Monday, June 15, 2015


THE first time I can ever recall looking at YOUTUBE.COM was when I came across a link on a Van Morrison website for his frenetic song ‘Mystic Eyes’ – an enigmatic performance taken inside some zoo grounds with ‘Cuby and the Blizzards as backing, a guitarist running around and around a tree. I loved the clip- still do- and it set me off for hundreds, if not thousands, of YOUTUBE journeys.

Some of the clips I have watched the most are live clips from favourite performers, like Elvis singing Unchained Melody, and Joni singing Amelia, Melanie with Ruby Tuesday, The Moody Blues dubbed somewhere in Paris in a concert called The Lost Performances 1970, even America on German television with I Need You, and an exhilarating performance by Stevie Nicks of Rhiannon on Burt Sugarman’s Midnight Special.


Then there are these clips, special for that extra bit that they can add. They consist of footage of the singer or the band performing live in the studio in preparation for the album. Each of them offers fascinating insight into the craft of recording, and what it tells about each performer.


This first one is of Simon and Garfunkel in 1969 in a rehearsal of the majestic Bridge Over Troubled Water, from a documentary called Songs of America 1969. From the same film is footage of their special live performance of the beautiful For Emily Whenever I May Find Her.


Art sings Bridge Over Troubled Water dutifully whilst Paul wanders around the studio looking at various stages tired or grumpy. When his ‘mic’ doesn’t come into play immediately for the shared ‘Sail on silver girl…’ he barks orders consisting of ‘where’s my mic!’ Towards the end of the song he wanders behind Art and dances and does his own orchestral moves, clearly enjoying the tune. I love watching it, not just for the lovely, lovely music, but also because I fancy that I can read Paul Simon’s ecstatic sense of ‘wow, what a great song I have written’, on his face, and I find that intriguing; and also because his grumpiness reminds me of the story, apocryphal or not, that he was always jealous that his partner got to sing the majority of the track, and received most of the plaudits as a result. The performance is raw and it makes me think that the song is young and fresh, like newly grown flowers, and that is exciting.

I grew up pretty much obsessed with The Doors. I had great fun wearing my Jim Morrison t-shirt in the Year 12 school photo. I wore a Morrison badge everywhere I went. Not many people my age back then seemed to know them. This was the period before the great Doors renaissance that occurred around 1980-81. It was rumoured that John Travolta was going to play Jim in a film (it ended up being Val Kilmer). Slowly, slowly some of my friends caught on to how good they were, and then we started collecting bootlegs. Wild Child is a good song, but I don’t think it’s one of their very best. This clip is unique, though, in that it captures the band and their producers in the studio rehearsing, and possibly even laying down, the definitive take. Jim looks stoned, Robby appears to be quiet and going with the flow, John is practising his drumming, and Ray is trying desperately to get some control happening. It’s just as I would have pictured it. Jim is clearly having a great time, much to Paul Rothchild’s chagrin. ‘Don’t overblow it, Jim, we’ve got a long way to go…’ One imagines he might have said these words plenty of times. After some false starts, the song begins, sounding just like it appears on the record, and a transformation takes place. Like a true professional. Jim suddenly becomes serious- concentrating but posturing, eyes closed, doing his best to pay due credit to his great lyrics and whatever the others have done to his words. He looks and sounds wonderful, enough to make Michael Hutchence cry.


This revealing clip intrigues me for another reason. It shows rehearsals for the album The Soft Parade. If you look at the footage of Jim singing other songs from the album- Touch Me and Tell All The People- outside of the studio-he is fully bearded and looks much older. Did his looks alter that much, so quickly? It all may be partly explained by the fact that the album took a total of nine months to record, beginning in June 1968. By all accounts a lot of this was due to Jim’s alcoholism and general apathy. There is a hint of this in this clip. My guess what we see is very much a truncated account.
The Rolling Stones have always been a strange fit for me. A band I admire, for their music, enigma, charisma, the same reasons I like The Doors, as a matter of fact- but there is some sort of hole, or chasm in my appreciation, and I have never really been able to work out why. It might because I don’t know their music well enough- just their ‘popular’ songs, mainly. And they don’t work for me in a lot of cases all that well. I am thinking about ‘You Don’t Always Get…’; ‘I Know It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll; ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’; ‘Get Off My Cloud’, etc, etc- all ok tunes but not ones I would deliberately listen to. Then there are the ‘classics’, like ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ and ‘Brown Sugar’, great songs but for my brain the appreciation wears off- in other words I tire of them- I would say this is the same for ‘Wild Horses’ as well- I will it to be a GREAT song, a masterpiece, but it doesn’t quite seem to me to get there- unlike, say, my favourite Stones songs like ‘Gimme Shelter’ or ‘’Street Fighting Man’ which I CAN listen to every week of the year.
Nevertheless, I do really enjoy this clip of ‘Wild Horses’- it really is something to watch a tired looking, really hard working band laying back to hear the fruits of their success and hard work, knowing that they do have a lovely song, and listening carefully to it to make sure it is exactly what they want. It reminds me a little of the story about Justin Hayward who apparently cried when he heard ‘Nights in White Satin’ played back for the first time- this one not quite as euphoric! Mick: pensive, thoughtful, ultimately content;  Charlie: nearly asleep???;  Keith: having the time of his life. Each member of the band probably listening to their own personal contribution to the song- the vocals, guitars, drums.

This is Nick Cave in the studio during the making of ‘No More Shall We Part’, in Abbey Road Studios, around 2001. My favourite album of his- I played it to death in the car on the way home and on the way to one of the toughest jobs I’ve ever had, in a place called Mansfield, Nottingham, UK. This is probably the most polished of all the studio recordings, a kind of documentary feel, like it was always going to be released. There are other songs that feature on this DVD as well.

Nick Cave looks very serious, very professional, wanting to do a great, sombre serious justice, with the rest of the band fully committed as well. The false starts are magical, as is the intensity of emotions, the removal from the loose, anarchic days of ‘Nick The Stripper’, the live playing of music in separate rooms, the mixing, everyone’s contorted faces, and the fantastic blast of aggression at the end with Cave standing up and throwing everything behind it- ’98 out of 100? Well we better do another one then!”

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