From the Vaults

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Victoria Spivey and Lonnie Johnson: Dope Head Blues (1927)

3 May 2011  |  <1 min read

When Lou Reed took a bit of flak for writing about street life (drugs, hookers, transvestites) he just picked the wrong idiom. These topics were common enough in literature and pulp fiction, but new to rock music. Dope songs were certainly common in jazz and the blues -- in fact there has been a long tradition of singing about marijuana, cocaine and heroin. These drugs were familiar in the... > Read more

The Rolling Stones: Child of the Moon (1968)

2 May 2011  |  1 min read

Although the Stones' psychedelic album Their Satanic Majesties Request of late '67 has taken a bad rap, they didn't entirely abandon the trippy sound even as they put it behind them and moved into a more blues-based rock for their next single Jumpin' Jack Flash and the album Beggar's Banquet (which had Street Fighting Man on it). They might have been toughening up -- spending hours in a... > Read more

Janis Joplin: Trouble in Mind (1965)

21 Apr 2011  |  <1 min read

The great Janis Joplin has been dead for over four decades now but it would be fair to observe that no woman in rock has ever approached her deep understanding of the blues and earthy, powerful delivery . . . let alone her self-destructive approach to life. Yet she has been largely forgotten and, as this essay notes, no one seems in any mind to try to honour her legacy by reissues, unlike... > Read more

Peter Lewis and the Trisonic: Four City Rock (1960)

20 Apr 2011  |  1 min read

Outside of folk songs (eg this droll one), New Zealand has had no great history of name-checking local places in rock music. But back in 1959 Jack Urlwin of the Christchurch label Peak scribbled down some words and handed them to young singer Peter Lewis and his guitarist Pat Nihonihoni. The scribble didn't have a title but they were words to a song which name-checked Auckland (the Queen... > Read more

Bob Dylan: Jet Pilot (1965)

17 Apr 2011  |  <1 min read  |  1

Although things would come to a literal grinding halt in mid '66 when he was tumbled from his motorcycle -- and he used the break to recover from emotional exhaustion after his lightspeed career of the previous four years -- in '65 Bob Dylan was still enjoying his position as the man who was taking folk and smart words into rock. During the sessions for what would become the Highway 61... > Read more

Barry McGuire: California Dreamin' (1965)

15 Apr 2011  |  1 min read

After his growling and apocalyptic version of PF Sloan's Eve of Destruction in '65 the former folkie Barry McGuire -- who had been in the New Christy Minstrels and had co-written their big hit Green Green -- was looking for new material to include on his second album. Producer Lou Adler lined up a number of covers -- the Beatles' Yesterday and Dylanesque You've Got to Hide Your Love Away,... > Read more

LaVern Baker: Voodoo Voodoo (1961)

14 Apr 2011  |  1 min read

The sudden revival of Wanda Jackson's career - courtesy of Jack White and the album The Party Ain't Over in early 2011 -- has singled her out as a great female rock'n'roller at a time (the late Fifties) when she was out there on her own amongst all the boys. Not exactly true. There was also -- albeit briefly -- Janis Martin (whose hit My Boy Elvis she co-wrote with Aaron Schroeder... > Read more

Jelly Roll Morton: I'm Alabama Bound (date unknown)

12 Apr 2011  |  <1 min read  |  1

The origins of jazz are lost in the mists and of course few would be so bold as to say it started on any particular date. One who did however was pianist Jelly Roll Morton who claimed to have invented jazz and was even happy to give a date when asked. Morton was, like so many blues players at the time, not averse to borrowing and adapting from others then claiming them as his own --... > Read more

Ronnie Ronalde: If I Were a Blackbird (1950)

11 Apr 2011  |  1 min read  |  1

Roger Whittaker does it, and so does Bryan Ferry when he sings John Lennon's Jealous Guy. They whistle on stage, which isn't the easiest thing to do -- least of all if, as with Roxy Music playing in Auckland earlier this year, it's a breezy night and the wind is in your face. Whistling was once a commonplace and every now and again in the Eighties there would be letters to the New Zealand... > Read more

The Little Willies: Lou Reed (2005)

8 Apr 2011  |  <1 min read

The idea of the improbable is always enjoyable. It is the basis of Dada and Surrealism, not to mention a few good dreams and a whole lot of Monty Python-type humour. And so you can guess when this band -- Norah Jones, Lee Alexander, Richard Julian and others -- got together to indulge their love of country and music by playing material by Kris Kristofferson, Hank Williams Jnr,... > Read more

The The: I'm a Long Gone Daddy (1994)

5 Apr 2011  |  1 min read

Any number of country artists have lined up to pay tribute to the great Hank Williams whose career was cut short in 1952 at age 29 when he was found dead in the back of his car through a combination of drugs, alcohol and his lifestyle. In six short years Williams wrote songs which went from hoe-down party music (Jambalaya, Hey Good Lookin') to deep melancholy (Cold Cold Heart, Your Cheatin'... > Read more

The Soft Boys: That's Where Your Heartaches Begin (1978)

4 Apr 2011  |  <1 min read

How about these for song titles? It's Not Just the Size of a Walnut; Wading Through a Ventilator; Have a Heart Betty, I'm Not Fireproof; I Want to Be an Anglepoise Lamp; Sandra's Having Her Brain Out; The Yodelling Hoover . . . They all sound very Frank Zappa, but in fact came from the slightly strange mind of Robyn Hitchcock, the singer-songwriter for Britain's Soft Boys, a band which... > Read more

Nick Lowe: Basing Street (1979)

1 Apr 2011  |  1 min read  |  1

Nick Lowe's remarkable career to a kind of alt.American balladeer today began way back in UK pub rock with Dave Edmunds in the band Rockpile, a band dubbed "Dad's Army" in the late Seventies because they were all past 30. But their fired-up rock also caught the attention of the post-punk crowd, Lowe was a producer in demand for the likes of Elvis Costello ("bang it down and... > Read more

Geeshie Wiley: Skinny Leg Blues (1930)

31 Mar 2011  |  <1 min read

Blues singer Geeshie Wiley -- probably not her real name, more likely a nickname because she was of the Gullah people of South Carolina and Georgia -- recorded even fewer songs than Robert Johnson. Just six known recordings and no photograph of her exists either. She may have been with a traveling medicine show in the Twenties but, other than her recordings in an 18 month period, not... > Read more

The Easybeats: Sorry (1966)

29 Mar 2011  |  1 min read  |  1

In 1980 EMI released an excellent double vinyl on the Joker imprint entitled The Easybeats: Absolute Anthology 1965-69. It might well have been titled The Rise and Fall of a Pop Group because across 43 tracks in chronological order it traced Australia's Easybeats from their first tentative attempts at being the antipodean Beatles, through their classic singles and radio hits -- Friday on My... > Read more

The Easybeats: Sorry (1966)

Frank Sinatra: High Hopes (1960)

28 Mar 2011  |  <1 min read

When the handsome young John F Kennedy ran for the US presidency in 1960 (and beat Richard Nixon), there were planty of people weighing in with support. And one of his biggest fans was Frank Sinatra who courted JFK and brought his high profile friends in the Rat Pack, as well as other Hollywood types, into the spotlight in support. Sinatra also produced the inaugural ball for JFK.... > Read more

Richard Harris: A Tramp Shining (1968)

25 Mar 2011  |  1 min read

Because there is a such a lot of great music about these days -- and of such overwhelming diversity -- you'd sound like you were wallowing in nostalgia if you suggested things were better in the old days. But in one way they were. Look at the singles charts. Once upon a time you got magnificent oddities being played on rapid rotate radio. And I don't mean Bob the Builder or Rolf Harris'... > Read more

The Great! Society: Somebody to Love (1966)

24 Mar 2011  |  1 min read

There were at least three different versions of this psychedelic classic which is best known in its third incarnation by Jefferson Airplane. But the song dated back to before that '66 single/album track -- back to the band that singer Grace Slick was in before she joined the Airplane. Her previous group -- with her husband Jerry and his brother Darby, who wrote this -- was The Great!... > Read more

Bill Haley and His Comets: Oriental Rock (1958)

22 Mar 2011  |  <1 min read

There are a few views of rock'n'roll pioneer Bill Haley whose Rock Around the Clock provided the revolutionary soundtrack to the '55 Glenn Ford movie Blackboard Jungle: that he was the rebel voice of a post-war generation . . . or that he was the accidental John the Baptist to Elvis' rock'n'roll Jesus. There is the view that Haley -- who looked like your receeding-hair uncle who was... > Read more

Portia Faces Life and Dr Paul (from the Fifties)

19 Mar 2011  |  1 min read  |  2

It seems peculiar to state the obvious, but there is at least one generation which may not know this: before television people listened to radio. And not just for music and news, radio was the home of drama and for decades people tuned in to hear the on-going melodramatics of Britains' The Archers (which started in 1950 and still runs today), the Australian comedy show Life with Dexter, the... > Read more