Songs from under the floorboards: strange noises from across the years

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The old is the new as Getintothis’ Rick Leach picks five buried treasures.

In a time of what may seem to be simply recycled music-as Andy Holland’s recent Getintothis feature explained-the commonly held complaint about everything being derivative is a premise built on sand.

All music is possibly derivative; and if it is, then so what?

Isn’t it the familiarity of music, those stray notes, those half-remembered themes and chord sequences  which we love and keep dragging us back?

In any event, there’s so much new music out there and new music awaiting to be written and recorded, then we can (and should) never get bored with it all. There’s always something to look forward to; something just around the corner.

But new music might not just be music that’s part of 2017.

New music is music that you just might not have heard yet. After all, it might be new to you.

In this spirit of the new old, we’ve picked five old, weird and maybe buried songs to get your ears around.

We’d love to know what you make of them; is there anything you know that might fall into this time capsule category of discovery?

Hang on tight-here we go….

The Silver: Do You Wanna Dance?

The maddest record ever.

I’m sure of it. The funniest one for certain. It always makes me smile, if not actually laugh out loud. There are some records that words can’t do justice to, that words can’t fully describe and I know that this is one of them. You’d really have to hear it to get any comprehension of what I’m about to say, but I’ll give it a go.

(I played this for my children, after trying to get a copy for many years, with a high level of excitement and anticipation. I really built it up, ‘You just have to listen to this…’ etc. After a few brief bars of the track, they both looked at me with utter disbelief and incredulity. There were a few seconds of stunned silence followed by shaking of heads and a genuine, heartfelt question, ‘You actually like this? You think this is good? Really?’)

I first heard this, like many other records, on John Peel’s radio show. He played it each night for a week in 1980, so I knew it was something special. An old tape of the programme that I’d copied and spliced over and over again, just for this one track, had Peel chuckling to himself as the song ended, ‘It’s a good job no-one is listening to this right now”-which just about sums it all up.

Anyway, here goes, with a brief factual description. The single is a cover of the famous 1958 Bobby Freeman single, covered by The Ramones and The Beach Boys, as well as many others. The Silver were a Finnish band.

I don’t know anything about them at all; they never released anything else. Purely from the sound of this record, it seems to be the work of a couple of teenage girls let loose in a studio with only a rudimentary grasp of the song or their instruments. Their grasp on reality was a bit slack as well.

Whether it was down to natural exuberance, over consumption of alcohol, drugs or the effects of a long and dark Nordic winter it’s hard to tell, but barely a third of the way into the song they lose it big time. Their version only lasts 2 minutes 11 seconds and the only words that they seem to know, apart from the title, are ‘under the moonlight’, ’baby’ and ‘1,2,3,4” which, as time progresses, they scream and shout louder and louder.

The microphones buckle under the overload, and at 1 minute into the song, Silver collapse into a fit of giggles and screaming. The phrase under the moonlight particularly seems to amuse them.

Normally, there would be some sort of resolution within a track like this, and it would be brought back to earth by the producer before the song ended, but I have a feeling that there was no-one around to keep an eye on things.

It all grows increasingly manic until it concludes with a random banging of cymbals and drums and yet more shouting. What a classic.

 

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Rev A W Nix: Black Diamond Express From Hell Pt I

Now this is a track.

This is something completely and totally off the wall.

If ever I had to pick ten tracks at random, in a Desert Island Discs type way – I know this one would be one of them. It would have to be; I don’t really see how I could leave it out.

The fact that this track is potentially up there with another nine great songs is a bit strange, bearing in mind the subject matter and where it’s from.

As background, the eighth disc of the eight disc box set from where it came-Goodbye Babylon– is comprised entirely of sermons recorded mainly in the 1920’s all by various Reverends and Elders with titles so evocative that hearing them makes it a mission by itself.

Rev J M Gates’ ‘Gettin’ Ready For Christmas Day’ and ‘Death Might Be Your Santa Claus’ give an indication that it wouldn’t have been the jolliest of times at the Gates household around December 25. Rev J M Milton’s ‘The Black Camel of Death’ has to be heard to be believed and as for Rev Emmet Dickinson’s ‘Hell and What It Is’, if anything is going to persuade me to have a life of total abstinence, well, Emmett’s graphic descriptions of what’s awaiting me would point me in only one direction.

I fear though, it may be way too late for me anyway, irrespective of the fact that I’m a 100% confirmed atheist. There are 24 tracks like this on this one disc and although reviews of the box set have said that it all gets a bit monotonous and heavy, quite frankly, to me it’s the best part of what is already a superb compilation.

What is odd I suppose, is that despite my beliefs, I really do like all this stuff. Looking at it dispassionately, and if I only read the words that the assorted Reverends belt out (rather than listening to the inherent musicality of it all), I’d find it a whole bunch of nonsense.

There is however, an intangible element of something else extra. Most of the tracks are only sermons and a few have small choirs in the background urging the preachers on. None of them have any instruments at all and the preachers never break out into much of any recognisable tunes (except at random moments when it all gets too much for them), but it must be the mere sound of the voices and the heartfelt passion that make them sound like the most musical things you’ve ever heard.

This track, by the good Rev A W Nix, is one of two on the CD (I figure it must have been recorded on a 78, as Black Diamond Express From Hell Part I is on one side and Part 2 is on the other). Without going through the whole thing, the sermon is based on the fact that the there’s a train heading for hell, with pleasure as the headlight, sin as the engineer and the devil as the conductor.

The train stops at various stations on the way to pick up those who the Rev thinks are destined to end up in the fiery furnace-liars at one station, drunkards at another, gamblers at a third, conjurors at the next and so on.

There are stations for deceivers, cheats, those who dance the Charleston on a Saturday and go to Church on a Sunday-the list is endless. He even seems to manage to squeeze in a station for the leaders of his own Church just in order to settle a few scores.

The best bit is towards the end when he bellows that the train is fully loaded and re-stoked with brimstone and the throttle is fully open for the final descent. It sends a shiver down your spine. He breaks out into a snippet of a hymn at the very end and sings that he’s so glad that he’s not on the Black Diamond Express before ending the whole shebang with a final ‘Amen’.

After hearing this I’m convinced that all songs, spiritual or not, should conclude with that as a sign-off.

Stanley Winston: No More Ghettos in America

Speaking of obscure, then you’re possibly not going to get much more obscure than this track.

And if there is an assumption that being obscure usually comes with the words “racket” and “tuneless” attached (not that there is much wrong with tuneless rackets-some of my favourite tracks are happily tuneless rackets), then in the case of Stanley Winston, that assumption is plainly wrong.

This gospel infused song, which being given a catalogue number that Jewel Records kept for their gospel releases, indicates that they (Jewel) at least considered it a gospel record, is full of righteous fury at the state of America in 1970. There‘s not much to the lyrics save for Stanley Winston’s voice, constantly on the edge of breaking down, encouraging and pleading that there must be no more ghettos. Like some of the best records it only lasts a couple of minutes, but within that limited amount of time, Winston manages, through a falsetto that is so pure he makes Smokey Robinson sound like Howling Wolf (no bad thing, but…) to strike such a chord with me forty years later and an ocean away.

Although it’s only from 1970, nothing is known about Stanley Winston apart from what’s on the record label. The song is credited to S. Edwards (this is thought to be Winston) and E.Harris. A Eugene Harris co-wrote some songs later on for Funkadelic and the arranger on the label of this record is one George C. Clinton. The easy link is that this has some tenuous connection to the George Clinton but as Jewel was a tiny label from Shreveport, Louisiana and all the Clinton/Funkadelic stuff was based in Detroit i.e. the other end of the country, then the trail goes cold. In any event, it is thought that George C. Clinton was a white producer out of Louisiana, rather than mad master of funk from the North.

Stanley Winston never recorded anything else as far as it’s known (apart from the other side of this single-‘It’s Alright’ -which is 100 percent a gospel record). There isn’t a photograph of him anywhere nor are any of his biographical details known.

It’s not known where he was from, where and when he was born, or even if he is still alive. He is as much, if not more of an enigma, than some of the old blues artists of the 1920’s. This is staggering to me.

That such a fully formed and almost perfect record and song was issued in America in 1970, complete with a vocal performance that has to be heard to be believed, and that the person who made it is totally unknown.

Stanley Winston cut this record and disappeared, seemingly forever. I wonder what he ended up doing for the rest of his life? I wonder if he ever thought, in his wildest imagination, the tune he wrote and recorded, would still be listened to and indeed revered, many years later and thousands of miles away?

 

Lists? Top 10’s? We’ve got a bunch of them here!

 

Louis Jordan & Louis Armstrong: I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead You Rascal You

There’s an awful lot to be said for any song that uses the word “cabbage” in the lyrics. If it is rhymed with the word “savage”, then you’re getting close to perfection. If you further combine it with someone like the great Louis Jordan, then you’re even closer.

What’s needed to top it all off, to put the cherry on the icing on the cake, is to have someone such as Louis Armstrong duetting with Jordan. That’s what you’ve got with this song-all those elements combined together to produce something that’s probably up there with one of my favourite songs of all time.

It only lasts three minutes, but it’s impossible to hear without tapping your toes and wishing you owned a really crisp sharp suit in a colour that would be impossible to wear in the street without fear of ridicule-bright pink say, or maybe an especially lurid shade of green. Purple would do as just as well.

This is as close to rap as any record recorded in 1956 could be.

The two Louis’ exchange verse for verse in a sort of call-and-response manner. What works particularly well is the contrast between Armstrong’s well known gravelly tones, and Jordan’s undoubtedly smoother performance. (Actually, anything would be smooth in contrast to Armstrong on this record-he makes Howling Wolf sound like Andy Williams). Half way through the Jordan’s first verse, Armstrong shouts, ‘Talk about it, Jordan, talk about it’, and at the end of the first verse Armstrong is chomping at the bit, ‘Let me talk about it for a while’.

Within the middle of Armstrong’s verse, Jordan literally raps over Armstrong’s line about, ‘There ain’t no point in running, you old rascal you’ with ‘Run, Satch, run!

It’s fantastic. This is all before the horns and drums kick in big style and Jordan tells them to, ‘Blow it out, blow it out!’

This isn’t just a one-off though.

Louis Jordan recorded some magnificent songs, and just from the titles alone you know that they’ll be good; You Run Your Mouth and I’ll Run My Business, What’s the use of Getting Sober (When You’re Going to get Drunk Again) , If You’re So Smart How Come You’re Not Rich? -really the list goes on and on.

There’s possibly as much entertainment in simply reading the song titles of Jordan’s records as there is in listening to many other artists.

It’s staggering to discover that Louis Jordan, not exactly a household name in 2017, is still the top ranking black artist ever in terms of chart number 1’s. His records spent an amazing 113 weeks at number 1 – his closest rival being Stevie Wonder running a faraway second, with a mere total of 70 weeks.

He was so successful that after being constricted to standard union rates of $35 per week for himself and $35 per week for the rest of his five piece band in 1941, that only seven years later, he raked in $70,000 for a two week residency at the Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco.

 

Johnny Fortune: Soul Surfer

There’s so much that’s good about this single from 1963 that I barely know where to start.

It might be the actual tune itself, a surf instrumental that lasts just over a couple of minutes, replete with twangy guitar (but not too twangy that it makes a parody of the genre), it’s just got the correct level of twanginess.

The drums are just spot on; sharp enough, but not overpowering the tune in the way that sometimes the drums do in surf songs – no novelty rhythms for Johnny Fortune here. The bass line just does its job and that’s all there is to it, guitars, drums and bass. What more do you need?

It’s such a great, great tune that it should be played, as a matter of national policy, every night over the 6 o’clock news titles on BBC 1 or in the event of any great occasion of State. And it’s just the b-side to the single. The a-side, Dragster, makes anything that The Beach Boys or Jan and Dean recorded about cars sound as if they were writing about a ten year old Daewoo that had just failed an MOT.

The first time that the term “soul surfer” was used was in the title of this song. It became used within surfing communities to describe anybody who surfed just for the sheer love of the sport and who resisted the competiveness of the sport and the increasing commercialisation during the 1960’s and 70’s. Johnny Fortune’s little b-side on a small label became a symbol of a counter-culture.

As if all this wasn’t good enough, then there’s the band as well. Johnny Fortune; what a great name.

Even if the single was rubbish and he’d never done anything else it is still a brilliant rock and roll name. If it wasn’t his birth name – and if it was, then surely a career in rock and roll beckoned – it was an inspired choice.

But this single-which he recorded at just 16 years old-wasn’t a one-off, an obscure track by a nobody who only had a fleeting acquaintance with fame. This b-side was also on his first album, released at the same time and which has the same title.

It was that well thought of that he was invited to tour with Johnny Burnette in England, but couldn’t go because he was too young.  He later worked sessions for Sam Cooke, Glen Campbell and The Beach Boys and played with the latter when they toured. He’s still going strong and is now a top country guitarist in Nashville.

The other members of the band who recorded Soul Surfer were Jim O’Keith and, get this, Joey Sudetta-a 10 year old drummer! Not only did Johnny Fortune have a great drummer, but he was only 10 years old and had a name that would fit well in any Scorsese film.

 

Satan Alfa Beel Atem: Topping Voice

Sometimes the best music is where the artist sounds as if they’re making up as they’re going along.

This lot almost certainly did and it’s a great track. I can’t even begin to describe it the album from where it came; Delicior Pink Ribbon Beel (Music of Death).

There’s one stray reference on the internet where it’s referenced as “a patently obscure bulldada beacon from Japan’s 90’s freak fringe in the spirit of ultima-idiocy like UFO or Die, Violent Onsen Geisha and Xper.Xr.”

Now, I have no idea what any of that means, and I’m not entirely sure if they do either. (Must try to get hold of some Xper.Xr. though). Satan Alfa Beel Atem are something unknown and therefore should be judged on their own merits.

The album is so different, there’s not much to compare it to.

The opening track, Rock n Roll Time (66 seconds) does actually last 66 seconds but has no connection with rock and roll in the traditional sense of the word.

It consists of someone talking (not Japanese, but gibberish I think) in a high pitched voice with no instrumentation at all to accompany it.

Another track, Inferno Final lasts for over 15 minutes and I am sure it’s simply the recording of an old synthesiser being sawn in half with a rusty hacksaw. However, to add to the fun, it’s mixed together with what appears to be the soundtrack of a motorcycle race.

This touch of mixology totally threw me the first time I listened to the album as it cuts in at an immense volume, without warning about five minutes into the track. I was driving along the motorway with the CD whirring away and although not tapping my fingers to it, I was grooving along quite nicely. I had missed the rush hour; it was about 7.30 at night, in the middle of winter and raining.

I was minding my own business in the slow lane and burbling along at a steady 65 mph. This particular stretch of the road was quiet, and there were only a couple of other cars ahead of me. All of a sudden I heard the sound of a motorbike from hell, screeching up behind me on what I presumed to be the hard shoulder and guessing that it was about to hit me at well over a hundred miles per hour.

Panicking, I dropped my lit ciggie on the floor of the car, nearly choked on the Mars bar I was eating and knocked over the bottle of water perched on the dashboard before I realised that it was merely the sound of these Japanese pranksters. That’ll teach me to listen to inappropriate music while driving.

So that’s just five tracks. And there thousands and thousands out there. Old or new; it really doesn’t matter. It’s the music we love.

Let us know yours.

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