Words & selections by Balearic Mike.
Happy Birthday to John Lennon, born October 9th 1940 …
The Beatles – I Feel Fine / She’s A Woman – Parlophone Records 1964
The Beatles were pretty great really, weren’t they – massive understatement alert. All their early singles are brilliant pop songs, but for me, this – I Feel Fine – is the song where they’re really starting to add a level of sophistication and experimentation, and are becoming the great songwriters we now know as Lennon & McCartney.
John had the original idea for the song, coming up with the riff – and what a riff – and most of the melody before he and Paul completed the track together. It famously all kicks off with the sound of feedback and is often mentioned as the first time that this had been used in pop – although The Beatles had already used feedback before, just less noticeably. Then comes that fabulous riff, which George and John play together throughout the track, giving it even more power, while the absence of the more usual rhythm guitar part helps give the track space – space for Ringo’s pile-driving performance, which makes this track swing and sway so much, driving it along with a Latin-influenced, almost bossa-nova / cha-cha rhythm. On the flip Paul gives us She’s A Woman, which is also pretty great, but not really a match for this.
This is my mums copy. I “borrowed’ it from her, along with all her other Beatles records in the autumn of 1989, after I had first become smitten with the band. I agree that this is quite a long loan. Most of her singles have her name written on the sleeve somewhere. This was because you would take your records round to your friend’s house for parties, and you would load up the record player, a Dansette Tempo, with multiple records at a time, so the sleeves would be left in a big pile while the records were played one after the other. Having your name written on the sleeve meant you could easily match up your sleeve to your record afterwards. At some point though, my mum decided to write the catalogue number of the record in the space in the top corner of the paper sleeve instead. I love this ingenious, and subtle move. It’s the sort of thing I would have done.
I just realised that I have now had this record in my possession longer than my poor mother did. Sorry mum! Oh, the shame …
Deep, deep, deep, Prince obsession confession …
Madhouse – 8 – Paisley Park 1987
I’ve just finished reading Duan Tudahl’s new book “Prince And The Parade & Sign O’ The Times Era Studio Sessions 1985 And 1986”. It is quite possibly the nerdiest, geekiest book I’ve ever read, and I loved it so much that I’m now reading his book on Prince`s 1983 and 1984 sessions. It has made me want to listen to a lot of the music from this era again, with a fresh insight into what was going on in Prince world at the time. Warning! This book is wonderful, but as is the case with other books about musicians I admire greatly such as John Lennon for example, I like Prince less as a human after reading it, although part of me now does wonder if he actually WAS human.
Prince was interested in exploring new directions, and specifically introducing a jazz element to his music, and so had sought out a new collaborator to bounce ideas off, someone who could facilitate these new experiments. Musical ideas were quite literally pouring out of him. During the 12-month period described in the book, as well as this Madhouse LP, Prince recorded and released his own album, Parade, and LP by The Family, Shelia E’s second LP, and was working with Jill Jones, plus a multitude of side-projects including The Dream Factory, Camille, and the Crystal Ball album – which would eventually become Sign “O” The Times. Anyway, to Madhouse…
Madhouse is basically Prince, and for the most part Eric Leeds, the saxophonist from Prince’s protégé band, The Family – the brother of his tour manager Alan Leeds. A few other musicians contribute, particularly Matt ‘Atlanta Bliss’ Blistan. It was a tumultuous time in Prince’s life. He was about to break up his band, The Revolution, and lose perhaps his most important musical collaborators ever, in Wendy & Lisa. In fact, he fired them over dinner, in a house in L.A., not seven days after recording the final track on this LP. The only member of The Revolution who would be invited to stay would be his long-time keyboard player, Matt “Dr.” Fink. As well as the professional turmoil, his emotional and romantic life was in a tailspin, and his relationship with Wendy’s sister, Susannah Melvoin, his lover, fiancée, musical collaborator, and muse was also disintegrating.
This, his ‘jazz’ album, it’s not altogether successful. Prince is too much of a control freak to be really ‘jazz’, but it has some good moments, some not so good, and one truly great track. Saving the best ‘til last, the track, Eight, is a 10-minute epic – inspired in equal parts apparently by Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, and Art Of Noise`s Moments In Love…and it shows. It’s a dream-like track, built around a sample of Prince’s voice, live drums, Fairlight and Prophet VS synth. Eric then plays lovely flute parts over the top. The result is a truly beautiful Café Del Mar style cut, with a definite new-age and Scandi-jazz sound. I’m lost in it right now – utterly gorgeous.
More of the Prince obsession …
The Time – Jungle Love / Tricky – Warner Brothers 1984
Continuing my deep dive into Duane Tudahl’s two exhaustive volumes on Prince’s studio sessions, I’ve actually tackled them the wrong way round, and I’m now reading the volume covering `83 to `84 – the Purple Rain era – which made me dig out this total classic. One of the finest non-Prince tracks in my extensive Prince collection.
The Time were devised for the most part to give Prince another avenue to release the simply staggering amount of music he was writing and producing. On the first The Time LP, he writes, records, plays, and produces everything, with Morris Day simply adding his vocals. However, the band he assembled of local Minneapolis musicians to play this music includes an utterly ridiculous amount of talent, and it was never going to be able to tolerate Prince’s completely insane levels of control, and the crushing effect that would have on the bands own creative output.
Around the same time that this track was recorded, Prince had just sacked Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis – yes – THAT Jam & Lewis – from the band! This was mid 1983, and the ramifications of this would be the beginning of the end for The Time. Although a wonderful live version of this track features prominently in the Purple Rain film, by the time this original studio version of the track was released, the band was as good as split…and what a tragedy, since it’s as good a slice of P-Funk-inspired genius as anything from that era. It`s also a rare track where Jesse Johnson gets the writing credit – alongside Morris Day. I think this was some arrangement Prince had with one of his oldest friends, as Prince wrote all The Times material. The flip side is a killer comedy funk groove with Prince doing his Jamie Starr voice alongside Morris (who inspired it). Two wonderful tracks from the Purpleverse.
More from the Purpleverse …
Vanity 6 – Nasty Girl – WEA / Warner Bros. 1982
Another stone-cold dance-floor classic from his royal badness, this time credited as The Starr* Company a.k.a. Jamie Starr. This is one of the finest tracks recorded by any of Prince’s many proteges.
Produced at a time when Prince was recording his 1999 LP, and The Times` second album, this is as good as anything from that period in his career. Vanity 6 were a female trio, fronted by the eponymous Vanity (Denise Katrina Matthews), with Susan Moonsey and Brenda Bennett. All three women shared vocal duties, with all taking the lead depending on the track. Vanity was cast to star opposite Prince in Purple Rain, but bailed out of the project and the band just before filming began, meaning that their debut LP – which this track was taken from – was also their last. It`s a real pity, because it has its moments, with the track Make-Up also a standout – although Prince’s own demo version which was posthumously released on the “Originals” LP is even better. Nasty Girl is an utter gem though, and has been revived by the likes of Theo Parrish and Moodymann in DJ sets over the years – and me!
The band carried on briefly with the introduction of Apollonia, and a name change, but the replacement for Vanity was an actress and not a singer, and this might be the reason that Prince seemed to lose interest in the project before it was even released, removing Take Me With You, and placing it on his own Purple Rain, and giving Manic Monday instead to The Bangles. He also had a new muse by then in Sheila E.
Vanity very sadly passed away just two months before Prince in 2016, but what a track to be remembered by.
A few new things have arrived recently that have really been worth the (in some cases VERY long) wait …
Craig Bratley featuring Amy Douglas – No In Between (Ashigaru Dub) – Magic Feet Recordings 2021
Released back in April, Craig took the excellent move of listening to public demand and decided to crowdfund a vinyl pressing of this stunning collaboration with New York based vocalist Amy, getting it pressed via the Qrates organisation, a route that seems to work pretty well.
I’m very glad he did, as this is an absolute gem of a track, and really deserves this physical release, on a lovely 10” single. Everything about it is just perfection, from its throbbing, minimal production, to its sultry vocal. The slightly longer A-side version opens with gorgeous synth washes, with the lyrics and bouncing slo-mo electro groove crashing in together. You get more of the vocal in this mix, which is a really great performance from a singer who’s provided many such wonders over the last few years.
Over on the flip we have the Ashigaru Dub. This side bears a dedication to Andrew Weatherall, who we tragically lost early last year. I can give this record no higher praise than to say that it sounds exactly like the sort of record that Andrew would have played – something that would have caused a mini stampede of excited punters to rush the decks asking what it was. The dub just edges it for me, with its throbbing groove, with my only criticism being that both mixes just seem way too short. I want more. A wonderful record. Already a modern classic…
Another new arrival that I’ve been waiting a while for… which was so worth the wait….
SAULT – NINE – Forever Living Originals 2021
This mysterious UK collective follow up last year`s two spectacular Untitled LPs, with Nine. I have to say that when I purchased the album digitally, back in early July, I was initially massively underwhelmed. Then last week the vinyl arrived – taking me quite by surprise by arriving earlier than had been estimated. The record sat around for a few days before I even gave it a spin, such was my complete lack of urgency to give it a proper listen…but when I did, what the fuck had I been thinking? From the instant the first track proper kicks in – London Gangs – with its throbbing, distorted bass and insistent snare patterns, I was transfixed by the sound coming out of my speakers. It moves through rolling, go-go-style funk, instrumental hip hop, beautiful summertime soul music, through Bitter Streets, Alcohol and Light’s In Your Hands – with my two favourite tracks placed back-to-back in the middle of side two. You From London – featuring Little Simz – is funky, smooth, beautiful, sad, and very funny all at the same time, with some beautiful jazz-infected samples and a killer rap from the aforementioned Ms Simz. The line: “My Converse look like, they’ve had a hard life, I love them anyway” – is one of my favourite rap lyrics in a while. After that we have the title track, 9. It’s like a fusion of the most gorgeous mid `70s soul music with Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles. Utterly magical (Mystery Tour) music. The lesson here is, listen to your music on something decent, and you might appreciate it a lot more.
Apparently, Nine was available for 99 days, and the band have now deleted it from their Bandcamp and all streaming sites – so if you want a copy, pick up one of the LPs currently in your local record shop.
I can’t quite believe how long I was waiting for this one to arrive, but again, well worth the wait …
B:dum B:dum Sound – Dubplate #2: Do / Don’t feat. Istanbul – Mysticisms 2021
I’ve been after a copy of B:dum B:dum Sound`s Istanbul for a very long time indeed. This was a Richard Moonboots anthem, something he’d discovered out in the wild – the original E.P. being partly funded by Bolton Arts Council back in 1993. When he included it on our Originals Volume 1 compilation – for Claremont 56 – back in 2008, I knew that finding a copy would be well-nigh impossible, now that the cat was out of the bag so to speak, but I couldn’t have predicted just quite how much this record would start to sell for. The last copy to sell back in 2019 went for £296.24, and the only two copies currently for sale are both over £200. So, you can imagine my delight when Stuart “Chuggy” Leath and Piers “Soft Rocks” Harrison decided to reissue the track on their Mysticisms label. It went up on Bandcamp back in February, with the vinyl expected end of April… but that took a little longer than expected …
The record popped through my door last week, and I have to say they’ve done a great job – adding three different tracks that weren’t on the original release, which are all superb. If you like dubby, spacey electronic music, this is for you. Think Basic Channel, or Andrew Weatherall, or Massive Attacks Mad Professor dub mixes. Another excellent little 10” in a dub stylee!