Splash FM Website of the Day, 1st August 2005. Be Impressed.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Mary J Blige – (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.

Who’s the most innovative female singer of our decade?

This is the question posed at the beginning of Mary J Blige’s 1997 album Share My World. ‘Mary J Blige’ wouldn’t be my answer to that question (see Monday for my answer) but that’s the sort of hubris you need to invite comparisons with Aretha Franklin.

Share My World was Blige’s first album without the guiding hand of Sean Hufflepuff Piffle Diddy Daddy Combs who had been her mentor since she was 17. Combs’ boots were filled by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis with results that were commercially, although not critically, successful.

As I understand it, this track did not appear on the US version of the album. That’s a shame as it shows just how heavily influenced by Franklin she is. This version is an almost note for note rendition of Franklin’s.

Mary J Blige – (You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman.

Share My World

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Erykah Badu – On & On (Live)

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Erykah Badu has something for everyone. A bit of old school soul, hip-hop, a raspy, Billie Holiday-esque voice, laid back grooves, consciousness raising lyrics and a taste in head gear that gives her a Marge Simpson silhouette.

1997 was a busy year for Badu. In February she released her debut album, Baduizm, and the original version of On & On, she toured extensively including appearances with acts as diverse as the Wu Tang Klan (on the Smokin’ Grooves Tour) and Sarah McLachlan (at Lilith Fair), she appeared on Busta Rhymes’ record, she released a live record in November, from which today’s track is taken, and she ended the year picking up piles of awards.

On the same day as the release of Baduizm Live Badu gave birth to her first son, with Andre ‘Outkast’ 3000, and ridiculously named him Seven. I say ‘ridiculously’ as ‘Seven’ is obviously a girl’s name. Presumably, his full name is Seven Badu-3000 which is bound to cause ‘I’m not a number, I’m a free man’-style teenage rants.

I’m all for giving children numbers instead of names. All the names I plan to give my children include numbers. I’m going to have two boys called Shenstone Pathfinder First XI Woodshed (after the West Midlands (Regional) League Division Two football team) and Commodore 64 Woodshed (after the prehistoric digital device) and a girl called Corel Suite 7 Woodshed (after the software package).

Erykah Badu – On & On (Live)

Buy Baduizm Live

iLove 1997

I’ve put together an iMix of some/most of the songs I’ve posted if you’ve missed something or want a legit copy. There are also a number of tracks I plan to post in the future if you want to get a jump on me. I’ve also done an iMix of OK Computer covers some of which weren’t included in OKC Week.

The BBC’s shameless rip-off of us I Love 1997 has streams of every number one of 1997. You can also take the 1997 quiz.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Missy Elliott – The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

Posting R Kelly the other week made me realise that I’ve shamefully overlooked all the really great R&B that came out in 1997. And it doesn’t get much greater than Missy Elliott’s reworking of Ann Peebles’ classic I Can’t Stand the Rain.

Although Supa Dupa Fly was Elliott’s debut album she had served a long apprenticeship with The Swing Mob – a group of around 20 musicians brought together by Jodeci main man DeVante Swing. The Swing Mob all lived in a single, two-storey house in New York writing and producing their own material as well as songs for Jodeci and other acts. Although this should have produced something akin to a hip-hop version of The Young Ones, it actually produced a close-knit group of talented musicians including Magoo, Playa, Ginuwine and Tweet – with whom Elliott is so close they have been rumoured to be having an affair. The Swing Mob also contained Elliott’s childhood friend and producer DJ Timmy Tim – who DeVante Swing did the huge favour of renaming Timbaland.

It’s difficult, and a little scary, to think what R&B would sound like if it hadn’t been for Timbaland and Elliott. In the early-mid 90’s R&B was still struggling to overcome what happened to it in the 80’s. R Kelly was plugging away at the fag-end of New Jack Swing and Mary J Blige brought a bit edge to the Whitney Houston sound but still sounded marginally less interesting than a day-trip to Cumberland Pencil Museum. Today is rare to hear an R&B song which doesn’t feature Elliott/Timbaland style syncopated beats. Elliott may also be the reason why the distaff side of R&B is by far the most interesting.

As well as being a killer song, The Rain also had a stunning video by Hype Williams. Although Williams bears considerable responsibility for the ‘Pimps & Hoes’ aesthetic which makes every hip-hop video look like a Britney wedding and suggests that Bin Laden may have a point about the degradation of Western culture; when he tries he really creates something special. Possibly inspired by Elliott’s considerable girth at the time, he had the genius idea of putting her in a black, blow-up, rubber suit and have her sway around like a Weeble.

Missy Elliott – The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)

Buy Supa Dupa Fly

Listen Ann Peebles session for Andy Kershaw

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Jewel – You Were Meant for Me

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The one who really made it, made it coz her breasts were really big

That may not be entirely true but Jewel certainly got plenty of support from horny old rockers early in her career. She opened for Neil Young and Bob Dylan and had Red Hot Chilli Flea hanging round her like a bad smell (and I imagine Flea smells very bad). Dylan in particular has a habit of hiring attractive female support acts (e.g., e.g., e.g., e.g., e.g.).

Jewel released her debut album, Pieces of You, back in 1995. Unfortunately, at the time the world liked its female singer-songwriters angry, shouty and with only a tenuous grasp of the meaning of the word ‘ironic’. As a result it took more than a year for the album break into the top 100 in the US. Jewel can take some credit/blame for killing off the likes of Morissette and the rise of the girly-girls which reached its nadir, let’s hope, with Dido.

The one who really made it, made it coz she was actually pretty good.

‘Actually pretty good’ is damning with faint praise but accurate. I have to admit, I find this song quite charming. The people who are great rather than ‘pretty good’ rarely make it.

Jewel was born in Alaska. I wouldn’t normally mention it but it gives me a chance to share my favourite state capitals joke:

What’s the capital of Alaska?
No, that’s why I’m asking.

Da-dum. Tish.

Jewel – You Were Meant for Me

Buy Pieces of You

Monday, July 18, 2005

Jill Sobule – Bitter.

“Everyone thought that I wrote that first verse about Jewel. I honestly didn’t.”

Jill Sobule is best known for the song I Kissed a Girl and rightly so. Containing, as it does, an infectious melody, a Dinosaur Jr.-style wobbly guitar solo and experimental lesbianism. It short, it has everything I look for in a track – plus it has an infectious melody and a Dinosaur Jr.-style wobbly guitar solo.

She also caused a bit of a stir with this song from the album Happy Town. I have to say I’m one of the ‘everyone’ who thinks it is about Jewel. The first time Jewel and Sobule shared a bill was a small gig at the South by Southwest festival. Jewel was first on the bill and ended up running off stage and crying after an indifferent reception from record execs. The second time they played the same event was at Lillith Fair. Sobule took to the stage half an hour before the festival was due to start and Jewel was headlining. Plus, there’s no denying the generosity of Jewel’s jumper-bumps.

That wasn’t the only trouble she caused with the song. Her record company were none too pleased with the language on the track. I’ll let her finish the tale. “They wanted me to replace "bitch" with something that Wal-Mart would be okay with. I went back in the studio and replaced the offending word with... ‘cunt’. I thought it was funny. They didn’t.”

Jill Sobule – Bitter

Buy Happy Town

Download more Jill

Buy the T-shirt

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Dr Peter Alsop – It’s My Penis/It’s Only a Wee Wee.

Yes, unlike Doctors John, Fox and Gillian McKeith, the man who wrote these songs really does have a Ph.D. – in educational psychology. According to his website, “His songs are used by thousands of parents, doctors, educators and other human service professionals to help families discuss sensitive issues such as sexual abuse, disabilities, loss and grief, codependency, self-worth, chemical dependency and family violence.” Quite how lines like, “What’s that hanging there between my legs?/It looks like a sausage between two hard boiled eggs”, are supposed to help solve chemical dependency I don’t know. I guess that’s why he’s got a Ph.D. and I’ve got an NVQIII in Nail Jewellery.

Alsop’s has been writing songs aimed at children since the 1970’s. Songs with such diverting titles such as Safari Up My Sister’s Nose. However, in 1997 he released a double album Songs On Sex and Sexuality aimed at an older, although not necessarily more grown-up, audience. But the gently didactic tone of his children’s songs is still very much in evidence.

It’s My Penis is a celebratory song to counter all the people who have been down on the penis. Not like that – you’ve got a sick mind. It’s Only A Wee-Wee blasts against sexual stereotypes. Something I entirely support - gender shouldn’t determine anything more than how carefully you do up your fly. It also contains the great line, “Let’s all be abnormal and act like ourselves”.

Just for the sake of trivia; Alsop’s father-in-law is William Auge Geer who sang with Woody Guthrie and Burl Ives in the 30’s but is best known for playing the fantastically named Zebulon in The Waltons.

I hope no one’s been offended by this week’s posts and the terrible innuendo. I felt the need to go downmarket after all that international politics.

There’s better things to discuss

Indeed there are, Doc. Next week: boobs.

Peter Alsop – It’s My Penis

Peter Alsop – It’s Only A Wee-Wee

Buy Songs On Sex and Sexuality

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Smash Mouth – Sorry About Your Penis.

Just in case you thought I was being ironic when I suggested “back in 1997 every other song on the radio was about erectile dysfunction”. Even the Christmas number one featured a guy whose ‘tinky winky’ had gone ‘dipsy’.

Sorry About Your Penis featured on the b-side of Smash Mouth’s breakthrough hit Walking on the Sun. It also, inevitably, featured on the soundtrack to the Trey Parker film Orgazmo.

The song doesn’t explicitly say what’s wrong with his penis. The implication seems to be that the subject of the song is attempting to make up for a lack of size. He shouldn’t worry about it.

This isn’t the end of it. There’s more to come. A-hem.

Smash Mouth – Sorry About Your Penis

Buy Orgazmo Soundtrack

Monday, July 11, 2005

Billy Bragg – Bugeye Jim

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Since the release of Viagra you don’t hear many songs about impotence. However, back in the pre-Viagra days of 1997, every other song on the radio was about erectile dysfunction. The best of them all was one written by a man who had died 30 years earlier.

Nora Guthrie (daughter of American folk legend Woody) met Billy Bragg in 1992 at a gig to commemorate the 80th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth. She had been looking for someone to interpret the vast number of lyrics that Woody had left behind when he died of Huntington’s disease, which had been slowly attacking his brain for 20 years, in 1967. Billy Bragg was the half obvious choice. Even though it seems strange to have an Englishman singing the words of the quintessential dust-bowl troubadour, Guthrie and Bragg are the only two people in history to write decent songs about unions. To America things up a bit Bragg enlisted the help of Wilco and work was started on Mermaid Avenue.

Although there are plenty of the political and working-man songs that made Guthrie famous, many of the songs on Mermaid Avenue reflect other sides of him: Birds and Ships (sung by Natalie Merchant) is a heartbreaking love song, Voodoo Hoodoo is sing-along-a-nonsense and Another Man Done Gone is angst-ridden soul searching. Guthrie even attempts to write a feminist anthem, She Came Along to Me. However, he doesn’t seem quite at home and says of women, “they've not been any too well known for brains and planning and organised thinking”. A line I don’t remember cropping up very often in The Female Eunuch.

The album also highlights Guthrie’s raunchy side with liberal use of double (and sometimes single) entendres on Walt Whitman’s Niece ("And as she read, I lay my head, and I can't tell which head, down in her lap"), Ingrid Bergman (“This old mountain it’s been waiting/All it’s life for you to work it/For your hand to touch it’s hardrock/Ingrid Bergman”) and today’s song.

Bugeye Jim turned up on b-side of Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key which preceded the release of Mermaid Avenue and, inexplicably, didn’t make it onto the album. It makes me cry.

Billy Bragg – Bugeye Jim

Buy Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key

Buy Mermaid Avenue

Saturday, July 09, 2005

R Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly.

So the greatest track ever to come out of the entire continent of Africa got a big, fat ‘0 Comments’. You must all be punished. As much as I’d love to come round and spank each and every one of you, I’m a busy man so I’ll make you listen to this R Kelly dirge instead.

I Believe I Can Fly is a favourite song of motivational speakers. Quite why is beyond me. Not only does this track make we want to rip my own face off but R Kelly seems a strange role model given his habit of putting his ‘key’ in the ‘ignition’ of girls too young to drive. He even went the whole Jerry Lee Lewis and married Aaliyah when she was 15. Another favourite of the motivational types is Hero by warbling wrist-slasher Mariah ‘I don’t do stairs’ Carey. It’s enough to give you the impression that being a highly-motivated go-getter is against God and nature.

My personal philosophy is that the key to happiness is lowering your expectations. I’m going to write a song about it. It’ll be called I Believe I Can Have a Bit of a Sit Down. I don’t expect it’ll sell well.

R Kelly – I Believe I Can Fly

Buy Space Jam Soundtrack

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Koffi Olomide – Loi.

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Unlike Hong Kong, the ironically named Democratic Republic of Congo (the country formerly known as Zaire) is swimming in natural resources. It mines huge amounts of copper, zinc, coltan and tin (in high demand to make circuit boards). It is also the world’s largest exporter of ethically unsound diamonds and largest consumer of Um Bongo. Yet it remains at the bottom of the league table for wealth – or it would do if they could afford any statisticians.

By the time he was deposed in 1997 Mobutu had been the despotic ruler of Zaire for over thirty years. During the early years of his reign he had violently put down a number of rebellions with the help of the CIA (who in return were able to use Zaire as a base to attack neighbouring communist countries). He used the power he gained through this to embark on a staggering policy of embezzlement. He seized over 2000 Western owned companies and distributed them amongst his friends – unsurprisingly they were incompetently run and the economy rapidly deteriorated.

By the mid-90’s the ethnic violence in neighbouring Rwanda spilled over into Zaire. The Hutus that fled Rwanda began attacking Tutsis in Eastern Zaire with the help of the Zairian government’s forces. The Tutsi militia, under the leadership of Laurant Kabila and with the support of Rwanda and Uganda, quickly gained the upper hand and sent Mobutu packing to one of his many European mansions in May 1997.

However, Kabila was unable to stop the ethnic violence in, what he renamed, the Democratic Republic of Congo and was himself assassinated in 2001 and replaced with his son, Joseph Kabila.

The Congo remains one of the most unstable countries in the world. Many areas of Eastern Congo are lawless. UN troops have decided it is too dangerous for them to enter. Not so for journalists apparently; you can see pictures from a mine in Eastern Congo on the Channel 4 website.

Despite its many problems the Congo somehow managed to produce the world’s most joyous and uplifting form of music – Soukous. Soukous has never had the exposure it deserves in this country. This is largely due to the fact that world music types have their head rammed up their arse – which, oddly, doesn’t preclude them from scratching their beards. In 1997 the deathly dull Buena Vista Social Club was all they could talk about. However, Koffi Olomide had his guitarists playing their guitars the way they were meant to be played – loud, fast and vulgar.

This made Olomide a huge star in Africa. In 1998 he won the Kora Best Artist Award; voted for by a phone poll covering the whole of Africa. But, unless they’re willing to lower themselves to collaborating with Sting or Peter Gabriel, African artists get no coverage in this country.

Loi is an absolutely stunning track and one of my favourite songs of all time. So download it, play it LOUD, sign the Live 8 list and buy the absolutely essential Rough Guide to Congolese Soukous.

Make Poverty History

Koffi Olomide – Loi

Buy Loi

Buy The Rough Guide to Congolese Soukous

Download Um Bongo stuff