All you need is…

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In which the lovable moptops get the official mashup treatment courtesy of George Martin’s son, Giles. Very creditable it sounds to these ears although it strains a bit much in places to shoehorn tiny bits of the very familiar songs into other very familiar songs. The added sound effects are pretty superfluous, some of them are probably only there for the multi-channel DVD mix.

The Beatles are where my music listening began, thanks to a mother who was a fan for a while (until they started taking drugs and weirding out), and I can never quite forget this when I listen to them. As with all mashups, it’s the juxtaposition that fascinates, the moment when you think, “wow, song A fits really well with song B!”. So Strawberry Fields Forever ends with Piggies and the end of Hello Goodbye running together, while Within You, Without You really benefits from the addition of the drums from Tomorrow Never Knows. And the sound is fantastic, serving to highlight once more EMI’s disgraceful refusal to properly remaster these albums. I like the cover, a successful combination of the youthful exuberance of the Hard Day’s Night band with the later psychedelic period.

I keep wondering if this is the future of these cultural monuments. Just as Shakespeare’s plays are given new life by fresh interpretation, further reappraisal would help revitalise some of those stale back catalogues. The problem, of course, is that the whole question of copyright has been getting worse in recent years. Much as I’d like to see EMI’s vaults thrown open to sound collagists like John Oswald or Holger Czukay, it isn’t going to happen, is it?

1 “Because”
2 “Get Back”
3 “Glass Onion”
4 “Eleanor Rigby” / “Julia” (transition)
5 “I Am the Walrus”
6 “I Want to Hold Your Hand”
7 “Drive My Car” / “The Word” / “What You’re Doing”
8 “Gnik Nus”
9 “Something” / “Blue Jay Way” (transition)
10 “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” / “I Want You (She’s So Heavy)” / “Helter Skelter”
11 “Help!”
12 “Blackbird” / “Yesterday”
13 “Strawberry Fields Forever”
14 “Within You Without You” / “Tomorrow Never Knows”
15 “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”
16 “Octopus’s Garden”
17 “Lady Madonna”
18 “Here Comes the Sun” / “The Inner Light” (transition)
19 “Come Together” / “Dear Prudence” / “Cry Baby Cry” (transition)
20 “Revolution”
21 “Back in the USSR”
22 “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”
23 “A Day in the Life”
24 “Hey Jude”
25 “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)”
26 “All You Need Is Love”

Queer Noises

queer_noises.jpgBeyond Bowie and Frankie, there’s a whole secret history of gay pop, reports Alexis Petridis

‘Wilder, madder, gayer than a Beatle’s hairdo’

It was the love that dare not sing its name—or was it? Beyond Bowie and Frankie, there’s a whole secret history of gay pop, reports Alexis Petridis

Tuesday July 4, 2006
The Guardian

The year 1966 is known as rock’s annus mirabilis. It was the year the right musicians found the right technology and the right drugs to catapult pop into hitherto unimagined realms of invention and sophistication: the year of the Beatles’ Revolver, the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds and Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. But the most astonishing record of 1966 did not emanate from the unbounded imagination of Brian Wilson, or from an Abbey Road studio wreathed in pot smoke. Instead, it was the work of hapless instrumental combo the Tornados.

By 1966, the Tornados’ moment of glory—with 1962 number one Telstar—had long passed; they hadn’t had a hit in three years and every original member had departed. The single they released that year, Is That a Ship I Hear?, was their last. Tucked away on its B-side, the track Do You Come Here Often? attracted no attention, which was probably just as well. A year before the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, the Tornados’ producer, Joe Meek, had taken it upon himself to record and release Britain’s first explicitly gay rock song, apparently undaunted by his own conviction for cottaging in 1963.

Continue reading “Queer Noises”

Alex in the Chelsea Drug Store

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The Chelsea Drug Store, 49 King’s Road, London, circa 1970.

“I went down to the Chelsea Drug Store,”
“To get your prescription filled…”

The Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want, 1969

How much Stanley Kubrick trivia can you stand? One of the delights of DVD over VHS tape is the ability to step frame by perfect frame through any given film sequence without the picture being disturbed by noise. This reveals a lot more detail should you wish to scrutinise a favourite scene such as the dolly shot in A Clockwork Orange where Malcolm McDowell makes a circuit of the “disc-bootick” before chatting up a couple of devotchkas.

The scene was filmed in the then very trendy Chelsea Drug Store on the corner of Royal Avenue and the King’s Road, London SW3. In 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) the world as it might be forty years was created with models and some elaborate and expensive sets. For the more satirical A Clockwork Orange Kubrick adopted the same approach as Jean-Luc Godard in Alphaville, with carefully-selected views of the contemporary world standing for a fictional future. There’s no attempt made in this scene to disguise any of the cultural products of 1970, the year it was filmed.

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The location as it is today, rendered safe and banal courtesy of McDonald’s.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s A Clockwork Orange was unavailable in Britain in any form due to a bizarre embargo by the director. This means that Kubrick enthusiasts like myself who were too young to have seen the film in the cinema had to rely on bootleg videos of depressingly limited quality (often copies of copies) that did no justice to John Alcott’s superb photography or to Wendy Carlos’s electronic soundtrack. Especially frustrating was spotting Tim Buckley’s Lorca album on one of the shelves in the record shop scene but not being able to make out what else might be there. This might seem like a rather fatuous complaint but there aren’t many places you find such a pristine snapshot of a British record emporium in the early 70s. More to the point, with a clearer view you have a chance here to enjoy some sly Kubrick humour. So what does the DVD reveal?

Before Alex appears we can see two albums in the racks, Livin’ the Blues by Canned Heat and The Time is Near… by the Keef Hartley Band.

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When Alex wanders in he passes a large rack of albums, some of which elude my occasionally sketchy knowledge of 70s’ rock. I can recognise these: 1) U by The Incredible String Band, 2) Atom Heart Mother by Pink Floyd, 3) As Your Mind Flies By by Rare Bird, 4) Get Ready by Rare Earth and 5), the one that started it all, Lorca by Tim Buckley.

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Alex passes a booth stacked with magazines and newspapers. The one at the lower right is a popular film magazine of the time, Films and Filming.

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He passes the other side of the magazine booth, selects a magazine and leafs through it while he walks. I’d never paid much attention to this before until I was stepping through the scene again and recognised the cover as a copy of Cinema X (The International Guide for Adult Audiences), an exploitation mag that existed solely to show people stills of nude scenes in current films. This is Kubrick’s first joke since Cinema X is exactly the kind of title that would attract Alex’s attention even though he discards it a few moments later.

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Cinema X, vol. 2, #11 (1970). 

The magazine above is the issue Alex selects (minus the censored boobs). The logo was easy to spot because I own the issue (below), volume 4, no. 6, which has as its main feature…A Clockwork Orange.

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Cinema X, vol. 4, #6 (1972).

Alex leafs through the mag and passes a poster for Ned Kelly, a film starring Mick Jagger who’d sung about the Chelsea Drug Store only a couple of years before. No idea how I recognised this, it was a lucky guess.

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Two more Kubrick jokes: on the left there’s a copy of the soundtrack to SK’s earlier film 2001: A Space Odyssey at the front of the album racks. On the right there’s a gentleman who many people assume is the director although I believe this has been soundly refuted. Besides his face there’s another joke, the sleeve of the Missa Luba album by Les Troubadours du Roi Baudouin, an album of gospel songs sung by an African school choir that was released in 1959. The ‘Sanctus’ song from side two was played throughout Lindsay Anderson’s film If…. which featured Malcolm McDowell in his first major role playing another figure of rebellion. It was this role that landed him the lead in A Clockwork Orange.

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Alex ditches his Cinema X and passes a copy of the debut album by British rock trio Stray.

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Arriving at the record booth we can see a number of albums on display. On the upper shelves there are copies of Magical Mystery Tour by The Beatles and another copy of Pink Floyd’s Atom Heart Mother. In the racks at the front there’s a more prominently displayed copy of the 2001 soundtrack (in a different sleeve) next to John Fahey’s “fake” blues album, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death.

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Might there be a reason for placing Fahey’s not-at-all futuristic blues record next to the 2001 soundtrack? How about this: one of the songs on Fahey’s album is Bicycle Made For Two (aka Daisy Bell), the very thing that the HAL 9000 computer famously recites when it’s being shut down.

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Lastly, that big graphic swirl above the booth is the symbol of the Vertigo record label.

Places like the Chelsea Drug Store were the magical homes of music before the corporations moved in and turned high street stores into warehouses flogging albums in bulk. In this scene at least A Clockwork Orange serves less as a warning of the future and more as a window on a world that’s disappeared.

Update: All the images have been upgraded from a Blu-ray edition of the film.

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