Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – P

Patti Smith
When answering the oft-asked “Top 5 Desert Island Albums” question there is always the same number one for me, “Horses” from Patti Smith. With its genre-bending cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe the album certainly caught your eye at the local record store. Is that a girl pretending to be Keith Richards? Might need to hear this one.
“Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine”. Is that any way to start a pseudo-cover of Van Morrison’s Them hit “Gloria”? Patti then tears in to this half spoken word rap while Lenny Kaye and the rest of the band begin to churn and accelerate as Patti gets more desperate as her desire for Gloria become more and more intense. Hey folks this is 1975. Girls didn’t sing or act like this. Patti wasn’t just breaking the roles she was obliterating them. The only semblance of the original song is the G.L.O.R.I.A chant which is spat out as opposed to sung.
“Redondo Beach” is next and as soon as Lenny’s reggae intro chimes in it becomes obvious we are headed in an entire different direction. This one was about a woman Patti had been fighting with who ended up washing up on shore “She was the victim of sweet suicide“. “Birdland” stretched the boundaries even further. The nine minute plus song was more like improved beat poetry with Patti struggling to find the right words and improvising over a slow jazz fusion inspired track with guitars and piano veering off in every direction. “Free Money” closes the first side and is the most conventional song on the album, but much like “Gloria”, is a song that builds and builds (this time propelled by drummer Jay Dee Daugherty and bassist Ivan Kral) and finally ends in a Who-like finale.
“Kimberly” opens side two and harkens back to “Redondo Beach” was its reggae infused backbeat and Richard Sohl’s catchy keyboard riff. Although the music is conventional Patti still manages to sound like she is making up the lyrics on the spot and half are spoken and the rest are sung.
One of Patti’s New York contemporaries at the time, Television’s Tom Verlaine, lends his pen to “Break It Up” which is the only song that has somewhat of a normal chorus, but even that has a New York late fifties sound to it. Verlaine is also featured on guitar on this song and the Television influence is pretty obvious. Their album “Marquee Moon” also sits in my top five desert island picks.
“Land” is another nine minute plus journey which begins with Patti’s poem “Horses” morphing in to a bastardized version of “Land Of A Thousand Dances” and then she battles with herself as she recites poetry over top of her own singing as, once again, the band races and rages in the background, and finally just fade away.
The album closes with “Elegie” which sounds like it could have been lifted from the Burt Bacharach/Hal Davis songbook and shows that Patti can actually sing. New copies of the CD also include a live version of The Who’s “My Generation” which show the total punk side of the band (and features John Cale). This song was a highlight from her early live  shows and I remember a show at Seneca in the seventies when she literally tore the strings off her guitar.
Grab a copy of “Horses” and use it as a background when you are reading “Just Kids” (Patti’s book I mentioned a few weeks ago which chronicles the history that ultimately ending up being the story of “Horses”).
The Proclaimers
The Proclaimers story in Canada is very similar to the Sinead story. This time a package arrived from Chrysalis Records (I was their label manager in Canada at the time) containing the album “This Is The Story”. The cover was interesting enough to get me to listen to it right away. From the first few seconds of “Throw The ‘R’ Away” it was pretty obvious these Scottish twins were not trying to hide their accents or their love for their native land. When “Letter From America” lamented about Scots migrating to Nova Scotia I knew I had something special on my hands. Once again, amid many a snicker from the boardroom, I managed to convince the powers that be that this was a worthwhile release and we should give it a shot. As I had with Sinead I covered my ass by saying that sales would be either very high or we would sell a few and hopefully start to develop a story. With their Billy Bragg-like sound and attitude commercial radio did not warm to the duo on this release but with some solid campus play we managed to sell some copies.
Their second album “Sunshine On Leith” came a year later. With a less-folky sound and rocking new band it looked like this one had potential. Although sunnier on the surface this album was laced with fierce political views often wrapped in humour, “Cap In Hand” being a prime example. We released “I’m On My Way’ first and had a few early believers. Next up was what was to become their signature song “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”. A hit in the UK, but not even released in America at that point, we were on our own for breaking it. The promo team worked hard and the record started to get spins in Alberta of all places, and when played, lit up the phone lines. With Edmonton as the epicentre the song spread across Canada and before we knew it we had a massive hit on our hands and gold records at the ready when the boys made it over for their Canadian debut at The El Mocambo.  The song would not become a hit in the United States until four years later when the song was included in the film “Benny and Joon’.
Craig and Charlie are still touring and making fantastic records, the last being 2009’s “Notes & Rhymes”. “Sunshine On Leith” is the official song of their beloved Hibernian football club (having a very bad season by the way) and also the name of the musical stage play about the lads which had a very successful run in the U.K.. Still very political the boys are not afraid to take a stand for Scottish independence or the abolition of the death penalty. They have just finished recording their ninth album and hopefully we will see some North American dates this summer. If you have never seen The Proclaimers live they are one of the most powerful and entertaining acts on the road.
The Producers
In my ongoing series of “almost one hit wonders” welcome to The Producers. When their eponymous debut album arrived in the mail I was both intrigued and disturbed by the cover. Four guys in very high director chairs wearing suits straight out of Miami Vice. It was obvious they had a sense of humour and when I noticed the Tom Werman production credit (he produced Cheap Trick) I knew it would be spin worthy. “What’s He Got” was the perfect sounding New Wave song for 1981. It was a cross between The Romantics and Cheap Trick. “I Love Lucy”, the other gem, borrowed gladly from The Police but was still a great power pop track. The band was from Atlanta, made two records for Portrait and then faded off in to the sunset. Still love both songs.
Plastic Bertrand
Shocking news. Plastic Bertrand pulled a Milli Vanilli on us! I was gong to talk about the classic “Ca Plane Por Moi” and when doing my research discovered the song, and the first four Bertrand records, were actually song by composer and producer Lou Deprijek. I loved “Ca Plane” and played it all the time at Nuts N’ Bolts, and, being a snob, rarely spun the English version by Elton Motello. Now I feel cheated.
Postscript
Further to my column of last week it looks like Sinead O’Connor’s new album “How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? “ will be released in Canada by Universal on February 21st. She also sang on the Golden Globe nominated “Lay Your Head Down” from the movie “Albert Nobbs” and featuring lyrics by the films star Glenn Close. Oscar noms will be announced later this month and I would not be surprised to see this get a nod.
Why I am getting a funny feeling that Bob, Jaimie, Frank and Nadia are thinking of forming a band? Singer, guitarist, drummer and bass player all in place. “Don’t Believe A Chord I Play”? (Ed. Note: Only if you manage us, Cam.)
And if you are in Toronto and looking for a cool rock’n’roll diner please visit our friends at Shanghai Cowgirl 538 Queen Street West. It is right beside the world famous  Bovine. and around the corner from Cherry Cola’s.
We now have an email where all of us here at Don’t Believe A Word I Say can be contacted dbawis@rogers.com. Please use it to ask questions, tell us what you would like to read about, links you would like to share, and, let’s hear what you have to say.
Cameron Carpenter has written for The New Music Magazine, Music Express, The Asylum, The Varsity, The Eye Opener,  The New Edition, Shades, Bomp!, Driven Magazine, FYI Music News, The Daily XY and Don’t Believe A Word I Say.

3 Responses to “Cameron Carpenter: The ABC’s Of Rock – P”

  1. Cam…talk to Ralph Alfonso about Bertrand. I think he knows the whole story because he was at Attic the same time Bertrand/Motello were mining the same field.

    P.S. If you can shake a tambourine you’re in the band.

  2. If Cam can type, he can shake a tambourine, Jaimie. Then again, maybe he dictates his column to his cat.

    You keep telling us what you did with all those labels you worked with, Cam. How about some dirt on the conflicts you must have had? I mean, everyone loves a little dirt, right?

  3. “Made ya mine, made ya mine, made ya mine…!!!” For me, that was the beginning of punk.

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