So many celebrity deaths in recent years, but this one has really hit me on a very personal level. On the surface, the Monkees might have been a manufactured band with a daft TV show, but their music had a very profound impact on me as a child.
When my sister and I were little, we were given our dad’s old record player when he got a new one. It was one of those old-fashioned boxy turntables with a built-in speaker, and one of the very first records we had to play on it was a Monkees greatest hits album.
We must have driven our parents mad with how much we played it – it ended up much loved and completely scratched to death (we weren’t very good at looking after our vinyl at such young ages!).
Indeed, listening to ‘A Little Bit Me A Little Bit You’ on YouTube this afternoon, my brain still anticipated the point in the song where our record always used to skip. The fact that my subconscious does that more than thirty years later says a lot about the impact that record had on me!
With that battered old slice of vinyl, Mickey, Mike, Peter and Davey instilled in this music mad little girl a love of pure melody, harmony and perfect pop that remains to this day, and for that I am profoundly grateful.
Peter Tork, you will be missed.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and love is in the air…
Or perhaps not, if you’re me!
But because I’m a soppy old romantic (no, really, I am), I thought I’d share this very educational newsreel clip with you. Going by the clothing and design shown, this piece of film was probably made sometime in the 1960s – and it compares Victorian and Edwardian Valentine’s cards with the mass-produced romantic greetings of the mid 20th century, showing how the latter are made (with the high-tech, ultramodern help of a computer, no less).
The centrality of this ‘masculine’, modern industrial technology, and the mention of “this year’s sweetheart” being “next year’s wife” makes me wonder if this report was, at least in part, designed as a half-hearted (and somewhat stereotypical) little reminder of the date for the male population of the UK at the time!
Whether you’re on a date tonight, having a cosy night in with a significant other, or on your own (especially if you’re on your own), I hope you have a lovely evening – and always remember to tell the people you love that you love them, whatever the day…
My favourite LP of that era [late 1960s] really was and remains, Country Joe’s Electric Music For The Mind And Body, and I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t in the charts, ‘cos everybody I knew had a copy of it. But, of course, it was actually that everybody who had a copy of it was somebody that I knew – John Peel
Behind the self-deprecating sense of humour and the semi-obscure 60’s musical references, Peel had a point. We’ve all done it in our own lives; got so caught up in our immediate surroundings that we forget to keep an eye on the bigger picture, not thinking about the importance of the wider context of our selves and our societies.
Incidentally, I have particularly noticed this tendency in politicians (where it often runs side by side with a damaging short-termist approach to politics). MPs and ministers are all so convinced that their party, their policies are right (welfare reform, anyone?) that they fail to notice that those on whom such policies will impact the hardest really don’t see or experience things that way….
If I ever really felt depressed, I would just start putting on all my old records that I played as a kid, because the whole thing that really lifted me then still lifted me during those other times. It was good medicine for me, and it still does that for me when I put something on. Isn’t it wonderful that we’ve got all that good medicine? I think it’s got to be all part of our DNA, this mass communication through music. That’s what it is. It’s got to be, hasn’t it? Music is the one thing that has been consistently there for me. It hasn’t let me down.
Today is Led Zeppelin guitar legend Jimmy Page’s 68th birthday. To celebrate the day on which one of the greatest and most influential rock guitarists of all time was born, I found this fantastic quote from the great man himself. It comes from an interview he gave to The Scotsman in 2010 – and, personally, I couldn’t agree more with his comments….
Today is the seventh anniversary of the DJ, broadcaster and all-round music legend John Peel‘s unexpected and much-mourned death in 2004. As one of the many, many music fans of all ages who loved his Radio 1 show and were inspired by the incredibly varied and hugely eclectic music he played, I still can’t believe he’s no longer with us; no longer playing strange records at the wrong speed and introducing an extremely unprepared world to the musical delights of death metal and the likes of the Aphex Twin. So, today I’m celebrating John Peel Day, and #KeepingItPeel in order to honour the great man’s memory and legacy….
It’s possible that John can form some kind of nightmarish career out of his enthusiasm for unlistenable records and his delight in writing long and facetious essays… – RHJ Brooke, John’s housemaster, in one of his school reports.
Born John Ravenscroft to a well-off family in Cheshire on 30th August 1939, he spent his youth at Shrewsbury, a well-regarded public school, where he fell in love with 50s rock ‘n’ roll (much to the annoyance of some of his teachers!), before going on to do his national service in the Royal Artillery – which he didn’t enjoy very much at all:
Keith Richards is shooting heroin into his eyeballs and still touring… I’m getting mixed signals. I picture nuclear war and two things surviving: Keith and cockroaches. “Where did everybody go-o? I saw a bright light and thought we were on …” – Bill Hicks.
As with many things in life, I’m with Bill Hicks on this one: Keith Richards is the ultimate rock ‘n’ roll survivor. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and brushes with the law: he’s done it all and to flamboyantly spectacular excess over the years. Richards is, as described in a Guardian article earlier this year, quite simply
… a human shrine to bad behaviour; a living reminder there’s more to life than being healthy.
And now the man who probably would come through a nuclear holocaust alive, guitar and bottle of Jim Beam still in hand (of course), has finally written his autobiography, to be entitled simply Life. By any reckoning, that’s guaranteed to be some read, particularly if the typically outspoken quotes picked up on by some of today’s papers are representative of the published book as a whole.
“You never told me he was that fucking good!” – a gobsmacked Eric Clapton on first jamming with Jimi Hendrix.
In the mid-1960s, mysterious graffiti began appearing on walls around London. ‘Clapton is God’, these simple messages said, but their writers meant it very seriously indeed. This painted phrase was the work of the legendary rock and blues guitarist Eric Clapton’s legion of devoted fans, who completely idolised their talented hero to the point of such deification.
However, as good as Clapton was (and he was – his groundbreaking work with Cream and The Yardbirds still sounds amazing today), he was soon to be eclipsed by the arrival in London of the man who was eventually to become the greatest guitar god of them all…
Born in Seattle in November 1942, Johnny Allen Hendrix (later renamed James Marshall Hendrix by his father) was fascinated by the guitar from a very early age. As he was growing up, his family life became more and more difficult and disrupted, which must have made music an important and necessary escape for the young Jimi.
Enough about the Beatles already! Yes, they were probably the most influential British band of all time, yes, they wrote some absolutely brilliant tunes (and yes, I nicked the name of my blog from one of their songs – nobody has figured out which one yet!), but am I the only one who is getting thoroughly fed up with the continued and unquestioning deification of a bunch of very ordinary Liverpudlian lads who just happened to capture the zeitgeist of forty-odd years ago?
If it wasn’t them, if Paul McCartney hadn’t gone to see the Quarrymen at Woolton church fete in July 1957, it could have so easily have been someone else. Seriously. In the late 1950s and 1960s, there were enough young men with an obsessive passion for American rhythm and blues music across Britain for some other, some equally popular and influential band to have emerged instead – the sheer number of British ‘beat groups’ who played the strip clubs of Hamburg’s Reeperbahn around the same time that the early Beatles did is clear testament to this. But we did get the Beatles, and – fine musicians and cultural innovators though they were – it’s about time that their musical legacy was left alone to speak for itself.
I am very aware that there are music fans out there in cyberspace who would happily lynch me for saying all that, or, at the very least, accuse me of knowing nothing about music. I could very easily be accused of being too young to really understand the cultural context of their genius, having not even been born when they split in 1970. But, like most of my generation, the Beatles have been a part of my musical education almost as long as I’ve been aware of the very existence of music – and I am definitely a fan, particularly of the later, weird, druggy, political stuff (in fact, I was discussing the notorious Helter Skelter with a friend on Facebook only last night).
Admittedly, some of my views on the Beatles aren’t exactly conventional; I prefer the quirky half-pop, half-druggy Revolver to the near-universally adored Sgt Pepper’s, considering the latter only half a good album and not to have dated at all well – and I think John Lennon was a massively talented songwriter and an interesting political activist but mainly a thoroughly unpleasant and very damaged man (please don’t throw stuff at me, Lennon worshippers…!). Oh, and I firmly believe that George Harrison is still an unjustly underrated guitarist and songwriter – it wasn’t all just Lennon and McCartney you know….
I also don’t get why the entire Beatles back catalogue has just been ‘remastered’ and re-released on CD (plus there’s the mono versions which have just come out too), it’s just not necessary. The initial CD releases make some kind of sense since the original albums were on vinyl, but once the CDs are out there in the first place why do they need to be released again, only in a very slightly different form? Those who wanted the albums anyway will already own them on CD (and possibly also vinyl), and the original CD issues are still in the shops for any new Beatles fans wanting to discover their classic albums for themselves. Digital remasters tend to sound pretty rubbish anyway, mainly because the original source material was recorded with analogue equipment; digitising such music detracts from the lovely, essential warmth and depth of analogue sound (see the Led Zeppelin remasters albums released in the early 1990s for an obvious example of this – awesome, awesome songs, but the sound absolutely stinks compared to the original analogue releases).
In some ways, the rationale behind these re-releases is really very obvious. It’s a greedy record company lusting after profits again, especially in this era of major label panics over torrent streaming and free downloads. This must be a particular concern for EMI/Capitol as the Beatles’ back catalogue is yet to appear on iTunes. The surviving Beatles don’t really need the money (although Paul McCartney might, having been taken to the cleaners in the divorce courts by Heather Mills, which may possibly explain why he agreed to the re-releases!), so, when it comes right down to it, this move really does smack of greed and desperation for profit from the music industry, because it is they who make the money from releasing music, not the artists. The profit motive is also the only possible explanation for the recent Beatles Rock Band* computer game, however much the band and their families say they’ve approved it – and it’s obvious that the album re-releases are a classic and cynical way of cashing in on the inevitable popularity of this game: however good the game is, it doesn’t justify what is essentially a lazy attempt to make even more money out of Beatles fans (the sensible fans will have already concluded that they don’t need to buy a complete set of the albums – again. Possibly for the third time, in some cases). And I honestly doubt I’m the only commentator to point this out.
As far as I’m concerned, all this just makes a mockery of the incredible musical legacy the Beatles left us. It speaks for itself, as evidenced by the fact that generation after generation of music lovers have discovered the music of John, Paul, George and Ringo in the four decades since the band split – but the constant stream of ‘special edition’ albums and books and movies and computer games related to the Beatles and released during that time really just detract from this legacy (as good as some of these cultural artefacts are). Please, please me, and get back to the music.
*As an aside, it is interesting to note that these new ‘musician’ games can cause controversy in other ways – there may be legal action taken against the makers of Guitar Hero by Courtney Love and the surviving members of Nirvana, who are all angry about the way that Kurt Cobain’s image is being used in the latest edition of the game, seemingly without the relevant permissions. I now have this indelible image in my head of Kurt wielding a Guitar Hero controller, attempting to get an Eddie Van Halen solo right while Courtney yells at him for beating her all-time high score….