Frank’s Faves on Fridays

February 25, 2011

Gleaming Spires – “Are You Ready For The Sex Girls” (1982)

I’d never heard of a band called Gleaming Spires before. I was hoping that the name had something to do with architecture, but considering the name of this song, it may mean something a whole lot ruder (“gleaming spires“?). Another thing I found slightly bothersome was the possibly dubious grammar of the song’s title. Did the author of the song forget a comma? Is the singer asking some girls “Are you ready for the sex, girls?” or is the singer asking about “sex girls” (whatever they are)? And where’s the question mark? (Note to self: How about I just listen to song and find out for myself instead of typing time-wasting questions?) Apart from those completely pointless ruminations, I must admit that I find this song almost totally dreadful. It doesn’t work for me as satire, irony, kitsch, or even sarcasm. Anything. I don’t even like the tunes much. I’m going to listen to this three times (I have to), but my brain has already decided that after one listen it’s not going to like the next two spins. Update: I’ve now listened to it three times. I didn’t think it was possible, but I liked it even less after the third listen. The only phrase I can think of to describe my experience of this song is: “I endured it.” I’m looking forward to never hearing this song ever again.

Arlo Guthrie – “Deportees (1974)

I don’t know why, but I didn’t enjoy this particular track anywhere near as much as I thought I was going to – even with Emmylou Harris‘ stellar backing vocals. I normally enjoy a bit of folk, but found this a tad annoying. I’m usually on board with social commentary in song, but I found this a little too earnest, or worthy. I have a vague feeling that I’m not supposed to criticise the lyrics because of the subject matter, but I didn’t respond to them with any of the sense of outrage and injustice that was probably intended. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it. Maybe a part of me wanted to hear it sung by the song’s original author, Arlo’s father Woody. Now, that would have made it a real dustbowl song. But as it is, “Deportees” didn’t do much for me at all. However, it’s entirely possible that I’ll be in a folk mood next week. Or not.

The Hollies – “Step Inside” (1967)

I’m going to get this criticism of The Hollies out of the way as quickly as possible: I’ve always – and I mean always – found The Hollies recordings to be too trebly. Or, putting it another way: every Hollies recording I’ve ever heard has sounded thin and high to me. (Recording engineers put it even more succinctly: “Too much top end, mate!”). OK. That’s my sole criticism of The Hollies. Everything else about The Hollies? Marvellous. I wanted to get the unpleasantness out of the way quickly, to minimise any potential vitriol (it’s sometimes perilous to criticise bands cherished by power pop fans who tend to have very strong views about their musical heroes). Now I can focus on the song itself. Being a casual fan of The Hollies (I’m nowhere near as rabid about them as a lot of other power pop fans are), I haven’t heard “Step Inside” before. I’m glad you chose this particular song, because I’m enjoying it enormously. Even on the first listen I discovered plenty of things in it that I can yak about. Unfortunately, those things aren’t particularly interesting, mainly because they’re predominantly about the production, not about the tunes or the singing or the overall performance or the song structure – you know, the stuff that matters. But I feel compelled to let you know about the things I found interesting because… well, because I found them interesting. To make this as un-boring as possible for you, I’ll try to itemise them briefly:

  1. I love the bass guitar sound. (Sorry about the bass-player talk coming up.) The Hollies’ bass player, Bernie Calvert, is playing with a pick and playing up close to the neck of his bass, giving it a unique, hollowed-out kind of sound. In the lead-up to the first chorus – from 0:49 to 0:58 – Bernie plays so close to the neck that the bass sound almost disappears completely (especially between 0:49 and 0:51). However, by the time he gets to that chorus (at 0:58), he’s moved his picking hand further away from the neck so that the bass sound comes back stronger. As a bass player, I find all of this intriguing. And I fully realise that absolutely nobody else will.
  2. There’s a wonderful stereo spread in the song up until the middle eight. Then it gets weird. At 1:12 the bass and drums both travel to the left channel and stay there for the entire middle eight. And also at 1:12, as the bass and drums are moving over to the left, there’s a tom-tom in the right channel. (Maybe it’s complaining about the rest of the drums being moved to the left channel.) But… just before the end of the middle eight (at 1:25), the stereo picture is suddenly restored to its original state (i.e., how it was when the song started). But then, puzzingly, during the guitar solo it reverts to the middle eight’s stereo picture (i.e., bass and drums in the left channel). Huh?
  3. I don’t know about you, but the sound of the guitar in the guitar solo reminds me an awful lot of George Harrison (i.e., Bearded Guru George, not Moptop George). To me, that’s the sound of a guitar being fed through a Leslie speaker. (George came to prefer that guitar sound in The Beatles’ latter days. You can hear the George Harrison Leslie Sound here.)
  4. During the guitar solo, and while the drums (and bass guitar) are still in the left channel, there’s a crash cymbal in the right channel at the start of every bar (except for the second bar of the solo, at 1:35 – I don’t know why the drummer, Bobby Elliott, didn’t hit the cymbal at the start of that bar). And at the end of the guitar solo, with the drums still in the left channel, there’s a snare drum fill in the right channel (1:47-1:49). Unusual.
  5. Going back to the middle eight momentarily, there’s an electric guitar playing in the background. That electric guitar part reminds me of the main guitar part in “Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress“. You can hear it more clearly in the second middle eight (from 1:49 to 2:00).
  6. The last chorus changes key by going up a semitone (at 2:32). The effect is like a burst of sunshine. Lovely.

Sorry if you found yourself yawning through most of that, but I found the song fascinating for its production. Oh, yeah – and I liked the song, too.

The Mascots – “Words Enough To Tell You” (1966)

Before I had a listen to this song, I went a-roamin’ the Internet for some information. The Internet told me that The Mascots were a Swedish band from the 1960’s. I’m very interested in hearing this song. The Internet also told me this:

The song “Words Enough To Tell You” was written for a special occasion. The magazine Bildjournalen held in 1965 a competition for the best pop song. The entries (in addition to the Mascots, the Shanes and Merrymen were in the competition) were released on a flexi-record and included in the newspaper like a supplement. The readers voted, and the Mascots won the competition! “Words. . .” was released on vinyl a year later, but it was a bit late by then!

I love the Internet.

Now to listen to the song. (Note to self: press “play”, Peter.) Okey dokey. I’m now listening to The Mascots’ “Words Enough To Tell You” and I’m thinking of one word, and that word is “excellent”. It’s yet another example of how the British Invasion affected pretty much every country on Earth that had musical groups in it. I love how these Swedish chaps sing the word “rather” (at 0:09) with the decidedly upper-class English intonation instead of the standard American-English. In other words, they sing “rah-ther” with an elongated “rahhhh” as in a cheerleader’s “rah-rah” instead of the short, straight, up-and-down “ra” as in “rapscallion”. I love the pronunciation because: a) you very rarely hear it in songs; and b) that’s the way I talk. (Although I’m not an upper-class Englishman, I say “fah-ther”, “fah-ster”, “mah-ster”, “pah-sta” etc.) Although I’m enjoying this song a great deal, I think that as far as non-British British Invasion bands go, The Mascots aren’t a patch on Uruguay’s Los Shakers. (Los Shakers had fabulous Beatles songs with great tunes.) But as for this song by The Mascots, I’m loving it. It’s a wonderfully easy-going, acoustic-guitar-based, mid-tempo Beatles song not by The Beatles. Yum.

Bonus instrumental:

The Bar-Kays – “Soul Finger (1967)

This track, to me, is almost The Ultimate Soul Compendium. It perfectly encapsulates 60’s Soul because I think it sounds like every 60’s Soul song ever recorded crammed into one two-and-a-half-minute song. A riff from somewhere, a rhythm from somewhere else, brass playing from somewhere else again, you name it – if it appeared in a Soul song in the 60’s, I reckon it ended up in “Soul Finger”. Mighty good. If any young person out there says, “Yeah, I’ve heard about Soul music – what does it sound like?”, I recommend you simply put on “Soul Finger”. Easy.