Friday, 24 September 2010

Download Problems

After 7 years of (almost) faultless service, my old computer has finally given up the ghost. In the last few weeks the mouse has formed the incredibly irritating habit of freezing on me and the hard drive has sounded like a chainsaw negotiating a slab of concrete, so I thought it time to treat myself to a new model. Ergo, I am now the proud owner of a shiny new black box. Never did like laptops.

I hate setting up new hardware; it is such a pain in the butt getting printers to work, re-installing software and transferring data. Having said that, Windows7 does a reasonably good job of setting up peripherals so all was going swimmingly until I moved all my music files over. It was only then that I found most of my downloaded songs either required re-licensing or just expired on the spot. Great! Luckily I had burned all the purchased albums to disc but I never bothered with the odd songs so they are now lost and I can’t be bothered to clutter up my brand new machine with a whole load of old applications from sites I don’t visit anymore (or just don’t exist now) just to re-licence a few songs (Interestingly those bought from Amazon and the dreaded iTunes work perfectly).

So having sat down with a list of about 30 songs I’d accumulated over the years in order to decide what to do, it became apparent that my download file has taken over from my old cassette tapes back at the dawn of time. In my taping days, I’d copy everything that sounded interesting and this inexorably became a sort of ‘buffer zone’ between the real world and my ‘proper collection’ (i.e. LPs). After a period of assimilation, I’d either buy the LP or just delete the tape. And so it came to pass that this is what has now happened to my downloads.

Many of the songs on the list have already been superseded by the album from whence they came and are thus redundant. And frankly, the majority of the rest I can live without so at the end of the day I decided to re-purchase about half a dozen of them (from Amazon) and just ignore the rest - this on the basis that if I’d liked them enough, I would’ve upgraded them to full album status by now.

Seems my weeding out process has just moved with the times.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Music Buddies

Throughout the history of rock ‘n’ pop there have been partnerships. Simon & Garfunkel, Hall & Oates, Peter & Gordon…and er, Zager & Evans being but a few of the performing artists that understood the benefit of being a duo. Songwriters, in particular, like to team up and so we have Lennon & McCartney, Jagger & Richards and so on. The advantage of having a mate around is that ideas can be bounced backwards and forwards before setting them in stone and a degree of quality control can be introduced into the process via the good old fashioned argument.

This is all very well on the performing and creative side of the fence but what about us consumers? Are we not allowed the benefits of the collaborative partnership? I believe we are. When I was a young music fan back in the 1960s I had a ‘music buddy’ myself. His name was Terry and we went to the same primary school. In those days, being fiscally challenged, we did little more than discuss the most recent singles chart and agree or otherwise on what was any good. But as time went on and the 1960s turned inexorably into the 1970s, our partnership became more productive.

By this time we were both buying singles regularly and just beginning to venture into the world of albums. Some of my favourite bands of that period were chanced upon by the direct action of out musical buyers co-operative. The chain of events would often go something like this. One of us would buy a single we liked by an unknown band which would prompt the other to buy the album from which it came (usually on the cheap from St Albans market). Having then borrowed the LP and listened to it the other would become hooked and consequently buy subsequent albums by that band. My love of early Chicago and Curved Air were fostered by this method.

Also, providing your tastes did not overlap significantly, having a ‘music buddy’ effectively doubled not only your own knowledge but also your music collection by way of illegal taping. The trouble with this is that all my old tapes have disintegrated and over the years I’ve been forced to buy all the albums for myself so the record companies get you in the end. I have Terry to thank for introducing me to many cherished artists, Lesley Duncan of whom I posted recently, being one of them.

I look back now on those years of collaborative exploration as some of the happiest I spent. Music is a bit like life. If you can’t share it, it doesn’t really mean quite so much.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Raquel Welch Season

Jo Tejada
For a period in the very early 70s, Jo Raquel Tejada had pride of place on my bedroom wall, lording it over the Gallic Brigitte Bardot and the cool Norwegian Julie Ege. During that time I tried to see as many of her films as possible but cinemas in my neck of the woods very rarely showed them and it seemed only old black and white films were shown on TV at that time so the list was depressingly short.

‘Fathom’ came and went and , I think ‘100 Rifles’ (both ‘B’ movies to the main event) and I even sneaked in, years under age, to see the worst film of all time; ‘Myra Breckinridge’. After that, interest waned so it has been fun recently to see a whole raft of them, some for the very first time, after so many years in my very own Raquel Welch season at chez MusicObsessive.

60s Spy Spoof -'Fathom'
The advantage of following a so-so actress is that all her old films can be found in the bargain bin at next-to-nothing prices, so I’ve been able to pick up the sci-fi ‘Fantastic Voyage’ (1966), the spy-spoof ‘Fathom’ (1967), the western ‘Bandolero!’, the private eye detecting ‘Lady in Cement’ (both 1968), another western ‘100 Rifles’ (1969) and yet another western ‘Hannie Caulder’ (1971) for very little outlay at all.

The one thing that that becomes obvious having watched this lot is that no-one really knew what to do with her. At the time, she was married to film producer, Patrick Curtis, who was hell-bent on promoting his easy-on-the-eye wife, a young mother with two children in tow incidentally, on a journey that one cinema website describes as from ‘Cocktail Waitress to 60s Sexpot’ and effectively succeeding. The problem was that the films designed as vehicles to promote this image were run of the mill and didn’t really make the most of her middling talent.

Another Western Wench - 'Hannie Caulder'
Making use of her South American looks (courtesy of her Bolivian father), she was endlessly cast as the feisty Mexican wench in westerns or as the exotic neighbour in a bikini (natch) drawn into the unlikely circumstances of the main protagonists. Neither of which really showed us what she could do but only showed us her - which, presumably, was the plan. As an aside, one thing you notice, well one of the things, is she has a waist, which few young women seem to have these days. Is it not fashionable any more or has it gone the same way as the real hourglass?

It isn’t until ‘Kansas City Bomber’ (1972) and ‘The Three Musketeers’ (1973) and the post-Curtis era that we begin to see what she was good at; the ‘everywoman’ role and especially, comedy (she won a Golden Globe for ‘Musketeers’), a glimpse of which was evident as far back as ‘Fathom’ in 1967. But all this was too little too late and with no recognition and the inevitable aging process diminishing her sex symbol roles, she left the film set in 1977 to appear in TV, sell wigs and fitness videos like most other 80s celebs. In retrospect it is a shame that her looks worked against her by obscuring her real natural talents but I dare say it was ever thus.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Record Labels

Whatever happened to the record label? I don’t mean the companies themselves but the circular paper thing that used to sit in the middle of a vinyl disc. Labels were half the enjoyment of owning a record. They were colourful, artful, recognisable, informative and well, fascinating. In the 30 odd years that vinyl ruled, record labels were an instant source of information both explicit and implicit and with the advent of CD and now downloads this source has dried up completely.

International Note: All design descriptions that follow relate to records released in the UK and yes, I know they are often different in other countries.

In the days when I was an impoverished singles buyer, the combination of record label and sleeve was part of the fun of music collecting. My first 7-inch single was on the RCA label, a black and silver affair with a stunning pinky-red and white sleeve. All RCA releases were the same and thus were instantly recognisable. Then there was the deep blue and silver of Decca, the bright orange of CBS, the cool green of Columbia and the maroon of London, each a joy to behold. In the 70s I owned a complete set of Abba singles with their mesmerizingly vivid yellow Epic labels and sleeves – such a shame when Epic changed to orange with a spiral pattern.

Once I’d graduated to buying albums, a whole new set of labels beckoned and each label ‘stable’ held a clue to its contents. The vomit-yellow and green of the Harvest label told of underground progressive bands – the ones you’d want to be seen carrying. The shocking pink and white Island label promised a touch of the exotic whilst the yellowy-orange riverboat of Reprise said ‘classic’.

Labels eventually became artier like the Apple ‘skin and core’ graphics of the Beatles’ releases and the beautiful butterfly motif on the Elektra label or the Asylum ‘barred door’ on a white background but they always had a ‘house’ design that said ‘these are my acts and if you like one you might like the others’.

These days I have not a clue which label releases what as a) there are about 32 trillion different labels which come and go at will, b) they are all owned by about three companies anyway and c) they have no graphic representation by which to identify them. A file download won’t tell you the label identity and even CD inserts fight shy of this fact. Somehow the individuality and fun has gone out of this aspect of music collecting and will probably never return. It’s like the great labels of the past like Stax and Atlantic, Parlophone and HMV never existed. But just give me a black labelled Tamla Motown single in its shit-brown sleeve and I’ll be happy.