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john cale obe

The use of music in tv documentaries is worthy of a major academic study.

Dominic Sandbrook’s tv history ‘The 70s,’ currently airing on BBC2, is managing to tread that fine line.

It successfully uses contemporaneous music to underscore the story being told without lapsing into cliche.

So in episode 2 the other night, we saw the Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer, Anthony Barber (no relation), getting a grip on the economy outside No.11 Downing Street with budget box in hand.

Then my ear was caught by the accompanying music, which sounded familiar but took me a few minutes to identify.

It was, of course, ‘The Man Who Couldn’t Afford To Orgy’ by the wonderful Velvet Underground founder John Cale.

Almost too clever by half.

On second thoughts, definitely too clever by half.

The album on which ‘Orgy’ features is Cale’s 1974 album ‘Fear,’ complete with striking cover photograph by the late Keith Morris.

It’s a great album – in fact, the three he did for Island in the mid 1970s – Fear, Slowdazzle and Helen of Troy – all deserve a place in any decent record collection.

Melody, wit, great arrangements – and on ‘Slowdazzle,’ without doubt the best cover version of ‘Heartbreak Hotel.’

Cale, of course, is still creatively active, making albums and performing ‘live,’ so I’m pleased to say that the accompanying clips of two tunes from ‘Fear’ are recent performances from 2008 and 2010 – with a topical Titanic reference thrown in for good measure.

John Cale – Ship Of Fools

John Cale – Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend

John Cale – official website

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