Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Peter Seeger - "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)" (spotlight)

Peter Seeger died yesterday, with the New York Times running a nice piece about his legacy and impact (which I won't try to rehash here).  I can't say that I'm directly a big fan of his music;  I don't dislike him or his music* but I also don't own any of his 100+ LPs.   However, I do realize he greatly influenced artists that I am a big fan of, including Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and countless others.

But here's where I have to admit that I either didn't know or forgot that Seeger originally wrote/arranged "Turn! Turn! Turn! (to Everything There Is a Season)", made famous by The Byrds in 1965 and still heard on classic rock radio today.  Sure, I knew about Ecclesiastes, but I guess I just assumed it was arranged by Roger McQuinn.  There are innumerable covers of this song, but the words "turn turn turn" make me hear McQuinn's jangly 12 string...

Peter Seeger - "Turn! Turn! Turn!"
The Byrds - "Turn! Turn! Turn!"

* OK, that's a small lie.  I really don't like "If I Had A Hammer"...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Squeeze - "Up The Junction" (forgotten song)

"Up The Junction", from the 1979 LP "Cool For Cats", is probably my favorite Squeeze song, but up until yesterday I had never actually googled the phrase.  I was surprised to learn that "Up The Junction" is a 1963 collection of short stories describing dead-end, working class life in Battersea, where the railway station Clapham Junction is located.  It was also adapted as a play in 1965, as well as a film in 1968.  These would have been well-known cultural references in 1979 in the UK.  Presumably the rather bleak story ("The devil came and took me / from bar to street to bookie") told in the song is taken from the book, but I don't know for sure.

I don't recall Squeeze being famous in the US until a few years later, with songs like "Tempted" and "Black Coffee in Bed", but the compilation LP "Singles -- 45s and Under" was standard issue in every dorm room during my college years.  But somehow I waited until 2014 to learn the full context of this song...

Squeeze - "Up The Junction": official video, Top of the Pops, live version (20xx?), re-recorded 2010 version

Bonus link: 1965 BBC play

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Camera Obscura - "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" (LP Review)

Several years ago I rated Camera Obscura's "Let's Get Out of This Country" a perfect 10, and the perfection of that LP overshadowed the two previous LPs (I didn't discover the band until 2009).  Now that I've had some time to reflect on it, I have to say their 2001 debut LP "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" is awfully good in its own right.  Not as good as LGOOTC but still pretty good, and as I've said before: the iTunes play counts don't lie.

This LP doesn't offer the same variety of musical styles that LGOOTC presented, but they completely lock down the genre of "pop music for adults"*.  I think there is a rule that any discussion of Camera Obscura has to mention fellow Glaswegians Belle & Sebastian.  While I recognize that Belle & Sebastian were first in this genre, but for my money Camera Obscura is a lot more enjoyable. 

One difference between this LP and LGOOTC is that although singer/songwriter/guitarist Tracyanne Campbell was still the center of the band, John Henderson (vocals/percurssion) was featured more prominently, in both duets ("Swimming Pool", "Anti-Western", "Double Feature") as well as lead vocals ("Houseboat").  Henderson left the band in 2004 and the supporting male vocal role was taken up by Kenny McKeeve, but in a diminished capacity relative to what we see in their first LP.  I love Tracyanne, but  Tracyanne & John both singing is pretty hard to beat.

In a perfect world, Camera Obscura would be a hugely successful band and "Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi" would be in the CD collection of every NPR listener under 50.  Not convinced?  Look at the cover art again, and then listen to the song "Double Feature":
Close comes this winter
Summer is no longer
And things, they seem much bleaker
We'll see a Catherine Deneuve double feature

TC: And our lives
JH: (Double feature, you will survive)
TC: will fade
JH: (Last forever so rest your eyes)
TC: as in darkness
JH: (Play with words when we cannot sing)
TC: we will bathe
JH: (This double feature means everything)
The question you should be asking yourself is "Why isn't Catherine Deneuve in dozens of pop songs?"

Standout songs: saying "all" would be cheating, so I'll go with: "Eighties Fan" (the only "official" video from the LP), "Happy New Year", "Houseboat", "Anti-Western", "The Sun on His Back", "Double Feature"  (listen to this YouTube playlist for all the songs).

Skip 'em songs: none.

Final score: 9/10

* One important exception: am I the only one that thinks the closing instrumental "Arrangements of Shapes and Space" sounds like the Texas-based, "post-rock" band Explosions in the Sky?