Tag Archives: unreleased songs

#135 – Femme Fatale

10 Aug

Edie

Femme Fatale (Pulp, Black Session, 16 May 1994)
Femme Fatale (Velvet Underground & Nico)
Femme Fatale (Big Star)
Femme Fatale (R.E.M.)
Femme Fatale (Duran Duran)
Femme Fatale at Pulpwiki

“Andy said I should write a song about Edie Sedgwick. I said ‘Like what?’ and he said ‘Oh, don’t you think she’s a femme fatale, Lou?’ So I wrote ‘Femme Fatale’ and we gave it to Nico.” – Lou Reed

A “femme fatale” is a stock character; a dangerous, beautiful woman who lures men to their doom, a well-worn archetype of melodrama and fantasy. Edie Sedgwick was a woman whose short life seems to have contained little more than pain and suffering, who inspired famous men, only to be constantly sidelined and disposed of. Calling Edie Sedgwick a “femme fatale” seems either wilfully cruel or hopelessly naïve. Since it’s Warhol we’re talking about, we have to charitably assume the latter. Lou Reed, for better or worse, (probably better), went with the flow, composing a song based on a childlike fantasy of adult relationships, then handed it to Nico, the one person who could sing it with utter seriousness.

The Velvet Underground might have been groundbreaking and original, but at the same time they were another underground band from the sixties, and underground bands from the sixties are allowed to get away with things that wouldn’t fly a decade earlier or later. The original Femme Fatale is great in its way, but only because it conjures up a spell with its strange sincerity. Cover versions since seem at best superfluous, and more often miss the point entirely. REM tackle it head-on, and just sound uncomfortable and silly. Duran Duran fit it better (they have much sillier lyrics of their own of course), but their version is garish and grating, and in no way good either. Big Star did a better job in making it sound utterly generic, but no points are easily won there either.

In their defence, Pulp never released their cover of Femme Fatale – it was a one-off thing for the Black Sessions, and was never revisited. Clearly it’s a popular song with the group as they are able to make a decent stab at replicating the original’s mechanical doll magic and that warm guitar sound. They don’t really get there, of course, but it’s a brave attempt. The only real slip-up is in the vocal. You can’t really blame Jarvis, a female voice is really needed here, and the backing vocals are missing completely, which only serves to highlight how essential they are. The melody is a bit too slight, too, and Jarvis seems only semi-committed to performing it, unsure whether to sing or speak.

So, what can we elicit from this? Mainly that there is a thread – albeit a small one – that connects Pulp and The Velvet Underground – a desire to write about people, about everyday life, a fondness for songs that tell a story, a desire to create pictures with sound and words. The recording itself is an interesting-enough curio, but it’s a dead end they didn’t need to explore any further.

#120 – I Believe In Father Christmas

21 Dec

pulp-for-you

Pulp – I Believe in Father Christmas (live 23 December 1992, Powerhaus, London)
Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas (original music video)
Item on I Believe in Father Christmas (from Top Ten Christmas, Channel 4)
I Believe in Father Christmas at Pulpwiki

Every group have a Christmas cover version in them somewhere, and Pulp are no exception. Only just about, mind – a single boozy live run-through doesn’t count for much, and the only reason this gets an entry and ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ and ‘Wild Thing’ don’t is that an audience recording is available.

Written by Greg Lake (of prog-rock stalwarts Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose ‘Fanfare For The Common man’ they would later ridicule in the round of interviews around the release of ‘Common People’) ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ began life as a series of major-key acoustic guitar variations around the theme of ‘Jingle Bells’. Words were added by Peter Sinfield, the lyricist behind I Talk To The Wind, The Land of Make Believe and Think Twice and concern the usual sentimental paean-come-requiem to the lost innocence of Christmas past – a hallmark of seemingly every Christmas-based work from ‘A Christmas Carol’ to this year’s John Lewis ad, only here presented as a startling revelation. Musically it’s not that bad, but it’s a bit too po-faced for my liking, especially the threat of “be it heaven or hell / At Christmas you get what you deserve” incongruously jammed in at the close. It’s as pompous at ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, only without the ‘charity’ excuse, and therefore seems to have been excluded from the usual Slade / Wizzard / Shakin’ Stevens mix pumped out by every 99p shop in the country for the last two months of the year.

Anyway, enough with this negativity, it’s Christmas after all, and that’s the way the Pulp approached it when they launched into the song near the end of a performance at the Smashed Christmas party. Actually ‘launched’ isn’t really the work, ‘meandered’ is more like it. The song sounds almost entirely unrehearsed, and the band play like they’re trying to remember the chords, leading to a stripped-down sound that I probably don’t dare to compare to The velvet Underground. For Jarvis’s part it’s little more than a drunken sing-along. He forgets the lyrics, repeating the first four lines and the last two, skipping the rest, and la-la-la-ing his way through the orchestral break at the chorus.

As a cover, it’s barely even there, but at least it’s significantly less annoying than the original. Somehow the Christmas spirit pulled them through, and then they seem to have sworn never to do anything like this again, which was probably for the best.

I don’t want to end this on a sour note, though – while the group have never really gone in for Christmas songs, they did have a habit of putting on huge festive Christmas shows in the early-to-mid 90s, and the show in Sheffield last year was the ultimate example of this, a celebration and a reward for sticking with them at the darkest time of the year. Just because it’s Christmas it doesn’t mean we have to suddenly be into naff lyrics and sleigh bells on everything – and as can be seen from the card above, this can be a Pulp time of year too.

#112 – The Night

19 Oct

Frankie Valli

Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons – The Night
Pulp – The Night
Lene Lovich – The Night
Klaxons – The Night
The Night at Pulpwiki

“This song invents Pulp right?”
– commenter Nabisco on Ich Lüge Bullets.

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons; the great survivors of pop music, the only American group to have hits before, during and after the Beatles, and yet they don’t get the respect that others do. Perhaps it was the timing of their arrival – too late for the rockers, too early for the hippies, perhaps the falsetto vocals are a little too easy to mock, perhaps surviving as a long-running musical isn’t really cool, or perhaps it’s a lack of engagement with the politics, the drugs, the counter-culture, the general experimentation of the 60s. As the vocal group hall of fame website puts it, they were “too cornball and clean-cut.”

Keeping them in this “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” cliché misses out an important chapter in the group’s history, though – the late 60s, when artists as mainstream as Kenny Rogers played with psychedelia. The Four Seasons tried variations on the subcultural theme, releasing Dylan covers under a pseudonym, writing an attempt at a socially conscious concept LP, and finally signing for Motown – a move that proved commercial suicide for one reason or another. A few years later, when the group had moved back to more mainstream sounds and had entered a new wave of success, northern soul DJs discovered US promos of Motown-era promo-only single ‘The Night’ and it proved enough of a club hit for Motown to decided to put out a proper single in 1974, turning a rejected single from a failed album into a UK top ten hit.

It’s easy to see why it was a hit, and a little less easy to see why Motown kept it on the shelves for so long. Instead of the falsettos there’s a darkly intoned, ice-cold vocal singing superbly crafted, metered lyrics about a smooth man-about-town with a hidden dark side, and the massed forces of Motown’s finest session musicians backing them. The bassline in particular sounds like it’s a good twenty years ahead of its time.

The group having moved on, the case for ‘The Night’ had to be made by DJs, compilers, curators – and other artists, who often fill all of these roles. Above you can hear three alternate versions of the song; by Lena Lovich, who draws out the threatening lyrics, by Klaxons, who pump up the bassline, and by Pulp, who exploit the themes and movements of the song, turning it into something they could almost have written themselves.

It was only a one-off cover version for The Black Sessions, a French radio programme, but considering this it’s pretty well-accomplished. It sounds like a synthesis of the synth-drenched His ‘n’ Hers era and the more mainstream rock sounds of This Is Hardcore. Candida is well on form, and Steve does a decent job on the bassline too. The rest of the band, including Jarvis, are just ok, but bearing in mind it’s a single-shot effort, it’s remarkably successful.

#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.

#93 – Going Back to Find Her

1 Jun

bocking-87limit-05

Going Back To Find Her (Live, 3rd March 1987 – The Limit, Sheffield)
Going Back To Find Her (Cover by LeoVK)
Going Back To Find Her at Pulpwiki

“In Jarvis’s book, love is a never-ending David Lynch film – songs like ‘Going Back To Find Her’ are as black as pitch. Pulp want to be as horribly compelling as a circus freak show” – Bob Stanley in the NME

We don’t have that many songs to talk about in this era – just eighteen, compared to the forty or so from the ‘Freaks’ era’, so entry into the Pulp cannon seems to be easier than it was before. In theory, this could mean that substandard material could easily have crept onto ‘Separations’, and it’s testament to the judgment of the group that it didn’t, that we have – finally! – a great album from start to finish. It was a close-run thing, though – from the ten tracks considered, nine made it, the other one being ‘Going Back To Find Her’. In an interview for ‘Truth and Beauty’ Nick Banks explained its non-inclusion.

“From what I remember it was similar to ‘Down By The River’, a sort of down-tempo, acousic-y sort of song, and you don’t want too many of them, do you? You want a bit of variety, so it was like ‘This one or that one? This one.’

On initial impressions two things come to mind – firstly that the choice between DBTR and GBTFH was so much down to the wire seems very odd indeed, DBTR being much more worked-out and finished. This is a judgment based on an unfair comparison, however – DBTR never sounded particularly impressive in a live setting, and it took Alan Smythe’s production to bring out the subtle magic of the piece. With GBTFH, early live versions are all we have.

Secondly, it seems self-evident that GBTFH and DBTR are very different sounding songs, and that ‘downtempo’ and ‘acousic-y’ are not obvious adjectives to describe the rather jaunty number from 1987 live sets. With an odd 1-2-1-2 rhythm, it occupies an otherwise-unexplored mid-ground between a Cossack march and a camp glam stomper, and is dominated by Russell’s sarcastic guitar licks and Candida’s chiming keyboard sound. The interplay between the guitar, keyboards and bass is actually quite pleasant, but for something so built around a rhythm, you can’t help but wish the bass line could be beefed up to push the whole thing along. With Steve Mackey on board for the LP sessions, this was very much possible, so once again we might not be hearing the track’s full potential here.

Where the two songs are similar is their theme. Once again we’re using grim metaphors to discuss the perils of returning to a failed relationship for one more try – we even have a line about “her house was by the river.” This time, though, he’s really just going through the motions of this compulsion. Every line describes the relationship in the most unpleasant way possible – “someone who will prop me up / and someone who I’m master of” – and when he sings “I don’t really want to find her” you can more than believe it’s true. If this issue so ‘over’, the question of ‘why bother singing about it’ tends to arise, so it’s understandable that they wouldn’t want two songs about it on the same LP – it would start to look like Jarvis doth protest too much. Choosing between the two, the backing track makes all the difference – GBTFH being a little too jolly for the somber theme.

Is Going Back To Find Her good enough to go on Separations? Truthfully, it’s hard to say. The fact that it wasn’t included on the remastered version of Separations in 2012 indicates that it was probably never demoed to completion, and for that reason it will probably continue to be consigned to the ‘nice idea, not quite finished’ file for the foreseeable future.

#92 – My First Wife (2)

25 May

OozingThrough1

My First Wife (Live 15 July 1987, Barracuda Club, Nottingham)
My First Wife (2) at Pulpwiki

Poor old Pulp, brimming with ideas, yet having to recycle song titles. And poor ‘My First Wife’ – not only existing as one great lost song, but as two, and the second one even better than the first. This time, though, instead of continuing down that flowery, pastoral path, we’re chugging down a more industrial route – albeit one which would immediately turn out to be a dead end.

Because yes, this is for better or worse, the final outing for Slavic Pulp. It’s uncertain why the band suddenly decided to cut off one half of their sound, but it seems likely that it has quite a bit to do with Russell’s waning involvement in the song-writing process. With a baby on the way and an antique glass business to run, there was less and less time for the organisation of a group who might have been finished anyway. Jarvis, meanwhile, was heading down to London with Steve Mackey, and the Slavic thing doesn’t seem to have been relevant to their world of raves and squats.

For a last shot, though, it’s a good one – up there with some of the best of this era. On the surface just another rejection of a lost love affair, it’s actually a pretty powerful rejection of letting your freedom and vitality be taken by formless, nostalgic love – a contradiction to the first ‘My First Wife’ in a sense. With every other song about moving on or moving out, 1987 seems to have been a year of shredding ties with everything that had made the previous five years – a moment which had to happen, perhaps.

The start, to be perfectly honest, isn’t that special – Nick provides another rolling polka beat, Russell picks away with his fairly accomplished gypsy guitar, all nice but done enough before. Things do slowly start to build, but not quite quickly enough, and the song threatens to wither and halt at all times. Jarvis’s intimate, cynical vocal does help matters, though – he seems to almost spit out the words with disgust, and a couple of semi-power chords keep things going well enough. It isn’t until the midpoint of the song that things really take off, with the continual upping of the pace thrusting the song into a series of faster and faster sections, and a full-on Slavic disco onslaught finally ensuing, like Rattlesnake but much more primal and aggressive. It’s almost as if they’re willing it on to be brilliant and almost getting there by just pushing it hard enough.

The song didn’t really last that long – by the time the group were on hiatus it had already been lost from the set, and nothing like it would appear again. Fortunately for fans, it did emerge at the end of the year on a tape compilation put together by the young Mark Webber, alongside The Inspiral Carpets, Television Personalities, Jazz Butcher and Spaceman 3. In a parallel dimension, it’s the b-side to ‘Rattlesnake’ – wouldn’t that have made a great single?

#91 – My First Wife (1)

18 May

Dot 1951, Tanganyika

My First Wife (Live, 3rd March 1987 – The Limit, Sheffield)
My First Wife (1) at Pulpwiki

“My First Wife” – that’s quite a good name for a song, isn’t it? Marry a series of hazy reminiscences to a name like this, pair the stark with the indistinct, and you’re setting the listener up for mystery and intrigue. A good idea, then, yes, and that’s presumably why Pulp used the title twice for different songs within a few months in 1987. Both songs were subsequently abandoned, and both only came to light much later when more obscure bootlegs began to circulate. This is the earlier of the two, though (confusingly enough) it’s the most recently unearthed, and beyond a title it has nothing at all in common with its namesake.

The song occupies an odd mid-point between the amateur dramatics of ‘Take You Back’ and the more refined, wistful, ‘David’s Last Summer’. Introduced with the words “nostalgia time”, we open with a cheap Portasound waltz rhythm, sounding like a broken old music box, a souvenir of some more innocent time. It’s presumably just a pre-set rhythm, but the remainder of the song is built over and around it to pleasing effect.

The meat of the piece is Jarvis’s monologue – not a first, but sounding here more like a poem than the meandering, dream-like stories we get elsewhere. A series of nostalgic images of a summers day, it forms more of a picture than a story, vivid yet subsumed by a pleasantly drowsy summer haze. From time to time this is punctuated by curious violin phrases from Russell, then Candida joins in with a slightly out of tune chiming keyboard effect. Oddly enough, it’s this part that shows the most promise, sounding somehow fresh and shocking, though at the same time it also lets the song down by being ill-timed and out of tune.

Towards the end we’re suddenly and unpleasantly thrown down into one of Jarvis’s impassioned screaming sessions. A subtle idea like this can’t really survive being plunged into melodrama, and it’s telling that this is the last time we’ll hear him trying anything along these lines. Rolling timpani, Magnus Doyle style, appears on top of the violin, then suddenly Jarvis reverts to his lounge-singer croon for a few lines. It’s all a bit of a mess – a shame for something that started so well, but not every experiment can make it.

We’ve seen many promising songs disappear into the ether through the eighties, but thankfully this time something was salvaged an put to better use. The descriptions of summer in the first half of the lyric were reused as a basis for ‘David’s Last Summer’ a few years later. If it hadn’t been abandoned in the first place, perhaps its much more successful descendant would never have seen the light – so maybe it was all for the best.