To All the Girls in Oklahoma


•   September 03 2013 // arts   •

By Matthias Wolfboy Connor 

That night in Dan’s flat I jotted down the names of the records he played. So many times I’ve spent the evening in, listening to music with people, only to wake up in the morning and not remember a single record that was played. As I wrote down each name in my notebook I became convinced that their running order and the stories the titles alone conjured up in my imagination, was a short story in its own right.

 

Sensational Canarians: ‘Who Wrote the Bible?’ (Revelation Records)

The names say it all.

 

Golden Trumpets: ‘Mean old World’

Pop Staple, later of the Staple Singers was a member of this quartet before finding fame of his own.

 

Yaphet Kotto: ‘Have You Ever Seen the Blues?’

Yaphett Kotto is an American actor. Notable roles include Mr Big in Live and Let Die and Parker in Alien as well as countless other films including the Thomas Crown Affair and Across 110th Street. He claims to be the great-great-great grandson of Queen Victoria. According to Kotto, the Queen’s son Prince Albert Edward (later King Edward VII) had an illicit affair with Princess Nakande, daughter of King Doualla Manga Bell, producing the light-skinned Alexander Bell, Kotto’s great-grandfather. When asked about this Queen Elisabeth’s press secretary denied the story saying Edward VII had never visited Cameroon. It was reported that Kotto would be standing as a Republican candidate in a bid for the US presidency this year but according to the actor this was speculation after he posted a political think-piece on his own website. In 1968 he recorded this raw Gil Scott Heron-sounding single.

 

Rose Mitchell: ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’.

(This was from a compilation of Female R & B singers entitled ‘Wild’ released on Stateside in the eighties)

 

Little Esther: ‘The Storm’ / ‘Summer Time’

‘Summertime’ is the more famous of the two sides but ‘The Storm’ is undoubtedly the winner if you enjoy records that sound like death row on a rainy night (except that if you were actually on death row you’d have to accept the guard’s word that it was actually raining). Complete with thunder and rain. Months later I downloaded Little Esther’s entire musical output from this same period. After listening back to the songs I downloaded I came to realize that in those two minutes in Dan’s flat, I heard more of Little Esther in the crackles and pop marks than I have in listening to her since.

 

Betty Turner: ‘Blue Star’.

Dan: “When I was buying Northern I often used to end up buying loads of stuff that wasn’t Northern.” What Dan means is that when he used to buy and Deejay Northern Soul he constantly used to flick through boxes of anonymous soul seven inches in the hope of finding something original. Sometimes he would simply chance upon records with an interesting name or label design. Many of these records weren’t ‘Northern’ enough in their style to be played at a Northern club but quite often they still had something going for them; something better appreciated away from the confines of Northern Soul. This sounds like a B-side made by Phil Spector when he was drunk. The following week I would Google the title and stumble upon a blog written by its producer. He expressed interest in tracking down Betty Turner to record again. I’d be interested in this but seeing that I was only the eighth person ever to view his blog, I hope that she was one of the other seven.

 

Nini Rosso: ‘il Silenzio’

It was actually the other side but since it had a sticker over the title to protect its identity from other DJs and since he could no longer remember what it was called, I will make do by referring to the title of the boring side instead. Nini is an Italian trumpeter.

 

Lil’ Greenwood and Little Willie: ‘My Last Hour’ / ‘Monday Morning’

This record was on the Federal label, which seemed to specialize in some of the most uncompromising and bleak ballads ever written. ‘My Last Hour’ is self-explanatory and if there ever was a genre of music described as ‘Terminal Cancer Soul’ this record would surely fit effortlessly within it.
‘Monday Morning’ isn’t much happier. Many of the young people listening to these records on the jukeboxes would live in single sex hostels for the poor and by Monday morning the last of these couples would have parted after the weekend together. I expressed bewilderment how radio pluggers would once have had to convince the DJs to play these same records.
Dan: “Well, this one mate is a downbeat number about someone’s last hour and this other side is entitled ‘Monday morning.”

 

The Trip Jacks: ‘Shovelled Ten Miles’

“It’s all about dying,” Dan commented coming back out of the kitchen. It is, and he also pointed out that this funky-ish folk number also sounded very much like the precursor to the more upbeat and popular ‘ I walked Ten Miles’ by the Proclaimers twenty years later.

 

Viscounts: ‘Dig’ / ‘Harlem Nocturne’

“Awful,” said Dan after I had put on the wrong side. He described ‘Harlem Nocturne as the end of night tunes to end all end of night tunes. “It’s moody and sleazy and puts Duane Eddy to shame; and I like Duane Eddy.” He later tells me about a Northern Soul record called ‘Harlem Rumble’ but can’t remember the name of the artist. “Basically,” he says to me, “anything with Harlem in the title is usually good…”

 

Govind-naresh: Soundtrack LP

The ‘instrumental’ music track on this Bollywood LP is better than ESG’s (art band from NYC loved by blokes who work in record shops) entire output distilled into a single track.

 

Colette Magny: ‘Babylon USA’ (Taken from the LP ‘Repression’)

This is a French jazz LP from the late sixties. There is a picture of a black panther on the cover and inside its gatefold there are illustrations of pivotal Black Power revolutionaries such as George Jackson and Bobby Seales.

 

Throbbing Gristle: ‘Very Friendly’

This is Throbbing Gristle’s account of the moor’s murders taken from The First Annual Report, which although recorded in 1975 was not released until 2001. The lyrics could have formed the basis for an acclaimed British novel if you enjoy the sort of novel that is basically a stream of unpunctuated consciousness from the point of view of a sadistic bastard, which, like having chips and Sushi, I sometimes do. Just not all the time.

 

Thomas Ades: ‘Asyla Part 3’

This record sounds like the Hacienda when you were standing outside waiting to get in. If anything, the suspense before you entered these big clubs was more exhilarating than the reality of actually being inside. Dan describes this record as ‘Rites Of Spring’ with house music.

 

Benjamin Britten/ W.H. Auden: ‘Night Mail’ (end sequence)

Dinner:. Roast Squash with tomato sauce. Broccoli on the side. Then we ate Chocolate donuts and watched the documentary ‘John’s Not Mad’.

By the time I woke Dan had already been out and got soaked in a downpour.

That’s why when the lift doors opened and a man dressed only in a T-shirt and shorts entered, I commented when the lift was moving again that the weather was supposed to be atrocious. He replied that last night had indeed been terrible but he made no reference to this morning. As we stood in silence watching the numbers above the door alight as we passed each floor I wondered if I had offended him in drawing attention to what he was wearing by mentioning the weather. I hadn’t meant or wanted to; after all, I didn’t live there and I hadn’t even been out myself that morning. For all I knew, the rain by now had stopped and wouldn’t return again. I began to backpedal.

“I mean I haven’t actually been out myself but my mate who lives here went out this morning and got drenched in it.” As soon as I said this I realised that this made me sound like I had spent the night there. Before I knew what had come over me I explained to this stranger dressed only in shorts and a T-shirt in the middle of January, that I was crashing the night.

“I’m from London,” I explained.

The man in shorts didn’t reply.

I concluded in a panic that they must all say this. The lift doors opened and as he jogged off in front of me I called after him: “I slept on the sofa.”

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This is an extract of ‘To All the Girls in Oklahoma’, taken from Greatest Hits, published this autumn by De Stijl Records