Review of Wendy James “You’re So Great / It’s Alright Ma” Double-Single
Anyone remember the 80’s band Transvision Vamp? Wendy James the sultry lead singer of the band and poster girl of that decade is releasing a double A sided single of two covers ‘You’re So Great’ and ‘Its Alright Ma’.
Transvision Vamp were one of the ‘designer punk’ bands of the 80’s. A splash of The Ramones, a dab of T’Pau, a sprinkle of Cyndi Lauper (probably taking too far now!) – they were very commercial and had some big hits such as ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Baby I Don’t Care’. They were not really for me at the time as I felt that despite some good solid fast guitar work they watered down a lot of the punk essence of their roots.
After the band split in the early 90’s Wendy embarked on a solo career with the help of some song writing support from Elvis Costello. However, the music produced was not commercially successful. In the early naughties Wendy then set up her own band and produced some very middle-of-the- road music. The turnaround for me came in 2010 in her last solo album, 2010’s critically acclaimed ‘I Came Here To Blow Minds’, Wendy James recorded with French indie musicians who shared her passion for NYC punk, Detroit garage and new wave. This was music that I can enjoy and much more what I would have liked Transvision to have originally sounded like. Wendy has moved up a notch since then by working directly with The Stooges’ James Williamson (guitar & bass) and The Bad Seeds’ Jim Sclavunos (drums & percussion) and has created her new double-single that capture the urgency and spirit of not only early punk but rock’n’roll in general. More edgy and vibrant than before.
Both tracks have great guitar work with pounding fast played riffs reminiscent of The Ramones and you can really see Williamson’s influence throughout.
So let’s look at each in turn:
WENDY JAMES ON ‘YOU’RE SO GREAT’: “Sonic’s Rendezvous Band are one of my favourites. They wrote song after cool song, like ‘Keep On Hustlin,” “Do It Again,” “City Slang,” “Sweet Nothin” and of course, “You’re So Great.” I got my chops singing hard and fast pop songs with Transvision Vamp, and when I heard “You’re So Great,” it viscerally hit me that Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith had written the complete essence of what I was good at. I stored the song in the back of my mind, and waited for the right moment to record it. When I met James Williamson the dots connected and we decided instantly to go and do this together. For all the reasons above and of course, he is bandmates with Drummer Scott Asheton (Stooges and SRB) and he represents Detroit and Ann Arbor, no-one captures the guitar sound of Michigan like James Williamson does. It’s obvious. It was just a question of who was going to shout ‘1,2,3,4…..’ “
MUSICEYZ ON ‘YOU’RE SO GREAT’:
Thumping beat and a great listen although the vocals do appear a little dated and stuck in the 80’s.
WENDY ON ‘IT’S ALRIGHT MA’: “I, like millions of others, begin and end with Bob Dylan. Since I can’t remember when, maybe 12 years old? Bob has been my touchstone. His songs are what I listen to when I need to calm my soul, find my peace, find my strength, affirm my wisdom. Bob Dylan has tracked my soul for all my life so far, and always will. There are of course, so many many perfect moments from him, it’s mind- blowing the simplicity, the complexity, the effortlessness, the timelessness of his words and his melodies. Blood On The Tracks,Bringing It All Back Home, Desire, Slow Train Coming… I mean, I’m just going to list you everything. But… when I was about 13 years old I heard “It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding” and that was it for me. He knew everything. Job done. Life explained.
So, now, 2012, when James and I had decided to do ‘You’re So Great’ as a special Single Release, he asked me what my favorite Dylan number is and always, ultimately I go to ‘It’s Alright Ma’. Enthusiastically we decided to record both songs, and then… Let me tell you, there’s a big difference between listening to ‘Its Alright Ma’ and singing it. I understand his rhythm, his intention, his breath, his humor, his message, to be clear: I understand his choice of words.
It was heaven in the studio, losing myself on the microphone, telling the tale, singing the truth, having my few hours bathing in that High White Noise… and James in the control room watching on proudly…Yes. It was a good day… It was the kind of day that explains exactly, innately, why one does this in life.”
MUSICEYZ ON ‘IT’S ALRIGHT MA’: Wow! Where did this come from? A fantastic cover that beats hands down the Dylan version! Loved it and very much the stronger of the two tracks for me. I also liked the way that James did not skimp on this track by shortening it or trying to make it too commercial. It tells a story and does it really well.
Overall a great return for Wendy James and a double single worth buying and adding to the collection. For me – a much better and likely successful direction for James to be taking.
Wendy‘s new ‘You’re So Great / It’s Alright Ma’ Double-Single is out now digitally and available through iTunes, with a special limited edition 10″ vinyl pressing to be released in the near future.