Stewart Lee is a stand-up comedian, director, and writer. He co-wrote Richard Thomas' Jerry Springer The Opera, currently has a second novel in the works, has toured the world with his solo comedy act, and writes about music for The Sunday Times and Wire magazine.
Big Star 'September Gurls'
This is here just because it's great. I was one of those latecomers to Big Star who found their way back to the band after The Replacements name checked Alex Chilton in the late 80's, back before CDs made everything available to everyone. The last word in southern soulful melodic power-pop. Big Star are so perfect, what's the point of ripping them off?
Clapham Junction 'Emily On Sunday'
Just when you think every lost psych-pop-garage classic has finally been anthologised, Ace scooped three compilations worth from down under, including this stop-start acid-mod slice of anglophilia.
Country Joe and the Fish 'Death Sound Blues'
During the 1st pyschedelic revival of the early 80's, John Peel had one of his characteristic on-air grumps and complained that The March Violets and co were misusing the term. Then he told an anecdote about being in a Birmingham hotel room, straight, with The Fish, who weren't, and played this as an example of what psychedelia really was. Death Sound Blues sounds like it's leaking out of the speakers. I was 13 I think. I taped it. It took me 5 years of trawling record fairs to find the album on vinyl. In 1999 I went to see Country Joe in Seattle. Security at the airport asked me when I was visiting the city. I said I'd come to see Country Joe and The Fish. They kept me in questioning for 45 minutes. Next day I had breakfast with the the band.
The Cramps 'Faster Pussycat'
The Cramps inspired a generation of lousy psychobilly bands, and the treasures they unearthed to cover are now cliches, but this is not their fault. Here they cover the theme from Russ Meyer's finest film, recorded live back in the early 80's. The extended version of the Count 5's 'Psychotic Reaction', originally recorded for Smell Of Female, that the current line-up bashed out is a wonder to behold.
John Fahey 'The Yellow Princess'
In 1987 I bought a vinyl version of "The Yellow Princess" from a market stall in Oxford for £3 because it looked cool. I put it on in our shared house and my flatmates came in and said they'd assumed I was tuning up my acoustic guitar through an amp for the last hour. But I persevered with "The Yellow Princess" and gradually tracked down other Fahey records on vinyl. In 1999 I interviewed him for The Sunday Times. People assumed the piece was plagiarised because he told the same stories, word for word, as he had to other writers. I think the duty of the artist to have something to say wasn't really something Fahey agreed with.
Rufus Thomas 'Funkiest Man Alive'
When I am a guest dj-ing at Dan Maier's 13th Floor night at the Albany, Portland Place, I stretch his authoritarian definition of 60's garage music to include this 70's funk floor-filler, which goes on so long it becomes absurd and beautiful.
Thor's Hammer 'My Life'
Who would have thought there'd be a CDs worth of great 60's garage punk from Iceland. Only Alec Palao and Ace records. And they were right.
John Coltrane 'My Favourite Things' from Live Trane: The European Tours (currently unavailable)
The European Tours Box is so vast it's almost unknowable and includes 5 versions of Coltrane's signature song, My Favorite Things, from which he wrangled infinite variations. At the risk of sounding pretentious, Coltrane is a life-lesson for stand-ups, I think. Every time he sets out on My Favorite Things there's fun to be had from the distance between the improvised sections at their most far-out and the main theme itself. How far's he going to go and when's he coming back? In his lousy John Coltrane documentary Alan Yentob, a fool, used Coltrane's ongoing extrapolations with MFT as evidence of increasing madness. He's wrong. His obsession with MFT was evidence of his genius. George Carlin says stand-up and jazz are both about the singer and not the song. Well, Julie Andrews wouldn't recognise this Sound Of Music classic.
Lenny Bruce 'The Palladium' from Lenny Bruce Originals (currently unavailable)
In this routine, Lenny Bruce posits how the same material would work in three different circumstances. Everyone gets so hung up on Bruce's controversial material they miss the point that it wouldn't work unless he was brilliant. Every post-modern, experimental stand-up move you think you're making for the first time, Bruce already did inthe 50's and 60's.
Sonny Rollins 'Freedom Suite' (currently unavailable)
When I was young I never thought I liked jazz. I heard this on some radio 2 jazz show when I was about 14 and went out and bought it and loved it. Then I tried to listen to other jazz but found myself in an unmarked wilderness of Pat Metheny and Grover Washington and other appalling rubbish. Jazz is a broad church. Now I know what I like and can find my way around a bit better. But I still go back to this all the time.