Wednesday, January 23, 2013

6 random acts of kindness from the world of rock

hi there

the music industry is somewhat notorious for being "cut throat". if you've read Brian Nash's superb autobiography Nasher Says Relax, or read about any court case by any artist that finally got fed up of Sony you will know what i am talking about. every now and then, though, musicians and indeed record labels, by either default or design, get to do something most splendid for another musician or band.

i'm not talking about the numerous charity records and concerts held over the years of a range of good causes. i speak only of actions taken that have seen one artist get a tremendous boost. as suggested, sometimes this happens by accident, and no doubt in most cases the giver has gotten something out of it. the recipient, though, in all these instances has got the better deal.

who better to start with than arguably the most prolific sitter on quality songs of all time?

Prince "Likes" The Bangles

Prince is one of the most prolific songwriters in the history of pop music. estimates have it that for every one song officially released, another two sit in the vault. every now and then some of these tracks manage to leak out into the world (previously at record fairs; now on the internet) but every once in a while he feels of a mind to let someone else run with the song. such was the case with Manic Monday.

Prince recorded a version of his composition in the mid-80s with every intention of releasing it. he, for reasons never given (for he is Prince), pulled it at the last minute and that was likely to be that. a couple of years later, though, he became aware of an all girl group called The Bangles and decided to offer them the chance to record it.

why Prince offered the song to them is subject to some debate. the normal, most likely answer is that he really liked their debut album, and felt that they perhaps had the best sound and vibe to deliver the song, it having a distinctly feminine tone to the narration. others, perhaps more besotted with his private life than his music career, argue that he offered it to them in the hope of sleeping with at least one of them. in regards of the latter, come on - this was mid-80s Prince! he didn't have to go to the length of giving songs to women to encourage them to spend the night at Paisley Park or to seduce them, "hello I am Prince" normally did the trick.

for whatever reason he gave it, it's good that he did. bootlegs suggest that Prince's version would have been awarded less than classic status, whereas The Bangles made it a huge hit. it would be unfair to them to suggest that Prince "gave" them a career, but his song certainly gave them rather more attention than they were getting at the time.

oh, and if you are wondering why Sinead O'Connor and Nothing Compares 2 U does not feature here,  it's because that was a rather more straightforward cover version. Prince never released it, you say? seek out an album from around 1985 called and credited to The Family. there's the somewhat underwhelming original version.

David Bowie Thinks The World Of Mott The Hoople

any number of musicians could speak for hours about the helping hand David Bowie has given them over the years. be they up and coming acts that don't quite make the big time but do get a chance because he's mentioned them in passing or the likes of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop that he's helped out along the way, Bowie's love of promoting the arts in general and music in particular has always been generous. none, though, benefitted from generous patronage quite like Mr Ian Hunter and his band.

the story has always been that Bowie "didn't like" any version of All The Young Dudes that he recorded, and thus decided to give it to Mott The Hoople as he felt they would do a better job. partially true. by the time that Bowie wrote the song he was all to aware of the value of publishing and retaining songs for future use. Ziggy Stardust, for instance, included at least 2 or 3 songs that David had re-worked from earlier recordings to fit in with the glam sound. it's fairly obvious that David really, really liked Mott The Hoople and just wanted them to get a bit of attention from a big hit.

again, it would be unfair to suggest that Bowie "gave" Mott The Hoople a career. he just helped a reasonably successful band score a major hit and get some attention.

just how much Mr Bowie wished to help the boys of Mott is reflected in his efforts to give them another big hit with the song Drive-In Saturday. for some reason, though, the band declined to accept it, leading to genuine disappointment from David. how disappointed? well, according to the VH-1 Storytellers set that Bowie did, he "shaved his eyebrows off" in protest at them not recording it. go figure.

Frankie Said Bruce

this one is highly likely to offend the more extreme defender of The Boss, so all i can say is up front there is no offence or dig intended at an incredible artist who i've followed for close to 30 years. dig that, trolls?

1984 was an incredible year for music. all the more incredible, then, that one band managed to dominate it - Frankie Goes To Hollywood. 3 singles at number one, Two Tribes remaining there for an astonishing nine weeks, and The Power Of Love only denied the Christmas Number One spot by the amazing, well intentioned efforts of Band Aid. whatever it was Frankie had to say, people wanted to hear.

their debut album, the audacious double lp Welcome To The Pleasuredome, set all sorts of records for both a debut release and a double album. at one stage it was estimated that one in every four UK households had a copy of it. this meant that one in four houses in the UK all of a sudden owned a song written by someone who, despite recent and big success in 1984, not all that many people in Britain were all that familiar with. that would be this chap.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood, by covering Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, managed to accidentally set a whole bunch of teenage pop fans (myself included) off on a voyage of discovery in regards of the delights of ten years' worth of Springsteen records. Born In The USA was all right, but nothing on it said "go and get the rest of his stuff". the Frankie cover did.

it wasn't an easy journey, though. Frankie's cover of Born To Run was a mental, fast thrashed rocker, a song to dance to, jump about and scream along to. you can imagine the confusion when i and many, many other Frankie fans finally heard the original, considerably different version. exactly why Frankie's version was so radically different has been something of a mystery for over 20 years, but the truth as to why they recorded it they way they did was finally revealed in the book Nasher Says Relax. buy it, read it and find out for yourself.

oddly, David Bowie could with ease have done the same for a generation of fans in the 70s. the 90s reissue campaign of his albums included a number of previously unreleased tracks. two of them were Springsteen covers - Growin' Up and It's Hard To Be A Saint In The City. had Mr Bowie released either cover back then, well, who knows? perhaps the UK would have embraced Springsteen on a wider scale long before they got around to doing so.

Billy Idol Hands Simple Minds International Mega-Stardom

my friends and family in the UK are going to be surprised at this, perhaps even going so far to say that the next statement i make is about as truthful as the ingredients sticker on a Tesco beefburger. it happens to be true, though. in the early 80s, the biggest UK music act outside of the UK was William Broad, better known as ex-Generation X member Billy Idol. from Australia, across Africa and all the way to his adopted home in America, Billy was seen as the personification of the very best of UK music. and why not? he had the rebellious streak of The Rolling Stones, a dress sense somewhere between Punk and New Romantic, the charm and appeal of The Beatles, an eloquent, beautiful voice and a seductive personality. it helped that his songs were amazing, too.

when the makers of a film called The Breakfast Club, a brilliant film yet one showing a heavily sanitised variant of "teenage rebellion", were looking for someone to record the specially written theme song, (Don't You) Forget About Me, Billy Idol was the obvious choice.

Billy Idol, for reasons not given to this day, turned down the chance to record it. a signifcant blow for the film makers this was, for sure, as Billy was guaranteed regular play on MTV and thus free advertising was lost. it could, i suppose, have got a lot worse for them if the second person they approached, Bryan Ferry, said yes.

eventually a Scottish band called Simple Minds, popular on the US College Radio scene and bearers of a modest hit with Promised You A Miracle, were approached. they too turned it down. however, Jim Kerr was no Billy Idol or Bryan Ferry, and so with some pressure from their record label (keen to exploit the increasing sales of movie related songs at the time), off they went to record it.

Simple Minds spent exactly three hours in the studio arranging and recording it, and then promptly walked away from it with every intention of disowning the song. things did not quite work out that way.

to say (Don't You) Forget About Me was Simple Minds' biggest hit was an understatement.whilst the film The Breakfast Club wasn't a big hit on release (it would benefit from generations of audiences on home video) the song was, very much so. as in it spent 3 (three) years on the UK top 100. the song, whether they liked it or not (and they didn't - they refused to let it appear on their next studio album, Once Upon A Time, which is what i believe the kids these days call an "epic dick move") gave them worldwide fame an a huge international audience, particularly in America.

these days Simple Minds have come to terms with the fact that their fans love it even if they do not. they had little choice but to include it on greatest hits pacakges and, for the audience at least, it's the highlight of any concert. does Billy regret handing Jim Kerr and his chums success? apparently not, but he did give the world a taste of what his version would have been like with a 2001 recording of it. Billy's version of it is quite frankly amazing, and if released at the time it probably would have cemented him as a major star forever more. it is not, however, the amazing, awe inspiring masterpiece that Simple Minds made without really trying to.

Noel Gallagher Gives U2 Credibility

here in 2013, Noel Gallagher is a dull, sad man, wishing he was much older than he was, wishing he was more respected than he is and forever wishing he had even more money than he does. it was not always the case. back in the mid-90s, when Noel spoke, it was interesting and people tended to follow what he said.

back in 1995, when Noel said anything at all it was front page news. well, it was unless Liam had punched a person of particular importance that day. so when Noel Gallagher namechecked a band, they were instantly cool. a big benefactor of this was Paul Weller. Mr Weller had, wrongly, been derided by music critics who couldn't understand what he was doing with The Style Council and frankly never gave his solo stuff a chance. Noel Gallagher mentions how class Paul Weller is and all of a sudden the music press were falling over themselves to show how much they really worshipped Paul too.

in 1995, Noel in an attempt to massage his own ego, did the same favour for Pope Bono and his happy band.

August 1995 saw the last true chart battle - something i have written about before, if you wish to search my blog for it. it was Blur vs Oasis, the two biggest bands in the UK, and both happened to have a single out in the same week. Blur "won" the battle, scoring a number one single with Oasis at number two, but it's fair to say, measured in sales, Oasis would eventually win the war.

not that Noel was at war with Blur. well, except for "wishing they got AIDS and died", i suppose. according to Noel, Blur were no competition for Oasis at all. Oasis were, in his wise words, only threatened by REM and U2 in regards of being called "the biggest band in the world".

leaving aside REM, it was interesting that Noel said that U2 were "one" of the biggest bands in the world at the time. why? well, they had not released anything for 2 years at the time, and it would be another 2 years before they did do (the dire Pop album). Oasis, selling one record every four seconds to "the kids", were basically saying "well, U2 are bigger than us". that would inevitably lead to people not normally interested in U2 all of a sudden seeking out who exactly Mr Ego was rating higher than himself.

let's make no mistake here - U2's success stems from an incredibly talented singer and songwriter, one of the best bass players in the world not to be called Mani, a drummer with an amazing technique and a predictable, pedestrian guitarist who looks kind of cute on stage, in particular when he wears a beanie hat. the biggest band of the time suggesting that you were bigger than them, though, kept you in the news. i trust Pope Bono, when not healing lepers, took the time to buy Noel a pint and a mirror.

Lindsey Buckingham Saves Fleetwood Mac. Again.

the last one on this list is a biggie. it's arguably the single greatest act of generosity in music history ever, and starts some 12 years before the gift was given.

Lindsey Buckingham could have been like any number of singer, guitar player and songwriters of the 70s - vastly talented, celebrated but ultimately never sold as many records as they should have. he could have resided in the same eltie group as the likes of Warren Zevon, Jess Roden and Harry Nilsson. he was "saved", however, by joining Fleetwood Mac, along with his partner Stevie Nicks. it's also the case, of course, that he pretty much saved the band with his contribution. without him (as well as the cocaine and the rampant inter-band f*****g) there would have been no Rumours. just think for a moment how awful the world would be without that record. and, indeed, how less pretty it would be without Lindsey's excellent hair and shirts from that era.

as is so often the case, the greatest success of Fleetwood Mac came to be their biggest burden, and few in the band felt it as much as Lindsey. the fans and the record label wanted more of the same; Buckingham wanted to use the success as a freedom to explore other music and unleash more creative music than he did commercial.

Lindsey tried to keep a bit of a balance between the two, opting to agree to make a more commercial sound with Fleetwood Mac and go off to explore the less commercial sounds in a solo career. this would work if the rest of Fleetwood Mac actively worked with Lindsey on Fleetwood Mac albums and didn't spend their time consuming vast quantities of cocaine and pondering over which band member to sleep with next.

that arrangement did not quite work out as well as it could have. to this day the speculation is that the early 80s Fleetwood Mac album Mirage consisted mostly of songs that Lindsey intended to release as a solo album. in the face of the fact that his solo albums did not sell too well and that Fleetwood Mac was a name that sold, the record label put pressure on him to sacrifice his commercial sounding solo ideas for the good of the band.

what was speculated about in the early 80s about Mirage was undeniable fact by the time of the 1987 album, Tango In The Night.

by the mid-80s, Fleetwood Mac were dangerously close to being dead. all of the money that the band had made appeared to reside with Colombian (ahem) cocoa plant exporters and dubious property developers who had impressed Mick Fleetwood. Lindsey Buckingham, presumably tired of hearing "look at these magic beans i bought" and "guess who i slept with this time", was off on another crack at a solo project. he was armed with a number of commercial, radio friendly songs with one in particular, Big Love, clearly sounding like it would be a big, big hit.

at this time, though, Fleetwood Mac were expected to deliver a new studio album. an album that they were in no particular fit state or mind to do. yet again, then, Lindsey Buckingham was faced with a choice. if he went ahead with his new material as a solo album he would no doubt have at last got the commercial success and recognition his talent deserved. if he did so, though, it would to all intents and purposes have been at the cost of the death of the band Fleetwood Mac. in an astonishing act of generosity, then, Lindsey Buckingham did what he felt he had no choice but to do - he took his solo recordings, worked in the best of what the rest of the band had produced and delivered to the band their second biggest selling album of all time, Tango In The Night.

the band, unsurprisingly, were well aware of the fact that it was Lindsey who had thrown them a lifelife. the first few editions of the album pressed were practically covered in messages of thanks and praise for Lindsey Buckingham. i note some of those messages have disappeared on latter re-issues, but the large stack of credits they gave him still remain. just look at this list of credits. 

produced, arrange and engineered by Lindsey Buckingham no less, with a credit for "cover concept" too. the praise and gratitude were not quite enough, though, and Lindsey quit the band not long after the album was released. interestingly it was just before the band were due to go on tour with the record - perhaps the idea of the band performing songs he knew he could have been celebrated alone for on stage was just too much. which is, in artistic terms, fair enough. the lure of Fleetwood Mac was something that Lindsey could not defeat, however, as shown in the details of their imminent tour.

well, there you have it. rock stars can indeed be nice to each other, even when there is no charity involved or no court order to do so in place. many thanks for reading!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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