Category: Bitchin’ Tracks


Flash Lights and Great Parties

It’s not hard to explain the appeal of Parliament-Funkadelic, especially to white people, who follow the great maxim of liking black music that nobody listens to anymore. Now while that unfairly throws honkies like myself under the bus – after all, great music is great music no matter where or when it comes from – by the same token it is evident that the unfathomably upbeat and occasionally uncritical has immense appeal to the rock and jazz audience who aren’t completely sold by the material generated by the hip-hop, indie-rock and electro generation. Continue reading

I only want to see you in the Purple Rain

This is Prince’s original recording of Purple Rain, sans several minutes of jamming at the beginning, an extra verse in-between the standard second and third verses and a minute or so of the final guitar solo. I get it, an eight minute song is already pushing it, unless you’re in the prog-rock business. That said, I do wish he’d just kept the original like this. Sure it’s sanctimonious, sure it’s kitschy, but that’s what Prince is. The power of this man is to turn (often perverse) semantics into intensely funky tales. There is no-one else in the audience except the girl he’s singing to, and anyone who’s seen Purple Rain (which I completely recommend) can remember the sheer amount of close-ups between him and Apollonia.

I personally don’t give a shit what Purple Rain is, or what it’s supposed to symbolise. I don’t care that every Prince song is about sex, love or dancing. I care because this insane, idiosyncratic man puts his all into the music he creates. People don’t always like it, because it isn’t neatly definable. It’s too dirty for pop, too robotic for funk, too heavy for dance, too electronic for R&B and too muddy for rock. It’s this strange, convoluted sound, that makes you groove as much as you want to rock. What stands out is not only his bizarre intellect and prodigious output, but how genuine he is. While admittedly some of Prince’s material is hardly the sort that is generally regarded as being “written from the heart”, there are moments, like this, where he does dissolve some of the barriers he puts up between his audience and himself.

And damnit he’s sexy.

Slim Slow Slider

It’s not often that a voice gets better in old age, but in this particular instance I’m more than willing to accept a little nonconformity. Some 40 years after the release of his perennial cult favourite, Astral Weeks ¬†(1968), Van Morrison finally took to the stage of the Hollywood Bowl for two concerts in which the album was performed in its entirety, finally giving all the material the live airing that was denied it at the time of the album’s release. The result was arguably one of the finest live albums around, one that bucked the recent trend of ‘classic’ artists performing note-for-note renditions of their most popular albums to instead substantially reinterpret the material in the improvisational spirit in which it was originally recorded.

Perhaps most significant about the album however is its preservation of a simply incredible vocal performance from the then 63-year-old Morrison, one that is, for my money, better than that recorded by the Van at age 23. While much of Van’s recent original output has tended towards to comfortable, competent and uninspiring combinations of soul, pop, country and blues that have done little for his voice other than to demonstrate its professionalism, the return to the lushly orchestrated, yet thoroughly freewheeling jazzy-folky soul of Astral Weeks¬†reveals the full capabilities of his soaring bellow of a voice. On cuts like ‘Slim Slow Slider’, here extended with one of the live album’s several jubilant codas, we can see how Van’s voice has deepened without losing its power or tone, as happens to many vocalists, and has become something far more nuanced and moving than the, admittedly still impressive, keening yelp of his earlier years. Not only has Van still got it; he went and made it better.

I Set My Face To The Hillside

You should really listen to the entire album. Tortoise’s TNT (1998) is chock full of post-rock goodness, and is most definitely worthy of your attention, whatever your tastes may be – you can’t listen to it and not feel an odd combination of relaxation and stimulation, and if you can, then you’re clearly an inhuman cosmobot from beyond the moon. I’ll be honest with you; Tortoise is not one of my favourite bands, and nor is TNT one of my favourite albums. But it is a damn good one, and one possessed of a distinctive brand of easygoing intellectualism that never fails to reinvigorate. ‘I Set My Face To The Hillside’ is a standout on this record, one that arguably embodies what makes TNT superior, in my mind, to the sometimes-more-lauded Millions Now Living Will Never Die (1996). Just take a listen to that introduction, with its crowd noise and the simple melody of a scratchy acoustic guitar. It’s just so human, and it is this that sets the whole album apart. TNT is experimental, electronic and intellectual, to varying degrees, but it is also relentlessly welcoming, and that is a very difficult balance to achieve.

The Real Thing

I’m surprised I ever forgot about this song. To be fair, when I was young I never really realised how psychedelic it was; it was just being played on the radio because it was featured in The Dish.

No real spiel, it’s just an excellent, dare I say, catchy, song. Listen.

Nah. No description for this one. You all know it, but you have to listen to it again. Music doesn’t really get better than this.

If There Is Something

I’ve been going through one of those phases recently. I was considering reviewing this entire album (Roxy Music’s debut), but I quickly realised that despite how many times I’ve listened to it, I’m still not sure if I get it. Although I think “getting” Roxy Music would be antithetical to their entire cause; like an unholy marriage of Sgt. Peppers and Dadaism, Bryan Ferry, Brian Eno and co. served to stylise and obfuscate simultaneously. The songs were profound, but only to the point where you realise that you still have no idea what they’re talking about. Continue reading

Funeral For A Friend

Diverting from his glam, singer-songwriter cliche ever so slightly, Elton John opens up his magnum opus Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by shooting his fans in the face, defecating on their corpses and riding over them with a Harley. Admittedly, Funeral For A Friend isn’t exactly Frank Zappa, but this dramatic, synth-heavy depiction of his future funeral song was not of the same universe as the folky Your Song that brought him to fame. This was Elton locking and loading, refusing to take prisoners, and entreating the worthy remaining few to enjoy a sprawling double album testing his limits.

The song does oddly segue into Love Lies Bleeding, apparently simply because they were both written in the key of A, but it’s not immediately obvious. The tension builds throughout both songs, aided by the muscular guitar that pervades throughout. Elton’s vocals are at his best, and the music jives in the way that only the profoundly camp piano man can make it.

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road would go on to be Elton’s best-selling album, most likely due to the fact that Candle in the Wind immediately followed this cathartic rampage. Just don’t expect to see it in any Greatest Hits collection.

Firstly, I encourage you to listen to the song before you read this blog. It’s a bit of an experience. Okay, you’re done? Excellent. Continue reading

John McLaughlin

Chunky. That’s really the best word I can come up with to describe this one. It may be the sinister precursor to early-onset dementia, but everything about this track just sounds chunky to me; the rhythms, the harmonies, the just-overdriven guitar and keyboard tones. Like the rest of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (1970), ‘John McLaughlin’ – named for the album’s guitarist – is driven by constant, and complex, improvisation by the whole band, with the resulting fluid soundscape kept tethered by repeated fragments of melody. What sets this track apart is its sparseness and concision. In an album of gloriously bloated improvisational epics that you don’t so much listen as submit to, here are four and a half minutes of (comparatively) lean, dissonant rocking. ‘John McLaughlin’ is a brief reprieve, a moment to catch our breath and let the spotlight rest on the titular guitarist and his inimitable tones. The guitar wails, the keyboards bubble, and everything’s chunky. And then we get on with the show.