Sunday, March 29, 2015

Everybody Up! 1 - Mad Dogs and Imperialist Bellends

First, a plug:

Now, opinion: "Oh Yes We Can Love: A History of Glam Rock" is a five disk, 91 track boxed set with accompanying book.  I think it's great, and I think it does what it sets out to do with aplomb, that being to put glam in a wider historical context by including tracks from before and after the brief musical movement to show its influences and, subsequently, its influence.

Like most things in life, it isn't perfect - disk five in particular includes a lot of tracks with "Glam" in the title, rather than more glam-sounding tracks by some of the same artists - but it is in general a lovely package, with a fantastic and varied selection of songs that I am proud to have in my CD collection. 

With the encouragement of some friends, I have therefore decided to tackle this track by track, providing my pointless opinions and hopefully provoking a little debate about a musical movement which often finds itself on the historical back burner compared to punk, prog and other 'cooler' trends, possibly due to its close association with certain high-profile sexual predators.

Now, if you read the reviews on Amazon, it appears two things have gone wrong with the launch of the product: firstly, some people haven't quite got the point of the project.  There are plenty of glam compilations out there if you just want to listen to some glam rock, and those people would have been well advised to stick with them.

Secondly, Gary Glitter.  You can't please all of the people all of the time (or any of them, in fact, if said reviews are anything to go by), and any attempt to handle this sensitive situation would be criticised by some.  Striking a pivotal artist out of any scene - imagine mod without The Who, for instance, and I wonder why that example sprung to mind in this particular context, hm?  Hm? - leaves a gap that provides retrospective continuity problems, and we'll see in the coming posts how that was dealt with.

Finally, a disclaimer: I haven't written anything for a long time and I may not be able to complete this project due to pressures in other areas - but know that I am at present really enthusiastic to have a creative focus again, and utterly resolute in my dedication to...

1-1. NOEL COWARD "Mad Dogs And Englishmen"

Oh for f...  Do I have to do this?

For the purposes of this exercise, we're going to assume that the accompanying book has fully explained the justification for the inclusion of each track.  I do recall thinking there was a point to this being there, so no criticism will be levelled at this or any other selection on grounds of those criteria.  Having said that, it isn't going to make some of these any easier to listen to...

I despise this song and always have.  Whilst probably seen as a work of satire, it has always seemed to me to be quite the opposite - a list of vague cultural slurs and things Noel half-remembered and had heard from colonial types whilst gadding about (although according to Wikipedia, in Hong Kong they do actually fire a 'noonday gun', so I've learned something today), designed to convey his charming befuddlement at how any other race of people could possibly be so spiffing as the English upper classes.

The best that can be said for an artefact of this level of throwaway frivolity and outmoded prejudice is that human morality's inexorable progress has rendered this almost impossible to judge by modern standards.  Perhaps if feeling kind I could call this worthwhile as a rare record of British imperial entertainment; I am not a kind man.

1-2. CHUCK BERRY "Around And Around"

Charles Berry and his songs did an awful lot to establish rock 'n' roll music in youth culture, particularly in highlighting the differences between this more amped-up form of music and the blues which begat it, and in cementing the lyrical focus on teen and youth issues, helping to put in place the quintessential "parents don't understand" factor prevalent in most important cultural movements since.

He was also arrested for transporting a minor over state lines and secretly videotaping the women's bathroom at his restaurant, so we should probably move on to the track itself, which I've just found out was covered by David Bowie (I think we may be hearing a bit more about him later) as the B-side to "Drive-In Saturday".

I think the Bowie link is the reason we get this particular track rather than "Roll Over Beethoven" or Johnny B. Goode", the latter of which was the A-side to this offering, and thus we have rock 'n' roll in its rawest form here, which is a polite way of saying it doesn't really do much, but without songs like this we never would have got where we are today, with...  Hang on, music's terrible nowadays!  It must be all Chuck Berry's fault.

1-3. LITTLE RICHARD "Ooh My Soul"

If Chuck Berry was, for all his pioneering, pretty much a bloke in a suit with a guitar, Little Richard seemed to have beamed in from Transsexual Transylvania.  Blessed with an unnaturally loud voice, and having learned stagecraft and make-up from time on the vaudeville and drag circuits, his hooting, hollering and outrageous outfits and antics wowed and shocked audiences on both sides of the Atlantic.

This song displays a similar duality, in that it is simultaneously rubbish and great.   The first sixteen or so seconds are a startling rush, genuinely terrifying and electrifying and packing an incredible punch given the recording techniques on offer at the time.

Then it does exactly the same thing, again.

Then it does it again.

Then there's a saxophone solo.

Then it does the first bit again.

Then it does it again.

Then it does it again, and the song ends.

One of my perennial complaints about music - particularly rock, but pop and hip hop are creeping this way as well - is the way the length of an average song seems to be gradually increasing.  It's an argument that gets hard to support when you listen to a song that lasts 2:07 and you're bored of it at 1:32. 

Having said that, can we really argue that the song, though repetitive, is a failure?  As a primal howl from beyond, smashing into suburban living rooms like a meteorite, full of possibility, alien concepts and sounds, it's very much mission accomplished, and after a shaky start we can look forward to some gems to come.

Join us next time for Vince Taylor, Max Harris and Anthony Newley, about whom we can think of absolutely nothing puntastic or similarly punchline-worthy.  It's going to be a long five disks at that rate...