The Obscurer

Category: Music


A good few months ago I wrote about YouTube, imagining that I was in the vanguard in spreading the word about a fantastic new service on t’web. Today, of course, there can’t be anyone out there who doesn’t know about and use YouTube, whether to share their own home videos, to view illegal content, or to publicise their latest happy-slap.

I do enjoy making my own videos and sharing them with my friends, but I think it is the illegal content bit I like the most; nothing especially dodgy, just stuff like old music videos and the like. I was amazed when I saw people posting about archive Howlin’ Wolf performances hosted on YouTube, and if they can find a home there then it makes me wonder where it will all end. As with Wikipedia, where it appears there is no subject too obscure for someone, somewhere to have created an entry, so in the fullness of time could just about every notable event ever filmed end up on YouTube (albeit buried alongside all manner of crap; but that is the way of the web)? Perhaps one day someone will post the moment on Children In Need in (I think) 1990 when my college mate Simon is supposed to have burst on stage and hugged Terry Wogan just as he was about to announce the final total. I’ve never seen the clip – that is if it happened and Simon wasn’t bullshitting, which he did have a habit of doing – and I’d love to.

With the deluge of content on YouTube, however, there is a definite benefit in having a minority taste. If you are a fan of Madonna, for example, you are buggered; 9242 clips to trawl through at the last count in the hope of finding a gem. A preference for Throwing Muses, however, means you just have 91 videos to weed out; and I have, watching loads of old promos and interviews I missed first time around.

Which reminds me; a few years back a mate and I were chatting about what we would like to do other than our current jobs. I mentioned running a bookshop, or perhaps a record shop; at which point Paul spat out his beer and creased up laughing.

“What? A record shop devoted exclusively to Throwing Muses and The Boo Radleys,” he said, those being my two favourite bands at the time (and still two of my favourites today), “I can’t see that being a commercial success”.

Perhaps not, but that doesn’t make the concept in itself wrong. So just in case I am made Music Dictator anytime soon, here is what you need to be prepared for. Don’t worry though; they are both very short tracks.

Throwing Muses: Juno

The Boo Radleys: Lazy Day


Steve over at Occupied Country looks to have a bit of a meme in the making. Inspired by Word magazine he suggests you set your iPod or MP3 player to shuffle and see what comes out.
The problem in my case is that I don’t have an iPod of my own, rather I have half inched a half gig or so of my wife’s; furthermore, if you were to draw a Venn diagram of our musical tastes you would find only a tiny overlap where it says The Divine Comedy (although with the exception of Pixies and Pavement my wife is generally more tolerant of my music collection than I am of hers). So with that in mind, let’s see how it goes.

1. Joss Stone – You Got Me
One of my wife’s. You probably know this song already, if you know any of Joss Stone’s stuff at all. She can certainly carry a tune and this song follows the usual funky, soulful pattern of her output. It’s alright; I can take it or leave it, but given a choice I would leave it. Next.

2. Robert Johnson – I’m A Steady Rollin’ Man
As promised in this post, I finally bought my Robert Johnson CD and loaded it on the iPod, and the iPod thanked me by putting it second on the shuffle. This song is not one I am that familiar with, but it is instantly recognisable as the great man himself. Sure, most of his songs sound pretty much the same, following the rough and raw 12 bar blues template so beloved, but when the template sounds this good, why muck about with it?

3. David Gray – We’re Not Right
Another one of my wife’s; my heart sank when it popped on the iPod and I anticipated the usual David Gray dirge. I thought about skipping it, but when I saw its running time is less than 3 minutes long I decided to give it a try; and I am glad I did. Gray really seems to sing with feeling on this one, the song fair clips along with a great fuzzy bass line and what even sounds like a theramin solo. Perhaps I’d better give him another chance.

4. Crowded House – Not The Girl You Think You Are
One of “my” bands, but this is really a joint favourite. Their final single, I think, and one of their best, full of melodies reminiscent of Lennon, as usual. It provides many memories for me of the Hole in’t Wall pub in Bowness-on-Windermere which featured this song on its jukebox for many years, and which we played to death whenever we stayed in the Lakes.

5. Eliza Carthy – Willow Tree
Another one of my wife’s choices, but one I really like. Inspired by watching a BBC Four documentary on Martin Carthy and his family, we bought his daughter Eliza’s CD Anglicana and took it down to Cornwall when we holidayed there a few years back. The folky sound of the album was spot on while we stayed in a cottage in the middle of the countryside during a baking hot summer, and this up-tempo track was probably my favourite. There is a downside to listening to this CD however; once it gets into your head it is impossible not to slip into singing made-up-on-the-spot cod folk songs at the drop of a hat.

So perhaps our musical tastes aren’t too incompatible after all. Mind you, the next track up on the iPod was a 10 minute offering from Dido, definitely one of my wife’s choices, and someone who I cannot abide; so perhaps we just struck lucky.

So there you have it; give it a go yourself or don’t bother, as you see fit. It’s up to you.

Get A Life

Let’s hear it for Westlife; something like seven years into their music career and yet still releasing records that jolt to Number 1 in the charts, as I learned when I watched Top Of The Pops yesterday for the first time in an age. In the fickle world of manufactured kiddie pop, their longevity is both remarkable and impressive.

They have broken all the rules and expectations of their musical genre. By now the typical boy band will have sacked their management and tried to run their own affairs (proving that as businessmen they make great pop idols); they will have experimented with different looks and sounds (with disastrous consequences); they will have tried to write their own songs (and will have failed, but still released them as singles); the interesting one in the band will have left for a solo career (an option not open to Westlife, who never actually had an interesting one); and then they will have split up (hurrah!).

But not Westlife; oh no, not they. Westlife have steadfastly and unquestioningly put into practice everything their management have instructed them to do. They are still wearing matching clothes as if dressed by their mothers, they still plonk themselves on stools while they intone their treacly ballads like some latter-day choreographed Val Doonicans (until they all stand up in unison for the “dramatic” final verse, like a troop of formation…oafs) and they are still happy to record insipid songs as chosen exclusively by their record company, be it cover versions unworthy of revival (eg. Mandy, Against All Odds) or “original” tracks that appear to have been written by committee (eg. Flying Without Wings, whose title even conjures up an image of a corporate brainstorming session, complete with flowchart, trying to combine the counterfeit emotion of Wind Beneath My Wings with the sheer blandness of I Believe I Can Fly).

Yes, congratulations Westlife, and many happy returns; now we know how Boyzone’s career would have turned out if they had been paying attention in class.

Phonograph Blues

Last night I stumbled upon the Radio 2 programme Hellhounds On His Trail – The Robert Johnson Story, and very good it was too. It was a real reminder of just what a talent he had; even if his talent probably didn’t come from selling his soul to the devil, as has been suggested.

Robert Johnson was a blues singer and guitarist who died in 1938, aged around 27, and it would be interesting to consider just how popular music would have developed without him. Although he made just a handful of recordings, they directly inspired the Chicago blues boom centred around the Chess label that produced such acts as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters in the 1950’s. It was these acts that caught the imagination of many artists in the 1960’s and 1970’s and hugely influenced music during that period. Many of the biggest bands during that time, such as The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, were pretty much just blues acts when they started up. Robert Johnson’s own songs have been covered by the Stones (Love In Vain), Led Zep (Travelin’ Riverside Blues), Cream (Crossroads Blues) even the Red Hot Chilli Peppers (They’re Red Hot).

Most of all I am glad I listened to the programme because it may be the spur I need to replace my old vinyl copy of “Robert Johnson – 20 Blues Greats” with a brand spanking new CD of The Complete Collection. Then I can transfer it onto the iPod mini my wife has recently obtained.

There is something wonderful about the thought of Robert Johnson on an iPod. Here is a cutting edge piece of equipment, a full 2 gb of recording space, small enough to sneak into your pocket, a sleek and beautiful design; and I can use it to listen to a raw piece of music nearly seventy years old, produced alone by a man who possessed just a guitar, a bottleneck and a haunting, eerie falsetto voice, recorded on what sounds like a primitive box stuck in the corner of the room.

Re-Live 8

Well, Live 8 appears to have been an even greater success than was ever expected; there are reports of a huge boost in funds, statistics telling of quadrupling incomes and more. Yes, the sales of some of the acts that played at Saturdays consciousness raiser have gone through the roof.

I suppose a full breakdown of the statistics could tell a different story. How many people usually buy a copy of The Who’s Then and Now on an average day? Not very many I suspect, so it wouldn’t take too many people to wander into HMV on Sunday asking “do you know who did that song that goes ‘who are you, who, who, who, who’” to register a 863% rise in sales.

I am no great fan of either Pink Floyd or The Who (You want endless guitar solos? Try Led Zeppelin. Want to learn about the early days of the mods? Small Faces did it so much better) but at least I can understand how a young whipper snapper brought up on Crazy Frog could watch their Live 8 sets and be inspired to hear more.

Annie Lennox’s Greatest Hits though? Who on earth was moved by her insipid performance to buy that album? Judging by the neat, round rise in sales of 500% I reckon just five, on top of the usual one person who likely buys it for their mum’s birthday (as I did, several years ago).

And increases of 412% for Dido and 320% for Robbie Williams are a bit baffling. Hasn’t Dido sold enough CDs yet? Is there anybody out there yet to discover her line in bland, inoffensive dirge? On the basis of these statistics, yes; some people’s eyes and ears were opened by her performances on Saturday. I just hope no one is expecting to hear Seven Seconds, as they are likely to be disappointed.

As, I suspect, are those who have bought Razorlight’s Up All Night. There are some good tracks there, but much of it is a mediocre muchness, and one of their best songs (Somewhere Else) isn’t on it.

If I am moved to buy anything by the groups on display it is likely to be the Kaiser Chiefs. They were great and the highlight of Live 8 for me, a short, sweet set of real energy. Although I fear a whole CD may get a bit repetitive and samey, I may give it a try. And anyway, I will happily pogo about my living room to Oh My God even if the Philadelphia crowd did inexplicably stand motionless and inert throughout.