In the final days of 2007, as the MP3 blogosphere descends into a maudlin orgy of Christmas records (and I really couldn't top last year's collection at Irk The Purists, so I'm not going to try), I thought I'd provide some respite from the festivities by focussing on that perennial favourite among sonic aficionados, literary/musical crossovers.
First up, the grande dame of American letters, Miss Maya Angelou. Yes, that Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou. Heart Of A Woman, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, that episode of Moesha, you know... Long before her gilded writing career, Angelou plied her trade as a calypso chanteuse, and cut an LP for the Scamp label in 1957. While she plays it down today, the LP contains her stabs at Caribbean standards such as Run Joe and Peas and Rice, and is certainly worth a listen (the cover is also worth a look. Hoo-fah!). Here for your edification is her take on Scandal In The Family, which I always thought was another standard, but here the writing credit is to one Maya Angelou. The song has been covered many times by the likes of Odetta, Bob Marley and Madness. Hmmm. Does that mean that Angelou is getting royalties each time?
Bringing things slightly more up-to-date is Irvine Welsh, who teamed up with Primal Scream in 1996 to create the unofficial Scots Euro '96 anthem. What's that? We've just had Primal Scream? So sue me. Though actually, I think I'd win on a technicality, because this is Primal Scream in name only (in fact, the single delights in the soubriquet Primal Scream, Irvine Welsh and On-U-Sound presents..the Big Man and the Scream Team meet the Barmy Army Uptown. Really rolls off the tongue doesn't it?). Gillespie, Innes, Young and co. don't play much of a part in the single, at least to my ears, though they clearly provide the spiritual vibe (and possibly the Augustus Pablo-esque melodica heard partway through the track). Instead, the donkey work is shouldered by Adrian Sherwood's production, Doug Wimbish's bass and the leather lungs of Denise Johnson. And Welsh's Scots burr, of course. The three-track single includes Welsh's vocal take presented a capella. The latter is really worth a listen if you can track it down, as it shows that, while he clearly knows how to write, he's not a great speaker, nor does he have much of an idea of metre (so kudos to Sherwood for managing to keep him roughly on the beat in the final edit). Anyone who saw his lamentable cameo in Trainspotting may have have twigged this already.
In a similar vein (no pun intended)*, part-time author and full-time talking head Will Self lent his stentorian tones to a track on Bomb The Bass's peerless 1995 long player Clear. Entitled 5mm Barrel, it may be of particular interest to U.S. readers, as it failed to make the cut for the American edition of Clear. I've already included one track from this album (Bug Powder Dust, last year) on this blog, but I'm not making any apologies for linking to a second. Every track is dynamite, and there's a particularly literary bent to many of the tracks too; Benjamin Zephaniah provides vocals for one song, as does legendary stoner, model and writer Leslie Winer (one of my resolutions for 2008 is to track down a copy of her sole album from the mid-90s). Check it. In case you need further reasons to download and listen to this track, which deals with the cheery subject matter of a calcyfying venous system, the bass guitar is provided by Mr. Jah Wobble.
Finally, while he was probably better known for the last twenty years of his life simply for being himself, Quentin Crisp's initial notoriety came about as a result of his memoir The Naked Civil Servant**, and much of his written output still bears scrutiny today (How to Become A Virgin and How To Go To The Movies are particularly recommended). While one of his many aphorisms is that "music is a mistake", this didn't deter Morgan Fisher from including Crisp's Stop The Music For A Minute on his 1980 album, Miniatures, a collection of 51 short recordings by the likes of Andy Partridge, Fred Frith, Neil Innes and Ralph Steadman. It's included here, though I've taken it from the recently-reissued (in a deluxe version, no less) Cherry Red compilation Pillows and Prayers.
Enjoy. And have a good Christmas, y'all.
Download Shame and Scandal by Maya Angelou (deleted May 2008)
Download Primal Scream, On-U, Barmy Army, Irvine Welsh etc.. (deleted May 2008)
Download 5ml Barrel by Bomb The Bass and Will Self (deleted May 2008)
Download Stop The Music by Quentin Crisp (deleted May 2008)
* Didn't Self and Welsh have a little spat at one point with the former accusing the latter of never having injected heroin? Or did I dream this?
** Strictly speaking, I think his acclaim came some years later with the Thames TV production of the book. By all accounts its initial publication didn't cause much of a stir.