Since I am terminally ill (they’ve given me about twenty-five years to live) I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately (plus ca change) and I’d like the following records (all of them!) played at my funeral, please:
I’M ON SICK LEAVE, Randy Brown (IX Chains, 1976) Not on You Tube (sob!)
Randy Brown belongs to a select band of 70s soul singers – DJ Rogers is another – who ought to be better known because they were, at the time, relatively successful i.e. signed to major labels (Casablanca, in the case of Randy Brown) but I’m quite glad that they’ve slipped into obscurity and I can feel part of a special brother/sisterhood that knows them, even if the very act of writing this may bring them to a marginally wider audience. Randy produced three or four fine albums, of which the finest is generally reckoned to be the fabulously titled Welcome To My Room, but all of which are highly libidinous. The Midnight Desire LP has a cover which reminded my former Brazilian friend (former friend, not former Brazilian) Luiz of a German porn movie. Why German, I wondered, and then I remembered that I once came across a cache of German porn in my mum’s old house in Montpelier, Bristol (I’ve no idea who it belonged to – a lot of people passed through that house) and Luiz’s remark suddenly made sense. Anyway, On Sick Leave comes from the early, pre-German porn/pre-album phase of Randy’s career, to which the in-demand Northern Soul 45 It Ain’t Like It Used To Be also belongs, and it’s the way I’d like to begin my funeral, as if to say, “Yes, I’m sick – very sick in fact – but I might be back, in some form.”
INTO THE MYSTIC, Van Morrison (Warner Brothers, 1970)
I never know what to say about Van Morrison that will add one iota of useful information or insight to the vast and largely pointless reservoir of commentary that already exists. He’s Irish, he was in the R&B group Them (that’s R&B in the 1960s sense, which is, I suppose, a white man’s approximation/appropriation of 1950s Rhythm & Blues, with a dash of Soul, as opposed to the late twentieth/early twenty-first century sense of R&B, which is Rubbish and Bollocks, with a dash of Shit) he’s a grumpy old so-so (sound familiar?) and he’s still pumping out Celtic soul of an order that Kevin Rowlands can only dream about in his silly, drug-free, zoot-suited dreams. Most importantly, Van Morrison recorded Into the Mystic, which first appears on Moondance, although the live version from the live album It’s Too Late To Stop Now (recorded in concert, in case you didn’t know) is even better than the studio version. Of course, people often say that about live versions and I think they’re generally wrong, for all kinds of (mostly technical) reasons, but if you CAN bottle atmosphere, and then un-bottle it on the record and let it pour out of the speakers like Robin Williams in Disney’s Aladdin, then Van did it with Into The Mystic. In fact, I’m going to go and put it on right now, and die a happy man.
OK, so now I’ve gone away and listened to it again, and I have to say I was wrong. The studio version is better. So, if you’ve organised my funeral and you are playing the live version instead of the studio version, and if there is, by some chance, an afterlife, I am – as heaven knows – miserable now….
PS Big shout out to my man Miles in Boulder, Colorado, for first turning me on to Van.
SEE YOU WHEN I GET THERE by Lou Rawls (Philadelphia Records, 1977)
The way Beni pronounces his name, it sounds like Loo Rolls, but that’s where the relationship to bowel movements ends. Lou has his supper club side, of course. Maybe that’s his only side. But it’s supper club in the way Tony Bennett is supper club i.e. in a good way. Philadelphia Soul only really has two gears – silky smooth mid-tempo and silky smooth up-tempo. Every Philadelphia artist (Billy Paul, the O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, Jean Carn etc) seems to do both equally well, and apart from being male or female they all sound the same to me, which is to say they all sound brilliant. I put it down to Earl Young’s drumming, mainly. But that’s because I’m an ex-drummer and I’ll always give the drummer some. Who else is going to? Ronnie Scott used to be merciless about drummers e.g. a little boy says to his dad, “When I grow up I want to be a drummer,” and his dad says, “Make up your mind, son, you can’t do both.” Anyway, this track has a special place in my heart because Beni likes it, and the lyrics make sense in the context: I’m off into the mystic now. I’ll see you when I get there, okay?
ONE by Johnny Cash (American recordings, 2000)
Apart from a brief phase when I listened to New Year’s Day (on New Year’s Day 1986) I’ve always hated U2. The joke about Bono comes to mind, the one where he’s on stage, and he starts clapping slowly, and tells the audience that every time he claps, a child dies in Africa, to which a wag in the audience replies, “Well, stop clapping then!” If I was at a U2 concert, I’d tell the whole audience to stop clapping. But I have to admit that One is a good tune, and when Johnny Cash covered it at Rick Rubin’s instigation, on the American Recordings series, they took it to a higher level altogether. Truth be told, there are half a dozen Johnny Cash songs which I’d be happy to see played at my funeral (I Walk The Line, Long Black Veil, Wanted Man, Fulsome Prison Blues, San Quentin and Hurt, in addition to One) but there’s something so inherently decent about Johnny (in spite of all that fake outlaw bollocks) something so comforting about his voice, that even cack like Boy Named Sue brings me out in goose bumps.
TWO LITTLE BOYS by Rolf Harris (1969)
This is a very personal song. All the songs here are very personal but the most casual of acquaintances – even a stranger – would at least understand the relevance of Into The Mystic, which is a fairly obvious, not to say clichéd, funeral song. They (you) would appreciate the jokiness of I’m On Sick Leave (even if they’ve/you’ve never heard it). But they/you might well wonder why anyone should choose Rolf Harris, other than for reasons of intentional bad taste. Well, I’ve always thought Two Little Boys was a song about my cousin Marc and I, and working on the assumption that I will die before him (a no doubt misplaced assumption, given that his lifestyle is even less healthy than mine) I have always felt it would be a sonic tip of the hat from beyond the grave to my beloved cuz. “Okay,” I’d be saying,“we never did get to join the army, praise the Lord; never did get to fight in some quasi-Napoleonic battle where I could save your life by offering you a ride on my horse, but hey, this one’s for you” (even though the character is called Joe). Nowadays, of course, with Rolf’s reputation around children somewhat tarnished, the song has taken on a whole new dimension, and might indeed be seen as in questionable taste at a funeral, or anywhere else for that matter. You can’t even post comments on YouTube about it. Health and Safety gone mad, that is….
SUMMER by Millie Jackson (Spring Records, 1974)
Back before she became famous for lewd lyrics and cup cakes (or is that Patti Labelle?) Millie Jackson was just another awesome female soul singer in the long line of awesome female soul singers, though tending more to the deep, Southern side of soul (Doris Duke, the Sandras Phillips and Wright) than the uptown diva style I usually plump for (Patti Labelle, Chaka Khan, Loleatta Holloway). But you know, we’re kind of going to church here, and disco doesn’t seem right, Lou Johnson excepted (see below) so I’m sticking with the righteous, gospel stylings of early Millie. This comes from Caught Up, which is a concept album of sorts about a love triangle, a timeless theme that Millie explored further in the equally magnificent Still Caught Up, and came back to later in her career on Can You Believe I’m as Caught Up As Ever? and That’s Right, No Change – I’m Caught Up And It’s Staying That Way. If you don’t believe me, Google them, or look on Amazon. You just did? And you say they don’t exist? Fooled ya! Summer is a cover of an old Bobby Goldsboro track that, in Millie’s hands (and lungs) captures the heat of the deep South and burgeoning teenage sexuality as well as any song about burgeoning teenage sexuality in the Deep South ever did. Alas, Millie, “now is the time to say goodbye, goodbye, good-byeeeeeee…”
KEEP THE FIRE BURNING by Lou Johnson (Lou Jay Records, 1979)
It has to be the the full, eleven-minute disco version, mind. Which will give people a chance to go to the toilet if they need to, before the climax of the ceremony. Be warned, though – this is SUCH a deep, soulful groover that you may feel the urge to rush down the front and bang your bongos along, as my brother Tamlin did when Abba came on at our grandmother Joyce’s funeral. Afterwards, I encountered an elderly lady leaving the hall, shaking her head disapprovingly and saying to anyone who would listen that it wasn’t her idea of a funeral. “Never mind,” I said, “you’ll get your chance soon enough.” Obviously this song works better if I am cremated, but I’d prefer to be buried, so Cover Me by Bettye Swann might have to serve as a (bongo-less) graveside back-up.
PSYCHEDELIC WARLORDS (DISAPPEAR IN SMOKE) by Hawkwind (United Artists, 1974)
Another song which works better at a cremation, but I don’t care, as I love Hawkwind and I would happily be buried to this. Disappearing in smoke could be taken metaphorically anyway, in much the way that the French treat les cendres de Napoleon metaphorically i.e. there are no ashes, because he was buried , and simply putrefied like the rest of us mortals, but the French are really talking about “what remains” i.e. the afterglow, the legacy, the memory, and that will do just fine for me. Mind you, I’m basing this on a single, rather dubious source – Stephen Clarke’s How The French Won Waterloo (or Think They Did) – so take my remarks with a large pinch of salt, if you aren’t already doing so. Still, we are talking about the FRENCH here. Who needs to be fair or rigorous in their research? The French aren’t. They prize a well-crafted opinion over the facts every time, and I’m down with that too. Vive la France! Vive Hawkwind!