Monday, September 11, 2006

Proof of Insanity, Part II

190. Marianne Faithfull “As Tears Go By”
(Mick Jagger/Andrew Loog Oldham/Keith Richards)
Available on Marianne Faithfull’s Greatest Hits

It’s said that Andrew Loog Oldham, the Rolling Stones’ first manager, locked Mick and Keith into a room until they wrote an original song, physically forcing them to become more than a covers band. Eventually they got so good at it that they had more songs than they knew what to do with, and started giving them to girlfriends and whoever else Oldham was managing (see also #114 on this list). Marianne might be best known as Jagger’s girlfriend in the 60s, but this song introduced an artist of considerable interpretive skill. It’s her best early work, using the lower register which would later serve her so well on Broken English instead of the fluttery soprano that always felt forced. And the song itself is one of Jagger’s best word-pictures: a proto-bedsit sad reflection with chamber-pop orchestration, it’s like listening to the beating heart of Belle & Sebastian.

189. Link Wray & the Ray Men “Hidden Charms”
(Willie Dixon)
Available on Rumble! The Best of Link Wray

This is punk. This is more punk than the Sex Pistols. This is more punk than the Sex Pistols, the New York Dolls, the Ramones, the Clash, Black Flag, and Bad Brains combined. Looking at the date of release, nothing prepares you for the sonic assault, throat-shredding vocals, and heart-stoppingly ramshackle solos. Yes, it’s an old Chicago blues song; yes, it’s smack dab in the middle of the burgeoning garage-rock scene of the mid-60’s. But it’s badder-ass than any combination of Kingsmen, Sonics, Who, and Pretty Things that you’d care to name. Hell, it might even be badder-ass than Muddy Waters hisself. Like I said. It’s punk.

188. John’s Children “Desdemona”
(Marc Bolan)
Available on Nuggets II: Original Artyfacts from the British Empire and Beyond

Remembered mostly as the band Marc Bolan was in before he dove straight into Middle-Earth with Tyrannosaurus Rex, John’s Children is one of the most unjustly overlooked bands of the Sixties. They got overtly psychedelic music into record stores before just about anyone else, they had their breakout single banned by the BBC for supposed drug references (and then this one was banned by the BBC for definitely-there sexual references) and then, yeah, they introduced Bolan to the electric guitar. They were considered too violent, chaotic, and unskilled to have a place in British pop in the mid-60’s; of course, this was before being banned from the BBC sent a record to the top of the charts. Anyway, the song? It’s great, man.

187. The Moody Blues “Boulevard de la Madeleine”
(Denny Laine/Michael Pinder)
Available on The Singles Plus

No, no, this is from before Justin Hayward joined the band and made them the wimpiest progressive-rock band ever; this is before drummer Graeme Edge was allowed to begin and end records with truly awful poetry; this is before Denny Laine left the band and went on to be the other guy in Wings. This is . . . well, I guess the best description of it is a British-Invasion version of musette, the traditional French café accordion music. If the single had been a success, we might have had a less pretentious rival to Scott Walker instead of a pompous Mellotronic mess. Ah, what might have been . . . .

186. Chad & Jeremy “A Summer Song”
(Clive Metcalf/Ken Noble/Chad Stuart)
Available on The Best of Chad & Jeremy

Did I mention I have a larger appetite for twee than most of my gender and age? Well, I do. Not that this is particularly twee: it’s mostly just gentle and autumnally reflective (despite the title), with shades of British folk in its stately pace. Chad & Jeremy weren’t as successful as the better-known (and raunchier) Peter & Gordon, but they didn’t get a leg up from a moonlighting Paul McCartney, either. They got a leg up from a restrained-for-once Shel Talmy, instead. If you listen carefully, you can hear the seeds of Nick Drake in the subtle orchestration; or you can just sing along with either harmony part. You know the song.

185. The Temptations “Cloud Nine”
(Barrett Strong/Norman Whitfield)
Available on Cloud Nine

And my soul’s been psychedelicized, as one of the Chamber Brothers said. Norman Whitfield came to Motown in the late 60s and wrought a revolution in sound, cherry-picking ideas from Sly & the Family Stone, Isaac Hayes, and the nascent Funkadelic, and folding them into the smooth-as-glass hitmaking machine that was Detroit soul. Forget “My Girl” — from now on the Temptations bring the funk. A skittering, clattering background of percussion, some ever-ascending strings, the gritty vocals of new lead singer Dennis Edwards, and an era-defining “up, up and awayyyyyyy” — yeah, it was about doing pot and dropping out, but that never sounded so sexy as here.

184. Isaac Hayes “Hyperbolicsyllabicsequedalymistic”
(Isaac Hayes)
Available on Hot Buttered Soul

He was an arranger and producer for Stax; Aretha, Otis, and Wilson had him to thank for much of their success. But he had a voice of his own, and he unveiled it on the decade-closing Hot Buttered Soul: a rich, chocolate voice that turned Bacharach and Webb songs inside out with extended orchestral-funk suites. On this song, though, he’s more playful, channeling Ray Charles in places and the jive nonsense of doo-wop oddities the Medallions’ “The Letter” (which was wholesale appropriated by Steve Miller, by the way) in others. The focus is on his piano playing, and true to form, he manages to build the song to a crescendo without raising the temperature. And I’m not even going to crack a Chef joke.

183. Rosemary Clooney “I Wish It So”
(Marc Blitzstein)
Available on Love

Rosemary Clooney was a teenager when she first got famous just after World War II singing stuff like “Come On-a My House”; she made a few okay movies in which she was upstaged by her costuming and her hair color, and by the early 60s was looking for a comeback opportunity. She had also fallen in love with legendary arranger Nelson Riddle, and together they made an album that, if it hadn’t fallen like a stone in the marketplace, might have been remembered as Pet Sounds for grown-ups. Marc Blitzstein (of The Cradle Will Rock infamy) contributed this song from a Broadway flop, an elegant art-song evocation of youthful sehnsücht, which Riddle couched on billows of strings and French horns. Anyway, the record went nowhere, Clooney and Riddle went back to their respective spouses, and Blitzstein died a pauper. There’s no business like show business, all right.

182. Loretta Lynn “Blue Kentucky Girl”
(Loretta Lynn)
Available on The Definitive Collection

Her first statement of identity, almost a decade before “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” and the bluegrass roots show from a mile away. How this could have ascended the charts in the years of Patsy Cline’s dominance is beyond me; how it’s lasted this long is obvious: a classic country narrative of longing, leaving, and heartbreak, wrapped in a defiantly natural-sounding Appalachian cloak that mainstream country would never fully embrace again (but alt-country has had a field day with for twenty years), and Lynn’s narrow-eyed voice; you broke her heart, but she’s damned if she’ll let you see her cry.

181. Claudine Longet “Snow”
(Randy Newman)
Available on Hello Hello: The Best of Claudine Longet

Okay, now this is twee. Her records are sold for a dollar a pound in used-vinyl shops, but their omnipresence should scare no one away (and no, I’m not going to be acclaiming Mantovani next): they’re excellently-crafted, beautifully-arranged gauze-pop. She’s French, but she sounds more like idiosyncratic J-pop star Kahimi Karie than the standard chanteuse. And the song is one of Randy Newman’s lesser-known gems; and the production glistens with atmospheric ebullience; and actually, neither Sarah Cracknell nor Isobel Campbell would exist without her. So there.

Next: 180-171. >>

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