15 November 2017

Reupload - Charles Dumont - Le Fils Prodigue

Label: CBS
Year of Release: 1970

"You know, if you'd grown up listening to French pop music, I really don't think you'd be so keen on Scott Walker's albums" - my wife.

My wife, as you can probably gather from that above quote, doesn't like Scott Walker much, seeing his earliest work as being dull cherry-picking of adult French/ Belgian music productions - a Brel song there, a melodramatic orchestral arrangement there.  This is interesting if only because Walker himself largely rejects most French pop music, talking about it in extremely disparaging tones in most interviews.  I would further counter her argument with the observation that the Brel influence behind his work and occasional production flourish does not a continental breakfast make - a certain strand of French sixties pop definitely took the melodramatic, kitchen-sink route, but the most popular work (in its home country, at least) tends to be quite scuzzed up and messy. Jacques Dutronc, for example, doesn't really seem to immediately have anything in common with Scott Walker.

It is possible to find examples where the comparison fits, however, and this is one. "Le Fils Prodigue" has the same faint tinge of psychedelia about it, and the same strolling bass groove that Walker frequently utilised.  Wailing guitars undercut dismissive vocals, female backing vocalists coo their way melodramatically underneath, and the whole track is richly textured.  What's striking is that melodically there's not a great deal going on here - Dumont does not have a wonderful singing voice, and the song itself is not overburdened with traditional pop hooks. What stays fresh in your mind even after the first play are the flourishes, the details, the tiny sums of the parts.  The different elements interact beautifully.

Dumont was a prolific French songwriter who most famously penned "Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien" for Edith Piaf with lyricist Michel Vaucaire.  He still records and performs to this day, appearing most recently in "A Tribute to Edith Piaf" at the Beacon Theatre in New York.

Sadly, the flip "Ta Cigarette…" is still widely available, meaning I can't include it here.

12 November 2017

Deena Webster - Your Heart Is Free Just Like The Wind/ Queen Merka And Me

Label: Parlophone
Year of Release: 1968

Deena Webster has become something of a cult figure in folk circles in recent years. Her solitary LP "Deena Webster Is Tuesday's Child", recorded when she was a mere eighteen years old, was released in 1968 and sank without trace. Fans of the record are keen to point out her rich, appealing and innocent vocal delivery and interesting interpretations of established classics.

A number of singles were also issued throughout the period, of which the most popular among collectors is her version of "Scarborough Fair". This, her second release, is also worthy of some attention too, though, not least for her cover of Janis Ian's "Queen Merka and Me" on the flip, which combines rich orchestral arrangements with (towards the end) some absurd studio effects. Webster's voice is in fine form and the song gets increasingly giddy as it progresses.

Despite a small degree of media attention and a promising start, Deena Webster appears to have disappeared without trace not long after her last single "Things Men Do" was issued in 1970. However, her LP was recently reissued by Record Collector magazine. 

8 November 2017

Richard Stilgoe & Valerie Singleton - Suffering From Inflation/ Statutory Right of Entry

Label: BBC
Year of Release: 1975

Richard Stilgoe is one of those strange popular figures in British life who is famous despite never selling millions of records or having his own TV series.  Rather, his best known output was confined to regular brief appearances on television shows such as "Nationwide", "That's Life" and "Pebble Mill at One", usually singing light-hearted satirical ditties about the frustrations of the day. His gentle mocking of society began to seem dated by the early nineties, prompting the comedian David Baddiel to mock him with the character Richard Stillnotdead who sang the song "Why Do People Leave The Cap Of The Toothpaste Off?" on "The Mary Whitehouse Experience". Nonetheless, from that day to this, he has a loyal audience and fans, some of them rather unlikely figures such as members of cult indie bands or modern day poets and spoken word artists.

Stilgoe's media presence was arguably at its peak in the mid-seventies, when his bearded and somewhat casual Jeremy Corbyn-esque appearance cropped up constantly on early evening television. One of his prime achievements at this point - his "Bohemian Rhapsody" moment, if you will - was a song called "Statutory Right of Entry", which involved a cascade of multitracked Stilgoe vocals harmonising about a rather unlikely problem.

A "Nationwide" researcher had found out that numerous people in public jobs had a legal right to enter people's homes on demand. These included people working for the gas and electricity boards, and various other less likely characters besides. You would suspect that this wouldn't prove a problem for most home owners, but Stilgoe's ditty turns the situation into an epic and somewhat unlikely farce, with the home-owning Stilgoe character finding himself avalanched by public professionals cluttering up his property across the working week. The song gains comedy value tenfold if you can see the accompanying video clip, though, where an army of officious Stilgoes authoritatively dance and prance around.

For all the comedy value in the situation, it's hard to understand quite what either "Nationwide" or Stilgoe were worried about. If I had a broken gas meter or faulty wiring in my house, I wouldn't treat a public official appearing on the scene unprompted with any stress or anxiety. To be honest, I'd just be stunned by their efficiency. It also seems somewhat unlikely that they would set up camp in my home all week, unlike the builders I'm presently paying a small fortune to repair and renew my horrible, broken-down bathroom. Still, it's an incredibly memorable piece of melodic farce as a result of stretching the problem to breaking point, which is probably why people still remember it in the year 2017.

Less remembered is the actual A-side of this single performed with Valerie Singleton, "Suffering From Inflation". It has a strangely fifties arrangement, complete with harmonising bass vocals. Nonetheless, shorn of its original context, it's aged quite poorly as a piece of satire. Life in Britain in the mid-seventies (when it was the "sick man of Europe") was chaotic and unpredictable, and as an historical artefact the single is interesting, but it's low on laughs now compared to its OTT flipside. 

Thanks enormously to Tim Worthington for providing some background on this single in the fantastic "Top of the Box" book, which chronicles the facts behind every single that BBC Records and Tapes ever released. If you're a collector of odd and esoteric vinyl and don't have it on your bookshelves, you should remedy that immediately. 

5 November 2017

Community Chest - You Gotta Start Somewhere/ Get To The Point

Label: Decca
Year of Release: 1972

I highly doubt Community Chest were anything other than a studio based group created by jobbing songwriter Geoff Wilkins and South African singer Emil Zoghby. Both names feature prominently on the credits here, and their names also appear scattered across a wide array of other pop and glam flops throughout the early seventies. 

Don't click away just yet, though, because "You Gotta Start Somewhere" is actually a lovely piece of pop with one foot in a vat of seventies polish, and the other in late sixties songsmithery. The insistent, chiming organ throughout the track gives it a huge warmth and a strong hook which sounds more '67 than '72, and the slightly bubblegummy chorus is also a delight. This isn't a single that ought to have been a hit necessarily, so much as one that might have been with the right push. 

The B-side is actually OK too, with its central chiming riff and faint proto-pub rock delivery. I haven't bothered to investigate the other work of Wilkins and Zoghby in any depth until now, but this might prove to be my springboard for further research. 

1 November 2017

Reupload - The American Dairy Association of Mississippi - The Basic Milk/ The Poets - Fun Buggy

Label: Jazzman
Original Release Dates: The Poets - 1971, American Diary Association: ??

It's very difficult for me to even bother trying to claim any exclusivity with this one. Both sides of this disc are promotional adverts which were re-issued on Jazzman due to their sampled appearance on DJ Shadow's "Product Placement", and as such are rather old news. But still... their inclusion here is entirely under the justification that you're still hardly likely to tune a radio and hear either track in its entirety.

Side One is a piece of funk propaganda put out there by the American Dairy Association of Mississippi, encouraging people to drink more pure dairy liquid presumably through the power of dance grooves alone.  "Milk - the basic! Milk - the basic!" the singers insist persuasively whilst the basslines and rhythms cut powerfully through the mix. And it works. Just writing about this now, I'm persuaded to pull a bottle out of the fridge and glug it down my neck, and that's more than those frigging terrifying Humphrey adverts ever did for me as a child. If I ever find out that the population of Mississippi has a lower rate of osteoporosis than Britain, I will not be surprised.

For the sixties fans amongst you, Side Two is perhaps even more bizarre, consisting entirely of the (by then) washed-up Scottish band The Poets singing the praises of Barr's Strike Cola to an equally funky backdrop. The Poets had one minor hit in Britain in the sixties with "Now We're Thru" and a whole bundle of rather wonderful singles out as follow-ups which (for no good reason at all) fared less well. Presumably "Fun Buggy" was an attempt at getting some cash off the good people at Barr during a somewhat difficult time, but is astonishingly atypical of their other mod-pop fare, swaggering as it does and making Strike Cola sound like the favoured beverage of choice from somebody off "Starsky and Hutch", rather than Scotland's budget-line alternative to Coca Cola which it undoubtedly was.

Most records pressed as promotional items for products are embarrassing, unlistenable trash, filled with session singers trying their hardest to sound sincere about the wonders of petrol, double glazing or postage stamps. Both sides of this re-issue highlight the fact that actually, you can make a product sound amazing by doing little other than getting some funk out. If television advert breaks were filled with noises like this, I'd probably be heavily in debt by now.