Friday, March 22, 2002

JPJ can sing too?

On this day in 1985, among the various recordings released were two by former members of Led Zeppelin. Robert Plant's "Pink and Black" was released as a single and a music video, previewing the singer's upcoming third album. But the real kicker was a little-publicized soundtrack album by John Paul Jones, his first solo record in nearly 21 years.

Jones' frequently overlooked soundtrack to the flop movie Scream for Help contained his first recorded lead vocals. Guest appearances on the album included Yes singer Jon Anderson, folk guitarist John Renbourn, gospel singer Madeline Bell and, most notably, ex-bandmate Jimmy Page. Jones even let family get in on the act, as some of the lyrics were written by his daughter, Jacinda Jones.

Over and above those facts, the album was significant because it was the first time the name of John Paul Jones was credited for solo work on a record since 1964, when his one-off single called "Baja" was released in the United States and England.

Following the 1980 breakup of Led Zeppelin, the band's most private member retreated home to his family and stayed out of the public eye. He never gave up music during that time. He formed a studio, called Sunday School, and his daughter Jacinda emerged as a singer-songwriter.

She contributed the lyrics to "Bad Child" and "Christie" on her father's soundtrack album. It was on "Bad Child" that the former Led Zeppelin bassist took to singing for the first time, but the pleasant "Christie" received the sultry tenor of Jon Anderson.

Originally, Scream for Help director Michael Winner had asked Jimmy Page to provide the soundtrack. In 1981, Winner had approached Page about writing the soundtrack to Death Wish II. The guitarist complied then, and the completed album followed in February 1982. But this time, Page turned down the opportunity to write the Scream for Help soundtrack. He was already occupied with his band, the Firm.

However, Page did recommend Jones for the job. Page and Jones then collaborated on the album, jamming together on two original instrumentals. The piece that sounded the most like Led Zeppelin was "Crackback," a rock number with bass and guitar rolling in unison, anticipating a proper guitar solo from Page. Jones added keyboards to "Spaghetti Junction."

Throughout the album, Jones' duties varied from layering bass, synthesizers and organs to utilizing the instrument of his voice. He overdubbed harmony parts on "When You Fall in Love" and his daughter's "Bad Child." It is because of these two songs that his 2001/2002 album, The Thunderthief, is not technically the first time he sang on his own material.

Madeline Bell had been one of many artists for whom Jones arranged some music in the 1960s. Their friendship stayed intact over time, and he eventually named her the godmother of his three children. He produced Bell's 1973 RCA release, Comin' Atcha. On Scream for Help, her gorgeous vocals now marked Jones' soft ballad, "Here I Am." She also co-wrote and sang the fast dance track, "Take it or Leave it."

Jones and I took several minutes out from our interview on Dec. 10, 2001, as I showed him the Japanese CD pressing of the album. On one side of the CD, the words on the spine are written in Japanese. I told Jones, "I bet you can't read that." He said, "Sure I can! This says, 'John Paul Jones, Scream for Help.'" Lucky guess.

For minutes, we continued to laugh and reminisce about the album. I told him that the December 2001 issue of Record Collector magazine said that the soundtrack was going to be issued on CD, which would be the first CD pressing outside Japan. Jones said he hadn't heard about it but that it was good news for his daughter, who would benefit from royalties since she'd co-written two of the songs. (She's no longer in the music business, he said.)

Jones insists he doesn't play his own records. Even so, he said that he'd recently heard "Chili Sauce," an instrumental track from that soundtrack. Upon hearing it, he was reminded of the creativity with which Scream for Help was constructed. He spent some time telling me how he obtained the sound of the sliding melody on that track.

Although the synthesizers and rhythms on that album may sound dated at times, Jones is still very proud of his work on it. I gushed during our conversation about how wonderful his music and his production work are on that album, and he kindly agreed. When he speaks about his own work, it is not with arrogance or excessive pride. But having distanced himself from his own work by not listening to it for years at a time, the rare occasions in which he hears it make him merely appreciative of his own work. I would even guess that he is as impressed as I am.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Users agree to avoid posting profanity and defamatory comments.