Elkie Brooks - Two Days Away
Elkie Brooks. A strong name. A robust name. A name which brings to mind a powerful moose like creature standing nobly over a fresh babbling mountain stream, braying proudly at any forest animal that cares to listen. And my can Elkie bray. Her husky voice drips through Two Days Away like a big dollop of natural honey – bits of bee and all - doing as much justice to the more pop oriented numbers such as Spiritland and Sunshine After The Rain , as it does to the more soulful numbers - such as the sultry album opener Love Potion No.9 and the surprisingly decent cover of Aretha Franklin’s Do Right Woman, Do Right Man.
Born in Salford, Manchester, Elkie Brooks spent much of 60’s on Britain’s cabaret circuit, introducing the likes of the Small Faces, supporting the Beatles and then touring the US with the Animals. By 1977 she had come to the attention of legendary producers Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller (a duo responsible for much of Elvis’s best recordings) who subsequently produced Two Days Away - her second solo album. I’m a big fan of this album. Her take on Love Potion No.9 which Lieber and Stoller had made a hit for The Coasters over 15 years earlier, is an excellent down key intro to the effective mixture of pop, soul and blues which is to follow, and which culminates in her raucous rendition of Saved – a cracking gospel inflected number about an ex-drinker, smoker, cusser and fusser.
Elkie Brooks spent much of the 70’s in her sparsely furnished New York apartment, sitting around in her underwear, racking up enormous phone bills by calling Donna Summer and plotting to convene twenty years hence with the aim of combining two of their most successful hits and unleashing 90’s pop sensation Berri on the world along with her irritating top ten hit Sunshine After The Rain (a tune helpfully reviewed by youtube user chandlerbingbong with the concise “I’d slip her one.” Classy chap that bingbong.) Well I’m afraid you didn’t succeed with your nefarious plan ladies. Not quite – it only reached number 4. So there. Good 90’s pop foresight from the parent core collection though!
The parent core playlist is getting a new addition in the form of Saved this week, while PJ has had a veritable goldmine of breaks and beats to play with, which I’m sure you’ll enjoy – especially if you take a leaf out of Elkie’s book and listen to them while sitting around with your trousers off.
Check out PJ’s beats here:
The Everly Brothers - Golden Hits
This one’s been a bit of a grower for me. Upon first listen The Golden Hits of The Everly Brothers (a duo I had previously been familiar with by name only) sounded like the work of a second rate 60’s pop outfit to my untrained ear - a sort of Beatles-lite if you will. However, with further listens (and ahem, a quick consultation of wiki of course) it becomes apparent that the steel guitars and close harmonies are the hallmarks of an act who are more Muhlenberg County, Kentucky than Merseyside.
This collection of their early hits from the 50’s and 60’s - when the The Everly Brothers were in their pomp - combines country-pop rock ‘n roll numbers such as How Can I Meet Her and the more rockabilly sounding Muskrat – with a sprinkling of more mournful down-tempo numbers such as Crying in the Rain and Ebony Eyes. The latter of which is a completely barmy ballad recounting the story of someone’s girlfriend going down in a ball of flames in a plane crash. The embryonic American aviation industry must have been delighted with that one. The laughably sincere monologue that spans half the song and which contains the immortal line “Could the friends and families of passengers aboard Flight 1203 please report to the chapel” is a particular highlight. Perhaps aviation disasters are what go for inspiration when you’re addicted to speed and Ritalin. Who knows? Incidentally Ebony Eyes has nothing to do with this highly peculiar Rick James and Smokey Robinson music video of the same name. I think.
The Everly Brothers’ popularity had waned by the mid-sixties as bands like the Beatles and the Beach Boys took over (and who’s debt to the Everlys is very much apparent after a couple listens) and by 1970 they were filling in for Johnny Cash on his TV show, leading to this typically meandering anecdote from Cash about American Indians not being descended from apes like the rest of us. Not sure what Darwin would have to say about that one….
Assorted Everly Brothers rock facts: 1) They both sang on Paul Simon’s Graceland, 2) Don Everly’s daughter, Erin Everly, was briefly married Axl Rose, and 3) They trail only Hall and Oates for the most number of top 40 singles by a duo… which can only lead me to believe that there really can’t be too many really successful pop duos out there as I’m struggling to think of more than three Hall and Oates songs as I sit here. Maneater is a tune though.
The track of the week for the parent core playlist goes to Cathy’s Clown – a song taken from their fourth album and which has a particularly soulful and catchy post-chorus. PJ on the other hand has chosen to tackle the plane crash which is Ebony Eyes. Enjoy!
Listen to PJ’s beats here:
Helen Reddy - Free and Easy
Apparently Helen Reddy is massive in the US. Apparently she’s often referred to as the “Queen of 70’s pop.” Apparently she’s had three number one hits including her signature hit ” I Am Woman" (which although grammatically appalling, I suspect is far more technically accurate than the utterly cringe-worthy second track on Free and Easy, Raised on Rock - a bold assertion that she soon completely contradicts by torturing the listener for the remainder of the album with what sounds like the sort of thing Andrew Lloyd Webber would leave in the pan after a heavy session on the Guinness). All this is news to me, but this is hardly surprising given that Australian-American singer songwriters from the 70’s are hardly my forte.
I’m not sure what it is that troubles me about Free and Easy so much. It starts well enough with a kind of low slung pop ballad Angie Baby (another number 1 hit), but deteriorates rapidly after the aforementioned Raised on Rock. If I was my parents, which I am evidently not, I would have had that kind of sinking feeling upon buying this album that you get when you buy a record after hearing just one song you like and soon discover that after opening with that track, the rest is actually complete toss… but you sort of have to go around pretending it’s ok for a bit or otherwise you’d look a bit daft for wasting a tenner of your hard earned cash in front of your mates, until one day a couple of years down the line, you finally break down sobbing, beating your fists against the ground declaring that your merciless friends were right all along and that the album you’ve been torturing yourself with for years is in fact complete shit. Yes, that exact feeling.
Or, maybe what troubles me is that the whole “Free and Easy” thing is tinged with a kind of watered down sexiness that I can’t quite reconcile with the girl guide troupe leader staring out at me from the record sleeve. Or the totally benign ballads that sound like Elaine Page committing suicide. Probably the most exciting thing on this album is the key change pan pipes solo on the album title track. Exactly.
Either way, this was another thumbs down this week I’m afraid. What it has inspired though, is a proper daft retro rave beat session from DJ PJ during the outro to this week’s remix, which can only be a good thing.
Check out PJ’s beats:
Stuff Smith - Self Titled
Wow, where the hell did this one come from? Stuff Smith hey - an innocuous sounding bloke emitting a far from innocuous sound. This six track screech-athon from one of jazz’s apparently most well known swing-era violinists is easily the most excruciating parent core listen to date.
I cherry picked this self titled album from my parent’s record collection a number of years ago actually - thinking that it would complement the three lonely looking John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley jazz albums I already owned. I’m not sure where this late teen interest in jazz sprung from but I can only assume that it was prompted by a teacher at school starting a jazz club and naively thinking that it would be just like that Fast Show sketch where Piles Husain’s cheeks blow up. Disappointingly the real jazz club was neither as funny nor as short as that sketch.
It’s not that I don’t mind a bit of jazz in small handfuls - the aforementioned Miles Davis and co for example, it’s just that this record is more large fist rammed down your ear canal than small handful.
The opening track - Desert Sands - is almost bearable in a Renault Clio advert kind of a way, but this soon gives way to Soft Winds - which is quite frankly anything but. There’s one particular ascending aural phrase which as PJ describes it, is like “something Satan would fart from from the 7th Layer of Hell.” Albeit a very high pitched fart. A squeaker if you will. Hence the reason Puja has chosen Soft Winds as the subject of his remix obviously.
I had to stop after four tracks for a breather as I was developing a pounding head ache. Safe to say that this has been the least pleasurable parent core listen so far. It’s almost impossible to choose which track to stick on the parent core play list, so for the sake of the listener’s sanity I’ll opt for the shortest one – “It don’t mean a thing (If it ain’t got that swing).”
On the back of the record sleeve Stuff Smith himself advises the amateur jazz violinist to attack those flat fifths if they want to sound like him. On the evidence here I would strongly advise against doing any such thing - unless you’re trying to deter foxes from shagging in your garden - which would probably be preferable to this racket. Well done Stuff, I think you might be the first jazz musician to make me dislike jazz.
As an aside, Stuff did appear in the seminal jazz photograph “A Great Day in Harlem” which is actually pretty cool. Although if you lived where the photo was taken it was probably a bit annoying having to navigate past 57 jazz musicians while bringing your shopping in from the car.
Check out PJ’s eerie Stuff Smith beats here:
John Denver - Back Home Again
I like country music but this certainly hasn’t always been the case. Twee, twee, and more twee, John Denver pretty much seemed to be the epitome of everything that was lame about country for me. I’m not entirely sure what changed, but I can only think that it was some unspecified combination of the following factors:
1) Hearing Me First and the Gimme Gimme’s cover of Country Roads. If John Denver was good enough (ironically or not, it doesn’t matter) for a super-group of Fat Wreck Chord punk rockers then there had to be something worth listening to there.
2) Listening to K-Rose FM in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. For some reason, listening to Willie Nelson’s Crazy while trying to outrun the cops in a pixelated version of LA, driving a tractor, wielding an Uzi and wearing nothing but a pair of purple pants and an old World War One German military helmet, gave country a new sheen for me.
3) Listening to the folksy bluegrass soundtrack to the Coen Brother’s Oh Brother Where Art Thou and the excellent Beyond Nashville compilation albums that it inspired - teaching me that country and folk can be just as punk in its ethic as… well punk.
Released in 1974, John Denver’s eighth album Back Home Again is a superb slice of country pie. From the home coming ballad after which the album is named, to the daft singalong of Grandma’s Feather Bed (or Grandma’s Leather Bed as someone in my country covers band Cash Back once mis-heard it. Sticky), to the number one hit (and only real single success he had in the UK) Annie’s Song - a tune which sounds like the sort of thing my mate Al’s Mum would sing in her rock choir - Back Home Again reels out tune after recognisable tune. My favourite is the good old hoe down of Thank God I’m a Country Boy. Life ain’t nothin’ but a funny funny riddle indeed John.
While John Denver lacks the gravelly world weary tones of Johnny Cash or the raw political drive of Steve Earle (my two favourite country dudes), I still find his purer much more lilting melodies very appealing. Plus, having read his wiki entry he appears to have been far more political engaged than I gave him credit for (not that I’m in the habit of handing out parent core political activism credits to deceased country music stars).
I also think I have a soft spot for John because he died in plane crash - piloting a light aircraft as was his hobby. Having had a near death experience in a plane in Venezuela ten years ago when a wizened mustochiaoed pilot made me take the controls of the plane as he clambered into the back seat in an attempt to secure a door which had flung open mid flight next to my mate Will, I kind of feel like I’ve got a cosmic connection with him. Sort of.
As for the record sleeve to Back Home Again: nice double denim John. My workmate Josh would approve. Your missus however, looks less amused.
Check out Puja’s John Denver inspired country beats below:
Ike and Tina Turner - Workin’ Together
Unbelievably this record took far longer than it should have done to find its way in to my own collection. Unbelievably because it’s awesome. Released in 1970 on Liberty Records, Workin’ Together is a cool blend of funk, soul and rock ‘n roll – opening with the peace anthem after which the album takes its name, taking in a couple of much improved Beatles covers (Get Back and Let It Be), a total tune penned by Tina’s sister in Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter, and all while working its way towards a blistering cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary.
I don’t know what took me so long. I think that perhaps in my youthful impatience I skipped forward to Proud Mary (being a fan of the original) and was immediately deterred by the plodding intro without waiting for the tune to totally kick off as it does half way through – a point at which Tina literally jumps up, grabs you tightly by the ears, bellows in your face and forces you to dance like a startled cat. Not literally. But near enough.
Or maybe it’s because when I was younger and more musically self conscious, I couldn’t reconcile the young sexy looking Tina of the album’s front cover with the big-haired shoulder pad wearing mums’ favourite from the 80’s – singer of the ego-inflating (well, presumably if it’s being sung at you) Simply The Best, and star of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (the weakest of the Mad Max films in my opinion – replacing the Ozzie-Michael-York-lookalike-vs-a-WWF-wrestler-flatteringly-named-Humongous shenanigans of Mad Max 2 with children, farmyard animals and a bizarre reappearance of Bruce Spence’s character under a different name and equipped with a different but equally precarious looking flying contraption). The two Tinas are one and the same though and I’m even a fan of the latter day Tina now - ever since my band The UNoR covered Simply the Best to a “rapturous” reception while dedicating it to my mates Will and Andys’ mum.
It’s really hard to pick my stand-out track from this album, making it tricky to decide which to add to the parent core playlist this week. However it’s definitely between Get You When I Want You, Funkier than a Mosquito’s Tweeter and Proud Mary. It’ll probably end up being Proud Mary, given its ability to transform the dance floor at a party into a place full of hollering, boogying, smiling funk-heads.
And finally, it’s worth pointing out that the original 1970’s album cover is way better than the artwork from the more recently re-issued CD. This is mainly because Ike is far less prominent on the original. And as we all know, Ike is a total cu…..
Check out Puja’s Workin’ Together inspired beats: