I Can Hear Music

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…


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