A The Singer (a.k.a. The Folksinger)
B1 Running Scared
B2 Black Betty
I don't know if you remember when you just started learning about music, and were digging around the back catalogue of a few people you'd heard of? It's much easier these days, of course, but back when I was 14 I'd save the money I earned on my Saturday job and peruse either the secondhand record shops of Preston or the classified ads in Record Collector to decide what to spend it on.
I can't remember exactly why I chose this single, excepting the mild Goth-phase I was going through, or why I seem to have focussed on singles from Nick Cave's back catalogue, and not albums. I've always liked a good B-side though, and this does not disappoint. Black Betty is simply a tour de force, and at that impressionable age was unlike anything I'd heard before. Delivered a cappella, it is actually a medley of three Lead Belly numbers - Looky Looky Yonder, Black Betty and Yellow Women's Doorbells.
The first section is just Nick Cave solo with hand-claps, with other band members adding their sinister backing vocals and whelps to the Black Betty and Yellow sections. There's no coherent narrative that joins the three numbers, the first probably has it roots in cotton-pickin call-and-response work songs, the second is a tale of a mad woman and her unfortunate bastard child, the final section has something to do with being arrested, but it's hard to tell whether the protagonist was guilty or not, and it's hard to care, because you are just carried along by the sheer energy and incongruity of it. After all, this track comes after a gentle Johnny Cash number, and a Roy Orbison cover.
When I first got this, I played it to a lot of people, with responses ranging from a bewildered stare to laughing out loud. I couldn't articulate why I loved it so much. And this is a problem I had often in life, I think something is self-evident, so why do I need to explain it? I've attempted to redress the balance a little in the above.
The title track from the single is the Johnny Cash number, the tale of a singer who no one wants to listen to the day after the gig he's done, at which everyone loved him. It's a maudlin number, and Nick's delivery is clearly modelled on Johnny's. It has some swearing in, which was hugely exciting for me as a teenager, and is also, I would guess, not faithful to the original. Blixa Bargeld is amusingly credited with Abstinence.
Running Scared is a song I didn't think I really knew, but must have heard a hundred times on the radio, it was a big hit for Roy Orbison in 1961 (more at wikipedia). It's the tale of a man on the run with a woman, whose former lover is coming after them. In this version, when the former lover catches up with them, the fickle woman "walks right out on me", which suits Nick's world-view better than the original happy ending.
Originally the B-sides were only available on this single, but were included on the recent remastered CD reissue of the covers album Kicking Against The Pricks, and also the 2005 3CD boxset collection B-sides and Rarities.