Madonna “Ray of Light” 1997

Believe it or not, today marks the 40th anniversary of the recording of White Night, the debut single from my band The Lines, which I have written about a couple of times. I don’t know where all that time went, and so very quickly…I just looked around, and it was gone! A lesson for my younger readers.

Here’s another significant anniversary: although I have dated this entry according to the session date, as is my custom, we have just passed the 20th anniversary of the release of Madonna’s finest and best-selling album.

Back in early 1997 I was in London, during the last days of the Crouch End version of Guerilla Studio.  It was a creative time. Some excellent Blur mixes were done, later included on the compilation Bustin’ and Dronin’. Mainly though, William Orbit was trying to finish an album called Strange Cargo 5. I thought the album sounded fantastic, but Warner Brothers somehow didn’t share the enthusiasm and a release date was not set.

When William heard that Madonna was looking for songs he sent the album to her. She loved it, used pretty much all of it…and so Strange Cargo 5 became Ray of Light.

Madonna was in superb voice at the time, having recently completed the quasi-operatic Evita. I’ll never forget first hearing her singing on Substitute For Love: the blend of her vocal and William’s instrumental style was truly a match made in heaven. Never that much of a fan (apart from Holiday obviously), Madonna really impressed me with the strength and depth of emotion she brought to these tracks.

I personally didn’t have much to do with the album, apart from cheerleading William and trying to help him keep his aging equipment operational. I seem to recall doing a glockenspiel part on To Have And Not To Hold. It didn’t earn me an album credit, but I got a platinum disc, and here it is.


 

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The Lines “White Night” 1978

It occurred to me that I should be doing more to promote my band The Lines, soon to release our first “new” album in 33 years…although the material is itself 33 years old, stitched together from archive cassettes. More of that anon.

So I decided to start a new thread within this blog, to re-examine all of our releases, in a strictly chronological order.

White Night materialized in my brain during the frigid winter of 1976-77. A severe bout of ‘flu had me bedridden and feverish to the point of hallucination. A spiral-shaped riff revolved in my throbbing cranium, with a simple 4-note motif threading through. A somewhat wafting melody, which crucially went up as the riff went down, had me realizing, as I awoke from the fever, that I had something quite good.

For a few months me and Jo Forty just played that riff round and round. Sometimes our drummer of the time, Bill Cran, would clatter along. We won some studio time in a competition thrown by Sounds music paper and recorded the first version down in Battersea. It was bad.

Then a character named Hywel Phillips moved into the building (in Highbury, North London). Hywel was rather a good guitarist, certainly by our standards. He was one of those Randy California fanatics you come across from time to time, and hell, I like a bit of Spirit myself. He started playing along to White Night and even added a guitar solo, which I was never totally sure about, it being stylistically perhaps a little backward rather than forward looking, but it undeniably worked well within the context of the song.

When Pete Harker replaced Bill on drums the song started to sound almost tight. At that point, in the spirit of the times, we decided to pool our money and sling it out ourselves. One day in February 1978 we booked a studio called Clubland out in West London that had a combination deal: 8 hours in the studio and 1,000 seven inch records for 300 quid.

And so White Night was born. We hauled that first pressing around every indie record shop in London, and in the process met lots of interesting people. The week it came out Tony Visconti was doing a “celebrity reviewer” gig in the New Musical Express. “The singer is double tracked but he sounds side tracked” he opined, astutely. He complimented the guitar solo and finished by calling it “shunky punk”.

Other reviews were less kind. Sounds called it “crib death”, rather coldly.

Despite such brickbats, this song has remained fairly popular. It has been covered a few times and also re-released, first in 1979 on Miles Copeland’s Illegal label, and most recently this year on the excellent Cherrystones compilation Critical Mass, from Belfast label Touch Sensitive.

 

 

 

Torch Song “Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2” 1986

One more cinematic entry, and then we will leave this glitzy Hollywood environs, like drunken clubgoers stumbling out the back door into an alleyway at 5AM.

By the summer of 1986 Torch Song had completed their second album Ecstacy, and very good it was too. The first single was a cover of White Night, a song I had written back in 1976, and which had been the debut release by The Lines in 1978.

Coincidentally The Fall spinoff Adult Net did a version of this song at the same time, leading to a byline in the London Evening Standard newspaper about a “battle of the bands”.

Personally I thought both were great, but the Torch Song version was the one that featured in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

Marking the triumphant return of my man Dennis Hopper from rehab, I can’t think of anything else to say about the film, except that around 3 minutes in the DJ throws Torch Song onto the turntable.