If you’re a music buff like me and you really just can’t get enough of it, then these lists of Music Box Discoveries are for you.
We’ve all experienced that wonderful moment when a piece of music grabs us by the lugholes (ears) and makes us stop in our tracks. We could be anywhere – a café, on a train or walking past a shop with a radio on.
Or maybe we read about some obscure track in a music mag or came across a dusty album in the well thumbed racks of some downtown, rundown record shop. Either way, the joy of discovering is worth noting and sharing with friends or even complete strangers is a moment of pride.
So let’s begin in earnest as we open the lid on this box of musical delights:
1) Mary Jane Hooper – I’ve Got What You Need
A real find in the genuine sense of the word here. First off is a 1968 release from a little known protégé of the New Orleans funk maestro Eddie Bo. There is some conjecture as to whether or not Mary Jane actually existed or was it just a stage name employed by either Sena Fletcher from his backing group The Triple Souls or Inez Cheatham who sang on Bo’s classic track Lover & a Friend. This aside, legend has it that Hooper was a backing singer for Bo and persuaded him to produce a solo album for her.
This the standout track featuring some sublime funk drumming from James Black was released on the Power & Power-Pac labels in ’68. Both labels were subsidiaries of Scram Records headed by the New Orleans seafood merchant and fantastically named Al Scramuzza. It seemed a perfect combination for Hooper with Bo at the helm to showcase her talents and Scram putting their faith in what they were hearing. Jerry Wexler of Atlantic was taking notice and had already made an informal approach to Scramuzza regarding Hooper. All seemed to be going her way.
But sadly it was not to be. Scramuzza played hardball with Hooper’s contract and Wexler walked away. The album was shelved and Hooper disappeared back into New Orleans funk obscurity. Another talent gone to waste.
Years later whilst sourcing material for a radio show I was presenting in Birmingham I came across this forgotten gem on iTunes. The album had been released on CD and MP3 as ‘Psychedelphia’. For the next six months it became a regular feature of my shows and a forgotten funk favourite to this day.
2) Gun – Sunshine
Sometimes in life you are given the pleasure of really experiencing the expression ‘blown away’. Whilst reading an article on Noel Gallagher I was introduced to this monster of a track. Apparently two erstwhile Oasis fans had pressed a copy into Noel’s hands insisting he had to listen to it. And my word we are grateful that they did. On hearing it for the first time, Gallagher was knocked off his feet.
The track itself is the b-side of the more well known Running with the Devil, covered by the 80’s female rock band Girlschool. In its original recording by the rock trio Gun (or The Gun) it’s a psychedelic masterpiece featuring one of the longest guitar solos in rock history.
Featuring Sgt. Pepper style horns and suitably summery lyrics “Sun shines brightly every day, let it shine”, the guitar solo kicks in at 2 minutes & 11 seconds and then runs like a madman through the fields, blistering everything in its tracks until the song’s conclusion at 4 minutes 26 seconds. A 2 minute & 15 second guitar solo!!
Gallagher admitted in the same piece that he wished he’d recorded a version for posterity. Perhaps that day may yet come. Until then open the windows, let the sunshine in and sing out loud “When you call me please be cool”!!
3) The Wolfmen – Coca Cola Kid
I once had the good fortune to meet Adam Ant’s song-writing partner and legendary punk guitarist Marco Pirroni. It was 2005 when I saw a bald and slightly less than slim figure in black ambling down a Central London street towards the café where I was sat outside with a friend.
He may have been a long way from his 80’s heyday but I recognised him straight away. He seemed surprised at my request for an autograph and well he might. The hair had gone but following that chance meeting and my discovery of his latest band The Wolfmen, I realised that his song-writing ability and guitar playing prowess had not diminished in the slightest.
Formed with former Ant, Chris De Niro now using his actual name Chris Constantinou they were producing radio friendly punk tunes to the delight of stations such as 6 Music.
This brilliant piece of song-writing from their second album Married to the Eiffel Tower is another sterling piece of work. The title is a classic and with lyrics such as ‘Don’t wanna be a second generation Coca Cola Kid’ you know they’ve hit the jackpot here.
The secret to any great piece of song-writing is convincing the listener that they have heard it before and leaving them humming it for the rest of the day. Coca Cola Kid achieves both of these feats in an instant, with the song being brought to it’s bombastic conclusion in just under three and a half minutes. The perfect length for a pop song?
Sadly The Wolfmen seem to be no more, both men having moved on to do their own thing. But gems such as this remain and as long as they do I for one will be truly grateful for the efforts of Messers Pirroni & Constantinou.
4) Nickel Creek – This Side
I’ve just got in from an evening out. It’s Friday night and Later with Jools Holland is on the telly. A small group of individuals in check shirts with violins & mandolins are introduced. Oh great I think, another obscure folk band. I’m just reaching for the remote when I’m stopped in my tracks.
This is actually good stuff! The harmonies blend seamlessly, the lyrics are cute and when the violin solo kicks in (yes you heard me right!) my emotional heart strings are given a serious plucking.
Since I first heard this song it’s been a feature of many a CD put together for friends and girlfriends (the ones that I really liked got this one!) It feels like there’s hope out there when this plays and it makes me want to smile at people…a lot!!
Now I’m not the most religious of people and being so is not a pre-requisite for listening to this beautiful piece of work. You just have to have the capacity to be happy in your tired old bones.
Since 2007 Nickel Creek have ceased to be. I’ve never owned one of their albums, seen them in concert or can even remember the names of the three musicians that went by that name. But this song has left an indelible mark on my soul. Now please excuse me whilst I don my lumberjack shirt & jeans and skip down to the meeting house for a tin cup of moonshine and a hoe down!
5) Prince – Comeback
As readers of Louder than War will know I’m a big fan of Prince. I’ve listened to more of his stuff than I can care to mention. Like Shakespeare his work has made me experience more emotions than I can cope with at times. This track more than any has stirred me to plunge such emotional depths.
I borrowed £30 from my now dear departed Nan to purchase his monstrous four CD release “Crystal Ball”. The fourth CD and most surprising of the lot is a 12 track collection of semi acoustic numbers from the Minneapolis Genius.
Clocking in at just under two minutes and probably the shortest yet most striking of Prince songs, here is genius stripped bare. It’s him and a guitar. The subject is reincarnation and if you’ve any emotional bone in your body or have ever experienced the loss of someone close to you then the tears will come before you even know it.
I’m listening to it now and it’s taking all I have not to blart like a baby right in the middle of the coffee shop. Featuring the immortal line ‘If you ever lose someone dear to you, never say the words they’re gone. They’ll comeback’.
Sometimes you should just put every preconception to one side and salute a song-writing genius. As he would say “Tears go here”. That is all…
All words by Martin Copland Gray. Find more by Martin on Louder Than War.