Friday, 28 April 2017

My Top Ten 6am Songs


Four days a week, I get up at six a.m.

Yes, my life is just like Groundhog Day.

Here's ten other early risers...

10. The Lovin' Spoonful - Six O'Clock

John Sebastian finds 6 a.m. to be a very special time.

Nah. Can't say I'm with him on that. Cool oldie though.

9. George Michael - Spinning The Wheel

Listen, George has been stood outside your house since 5 a.m. and by the time 6 rolls around, he's royally pissed off that you're still not home. Great stalker anthem.

I remember the radio station I worked at (along with many others) insisted on playing the dancey remix of this when it was out. The slow, sultry original is far superior.

8. James Yorkston & The Athletes - 6.30 Is Way Too Early
6.30 is just way too early
To get up this cold December morning
Though as long as she insists on being the theme to my every single dream
That coffee it is a calling
That's a pretty great opening verse, and this song only gets better...

7. Belle & Sebastian - Come On, Sister

In which Stuart Murdoch gets woken up at 6 by roadworks outside his window. Oh well, he's up now, might as well start mooning over an old girlfriend...

See also Olympic Village, 6am, an instrumental B&S recorded to accompany the Rio games. Not entirely sure why.

6. Stornoway - The End of the Movie

Six a.m. you left me for the last time
On my doorstep blinking in the sunshine
Blamed and framed I'm frozen in the picture
Hanging in the space you left inside me
Climbed upstairs into the final scene
Waiting for the credits to appear
For all the years that I've been starring
Starring in a film with you and leading
Leading with a star I knew but I'm waking up
In a lone beam of light where the dust is dancing
As the music fades

6. Tom Waits - Ol' 55

Tom Waits for no man, not even at 6 a.m. (No, I will never grow tired of that pun.)
And it's six in the morning, gave me no warning; I had to be on my way.
Well there's trucks all a-passing me, and the lights are all flashing,
I'm on my way home from your place.
I know I won't make many friends by saying this, but I love the Eagles version almost as much as I do Tom's.

5. Eels - Saturday Morning

The excitement of being a small boy, getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday morning with a long, long day ahead... but who's gonna play with me?

4. The Bangles - Manic Monday

Prince. Susannah Hoffs. If you don't love this, check your pulse.
Six o'clock already
I was just in the middle of a dream
I was kissin' Valentino
By a crystal blue Italian stream
But I can't be late
'Cause then I guess I just won't get paid
These are the days
When you wish your bed was already made
3. Ben Folds - Brick

The saddest song Ben Folds ever wrote begins at 6 a.m. on the day after Christmas. 

2. The Jam - That's Entertainment
Waking up at six a.m. on a cool warm morning
Opening the windows and breathing in petrol
An amateur band rehearsing in a nearby yard
Watching the telly and thinking about your holidays
The Jam were really rather good, weren't they?

1. The Monkees - Daydream Believer

"What number is this, Chip?"


"OK!, know what I mean, like, don’t get excited man. It’s cause I’m short, I know."
Davy Jones dreams of the 6 o'clock alarm never ringing... but it does, and when he finally rises, his shaving razor's cold... and it stings.

Cheer up, Sleepy Jean!

Which 6 a.m. song would get you out of bed?

Thursday, 27 April 2017

BONUS POST: That Facebook Meme

It seems apt that on the day I'm guest-posting over at JC's place, I end up doing a Bonus Post... after all, he's one of the only bloggers I know who sometimes manages two posts in the same day. (Jez is the other one, but he doesn't post every day like JC.)

Anyway, you've probably all seen this meme over on facebook. It's been doing the rounds. I had to have a go, of course, and I thought I'd post my response here in case you wanted to have a guess. 

Ten bands/artists I've seen live. One of them is a lie.

By the way, I haven't chosen any of the OBVIOUS acts you all KNOW I've seen live. If this list was made up of Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Lloyd Cole, Morrissey et al, it would be far too easy.

1. Depeche Mode
2. Suzanne Vega
3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
4. Guns n Roses
5. Alison Krauss & Union Station
6. Bon Jovi
7. Oasis
8. Hayseed Dixie
9. James Brown
10. Nearly Dan (Steely Dan tribute act)

One final clue: 8 of the true ones were really, really good. The ninth really, really wasn't.

April #1 - I'm Not Here Today...

...instead, I'm over at JC's place, compiling my first Imaginary Compilation Album about The Magnetic Fields. What an honour. Pop over and say hello, why don't you?

Oh, and if you happen to have travelled in the opposite direction thanks to JC, then thank you. Welcome. Pull up a chair, grab your headphones. Stick around if you've got the time. Say hello. You might find something of interest in the last few posts. Honest. I haven't written about Billy Joel in weeks...

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

My Top ∞ Radio Songs #1 - 4

I love radio.

Or, to be more honest, I love the ideal. The idea of what radio can be...though it rarely is.

I worked in radio for 23 years of my life, but only for the first 4 or 5 was that radio station allowed to be even a fraction of what it could be. I want to write something about that. About my years in radio: the good times and the bad. And about the ideal: what I believe radio could and should be.

I also love songs about radio. A few years back, on the old blog, I had the idea of doing a Top Ten... but I couldn't whittle them down. In the end, I settled on a Top 40, but there were still many great ones I missed out... and many more I've discovered since.

And so, I decided to start a new ongoing feature. This won't be a Top Ten. That funny squiggle, in the title line, just in case you don't know, it's an infinity symbol. Because I reckon I can write about radio songs on and off here forever... and never write about them all. I'll die before I run out... or get bored of blogging, at least. There's always that possibility.

To start, here's three of my favourites. All of them tackle the idea of what radio could and should be... and feature an old DJ who's forced to face the fact, as I was many years ago, that it rarely is. They're also three songs which inspired a short story I wrote some time ago, so I thought I'd include that as well, to mark the beginning of my new infinite feature. I will number these songs as I go along, then we'll all see how long it takes to count to infinity. Oh, and there's a bonus track at the end of the post which seemed fitting.

1. Harry Chapin - W.O.L.D.

2. Mark Germino & The Sluggers - Rex Bob Lowenstein

3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Last DJ

Dead Air

The printout from the weather centre comes through at 3.43am, and finally someone has given it a name. Cumulus Letalis. Jesse reads the report like he’s supposed to, like he has every night for twenty-eight years, then he taps the screen that fires off Celine Dion on the playout system and stares out at the stars. Celine Dion! Has it really come to this?

At least they weren’t responding like every other station in town. In fact, the WXYW reaction was as far from that as you could get. Station Manager Steve Carlton had made that quite clear at the Crisis Management Meeting yesterday afternoon.

“If these clouds really spread to Boston, like the weather centre predicts, you can guarantee our competitors will be in full-on panic mode. They’ll have reporters up on the rooftops, man-in-the-street vox-pops, eye-in-the-sky choppers tracking the evacuation effort, everybody from the feds to NASA throwing in their two cents worth… there won’t be a station in town sticking to playlist with a live presenter. There will of course be the ones who go to automation and get the hell out of Dodge…”

“Like we all should be doing,” said Gerry Gerrity, WX’s shit-hot breakfast jock (and A-1 pain in everybody’s ass). He still had his blue-tooth clipped to the side of his temple (he regularly took calls from his agent in the middle of station meetings, and never lowered his voice); Jesse thought he looked like a stapled schlong.

“Well, obviously I can’t force anybody to stay and work,” said Carlton, “but—“

“I’ll do it,” said Jesse. It was the first he’d spoken in a station meeting all year. Maybe that explained the looks he got from around the table. But he’d long since given up caring what any of them thought. You can’t expect to maintain any semblance of self-respect when you’re playing James Blunt for a living.

“If you hate the job so much,” Audrey used to say, “quit!”

“I don’t hate the job,” he told her. “I hate what they’ve turned the job into. A business – this was never supposed to be a business!”

“No? What’s it supposed to be then? A calling?”

Audrey never understood.

“What else am I going to do?” he’d ask her. “What else am I good for after all these years but playing records and talking?” They didn’t even call them records anymore. It was all “tracks” nowadays.

“Tracks is what train runs on,” Jesse used to tell them, but he stopped when they started looking at him like he was their grandpa. These kids they were getting in the station nowadays, they wouldn’t even know a record if they saw it.

At a little after 4.30, Jesse watches the clouds rolling in from the South. From the 57th floor of the WXYW Tower of Power, he can see the whole of the city and beyond. Across the bay as far as World’s End and Quincy. And while they still had clear skies overhead, he knew it’d only be a matter of time. From Florida to Virginia, past Delaware and Philly - up to New York and Jersey. Over the last few days, those lousy clouds had squirmed up the whole of the Eastern seaboard. And once they settled, that was it. Everything went dark. No communications, nobody in or out of any of the cities, no idea what was going on inside. They sent in the army, the Hazmat teams, FEMA… they lost contact with all of them within a few hours. The President declared a state of emergency, but it quickly became apparent the only solution was a complete evacuation, at least until they figured out exactly what they were dealing with. If they ever did. But even with warning, they couldn’t hope to get everybody out of Boston in time, and the highways had been jammed as far as Vermont for 72 hours now.

Of course, there were plenty of theories. Alien invasion. Terrorist attack. The wrath of God. (Though surely God would have taken the West Coast first?) But all the satellites showed was that strange, low-lying cloud. Cumulus Letalis. You didn’t have to be a classical scholar to decipher the Latin.

“At the end of the day, there are going to be thousands – if not tens of thousands - of listeners who either can’t get out of the city in time, or just plain don’t want to leave their homes,” Steve Carlton had told him, in private once the others had gone. “And while everybody else will be fighting it out to provide up-to-the-second disaster reportage… there will be a large proportion of the audience share who simply don’t want to know – who just want to bury their heads in the sand and hope that this all… blows over. Which, after all, it just might just do. That, Jesse, is where WXYW comes in – offering the perfect mix of adult contemporary classics to soothe the fearful spirit... and a steady, reassuring voice to becalm the troubled mind.”

Jesse wouldn’t miss Steve Carlton and all his inconceivable bullshit. His audience research that suggested listeners wanted a friendly, calm, natural, quietly humorous presentation style on the one hand, while the sponsors wanted an upbeat, non-ironic, in-your-face sales patter from their jock-read promo scripts on the other. His song sampling results that involved playing 30 second hooks down the phone to stay-at-home shut-ins, then building an entire playlist around their ability to Name That Tune in 29… rather than letting the experts – people like Jesse – put their heart and soul into selecting the kind of imaginative, entertaining and provocative music choices that had been delivering consistently strong ratings for a good ten, fifteen years before some idiot with a computer and an attitude decided they knew best. Some idiot who didn’t even know the difference between ELO and ELP. Didn’t even care. And people wondered why Jesse had volunteered to stay behind. There was nothing in this job for him anymore… but since Audrey moved out, the job was all he had.

At half past five, Jesse reads out the day’s Mad Mad Mondegreen email. Listener-suggested songs with amusingly misheard lyrics. “We’ve got to insult microwave ovens,” says Brody in Cambridge, from the song, ‘Money For Nothing’, by the immortal Dire Straits. As Jesse fires off the track, the first fingers of dawn unclench over Logan and Fort Dawes, and though the smother of cloud already hugs the streets beneath him, from atop the second tallest building in Boston, Jesse can still see the sunrise, and the stars winking out in the west. It occurs to him now that while below, the unknown is at last being discovered, as long as he remains up here in the studio… the lousy clouds might never even reach him.

He tries the switchboard for an outside line. He has some crazy idea about calling Audrey, doing his best to make some kind of peace. But the phones are down, and his cell has lost its signal. He eats a Twinkie from the vending machine and burns the roof of his mouth with vile black coffee.

At 6.13, the lights go out in the studio and the desk goes dead. A few seconds later, the emergency generator kicks in and Jesse makes a quick apology for the momentary loss of service, before restarting Dido. He turns his face into the sun that’s rising again - over the advancing cloud line this time - and closes his eyes ‘til the lids go transparent. He sneezes when he opens them again, and wipes snotty fingers on the side of his chair. What a pity Gerry Gerrity won’t be following him this morning.

By 7am, Cumulus Letalis has taken all the land Jesse could see, but still the Tower of Power remains above, so far unaffected. He wonders what would happen if he got in the elevator and punched ‘G’. He wonders how many people got out of the city in time, and how many remain below, down in the mystery. He wonders about Steve Carlton and Dana Oxbury, and that cross-eyed guy Mandy from Sponsorship & Promotions. He wonders about Audrey. He wonders about Audrey a lot more than he might have expected to. But as he watches a jet scar the immaculate blue above, he knows it’s far too late for regret. Particularly when the cloud is rising. He could open the studio window and step out across it now… though soon, those same studio windows will be sinking underneath, and only the transmitters will be visible from above.

“One final matter,” Steve Carlton had told him, suddenly unable to meet Jesse’s eyes, like even he knew the bullshit only went so far. “When… I mean, if something should happen, and you’re no longer able to keep broadcasting… I would of course expect you to switch to automation before… well, at the first sign of… aherm…”

But Jesse has his own plan for when that happens, and as the sunlight blinks through the advancing brume, he knows the time has come to put said plans into action.

“And now,” he says, killing David Gray mid-song and really smiling into that mic for the first time in years, “in a change to our regularly scheduled programming… here’s some tunes you won’t hear every day.” He switches off the playout computer and slips in a CD (if the studio still had turntables, he’d have brought vinyl), introducing a few records from his own… personal collection.

“This first one goes out to Audrey, wherever she might be – you always did love The Ramones, honey…”

4. The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll Radio


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Randy Tuesdays #2: Before The Gender Swap

2. Randy & The Rainbows - Denise

Dominick "Randy" Safuto and his gang had a one hit wonder with their doo wop classic 'Denise' in 1963. 15 years later the song would be re-recorded as 'Denis', the song that gave Blondie their first big international hit. This much I know for sure. There are, however, a number of things I don't know about this record...

  • Listen to the intro of Denise. Is that Peggy Sue or what? Maybe four years after Buddy Holly's death, they were safe to steal that so blatantly...
  • Despite only ever having one hit single, Randy and the Rainbows are still together today... In fact, there are TWO different bands currently doing the circuit with that name: one featuring Randy Safuto and his brother Frank, one featuring another original member, Mike Zero. What terrible event split them asunder? No one knows. And was their longevity aided at all by the success of the Blondie cover?
  • Why did Deborah Harry change Denise to Denis... and not Dennis? On the surface, the answer is blatantly obvious. Dennis isn't a very sexy name. But still... is Denis French? Is that why Debbie slips into cod-French halfway through the song? Why is Denis sexier than Dennis anyway? Are French men just sexier in general?
  • I wonder if the change from Denise to Denis was at all influential to David Lynch & Mark Frost when they created David Duchovny's cross-dressing DEA agent Denis/Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks...?

And finally...

  • Does anyone prefer the original to Blondie's recreation? Or is this one of those rare examples of a cover version that improves on the original?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

April #2: Jarvis Feels Chilly

2. Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Tearjerker / The Belleboy

Room 29, the new Jarvis Cocker album, is sure to confound and delight old Pulp fans in equal measure. Lyrically, it is classic Jarvis: a suite of songs set in sumptuous and seedy hotel rooms, full of the sly wit, outsider chic and unashamed sleaze that set Pulp apart from all other Britpop bands. Musically, it's a whole new kettle of fish. No guitars. No drums. No keyboards... except for Chilly Gonzales's grand piano. Occasionally they drag a string section in, but mostly this is smoky lounge bar stuff with occasional deviations into classical piano. It took me about one and a half listens to make up my mind.

I love it.

Closest comparison I can make is when Elvis Costello made The Juliet Letters with The Brodsky Quartet... although this is much, much better.

If Room 29 isn't in My Top Ten Albums of 2017, it will have been a blinding year for music.

Couldn't choose between these two tracks, so give them both a listen. I hope you love them like I do.
You are such a jerk
You are a tearjerker
You don't need a girlfriend
You need a social worker...

Life could be a bed of roses...
If it wasn't full of so many pricks...
Who want to take it out
On the Belle Boy


Saturday, 22 April 2017

April #3 - Annie Get Your Gone

3. Annie Keating - All Gone

The Swede begins his latest post thus: "How often, dear reader, have you opened a post of your own with the phrase 'I don't know very much about this lot, but....', or words to that effect?"

Well, quite.

I know nothing of Annie Keating, other than that I found her 2013 album For Keeps in a charity shop and took a flyer. Turns out that was an excellent move as this is right up my street: folky country rock... let's be frank, Americana... reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Kathleen Edwards, both of whom I love. Although Ms. Edwards appears to have put music-making on hold at the moment to open a coffee shop in her native Canada... yes, it seems she prefers Americanos to Americana.

Thank you. I'm here all week.

Anyway, in the meantime, Annie Keating makes a very welcome substitute...

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