Thursday, September 28, 2017

Questions I didn't get round to asking Jimmy Webb

Just got back from talking to Jimmy Webb about his memoir "The Cake And The Rain" at Waterstone's. I'm looking at my notes and realising that while our conversation touched on such topics as Frank Sinatra in a onesie, the night he left a party with Little Feat, became involved in a road race in the Hollywood Hills and totalled an unbelievably expensive motor car, how he wrote his first hit in his head while driving to the beach, what it was like as a 17-year-old to stand in front of the cream of Los Angeles session men and conduct his own arrangement and why there's a solid fiduciary reason why "Hey Jude" is as long as it is, these are just some of the things I didn't get round to asking him about.

* Singing for the first time in public at Hugh Hefner's place for his TV show "Playboy After Dark".
* Why Richard Harris was incapable of properly singing the title of "McArthur Park".
* Watching the Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square from the penthouse on top of the Playboy Club in Park Lane.
* His disastrous in-concert debut in Los Angeles in 1970 where Le Tout Hollywood turned up to watch him fail – and he obliged.
* His private conversations with Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong.
* Being sneaked into the control room to watch the Beatles record "Honey Pie".
* Taking part in a naked orchestral concert with, among others, Joni Mitchell.
* Nearly killing himself shooting the cover of "Lands End".
* How he became one of twelve writers credited on "Famous" by Kanye West.
* Lots of other stuff involving famous beautiful women, expensive cars and cocaine.

Still, it's all in the book.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

There's no such thing as new music. There's just old music you haven't heard before.

The other day somebody asked me the "what are you listening to right now?" question. This questions assumes that I'm one of those people who spend their weeks ploughing through the latest releases. There was a time I had to do that and it almost killed my love of music. I envy Bob Harris who always says that his favourite record is whatever he's just heard. I can't do that.

In addition to this we now have access to so much stuff we haven't heard it seems absurd to give any special respect to whatever happens to be new.

There was a live example this morning. I was reading Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue" which starts with a guy in a record shop going through a crate of old jazz records. He's delighted to find one by Melvin Sparks. Because I'd never heard of Melvin Sparks I fired up the album he was talking about on Spotify and really enjoyed it. It was made just before his death in 2011.

I was just enjoying that when my son messaged me to say he was enjoying "Living On A Thin Line" by The Kinks. This was recorded in 1984 but he'd heard it on a Sopranos soundtrack, which came out sixteen years later in 2001.

Like I should have said to the woman who asked me what I was listening to right now. There's no such thing as new music. There's just old music you haven't heard before.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The ten best single words in Steely Dan's songs

Chuck Berry prided himself on being able to use words you didn’t often find in pop songs. So did Bob Dylan. And Joni Mitchell.

But nobody did it better than Steely Dan.

In memory of Walter Becker I launched a Twitter search for the best single words used in their lyrics.

I’m not counting actual place names like Guadalajara and Hackensack; nor made-up places like the Custerdome.

I’m not using real people’s names like Cathy Berberian or Thelonius.

These are the ten best single words in Steely Dan lyrics, as chosen by lots of people on Twitter and put into order by me. Why not? It's my blog.

  • “Squonk” in “Any Major Dude Will Tell You”
  • “Oleanders” in “My Old School”
  • “Scrapple” from “Josie”
  • “Kirchwasser” from “Babylon Sisters"
  • “Merengue” from "Haitian Divorce"
  • “Skeevy” from “Cousin Dupree"
  • “Bodhisattva” from “Bodhisattva”
  • “Spoor” from “Rose Darling"
  • “Dolly” (as a verb!) in “Haitian Divorce”
  • These are all great suggestions but my winner is still “piastre” in “Doctor Wu”. 

There’s lots of fascinating reading about references in Steely Dan songs in the fabulous Steely Dan Dictionary.