Saturday, 17 November 2018

Saturday Snapshots #59

Tommy used to work on the docks... but he soon packed that in when he discovered Saturday Snapshots. You know the deal by now - solve the ten clues below, artist and song title. They're all Wanted: Dead or Alive.

Keep The Faith!

10. Fishy lady needs litmus paper.

9. What Ernie writes on his best friend's Christmas present may help Juliet breathe more easily.

8. Scout's reclusive neighbour needs an alarm clock.

7. After Gill lazed, she complained about the weather.

6. "There's no place like home." That'll get in your eyes.

5. I'm going to dance like Elvis to my stolen Bobby Goldsboro record.

4. They're gonna shoot Van Morrison.

3. Santa brings crap presents for squares.

2. Ice cream for a Tiny Dick?*

1. Paying the cheque makes me feel old and dried up. Plus, it's raining.

(*Oh, like you wouldn't have used that clue. Don't pretend otherwise.)

I'll Be There For You with the answers tomorrow morning. Until then... Have A Nice Day.

Friday, 16 November 2018

The United Kingdom of Song #11: Blackburn

The Lancashire mill town of Blackburn was the birthplace of Tony Ashton from Ashton, Gardner & Dyke, Sarah Martin from Belle & Sebastian, Steve Pemberton from The League of Gentleman / Inside No. 9 and the great Ian McShane.

There's also a blues band called Blackburn... except they're from Canada.

Lyrically, Blackburn appears in Shut Up by The Fall...

...but Blackburn's a good...
...I know a sweater when I see one...

(Don't ask me to explain Mark E. Smith lyrics: I just copy & paste.)

But, of course, most of you will have guessed today's track as soon as you saw the headline.

Sgt. Pepper is... in my humble opinion... the most over-rated, and at times downright annoying, of all  Beatles albums. There was a brief period of time in my early 20s when I was hoodwinked by the muserati into believing the hype, but nowadays I'd rather listen to just about any other Beatles record all the way through. That said, there's no denying the power of A Day In The Life. One of the very best genuine Lennon & McCartney collaborations (John wrote the verses, Paul wrote the middle bit).

The final verse was apparently inspired by an article in The Daily Mail which revealed:

"There are 4,000 holes in the road in Blackburn, Lancashire, or one twenty-sixth of a hole per person, according to a council survey. If Blackburn is typical, there are two million holes in Britain's roads and 300,000 in London."

I've no idea if Blackburn Council ever responded to this, but it is certainly famous the world over - even today - for being a town full of holes.

Back to Scotland next week, for a tour of the Highlands. Nine different locations in one song! Any guesses?

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

My Top Ten Stan Lee Songs

The most influential pop-cultural icon of my lifetime died this week. I'm still coming to terms with that. I thought he'd live forever.

Much will no doubt be written about how Stan Lee did not singlehandedly create the Marvel Universe and how his collaborators - Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko et al. - deserve equal credit. This is very true. Stan Lee did not create Spider-Man, the Hulk or the Fantastic Four alone.

I would argue, however, that Stan did create Peter Parker, Bruce Banner and Reed, Sue, Ben and Johnny. Stan was undeniably the first superhero writer to realise that the characters behind the masks were more interesting than the masks themselves...and this is a huge legacy which changed comics - and all that came after them - forever. That influence is still felt today and can be seen when comparing the Marvel movies (fun, character-focused, tongue-in-cheek... even melodramatic, in a good way) with those of the Distinguished Competition (dark, humourless, putting spectacle above character, sensation over story). In this, he'll never get the credit he deserves.

Stan also understood something crucial about comic book fans. He understood that we are outsiders. Lonely, clumsy, awkward outcasts. Long before geek became chic, Stan was our champion. He made heroes we could relate to. Heroes we wanted to emulate. Heroes who made terrible mistakes but kept trying to do the right thing anyway. He made me who I am today.

Here's ten songs for Stan. Special mentions to these Stan-inspired bands...

The Mighty Avengers

Dr. Strangely Strange

Fantastic Four

10. Razorlight - Hang By, Hang By

Let's start with some Razorlight. No, don't go - it gets better, I promise! This isn't bad for Razorlight, to be honest... and it does mention both The Silver Surfer and Tony Stark... the Invincible Iron Man. Oh, and in case you're wondering - fine song though it is - Iron Man by Black Sabbath has nothing to do with the Marvel character, sadly.

Although Stan didn't create Captain America (he was originally created in the 40s by Joe Simon & Jack Kirby), he did revive him in the 60s and create the "man out of time" aspect which came to define the character as Stan incorporated him into the Avengers. This Scottish band from the 90s were called Captain America but soon fell foul of Marvel's lawyers and changed their name to Eugenius, as JC explains here.  They were obviously Marvel fans though as the title of their single comes from the catchphrase used by Johnny Storm, the Fantastic Four's Human Torch (another Stan & Jack creation, albeit another based on a 40s Marvel character) when he burst into flame...

8. Joe Satriani - Surfing With The Alien

Artist Jack Kirby had completely different ideas in mind to Stan when he first drew the Silver Surfer, devising the character as a vengeful fallen angel type, taking out his anger on mankind. Stan developed a more sensitive, lonely and tragic side to the Surfer, allowing the cosmic herald of Galactus to give voice to some truly 60s hippy philosophy that hit a real chord with the Summer of Love generation... and later, guitarist Joe Satriani who used the iconic Surfer image as inspiration for his most successful album.


Revealing Paul McCartney as a secret Marvel Comics fan, this album track has three Marvel supervillains eagerly competing to persuade Macca that his girl is a criminal. Not only does the X-Men's arch nemesis Magneto try to hoodwink Sit Thumbs Aloft, but so do two armoured villains from the Iron Man comic, The Titanium Man and The Crimson Dynamo.

6. 13th Floor Elevators - Dr. Doom

Marvel's greatest supervillain must surely be Dr. Doom though... here's a letter to him from Roky Erikson. 

One final Marvel villain for you... as far as I can tell, the Green Goblin shows up in Iceland by The Fall. It's always hard to tell with Mark E. Smith though.

5. Luke Haines - The Spook Manifesto

Of course, Luke Haines could out-strange even Dr. Strange... although they do have very similar facial hair.

Rebecca, Rebecca, put me on the other line now
Lucy, I've got a message for Doctor Strange
This is the Angel of Death looking over your shoulder
I've been listening to spooks again
Spooked again

See also Cymbaline by Pink Floyd, in which "Dr. Strange is always changing size".

Marc Bolan was a huge Marvel Comics fans - you can see him above, meeting Stan Lee alongside Wizzard's Roy Wood. Bolan even interviewed Stan... who revealed that Angie Bowie was once in line to play another of Stan's creations, the Black Widow, in a 70s movie that sadly never saw the light of day.
And if you're wondering how Marc Bolan ended up getting the job of interviewing Stan... well, it was given to him by an editor at Marvel UK back then... a chap called Neil Tennant (yes, that Neil Tennant).

See also Mambo Sun in which Marc sings "I'm Doctor Strange for you" and Teenage Dream's "What ever happened to the teenage dream, Silver Surfer?"

3. David Bowie - Oh, You Pretty Things!

Speaking of all things Bowie, one of the Dame's earliest hits always makes me think of Stan Lee's X-Men. Oh, You Pretty Things! includes the warning, "Better make way for the homo-superior" which was a phrase Stan had adopted from Olaf Stapledon's 1953 novel Odd John and then applied to his X-Men. It's hard to believe Bowie wasn't into the freaky outsider glam of comics like X-Men, teenage mutants who were "feared and hated by the world they have sworn to protect". He certainly inspired plenty of comic book characters in his time, including this 80s X-Men baddie, Callisto. Marvel Studios even had Bowie pegged for a cameo in a Guardians of the Galaxy movie before his own sad departure in 2016.

2. The Wedding Present - Hulk Loves Betty 

One musical David who definitely was a comic book fan in his youth is Mr. Gedge, as demonstrated in this Hulktacular b-side...

...and that's not the last we'll hear from the Weddoes on this subject.

1. Spider-Man

Stan's greatest moment, and my favourite super-hero, is without doubt Peter Parker, the Amazing Spider-Man. And Peter crops up in all kinds of pop songs, not least in Spider-Man On Hollywood by The Wedding Present... which may suggest David Gedge preferred the comics to the movies.

But that's not all from The Wedding Present... because Gedge also drops a big reference to Peter Parker's longtime girlfriend (one-time wife: don't go there!), Mary Jane Watson. The song is Santa Ana Winds...
I must look anxious because she fixes me with this gaze
"Face it Tiger, you just hit the jackpot!" she says
We laugh together but I'm trying hard to ignore
The fact I've won the jackpot means I've lost a whole lot more
Ad here's the scene it references, from Mary Jane's first appearance...

Oh, and if you're wondering about Peter's other famous love interest, the tragic Gwen Stacy, I can only direct you here... don't say you weren't warned.

Says maybe she'll be my Gwen Stacy, to spite her man

(To be fair, Eminem is a big comics fan too. And it's probably not his fault his record company made him do a song with Ed Sheeran.)

The greatest superhero of all also enjoyed his own recording history, with both Reflections Of A Superhero and the Amazing Spider-Man Rockomic, both from the 70s (which you can tell the moment you start listening to them). I own both of those, of course.

The less said about Bryan May's MC Spidey Mastermix, the better. Still, I'm sure it sounds like Beethoven's 5th when compared to the unspeakable travesty that was the Broadway Spider-Man musical, written by Bono and the Edge. (I never have and I never will.) That was the Peter Parker luck at its absolute worst!

Maybe it's because I'm such a big fan, but I've noticed more Spidey references in pop songs than for any other superhero. From Lullaby by The Cure ("the Spider-Man is having you for dinner tonight") to Sex Talk by T'Pau ("Like Spider-Man I'm climbing the wall, I want my prize")... from Veal's criminally hyphenless Spiderman ("I'm feelin suspect, just like Spiderman - you know how he gets a little nervous too") to the typically overblown pomposity of The Supreme Being Teaches Spider-Man How To Be In Love by The Flaming Lips. Cliff Richard even had a Spider-Man song... oh yes, he did! (Actually, there's loads more of those... perhaps I'll do a Top Ten one day.)

The most famous Spider-Man song though is definitely this one, written by Paul Francis Webster and Robert 'Bob' Harris (no relation to the DJ). It's been covered by everybody from Aerosmith to Moxy Früvous to Michael Bublé, but the best version is clearly this one by The Ramones.

RIP, Stan. You were my hero...

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Hot 100 #58

The Beta 58s welcome us to the latest number on our countdown... proof that punk isn't dead, but it hasn't grown any more braincells.

Straight on to your suggestions for this week...

C started the ball rolling, bringing back a band from last week...

You had Blondie for 59 - you can have them again for 58 with I'm On E:

I gave my car to a guy named Vinnie
I feel like gassin' my feet
They've totalled your bill and you skipped a beat
I used to have a car of my own
Twenty eight or fifty eight

That was the b-side of Denis, in case anybody was wondering. Wonder if it'll return in 30 weeks time?

Rigid Digit was on fire this week with 4 top suggestions...

1. Mott The Hoople - Born Late 58 (CC seconded this.)

I drove along the A45, I had her up to 58
What do you mean that was only 3 top suggestions? We'll come back to #4.

Then Lynchie joined us, asking...

I suppose 586 by New Order isn't acceptable?

And yes, you would be right. It's not acceptable. For all the reasons. Your second offering wasn't much better, although you did note that it was "a bit heavy on the guitar solo noodling side".

I'd still rather listen to that than New Order though. I will horrify many of you by saying I'd rather listen to If You Leave Me Now than New Order too. I'm sorry. Old scars run deep.

And while I'm in the business of horrifying you all... and comparing Mancunian icons with cheesy American rockers, here's two suggestions my music library threw up this week...


New Order fans - feel free to tell me you'd rather listen to Styx. I won't be hurt.

Anyway, then C popped back to bring a little sanity back to proceedings...

Out of the frying pan
And into the fire
58th variety
Out of the frying pan
And into the fire
Mother had her son for tea

Yeah, there was a bit of sarcasm there, the idea that Siouxsie could restore sanity to anything.

The Swede was late this week, claiming "C got there before me" (not sure if that was Blondie or Siouxsie) "so all I can offer is Ronsard '58 by Serge Gainsbourg." That is actually in my record collection, though I'm worried I'll have to have it deported after Brexit.

All of which brings us to this week's winner, which was firsted by Rigid Digit and seconded by South West Correspondent. I have to admit, I haven't listened to The Bends in ages, so I'd forgotten how good this track was... it has a great opening line too! ("I get home from work and you're still standing in your dressing gown".)

The troubled words of a troubled mind
I try to understand what is eating you,
I try to stay awake but its 58 hours since I last slept with you

Next week is an easy win for me. I know exactly who the winning artist will be. Less easy to decide which song though...

Your suggestions, as always, will be gratefully received...

Monday, 12 November 2018

2018 Contenders: Anger Management, Stateside

I've been a fan of Will Hoge for a good few years now. He's an Americana artist with a chameleon-like ability to take on the best qualities of his many musical heroes, from Springsteen to Kristofferson to Isbell, and write songs that live up to their reputations. On his latest record though, he's angrier than I've ever heard him before: at Trump, the Republicans, and everything that's going wrong in his country. Once again, he successfully channels the likes of Neil Young, John Mellencamp and even Elvis Costello... angry artists all into a blistering 8 song assault that takes no prisoners.

The attack commences with Gilded Walls, a molotov chucked straight into the White House...

Well another group of kids in a high school, dead
But you're still at your golf course teein' off at nine
People marchin' in the streets tryin' to find a little peace
You sit around, spoutin' more bullshit online

Oh and I don't believe in the devil
But you might make me go and change my mind
You could see this whole damn world get leveled
And not even lose track of time
Inside your gilded walls that shine

Next up is Stupid Kids, a punky, Mellencampian rallying cry to the youth of America...

Turn your music up, make up your own damn songs
You know you got it right when all the old white men don't sing along

Oh stupid kids, don't listen what the old folks say
You're the only ones that are ever gonna make things change
Keep your feet marching, raise up your voice, don't quit
Keep doing what you're doing, keep being stupid kids

And then comes Still A Southern Man: Sweet Home Alabama for the 21st Century...

But I'm still a southern man
I don't want your stars and bars
And your blood on my damn hands
I'm looking away now Dixie
Cause I've seen all I can stand
But I'm still a southern man

Oh, Mr. Barnum is the Costello song... another brickbat hurled Donald's way...

It's your pride leading us to a fall
And you just act like it don't matter at all
Oh Mr. Barnum, won't you please take your circus back home

Thoughts & Prayers takes on the NRA... and all those politicians who support their bloodthirsty agenda...

They tell you how to vote and they sell you all their lies
And we watch as common sense just slowly dies
And now you got blood on your hands, oh but you don't care
You just sit back and send out your thoughts and prayers

My American Dream shows Bruce how it should be done...

That's my American dream and I've been all that I can be
With nothin' left to lose at all, I guess I'm free
That's my American dream – it disappeared in front of me
With nothin' left to lose at all, I guess I'm free

The Illegal Line brings the Neil Young guitars for a first person account of a Mexican immigrant doing his best for his wife and kids...

Then it's back to the hotel, split a case of beer
One for every person that's livin' here
Four dollars-an-hour but nobody moans
'Cause it's three-fifty more than we can get back home

Then I send the money back down to my sweet wife
So she can tell my children 'bout a better life:
"Papa's tryin' hard just to make it fine
"Fifty miles north of that illegal line"

And it all wraps up with Nikki's A Republican Now, about how so many young rebel liberals end up as bitter old right-wingers... which probably explains why we are where we are.

I got online and found her and I just could not believe
But there's Nikki with a Bible and a AR-15
She says that all lives matter and the media's a scam
The only gun control that she supports is using both hands
She stands up for the anthem, says that marriage is a woman and a man
Oh my good God!

And that's every song on the record. Because every song is worth writing about. At just under half an hour, My American Dream is lean and mean. It's definitely Will Hoge's angriest record to date... it may also be his best.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

My Top Ten World War I Songs

100 years ago today.

Here's ten songs in tribute to all those soldiers - on all sides - who lost their lives in what tragically wasn't "The War To End All Wars".

With a special mention to Franz Ferdinand, who started it all...

10. Whistling Jack Smith - I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman

Rumoured to be based on a WWI marching song, the hit version was written by the two Rogers: British songwriters Cook & Greenaway. There was no Whistling Jack Smith, and some debate over who actually did the whistling. On the album version, someone shouts "Oi!" near the end, but this was "cleaned up" for the single release and changed to "Hey!" instead.

Those crazy 60s also brought us The Royal Guardsman - Snoopy Vs. The Red  about Baron von Richthofen, Germany's infamous Red Baron airman. Charlie Brown's cartoon pooch Snoopy often imagined himself fighting The Red Baron in the war.

9. Metallica - One

One of the more accessible Metallica songs, about a WWI soldier whose injuries are so terrible he's left praying for death.

8. The Zombies - Butchers Tale (Western Front 1914) 

Definitely the scariest song on this list... perhaps because (unlike Metallica's usual fare) it's a million miles away from the sunshiny pop of She's Not There.

And I have seen a friend of mine
Hang on the wire
Like some rag toy
Then in the heat the flies come down
And cover up the boy
And the flies come down in
Gommecourt, Thiepval,
Mametz Wood, and French Verdun
If the preacher he could see those flies
Wouldn't preach for the sound of guns

7. Siouxsie and the Banshees - Poppy Day

...In Flanders fields
The poppies grow
Between the crosses
Row on row
That mark out place
We are the dead...

Based on a 1919 poem by war poet John McCrae. See also 10,000 Maniacs take on Wilfred Owen... Anthem For Doomed Youth.

6. The Beautiful South - Poppy

Leave to Paul Heaton to mourn with bitterness and anger...

They dressed you up and took you off to World War One 
Armed you and surrounded you with wire 
Sat in stinking mud you sung your stupid songs 
And waited till they told you when to fire

Cause the rulers always laugh 
At a video bloodbath 
Nothing makes them laugh 
Like a video bloodbath

From the First World War to the Yom-Kippur 
It was Beadle's About 
The bayonets slice, the rockets roar 
And he jumps out

5. The Pogues - The Band Played Waltzing Matilda

Written by Scots-Aussie Eric Bogle (whose other big WWI tune was The Green Fields of France), but Shane and the boys did the definitive version for me...

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murray's green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said, "Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done"
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

4. Radiohead - Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

Written in tribute to "the last surviving Tommy", the oldest survivor of WWI who died at the age of 111 in 2009...

I am the only one that got through
The others died wherever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them
Fight it out themselves

3. PJ Harvey - On Battleship Hill

Polly Jean mourns the 500,000 who died at Gallipoli...

On Battleship Hill I hear the wind,
Say "Cruel nature has won again."

2. Randy Newman - Going Home

Here's Randy's explanation of this song...

This is a World War I song.
World War I fascinates me because it was such a shock to the world.
Nothing before or since has come close.
It was a horrible, horrible event.
It was modern weaponry and cavalry and then tanks.
They fought for four years over a hundred yards, some ridiculously small amount of ground.
It's the stupidest event in history.
This is one of those songs that I just can't sing - it's right in one of the cracks in my range.
So we did it to approximate what a recording of that era would sound like.
I know Mitchell's going to get blamed in some review for using all these effects, but we did it because I simply can't sing the thing.

1. The Farm - Altogether Now

I was nineteen when this record came out and I had no idea what it was about. I guess I just didn't listen to the lyrics...

Remember boy that your forefather's died
Lost in millions for a country's pride
But they never mention the trenches of Belgium
When they stopped fighting and they were one

A spirit stronger than war was at work that night
December 1914 cold, clear and bright
Countries' borders were right out of sight
When they joined together and decided not to fight

All together now
All together now
All together now, in no man's land

The same old story again
All those tears shed in vain
Nothing learned and nothing gained
Only hope remains

All together now
All together now
All together now
In no man's land

The boys had their say they said no
Stop the slaughter let's go home, let's go, let's go

(See also Pipes of Peace by Sir Macca Thumbs Aloft... which I like more than I ought to... but then, I was only 11 when it came out.)

Saturday Snapshots #58 - The Answers

I've got 99 problems, but solving Saturday Snapshots ain't one of them. U Don't Know all the answers? It's a hard knock life, but here they are...

(A very evenly spread game, with Rigid Digit stealing a win by half a point as of 9pm last night... although #10 and 5 were still to play for at that point.)

10. √2025. Quiet, you tatty old piece of cloth.

45 x 45 = 2025.

Shh, rag!

Shrag - Forty Five 45s

9. Shaky sunlight causes a blur.

Sunlight comes in rays.

Shaky was Shaking Stevens.

Ray Stevens - The Streak

8. Dylan on the slates in America, trying a trick with his yoyo.

Slates go on the roof in the US.

Dylan Thomas (not Bob).

Walking the dog is something you can do with your yoyo.

Rufus Thomas - Walking The Dog

7. The Spectrum sends a card at this difficult time.

A spectrum is a field of colour.

At this difficult time, you might send a card that says Thinking of You.

The Colourfield - Thinking Of You

6. How to remember Joy Division singer's birthday is at the start of the year... bang on 5pm.

Jan is Ian!

5pm is at 17.00.

Janis Ian - At Seventeen

5. After a sneeze, this often comes in disguise down this exact road to heaven or hell.

After a sneeze, you might get a blessing ("Bless you!").

A blessing often comes in disguise.

This was question 5.

Highway to heave / hell.

The Blessing - Highway 5

4. Home on the side of the road.

At the side of the road you will usually find the pavement.

Home on the range.

Pavement - Range Life

3. AKA Cutler LP: not Billy's kind of girl.

AKA Cutler LP is an anagram.

Billy's girl was uptown.

Petula Clark - Downtown

2. Tough love in the underground prison.

An underground prison would be a low nick.

Nick Lowe - Cruel To Be Kind

1. Tim Booth joins Green On Red, thinks about visiting Elvis.

Tim Booth is in James.

If you were seeing Green on Red, you might be colourblind.

Public Service Announcement: Saturday Snapshots will be back next week!

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Saturday Snapshots #58

Saturday's here again - what a Fantastic Day to play Saturday Snapshots! It's a great game to play Over The Weekend. So put on your Favourite Shirts and let's go...

Identify the ten artists and top tunes from the clues below, please.

10. √2025. Quiet, you tatty old piece of cloth.

9. Shaky sunlight causes a blur.

8. Dylan on the slates in America, trying a trick with his yoyo.

7. The Spectrum sends a card at this difficult time.

6. How to remember Joy Division singer's birthday is at the start of the year... bang on 5pm.

5. After a sneeze, this often comes in disguise, down this exact road to heaven or hell.

4. Home on the side of the road.

3. AKA L.P. Cutler: not Billy's kind of girl.

2. Tough love in the underground prison.

1. Tim Booth joins Green On Red, thinks about visiting Elvis.

Stuck for an answer? Afraid you'll have To Whistle Down The Wind until tomorrow morning...

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