Posts Tagged ‘smashedhits’
A piece for the BBC about how Brian Wilson and Tony Asher composed God Only Knows.
These conversations were fractured. Wilson, who had been denied a childhood, would break off to show Asher his mechanical parrots or to watch episodes of Flipper, an “aquatic Lassie” series about a dolphin which invariably reduced him to tears.
In time, Wilson played Asher the pieces of music he had in mind for an album called Pet Sounds and Asher essayed some lyrics to fit the themes Wilson had in mind. When they got to God Only Knows, things didn’t start well. Wilson felt that “I may not always love you” was absolutely the wrong way to kick off a love song. Too negative, he insisted.
Indebted to Nick Kent’s The Dark Stuff, Kingsley Abbott’s Pet Sounds: The Greatest Album of the Twentieth Century, Timothy White’s The Nearest Faraway Place: Brian Wilson, the Beach Boys and the Southern Californian Experience and Brian Wilson’s Wouldn’t it be Nice: My Own Story (with Todd Gold (and Eugene E Landy)).
One rainy night in 1939, he wrote the opening lines of Aquarela do Brasil (Watercolour of Brazil): “Brasil, meu Brasil brasileiro.” This translates as “Brazil, my Brazilian Brazil”. Never have four words been more Brazilian, before or since.
The censors had issues with some colloquialisms and a folksy reference to tambourines, but Barroso persuaded them that his “samba exaltacao” was modern and patriotic enough to meet their exacting requirements.
I thoroughly enjoyed Misha Glenny’s radio documentary The Making of Brazil, Bryan McCann’s book Hello, Hello Brazil: Popular Music in the Making of Modern Brazil and Scott L. Baugh’s reference work Latino American Cinema: An Encyclopedia of Movies, Stars, Concepts, and Trends. I am indebted; they are recommended.
My favourite versions:
And here’s that Disney, and Ze Carioca alive and well in 2014:
A short-form piece for the Beeb on Stevie Wonder’s Another Star, the theme tune for the BBC’s World Cup coverage:
Another Star closes side four of Songs in the Key of Life – the very end of a four-album run in which Wonder relentlessly outdid himself. He had originally intended to follow his previous, Fulfillingness’s First Finale, with a sequel.
Fulfillingness’s Second Finale was to be a darker, socially conscious experience, but Wonder’s ambition overtook him, and he spent two years putting together a double album (with bonus single) instead.
No space this time for a collection of cover versions, so here they are.
With the Tokyo Philharmonic:
Salome De Bahia:
Caron Wheeler of Soul II Soul, Afrodiziak:
Kathy Sledge of Sister Sledge:
And, of course, with Nile Rodgers and Daft Punk:
A brief thought on the auctioning of the lyrics for Like a Rolling Stone for the BBC News Magazine.
The Times They Are a-Changin’ owes not a little to the Sermon on the Mount’s “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. That earlier Dylan could be reassuring, even. You can imagine The Times They Are a-Changin’ coming from a gospel choir. Like a Rolling Stone, from 1965, is anarchy, and Dylan sounds like he’s enjoying it.
A short-form Smashed Hits piece for the BBC News Magazine about Shipbuilding, pegged to the closure of the Portsmouth shipyards.
It would have sounded very different if Costello had written the song for himself – or written the music. Shipbuilding was originally a piano piece written by Madness’s producer Clive Langer for a gentler performer, Robert Wyatt. Langer bumped into Costello at a party and suggested they go out to his car and listen to a cassette of the tune. Costello subsequently called from an Australian tour to say he had “the best lyric I’ve ever written”. Wyatt’s song was made – and in 1983 Costello recorded it himself.
No room, sadly, for Chet Baker playing at London supper-and-jazz club The Canteen, approached by Costello and offering to play on EC’s version for scale. “I think we probably doubled it,” remembered Costello.
A piece about Louis Armstrong’s What A Wonderful World for the BBC.
It’s also irrepressibly public-spirited, people shaking hands on the street are, apparently, ‘saying I love you’ – illustrated in the Attenborough video, oddly, by two hippopotamuses fighting each other in the Okavango river.
And this is not the first time What A Wonderful World’s generosity of spirit has been juxtaposed with less-than-cheerful imagery.
No room, sadly, for Armstrong’s 1957 refusal to join a goodwill visit to the Soviet Union, saying: â€œThe way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell.â€
As the countdown to the 2012 Olympics kicks off with an unlikely theme song, I look London Calling and its zombies and heroin for the BBC.
“The Clash were supporters of pirate radio and considered launching their own station; this love song to the wireless signal recounts what, in punk terms, is up-to-the-minute and truthful news. But it isn’t saying ‘come and enjoy the canoe slalom’.”
Major hoorays to Marcus Gray’s Route 19 Revisited for the key fact that London Calling was originally inspired by Joe Strummer’s dislike of sports fans visiting London, as he explained to Kosmo Vinyl (Clash On Broadway box set booklet, 1991). AwkwardÂ [Update [1 Aug]: Praise be! Route 19Â is imminently in paperback. There is nothing more interesting to say about 1979; I know – I tried! Buy it – it is The One.]
Sadly there was no space to mention Clash fan of Indian origin Harraj Mann, questioned in 2006 under the Terrorism Act after a taxi driver taking him to Heathrow airport became alarmed that he was listening to London Calling and called the police. The incident was seen as a massive overreaction, suggesting either that the song has lost its incendiary power, or that the authorities were being over-cautious – or both.
Also neglected was the way Strummer starts “doing” Tommy Steele’s Singing The Blues at the end (“I’ve never felt so much a-like…”), never better described than by Tom Ewing: “No consonant is safe with Steele around, words pool into one another in a shrugged gush of pre-meditated moodiness.”
Update [30 Jul]: Here is wireless nabob Scott Simon of NPRâ€™s Weekend Edition Saturday yakking with me (see also NPR’s blog The Record):
- Image of comedy London punks in Westminster, 2006. It turned out, as they snarled at me, that I’d broken some implied contract where I’d pay to photograph them in a public place.
- Here’s an old BBC “London Calling” poster: “Throughout Europe, men and women are risking imprisonment, and even death, to hear the news from London, because they know it tells them the truth.”
- Some overlap with an earlier piece I wrote about (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais.
- People who like to know about mixing an instrument DI with a Neumann U87 on the cabinet will appreciate Mix’s Classic Tracks feature on the song; this BBC audio slideshow on the London Calling album is less abstruse.