Sunday, 20 August 2017

My Top 90 Mid-Life Crisis Songs #2: Mr. Tanner

Imagine you'd wanted to do something - to be something - since you were a small child. Imagine you'd devoted a large part of your adolescence to honing a particular skill, and a large part of your 20s trying to turn your passion into a career. Imagine everyone told you you were really good at it, that you kept getting close... positive rejections, promised offers that never became reality, encouragement from professionals in the same field.

When do you stop dreaming? When do you call it a day? Because, realistically, you have to at some point. You might be 30, you might be 40... you might be 90... but at some point, you have to accept the reality of the situation. It's not going to happen.

2. Harry Chapin - Mr. Tanner

Mr. Tanner is a dry-cleaner from a small mid-western town with an exceptional baritone voice. All his friends tell him he should try it professionally, so one day he does. He saves up the money and books a ticket to New York to perform for a concert agent.

Harry Chapin wrote this song after reading particular scathing newspaper reviews of a singer's debut performances in New York.
Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his
Town Hall debut last night. He came well prepared, but unfortunately
His presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
His voice lacks the range of tonal color necessary to make it
Consistently interesting.
Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.
Mr. Tanner goes back home to Ohio and never performs again...
Excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.
This blog is my shop, very late at night.

If you're reading this, I guess you must be the clothes... 
But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole.

Although Harry Chapin died in 1981, his 1974 lyrics to Mr. Tanner were recently turned into a children's book by the illustrator Bryan Langdo.

Friday, 18 August 2017

My Top Ten Bowling Songs

Fuck it, dude... let's go bowling.

(Special mention to Bowling For Soup, the only band to ever read one of my blog posts and tweet a reply about it. Pity they never wrote a bowling song.)

10. The Blue Nile - High

Bowling alleys as a metaphor for the modern malaise? Yes please, Paul.

In the bowling alleys
In the easy living
Something good got lost along the way

9. The White Stripes - Red Bowling Ball Ruth

What a racket. In a good way, of course.

8. Donald Fagen - Miss Marlene

Now we know where Donald Fagen spends his Saturday nights...

Whether straight or hammered
She was the best in town
When she released a red ball
All the pins fall down

Can't you hear the balls rumble?
Can't you hear the balls rumble?
Miss Marlene
Were still bowling
Every Saturday night
Saturday night

7. The Auteurs - Showgirl

Luke Haines knows how to show a girl a good time...

I took a show girl for my bride
Thought my life would be right
Took her bowling, got her high
Got myself a showgirl bride

6. The Handsome Family - Bowling Alley Bar

When Brett and Renee are on fire, they can't be beaten...

Dented cars make me think of you
Sitting on a red leather stool
Drinking with your sunglasses on
In the bowling alley bar

And the sound of crashing pins
Behind us when we kissed
The night I wrecked my father's car
Behind the bowling alley bar

5. John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John - Summer Nights

Can't listen to this without remembering that time Adam Buxton interviewed Paul Weller...

Took her bowling
In the arcade
We went strolling
Drank lemonade
Do you think
This rhymes with laid?

4. Camera Obscura - Let's Go Bowling

More Glaswegian heartbreak from Tracyanne and the gang...

Anyway, I got myself some bowling shoes
An' they are all that I can see
With all my might I scored a strike
My friend you wouldn't believe
My teenage years were wasted all on me

Yeah, I can relate to that last line.

3. Lambchop - Let's Go Bowling

Musically, this wouldn't be out of place on The Big Lebowski soundtrack.

Lyrically: it is devastating.

Put that camera away
Take no pictures of the ruins of our life
That died without a fight and oh
We're doing everything just right
Except for touching and for holding and consoling
Let's go bowling

2. Elvis Presley - Down In The Alley

Originally recorded by The Clovers in 1957, Elvis brought a desperate energy to it that lifts it above much of the soundtrack fodder he was recording at the time. I love the anoraky detail you can find on iffypedia about old Elvis songs: "Presley recorded it between 4 and 7 AM in the early morning of May 26, 1966 at the May 25—28 studio sessions for RCA at the RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee". Did this guy ever sleep?

Janie, Janie, Janie, Janie, Jane Jane
Down in the alley, just you and me
We're going bowlin' till half past three
Just rockin' and reelin', we'll get that feelin'
Down in the alley, oh baby gee

1. Camper Van Beethoven - Take The Skinheads Bowling

Of course, there could only be one Number One on this chart. The Manics do a pretty faithful cover too. From the album Telephone Free Landslide Victory. Mark E. Smith would be proud.

Maybe it's a metaphor for racism, maybe it's just nonsense. Either way, it scores 300.

Which one is right up your alley?

Thursday, 17 August 2017

My Top ∞ Radio Songs #15: The Saturday Boy

My first job then: answering the phones and making coffee on the Saturday morning show, 9 till 12.

A few things to say about that. First the phones. Nowadays, presenters can operate the switchboard from the same desk they drive the music and mics. Back then, the switchboard was in another room, grandly monickered MCR... no, not My Chemical Romance, but Master Control Room. Which makes it sound like something out of a Bond film... when actually, it was far more Thunderbirds.

I will talk about answering the phone in much more detail soon, since it became a big part of my job when I started working on the late night Phone-In show. I will also talk about MCR in much more detail, since I spent quite a bit of time in there over the years... just me and the ghost. (Oh yes, we will talk about the ghost.) I may even dig out some old photos from the attic to give you more of a flavour of the place. Orange hessian is all you're getting today.

That first switchboard didn't last long. I suspect by 1988, it'd served its time well. It may even have been in there since the station opened in '75. Big clunky buttons you had to force down with your thumb to put the caller on hold. Tiny red flashing LEDs. A phone with a long, long cord. Yes, kids, phones used to have cords. You don't know you're born. It was soon replaced by an ultra-modern white plastic one with both red AND green LEDs. The future truly arrived once I started working in radio.

And then the coffee. I'm not sure I'd ever made anyone coffee before I started working in radio. I'd certainly never drunk it. Although my dad, in later years, became quite the coffee aficionado, I don't remember him drinking when I was a kid, and my mum certainly didn't. We were a house of tea drinkers. How the hell was I supposed to make coffee? I remember the girl who I was replacing had to show me that. Boil the kettle. A spoonful of Nescafe. Powdered milk. Stir it or the bits won't dissolve. Eventually the station got a fridge and real milk. That made my job so much easier. And when the vending machine arrived... well, for a while I thought it was going to make me redundant. I had tremendous sympathy for the Luddites, smashing those looms. How we all marvelled at the vending machine. It even had a button for Beef Tea! 

(Don't. Just don't. Gravy: yes. Beef Tea: never. Bovril, this was not.)

I didn't drink coffee till I started working in radio. It was working nights that got me started. I didn't drink alcohol either. I know, pretty unusual for a 16 year old, even in 1988, but I was stubborn. If I saw all my mates running towards something, I ran the opposite way just to be contrary. Remember, I was the kid who steadfastly refused to get into The Smiths, just because my mate kept telling me I'd love them. 

The alcohol came later as well.

In 1988, I was in that weird hinterland between childhood and adulthood. (Of course, when I look at the average 16 year old now, I realise how far away adulthood really was. At 45... I'm still waiting.) Coffee, alcohol, scenes of a sexual nature... all these things lay ahead of me. And radio would give them all to me... and not, on the whole, for the best.

The clearest memory I have of this being a major crossroads in my life was the Saturday morning I had to go into work late because I had a piano exam. (The jock forgot I'd told him the week before I was going to be late, so the first half hour of his show was, "Where the hell is Rol?") It's weird though... In my memory, piano lessons were something I did as a kid. Radio was something I did as an adult. But there was a time when both existed simultaneously. Hard to comprehend now.

15. The Loose Salute - Turn Your Radio Up

It's also hard to comprehend Slowdive & Mojave 3 drummer Ian McCutcheon forming a band that sounds like The Loose Salute: jangly West Coast Americana and quite lovely too.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

My Top Ten Elvis Songs

One of my earliest memories is of my mum crying as she closed the living room door, leaving me in the kitchen wondering why. That was 40 years ago today. I was five years old and I'm not sure I knew who Elvis was, but it wasn't long before I found out.

This memory is significant to me for many reasons, but mainly because (as I've mentioned before) my parents come from the generation pre-rock 'n' roll. Born in the late 1920s, the music of their teens was Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. My mum would be 28 by the time Elvis had his first UK hit, and 28 was at least 38 back then. Rock 'n' roll didn't pass my parents by, they just never tried to catch it. Why would they? It was music aimed at teenagers, made by people a lot younger than them. But Elvis dying still made my mum cry, because he was bigger than any star we could imagine today. He was beyond a legend. And though there will no doubt be a lot written today about how he stole rock 'n' roll and turned it white, about how Colonel Tom stopped his reaching his true potential, about how he grew old and bloated and lonely and tragic... even though he was only 42 when he died... I prefer to remember the good, because it far outweighs the bad.

When I started raiding my sister's record collection, one of the albums I listened to a lot was this...

When I started buying albums myself, it didn't take me long to pick up this...

A few years later, I splashed out on these three box sets...

...and each time, I played them to death. Far more than I'd listen to any new purchase these days.

All that said, the idea of picking only ten Elvis songs seems beyond daunting. Let's give it ago anyway...

10. Party

The only Elvis song I've ever performed in public.

Back in high school, I liked to tread the boards a little. Our most memorable production was a comedy pantomime of Robin Hood. Of course, I wanted to play Robin... but I ended up as Little John. I was never fated to be a dashing, romantic lead. My mate Simon got Robin, some 8 years after he beat me to the title role in our junior school production of Tom Sawyer (I played Huckleberry Finn: arguably the better role, but not the one with his name on the programme).

Anyway, the best bit about getting to play Little John was that I got to close the first act with a musical number, singing Party by Elvis. (I know: why wasn't this on the soundtrack of the Kevin Costner film? So much better than Bryan Adams.) It wasn't an Elvis number I knew at the time, and it's from his least-celebrated phase - those duff movies Colonel Tom kept getting him to make in the 60s - but it always brings back happy memories. I didn't actually sing it live - our teacher / director just played the song out over the speakers and I did my best Top of the Pops-style mime over the top. I did sing... you just couldn't hear me over Elvis. Which was probably for the best. Particularly as this was pre-internet and lyrics sheets were hard to come by on Elvis albums. But when I wasn't sure of the words, I just lapsed into my well-honed Elvis mumble. Actually, having checked out the original Wanda Jackson lyrics online, I'm not sure Elvis knew them that well either. He still made them work.

Of course, none of this made up for missing out on the chance to snog Maid Marian... or go out with her, after the show was done, for the next 6 months, as Simon did.  But... at least I had Elvis.

9. An American Trilogy

The Vegas years are much-mocked.

Because people are idiots.

Elvis sweat bullets and blood up on that stage, and turned these old Civil War tunes into operas.

8. Always On My Mind

Yeah, the Pet Shop Boys cover is pretty amazing. But just listen to this again. I mean, really listen to it. My god, it's perfect.

7. Jailhouse Rock

 Look in the dictionary under rock 'n' roll: there should be a link to this song.

6. Suspicious Minds

Following his career-saving '68 Comeback TV special, Elvis returned to the studio to record some of his most affecting songs. Three of the songs on this list were recorded in that session, another (Don't Cry, Daddy) narrowly missed out. There was magic in Memphis that day.

5. In The Ghetto

Of course, there's an irony about one of the richest and most successful men in the world recording a song about ghetto poverty... but this is hardly Another Day In Paradise. It's all down to the performance. To sing a song like this, you need sincerity. Elvis had sincerity by the bucketload and it wasn't an act.

4. Heartbreak Hotel

One of the first Elvis songs I loved, from his earliest days in the studio. We all like to think of rock 'n' roll as being about cadillacs and bobby socks, milkshakes, bubble gum and jukeboxes. Here's one about depression and suicide, and a rock song where the primary instrument is not the guitar, but Elvis's voice. Sends shivers down my spine, every time I hear it.

3. Kentucky Rain

Written and originally recorded by 70s country star Eddie Rabbit, this one just breaks me up every time I hear it. Elvis at his most devastating.

2. Guitar Man

I probably came to this via the Jesus & Mary Chain version. Which is truly excellent... but can't quite match the original.

The alternative take above (which was on the 60s box set) which switches into the song What'd I Say at the end, was apparently Elvis's preferred version as he was never happy with the single as released.

1. (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame

Why this one song, above all others? Primarily, it's the sound. An upbeat (Bo Diddley-inspired) backing track and intense vocals, masking a tale of heartbreak... much as the hero of the song hides his own feelings from the friend who's unknowingly copped off his with ex. A classic Doc Pomus lyrical conceit. (I have Ben Folds & Nick Hornby to thank for my mild Doc Pomus obsession: he led a sad, if interesting life.)

And then came Johnny Marr and Morrissey, making this song even more essential...

Elvis Aaron Presley. 40 years gone: never forgotten
Which is your crowning moment from The King?

Oh, and I just remembered this... My Top Ten Songs About Elvis. Worth another plug.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

New Entry: Tense, Nervous Jason?

You'd be forgiven for thinking that the new Jason Isbell album continues down the same alt-country path as his previous record (one of the best albums of 2015), Something More Than Free. He has, after all, called the new one The Nashville Sound... I mean, you don't get more country than that, right?

Imagine your surprise then, when you discover that Isbell has chosen instead to craft a flawless ROCK album, still country flavoure, but with a heart of SOLID ROCK. And that heart is Anxiety, the 7 minute lynchpin that holds the whole record together. Make no mistake, this song is a BEAST. It is ROCK that DEMANDS CAPITAL LETTERS. Even though the majority of it is a mid-tempo country song, it's bookended by power chords that will rattle your speakers and make your heart jump out of your chest. Nobody's done something so interesting - and apt - with the whole loud-quiet-loud mix since Kurt Cobain compared his libido to a mosquito. Very appropriate for a song on this particular subject...
Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
Even with my lover sleeping close to me
I'm wide awake and I'm in pain
Anxiety is a weird thing. I can stand up in front of a class of 30 strangers and feel supremely at ease. Other situations though, much smaller things, can make me feel panicky and desperate. And as most of us know, there's nothing worse than the anxiety that hits you in the middle of the night. I've talked about that before. Time to seek out The Peace Of Wild Things... 


Sunday, 13 August 2017

My Top 90 Midlife Crisis Songs #1: Forever Young

Here comes another new feature (this was "How I Spent My Summer Vacation")...

Having turned 45 earlier this year, I straight away went out and bought myself a Lamborghini, chatted up the 18 year old on the Tesco checkout, and started using Just For Men on my sideburns. OK, I didn't do any of those things: but I did stare down the ever-darkening tunnel of my own mortality and wonder if I could hear any songs there. (Actually, something I did do was book myself in at the Ear, Nose & Throat clinic to finally get myself checked for a hearing aid. The songs do keep getting quieter.)

Anyway, I decided to start featuring some of my favourite songs about getting older. Will I get to 90? Well, that's the question every 45 year old must ponder...

For those of you who think I'm still a whippersnapper at 45, I'm starting with Neil Young. Recorded in 1972 when I was just getting born and Neil was 27 (despite pretending that he's still 24 in the lyrics: he was lying about his age even before he hit 30!). Having just spent his riches on a huge ranch in the country, he wrote this song for the old caretaker who asked him how such a young fellow could afford such a place. "Just lucky, I guess," was Neil's response...
Old man take a look at my life
I'm a lot like you
I need someone to love me
The whole day through
Ah, one look in my eyes
And you can tell that's true.
James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt are kicking around in the background of this song, but those two pretty much lived in the recording studio in the early 70s.

This series will get more personal as it goes along. You may want to look away now.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

The Glorious 10th


This is my new monthly feature, stolen  from the guys at WYCRA who aren't using it anymore (with respect and the encouragement of a number of former WYCRA readers).

Following on from my WYCRA tribute Top Ten Goodbye Songs, the most obvious place to start was with My Top Ten Hello Songs.

I decided to do this once a month, and it made sense to do it on the 10th day of every month, hence 'The Glorious 10th'. So you have up till the 10th of September (or just before) to leave your suggestions.

Here are the rules...

1. You can suggest as many songs as you like that are called Hello, but they have to be called JUST Hello and nothing else... so you can't have Hello Goodbye or Hello, I Love You, and you can't have songs that feature Hello prominently in the lyrics, such as Pop Song '89 by REM. Sorry.

2. There are a few exceptions to Rule 1. You are allowed a repetition of the title word: so if you know any songs called Hello Hello or Hello Hello Hello, you can suggest them. You are also allowed songs which included parentheses: so if you know a song called Hello (I Hate You) or (I Just Called To Say) Hello, they would be allowed too... as long as every other word in the title is inside the brackets. I will also allow plurals: Hellos; and punctuation: Hello!? Chances are none of these rules will help you this time, but they may in future. Mis-spellings probably won't be allowed unless I really, really like the song. Sorry, Noddy.

3. If there are a number of versions of the same song, I may not pick the original. If you guess the right song but not the right artist, you'll get half marks (1 for first to guess, half for everyone else).

4. You will be allowed a maximum of 10 guesses, since I only have ten songs. I'll count your first 10, after that no points will be awarded.

5. Points will be awarded thus:
  • 1 point for every song in my Top Ten you correctly guess.
  • 2 points for being the first person to guess that song.
  • 3 points for guessing the song's position in my Top Ten.
  • 5 points for guessing my Number One song and correctly identifying it as such.
  • 1 bonus point for any song I have in my collection which I couldn't squeeze into the Top Ten.
  • 1 bonus point for any new songs you suggest which I like.
  • Points will be deducted for really bad suggestions (i.e. U2).

Over to you...







4. If anybody gets Number 4, I'll give you 10 points.




Good luck.

Here's the best song that wasn't allowed...

And finally, just in case there was any doubt about it: yes, I will go there.

Hello, I must be going...

P.S. I just noticed that Jez finally brought The Chain late last night. Must be something in the air.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...