Randomising the record collection #26: Elaine Hudson – No More The Fool

#644 – Elaine Hudson – No More The Fool
(7-inch single, 1990) (Discogs tracklisting)

26 elaine hudson

Elaine Hudson had made her mark in 1989, duetting with Sydney Youngblood on the title track of his successful debut album Feeling Free. Now it was Youngblood’s turn to return the favour, supplying incidental vocals on Hudson’s first single. Indeed, the whole Youngblood songwriting and production crew were pressed into Hudson’s service, with Youngblood himself taking a co-writing credit.

In its 12-inch incarnation, “No More The Fool” is an amiable, well-sung pop take on classic soul tropes, with pleasing piano and strings, that’s only marred by the inclusion of that Soul II Soul rhythm track, which had become ubiquitous around the turn of the Nineties.

In this respect, Team Youngblood – and producer Claus Zundel in particular – had previous form, drawing criticism for their heavy reliance on Jazzie B’s signature sound. Cocking a snook at the finger-waggers, they had even released a “Jazzy Who?” remix of “Feeling Free”, which committed further acts of plunder. And of course, there was Youngblood’s big hit “If Only I Could”, whose backing track is barely distinguishable from Raze’s “Break 4 Love”.

As shameless as these lifts might have been, at least they were competently executed. But with the 7″ remix of “No More The Fool” – which is the version I own, and you’ll search in vain to hear it online – the machinery jammed. Ditching the Soul II Soul rhythm, Zundel smothered the song with a generic James Brown breakbeat, mixing it so high that the rest of the track fades into murky near-inaudibility. Hudson’s vocals are so buried, that she might as well have been singing beneath six inches of soil, and Youngblood’s vocals are mixed so low that the ear struggles to make them out at all. In fact, the overall sound quality is so utterly, utterly terrible, that it beggars belief that this mix was ever cleared for release. Perhaps it sounded better on the CD single, but all I can hear is the thoughtless ruination of a otherwise pleasant song.

It bombed, of course – and by the end of the year, Hudson’s major label recording career was over. She now works as a wedding singer in Birmingham, Alabama. She looks happy, and I’m glad about that.

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Randomising the record collection #25: Daryl Hall & John Oates – Family Man / One On One

#600 – Daryl Hall & John Oates – Family Man / One On One
(7-inch single, 1983) (Discogs tracklisting)

25 hall oates

Two days on from Tina Turner, we’re back with the Finnish DJ’s job lot. This copy is a good deal less battered than “What’s Love Got To Do With It”, with a level of surface noise that’s easier to tune out. “Family Man” is the clear A-side, but for this European release, it’s been bundled with its predecessor “One On One”: an equally big hit in the US, which did much less well over here.

In 1983, Hall and Oates were at the peak of their success. H2O, the album which housed both these tracks, was their eleventh release and their biggest seller; it also gave them their fifth US chart-topper, “Maneater”.

“Family Man”, the album’s sole cover, was released by Mike Oldfield in the spring of 1982, with vocals by Maggie “Moonlight Shadow” Reilly. Although Hall and Oates remain fairly faithful to Oldfield’s arrangement, they’ve taken liberties with the lyrics, adding lines to later verses that make its “hooker rebuffed” story less clear-cut. This time around, the hooker’s prospective client changes his mind too late: “he waited much too long, but by the time he got his courage up, she was gone.”

“One On One” is a gentler affair, more in the tradition of the duo’s blue-eyed soul style, with none of the A-side’s clenched rock bite. It’s a love song wrapped round a sporting metaphor, which talks of playing the game, setting the pace, taking time out and so on.

If I’m sounding neutral here, it’s because I’ve always been basically neutral towards Hall and Oates. Their earlier work – with the exception of the heavenly “She’s Gone” – was too mature for my teenage ears, and their Eighties hits – with the exception of the equally heavenly “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” – didn’t chime with my expectations of Eighties pop. That said, both tracks have worn well; history has been kind to this type of glossy AOR-pop, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear “Family Man” at retro nights for cool millennials.

So maybe it’s time for me to dig into those early albums – the first two produced by Arif Mardin, the third by Todd Rundgren – and close this gap in my knowledge.

Yeah, I’ll stick them on a playlist. That’s what I’ll do.

Randomising the record collection #24: Quincy Jones – Q’s Jook Joint

#2330 – Quincy Jones – Q’s Jook Joint
(CD, 1995) (Discogs tracklisting)

24 quincy jones

Six years after Back On The Block, an album which I loved and played a great deal, came its sequel: another journey through diverse styles of black music, both old and new, which was equally crammed with guest appearances from artists of all generations.

On the 92-second intro, Jones’s guest roster reaches surreal proportions; 29 voices are heard, ranging from Marlon Brando to Queen Latifah, Dizzy Gillespie to Bono. We get the picture; he’s a well-connected guy. The trouble with this approach, though, is that the names threaten to distract from the music. You end up forever checking the sleeve notes, just in case a historic collaboration (Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder!) passes you by.

Clocking in at 70 minutes, the album suffers from a certain amount of mid-Nineties fill-up-the-CD bloat; some tracks drag on too long, particularly the closing pair of “quiet storm” wind-downs, and some of the interludes could have been cut. The shiny, brittle, over-separated production also screams “Nineties CD” – you couldn’t ever imagine this on vinyl – but such were the times, and perhaps it’s unfair to slate a Nineties CD for sounding just like a Nineties CD.

There’s also the issue of Sequel Syndrome, and diminishing returns. Where Back On The Block dazzled you with its scope, Q’s Jook Joint sometimes feels too worthy, too cosy, too respectful, too respectable. That said, there are, of course, plenty of delightful moments. With a cast this strong, how could there not be?

I was reading only yesterday, in David Toop’s 1984 history of hip hop The Rap Attack, about the vocal freestyles that Eddie Jefferson created from jazz improvisations, and so was particularly struck by Brian McKnight’s fine update of Jefferson’s vocalese style on a reworking of James Moody’s “Moody’s Mood For Love”, complete with a sax solo from Moody himself. Later, I watched Phil Collins performing “If Leaving Me Is Easy” on a 1981 Top of the Pops, and found myself marvelling, quite despite myself, at the quality of the vocals, songwriting and arrangement. Collins guests here on Duke Ellington’s “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me” – backed by a large brass section, with great solos from Joshua Redman on sax and Jerry Hey on trumpet – and he acquits himself commendably, which is a big surprise. Elsewhere, there are enjoyable covers of The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp”, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” and Jones’s own “Stuff Like That”, the latter voiced by its composers Ashford & Simpson alongside Brandy, Ray Charles, Chaka Khan and The Gap Band’s Charlie Wilson.

This must have been a massively demanding project logistically, but it’s also manifestly a labour of love, and you can feel that love shining all the way through. These are all people who Jones admires, from living legends to brand new talents, and no-one other than Jones could have brought them all together. Perhaps inevitably, the whole doesn’t exceed the sum of its parts – but you can only applaud its ambition and spirit.

Randomising the record collection #23: Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It

#1432 – Tina Turner – What’s Love Got To Do With It
(7-inch single, 1984) (Discogs tracklisting)

23 tina turner

For Christmas, K gave me a copy of Eilon Paz’s sumptuous coffee table book, Dust & Grooves: Adventures In Record Collecting. Over the course of its 436 pages, a diverse array of record enthusiasts display and discuss their collections. In each case, you get the impression that every record has been lovingly curated, and that each collection can be viewed as a physical representation of its owner’s personality and passion.

As for my own equally vast and sprawling collection, I couldn’t begin to make the same sort of claim. It’s not so much lovingly curated, as haphazardly accumulated. There are duds galore: random punts, impulse buys, bargain-bin hoovering exercises, ephemeral fancies, over-hyped disappointments, artist loyalties that stretched too far. Too often, I’ll pull out a record or a CD, and think to myself: what the hell is that doing here?

And so it is with this battered copy of Tina Turner’s second comeback hit, which took her long-stalled career to new heights, turning her into a global superstar at the age of 44. What the hell is this doing here? I never cared for it much at the time, and I’ve never warmed much to it since.

“What’s Love Got To Do With It” snuck into my collection in the mid-Nineties, as part of a job lot. A Finnish friend had moved to the UK, and was purging dead weight. He’d worked as a DJ, playing the hits of the day in his home city’s bars and clubs. Feeling generous, I swept through his stack of seven-inchers with a wide net, filling in gaps and erring on the side of “well, it might be useful to have this in stock”.

You can see from the cover scan that this has been played out a lot, and you can hear it in the grooves, too; the crackle is considerable. That aside, the pressing’s a good one, surprising me with the punch it still packs. (I’d forgotten about that reggae-inflected bass, although it’s still more Men At Work than Marley.)

These days, “tastemaker singles” are an established part of the promotional process. Put something out on a small label over the autumn, just in time to reach the “Sound Of…” voters, then hit the market big time in the spring, with a more commercial offering. Looking back at the Tina Turner campaign, it’s tempting to see something similar at work. Charting in November 1983, her first comeback hit, “Let’s Stay Together”, carried the cachet of B.E.F./Heaven 17 (who had also produced her cover of “Ball Of Confusion” a year earlier, on their critically acclaimed but under-selling Music of Quality and Distinction). Then, having primed us with a “Tina gets cool again” move, Capitol wheeled out the big guns.

Producer and co-writer Terry Britten had a solid track record, having revitalised Cliff Richard’s career with “Devil Woman” and provided B.A. Robertson with a string of hits. “What’s Love Got To Do With It” had already been hawked around a few acts – Donna Summer, Phyllis Hyman, Bucks Fizz – but it must have felt like a natural fit for Turner’s style: battle-hardened and bruised, yet still flirty and sassy. Who else could sell a line as breathtakingly cynical as “what’s love but a second-hand emotion”, while still hoofing and vamping and making you think: ah, good old Tina, I’ll buy into that?

Well, that’s how I see it objectively – but in truth, Comeback Tina never moved me much. I hear showmanship, technique and personality by the bucketload, but I never get a true sense of soul. That rock edge to her voice? It’s the wrong sort of rock for me. I get the “what a gal, what a survivor, isn’t she great for her age” aspect, but I can get no further. Perhaps this song was given added autobiographical heft when it was chosen as the title of her 1993 biopic – but it hadn’t been written with Tina in mind, and the retro-fit came too late to convince me.

Instead, my abiding Turner memory is of gazing blankly at her, stadium-strutting on a Pepsi TV commercial with the sound turned down, while playing Laibach’s cover of Queen’s “One Vision” and drawing the sort of parallels that only Laibach could induce.

Randomising the record collection #22: The Sweet – Co-Co

#1335 – The Sweet – Co-Co
(7-inch single, 1971) (Discogs tracklisting)

22 sweet co-co

By most people’s yardsticks, it’s hardly a classic – quite the reverse, you might well say – but for nine year-old me, the UK singles chart of 1st-7th August 1971 marks the point where it all began.

It was the summer holidays, and I’d just been given my first transistor radio, a source of constant fascination. I mostly kept it tuned to Radio One, whose daytime playlist exactly mirrored the top of the charts. Within a week or so, I could recognise the biggest hits within seconds – and could quote you their chart positions, too.

T. Rex were spending their third week at Number One with “Get It On”, with its predecessor, Middle Of The Road’s “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”, still hanging around at Number Three. I preferred the latter: super-catchy, but with an undertone of melancholy (this was, after all, a song about an abandoned child). The New Seekers had climbed to Number Two with “Never Ending Song Of Love” – those swoonsome doo-doo-doos and ba-ba-baas! – and there were two lilting, easy-rolling folk-country songs at Six and Seven, by Lobo (“Me And You And A Dog Named Boo”) and New World (“Tom Tom Turnaround”). Atomic Rooster were at Four with “Devil’s Answer”, a song containing a word that I literally didn’t dare to speak out loud; even “Good Heavens” was considered too sweary for our family back then, and I wasn’t going to take any risks.

Songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, on the threshold of becoming major players, had two singles in the Top Ten. As well as “Tom Tom Turnaround” – the only single from this chart that I went out and bought, and indeed the first single that I ever bought – they had landed their second hit for The Sweet, two places above it.

“Co-Co” had everything I wanted from a pop song: a distinctive intro, well-turned verses which exploded into a massively hooky chorus, a sunny arrangement (those steel drums!), a high-pitched vocal that I could squeak along with, nonsense words (I was big on nonsense), bags of repetition, and a string of rising key changes could have carried on rising forever, well beyond the fade.

I really should have bought it instead of the New World, but it turned out that 45s cost more than I was expecting, and so my pocket money could only stretch to one of them. Panicking at the counter of Boots in Doncaster’s Arndale centre, I blurted out the first title I could think of. This too set a pattern; of the thousands of purchases I’ve made since, a dismaying proportion have been similarly ill-considered. (Hello, Nineties.)

A couple of years later, a copy of “Co-Co” turned up in our village, on a trestle table at a church fete, for mere pennies. I think my sister bought it; it’s her handwriting on the label, next to the original owner. Even then, it felt like a period piece; The Sweet had progressed from cod-calypso to full-on glam stomp, and so it paled in comparison to the might of “Blockbuster”, “Hell Raiser” and “Ballroom Blitz”.

Meanwhile, The Sweet pursued a parallel path on their self-penned B-sides, which they claimed represented their true worth as a serious hard rock band, as opposed to purveyors of manufactured pap. But in truth, the sub-Deep Purple-isms of “Done Me Wrong All Right” are nothing worth shouting about. They finally got their way in 1974, on their second album Sweet Fanny Adams, dropping the definite article and reducing Chinn and Chapman’s contributions to a mere two tracks. There will be more on that if the randomiser permits.

Randomising the record collection #21: Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers

#2723 – Polar Bear – Held On The Tips Of Fingers
(CD, 2005) (Discogs tracklisting)

21 polar bear

Today, I’m giving myself the day off. There are two interconnected reasons for this: I’m somewhat viral (nothing too major, but enough to sap the strength and addle the brain), and I’m performing on stage tonight (and so am choosing to conserve what powers I have remaining, delicate am-dram hothouse flower that I am).

There’s also a third reason: this is a jazz album, and I’m no good at writing about jazz. I listen to it from time to time – more so in recent months, spurred on by my love for Kamasi Washington’s The Epic, my favourite album of 2015 – but I lack context and insight. And when I do listen, I don’t altogether listen fully, focusing largely on the overall groove and skimming over the intricacies of the playing. In particular, I struggle to make sense of jazz solos; the language they speak has always eluded me.

However, I wouldn’t want to let you down. And so, following a Facebook exchange yesterday, I have secured the services of a guest blogger for today’s write up. His name is John P, and he is one of my New Knaresborough Friends.

I first met John through my involvement with Knaresborough’s Frazer Theatre; he is our vice-chairman, and the founder/booker/promoter of our highly successful monthly comedy nights. We acted together in the 2014 panto, when my Dame memorably vanquished his villain with the aid of a Wonder Woman costume, an inflatable banana and a troupe of cardboard minions. John subsequently cast me as a psychotic, sado-masochistic dentist in his production of Little Shop of Horrors, which we performed last summer, thus helping me to overcome my lifelong aversion to Musical Theatre.

John is a geek of many colours. He is a comedy geek, a film geek, a tech geek, a sci-fi/fantasy geek, a gaming geek… but, as his guest post will make clear, he is absolutely not a jazz geek. We haven’t had many conversations about music, but I do know that he is firmly a child of the Nineties, who got awfully excited about last year’s Blur reunion.

Never one to couch his opinions in gentle language, John is also a serial dropper of Truth Bombs. These are my Top Three John P Truth Bombs to date. I cannot quibble with any of them.

1. “Mike, you need to stop talking about Nottingham all the time. You live in Knaresborough now.”

2. “To survive a visit to Mike and K’s house, you basically have to be Oliver Reed.”

3. “Mike, you know we all love you. But let’s face it, you’re really just a gateway drug to K.”

If I carry on much longer, my introduction will be longer than John’s guest post, which he wrote last night in a single take, as Polar Bear streamed on Spotify. So let me hand over to him now. John P, everyone!


Randomising Mike’s Record Collection – Held on the Tips of Fingers: Polar Bear

So, for reasons that seemed rational and amusing earlier in the day, I shall review a record plucked by fate from Mike’s collection. Perhaps somewhere in his vast hinterland is a copy of one of the late 90’s Shine compilations. That would have been nice. Or maybe an early pressing of An Awesome Wave by Alt-J. I would have been supremely comfortable with that. Instead, at nearly 10pm, I am about to start reviewing what can only be described, apparently, as a jazz album.

Oh, hubris…

Still, onwards.

1. Was Dreaming You Called You Disappeared I Slept

Hmm… starts with some random noise and a bit of sax. No discernible melody yet. Oh yes, it’s jazz.

Well, let’s see… It’s all very atonal, isn’t it? Some drums, but no particular rhythm. God, is this music? No, give it a chance.

Oh, it appears to have ended. That’s a short one. OK, perhaps this is just an intro song. Buck 65 likes intro songs, so it must be a good idea. Mind you, “Leftfielder” this ain’t.

Sense of dread building.

2. Beartown

Right, this is a bit more jaunty. The hand claps remind me of Emma Thompson’s semi-improvised show Thompson’s theme tune. Bum-bum-ba-ba-bum. Quite catchy that. Still, there seems to be a lot of nonsense going on over the sterling repetitive beat.

This reminds me of music appreciation class at school. Is it a valid appreciation of music to remember a time when you were appreciating music? I’m not sure Mr Western would approve.

I mean, this is better than the first track, but still, really not actually, y’know, any good. It was quite promising at first, but as these – Jesus! – nearly six minutes go by, I find myself quite cross. At least the first track promised brevity.

3. Fluffy (I Want You)

OK, back to the “starting with random noise” gambit are you? Fine. Let’s see how that works out for you.

Some of these phrases are actually enjoyable; they put me in mind of a Sixties cop-show. Then some fucker just randomly rings a bell in the background and they ruin it again.

Beginning to suspect that I don’t like jazz.

And on it goes. There doesn’t seem to be any progression. I wonder if they’re aiming for something? It just seems so random. Is that the point? It can’t be.

They’re repeating bits again, making me think it’s a proper song. It isn’t. It ends with random noise too.

4. To Touch the Red Brick

Ooh, good drums. Like that at the start. And the sax is behaving too. Come on guys, keep this up.

Now, this is a bit more like the stuff they play in Noble. I’m put in mind of drinking excellent cocktails in a secret speakeasy.

Come on guys, don’t fuck it up. Because you’re on the verge of fucking it up.

No, it’s back to something at least resembling a tune. Couldn’t hum it, but it’s there. This one’s alright so far.

Oh, it’s also very short. Well, fuck.

5. Held on the Tips of Fingers

The title track, so I imagine they were very happy with this one. Again.

Dangerously verging on melody. Would you describe it as “sultry”? I probably would.

Beginning to realise I only hear jazz in bars. Why do bars play jazz? Pondering this and not paying attention to the music. Perhaps the music has transported me to a place of introspection and wonder. Perhaps this song seems to meander without ever doing anything of note, good or bad. That seems more likely, to be perfectly honest.

Don’t hate this, but nor do I care about it. I can’t see why you’d ever choose to listen to it. Unless you are too stubborn to skip it. Which is the position I find myself in.

6. Argumentative

Ooh, a little bit of Latin flavour at the start there. Some slap bass, now that’s quite nice. Stop fucking about over at the back there – you stopped paying attention for a moment, didn’t you, and it all went shit.

Come on, I suspect you’re actually a pretty good band when you want to be. I think they just need a conductor. Perhaps all jazz is just musicians in desperate need of a man with a baton?

They’re getting along perfectly well and then go off on some tuneless digression. I get it’s free form, but I assumed you did that and then kept all the good bits. Was this album just recorded live in one take?

Really starting to suspect I don’t like jazz now.

7. The King of Aberdeen

A little bit haunting, interesting counterpoint, the first 20 seconds are nice. Well, as nice as it gets on here. This sounds more like they’ve at least discussed a vague idea of what they’re going to do before they hit “record”.

Oh, as I type that, it all seems to have ground to a halt. Just the bass noodling now over drums. This reminds me of every shit film I’ve ever watched late at night of Channel 4. Except The Transporter, but that’s got The Stath in it.

What was I saying? Oh yes. God, this drones on. Not enjoying this one. It’s just boring. Starting to eye the clock in the corner of my screen. I was expecting it to tell me it’s 2024. Apparently it’s not even half ten yet. Christ. I’ll go check the headlines and let you know if anything good happens.

Nope, it didn’t.

8. Your Eyes the Sea

More upbeat again – good, the last few have been dirges. But it seems the faster the beat goes, the less attention they pay to what each other are doing.

The drummer appears to have woken up from whatever stupor he was in. The drums have probably been the best part of the album so far.

Think about that.

“The drums have probably been the best part of the album so far.”

Christ. That’s a sentence I’ve written in the English language.

And now they’re shouting. Wordlessly, of course. More yelping, if anything. Stop that.

Sudden end. Nope, that wasn’t very good.

9. Life That Ends Too Soon

Unlike this album, which can’t end soon enough.

SHIT! They’re singing! What the actual fuck? Why is there singing on this? You can’t just have singing on the last track? Even Mogwai were big enough twats to do that. And Mogwai really are absolute twats. I mean, what the fuck were they doing supporting the Manic Street Preachers? Fuck me, that was the wrong choice. Mind you, it was in support of This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours, so who know what they were thinking. Not as bad as Lifeblood though.

Oh, I forgot about the album for a moment there. Thinking about an INFINITELY BETTER band.

The singing has stopped now. That was such a pleasant surprise, I almost started enjoying it. Almost.

Oh, is this a hidden track? The song ended, and now there’s a different song. Hidden tracks don’t really work on Spotify.  Remember when Ash released 1977 on CD and you could rewind past the start of track one to get to two hidden tracks? That was great. This isn’t. This is more annoying than anything else on the album. This is actually making my ears hurt.

Bing! Bing! Bing! Bing! That’s the sound of this song. Not Whoop Whoop, which is the sound of the police. Or Vwoorp Vwoorp, which is the sound of the Tardis.

Another sudden end to the final track on the album. Most of them just stopped like that. I don’t really approve.

I did not care for this album. It was not, as far as I can determine, any good at all. Perhaps I have missed the point. I understand jazz is about the notes they didn’t play. I would have rather enjoyed it if they hadn’t played most, if not all, of these.

Randomising the record collection round-up: the first 20, ranked.

*****
1. Prince – Lovesexy (1988)
2. Prince and the Revolution – Kiss (1986)
3. Wayne G ft Stewart Who? – Twisted (1997)
4. Actress – R.I.P. (2012)
5. Royal House – Can You Party (1988)

****
6. Róisín Murphy – Ruby Blue (2005)
7. Various Artists – Folk Awards 2007 (2007)
8. Mychael Danna /Various Artists – Monsoon Wedding (soundtrack) (2001)

***
9. R. Kelly ‎– Down Low (Nobody Has To Know) (1996)
10. Whycliffe – Rough Side (1991)
11. E.U. – Da Butt (1988)
12. Aivaras – Happy You (2002)
13. Can – Ege Bamyasi (1972)
14. Beck – Odelay (1996)
15. Michel’le – No More Lies (1990)

**
16. BASF C90 (no tracklisting) (1985)
17. Various Artists – Uncut Hard Drive: Uncut’s Pick Of The Hottest New Music (2003)
18. D-Influence – Prayer 4 Unity (1995)
19. 808 State – Bombadin (1994)

*
20. Eternal – So Good (CD1) (1994)