Before I jet off to sunny climes (i.e. Leominster) let me leave you with one final post this summer. In a strong field, it’s a photo finish between Al Green’s Livin’ For You, and Gong’s Camembert Electrique. Livin’ For You was the first soul album I became aware of, however dimly, lurking in my mum’s record collection between Fairport Convention’s Liege and Lief and Stonehenge by Richie Havens. At least that’s where it WOULD have been lurking, if my mum had been as anally retentive as me, and had filed her records alphabetically, but she had other metaphorical fish to fry, mostly in the pub, or on meditation retreats run by male hippy control freaks, or occasionally in Broadmead police station.
Whatevs… Livin’ For You was the first soul album cover I saw, long before Sam & Dave or James Brown or Twenty Motown Greats, which were the soul records I first listened to. On the cover, Al bestrode the world like a colossus, like the Jolly Green Giant. Why, he even had a green shirt, tucked into his loon pants. Yes, he wore his shirt tucked in, like me! And a female hand was offering him a rose. It had fairy tale qualities, like Jack & the Beanstalk meets Sleeping Beauty. It only took me another ten years or so – around the age of 19 – to actually listen to the record, by which time I was a convert to (Northern) Soul. But Livin’ For You wasn’t fast and obscure, it was slow and smoochy and smouldering. Side 1 (Livin’ For You/Home Again/Free At Last/Let’s Get Married/So Good To Be Here) remains, to these ears, the greatest black music song cycle ever. It’s not just Al of course, although that voice could whisper the phone book into your ears and you’d melt like ice cream on a hot day… it’s the Hi rhythm section, driven along by Al Jackson (give the drummer some!) who would meet a mysterious and violent end, shot during a burglary at his house, possibly on the orders of his estranged wife. And then there’s the album closer Beware, which seems to never end, although it actually clocks in at around eight and a quarter minutes, kind of long for a soul tune (there’s an extended, FIFTEEN minute version on YouTube if you think that’s too short). Beware has something in common with Robert Palmer’s Through It All There’s You, the ecstatic, churchy interplay of drum and bass and voice. So why are you still here? Why aren’t you listening to it?
Gong’s Camembert Electrique I include more for sentimental than musical reasons. It speaks to me of a more innocent time, when we listened to songs with titles like I’ve Been Stoned Before and Fohat Digs Holes In Space (big among jungle & techno DJs for some reason) and laughed at the non-musical interludes such as Squeezing Sponges Over Policemen’s Heads (take that, PIG!).
My lifelong best friend, and noted pacifist, Rod “Kill the Queen” Saunders used to dress up like Daevid Allen on the back cover of Camembert Electrique, and in so doing brought to Bristol the gay medieval hippie look (sadly it didn’t catch on). The fact is, though, the music on Camembert Electrique has much to recommend it, unless you’re a Year Zero punk, in which case go back to your stupid Ramones records and leave us music fans alone. Too late! You’ve got me started now, imaginary punks, with your intolerance of anybody who can actually play an instrument, and your essentially reactionary attitude to rock and roll, which only allows for Elvis, garage bands and – in a sop to the feminists – Patti Smith. Well, to paraphrase Public Enemy, Elvis may have been a hero to most but he never meant jack shit to me. Hip rap dudes aren’t sampling punk, they’re sampling jazz and funk and listening to Genesis and Gentle Giant. Hell, they’re listening to Black Sabbath! Word up! Ask Kenny “Dope” Gonzalez. Ask Cypress Hill.
Naturally, there are some suitably contrite “noo wavers” who now admit to digging the “hipper” side of prog, bands like King Crimson, Henry Cow and Van Der Graaf Generator, because such bands were discordant and often confrontational, but so were Gentle Giant (belying their name) Genesis (at their best anyway – check out The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway) and Mark Smith fave the Groundhogs, and they all begin with G!
I said that G presented a strong field, and by golly it does. Among the “also rans” are Serge Gainsbourg (The Ballad of Melody Nelson) Marvin Gaye (Here My Dear and the Trouble Man soundtrack) the first Genesis album, plus Nursery Cryme AND Selling England By The Pound; Sam Gopal (featuring Lemmy on vocals) The Grodeck Whipperjenny (as weird as their name suggests) and Dutch psychmeisters Group 1850. Now that’s the sort of B-side which could win the Premiership!
Enjoy summer! Back in the Autumn for more on my record collection, the latest news on my new book In Extremadura AND a report/thoughts on Quentin Tarantino’s proposed Manson movie ! Can you bear the suspense?