Say what you like about Serge Gainsbourg, but L’histoire de Melody Nelson is one of those albums that is likely to just leave you reeling from greatness, and “Melody,” the lead track, something in particular that can’t be denied. Just listen to what really can be best described as a “groove,” with the bass guitar and shambling drums and spiraling guitar line, even before the strings sweep in and the whole thing becomes casually, breathtakingly epic.
(I also love spoken word tracks, if done well, and as far as I’m concerned, they don’t get any more well done than this, even if I can’t tell what Serge is actually saying.)
I first heard “Melody” when it was called “Don’t Die Just Yet,” from the David Holmes album Let’s Get Killed; he did a (very faithful) instrumental version of the track, re-titled after some graffiti he saw in New York. It’s a great track, albeit one that seems a little less impressive when you hear Gainsbourg’s original, but one that makes arguably more from that wonderful, wonderful bass line:
Those who haven’t tracked down either album, you should really go and fix that right now…
(A) Justin Robertson’s finest hour and a tribute to the great reggae and ska music of his youth?
(B) An entirely unexpected rip-off of David Holmes’ “My Mate Paul”?
The answer, of course, is (C), but I suspect that the David Holmes thing is somewhat accidental seeing that “My Mate Paul” is, after all, little more than a version of “Smokey Joe’s La-La” by Googie Rene:
Holmes’ track definitely samples the Rene track; I’m not sure if the Lionrock track does, but I’d be very surprised if it didn’t, considering the beat and the horns it uses – I feel that it’s pretty much a direct translation, but your mileage may vary, as ever. I love the Rene song that seems to be at the heart of both subsequent tracks, and love even more the idea that two different producers rediscovered the song months apart, and used it as the basis for their latest dancefloor fillers. If only more forgotten classics had such impact.
Odd but true; the single version of “Rude Boy Rock,” almost 90 seconds shorter, is by far the superior because of the edited opening:
The first time I heard “Sugar Man” was on David Holmes’ Come Get It I Got It mix, and I was convinced that he was doing some weirdness to the song after the 2:00 mark; all those random noises and string saws and the like couldn’t have come from the same original mostly-acoustic song from before, right? And yet, there they are in the full version. I wonder, considering the lyrical content, if they’re meant to imply a trip in some weird, quasi-soundscape way, like a really bad radio play that’s trying to scare the kids off’ve the road to crack.
Considering the precision of the arrangement earlier – Listen to those wonderful horns and that buoyant bassline, this is a song that just sounds amazing – that interlude feels particularly out of place and clumsy; everything else in the song has a clarity – even the extended fake out, with two different performances in either speaker, one echoed and fading faster but lasting longer – that is something to marvel at. I’ve never heard another of Sixto Rodriguez’ songs (It took me long enough to find a full version of “Sugarman” after the David Holmes mix; this was a decade ago, way before Rodriguez’ recent critical revival and movie), but based on this one alone, I can believe that he’s one of those forgotten geniuses that slipped through the cracks of pop culture.
Not content with putting the song on a mix, David Holmes’ then-band project, the Free Association, did a cover of “Sugar Man” that’s… good enough, I guess? But not a patch on the original:
Too much Portishead-lite, not enough of the bounce and lightness of the original, right? The Free Association was a weird thing; I should do something about them sometime.
It’s one of those days when David Holmes’ Oceans soundtracks seem like the best thing to listen to; the retro funk, the seeming ease of the whole thing as it swings along, the almost architectural balance between all of the different instruments, all suggesting a world where we’re all more stylish, with more swagger and more likelihood of getting through the day not only in one piece, but with everyone else looking at us in jealousy and barely-contained lust. Oh, to dream of such a life…
I mentioned this one yesterday; a remix by David Holmes of a Delakota album track that was just… wonderful, and weirdly central to my shifting musical tastes of the time when it appeared. The original version of “I Thought I Caught” was a relatively straight-forward song, with some nice guitar and a truly bizarre, shrieky chorus, but… really? It’s nothing much to write home about.
The remix, though, is just… space-rock-tastic. It comes from that strange period when Primal Scream and David Holmes had apparently started swapping old jazz fusion records and thinking along similar lines for what to do with their remixes, as long as that meant taking things beyond the usual and more towards extreme de- and re-construction. This remix, along with Kevin Shields’ “If They Move, Kill ‘Em” remix for Primal Scream and David Holmes’ “If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next” remix for the Manic Street Preachers, all stick out in my head as being things that reprogrammed my head slightly, taking my listening from the jaunty, retro-jangle of Britpop or the modern psychedelia of Big Beat to stranger, more out there sounds.
If nothing else, what Holmes does to the bassline in “I Thought I Caught” is worthy of adoration and praise all by itself, I mean, come on.
I’m a big fan of the soundtracks to the various Ocean’s (Eleven/Twelve/Thirteen) movies, in large part because I was a big fan of David Holmes even before he started doing movie scores and mixes for Steven Soderbergh. But it helps that there’s a particular aesthetic that Holmes’ scores for the movies – Something poppy, but also slightly dirty (aurally, I mean, not lyrically or suggestively in any way); something that sounds like something that would come out of the late ’60s or early ’70s, and has a vaguely R&B sensibility to it – that very much lines up with what I like listening to personally. That said, one YouTube comment on a fan-made video for “Yen on A Carousel” from Ocean’s Twelve just blew my mind by pointing out how much the tune owes to the Beatles’ “Taxman” (which itself owes more than a little to the theme to the 1960s’ Batman TV show). Seriously, just listen to the bassline of this:
What’s particularly frustrating about this is that I’d never realized it before; I’d noticed that some of the “original” tracks from Holmes’ Out of Sight soundtrack are essentially versions of Isley Brothers songs that also appear on the soundtrack but never that a song from my favorite Beatles album so prominently “influenced” one of my favorite tracks from the Twelve soundtrack. Of course, now that I’ve been told, it’s all I can hear. Soon, the two will be joined in my head, and hearing one will immediately bring to mind the other, no matter what the circumstances. Such are the connections my brain makes, and never lets go of.