Lock up your children - Christmas music ahead!

Published December 04, 2010

While looking for some Swedish Christmas music on iTunes, as one sometimes does at this time of year, I chanced upon this album of choral recordings of Yuletide songs. But they've all been marked as EXPLICIT! What do you think, dear reader, is it safe to download, or has Helsingborgs Kammarkör gone all gangsta on us?

 

The life of Harry Nilsson chronicled on new DVD

Published November 12, 2010

In July 2007 I visited Los Angeles for the first time. Two days after arriving I was browsing through a listings magazine when I chanced upon an item informing me that, if I had known about it, I could have attended a screening of a film entitled Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him)? I stifled a scream of frustration. For this was a film I had known about for quite some time, and I had also read on the Internet that the producers had a hard time finding a DVD distribution deal for the film. Thus, living in Stockhom, chances were slim that I'd ever get to see this film.

I have been a Harry Nilsson fan for many years. To me, he had one of the best voices in rock and he wrote some of the most amazing songs I've ever heard. His early albums are jaw-droppingly awesome and up to the early Seventies he did little wrong.

His career was kind of strange. Although he was an excellent song writer, his biggest hits - Everybody's Talkin' and Without You - were written by other people, while other acts achieved hits with songs written by him (Three Dog Night's version of One, for instance). Just a few years into his recording career, he recorded an entire album of songs by Randy Newman - Nilsson Sings Newman, actually one of his best albums - and in 1973, a couple of years after achieving a US number one with Without You, he chose to record an album of standards, A Little Touch Of Schmilsson In The Night. After that it was a downhill slide into alcoholism and drug abuse, and his career never regained its momentum.

The documentary Who Is Harry Nilsson? has now finally been released on DVD, and I spent the afternoon today watching it. With the help of family, friends and collaborators the film tells the full story of his life and career in a truly compelling way. It's an honest account of the good times as well as the bad, and clearly a labour of love on part of the film-makers.

I found it particularly interesting to see how the film acknowledged that what has sometimes been interpreted as self-deprecating humour was actually a matter of severe self-loathing. For me, the cracks were beginning to show as early as the 1971 Nilsson Schmilsson album (which featured the hits Without You and Coconut). Wonderful as it is, there is often something lazy and throwaway about it, so different from the meticulous care and energy that went into his earlier work. And on the following album, Son Of Schmilsson, it's quite clear that something's wrong: including a short reprise of the most beautiful song on the album, Remember (Christmas), and ending it with a loud burp, to me signals a serious lack of self-esteem rather than a sense of fun.

His best albums were made between 1967 and 1970: his voice was at its prime, he worked with a wonderful arranger - George Tipton - his vocal overdubs were inventive and adventurous, and most of the songs were outstanding. For the record, my favourite albums, as complete listening experiences are Harry (1969) and Nilsson Sings Newman (1970), but Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967) and Aerial Ballet (1968) are also not to be missed. If you're a fan of melodic pop music, do yourself a favour and check out Harry Nilsson's recorded work. And if you're already a fan, make sure that you pick up a copy of the documentary - you won't regret it.

Click here to read a recent and very interesting interview with the film's writer-director, John Scheinfeld.

 

David Bowie's Station To Station

Published October 21, 2010

To the great delight of all David Bowie fans, EMI has a quite wonderful reissue program for his original studio albums. So far, they've reissued David Bowie (aka Space Oddity), Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, Young Americans, and, most recently, my favourite Bowie album, Station To Station. It's been reissued in, I believe, a number of different formats. I opted for the package that includes three CDs: one of the original album and two of a previously unreleased live show from the era. The package also includes three colour pictures and a booklet featuring an essay as well as a detailed timeline.

The Station To Station album - recorded during Bowie's infamous period in Los Angeles when he was so strung out on drugs that he claims not to remember a single moment from the recording sessions - captures him between the "soul boy" era of 1974/75 and the Berlin period that saw him through the end of the Seventies. I think perhaps that's why I like it so much: apart from the fact that it has no weak tracks, it's got a bit of funk and soul about it, yet with the haunting title track it's looking forward to the experimentation that would follow with Brian Eno on the following three albums. And besides, did he ever look cooler than on this performance of the hit single 'Golden Years' on Soul Train (the dancing crowd is pretty damned cool too!)?

The Persuaders - lovely crap TV

Published October 07, 2010


People have different ways of coping with stressful periods in their lives. Some turn to drink or other stimulants, others console themselves with food. Although I'm certainly no stranger to trying those methods of alleviating heavy burdens in my life, in recent years I've discovered an unexpected way to distract myself in times of stress: not-very-great television shows from the Seventies.

A few years ago, when my father had just died, I found that when I wanted to relax in front of the television I didn't feel inclined to watch anything too demanding, but nor did I crave a reality show or whatever else passes for mindless entertainment these days. No, the perfect escape was the first couple of seasons of - Columbo. Very popular in its day, today I have to say I was often shocked at how slow and boring it often was. But even the worst episodes were exactly what I needed to divert my thoughts: the lame plots, the wooden or over-hysterical acting, the early-to-mid-Seventies fashion and hair styles - not too demanding, but still oddly entertaining enough to distract me.

I'm currently experiencing something similar with The Persuaders, a show that was originally broadcast 1971-1972, starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis as a couple of playboys solving various mysteries. It was a show I truly loved as a child, and indeed it was very popular among Swedes in general. Today, of course, it's mainly a time-piece with little to recommend it in terms of plot, acting, or logic. Only John Barry's excellent theme music has stood the test of time.

However, when the news of Tony Curtis' death reached me last week, I didn't want to honour his memory by watching a truly great film like Some Like It Hot. No, it was The Persuaders I craved. I happened to own a DVD with the first four episodes, and found to my great surprise that after I had watched those, I wanted more. Well, being fully aware that I'd had a stressful few weeks I shouldn't have been surprised. Luckily, the complete series is available to rent at my local video store - I'm now up to episode 10...

I have to agree with British comedy writer Frank Muir, who, in a truly informative Wikipedia article about The Persuaders, is quoted as saying that it "must have been the best bad series ever made". Because it does have plenty to offer: a heightened version of the playboy lifestyle of the times, amazing late Sixties/early Seventies fashion (Roger Moore's outfits were all designed by himself) and interior decorating, and a lack of plausibility that is so consistent throughout the series that it somehow ends up working in its favour. Watching several episodes in one go, you find yourself pondering such mysteries as: why does an American like Danny Wilde (Tony Curtis' character) spend so much time in Great Britain, why does he wear gloves all the time, and if you are hit very hard on the back of your head with alarming regularity, wouldn't that result in some kind of brain damage after a while?

I don't know if The Persuaders is the right antidote for you in times of stress, dear reader, all I can tell you is that it works for me.

 

Honaloochie confusion

Published September 13, 2010

The random links between different strands of popular music never cease to fascinate me. A while ago I was listening to Honaloochie Boogie by Mott The Hoople. The intro reminded me of something else, I just couldn't think of what. Then it hit me. The intro is not identical but very similar to the intro on the song Miss Decibel by Swedish dance band Wizex, originally a runner-up in the 1978 selection for the Eurovision Song Contest. I'm sure the similarity is coincidental, but still: a close connection between a British glam rock band and Swedish Eurovision contenders - who would have thunk it? I guess sometimes a great riff is just a great riff - or, rather more accurately, a great chord change is a great chord change - and its cultural connotations are almost irrelevant.

If you have Spotify you can click this link and listen for yourselves.