John Barry is forever

The composer John Barry died yesterday. He was one of my favourite film composers, close behind Lalo Schifrin at number one. Barry’s music, especially between the mid 60s to early 70s, was exceptional; some of the soundtrack albums, for example Goldfinger, stand on their own merit as “concept” albums, and can exist independently of the original movie.

It is the Duane Eddy-style twang guitar riff that will be most associated with John Barry, recurring in the opening theme of every James Bond movie. Long-time band member Vic Flick was responsible for the unique guitar sound, although it was Barry who built the creeping orchestral theme around the guitar. (Actually, the ownership of the “James Bond theme” goes to Monty Norman … how complicated!)

Barry’s Bond work would have been enough to ensure his place in the pantheon of 20th century composers, but there are other tracks that are worthy of mention, my own favourite being the theme tune to that lame TV series with proto-Bondman, Roger Moore and Tony Curtis: The Persuaders.

In its report on Barry’s death today, the BBC mentioned only Robbie William’s recycling of You only live twice , but in my opinion, the best homages to Barry were by Fatboy Slim and Sneaker Pimps.

The complete list of samplers testifies to the strength of Barry’s legacy, although I feel that nothing, not even Dr D., can replace the original opening theme to The Persuaders.

The later years, replete with Oscars for Born Free, Dancing with Wolves and Out of Africa, leave no impression on me (I’ve never been interested in even seeing the movies)  — the lush strings wiped out the earlier innovations of cimbalom and the plunky Fender VI bass. Too bad.

Let’s enjoy the best of what he had to offer:

Sure ’nuff ‘n’ yes I do

“Dinner time! All hands on deck! Chop chop! Set the table! Put out that fire … And get off the damn computer!”

6 pm rush hour chez les Bacon.

After my eldest daughter has logged out of her favourite social networking site, the Dutch faceoff of Facebook, Hyves, a graphic appears showing the most discussed topics of the previous 24 hours (I failed to screencapture it because the damn computer ground to halt last night).

So while clearing up after dinner last night, I was surprised to see the name “Captain Beefheart” amid the usual topics of Dutch hiving: last night’s footie and the next megarave.

The only reason Don van Vliet’s most famous pseudonym would appear in the twittersphere would be his death, I figured, and sure ’nuff he had snuffed it.

I can’t say I was a faithful fan; in fact I only ever listened to his first album, Safe as Milk (listening afresh as I type). Diehards claim its follow-up, Trout Mask Replica, as his masterpiece, but I found it gibberish both in lyrics and sounds (imagine Finnegan’s Wake set to psychedelia).

While preparing to write this post, I came across an excellent BBC documentary on Youtube about Don, and gave up trying to write in order to watch it all the way through a flaky wifi connection and severely distorted images. (Tip to those interested: an uncensored version of the documentary is easily findable torrentwise.) Ry Cooder’s impressions of Beefheart are especially funny.

So back to Safe as Milk, it’s one of those albums where every single track is a masterpiece, a unique work of art, certainly borrowing from other influences (Howlin’ Wolf, psychedelic surf, 60s teeniebop) but crafted to become inimitable — Cooder’s opening slide riff on Sure ’nuff, the stomping bass in Zig Zag Wanderer, the growling fuzzbox of Dropout Boogie (a song that inspired my own dropout) or the whining theremin of Electricity

Whatever the song, there is a feeling of authentic emotion and sincerity. Unlike his peer and erstwhile collaborator, Frank Zappa, whose own first album, Freak Out attempted to ridicule and sneer at the bubblegum pop music of the time, Beefheart adapted and subverted it to create his own essential mix of growling blues, psychedelia, teen-romance and avant garde.

Safe as Milk: buy it, blag it, steal it. You won’t regret it.

F#@k! FF frozen, almoist lost this post again. ’nuff sed — Publish and be damned

Wordle your scrobble

As if I didn’t have better things to do, including 48 assignments to review on Moodle, I got distracted — intrigued then captivated — by a nifty java applet to represent my Last FM recent listening into a wordle, or text picture. Here it is:

LastFM wordle
Image of my recent listening

Now back to the salt mine.

… Couldn’t resist one more wordle

Wordle of recent posts on Stet
Wordle of recent posts on Stet

The Last Album

Yesterday I read that British dance duo Groove Armada were bringing out their last album (interview in Dutch). They clarified that they would continue to publish new music but only in single or EP formats.

“The album has no future. […]
People mostly only buy singles online […]
Writing 12 songs shouldn’t be such a big deal, but it cost us years off our lives.”
– Tom Findlay

All quite true. I hardly even listen to albums anymore; with a digital library, I set play to random or occasionally make a short playlist of a favourite artist.

And yet only a few years ago, the album was still the predominate music format. One of the reasons, IMHO, why downloading took off, was not simply getting something for free, but having the freedom to choose what you want without getting one hit and 11 dross. For writing 12 songs that hang together is an extremely difficult thing, but once done, and if it’s well done, it can become a timeless treasure.

Thinking about favourite albums, first albums seem to stand out; maybe because they capture the original spirit and energy of the group before they get too self-conscious and rehearsed, or sculpted into a corporate package deal.

Is this it? – The Strokes
Hatful of Hollow – The Smiths (not actually their first album, but still …)
“Banana” – Velvet Underground with Nico
The Doors – The Doors
Astral Weeks – Van Morrison (the first album Van knew about)
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
I – Led Zeppelin
Grace – Jeff Buckley
Dummy – Portishead
77 – Talking Heads
Endtroducing – DJ Shadow

Mmmm … something of a pattern here. All white boys (apart from Nico, who sings lower than most men, and Beth Gibbons in Portishead).

Let’s try

Catch a Fire album cover
Marley & the Wailers' debut album (for a major)

Catch a Fire – Bob Marley and the Wailers

Curtis Mayfield's debut solo album
Curtis Mayfield's debut solo album

Curtis – Curtis Mayfield

Blue Lines by Massive Attack
Massive's debut album

Blue Lines – Massive Attack

Jorge Ben (1963)
Too cool for a stool

Samba Esquema Novo – Jorge Ben

Maria Bethania (1965)
A treasured vinyl

Maria Bethania – Maria Bethania

Googling around other “best debut albums”, I see that the lists are remarkably similar. I think that’s a reflection of the voters’ similar backgrounds and ages rather than a comment on the quality of the music; many musicians I love, such as Salif Keita, Soulwax, Garnett Mimms or Machito, I just don’t associate with particular albums.

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to see how the number of entries tails off very rapidly after the punk/New Wave period. There seems to have been a golden period for top-class albums around 1965-1985.

Any more original or unusual suggestions?

Sidi Mansour vs Ma Baker

Life in Kingston, Jamaica was sometimes like living in a war zone: occasional bursts of excitement — driving after dark through a ghetto zone, boarding up the windows as a hurricane approached — interspersed with long periods of boredom, for the city does not offer much in the way of amusement for a young family of unbelievers. By midday Saturday, we were already kicking our heels, wondering where to go. In fact the only option for non-church goers was eating out, which was fine, given the surprising variety of good restaurants: Japanese, Lebanese, Chinese, Swiss-French. I can firmly state that I have eaten the best samosas in my life (with plum sauce!) at the Indian restaurant in Marketplace, a great recent development by Mafoud senior.

Right next door to the Indian restaurant was another regular destination during our weekend outings, the Habibi Latino. As its name suggests, it offered a mix of South American and Arabic cuisine — I guess there was a mixed marriage involved. While we tucked into the hommos, fatoush, tabouleh and kibbeh, shivering slightly from the hyperactive air-co, the kids could crawl around the empty benches and dance to the CD of Arabic golden oldies. One of the songs reminded Mr B of his Baghdad days; for me, it brought back rainy summer days in a caravan on the Isle of Arran, listening to Boney M’s Ma Baker. We asked one of the Jamaican waitresses dressed in a black chador if we could copy the song, but this seemed to cause her great confusion and came to nothing.

We found the song again recently on a mix CD in my in-laws’ car, and since then … I have found myself forced into having to convince each family-in-law member, one person-in-law at a time, that Sidi Mansour is the inspiration behind Boney M’s 1977 hit. Maybe I didn’t need to go further than humming the relevant bits, but, well, I’m something of an obsessive musical listener — I may not remember the lyrics, but I reckon I have something of a photographic ear (you know what I mean). Result? Three hours on Acid (Pro) mashing up Saber El Robaey’s version of Sidi Mansour with Ma Baker.

[audio:Sidi Baker – remix.mp3]

The first reaction I got was typically Dutch in its laconic understatement: “Okay, you convinced me just a bit. nice.”

What do YOU think?