I prefer no music in pubs but just for a bit of fun I'm going to have a virtual pub jukebox to which I'll add a track from time-to-time. Listening to the audiobile in some of the boozers on the Isle of Wight whilst on holiday in 2012 convinced me that music in pubs is generally a bad thing because, more often than not, the selections can be infuriating. The Isle of Wight seemed to have a 70s and 80s fixation. I never thought I'd hear Sweet Sensation's "Sad Sweet Dreamer" ever again but, to my horror, it cropped up twice on the island in different pubs. I wanted to find the cables to the loudspeakers so I could snip them in half. The trouble with mainstream popular music is that there is just a hideous amount of pap, proving that 'People Like What They Know' rather than 'Know What They Like.' So, as publican and the person who inserts the records into this jukebox, I get to put on the tracks I like. All selections are from my personal music collection that has taken a lifetime to compile. I have wildly eclectic taste in music so there is a bit of everything - just as it should be in the pub where patrons can all select a favourite. From indie to country, and soul to bluegrass, I love every one of these tracks. Hopefully, at some point you'll be entertained, intrigued, amused or bemused. Do NOT e-mail me suggesting I add a track by some boy band or a winner of 'they ain't got talent' - it simply isn't going to happen.
Footnote : that aforementioned "Sad Sweet Dreamer" was arguably the forerunner of the trend for talent shows - you just have to delete Simon Cowell and Pop Idol and insert Tony Hatch and New Faces. However, the group did spawn the classic "Reach for Love" when youngest member, the late Marcel King, hooked up with Factory Records and produced a Hacienda club hit in the mid-80s.
With some sort of reference to how the records fit into the pub's weekly schedule, I will try to write a few words on some of the jukebox selections over time. I will kick-off with a classic from 1958.
Link Wray : "Rumble"
The jukebox has just been delivered to the pub so it's that exciting moment of trying out the equipment. The first record I'm putting in the jukebox, with an accompanying video [below], is for those who, in this digital age, perhaps do not know what a record player looks like... try this killer 1958 record by Link Wray with details of equipment used. It's still a fantastic 45rpm packed with an undercurrent of malevolence. The track perhaps conjures up an image of 1950s bikers with blue jeans and leather jackets - or maybe down the drag for a hot-rod burnout. But, if you intend to listen with four wheels, please note that this should only be played in a car if you actually happen to own something like a '57 Chevy!
Hector Rivera : "At The Party"
It's Saturday night and there's a party in the pub so this choice is a no-brainer. A mid-60s scorching mix of latin, soul and jazz. The banality of the lyrics is more than outweighed by the outrageously infectious rhythm that will have everyone on their feet dancing, arms flailing whilst singing ""At The Party!" If this record fails to move you then you're already on your way to the pearly gates. A hot, sweaty slice of boogaloo, "At The Party" is frenetic in all departments with several trumpet players interlinking with frenzied drumming. This single is the most famous recording of New York-born Hector Rivera and topped the American R&B charts in 1967. It is the title track of a 1966 album by the keyboardist, arranger and composer. He started out in the previous decade with the band of Elmo Garcia. Although he released his own records as a bandleader, his bread-and-butter was playing with the likes of Joe Cuba and Pacheco, plus vocalist Vincento Valdez.
Reg Owen : "Payroll"
A great record for the pub when some of the punters are hatching a plan to pull off a good old-fashioned robbery, the likes of which disappeared with The Sweeney. This 1961 British neo-noir crime thriller filmed in the north-east has plenty of flaws but could have been a classic. However, it has some fine vintage moments, not least this theme music by Reg Owen. Mind you, if Maurice Ravel had lived to hear some of these notes he may have been on the telephone to his solicitors. However, scribbling away in Brussels, the Hackney-born composer blazed a trail here for the likes of the car chase music in Bullitt credited to Lalo Schifrin.
Ray Pollard : "The Drifter"
This mid-60s big beat number with an incredible soulful delivery by Ray Pollard has something of a wall-of-sound orchestral arrangement akin to that used to support the Walker Brothers on records such as "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." This is partly down to the production of Arnold Goland, a composer and arranger who worked with Phil Spector. However, the genius of this terrific recording is that, through just a few lines, it is a mini road movie, thus proving that songs lyrics can often work best when less is more, leaving the listener to fill in the spaces. An essential disc for the pub jukebox to end the evening.
First Aid Kit : "Emmylou"
2012 got off to a great start with the release of "The Lion's Roar," the second album by First Aid Kit, an outfit featuring the close harmony delights of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. They originate from Enskede, a southern suburb of Stockholm, but you'd never be able to detect this from their output - they sound like some kooky chicks from somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the deepest Midwest of America. Following the release of their debut, they were quickly compared to the Fleet Foxes so it was a canny move to cover "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and plonk it on You Tube. It went viral and has notched up over 3 million views. They have since played alongside the Fleet Foxes, recorded for Jack White and collaborated with Bright Eyes. Consequently, they have become genuine cool cats on the alt.folk circuit - and beyond. Their voices are flawless - indeed, ethereal to the point of pure perfection. Blimey, Sweden's gone and done it again - they win my Eurovision Song Contest year after year.
Judy Henske : "High Flying Bird"
This b-side transcended its original obscurity to become an important song of social commentary during the revolutionary 1960s. Many a protest singer incorporated this song within their live set, most notably Richie Havens at Woodstock. Essentially, "High Flying Bird" is a folk song that was first recorded by top-drawer jazz musicians with a soulful vocal delivery by a woman dubbed "Queen of the Beatniks." "High Flying Bird" was composed by the folk and country singer-songwriter Billy Edd Wheeler, and Judy Henske was the first to record the song in 1963 but it was issued as the reverse side to "Charlotte Town." However, it was the title track of her second album recorded for Jac Holzman's Elektra label. Check out the footage below and you will see how Janis Joplin was influenced by Judey Henske's style of delivery. The theme, of course, is looking up to the freedom of a bird whilst living a life of drudge on land, dreaming of a better life. One for the struggling publican to play whilst cleaning the beer lines or scrubbing the cellar. Noel Gallagher borrowed the song title for the name of his band but this was after listening to the version by Jefferson Airplane so we can brush over this bit of trivia.
Gene Vincent : "Be-Bop-A-Lula"
This record has to go in the pub jukebox simply because the disc was probably inserted into every British jukebox at some stage of its life. Recorded in 1956 and originally destined to be a b-side, "Be-Bop-A-Lula" made Vincent Eugene Craddock a household name after his discharge from the U.S. Navy following a terrible motorcycle accident. He also survived the car accident in which Eddie Cochran died. An early rockabilly recording, it was picked up by Capitol Records who were looking to rival the success of Elvis Presley. Despite selling more than two million records, the song never reached the dizzy heights of No.1. However, the seminal recording inspired thousands of wannabee rock stars for a generation.
Lynn Varnado : "Wash And Wear Love"
Check out the image above to see the catalogue number begins with B - incredible to think that this 1973 recording was issued as a b-side. It might have vanished without trace but UK music lovers picked up on the record and it became a collectable item - to the point that bootleg copies surfaced at soul all-nighters. The A-side "Tell Me What's Wrong With The Men" is a funkier song and probably thought to have more chances of airplay and success. The singer with a powerful voice co-wrote "Wash And Wear Love" under her real name of Allean Varnado. After her 1970s recordings she turned to gospel music through her work as a minister and bible instructor. Here however, she brilliantly uses laundry metaphors such as "my washing machine is too tender and the soap powder costs too much" as as a message to her lover who is reluctant to commit to a long-relationship, and all to funky guitar riffs and resounding brass.
? and The Mysterians : "96 Tears"
One of the odd things about this record is that Rudy Martinez could never have envisaged that his pseudonym would create a headache for html editors and file labellers in the 21st century computer world. He is thought to have composed "96 Tears" four years prior to it becoming a hit single. Although it is a great recording, it is a little overstated in some circles where it is credited as the first punk record. I would look a little earlier than this .... say, "Louie Louie" by The Kingsmen. ? and The Mysterians are also widely regarded as a garage band but, after listening to other material, I would say they were at the pop edge of the garage-rock spectrum - and by some way. I would probably describe them as a beat group rather than a garage band. In my opinion most of their output was mediocre. Consequently, "96 Tears" confirms my belief that most artists have one great song within their body of work - there are innumerable bands that have largely recorded a pile of rubbish but have somehow produced three minutes of pure genius. This Michigan combo certainly pulled off some majestic moments when the tape rolled in the studio for this recording, a wonderful juncture in the history of popular music. I love the ridiculous quote of Rudy Martinez who once stated that "his soul had originated from Mars and that he once walked on Earth with the dinosaurs." His abduction of the keyboard player from another local group, The Trespassers, was however inspired genius ... those organ riffs still sound groovy sixty years on.
Skull Snaps : "My Hang Up Is You"
Back in the day it was harder to find certain records. There was no online searching in those days. Consequently, it could take you years to track down a particular record. This was one that had me flicking through record boxes for years. It's not that I am mad about the recording but it simply became a quest to find a copy. Actually it is not that easy to find these days and has sold between £60 and £150 a time when emerging on the Internet [bootlegs are available for much less]. I first heard this polished soul track in the late 1970s and it was 14 years before I stumbled across a copy at a record fair held in Birmingham's Central Hall. I was flicking through the S section and couldn't believe my eyes. I picked out the mint condition single and, feigning only slight interest, nonchalantly enquired for a price. I was told £4 by the dealer. £4! I would have given him £40 just to end the mission to find the blinkin' thing. I casually handed over the money and headed for the tea stand before holding the record aloft like it was the F.A. Cup that I had just won. Incidentally, the album from which this single has a few more funky tracks and "It's a New Day" has been sampled to death by hip-hop artists. Another footnote : I tend to agree with one of the comments on You Tube in that it is playing a little fast.