Aloha and welcome back to Found Sound (27th set)
This Week Highlight ::Vashti Bunyan – Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind – Singles And Demos (1964-1967)
A few years ago, when I first got turned on to Karen Dalton and Sibylle Baier, the other spectrum of Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez, the more bluesy soulful representatives of the female folk scene, I discovered Vashti Bunyan. Her name alone caught my attention. I found Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind, a collection of her singles and demos and rare recordings, at Amoeba. The double LP, released on DiCristina in 2007 and distributed by Revolver USA based out of San Francisco, features a cute girl on the cover in a black and white photo wrapping herself warmly in a hip-length fur coat. Who was Vasthi and why hadn’t I ever heard of her?
Jennifer Vashti Bunyan was born in New Castle, England in 1945. At 19, Vashti was kicked out of art school for “wasting all [her] time writing songs and playing guitar.” It was 1964. Her record collection consisted of Ricky Nelson and Buddy Holly and the Everly Brothers. And then, at the moment when an artist desperately craves new inspiration, she discovered Freewhelin’ Bob Dylan, released just the previous year. As she wrote in the liner notes to Some Things…, “Bob Dylan’s words began to fill the air in my young head and to educate me more than anything in my life had ever done.”
Vashti scrounged together some money while staying with her sister in New York City and booked a recording studio for one hour, where she sang twelve songs onto a tape. Four of those songs made it onto a seven-inch acetate record. In 1965, Monte Mackey, a beautiful agent who resembled Lauren Bacall, gave Andrew Loog Oldham of the Rolling Stones Vashti’s only demo. He liked what he heard.
Oldham, being the Stones’ manager, suggested Vashti record their shelved single “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind” – the song appeared on Metamorphosis in 1975. Her cover is true to its original in instrumentation, especially the playful chime, and Vashti’s voice, soft and high and gently powerful, sings out the many questions in the lyrics, maybe more powerfully than Jagger.
“Why does the sky turn grey every night / Sun rise again in time / Why do you think of the first love you had / Some things just stick in your mind”
The single, released on Decca with her own song, “I Want To Be Alone” as the B-side, didn’t take off, and Vashti remained an obscure “folk singer” lost in the myriad of struggling musicians of the era. Vashti admits she wasn’t ready for Andrew Oldham, who turned the Rolling Stones into the black-hat wearing anti-Beatles for a generation of rougher tougher British rock thirsty rebels. “Too fragile for his world I might have been,” she said, “but that was no fault of his.”
Columbia Records caught wind of Vashti in 1966, and released her follow-up single, “Train Song,” a guitar/cello lament about returning to a lost love.
“It’s so many miles and so long since I’ve met you / Don’t even know what I’ll find when I get to you.”
The song was recently used in an episode of HBO’s True Detective, in the scene where the busty babe Alexandra Daddario shows her goods. I know, nobody was listening to the song. Feist and Ben Gibbard covered the song for the compilation Dark Was the Night in 2009, released for the Red Hot Organization, an AIDS and HIV charity. But back in 1966, the Columbia released single “Train Song” received little more attention than “Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind.”
Allen Klein was slowly replacing Andrew Oldham as manager/producer of the Stones. With the help of Tony Calder, Oldham formed Immediate Records, one of the first independent labels in the UK. The trick with Immediate Records though, as Vashti explained, was that “anything that didn’t work instantly just got left behind.” During Vashti’s return to Oldham, she recorded three songs under Immediate, none of which were ever released.
In 1967, Vashti appeared in the Peter Whitehead documentary Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London, a film about the London counterculture featuring Pink Floyd, John and Yoko, and Mick Jagger. Vashti performed “Winter Is Blue,” one of the three songs Immediate Records never released.
“Winter is blue / Everything’s leaving / Fires are now burning / And life has no reason / I am alone / Waiting for nothing / If my heart freezes / I won’t feel the breaking”
Like her other songs and her general style, “Winter Is Blue” is perfect in its simplistic yet well-arranged guitar, and the balance of somber lyrics with an uplifting allegretto melody.
Still, even with her cameo, Vashti was never signed to a major record label, never toured. She spent some time on a commune with Donovan, where she wrote the majority of the songs that would appear on her debut album, Just Another Diamond Day. Released on Phillips Records with the help of record producer Joe Boyd – Pink Floyd, Nick Drake – the album was well received but again failed to get Vashti the attention she craved.
Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind contains all of Vashti’s singles – released and unheard – as well as those twelve songs she recorded in 1964 in a one-hour solo impromptu studio session. I wouldn’t normally recommend starting out on a new artist with a compilation, but Vashti’s beginnings are raw, personal, her feminine voice powerful.
Vashti Bunyan never wanted to be a folk singer. She wanted, more than anything, to be a pop singer, but couldn’t abandon her love for acoustic sound. “I wanted to bring acoustic music into mainstream pop,” she said, she just couldn’t figure out how. Vashti was, in a sense, before her time. As Oldham wrote in 2007, “It took a while, but it’s her while now.”
– By Maya Eslami
Listen to the 27th full playlist
1. Agincourt – When I Awoke
2. Vashti Bunyan – Some Things Just Stick In Your Mind
3. Margo Guryan – Sun
4. Lazy Smoke – Sarah Sunday
5. Anonymous – Up To You
6. Françoise Hardy – Letras Negras
7. Lee Hazlewood & Nina Lizell – Hey Cowboy
8. Clothilde – Fallait Pas Ecraser La Queue Du Chat
9. The Flying Machine – The Devil Has Possession Of Your Mind
10. Vashti Bunyan – Train Song
11. The Magic Carpet – Alan’s Christmas Card
FOUND SOUND is curated by Matthew Correia.