Hey Joe, Hey Jude, Hey Bulldog. Last week it was five wow songs addressed to girls; now it’s the turn of their hairier, smellier, less refined counterparts to be serenaded.
There’s something joyous about a song in direct response to another. In a world lacking style and grace, it’s these meta-fictional strands that serve to imply something beyond the mundane quality inherent within the obviously observed.
Which is perhaps a shade too metaphysical a description for a mere music blog; whatever, this cheeky riposte to the Lloyd Cole classic ‘Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken’ is a fine slice of Scottish twee. I’m still not exactly sure what it is about my (pretend) home city, but Glasgow has such an abundancy of sunny yet intelligent indie pop sentiment that I’m beginning to suspect some municipal Doctor Faustus-style pact. Not that delicious jangly guitar-infused delights aren’t worth selling your soul for, you understand…
Later recorded as ‘A Message To You, Rudy,’ this track was elevated towards public consciousness thanks to the cover version by The Specials (it’s that version which first discovered me). The original was written and recorded by ska stalwart Dandy Livingstone, who went on to become a staple of the Trojan Records roster in the late 1960’s.
My favourite Dandy Livingstone story: having relocated from Jamaica to London in 1959, he became a part of the burgeoning rocksteady / ska scene centred around Notting Hill. With record labels and would-be svengalis keen to exploit this new, exotic sound, Carnival Records started scouting around for a Jamaican vocal duo. Which they eventually found, releasing three singles by Sugar and Dandy.
It was only later that it was revealed one-half of the duo was Dandy Livingstone – the other half was Livingstone’s doubled-tracked vocal.
Transpires there’s not too many records ready to wrap a fraternal arm about the shoulders of troubled snooker players. I know – difficult to believe. Still, when it comes to dishing out advice to one of the most naturally talented proponents in his field, Mark E Smith (by his own admission) is uniquely qualified. In fact, if you ever need your unsolicited advice smeared over a greasy and slightly subversive disco beat, then the Salford Hobgoblin is the guy to step up to the oche (to confuse my sporting metaphors).
A b-side to a single release from Tromatic Reflexxions, the one-off album collaboration between Smith and German electronic duo Mouse On Mars, this is an idiosyncratic track – addressed to maverick cue-smith Ronnie O’Sullivan – that doesn’t give a flying fuck just how stupid the premise is… which bizarrely enhances the listening experience, implying a layer of gravitas where none should really be existing. As far as Mark E Smith is concerned, par for the course (to mangle my sporting metaphors just one more time).
There’s always been a degree of conjecture behind this song, originally recorded in 1993 but hidden from popular consumption until the release of out-takes and demos disc Double Hipness in 2000. To air the myth one final time, the “Stephen” of the title once penned a ditty entitled ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ – the “William”being Billy MacKenzie of Scottish new wave duo Associates.
However appealing it may be to have two (fatuously rumoured) lovers flirting with each other over the airwaves, this is obviously a myth that doesn’t bear too close a scrutiny. Morrissey (for once) was quite explicit in interviews that The Smiths single was a stinging barb about marriage, whilst the Associates song is credited to MacKenzie’s occasional conspirator Alan Rankine, and bears little lyrical resonance with ‘William…’.
Away from conjecture, and there’s usually a good reason for a track to suffer the ignominious confines of an oddities and curios album – you can hear why on ‘Stephen You’re Really Something’. It’s in the disjointed and awkward construction, the glam-rock inflexions that neither convincingly stitch together nor compliment Billy’s voice. But my god, what a voice. It shines like a beacon from a far more confident era. He’s very much missed.
If pressed to suggest an all-out blast of an album, something that from needle-drop to run-out groove sparkles with an impish sense of delight, then Murder Ballads, Cave’s 1996 release, would inevitably be a strong contender. A mix of traditional songs (the subject matter: stoving in your cruel lover’s head with a bedpan, or, in a fit of pique, taking out half the village with a blunderbuss) and Cave-penned ballads (the subject matter: stoving in your cruel village with a bedpan, or, in a fit of pique, taking out half of your lovers with a blunderbuss), the humour is obviously as dark as it comes, but by exploiting the folklore qualities inherent in song-born narrative, this is fairy tale violence told with maximum glee. Even the album credits have a glint in their eye (Backing Vocals by The Moron Tabernacle Choir).
Well known but another outing won’t hurt, ‘Henry Lee’ is one of the traditional tracks on the album, given a fresh and enigmatic arrangement, and performed as a sultry duet with PJ Harvey on vox. T’is lovely.