Monthly Archives: April 2018

Bad last songs

About 18 months ago, I did a piece on final songs,

In that post, I kicked around the difference between an album that’s a collection of great songs, and an album that’s a great collection of songs. Extrapolating from that, I argued there’s more to a great final song than just a good song stuck on the end of an album’s tracklisting. A great final song is born out of its relationship with the rest of the record.It seems to finish the album in a way no other song could, tying it all together, reinforcing themes or moods. Maybe it offers hope and redemption at the end of something cathartic or challenging. Maybe it does the opposite, dragging the record down into the very depths, where it was headed all along.

A Day in the Life is the most obvious example of the great final track in rock’n’roll, but you might equally pick Caroline No, Gold Dust Woman, Time of the Season, Thank You for Talking to Me Africa or All Apologies. With Mercy Mercy Me and Inner City Blues, Marvin Gaye managed two great final songs on one album, one for each side of the vinyl disc.

But not everyone gets it right. There’s something perversely lovable about finishing a record with something ill judged, bathetic or just plain goofy (yes, Hippie Boy from The Gilded Palace of Sin, I’m looking at you) – something that seems to be doing its best to undermine all the good work of the rest of the record.

My favourite example of a band who clearly found it hard to get it over the line is the Byrds, who made something of a habit of head-scratching final tracks: 2-4-2 Foxtrot (The Lear Jet Song) and Space Odyssey are just the most notable. Then there’s Joni Mitchell, who has ended even some of her very finest albums on a regrettable joke (Twisted), or over-serious attempts at writing something grand that instead come off po-faced and lumbering. The Silky Veils of Ardor, Judgement of the Moon and Stars, The Sire of Sorrow (Job’s Sad Song) – the titles alone tell you you’re going to be in for a long five, six, seven minutes.

Speaking of long, I can’t be the only one who finds Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands a 10-minute punishment, or perhaps a provocation. Or who’s not at all convinced that You Can’t Always Get What You Want merits its endless intro and outro. A special class of “long final track” is the endless instrumental; Cynicrustpetefredjohn Raga is a blot on the otherwise perfect Fred Neil, while the third disc of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass is given over entirely to jams, of which Thanks For All the Pepperoni is not the worst, but as the last is the least welcome. Then there’s Revelation, the less-than-revelatory 20-minute jam that takes up all of side two of Love’s Da Capo.

Those are just some off the top of my head. If you’ve got any more, comment below!

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Fleetwood House? Crowded Mac? Lindsey Buckingham leaves FM; Neil Finn is in

So, Fleetwood Mac have reportedly fired Lindsey Buckingham.

As much as I love Fleetwood Mac, I’d be the first to admit that they are a living, breathing rock’n’roll soap opera; nothing that they can do to each other would surprise me or any other FM fan. I fully expect Buckingham to rejoin them within the next couple of years.

In the meantime, it’s Buckingham out and Neil Finn in, along with former Tom Petty sideman Mike Campbell. Which tells you all you need to know about how special a talent Lindsey Buckingham is: it takes two people to replace him, and even then you’ve not replaced his production and arrangement talent.

That said, Neil Finn kind of makes sense. Kind of. There are definitely moments in Finn’s discography that have that spooked Fleetwood Mac vibe, that introspective mood of dusk and twilight bordering on the mystical that almost all the writers who have passed through the band have tapped into – the mood you find in Peter Green’s Man of the World and Albatross, in Danny Kirwan’s Dragonfly, in Bob Welch’s Hypnotized, in Buckingham’s I’m So Afraid, and in countless Stevie Nicks songs. Catherine Wheels from Together Alone fits, 2007 reunion single Don’t Stop Now definitely fits. I can imagine it working reasonably well.

But I just don’t think it’ll have to for long.

Emotion – Samantha Sang

Saturday Night Fever was a 1977 film, but it was released to theatres in December, so its true impact wasn’t felt until 1978.

When it was – kaboom.

The Bee Gees owned 1978. It was obscene. The Billboard year-end Hot 100 singles? By my count, the Bee Gees wrote, performed and/or produced nine of them. Nine! Their three Saturday Night Fever songs (Night Fever, Stayin’ Alive and How Deep is Your Love), plus Yvonne Elliman’s If I Can’t Have You, Samantha Sang’s reading of Emotion, Frankie Valli’s Gibb-penned title track from Grease and no fewer than three songs by Andy Gibb, all written for him by Barry. I would imagine that More than a Woman, Jive Talkin’, You Should Be Dancing and If I Can’t Have You were still picking up heavy airplay, too. Oh yeah, and the Bee Gees’ new single, Too Much Heaven, was a number one in November, only missing out on the year-end chart as it was released at the end of the year. When you consider that level of pop domination, it almost makes the Disco Sucks riot at Comisky Park understandable.

Barry Gibb had been helping out Samantha Sang since the late 1960s, when an 18-year-old Sang travelled to the UK to pursue a pop career. Gibb heard her and urged his manager, Robert Stigwood, to sign her. He did, and she released a single (Love of a Woman) that Barry had written for her, but it was only a minor hit in a couple of countries, and not a hit at all in the UK. Sang eventually returned to Australia after her visa expired.

She continued her career down under for a few years until Gibb invited her to Miami, where the Bee Gees were based. He had a song he thought she should cut, but Barry being Barry, by the time she got there, he’d written a better one. So Sang ended up cutting Emotion, and (Our Love) Don’t Throw it All Away went to Andy Gibb (who took it into the Top 10 – this was truly a year in which everything Barry touched turned to gold).

Now, I do think Samantha Sang did a very good job with Emotion, and her decision to sing it in a breathy head voice (very like Barry’s own voice) suited the material, but at this point the world was clamouring for more Bee Gees, and no one in the US knew who Sang was. So Emotion is mixed in such a way that she is virtually a guest on her own record. The bridges and chorus feature Barry’s backing vocals so strongly that Sang is nearly drowned out. That being said, her version is better than any Bee Gees-only version I’ve heard, but it’s a measure of how besotted the world was with the Bee Gees in 1978 that after this great song dropped out of the charts, its singer was all but forgotten immediately.

Goodbye Kayfabe – Nick Frater

My friend Nick Frater, the creator of a series of slightly barmy power-pop gems, has a new release – a 7-track EP (or possibly a mini album – the distinction eludes me) called Goodbye Kayfabe.

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That’s Nick in the white suit and lucha libre mask.

Nick’s music reminds me of Jellyfish’s incredibly knowing but lovingly crafted meta pop – opener Built to Last recalls that band’s Spilt Milk standout Joining a Fan Club – both songs pull off that Paul McCartney trick of having about five different sections, each hookier than the last. Lead vocals on Built to Last come from Nicolai Prowse of Do Me Bad Things (drums throughout are by DMBT drummer Tommy Shotton, who plays a blinder) but elsewhere it’s Nick, with some help from a Lewitron – Nick’s homemade Mellotron featuring the voice of another Do Me Bad Things alumnus, Alex Lewis.

Nick, as you may have guessed, is a recording nerd. For real. He’s got it worse than me. But while that may not be great for his own sanity, it means that his songs benefit from smart arrangements and well crafted instrument sounds, as well as a meticulous mix that includes loads of cool details without crowding the vocal and critical instruments. So Built to Last features a triple-tracked bass line and a Hohner Pianet doubling the guitars, More Than This (not the Roxy Music song), has a real brass band on it and a trombone solo, while Paperchase has a lot of cowbell, a bunch of Nick’s antique synths and a drum track that quotes from Ringo’s Ticket to Ride beat.

Nick saves two of the strongest tracks for the end. Remoaner, like Donald Fagen backed by ELO, has some of the juiciest chord changes I’ve heard in a long time, while the lovely Asking for a Friend (written in 10 minutes, Nick says – the best ones always are) finishes things off on a wistful note.

Nick’s put out a fair amount of music in the last five years or so, so if you dig any of what you hear on Goodbye Kayfabe, be sure to check his older releases too.