman also offered The Hollies "Going Away," which was ultimately recorded (though never released) by Manchester's Toggery Five.
1965 was a busy year for Gouldman, with his manager Lisberg placing "I'm Gonna Take You There" with Dave Berry, "A Little While Back" and "Why Say Goodbye" with The Shindigs, and several singles for Columbia recording artist Little Frankie.
By the time 1966 rolled around, it was the Harvey Lisberg-managed Herman's Hermits who started recording Gouldman gems, including the singles "East West" (#33 UK), "Listen People" (US #3), and "No Milk Today" (#5 UK). The Hermits would later look to Gouldman's "Ooh She's Done It Again," "It's Nice To Be Out in the Morning," and "The World Is For the Young" to use on their Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter soundtrack LP and '67 B-side "Marcel."
Bowled Over: Hermits Hermits tip their hats to Graham Gouldman's hits
Still later, Gouldman would even write a Yardley cosmetics promo jingle for Herman's Hermits, "The London Look," which they released as an EP in 1968: "See the country vicars and the city slickers, pearly kings and noble dukes. Everybody moving, everybody grooving. They've all got The London Look ..."
Country vicars and city slickers - all have The London Look!
But Noone's Hermits weren't the only musicos to cut their teeth on Gouldman gold that year, as Wayne Fontana took "Pamela, Pamela" to #11 on the UK charts, while the St. Louis Union recorded "Behind the Door," P. J. Proby and Toni Basil (yes, Toni Basil!) both recorded "I'm 28," Friday Brown cut "Getting Nowhere" (actually just a retitled version of "I'm 28"), The Downliner Sect added their rhythm and blues stylings to "The Cost of Living" (credited to Gouldman-Lisberp-Peter Cowap), and The High Society (a Gouldman studio concoction) released "People Passing By."
1967 saw Cher record what Gouldman would later deem a "great version" of "Behind the Door" and a post-Yardbirds, pre-Jeff Beck Group Jeff Beck recorded "Tallyman" - a title suggested by Gouldman's dad. "Because of my connection with [Herman's Hermits producer] Mickie Most," Gouldman explained to Andy Morten, "Jeff Beck ended up a song of mine after he left The Yardbirds. This is one ofthose songs where my late father used to help me with lyrics quite a lot. He should get a little bit of the credit."
The Shadows recorded "Naughty Nippon Nights" the same year, while (future 10cc bandmate) Eric Stewart's Mindbenders (who Graham would later join on a brief touring stint) covered Gouldman's "Schoolgirl" (which was banned by the BBC for its subject matter: teenage pregnancy), and Down Under rock star Normie Rowe (the "Ozzy Elvis" whose career was never the same after he was drafted for the Vietnam War) had a comeback hit with "Going Home," which rose as high as #7 on Australia's Go-Set chart listing. Gouldman also found time to release his own "Stop! Stop! Stop!" - a rare instance of him adapting a Northern Soul/R&B style.
Gouldman's own band The Mockingbirds were still around during this period (though by this time they'd left EMI to join Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label), but success still eluded them - even when Gouldman tried to emulate the style of more popular groups, like The Yardbirds. Encouraged by the commercial success of The Yardbirds' "For Your Love," The Mockingbirds released the very Yardbirds-sounding "You Stole My Love" (with a young Julie Driscoll providing backing vocals) on Andrew Loog Oldham's Immediate label in 1965; not surprisingly, it would later be covered by the Yardbirds themselves in 1966.
"You Stole My Love": Out-Yardbirdsing the Yardbirds
Listen to The Mockingbirds play "You Stole My Love."
As Andy Morten characterized it in his The Graham Gouldman Thing liner notes: "One of Gouldman's best songs of the era, it almost out-Yardbirds The Yardbirds with its powerful melody and shifting tempo changes, beautifully rendered by a fierce Giorgio Gomelsky production and an ethereal Julie Driscoll backing vocal to boot. Despite being rightly recognised as a classic slice of mid-'60s Britpop these days, back then it merely became the third Mockingbirds single to do nothing." Or, as Gouldman put it: "It seemed that every song of mine we recorded failed and every one we gave away was a hit. I thought maybe that's the way it's going to be, although I didn't let it bother me."
Graham Gouldman relocated to the United States in 1968, where RCA Victor - encouraged by his hit-making track record for other artists - quickly signed him to a contract and molded him as a solo act. RCA let the maestro loose in the studio to record The Graham Gouldman Thing, wherein he played and sang his versions of the past hits he wrote for other artists, as well as some new songs like "My Father," "The Pawnbroker" and "Who Are They."
The album was originally intended to be produced by Peter Noone (whose Herman's Hermits had already reaped the benefits of numerous Gouldman-penned hits), but in an interview with Alan Betrock (reprinted on the CD), Gouldman explained:
"It was supposed to be something like the artist produces the writer, but he wasn't there on any of the sessions - though he is credited as producer. I did the whole thing with John Paul Jones who arranged the tracks, played on it and also helped produce it. It was an important project for me at the time; I put a lot of work into it." This concern is shown by listening to the album, which exudes tasteful arrangements and thoughtful production. Favourites are the hits like 'Bus Stop' and 'For Your Love,' but all the tracks have something interesting to offer. The orchestral arrangements on 'No Milk Today' and 'Upstairs Downstairs' are particularly refreshing. Strangely enough, the album was not released in the UK, and despite a heavy US promo campaign, didn't sell much to Americans..."
"I think Peter [Noone] came to the first session, had to leave early, and that was it," Gouldman remembered. "He never turned up for any of the sessions. He did us all a favour in the end because that left myself, John and Eddie Kramer [ominipresent engineer in-chief at London's Olympic Studios]. Clem Canttini played drums, John played bass, I played acoustic guitar and some lead guitar. That was the team that made the record...Some songs were made with just me, John and Clem, and some were done with a full orchestra, live. In those days you'd write the song, give it to the arranger, the arranger would write all the parts, you'd spend maybe an hour getting the sounds together and another hour getting a good performance, another hour doing the vocals and that was it. Because it was only a four-track it didn't take long to mix it. That's why these guys were so hot. I used to see John and he'd come in with his guitar in one hand and his amp in the other, plonk it down and say 'right, what are we doing?' and he'd be off. Then he'd go off and do the same thing in another studio. And we were all doing that, that's how records were made. Some of the best records ever made."
"Listening to it now," he later told Saint Etienne's Bob Stanley, "the first thing I notice is how good it is to hear real instruments. (Arranger) John Paul Jones loved strings and woodwind - you hardly ever hear woodwind anymore...Some things worked beautifully, especially 'Bus Stop'...It got nice reviews, but didn't set the world on fire." (Indeed sales were modest, with Gouldman later commenting that the album sold more upon its reissue in 1974 at the height of 10cc's fame than it had in the previous six years combined.)
Stanley christened the album's orchestral rock sound "Baroque Majesty," one influenced in equal measure by both Bach and The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby." I call this sound "Chamber Pop," a late-60s fusion of classical and rock music prevalent in the songs of The Walker Brothers and bands like The Left Banke, Rolling Stones, Procol Harum, Love, and The Beach Boys. And nowhere is this more in evidence than on the opening track, "The Impossible Years"...
The Graham Gouldman Thing - Side 1
1. "The Impossible Years" - 2:38
These are the impossible years
A girl must endure, adrift on the ocean
Left with her unspeakable fears
The torture of doubt and pent up emotion
New temptations, strange sensations
A great new world for explorations
An interesting song in that it takes the unusual (for a youth-oriented pop song) narrative point of view of a father trying to understand his teenage daughter and "show her the way" through the "impossible years" of adolescence when "the young bud comes to flower." I mean, it's pretty clear what we're talking about here, with lines such as:
When does the young bud come to flower
It's petals are plain with color exciting
When does the one sun choose the hour
To change the green shoot to beauty inviting
Girls are growing
And without knowing
They're the seeds that we've been sowing
Musically, "The Impossible Years" clearly shows the "baroque" or "chamber pop" influence that became so prevalent on the British airwaves in the wake of The Beatles' "Yesterday."
Wayne Fontana - yet another Mancunian artist drawn to Gouldman's work - recorded a version in 1967 that only achieved minor success in Australia; Fontana had more success in 1966 with Gouldman's "Pamela, Pamela," which he rode as high as #11 on the UK pop charts.
Wayne Fontana - "The Impossible Years"
Listen to Wayne Fontana sing "The Impossible Years."
Listen GG sing "The Impossible Years."
2. "Bus Stop" - 2:24
Bus stop, wet day, she's there, I say
"Please share my umbrella"
Bus stops, bus goes, she stays, love grows
Under my umbrella
All that summer we enjoyed it
Wind and rain and shine
That umbrella we employed it
By August she was mine
Though the Hollies had already recorded Gouldman's "Look Through Any Window," they achieved their greatest chart success with "Bus Stop," a song he had written specifically with them in mind and which they took to #5 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100.
"We were supporting The Hollies at Stoke Town Hall," Gouldman explained to Andy Morten. "They'd already recorded 'Look Through Any Window' and said that if I came up with anything else, they'd love to hear it. I remember playing 'Bus Stop' to Tony Hicks and Graham Nash in the loo there as it was the quietest place we could find. They said they loved it and told me to make a tape. In those days if they said they'd do it, they'd do it and they'd do it quick. It was recorded and was out just a few weeks later. Things were done much quicker because you weren't waiting for the artwork or the video. There was a quick turnover and things were much more exciting because of that."
Fellow '60s British songsmith Tony Hazzard claimed he was so impressed by "Bus Stop" that he was moved to write "Ha! Ha! Said the Clown" for Manfred Mann in 1967.
Watch The Hollies play "Bus Stop."
Watch GG play "Bus Stop" (2011).
3. "Behind the Door" - 3:38
Behind the door of every house
In every street, in every town
A story is unfolding, a story is unfolding
Of love and hate...remorse, love's fate
Of hopes and fears and smiles and tears
Of dreams that lie emoldering
GG's melancholy, minor-chord drenched "Behind the Door" - perhaps the first-ever song to rhyme "unfolding" with "emoldering" (much less use this obscure term for - um, what exactly is emoldering?) - was first recorded by Manchester "freakbeat" mod rockers St. Louis Union, one of three singles (the others were a #11 UK cover of The Beatles' "Girl" b/w their version of Otis Redding's "Respect" and "East Side Story" b/w "Think About Me") they released on Decca Records in 1966.
Originally called The Satanists, the St. Louis Union won a recording contract after winning a Melody Maker beat band contest (where they drubbed a fledgling Pink Floyd!). They would later appear in the Spencer Davis Group movie The Ghost Goes Gear (1966), in which they performed "I Got My Pride" and "Show Me Your English Teeth" (great title!). According to Wikipedia, St. Louis Union keyboardist David Tomlinson - rechristened as "Dave Formula" (pictured right) - resurfaced on the late '70s New Wave scene as a member of (erstwile Buzzcock) Howard Devoto's Magazine, new romantics Visage, Ludus, and Luxuria, and also worked with Tuxedomoon's Winston Tong. (So there you have it, punk fans: the somewhat tenuous connection between Graham Gouldman and Buzzcocks!)
Across the pond, a young Cher also covered "Behind the Door" in 1966 (#94 US Billboard Hot 100).
Listen to Cher sing "Behind the Door."
GG's version of the song is notable for its tempo change - two-thirds of the way into this orchestral maneuvers in the dark, it shifts gears and turns into a sprightly rocker - only to return one again to its somber fade.
4. "Pawnbroker" - 3:02
Under the sign of the old pawnbroker
There rests a man with our past success
All that I value is in his keeping
He is the guardian of everything I possess
Everything I possess...
In on Monday, out on Friday
I'm the only one to blame
Waiting for that Thursday's payday
Every week it's just the same
Over Flamenco-style guitars and a sped-up Bossa Nova beat, Gouldman authors the best pawnbroker song until, well, until The Ramones' "Chinese Rock"! With incredible detail, Gouldman describes both the man and the trade in faded dreams...
Behind the grill wearing gold-rimmed glasses
The old man values the cost of fears
Trumpets, guitars, pearly concertinas
Assigned orchestra, lamenting four wasted years
Until the song's final resignation to endless debt:
Under the sign of the old pawnbroker
Trail all the losers in life's contest
Some hurry back to redeem their pledges
My promise, I'll redeem, the day that I'm laid to rest
Listen to GG sing "Pawnbroker."
5. "Who Are They" - 2:03
Drip dry dress, unshrinkable
Who can they be?
They're you and me - they're we
Gouldman showed his social conscience on a number of his mid- to late-60s songs and "Who Are They" is no exception, lyrically concerning itself with the world of 9-to-5 squares - "the faceless mass on the merry-go-round" who are too busy "getting wed, going to bed/Two kids to feed and the mortgage ahead" to ever accomplish anything. "So much to do, yet nothing's done. What a shame," the song concludes. This one makes me think of the future that awaited Albert Finney and Shirley Anne Field at the end of Karel Reisz's 1960 "Kitchen Sink" drama Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.
6. "My Father" - 2:47
My father knows more than I'll ever know
My father's been places I'll never go
I want to know - want to know all the words and phrases
I want to show - want to show his fine airs and graces
If only it were me
The greatest influence on Gouldman's mid-60s songwriting golden era was his father, Hymie Gouldman, aka "Hyme the Rhyme" in deference to his frequent lyrical assistance (Hymie was also an amateur playwright). "My father was a songwriter," he told Bob Stanley. "'No Milk Today' was one of his titles. He used to call himself 'the mechanic' - I'd bring him a broken lyric and he'd go 'D'you write them son? Ttcchh! Come back at five o'clock.' He used to say 'art for arts sake, money for God's sake' [later to become song appearing on 10cc's 1976 album How Dare You!]. I nicked that off him, too."
Though he sings of how much he'd like to emulate his dad, by the songs coda he realizes that "it's no use being somebody else":
On my own two feet, I've got to meet
The world alone, I'm on my own
Just me - independent and free
The son of my father
Gouldman later referenced his dad's passing in the song "Ready To Go Home." Originally appearing on the 1995 (Graham Gouldman-Eric Stewart edition) 10cc album Mirror Mirror, it would later surface on Gouldman's solo album And Another Thing (For Your Love/Dome Records, 2000). Gouldman commented, "This was written not long after my dad died and it reflects my feelings at the time. I suppose I was trying to put a positive slant on his passing, remembering all the things we had done together and his artistic legacy to me. The last verse of the song best reflects my feelings on this. This song has been recorded by many artists and remains one of my favourites. Very emotional."
This is my favorite song on the album and one tied with Fire's "My Father's Name Was Dad" on my list of all-time greatest Pater Familias pop songs (narrowly edging out B-Rock & The Bizz's "My Baby Daddy").
Listen to GG sing "My Father."
The Graham Gouldman Thing - Side 2
7. "No Milk Today" - 2:15
No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
But all that's left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up, two down, just two up, two down
Hymie Gouldman told his son that "No Milk Today" would make a good song title and Graham followed this sage fatherly advice to write what would become a Top 5 hit for Herman's Hermits. It was notable as the first Herman's Hermits single to feature orchestral arrangements and, in an interview with the "Forgotten Hits" newsletter, lead singer Peter Noone said, "Personally I think 'No Milk Today' is Herman's Hermits' best recording, and perfectly captures the moment and the feel of Manchester terraced houses and what was the end of a British era."
Herman's Hermits recorded "No Milk Today," "There's A Kind Of Hush" (US #4, 1967), and Ray Davies' "Dandy" (US #5, 1966) all on the same day at Lansdown Studios. "This was in the period where we had just stopped using The Hermits on the recordings and were using the best musicians available to us to try to keep up with what had suddenly become The British Invasion," Noone recalled. "We were supposed to deliver 48 tracks a year to MGM so we were always scrambling to catch up. I recall that John Paul Jones played bass guitars (an upright and a fender bass) on the tracks and was also responsible for the arrangements, which I dare say are brilliant on all 3 tracks but I know he liked 'No Milk Today' and I would suggest that his arrangement turned this perfect Graham Gouldman song into a hit."
Noone would later comment that, given all the great songs Gouldman wrote, he should have asked him to join Herman's Hermits in their heyday. Hindsight is golden...
Watch Herman's Hermits play "No Milk Today."
Now listen to GG play "No Milk Today."
8. "Upstairs, Downstairs" - 2:17
Upstairs every night
There's a boy listening to his radio
Downstairs just one flight
A girl waits patiently...
Each one knowing that the other is there
Each one hoping that the other will dare
To climb the first stair
Another song covered by Gouldman fan Peter Noone and his Herman's Hermits, who included it on their critically lauded 1967 album Blaze.
Herman's Hermits: "Blaze" (1967)
This perky pop song finds Gouldman crooning like Paul McCartney as he recounts the story of a boy and girl living in the same building who keep waiting for one another to make the first move. A happy boy-finally-meets-girl ending is guaranteed...
No more lonely
Girl and boy have met
The upstairs room is
Advertised to let
Now these two have met
Listen to Herman's Hermits play "Upstairs, Downstairs."
9. "For Your Love" - 2:34
Though the Yardbirds wrote many of their own songs as a group, it was Gouldman who wrote many of their biggest hits, though he wasn't always sure when he had struck gold. As he explained to BBC Radio Wales host Alan Thompson, "I think sometimes this knowing you’ve written a hit single or not, I’ve never been able to predict it. I mean there’ve been songs I’ve either written or co-written and you’ve thought ‘that’s a hit’ and it hasn’t been, and vice versa. It doesn’t always, I mean you have a feeling about a song sometimes and sometimes you’re right, sometimes you’re wrong but I don’t know whether the writer or the artist is the best judge."
The Yardbirds were certainly sure. Drummer Jim McCarty recalled that Gouldman's songs "...were always very original. Very interesting songs, very moody, because they were usually in a minor key, the ones we did, anyway. 'For Your Love' was an interesting song, it had an interesting chord sequence, very moody, very powerful. And the fact that it stopped in the middle and went into a different time signature, we liked that, that was interesting. Quite different, really, from all the bluesy stuff that we'd been playing up till then. But somehow we liked it. It was original and different."
Yardbird Chris Dreja added, "We owe a lot to that song because it sort of pulled us out from national to international and set the template for us - that time change in the middle, the weirdness of it."
Gouldman's friend Paul Thomas had played bongos on The Mockingbirds' version and the Yardbirds copied his percussion verbatim. But Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith added a number of changes to Gouldman's original song, including the use of a harpsichord (replacing Gouldman's acoustic guitar intro), which was played by session muscian Brian Auger (later to achieve solo fame and with Julie Driscoll in Brian Auger and The Trinity, whose biggest hit was the Dylan cover "This Wheel's On Fire" - which, incidentally, later became the theme song for the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous). In an August 2009 interview with Uncut magazine, Gouldman admitted: "The harpsichord was an absolute stroke of genius. The record just had a weird, mysterious atmosphere about it."
As for Graham Gouldman's version, he nixes the bongos and harpsichord altogether in favor of piano and a stately Church organ that wouldn't be out of place on a Prociol Harum record. It's a clever "alternate" version that's kind of funky in its own way.
In 1965 Gouldman's band The Mockingbirds had a regular warm-up spot for BBC TV’s Top of the Pops, which was transmitted from Manchester and the songwriter recalled how odd it was to hear his song being associated with the Londoners: "There was one strange moment when The Yardbirds appeared on the show doing 'For Your Love'. Everyone clamoured around them – and there I was just part of an anonymous group. I felt strange that night, hearing them play my song."
Many others have followed suit to cover "For Your Love," including the pre-Stevie Nicks/Lindsey Buckingham Fleetwood Mac, who included it on their 1973 album Mystery to Me and even released it as a single.
Watch the Yardbirds play "For Your Love."
Now watch GG play "For Your Love" (2011).
10."Pamela, Pamela" - 2:11
Pamela, Pamela, remember the days
Of inkwells and apples, and sick and sore plays
Where little Brer Rabbit kissed Pooh in the wood
And Fluff was the cat that sat on the rug
"Pamela, Pamela" was Wayne Fontana's final single, which placed as high as #11 on the UK singles charts.
Listen to Wayne Fontana sing "Pamela Pamela."
This classic example of the period's "fringe psychedelia-meets-dancehall vaudeville" British Cup of Twee-ness namechecks everything from A.A. Milne to Laurel and Hardy. And Gouldman's vocal is delivered with vintage Donovan BBC Radio enunciation.
I remember so well
When Laurel and Hardy were shown at the flicks
With sticky red lollies on splintery sticks
Pigtails and ribbons and crushes on miss
Secret discussions about a first kiss
But you were young
And everything was new
Impatient to do things you couldn't do
Watch GG play "Pamela Pamela" (2011)
11."Chestnut" - 3:23
Gamine chestnuts modeling in Antonioni's "Blow-Up"
Somebody accurately described this funky instro as sounding like the kind of Swinging London party music they'd play in Antonioni's Blow-Up. It's great and, dare I say, downright groovy! As one critic astutely remarked, it would make Stax guitar ace Steve Cropper proud.
At one point the jam features Gouldman reciting a brief schoolbook elocution exercise that sounds like something the Bonzo Dog Band's Viv Stanshall would sing circa the Keynsham album:
If all of us were doomed to die when we'd lived a minute
I think I know what Ann and I would wish to happen in it
We'd let our 60 seconds run where chestnut blossoms harden
Some early morning in Kensington when Spring is in the garden
The song then features a dueling flute sequence that would not be out of place on Traffic's John Barleycorn Must Die LP.
Listen to GG play "Chestnut."
In retrospect, Andy Morten writes:
The Graham Gouldman Thing catches our hero in a period of transition, between his stint as an internationally successful 1960s pop hit-maker and as a menber of a hugely successful 1970s art-rock band, when he was experimenting with any number of projects and saying 'saying yes more than saying no.' The album has gained an enviable reputation among '60s pop and psych fans as something more than just a curio in its creator's estimable canon. It's a jewel of late '60s chamber pop and worthy of reevaluation.
Gouldman himself reflected that "I did it and sort of forgot about it. Had it been more successful I might have paid more attention. But I enjoyed making it and it was great working with the people I worked with but then that was it. It was finished. Done."
And then Gouldman's two-year streak of hit-making genius hit a snag. "You're like a conduit when that magic happens," he told Bob Stanley. "You think, how did I do that? What happened there? In 1968 I was still doing what I did, but I was out of sync with what has happening."
Still, as Morten writes, 1968 was an eventful year in Gouldman's life. He and Peter Noone opened a short-lived boutique in New York called Zoo, and Gouldman helped get his friends Kevin Godley and Lol Creme signed to Giorgio Gomelsky's Marmalde label, where as Frabjoy and Runcible Spoon they released the (extremely hard to find) single "I'm Beside Myself" b/w "Animal Song" in 1969.
But after a short spell in The Mindbenders, Gouldman decided to move to New York and the Kassenetz/Katz hit factory, where the money was good and second-rate (by his standards, at least) trash like (future K-Tel novelty compilation fodder) "Simon Says" and "Yummy Yummy Yummy" would be recorded under various group names.
"They wanted to legitimize themselves, find writers with more cred," he explained to Bob Stanley. "It was pretty horrible." He reached his creative (but not commercial!) nadir with a song he wrote for Freddie and the Dreamers called "Susan's Tuba."
"It was like [Mel Brooks film] The Producers - let's wrote the worst piece of shit imaginable!" The record sold a million in France. "I couldn't believe it. Where did we go right?"
And then Gouldman got the call that changed everything. Ex-Mindbender Eric Stewart was setting up Strawberry Studios in Stockport and wanted his friend to join him. Gouldman "boarded the next plane home, to join the ultra-successful band he'd always dreamt of," writes Bob Stanley. "I'd always wanted to play guitar in a band," he admitted to Stanley, "but I became resigned to the idea of being a writer. And then we started 10cc and that satisfied every aspect for me, everything I'd ever wanted to do."
Still only 23, the best was still to come for Graham Keith Gouldman. He still had plenty more tunes up his sleeve to make his father proud. He'd done what his dad had called "money for God's sake"; now it was time for the "Art for Art's sake."
Graham Gouldman music site: www.gg06.co.uk
Bob Stanley's wonderful "Afternoon tea with Graham Gouldman"
More GG-Related Music Videos:
Watch Herman's Hermits play "Listen People" on Telly.
Watch Herman's Hermits play "Listen People" from "Hold On!" movie.
Watch a Graham Gouldman Thing sampler homage (YouTube).