Monday, 21 January 2013

Simply Being Friendly Isn't Enough

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - 'My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe'

Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - pink pipe not pictured.
Technically, this is still a one-liner, even though it's a very, very long one.

The story so far...

It is the 1960s, it's only 20 years since the end of the Second World War, but already the cultural landscape has changed with incredible speed. There are young people everywhere: They can't begin to process the level of sacrifice and diligence that their parents had to endure, and as far as they're concerned, it's entirely likely that the world will end in a nuclear explosion quite soon.

Old people - by which they mean anyone over 25 - are making a mess of things, and all of the old rules need a good shake, to see if any of the loose bits fall off.

So, there's an understandable horror of tradition. Nothing can be done in the way it has always been, because that did not work out well for anyone. Also, whole communities have been destroyed, all across Europe, and they're only just starting to be rebuilt. This forces a choice: either diligently put the world back exactly as it was or abandon tradition, abandon communal endeavour, and create a brave and chaotic new mental terrain to live in.

From the perspective of nowadays, either choice seems valid, but at the time, the two cultures were at war for supremacy: straights versus freaks. Some people chose to take this conflict incredibly seriously, like Bob Dylan piling 'Ballad of a Thin Man' on top of 'Masters of War', but others, like the Beatles, and the Bonzo Dog (occasionally Doo-Dah) Band's Vivian Stanshall loaded their outrage at the suffocating constricts of normal society into the baffling day-glo blunderbuss of surrealism.

'My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe' is a declaration of war. A literal line has been drawn, in pink paint, down the front of a semi-detached house. On one side lives the young artist, creative and free, and unwilling to integrate, and he's annoyed, because there's a normal on the other side and he's boring. All hostility comes from the freak side of the house, set to a very poised and gallic waltz, with the norm burbling away over the fence about rice pudding and his ill cat, oblivious to all simmering resentment from the guy in the wizard hat and purple specs.

Why, the young artist preens, can't everyone be more like ME? Why are there boring people in the world doing boring things? We could set up a new orthodoxy where everyone does the same non-boring things all the time and we all have pink drainpipes and... and beards and colourful clothes... and we're all free-thinking square pegs and all the holes are always round, forever. It's a new conformity! Your lot can't be trusted! Only MY lot know what's what. Shut up and get out of the way, grandad, I'm wearing antlers and rubber ears, and my jacket is made out of sky.

At the end, perhaps mindful that this is an unsustainable tantrum, this magnificent rant occurs:

"My pink half of the drainpipe separates me from the incredibly fascinating story of your life and every day-to-day event in all its minute and tedious attention to detail... And was it a Thursday or a Wednesday? Or, oh, no, it wasn't though. Oh, who cares anyway because I do not. So Norman, if you're normal, I intend to be a freak for the rest of my life, and I shall baffle you with cabbages and rhinoceroses in the kitchen incessant quotations from 'Now We Are Six' through the mouthpiece of Lord Snooty's giant poisoned electric head."

After which both sides retreat, to have a jolly good think about what has just happened.

"So theeeeeere........."

PS: You also have to listen to 'Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold', if only because people playing instruments badly well is always a delight. You'll never view the trad-jazz combo at the factory outlet village in quite the same way again.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Big Star - One-Liner Special

Note: I meant to write this ages ago, but the sad death of Alex Chilton has finally spurred me into action. How very remiss of me. How very typical of Big Star, a band who always had to take their praise long after it was of any damn use to them.

I have three favourite Big Star one-liners. Only one of which truly sticks in my brain as a lyric, because it manages to be totally opaque, even when saying something very direct.

The other two are all in the delivery. And really, when it comes to delivery, Alex Chilton is your man, and Jesus is his co-pilot.

#1 Record: "...and at my side is God" - 'The Ballad of El Goodo'

As a song, 'The Ballad of El Goodo' would be devastating enough without invoking the name of the Almighty. It's all grit and determination in the face of a hailstorm of insurmountable challenges. But nothing says "I may have been wrong before, but this time, nothing is gonna stand in my way" than the suggestion you've the lord of all creation on your side.

And the way Alex Chilton throws God in there, like it ain't no thing, like he nearly forgot to mention it because, well, there's a chorus coming which will flood your emotional synapses with joy and relief; like he's quietly putting down the winning hand in a long, bad-tempered poker game, just as the sun comes up...

...well it just makes that sobbing chorus all the more powerful, is all.

#2 Record: "Angels from the realms of glory" - 'Jesus Christ'

It wouldn't matter what lyric this song had: with a melody like this, it would still sound hymny. As it is, it's closer to a Christmas carol, throwing in references to royal David's city, a light in the sky, and generally spreading the good news that a saviour is born. You know the story, right?

That first line is a belter though: straight out of a Memphis preacher's lexicon of holy wonder, a line which throws open the curtains on a scene of awe and terror before we even find out where the angels are and what they're doing.

As I say, it's all in the delivery.

But as powerful as these two snippets are, it's the first line of 'O Dana' which really takes the cake; it's a big cake, in the shape of a star, and it's made of pure bewilderment.

#3 Record: "I'd rather shoot a woman than a man." - 'O Dana'

I mean, what? WHAT? Surely it's bad enough to have to shoot anyone, but to express a preference like THIS? Any woman, over any man?

The rest of the song is a plea for forgiveness - to a woman - from a bad, bad man, so you could read it as the singer admitting to the very worst thing he can possibly think of, in order to begin the cleaning of a very dirty slate.

But listen to him, does that sound like contrition? Heartbreak? Or does it sound like a boast? That present tense is worrying, isn't it? Doesn't he sound like he would STILL rather shoot womankind over mankind? What's on his mind?

Once the Dana-begging starts, we never really get to find out just what him think such a damnfool thing in the first place. I don't really want to know, it's better not to, me being someone who is very much against the shooting of people in general and the singling-out of women for this purpose in particular.

What a thing to say though. What a heartbreaking, vicious, shocking, broken thing to say. And to follow it up with a glorious chorus which cajoles a woman into forgiving him, well of all the NERVE!

If all great pop music can be summed up as an exercise in tension and release, this has to be a candidate for the best pop song ever written. It won't win, of course. Big Star never do.

Friday, 23 October 2009

The Best Way To End A Protest Song

Billy Childish & the Stuckists - 'Art or Arse?'

It starts with the voice of Tracey Emin, peeved and wheedling. She's been sent a parcel of stuff from a new anti-modern art group called the Stuckists, and her former boyfriend Billy Childish is one of them. He's even written a song about the vacuous nature of her work:

"Hi Billy, this is Tracey here. I've been away, and I've just opened up your 'Art or Arse? You Be The Judge'..did you do this? This kind of puerile...THING?"

Then a guitar razors into your face, and Billy Childish starts yelling:

"Damian Hirst's got his fish in a tank
Some call it art, others think it's wank..."

Already this is shaping up to be the best song ever written, don't you think? And I haven't even got to the good bit yet.

(Here's the song - Spotify link to the best version)

The rest of the song is a bolt of pure vitriol, sharpened with cruel wit and fired from a (self) righteous rusty old crossbow, made of stiff frustration and moustache wax.

Modern art, it screams, is about modern artists, and modern artists are all about themselves and commerce. They don't make art, they package things, wrap them in explanations and them sell them. Bugger. That.

It's not a million miles away from a Daily Mail editorial bemoaning the idiocy of the art establishment, only a lot swearier and a lot funnier. I'm not sure if I agree with it entirely , and I don't really think it's that important if you do either.

In fact, the only reason I'm explaining all this is because the amazing bit at the end only really works because of the howl of protest that precedes it.

Having laid waste to the world of conceptual art, and with a song to finish and a flourish in mind, Wild Billy suddenly yelps:


before a final, triumphant shout of "Is it art or is. It. ARSE!"

And that's that. The battle is over, Billy has won. He's, like, Billiam The Conqueror.

Cos all the conceptual ideas and self-congratulatory scenester mirror-kissing in the world can't beat a grown man in old clothes channelling 'Surfin' Bird'. Even if Tracey is right, this makes her wrong. Even if Damien Hurst's bejewelled skulls are on a par with the Sistine Chapel, he has no feral thrill to match the power of the heartily-screamed "OOMPA-PAPPA", has he?

Best of all, as an ending to what is essentially a protest song against the over-rationalisation of art - albeit a childish one, pun intended - it defies explanation. It simply IS.

Oh, sorry, a word fell off. It simply IS BRILLIANT.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

How Powerful Can One One-Liner Be?

The Verve - 'The Drugs Don't Work'

"Like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown..."

Never let it be said that words aren't powerful. They might not be as immediately forceful as a brick to the nose, or as urgently demanding as a severe tickle attack, but given the right words in the right circumstances, amazing things can happen.

In 1995 or 6 I was listening to the Mark Radcliffe show on Radio 1, and they had RichardAshcroft in to do a solo session. The Verve had just split up for the first time, and he was putting together a solo album, from which he was playing a couple of songs.

One of these songs was called 'The Drugs Don't Work'.

Now, at the time I didn't really like Richard Ashcroft or the Verve. Too traditional, too respectful of the past, not fun enough for me. But once he sang that line about the cat and the bag, I was hooked.

So hooked, in fact, that I bought Urban Hymns. I even listened to the bits of it that weren't 'The Drugs Don't Work'. Some of the bits were alright! So I bought the other two albums, and again, found myself quite enjoying some of their songs.

Here's the song again, in case you've forgotten it.

And then they released it as the follow-up to 'Bitter-Sweet Symphony', and then a lot of people snarkily made that joke about how poor Richard had clearly not got his hands on the right gear, cos his drugs don't work, yeah? And every time I was thinking "SHUTUPSHUTUP IT'S ACTUALLY ABOUT HIS DYING FATHER" like a posturing teen, and also "HE FEELS LIKE A CAT IN A BAG, HAVE YOU NO FEELINGS? A CAT! IN A BAG! WAITING TO DROWN!"

Anyway, then they split up, then they got back together. Last year, they played at the Eden Project, and I went along.

And it was only THEN that I realised that I was right in the first place, and that I'd been hoodwinked by a single arresting similie into believing the Verve were a great band.

THAT, my friends, is the power of words. Never forget it.

Monday, 19 October 2009

How To Talk To The Ladies, By Pitbull (Aged 13)

(This review was ready to run in ChartBlog when I realised I'd got the wrong version of the song. The hit version is the remix, featuring Nicole Scherzinger. Here's the ChartBlog review of that.)

Hey, anyone remember that Nightcrawlers song 'Push The Feeling On'? Oh you do! It must have been on Dave Pearce's Dance Anthems every single week, it had a man doing some weird mumbling on it - sounding a bit like a sleeping dad, if memory serves - and if the maxim that you should always name your song after the most memorable thing in it, it should really have been called 'The Duh-Duh-Dah-Dah-DEE-Doo-Doo, Duh-Duh-Dah-Dah-Derrr-Doh-Doh Song'.

Well, even if YOU don't remember it, Pitbull does, and he's decided to follow the Flo Rida template in pimping out a Eurohit with plush new beats, a new paint job, and some hot, sick rhymes.

Unfortunately, it seems that he's done that last job rather TOO well...

(Here's the video. And then he woke up and it was all a dream...)

So, a stone-cold club classic, with some fella shouting over the top about dragging literally anyone with double-x chromasomes and a pulse off to some grotty hotel room for 'fun' and 'games'.

There's nothing you can say about a lyric like this:

"Your man just left, I'm the plumber tonight,
I'll check your pipes, oh, you the healthy type.
Well, here goes some egg whites"

And the reason there's nothing to say is that your mouth is too busy holding back the sick. Some people won't even be able to manage it. There are going to be involuntary up-swallows all over the WORLD as a result of listening to this song. Pitbull could single-handedly be responsible for a dip in global obesity levels, as queasy pop fans turn down sugary treats in favour of a brisk walk in the fresh air, to try and clear the dizzyheat and rising nausea.

The rest of the song only (ONLY!) suffers from being a bit dim. It's like some randy 13-year-old has been asked what his best fantasy date might be, and he comes back with a series of bizarre scenarios which kind of prove how little he understands about girls and dating, AND how little he personally owns.

He wants someone else's girlfriend, he wants her to bring some friends along, and he can't take them to his house - in case his parents wake up - so it's off to a hotel room instead. And not even a nice hotel room, just a room with some walls and no chance of mum popping up with tea and biscuits on a tray.

And of course the girls are gonna LOVE THIS, aren't they? Everyone loves a hotel room! And listen, Pitbull has started to do sexy maths! That's educational AND entertaining! Everyone's a winner!

NOTE: No-one is a winner.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

The Best Insult In The World

I do apologise for the offensive language and unpleasant imagery in this song. I didn't write it, mind you, and it's far older than you or I and will no doubt last far longer than anyone we know. It's 'The Good Ship Venus' or 'Frigging In The Rigging' or whatever you're used to calling it. Please don't listen if you're offended by things which are gross, or overtly sexual, or offensive.

This version is by Loudon Wainwright III.

Ignore the depravity and filth if you can, what we're here to talk about is an early line, in which the following claim is made of the captain:

"He wasn't fit to shovel shit from one ship to another"

Now that's got to be the best insult in the world, hasn't it? Never mind your Elizabethan lexicography of disease - pox this and pustule that - never mind your fire and brimstone Christian melodrama. This is far simpler, and much more damning, with the added bonus of being impossible to gainsay.

I mean, where would you start? How can you argue against the assessment of someone who is so worthless, so utterly without charm or wit or any attractive qualities, that a job picking up dung with a spade - and not even useful dung like manure, but plain old shitty dung - and then putting it down somewhere else, is thought to be a step up from where she or he currently is in life.

I'm sure if someone said it of me, I'd want to remonstrate, clear my name, overturn this harsh judgment, but what could I say?

"I bloody AM fit to shovel shit from one ship to another, and don't you forget it!"

No, clearly not. And let's not pretend this shovelling job is providing a valuable service to the community, even though the sea shanty roots of the song might indicate otherwise. Other versions substitute the word "ship" with "place" and the meaning is exactly the same.

No-one is taking shit away so that there's no more shit around. No, this poor wretch's dream job is just picking up cack from somewhere - and let's be honest, cack is never a welcome addition to anyone's back yard, Nimby or Imby - and putting it down somewhere else.

The best he or she could hope for, is to be commended by the people who live near the shit he picks up, and tutted at by everyone else. And this is STILL thought to be beyond his or her reach, even if he or she was to try REALLY HARD.

And that's what finally makes this the perfect abuse. If hate and love are just mirror images of the same fiery passion, then the best way to really hurt someone is to show complete indifference to their best efforts, (with just a smidge of dirty pathos). Simon Cowell has made a career out of it.

All this from a song which has been handed down from generation to generation by rugby players. Culture is brilliant, isn't it?