Musings on Music: April – August 2016


Gary Friel, university  teacher and lifelong music fan (and musician), muses on music in an occasional column.
Gary also has an excellent youtube channel with the aim of allowing teachers to drill basic grammar in interesting and realistic ways. 



26 August 2016

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have announced details of a new album, Skeleton Tree, and a “stark, fragile and raw” documentary film.

Cave’s first studio album since 2013’s brilliant Push The Sky Away, will be released on 9 September, while the accompanying documentary, One More Time With Feeling, will be shown in 650 cinemas around the world on 8 September.

The documentary is directed by Andrew Dominik, who previously worked with Cave on the excellent 2007 film The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford. It is described as “delving into the tragic backdrop of the writing and recording of the album … a testament to an artist trying to find his way through the darkness” (Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur died after taking LSD and subsequently falling from a cliff near Brighton in 2015). “

In the trailer for the film Cave asks “What happens when an event occurs that is so catastrophic that you just change? You change from the known person to an unknown person. So that when you look at yourself in the mirror, you recognise the person that you were, but the person inside the skin is a different person.”

10 August 2016

Ian Hunter had close ties to David Bowie. In 1972, when Hunter’s band Mott The Hoople announced they were splitting up, Bowie, the world’s biggest new rock star on the back of his Ziggy Stardust album, came to their rescue by giving them the song All The Young Dudes:

“We’d split up in Switzerland, after this terrible gig in a converted gas cylinder. It was a relief, frankly, but then David turned it all back for us, because he liked the band and he didn’t want it to end. He sat on the floor at his publishing company’s offices with an acoustic guitar and played us All the Young Dudes. Nobody in the world had heard this song but us. We knew it was a smash, and he was giving it to us.” All The Young Dudes became Mott The Hoople’s biggest hit and Hunter went on to work closely with Mick Ronson, David Bowie’s guitarist from the Ziggy Stardust period.

The first song to be released from Ian Hunter’s new album is a tribute to Bowie. Beginning with the line: “Something is happening – Mr. Jones, my brother says you’re better than the Beatles ‘n’ the Stones”, the lyrics go on to reference many of Bowie’s songs like ‘Heroes’, Life On Mars? and The Prettiest Star, as well as Bowie’s old band members Trevor Bolder and Woody Woodmansey.


08 August 2016

Last week, Leonard Cohen wrote a goodbye letter to his ex-lover and muse, Marianne Ihlen, who inspired his songs So Long Marianne and Bird On A Wire when they lived together on the Greek island of Hydra in the 1960s.

A close friend of Ihlen’s contacted Cohen to tell him she was dying. “It took only two hours and in came this beautiful letter from Leonard to Marianne. We brought it to her the next day and she was fully conscious and she was so happy that he had already written something for her,” the friend said.

Cohen wrote: “Well Marianne, it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine. And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.”

Marianne Ihlen died two days after receiving the letter. Her funeral was held in Oslo on Friday.


05 August 2016

Frank Ocean’s new album, Boys Don’t Cry, is released today. His first since his award winning official debut channel Orange (2012). Since then he has collaborated with other artists like Jay-Z, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, John Mayer, Beyoncé, James Blake and, on 2014’s Hero, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash (who last played together on Gorillaz’ 2010 album Plastic Beach).


Frank Ocean’s album wasn’t released after all. It looks like we now have to wait until November!

19 July 2016

A couple of days ago, Coldplay played a concert at the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey. Chris Martin showed a video request from a special fan: his son Moses Martin, who was “just wondering if you could play a song from both of our favourite movie Back to the Future.” The band played the doo-wop classic Earth Angel (originally recorded by The Penguins in 1954) and invited the star of Back To The Future, Michael J. Fox (who suffers from Parkinson’s disease) to join them on guitar. They then played Chuck Berry’s iconic Johnny B. Goode, the song Marty McFly (Fox) plays at his parents’ high school dance in the film.

17 July 2016

On this day in 1959, Eleanora Fagan died in a New York City hospital from cirrhosis of the liver after years of alcohol abuse, aged 43, while under arrest for heroin possession and with Police officers stationed at the door to her room. She had already spent some time in prison, at the age of 14, for prostitution. She died with just $0.70 in the bank.
She’s best remembered now under her stage name, Billie Holiday.

06 July 2016

In 1973, two years before he became the Sex Pistols’ guitarist, Steve Jones broke into the Hammersmith Odeon and stole some equipment from David Bowie’s band, who were performing their final shows as Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars.

Steve Jones is now a DJ in Los Angeles with a daily lunchtime show called ‘Jonesy’s Jukebox’ on KLOS 95.5. He has interesting guests on his programme, such as Iggy Pop, Johnny Depp, Lenny Kravitz, Duran Duran’s John Taylor, Gary Oldman, Juliette Lewis, Jack Black and others  (excerpts can be viewed on youtube). In April his guests were producer Tony Visconti and Woody Woodmansey, the drummer from the Spiders From Mars. Steve Jones insisted on paying Woody Woodmansey $200 for the cymbals he had stolen 43 years earlier!

02 July 2016

Viola Beach were a young English band who were tragically killed in a car crash in February 2016. At this year’s Glastonbury festival, Coldplay chose to pay tribute to them and “create Viola Beach’s alternate future for them and let them headline Glastonbury for a song”. It was a lovely thing to do.


06 June 2016

Virgin O’Riley is a really interesting mash up of Madonna’s Like A Virgin and The Who’s Baba O’Riley.
The title Baba O’Riley is a combination of the names of two of Pete Townshend’s philosophical and musical influences, Meher Baba and Terry Riley. Townshend stated in an interview that Baba O’Riley is about the absolute desolation of teenagers at the Woodstock music festival (1969), where a lot of the audience had taken LSD and 20 people had brain damage as a result. “The irony was that some listeners took the song to be a teenage celebration.”
Billy Steinberg, the writer of Like A Virgin, has said of the song: “I wasn’t just trying to get that racy word virgin in a lyric. I was saying … that I may not really be a virgin — I’ve been battered romantically and emotionally like many people — but I’m starting a new relationship and it just feels so good, it’s healing all the wounds and making me feel like I’ve never done this before, because it’s so much deeper and more profound than anything I’ve ever felt.”

Baba O’Riley, Like A Virgin, One Direction’s sampling of Baba O’Riley

30 May 2016

Five days ago Bruce Springsteen (looking good and performing well at the age of 66) played a concert in Manchester. The tour is called The River Tour and he plays mostly songs from that album. But, as always, Springsteen and his E-Street Band are open to impromptu diversions from their set list. In Manchester he spotted a fan in the audience dressed as Father Christmas, so he invited the man up on stage to join him in a spontaneous rendition of Santa Claus Is Coming To Town.

26 May 2016

Pink Floyd albums and concerts will feature on a new set of stamps issued by the United Kingdom’s Royal Mail on July 7th. The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn,Atom Heart MotherThe Dark Side Of The MoonWish You Were HereAnimals and The Endless River are the album sleeves you’ll be able to stick on your letters, while the live scenes include iconic shots from London’s UFO Club in 1966 and stage sets for The Wall and Division Bell tours.

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21 May 2016

Recorded to celebrate their 50th anniversary, the forthcoming new album by the three surviving members of the popular 60s band The Monkees (their first for twenty years) is called Good Times. The first single, ‘She Makes Me Laugh’, was written by Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. Other tracks were written by Andy Partridge (of XTC) and Noel Gallagher with Paul Weller.

19 May 2016

Grace Jones is 67 today. 
I’ve always loved the lyrics to this song, by Melvin Van Peebles, describing a typical morning in New York. 
“It ain’t Armageddon … it ain’t World War 4 … it ain’t the world coming to an end. It’s just the Apple, stretching and yawning.”

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28 April 2016

The Redskins were a really good English band. They only made one (brilliant) album (‘Neither Washington, Nor Moscow’, 1986). Their aim was to sound like “a mix of The Clash and Motown”. They were socialists and all their songs were very political. On the b-side of their 1984 single ‘Keep On Keepin’ On’ (in support of that year’s miners’ strike) was the best version of the famous Merle Travis song ’16 Tons’:



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