She said, “Don’t ring while he is here,” and gave me back my poetry.

April 17, 2009

Well dear readers, as if the Proclaimers version of “Five O’Clock World” wasn’t enough for you, I’ve got even more of a bonus for you heading into the weekend — a whole new post! My superiors showed a rare case of generosity this afternoon and on account of the number of hours put into the office this week, gave me an early out today. 

After doing a bit of walking around Madison on this glorious day and finding a painfully affordable copy of Catch a Wave: The Rise, Fall & Redemption of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson (a book I’ve been meaning to read for years now), I’ve found a quiet spot outside to read and do a bit of blogging.

Obviously the previous incarnation of this blog had a lot of various series going for it, most of which should carry over, but one that didn’t show up as often as I might have liked was a series called “ComBlete” where we examined that wonderful thing of the 1990s — the CD single that contained three or four exclusive tracks.

As much as I like iTunes and means of sharing, obtaining and releasing music on the internet, there’s really no payoff anymore for the true fan is there? It used to mean a lot to go into a record store, peruse the import section and find some rare copy of a four-year-old single that’s long since been deleted in its mother country but still contains songs that never even saw the light of day over here. Now odds and ends are there for anyone with a search engine. Of course I take advantage of it, but as I see more and more record stores disappear, I slightly ache for the kids that will never know the joy of finding a host of treasures and debating what to spend what little hard earned dosh they have from their part time retail jobs on. I always loved that turmoil. My family and friends hated it though, because it always meant I spent hours in music stores…

Anyway, one of my biggest gripes about artists’ CD singles was always directed toward those who wasted B-side space with superfluous remixes. Oddly, as I grow older, I’m actually developing the smallest little soft spot in my heart for remixes. I have respect for remixes if they can preserve the integrity of the song and create something interesting as opposed to looping a 5-second clip of the bassline and one line of singing from the song over and over for eight minutes.

When Billy Bragg released the single for “Sexuality” (his smarmy ode to conscientious free love, co-written with Johnny Marr) from his Don’t Try This at Home album in 1991, he put two different remixes of the song on the B-side. They both  sound very much like early 1990s remixes, but they also actually keep the verses and choruses in tact which is kind of interesting. And after years and years of listening to the album version of the song (you know, because I always detested anything with a ‘remix’ tag in parentheses) it’s kind of refreshing to hear different interpretations of the song, but still preserving Billy’s delivery. Plus the last track is “Bad Penny,” one of very best and most forgotten ruminations on unrequited love Billy ever wrote.

Billy Bragg – Sexuality (Manchester Remix)
This remix was done at the hands of Owen Morris, who handled production duties on the first Electronic album and later had a hand in Oasis’ first three albums. The undertone has a bit of a ‘Madchester’ feel to it, but stays true to Johnny Marr’s guitar work and screws a bit with some of the song’s chorus harmonies, which is kind of enjoyable. Who knew you could groove to Billy like this, anyway?

Billy Bragg – Sexuality (London Remix)
If the Manchester remix took Billy onto the dance floor, the London remix insists you reconsider it after a hit of E. This remix actually reminds me of the sounds that would pervade the Stone Roses’ single, “Begging You,” four years later, but like the Manchester remix, the song’s skeletal structure remains. The refrain dolls up Kirsty MacColl’s backing vocals a bit, and while this version is a bit more droning and less earthy than the Manchester version, it’s also not completely intolerable. Coming from a recovering remixphobe like me, that’s high praise.

Billy Bragg – Bad Penny
Bragg actually wrote and demoed this song around the time of his 1988 album Workers Playtime, and the demo (which recalls his early days of just voice and electric guitar )can now be found on the rereleased version of the album. But the final version with full band in tow has a nice energy to it, too. Like several Billy tracks, though, the lyrics ultimately override whatever music sits under them. Sensitive boys all over the world will be able to relate to the story of a shy boy writing poems and songs for a girl who goes out with everyone else and only gives the author in question the time of day when she’s feeling a little lonely herself. “She comes back and asks me to sing all her favorite songs as if she’s never been away, as if she’s done nothing wrong. But I’ve come to the conclusion that she doesn’t realize a thing. And she probably still thinks I love her, and she doesn’t know that it’s a sin…” Amen. And just as heartbreakingly direct as his classics like “A Lover Sings” or “The Saturday Boy.” 

The song’s most entertaining video can be viewed here.

Enjoy and have a great weekend, all.

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