Sunday, May 17, 2009

Layer 156 A Musical Interlude, a Vision for Europe, Spotify and King of the New York Streets.

The last time I checked, Albania was an austere little country, minding its own business behind closed borders where people lived simple lives under a grim communist regime.

Clearly, then, there’s been massive social progress during the last 20 years - to the point where Albania now not only has an entry for the Eurovision Song Contest - their entry gets to the finals and features a young woman with big hair wearing a kind of pink and very revealing tutu, singing in English. She was even accompanied on stage by a gyrating group of humanoids wearing masks, hoods and jump suits. What better example of Albanian cultural progress could there possibly be?

Ukraine’s entry, meanwhile, features a young woman with big hair and a short red dress, flashing plenty of knicker, singing in English, who shouts the immortal line, “You are sexy bum!” as she launches into a frenzied bout of drum bashing. At least I’m fairly sure that’s what she was yelling. Marvellous. Classy. So very Ukrainian. The folks back home must have been mighty proud.

The UK’s entry was shockingly bad. Some stupid song by a girl called Jade, blabbing on about “It’s my time, my time, my time now.” Me, me, me. My, my, my. Unbelievably portentous and pretentious bollocks. But superbly representative of Britain’s self-obsessed wannabe culture.

I’m not saying the girl hasn’t got talent, but what a waste of it. Incredibly, on stage accompanying our Jade was the phenomenally ugly and enormously rich Andrew Lloyd Webber, playing piano. Why? We may never know. Give me the humanoids any day.

Germany was in ultra-competitive mode, even prepared to abandon their unlovely guttural language in favour of English, with the bloke who was the lead singer willing to scrap any sort of dignity by wearing ludicrous shiny silver trousers in the true spirit of Eurovision.. His leggy dancers wore a sort of ultra-short black lederhosen as they stomped and strutted around the stage. What a sense of humour! Who says the Germans don’t have one?

To top it all they employed the notorious Deeta Von Teese, burlesque artiste extraordinaire, to do a kind of semi-striptease, getting her kit off on stage, down to a basque that barely covered a perky pair of enhanced breasts. What a prop she was! What a stroke of genius as a way to get the audience’s full attention and put on a truly memorable show. Cabaret it wasn’t.

Whatever next, though? At this rate in another ten years they’ll have live action fornication on stage to back up the singers. At least there’d be a degree of directness and honesty in that. Forget art - let’s just get down to the real basics. Clearly it’s the trend, and damn those Brits who started it off by ripping off their long skirts on stage to reveal - short skirts!

Finland had the best-looking women, with short skirts and fabulous legs, plus guys twirling fire sticks all around the vast stage. Clearly the winner, in my book. Song? What song?


I have to admit to only half-watching the Eurovision spectacular whilst listening on and off to music from Spotify, the create your own radio station website. It was much more entertaining imagining the performers in the ‘song contest’ were miming very badly to the likes of proper songs like Famous Blue Raincoat, Like A Rolling Stone and Shake Your Money Maker. Besides, how could anyone with any love of music possibly listen non-stop to three hours of tragic Eurogarbage?

This week I finally got round to downloading Spotify and discovering the delights of creating one’s own on-line jukebox from a vast library of records old and new. It’s quite an invention. Available only in Europe at the moment, thanks to its Swedish developers.

For example, ever since 1967 I’ve been regretting not being able to find a copy of Jenny Take A Ride, by Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels. Spotify have got it. Radio Caroline used to play it regularly, though it never did well in the ‘pop charts’.

For the past 10 years I’ve been hoping to get hold of a copy of Green Onions (“the grown up, unexpurgated version”) by Roy Buchanan. Spotify have got it. They even list an extended live version of that classic instrumental by Booker T himself, which is brilliant, and which I didn’t even know existed.

They have tracks from the bluesy Super Session by Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Steven Stills, a rare album from 1968, including remixes with added horns.

You can browse through their folders and discover masses of material that’s worth paying attention to, and then send it to your own on-line self-created folders for future listening.

Unfortunately they don’t have everything, and there are some major gaps in their collections. Certain artists have not given permission for their stuff to be in there, and others have only allowed in a selection of their output.

I’ve been trying to find a copy of King of the New York Streets by Dion (DiMucci) - and Spotify don’t have it. I did, however, find it on YouTube, which you can play by clicking below.

This is a truly belting piece of music, which I first saw on TV about 15 years ago and have been hoping to see again ever since. Dion’s got two drummers playing full kits, plus Steve Cropper, of Booker T & the MGs fame, on guitar, and the four guys who make up probably the best-ever horn section, the Miami Horns. Interestingly it was recorded at the Town & Country Club in London.

What’s particularly brilliant about this song is that Dion wrote it from his own lived experience as a young would-be gangster in the Bronx, and the song is anti-drugs, anti-gangs and anti-violence. It’s a rocking piece of brilliance from a guy who also wrote The Wanderer, Runaround Sue and A Teenager In Love, way back at the beginning of rock n roll.

This is also a guy who performed with his band The Belmonts on Buddy Holly’s last tour, and would have died in the same plane crash as Buddy and the Big Bopper if he could have afforded to pay the $35 or whatever it cost to fly to the next gig on a chartered aircraft, instead of going on the tour bus through the ice and snow overnight with the rest of the band.

What is an incredible story that is - to think about in connection with thoughts on the effects of wealth, on being in a hurry, taking risks, and the supposed benefits of privilege, etc. The death of Holly and the others was tragic, and a huge waste of musical talent. As were the deaths of people like Hendrix, Joplin, Lennon, and of course Elvis, who is probably the best-ever case study of someone who succumbed to the temptations of wealth, idleness, fame, isolation, megalomania, drugs, etc.

Dion, who managed to kick his drugs habit, deserves a lot more recognition for his contributions to rock n roll down the years. I notice Amazon are selling the boxed set of his lifetime’s work, called King of the New York Streets, for a mere $99.


King of the New York Streets

People called me the scandalizer
The world was my appetizer
I turned gangs into fertilizer
King of the New York streets

I broke hearts like window panes
For breakfast I'd eat nails and chains
To my kingdom I'd proclaim
King of the New York streets

(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat sing ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do)

I floored my accelerator
All the way to the equator
Just a local gladiator
King of the New York streets

I was only sixteen years
So what could I have known?
In my mind these passing years
The legend sure has grown, no

People come from miles around
To see my royal tenement crown
Always up and never down
King of the New York streets

Schools gave me nothing needed
To my throne I proceeded
Every warning went unheeded
Yeah, a king of the New York streets

(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---

Woh, I stood tall from all this feeling
I bumped my head on heaven's ceiling
Shooting dice and double-dealing, ah
King of the New York streets

I was only sixteen years
What could I have known?
In my mind these passing years
The legend sure has grown

Each time I jumped behind the wheel
Of a pin-striped custom Oldsmobile
The guys would bow and the girls they’d squeal
King of the New York streets

Woh, local bullies I deflated
Back street jive that I translated
Top-Ten girls were all that I dated
King of the New York streets

(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat sing---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---

I didn't need no bodyguard, ha
I just ruled from my backyard
Livin' fast, livin' hard
They’d call me King of the New York streets
Check it out, we walk in the city

(Do, do, do, do, do-do) city
(do, do, do, do, do-do)
(Do, do, do, do, do-do) yeah
(do, do, do, do, do-do)

Well I was wise in my own eyes
I woke one day and I realized
This attitude comes from cocaine lies

--- scat ---

(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(Do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---
(do, do, do, do, do-do) --- scat ---

Stuff that in your Eurovision.

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