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Lou Reed: Sunday Morning After the Sunday Mourning Before

3 Nov

It was Kim Gordon who told me that Lou Reed had died, I swear.

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I turned on Twitter and there it was.

The words “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed s passing this is a huge shock!” from the blue-tick @kimletgordon account suggested this was not another of these tiresome internet death hoaxes but actually something very real. Why would the Sonic Youth (and now Body / Head) songsmith and latterday queen of NYC cool fall for such a dumb stunt if it were merely that? Indeed, Ms. Gordon went on to write a whole magazine article here in memory of the man she called “the first real anti-hero in rock”.

Lou Reed was one of these old gnarled, grumpy anti-heroes who you probably presumed would go on living forever, despite having smoked, sniffed, snorted and injected all manner of illicit substances for years (despite being “clean” for a fair few years) washed down, one would imagine, by plentiful quantities of liquor and strong coffee.

Not unlike Keef, Iggy, David or Julian, the craggy face of Lou Reed in his latter years seemed to be like one of those old trees standing strong in the middle of a storm, having absorbed years of battering from the “elements”. But in the end he died at the age of 71 – hardly a rock ‘n’ roll casualty – but still younger than my mum is now. And despite some pathetic tabloids trying to paint him as a poster boy victim of drug abuse he had been “on the wagon” for a fair while.

There is really no need for me to sum up Lou Reed or The Velvet Underground as most of you reading who are fans will know the backstory already while those who have a merely cursory interest in the fellow will have probably gleaned the relevant information in the many obituaries that were written after his demise.

You will already know that his parents sent him for electro-shock therapy at the age of 17 to “cure” him of his burgeoning, “worrying” homosexuality, that he was part of Andy Warhol’s “Factory” and got Andy to paint a cheeky banana on the cover of his band’s debut album, that he was a good mate of David Bowie and Iggy Pop (and later championed Antony Hegarty of “and-the-Johnsons” fame), probably took hard drugs and certainly wrote songs about it and hated giving interviews. We all know that John Peel championed The Velvet Underground in their early days because that’s what he did with most culturally important artists.

The fact that his most instantly recognised worldwide hit was about a series of transvestites and / or transexuals and contained a line about “giving head” is to the man’s eternal credit.

It took me YEARS to twig the innuendo in the album title of “Transformer”, which I’d always naívely presumed was some electrical power reference.

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To be frank, of the man’s relatively ample catalogue, I only own four physical albums of his, although others have resided on my hard-drive for some time, a few extrapolated “for personal use” from record library borrowings.

And yet it is probably in the influence of The Velvet Underground that many of the favourite bands of my teenage self in the 80’s that casts the longest shadow over my music collection.

Of my youthful “holy trinity” of The Smiths, New Order and The Cure, Morrissey has covered Satellite of Love, New Order covered Sister Ray (which they also did as Joy Division) and also performed Do The Ostrich pre-VU Lou band The Primitives (not Tracy Tracy’s band, more on THEM later), while there are photos of Robert Smith with Lou Reed and no doubt Cure performances of Velvet Underground material circulate beyond the realms of YouTube.

It was also through cover versions that I first came into contact with A LOT of Velvet Underground material that I probably didn’t know was actually by them in the first place at the time. Probably because I didn’t purchase “The Velvet Underground and Nico” until decades later, to my eternal shame. Like this wonderful Strawberry Switchblade version of Sunday Morning, probably the first of these aural delights (which you’ve already guessed I am going to catalogue):

Everyone from Ian McCulloch to Siouxsie to Japan to The Wedding Present to Ride to Nirvana to Bryan Ferry and back covered VU songs, and you could probably get a couple of complete compilations of “The Velvet Underground and Nico” with each track covered by a different artist, gleaned from a plethora of B-sides, album tracks, live recording and even the odd single.

Beck even covered the whole damn album.

The Cowboy Junkies‘ beautiful rendition of Sweet Jane is another case in point:

Could the glorious noise of The Jesus and Mary Chain have sounded quite the same without the sonic innovation of Reed, Cale, Tucker, Morrison and sometimes Yule? Although other bands have had a notable influence on UK indie and US “college rock”, I’d wager few would have had the impact on teenage ears if they themselves hadn’t been exposed to The Velvet Underground. Of course Gram and Neil and John and Paul and Alex and Jonathan and all the girl groups also left their mark, but Lou and his bandmates left a bloody great boot print.

Coventry’s recently-reformed Primitives not only nicked their monicker from Lou Reed’s pre- Velvets garage band incarnation (I may have mentioned them earlier) but also introduced my younger self to I’ll Be Your Mirror, another b-side.

As Brian Eno said, “The Velvet Underground and Nico” only sold 30,000 copies when it came out, but everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band“.

Even in his post-Velvets solo career, Lou Reed still attracted many a fine cover version.

The House of Love covered I Can’t Stand It to great effect:

Away from the world of indie, Reed’s oeuvre both with and without the Velvet Underground has also been keen sampling fodder.

A Tribe Called Quest‘s lift of a snatch of  Walk on the Wild Side for their breakthrough radio hit Can I Kick It? is probably the most well-known (the entire track is credited to “L.Reed” alone), but Massive Attack, RZA (him out of the Wu-Tang Clan), Del The Funkee Homosapien, LCD Soundsystem and even Marky Mark and The Funky Bunch have sampled Lou Reed’s compositions.

Further afield Japanese artists Pizzicato Five, Takako Minekawa and Kahimi Karie all sampled THE SAME Lou Reed song.

It wasn’t anything off “Metal Machine Music” either.

The most curious Lou Reed sampling though has to come from Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, who managed to match Lou Reed with his future wife Laurie Anderson on a 1990 b-side, a full 18 years before they married in 2008.

For me personally, post-Velvet Underground Lou Reed had its highlights in “New York“: the man’s tribute to the city he loved with all its dirt and crime and seediness (and to his friend the wheelchair-bound songwriter Doc Pomus) and his reunion album with John Cale “Songs For Drella“: a two-man warts-and-all tribute to their late mentor Andy Warhol.

Here’s the whole concert-film-recording thing of “Songs For Drella”, a tremendous record.

I hear “Magic and Loss” is another highlight, but embarrassingly, I’ve yet to hear that in full.

One for the Christmas wishlist there.

So long Lou, and thanks for inventing indie along the way.

Oh, and as we started with Lou Reed subtitled in Spanish, here’s my favourite cover of Walk On The Wild Side, which just happens to be in Spanish as well,

 Courtesy of Albert Plà:

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Tomorrow is the day we’re Keeping it Peel

24 Oct

 

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You know what to do.

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Bowie is Back: The return of the Thin White Jukebox

1 Mar

Well, today, the first of March, is Saint David’s Day, and it seems that this merry month of March 2013 has been unofficially dubbed Bowie Month, as the elder statesman of chameleonic pop (or rock, or blue-eyed-soul, or glam, or whatever), the gentleman known to Smash Hits readers as “the Dame” is officially back with a new album housed in the most controversial Bowie cover art since a canine male member graced his inside leg on the gatefold sleeve of Diamond Dogs in 1974.

Bowie’s unannounced return to the radio waves with new material (a paltry TEN YEARS, less than half the time it took Kevin, Bilinda and the other two to deliver the third “proper” My Bloody Valentine album) was even more surprising considering that it had been generally considered that the artist formerly known as Ziggy Stardust had discreetly retired from rock and roll to be a doting dad to his  second child and basically to chill out following a heath scare (and… er…  a lollipop in the eye). Rumours even floated around cyberspace that Bowie had cancer or was wasting away, victim of some unutterable lurgy.

Where Are We Now? was thus a bolt from the blue, a slice of unexpectedly elegant nostalgia that surfaced – totally unannounced – on the man’s 66th birthday. Many of us old enough to remember when vinyl was the main “physical support” for all music (rather than being the preserve of hipsters, djs or audiophiles) were then transported back to an impeccable run of albums and characters from the close of the 60s to the early 80s, conveniently blocking out all memory of diabolical duets with Tina Turner or Mick Jagger, never mind Tin Machine.

Most unfortunate for Brett Anderson – once chided for aping early Bowie vocal delivery – that the day chosen for Suede’s announcement of their reformation and return from an equally long hiatus unintentionally coincided with that of the return of Bowie himself. Ouch.

bowie chameleon

David Bowie’s back-story is pretty much common knowledge to anyone with a passing knowledge of music in the last 50 years. He changed his surname to Bowie because he didn’t want to be confused with one of The Monkees, his missus caught him in bed with Mick Jagger and John Peel told him to drop the miming spiel. He “invented” glam rock,  penned some of the finest songs in music history and once lived on a diet of milk, peppers and DRUGS. He named his son Zowie Bowie (the lad later became known as Duncan Jones, the film bloke), he shared a flat with Iggy Pop in Berlin (where he moved in a rather hopeless attempt to stem his substance addiction) and his career went downhill rapidly when he got his teeth fixed. But despite that consistent run of groundbreaking albums in the 1970s he only clocked his first solo number one single with the 1983 hit Let’s Dance. As any fool know.

Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, Thin White Duke, Pierrot, Young American, spikey-haired-goatee-bearded junglist… Bowie has had slightly fewer characters than the typical Frank Ocean tweet. And then there was Tin Machine.

But let’s not go there.

Today a stream of “The Next Day” has been unveiled for the world’s aural delight, while a few days ago a cannily casted video featuring Tilda Swinton alongside Bowie set the internet alight with tweets that the previous video had really been rather lacklustre and links to the Tilda Stardust tumblr page which may just have inspired the aforementioned canny casting. As with the My Bloody valentine album I am lazily going to pass the baton to the more polished wordsmiths in the employ of  The Quietus and The Guardian Music Weekly to review it, while we concern ourselves with curious Bowie reworkings, as if stocking a virtual Wurlitzer with bizarre promotional and semi-legal re-treads of his finest hours (see what I did there) , past and present.

And so. let us unveil…

THE THIN WHITE JUKEBOX!!

One of the first (cough) semi-legal Bowie remixes I encountered online that impressed me more than a bit was a fine cosmic take on Space Oddity, the song that really catapulted the former David Jones into the consciousness of the British record-buying public when it was used to accompany BBC reports on the moon landings in 1969.

At remix controls is Appo, a Middlesborough native who – it says here – has worked with the likes of Danny Rampling, Pete Tong, Graham Park and other turntable luminaries from the acid-infused 90s, and the balearic edge of his chilled re-work is testament to that

I would have added a link to Appo’s site, but it appears to be infected with a virus. Which is a shame.

Anyway, enjoy the choon:

Atlanta’s DJBC, veteran patron of the genre-defining Get Your Bootleg On (or GYBO to its pals) internet fraternity, managed – with other like-minded bootleggers such as SF’s Bootie collective – to produce an entire “mash-up” album of the “Ziggy Stardust” LP, and stick it up on the internets for no money. Click on the link and find out!

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Fritz von Runte (sadly not a Berliner, but a Manc who has worked with Peter Hook’s ill-starred vanity project Freebass, among other things) has also created his own album of Bowie reworks – spanning most of his career – entitled Bowie2001. Not only has he created an album’s worth of stuff, but there’s a DVD too as the whole project is inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001, which has now passed was once the future and predicted the internet which brings this whole journey full circle. Or something. Read more here, where you can sign up for a free download of the album, or even purchase the DVD. In case you didn’t twig, what’s being done here is Space Oddity  is being melded with “A Space Odyssey”. Right.

Oh, and there’s also one mix which makes the latter-day Bowie sound like Antony on that Hercules and Love Affair track Blind. This isn’t it though.

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Go Home Productions (Mark Vidler to his doctor) is best known to bootleg (or “mash-up”) aficionados for being “there” when the genre was fresh… and for making classic couplings of other people’s records, the Sex Pistols vs Madonna “boot” Ray Of Gob, being a prime example (which apparently met with the approval of both Steve Jones and Madge herself). Bowie was also impressed with GHP’s “skillz”, as he commissioned him to do a mix of Rebel Rebel with his “Reality”- era single Never Get Old called (true to old skool bootlegger track nomenclature) Rebel Never Get Old.

GHP also “mashed” the Dame’s I’m Afraid of Americans with his beloved XTC (and later went on to work with Andy Partridge), but for now lend your ears to this splendid remix of Fame:

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Jeremy Sole is a “roots” DJ (whatever that is) on Santa Monica radio station KCRW. Bowie liked his remix of Golden Years so much he officially sanctioned it for release to promote the “Station To Station” box set thing.

Not hard to see why, as it’s a fairly tasteful re-rub:

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Chicago’s TR34TM3NT (obviously a one-time 5IVE fan) wasted no time in putting out this trippy, almost post-dubstep mix of bolt-from-the-blue return from oblivion single Where Are We Now?

With no officially sanctioned 12″ mix, this makes for a fine substitute:

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The Pinker Tones are a jaunty Barcelona-based duo / trio (in a twee-pop-meets-Shibuya-kei vein) who have remixed Pizzicato Five, among others.

Here’s their mix of number two single off the new LP – The Stars Are Out Tonight:

Happy Saint David’s Day, everyone, Welsh and otherwise!

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Don’t call it a comeback…

13 Mar

…I’ve been here for years. Idle, yes, but here.

However I am dusting down the keys and planning something for inclusion on these yearning pages.

So, to wet your collective whistle, here is a vintage snippet from the 1970’s pet shop book favourite “Bunnies As Pets”.

Completely á propos of nothing.

Whatever that means.

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