Monday, 14 September 2015

My Top Ten Jean Songs




Ten songs about ladies called Jean... you may be surprised how many of them you know.

Special mentions to Jean-Jacques Burnel, Jean Knight, Wyclef Jean, Jean-Luc Ponty and Jean Michel Jarre (most of whom aren't ladies, but I didn't want them to feel left out).



10. The Pogues - Five Green Queens And Jean

According to the Pogues.com forum, Five Green Queens was a card game Shane used to play in his London flat... and Jean was his landlady. In case you were wondering.

9. Camera Obscura - I Love My Jean

Camera Obscura's take on an old Robert Burns poem - an idea suggested to them by the late, great John Peel. 

8. Warren Zevon - Jeannie Needs A Shooter

From the sublimely titled album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, this cool Zevon classic was co-written by Bruce Springsteen. Of whom, more later...

7. Belle & Sebastian - String Bean Jean
The girls have got a house that’s like a caravan
And it’s like your holidays whenever you go round
And we always have a laugh and then we all get in the bath
To save on the leccy bill
Me & Jo & Phil’
When he's cooking with gas, no one can write a lyric quite like Stuart Murdoch...
She asked me “Do I need to lose a bit of weight?”
And I told her “Don’t be stupid ’cause you’re looking great”
And I call her String Bean Jean because the label on her jeans says
Seven to eight years old – well that’s pretty small
6. Julian Cope - Jellypop Perky Jean

At his best, Julian Cope was an 80s alternative Elvis. I like to think that if the King had lived beyond '77, he might have recorded this with Rick Rubin as part of his career renaissance.

5. Eels - Jeannie's Diary

Top unrequited love song from the amazing Mark Oliver Everett - E to his mates.
She could have anything she wants
So why not me?
She could have anything she dreams
Oh, to be one single page
One single page
In Jeannie's diary
 4. David Bowie - Blue Jean

A slab of "sexist rock 'n' roll" according to Bowie, "a song about picking up birds". From the height of his 80s success, this was the first single released after his hugely popular Let's Dance album. (The Musos, of course, claim it's when he sold out.) Although Blue Jean was a big hit too, the rest of the subsequent album (Tonight) was below par for the Dame. 

See also The Jean Genie, arguably a much better song... but it's not about a girl called Jean. It's about Iggy Pop instead.

3. Michael Jackson  - Billie Jean

A song so famous, so spectacular, so era-defining and legendary... it deserves a Top Ten all of its own. Here are 10 amazing facts I found on t'internet (with a couple I knew already - like the Eddie Argos one) about Billie Jean. I don't know if these are all true... but what does truth matter in the iffypedia age?
10. They mixed the song 91 times before they got a version they were happy with.

9. The video was the first by a black artist to receive heavy airplay on MTV... but only after the head of CBS threatened to expose the channel's "racist" playlist policy.

8. Lydia Murdock recorded an answer song called Superstar from the perspective of the Billie Jean character. Like a lot of answer records... it's bloody awful.

7. Much better is Eddie Argos's answer song, Billie's Jeans, recorded by Art Brut side project Everybody Was In the French Resistance...Now! It's told from the perspective of Billie and Michael's grown-up lovechild.
My mother always told me
You, not me, were the mistake
She never regretted the chance she had to take
My mother always told me
Everything you put her through
I told her we're better off without you

She can't have been the only girl
Illegitimate children all over the world
One day you're gonna get caught
And that's an awful lot of child support
6. Kanye West remixed the track for Thriller's 25th anniversary. His version was... bloody awful. Unsurprisingly.

5. Jacko re-recorded the song with new lyrics as part of the Pepsi Generation ad campaign. That was bloody awful too. 

4. Producer Quincy Jones tried to get Jacko to change the song's title to Not My Lover in case anyone thought it was about tennis player Billie Jean King. Jones also got Jacko to overdub some of the vocals while singing through a 6 foot long cardboard tube. Apparently.

3. The song has been covered by everybody from Ian Brown to Chris Cornell to Neil Finn to German punk band The Bates (who turned it into a tribute to Hitchcock's Psycho). The best alternative version must surely come from the much-missed Civil Wars. Gorgeous stuff.

2. Daryl Hall claims Jacko confessed to copying BJ's famous bassline from the Hall & Oates song I Can't Go for That (No Can Do). Hall didn't sue because he'd nicked the bassline himself from somewhere else.

1. Although Jackson claimed the song was written about generic experiences he and his brothers had with groupies, his biographer tells a far more detailed story about a psychotic fan who claimed Jackson was the father of one of her twins (yeah, I had to check that was medically possible). The fan became so obsessed with Jacko she even sent him a gun and asked him to participate in a suicide pact which would allow them to be together in the next life. Jacko framed her photo and hung it above his dining table. Allegedly.

And despite all that, it's still only my third favourite Jean song. But as you've seen, the competition was pretty fierce this week.

2. The Smiths - Jeane

For many years, Jeane was the great lost Smiths song. Available only as a b-side to the original vinyl release of This Charming Man, it took me ages to locate a scratchy second hand copy which I dubbed onto CD-R and eventually ripped to my computer. (I know, vinyl fans, you're shuddering as you read that, aren't you?) It wasn't released on CD until 2008 as part of yet another Best Of compilation, but it was the main reason I bought that disc - I already owned most of the other tracks. (Which proves home taping doesn't stop true fans buying record also.)

Jeane should have been a much bigger song - but with typical Morrissey / Marr perversity, they virtually threw it away. (Let's not forget, this is the band that originally put How Soon Is Now? out as a 12-inch b-side.) It's classic kitchen sink Shelagh Delaney-esque miserablism from Moz with another speeded up rock 'n' roll riff from Johnny. Billy Bragg does a great version too.  

And yes, in most other Top Tens, it would have been Number One.

1. Bruce Springsteen - Bobby Jean

There's some debate in my head about whether Born In The USA deserves a place in my favourite Bruce albums DESPITE the fact it was his bestselling pop global megastar moment. The muso-snob in me will always prefer the album which preceded it (the ultra lo-fi Nebraska, recorded on a tape recorder in his back bedroom) or the one which followed it (the gloomy comedown divorce record, Tunnel Of Love). But if I was going to see Bruce play live again (and I sincerely hope I get another opportunity to do so before he calls it a day for the sake of his knees), I'd rather hear him play Glory Days or Bobby Jean than any of the songs on those other two discs. I'd even settle for Cover Me, and that was rubbish. ('Rubbish' being a relative term where Bruce is concerned.)

On the surface, Bobby Jean is a love song to an old high school girlfriend who may or may not have met a tragic end. Legend has it, however, that the song was written about E Streeter 'Little' Stevie Van Zandt (of the Sopranos and Lilyhammer fame) after he quit the band prior to the release of Born. It's still a love song - but one about missing your old pal after he's gone. Since Little Stevie rejoined the E Street Band, he often takes centre stage with Bruce when this song is performed live.





Next week, the essential sequel: My Top Ten Jeans Songs.

Meanwhile, which Jean is your Harlow... and which is your Hilda Ogden?

6 comments:

  1. Good list. I'd have switched your 1 and 2.

    I know it's not cool to champion Travis but I'll throw Selfish Jean into the mix, just because I'm not cool either.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. a) I'm sure you're not the only one.

      b) It was in contention.

      Delete
  2. Martin beat me to it, 'Selfish Jean' is a late period corker from Travis. An honourable mention should surely also go to 'Daydream Believer' by The Monkees - Cheer up sleepy Jean!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I'd thought of that... and allowed it... it would have been Top 3.

      Delete
  3. Oh Jean! The Proclaimers from Sunshine on Leith- you let me get lucky with you!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was also in consideration...

      Delete

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