Archive for Songs from the Vault

Songs from the Vault – “lockdown” special

My last SFTV was in October so there’s been plenty of time to think about what tunes I should include in this edition.  Often the tunes I include don’t represent what I’m listening to at the time of going to press.  This time round, however, it ticks both boxes:  SFTV and tunes that I’ve been appreciating in the so-called “lockdown”…

First up is Martha from Tom Wait’s 1973 debut album, Closing Time.  The song is a phone call from ‘old Tom Frost’ to Martha.  It’s been forty years since they last spoke and old Tom is in reflective mood, perhaps pining for a past that never came to be.  The song is a perfect combination of prose and music.  Waits started his career playing in bars in San Diego and one can imagine him in the corner hunkered over the old reverberating piano.  Tunes like this are few and far between.

We’re going to jump to 1990 to another debut album, Ride’s Nowhere.  The last track, Vapour Trail, is probably their most known tune.  Back in 1990 I didn’t pay much attention to Ride though the album cover always intrigued me.  It more than passes the test of time and belongs in any ‘shoegazing’ playlist.

Total change of gear and genre.  I didn’t know the next tune – I Wish I Knew – until a few months ago, having covered it in a piano lesson; it’s a well known (though not to me!) jazz standard, featuring for example on John Coltrane’s Ballads album.  When learning a new tune I try and listen to numerous versions of it, this time coming across Jimmy Scott’s version. I’ll admit to being a bit confused when I first heard it; is Jimmy Scott the producer rather than the singer?  My confusion arose from the fact that Scott suffered from a rare genetic disorder that prevented him from reaching puberty and limited his growth.  While he grew taller when he hit his forties his voice remained in the contralto range.  Regardless, it’s a wonderful performance of a wonderful song, and Scott has some serious heavyweight backing in the band, which features greats including Ron Carter and Eric Gale.

I’ve never included any Nick Drake in SFTV.  Shame on me.  To put that wrong right our next tune is From the Morning, a personal favourite, which features on Drake’s third and final album from 1972, Pink Moon.  It’s very likely that you’ve heard it before; I’m sure it’s featured in various adverts over the years.  It’s just Drake and his guitar, for 150 seconds.  Magical.

I’m going to call it a day there.  I hope you’ll enjoy these tunes as much as I do.

 

 

Songs from the Vault

It’s been about a couple of months since the last SFTV so it’s time for another. And none too soon, as I’ve got some great tunes for you…

First up is Slowdive with the first track off their 1993 album Souvlaki, Alison. It’s got that massive dreamy, shoe-gazing sound that I’ve a soft spot for. Souvlaki only made it to #17 in the album charts, receiving a mixed reception. It’s had a re-appraisal in recent years, which is good to know, especially as it passed me by in ’93.

In contrast to Souvlaki, 69 Love Songs (1999), by The Magnetic Fields, didn’t pass me by. Moreover, unlike Souvlaki, it received widespread critical acclaim. While, regrettably, I didn’t pay it an awful lot of attention at the time, I’m glad it’s since come to my attention. One of the album’s highlights is The Book of Love, a song as stripped back as the lyrics are poignant.

Sticking with the subject of love, I first heard the next tune via a cover version by Beck, totally unaware of its provenance. True Love will find you in the end, is a track off 1990, an album by the recently deceased Daniel Johnston. If it’s stripped back you want, it doesn’t come any more stripped back than this. Johnston recorded most of the album in his own home; ongoing mental health issues preventing him from recording in a studio. It’s a heartfelt tune that, like The Book of Love, is powerful in its simplicity.

This blog seems to be developing, albeit unintentionally, a theme or certain shape. Leaving the Table is one of my favourite tracks off of Leonard Cohen’s final album, You Want it Darker, which was released three weeks before his death on 7 November 2016. The song is supposedly about the death of a ladies’ man but it’s hard not to read more into it as Cohen’s affecting swan song.

I normally do five songs for SFTV but that seems like the perfect place to end things. I hope you’ve enjoyed these selections.

Songs from the Vault

Time for another edition of Songs from the Vault (the last one being May!). No theme, just great tunes.

First up is I Feel Love by Donna Summer and, as important, produced by Giorgio Moroder and Peter Belotte. Recorded in 1976 and released in ’77, it topped the charts in numerous countries including the UK. I went to an Unkle gig earlier this year and the band played along to the tune. Experiencing this classic through a massive sound system was one of my highlights of 2019

You can trace a line from I Feel Love to the next selection, the 1996 techno classic Wisdom to the Wise (Red 2) by Dave Clarke (remixed by Robert Hood). Like IFL Wisdom is pretty sparse but featuring a murderous kick drum. The ‘bring the lights down’ sample, which half makes the tune, is from the Intro to Guru’s Jazzmatazz Volume 2.

One of the bands that I appreciate more and more as I get older is Yo La Tengo. Their ninth studio album And Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000) is a particular favourite (how can you not like an album with a name like that!). Our Way to Fall, the album’s second track, is a quiet, unassuming sort of tune, and beautifully rendered.

I have a soft spot for a-ha, and an even softer spot for Stay on these Roads, the title track off their 1988 album, which I play more than is probably healthy. The band released an MTV unplugged album in 2017 featuring the track, which is as enjoyable as the original.

I’ve tried to include some jazz tunes in SFTV given that it’s the music I listen to mostly. I spent the last week on a jazz course playing with and learning from some of the country’s top musicians. One of the tunes I learnt was John Coltrane’s masterpiece Naima, named after his wife, and which featured on Coltrane’s classic Giant Steps album (1959). Belying its beauty, Naima looks pretty horrendous in terms of its chord progression but I’m pleased to report that I didn’t murder it entirely while performing it!

That’s it for this edition of SFTV, I hope you’ve enjoyed these selections.

Songs from the Vault

I thought I’d better do another SFTV before time runs away with itself. Like the last edition, there are no intentional themes though some may emerge. We’ll see.

First up is Flim by Aphex Twin. I first heard this on the Come to Daddy EP (1997) and was reminded of the track very recently as The Bad Plus played it as their encore at a gig in East London. TBP do a great version themselves, and you can find it on their 2003 album These Are the Vistas, which is one of their finest. Back to the original. When thinking about it, it’s a bit of a strange beast. It sounds like it could have been the theme tune to a BBC science show back in the ’70s. There’s a catchy hook, some incredible drum programming, which at times combines drum and bass with jazz inflections, and a wonderful breakdown before the tune re-emerges at the half-way mark with a sonorous violin-like refrain. It’s a classic.

I’m writing this blog as I find the tunes and I’m not sure how to follow up on that. Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors from Radiohead’s 2001 album seems a pretty cool place to continue. It’s arguably their most inaccessible tune and it’s one of those love it or hate it ones. I love it. It sounds like a whorling vortex from a nightmare. So not one for the first wedding dance! Apparently it was created by looping various tracks from the OK Computer sessions to create, a ‘ghostly’ loop. The video below is good but the album version’s better.

Time for a massive about-face. When I grew up ABBA were massive and I remember well the albums in my parents’ record collection, including the likes of Arrival and Super Trouper. While Winner Takes it All is my favourite, Our Last Summer (1980) has to be up there. While it could do without the guitar solo, and some of the lyrics are a bit suspect (‘And your name is Harry’), the chorus is a pleasure and gets better and better as the tune goes on, especially as the vocals stretch out in the outro.

Handsome Boy Modelling School was a hip-hop duo which brought together the talents of Dan the Automator and Prince Paul. Their 1999 album includes The Truth, featuring J-Live, and Roisin Murphy from Moloko. It’s a a laid back affair, oozing sophistication. It would be unfair not to reference Galt MacDermot, whose Coffee Cold is sampled to great effect. Make sure you check that out too.

I should include more jazz in these blogs, so last but not least is Remember (composed by Irving Berlin) by American tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley off of his 1960 classic album Soul Station. As soon as the track starts you know that something special is happening and that the stars are aligned. Mobley is backed by jazz giants Art Blakey (drums), Wynton Kelly (piano) and Paul Chambers (bass) and this class shines through from beginning to end.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of SFTV. And let me know what you think of the tunes!

Songs from the Vault

It’s been a while since the last edition (January) of Songs from the Vault. It’s time to right that wrong, so this post is hot off the press. This edition is, like the last, going to be an assorted selection of tunes. No themes, just good tunes. I hope you’ll agree.

Up first is US band The Airborne Toxic Event with their tune Sometime Around Midnight from their eponymous 2008 album. I was reminded of the band when I came to a part of the book I’m currently reading, White Noise by Don DeLillo, titled The Airborne Toxic Event. A bit of Googling told me that the band took its name from DeLillo; it’s a great name for a band. The tune itself isn’t as great but it’s a good ‘un, and reminiscent of The National’s About Today.

Next up is a tune that I’ve recently become acquainted with by English singer-songwriter Virginia Astley. A Summer Long Since Passed featured on Astley’s 1986 album Hope_in_a_Darkened_Heart. Sticking with titles and names, the song sounds exactly as you’d expect it to; church bells, ethereal vocals, and cascading chords. [excuse the awful video]

Hope in a Darkened Heart was produced by Ryuichi Sakamoto and we turn to him next. Sakamoto released the album async in 2017, on which features the tune Solari. According to pitchfork, the album was a soundtrack for an imaginary Tarkovsky film. Tarkovsky directed the 1972 movie Solaris, so you can add this up. It’s a tune which sounds both futuristic and retro. Seeing as we appear to have our imaginary hats on, you can imagine a vehicle traversing some alien nebula where communications are disrupted by stellar radiation. I’m running away with myself but listen and I hope you’ll hear what I mean. It’s a soundscape that I savour and don’t hear often enough.

It’s time to return to planet Earth. A Bowie track would work well here (Space Oddity, anyone?) but I did say that this was unplanned, including the link between Astley and Sakamoto. We’re going to go with Slowdive, an English band that’s been going since 1989 (albeit in different incarnations). Their eponymous 2017 album is a particularly strong affair and the track No Longer Making Time is a favourite. Whether you call it dream-pop, shoegazing, etc., it ticks a lot of boxes for me including anthemic choruses and shimmering guitar chords that could fill the largest of cathedrals.

It’s time to draw this edition of SFTV to a close and we’re going to do it with Haunted Dancehall from the 1994 album of the same name by The Sabres of Paradise, co-founded by Andrew Weatherall. I first heard this version of the tune (which differs from the album version) on Cafe del Mar Volume Two (1995) – one of the series of albums put out by the classic Ibiza sunset bar. It’s dramatic, cinematic and a fitting end to this edition of SFTV. I hope you’ve enjoyed the selection.