Educating Peter # 44

April 21, 2013

If your memory’s better than mine (it probably is), you’ll remember that last week Michael suggested a song by New Zealand band The Bats.

Well, this week Michael has suggested another song by The Bats, but this time The Bats are an American band.

That prompts me to wonder how many bands around the world have been called The Bats. (Answer: According to Discogs, there were eight bands called “The Bats”. And there were four bands called “Bats”. And two bands called “13 Bats”…)

But all of that wondering is stopping me from listening the song Michael has chosen.

The song is called “Popgun”, and I’m going to listen to it…

Now:

The Bats – “Popgun (1980)

0:00-0:11 – This introduction contains some galloping drumming. And a not-terribly-convincing piano sound in the right channel. (It may be an actual piano, but it sounds more like an electric piano pretending to be a grand piano.) And a dreadful-sounding synthesizer in the left channel.

0:11-0:22 – Wow, this verse reminds me a lot of Buddy Holly.

Incidentally, this isn’t the first song suggested by Michael that has reminded me of Buddy Holly. I have a feeling that Michael is a fan of Buddy Holly. Or is a fan of musicians who were fans of Buddy Holly. Either way, there’s a lot of Buddy Holly going on in songs Michael has hurled my way.

0:22-0:36 – Well, that verse just flew past (see previous paragraph), and didn’t make much of an impression on me. Never mind. I’m sure I’ll hear it again sometime soon. (Probably in about 20 seconds.)

Anyway, here’s the bit before the chorus, and I like it more than that verse I don’t remember. I’m a sucker for “aah la la”s (cf. Beatles, The – “Nowhere Man”), so this bit before the chorus gets my vote for best part of the song (so far).

Although I might take points off for the synthesizer playing that painfully high note at 0:35. (I did, however, enjoy the rest of the synthesizer in this pre-chorus section. It was carousel-y. Fun.)

Here’s another useless “incidentally”…

The falsetto note sung by the singer at 0:37 reminded me of The Keys’ “I Don’t Wanna Cry” which, just happens to be a song that Michael suggested for a previous Educating Peter (’twas # 23). I have feeling that in addition to Buddy Holly, Michael likes falsetto notes in pop songs.

0:36-0:47 – This is the second-half of the bit before the chorus, and it’s gone frantic. The drummer is galloping again, just as he did in the introduction, and then he stops and starts. I’m not enjoying this pre-chorus second-half much, because I think it’s a little too frisky for the song.

0:47-1:10 – Oh no. No, no, no, no, no, no, no. When the band sings the word “popgun” at 0:48 there’s the sound of a gun.

No.

There are two reasons why I think the sound of a gun in this song is wrong, wrong, wrong:

1. It’s a pointless bit of literalism. (Do we really need to hear a gun after the band sings the word “popgun”?)

2. I’m terrified of guns. Absolutely, completely, and totally terrified of them.

(Non-fun fact: Years ago, a friend of mine – Hi, Kevin! – joined a gun club and bought a gun. He told me how much he liked his new hobby of shooting, and wanted to bring around his gun to show me. I was happy to see Kevin, but not his gun. Nevertheless, he brought the gun around one night to show me. When he came around, the gun was in a box, and wrapped in a cloth. Kevin put the box on the coffee table. I moved to the other end of the room. He then asked if I wanted to see it. I said “No thank you”. He reassured me that it wasn’t loaded – it wasn’t – and, being a considerate guy, said he wouldn’t do anything that I wasn’t comfortable with him doing. I said “I’m not comfortable being within 300 kilometres of a gun”. By the time he opened the cloth to show me the gun, I was even more at the other end of the room. Kevin enthused about his gun and his new hobby, then put the gun away. We had a pleasant enough evening, and Kevin left at the end of that pleasant evening, but all the time that gun was in the house I was petrified.)

The synthesizer sure does remind me of early Elvis Costello.

From 0:58-1:10 the band repeats the song’s introduction, but I didn’t think it added to the song mainly because I think the tune for the introduction isn’t very strong.

1:10-1:21 – The second verse.

At 1:13 the singer sings “but it seems”. I thought it was “Buddy sings” (aka The Buddy Holly Reference That Wasn’t There).

1:21-1:46 – The bit before the chorus. “Aah la la-la”.

Oh, I just noticed: this section has a drum beat that’s slightly “I Feel Fine”-ish. I wonder if the first time this bit before the chorus was played had that drum beat. Hang on…

Yep. It was there the first time (0:22-0:36). And I didn’t notice it. (Note to self: Pay more attention to the music, Peter.)

I like the minor-chord action from 1:32-1:35. Was that played the first time as well? Hang on…

Yes. (From 0:33-0:36.)

1:46-2:09 – Another chorus, and another gunshot after the word “popgun”. Grrr.

Maybe the band (or the producer) thought it would be novel – or fun – to hear the sound of a gun in the song. I don’t think it’s fun or novel at all. I think it’s horrendous.

2:09-2:33 – Another pre-chorus. Which means there’s going to be another chorus coming up.

2:33-2:44 – And here’s another chorus. With the sound of another gunshot (2:34). Please stop doing that.

2:44-2:55 – A repeat of the chorus, with that swirling Elvis Costello-ish organ sound. And another sound. (Insert emoticon of Peter looking glum hearing a deeply unwanted noise at 2:45.)

2:55-3:07 – Yet another chorus. The band are really pummelling the listener with that chorus. Unfortunately, every instance of the chorus is accompanied by that sound. (At 2:56. And again at 3:02).

3:07-3:23 – This is the last part of the song, and the band has a long fade-out. It starts with the noise I dread (at 3:07), and then it features the drummer playing what could very well be The World’s Longest Drumroll. In amongst the drumrolling and Elvis Costello-ish organ there’s a possibly unintentional reference to Mr. Costello. This last part of the song starts with the singer singing “pump it up“.

3:23 – The song has finished, and I’m extremely glad I don’t have to hear that sound again.

***

Overall, ghastly sound notwithstanding, I didn’t mind “Popgun”. I thought it was an average entry in the catalogue of early-’80s power pop.

The optimist in me is looking forward to Michael sending me a song that’s really out of the ordinary.


Educating Peter # 43

April 14, 2013

In response to my habit of finding the songs Michael suggests for this series disagreeable, a few weeks ago (Educating Peter # 39 to be precise) regular blog visitor and occasional commenter Marc (Hi, Marc!) suggested I listen to some ’80s songs he thought I might actually enjoy. Marc proceeded to rattle off a few names, some of which were familiar.

One of the unfamiliar names was a new Zealand band called The Bats. When Marc mentioned them, two things happened:

  1. I went “The Bats? Huh?”; and
     
  2. Michael, the man who started this series (and continues to supply music for it), responded to Marc by chiming in with “The Bats! They’re great! Let’s pester Peter with a Bats song!”

(Disclaimer: Michael didn’t use those exact words. And he didn’t use that many exclamation marks.)

So Michael dug into his trusty bag of songs and found a track by New Zealand band The Bats.

(I have to keep saying they’re from New Zealand because there’s apparently a band from America also called The Bats.)

The song Michael sent me is the title track of The Bats’ 1987 debut album, Daddy’s Highway. It’s called “Daddy’s Highway”.

The Bats – “Daddy’s Highway (1987)

0:04 (where the song starts)-0:12 – Wow. What a bass guitar sound. That’s enormous. That bass sounds even more monumental than the sound of John Archer’s bass guitar in Hunters & Collectors‘ “Throw Your Arms Around Me” or “Talking To A Stranger“.

Update: Well, that would explain it. I’ve just consulted Wikipedia, and it tells me that The Bats’ bass player, Paul Kean, was the chap who engineered and mixed the Daddy’s Highway album.

Solely because of the gargantuan sound of Paul Kean’s bass, I like this song already. (I hope it ends up being a decent song.)

0:12-0:19 – Lots of jangle, lots of reverb. OK. So they’re going to go the college-radio-in-the-’80s route. Fair enough.

0:19-0:24 – And the bass sound just got even more enormous. Go Paul, go!

0:24 – Unfortunately, Paul’s playing of a triplet (i.e., three notes in the time you’re supposed to play two) was a bit slack here.

One of the perils of having a bass guitar so loud in the mix is that anything less than wonderful will get noticed by people like me (i.e., people who needlessly analyse the minutiae of recorded popular music).

Never mind. The rest of the kneel-before-me-oh-puny-earthlings bass guitar playing is fine. And dandy.

0:26-0:42 – Oh. The vocals sound like a group of people at a pub decided to burst into song. I can dig it, but those vocals are getting in the way of that bass guitar. Is there an instrumental version of this song?

Actually, that’s not terribly fair on the vocals. Plus I haven’t even commented on the vocal melody.

Hmmm. The melody. What can I say about the melody? I can say it’s a bit monotonous.

I can also say that I think it sounds like a chorus of Brian Enos.

0:42-0:49 – The singing’s stopped for a while. That’s better.

0:49-1:04 – The singing came back, but that’s OK. I’m not minding it. Actually, I think it might be growing on me. Maybe. (At least I’m tolerating it, and that one-small-notch-above-monotonous melody.)

One thing I’ve noticed about the singing is that the chappy doing it sounds as if he either: a) has a weak voice; or b) is singing at the top of his range. It’s really noticeable when he’s going for those high notes at 0:50-0:54.

1:04-1:11 – The bit without the vocals again. Come to think of it, there’s not that much singing in this song. From what I’ve heard so far, I reckon it’s about half-and-half. The singer sings for a bit, and then the band plays for roughly the same amount of time, and then the singer sings for a bit etc. etc. etc.

Ewww. At 1:07, Paul The Very Loud Bass Player bends one of his notes upwards, and it’s not a pleasant sound. Please don’t do that again, Paul.

Incidentally, directly after that “ewww”-inducing bass note there is what could be a fault in the master tape of the recording (at 1:08). It sounds like a very quick drop-out, or a poor edit.

Or it could just be the MP3. Hang on…

I grabbed a different MP3 (actually an M4A file), it the drop-out/edit was in that one too. So whatever it is is on the master tape. I think.

Anyway, back to the song.

1:11-1:26 – And back to the singing.

I must admit that I’m not minding this song at all. I’m not loving it, but I am finding it enjoyable. It’s passing the time nicely.

1:26-1:41 – Whoah! What’s this? Is this the song’s chorus? Or is it a middle eight? Well, whatever it is, it came out of nowhere.

Trivia: The main and backing vocals leading into to this part of the song (1:26-1:27) are horribly out of tune with each other. My guess is that they were supposed to sing the same note, but one of them is out by a semitone.

1:41-1:49 – Whatever that last section was (I think it was a middle eight), it has made way for a very short – and completely pointless – violin solo. Or maybe it’s a cello. I can’t tell, because it’s badly recorded. It might even be a kazoo solo. Or paper and comb. I really can’t tell. The more I listen to it, the more I think it could simply a swarm of bees.

1:49-2:15 – More singing. It’s a bit different this time. But the singer still sounds like a chorus of Brian Enos.

2:15-2:19 – A drum fill in which the drummer sounds like he’s tripping over himself. (Or putting it another way: it was a bit of a clumsy drum fill.)

2:19-2:34 – There’s that violin/cello/kazoo/paper and comb/swarm of bees again. Why?

Oh no. I’ve just realised. It’s a guitar. That was a guitar. Hooley dooley. That is definitely the second-worst guitar sound I have ever heard. (This is the worst.)

2:34-2:48 – The guitar solo’s still going.

2:48-3:06 – And it just keeps on going. At this rate, the guitar solo will last until the end of the song.

3:06-3:17 – More guitar solo. What were they thinking?

Incidentally, Paul The Bass Player Who Will Not Be Ignored plays a spectacularly wrong note at 3:17. And then he plays it again at 3:20.

He might have used the trick I used when I played bass in a band. If I played a wrong note during a song, I’d play that wrong note again. That way, it gave the audience the impression that I meant to do it the fist time. (It reminds me of the old description of jazz: “Playing the wrong notes in the right way”.)

But the trick of playing the wrong note twice just doesn’t work in a recording, because it’s there every time you play the song. Every single time. So those glaringly bad notes are there. Permanently.

I have a feeling that guitar solo is not going to stop until the song’s finished. (It might even keep going after the song’s finished.)

3:17-3:24 – Please, somebody – MAKE IT STOP.

While this interminable guitar solo is going on and on and on, there are some weird vocals popping up sporadically in the background. (The vocals from 3:18-2:21 are especially weird.) I don’t know what The Bats are playing at here, but it’s not the kind of thing I want to hear when I’m trying to forget about that dreadful guitar solo. I don’t want to hear wordless warbling (that’s barely in tune). I want to hear something that’s loud enough to drown out that guitar.

3:24-whenever it finished – I have now officially stopped liking this song.

***

Well, I had enjoyed “Daddy’s Highway” until it went on and on and on and on. And on and on and on and on.

Or, putting it another way:

If I’d only listened to the first half of “Daddy’s Highway” and Michael (and Marc) asked me if I liked it, my response would have been:

“Why, yes gentlemen – yes I do.”

If I’d only listened to the second half, and was asked the same question, my response would have almost certainly been:

“Why, no gentlemen – no I don’t.”