Tag Archives: lost singles

#107 – The Boss

14 Sep

The Boss

The Boss (Island Demo, 7 May 1992)
The Boss (Live at ULU, London, 23rd October 1992)
The Boss (Instrumental cover version by MrSalmon92)
The Boss at Pulpwiki

“This one’s about wondering about someone who’s going out with your ex-girlfriend or your ex-boyfriend. it’s kind of soul-destroying.” – Live introduction

In 1991-1992 Pulp seem to have been on a concerted mission to write pop anthems with as wide an appeal and as intense a feel as possible. The strike rate was very high – from the first six or seven new songs introduced, Babies and O.U. are somewhere near perfect, and She’s A Lady and Razzmatazz are great too, only suffering from comparison. Then there were the slight missteps – first Live On, and now The Boss.

These two songs have a great deal in common – both were written in the aftermath of a hit (Countdown and Babies respectively) in an attempt to replicate their success, both received a rapturous reception when performed live, and both wilted and shriveled up under the harsh glare of studio lights. For Live On this resulted in a tortuous business of records and re-records until it was finally abandoned – with The Boss the group seem to have learned something, or at least have been too busy trying to save one lost classic to have had time for a second.

Both songs raise the same question, then; could it be perhaps that there is a certain magic to the muffled, thick sound produced by a PA system, the drive produced by a live audience, the mystery and possibilities of the song heightened and amplified, and that some songs just need these things in order to survive? Or is it just that the poor quality recording and live environment hide the song’s flaws? Truthfully, it’s impossibly to make a call on this, but it at least means that there’s always going to be good stuff out there for those who are willing to dig through bootlegs. The live version, then, is great, but the recorded version sucks, and life generally goes on as normal.

The Boss is a song of its own, though, not exactly like anything before or since, but containing hints of several other songs from the period – like somebody’s put Don’t You Want Me Anymore, Babies, Pencil Skirt and Pink Glove in a blender and fired the resultant mush out of a fireman’s hose. It’s a jaunty, fast paced, proto-britpop song, named ‘The Boss’ as it reminded the group of Bruce Springsteen. That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, but you sort of can hear the same kind of impassioned, pulsating, driving rhythm that the E-street band sometimes pumped out – the same force that The War Against Drugs have been successfully channeling the last few years.

The rest of the track fights against the name, though – the synths sound like they are straight out of an 80s gameshow theme tune, though the sample was lifted from Jarvis’s trusty BBC Radiophonics Workshop LP, and the power chords sound more like Def Leppard than Bruce. It’s not bad as such, but it’s a little unadventurous compared to other songs from the same time.

Lyrically we’re in slightly overfamiliar territory too. It’s another song about your ex’s new lover, another case of the narrator catching a train out of town – sound concepts, on the whole, but better used elsewhere before and after.

The Boss was one of six songs recorded for an Island demo in 1992. One of the tracks (which we’ll come to very soon) was re-dubbed and released, three were re-recorded later, and the remaining two only saw the light of day with the release of the “Deluxe” version of His ‘n’ Hers in 2006. The group seem to have had very little in the way of affection for the session. In Truth & Beauty Nick Banks said;

“We were just experimenting around that thing of writing ‘up’ songs, songs that people could get into, rather than slow ballads. Full-on, you know, really fast and aggressive. I listened to it a few months ago, dug some tapes out – for fuck’s sake! Couldn’t stand it.”

Though The Boss is regarded as something of a lost classic, i can’t help but sympathize with Nick here. Enough with the anthems, Pulp, let’s hear something different.

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#101 – Live On

3 Aug

Pulp in 1992

Live On (OU Session – FON Studio, Sheffield, 28-30 January 1992)
Live on (Mark Goodier session, 1992)
Live On (Live, 19 October 1992 – Festival Les Inrockuptibles, La Cigale, Paris)
Live On (France Inter – Black Session, 17 November 1992)
Live on (Live film 12 Aug 1991, Town & Country Club)
Live on at Pulpwiki

As Pulp waited for Separations to be released, through those three years of legal and financial troubles, they must have nevertheless had a feeling that an upward tick in their creative and professional lives was underway. My Legendary Girlfriend had been their first critical success, and Countdown had consolidated their gains. That was it, though, two singles out and a sense of momentum to be maintained. It was time to come up with something bigger and slicker, something to show to record companies, something to get them into the charts and onto Top Of The Pops. Such a hit would come, in time, almost by accident, but that’s something to talk about in a couple of weeks. ‘Live On’, meanwhile, was not the breakthrough single, but at the time it must have seemed like it would be.

A blatant attempt to write another ‘Countdown’, Live On could have been Pulp’s first straight-up pop song since Everybody’s Problem if they’d only managed to record it properly. There’s wah-wah guitar, stabs and swirls of organ, a growling build-up with an anthemic release, a bizarre lyric (“three blind mice go ow!” – a reference to the song’s three-bar keyboard motif?), a sort-of-not-quite-guitar-solo and a thrash-and-release at the end. All very promising stuff, but based around a build-up and release of tension which starts to fall apart if you examine it too closely.

Live On was an instant live favourite, but seemed to wilt under studio lights. The bright, unforgiving clarity of studio production and the lack of an audience conspired to strip away all the energy and leave us with a leaden, insubstantial retread of last year’s themes – tasty but unsatisfying, like cheap chocolate. Over a couple of years it was attempted again and again, until it was finally dropped. With no definitive version out there to review, let’s instead have a look at four different performances from 1991 and 1992.

OU Session – FON Studio, Sheffield, 28-30 January 1992

Listening to this barely-circulated demo, the reasons that the song was never a single are suddenly very clear. The song limps into action with a weedy synth stab and a half-hearted “mama” from Jarvis. The rhythm section try to funk things up, and momentarily succeed, but as soon as the build-up of tension finishes the chorus comes in like a deflated balloon, and the mojo is lost forever – for a song that’s all about performance and being there in the moment, this is fatal, and the last couple of minutes turn into a joyless trudge.

BBC Radio 1 – Mark Goodier Show, 30 May 1992

This is probably the best-known version of Live On due to its inclusion on the deluxe edition of His N Hers, where Jarvis noted that they “never seemed to be able to get it right in the studio [but this version] is about the closest we ever got” – which is pretty much spot on. This version has a distinctive 60s sci-fi phasing effect on Candida’s keyboards, everyone comes in at the right time, and Jarvis’s vocal just about striked the right balance between restrained and emotional. It’s not perfect – there’s still a disconnect between the idea of the song and its execution, particularly towards the end – but it was still the best choice for the CD.

Festival Les Inrockuptibles, Paris – La Cigale, 19th October 1991

The performance at La Cigale, muffled and distorted as it is, stands out as one of the best live bootlegs in circulation, and Live On is one of the highlights. There’s a palpable tension in the highly-wound build-up, and when we drop into the chorus it’s with a euphoric release. This would be the template for much to come over the next few years. The break is genuinely funky, and the last couple of minutes the band whip themselves up into a frenzy without missing a beat. As we finish the crowd erupt into a massive cheer. Not saying it’s perfect, but close enough.

France Inter – Black Session, 17 November 1992

Again, the main difference is with Candida’s keyboard – this time she decided on a swirling Ray Manzarek sound, which works as well as anything else. Generally it’s a solid enough performance – better than the OU session, but the energy seems to have left with the audience at La Cigale. This sounds like a professional enough performance of a song that’s been trotted out for years. The song is still there, but the moment has passed, and there are bigger fish to fry. It just wasn’t to be.

#94 – Death Comes to Town

8 Jun

All Is Vanity

Death Comes To Town – FON Demo, December 1987 (Mix 1)
Death Comes To Town – FON Demo, December 1987 (Mix 2)
Death Comes To Town at Pulpwiki

Welcome to “death month” at Freaks, Mis-Shapes, Weeds. Over the course of the next four entries we’ll be looking at one of the main themes of Separations; DEATH, whether real, emotional, spiritual, or – as here – personified as a seductive ladies man. These weren’t the only examples either – we’ve already covered ‘Down By The River’ – and Countdown was originally titled ‘Death III’. Given that the dictionary definition of ‘morbid’ is “having an unusual interest in death or unpleasant events” you might expect a corollary of this to be that Jarvis was miserable / melodramatic / a goth. But no – actually we’re going to see the topic treated with lightness, humour and sensitivity throughout – not as an obsession, but as a springboard to discuss all manner of topics until Jarvis truly found his writing feet a year or two later – a process which it actively helped with.

Like many others I spent years listening to Death Goes To The Disco without truly getting what it was about. Of course, it wasn’t on an official album, so I wasn’t able to disobey the instruction not to read the lyrics while listening to the recording. It sounded very much like the bravado of Master Of The Universe, mixed up with the sex of My Legendary Girlfriend, but somehow I failed to make the connection between the title and the lyrics. It took Owen Hatherley’s book to spell it out to me, and he did the job well enough that I can’t do any better than to quote him directly:

“Listened to casually… …the song seemed to be matter of vengeful copulation, taken to the point of ridiculousness, much as you’d hear in a Different Class song like ‘Pencil Skirt’. It takes place in a similar space, as our protagonist ‘stalks these yellow-lit cul-de-sacs at night’, but – as you realise on third or fourth listen – the protagonist is death himself, and when he’s ‘taking’ all these people, he’s not showing them a good time. ‘I want your body and I want your soul’, he cries, but this revenge fantasy is more Carrie than Room At The Top”

It’s a neat conceit, isn’t it? A joke that reveals rather than reinforces, one that doesn’t need to spell itself out – morbid, yes, but with a redeeming deadpan cabaret sense of humour.

Of course, backing all this up, we have something even more special – Pulp for the first time fully in their disco phase. There had been talk before, of course, portasound rhythms and disco beats abound on the songs of this era, but up until this point the group’s jamming process had served to make things either more conventional or weirder by the time they were ready for public consumption. With Death Comes To Town there’s a sense that you could really dance to its syncopated disco rhythm. When Jarvis and Russell half-jokingly wondered whether they “might get thrown off the label when they hear our new stuff” this was presumably what they were talking about. Disco was still not cool in indie circles, but thankfully quite different attitudes were present at FON, where (as we’ll see very soon) some of the dance music of the present was in gestation.

The previous session had yielded two tracks, but this time they focussed on getting one just right. Three different mixes have emerged. The first sounds like it’s not quite cooked enough, the portasound allowed to dominate, mingled in with unusually timid violin from Russell, low-down guitar from Jarvis when Russell was unable to master the part. Still, the body of the thing is there, and it only sounds unfinished when compared with the other mixes. The version labelled ‘mix 2’ in the leaked demo has since then become semi-official with releases on the ‘Beats Working For A Living’ CD in 2005, and more recently as a bonus track on the remastered version of Separations. This mix not only adds all manner of production tricks – the vocals sounding brighter and more separated, layers of keyboard effects – but adds more sophisticated electronic beats subtly over the top, leading to a synth string crescendo on the final section, and a complex wall of sound production by the end. It’s still the same song, still has that slightly (deliberately) cheap air, but it’s suddenly a polished pop product.

The third mix has a different title, and we’ll be coming to that a little later.

Unfortunately things at FON went much the same way as they had with the abortive ‘Don’t You Want Me Anymore?’ single of the year before. By the time they had the money to actually put the single out, the band and the label had both moved on – though Warp subsidiary Gift Records will have a major role to play a little later on. Once again, it’s a shame the single was never released, that the group didn’t have this shot at impressing the world while their ideas were still fresh. Years later, with the FON demos leaked, and with the release of the remastered ‘Separations’, Death Goes To Town has gone from being a lost song to a fairly well-known one, so for once it seems like justice has been served.