STRETCH OUT AND WAIT
Hello, I am in the mood for a mellow 60's tune, maybe a Manfred Mann... those were surely the days of innocence. The songs back then were literal, there was no hidden agenda in the lyrics. Times of gentle, maybe psychedelic exploration in music. The Up The Junction soundtrack by Manfred Mann is a case in point, actually.
That music almost seemed to convey the message that music would never die, and that it never could. But as we know, put music in the wrong hands, and it does die. Also, television. What an incredible medium, of unlimited potential. And yet again, it has been taken over by the ratings junkies, who churn out garbage to appeal to the lowest common denominator. As an artist, I want to make a living, and I have paid a horrible price for following my chosen path. But I don't compromise to make money, if I did it hardly needs saying my integrity could follow all these other peoples, down the path, and over the cliff. I think the really bad art happens when people JUST want to make money, and will churn out any old crap. Then, where is the art? Of course, someone like Phil Spector challenged all this. He made bubblegum mass fodder which was the best art around. The Warhol trash aesthetic is not hollow, trash can be high art. Now, if you're confused, don't worry so am I.
One thing for sure, is that music is art. Bad art, is defamation to its creator and if people make bad music, it is personally disgracing.
Village Green Machine activities this week are, I recorded and finished a new acoustic based song, No New Messages. I am very proud of it, it is influenced by my Jacobites days, by Neil Young and Syd Barrett. It has 12 string acoustic and slide bottleneck guitar. Also we are preparing a press release for the launch proper of England's Dreaming Spires, and the single from it, Psychodrama. Official release date for both is Oct 5th. We're having fun working on the envelopes for the press release, which are a teacup and saucer. I'm going through hundreds of radio people, deciding whom to send promos to. It will be fun to see how it all goes. Psychodrama, the single, is a belter though I say it myself. The other 2 tracks on the CD single are, Believe In Love and Battling To Survive. Believe In Love is a surrealistic avant garde piece as far as guitars are concerned, but the rhythm track is pure 60s r&b. Man, that bass booms, its the boomiest deepest bass sound I've ever used. You can dance to it, its a nice record, the singing is good, its a really good song, and this is a b side. Then there's the last track written from a place of despair, or at least from a dark corner of my soul. That was how I felt that day.A lad a few doors down had just been killed on his motorbike, and my Aunt had died a few days earlier. From the pain, and artist can create something, hopefully of beauty. In our society, we artists get trampled on by, a philistine mentality, but we can produce a silver lining to the darkest of clouds. I am a tunnel vision artist, I will pursue my creative line until I die. And, I won't be doing a lot else.
The frontmen I admire are Peter Perrett, Syd Barrett, Lou Reed, Ray Davies, Chrissie Hynde. I can relate to them, their hair, clothes, sensitivity, introversion v extroversion, and these all had integrity. They looked cool, still do, and it is simply too tempting a mantle to not wish to step into oneself. Tom Petty, too, years back. And Dave Kusworth. Pleased to hear from you Dave and hope to see you soon.
Now, sounds this week. I have been listening to some new Chess compilations, a class collection of jazz, blues and r & b which had the pop crossover factor over 45 years ago. Its quite a primitive sound, with of course the classiest of musicians. Bo, Chuck, Etta James, a distinguished roll call of talent. The blueprint to the British 60s r&b boom too, along with a lot more. I believe Britain was a pretty dowdy place in the early 60s, the hip kids wanted more and found it in Black America. At least, in the imported sounds. People can think black music is primitive, certainly it scared conservatives with its sweat and grind. But, is it not sophisticated too, the jazz side, the soul and r&b side? So that late 50s/ early 60s black music had both, and great songs which worked commercially. And of course it sounds fresh and vibrant now.
Also this week I played a 2 Tone compilation, it was a great phase for British pop. And, I have been listening to Louder Than Bombs, an essential Smiths compilation. Morrissey came from the type of environment which creates a lot of pop people in this country. Not middle class, just bog standard lower middle class suburbia. OK working class suburbia. It is so boring, it makes us have to break out, to blossom, to explode like a firework. Some of us can't hack that environment, especially the prospect of being consumed by it and becoming part of it. So something has to give and we become musicians, artists, writers, footballers and so on. With Morrissey, and Johnny Marr, there was and is a very high intellectual level combined with the creative gifts, and an imperative to escape suburbia, or in Johnnie's case, a rougher environment I believe. He was a star that man. He said in an interview that The Smiths were at the time the greatest band in the world, I think so too when I listen at last to a proper copy of Louder Than Bombs. I'm not a Smiths expert but I think it is a collection of a and b sides, the extra tracks from the 12 inch singles and it is, a revelation. I hope you will read on as I talk about some of my favourite songs from this exceptional album.
Sheila Take A Bow. Who knows what that was about, a glam stomper of which I never tire with words which entice while Morrissey's voice strokes the soul.
Sweet and Tender Hooligan has words which offend even me, but is a pinnacle performance combining lyrical substance, however dubious, with the band's taught power. It is immeasurably more focused than most other 80s music. What were they on back then? The 80s was a barren time for pop,all show, no substance, dreadful.
Half A Person is an old Smiths favourite of mine, in which Morrissey enquires at the YWCA if there is a vacancy for a backscrubber. Of course he changed it from YMCA. Putting Charles Hawtrey on a record cover is one thing, putting Truman Capote quite another...Half A Person is The Smiths doing consciously what their heroes did- putting a great 'b' side onto a vinyl single. Half A Person has a great melody, a medium tempo drum groove, typical multi tracked jangling guitars, and an REM style riff. It is their talent which lifts it above the mundane though, it is an addictive narcotic.
Panic holds well as a classic Smiths single, with its thumping glam delivery. The lyrics 'Hang The DJ' were surely aimed at the radio 1 DJ who played the record at the time, in not only a desperate effort to be cool, but surely in shocked recognition of his depiction.
William, It Was Really Nothing is a thrilling rush, classic Johnny, with Morrissey's lyrical depiction of the details of ordinary events in a young, working class relationship elevating the song. That's a paradox. Armchair critics at one music magazine particularly have dismissed this song, but they do nothing for the reputation of that magazine and the reputation of music journalism generally by trashing good work.
Of course, The Smiths singles were thematically linked by Morrissey's visual artwork, which drew from his self confessed obsession with kitchen sink films.
Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now was a defining Smiths moment. It is high art in pop music. 'I was looking for a job and now I've found a job, and heaven knows, I'm miserable now' influenced me very much. I used to have rubbish jobs and it was not worth it.
Back to The Old House is infinitely better on the Hatful Of Hollow album, but here receives the full band treatment. The acoustic version with incredible mandolin playing, is a highly evocative piece of work, delicate and beautiful, melancholy yet uplifting. I imagine a beautiful victorian house, I am transported. It is one of their very best but, is not enhanced in my view by bass and drums, an unwanted intrusion. The acoustic version proves in my view that they were, at the time, the very best band in the world.
Please, Please Please Let Me Get What I Want is another of their best. Perhaps this is the one with the mandolin, sorry its late at night. The melodic construction suggests a place among the greatest pop songwriters of all time, and the thing is with all this is its very British feel, with the Mancunian accent on the vocals, they were our greatest after The Beatles. Really.
There are many other great tracks on this album Louder Than Bombs. They will always be very important to me with my work with Village Green Machine, a certain subtle informing has taken place, the shape of VGM's music... embodies The Smiths just as much as any other influence. They quit when the going was good as well, and I'm now glad never reformed. They created a very formidable body of work, and the kids knew something very special was happening. What was their magic? Was it a combination of things? Certainly a huge self belief was inherent in their ascent, at the end of the day its only pop music but if you're still reading, that proves how important it is, to some people at least.
Mark Lemon, Village Green Machine