Monday, 26 September 2016

September #2: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jesus Alone

On first hearing the opening track to Nick Cave's new album, I knew two things:

1) It was one of the best songs I'd heard all year.

2) It was almost certainly Nick Cave's most powerful recording.

The one thing I didn't know was whether I could listen to it again. In fact, I almost stopped within the first 60 seconds. When I heard that first verse... I honestly didn't know if I could go on.
You fell from the sky
Crash landed in a field
Near the river Adur
Flowers spring from the ground
Lambs burst from the wombs of their mothers
In a hole beneath the bridge
She convalesce, she fashioned masks of clay and twigs
You cried beneath the dripping trees
Ghost song lodged in the throat of a mermaid
You know the story. You know happened to Nick Cave last year. And if you know Nick Cave at all, you'll have known he'd have to confront that tragedy in his music. Head on. But could I? There was a time when I could have listened to this record objectively, but I'm a father now and the idea of losing a child means more than it ever did. (My nephew died 15 years ago. I saw what that did to my brother, and to my whole family.)

I've listened to Skeleton Tree a few more times since then, and I can see that it's a potent, compelling and cathartic piece of art. But I still wish I'd never had to hear it, and that Nick Cave had never been forced to record it. Some things are more important than art. Will I keep listening to it? Yes. Because it deserves to be heard and confronted... head on.
With my voice, I am calling you...

Friday, 23 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 4: Multiplication)

Almost finished our Maths lessons now... how well do you know your times tables?

10. Bobby Darin - Multiplication

Always start with the obvious one. Bobby Darin is seen as the safe side of rock 'n' roll, and most of his tracks do have all the rough edges filed off. But if you're a fan of the era (as I am), it's still fun to give songs like this a spin every now and then.

9. Doc & Merle Watson - Three Times Seven

Ah, the arrogance of youth, perfectly expressed by Doc Watson, covering an old Merle Travis song from the 40s with his son, also called Merle.
I'm three times seven and I do as I doggone pleaseThere ain't no woman this side of heaven gonna get me on my kneesI'm three times seven, gals, and that makes twenty oneLord, I just won't tame, I'm gonna be the same 'till I'm three times twenty one
8. Mr. Hudson & The Library - 2 x 2

Mr. Hudson & The Library were guilty of that aggravating mix of beats and guitars I tired of very soon in the decade they will forever refer to as The Noughties (even though there was very little naughtiness involved). They redeemed themselves through evocative lyrics: 2x2 is a fine example of this. I understand Mr. Hudson himself is still in the go, but sadly the Library closed down. Sign of the times...

7. Ride - 0 x 4

Where shoe-gazing meets power-pop. Ride split in the late 90s but reformed recently to ride (punintended) the seemingly bottomless wave of nostalgia tours catering to middle-aged men desperate to recapture their misspent youth for at least one night a week... of which I would surely be a part if I had the time or the money.

6. Cake - Multiply The Heartaches

Cake's cover of the George Jones / Melba Montgomery country song was renamed to include 'Subtract One Love' in the title, so feasibly I could have included it in last week's chart. I stuck with the original name so we don't confuse our budding musical mathematicians.

Hard to believe Cake have been baking up tracks like this for over 20 years now, and they're still going... though there hasn't been a new album since 2011.

5. Commodores - Three Times A Lady

Definitely one to irk the musos due to its sheer ubiquity. I don't listen to Steve Wright's Sunday Love Songs, but I'd be disappointed if I turned him on and he wasn't playing this. However, as monumental über-ballads go, this one is in a class of its own and Lionel Ritchie is a legend.

If it's still too soppy for you, you might try the Cobra Starship version... but that only really works if you appreciate the original.

4. Silver Sun - 17 Times

James Broad's Silver Sun were one of my favourite bands of the Britpop era - although they weren't Britpop at all. Pure power-pop mixed with Beach Boys harmonies and James's angelic lead vocals; guitars so chunky they give Yorkies a run for their money. 17 Times is a b-side but it doesn't deviate from the template one jot. Like the Ramones, most Silver Sun songs sound exactly the same... but it's such a great song, who cares?

3. Cinerama - 7x

The 7x ingredients for Coca-Cola were a closely guarded secret, although the formula was allegedly revealed a few years ago.

Only David Gedge could use the Coca-Cola formula as a metaphor for a mysterious lady who won't talk to him anymore...
"It's 7X," and that's all that they'll say about Coke And you're just as circumspect and I didn't mean that as a joke
Because I know everybody's got a secret deep inside But you, oh you must be quite unique, the things you hide
2. The Doors - Love Me Two Times

We need more harpsichords in rock songs.

1. De La Soul - The Magic Number

Schoolhouse Rock was a series of educational songs that ran in and amongst Saturday morning kids shows on American TV in the 70s. These included a song for each of the times tables up to 12, the most famous of which was Bob Dorough's Three Is A Magic Number. This has been covered by a variety of pop and rock acts over the years, most notably Blind Melon, Jeff Buckley and Embrace. They're all fine versions (I'm particularly fond of the Embrace one), but they all stick very closely to Dorough's original. De La Soul, on the other hand, took the basic track and made it their own.
Shake, rattle and roll to my magic number...

Which is your multiplication fixation?

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

September #3: The Drifters

3. The Drifters - Hello Happiness

The story behind this one is simple. I've had a Drifters Best Of CD for a number of years now but never really given it much attention. The other day, I had a hankering to hear Under The Boardwalk again (a song with which I share a complicated history, but you're not ready for that yet). Imagine my horror when it turned out that my Best Of didn't contain (arguably) their biggest hit.

So I bought a proper Drifters compilation and gave it my ears. And though I loved all the great old tunes I recognised, there was one I didn't remember... which floored me. It's a wonderful, summery 70s pop soul nugget led by Johnny Moore (who, it turns out, sang lead on far more Drifters hits than the relatively short-term Ben E. King), but it's the guitar that gets my heart beating faster: just extraordinary.

Monday, 19 September 2016

September #4: Mark Kozelek & Mike Patton

4. Mark Kozelek & Mike Patton - Win

Covering Bowie is a dangerous game this year: everyone's at it, but you're likely to be eviscerated by the hardcore mourners if you put a foot wrong. Not that such things will worry Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek and Faith No More's Mike Patton who relish upsetting the applecart any chance they get.

Which is what makes their touching, piano & vocals cover of Win such a delight. It helps that the track is from Young Americans, probably my favourite Bowie record, but Kozelek's voice is also well-suited to covering the Thin White Duke. And for such a cantankerous old git, he brings a real vulnerability to this version, ably abetted by Patton's understated backing vocals.

The track comes from Kozelek's excellent album 'Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites', a welcome change of pace from the (often hilarious) stream-of-consciousness rambles that have characterised the last few Sun Kil Moon records. The album features an eclectic mix of covers recorded in a similarly sparse, emotive style, including Send In The Clowns, I'm Not In Love and Modest Mouse's Float On.

Friday, 16 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 3: Subtraction)

Maths lessons continue. This week: subtraction. Take it away...

10. Pavement - 5-4 = Unity

Malkmus goes jazz. It makes sense on the album, and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is arguably the very best Pavement album. There is a rare version with vocals, but I think I prefer the instrumental... and you won't hear me say that very often. Yeah, I know the 5-4 is a time signature, not a subtraction... but it looks enough like a sum to make the grade.

Of course, this track owes a huge debt to my Number #2 this week... but we'll get to that soon enough.

9. Charlie Louvin - Two Minus One

Here's country pioneers The Louvin Brothers minus one (Charlie's brother Ira). No wonder he's lonesome.

8. Marion - Minus You

Britpop casualties, though this out-take from their second album (released only on the Japanese version) stands up strong, if you like that Suede-y sound. Marion are touring the 20th anniversary of their debut record this month. It's good to see there's life in the old dogs yet.

7. Tavares - Don't Take Away The Music

Ralph, Pooch, Tubby, Butch and Tiny give it their all in this triumphant disco anthem. Not as good as Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel or Whodunit, but few things are.

6.  Dr. John - Me Minus You Equals Loneliness

Voodoo blues direct from New Orleans. Perfect for a warm summer evening... sorry, Ihave a feeling we saw the last of those for a while this week...

5. Paul McCartney - Take It Away

80s cod-reggae McCartney: do I apologise now or later? Look, it's got George Martin on keyboards! Look, it's got Ringo on drums! Look, it's got John Hurt in the video! Look it's got...

How is it possible to be so annoyed by one smugly-slappable star yet find so many of his songs addictive? I wish I understood pop music.

4. Beck - Minus

Remember when Beck sounded mad and scary like this? It seems so long ago...
It's a sensation
A bankrupt corpse
In the garbage classes
With the crutches of frogs
Frogs! Frogs! Frogs!
Yeah, thanks, Beck. Nice Beck. Don't hurt me, Beck.

3. ABC - All Of My Heart
Add and subtract
But as a matter of fact
Now that you're gone

I still want you back.
See, I could have featured this last week, but it strikes me that this is a song of loss, so the subtraction has already won out over the addition.

Epic. Majestic. Heartbreaking.

Don't let anyone tell you the 80s were rubbish...

2. Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five

I'm not the world's biggest jazz fan, and certainly no expert, but I won't turn away any genre in my search for a good tune. And Take Five is more than a good tune. It's a masterpiece.

Plus, the composer, Paul Desmond, left the royalties to charity on his death. The American Red Cross make around a hundred grand a year off this song (and other, less famous compositions Desmond bequeathed them).

1. Frank Sinatra - They Can't Take That Away From Me

George & Ira Gershwin. Frank Sinatra at his peak. It doesn't much get better than this.

Of course, there are many other fine versions, by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Robbie Willia--

See you next week.

Which one takes you away?

Thursday, 15 September 2016

September #5: The Bee Gees

5. The Bee Gees - Marley Purt Drive

This'll separate the musos from the shameless...

I owe this one to the King of Music Bloggers, Any Major Dude, who included it on one of his mixes some time ago. From 1969, this is not your typical Bee Gees record. In fact, it owes quite a debt to The Weight by The Band, although the story it tells is entirely different. Apparently, Barry, Maurice and Robin were listened to a lot of country music at the time so they enlisted bluegrass banjo player Bill Keith for Odessa, the album this came from.

It's the lyrics that get me though (as is so often the case), the story of a guy with "fifteen kids and a family on the skids" who has to (quite understandably) "go for a Sunday drive". What he finds waiting on his doorstep when he gets home is another story entirely...

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

September #6: Bobbie Gentry

6. Bobbie Gentry - The Girl From Cincinnati

I was reading Huey Morgan's excellent music book Rebel Heroes: The Renegades of Music & Why We Still Need Them and was impressed by the respect he gave Bobbie Gentry for being one of the first ladies of country music to take serious control of her own career, writing and producing a lot of her own work. I wasn't familiar with much of her work, beyond the big hits (Ode To Billie Joe, her Number One cover of Bacharach & David's I'll Never Fall In Love), so I picked up a CD that combined two of her most successful albums, Ode To Billie Joe and Touch 'em With Love.

There is lots to love on that record, but The Girl From Cincinnati is definitely a favourite at the moment. A bonus track, not on either of the albums, but released as a single in 1972, though it never charted. It's the classic story of a small-time girl lured to LA with big promises only to find it a real struggle to survive. One thing's for certain: she ain't going back to Cincinnati...

I was friendly with producers
And was heading out with the stars
I played the backseat heroine
In a thousand different cars

From Cavalier to Playboy
To the Johnny Carson show
To holding up some dogfood
For a firm in Idaho

I've a screen-test every weekend
And I'm constantly on call
I'll be twenty-five next summer
And thirty-five next fall