Posts from 19th April 2004

19
Apr 04

MICHAEL HOLLIDAY – “Starry Eyed”

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#95, 29th January 1960

A Fifties pop simp whose time was fast receding, Holliday’s second shot at glory is gloopy but pleasant. The lullaby pace brings out the best in Holliday’s slow and low croon, but really this song belongs to the doo-wop girls backing him up: their immediately appealing “baa-bum-bum-bum” seesaw riff is the first sound you hear, the main hook, and surely the major reason anyone bought it.

EMILE FORD AND THE CHECKMATES – “What Do You Want To Make Those Eyes At Me For?”

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#94, 18th December 1959

Pop music owes several debts to Caribbean emigrants who built their own sound systems out of frustration or fun. This is one of the smaller ones: Emile Ford’s vocation was sound engineering, the music was a lucrative side project. He didn’t think he had the voice, but he had the home-brewed system, louder than anything else on the circuit, and it kept him going until the never-expected hits dried up and he got on with his intended job. Along the way he’d landed this No.1, with the help of fellow backroom boy Joe Meek.

What’s it like? Pretty good. For one thing Emile could sing, or at least could bring a saucy tang to his voice that more than made up for a lack of range. The production sounds pretty big too, at least by the standards of ’59’s milksop pop: the Sixties start with a swagger, alright. The bells behind the second verse are a neat, unexpected touch; the single sharp drumbeats that herald each verse are a lot cornier but very effective. And an arch, rather generic rocker gets by finally on a massive helping of good humour.

Karmic payback for my not-listening-to-radio comments

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 239 views

Karmic payback for my not-listening-to-radio comments: the Gods of Pop have decreed that my new office will have the radio on all day. Hurrah! But wait – the station of choice so far has been XFM, which is so far confirming my every lapsed-fan’s prejudice against the i-word. Right now they’re playing Soulwax. “But you like Soulwax, Tom!” No, no, you misunderstand me – they are playing Soulwax. Not 2 Many DJs. Soulwax. And this on the request show!

Further notes: it takes an afternoon of XFM to bring home to you how massive (and disastrous) Radiohead’s impact on British guitar music has been. Fully every third track either is Radiohead or wants very hard to sound like they used to. What characterises these wannabe-heads, aside from the lost-puppy yowling, is a terrible sloppiness in the songwriting – no rhythm to speak of, few hooks, verse and chorus oozing into one another, the songs bobbing about in a brackish pond of studied pain with only the vocal dynamics to carry them at all. The relative tautness and economy of the last Blink 182 single is an absolute revelation after a few hours of this.

PUBS WE DREAMT

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 284 views

PUBS WE DREAMT

Part #1 in a never-ending series of series which rarely progress beyond Part #1

It was more a bar than a pub, and more a student-type bar than a ahem actual real bar: ie tatty, with unfeasibly low tables and v.cheap metal-frame easy chairs. The man at the bar decided to tackle me, to explain why I continue to feel uneasy in pubs, as if I’m just about to be found out. My order had after all been word-perfect, for once: “A pint of bitter” – *pointing* – “and a pint of Carlsberg”… Anyway, I am to blame, it seems. Apparently, when the barman had called a cab for me the previous xmas, and as he was holding open its door, he had pointed to the huge number of books I was manhandling into the back seat, and said “You should be very proud of all those wizard books you have there!” and I had replied (a bit distractedly) “I am.” Apparently this reply is considered a bit infra-dig in pubs (or student-type bars) and everyone now looks at me askance: hence my unease.

(The bitter was for Publog Ptee, if this is relevant.)

DEAD MAN’S CHESS

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 320 views

DEAD MAN’S CHESS: or

Three Questions abt Treasure Island

#1: When is it set?
JimH is famously coy (“I take up my pen in the year of grace 17__” only gives a clue abt when he WROTE it) but there are clues.
i. The King is a George = hence must be after 1716.
ii. Dr Livesey says he fought (and was wounded) at Fontenoy = hence must be after 1745.
iii. L. J. Silver tells Squire Trelawney that he lost his leg fighting under Hawke, and later mentions (to Jim) to “Admiral Hawke” = British naval hero Rear Admiral Edward Hawke, MP for Bristol, became a full-blown Admiral in the 1750s, hence… er, no. We encounter a morass of reliabilities. Is yarnspinner pirate and villain Silver a reliable teller of his own lifestory? We can assume JimH is NOT an unreliable narrator, but is he an accurate historian? Is Stevenson?
iv. Silver tells JimH that he began life as a sailor at Jim’s age, and that his parrot, Captain Flint, is a. 200 years old and b. sailed with the “great Cap’n England, the pirate”. Edward England – a legendary actual real historical pirate – was marooned on Mauritius and died a beggar in 1720.
v. Silver tells a raw pirate recruit that he himself sailed with England and Flint (ie the pirate the parrot is named for), and also that he (Silver) is a leader worth following bcz he has reached the age of 50 (to make this point he is more likely to exaggerate his age UP not down). Also the ship’s surgeon who amputated his leg was hanged at Corso Castle as a member of Captain Roberts’s crew. This would be the even more legendary Bartholomew ‘Black Bart‘ Roberts, who died in action in 1722.
vi. Ben Gunn, a shipmate of Silver’s under Flint, had been marooned (by the crew of another ship entirely ) for three years.

Assume for the sake of argument that Silver is 50 in 1756 => he would have been 14 the year England died, ie a cabinboy as claimed. But this would mean (assuming the surgeon-under-Roberts story is true) that he lost his leg before he was 16: surely too early for him to go on to establish himself as a physically courageous mega-seadog feared even by Flint (who is fictional btw) (and hired him pegleg and all).

My solution: the story takes place in the 1750s, but not later than 1758. Until 1755, Hawke was still only Rear Admiral but (since he had gone on being a naval hero and public figure in the interim) JimH misremembered exactly what Silver said. Silver only mentions England and Flint to the young pirate, so these really were his only pirate journeys. Service under Flint could surely not have lasted from the 1720s to the 1740s (for obvious reasons, the legendary pirate careers rarely lasted as long as a decade: Roberts’s was barely three years). Silver is 50 (or slightly less) at time of story and did sail with England as a young man – or possibly a cabin boy as young as 10, but the younger he was, the more certain it is that the story abt the surgeon is a yarn to impress the raw young pirate recruit. If Silver lost his leg later, in circs unknown, it was in non-piratical service – unlikely to have with Hawke, but not chronologically impossible, as the latter was at sea in the early 1740s. If pegleg Silver sailed under Flint, can Flint still have been active (as in burying treasure and singlehandedly killing the six pirates who buried it with him) as late as the late 40s? Given that he then has to have time to down and die of rum-bibbing in Savannah, while B.Gunn has to have time to be marooned?

Stop this madness

FT + New York London Paris MunichPost a comment • 321 views

Stop this madness: can all readers of FT visiting record shops this week please hide these objects behind, oh, a Hilary Duff single or something?

RELATED NEWS: Choose wisely British public.