Zappa versus Macca – another crazy “contest”

On the Zappateers forum, someone re-posted some nonsense (hyperlink arguing that Paul McCartney was a better musician/composer than FZ. As curious and debatable as that notion is, the article has a fatal flaw – it emphasizes solo McCartney, not Beatles McCartney!

There are two musicological ways to comment on that.

1. As a teenager I used to argue that Frank Zappa would one day be acclaimed as the most significant musician of the second half of the twentieth century. In keeping with the typical drift towards pessimism and despair as one ages, I no longer believe this.
FZ spoke a musical language which people either intuitively understand or are alienated by. (Think of the melodic lines and chord progressions in a composition like “The Perfect Stranger” (from the album of the same name), “Envelopes” (from the album Ship Arriving…) or even “Dew On The Newts We Got” (from the Pleated Gazelle section of 200 Motels) – that’s Zappa language in its purest form. To those who do not naturally “get” it, it sounds either “coldly technical” or, to quote Martin Aston, “grotesque and sarcastic”.
Accessible or not, “pure uncompromising Zappa” is indisputably “nobler” than post-Beatles-McCartney’s large catalogue of annoyingly nonsensical / incoherent songs (think Jet, think Admiral Halsey, think Little Lamb…or Bip Bop if you want the extreme).

2. McCartney was (presumably still is) an excellent multi-instrumentalist, but the writer pays too much attention to his bass playing (arguably the least of his talents).
In rock music, and R&B, the development of the bass guitar was stifled early. Compare and contrast the history of the bass instruments in jazz.

McCartney represents the first stage in the attempted emancipation of the bass in popular music – the Milt Hinton/George Duvivier stage.

John Entwistle, Jack Bruce and Carol Kay represent the next stage – they’re the Jimmy Blanton, Oscar Pettiford and Ray Brown of popular music (perhaps).

The better funk bassists – let’s state the obvious and cite Larry Graham and Bootsy – because of their tone and attack they’re analogous to Charles Mingus.

And the bass virtuosi who more often than not had either one foot in the jazz camp or a detailed knowledge of jazz – Chris Squire, John Camp of Renaissance, and from Zappa’s orbit Patrick O’Hearn – they’re comparable to the likes of Scott La Faro and Jimmy Garrison.

But that’s where it stops. There have been no developments in rock/R&B bass playing comparable to Jaco Pastorius/Steve Swallow/Peter Kowald. The inherent populist conservatism of the musical forms militate against it. The only development has been re-examination, and refinement, of the mid-’60s bass style (Peter Hook, Simon Gallup, Simon Raymonde).


Epilogue to Maple Bee post

Fortunately this is currently available on YouTube – the first chapter (for us) of the Mel Garside story.

The audio is neither hi-fi nor drastically lo-fi. Like a superior bootleg it has a lot of “ambience” and the lyrics are difficult to make out, but for most of these songs there are no other extant recordings.

And the sad part is – as simple as many of these songs are, they’re more commanding than most of the Four Worlds/Little Victories material. Crucially, this rivals Eradicate Apathy as a recording where we really get to revel in That Voice – if only, if only she still sounded this vibrant.

Lucy Cotter versus Maple Bee – an improbable “contest”

I’d been waiting ages for this to appear on YouTube.

The playlist starts anticlimatically with a totally straight PJ Harvey cover, but then the original songs start to appear…

I don’t know how Lucy Cotter got herself into such a situation, but when fronting the group The Morgans (using the stage name LeFay – well, of course!) she found herself signed to Dressed To Kill – a label that specialised in various-artists compilations. (Compilations often very good indeed, sometimes crappy and/or deceptive, sometimes both). Somehow she was persuaded to participate in every tribute album project going, in addition to recording solo and with the band.

These recordings were included on every possible compilation, under a variety of made-up names (Ghost Mother Cometh, Lucyfix, Snogram). Suddenly everyone had heard her songs, or at least her voice, but few knew who she was.

Finally these songs were gathered and re-released under her own name. (I think there’s a cover tune or two missing from this playlist, along with the “rant” version of Half Girl).

I knew that stylistically, thematically and at times vocally, it was striking a familiar tone. And then I realised – with this, Lucy Cotter somehow has made – to oversimplify – the album we always wanted, but didn’t get, from Maple Bee

I’ve been catching up with the Maple Bee catalog* and finding myself disappointed. I was underwhelmed when the album Home came out, but I now know that was not an abberration but a “norm” for Melanie Garside.

I don’t know which of these principles apply: (a) Some people need to be miserable to kickstart their “creativity”, because they can’t write inspired/inspiring music when they’re content with life; or (b) Some people are doomed to only ever experience a brief bout of “artistic inspiration”. (Which in her case was basically Vertigo Angels, half of Fossil and half of Chasing Eva). Things went off when she’d exorcised (or salved, through parenthood? I thought, usually, that had the opposite effect…) whatever trauma was driving her.
[Aside: Dubious theory which must be aired – I always had a suspicion that Katie-Jane and Mel grew up suffering under (an?) abusive parent(?s)…just because there was a time when images of suffocation, starvation, and burning – and cannibalism, not to be confused with oral sex – regularly turned up in the songs of both.]

Worse, she’s almost lost that trademark Garside family vibrato.

* Give her credit though, for luring Ruth Galloway out of “retirement” (multi-instrumentalist and arranger who also was, at one time, the sexiest Mediaeval Baebe)