Monday, July 27, 2009

Behind the Music #5

Greetings, pop-pickers.

Since beginning this series of essays, to give a little insight and background detail in an attempt to broaden and deepen the reader's listening pleasures, there have been several naysayers, scrimshankers and quibblers getting up in my ass and generally messin' with my shit.

In essence, their beef is this: Where is the love, dawg?

Enough with the negativity, can't you bring us some news we can use? Turn us on to some of the good stuff, instead of hatin' on well-meaning acoustic guitar-toting singer-songwriters who really meant no harm.

Okay then, bitches, get your laughing holes round this bad boy. A tale of tragedy and despair. A tune to which you will try in vain to stop your toe tapping. An ultra-modern melding of town and country, of America and Europe, of beer and tabs.

That song is, of course "Cotton Eye Joe" by Rednex.

If history is to remember the year 1994 for anything, it will be as the year Swedish country-popsters Rednex took over the world with their banjo-spangled dancefloor chart-topper. From Britain to Australia to America to Latvia, we all knew it, we all loved it.

There were literally hundreds of country-based euro-dance records released in the early 1990s, including The Grid's "Swamp Thing", 2 Cowboys' "Everybody Gonfi-Gon" and, erm, many, many more. None, however, had the emotional resonance and tear-jerking gravitas of "Cotton Eye Joe".

The narrator tells us how his life and romantic ambitions have been thwarted by the titular anti-hero. Our troubled storyteller has been doomed to eternal solitude by the dastardly Cotton Eye Joe. Were it not for his malign influence, our man tells us, he would have been married "a long time ago".

"He came to town like a mid-winter storm,
riding through the fields so handsome and strong.
His eyes was his tools and his smile was his gun
But all he had come for was having some fun"

The songwriter, Sven Rednek, displays extreme lyrical dexterity here. The character sketch of Joe is simply and economically drawn, yet the simile "his smile was his gun" hints at the malevolence beneath the surface.

It got worse.

"He brought disaster wherever he went
The hearts of the girls was to Hell, broken, sent
They all ran away so nobody would know
and left only men 'cos of Cotton-Eye Joe"

Say it ain't so, Joe. Disaster! Girls going to Hell! Our boy Sven getting no stank on his hang-low!

That ain't right.

The mysterious Joe, and his cotton-based eyes, moved on, his origin and his intended destination shrouded in secrecy now and for ever more.

"Where did you come from? Where did you go? Where did you come from, Cotton Eye Joe?"

One fears we shall never know...

Monday, July 13, 2009

Behind the Music #4: Del Amitri - "Nothing Ever Happens"

It's 1990, the dawning of the last decade of the second millennium. As humankind hurtles blissfully towards a future world of spacesuits and jetpacks, computerised collective consciousness and BSB squarials, music was splintering and expanding into ever more diverse, spaced-out diaspora.

From acid house to acid jazz, from gabba to Shabba and right back to Abba, 1990 was a time of dizzying variety and invention.

However, in Scotland they said "Fuck that shit, it's plodding guitar-based balladry or nothing for us, the noo!"

Nobody did plodding like Del Amitri. Del Amitri, real name Derek Amitri, is a Glasgow-born singer-songwriter who was born in 1964 at the age of 42, at which he has remained ever since. In 1990 our Derek was about to release his meisterwerk, his tour de force, his piece de ass. 1990 was the year that "Nothing Ever Happens" happened.

While we all know the song, we all love the song, it seems that relatively few of us bought the record. The single peaked in the UK charts at number 11, a disappointing placing for a song that all serious music historians classify as one of the most important "Dreary Scotch Rock Ballads of the Early 1990s".

The construction of the song is deceptively simple. Against an insistent, monotonous guitar line the singer recites a litany of dull events going on in the world, given added piquancy by the fact that they are delivered a boring balladeer voice, before delivering the killer-punch knockout blow of a chorus that tells us that "Nothing ever happens".

The juxtaposition of tedious content with a message that is at once hackneyed and tiresome is stunning in its effectiveness.

Take this little lyrical nugget, as our Decka casts a wistful eye over the humdrum lives of the Little People who aren't even in a band.

"Gentlemen time please, you know we can't serve anymore
Now the traffic lights change to stop, when there's nothing to go
And by five o'clock everything's dead
And every third car is a cab
And ignorant people sleep in their beds
Like the doped white mice in the college lab"

Ah, the poor, foolish wage slaves, going to work like brainwashed, unthinking zombies. If only they knew how to strum a guitar and churn out third-rate teenage poetry, they'd see what was REALLY going on in our world.

Later on our latter-day Woody Guthrie rails against those enemies of progress; Consumerism, Capitalism and, erm, people who write to "Points of View".

"Bill hoardings advertise products that nobody needs
While angry from Manchester writes to complain about
All the repeats on T.V.
And computer terminals report some gains
On the values of copper and tin
While American businessmen snap up Van Goghs
For the price of a hospital wing."

Oh, the humanity! Those American Businessmen, eh? Coming over here and buying up all the Van Goghs instead of funding the British national health service.

Hang your cigar-chomping heads in shame, the lot of you!

As a casual parting shot, the whole problem of bigotry and racial intolerance is summarily dealt with by laughing boy, who opines:

"Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all
They'll burn down the synagogues at six o'clock
And we'll all go along like before."

Man alive, this hairy-faced cock-knocker has some brass neck, no? As if his lumbering little smugfest of a song wasn't far enough up itself, he's throwing in portentous allusions to the holocaust now, just to show what a deep-thinkin' man he is.

Fuck you, Derek, and fuck your song. Fuck it in the ass.

And that's swearing.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Behind the Music #3: Squeeze - "Up the Junction"

Cockney pub-rockers Squeeze: Everybody knows them, everybody loves them. From whey-faced girly-voiced smack enthusiast Glenn Tilbrook to oleaginous, twitching boogie-woogie keyboard wizard Jools Holland, this was, and indeed is, a band with star quality coursing through their veins where you or I have to make do with blood.

"Up the Junction", a number 2 chart-topper from 1979 is the band's signature anthem. The song takes its title from the 1960s book/play/film of the same name. A winning mix of mawkish self-pity and cloying sentimentality has seen the song become a firm favourite among Squeeze fans and normal people alike.

The lyrics tell of a doomed love affair between a drunken waster and, let us not be coy here, a harlot, some say roundheels, who hails from the salubrious Clapham area in South London. Our hero tells us of the initial stages of this romance:

"Out on a windy common, that night I've not forgotten.
When she dealt out the rations, with some or other passions.
I said 'you are a lady', 'Perhaps', she said, 'I may be'."

Firstly, while I'm no Emily Post, I would dispute that a young woman who is giving up the sweet, sweet poontang on a windy common can rightly have any claim to being a lady. She's a whore, fellows, a WHORE, I tell you.

Secondly, young Chris Difford, the lyricist here, is really reaching to accommodate these rhymes, no? "When she dealt out the rations, with some or other passions"?

Bitch, pur-leez! Some or other passions? That shit is weak.

Moving the story on, the dewy-eyed youngsters set up home in an idyllic lovenest.

"We moved into a basement, with thoughts of our engagement.
We stayed in by the telly, although the room was smelly."

Turning a blind eye for the moment to the rather unorthodox basement/engagement rhyming scheme, it sounds rather blissful, doesn't it? Old Dog's mess and his slut, stopping in their stinking basement gawping at the gogglebox instead of putting the hoover round and maybe getting busy with the Febreze or the Airwick.

Still, our hero lands himself a job, working with Stanley, eleven hour shifts, a nice little earner, no doubt. Does his lass follow suit, maybe bump up their income so they can move somewhere a bit nicer, possibly?

Does she heck as like. She reverts to the only skill she's ever shown, namely getting schtupped. She gets herself pregnant.

"She said she'd seen a doctor and nothing now could stop her."

It is probably at this point where our narrator was cursing the tactical error in shacking up in a basement. One can't "accidentally" push one's knocked up girlfriend down the stairs in a basement, can one? His lass was dead right, nothing now could stop her. Young feller-me-lad, doing the square thing by our Nell, kept grafting away, saving the princely sum of a tenner a week throughout the winter, a nice little nest-egg for when the baby arrives, you'd have thought.

Not so, apparently.

"When the time was ready, we had to sell the telly.
Late evenings by the fire, with little kicks inside her."

It isn't clear why the television had to go. They had, after all, been paying the rent and the bills and saving a tenner a week with just the one income, which would be remaining unchanged. Maybe it was just a whim of the hormonally volatile distaff half, who knows?

We are slammed immediately into the here and the now with the next development.

"This morning at 4.50, I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator, where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter, within a year a walker"

Again, a couple of queries. One, did you really bring her to an incubator? Did you bollocks, you took her to the maternity ward. You were telling fibs to make it rhyme, weren't you? Bad boy.

Two, within a year a walker? What day is this? Who's the president? The poor bairn was only born this morning, old horse. Talk sense, won't you?

Actually, he's completely lost the plot, timeline-wise, now.

"Now she's two years older, her mother's with a soldier
She left me when my drinking, became a proper stinging"

Told you the girl was a roundheels. Frankly, the excuse about his drinking becoming a proper stinging is not only nonsense but it doesn't even rhyme. She was just desperate for a new bone to gnaw on, so to speak. Muggins is left to rue his complicity in the break up and remember happier times.

"The devil came and took me, from bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly, no more nights nappies smelling"

It would seem our friend has been hitting the bottle like it owes him money. He's forgotten that he sold his television set and he's getting nostalgic for the delicate aroma of babyshit-stinking nappies. His friends would do well to advise him to take more water with it.

True to form, our protagonist signs off with a dollop of negativity and another godawful attempt at a rhyme.

"And so it's my assumption, I'm really up the junction".

There we are, then. "Up the Junction" - a heartfelt perfect pop ballad or some ham-fisted melodramatic bad teen poetry? The choice, dear reader, is yours...

But it's the second one. That's the right answer.


Saturday, July 04, 2009

Ins and Outs: July '09

Howzat! It's Wimbledon fortnight, what?

Staggering, bleary-eyed, out of the corporate hospitality areas, it is the pleasure of the Ins and Outs Committee to "serve" up another monthly helping of the guide that tells you what's ace and what's a disgrace and differentiates your overhead smash from your big load of gash. Get yourself some new balls, because Ins and Outs am here!!!!!!11!!!!!OHISAY!!!!!


When your dreadful mates are debating the relative claims of Messi, Ronaldo and Kaka to the title of best footballer in the world, stubbornly insisting that the true owner of the mantle is, in fact, Bayern Munchen and Germany midfield schemer Bastien Schweinsteiger.
Elena Baltacha. Not very good, but, at least she is descended from one of the Three Wise Men.
Litre bottles of ice-cold Mahou beer.
When responding in the affirmative to any question, doing so with an emphatic "Yes, Sensei!"
Boring the arse off everyone, gibbering on about Spotify.
Claiming that Eggsy from Goldie Lookin' Chain is the son of Viv Stanshall.
Lady Gaga.
Eating nothing but fruit. Gives you a healthy gleam and an excuse for sitting down while ‘going toilet.’
Transformers II. A masterpiece in the same way a chimp shitting the dismembered corpse of Steve Brookstein out of its rancid arse would be a ‘masterpiece’. (This is actually the basis of Simon Cowell’s new TV channel, fact fans.)
Warming to your task.
When attending catholic mass and on instruction from the priest to show a sign of peace to your neighbour, turning around, grabbing the generous hooters of the fruity sort behind you and whispering "You don't get many of them to the pound these days".
At work, answering the phone with an exuberant "Wasssaaap!"
Affecting a mode of dress and personal styling that is partly Rocket from the Crypt, partly Cliff Lazarenko.
Ratting out your crew to the Feds just because you like staying in motels.
On being asked how it's going, shrugging and informing them that "Big shit poppin', little shit stoppin'".
Drunken middle-aged women. I love them all, I love them crazily.
Talking to a bodybuilder in the pub, enquiring if his training regime is linked to the Nietzschean concept of "will to power" only to be told that it's more closely associated with the concept of "being able to knock fuckers out".
V.V.S Laxman, Jeremy Paxman and a mad axeman, defrauding the tax man.
Having a crazy, foolish pipe dream of one day visiting Godalming and going for tea and scones and that.
Awaking, sweating, from a nightmare wherein one is trapped in a room of wall-sized video screens showing a continuous loop of Eamonn Dunphy's leering face as he achieves orgasm, to a soundtrack of B*Witched's "C'est la Vie".


Being unable to negotiate a busy shopping thoroughfare without being implored by mendicants to contribute towards their Special Brew fighting fund.
Tiresome Jacko-paedo joke funny text pests.
Prior to a much-anticipated night out, telling one's chums that they should wear their wellington boots, as the place will be "knee-deep in clunge".
Log jams. Blackcurrant is much nicer.
The demise of Setanta. Serves them right for showing off on the gee-tar.
Sue Barker’s wardrobe allowance. More ‘Ming’ than ‘Bling’.
Bluffin' with your muffin.
Issuing "come and get me" pleas.
Shameful BBC kow-towing to political correctness meaning they can no longer show Mr Benn walking down Festive Road in his bowler hat in case it offends the Catholics.
Claiming to have an old Triumph Stag that you are in the process of restoring.
Giving up a bases-loaded walk.
The Sad-eyed Lady of the Lowlands. Cheer up, you miserable cow.
Becoming embroiled in a splenetic confrontation with an ice cream man following a disagreement regarding whether Keren Woodward or Sara Dallin was the best one in Bananarama.
Skype. Use a proper phone you tightwad.
Kasabian and Kasabian enthusiasts.
Temporarily forgetting that you aren't a rock star and appending a request for "half a dozen bottles of Jack Daniels, forty-eight bottles of Stella, two bowls of blue M&Ms, a selection of fresh fruit and a couple of whores" to your monthly stationery requisition form at work.
Cardamom pods. Fucking wankers.
These so-called Arabian states with their mad mullahs. Fancy being told what to do by a yoghurt!
Waking up with a mouth like a foxes oxter after supping not wisely but too well on the sweet, sweet Tiger beer.
Making the slightly insensitive and wholly inaccurate claim that you "be getting more pussy than Molly Sugden".