Monday, 27 March 2017

March #2: How To Ruin Your Life In 3 Minutes






2. The Magnetic Fields - Rock 'n' Roll Will Ruin Your Life

If the question is ever asked, "What's The Greatest Triple Album of All Time?" there really can only be once answer... since by their very nature, triple albums are mostly over-stuffed turkeys in need of gutting and trimming into a healthy one disc, low fat bird.

The exception, of course, is The Magnetic Fields' 1999 masterpiece, 69 Love Songs. If you're familiar with that, you'll knows its many Merritts... notably lead singer and songwriter Stephin Merritt, a man in a (Magnetic) Field all his own.

Well, many years later, with a few slightly less spectacular records under his belt, Mr. S(&)M has done it again.

Possibly.

I received his autobiographical 50 Song Memoir for my birthday. It's certainly an impressive package, and early signs show there's much here to love. Whether it'll reach the everlasting heights of 69 Love Songs, I'll have to get back to you on. If it does... well, this could be the greatest quintuple album in history. (Yes, 69 Love Songs crammed that many tracks onto 3 discs, but 50 Song Memoir chooses instead to devote a disc to each decade of Merritt's life thus far, one song per year. It's a pricey proposition at thirty quid, but if you've got a birthday coming up...)

Here's my favourite track thus far...

Rock'n'roll will ruin your life
Like your old no-goodnik dad
Kill your soul and kill your wife
Rock'n'roll will ruin your life
And make you sad
And I mean sad

Sunday, 26 March 2017

March #3: When Things Get Too Bad... Shoot Me With A Silver Bullet



The other night I had a panic attack.

This is not a gag. Nor is it one of those posts where the blogger bares his soul and throws himself on the pity of his readership. It's just a post about music. Sometimes though, to talk about what music really means, what it really does, you have to give a little bit of yourself.

I've not had a lot of panic attacks in my life. I could count them on my fingers and still have enough left to flick you the Vs. And I seriously doubt whether by many people's standards - people with far bigger anxiety problems than I have - what I class as a panic attack would really pass muster. I wasn't blowing into any brown paper bags.

Neither does it matter why I had it. Sometimes the pressures of life, work, being a parent, feeling alone... sometimes such things, and other things, get on top of a person. And when that happens, you might need a little something to get you through the night. For many, that might be a snifter or two of their chosen poison, but since I quit poison getting on for 17 years ago (a story for another time perhaps, it's not as dramatic as you might imagine), all I can rely on is some really good music.

Anyway, I was laying there in bed and I knew I wasn't going to get to sleep feeling like I did. And I also knew that music was the best / only option to soothe what ailed me. Luckily, in the era of the cloud, I didn't even have to get up to scour the CD shelves. I just had to type a name into the tablet and my panacea awaited. Long term readers might make an educated guess as to which name I chose...

They would be wrong.

3. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - Night Moves

Maybe some other time I'll explain to you why I chose Bob Seger. It's not tied to any particular story or moment in my life. It's a feeling, a sensation, a quality which is hard to explain... and I'm sure you won't get. It doesn't really matter. Bob Seger was exactly what I needed. Thank you, Bob.




Friday, 24 March 2017

My Top Ten Songs About Chuck Berry



After Tuesday's Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs, The Swede asked if there was any danger of a Volume 2. I'm sure this isn't quite what he meant, but hopefully it'll do...

It was inevitable Chuck would find his way into the lyrics of some of the musicians he influenced. Here are ten of the best Chuck references I could find...



10. Mott The Hoople - Honaloochie Boogie

Ian Hunter gets converted to rock 'n' roll...
Now my hair gets longer as the beat gets stronger
Wanna tell Chuck Berry my news
I get my kicks outta guitar licks
And I've sold my steel-toed shoes
9. Garland Jeffreys - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll

Jeffreys had been making music for over 20 years when a racist insult led him to record this track asking for a little acceptance, reminding the bigots that the black fathers of rock 'n' roll such as Chuck, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino paved the way for Elvis, Gene, Buddy and Jerry...

8. The Rainmakers - Downstream

Hey - remember the Rainmakers? Let My People Go-Go? Those guys. They didn't just have one record, you know.
Well, we're rounding St. Louis and heading for the coast
When we pick up Chuck Berry in a little rowboat
With one oar in the water and one in the air
A lightning rod for a white guitar
And lightning struck once, and lightning struck twice
And I said "If there's a God, He sure ain't nice"
And Chuck said "God is an Indian giver
I don't trust nothing but the Mississippi River"
7. Dar Williams - I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono

Obviously more a song about John Lennon than Chuck Berry ("I could sell your songs to Nike"), but Chuck does play a very important part...
When John called the wind an opera
Making love with every chakra
When he said her voice would carry
And when he whispered old Chuck Berry
Only then would Yoko set him free 
6. Tom Petty - My Life / Your World

Another top guitarist name-drops a tribute...
They came this mornin' with a dog on a chain
They came and took my little brother away
His generation never even got a name
My momma was a rocker way back in ´53
Buys them old records that they sell on T.V.
I know Chuck Berry wasn't singin' that to me
See also Christmas All Over Again, in which little Tom sends Santa his list...
Now let's see
I want a new Rickenbacker guitar
Two Fender Bassmans
A Chuck Berry song book
Xylophone
5. The Beach Boys - Do You Remember?

Brian Wilson remembers "the guys that gave us rock 'n' roll"... just a handful of years after it happened!
Chuck Berry's gotta be the greatest thing that's come along
He made the guitar beats and wrote the all-time greatest song...
I wonder which one he meant?

4. Amy Rigby - Don't Ever Change

Dar Williams and Amy Rigby in the same post... that's the power of Chuck Berry. Wreckless Eric fans, you'll find Mr. Rigby accompanying here too.
I saw my baby sitting there at the breakfast table
His hair a mess and he forgot to shave
And I wished that he would get up, make it all better
Stop drinking so much, learn how to behave
Then the radio was playing a Chuck Berry song
And he was looking at me asking what was wrong
I made a list of the things I could say
But he gave me a wink and it all went away, I told him
Hey I love you, you're perfect, don't ever change
Don't ever change
 First person to point out that Don't Ever Change was a Crickets song loses a point.

3. Richard Thompson - Guitar Heroes

The greatest guitarist I've ever seen play live is Richard Thompson. It was a solo show, but I swear it sounded like there were three of him. I've seen some amazing guitar players before and after, but nothing that quite matched RT.

Here he is showing his chops, playing tribute to some of his own guitar heroes... including Les Paul, Django Reinhardt, The Shadows and Chuck Berry. 

2. Jim Steinman - Love & Death & An American Guitar / Wasted Youth

Jim Steinman is, officially, as mad as ten lorries, so when I say to you that this spoken word story, first featured on his ill-fated solo album and then rechristened and reused many years later on Bat Out Of Hell II... when I say to you that this is Jim's greatest moment of pure insanity... that's saying something. Obviously inspired, in part, by Jim Morrison's lyrics to The End, this features Young Jim S. bashing the shit out of his guitar till it bleeds the colour of wild berries... yes, it's "Chuck Berry red"... before taking the poor guitar upstairs to his father's bedroom to bash the shit out of his old man.

The story doesn't end the way you expect.

1. ELO - Rockaria

Jeff falls for an opera singer....
She's sweet on WagnerI think she'd die for BeethovenShe loves the way Puccini lays down a tuneAnd Verdi's always creeping from her room
And she ain't gonna rock 'n' roll. How will he convert her?
Well we were reelin' and a rockin' all through the nightYeah, we were rockin' at the opera house until the break of lightAnd the orchestra were playin' all Chuck Berry's greatest tunes...
Roll over, Beethoven, indeed.





And that is why Chuck Berry will live forever.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

March #4: Sometimes It Snows In March


Some fool on the radio this morning was saying how people are shocked about the fact it's been snowing certain parts of the country over the last couple of days. "In March!" As though it's never snowed in March before. Personally, I can remember plenty of times on or around my birthday when the new sprouting daffodils have been smothered in a blanket of white. This is not unusual.

Anyway. It's not snowing here today. My commiserations if it is where you are. The only snow you'll see on Top Ten Towers today is this...


4. Phoebe Snow - Married Men

My 70s sojourn continues with another new discovery I feel I may have been vaguely familiar with in my early, Wogan-dominated, Radio 2 childhood. Phoebe Snow was a folky, jazzy, bluesy singer songwriter who scored a big mid-70s hit in the states with the song Poetry Man. I don't remember that at all, but I feel like I might have vague memories of her cover of Paul McCartney's Every Night, which was a Top 40 (just) hit in the UK in 1979. That song is the lead track on an album I've been listening to a fair bit lately, Against The Grain... on which, you'll also find today's offering, The Married Men. Lyrically, it's a knockout...

One of 'ems got a little boy
Other one he's got two
One of 'ems wife is one week overdue

I know these girls they don't like me
But I am just like them
Pickin' a crazy apple off a stem

Givin' it to the married men
The married men
All o' that time in hell to spend
For kissin' the married men






All of which brings us to one of the things I like most about writing this blog. I could just post this song and say "I like it", but I always like to do a little digging too. That's how I discovered The Married Men is also a cover, of a song by The Roches, a band I didn't know at all... but having checked out their version, I might even like it more than Phoebe's.

The Roches were a folky harmony group made up of three sisters, Magie, Suzzy & Terre. They worked with Paul Simon on his Rhymin' Simon album and Suzzy was even married to Loudon Wainwright III for a while (I do own some music by their daughter, Lucy Wainwright). Sadly, Maggie Roche died in January of this year, which turns this into an RIP post... but The Roches are definitely a group I'll be investigating in the future.




Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #7: King Kenny



7. Kenny Anderson (a/k/a King Creosote)

I have to admit, when I started this Top Ten, I didn't immediately think of King Creosote. It took Charity Chic to give me a gentle reminder that his real name is Kenny Anderson. One of the reasons KC didn't immediately jump to mind is that he's been on my Get Round To Listening To Eventually pile for a while now. That pile's one step over from the Bottomless Wishlist Pile: it's for those artists I've actually got round to acquiring music by... just not got around to listening to yet. Am I the only one who does this? Acquire more music than it is humanly possible to consume? Is it a sickness? Why can't I set myself some ground rules: don't buy any new records until you've listened to all the ones you've not listened to yet? Would that be so hard?

The weird thing is, I actually own more songs by King Creosote than I do by Kenny Loggins, Kenny Wells and Gerard Kenny put together. Bloody hell - I better start listening to some of them.

Well, I've done just that. And they're pretty good. But as I've just discovered King Creosote has released over 40 records, it may take me a while to work my way through the rest. Thanks for that, CC.

I've chosen the following track because I have cats and first thing in the morning, when there's furballs on the kitchen table, urine on the floor and a very bad murder in the litter tray, I often want to jump on at them. Plus, it makes me smile. (The song, not the litter tray.)




Monday, 20 March 2017

My Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs


"Chuck? Chuck, it's Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you're looking for? Well, listen to this!"

As well as the accusation that he stole his greatest riff from Michael J. Fox, certain commentators have been dwelling on other less salubrious areas of Chuck Berry's history over the last couple of days, and I don't just mean his ding-a-ling. But I'd rather pay tribute to one of the men who, without whom, there would be no Elvis, no Beatles, no Beach Boys, no Stones, no Who, no Springsteen... etc. etc.

Like most serious music fans (not musos: I am still irking those guys, even though I changed my masthead), I went through a defining rock 'n' roll phase in my youth and Chuck was central to that. Looking through his back catalogue, it was easy to pick out what, for me, are his most memorable tunes. There will be few surprises here. But in the end, if Chuck Berry had only recorded the ten songs below and nothing else... he would still have had a greater impact on popular culture than just about anyone else who lived throughout the 20th Century.


10. Come On

Chuck gave the Stones their first hit single. Another classic "bad day" song!

9. Maybellene

One of the first ever rock 'n' roll records. Sounds much more raw than his later recordings, but none the worse for that.

8. Sweet Little Sixteen

Much can be made of a 30 year old man singing this song, but it's hardly as though Chuck was on his own for writing creepy odes to 16 year olds in the 50s, and the fact is: that was the target audience. Still a great song.

7. You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)

Written while Chuck was in prison; revived (and, to all intents and purposes, rechristened) by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. Hard to hear without picturing John Travolta and Uma Thurman clearing the dancefloor.

6. Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Saw the movie Get Out! at the weekend. Scary to think this record is now potentially even more relevant than when Chuck wrote it 60 years ago.

5. No Particular Place To Go

The tune of School Days was such a good one, Chuck decided to use it again... and create an even better song in the process.

Teen romance stymied by a faulty seatbelt. The tragedy!

4. Rock 'n' Roll Music

Pure adrenaline, which the Beatles then cranked up to heart attack levels... and the rest was history.

3. Roll Over, Beethoven

"Tell Tchiakovsky the news!"

Always loved ELO's version of this one too.

2. Memphis Tennessee

Lyrically my favourite Chuck song: I know you could accuse it of schmaltz, but there's a desperation to Chuck's vocal that lifts it twenty floors above Save Your Kisses For Me by The Brotherhood of Man, which told a similar tale 20 years later. (Musos: irked. ✓)

1. Johnny B. Goode

Of course, I knew Johnny B. Goode before Marty McFly played that "oldie" in 1955 / 1985, inventing rock 'n' roll in the process. But Back To The Future still helped cement its place as my favourite Chuck Berry song. I am prepared to entertain the argument that this is the greatest guitar riff ever recorded...





RIP, Chuck Berry. You had a hell of a life.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

My Top Ten 45 Songs


Today I am 45.

"It's only a number."

Yes. But it is a number I have both dreaded and looked forward to. Dreaded for all the obvious reasons (I am drowning in mid-life crisis angst, but you don't want to know about that); looked forward to because I knew it would give me the chance to write this post. And also because, obviously, it's cool to have revolved around the sun as many times as a 7 inch single spins in a minute. Not that I own any 7 inch singles any more, nor a turntable to spin them on. Sigh...

A few years back, JC, The Vinyl Villain, one of my blogging heroes, marked his own 45th birthday with an epic selection of his 45 favourites 45s. I knew I couldn't compete with that. As should have become painfully obvious by now, I can only count to ten. And so, here are ten songs that focus on the number 45. Special thanks to John Medd for posting about the sleeve of the first Generation X single from 1977 (above). I'd never seen it before, but it was just the image I needed for this post.

Oh, and just for JC: here's Orange Juice with Blokes On 45 to start us off... (Sorry it didn't make the ten, JC - I love Edwyn, but this isn't one of his strongest efforts, despite the cool title.)


10. Babybird - 45 & Fat

Well, that's a nice way to start, isn't it? Thanks for the kind words on my birthday, Babybird.

Still, as this song appears to be Stephen Jones' love song to C-O-C-A C-O-L-A, maybe if he didn't drink so much of that, he wouldn't have to worry about his weight. I mean, come on, Stephen - sugar is the hidden killer for men our age...*

(*Says the man who consumed a whole bag of Bitsa Wipsa with his coffee yesterday.)

9.  Dallas Wayne - Old 45s

A word of warning to all you vinyl junkies out there...

"Old 45s will kill you - like a bullet to the brain!"

Because...

"It's just a piece of plastic
In a paper sleeve
But in each groove
Lives me and you
And the love that now is
History,.."

8. The Tall Boy - 45s & Books

Here's one that came from the blogosphere... I've no idea when or where, and google won't tell me anything else about the artist. Cool song though.

And while we're on the subject of 45s and books, I should drop a mention to Deacon Blue here... although they were only interested in paperbacks (with torn out pages). 

7. Readers' Wives - I Love You More Than 45s

Readers' Wives, on the other hand, are a band I do know something about. A few years back, at the height of my previous blog's popularity, the band sent me a copy of their album to review. I loved it and we got chatting. At the same time I was also writing a few comics so I sent them some copies of those. For a while, we talked about me writing a comic about their band. It never really got off the ground and the band have now split up, though lead singer Niall James Holohan is still recording and perfoming... I must check out what he's doing these days.

6. Todd Snider - Forty Five Miles

One of Americana's finest, this is from his 2000 album Happy To Be Here. Which seems like a pretty apt thought for today. I should take that on board.

And there's Another 45 Miles right here, from Golden Earring.

5. The All New Adventures Of Us - 45 Forever

Another one that was gifted to me by the blogosphere many moons ago... so I'm gifting it back. A lovely little tune by a band stuck on my wants list for far too long now. I must track down some more of their stuff.
I've got two boxes
Paved with rockets
Where all my best friends sit
When they smile, I take their jackets
And give them a spin...
4. The Gaslight Anthem - 45

"I'll see you on the flipside."

There's an expression you don't hear used very often these days.

3. Shrag - Forty Five 45s

Ah, Shrag. Whatever became of you?

Oh. You split up. Never mind. It was good while it lasted.
You want to hang out
Talk about music
You play that record
Over and over
Judging by my tastes
I would really like it
And you would lend it to me

Tell me you met them
Not in a fan way
Said they were nice guys
Not too pretentious
You knew them for ages
Before they were famous
And how they hadn't changed...

But I don't care what you say
I liked them first anyway...
2. Cornershop - Brimful Of Asha

Because everybody needs a bosom for a pillow.

1. Elvis Costello - 45

Written and recorded in 2001 when Elvis was going through the same terrible thing I'm going through now. It's his autobiography in 7". Brilliant.

I could quote the whole song, but here's a few selected highlights...
Every scratch, every click, every heartbeat
Every breath that I held for you
Forty five

Bass and treble heal every hurt
There's a rebel in a nylon shirt
But the words are a mystery, I've heard
'Til you turn it down to thirty three and a third
'Cause it helps with the elocution
Corporations turn revolutions
Forty five

Bells are chiming and tears are falling
It creeps up on you without a warning
Forty five

I heard something peculiar said:
"Perhaps he's got a shot and now he's dead"
Forty five




Sorry, can't stick around to chat. Have to go and "celebrate" encroaching middle age...

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Top Ten Songs I Hated When I Was A Kid... #3

No Top Ten today - I'm saving this week's till Sunday. You'll find out why then.

In the meantime, another one of these...



3. M/A/R/R/S - Pump Up The Volume

Can you pinpoint the moment when you fell out of love with the Top 40? If you want to say, "This week, with Ed Sheeran taking up 9 places on the Top 10", then good on you... you've stuck it out far longer than most. There is a point in everyone's life when the singles chart switches from being a treasure chest full of dazzling pearls to a bucket of clams you have to sift through to find an occasional oyster. When that happens varies - it might be in your late teens, it might be in your 20s. Chances are if you're still in love with the Top 40 in your 30s, your taste just ain't that discerning. But it comes to us all in the end.

For me, it was 1987. And I was only 15 years old. Ironic, really, considering that was the year I actually started buying singles...

Here's how you can tell the moment the charts stopped being perfect for you. A quick google search and you'll find a Top 100 best selling songs for any year of your choice. If I pick a random year from the late 70s up to the mid 80s, I could sing you virtually every song from that hundred. Even the ones I don't really dig, like Jennifer Rush - The Power Of Love; or Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson - I Know Him So Well... the two best selling songs of 1985. They were both very annoying at the time, but now they fill me with nostalgia. (There was a brilliant version of I Know Him So Well on last week's episode of Inside Number 9 which made the memories come flooding back.)

But as soon as I hit 1987... the clams start gathering.

Stock Aitken & Waterman. Steve 'Silk' Hurley. Sinitta & Spagna. Man 2 Man Meets Man Parrish. Five Star. Taffy. House Master Boyz & The Rude Boy Of House.

Worse was yet to come, in '88, '89, '90... the years when music should have meant the most to me, and the charts kept kicking me in the balls. And I can trace it all back to one track, a novelty Number One by a group who never released another record (not under this name, anyway).




Thirty years later, I can listen to Pump Up The Volume without hating it. Certainly not in the way I still loathe Technotronic, S-Express, Bomb The Base, Krush, D Mob... and all the others that would slither through the doors M/A/R/R/S kicked open. They said nothing to me about my life.

But M/A/R/R/S... I can recognise its influential place in the history of pop... it's an audacious mish-mash of samples over an infectious beat with some cutting edge / extremely dated sfx sprinkled over the top. When I hear it, it can't help but take me back to 1987. Childhood's end...

That's not to say you can't fall back in love with the singles chart later in life, by the way... I did again in the mid-90s. But it didn't last, and ultimately I had my heart trampled all over once more. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

March #5: Frankie & Joni


5. Sister Sledge - Frankie

As I said earlier, my memory's not what it used to be. A lot of songs, they don't remind me of a specific incident in my life, but they do remind me of a feeling. Frankie by Sister Sledge reminds me of the summer of '85, when I'd just become a teenager. It was the perfect pop hit: sunshiny, doo-wop flavoured, finger-clicking, synchronised dancing joy. It was about young love in the summertime and here was I, a teenager at last, desperate to experience a little of that myself.

Of course, that didn't happen. There is the grey reality of most people's teenage years, most aptly summed up by Smiths songs, Heart's Alone and Jilted John (if you're lucky!)... and there is the Hollywood version we all aspire to. Frankie was part of the soundtrack to my Hollywood adolescence. You'd have loved that. I was played by Matthew Broderick, or maybe Michael J. Fox. And the summers went on forever...




Rest in peace, Joni Sledge. Thanks for the unreliable memories.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #6: Well Well Wells



6. Kenny Wells - Isn't It Just A Shame?

I know absolutely nothing about this week's Kenny other than that he crops up on one of the many Northern Soul compilations in my record collection with this sparkly soul gem. Beyond that, you're on your own. I couldn't even find a picture of him. Maybe he never existed. Maybe he's just a figment of my imagination. How do we know if any of this is real?

I did find the single's original b-side, I Can't Stop, on youtube though, and that's pretty cool too. So Kenny recorded two songs, at least. Unless we're all just dreaming in the Matrix...




Monday, 13 March 2017

March #6: Love Is Like Foxygen


Do you love the 70s?

Do you love Steely Dan and David Bowie and Billy Joel and Abba and Jim Steinman and Neil Diamond and Jacques Brel? (OK, you probably don't love all of them. Unless you're me.)

As previously established, lately, I've been listening to a hell of a lot of 70s music. But not quite as much as Sam France & Jonathan Rado have, the duo behind Californian indie band Foxygen. These guys... they've been mainlining the more theatrical side of 70s pop-rock... and the glorious results are here for all to enjoy on their new album, Hang.

This is the lucky record I crammed onto a CD with the Jens Lekman album, having bought them both from emusic last month... and I may just come to love it as much as I do Jens.

7. Foxygen - Follow The Leader

I picked the opening track to showcase today as it's the Steely Dan one, so probably easier to digest if this is your first exposure to the band. Plus it has a cool video...



I may well be back later to tell you about Avalon (which shamelessly steals the chorus of Waterloo as its refrain); or Mrs. Adams, which sounds like Bowie duetting with Billy Joel; or the theatrical Steinman / Diamond mishmash, America; or the Brelian, Scott Walker-esque glory of Upon A Hill which goes full-on Jackie... in under 1 minute, 40 seconds.

Yep, we have our second contender for the Top Ten albums of 2017 right here, folks. Not to mention the Top Ten albums of an alternate universe 1977...

Sunday, 12 March 2017

March #7: Memories Are Made Of Jake


So I was listening to Cerys Matthews on 6Music a couple of weekends back and I heard a song which sounded instantly familiar... even though I was convinced I'd never heard it before. One thing was certain: I wanted to hear more by this artist.

One of the many great music blogs I often frequent via my sidebar is Badger & SWC's When You Can't Remember Anything. I'm not entirely sure why they call their blog that, but it's a  title which sums up so much of my life. My memory is not the greatest thing. I drive my significant other insane by writing notes to remind me of even the slightest little household task, because I know without them I'll forget. And yet... I can remember the lyrics of a song I haven't listened to in 25 years when it pops up on the radio. The mind is a cruel, cruel mistress.

However.

Occasionally in the comments section here, someone will commend me on my musical memory. To be honest though (despite what I said above), I don't really think it's that great. Yes, I can remember lyrics. But I can't remember where I bought the LPs of my youth (like Brian can) or recall entire conversations I had 20 years ago that revolved around obscure novelty records (like Jez can). I certainly can't bring back the kind of heartwarming musical anecdotes that Badger, SWC, Alyson, and others manage to regale us with on a regular basis. Half the time I feel like I've forgotten more than I'll ever remember about the music of my past...

...which brings us to this:

7. Jake Thackray - The Blacksmith & The Toffee Maker

If you're a year or two older than me, you probably remember Jake Thackray from his many television appearances in the late 60s and early 70s. Having done my research, I now think I do too. I recognise his voice (notable as it's local to me: he's from Kirkstall, a half hour drive away, but a place I have visited since I was a teenager as it is home to the first and oldest multiplex cinema round these parts) as well as his wry, minutely detailed songwriting. Morrissey & Jarvis were both early fans - and you can hear his influence on their witty lyricism. According to iffypedia, Jake fell out of favour in the 80s as his songs were seen as both bawdy and occasionally sexist... nothing wrong with the former, and as to the latter, well... as I'm now the proud owner of a 4 disc collection of his work*, I say: bull. (I could write more about that, but this post is already going on way too long.)

The point? I'd forgotten Jake Thackray completely until Cerys played the song below. And now I feel like a long lost friend from my childhood has come knocking. Except... could I be imagining that? Could I actually not remember Jake Thackray at all? Could it be he's exactly the kind of amusingly erudite wordsmith I adore, and I secretly want to claim him as mine when really we're complete strangers? I just don't know.

I can't remember anything...


*I had to buy the digital collection, sadly, as the OOP CDs would have set me back a couple of hundred quid.

Friday, 10 March 2017

My Top Ten Bad Day Songs




Ironically, today has been a very good day. I took my son out of pre-school and we had a boys' day out. There was ice cream, ducks, sculpture an enormous tower (bigger than the Eiffel Tower, it turns out, and only about 20 minutes from home).

Anyway, I wrote this one last week. So if your day hasn't been as good as mine, here's ten songs to help you feel better... and no Daniel Powter!



10. Blur - Bad Day

I'm not sure early Blur has aged that well. But I never was particularly baggy...

Still better than anything Oasis ever did. 

9. Coco - Bad Old Days

Yes. I put this in here just to piss off Damon Albarn.

Look - Cheryl Baker!

Before Bucks Fizz!

With another Eurovision entry!

Which bombed!

Shame? What's that?

(Nothing personal if you're a big Blur fan. I was once. But Damon just annoys me these days.)

8. Okkervil River - My Bad Days

Probably the most depressing song on this list. But if you're having a bad days, that's probably apt...

7. Space - Bad Days

Space 1997: when they could do no wrong. 'Why do bad days last forever and ever?', asks Tommy Scott.

6. Shirley Lee - Good Days & Bad Days

Spearmint's Shirley, from his 2011 double solo album Summer Spring Winter Autumn, before he got the band back together. Always worth a listen.

5. Kasey Chambers - On A Bad Day

Lovely Aussie country, with Lucinda Williams on backing vocals.

4. The Charlatans - Bad Days

Great song from The Charlies' 2008 album You Cross My Path: sounds like The White Stripes meets The Cure. I'll play this one for Charity Chic who snoozed and lost on the Charlies front this week.

3. Darwin Deez - Bad Day

Don't get on the wrong side of Darwin: he'll wish you unwell...
I hope that the last page of your 800 page novel is missing
I hope that it rains if you leave the window down on your red Mustang

If you drop your keys I hope there's a sewer somewhere very nearby
I hope that your team lost, I hope your new girl takes off with a new guy

And I would like to be your girlfriend so I could dump you
And I would like to be your garbage man so I would never have to pick up your trash again
2. The Flaming Lips - Bad Days 

An anthem for the everyman... courtesy of a band who are anything but. 
You're sorta stuck where you are
But in your dreams you can buy expensive cars
Or live on Mars
And have it your way
And you hate your boss at your job
Well, in your dreams you can blow his head off
In your dreams
Show no mercy!
1. R.E.M. - Bad Day

Classic REM. It wasn't officially released until 2003 as an extra rack / single on a Best Of, but the roots of this song go back to the band's earliest days. A version was originally performed in 1985 when the media and the president were obviously in need of a kicking. Although as time goes by, you almost wish Ronnie would come back...

A public service announcement followed me home the other day
I paid it nevermind. Go away.
Shit so thick you could stir with a stick- free Teflon whitewashed presidency
We're sick of being jerked around
Wear that on your sleeve

Broadcast me a joyful noise unto the times, lord,
Count your blessings.
We're sick of being jerked around
We all fall down.





I hope one of these made your day a little better...


Thursday, 9 March 2017

March #8: I Want To Tell You A Story...



More Dar Williams today. I make no apologies for that: some bloggers write about the same artists week after week. Why do we blog about music we love? Because we love it. Because we want to grab you by the lapels and say: "Hey, listen to this. This is good." Because whenever we hear a really good song, we want to share it and help it find another pair of ears that will love it the same way we do. Because maybe we don't have anyone in our real lives who loves music in quite the same way we do, who values it quite the same way we do... but out there in the blogosphere, we might just find a like-minded soul.

And finding a like-minded soul is kind of what today's song is all about...

8. Dar Williams - Mortal City

Up until just a few years ago, I used to love writing short stories. I enjoyed writing longer works of fiction to, as you'll see in the sidebar, but they took a lot more time, blood, sweat and tears. A short story, I could write in a day. I think I got quite good at it. Maybe not "publish my collection" good, but good enough to be shortlisted for a few prizes. Ha... at this point I can't help but remember a cartoon that appeared in the Guardian Review section a few years back. I remember it because it's pinned to the noticeboard at the side of me as I write this...

Anyway, the point is: I liked writing short stories, and I like reading them. It's a different skill to writing a novel, a different art form. There are different rules, different pleasures. You don't get to use as much repetition of a word like different in a short story as you might do in a novel. You'd get pulled up on that.

I realised something the other day. Out of all the music blogs I read, mine is the one which focusses the most on song lyrics. The only other blogger I can think of who regularly quotes song lyrics is Alyson at What's It All About? But for Alyson, the lyrics are there because (often) they remind her of something in her own life, and those memories are her blog's reason for being. I'm the only blogger I can think of who obsesses over lyrics, who makes whole Top Tens out of obscure lyrical references to toasters, who raves about the working man's story songs of Bruce; the cleverly worded puns of Elvis Costello; the mordantly witty couplets of Morrissey; the everyday woodchip-on-the-wall minutiae of Jarvis; the self-deprecating romanticism of Billy Bragg; the ludicrously exaggerated melodrama of Jim Steinman...

I like a lot of different types of music for a lot of different reasons. But if I were to list my all-time favourite artists (a list I started, but by no means completed, in the previous paragraph), they'd all have something in common. Their words are as strong... if not stronger than... their music. I realise I may be somewhat in the minority when it comes to this. I'm not saying you lot don't like the lyrics of your favourite songwriters, don't pore over them, didn't spend hours as a teenager transcribing them because there was no lyric sheet in the album sleeve... I'm sure many of you did. I just don't think the lyrics are paramount, the main reason behind your choice of favourite artists. I doubt any of you have found yourself giving a pass to Gary Barlow... or James Blunt... or even Coldplay in the last week or so because, you know what, their latest singles have some interesting stuff going in the words, even if their music still sounds like their same old tat. (Actually, the Gary Barlow song has better music than usual too, mainly because he's nicked a load of ideas from Jeff Lynne... but I digress.) The point is, good lyrics will always sway me to a song, even by an artist I would normally cross the road to avoid. I'll even throw Bono a bone... if he ever writes a lyrically interesting song, I will buy it and sing it proudly at the top of my lungs. Go for it, Bono!

(By the way, I may be wrong about much of the above. You may value lyrics as much as I do. If so, I'll be happy to start up a club and we can get together on the third Tuesday of every month in an abandoned bus shelter on the edge of town to discuss whether Ben Folds has written a funnier song than John Grant. The invitation's there.)

The point... I was getting to the point a few paragraphs back, wasn't I? The point is, I like a good short story. And today's offering, the title track of Dar Williams's second album, from way, way back in 1996, is a great short story. You may decide it's not a great song... but I can't really tell the difference. No, as far as I'm concerned, there's no difference at all. Musically, I suppose it sounds a little bit Joni Mitchell, but... oh, just give it a listen.


Why do I write this blog? All the reasons above plus one more. I don't write anything else anymore. This is all I have left...


Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #5: The One & Only


Time for a bit of Chesney. No, not that one...

5. Kenny Chesney - American Kids

On my shelves of contemporary country artists, which are growing faster than they used to, Kenny Chesney doesn't take up as much space as the rebellious bad boy, Eric Church; the polished pop pretty boy, Blake Shelton; or The True King of Contemporary Country: Brad Paisley. In fact, I only have a couple of Kenny Chesney records and I don't like either of them enough to go out and buy his whole back catalogue (as I did with the three named above). Sometimes he can be a bit too country even for me, other times the big ballads veer too close to a redneck Michael Bolton. But I wouldn't turn him off if he came on the radio... not that he ever does in the UK.

American Kids is one of his best, and not just because it references both Springsteen and Mellencamp. It's good driving music because it makes you want to roll the windows down and bask in the deep south sunshine... even when you're in rainy Huddersfield.




Monday, 6 March 2017

March #9: Jackson Stays Up Late


Now that's an album cover, isn't it? I'd have bought that from the charity shop even if I hadn't recognised the artist. Don't you just want to be there, standing out on that street in the early 70s twilight, waiting for the world to take you somewhere interesting? No? Just me then.

Apparently the image is based on a Rene Magritte painting from the 50s...



Lovely too, but I prefer Jackson's homage...


9. Jackson Browne - The Late Show

My love affair with the 70s continues. It is now my favourite decade, musically. It's aged a lot better than the 60s, the 80s, even the 90s. In my humble opinion. Particularly American rock and pop, much of which seems timeless from that decade. Not the case quite so much in the UK: both glam and punk are sounding a little creaky now, much as I still enjoy them. But let's not get started on The Bay City Rollers.

It's an age thing too. I tried getting into Jackson Browne 10, 15 years ago. Bought myself an Essential Collection or somesuch. A couple of the songs hit their mark, most notably Running On Empty, but I don't think I was ready. And now I am. Picked this "classic" album up in a 5 for a quid sale a few weeks back and haven't looked back. It's a time machine I can use to escape the horrors of 2017 back to a simpler, more innocent time. I mean, it's not like there was a psychopathic con man in the White House back in 1974...

What?

Oh.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Forget all that. Just listen to the music. That smoky, late night piano. Those gorgeous harmonies (including Don Henley and Dan Fogelberg). The plaintive steel guitar. The car door slamming towards the end. Who'd ever think a slamming car door could sound so good?





Sunday, 5 March 2017

March #10: The Best Album of 2017...

...so far.



I realise that's a pretty bold claim in March, but, boy, do I like the new Jens Lekman LP, Life Will See You Now. I've had it on almost permanent rotation in the car all week (along with one other new album which I managed to fit on the same CD and I'll be mentioning here soon). Usually when I take a new album to the car, I give it time to grow: one spin, then back to something more familiar, revisiting it later. But this one, I've had to fight to get it out of the CD player.

10. Jens Lekman - How We Met, The Long Version

It's been 10 years since I bought a Jens Lekman album, no fault of the artist because I very much enjoyed 2007's Night Falls Over Kortedala; all the fault of my pathetic inability to keep up with all the artists I enjoy. Good pre-release buzz about this record reminded me about Jens, and I'm glad I plunged back in, because there's so much to enjoy here, starting with lead "singles" What's That Perfume You Wear? and Evening Prayer. I will warn you not to listen to any of the other tracks from the album on youtube though as someone has uploaded a bunch of them slowed-down for some reason... and they sound pretty ropey.

Discussing my love for the album with my pal Steve last week, I made the mistake of comparing it to recent John Grant masterpieces... knowing full well Steve isn't really into John Grant. Lyrically, there's certainly that same attention to quirky detail you'll find on a John Grant record (as Evening Prayer ably demonstrates) as well as an obvious love of upbeat, poppy electronica. But there's much more to love here even if you're not a John Grant devotee (a.k.a. you're clinically insane), from a gorgeous duet with Tracy Thorn, Hotwire The Ferris Wheel, which goes all Pearlfishers / Paddy McAloon towards the end (I should have led with that, shouldn't I, Steve?) to the main track I'm concentrating on today, which is the first song this year I've fallen head over heels for on first listen. I love the attention to detail here, how Jens speeds through the creation of the universe and the beginnings of life on earth... only to slow things right down at the moment he asks the girl he fancies to "borrow your bass guitar...not that I needed one". And just listen to the trumpets!


Seriously, if Life Will See You Now isn't near the top of my year end countdown for 2017, it will have been a truly amazing year for new music. 


Friday, 3 March 2017

My Top Ten Emily Songs



With the exception of Kenny Wednesdays, I haven't done a first name Top Ten in quite a while. So...

There are actually very few Emilies in my record collection. The only artists I could find were Emily Robinson from the Dixie Chicks; French singer Emily Loizeau, whose songs appear to have been recorded by everybody from Shelby Lynne to The Mountain Goats; Emily Barker & The Red Clay Halo; Emily Kinney (above), who you might recognise as Beth from The Walking Dead, but she writes some pretty cool songs too; and a not-half-bad cover of Asleep by The Smiths by Australian actress Emily Browning, from the soundtracker of Sucker Punch.

But when it came to songs about Emilies... there were LOADS!


10. Pink Floyd - See Emily Play

I feel like I'm contractually obliged to include this. Not being a true muso, I never really got The Floyd. Nothing against them, I just never really saw what all the fuss was about. I probably appreciate the Syd Barrett stuff a bit more... although I prefer the David Bowie and Martha Wainwright versions of this song, if I'm totally honest.

9. Stephen Fretwell - Emily

Something about the name Emily must attract earnest young singer songwriters, since that's what most of this week's chart is made up of...

8. Bowling For Soup - Emily

...with a couple of, ahem, obvious exceptions. Nothing earnest about this lot.

7. Adam Green - Emily

Take one Moldy Peach... add a bunch of dangerous ladies, mix, watch the sparks fly.

6. Esiotrot - Emily Scott

More from that backwards tortoise, about the daughter of a clergyman who will wash your hair when it gets dirty. Lovely brass section on this.

5. The Handsome Family - Emily Shore 1819-1839

Emily Shore was a young English woman who died of consumptiom at the age of 19 in the early 1800s. Her diaries were published over 50 years later, and a century or so after that they inspired Brett and Rennie Sparks.

4. Luke Douchet - Emily, Please

Excellent track from Luke's 2005 album, Broken (And Other Rogue States). Great live version I found on youtube in which Luke duets with his wife, Melissa Mclelland.

3. Simon & Garfunkel - For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her

Art goes solo on this one: peerless romantic nostalgia from Paul. 
I wandered empty streets
Down past the shop displays.
I heard cathedral bells
Tripping down the alley ways,
As I walked on.


And when you ran to me
Your cheeks flushed with the night.
We walked on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight,
I held your hand.
John Grant did an excellent cover of this with The Czars

2. Louis Eliot - Emily

Second best song I own about a long lost teenage girlfriend called Emily... from the former Rialto frontman.
Took off our ties straight after school
For lager and limes and shooting pool
Underhand cigarettes to compilation cassettes...
1. Art Brut - Emily Kane

I miss Eddie Argos. I don't know what he's up to these days, but we need him back.
I don't even know where she lives.
I've not seen her in 10 years, 9 months, 3 weeks, 4 days, 6 hours, 13 minutes, 5 seconds.
Other girls went and other girls came, 
I can't get over my old flame.
All my friends think I'm insane, 
I'm still in love with Emily Kane.
There's a beast in my soul that can't be tamed, 
I'm still in love with Emily Kane.



Those were my ten favourites (well, nine and one contractual obligation), but I easily had enough Emily songs for a Top Twenty-Five. Perhaps I'll do a volume 2... once I've covered every other name in my Big Book of Baby Names. Suggestions are always welcomed...

Thursday, 2 March 2017

My Top Ten (Late) Albums of 2016: Number 8



This series is all about the albums I might have included in my end of year Top Ten for 2016 had I got to them in time. The weird thing is, I did buy Ultrasound's Real Britannia the week it came out and because I love their previous two albums, 1999's Everything Picture and 2012's Play For Today, I fully expected to be writing about album #3 in my year end list.

The problem is, it came out in early December, which didn't really give me time to properly listen to it. I'll admit, I panicked and shoved it into rotation in the car, then became frustrated when it didn't immediately leap out screaming LOVE ME, LOVE ME, LOVE ME. I resigned myself to the fact that if I did include it in my list, that would be more down to past glories that current adoration, and I pushed the album to one side.

Then came the January wilderness when I often get time to catch up on music I've not given enough time to in the pre-December crush. That's when I found myself revisiting Real Britannia and discovering its hidden depths. It might not be as immediate a record as its predecessors, but there's a hell of a lot to love... even if it is only 6 tracks long.

The album kicks off with a roaring indie guitar anthem about cross-dressing (something of a recurrent theme for the band), extremely timely in its suggestion that the era of tolerance and acceptance is at end for anyone remotely different: "there's a twister on the way".



Up next, a direct reaction to that: God's Gift, a Jarvis Cocker-esque rallying cry for mis-shapes and misfits everywhere...
We feel the need before we come to the dance
We come in peace, we fall to pieces
We smash and grab and then we smoke some fags and leave
A complete change of pace follows with a slice of righteous Riot Grrl action, Soul Girl, composed and sung by bassist Vanessa Best: giving regular lead singer Tiny both a rest... and a run for his money. No Man's Land channels 80s nuclear war paranoia (also timely now Trump's got the briefcase) and then comes Asylum, where music is the perfect escape route for us all...
Everybody's got an axe to grind in my town

They'll steal the light out of your eyes if you let them

So I just put my headphones on

Surrender to the song

Asylum
All of which brings us to the final track... or Side 2, as it would once have been known. I've seen Blue Remembered Hills called a "prog Epic" and compared to the latter half of Abbey Road because of its length (over 20 minutes) and the fact that it's made up of more than 6 different tunes, seemlessly woven together in Tiny's autobiographical confessional which starts thus:
Oh please

I feel like a boy band feels

Lame

As crippled as Mel C’s Tears

Chauffeur me

Cradle me

Mum and Dad

Save us from the secrets of love
And after that, it gets really good. Supposedly inspired by both Dennis Potter and Ken Loach, Tiny recalls the childhood of a "big fat cuckoo" from Wakefield (a town I pass every day on my way to work). It starts happily enough with "Shorts and scuffs and beans for tea" until his father has a nervous breakdown and heads down south, never to return, leaving Tiny feeling "just a waste of space". Bullying, drugs, nascent sexual encounters, more cross-dressing, Noggin The Nog: it's all here, yet the raw honesty of Tiny's words never become depressing. There's actually something hugely inspirational in it, even when the lyrics turn from personal woes to the poisoning of the outside world.
And those who thought they were innocent times

Nostalgia made them go blind

For all those modern lovers

And now we view the world of Top of the Pops

As something falling like rocks

On Savile’s shit stained covers
Yet despite this, Blue Remembered Hills is a song about not letting our good childhood memories be destroyed by darkness. Its message seems to be not to give up on nostalgia. There were good times, amidst the bad. There always are.
The endless sun

Cross country runs

The glam rock beat

The 3 day week

The waist high grass

The P.E. class

The Oxford bags

The woodbine fags



The past is a shining sea that’s drowning me

So I get my kicks from those who fall like me

Into the deep blue
You know what, Real Britannia might not be as immediate as Ultrasound's first two albums. But give it a little bit of time and it reveals its true identity: it is their masterpiece. It's Real and it Rules. I just wish they hadn't released it in December, because this really is one of the best records of 2016.

Buy it so Tiny can buy some more fetching onesies.

 


Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #4: All The Scandal & The Vice



4. Gerard Kenny - New York, New York

Despite the dodgy sweater and the fact that it's his surname, this week's Kenny is so good, I'll name him twice.

4. Gerard Kenny - New York, New York

I didn't know a lot about Gerard Kenny beyond his big 70's "hit" (well, it got to #43); however, he has been on my bucket list for a while. Yes, other middle-aged men have bucket lists that include skydiving into the Grand Canyon and getting stuck in an elevator with Gillian Anderson. My bucket list includes catching up on music by Gerard Kenny, Bert Jansch and The Staple Singers.

As previously established, I love a well-hammered keyboard... and Gerard even throws a broken window and a choral climax into this loving homage to his hometown (written after he'd moved to England). What's not to love?




On further investigation, I was delighted to learn Gerard wasn't a complete one "hit" wonder. He also wrote Barry Manilow's I Made It Through The Rain (as featured recently in My Top Ten Inspirational Songs, Volume 1) and... wait for it, wait for it...

He also wrote this:



Which kind of makes a mockery (if such a thing were possible) of that old Little Britain sketch where David 'Dennis Waterman' Walliams promises to "write the theme tune, sing the theme tune"... what a disappointment.

(Oh, and before you go, do yourself a favour and watch the video to I Could Be So Good For You. It is the best / worst thing you will see all week. It's good to have a nice, healthy cringe on a Wednesday.)

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