Songs from under the floorboards #4: Teenage Jesus & The Jerks, Roger Miller, Rocketship, Robert Rental and more

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Rocketship (Credit:Artists Facebook page)

Rocketship (Credit:Artists Facebook page)

Minimalist country music, the most tweecore song you can imagine and the sound of chaos as Getintothis’ Rick Leach unearths five more gems.

It would be neat-as in tidy, as opposed to “neat” in some self-conscious nod to 1960’s US vernacular-if the five tracks for this month’s Songs from under the floorboards had some sort of connection between each other.

A sort of six degrees of separation or a way to join the dots between them in either a musical or cultural sense.

But no matter how hard I try, or how much I squint my eyes (or should that be ears?), there’s really no common ground. They’re all totally different.

I’m sure someone much more well-versed than me will be able to point out the most obvious overlap between them all, one that I’ve missed and overlooked, but for now they all seem so disparate that the only thing that they share is that they’re all collected here in one place.

And, to be honest, they’re all pretty damn good.

Next time, I’ll try to work out a theme, but for now, sit back and…enjoy?

Teenage Jesus and The Jerks: I Woke Up Dreaming

The sound of what?

Ineptitude.

Noise.

Clatter.

Screaming.

Rock and Roll. Punk. Classical music.

The blue-iest music that there could be.

Woke up this morning and …woke up dreaming.

Cities falling into dust.

The sound of…

Time.

The sound of uneasy listening. The sound of professionalism. Jazz and something so avant-garde it goes around the other side. The experimental is now conventional.

Music for talent(less) shows.

Music and sound that is utterly irrelevant in 2017. This is so far away from what is considered contemporary that you couldn’t imagine it even being thought of now, let alone being produced. It now sounds so old-fashioned that the shock of the new has been replaced by the apathy of the so what?

This is as relevant now as it was in 1979/1980.

This is music that will only make sense in a yet unknown future.

It can never make sense at a time when it’s been played-it’s as if it’s waiting for everything to catch up but it’s always moving too fast-it’s too far ahead. If there are alternate, parallel universes-other dimensions-well, maybe there it could be understood-but probably not.

It’s a step too far to think that could happen-that Teenage Jesus & the Jerks could be comprehended fully.

The most logical music. It sounds like mathematics. Geometry.

The sound of applied physics.

The sound of particles. Sub particles.

The sound of something so polished, so rehearsed beyond what is necessary. Music that’s been too practised and honed, sharpened like a craft knife. Every note, every tone, every beat is simply what is required. The most well-versed band there could ever be.

This is the sound of the heaviest music possible.

It’s a cliché, but it’s hard and tough. Sonically. Hard and tough to listen to. It can’t be background music, but should be played in lifts and department stores. Supermarkets. Teenage Jesus and the Jerks piped through ceiling speakers in Asda. The ideal music to have while shopping.

The sound of insignificance.

The sound of bafflement.

They are the best heavy metal band there has ever been. Forget Metallica and the rest; Teenage Jesus and the Jerks should headline Download every year.

The most anti-rock group that there could be. Forget traditional chord structures, song structures and any kind of structure in fact. Beyond deconstructed-Teenage Jesus and The Jerks did not have an initial structure to dismantle in the first place.

If anything is a meaningless racket, then this is what it is.

It depends what is meant by a meaningless racket though. Even something thrown together at random has its own meaning.

What does Teenage Jesus and the Jerks mean? Do they mean something else in 2017 than they did in 1987? Am I asking too many questions about something that is self-evidently obvious?

The ideal way to perform music; ten- minute sets with thirty-second songs. There is no reason to do any more. Nothing else to be said.

The sound of unlearnt instruments.

The sound of intense thought and consideration.

Music that if played backwards it would sound exactly the same.

The sound of entropy.

The sound of the end of days. Or the beginning of something.

The sound of “where do we go from here?” What could be next? What could this evolve into? Or have we reached a natural conclusion? What could possibly come after this?

The sound of love.

The rise of Mersey swing and why you should be a part of it

Lattie Moore:100,000 Women Can’t Be Wrong

This is a 1957 single on King Records. King was latterly known as the R & B label that issued records by Johnny Guitar Watson, Joe Tex, Jack Dupree and Hank Ballard and the Midniters, among many others.

They had a big hit with James Brown’s Please Please Please, but after the next nine James Brown singles failed to chart, it all went a bit pear-shaped.

Brown even recorded under another name for a different label after King’s owner, Syd Nathan, refused to let him record Do the Mashed Potato on King. Nathan also didn’t want to release Live at The Apollo as he couldn’t see how a live album would be a hit. Missed a bit of a trick there, Syd. (Luckily, it was released and for me, the introduction of James Brown at the very start of the record is possibly one of the most exciting few seconds of music that has ever been recorded).

Syd Nathan wasn’t wholly a mug though.

King Records, uniquely for independent labels at the time, ensured all the production of their records was done in-house-recording, mastering, pressing, distribution and shipping. This meant that wily old Syd could get a record on the shelves within 24 hours of it being recorded. It also had the effect that any of the releases that weren’t hits are now as rare as hen’s teeth due to some pressings being limited to as little as 50 copies.

However, back to hillbilly music, and the start of King Records back in 1943-who had the motto-“If it’s a King, It’s a Hillbilly — If it’s a Hillbilly, it’s a King.”.

I think that now we’d call it country rather than hillbilly music, but I do like the idea of “hillbilly”-even though King Records was based in Cincinnati as opposed to a shack in the mountains. I don’t want to digress too much, but King’s first big hit was I’m Using My Bible as a Road Map by Reno and Shirley, which strikes me as a unique method of navigation.

As for Lattie Moore himself, although a hillbilly/country singer, he had a sort of toe in the camp of rockabilly and therefore early rock and roll.

His first single, recorded in Indianapolis in 1954 when he was 26, Hideaway Heart for a local label, Arrow Records, wasn’t successful. It took mad record collectors over 50 years to track down just one copy of it. (Must have sent them crazy).

Lattie wasn’t to be put off however, and the next year, having moved back home to Nashville, he spotted Speed Records label owner, Frank Innocenti coming out of the famous Ernest Tubbs record store. Lattie auditioned for him right there on the street. This led to Moore recording his first hit, Juke Joint Johnny and in time, a move to King Records, where he made over two dozen singles, including this great song.

A description of 100,000 Women Can’t Be Wrong isn’t really necessary. If you know it’s a country/rockabilly tune and combine that with the title, you get the general idea. His last release was the album You Can’t Make Hay Picking Cotton in 1971. By then he clearly couldn’t make hay releasing records either, as it didn’t do too well.

Lattie threw the towel in and took up a career in law enforcement. I have an image of a sheriff in his mid- fifties, barrelling down a country road in a dusty, big American Police car, singing one of his own hits, say, Here I Am, Drunk Again on his way to bust some local miscreant.

Rocketship: Hey Hey Girl

A slice of pure tweecore pop.

It sounds like My Bloody Valentine with much more emphasis on the Valentine and less on the Bloody.

It’s the opposite of cranking things up to 11 in a rock style-it’s MBV cranked down to somewhere between zero and one. Take out all the guitars and bass from MBV and imagine Jonathan Richman in his most acoustic setting and it would still be a whole lot edgier and raw than this is.

This should have been a massive hit if there was any justice in the world.

But there’s not, and I suppose that coming from Sacramento, California and releasing your best song on a tiny label-the tiniest label possible-wasn’t exactly going to propel you to the top of the charts.

Hey Hey Girl sounds exactly how a song should with a title like that. Coming from California in 1994 and being issued on a tiny label as only a 7” single, I can understand why it wasn’t picked up-although that was wrong-but I can’t understand why it isn’t, fifteen or so years down the line, being raved about as a cult classic. This is the sort of song that you read about as being a massive influence on the latest hip band.

The sort of band that Kurt Cobain would have raved about the way he did about stuff from K Records. I don’t really know exactly when Hey Hey Girl came out in 1994; but, as Cobain died in April of that year, I guess there was a faint chance that he heard it, through a drug-induced haze.

However, I probably wouldn’t have liked it as much if Kurt C or any such renowned tastemaker (ha!) had started to go on about it. I’ve reached that certain age and gained that certain amount of cynicism that whenever I hear of an unknown song, band or label being lauded to the skies by some “star” then I become instantly sceptical, and automatically assume that it must be inherently crap.

So, I’m glad that I’ve not heard this of this Rocketship song being touted around by the great and the good and that I stumbled across it by chance. I did download their album that followed this single, A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness and I’m sure that it’s a great album, but I’ve never listened to it.

Not really because I don’t want to, but because there’s a distinct possibility that it wouldn’t be as good as this single. I just want to remember Rocketship through this one marvellous, magical song.

In C Mali:Terry Riley and the theory of minimalism

Roger Miller: King of the Road

Sigur Ros, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, John Cage, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, La Monte Young, Philip Glass. All minimalists, I suppose.

But you aren’t going to get more minimal than Roger Miller’s King of the Road, and especially the last thirty seconds or so there’s only Miller’s smooth croon, clicking fingers and a tambourine.

I’ve been listening to this song repeating for 30 minutes or so and I know that it’ll be in my head all night, buzzing away, earworm style.

I must be going slightly bonkers, playing this over and over again, and thinking that there’s some similarity to Reich. Surely there can’t be; King of the Road is a million-selling classic from a famed country singer.

But the more I hear it then the more it all seems to make sense.

There’s so little going on- there’s little bits of piano in the background and a simple bassline at the start, but the piano soon dies away, just leaving the bass with Miller and the tambourine. Even the piano, when it’s there, could in isolation. have been lifted straight off some more obscure composition by Reich. There’s just a repeating few notes and chords-certainly not enough to make a melody. I think it’s just there for depth, as the tune in the song is carried solely by Miller’s singing.

It sounds as if there was a piano lying idly in the studio when they were recording the song and some passer-by decided to hit a few notes at random. It sounded good enough to keep it on the record.

And when I say it all makes sense, well, it does in the context of thinking of it as a minimalist recording, but as a million selling number one hit record, well, it sounds very odd and weird. Unsettling really.

Maybe because it only lasts for a couple of minutes or so, and I’ve played it and listened to it 25 times straight without interruption. Maybe that would happen if you listened to any pop record that way. The more I hear it then the odder it sounds. Not just the music-which is quite soothing, in a repetitive, minimalistic way (obviously), but the words.

What on earth is Miller singing about? I know it’s a paean to the simplicity of the life of a hobo, and the fact that having nothing makes you literally the King of the Road, but when he starts warbling away about 50 cent, 12 by 8 rooms and earning a few coppers for a bed to sleep in by doing a bit brushing up, it all seems a bit odd for a record that did so well during the mid-60’s, at the height of materialism in the U.S.

Maybe everyone who bought it was hankering after a bit of Beat-style, Zen-like, less being more.

It was all possibly a throwback to a sort of saintly Kerouac thing. Anyway, could it be possibly imagined that there’d ever now be a million selling single that would have wistful lines about having no cigarettes and having to smoke stogies?

Robert Rental & The Normal: Live at West Runton Pavillion 6-3-79

It’s all a bit one-sided, isn’t it?

Not this latest Songs From Under the Floorboards: I’ve tried to keep it all fairly balanced, but this great record by Robert Rental and The Normal. Because it actually was one-sided.

One side was a normal (!) record, grooves and all that, something you could stick on a record player and hear music, but the other side was empty. Smooth and flat. A blank disc. Empty. I’ll wager there’s not many of those around. Half an album.

It was one of Rough Trade’s earliest released albums and came in a plain red sleeve, almost like a 12” single.

It must be said that it’s not one of the better recorded live albums ever made but that doesn’t matter one iota. If it was pristine and crystal clear then it wouldn’t have half the impact it does.

Robert Rental was originally from Glasgow and had moved down to London with his mate, Thomas Leer, with whom he later recorded a magnificently dark and brooding electronic album, The Bridge, for Throbbing Gristle’s Industrial label.

However, for this live album he teamed up with The Normal (aka Daniel Miller, of Mute Records fame.) Although ostensibly one track, it does break down into five parts.

After kicking off with a knocking rhythm on rudimentary synths, everything breaks into splatters of white noise and taped speech fragments and then moves into an ear-splitting playback of an old swing record before that’s taken over with heavily staccato and percussive keyboards. Every so often you can make out Rental’s voice screaming into a microphone, but it was either wilfully undecipherable or so badly recorded you can’t make out what he’s on about. Something about reptiles I think, but I’m not entirely sure; it could be anything.

Towards the end we are treated to a glimpse of The Normal’s track TVOD but in a very raw form and only for a few moments before it’s supplanted by that staccato synth again and juddering waves of noise. Amazingly, you can hear applause at the end of it all, although I’d bet that the folks at West Runton Pavillion in 1979 were expecting some new wave-type band, some sub-Elvis Costello bloke at the beginning of their night out, skinny ties and boppy tunes. Robert Rental and the Normal certainly didn’t give them that.

Sadly, after releasing The Bridge album and one single on Mute, Robert Rental sort of disappeared from the music scene and died of lung cancer in 2000.

Still, he left us with a great record and one that definitely deserves releasing again.

I quite often hear the latest music from the newest electronic whizz kid on the block who’s being praised to the hilt (we could name names, but…) and I think to myself. “Well, it’s ok I suppose, but it’s all a bit tame compared to the Robert Rental album.”

Just give it a listen. Twenty-odd minutes of your time and you’ll see what I mean.

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