Adventures of a University Finalist

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Gates of Troy


The Monkees - Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears
Squeeze - Piccadilly
The Undertones - Valentine's Treatment
The Jam - Billy Hunt (Alt. Version)
Jellyfish - Russian Hill

So finally we reach the climax of the Uni Finalist 1st Anniversary competition. Dick has been grooving to his specially formulated compilation for a couple of months now but I had until now failed on my promise to pay tribute to the bands that he cited as the greatest to appear on these fable pages on interwebness.
As usual, the obvious song choices have been summarily dismissed replaced by a forgotten pop classic, a light hearted tableau of city life, a gritty soul stomper, a critique on the emergence of self congratulatory yob culture, and a tidy Fab Four pastiche. Not exactly as snappy as the Seven Dwarves' names but I believe that those descriptions will suffice for now.
The Monkees, of course, are often regarded as a joke; an unfortunate sidenote to the advent of pop culture in the 60s with their ultra-popular television show seeking to build upon, and ultimately exploit, the formula created by Richard Lester in 'A Hard Day's Night' and 'Help!' Such accusations are often married with idle reminders of the prescence of session muscicans on all of their pre-Headquarters albums (the fact that such logic somehow doesn't apply to 'Aja' or 'Pet Sounds' is beyond me). To give in to such useless drivel is to forget that The Monkees not only wrote and performed many songs in the pantheon of pop but could also to afford to have off cuts as infectious as 'Apples, Peaches, Bananas and Pears'. They had so many string to their bow that they could match Glen Campbell, The Left Banke and Love in their respective genres.
Squeeze too are often forgotten as the musical shape shifters they were in favour of the general tag of 'kitchen sink drama'. The fact that the label hasn't been bandied around since shows how unique Squeeze were but that's forgetting the point. 'Piccadilly' taken off their classic Elvis Costello produced album 'East Side Story' begins with Paul 'Don't Shoot Me, I'm Not the Worst Thing About Mike & Mechanics' Carrack's exultant piano playing pinning down its playfully up tempo melody. Glen Tillbrook's lyric has to be one of his best mixing rapid fire social observations with a sense of humour as dark as high street caff espresso. "A man behind me talks to his young lady/He's happy that she is expecting his baby/His wife won't be pleased but she's not been round lately"
The Undertones and The Jam were both misfits of the punk scene. The 'Tones subverted negatism and situationist doctrine for songs about choclate and girls whilst Paul Weller's heavy political rhetoric was disrupted by accusations of being a revivalist and a Tory Boy. The Ulster quintet are captured here at the end of their fertile creative relationship with 'Valentine's Treatment' taken from the Stax flavoured ''The Sin of Pride' album. However, having mentioned the great soul label, this particular track has more in common with the art rock soundscapes of The Associates and Scritti Politti. The guitar line shimmers, the synths build, the backing vocals evoke the synonymous 'Lexicon of Love', and Feargal flexes and trills his vocal chops. The chorus change with the O'Neills attempting to hijack the song forcing it into something altogether tighter is really quite exhilirating. The version of 'Billy Hunt' is altogether muddier with the guitar part more studied, the bass more prominent (for me Foxton's basslines are the keystone to all of the Jam's more hardline musical arrangements) but that non-existent rhyming couplet still hangs there elliptically grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
I refer to Jellyfish's 'Russian Hill' as a Beatles pastiche but, as all Jellyfish fans know, the band only had one real hero and Macca bleeds through here as strong as always. The driving element of a regular acoustic strum, gorgeously understated slide guitar, organ washes that sound like angelic air brakes - it's all 'Fool on the Hill' until 'Spilt Milk's experimental nous takes hold of the reins and the Ron Burgundy jazz flute looks to flesh out the arrangement. A populist construction turned on its head by an abstract vision: something that all of these bands have shown from the bridge of 'Smithers Jones' to the entirety of 'Head'. Good choices.

Buy - Jellyfish - Spilt Milk
Buy - The Monkees - Missing Links Vol.1
Buy - Squeeze - East Side Story
Buy - The Jam - Direction Reaction Creation
Buy - The Undertones - The Sin of Pride