Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Lance LaSalle, May 15, 2020.
I can hear it, now that you've mentioned it.
At base, this is a folk song, it almost sounds like it could be hundreds of years old, except for the some of the odd lyrics. But it's put together strangely, isn't it: the riff @panther_dream @panther_dream mentions and the vocal is set against a really jittery background rhythm, almost as if the band are playing two different versions of the song at once. But it works and is held together by melody thanks mainly to Robyn's great voice, which is able to deliver melody that cuts through loud and clear, no matter how hard the arrangement tries to distort it.
The middle 8 that runs into the "It's like running through a mirror", all jingle-jangle and Byrdsian harmony is the first truly amazing moment in a Soft Boys song for me. It really blows my mind: so perfectly psychedelic!
The guitar bit after we witness what I consider the birth of the Soft Boys sound: the jittery "Lou Reed-style" solo followed by the smoother dual playing is their deal; and the first time we've heard it on this start. Underwater Moonlight and Invisible hits aside, when I think of the Soft Boys, for some reason I think of dual guitar solos like this. Again, it doesn't always work for me, but, again, here it does. Wishbone Ash meets Velvet Underground.
Overall, for some reason I respond more to the A-side ( "Wading Through Your Ventilator"), but there's no doubt this is a great track that takes all it's influences and makes something truly new with them.
So well put.
I could find out, that's all I know. Probably would have been developed in the 80s.
It's cool, did a little research. Yeah, I've definitely heard of the audio things they did, cool to know. thanks for sharing that!
Totally agree that this (and two other tracks from this mid-77 session) were where they all clicked as a band - they'd been playing live pretty consistently since the end of 1976 and the departure of Rob Lamb. The Syd influence is obvious as was a sense that everything needed to be punked up a lot by then - the British music press had adopted a 'Year Zero' approach to music and the Zeppelins of this world were in the bin (see Robyn's song '1974'). This track centres round the harmony section ('walking through a mirror') which Andy arranged with the idea of 10cc's multi-layered 'I'm not in love' vocals - in a very different context.
Bit of background on the lyrics. Syd Barrett lived in Cambridge a couple of miles away from Robyn and still rode around on his bike (see '1974' again). The 'Face of Death' was apparently a homeless person - the so-called 'dossers' would congregate on the market square with bottles of cider (despite a great deal of community support work). A slightly paranoid RH evidently saw one of them as a doppelganger... paranoia in beautiful academic Cambridge? Well, two years earlier there'd been the lengthy episode of the 'Cambridge Rapist' who attacked about 10 women over twelve months and was finally caught mid-1975 - so looking over your shoulder in that small medieval town became a habit.
Raw Records owned the tapes to this session and put out the 6-track in the mid-80s to cash in on the revival of interest.
Oh - 4/5 for Face.
Face of Death 4/5 - I knew the version first from Gotta Let This Hen Out first, and it's still my preferred way to hear the song, but this is great nevertheless. I wish the "but someday I'll make him mine" bit occurred more than once.
Lance LaSalle - thanks for starting this amazing thread. I would give myself a B+ as far as Robyn knowledge, so this will be a great way to finally dig into some of the more obscure parts of his catalogue.
Face of Death. 3/5. I like Ventilator more (even though I give them the same rating.) FOD is still a solid track, though, especially with the break making a shining appearance to boost the song.
Thank you so much for all this info: I had no idea about the backstory of the song; it really does add depth to it by making it more relateable. Also did not know that Andy did the vocal arrangments, though I did notice that he is credited with arrangement on some releases.
Robyn Hitchcock is one of my favorite songwriters and performers, yet for all of that, there is a lot of his stuff that just doesn't click with me. Perhaps because he's such a prolific songwriter (I gave up long ago on trying to keep up with all the unreleased but later released stuff); I don't know if he just writes songs as they come, sets them aside, and then selects however many for an album, or whether he labors over some of them but not others. In any event, some of them are emotionally opaque to me, while others hit me very directly.
I feel like it took a while for Robyn to realize that what he could be really good at, and even singular, was actual songwriting. I first heard these Soft Boy recordings on the green Wading Through a Ventilator EP that came out in the mid-80's. I haven't listened to it in a long time, and revisiting them now hasn't really changed my opinion. There's both too much going on and not enough; the sound is exhilarating and exhausting, and while the hooks are startling and sweet, there's not enough of them to make me want to put the needle on it again, at least not for a while. I imagine working out all the parts and practicing them until the machine actually held together and ran was a lot of fun; listening to it is less so. It's like pouring a bunch of Mexican jumping beans onto a hot oiled skillet and then ladling here and there a rich sherry sauce, it looks and sounds impressive but when it's cooled down enough to eat, you realize you're looking at a plate of fried insect larvae in congealed cream.
Musically, as others here have noted, there are enough ideas for several songs all packed into one, and while it's interesting, and can be funny, to hear their collision, it's not really in the service of "the song", because there isn't really one song. The rhythmic arrangements scratch and push against each other like scared cats in a sack. There are some beautiful moments, like the harmonies Lance discusses in the Face of Death, but then they're tossed aside for the next thing.
Lyrically, I feel like it's much more about the sound of words than any particular meaning - any meaning is coming from the aggressive music. I love the sound of the words and the images in "Wading Through a Ventilator" - "I fix my fish, I fool my frog/I fray my tick, I drag my dog, I draw my dirt across the wall" - but I have no idea what it means. Sometimes though, Robyn sings the kind of startling imagery that will really catch me in the Underwater Moonlight era: "My girl is ripe in greasy silk/A split tomato in her mouth, a crippled heart". But there's not enough of that in these early songs, and it's quickly spat out and left behind.
Robyn once said that what people first notice about a song is the attitude, then the music, and, very last, the lyrics. I feel like these early Soft Boys songs are all about the attitude, to a lesser extent about the music (because it's not about the tune, though, as I mentioned, there are a ton of musical ideas), and not at all about the lyrics. Others mentioned above how the band is playing with the forms of songs, and ideas about what a song is; the band is taking them apart and putting them back together in unusual shapes, and saying, "Hey, look what we did!" And it's impressive. But what I really want are the tunes and the heart.
There are hundreds of good songwriters that make good tunes with a lot of heart.
There’s only one Robyn Hitchcock that does what he does. Personally, I don’t go to Robyn for “normal” songs.
I hear what you're saying and I agree that the later, simpler, more heartful and mature Robyn Hitchcock definitely is what hooked me and what I really like about his songs.
But I think that all life-long artists (by which I mean artists that have long careers and never really stop producing what they do) go through phases. This early phase for Robyn (and his cohorts) was wild and unusual and original, with one foot in traditionalism and a foot in post-modernism; it was bursting with ideas --not all of them as successful as others, perhaps. Eventually, as he matured, and his work took a, for want of a better word, simpler turn, the boundless creativity shown here would result into an everlasting stream of songs. Ultimately an artist follows his muse.
Our votes for "The Face of Death"
(new average factors in @plentyofjamjars67 vote.)
I can't resist but join in here. I haven't listened to much Robyn H/Soft Boys in ages and would love to hear some of this material again in this context.
I got on board with Fegmania! (trouser press record guide in hand) and left the fold just after Luxor, but I managed to see a couple solo live performances in the late 00's. saw the soft boys reunion gig at sxsw. I'm not aware if that happened more than once.
anyway, I've heard this 76-81 2 cd set once or twice back in the 90s, thanks to the public library. I very much love the cover art illustration.
The Size Of A Walnut: it's pleasant but there's too much information and at the two minute mark I've had enough 2/5
Ugly Nora: I'm not a fan of this style but I agree with Shriner that the guitar solo makes this better than Walnut 2/5
Way Way Hep A Hole: I agree with Lance the drumming is groovy and gives song nice bop. also guitar is nice on this version.. almost southern rock in spots. it's just ..the song itself ..2/5
Wading Through A Ventilator: did someone say 'so much going on that nothing really works'? I've felt that way but I admire this song's attack. I have a dear friend (who has never been on a music forum in his life) that thinks this song's an absolute masterpiece so I gotta factor that in 3/5
The Face Of Death: yes, here is the first one that indicates the greatness that is to come 3/5
Today's song is "Hear My Brane", written by Robyn Hitchcock or The Soft Boys, depending on the discogs entry. It was produced by Mike Kemp and the Soft Boys, recorded in June 1977.
Lyric can be read HERE.
"Hear My Brane" was originally released on the 3-song vinyl EP Give it to the Soft Boys, released in 1977; and subsequent expanded EPs Wading Through Your Ventilator (1984) and Raw Cuts (1989).
A later version was recorded in 1979 but not released; and the song was released on the 1994 live album, available only on cassette and by mail order, Where Are the Prawns?
Generally, on these song-by-song threads, I take a day to discuss and honor the album or EP release as a whole before plunging into "bonus tracks, etc.)
This release is rather unusual in that it is only three songs: So perhaps it would be best for us to discuss it today along with "Hear My Brane."
Tomorrow, \I'm going to march on with the three outtakes from these June '77 session that were later released on the expanded EPs; and then on the day we discuss "Vyrna Knowle's a Headbanger", we can also discuss the Wading Through a Ventilator/Raw Cuts release. A slightly unusual approach, but this is an unusual release.
"Hear My Brane" is another of those classic early Soft Boy Cuts for me: a (sort of) riff rocker, with one of those ridiculously long, intricate Soft Boys riffs, and a rather rather rocking, attitude-drenched vocal from Robyn. The song chugs along, throwing out the usual assortment of ideas, but all seems more interesting than likeable to me -- until the middle 8 takes it into another dimention:: another well-done three part harmony "yes, indeed, quite so, in fact" that segues into an amazing -- amazing guitar interlude that just gives me chills just thinking about it -- it makes the song for me...it elevates it to greatness for me, I just wish that bit could go on forever.
For the Give It to the Soft Boys three song EP: no doubt an audacious and original debut and those three songs bring me a lot of moments of pure bliss. While it does't reach the heights of Robyn Hitchcock's or the Soft Boys' best work, and I think the later expanded 6-song EP is more satisfying, it's sheer inventiveness, nerve, and humor marks the arrival of a very idiosyncratic and unique artist to the scene.
3.7/5 for me, penalized a couple decimals for brevity!
Hear My Brane is a real Soft Boys classic, more inventive than Face of Death as it explores more twists and turns and combines venom, satire and lyricism.
This was the definitive version; it was another song from early 77 that was strangely re-recorded in July 1978 at the (abandoned) Rockfield/Radar sessions. I'm not aware of a 1979 recording - I don't think it was done with Matthew - but was a staple of the SB's live set for two years.
Obvious references - hear that train a comin' (Hendrix/Fulsom Prison Blues etc); the neo-psychedelic harmonies using the childhood tongue twister in 'She sells/brain cells'; the proggy lurch into 7/8 time with the twin guitars; the mock horror of 'it hasn't happened ye-e-e-t'; and the spelling of 'brane' which, like 'skool' in Skool Dinner Blues no doubt derives from the Nigel Molesworth books, much loved by British schoolboys in the 1950s and 60s. Brains are everywhere in Hitchcock.
Soft Boys did a couple of other train songs - Mystery Train and Train Round the Bend (Velvets). This track, though, is most influenced by Beefheart, and probably because of that was played a number of times on British radio by John Peel (aka Ravencroft) who was reinventing himself from hippy guru into indie specialist.
The one I mentioned is almost certainly theRadar one; it is probably just erroneously dated on my iTunes -- it came that way when I downloaded it years and years ago.
There are quite a few 'wrong' dates - even on the 1976-81 compilation track listing!
I´d like to know what isn´t correct on there!
And do you know if there is a Soft Boys sessionography to be found somewhere?
Crozcat, this is what I'm using -- it took a couple of days, but I've used it to make a quite comprehensive and chronological list of songs. It's not uncommon to find dating mistakes and the like on large discographies and over the course of threads like these sometimes mistakes are turned up.
It should be clear that for this particular "dating mistake" we are talking about here is for an unreleased later version and the mistake was mine, or rather the compiler of the digital bootleg I downloaded back in the '00s; obviously discographies are not often going to include unreleased versions. Regarding that later unreleased version: it sounds very similar to this, it's not a new arrangement or anything.
As for the 1976-81 comp's mistakes....I look forward to discovering those.
I'll tell you the two obvious ones (to me).
The 'Where Are The Prawns' on the comp was recorded in March 1978 as the third track at the Radar single session which produced 'Anglepoise Lamp', not in the summer at Rockfield. There may have been an attempt at the song at Rockfield, but this isn't it.
The released tracks from the acoustic Portland Arms session were performed/recorded in January 1979, not November 1978 (which was the date of the Lady Mitchell Hall gig). There's a whole other unreleased performance from March of that year....
The info on my CD for Where Are The Prawns? (and Salamander) only states "recorded for the aborted Radar album, 1978".
No studio or month mentioned...
Separate names with a comma.