Archive for February, 2009

Not Guilty: Making a Case for Microphone Hair Music

Posted in music on February 28, 2009 by richardblandford

I’ve always hated the concept of ‘guilty pleasures’, especially in regards to music.  Why on Earth should you feel guilty about what music you’re listening to?  If you like something, you like it.  Who’s there to make you feel guilty, anyway?  In my view, if you feel the need to apologise for your musical taste, then you’ve betrayed the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll, which was all about doing what makes you feel good regardless of what other people might think, and should therefore be denied access to your ears.

Having said that, the Guilty Pleasures series of CDs, in which MOR radio hits of the 70s are collected and presented for reassessment, are truly enlightening.  They’re full of  little gems that have previously been placed outside the boundaries of good taste.  If they’re not necessarily ‘better’ than more critically accepted music of the period, they’re certainly more likable.  I’d be quite happy if every copy of Never Mind the Bollocks was erased tomorrow, but if ‘Afternoon Delight’ by the Starlight Vocal Band disappeared from the face of the planet, I’d be genuinely sad.

Amongst all this reheated fondue, I believe I have uncovered a sub-genre that I like to call ‘Microphone Hair Music’.  This is music made by singer/songwriter types who played the piano (sometimes switching to the electric variety), and wrote songs laced with wry humour about Seventies-style adult relationships and general life observations (ditties about sandwiches occur with some frequency).  Oh, and the practitioners would have big hair, either naturally cork-screwed or artificially permed, so that it resembled the foam covers on the ends of the microphones that they sang into.

There are two strains of Microphone Hair Music, the British and the American.  Principle practitioners in the UK were Gilbert O’Sullivan and Leo Sayer, who ironically only made Microphone Hair Music whilst sporting short hair and dressed as a clown.  When he finally gained genuine microphone hair he changed musical style and went disco, a genre for which the hair was not suited.  His styles of hair and music never acheived synchronicity. Come to think of it, I’m not sure he ever even played the piano.  This genre classification is already becoming unstuck. Moving on…

In America, the style was epitomised by Dean Friedman (of ‘Lucky Stars’ fame) and Rupert Holmes, who had a novelty hit with ‘Escape (the Pina Colada Song)’, and who never achieved a full head of microphone hair, but you can tell from photos that he was thinking about it.

Now, it’s easy to dismiss Microphone Hair music practitioners as annoyingly and knowingly cute, bordering on smug, and their music does often come close to crossing that line.  But there’s more to it than that.  Once you get past the big hit singles, many of their more subtle songs are full of surprises and depth.  Gilbert O’Sullivan, for instance, penned lyrics as poignant as:

On Sunday next if the weather holds, we’ll have that game
But I bagsy-being-in-goal, not because I’m good
Or because I think I should, it’s just that well at
My age I think standing still would really suit me best
Do we all agree?
Hands up those who do hands up those who don’t
I see well in that case…
(From ‘We Will’)

Dean Friedman’s Well Well Said the Rocking Chair album, meanwhile, contains the unsettling ‘Let Down Your Hair’, a song about the aftermath of the killing spree of the Son of Sam.

I suppose why I think this is all rather important (or as important as these things get) is to do with the concept of ‘cool’, which as I see it, has been used to refer to two different and opposing things.  Firstly, there’s the cool of supreme individuality.  This is when someone does things exactly the way they want to, and their single-mindedness and lack of concern for the opinions of others leaves an impression on all who encounter it.  Elvis is a prime example of this.  Before stardom hit, Elvis was considered by his peers to be weird, an eccentric.  If his timing had been only slightly different, he could easily have ended up the trailer park loony once his looks had gone.  But he was doing the right thing at the right time, so his weirdness resonated across the world and became a blueprint for others to follow, making him a legend.

The other type of cool is one where a blueprint such as that established by Elvis is actually followed.  It is all about doing one thing but not the other – wearing the right clothes, speaking the right way, doing things the way someone else is already doing them.  Most youth cults (i.e. Mod) function along these lines.  Why anybody would want to sacrifice their individuality in this way has always been a mystery to me, but each to their own.

But if you’re a musician, and you’re attempting to be cool in the second sense, how interesting is what you’re doing ever going to be?  How can you make any sort of creative statement of worth if you’re always looking over your shoulder, making sure you’re operating within accepted boundaries?  Answer, you can’t really, which is why most guitar music these days is tedious beyond comprehension.

Microphone Hair Music-makers, however, knew they weren’t cool in any conventional sense, so they could go where others could not.  Dean Friedman once wrote a song called ‘McDonald’s Girl’ in which a man has a crush on the fifteen-year old girl who serves him at said fast food restaurant.  A cool musician could never write this song, not because they wouldn’t want to admit to having urges for an underage girl, but because they wouldn’t want to be thought to eat in McDonald’s.  Nevertheless, the song says more about people’s everyday life in its opening couplet than a band like the Kooks (are they still going?) manage to say in their entire miserable career.

So, I urge you, do not dismiss Microphone Hair Music.  It’s not perfect, it’s not even always good, but in its own way, it tells the truth, as it sees it.  Below are some examples for your inspection:

Satisfied Customer

Posted in Books on February 21, 2009 by richardblandford

fsrarcov

Rol Hirst, blogger and writer of interesting-looking comics has posted a rather favorable review of my second novel, Flying Saucer Rock & Roll.  GO TO IT HERE.

For the record, I would like to state that the ampersand in the title was not my idea. The book I wrote was called ‘Flying Saucer Rock ‘n’ Roll’. Just somewhere between me writing it and the cover being designed it got changed. The ampersand does look very fetching in that typeface though.

Story Competition

Posted in Books, Uncategorized on February 16, 2009 by richardblandford

Who can make up a short story, or even a loose collection of words that vaguely resembles a story, inspired by the visual cues below? Place your efforts in the comments section. The winner is rewarded with a prize that lies far beyond mere material wealth.

Nothing. You get nothing, alright?

Melancholic Reaction

Posted in music on February 10, 2009 by richardblandford

I was saddened to hear of the death of John Byrne, the mainman of 60s garage band, the Count Five. Their first (and last) album, Psychotic Reaction, is one of my all time favourites. Byrne’s lyrics are so cheerfully moronic they pass right the way through stupidity and out the other side into something that sounds like some sort of weird wisdom, but probably isn’t. Example: ‘Well just you walk down any street/ You’re sure to meet one of us/ Well if you don’t meet one of us/ You’re sure to see a double-decker bus/ Here comes the double-decker bus’.

Lester Bangs wrote a somewhat famous article on the Count Five, Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung, collected in the book of the same name, in which he imagines a whole fictional career following on from their one actual hit, Psychotic Reaction, including the brilliantly-titled (sadly non-existent) album, Snowflakes Falling on the International Dateline. To my mind, it’s the best thing Bangs ever wrote (and also possibly the best ever fiction writing about rock music), and pisses on all the stream-of-consciousness drugwitter that he became better known for.

Anyway, here’s the Count Five in action, playing, like all good bands of the period, right next to a swimming pool.

Noel Edmunds shoots Clive Anderson again

Posted in TV on February 9, 2009 by richardblandford

Well, not exactly, but Chris Morris’ concerns about Edmunds’ sanity appear to be well-founded, as this clip from this weekend’s Noel’s HQ demonstrates.  At least, I hope Edmunds has gone mad, because the implications of some of his recent statements being the product of a sound mind are truly frightening.

You may think you speak for Britain, Noel, but you don’t speak for me. Unlike the elected representatives you disparage, no one’s ever been given a chance to decide whether or not they want you acting on their behalf. The only consensus of opinion granting you any authority is the one reached in your own orb-addled head. Now fuck off back to France, you hypocrite, and count your jumpers.

I Can Hear Music

Posted in music on February 9, 2009 by richardblandford

Bobby Vee

‘Punish her,’ says Bobby.  And smiles.  The sick fuck.

 

I don’t tend to write about what music I listen to here, for the simple reason that actually finding the time to sit and down and really absorb something seems to elude me these days, so I haven’t bought any in ages.  Things do tend to come my way, however, so here are my thoughts on some of the things that have hitting my stereo over the past few weeks.

Another Christmas present was Dreamboats & Petticoats… volume 2.  If you’re one of the three people in Britain who don’t own volume 1, this is a rock ‘n’ roll compilation series.  It’s more Heartbeat-style nostalgia rather than connoisseur’s choice, so homegrown British stuff rubs shoulders with American classics.

British Rock ‘n’ roll is much disparaged, but what I found interesting about the tracks here was that generally, they’re much harder sounding than the American template they attempted to follow.  Joe (Sam’s dad) Brown and the Bruvvers’ version of the unfortunately named jazz standard ‘Darktown Strutter’s Ball’ is pretty brutal, although they blow it by playing it for laughs, while ‘Jezebel’ by Marty Wilde (from whose loins Kim would spring) is a tasty combination of electric guitars, strings and general distrust of women.  Indeed, the electric element of the sound is more evident in the British tracks, while American rock ‘n’ roll is often carried by acoustic guitars, piano and saxophone.  A lot is made of how different the Beatles and the Stones were from their immediate predecessors, but maybe it’s time people started talking about their similarities.

British rock ‘n’ roll was also often melodramatic and downbeat.  It’s as if we just couldn’t help ourselves, and instinctively took something that was meant to be a spontaneous joyous noise and made into something altogether bleaker.  Adam Faith’s ‘Poor Me’, for example, prefigures the self-pity of Morrissey (who himself detected the dark currents that run through manufactured British pop of the 60s) by a quarter of a century.  Maybe the real difference between the Beatles and those that came before was that they could say ‘yes’ to life and sound like they really meant it.

I was also struck by the rather strange mental states some of these old rock ‘n’ roll tracks describe.  In ‘Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen’, Neil Sedaka is blatantly watching a girl grow from childhood, through puberty and to the cusp of adulthood with the intention of deflowering her on her sixteenth birthday, while in ‘The Night Has a Thousand Eyes’, Bobby Vee appears to have hired 500 people (presuming that they all have two functioning eyes) to spy on his girlfriend in order to expose her cheating on him, something he seems quite excited by.  He then fantasises about the same 500 people catching him cheating as well, which excites him even more.  It’s a Jeremy Kyle lie detector item in the making.

The CD finishes with a Jason Donovan track, itself called ‘Dreamboats and Petticoats’, and advertising the new musical of the same name.  His vocal performance is truly woeful, not even up to the level of the various no-talent Troys and Frankies that pad out this compilation, and the song is of no discernible merit.  Despite this, I can’t get it out of my head.  Probably because he’s nicked the tune from ‘Daydream Believer’.

I’ve also been listening to Rev Up!!, a compilation of Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, a white rock/soul crossover band from the mid-sixties who were heavy in Detroit before the Stooges or the MC5.  They did some great tracks, but some of their r’n’b covers are played with such giddy intensity they conjure up the unwelcome mental image of that dance young children do just before they wet themselves.

Finally, we come to California Suite by Mel Torme, a concept piece (the first concept album?) from the late 40s in which the crooner espouses the joys of the state and argues, not always that convincingly, that ‘the West Coast is the best coast in the land’.  It’s a very odd record (so odd he made it twice, both versions now on one CD), and because of it’s obsessional quality and Torme’s ham-fisted rhyming (‘Listen that’s not just an axium/ I’m here to state the facts-see ’em/ as I do’), would probably be considered outsider music if Torme wasn’t so famous.  It is, however, strikingly similar in tone and subject to Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s That Lucky Old Sun album, with both of them having a dubious Spanish-themed track half-way through.  It’s probably a coincidence, but then, compare the cover of California Suite with that of Wilson’s finally completed masterpiece, Smile.  Hmmm…

Titter as I witter on Twitter, you, um, silly nitters

Posted in Books, Life, Uncategorized on February 5, 2009 by richardblandford

Just set up my own Twitt​er feed at

http://twitter.com/rblandford

Why not sign up to follo​w it? Then get your frien​ds to sign up? Then get your frien​ds to write​ out a chequ​e,​ make it payab​le to cash,​ and give it to me? You know it makes​ sense​.​