Sunday, March 08, 2009

Spotify the difference

Let's talk about Spotify, a service so spectacular that, apart from the STN playlist we've linked to before we're certain we should try and hijack it for our own means somehow.

So let's start doing that.

The great thing about Spotify, as we know, is their ever growing (apart from when it contracted) music library gives you the opportunity to catch up on that name you've never quite got round to investigating or just get away from continuous CD insertion misery. All musical life is here. And we mean all, because when labels present their wares for uploading the odd, erm, odd thing is always likely to slip through the cracks. Presenting...

(So you're telling us that, given every young band in the world, Elvis Costello wanted to hear one of his songs covered by The Like? We know Pete Thomas' daughter is in them, but really)

The Very Best Of Jive Bunny And The Mastermixers
Extraordinary how potent cheap music is. When we put out an appeal for suggestions on Twitter Archived Music Press suggested a recent Vanilla Ice album that includes four versions of Ice Ice Baby and covers of Buffalo Soldier and Baby Got Back among others, but you feel that if he's going to do that at this stage he must least have some iota of self-knowing about it all. No, we may bitch and whine and moan about the modern mainstream, we may wonder about our novelty hits and share in universal panic at the first thought of Crazy Frog returning, but consider this for something that was completely inexplicable then, no matter twenty plus years on: a father-son DJ team, hiding under the identity of a cartoon rabbit in a green jumper, had three number one singles in 1988 with megamixes of 1950s and 1960s hits with a basic drumbeat underneath. At least Stars On 45 recorded their own backings occasionally.

No, let's be fair. Us Jive Bunny zealots have reason to suspect, unless stereo is a deceiving mistress, that licensing laws having tightened since then and they've actually had to re-record bits of their three hits for this 2002 compilation, The Very Best no less. (For comparative purposes the second included number one That's What I Like is 4:02 into this, and here is Philip Schofield previewing the festive hit Let's Party) As for the album tracks there's a unique combination of Flintstones and salsa rhythms - very English salsa rhythms, obviously, with a heavy Modern Romance influence - a curious music hall collection over a horribly incongruous hi-hat and whatever The JB Shuffle is, because it seems to have as much to do with James Brown and the Famous Flames as Mastodon. Crazy Party Mix's sound effects and circus music is what they play at Guantanamo Bay, and Rock'n'Roll Beethoven... it's no ELO, let's say that, despite the key addition of arena drums.

The King's Singers - Good Vibrations
Before Kennedy, Vanessa Mae, Klass, Jenkins or Bond there was The King's Singers and their mission to take the classical repertoire into the modern age. Their televisual heyday being the 70s and 80s they were more circumspect about it, doing the endless talk show and musical break in studio sketch show rounds when Manhattan Transfer and Barbara Dickson were unavailable. Founded in 1968 in King's College Cambridge, their six-man largely acapella lineup has altered over the years but the madrigals remain the same. They've always had an eye for adapting pop their way, and it's unfortunate for the boundaries of this piece that some of their most remarkable choices are spread all round the place - Wichita Lineman (cheating with an orchestra, but retaining the oddness of those lyrics in upper crust English vocals), Kiss From A Rose, I Heard It Through The Grapevine, After The Goldrush, Golden Brown. Golden bloody Brown!

Inevitably they've done a whole Beatles covers album (Back In The USSR is particularly special), but this particular record is all contemporary classics in the high church acapella style. Good Vibrations is only a pin drop away from the Flying Pickets (whose celebrated, Smells Like Teen Spirit-featuring 00s covers album is also here) but the sound of four part male harmony impersonating the theremin line is quite something by itself. Things follow in much the same way through Cecilia, Father To Son, The Boxer, American Pie, Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover and so forth. Sadly it doesn't feature their meisterwork, their explanation of the 1978 BBC radio frequencies shake-up (near the bottom), and by and large the kids preferred Instant Sunshine. But that's an entirely different story.

The Very Best Of Bernard Cribbins
In the old, prosperous, watchable days, there used to be times when ITV would underrun by five minutes and have to put a filler programme on. More often than not it'd just be a Bugs Bunny, but when those tapes weren't in reach the discerning viewer could expect anything from a collection of sporting blunders cut to Dan Hartman's Instant Replay to cartoon videos of faux-cyborg Pebble Mill At One favourite string section Rondo Veneziano to an animated version of Jasper Carrott's mole routine to Robert Plant's Big Log. One of the engineers' perennial favourites was Right Said Fred, which despite essentially being about the power of copious amounts of tea to cover all tracks, even when an inside wall (but not the rest of the room, oddly) has just fallen on your work colleague, felt strangely warming.

But thirty tracks? Alright, many will know the Womble voice's other hit Hole In The Ground, but the rest of it, although perhaps stretching a point, proves Cribbins had a yen for getting cabaret story songs out of unlikely sources. Here you'll find: a blues song about too small shoes, a song which features popular music's single greatest final line punchline; the none more 1970s sitcom The Bird On The Second Floor ("Cor, these stairs, still, Thursday, steak and kidney pie!"); a song about liking things called I Go A Bundle; the whitest calypso ever recorded, including that Leeds United one; the big percussive orchestration given to a song about a mouse falling for an elephant which we'd call a misdirected budget; a jazzy spoken word track (Double Thinks); I'm Hans Christian Anderson, which is a lie; the short-sighted (I Don't Like Your) Country Music, which - hey! - sounds like country and western; the excellently meta B Side Blues (another C&W song, confusingly); and Giggling Gertie The Laughing Traffic Warden, which is a rewrite of The Laughing Policeman and obviously you can probably leave well alone. But really, do you have the desire to hear Bernard Cribbins in lover's mode? You do? Well, here you are then.

And the winner by several nautical miles:
Richard Stilgoe & Peter Skellern - Who Plays Wins
Those of you younger than one of those Chinese men who habitually pop up with supposed proof that they are 136 years old won't know Peter Skellern. He was a traditional Northern singer and pianist whose You're a Lady was a hit here and, scarily, abroad and after that retreated to the concert halls, very much the 'INTERNATIONAL SINGING STAR' (when he wasn't forming a band with Julian Lloyd Webber and Mary Hopkin called Oasis in the mid-80s). Richard Stilgoe meanwhile is someone surely every British person is aware of through his many daytime magazine show appearances in our collective youths. His own private Bohemian Rhapsody, Statutory Right Of Entry To Your Home, got a re-run on that recent BBC4 Nationwide documentary and the sight of seven Stilgoes (Stilgii?) in perfect harmony regarding who has the titular doorstepping priority was a joy. Such was his skill and adaptability in the face of piano current affairs crossovers that he could easily stretch to running through key election results with a unique elan.

In 1985 the pair went on an amusing concert tour together, recorded one date of it for release, and now it's on Spotify (and, we gather, Deezer as well, in case any French readers want to experience a proper cross-cultural opportunity). This is almost certainly just us, but to us this turn of events is genuinely remarkable. It's an extraordiary thing to hear too, as you don't get this kind of piano-based cabaret recital any more, dripping in its own songsmithery - check the bit about vocal ranges in the first song, just before the surprise tambourine - and sub-Instant Sunshine comment on the day. A one joke ragtime routine about the Sinclair C5! A dubious in many ways routine about James Galway! A bit taking the piss out of Instant Sunshine! Little and Large-style duo interplay, and a bit later Chas & Dave references! The extraordinary sound effects and drum machine on SAS, which we need you to listen to to make sure we didn't make it up in some torpor-induced audial hallucination! The (we think) Skellern song about Mr James "who teaches ethnic studies", and the rest you can probably fear for yourselves! An audience willing to treat everything as if Del Boy has fallen through a bar right in front of them! The fact that we were actually the ninth user to listen to this album!

We feel this is appropriate at this stage.

We're going to try and do more of these, so let us know if you've found anything that seems particularly out of place being interrupted by Glasvegas and MGMT trails.


Mark X said...

Splendid stuff. I can't help but feel that were Absolutely to have been big in either the 1970s or the iTunes age, there would have been at least a couple of Pete Baikie LPs shoved out on the back of the show's success. Sadly, with the show being popular near the middle of a time bubble I'm going to arbitrarily call "1983-2003", that didn't happen.

Matt said...

I bought the Cribbens best of in HMV a few years ago for about £3.98. I would suggest that it would be cheap at... well, maybe not twice that price, but at least 1 and a half times it. 30 tracks is a bit much, but some of it's tremendous.

I mentioned that I'd listened to that Stilgoe/Skellern thing on Spotify after someone mentioned it on Twitter in an email to a young lady, throwing in a wry comment on the exciting new-fangled internet. She hasn't replied.

Mark X said...

A few more Spotify finds:

The Best Of Rolf Harris:

Old Time British Humor (sic) (inc. Arthur Askey, Flannagan & Allen and Tommy Handley:

Mel Blanc's Greatest Hits:

Simon said...

Believe me, the second instalment is well under way, in part through a magnificent find that I don't want to spoil, but let's just say that there was a time when people who had thematic one-off hits would be encouraged to record a whole album of contemporary hits in the same style, for a major label, and for that I'm newly glad.

Quite a bit of Spike Jones And His City Slickers on there, I'm pleased to see. And what looks like the whole Richard Cheese back catalogue, should you be so inclined. And the Bugsy Malone soundtrack:

thommo said...

Excellent stuff.

If you're still looking for suggestions here, i'd say:

Eilert Pilarm - The Best Of Elvis

An album by a man who is said to have gone into a coma and woken up believing himself to be the Swedish reincarnation of Elvis Presley, despite not only looking and sounding nothing like him but also having little grasp of either English or musical convention. Staggeringly great.

Only fitting the remit in that it seems strange, but Death Cab karaoke:

a 41 track Max Miller retrospective

...and of course, that William Shatner album, with the celebrated Pulp cover:

Mark X said...

Aw, Richard Cheese? Australia's Frank Bennett - - did the same schtick first, and better, because he performed top covers of TMBG's "Kiss Me Son Of God" and Tennant/Lowe's "Opportunities", neither of which would be the obvious choices for either artist, and all the better for it. Sadly, despite Spotify picking up on a search for his name, he isn't on there at all, nor is he on iTunes.

Mark X said...

Because there doesn't seem to be any other way of discovering his work on The Internet, Frank Bennett's two finest moments, if you're going by my watch:

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