Monday, 12 January 2015

Tobacco Road

Vinyl is magic, vinyl is powerful. It has voodoo and mojo. And it always has done.

Would you like to know an interesting fact about records? Their weight doesn't matter. The number of grams is unimportant. The information on the sticker on the cover of your expensive virgin vinyl repress is hokum. Old singles from the 1960s and 1970s are frequently wafer-thin, yet the voodoo and mojo always find a way to wriggle in there somehow. There they rest at ease, like a man tucked up in bed. It doesn't matter if that bed is a single or double, queen or king size, feather, spring or water - the man in the bed is always a man.

OK. So that's a made-up fact. But here is a truth: whenever records are referred to as 'vinyls' a kitten cries. Those aren't 'vinyls' hiding away up in your loft. They're records. And those aren't CDs in your house. They're just shit.

I like records. A little too much, perhaps, but such is life. One time, while auditioning a succession of Hollies b-sides, I came to the conclusion that there are no bad records from the 1960s. They are ALL good.

This ridiculous sweeping generalisation still holds water for me. Moreover, like many an unquashed fruitloop theory, it has suckled oxygen from my brain and been granted the space it needs to expand a little. All the way up to perhaps 1972 or 1973. So today I can confidently report that all records manufactured before 1973 are good. Put it to the test if you want. This very weekend.

Go to a car boot sale. Look for records. Of course, you will find 'Dirty Dancing' soundtrack LPs. And a few Roland Rat singles. One or two things by Snap. But keep on digging. Dig on. Eventually you will find some single or LP that you won't have already heard (if you're REALLY lucky, you won't even have heard OF it). Look at the date on the label or back cover and apply our acid test: is it from 1973 or earlier? Yes? Pay the woman her 20p and take it home (Another, similar, golden rule: is the record from 1977 or later? Does the band have the letter 'X' in its name? Yes? Pay the woman her 20p and take it home).

Play the record. Listen to the drums. Hopefully it has guitars on it? Listen to them, too. Notice anything?

Drums and guitars sounded better, so emphatically richer, in the 1960s and 1970s. Listen to tubs being thumped in 1970 or 1971 and you will quickly pick up that explosive, organic quality. It's a 'thing'. It's difficult to define but it's simplicity itself to identify. And it's got nothing to do with the analogue vs digital argument. That particular discourse is hifi-store commission-based.

No. There is a tangible warmth to the records of the 1960s and 1970s, even when the music concerned is at its iciest. The Poets' 'Now We're Thru' is a great example of this. It's cold fire that rests shoulder to shoulder with the voodoo and mojo in those grooves.

I say 'warmth' but do I really mean 'colour'? Should it not surprise anybody that purple wallpaper went particularly well alongside orange gloss skirting boards in 1971, yet iWhite is the depressingly unadventurous consumer choice of today? And did this peacock aesthetic make it to the magick of the records which soundtracked those times? Think back to the mid 1960s. Can you 'hear' Brian Jones' lime green ruffled shirt in 'Off The Hook'? Or is that just glaring synesthesian propoganda? 

Did I hear somebody at the back say something? Something along the lines of "But Bard, the brightness of colour and sound are a symbiotic response to the greyness and gloom of post-war austerity - a cultural manifestation borne of the still-adolescent developmental progress of the nascent consumerist western teenager"?

I don't think I did. Which is great news, because I personally favour a more scientific explanation for the way 'Tobacco Road', as covered by Eric Burdon and War for the German 'Beat Club' programme in 1970, looks and sounds so brilliant. I think the key to all this is molecular: we breathe subtly different air and resist microscopically different gravitational pressures today. Our senses and nerve endings are bruised and battered by the atmospheric intensity of the 21st century. Which is why a shitty white phone and shitty white bands playing shitty music is about as much as anybody can stand.

Whereas the rarefied chemical consistency of 1970 was screaming out for all the colour, texture and musical stimulation that Eric Burdon and War could possibly throw at our brand new colour TVs.

Modern life is rubbish. But I am encouraged at how mighty this clip looks and sounds right now, at 6.31am on a Tuesday in a January. Maybe the future will be bright, after all. Maybe it's time to dream again. Perhaps the appetite for orange is coming back.

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