2022’s shaping up to be a belter already, ennit? I’ll dedicate all of this month’s tunes to the people of Ukraine, those who are currently searching for a safe haven for their children and those who have stayed to fight. Their courage is a daily reminder that our everyday problems amount to very little in the grand scheme of things. So, in the spirit of James Brown, let’s ‘get up offa our things’ and ‘try to release the pressure’ if only in a small way.
- Not Too Shabby: Cerrone, Jamie Lewis
I started this month with vague plans for a club night based in the disco and electronic dance music of the late 70s and early 80s. Basically, a Giorgio Moroder type groove. I was looking for a very specific kind of uplifting hedonism, one that might just take our minds of the grind of daily life at the moment. Piecing together a playlist, I found this absolute banger. It fit the bill perfectly, except for the fact that it was released in 2005, approximately 25 years too late. Cerrone is that absolute master of this stuff. ‘Supernature’ is the masterpiece; this is more of his effortless groove.
2. Chaz Jankel: Without You
Another gem that nearly made it onto the ‘Moroder’s’ playlist, this is a great bit of 80s pop/funk, with a nice synth bass line. One of music’s unsung heroes, Chaz is probably best known for his work with Ian Dury and the Blockheads; he co-wrote many of the band’s biggest hits, including Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Reasons to be Cheerful Part 3. Needless to say, I love this. And the video is the cherry on the top. According to the comments in the video, Chaz had never ridden a motorbike before this. Nice work, mate!
3. Roxy Music: Remake / Remodel
Wow. I fully indulged my Eno-isms this month, digging back into early Roxy and was reminded just what a stunning statement of intent this is. As the opening track to the band’s debut album, it takes what everyone thought they knew about pop/rock music to that point and chucks it all up in the air. I love the way it creeps up on you. The track starts with the sound of a small crowd chattering. I like to imagine pupils entering a school hall for assembly, and then Ferry starts plonking on the piano and all hell breaks loose. Mixing Bowie glam, Bonzo Dog madness, Eno’s synth bloops and Ferry’s ‘where the fuck did that come from’ vocal stylings (let’s not call it singing!) this must have been a riot for those lucky enough to have heard it first in the summer of 1972. It still sounds incredible today.
4. Picasso: Michael Head and the Red Elastic Band
Michael Head writes beautiful songs. That’s it. Everything he puts out is expertly crafted, whether it’s with Pale Fountains, the band that nearly made it, or with Shack, the band that nearly made it, or with The Strands, the band that… oh no, they weren’t the band that nearly made it. They were the band that should have bloody made it, what’s the matter with you all, what more do you want? That band. But still, he goes on producing timeless music for those that know. So now you do – no excuse. By the way, please can someone get Shack’s debut Waterpistol a re-issue on vinyl?
5. Aretha Franklin: Love The One You’re With
Found this album thanks to Norman Maslov’s excellent YouTube channel, specifically his soul video. Thanks Norman. This is awesome. I mean that in the true sense of the word. Aretha rips this song up and her band are as tight as you want. She says at the start that they’ve been ‘experimenting’ with the song. Christ knows what it would sound like if they ever thought they’d nailed it. Don’t be put off if, like me, you find the original Stephen Stills number not to your taste – give this a listen. I guarantee it will change your mind.
6. Nino Ferrer: Le Sud
To finish this month, a drop of Gallic sunshine. Nino was an Italian-born, French singer-songwriter. He was a bit of a maverick, describing the French music industry as ‘gaudy frivolity’ and he agreed with Serge Gainsbourg’s view that songs were a ‘minor art’ and ‘background noise.’ This is a shame because this song, a number 1 in France in 1975, certainly feels like more than that. The strings on the chorus are deep and brooding and the whole thing is structured so that it spirals downwards before climbing back up in an anthemic reach for the sun. It even has some funky 70s synth noises which add to the eccentricity without detracting from the lazy beauty of the whole thing. As ever with these achingly melancholic ‘happy-sad’ tunes, there is tragedy below the surface. Nino committed suicide in 1998. But let’s not end this month on the tragedy. Rather, let’s savour the hope that is in the grooves here; God knows there’s little of that around at the moment.