Albert Schweitzer famously taught himself to play the piano (or possibly developed his piano-playing to the Grade 8 standard for which, like philanthropy, he became world famous) at the table top. For some reason he was deprived of access to the more usual keyboard. Just so, now we are forbidden by copyright law to record selections from our record libraries for the delight of our friends. We can lend them our CDs or whatever, or we can describe them. Making and distributing actual compilation CDs, although blessed by decades of innocent education and enjoyment, is wrong.
So we make our lists, we play them to ourselves in private and then we tell everyone about them.
In March we had a party and I made a party tape which I described here. These were the rules:
• Alphabetical order by song title: an a-causal connecting principle
• Nothing classical
• Nothing that anyone would have to stop talking and listen to
• But music to intrigue
• Not music to sing along to
• Nothing very slow or very fast
• No shame in being old, and nothing new for the sake of balance
• No more than two pieces by any one musician
As it turned out there was another rule: no jazz.
The final cut was designed to fit onto a CD. This was in case copyright law changed.
My brother responded to this. He made his own list. He had different priorities. For example, he included Bob Dylan’s Visions of Johanna, which would offend my third principle. But one rule he took to a new extreme. His list was not only alphabetical but included one song for each letter of the alphabet, except ‘X’. I won’t tell you his list, for three reasons.
1 Fifty-one songs is far too many to talk about.
2 I suspect that some of his more adventurous mash-ups contravene the principles of copyright that we all hold so dear.
3 You can ask him yourself.
It is a good list. Some of it is too folky for my taste and two songs by Gerry Rafferty offends rule eight, and is one too many anyway. His response to the challenge of ‘K’ is particularly heroic: King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O by Chubby Parker and his Old Time Banjo.
Anyway, we have another party coming up and I thought that I’d try again, using his requirement of one song for each letter of the alphabet. Here it is. A to M anyway.
Another Girl. The Beatles, from Help. Paul’s cheerful paean to the pleasure of ditching a girlfriend, from their most joyful album.
Boy in the Gallery. Clive Palmer, from the legendary but now available on CD album Banjoland. Clive Palmer splurged his hippy cred, earned from playing on the Incredible String Band’s first album, on a record of Edwardian music hall songs accompanied by his own banjo. The Boy I Love is up in the Gallery, its more usual title, was performed a century ago by Little Dot Hetherington at the Old Bedford Music Hall and Walter Sickert painted her, dressed in red and gesturing longingly at her boy in the gods. Palmer later became famous for smuggling drugs from North Africa in his hollow prosthetic leg. He denies all wrong-doing – certainly as regards his prosthetic leg.
Cripple Creek. Buffy Ste. Marie from Up Where we Belong, the album where she covered some of her best-known songs later in her career and with less vibrato. I prefer this version of the song. Buffy sings of country pleasures, to the sole accompaniment of her own mouthbow, a sort of outsize jew’s harp. She is in my opinion the best survivor of the 60s coffeehouse singers from New York City, and that includes Dylan. Her latest album Running for the Drum is altogether wonderful, in about six entirely different styles.
Dance of Eagle. Sainko Namtchylak from Stepmother City. Sainko, probably the world’s best known Tuvan, can be impenetrably weird, but Stepmother City is made with a regular electric band. The song pounds along, with Tuvan throat singing curling off at the edges.
Eine Kleine Nacht Musik. The Terem Quartet from Classical. The Terem Quartet are a manic balalaika band from St Petersburg. It is classical, but not as Mozart would have known it. Their best-titled record is called No, Russia Cannot be Perceived by Wit. This is very true but I believe not original.
Further Up, Further In. The Waterboys from Room to Roam, the Irish folky record that half their fans hated. The tune is an old one, Frank Roche’s Favourite, and the words are the best new agey stuff I’ve ever heard: hair-raising not toe-curling.
Good Morning. Sparks from Exotic Creatures of the Deep, their most recent album, still in their Philip Glassy phase. Russell wakes up with the most beautiful woman in his bed and no memory of how she got there. Great words. I would quote them all, but for the principles of copyright that we all hold so dear.
Hai Sai Oji San. Frith, French, Kaiser Thompson from Live, Love, Larf & Loaf. All star recording from the best-ever supergroup; fun from Okinawa; don’t know what it means.
I’m In No Mood. The Fiery Furnaces from Bitter Tea. Smart-ass brother and sister act. He plays keyboards; she sings. Jump cuts. Wicked words. What The Carpenters would have sounded like if they had grown up in Lancaster, CA in the early 50s.
Japanese Cowboy. Ween from 12 Golden Country Greats. This is either good or bad programming as Ween are also somewhat out of Zappa. But this is their country album, recorded with the very best of Nashville session musicians; soaring, wonderful music and scabrous words.
The KKK Took My Baby Away. The Ramones from (in my case) the anthology Hey Ho! Let’s Go!. One of the saddest songs I know, the despair in the singer’s voice like that in the dog’s when the better half goes off to the shops in the car. In each case we know something that they don’t.
Life and Life Only. Al Stewart from Love Chronicles. Three accounts of human misery. Probably the first appearance of public school cricket in English rock. Searing guitar by Jimmy Page. It gave me goose bumps in 1969 and when it ventured shyly out onto CD I found that it still did.
Mama Hated Diesels. Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen from We’ve Got a Live One Here. The song first appeared on their studio record devoted solely to truckers’ songs, Hot Licks, Cold Steel & Truckers Favorites. You can’t imagine an English equivalent. Lorry drivers just aren’t the same. Commander Cody’s band sometimes sound in retrospect a bit riotously hippyish, what with their drugs and their good cheer, but this is heart-stopping; more human misery:
Mama hated diesels
I guess I always knew it was something
To do with Dad.
N to Z in a bit.