If you ever wondered what uniting the tuneful, harmonic perfection of , what I imagine are heaven’s 2 favorite bands, Abba, and the Cocteau Twins, would sound like, here it is, and it is very, very good.
Toy Savoy describe themselves as “noisy kind of pop music from the middle of cold, cold Norway”. This track is noisy in the way the best Britpop was noisy, as in, it’s not remotely noisy…but it’s as melodic, and infectious as any single that emerged from the scene in 1995 . Extra points are awarded for their mention of “beans and rice”.
Colenso Parade were a post-punk band from Ireland, who only ever released 1 album,”Glentoran” (1986). And from that they culled one of the most glorious, and not as famous as it should’ve been, singles of the 80’s, “Fontana Eyes”.
The song is built around references to “Pan & Fontana”, a still beloved, paperback horror anthology book series, that was extremely popular in the UK, in the early sixties, and has apparently become a real cult thing over the years.
And so, this song. Lush piano, stuttering drums, sinewy vocalizing : it’s just one big, fat, epic beauty.
And in case you were curious about the line,”God put my eyes in with smoky fingers”, that is repeated throughout the song, and what it means, well, I remember reading an interview a million years ago, where the singer was saying, that the line refers to that classic horror creature/ghost/ zombie look, of having big, black circles around the eyes, you know, like the kind you’d read about in those books. “Smoky fingers”. Perfect.
There are several peculiarly awesome things that came to mind upon hearing this for the first time. The Beach Boys classic “Sail on Sailor”. A seasick Roxy Music sax solo circa 1974…and okay, anyone remember Dubstar, UK band from the nineties ? Anyone ? Okay, never mind, we’ll get back to them. All that stuff, plus a soaring Annie Lennox-esque vocal ( really, she rules btw), adds up to this, which is pretty freakin’ great. And hey, here’s a bonus track from the cool, and underrated Dubstar, from 1995, just because…
Warning: What follows is really over the top.
I have a friend who thinks Lynyrd Skynyrd’s One More from the Road is the best live album ever. Out of every live recording in the world that’s ever existed. Better than James Brown’s Live at the Apollo or the Who’s Live at Leeds. All of them. Maybe I’ll get him to explain why here soon, since I kind of want to know myself. If I had to guess, knowing him, I would say it’s probably related to the feeling of the whole thing. The emotional elements, the heart and soul, the Artimus Pyle of it all (the bands hairy drummer) as opposed to its tightness…which leads us here, to one of the greatest live performances ever to appear on an LP. As in, staggeringly incredible. As in, you guys go on ahead, I need to sit down for a minute.
Here’s the scene: Donny Hathaway, one of the finest singers earth has ever been blessed with, is playing at LA’s Troubadour in August of 1971. He hits the opening notes of his cover of Carole’s King’s “You’ve Got a Friend”, on the keyboard. It’s just been #1 in the charts, as sung by James Taylor, and of course features on Carole’s mega-selling, gigantic Tapestry LP, that every person alive that year owns a copy of, or at least their big sister does. It is beyond ubiquitous. The notes instantly trigger maniacal, unhinged, Beatle-esque screaming from the ladies in the audience. Donny starts singing with his usual soulful beauty, like always. When he gets to the line in the first verse, “close your eyes and think of me”, one of the intensely hyped up ladies answers back with, “I’m thinkin‘ !”. There is a burst of laughter. And then it’s time for the chorus. At this point, the whole audience takes the mike from Donny…and he graciously lets them. Beyond let’s them. They completely take over the song, while awestruck Donny guides, leads, embellishes, and backs them up for the rest of the way. I’m telling you, it’s just, damn….
One of the most mind-blowing things about this recording, is the closeness of all of it: it sounds like the crowd is onstage with him, all clapping, screaming, breathing, and chattering, while completely surrounding him at his keyboard (at least that’s the way I’ve always pictured the scene in my head). That moment, when the first verse transitions into the chorus, and everyone starts singing, gives me chills every single time I hear it: it is positively transcendent. You’ll actually feel your heart expand inside you.
At one point Donny says “Y’all sound awful good to me”, then,” this might be a record here”.
Yeah, thank God for that.
Listen with rapture as Kweku Collins slyly reinvents the Yeah Yeahs Yeah’s classic, as a spaced out tearjerker, standing under a lonely streetlight. Real beauty. And hey, check out his recently released “Grey” album, which is full of moody, and personal things, and also mighty fine.
This song is a little nuts, extremely wonderful, and the embodiment of what I imagine tripping on acid, whilst running through a poppy field in 1971, might actually sound like. I was going to mention stuff about “The Wicker Man” too, but we’ll leave that one alone for now.
At some point, during my record buying life, I realized there was a significant short in my internal wiring, that resulted in my preferring the “wrong” album or song by a band. The critically panned one. The overly ambitious, artistic statement one. The drowned in strings one. The keeping up with the production techniques of the time one. When everyone and their mother started releasing multi-disc cd compilations in the ’90s, one of my record store co-workers derisively and geekily referred to me as a “disc 2 person”. Meaning, I didn’t like the youthful, vibrant perfection of the “early stuff”, but sadly preferred what was regarded as the sanitized, commercial, artistic void of the later stuff, when the fire had gone out, and the creativity had dried up. In other words, when the band supposedly sucked. And know what, it was true. I was a “disc 2 person”. It was something I had no control over.
Over the years though, I blessedly discovered that I was not alone, that there were a lot of disc 2’s out there, actual humans who preferred the “difficult” second album or the well-intentioned but failed attempt to “go back to our roots” album.
Picking Up Rocks is a home for just such beloved obsessions, where we’ll offer you amazing things that were maybe overlooked during their own era or have been forgotten over time or were written off for being uncool. Lost albums. Lost songs. Lost artists… but HEY, HEY, not only gonna be shining a spotlight on old stuff to reconsider, but offering up lots of new bands and songs that it would be worth meeting for the first time.
…so yeah, c’mon and let’s (re)discover together …