Reading List

Lou Reed: The Life – Mick Wall

There are some rock biographies that are so forensic in detail that you find yourself having to wade through them until you reach the gloss and glamour, whereas others just skim the cream off the top and ignore the substance underneath entirely. Mick Wall’s bio of the recently departed surly and enigmatic frontman of the Velvet Underground licks its lips on the cream. His own “sincere speed-written, blood-spattered tribute” to Reed is a quick and easy read, winding its way through the Factory days of the Velvet Underground, Warhol and the Exploding Plastic Inevitable through to the peaks and troughs of his solo career.

Key episodes in Reeds life are highlighted but unlike the Factory regulars, we never feel entrenched within the scene. It is just a fleeting glimpse, a voyeuristic peek through the keyhole. Reed’s key relationships both good and bad (Cale, Nico, Rachel) are touched upon but you are left feeling that this is just a glimpse of a complex life. Reed’s final years and his collaboration with Damon Albarn and Gorillaz is entirely omitted which is itself a bit bemusing.

If you want a snapshot of Lou Reed then this book will suffice, but if your preference is substance over style then Victor Bockris’ Lou Reed: The Biography will fill in Wall’s gaps.

6/10

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Witchita Lineman

In the first of a new feature, we take a look at some classic songs that, due to the inevitable passing of time, aren’t heard very often yet are too good to be forgotten and consigned to a dusty grave.

1 – Witchita Lineman – Glen Campbell

Made famous by Glen Campbell, Witchita Lineman was originally written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb. Hailed as the “first existential country song” it was inspired by a drive through Washita County in Oklahoma, where Webb passed a seemingly endless row of telegraph poles and spotted in the distance the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop one of them. The lyrics tell of the loneliness of the solitary linesman as he goes about his work whilst yearning for his absent lover. Wishita was replaced by Witchita in the song, because it sang better according to Webb. Campbell stated that Webb had invested part of his real life experience into the song, alluding to his first love who married another man.

The BBC declared it was “one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music” and in 2004 it was ranked #172 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Why is it a classic?

It is a cherished country gem that drifts along on a wave of melancholy and reflection culminating in Campbell’s soaring high note that signifies release and freedom from the solitude. The musical structure of the song also emphasises a feeling of loneliness and longing as the tonic chord (which denotes the reference point for all other pitches of the piece) is played only once at the beginning and never repeated hence the sense of a journeyman trying to find home.

Info:
Year of release – 1968
Highest US Chart Position – #3
Highest UK Chart Position – #7

The most recent cover of the song was by REM.

Martha

The birth of a daughter is a truly beautiful thing and to mark this auspicious occasion here are 5 musical namesakes for my little Martha.

The Beatles – ‘Martha My Dear’

Taken from The White Album, this McCartney penned song was supposedly inspired by his Old English Sheepdog, but McCartney later admitted that it was also about his then long term girlfriend Jane Asher.

Martha and The Muffins – ‘Echo Beach’

This was the Canadian band’s only international hit and was released in 1980. Echo Beach itself is a fictitious place, with inspiration for it coming from Sunnyside Beach on the shores of Lake Ontario.

Martha and The Vandellas – ‘Dancing in the Street’

The all American female group were part of Berry Gordy’s successful Motown stable. They had a string of hits in the 60s and early 70s. The Martha of the group was Martha Reeves who became the lead vocalist after Gloria Williams’ departure in 1962.

All About Eve – ‘Martha’s Harbour’

This was a hit for the band in 1988 and has since become their signature song. In the synth pop 80s it stood out as a very different track, with its combination of Julianne Regan’s vocal, acoustic guitar and backing sound effects of the sea.

Tom Waits -‘Martha’

This was a track written in 1973 from Wait’s debut album ‘Closing Time’. The lyrics describe the singer-songwriter making a long distance call to an old flame and declaring that he still loves her. The song was later covered by Tim Buckley on his album ‘Sefronia’.

And this is what Martha’s chosen song lyrics make in cloud form:

Martha

PlayList

Arcade Fire once again prove that they are a band capable of slipping away from the public glare, only to re-emerge with a new album that puts them right back in the spotlight.

Featuring backing vocals by musical chameleon David Bowie, who himself is well versed in the art of attack and sustain and produced by one time LCD Soundsystem stalwart James Murphy, Reflektor is the Canadian group’s latest release and it is a carnivalesque corker!

Replacing Arctic Monkeys, Parquet Courts and Haim as my go to album, the Tears for Fears glam rock stomp of Joan of Arc is the standout.