Pagan Poetry – the sound of the inside

[ARTIST: BJÖRK] [SONG: PAGAN POETRY]


“Pagan Poetry” is Björk in one of her most intimate moments. A song about the strong sexual attraction between two people, and the little secrets and hidden codes through which lovers recognize each other.

The song is from Björk’s 2001 album, “Vespertine”, and features instruments such as the harp, celeste and a music box that she had custom made from transparent plexi-glass. There is a feeling of Icelandic winter on the whole album, and Björk herself has said about “Vespertine”: “I needed this album to explore what we sound like on the inside. It’s that ecstasy, that euphoric state that happens when whispering. It’s very much about being alone in your house, in a very quiet sort of introverted mood”. Björk wrote the material for most of this album back home in Iceland, and she had originally named it “Domestika”, but the title was later changed to “Vespertine” which makes perfect sense when you picture Björk working with her music in the wintertime on Iceland with only a few hours of light during the day.

The video for “Pagan Poetry” was directed by Nick Knight and created quite a stir when it came out. It was banned from MTV in United States because Björk appears topless in a dress designed by Alexander McQueen. When making the video Nick Knight gave Björk a mini DV camera, and asked her to record some scenes from her private love life. Björk’s own recordings turned out to be rather sexual, and they were used in the video. The more explicit scenes were altered with digital effects, but rumour has it that the beginning of “Pagan Poetry” is actually Björk and Matthew Barney, who she had a relationship with at the time, having sex.

The harpist on “Pagan Poetry” is Zeena Parkins, who also played the harp for Courtney Love’s band Hole on their MTV Unplugged performance.

The tattoo on Björk’s left upper arm is an ancient Icelandic symbol called “Vegvisir “, which was a sort of compass intended for guidance through rough or foggy weather back in the Viking Age. Björk has said that it makes sure she never gets lost.

Björk has performed “Pagan poetry” live many times, and a beautiful example is this recording from Riverside Church in New York with a Greenlandic choir.


From Love Sensation to Good Vibrations

[ARTIST: LOLEATTA HOLLOWAY] [SONG: LOVE SENSATION]

This is pure disco. Right from the heyday of rotating mirror balls and hedonism. Although the name Holloway may not immediately ring a bell, her powerful voice and this song in particular most certainly will. “Love Sensation” is happiness embottled.

Loleatta Holloway was born in Chicago and was only 4 years old when she became a part of her mother’s gospel choir, “The Holloway Community Singers”. Later on she joined “The Caravans“, and in 1976 she signed up with Gold Mind, a sub label of Salsoul Records, in order to pursue a solo career. In 1979 she was contacted by Dan Hartman, who asked her if she would put the vocals to a new song he had written. Holloway accepted, without knowing that the song, Vertigo/Relight my fire, would become a worldwide success that is recognized today as one of the greatest disco songs ever.  “Love Sensation” is also the work of Hartman, and was released in 1980. When recording the song, Holloway was invited to Hartman’s own house to record in his private studio.  In an interview with Discoguy she explains that this is the hardest song she has ever recorded. Apparently Hartman made her sing it 30 times before he was fully satisfied, and Holloway practically lost her voice in the end.

The vocals from “Love Sensation” were sampled by Black Box for their 1989 number one hit Ride On Time, but Holloway was not credited for this. She consequently sued Black Box, which resulted in a court settlement in Holloway’s favor. In 1991, “Love Sensation” topped the charts once more, when Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch used a sample for “Good Vibrations“. This time Holloway was correctly credited.

Several other artists have sampled Holloway’s vocals, but a small mystery remains unsolved for this writer: She tells in an interview on Disco-Disco.com, that the first artist to sample her was actually Madonna, but she can’t remember which song it was. Supposedly it was a very short sample, but I haven’t been able to figure out what song this could be yet. So if anyone knows this, please enlighten me.

On the subject of Madonna, Loleatta Holloway has covered “Like a Prayer” on “Virgin Voices(a Madonna tribute album).

In 2006, Holloway managed to crawl back into the dance charts once more with a new version of “Love Sensation”, which has by now become her signature tune, and she remains active right up until today.

Don’t want it Baudelaire, just glitter lust.

[ARTIST: GOLDFRAPP] [SONG: OOH LA LA]

“Ooh la la” was the first single from Goldfrapp’s 2005 album “Supernature”, and this song just seems to make your hips move all by themselves. With a persistent, swinging disco beat and a message about wanting sex without romance, this is a brilliant example of the more playful side of Goldfrapp.

Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory first met in 1999, and they understood immediately that there was a strong musical connection between them. Soon after, “Goldfrapp” was formed, and the debut album “Felt Mountain” was released the year after, in 2000.  Up until 1999, Alison Goldfrapp had worked with some of the biggest names on the electronic scene and provided vocals for Tricky’s “Pumpkin” and “Are we here?” by Orbital. Will was working mainly as a film composer at the time, but is also a highly skilled musician who has collaborated with The Cure, Tori Amos, Peter Gabriel and Portishead, just to mention a few.

“Ooh la la” came together in a small, rented house in Bath, England, where the duo had gone in late 2004 to begin the recordings of “Supernature” in rural surroundings, far away from the noise of the city. When they recorded the song, Will played the keyboard bass as Alison sang, and accidentally the sound of Will’s fingers pressing down the keys went into her microphone. Afterwards, when they listened to the recording, they both liked the sound and decided to add it to the chorus. “Ooh la la” also became the first Goldfrapp song to feature the electric guitar.

The song has been compared to the 1969 Norman Greenbaum hit “Spirit in the sky“, mainly because of the rhythmic similarities.

One – but not the same.

[ARTIST: U2] [SONG: ONE]

A timeless recording with a universal message that has become a true classic.

“One” was written in Berlin in 1990, one year after the German reunification. U2 had gone there to seek inspiration and to work on their upcoming album, “Achtung Baby”. The song was improvised during a band session in the Hansa Tonstudio in December 1990, following a tough time with conflict over the band’s musical direction and sound. “One” put U2 back on common ground again.

The lyrics were written by Bono who later claimed that they “just fell out of the sky”. The concept of “One” was inspired by a note that Bono had sent to Dalai Lama declining an invitation for a festival called “Oneness”. Bono’s note read,“One – but not the same.”

Basically the song is about the end of a relationship, but as the lyrics progress, several layers appear and the message becomes more universal, almost spiritual. Numerous interpretations have been made, ranging from an HIV-positive son in conversation with his father to an image of the German reunification. It seems obvious, since Bono wrote the lyrics in Berlin in 1990, that the fall of the wall and the end of Communism throughout most of Eastern Europe has had some influence. In an interview in Los Angeles Times in 1993, Bono explained the meaning of “One” like this: “It is a song about coming together, but it’s not the old hippie idea of ‘let’s all live together.’ It is, in fact, the opposite. It’s saying, we are one, but we’re not the same. It’s not saying we even want to get along, but that we have to get along in this world if it is to survive. It’s a reminder that we have no choice.”

Three videos were made for the song: The first video was filmed in Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin and features U2 in drag. The second video follows the design of the single cover with running buffalos in slow-motion and blooming flowers, while the third video shows Bono smoking and drinking beer in a nightclub in Manhattan.

“One” is the most widely known song by U2, and they have played it at every concert since 1992 when they first performed it live. “One” was also ranked #36 in Rolling Stone’s “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, and has been covered more than 25 times by artists such as Mary J. Blige, Johnny Cash, Joe Cocker and R.E.M.

How the bass player from Manfred Mann ended up in George Harrison’s hair.

[ARTIST: THE BEATLES] [SONG: GOOD DAY SUNSHINE]

A wonderful feel-good song for a snowy day in January, taken from the album “Revolver”. Paul McCartney is singing the lead vocal, and the simple, almost naive lyrics as well as the handclaps make the song ooze optimism and summer afternoons at the beach.

Released in 1966, “Revolver” is undisputedly one of the greatest records in music history. But The Beatles’ seventh album also stands out as one of the world’s most famous cover designs.

Klaus Voormann, a German artist and musician, had met The Beatles in a club in Hamburg during their early years. He later moved to London and became a very close friend of the band.

In 1965, Voormann was asked by John Lennon to create a cover for The Beatles’ upcoming album which by the way was originally intended to be called “Abracadabra” but later renamed to “Revolver”. Voormann, who had wanted to design a Beatles cover ever since he first saw the band live in the Kaiserkeller Club in the St. Pauli district in Hamburg, began working on a design that was a mix of drawing and collage and would turn out to be one of the earliest examples of psychedelic cover art.

In 1966, Klaus Voormann was handed another big opportunity when he was asked to join the band Manfred Mann as the bass player (he also had offers from the Hollies and The Moody Blues, but decided to join Manfred Mann). So by the time he delivered the final album design in the summer of 1966, his own musical career was quickly taking off, and Voormann remained a part of Manfred Mann until 1969, during which period the band achieved great international success with hits such as “The Mighty Quinn” (in which Voormann plays both the bass and the flute).

Even though Klaus Voormann has continued creating covers throughout his life, more recently for bands such as Turbonegro, Wet Wet Wet and Mando Diao, “Revolver” remains his masterpiece, and also won the Grammy for Best Album Cover, Graphic Arts in 1967.

Looking more closely it is actually possible to see a photograph of Voormann as well as his name (Klaus O. W. Voormann) worked into George Harrison’s hair on the right side:

For more information on Klaus Voormann, visit his homepage.