Monday 30 December 2013

My Top Ten Albums of 2013

At last - the big ten. What took me so long? I'll delay you no longer on the intro, I'm sure you just want to read the numbers and skip the waffle. (But allow me the waffle anyway, it's the only writing I get time for these days.)

10. David Bowie - The Next Day

This will no doubt be many people's album of the year and it certainly was a return to some kind of form... though I've enjoyed bits of most of the albums the Dame has released since his 80s zenith/nadir (depending on your point of view - there are those who count Scary Monsters as his last truly classic album, but I'd have to go with Let's Dance and irk the purists). The Next Day was certainly a triumph of marketing - or anti-marketing, if you prefer - and Where Are We Now? was a brave and inspired choice for lead / surprise single. Brave because The Stars (Are Out Tonight) and Valentine's Day were much more obvious pop songs; inspired because of the way it opens with Dave catching a train, then mocking us for believing he never does stuff like that. (He probably doesn't.)

Top Track - The Stars (Are Out Tonight) (The video is hilarious.)

9. dan le sac vs. Scroobius Pip - Repent Replenish Repeat

The "vs." is apposite. Scroobius Pip is probably my favourite contemporary lyricist. I couldn't be less into the music of dan le sac if it'd been used to torture me non-stop for 36 months in a dripping dungeon in Doncaster. IDM, they call it (Intelligent Dance Music.) "Noise," is what Alan Partridge would call it, and I grow closer to Alpha Papa with every passing year. Yet I find myself more than tolerating the le sac racket: I find myself embracing it when it's paired with Pip's stunning storytelling. On their latest release, those stories include a guided tour through an asylum for disturbed ladies (Alice, Dorothy and Wendy... you may recognise the names); an explosive attack on bling culture; an anarchic team up with former King Blues frontman Itch; and the mesmeric tale of a doomed love affair, a true onion song that you need to listen to again and again, peeling back the layers to get to the truth...

Top Track - Terminal 

8. Public Service Broadcasting - Inform - Educate - Entertain

What the hell's this - more dance music? Well, this is about as close as I get. Unjustly compared to both Jean Michel Jarre and Jive Bunny (by utter, utter philistines who don't know what they're talking about), PSB steal samples from old Public Service Announcements and layer them over varied musical accompaniment to create sonic cathedrals of brilliance (TM NME circa 1987). Check out the W H Auden flavoured Night Mail as a starter...

Top Track - Night Mail

7. Billy Bragg - Tooth & Nail

Yeah, this is more like the sort of thing you expect to find in my Top Ten... and who am I to disappoint? Billy delivers exactly what his fans desired on his latest album - a mix of personal, state-of-the-relationship middle aged anthems (my Top Track below became a much-played retort in the year that Louise expected me to become a DIY supergod) and trenchant state-of-the-nation/world protest songs that resolve themselves in both resignation (No One Knows Nothing Anymore) and optimism (Tomorrow's Going To Be A Brighter Day), all recorded over five days in a Pasadena basement. And in the year that his old nemesis finally passed, Billy responded with more dignity than most.

Top Track - Handyman Blues (Another classic video, directed by Johnny Vegas.)

6. Frank Turner - Tape Deck Heart

Which brings us to Frank, in many ways the next generation's Billy Bragg, although his politics are far more complicated. Another artist virtually guaranteed a place in my year end countdown any time he sees fit to release a new record, and Tape Deck Heart was a sterling addition to the canon. Packed with hummable tunes, the latest set from Hampshire's punk rock Springsteen delivered an angry address on how love isn't like it is in the movies ("Amelie lied to me"), an appeal to parents everywhere (if you want your kids to grow up to be songwriters - don't be nice to them) and plenty of fist-in-the-air "I believe in the power of music" singalongs. Plus, if you were smart enough to buy the extended version, further classics involving time machines, undeveloped photographs and Gene Simmons. More smart, witty, thought provoking lyrics than you'll find crammed into any other record this year... with one possible exception (see below, #5). Oh, and live, Frank still blows the roof off.

Top Track - Four Simple Words

5. Eminem - The Marshall Mathers LP 2

My favourite TV character of all time is Andy Sipowicz, as played by Dennis Franz in NYPD Blue. Andy started out as a racist, misogynist, homophobic alcoholic, but over the course of ten seasons he was forced to face up to many of his prejudices, developing and changing like few TV characters ever do, while still remaining a loveable misanthrope at heart. As bizarre as it might seem, I see lots of parallels between Andy S. and Marshall M., although M&M is taking slightly longer to confront his intolerance and bigotry, there are signs of it on his new album... he even manages a "love song" (of sorts) dedicated to his much-maligned mom.

It's almost ten years since I paid any attention to Eminem, and to be honest, I thought I'd outgrown him. Following his last semi-essential album (Encore in 2004), he "retired" only to launch a half-arsed and ill-received "pop" comeback in 2009. So no one expected The Marshall Mathers LP2 to be much cop - particularly as sequels to successful albums are notoriously a one-way ticket to the bargain bin. (Tubular Bells II, anybody?)

But against all odds, Marshall has pulled it off. He even has the audacity to kick off the record with a follow-up to Stan, his biggest radio hit, in which the eponymous hero's brother comes looking for revenge. Along the way he debates the eternal question: "Is Eminem an 'Asshole' or a 'Rap God'?" while sampling everybody from the Zombies to Joe Walsh and spitting machine gun rhymes and quickfire quips that use up half the dictionary. TMMLP2 is frequently hilarious, often offensive, occasionally juvenile and always impressive. And while Eminem steals the "Most Self-Obsessed Songwriter" crown back from Morrissey, he also reveals a maturity and introspection only hinted at on previous outings. It's hardly redemption... but it's a surprising first step.

Top Track - So Far...

4. Brad Paisley - Wheelhouse 

From rap to C&W - you can't accuse me of not at least trying to be eclectic. Brad Paisley is my favourite contemporary country star and Wheelhouse is his masterpiece, a tribute to the "land of cotton" from which he hails, addressing many of the myths, misconceptions and prejudices associated with or aimed at the Deep South. Now I've never been to America and, if I ever did, I'd choose New York over Tennessee, but this record still spoke to me, made me laugh, made me cry, and affirmed my life as music should. Love and hatred, birth and death, religion and politics, marriage and divorce, karate and facebook... all human life is here, with guest appearances from Eric Idle and LL Cool J (on the really-shouldn't-work rap/country crossover that offers a solution to all southern racism). Plus, the song below, which made me sob like a baby more than once this year... for obvious reasons.

Top Track - Officially Alive

3. Prefab Sprout - Crimson / Red

Against all odds - including partial blindness and permanent tinnitus - this autumn, Paddy McAloon surprised everybody by releasing the first new Prefab Sprout material in 12 years (2009's Let's Change The World With Music was based on material originally demoed in the early 90s)... and it was as good, if not better than, anything he's ever recorded before. A set of flawless pop songs / short stories starring jewel thieves, teenagers, devils, magicians and trumpets left out in the snow: no other record made my heart fly and my smile beam as this one did in 2013. Glorious, heartwarming and beautiful; whether he's describing adolescence as "a psychedelic motorbike... you smash it up ten times a day, then walk away" or lamenting an old conjuror who "takes one last, one final bow... he's lost all his illusions now", Paddy may not use as many words as Frank or Marshall, but I'll be damned if the ones he does choose aren't all perfect.

2. Manic Street Preachers - Rewind The Film

On the evening of September 9th, in the very moment my son Sam was delivered into the world, the first single from this album was playing on the radio in the operating theatre. At the time, I believed the lyrics of the chorus to be...
Show me the wonder
I have seen the purpose of the universe
...which would have been perfectly apt. However, on further listens (and closer perusal of the lyric booklet), it turns out the words are actually...
Show me the wonder
I have seen the birthplace of the universe.
Spooky, huh?

I listened to this record a lot in the weeks following Sam's birth, and many of the songs spoke directly to me, as though the Manics put this record together with some foreknowledge of where my life would be when it was released.
I am as tired as John Lennon sang
Conveying exhaustion like no-one else can
I'm no longer the centre of the universe
A bare admission that makes it seem worse
This was also a record in which the group railed against there own middle aged spread, mocking their younger, more bombastic selves thus...
Only in you do we see ourselves
Only in you can we see our end
So sick and so tired of being "4 real"
Only the fiction still has the appeal
They saved their greatest anger, however, for the establishment, proving the years haven't dulled their political bite.
The lies of Hillsborough
The blood of Orgreave
All the evasion at the BBC

And the endless parade of old Etonian scum
Line the front benches, so what is to be done?
All part of the same establishment
I ask you again what is to be done?
I even grew to love the instrumental!

Top Track: Show Me The Wonder

1. John Grant - Pale Green Ghosts

John Grant's debut solo album missed out on my Top Ten of 2010 purely because I didn't get into it in time. I wasn't going to let that happen with the follow-up, and my pre-order was no disappointment. Even back in March, I knew this was going to be my album of the year - despite the fact that, musically at least, it's a little less cosy than its predecessor. Dance beats, electronica, a strong 80s influence... surely these things would spoil Mr. Grant's cutting and hugely personal songwriting? Not one bit.

Both a break-up album and a record on which JG comes to terms with being HIV positive, it doesn't sound like there'll be a whole lot of laughs to be had here... yet in fact, this is bitchiness central. Hilariously cutting, heartbreakingly honest, no other songwriter wore their heart on their sleeve like John Grant this year - not even Eminem! (He even swears more than Marshall, and a helluva lot more creatively.)
Remember walking hand in hand, side by side?
We walked the dogs
And took long strolls through the park...
Except we never had dogs and never went to the park.
Remember how we used to fuck all night long?
Neither do I, because I always passed out
I need lots of booze, to handle the pain
One minute he's comparing a former lover to "the Agent Orange they used to use in Vietnam", the next he's asking Ernest Borgnine for advice on how to cope when life deals you a shitty hand ("And when I think about everything that he's been through, I wish he'd call me on the phone and take my ass to school"). And then, of course, there's GMF, my song of the year. Don't forget - you could be laughing 65% more of the time...

So... those were my albums of 2013. What were yours? All recommendations will be given consideration...

Happy New Year!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

My Top Twenty Albums of 2013 (20 - 11)

Will I complete this countdown by the end of the year? Perhaps a Top 30 was too ambitious with everything else I've got going on, but there were so many great records I wanted to mention, I didn't want to leave the last ten out. Anyway, here's the second third...  

20. John Murry - The Graceless Age

I knew nothing about John Murry before I tripped over The Graceless Age; I know little more now. But it is a lovely record, from the same place as The National or Father John Misty (though not as fun as the latter), with echoes of the Stones and Dylan (particularly on the opener, The Ballad of the Pajama Kid, which is heavily indebted to Knocking On Heaven's Door). Worth a punt...

Top Track - Little Coloured Balloons

19. Suede - Bloodsports

Blimey, who let Suede back in the door? I was happy enough with Brett's solo albums, but this came as a joyous surprise. Like they'd never been away...

Top Track - It Starts And Ends With You

18. Skint & Demoralised - The Bit Between The Teeth

Sadly, this turned out to be the last album under the S&D monicker from Wakefield's greatest beat-poet, Matt Abbott. Let's hope he returns soon in another guise because he's far too engaging a songwriter and storyteller to fade into obscurity. The epic, visceral and heartbreaking opening track - Jarvis Cocker meets Mike Skinner meets Martin Sorcese (!) - is worth the price of admission on its own.

Top Track - Amores Perros

17.  The Electric Soft Parade - Idiots

Always good to have the ESP lads back too, and this was possibly their best record yet: a pure blast of summertime indie that reminded me of all the best bits of 1996 with a few lashings of ELO thrown in for good measure. And let's face it, they had me at the album title.

Top Track - Summertime In My Heart

16. The Indelicates - Diseases of England

Considering every previous Indelicates album has made my Top 3 come the end of its release year (and their debut is still my favourite album of the 21st Century), Simon and Julia will probably be disappointed at a Number 16 placing (yeah, like they give a shit). Diseases of England was a fine record by anybody else's standards, but a little too all-over-the-shop to form a cohesive whole (it didn't help that they released it in three chunks due to financial hardship). Still great: just damned by comparisons to its predecessors.

Top Track - Pubes

15. Lloyd Cole - Standards

Lloyd, on the other hand, just keeps on churning them out... and every one's a gem. The record company (Lloyd and his son?) tried to differentiate this one by telling us he'd gone electric and dragged in a full band again. Whatever, it was business as usual... and what a business!

Top Track - Period Piece

14. Thea Gilmore - Regardless

Thea, too, seems incapable of making a bad record. This didn't stray far from her usual playpen, but if it ain't broke...?

Sadly, the glorious Ms. Gilmore (who's guaranteed a place in this countdown any time she releases a record) is the only female artist to make my list this year. I don't know why that is. If you want to recommend a few women I missed hearing in 2013, fill in the box below.

Top Track (well, the only one I can find on youtube) - Love Came Looking For Me

13. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

Might have placed higher if Nick hadn't roped Ray Winstone in for the x-rated Jubilee Street video. That aside, this was his most consistently satisfying records since The Boatman's Call. And The Higgs Boson Blues is the year's scariest song... not just because Nick starts perving over Miley Cyrus halfway through.

Top Track - The Higgs Boson Blues

12. Justin Currie - Lower Reaches

While JC's third solo record doesn't reach the misanthropic heights of his last two, it confirms his position as National Songwriting Treasure. Lower Reaches begins at a funeral and ends at a wedding... and I reckon Justin probably enjoys the former more than the latter. Much as he wishes he wasn't at either.

If we are going to hell
We might as well enjoy the fall...

Top Track - Falsetto

11. Eels - Wonderful, Glorious

If there's a pattern emerging in this countdown, it's that a lot of the artists I loved ten, twenty - even thirty (!) - years ago are still producing great records, and while they might no longer be troubling the charts, they're still giving me a helluva lot of pleasure. Yes, I am officially a middle aged white muso, and most of the records I buy are by the same... although you might still be surprised by a couple of my Top Ten choices. Until then... enjoy this cracker from the latest Eels album. Age does not wither E...

Next week, the Top Ten. Until then, enjoy that Christmas thing, as much as you can. Thanks for reading...

Sunday 15 December 2013

My Top Thirty Albums of 2013 (30 - 21)

I've not had a whole lot of time for blogging lately, for small baby-related reasons (I'm not complaining!) However, I couldn't let the year pass without giving mention to the records that kept me sane throughout 2013. Before we get to the Top 20, here are a few interesting runners up...

30. Adam Ant - Adam Ant Is the BlueBlack Hussar Marrying the Gunner's Daughter

The album title alone gets it through the door. It's good to have him back.

Top Track - Cool Zombie

29. Jake Bugg - Shangri La 

There's no denying Jake Bugg can write both a TUNE and zeitgeisty lyric, and his debut album did crack me after a good few listens. Whether this will do the same, I've yet to see, I only got it a couple of weeks back. However, I did buy another record on the same day that's already made it into my Top 10. Sometimes though, growers are better than immediate sparklers. Only time will tell.

Top Track - Messed Up Kids

28. Noah & The Whale - Heart Of Nowhere

A concept album about a world where teenagers are illegal... or something. Hardly Tommy, and nowhere near as mindblastingly wonderful as their last record... but I do hope its lack of success doesn't put them off.

Top Track - There Will Come A Time

27. Bon Jovi - What About Now

Look, just deal with it, OK?

Top Track - Because We Can

26. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold

If you want to get picky, this was originally released last year. But it got a big boost this summer by the promotion of its Velvets-meets-Pavement single, Stoned & Starving. If every track on the album had been as strong as that, this might have made my Top 3.

Top Track - Stoned & Starving

25. The Handsome Family - Wilderness

Who knows what goes through Brett & Rennie's minds? On their latest record, each track was named after a woodland critter. The songs were about far more than wildlife though...

Top Track - Woodpecker

24. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

Re-listening to this record in preparation for this countdown, I came to the conclusion I haven't given it enough time. So I've taken it to play in the car. In another couple of weeks, it might be Top 10.

Top Track - Demons  

23. Luke Haines - Rock 'n' Roll Animals

Luke Haines's latest concept album insanity was a children's fable about three rock 'n' roll animals  (Jimmy Pursey, a fox; Gene Vincent, a cat; and a badger called Nick Lowe) who travel up country to battle the evil Angel of the North. Narrated by Julia Davis, naturally.

Top Track - Rock 'n' Roll Animals

22. Johnny Marr - The Messenger

Good to hear Johnny finally deliver the solo album we always knew he was capable of. Shame his former partner is too busy penning Penguin Classics to lend him a few spare lyrics. We can but dream...

Top Track - New Town Velocity

21. The Arctic Monkeys - AM

Alex Turner's Elvis-channeling Glasto performance and the NME's Album of the Year notwithstanding, this was just another year in the life of the Sheffield Monkees. Again, I only picked up their latest album a few weeks back and perhaps with a few more listens it might have crept into my Top 20. But I can tell already it's not up there with their debut or even their last two records. It might be better than Favourite Worst Nightmare... or I might just be being churlish.

Top Track - Number One Party Anthem

And now, because everyone's heard the Arctic Monkeys at some point this year, here's Adam Ant one more time. Because even at #30, he deserves it.

A few surprises there... I know, if some of those only made my Top 30, who the hell made better records this year? You'll have to wait and see.

Start laying your bets for the next ten... or the number one. Any guesses?

Tuesday 3 December 2013

My Top Ten Strike Songs

I've been on strike today for the first time in my life. I managed 41 years without ever going on strike; I've been a full time teacher just over a month and already I'm unionised and refusing to cross the picket line. Billy Bragg would be proud.... which probably gives away this week's Number One.

Special mention to the Flying Pickets... obviously.

10. Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger - Daddy, What Did You Do In The Strike?

Perhaps one day Sam will ask me this question. Perhaps I'll point him to this post.

The song itself... you won't hear a better chronicle of the darkest days of the 1980s.

9. Strike Anywhere - You're Fired!

Very loud but extremely apt.

Hopefully the name of the band won't lead me to the title of the song.

8. Elvis Costello - Clown Strike

I hate clowns, so they can stay on bloody strike for all I care. 

7. Titus Andronicus - A More Perfect Union

Perhaps not about that kind of union, but what it lacks in relevance it makes up for in passion. And any song that mixes Bruce Springsteen with Billy Bragg gets my vote every time...
No, I never wanted to change the world, but I'm looking for a new New Jersey
Because tramps like us, baby, we were born to die
6. Ry Cooder - Strike!

Lots of songs about striking miners... couldn't find any about striking teachers.

We've got it easy, to be honest.

5. Manic Street Preachers - A Design For Life

Growing up in Wales, the Manics were hit hard by the miners' strike. Their biggest hit was inspired by it... and they're still angry (referencing the Battle of Orgreave) on their excellent new album, Rewind The Film.

4. The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again

Yes, yes, this is also somewhat off-topic... but you didn't really think I was going to leave it out, did you?

3. Billy Joel - Allentown

Even the union can't help the inhabitants of Allentown. For anyone who dismisses Billy as a balladeer, here he's as angry at his country as Springsteen on Born In The USA. Great song.

2. Pulp - The Last Day Of The Miners' Strike

Coming from South Yorkshire, Jarvis will have seen the worst effects of the miner's strike firsthand too. Working in Barnsley, I'm reminded of it regularly. Those scars are still raw.
Well by 1985, I was as cold a cold could be
But no-one was underground to dig me out and set me free
'87 socialism gave way to socialising 

So put your hands up in the air once more
The north is rising
1. Billy Bragg - There Is Power In A Union

Sharing its title with a song written in 1913 by Joe Hill (presumably not Stephen King's son... unless time travel or supernatural naughtiness are involved), Billy's version sounded defiant against Thatcherism in the 80s... but is it a forlorn hope today?
Now I long for the morning that they realise
Brutality and unjust laws cannot defeat us
But who'll defend the workers who cannot organise
When the bosses send their lackies out to cheat us?

Those were my striking anthems. Which one would cross your picket line?

Monday 25 November 2013

My Top Ten Lullabies...

...with the word "Lullaby" or "Lullabye" in the title. Because there are plenty more songs I could (and probably will) wade through to accomplish the same end.

I'm kinda getting sick of the lullaby CDs we first got to play to Sam at bedtime. The version of Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star is particularly offensive as the singer insists on over-pronouncing the word "diamond" as "DOY-MOND" and it grates every time we hear it. Sam has yet to be annoyed by it, but we'll soon teach him. We also bought some lullaby versions of Queen, Elvis and Guns 'n' Roses songs (thanks to Deano for pointing us in their direction!) which go down quite well, even though Louise claims to only know two Guns 'n' Roses songs... someone else in need of education. I'll learn them both by the time I'm done.


10. Dixie Chicks - Lullaby

See, the Dixie Chicks aren't just there to stick two fingers up to George Bush and kill off Dennis Franz.

9. Brad Paisley featuring Alison Krauss - Whiskey Lullaby

Speaking of my favourite TV actor, here's one of his former partners, Ricky Schroder, meeting a sticky end courtesy of Brad and Alison.

8. Billy Joel - Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)

I don't know why Billy Joel decided to pack in songwriting 20 years ago. He still tours but it seems he didn't have anything else to say, which is a great shame because I was a huge fan growing up. This is from his last ever album, River of Dreams. It's a simple piano ballad, the kind of thing he excelled at... the kind of thing I wish he'd write again.

7. Alice Cooper - Lullaby

Because we all need a little Alice to send us off to the land of nod. This is from his ridiculously pompous 90s concept album collaboration with Neil Gaiman which, at the time, I thought was pretty pants. A recent reassessment has led me to consider it a barking kind of genius. My critical faculties are obviously fading along with all my other bits.

6. Patti Scialfa - 23rd Street Lullaby

Here's why Patti deserves to be known as more than just "Mrs. Springsteen".

5. The Pogues - Lullaby of London

MacGowan's love/hate lullaby for a capital city as shabby, shameless and spectacular as he is.

4. Tom Waits - Midnight Lullaby

Early Tom Waits, from the days before he started gargling with razor blades. Should you prefer the latter to send of off to dreamland, try this instead: Lullaby.

3. Starsailor - Lullaby

I  always felt the critics were unkind to Starsailor: they wrote some cracking songs and singer James Walsh had a proper rock star voice. Listen to this again and give them a second thought.

2. The Cure - Lullaby

Mad Bob can't sleep because Spider-Man is having him for dinner. If he really sleeps with that much lipstick on, he must have to change his pillowcases every morning.

1. Shawn Mullins - Lullaby

And this is why I will never be cool...

There were plenty more lullabies in my collection (Birdland came close)... but which one sends you off to dreamland?

Sunday 17 November 2013

My Top Ten JFK Songs

Although it happened 9 years before I was born, I've always been fascinated by the events of November 22nd 1963. It seemed inevitable, then, that I would commemorate the 50th Anniversary of that date with a list such as this. Except... when I started looking into it, there were as many JFK songs out there as there are conspiracy theories...

For a more complete list, I suggest checking here. (A lot of those songs deal far more directly with the Kennedy assassination that many of my own choices... but it's my party and I'll stick with the ones that mean the most to me. As usual.)

Special mention for The Dead Kennedys, of course.

10. The Fall - Oswald Defence Lawyer

If Lee Harvey had made it to trial, he could have done worse than get Mark E. Smith to stand up in his defence...
How do you think that jury made up of putrid mass
Embraced theory of triangle bullet lines
Turning in circles twice,
Then incredible, marvelous, exiting back of mind?
9. The Beach Boys - The Warmth of the Sun

Written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love within hours of the news of the JFK shooting; that knowledge makes you hear these otherwise lovelorn lyrics in an entirely new light.

8. Guns N' Roses - Civil War

In Axl's earliest memory, they shot John Kennedy. (By my reckoning, he was a little over 21 months old at the time, so his memory is pretty damned good.) Still, a great camp, subtle-as-a-brick protest song as you'd expect from the Roses...
What's so civil about war, anyway?
7. Lou Reed - The Day John Kennedy Died

On the other hand, Lou's memories of that fateful day are truly visceral...
Talking stopped, someone shouted, "What!?"
I ran out to the street
People were gathered everywhere saying,
did you hear what they said on TV
And then a guy in a Porsche with his radio hit his horn
and told us the news
He said, "The president's dead, he was shot twice in the head
in Dallas, and they don't know by whom."
He goes on to dream himself the president... now, if only that could have come to pass.

6. Steve Earle - Conspiracy Theory
What if you could've been there on that day in Dallas ?
What if you could wrestle back the hands of time?
Maybe somethin' could've been done in Memphis?
We wouldn't be livin' in a dream that's died?
'Nuff said.

5. Simon & Garfunkel - The Sound of Silence

Another song written in the aftermath of 22/11/63 (no, I'm not writing it 11/22/63, not even for Stephen King).
Hello darkness, my old friend, 
I've come with talk with you again...
4. Manic Street Preachers - I Am Just A Patsy

Great track from one of my favourite Manics albums...
I am just a patsy
The Oswald in Lee Harvey
...they're just a patsy for your love.

3. The Wedding Present - Kennedy

Already Number One in my Top Ten American President Songs, which also features another track from this very list... though this time, that one wins top spot. 

2. The Dream Academy - Life in a Northern Town

Ostensibly a song about Nick Drake, this also contains the memorable refrain...
He said "In winter 1963
It felt like the world would freeze
With John F. Kennedy
And The Beatles."
...which means I can shoe-horn it in here. Good job: it's ace.

1. Okkervil River - The President's Dead 

Although it doesn't mention JFK, Oswald or Dealey Plaza, this still has enough references to that infamous day ("a shot from the crowd and a shot in the head") as well as tackling the question of "where when you when...?" that anyone who lived through November 22nd 1963 will have been asked at one time or another. Plus, it's my all-time favourite Okkervil River song, and the first song I thought of when I decided to compile this Top Ten.

Those were my Dealey (Plaza) Boppers... but which is your Love Gunman?

Sunday 10 November 2013

My Top Ten Don't Cry Songs

Sam isn't a bad kid when it comes to crying. I've heard tell of babies who are much, much worse. But there are times... times when nothing we do will soothe him, when we feel that crushing mix of frustration, guilt and pain which every parent must grow to understand. Still, music has powers to soothe the savage beast, to paraphrase William... Congreve. (Yeah, I thought it was Shakey, too.) Here's ten tunes to do just that...

10. Oasis - Stop Crying Your Heart Out

Every time I include an Oasis song in a Top Ten, an angel loses its wings. This is one of those rare compositions from the monobrowed chuckle brothers that doesn't annoy the jogging bottoms off me. Still... sorry, seraphim.

9. Elkie Brooks - Don't Cry Out Loud

A hit in the US for Melissa Manchester (it was written by Peter Allen and Carole Bayer-Sager), but Elkie's UK hit is a little less Streisand. 

8. Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons - Big Girls Don't Cry

Silly boys...

7. The Streets - Dry Your Eyes

I really shouldn't dig Mike Skinner's soppy Ray Winstone Jr. routine... And yet...

6. Guns 'n' Roses - Don't Cry

Never ones to do things by halves, GnR actually released two different versions of this song (the lyrics of the verses were entirely different) as part of the mammoth double album exercise in self-destruction that was Use Your Illusion. This is the alternate version. If you're sad, like me, you might want to compare the two. They blew the video budget on the first version though.

5. Richard Hawley - Don't You Cry

 Epic (10 & 1/2 minutes) sadness from the Sheffield Sinatra.

4. The Pretenders - Stop Your Sobbing

Written by Ray Davies (Chrissie Hynde's boyfriend at the time - what a cradle snatcher!) and originally recorded by The Kinks... though the Pretenders made it their own with a little new wave bite. Their debut single - hard to believe it only reached #34 in the charts.

3. Spiritualized - Stop Your Crying

Phil Spector has a lot to answer for.

"Orchestra? Check. Choir? Check. Gratuitous destruction of musical instruments? Check. Kitchen sink? Where's that bloody kitchen sink!?"

2. The Cure - Boys Don't Cry

So, tell me, Mad Bob McMad, why exactly don't boys cry? It can't be for fear of making their eyeliner run...

1. INXS - Baby Don't Cry

Probably my favourite INXS song, a joyously anthemic pop cookie. What U2 might sound like if Bono wasn't such an utter knob.

Which one stops your sobbing?

Monday 4 November 2013

My Top Ten 'Born To...' Songs

Still celebrating the birth that changed our lives forever... and wondering just what our son, Sam, will be born to do...

There will be no prizes for guessing Number One.

10. Transvision Vamp - Born To Be Sold

My first piece of fatherly advice... keep away from girls who look like Wendy James, lad. They'll only bring you trouble.

9. Lana Del Rey - Born To Die
The road is long, we carry on
Try to have fun in the meantime
Words to live by, Lana. 

8. Pulp - Born To Cry

Well, he's a baby, Jarvis. They do cry. We'll deal with that in more detail in a future Top Ten.

See also the cool Tony Christie version.

7. The Rare Earth - Born To Wander

Embrace your right to ramble... 
Cause the wind was my mother
The highway is my brother
I was born to wander
And it's time for movin' on
I was born to wander
Turn around and I'll be gone, gone, gone
6. Patrick Hernandez - Born To Be Alive

Possibly the campest record ever made. FANTASTIC.

5. The Go-Betweens - Born To A Family

Sometimes I feel this could be about me.
Born to a family of honest workers... then I came along
Everyone else in my family has a trade. They do good, honest, skilled work.
I was square into the hole
There was something in my soul
What could I do... but follow the calling?
Son, whatever you want to do with your life, I hope to encourage you. But people will always need plumbers...

4. Bon Jovi - Born To Be My Baby

Look, you can come in here with your cool, hip, indie-kid shoes on... I wear those shoes plenty myself. But if you try and deny the supreme majesty of the Jove at their rocking best... well, don't let the door hit your backside on the way out.

3. Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild
Get your motor running...
This song was written by Mars Bonfire. Yes, I said Mars Bonfire.

We were struggling a long time to think of a name for our baby. Mars Bonfire Hirst came very close.

2. Dion - Born To Be With You

Originally recorded by The Chordettes in 1956, Dion's Phil Spector-produced cover from the mid-70s is a record of staggering beauty.
All my life through I was born, born, born, born, born to be with you
1. Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run

Only one of the greatest songs ever written.
I'll love you with all the madness in my soul

Which were you born to choose?

Sunday 27 October 2013

My Top Ten Lou Reed / Velvet Underground Songs

It's a shame that the first Top Ten I've had time to compose since Sam was born (the last few weeks' were all prepared in advance) is commemorating a death, but I couldn't let Lou Reed pass without a little rushed Top Tenning...

10. Sunday Morning

Bitter irony: Lou died on a Sunday Morning.

9. Beginning Of A Great Adventure

A few weeks ago, I threw this into one of my parenthood Top Tens. I include it again here because:

a) It disproves all those folk who think Lou didn't have a sense of humour.

b) It's ace.

8. Who Loves The Sun

No, there's nothing from Metal Machine Music on this list. I must be a pop kid at heart.

7. Venus In Furs

And yes, if I were a muso, this would be much nearer Number One too.

6. Perfect Day

Hard to hear this without picturing that scene from Trainspotting... or hearing that patchy singalong charity cover from a few years back. Still... perfect.

5. Sweet Jane
I'll tell you something
Jack, he is a banker
And Jane, she is a clerk
Both of them save their monies, ha
And when, when they come home from work
Oh, sittin' down by the fire, oh!
The radio does play
The classical music there, Jim
The march of the wooden soldiers
All you protest kids
You can hear Jack say, get ready, ah...
It's a sex song, obviously.

4. Satellite of Love

Bong bong bong!

3. Oh! Sweet Nuthin'

Loaded is my favourite Velvets album (as you'll probably have guessed from the fact 4 out of the 10 tracks here hail from that LP alone). It's not the cool one that all the critics love, but it's pretty damned near perfect. This track that closes it, brilliantly.

2. Rock & Roll

Our lives were saved by rock 'n' roll...

1. Walk On The Wild Side

I fought this one, I really did. Tried to not go for the obvious choice at #1. Tried to be cool rather than populist. But... fuck it, I don't think Lou did better than this. Few have come close...

Do-dodo dodo do-dodo...

RIP Lou.

Which was your Perfect Day?

Monday 21 October 2013

My Top Ten Bad Dad Songs

I've looked to a lot of pop songs for advice on fatherhood lately. Here's a few I won't be asking for help...

10. Morrissey - The Father Who Must Be Killed

A stepchild takes revenge against her abusive father... for the way he chews his food? I suspect there's more to it than that. Morrissey champions the underdogs once again. 

9. Genesis - No Son Of Mine

The darker side of The Living Years, which I covered in an earlier post, about a young man trying to reconcile with an abusive father... and not getting very far.

8.  The Indelicates - Be Afraid Of Your Parents

How to cope when your parents are pretentious arses... oh, the horror!

7. Kenny Rogers - The Coward of the County

On his prison deathbed, Tommy's late father tells him to always walk away from a fight. Tommy honours his dad's wishes... until the Gatlin Boys come calling. On that day, Tommy realises, "Sometimes you've gotta fight when you're a man".

6. Eminem - '97 Bonnie & Clyde

You have to wonder how poor little Hailie Jade will end up when she's got a crazy dad like Marshall Mathers. There were any number of Bad Dad songs I could have chosen from Eminem's back catalogue, but this one always makes me smile for its playful parody of an aforementioned Will Smith record...
Don't play with da-da's toy knife, honey, let go of it  
And don't look so upset, why you actin' bashful?
Don't you wanna help da-da build a sand castle?
And mama said she wants to show how far she can float
And don't worry about that little boo-boo on her throat
It's just a little scratch - it don't hurt, her was eatin'
Dinner while you were sweepin' and spilled ketchup on her shirt
Mama's messy ain't she? 

We'll let her wash off in the water and me and you can play by ourselves, can't we?
5. Martin Rossiter -  Three Points On A Compass

The lead track from the Gene man's long awaited debut solo album of last year is a hugely affecting 10 1/2 minute piano ballad aimed squarely at an absent father.
The only thing I got from you
Was my name
(This stupid name)
4. The Beautiful South - Your Father and I

A mother and father bicker over the story behind the conception and birth of their child... but who's telling the truth? Classic Heaton.
(Dad)  I'll remember the birth
For the rest of my time on this land
Your mother sweating buckets
And me holding onto her hand

(Mum) Well, your father was absent
He claimed he couldn't find the ward
Just tugging on mescal
Trying to eat the umbilical cord
3. Johnny Cash - A Boy Named Sue

Sue (aka Johnny) wants revenge on his pa for the cruel hand he dealt his son before doing a runner. But there was method in the old man's madness...

2.  Squeeze - Up The Junction

I almost included this on My Top Ten Songs About Becoming A Parent. There's no better song to chronicle the arrival of a new baby...
This morning at 4:50
I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator
Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter
Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother
If there could be another
The only problem is that after that joyous event, everything goes bad for the alcoholic dad who's narrating this tale and he's left alone with only bitterness and regret.
And now she's two years older
Her mother's with a soldier
She left me when my drinking
Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me
From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly
No more nights nappies smelling
What makes this song even more impressive is that it's all verse, no chorus. Not many hit records can claim that.

1. Pulp - A Little Soul

One of my favourite Pulp singles, allegedly about Jarvis' relationship with his estranged father.
I'd love to help you
But everybody's telling me
You look like me
But please don't turn out like me.
You look like me
But you're not like me I know.
I had one, two, three,
Four shots of happiness.
I look like a big man
But I've only got a little soul.
I only got a little soul.

Any more bad parents I should be aware of? Feel free to share them with the class.

Monday 14 October 2013

My Top Ten Daddy Songs

Still looking for songwriterly advice on being a dad, now I'm a daddy cool... 

10. Cliff Richard - Daddy's Home

I'd like to apologise... for having no shame. Seriously, though, if you can find another video that SCREAMS 80s camp more than this... while simultaneously being exceedingly creepy... I want to see it.

Look, it was this or more Eminem: My Dad's Gone Crazy (which, after choosing Cliff, you probably think I have). Eminem fans - come back next week.

9. Johnny Cash - Daddy Sang Bass

The Man In Black had a lighter side.

On a similar note, see Don't Make Fun Of Daddy's Voice by Mozzer.

8. Naomi Bedford - Daddy's Got A Gun

I picked this up as a free download on Amazon a while back. I must investigate Naomi Bedford further... this is a cracker!

7. Prince - Daddy Pop

Let's all celebrate a Prince song that's actually on youtube! Hooray!

6. The Lemonheads - C'mon, Daddy

A song about confused parenthood. As is this...

5. Kid Creole & The Coconuts - Annie, I'm Not Your Daddy

 I love the 80s. See also Billie Jean, obviously. "The kid is NOT my son!"

4. The Divine Comedy - Your Daddy's Car

 No, son, you can't borrow the car keys.

3. Nilsson - Daddy's Song

Fathers who desert their children feature heavily in another Top Ten I'm compiling. The experience obviously had a powerful effect on little Harry N.

2. Elvis Presley - Don't Cry, Daddy

On his own recent compilation of Daddy-related tunes, Deano claimed that "this song makes you realise how good Elvis’s voice actually was". I couldn't agree more. And whenever I hear it, I get a little bit sad that we live in a cynical, post-ironic age that might laugh at a song written from the perspective of a child who's lost his mum, trying to cheer up his broken-hearted father. This is a beautiful record.

1. Loudon Wainwright III - Being A Dad

Rufus and Martha have had much to say about their father's incessant need to chronicle their childhood in song... not always positive. This is the guy who famously wrote Rufus Is A Titman, about his baby son's penchant for breastfeeding (did that put Rufus off tits for life?), and Daughter (you ask me, Martha got off lightly!) But Being A Dad must surely be his crowning glory...
Bein' a dad isn't so bad
Except that you gotta feed 'em
You gotta shoe 'em and clothe 'em
And try not to loathe 'em
Bug 'em and hug 'em and heed 'em

Bein' a dad can sure make you mad
Man, it even can drive you crazy
It's as hard as it looks
You gotta read them dumb books
And you end up despising Walt Disney

Who's your daddy?

Monday 7 October 2013

My Top Ten Party Songs

To celebrate our new arrival, we're having a party at Top Ten Towers... and you're invited. My son Sam is 4 weeks old today and 1 calendar month on Wednesday. This is his party.

There are, of course, thousands of "party" songs. To narrow that down, the first rule is that the song has to have "party" in the title. There are, however, lots of songs that mention parties in the title but are actually anything but party songs (Party Fears Two, It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To). Those will get their own Top Ten one day. Basically, to get in here... you've gotta make me want to hit the dancefloor. (And that takes some doing.)

So... let's party!

10. The Blackout - Start The Party

Welsh rockers The Blackout swap Merthyr Tydfil for Ibiza in the title track from their latest album. Loses points for the cry of "Wuzzzaaaaaappp?" right at the end of the video. Does anybody really still say "Wuzzzaaaaaappp?" in 2013? Or am I just out of touch?

9. Gretchen Wilson - Here For The Party

Nobody parties like a redneck queen...
Well, I'm an eight ball shooting, double fisted drinking son of a gun
I wear my jeans a little tight
Just to watch the little boys come undone
I'm here for the beer and the ball busting band
Gonna get a little crazy just because I can

I'm here for the party
8. Queen - Party / Kashoggi's Ship

The opening tracks to Queen's late 80s album The Miracle segue together for a party full of excess... just like Freddie's life.
No one stops my party!
7. Southside Johnny & The Asbury Dukes - We're Having A Party

Written and originally recorded by Sam Cooke, but Johnny's version is more likely to fill the dance floor.

6. Pulp - Party Hard

The darkest song on this list, dealing with the death of the Britpop party (as the whole This Is Hardcore album portrayed in exquisite detail), yet it still rocks. Plus - Jarvis plays dominoes with a squadron of cheerleaders. The man is a god.
I was having a whale of a time until your uncle...
Your uncle Psychosis arrived.
Why do we have to half kill ourselves just to prove we're alive?
I'm here whenever you need me
and whenever you need me
I won't be here.
And have you ever stopped to ask yourself?
If you didn't come to party, then why did you come here?
5. Pink - Get The Party Started

As we've already established, I'm a huge Pink fan. This is the kind of dancey pop racket that, were it recorded by anyone else, I might not give much time to. But I do like Pink... and this tune does exactly what it says on the tin.

4. The Divine Comedy - I've Been To A Marvellous Party

Neil Hannon covers the Noel Coward classic. It begins as a crackly old gramophone recording before going all techno-Prodigy in the middle. That really shouldn't work. But, by jove, it does.
On Wednesday night, I went to a marvellous party
With Nunu and Nada and Nell
It was in the fresh air and we went as we were and we stayed as we were which was hell
Poor Grace started singing at midnight and she didn't stop singing til four
We knew the excitement was bound to begin when Laura got blind on Dubonet and Gin
And scratched her veneer with a Cartier pin - I couldn't have liked it more!
3. Elvis Presley - Let's Have A Party

Back in high school, I played Little John in our Sixth Form Robin Hood pantomime. At the beginning of the second half, the Merry Men had a party... and I performed this song with as much Elvis swagger as I could manage. (It was mimed, sadly, but I gave it my all.) Hearing it always reminds me of my moment in the spotlight. 

2. The Beastie Boys - (You've Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party)

Thank god for those brackets - I couldn't have left this one out.

Top video - "I hope no bad people show up!"

1. Andrew W.K. - Party Hard

I don't know what to make of Andrew W.K. You can read all kinds of wild conspiracy theories about him over on iffypedia and I don't think any of his other records have stayed on my radar for more than five minutes. But if you're going to go down in history as a crazy one-hit wonder... you can do much worse than this belter.

Which one makes you want to party like it's 1999?

Sunday 29 September 2013

My Top Ten Father & Son Songs... That Do Mention Fathers and Sons In The Title

Coming up on week three and this is proving the hardest (albeit most rewarding) thing I've ever done in my life. Fortunately, I'm still taking lessons in fatherhood from my record collection...

10. Chicory Tip - Son of my Father

While I have a lot of time for a great deal of 70s chart guff... this hasn't aged particularly well. Yes, kids, there was a time when all pop stars dressed like Chicory Tip...

9. Joshua Kadison - My Father's Son
A fool thinks he ain't bought and sold
Cause every man sells a bit of his soul
To bring his family home some gold
Before he knows he's gotten old
Starting a new teaching year at the same time you become a parent isn't something I'd recommend to anyone... this reminds me why I'm doing it.

8. Hank Williams - My Son Calls Another Man Daddy

Let's not bring the milkman into this, Hank...

7. Gorkys Zygotic Mynci - Sometimes the Father Is the Son

 Gorgeous song from the Welsh weirdos. Reminiscent in many ways of this next gentleman...

6. Brian Wilson - The Child Is Father Of The Man

An off-cut from the legendary SMiLE sessions, finally released in 2004, made even more special by the fact that it serves here as an intro to Surf's Up, one of the greatest Brian Wilson / Van Dyke Parks songs ever.

5. The Gaslight Anthem - Our Father's Son

Remember b-sides? Remember when b-sides used to be as strong as some a-sides?

4. Queen - Father To Son

From the days when Queen were serious Led Zep fans.

3. Peter Gabriel - Father, Son

Can you recall
How you took me to school
We couldn't talk much at all
It's been so many years
And now these tears
Guess I'm still your child

Out on the moors
We take a pause
See how far we have come
You're moving quite slow
How far can we go
Father and son
2. Father John Misty - Only Son of the Ladiesman

Maybe a little bit of a cheat but there's both a Father and a Son in the link above and this is just gorgeous. Not that my boy will ever have to worry about his old man being described in these terms...
Couldn't see his used up body at the funeral
By virtue of the flailing of his conquests
They tied down his casket with the garter belt
Each troubled heart was beating in a sequin dress
Someone must console these lonesome daughters
No written word or ballad will appease them
1. Johnny Cash - Father and Son

Written by Cat Stevens, ruined by Boyzone... resurrected and immortalised by JC (with a little help from Fiona Apple). I love the original, but this version just floors me...

"Daddy... why do you keep making Top Tens?"

So people will leave a comment, son.

Sunday 22 September 2013

My Top Ten Father & Son Songs... That Don't Mention Fathers or Sons In The Title

Still too busy to write new Top Tens... but fortunately, I stashed a few away in reserve before our new arrival.

Having a son has made me think a lot about being a father, and about my own father and everything he's done for me. These ten songs put those emotions into words I could never write...

(There are lots of father / son records that do mention the F or S word in the title. We'll get back to those.)

10. Dan Fogelberg - Leader of the Band

Big member of the Dan Fogelberg Appreciation Society right here.
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I'm just a living legacy
To the leader of the band.
9. Paul McCartney - Put It There

Those of you who know about the love/hate relationship I have with Sir Thumbsaloft might be surprised to find this one here, yet I always found it to be one his most affecting solo records, based on some wacky old Liverpudlian expression his dad used to come out with.

8. Brad Paisley - He Didn't Have To Be

Brad's first American Number One tells the story of a boy's respect for his stepfather, hoping that when he himself becomes a father, he can be "at least half the dad he didn't have to be". I always presumed this was autobiographical, but iffypedia tells me it's actually about one of Paisley's friends and his son.

7. Mike & The Mechanics - The Living Years

Mike & The Mechanics were an appealing prospect in that they were basically latter-day Genesis minus Phil Collins, with added Paul Carrack. Which is a win-win situation in anybody's book. This is their biggest hit, a heartstring tugger about a son who regrets his fractious relationship with his father once the old man has passed.

6. Nizlopi - JCB Song

Something of a novelty hit, this relies heavily on 80s pop culture references (Zoids, Transformers, BA Baracus and Toberlone) to catch the attention of blokes of a certain age... i.e. me. And although not all our dads will have driven a JCB, many of us can remember a time when we thought our Dad was Bruce Lee...

5. David Gates & Bread - Everything I Own

Yes, I used to think this was just another song about a man pining for a woman too. Puts a whole new slant on it when you realise it's about a son missing his late father...
I would give everything I own
Give up my life, my heart, my home
I would give everything I own
Just to have you back again
4. Bruce Springsteen - Walk Like A Man

Bruce has written a number of songs about his father and my immediate thought for this list was My Hometown in which he rides around town on his dad's lap (no car seats in them days!). But this one gets me in the back of the throat from the opening line...
I remember how rough your hand felt in mine
On my wedding day...
3. Billy Bragg - Tank Park Salute 

A young boy confronts his own mortality... and that of his father.
I accepted the commiserations
Of all your friends and your relations
But there's some things I still don't understand

You were so tall
How could you fall?
And if you think that's a tearjerker... try this:

2. Shirley Lee - The Reservoir

I've written about this song many times before, I'm sure I'll write about it again. Shirley's heartfelt tribute to his late father: it never fails to reduce me to tears. If you can spare the time to listen to it, I challenge you to reach the end without filling up. All the way to the end. Don't say I didn't warn you.

1. Harry Chapin - Cat's In The Cradle

"Frankly," says Harry Chapin in his live introduction, "this song scares me to death."

It's certainly a lesson to busy fathers everywhere... 

Which song reminds you of your father?

Sunday 15 September 2013

My Top Ten Newborn Songs

Sam and his mum are finally home from the hospital so my time is pretty full...but here's another list I prepared earlier. Ten songs celebrating the arrival of a new life... sort of.

10. Lloyd Cole - Brand New Baby Blues

Obscure b-side, not available to listen to anywhere on the internet, but still a damned good song. 

9. Robert Post - Newborn

Tomorrow, Robert will hop a train and come back newborn. I dread to think what the fare will be for that. I hope he booked well in advance for a sizable discount.

8. Morrissey - At Last, I Am Born

The song Moz wrote the day after finally getting a shag. 
I once thought that I had numerous reasons to cry
And I did, but I don’t anymore
Because I am born, born, born
7. Everclear - I Will Buy You A New Life

And you think you have a problem with door-to-door salesmen and Jehova's Witnesses? Just be glad you've not got Art Alexakis singing through your keyhole.

6. Depeche Mode - New Life

I have no idea what this is all about, but I'm pretty sure it's nothing to do with having a baby. Still... vintage Mode.

5. Cat Stevens - Here Comes My Baby

I challenge you to listen to the intro of this song and not feel just that little bit better.

4. Bright Eyes - The First Day of My Life

The idea of a song written from the perspective of a newborn baby sounds like cheese on a stick. Thankfully, it's Bright Eyes... not Sting.
Remember the time you drove all night
Just to meet me in the morning
And I thought it was strange you said everything changed
You felt as if you'd just woke up
And you said "this is the first day of my life
I'm glad I didn't die before I met you
But now I don't care I could go anywhere with you
And I'd probably be happy"
3. Black Box Recorder - New Baby Boom

A first love song for our brand new son... courtesy of Sarah Nixey, Luke Haines and John Moore. (His two dads?)

2. Suzanne Vega - Birth-Day (Love Made Real)

I've already posted and will post a lot more songs dealing with what it feels like to become a father. This is one of the best I know about what a mother goes through...
Shakin' all over like an old sick dog
There's a needle here, needle there, tremble in the fog
It's a tight squeeze, vice grip, ice and fire
Hot little treasure and the wave goes higher
1. Elbow - Newborn 
I'll be the corpse in your bathtub...
...isn't, perhaps, the most romantic opening to a love song... but that's Guy Garvey's gift: to find beauty in the bleakest of places.

Which one would you want to enter the world to?

Wednesday 11 September 2013

My Top Ten Songs About Becoming A Parent

They had the radio on in the operating theatre. On Monday evening, as our new baby son was delivered into this world, this is the song I was listening to...
Show me the wonder
I have seen the purpose of the universe
 If I'd written that into a story, it would have seemed too good to be true.

Obviously, I have no time right now for compiling Top Tens. So here's one I compiled earlier, to prepare us for our new arrival...

I always swore I'd never become a Dad-Blogger, and I won't, but I hope you'll indulge me these next few Top Tens. Your regularly scheduled dose of cynicism will return very soon. Until then...

10. Colin Meloy - Wonder

Lead Decemberist Meloy ponders all the bits and bobs that going into creating a new life...
My darling, what wonder have we wrought here?
It's weird and it's wonderful, dear

An ankle, an earlobe, an elbow bone
It's weird how it wonderful grows
And it was only me and you
That made this three come out of two
9. Creed - With Arms Wide Open

What if Colin Farrell played Eddie Vedder?
Well, I don't know if I'm ready
To be the man I have to be
I'll take a breath, I'll take her by my side
We stand in awe, we've created life 
I don't know a whole lot about Creed, but you can't google-search "Songs About Becoming A Parent" without some wise-ass suggesting this. And rightly so.
If I had just one wish
Only one demand
I hope he's not like me
I hope he understands
That he can take this life
And hold it by the hand
And he can greet the world
With arms wide open...
8. Lou Reed - Beginning of a Great Adventure
It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around
A little me to fill up with my thoughts
A little me or he or she to fill up with my dreams

A way of saying life is not a loss

It might be fun to have a kid I could pass something on to
Something better than rage, pain, anger and hurt
See, Lou, this is why nobody invites you to parties anymore.

7. Embrace - Three Is A Magic Number
A man and a woman had a little baby
Yes they did
They had three in the family
And that's a magic number
Originally written by Bob Dorough for an American kid's TV show, though the most famous version / adaptation is by De La Soul. Embrace covered the original though, keeping the multiplication tables... but also focusing on the lyric above. And now I understand it.

6. Billy Bragg - Brickbat

Billy will return on another list with a top song about his own father... but this one's more about how becoming a dad had a profound effect on his philosophy...
I used to want to plant bombs at the Last Night of the Proms
But now you’ll find me with the baby, in the bathroom,
With that big shell, listening for the sound of the sea,
The baby and me
5. Will Smith - Just The Two Of Us
From the hospital that first night
Took a hour just to get the car seat in right
People driving all fast, got me kinda upset
Got you home safe, placed you in your bassinette
That night I don't think one wink I slept
As I slipped out my bed, to your crib I crept
Touched your head gently, felt my heart melt
Cause I knew I loved you more than life itself (life itself)
Then to my knees, and I begged the Lord please
Let me be a good daddy, all he needs
Love, knowledge, discipline too
I pledge my life to you
I'm sorry, there's something in my eye.

4. Paul Simon - That Was Your Mother

Paul Simon's written more emotional songs about being a parent, but I kind of like the cheek of this one. Because it's possible to feel like both Will Smith and Paul Simon at the same time...
Well, that was your mother
And that was your father
Before you was born dude
When life was great
You are the burden of my generation
I sure do love you
But let's get that straight
3. Kate Bush - This Woman's Work

Because, after seeing what Louise has been through over this last week (and before): men have it easy.
Pray God you can cope.
I stand outside this woman's work,
This woman's world.
Ooh, it's hard on the man,
Now his part is over.
Now starts the craft of the father.
2. David Bowie - Kooks

I always liked this song, but I never really got it till recently. Written for Duncan Jones, the director of the excellent films Moon and Source Code, a long time ago... by his dad.
And if you ever have to go to school
Remember how they messed up this old fool
Don't pick fights with the bullies or the cads
'Cause I'm not much cop at punching
Other people's dads
And if the homework brings you down
Then we'll throw it on the fire
And take the car downtown
1. Brad Paisley - Officially Alive

It's no secret that I had some resistance to the idea of becoming a parent. As a younger man, it was a path I never saw myself taking. Even when Louise and I got together, it was something I struggled with. I've never been what you'd call kid friendly... so I just kept praying it'd be true what people say: "It's different when they're your own."
It’s not the double kick of an ultrasound
Or a piece of paper on file downtown
It takes more than a beat and a breath and a name
It’s when you’re so in love and so in pain
I wasn't ready for the emotions I'd feel during the pregnancy. The way it changed me. In the weeks leading up to the birth of our son, I listened to the new Brad Paisley album, Wheelhouse, a lot. And whenever this song came on... I couldn't help myself...blubbing like a baby.
Yeah, it’s a tragedy to go through history and simply just exist
You’re gonna realize how quick it flies by and everything you missed
And suddenly you’re standing there in scrubs
Love has found new flesh and blood
It’s a feeling you weren’t ready for
When you’re looking in eyes that look like yours

Parents! (I know there's a fair few reading this blog.) Which song most expresses the biggest change in your life?

Thursday 5 September 2013

My Top Ten Waiting Songs (Volume 2)

We're still waiting...

10. Beach Boys - I'm Waiting For The Day

Much to Steve's horror, it came down to a toss-up between this and Right Here Waiting by Richard Marx... and you know how I love my shocking 80s tat. You'll be glad to know that sanity prevailed. For once.

9. Kathleen Edwards - What Are You Waiting For?

Any excuse to hear the gorgeous, smokey tones of one of Canada's finest...

8. Bruce Springsteen - Waitin' On A Sunny Day

Oh, I'm tired of trying to sell you on Bruce. You either believe or you're missing out.

7. The Rolling Stones - Waiting On A Friend

In which Mick 'n' Keef play pimps more interested in each other than Da Laydeez.

Back in 1980-something, somebody actually thought this video was a good idea. Nice sax, though.

6. The Flaming Lips - Waitin' For A Superman

Already included in My Top Ten Superman Songs, but too good to leave out. 

5. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Waiting In Vain

Listen to Bob and it's always a lazy sunny day. 

4. Thin Lizzy - Waiting For An Alibi

No matter what video I click on tonight, youtube keeps trying to sell me the new Justin Timberlake album. Please, youtube: check my viewing history. Am I really going to bite?
Valentino's in a cold sweat...
3. The Velvet Underground - Waiting For The Man

Although Lou Reed doesn't actually sing that, does he? One wonders if the record company tinkered with the title because it was sung by a man... although they didn't seem too bothered about all the thinly disguised drugs references. Oh, those swinging 60s...

2. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Waiting
The waiting is the hardest part...
A great Byrdsy riff opens this classic from one of the most underrated bands in the world. I know they've had loads of success over the years, but Tom and the Heartbreakers still deserve more recognition.

1. Leonard Cohen - Waiting For The Miracle

I first encountered this song in the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino and Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers. It has the perfect mix of menace and magic.
The Maestro says it's Mozart
But it sounds like bubble gum
When you're waiting for the miracle 

For the miracle to come.

Don't tell me you're still waiting for another song?

Tuesday 3 September 2013

My Top Ten Waiting Songs (Volume 1)

Louise's due date was today... but as I write, there's no sign of the newest addition to our family. And so, we're waiting... just like these guys...

10. Jack Johnson - Sitting, Wishing, Waiting

Look up "laid back" in the dictionary. If there isn't a picture of Jack Johnson, I'd buy a new dictionary. 

9. Foreigner - Waiting For A Girl Like You

Yes, Foreigner.

No, I'm not kidding.

When I first considered this Top Ten... this was the first track I thought of.

Child of the 80s!

8. Dan Le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip - Waiting For The Beat To Kick In…

I learnt a new initialism the other day. IDM: Intenillgent Dance Music. The only kind I'm remotely interested in. This track begins like many rap records, focusing heavily on the chorus and rhymes... and then, Scroob' goes off-message and starts telling us about a crazy dream he had. Mesmerising.
Now I'm sure you've had times when you've felt down or angry,
Wanted to lash out, punch a wall and be manly,
But the question I pose now will offer you a plan B,
And maybe some peace and quiet for your friends and family,
How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood,
And then just be... in... a good mood?
That's all I have to say because it's a straight up fact,
You control your emotions it's as simple as that".
7. Noah & The Whale - Waiting for My Chance to Come

One of my favourites by the band that named themselves after director Noah Baumbach and his movie The Squid & The Whale.

6. The Kinks - Tired Of Waiting For You

 Ray is proper fed up.

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - (Are You) The One That I've Been Waiting For?

As with a lot of Nick Cave records, this rewards repeated listening, taking us deeper and deeper into the story the more we here it.

4.  The Stone Roses - What the World Is Waiting For

As with most Ian Brown lyrics, I've no idea what this is all about. Donkeys, wise men, the promised land... sorted. Take me any way the wind blows... 

3. The Doors - Waiting For The Sun

I'd placed this lower down the chart until I remembered that crashing guitar riff... wow.

2. Diana Ross - I'm Still Waiting

An unrequited childhood romance leads Diana into heartbreak... and she's still waiting.

1. Billy Bragg - Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards

No other song sums up everything that's great about Billy Bragg like this - the relationship angst, the outspoken politics, the clever wordplay, the self-deprecating wit... it's crammed full of quotable lines. (One of my favourite T-shirts reads 'The revolution is just a T-shirt away'.) And every time Billy performs it live, he updates the lyrics. Beam me up, Scotty!
Mixing pop and politics
He asks me what the use is
I offer him embarrasment and my usual excuses
While looking down the corridor
Out to where the van is waiting
I'm looking for the great leap forwards

So many great waiting songs, one Top Ten just wasn't enough. If Louise and I are still waiting later in the week, I'll post Volume 2. If you're still waiting for your favourite, you might find it there.

However, if our waiting is rewarded in the meantime... you'll have to wait.

Monday 2 September 2013

My Top Ten Hurricane Songs

Hold onto your hats... there's ten hurricanes coming.

10. Catherine Feeny - Hurricane Glass

Much consternation on youtube over the way Catherine treats her guitars in this video. I'm amazed people have the time.

9. Athlete - Hurricane

Impending doom for the Athlete lads as a hurricane threatens to strip them of all they hold dear.

8. Florence & The Machine - Hurricane Drunk

In which Florence gets self-destructive... she's gonna drink herself to death.

7. Black Kids - Hurricane Jane
It's Friday night and I ain't got nobody.
Oh, what's the use of making a bed?

6. Alice Cooper - Hurricane Years

Mr. Cooper: legend.

5. The Hold Steady - Hurricane J

Jessie's like a hurricane... but Craig might not be the one to save her from herself.
I know you're gonna say what I know you're gonna say
I know you'll look at the ground, I know you'll probably cry
You're a beautiful girl and you're a pretty good waitress
But Jessie, I don't think I'm the guy
4. The Auteurs - Johnny & The Hurricanes

Luke Haines' tribute to forgotten fifties rock 'n' rollers, gets extra points for mentioning Spider-Man in the lyrics.

3. The Horrible Crowes - Behold The Hurricane

Gaslight Anthem mainman Brian Fallon's side-project, this was the Horrible Crowes' debut single, and it may well be the best thing they've done. From an album called Elsie, so extra points for that.

2. Bob Dylan - Hurricane
Here comes the story of the Hurricane
The man the authorities came to blame
For something that he never done
Put in a prison cell but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.
At 8 minutes 36 in length, Bob beats our Number One today by just 13 seconds. It's a wonderfully noirish, novelistic piece of storytelling... yet not quite strong enough to knock this one off the top spot...

1. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Like A Hurricane

The trick of making an epic 8 minute plus rock song is to make it still seem too short.
I want to love you but
I'm getting blown away.

So... which hurricane blows you away?
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