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AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #108 : RADIOHEAD

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A GUEST POSTING FROM MARTIN

AUTHOR OF THE NEW AMUSEMENTS BLOG

After more than 100 ICAs, I was wondering which artist or band I could meaningfully submit a compilation for. So many of my favourites have already been done. And then it occurred to me – as yet, there has been no ICA for Radiohead.

Of course, when I sat down to try to draw up a ten track compilation it quickly became obvious why it hasn’t been done before: trying to whittle down the collected works of the Grand Old Duke of Yorke and his men to just ten songs, just one side of a C90, is practically impossible. Unless…

…unless there’s a scheme, a set of rules above and beyond those that normally go into drafting a compilation. It was at this point I realised that Radiohead have released nine studio albums. What if, I wondered, I were to limit myself to one track per album, plus a bonus closing track of my choice? That might work and, if I stuck to the albums in chronological order, it would also provide an accurate representation of how the band has progressed over the years.

Sounds a great plan, doesn’t it? Except that, in reality, even choosing just one track per album proved to be fantastically difficult (especially for The Bends, Ok Computer, Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows). Anyway, enough of my excuses, let’s get on; to assuage my guilt for omitting certain tracks, I’ll namecheck the other songs that were in contention but, for now, these are the chosen nine plus one.

Side One

1. from Pablo Honey: Creep

Sorry, it has to be. I know it’s been over-played, and certainly over-covered (if YouTube is anything to go by). It isn’t massively representative of the rest of the album, and I have even heard it described as “Radiohead for people who don’t like Radiohead”. But, and it’s a very big but, without this track there is probably a very good chance we wouldn’t be talking about Radiohead now, and certainly not in such reverential tones. The fact is that this song, aside from striking a chord with every disaffected and alienated person that’s ever heard it, every loner, every outsider, aside from all that it established the band in a way that the parent album never could. It’s quite possible that without Creep the only blog posts you’d read about Radiohead now would be of the “whatever happened to…” variety. And on top of that, it has that excellent crunchy guitar that kicks in at the start of the chorus.

Also in contention: Anyone Can Play Guitar and Lurgee.

2. from The Bends: Fake Plastic Trees

Of all the albums, choosing just one track from The Bends was the toughest choice of all. Fake Plastic Trees gets the nod though, as it brought Radiohead’s social conscious and environmental awareness to the fore, whilst also demonstrating that they could be musically subtle, delicate in a way that they hadn’t been on Pablo Honey. The clincher for me is more personal though, in that when I saw the band live in 2008 their rendition of this song gave me goosebumps on the night, and nearly broke my heart in the weeks that followed.

Also in contention: High And Dry, (Nice Dream) and Street Spirit (Fade Out).

3. from OK Computer: No Surprises

A lullaby for the suicidal, perhaps. And yet one that somehow manages to be uplifting, even in the unsettling video in which Thom looks set to drown (spoiler – he doesn’t). You can draw a straight line through Asleep by The Smiths to this song, and then… where? The parent album was, for a time, often held up as not just the band’s best but the best ever, by anyone, frequently troubling the top of the “best N albums of all time” lists that were very popular around the millennium. It is great, but I think The Bends shades it.

Also in contention: Paranoid Android (“Bohemian Rhapsody for Generation X”, as the music press all cried at the time), Karma Police and Lucky.

4. from Kid A: National Anthem

Given that The Bends are OK Computer were both excellent and successful, Kid A was always going to be a tough act to pull off. It remains the point at which Radiohead started to be non-essential, for some people. Not me though. It’s a great album, another where it is hard to choose one track. I’ve gone for National Anthem – very simple lyrically, but the music is the hook, an ear-worming loop that has, arguably, set the tone for most of everything that has followed. Like lots of the best Radiohead, this comes into its own in a car with a good stereo, in the small hours of a crystal clear night, on an open road…

Also in contention: Idioteque, Everything In Its Right Place.

5. from Amnesiac: Knives Out

As the band continued to push boundaries, willing to sacrifice transient fans to satisfy their own musical curiosity, the songs that were chosen as singles from each album became increasingly unrepresentative, and so it is with Knives Out. Led by twin guitar melodies, it’s a song that might have graced The Bends. It has brilliantly bleak lyrics too, to whit “If you’d been a dog they would have drowned you at birth.” I don’t know what it says about Radiohead (or the type of fan I am) but this and Pablo Honey were the albums it was easiest to choose only one song from.

Also in contention: Pyramid Song.

Side Two

6. from Hail To The Thief: Scatterbrain

On the face of it, a tough album to choose from, casually littered with brilliance as it is. In reality, an easy choice for me; the instrumental introduction to Scatterbrain has been my mobile phone ringtone for as long as I can remember. It is one of my absolute favourites songs, not just by Radiohead but by anybody, ever. Terrific lyrical story telling too, in which storm force winds are a metaphor for the blown apart nature of a failed relationship.

Also in contention: Go To Sleep, 2+2=5, Myxomatosis.

7. from In Rainbows: Weird Fishes/Arpeggi

That straight line I mentioned earlier? Maybe its third point is here, I don’t know. For a band who have increasingly forsaken guitars (to the consternation of a good proportion of their fanbase), here’s proof that they can still overlay complementary guitar motifs better than just about anyone. And few bands give percussion a voice, rather than just rhythm and timekeeping duties, as well as Radiohead. Also, even fewer songs could hint at escape at the end and yet be so ambiguous as to whether that escape is a good thing or not.

Also in contention: Reckoner, Jigsaw Falling Into Place.

8. from The King Of Limbs: Morning Mr Magpie

The intro to this makes me think of The Police. No, wait, come back! Here’s a song that again sits at the accessible end of the recent Radiohead spectrum, and ends with the lament that “you’ve stolen all the magic, took my melody”. A proportion of the band’s fans may have thought the same thing… but this is a perfect example of a Radiohead track that rewards repeated listens, rather than chases immediacy.

Also in contention: Little by Little (for similar reasons), Feral.

9. from A Moon Shaped Pool: Burn The Witch

In which Radiohead go all Camber-wicker Green. A genuinely great song and one that is, even without the video, genuinely disturbing, with its lyrics of low-flying panic attacks, red crosses on wooden doors and, most ominously, “we know where you live”. Add the sawing, minor-key string backing and this isn’t going to pack the floor at your local indie disco in quite the same way as Creep. A song for these times, where Washington has become Summer Isle or, perhaps, Salem.

Also in contention: Daydreaming, Present Tense.

10. bonus track: Street Spirit (Fade Out)

What better way to end the album? If ever a song was made to close an LP, this is it, lyrically, musically and thematically. Yes, it hankers back to a period when the band were at the peak of their commercial powers (doesn’t Thom look young in the video?) and yes, it features plenty of guitars. But not the crunchy guitars of Creep and Anyone Can Play Guitar, but beautiful, overlaid arpeggios that repeat, rise and fall to hypnotic effect. And there’s a lyrical counterpoint to some of the less cheerful themes found elsewhere on this ICA, and even in this song – for every row of houses bearing down on Thom, there’s the more positive (albeit slightly defensive) “be a world child, form a circle” and the haunting outro refrain of “immerse your soul in love”. Best of all is the way the song ends – it doesn’t fade out, of course, but the guitar arpeggio loops round and ties itself in a neat bow. The perfect finish to this or any compilation.

And there you have it. There are probably as many Radiohead ICA combinations as there are fans, and my own selection would probably be different next week (maybe even tomorrow). But, for now, I think this compilation works. What do you reckon?

Cheers,
Martin
New Amusements

AN E.P. FOR VALENTINE’S DAY

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Roses are Red
Violets Are Blue
Here’s unusual love songs
Curated for you

mp3 : Wire – Feeling Called Love
mp3 : Malcolm Middleton – Fuck It, I Love You
mp3 : The Slits – Love and Romance (Peel Session)
mp3 : Chumbawamba – Silly Love Songs

Enjoy.

JTFL – LIVING THE DREAM

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The handsome devil playing bass guitar on the right hand side of the above picture is no stranger to these parts, although this will be the first confirmed sighting. As you may have gathered from the title of today’s posting it is an image of Jonny the Friendly Lawyer (JTFL) who has been a long-time friend of this and many other quality blogs offering his thoughts, wisdom and opinions all the way from the West Coast of the USA. But he could soon be coming close by your own ‘hood and thus offering the chance to meet in person while listening to live music. I’ll lrt the great man himself tell you all about it:-

THE PONDEROSA ACES

A GUEST ADMISSION BY JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER

My name is Johnny Bottoms and I am an Outlaw Country musician. I play bass for The Ponderosa Aces. I wasn’t always this way. In fact, only a few months ago I was just like anyone else. Here’s what happened…

Goldie The Friendly Psychologist (GTFP) and I have been empty nesting since last summer. Why not get a band together? I jammed with a few friends, singing and playing guitar, trying to sort some basic tunes by The Jam, Blondie, Pretenders, Bowie. But it just wasn’t happening and I got frustrated. I thought, Screw this — I play bass, I never pretended I was any good at guitar. So I went on the local musicians network and typed in “bassist.” The first ad that came up said “Bassist Needed for Established Country Band. Gigs Lined Up.” It could have been a reggae band, a power pop band, a death metal band — whatever. The operative word was established. They were up and running and already playing out.

I should say here that up to this point I didn’t know anything about country music. I didn’t listen to it often, didn’t have much in the library beyond Elvis Costello‘s country album (if that even counts). I sure as hell didn’t know how to play country music. So I called up the lead guitarist named, naturally, Hoss. Our conversation went like this:

Hoss: So, you’re a country music guy?
Me: Sure.
– Who’s your favorite country artist?
– Don’t know if I could name just one (which was true, since I didn’t know any).
– Well, you got some favorite country songs?
– Er, do you guys need a bass player or not?
– Oh, yeah, we do! You have played bass in a band before, right?
– Of course.
– When was that?
– 1988. In New York.
– Oh. Well, can you come to a rehearsal this Thursday?
– Yes.

That was a Monday. I downloaded the band’s album on iTunes and gave a listen. I was knocked out. The songs on Honky Tonkin’ My Life Away are all originals and they’re EXCELLENT. I practiced the bass parts until I felt like I might not completely disgrace myself. On the Thursday Hoss called to apologize that he couldn’t make the rehearsal and that I would just be meeting the drummer and singer. Okay. I drove down to Long Beach with the album on repeat, trying to ingrain my parts. The drummer, Art, was a good-natured and friendly guy. I was a bit leery of Mike, the singer. It wasn’t just that they guy is pure outlaw, with a formidable foot long beard. It was that Mike wrote all the songs on the album and I hoped I could do them justice. He handed me a book with the chord charts and off we went. It must have gone okay because when we finished I handed Mike the book back and he said “That’s yours — you keep that. We got a gig a week from tomorrow, can you sit in?” Sure I could.

I had a pair of cowboy boots I bought in 1983 somewhere in the closet. I found an embroidered western shirt that looked the part on eBay. I showed up for the gig and met Hoss and Steve, the pedal steel player. Fortunately for me, Steve plays sitting down with a handy music stand to keep the charts on. I stationed myself next to him and did the best I could, peeking over at the charts as discreetly as possible. After the show, the rest of the band were waiting for me in the parking lot. Christ, I wasn’t that bad, was I? Or maybe this was the part where they said, “Hey, thanks for filling in, but our real bassist will be back from his hernia operation next week.” But that didn’t happen. Instead, I got a round of handshakes and a question:

– Are you free to travel in February and April?
– Travel where?
– Texas in February and England in April.
– Sure I am.

I had been a country musician for 8 days. I hadn’t played bass in a band in 28 years. I was going to tour Texas and England. (I am not making any of this up, by the way).

Turns out the band’s criteria for a bassist depended on five critical questions, in roughly this order: (1) Are you a complete fucking maniac that no one can get along with? (2) Can you show up on time for gigs and rehearsals? (3) Are you going to bitch about money? (4) Is your wife going to be pissed off about you spending a lot of time doing band stuff? and (5) do you own a bass guitar and know where it is?

Honestly, that’s what they were thinking, having gone through a string of bassists that were overly ornery, complained about the cash, showed up erratically and not always sober, and whose wives didn’t approve of the band. I slotted in perfectly: I can get along with most anyone, I’m punctual, I’m not bothered about money, GTFP is glad to get me out of the house, and I know exactly where my bass is! My skills weren’t the prime concern for a simple reason: the band are all MONSTER players. The aptly named Aces are such superb musicians that everything they do sounds so professional I couldn’t screw it up if I tried. And we can’t have a rehearsal without Mike introducing at least two new classic outlaw tunes. (We’ll be recording a new album later this year.)

So, now I’m Johnny Bottoms. I play all over the coast a few times a month. The guys are typical southern Californians: laid back, quick to laugh, fun to be around. The Ponderosa Aces are nominated for awards as Best Pure Country Band by the Academy of Western Artists and Best Outlaw Band by Ameripolitan, a roots country foundation based in Austin. We’re going to the Ameripolitan awards show and will play five gigs while we’re in Texas. I’m over the moon about that, never having been to Texas once. We’re sponsored by a Whiskey company (Coldcock) and I got a new stage tuner from another sponsor, GoGo Tuners.

One of the nicest surprises about joining the Aces is the discovery that loads of people I wouldn’t have guessed LOVE country music. I knew my wife was a Patsy Cline devotee, but had no idea our own daughter was a huge Dolly Parton fan. My buddy Ronnie can do a perfect Bob Wills “Aaa-haah!” Driving down the coast a week ago my buddy Kevin — pure Malibu royalty that is such an OG surf punk that he actually drummed for The Surf Punks — amazed me by jumping in on the chorus of ‘Dang Me’, an obscure Roger Miller tune from 1964. I almost drove onto the beach! Nearly everyone I know has a favorite song by Willie, Tammy, Waylon, Merle, Loretta, EmmyLou, or Hank — and my own country library is growing all the time.

In my last NYC post with Echorich I wrote that my modest music career ended after I took the bar exam in July 1988. No longer true: now I’m playing regularly and WE ARE COMING TO TOUR ENGLAND! I wrote JC to tell him all about it in the hope that some of the formidable Vinyl Villain community will come out to see us and, of course, our man was happy to help out a friend. This is the tour schedule:

Sat. 22 APRIL – THE STABLES, Milton Keynes
Sun. 23 APRIL – GULLIVERS, Manchester
Mon. 24 APRIL – JUMPIN’ JACK’S, Newcastle
Tue. 25 APRIL – THE MUSICIAN, Leicester
Thu. 27 APRIL – THE BORDERLINE, London
Fri. 28 APRIL – FAT LIL’S, Witney
Sat. 29 APRIL – BILLY BOB’S SALOON, EuroDisney, Paris
Sun. 30 APRIL – THE HAUNT, Brighton
Mon. 1 MAY – THE PRIORY, Dover

And here are some songs from the album, Honky Tonkin’ My Life Away:

mp3 : The Ponderosa Aces – Judgment Day
mp3 : The Ponderosa Aces – Make Things Right
mp3 : The Ponderosa Aces – Roadside Shrine
mp3 : The Ponderosa Aces – Hit The Door

So, a surprising but happy story. I hope you’ll be able to come out and see The Ponderosa Aces in just a couple months’ time. This blog’s readers are an amazing crowd I like to think of as old friends, and it would be great to finally meet some of y’all in person.

Johnny Bottoms, the country bassist

 

THE UNDERTONES SINGLES 77-83 (Part 12)

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“If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

That would seemed to have been the thinking behind the decision to record a cover version for the next single, released in March 1983.  Pop music with a bit of soul was what was beginning to dominate the charts – Culture Club and ABC had been two of the big breakthrough UK acts in 1982 while Paul Weller was also following the well-trodden path with his new band The Style Council.  Perhaps writing something original was just too difficult, so why not test the waters by taking a song by The Isley Brothers and giving it a go?

mp3 : The Undertones – Got To Have You Back

You can tell that a great deal of energy and hard work went into this 45 with Feargal Sharkey delivering a strong vocal performance while the rest of the band willingly gave up the sound that they had become best known for in an effort to appease the record label and to re-engage with the record buying public.

It didn’t work as the single stalled outside the main charts at #82.

Looking back, this is not that bad a record, but nobody could take it seriously as an Undertones record; indeed it seemed that unless they were prepared to go back and come up with a variation on Teenage Kicks then nobody was going to give the band the time of day.  The writing really was on the wall….

This was the b-side:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Turning Blue

Written by John O’Neill, it is again a million miles removed from the earlier material; it’s a decent enough song for a b-side or as an album filler but not all that memorable

The single came out in 7″ and 12″ format but only difference on the latter was the inclusion of this additional b-side, again written by John with the help of Michael Bradley:-

mp3 : The Undertones – Bye Bye Baby Blue

Two songs with the word ‘blue’ in the title – maybe it was a subliminal message as to the overall mood the band were finding themselves in.  This is actually a decent sounding track featuring some very fine harmonies and backing vocals and it certainly is stronger and more accessible than the sole track on the 7″. It is also one of the few tracks on any of their singles that ever went over three minutes in length.

Enjoy.

SATURDAY’S SCOTTISH SONG : #62 : COPY HAHO

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I previously gave a mention to Copy Haho over on the old blog and in a later re-run at this place in October 2013 when I said:-

A four-piece outfit originally from the town of Stonehaven which is just a couple of train stops south of Aberdeen in the north-east of Scotland. I saw Copy Haho as a support act at King Tut’s a few years ago and was impressed enough to buy a bit of vinyl on the night. Turns out it was their debut 7″ Bookshelf which came out in a limited run of 500 back in 2006. Since then I’ve picked up a further two 7″ singles that were released in 2008 and 2009 but not their debut LP which came out in 2011.

It would appear from a lack of activity on various parts of social media that the band called it a day at the end of the year that the album came out. I do recall them getting a reasonable amount of positive coverage from local press and some bloggers when the album came out and it’s a pity, like so many other decent enough but not outstanding bands (albeit they have way more talent than I could ever muster!), they just couldn’t ever break out of cult status.

Here’s another of their singles – one of four they released in their career – this dates from 2008

mp3 : Copy Haho – You Are My Coalmine

Enjoy

THIS ONE’S FOR LORNA AND TIM

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Those of you (and I would imagine that’s almost all of you) who wander over to WYCRA for the latest musings from SWC and Tim Badger will be aware that their blog is temporarily and understandably closing down for a bit. Tim’s wife, Lorna, is in hospital after a very serious car crash and writing about music in that wonderfully idiosyncratic and hilariously entertaining style of theirs is the last thing on his and SWC’s minds.

I’ve never met Tim or SWC or either of their wives, but I feel I’ve got to know them well enough over the past four or so years since we first hooked up to regard the boys as good friends and I’d like to think the girls have shared the occasional laugh at some of the music and words that have been exchanged via postings, comments and e-mails. I was deeply affected on hearing of Lorna’s accident and although I’m supposed to be the sort who can find the right words for any occasion, I really struggled to do so yesterday.

Like everyone else who has left a message over at WYCRA, my thoughts and best wishes for a speedy and full recovery are with Lorna, Tim and their entire family and circle of close friends. It’s one of those times when I wish I could do something more meaningful and worthy than simply dedicate a song to them. But it’s all I can think of today:-

mp3 : The Housemartins – Lean On Me

True fact. Today’s post was originally going to be a Housemartins ICA. It will appear soon.

REALLY….YOU’D BEST STICK TO FLOWERS AND CHOCOLATES

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Do not, under any circumstances, deign to include this on any mix tape for your mum.

mp3 : The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – Celebrate Your Mother

It’s a rollicking, crashing beast of a tune – reminiscent of The Cramps at their very best or worst depending on your pre-conceived point of view, sung by someone who sounds like the lab offspring of mixing up the sperm of Nick Cave and Joey Ramone. The parental advisory sticker is there for a reason as one of the screamed lines is about wanting to fornicate with your mother and then a few seconds later there’s a suggestion that he’d do similar with your dad.

This most American sounding of bands in fact hailed from Brighton on the south coast of England, mostly active around the turn of the century although they didn’t officially break up until 2013. Five of their singles did make the Top 40 in 2003/04 but not this particular effort which stalled at #66 in September 2002.

Here’s the two other tracks on the CD single:-

mp3 : The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – Return December
mp3 : The Eighties Matchbox B-Line Disaster – Torrential Abuse

The former is reminiscent of The Birthday Party at their very best or worst depending on your pre-conceived point of view. It will also annoy the hell out of your neighbours if you play it very loudly.

The latter is what I’m expecting to rain down on me today from most regular readers.  Don’t get too annoyed – all three tracks are over in under 8 minutes.

Enjoy.

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