Sunday, 27 July 2008

Music, No Lyrics (#1)

Welcome to another regular series on Musicus Eclecticus, “Music, No Lyrics”, in which we look at some great instrumental tracks. Now, despite this blog generally having no rules whatsoever, in this case I’ve applied some specific criteria. I’ve eliminated classical music and dance music, purely because it’s usually devoid of words anyway, so there’s nothing unusual there. Besides which, you don’t really want me to start posting Scooter tracks, do you? (If you do, you’re in the wrong place).

Much more interesting are those tracks that either shaped the development of the instrumental (as in the first example, below), or instrumentals recorded by bands who aren’t normally associated with such things (as in our other two examples).

First up, is the godfather of guitar instrumentals, Link Wray. Link Wray (pictured) is credited with inventing distortion, by punching holes in the fronts of his amplifiers. He is also thought to have invented the power chord, which isn’t a bad claim to fame when you think about it… A formative influence on the likes of The Who and Led Zeppelin, nobody does it better than Link Wray did it.

Originally recorded in 1958, “Rumble” is an all-time rock ‘n’ roll classic. Bizarrely, it led to Wray being dropped by his label at the time (Cadence), who stated that the record was “promoting teenage gang warfare”, after label boss Archie Bleyer’s daughter remarked that it reminded her of the fight scenes in West Side Story. You couldn’t make it up.
In case you missed it, "Rumble" also cropped up on the soundtrack to Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, cementing its place in popular culture all over again.

Link Wray died in 2005 in his adopted home of Denmark, leaving behind an enormous and hugely important body of work.

Download: Link Wray – Rumble

Jumping forward a mere 38 years, this next record, from Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub comes from their wondrous Bandwagonesque album. An odd album title, as the Fanclub could never be accused of jumping on anyone else’s bandwagon. This dreamy album (think The Beach Boys on crack) contains a gem of an instrumental, “Satan”, which at less than a minute and a half, is short and sweet for sure, but nevertheless stands as one of the album’s undoubted highlights.

Download: Teenage Fanclub – Satan

Now, whilst it may be distinctly uncool to profess a liking for Metallica, frankly I don’t care. I grew up on a diet of Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets and I’ve never quite shaken the habit. Christ, I even bought St Anger.

Master Of Puppets is the album we’re dipping into here, for the epic “Orion” instrumental. Always a poignant track for diehard Metallica fans – it contains some of the late Cliff Burton’s finest ever bass playing – it builds through its eight minutes from a quiet(ish), chugging intro, through to a heavy, heavy finale.

Whatever your thoughts on Metallica, there is no denying the fact that they have been often imitated but never, ever bettered – and this track is just one of many examples which emphatically prove the point.

Download: Metallica – Orion

Well… what are you waiting for?


Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Great Songs By Shit Bands (#1)

It may not have escaped your attention that there are literally thousands of bands out there in the world who can justifiably be described as "shit". Some reach utterly inexplicable heights of success due to what one can only presume is abject stupidity on the part of the record-buying public (step forward, My Chemical Romance), without even looking like writing anything that could be loosely classed as listenable. Some, on the other hand, slog away producing turd after turd, and then, sometimes - they release a track of such brilliance it's hard to believe they were so crap in the first place. This, the first of what will be a regular series, focuses on those moments of wonder which were recorded by bands who should at any other time just be tortured to death to save us the misery of having to listen to any more of their deluded nonsense.

First up is the very track that made me think of running this series in the first place. The not-so-mighty Feeder shot to fame in 2001 with the astonishingly inept "Buck Rogers" single (complete with such lyrics as "Drink cider from a lemon-lemon-lemon-lemon" - or something). Risible as that song was (and still is), it sold by the hatful. To who, I know not - hopefully nobody I've ever met though. Four years earlier though, they released a rather better album by the name of Polythene which included one track, "Suffocate", which is a thing of pure beauty. Four-and-a-half-minutes of sweeping emotion, it remains an utter enigma - how did it come from the same band? How? Listen, and judge for yourself...

Now then, if you thought "Buck Rogers" was fucking irritating, then you'll bite your own fingers off at the gruesome memory of "You're Gorgeous" by Babybird. On the back of Britpop, even my arse could have had a Top Ten hit (had it only been able to pick up a guitar) and as a result of this, even the word "gorgeous" suddenly seemed appropriate for use in a mainstream indie hit. Fact - it isn't. It sounds shit. Babybird fans will try and tell you that the whole thing was desperately ironic, but poke them in the eye and say "NO!". Ironic it was not - utter bollocks it most certainly was.

Thankfully Stephen Jones (the one-man Babybird - pictured) did redeem himself a couple of years later with this next track, "Take Me Back" which bore absolutely no resemblance to gorgeousness whatsoever. Instead, it's a dark and disturbing six minutes of songwriting genius which I never tire of hearing. And now it's your turn.

This last one (for now) is a bit of a cheat. I don't really think Stereophonics have always been a shit band, as such. In fact, their first two albums (Word Gets Around and Performance And Cocktails) aren't far short of indie-rock classics. HOWEVER. That was a big however. Following those two near-flawless albums, something happened (in a kind of a Be Here Now sort of a way) and Stereophonics became, overnight, The Worst Band On The Planet. Was it Kelly Jones' nauseating ego that did it? His hairdresser? Or did they just "do a Noel" and think you could fart out any old garbage and still go platinum? Whatever it was, they've never recovered. By way of a reminder that even shit bands might once have been fucking awesome, here is the 'Phonics ode to a departed friend, Local Boy In The Photograph, from their 1997 debut. It's got heart, and big bollocks - something sadly lacking from their later work.

That's it for now. Sorry for the big gap - back sooner next time.