40 Years and 1000 Years

by Harry on December 17, 2006

My eldest (wow, I have an eldest now, not just an elder) is annoyed with me. She’s decided she doesn’t like “folk” music, so doesn’t want me to play Rubber Folk (UK), the brilliant album of covers of Rubber Soul. After two car rides of her quite wrongly berating the covers, we took a ride with several of her friends.

Eldest: “Dad, turn this off”
Friend: “Wait, it’s the Beatles, you don’t like the Beatles?”
Eldest: “Yes, but this isn’t the Beatles, its folk singers copying them”
(2 more songs pass)
Friend: “It’s really, really cool. I love it”
Other Friend: “Yeah, these guys are cool, man” (I’m not kidding, they really talk like this).
Eldest (outraged): “NO THEY’RE NOT.”

They are. There are a couple of less than perfect tracks; The Word, unlikely to be included in anyone’s top 40 Beatles songs, is worse on this album than on the original. But June Tabor’s haunting version of In My Life rivals the original, and Paul Brady’s reinterpretation of You Won’t See Me is, dare I say it, better. Other highlights are Show of Hands and Ralph McTell. The album hangs together well enough to make me long for Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Folk Club Band, and Magical Mystery Folk.

Richard Thompson’s tongue-in-cheek covers album, 1,000 Years of Popular Music (UK), is even better.

The story is that Playboy magazine asked a bunch of rock stars and Richard Thompson to produce lists of their favorite songs of the millennium and Thompson’s list was rejected because he included songs from before 1950. So he’s been touring “1000 years of popular music”, and eventually produced it as an album. These aren’t really the best songs of the last millennium; we have Difford and Tilbrook, but no Lennon/McCartney or George Formby and Jerusalem is missing too. Some of the songs don’t entirely suit Thompson’s voice: it’s a relief that he doesn’t do the vocals on Cry Me a River. But most of them are fantastic. Shenandoah, Summer is Icumin In, The Blackleg Miner, I Live in Trafalgar Square, they’re all here and fantastic. The highlights for me are, I’m afraid, 2 of the most recent songs. I’d never heard 1985 before, and cruel as it is, it’s also a brilliant evocation of a time that seems like yesterday to me but before most of my students were born. Best of all is the Britney Spears cover. You’ve heard Oops, and you know it’s a great song, but you don’t know just how great it is – a folk song, not a pop song – until you’ve heard Thompson do it. The package comes with a DVD that is basically free, but which I haven’t watched partly because it hadn’t occurred to me till this minute that it might have some other songs on it. Oh, I hope it has his cover of Money, Money, Money….

You’re allowed to nominate just one song each for RT to include on his next covers album.



Christopher M 12.17.06 at 3:32 pm

Other Friend: “Yeah, these guys are cool, man” (I’m not kidding, they really talk like this).

Whoa, who doesn’t?


Jacob Christensen 12.17.06 at 4:53 pm

Mmmm…Richard Thompson…

I Feel Fine has always been one of my favourite Beatles songs.

So, over to you, Richard.


Jacob Christensen 12.17.06 at 5:00 pm

Forgot to say: You are of cause aware of the fact that Britney Spears (in musical terms) is as Swedish as Björn and Benny.

So the correct answer to the question “What came after the welfare state?” is: “Britney Spears”.


Patrick Nielsen Hayden 12.17.06 at 6:14 pm

1000 Years of Popular Music is indeed a terrific show. But it’s not entirely true that it’s lacking in Lennon/McCartney material. Thompson tends to vary the set list over time; this earlier version of the show, still available from Beesweb, includes a fine cover of “It Won’t Be Long,” sounding much the way we saw him do it at Joe’s Pub in 2003.


fyreflye 12.17.06 at 7:29 pm

I vote for Thompson recording a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Democracy.” Bet he won’t, though.


tom hurka 12.17.06 at 7:40 pm

So what’s your George Formby song pick (or picks)? There are so many …


watson aname 12.17.06 at 8:19 pm

wouldn’t that make it Louis Armstrong cover, rather than a Britney cover?


Matt 12.17.06 at 9:26 pm

You can hardly go wrong with Richard Thompson, but I’d tend to think he’s done well to leave out the boring, boring beattles. The album of people doing Richard Thompson (and Fairpoint Convention) covers from a few years back, _Beat the Retreat_ is also very good.


Dave Maier 12.17.06 at 10:19 pm

June Tabor, Paul Brady, and Ralph McTell all rule. But I’d rather hear them do, well, folk songs. (Still, the disc sounds, um, cool – thanks for the tip.)

As for Richard, how about my fave Dire Straits song, “Once Upon a Time in the West”?


RussUS 12.17.06 at 11:15 pm

I laughed at your daughter/dad conversation, daughters are daughters the world around. I hadn’t heard of Rubber Folk and went to i-tunes to by In My life. I read once that that song is the best written rock song ever. If you like folk, have you heard I Hope that I don’t Fall In Love by Tom Waits? thanks


dr ngo 12.18.06 at 12:27 am

I haven’t heard the album mentioned here, but I would be surprised if anyone could surpass Judy Collins’ cover of “In My Life.” (In the album of the same name.)


Richard 12.18.06 at 12:39 am

I always found the Stones’ “Sympathy for the devil” pretentious and juvenile, and Crystal Waters’ “She’s homeless” (la de dee, la de daa) convinced me pop had sunk to new depths of stupidity…

…until I heard David Byrne do covers of both songs at the end of his shows. I really want him to release an album just of covers. His “I wanna dance with somebody” isn’t as surprising as the other two, but it’s still fabulous.


Matt 12.18.06 at 12:48 am

Speaking of David Byrne covers, he has a great one of Thompson’s “Just the motion” on the Richard Thompson tribute album.


ben wolfson 12.18.06 at 1:02 am

The earlier no-dvd one-cd 1000 Years had both “Money Money Money” and a Lennon/McCartney song (“It Won’t Be Long”).


ben wolfson 12.18.06 at 1:04 am

And, despite being on only one CD, it had more songs (23 instead of 22). Maybe the ones here are longer renditions?


bad Jim 12.18.06 at 3:03 am

Parts of “Tomorrow Never Knows” remained obscure for me until Brian Eno made everything clear on a live recording with 801. I’ve seen some problematic transcriptions of lyrics, on Japanese editions of Hot Tuna albums, for example, and even fellow aficionados were prone to producing Mondegreens.

I’d love to see Thompson have some fun with “Rocky Raccoon,” but I prefer his original material. I’ve seen him three times down here in SoCal, and the “1000 Years” show, while great, was not the equal of the other two.


nick s 12.18.06 at 7:47 am

Rubber Soul was one of the two Beatles long-players my parents owned, and although you had the silly critical praise of Sgt. Pepper and the more reasonable (though Oasis-driven) adulation for Revolver, nothing will convince me that it’s not the best Beatles album, and one of the best albums of all time. It doesn’t flag; it has George Harrison’s best song on it; and even the Contractual Obligation Ringo Track isn’t bad.

You’ve heard Oops, and you know it’s a great song, but you don’t know just how great it is – a folk song, not a pop song – until you’ve heard Thompson do it.

It’s not so much a folk song as a Richard Thompson song when he covers it, with all the jagged edges you’d expect, especially around ‘I’m dreaming away, wishing that heroes truly exist’.

On Thompson in general, it’s nice that you get covers of his stuff from both directions: purer, folkier takes and all-out rock. Sleater-Kinney used ‘I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight’ as an occasional encore track during the last couple of years, and nailed it. Yo La Tengo the same.

Anyway, I’ve taken to playing Thompson’s ‘Sumer Is Icumen In’ very loudly at the first hint of spring. And there’s an entire disc of covers on the recent ‘RT’ box set, including the version of ‘I Ain’t Marching Anymore’ that he added to his band set during the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Last but not least, if you can’t grin at the Del McCoury Band’s bluegrass cover of ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’, then you have no soul.


Cranky Observer 12.18.06 at 8:08 am

One thing that strikes me as strange is that for the first time in human history there is essentially no tradition of 3rd parties performing, extending, and therefore preserving the current set of folk tunes (which at the moment is 1950s/60s/70s pop and rock). So unlike folk music of earlier eras, which had the potential to last for hundreds and even thousands of years, today’s folk music will disappear as soon as young people stop buying recordings of it – probably 30-40 years from now.



LowLife 12.18.06 at 8:39 am

Rubber Soul might be The Beatles best but I like the album immediately before (called Beatles ’65 here is the States) and the one immediately after (Revolver) just as much. They were still touring during this time and I wonder if that didn’t yeild a bit of freshness that the all-studio all-the-time are missing.

For folkies that like compilations Philo So Far is a real treat.


harry b 12.18.06 at 8:44 am

Well, tom, I guess the GF song most suited to RT’s delivery is probably When I’m Cleaning Windows. My elder daughter’s favourites are Our Sergeant Major and The Lancashire Toreador. My favourite of all is, in fact, Leaning on a Lampost. I’m glad you’re a fan (unless you’re teasing me). There’s a treat in store ina subsequent post for all GF fans….


Matt 12.18.06 at 9:38 am

Cranky- I’m not sure that’s true. You do have groups like Cry, Cry, Cry, doing albums of what they take to be the best recent folk music, and in the liner notes for their album they imply that several of the songs have become ‘folk standards’ that are played by many singers and changed a bit by each one. It’s perhaps not as common, but I do think it’s still done.


Mo MacArbie 12.18.06 at 11:50 am

Well I for one love “The Word.” Plblblblblblblb.


willie 12.18.06 at 11:52 am

Ugh, the blithe Eurocentricity on display in all this vaunting of the “greatest music ever” is, well, appalling. Open your doors of perception, mates! If this girl can do it, U can 2:


Tom Hurka 12.18.06 at 12:23 pm


Not teasing, or only semi. When I was a kid my dad had three Formby compilation LPs that he and I liked to listen to(some overlap, and all including When I’m Cleaning Windows and Leaning on a Lamppost). Then, for some reason, in my 4th year at university I had the LPs with me, and my flatmate and I played them incessantly, e.g. when playing table hockey. A lot of the songs have surprisingly good melodies and some nice instrumentation behind them. You don’t mention any with those 30s/40s naughty lyrics — how about Frigid Air Fanny?

I wait eagerly for the GF post. And — I’m speculating — were the Beatles with their clear Liverpool accents a throwback to openly regional (not to mention Lancashire) acts like Formby, as against the more sophisticated, urbane acts that came between, e.g. Cliff Richard? (As a Canadian, I’m just guessing.)


harry b 12.18.06 at 6:19 pm

Very perceptive tom — George Harrison was a huge fan of George Formby’s (and they were all, apparently, fans to some degree) and at the end of one of those post-John’s death tracks they released for the Anthology there is a short excerpt of him playing the ukelele a la Formby. On top of that, the knockabout anarchic humour they supposedly exhibited in their early interviews owed a lot to Formby and the other Lancashire music hall acts. Its funny that what came over as fresh and “out of nowhere” to much of the country was completely within a Lancashire tradition and seen as such by the Beatles themselves. Listen to the compilations for a day (if you still have them) and then listen to the Beatles first 2 LPs, and you can see it clearly (but also on Sergeant Pepper, interestingly).
My Little Stick of Blackpool Rock, and Swimmin with the Wimmin, are also favourites of my ouger daughter, and they are very naughty, both of them, not that she knows that. I do sometimes woneder what my kids will think when they know as adults what I subjected them to as kids….


nick s 12.18.06 at 10:48 pm

Well, tom, I guess the GF song most suited to RT’s delivery is probably When I’m Cleaning Windows.

There’s a live cover of ‘Why Don’t Women Like Me?’ on the RT box set, though he leaves out the naughtiest bit. And the Harrison/Formby connection makes perfect sense.

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