Saturday, 27 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #1

1. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold

So far in my Top Five, I've revealed the coolest record of the year (#5), the most beautifully crafted (#3), the most fun and feelgood (#2)... and the most Morrissey (#4). What's left? 

First Aid Kit's third album was a true treasure trove. It's a timeless album of sunshine and sadness: delicious harmonies, evocative imagery and achingly melancholic stories from a band displaying a wisdom beyond their years. It's a record about growing old, about happiness being fleeting, about not knowing what you've got till it's gone... and yes, Joni would approve.

Even if I wasn't already a fan from their last LP, the first single, My Silver Lining, would have sold it to me. 
I don't wanna wait any more
I'm tired of looking for answers
Take me some place where there's music and laughter
I don't know if I'm scared of dying
But I'm scared of living too fast, too slow
Regret, remorse, hold on - oh no, I've got to go
There's no starting over
No new beginnings
Time races on
And you've just gotta keep on keepin' on...
 Straight off the back of this came single #2, Master Pretender, the second best New York song of the year (any other year it would have taken the top slot)...
I always thought that you'd be here
But shit gets fucked up
And people just disappear
So honey now, don't be mad
Time has told me it can't be that bad
And if it is... well, I'll be goddamned
But I'll stick around...
They edited that for the radio, of course, but you've never heard cuss words sound so sweet... or so sad.

And then, just when you thought it couldn't get any better came single #3... the title track: pure gold. 
What if to love and be loved's not enough?
What if we fall and can't bear to get up?
Oh, I wish for once we could stay gold...
Don't we all?

Those first three singles were also the first three tracks on the album, and I can't think of a stronger opening to any album this year. But it didn't end there... there's only ten tracks on this LP, but every one is a masterpiece, and every one could have been a single. These two young women from Sweden (via LA) have produced the most mature, beguiling and emotionally affecting record of 2014. As long as there is still music such as this being recorded - and finding an audience - the music industry will survive just fine.

And that's it for 2014. How was it for you... did your Top Ten feature any of my selections? Do let me know.

Happy New Year to all My Top Ten readers. I'll be back on January 1st with a special Top Ten for a special person. Normal service will hopefully resume soon after that.

Friday, 26 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - The Runners Up

Before we get to my favourite album of the year, here's a few that would have made the Top Twenty. Let's start with the obvious one...

In case you thought you'd sussed my Number One through the process of elimination - sorry to disappoint. Bruce doesn't make it this year. Mainly because, although there's much to enjoy about High Hopes, it still doesn't feel like a proper album. It feels like a contract-filler, a compilation cobbled together from various sources and with an odd insistence on promoting the work of guest guitarist Tom Morello.The best songs have been heard before, although the versions included here are stronger. American Skin (41 Shots) was originally released on the 2001 Live In New York CD. It's an emotional retelling of the story of Amadou Diallo, shot by the NYPD in 1999... sadly still timely considering recent events in America. There's also a barnstorming rock version of The Ghost of Tom Joad, originally recorded on the 1995 acoustic album Devils & Dust: this one blows the roof off. The album concludes with a hypnotic cover of Suicide's Dream Baby Dream (also previously released). None of the new songs can really match these three. There are rumours of another new album in 2015: let's hope Bruce breaks back into my Top Ten next year.

Top Track: The Ghost of Tom Joad (2014)

Eels are another band who usually make it onto my year end list. This year saw another fine album from the man called E, promoting his true identity as never before on The Cautionary Tales of Mark Oliver Everett. Worth buying the deluxe version for an excellent live cover of Fleetwood Mac's Oh Well.

Top Track: Lockdown Hurricane 

My second favourite album of 2013 was Rewind The Film by the Manic Street Preachers. I generally find I prefer the Manics albums the critics dismiss, so it was unsurprising that this year's critical darling, Futurology, didn't quite do it for me in the same way. A little bit more experimental, a little bit more political, this was best when taking on Facebook and Twitter on The View From Stow Hill and eulogizing Richie Edwards (although the band claimed it wasn't about him at all!) on the opening single...

Top Track: Walk Me To The Bridge

Having finally taken off her Cardigans, Nina Persson released her debut solo album, an intriguing affair with some quite beguiling songs like this...

Top Track: The Grand Destruction Game

Most of the music press seem to have plumped for Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs as one of their top albums this year. I loved Under The Pressure but found the rest of the album a little oblique for my aging tastes. Similarly Sharon Van Etten's critical darling Are We There... I thought Every Time The Sun Comes Up was fantastic. Nothing else came close. Meanwhile, I've not heard enough of Weezer's Everything Will Be Alright In The End to form an opinion yet... but Eulogy For A Rock Band is fantastic.

I just read an article that claims 2014 has been the worst year for album sales and new artist releases in the History of Time. Of course, such articles always pop up around this time of year, but it made me feel a little better about not having as much money to spend on new music as I once did. And generally the music industry works in peaks and troughs, so 2015 could well be a stormer.

One final 2014 album worthy of mention - once again from an old warhorse, but always a safe pair of hands. Tom Petty's Hypnotic Eye remains in my car stereo as we head towards the New Year. Here's my favourite track from that... you could well take it as a metaphor for the music industry this year, though I'm not sure it was meant that way.

And finally, we get to my Number One. After crossing the above albums off your guess list, what's left? Find out in a couple of days...

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #2

Whenever anyone says to me, "I don't like country music," I always agree. Then I tell them, "I don't like rock music, either. I don't like soul, rap, jazz or reggae. I don't like indie. The only type of music I like... is good music. Regardless of genre." (They usually punch me at this point. I usually deserve it.)

Of course, I'm a hypocrite. You may have, on occasion, heard me say, "I don't like dance music." And of all the musical genres, that's the one I struggle most to find any common ground to stand on, mainly because (to quote you-know-who), "it says nothing to me about my life". But, arguably, dance music isn't supposed to say anything about our lives. It scratches a different itch... one that I've rarely needed scratching. But even then... Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, Daft Punk... occasionally, dance acts do break through my force field and connect with me in one way or another. But I digress...

I'm now at an age where it's probably more appropriate for me to be listening to country music than hardcore drum 'n' bass. And while I've always been a fan of classic country - Cash, Rogers, Kristofferson - lately, I've been drawn to the music made by a number of contemporary "pop" country artists such as the Dixie Chicks, Carrie Underwood and Tim McGraw. Brad Paisley, however, is in another league altogether. Not only has he become my favourite purveyor of country music, he's now one of my favourite songwriters period. (Yes, I used the Americanism on purpose. Full stop.) A recent live performance recorded  for BBC4 in which Paisley and three of his Nashville co-writers spoke about their approach to songwriting helped me explain why. Unlike a lot of lyricists (not just country), Paisley doesn't just write songs about love and loss, or cars and girls. His canvas is a broad as life itself - crime and religion and racism, fame and ego and money (or lack of it), the internet, parenthood, time travel, death and resurrection... you name it, Brad Paisley's probably written a song about it. With humour, sensitivity and lyrical dexterity. Along the way, he's worked with Clint Eastwood, LL Cool J, Eric Idle and William Shatner. And even though a lot of his songs are set in the southern United States and speak directly to his core fanbase, they also manage to say a hell of a lot to me... about my life. And they never fail to make me smile.

All that said, when I first listened to his latest album, Moonshine In The Trunk, I wasn't sure it was destined to become a classic. After last year's magnum opus, Wheelhouse (#4 in My Top Ten Albums of 2013), Moonshine seemed necessarily throwaway. A party album, perhaps, after the master's thesis in songwriting that Wheelhouse represented. Here, instead, were clichéd country tunes about drinking, acting dumb and taking your girl for a drive. Or so it seemed... 

But Moonshine In The Trunk is an album that snuck up on me. There are songs here deeper and more mature than anything Paisley's written before - perhaps because, as well as being an expert storyteller, Paisley's finally learning the power of a good metaphor. Back on that aforementioned BBC4 special, he talked a lot about his straightforward approach to songwriting, confessing admiration for lyricists such as Lennon & McCartney whose best work is more poetic in nature. "If we wrote a song called Strawberry Fields Forever," he humbly suggested, "there'd be a pick-up truck parked in the middle of that strawberry field with a couple making out in the back". On the best crafted songs here - Shattered Glass and Perfect Storm - he employs allusion, metaphor and other rhetorical devices and suggests ideas to the listener to develop themselves rather than straight-out telling the story. And, just like the Beatles, he understands that the best albums jump from light to dark, from heartfelt to hilarious... from Something to Maxwell's Silver Hammer. 

The first half - Side A, for those of you listening on vinyl - of Moonshine... is a perfect record in that regard. Every one's a winner, as Errol Brown once said. The opener, Crushin' It, is the song that set me up to believe this would be a more frivolous work than Brad's last album. It's basically a song about a screw-up whose only real talent is drinking. But, of course, it's about more than that. It's about self-doubt, realising you're never going to be a rock star or a rocket scientist, and being happy with whatever talents you've got. As with all Paisley songs though, it's the little details that sell it, as the familiar domestic tableau below demonstrates nicely...
They say your baby's mad cause you told her that you'd hang some pictures for her
You know the ones she framed late last spring of you and her in Florida
You're up on the ladder when it shatters into smithereens
She shakes her head, looks at you and says
"Ain't you good for anything?" and you say...

Every week has a weekend, by this time Friday night
You want a margarita, I'll get Tequila and ice
And I'll be crushin' it, with a cold one in my other hand
I'll be crushin' it, when I'm finished with my can
I can stomp it with my boot, crunch it with my fist
Smash it on my forehead, yeah I got this
I'll be crushin' it, oh I'll be crushin' it
Then comes the lead single, River Bank, a 'be happy with what you've got' anthem with a water-skiing squirrel in the video. Now, I'm always wary of multimillionaire rock stars singing songs about how you don't need money to find contentment, but I also hate it when songwriters who specialise in writing about the everyman forget what it's actually like once they hit the big time. Paisley manages to still write songs from the ordinary Joe's perspective even though he's now living an extraordinary life. And long may that continue.

Next up is Perfect Storm, a love song written for the wife of one of Brad's co-writers, Lee Thomas Miller, (though most of the lyrics came from Paisley himself), packed with metaphor, but boiled down it's about a woman you love... even though she's got a temper on her that'd drown George Clooney.
And she destroys me in that T-shirt
And I love her so much it hurts
The above couplet sums Paisley's lyrical skills up well. The natural detail of the first line breaks the cliché of the second line. Genius.

Then comes High Life, an affectionately hilarious character piece written from the perspective of a bunch of lazy-ass, welfare-sponging low-lives who'll do anything to avoid doing an honest day's work. You know the sort...
I heard a song a couple months ago
It was Carrie Underwood on the radio,
Reminded me of a poem my brother wrote
Back in the second grade
Now I know she didn’t steal it, but so what?
We lawyered up and we sued her butt
These days we figure we’d pretty much
Get paid to go away.
Turns out the song's also a sly dig at an actual lawsuit filed against Brad's co-writers for "stealing" ideas for one of his earlier hits. Morrissey would be proud.

The title track, with its ZZ Top guitars, Springsteenesque opening lines and Dukes of Hazzard references is possibly the most Country thing on here... but it's a great driving anthem too. And then comes Shattered Glass, an empowerment anthem for women who are finally breaking through the glass ceiling. Shades of Bon Jovi or Bryan Adams in the music, but (much as I love 'em) those guys never wrote anything as clever as this. And finally, there's Limes, another song ostensibly about drinking (Tequila, again), although I've definitely been encouraged by the sentiment... even though it's been years since I touched a drop.
When life gives you limes...
Make margaritas!
Like the rest of this record, Limes made me feel good about myself at a time when I really needed to do that. Moonshine... was the happiest, most upbeat album I've heard all year... and that was exactly what the doctor ordered. And if Side 2 wasn't quite as strong, despite entertaining songs about going green and why we shouldn't give up on space exploration... well, I still enjoyed the hell out of it.

I've spent a large part of my life listening to feel-bad music, but this year in particularly - despite all the amazing things that I've seen and experienced - I really needed a margarita. Thanks, Brad.

I'll be back after Christmas with some runners up and my big Number One. In the meantime, enjoy the festive season - and crush a beer can or slim some lime in your tequila on me.

Monday, 22 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #3

3. Elbow - The Take Off And Landing Of Everything

For the first six months of the year, I was pretty certain this was going to be the best record I would hear in 2014. Elbow's sixth album is a thing of great beauty: achingly wistful, filled with heartbreaking imagery, sublime wordplay and self-deprecating humour. I'm always wary of calling lyricists poets - particularly as I tend to favour story songs over poesy - but Guy Garvey must be the finest bard of his generation. Few other contemporary lyricists write songs - or use words - such as these (from Honey Sun)...
She and I would death defy and promenade
She and I were profligate as de rigueur
She and I were for a Burton Taylor made
She and I won't find another me and her
From a writer's perspective (I used to think of myself as one of those, you know) or even a lover of the English language, every line on this record is gold. Every word perfectly chosen. There's a lot of surprising, oftentimes contrasting imagery, mixing the majestic with the mundane, the exhilarating with the everyday... yet it all fits together so well. This is not an album that was written: it was crafted by a master.
Presidential delays
Suppose I'm just lucky
I'm having a shindig
Me, Red Bob and The Ivory Host
And someone's shouting on the box
A chinless prefect gone Godzilla
My newest friends have forgotten my name
But so have I so far so good and home
You and me trampoline
And oceans of crash site love
(Fly Boy Blue / Lunette)
In my next post, I'll discuss the kinds of songs I like most. Stories about everyday people that I can relate to with the devil in the details. And in many ways, with his obscure references and guesswork metaphors, Guy Garvey should be exactly the kind of songwriter who leaves me cold. But every line here suggests a story, every word is one I wish I could have written myself. Added to that, as listeners to his 6Music show will know, Garvey is one of the most generous and down-to-earth rock stars you could ever hope to encounter. As I've said before, despite the fact that he's written the soundtrack to much of my life, I wouldn't ever want to go for a coffee with Morrissey. But Garvey, like Jarvis Cocker before him: he's the sort of songwriter you feel you could shoot the breeze with. Although chances are he'd want something a little stronger than coffee...
I am electric
With a bottle in me
Got a bottle in me
And glory be, these fuckers are ignoring me!
I'm from another century...
When I do my Top Ten Songs About Boozing, Charge will surely be Number One.(The video, sadly, edits the best line.)

I could write a paragraph about every song on this album, but I'll spare you. There's two more that must be heard though, My Sad Captains, which cements Garvey's reputation as unbeatable in the arena of Songs About Old Friends... and this: possibly the best song ever written about New York City. And, as you'll know, that's a pretty competitive field...
Every bone of rivet steel
Each corner stone and angle
Jenga jut and rusted water tower
Pillar, post and sign
Every painted line and battered ladder building in this town
Sings a life of proud endeavour and the best a man can be...

For every soul a pillow and a window, please
In the modern Rome where folk are nice to Yoko

Chances are you might not dig my #2. Chances are you might wonder what the hell it's doing above Elbow, Morrissey, Jack White et al. But hear me out. I'll do my best to convince you otherwise...

Saturday, 20 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #4

4. Morrissey - World Peace Is None Of Your Business

And so, the inevitable Morrissey review. It's been another horribilis annus for the Mozfather, although it started out pretty well. Riding high on the critical acclaim of his Autobiography (which I still haven't read: I'm ashamed to admit I've read three books in total this year and those I have managed to get through had CHAPTERS and PARAGRAPHS) with a new two-album record deal signed, the release of World Peace... was met with uniformly glowing reviews and all seemed rosy in the Mozcamp. 

We knew it couldn't last. Within ten seconds of his album crashing into the charts at Number #2 (held off by Dial-A-Cliche Ordinary Boy Ed Sheeran... oh, the indignity!) Moz had dumped his new record company, slagging them off to all and sundry for not promoting the album correctly, not spending any money on any decent videos and making him stand on top of the Capitol Records building at sunrise... with Pamela Anderson. Then, just as the Mozzosphere was reeling from that body blow, our hero announced he was having treatment for cancer: “If I die, then I die. And if I don’t, then I don’t." After that, his questionable dalliances with the utterly loathsome Russell Brand, his refusal to trade blows with The Queen on Christmas Day, and his announcement that he was off to write a novel next (hopefully, this time, with CHAPTERS)... well, it may have been business as usual, but it was all tinged with worry. Imagine a world where Morrissey wasn't here to spark outrage by talking equal parts nonsense and common sense. It'd be a much less interesting place.

Anyway,enough with the preamble... what about the record itself? Well, first off, you have to buy the Deluxe Edition. Because Morrissey being Morrissey, a couple of the best tracks are on the b-sides (now that b-sides are a thing of the past, that's Disc 2 of the Deluxe Edition). Particularly the hilarious Art-Hounds in which Moz lets rip with his very best Alan Bennett putdowns...
Art-hounds in a restaurant
They bring along
Their loving aunt
But when they can't find a table
For their fat aunt Mabel
They stamp their feet and cry
Bonus disc dealt with then, the album proper is so close to being classic, I think we can call it. I don't think I liked it as much as the critics who declared it a glorious comeback, his best since You Are The Quarry (or even, in some reviews, his best since Vauxhall & I) but then most critics tend to forget that every Morrissey album (with the possible exception of Maladjusted) is described as a comeback by somebody.

It starts with a typical Morrissey rant about rubbish politicians which I wholeheartedly agree with... until he sides with the aforementioned blight on society, Russell Brand ("Each time you vote you support the process") at which point he loses me slightly. The second single, Istanbul, is this album's First Of The Gang To Die (although not quite as poppy), a stark tale of a father scouring the streets of one of Moz's favourite cities in a desperate attempt to find his "blue-eyed son". It's a heavy song, though 6Music A-listed it (after ignoring the title track)... perhaps because the riff owes something to The Smiths. Curiously, that station went on to A-list the camp and poppy Kiss Me A Lot which wasn't released as a single. Iffypedia tells me that Earth Is The Loneliest Planet (great title; swirling I Know It's Over style histrionics) and The Bullfighter Dies (a 2 minute accordion-laced "ha ha" that's somehow much more satisfying as an animal rights anthem than Meat Is Murder ever was) were released next: I never heard either of these played from the radio-box.

Elsewhere, Moz shows sympathy for stressed students driven to drastic measures when they fail their exams (Staircase At The Museum)...
"If you don't get three A's"
Her sweet daddy said
"You're no child of mine
And as far as I'm concerned 
You're dead."
...and surprises us with a love of Jack Kerouac (Neal Cassady Drops Dead) that punningly makes explicit one of the album's recurring themes (Morrissey is not a well man)...
"Everyone has babies
Babies full of rabies
Scarlett has a fever
Ringlets full of ringworm
Angel of distemper
The little fella has got rubella
Nipper full of fungus
Junior full of gangrene
Minor's melanoma
Tyke full of grippe
Whippersnapper scurvy
Urchin made of acne

Get that thing away from me!"
The album's stand-out track, however, is the scathing 8-minute assault on masculinity I'm Not A Man.
Ah, but lonely
Well, if this is what it takes to describe...

I'm not a man."
As I said earlier, a world where Morrissey is no longer around to write such things... now that really will be the loneliest planet.

Which three records were better than Morrissey? Well, to start with, the worst parts of any plane journey - enjoyed with a Gee-Gee. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #5

5. Jack White - Lazaretto 

Musically, Jack White's second solo LP after the dissolution of the White Stripes is very much what you'd expect. It sounds like a classic bluesy rock record that could have been recorded at almost any point in the last 70 years... while at the same time also sounding utterly contemporary. Lyrically, however, it is deeper, angrier, funnier and more intriguing than anything he's ever written. And, as the Lynchian video for Would You Fight For My Love? proves, it is by far the coolest record of the year.
The album opens with a hilarious remake of Blind Willie McTell's braggadocious Three Women in which JW boasts of having three women - one in California, one in Nashville, and one in Detroit - all of whom seem happy to put up with his polygamous antics. 
Well, these women must be
Getting something
Cause they come and see me
Every night!
Air miles, perhaps?
The title track, in which Jack gets quarantined on the Isle of Man (that's what a Lazaretto is, in case you were wondering, an isolated quarantine station for sailors) is Jack's Bohemian Rhapsody or Paranoid Android. Utterly insane, loud as hell, unlike anything you've ever heard before and fearlessly released to radio as an opening single... possibly the least radio-friendly track on the album, at least until you've heard it ten times when, BANG, it suddenly sounds like a Number One.
Meanwhile, High Ball Stepper makes instrumentals vital again - it ought to be a theme tune for an action-packed TV detective show, while on Entitlement, Grumpy Old Jack goes off on one about "Kidz These Days"...
There are children today who are lied to
They're told the world is rightfully theirs
They can have what they want
Whenever they want
They take like Caesar
And nobody cares
 ...before pissing on all our chips...
Not one single person
On God's golden shore
Is entitled to one single thing
We don't deserve a single damn thing.

Hands up if you honestly feel you can disagree with him?

And then there's the glorious That Black Bat Licorice, in which Jack unleashes a ballsy pop-rap anthem that Pink or Lady Gaga would have given their perfectly white star teeth for. Or maybe it's Jack does Purple Rain era Prince? Whatever, it's utterly spectacular. Just like the rest of this album...

Next, at Number #4... ITMA. Victim - or life's adventurer? Which of the two is he...?

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #6

6. Jenny Lewis - Voyager

I've been a fan of Jenny Lewis since I first heard Rilo Kiley's Portions For Foxes. So that's ten years now. (Insert your own 'times flies' 'we're all getting old' comment here, I'm tired of writing them.) Anyway, Voyager is her third solo album (not counting the album she did with her boyfriend, Johnathan Rice, which I haven't tracked down yet) and the reviews I read suggested it was a little too pop. Strange for an album produced by Ryan Adams, you'd have thought he'd have given it a bit more edge, but yes, this is a very sunshiny West Coast Fleetwood Mac sounding record. The lyrics still have that wonderful Lewis quirky kick though and although the first two songs could almost be vintage Madonna (before the old dear started knocking around with dance producers half her age in order to keep the portrait in her attic decaying), the rest of the record is storytelling gold...
When I turned 16 I was furious and restless
Got a chancy girl haircut and a plane ticket to Paris
I stayed there with Pansy, he had a studio in the Seventh
Lost his lover to a sickness, I slept beside him in his bed
That's when I met Nancy, she was smoking on a gipsy
She had a ring in her nose and her eyes were changing like moonstones
She said "Open up late bloomer, it will make you smile
I can see that fire burning, in you little child.
Lyrics that good (from the album's centrepiece, Late Bloomer) speak for themselves. That could be the opening paragraph of a classy short story by Raymond Carver or Joyce Carol Oates. And you know you'd have to read on. Because, like many of the tracks on this album, you find yourself speculating how much of it is meticulously crafted fiction... and how much of it might be autobiography. Lewis has certainly led a wild and bohemian life to this point, starting out as a child actress working alongside The Wonder Years' Fred Savage (in 1989 kids' movie The Wizard) before packing in thesping for rock 'n' roll. Although perhaps her biggest regret in all that is revealed on the album's debut single, in which she bemoans the inequality of the rockstar life and the fact that she'll never be Just One Of The Guys...
No matter how hard I try, to be just one of the guys
There's a little something inside that won't let me
No matter how hard I try, to have an open mind
There's a little clock inside that keeps ticking

There's only one difference between you and me
When I look at myself all I can see
I'm just another lady without a baby
Name another pop song that's tackles that issue in such forthright fashion and I'll send you a Cadbury's Creme Egg or a box of condoms. (The video guest stars Anne Hathaway and Kristen Stewart in case you're interested in such things.)

It's the little details that make Lewis's songs stick in your mind for days, turning otherwise common lyrical subject matter (She's Not Me: you've left me for another girl) into a page torn from a secret diary...
Remember the night I destroyed it all?
When I told you I cheated
And you punched through the drywall
I took you for granted
When you were all that I needed!
 Or how about this amusing anecdote from Aloha & The Three Johns...?
And John's been avidly reading Slash's bio
There was a TV set smashed out in front of his room
I didn't ask, I led a solo charge down to the sea
Where the fast-food trash and tourists made me fear and loath it
I could go on... hell, I could quote the whole album. But it's really better if you discover these stories for yourself. I'd hate to spoil your fun.

All of which brings us to the Top #5... beginning with a White bloke getting quarantined on the Isle of Man.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #7

7. Pixies - Indie Cindy

Part of this record was released back in 2013 on the band's website, so it feels odd to be including it here. However, I stopped myself from including that in last year's countdown because it wasn't an album, so I could hardly ignore it this year.

The reformed Pixies then, now without both Kim Deal and the definite article: what else do you need to know? Their first album of new material in 23 years (yes, that'll make us all feel old) was almost as good as we wanted it to be: but certainly a hell of a lot better than we expected it to be. From the David Lynch does Talking Heads insanity of the lead single Bagboy, this was obviously a band still firing on all cylinders. And as opening lines go, Black Francis has rarely written better:
I had a bad reaction
To your public hobby writing
I get no satifaction
From your very recent sightings
Once he starts complaining that our bad breath and dirty teeth makes us all talk shit... well, even now, Bagboy remains my favourite song on the record. But there are many other great flavours to be found in this tube though, from the quintessentially Pixies What Goes Boom? (the video is worth 3 minutes 33 seconds of anybody's life) to Frank's nutty salute to Yorkshire witchcraft (apparently!) Blue-Eyed Hexe. Another Toe In The Ocean is the album's most radio-friendly offering while the title track is hilarious. Few of the lyrics make the remotest bit of logical sense, but when did they ever? They paint vivid pictures and suggest all kinds of hallucinatory insanity though, and that's exactly what you want from a Pixies album. Yeah, OK, as Martin pointed out, there's a few tracks in the second half that could be anybody (they're just not Pixies enough), but even without Kim, this doesn't feel like another Black Francis solo album. It feels like the band we all loved when we were 20 years younger. It's good to have them back.

Next up, at number #6... a former Kiley takes a journey.

Friday, 12 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #8

8. Sinéad O'Connor - I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss

Sinéad O'Connor always scared the hell out of me. On the lead single from her tenth album, however, she appears to be quite scared herself - perhaps as the result of some kind of mad mid-life crisis...

I don't wanna love the way I loved before
I don't wanna love that way no more
What have I been writing love songs for?
I don't want to write them anymore
I don't wanna sing from where I sang before
I don't wanna sing that way no more
What've I've been singing love songs for?
I don't wanna sing them anymore,
I don't wanna be that girl no more
Hearing this song on the radio, it quickly became one of my favourite tracks of the year... and the accompanying video, in which Sinéad goes Shania (as implausible as that may sound), sealed the deal. That moment two minutes in where she tears off the red wig might well be the sexiest thing I've seen in a music video all year. And when you consider that 75% of music videos these days are pretty much softcore porn in disguise (and not very good disguises in a lot of cases)... well, like I keep saying, I'm getting old.

Anyway, Take Me To Church set up certain expectations of I'm Not Bossy, I'm The Boss... not least that it would be an album devoid of love songs. Imagine my surprise then when I finally got to hear it... only to discover it's an album all about love... and passion... and sex... and infidelity... and kinky stuff. Kinda like Sinéad's own 50 Shades, only well written, and with the woman calling the shots.

Turns out that Ms. O'C is in love. And getting a damned good seeing to in the process. (That's pretty much how she puts it.) As a result, she decided it might be fun to sex up her image for the first time in her career, all of which led to the latex dress album cover, the short red dress video, and having to learn how to walk in high heels for the first time in her life... from her manager! She explains all this in the amusingly candid liner notes, and also why she's decided to put away the Warrior Woman routine that's defined so much of her career and reinvent herself with added raunch. It's a bold, empowering move that results in her best collection of songs to date, from the cheeky Kisses Like Mine...
"You see, I'm Special Forces: 
They call me in after divorces" the proud-yet-self-deprecating and necessarily funky James Brown...
"I know I may look a little square, 
I know I look like a wooden chair, 
But I got... oh YEAH! 
And in the words of James Brown, 
I'm sorry but I came to get down, 
I'm sorry but I... oh YEAH!"
 ...from the terrifying Where Have You Been?...
"What does it mean when a man's eyes turn black
When you're making love?
Where have you been?
Where have you been?
Eyes more frightening I've never seen..." the playfully submissive How Nice A Woman Can Be...
"Please, baby, let me be your slave
Please let me clean your house all day
Please let me try to bake your bread
And tuck your sweet babies into bed."
Of course, there's nothing here as lushly romantic as the song that made her world famous (also referenced in the video below) - how could there be? - but still, you can't help feeling Prince would be proud. Plus she's still got the voice of an angel...

...and yes, she still scares the hell out of me.

Next up, at #7... a reborn band led by a Millennium man.(Yes, it's Take Tha... no, it's not. Robbie's left again.)

Sunday, 7 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #9

9. Luke Haines - New York In the '70s

Another year, another crazy concept album from the erstwhile Auteur Luke Haines. Following his ode to the Saturday afternoon Wrestling of my childhood, his alternate history of the British Isles in which DJ Chris Evans is burned as a witch, and his twisted children's storybook of rock 'n' roll animals narrated by Julia Davis... comes this, an affectionate tribute to the 1970s New York punk scene led by Lou Reed, Suicide and the New York Dolls. It's another surprising turn from an artist more recently obsessed with (southern) Anglophilia, and yet it makes perfect sense when viewing Haines's career as a whole.

The great adventure begins with Alan Vega Says, in which Haines cheekily pokes fun at the Suicide songwriter's lyrical laziness...
Alan Vega says, as he gets up off the bed
"I'm gonna freeform some lyrics, man
 Straight outta my head
Marilyn and Elvis, 
And a Chevy '69
I've heard it all before
But I don't mind"

And Alan Vega says
"It's gonna be a great big hit"
Well, if Alan Vega says so,
Then it probably is
"And I'm too lazy
To write my own melodies
Here's a tune I borrowed
From the TVPs..."
One of the central conceits of the album thus becomes: Why write a chorus when you can just sing the title of the song four times in a row? (See Drone City, Trick n Kicks n Drugs, NY In The 70s, NY Stars.) Haines breaks with this tradition only twice - on Lou Reed, Lou Reed in which the title is repeated ad infinitum save one short verse, and on Cerne Abbas Man... which really should have been titled Mythic Muthafuckin' Rock & Roll to follow the rules.

Yet, despite this constant repetition, NY is a fascinating album, redolent of the era it evokes and pays homage to. And because of this constant repetition, it's also an extremely catchy earworm of a record that drills its way into your mind and refuses to crawl back out.

Then, just when you think you know what's going on... it all turns a little bit mental. On UK Punk and the aforementioned Cerne Abbas Man, Haines zigs when you expect him to zag and goes all Julian Cope on us, envisioning the famous chalk giant from a Dorset hillside stomping through the States, impressive phallus in hand...
Cerne Abbas Man steps out of the sand
Swings his giant gland into Manhattan
Three letters for priapic Dan
With his cock in his hand
R N R - rock n roll
For the original Rude Boy Man 
That's the great thing about Luke Haines: you truly never know what he's going to do next.

Next up, at #8... nothing compares to a Miley-baiting warrior woman turning raunchy sex symbol at 47.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

My Top Ten Albums of 2014 - #10

'Tis the season to make lists, tra-la-la-la etc.

However, this year has been a bleak one in terms of my finances, so I haven't bought half as much new music as usual. Neither have I listened to that much new music - partly through time constraints, and partly because it may finally be happening... middle-aged ennui: as Eddie Argos put it, "popular culture no longer applies to me". There's no Eminem album in my countdown this year to keep me Radio One friendly and the Lana Del Rey record I'd pinned my hopes on fell flat when I grew tired of her sleazy shock shtick. As a result, the majority of this list will be comprised of the usual suspects, mostly artists even older than me. (I had a look through the NME year end Top 50 earlier this week and only recognised about 7 names. Though a few of the ones I didn't recognise did sound quite interesting...)

Still, of the records I have heard, there have been some corkers. Here's the first...

10. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott - What Have We Become?

Since breaking up The Beautiful South due to "musical similarities" back in 2007, Paul Heaton has released a series of acerbic, amusing and always socially aware solo albums - plus one bizarre musical, The 8th, roping in everybody from Cherry Ghost to Reg E. Cathey from The Wire. But though each record was entertaining in its own way, none has quite scaled the heights of 0898, Blue Is The Colour or Miaow. There was always something missing.

Jacqui Abbott was the second of three female singers to perform in The Beautiful South alongside Heaton and third vocalist Dave Hemingway. She followed Brianna (You Keep It All In) Corrigan and preceded Alison (Stars In Their Eyes) Wheeler who joined when Abbott left to look after her young son. Although some fans preferred Corrigan's feisty Kirsty MacColl style, the band enjoyed the height of its success during Abbott's time. When she was suckered out of retirement to take part in The 8th, many fans wondered whether a full-on BS reunion would result. But sadly, Heaton's co-songwriter Dave Rotheray seems unlikely to return while Hemingway, Wheeler and the rest of the old band are plugging away on the tour circuit as The South (no longer Beautiful).

All of which brings us to the Heaton / Abbott reunion, a resounding success and Heaton's best album in any guise since 1998's Quench. It's wrong to label Abbott his muse, but as the man himself explained in interviews, sometimes it helps if his sharper lyrics are sung by someone other than himself. Particularly when that someone has the angelic tones of Abbott.
It's 11am
It's blue upon blue in the sky
But everyone around agrees
Phil Collins, Phil Collins must die

White t-shirt and faded jeans
Just an ordinary guy
But prisoner to his tax returns
Phil Collins, Phil Collins must die
He must die, he must die
Let's face it, if Heaton had sung the above verse (from state-of-the-nation closer When I Get Back To Blighty), it would have come across as just another socialist rant. Abbott's vocals give it an entirely different texture. Like if Morrissey wrote Life Is A Pigsty and then handed it to Rumer to perform. A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.

But the record's success isn't purely down to Abbott. Even on the tracks Heaton performs solo, he brings his A-game, most notably on the blistering I Am Not A Muse in which he takes aim at the daft and pretentious shit "serious" rock stars often say when getting interviewed...
I am not in a band
Because daddy didn't understand
I did not gain from others' pain
And then sell it back to them again
I'm not mad or insane
I'm not into early Miles Davis or John Coltrane
I'm not a muse well as bursting a few of the myths about his own "leg end".
I am not a northern star
I do not greet my friends
'Aye ups' and 'alright la's'
I don't sit outside
Italian style bars
And talk about The La's and The La's and The La's
Elsewhere, it's business as usual. Twisted duet love songs comparing relationships to overgrown gardens, bad DIY and fading romance on the 'Costa Del Sombre'. (The latter would have been a Top 10 hit for the old band in the late 90s, but those days are gone.) Savage digs at people whose lives are ruled by car adverts, outlet malls and twitter. Anger, pathos and resignation. Loadsa laughs.

Sadly, I only bought the standard edition of the album (it was very cheap and so am I)... now Heato's released one of the tracks from the Special Edition as a single, and damn if it I'm probably going to have to save up for another copy. These bloody pop stars - even the socialist ones are out to bankrupt me!

Coming next, at number 9... an Englishman in New York. (No, I promise, it's not Sting.)

Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Top Ten Songs About Driving At Night

When songwriters can't sleep... they go for a drive.

10. Rialto - Drive

A noirish tale from the much-missed Britpop band, always a cut above many of their contemporaries.

9. Tom Petty - Night Driver

Tom's drifting home with headlines in his eyes, fighting sleep... WAKE UP, TOM! Phew. Nearly left the road there for a second. How about pulling over at the next rest stop, buddy?

8. The Cars - Drive
Who's gonna drive you home tonight?
The Cars' biggest hit (twice) comes loaded with so much extra meaning, it's hard to just listen to it as a song anymore. Plus, it was played to death on the radio when I was a teenager and I think I OD'ed on it. Good song, but Rick Ocasek & co. made far more exciting records.

7. Dion - Drive All Night

From Mr. DiMucci's late 80s comeback album, this keeps the hand-clapping doo-wop feel of his earlier hits filtered through more contemporary production courtesy of Dave Edmunds and Bryan Adams.

Well, when I say "contemporary", I mean "contemporary: 25 years ago". Sigh.

6. Roy Orbison - I Drove All Night

Fun fact - although everyone thinks Cyndi Lauper recorded this first (she made the charts with it before Roy), The Big O actually recorded it two years before Cyndi. It wasn't released as a single (with a little help from Jeff Lynne) until after his death in 1992. Anyway, much as I love Cyndi's sultry take on the tune, there's only one Roy O. Plus, although Cyndi's video features a car projected onto her naked body (not as exciting as that might sound), Roy's video guest stars a young Jennifer Connelly (and Jason Priestley, ladies). Ah, you decide. (Just don't suggest the Celion Dion version.)

5. Hamell On Trial - The Long Drive

Ed Hamell's Chandler-esque tale begins with a long drive in which his private detective hero leaves at midnight... worth a listen for any Philip Marlowe fans out there.

4. C.W. McCall - Convoy

Doubtless if I ever get round to compiling a Top Ten Trucking Songs, this'll be Number One. Although McCall's convoy (the inspiration for Sam Peckinpah's movie starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw and Ernest Borgnine) trucks on through both day and night, it nudges its way into this chart because of the hour it begins:

It was the dark of the moon
On the 6th of June...

3. Tom Robinson Band - 2-4-6-8 Motorway

Having already hurtled to the top of My Top Ten Motorway Songs, it was tempting to give Tom's trucker anthem a miss in favour of his other night driving anthem (a European retelling of the quintessentially English 2-4-6-8,) Drive All Night. But although that's a very fine song - and its title suggests it deserves a place here more than its more famous sibling - I just can't bring myself to choose it over 2-4-6-8. Plus, iffypedia informs me that the chorus of 2-4-6-8 is pilfered from a Gay Lib chant "2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight... 3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine". Brilliant!

2. Golden Earring - Radar Love

I can't think of many Dutch rock bands, and I can only think of one other record by this bunch... but this song is good enough to have been covered by everyone from REM to Def Leppard to U2... and none of them came close to matching the original. Close your eyes and this could be Led Zep. It begins with some amazing power chords before the chugging drum rhythm kicks in and then Frans Krassenburg's Robert Plant-esque voice chimes in with those masterful opening lines.
I've been driving all night
My hands wet on the wheel
By the time Brenda Lee starts coming on strong on the radio, I've almost driven through the central reservation. Just one fantastic rock record. Apparently Golden Earring had over 30 top ten hits in Holland. I might just have to splash out on a best of compilation...

1. Bruce Springsteen - Drive All Night / State Trooper

Although I feature Bruce a lot on this blog, I'm always wary of giving him the Number One because it reeks of favouritism. (Strange, I know - after all, it's my blog, I can do what I want. And it's not as though anyone's reading...) Here though is a double bill of two of his finest songs, both involving driving at night, albeit from completely different perspectives.

Simply put, Drive All Night is one of the greatest love songs ever written. I'd rate it just a step below Wichita Lineman, and there's no finer compliment in my book.

I swear I'll drive all night again
Just to buy you some shoes
And to taste your tender charms

The simplest of gestures, yet it speaks of true love in my book... and I'm sorry if that's perpetuating the "all women like shoes" stereotype... but Louise's wardrobe is one step away from Imelda Marcos's, and she's not the only woman I know like that. (Not that I'd ever dare buy her some shoes... I'm totally clueless in that department... as so many others. I'm no Bruce.)

State Trooper, on the other hand, is a much darker proposition. From the epically lo-fi Nebraska album (famously recorded on a 4 track cassette deck in Bruce's back bedroom), it's a tale of late night desperation. A man on a long, lonely drive across the states begs a policeman not to pull him over. It's creepy, brooding and compellingly tragic.
New Jersey Turnpike, ridin' on a wet night 
'Neath the refinery's glow, 
Out where the great black rivers flow
License, registration, I ain't got none, 

But I got a clear conscience
'Bout the things that I done
Mister state trooper please don't stop me...

Which one would you flash your headlights at?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

My Top Ten Ghetto Songs

I've been listening to loads of old soul music lately, from the 60s (the obvious culprits: Motown, Atlantic) to the 70s (Philly, Barry White!) and even the 80s (George Benson). Much of this I remember hearing on the radio in my youth and I find it's good to unwind to at the end of a hectic day / drop off to sleep to. However, even though I have lots of this music in my collection, it often doesn't feature in these lists, probably because the primary subject matter is love and loss... not a lot of soul records about vampires, record companies or... pigeons. 

But here's a Top Ten that ended up pretty soul heavy... which says a lot about the artists in question and the social conditions that shaped them. 

Special mention to Dreamers of the Ghetto... not a soul act, but still pretty soulful.

10. Gil Scott Heron - The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues 
"I know you think you're cool
Just 'cos they bus your kids to school
But you ain't got a thing to lose
You just got the get out of the ghetto blues..."
9. Jimmy Webb - High Rent Ghetto

Jimmy Webb is God. 

8. Isaac Hayes - Out of the Ghetto

"I took you out of the ghetto - but I could not get that ghetto out of you."

Funkylicious. Gotta love Isaac Hayes.

Also covered by Donald Fagen on his "lost" 2012 album Sunken Condos (I didn't even know it existed till I stumbled across it in the library over the summer). 

7. The Clash featuring Allen Ginsberg - Ghetto Defendant

Possibly the strangest thing The Clash ever recorded, this collaboration with beat poet Allen Ginsberg is a fascinating oddity. Only the Manics would get away with releasing something as politically charged and offbeat as this these days.

6. Donny Hathaway - The Ghetto

Best known (by me, at least) for big soul duet ballads with Roberta Flack, I hadn't heard much else from Hathaway until I came across this 7 minute funky jazz slab from 1970. Laid back and lovely.

5. Al Wilson - Queen Of The Ghetto

A popular songwriting theme - a grown up child looking back on a single mother who turned to prostitution to make ends meet. See also the amazing Son Of Hickory Holler's Tramp by O.C. Smith and What Would You Do? by City High (also covered by Bastille... see, I am down wit da kidz).

4. The Detroit Spinners - Ghetto Child

Known only as The Spinners in the rest of the world, 'Detroit' was added to their UK releases to avoid confusion (and legal wrangles) with the English folk group. This is a song about being ashamed of where you grew up... as are the next two soul classics.

3. Diana Ross & The Supremes - Love Child / I'm Living In Shame

Two songs that are thematically linked - the second was actually written as a sequel to the first. Neither mention the g-word by name, but both fit this list perfectly.

In Love Child, a young woman rejects the advances of a lover for fear of bringing a child into the world she can't afford to bring up. All this because of a deep shame over her own childhood...
I started my life in an old, cold run down tenement slum
My father left, he never even married mom
I shared the guilt my mama knew
So afraid that others knew I had no name
In I'm Living In The Shame, the same woman, now a little older and a mother herself, expresses guilt over the fact that her own mother died without ever knowing her grandchild.
Came a telegram
Mama passed away while making home made jam
Before she died she cried to see me by her side
She always did her best
Ah cooked and cleaned and always in the same old dress
Working hard, down on her knees
Always trying to please
2. Elvis Presley - In The Ghetto

You probably expected this to be Number One, didn't you? It's certainly the most famous Ghetto Song and one of the King's most moving records (shut up, cynics). Elvis always performed In The Ghetto with such conviction... even though he was living about as far from the ghetto as it was possible to get by the time this song was released.

Nick Cave also released a memorable cover of the track as his debut solo single.

1. The Philadelphia International All-Stars - Let's Clean Up The Ghetto

An addictive 8 minutes featuring some of the biggest Philly stars, including Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Archie Bell, The O'Jays... and the mighty, mighty, mighty Lou Rawls. What a voice - nobody does that deep, talky soul like Lou. They don't make charidee singles like this anymore... hell, they don't make soul music this cool anymore either!
I tell you, the garbage in some places
Was stacked up two, three stories high
At night, ha ha, boy, at night it weren't even safe to walk the street
'Cause they caught the rats, the roaches and the water bugs
I mean they were hustlin', baby, tryin' to get somethin' to eat, see?

Which one can't you forghetto?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

My Top Ten Sally Songs

A good friend of mine (who shares my appreciation for fine music) celebrates a very special birthday today. In her honour... ten tunes that share her name.

10. Kerbdog - Sally

Top Irish grunge. Amusing video in which our eponymous heroine does everything she can to rid herself of the annoying band playing outside her flat... wrecking her own home in the process.

Frank Turner does a lovely acoustic cover.

9. Robert Palmer - Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley

Batley Bob gets caught out trying to make excuses for his dalliances with Sally... and for using that most obvious of rhymes in his title. (Gracie Fields has a lot to answer for.)

8. Eric Clapton - Lay Down, Sally

Every time I include an Eric Clapton song on this blog, I feel like I have to apologise for his infamous Enoch Powell rant, the one that labeled him a bigot in the eyes of many. Then again, if I excluded every musician who's ever spoken objectionable twaddle, there'd be far less variety round these parts... and Morrissey would have been banned a long time ago. (Still, Eric... really?)

Lay Down, Sally is a nice chugging guitar tune that probably would have placed higher if it wasn't for my aforementioned reservations.

7. Lou Reed - Sally Can't Dance

Look kids, drugs are bad... m'kay?

6. Father John Misty - This Is Sally Hatchet

A wonderful, Tarantino-esque tale from Father John, with a very Beatlesy groove. This Sally is a killer. You'll be extra careful when slicing up your pizza after watching the video.

5. Flight of the Conchords - Song For Sally

The Conchords are rarely better than when they're arguing over the same girl. Shame she's already engaged to Mark. Still, if he was involved in an accident and Sally got the life insurance money... not that it's about the money, honestly...

And we'd fall asleep together
And we'd wake up in the sunlight
Well, maybe I'm a dreamer
But maybe one day you'll see
That dreams are-


Yeah, yeah
She gets it
Stop cockblocking me!
4. Stone Roses - Sally Cinnamon

A Birdsy jangle from Brown & Squire. I'm never quite clear whether this particular Sally really is Ian's world... or whether he's just picking her pocket on the train.

3. Little Richard - Long Tall Sally

Classic rock 'n' roll song about grassing up your uncle 'cos he's cheating on poor old Aunt Mary with the eponymous tall, bald-headed lady who's not built for comfort, she's built for speed.
Some fun tonight.
2. Wilson Pickett - Mustang Sally

Due to a typo when making my shortlist in preparation for this Top Ten, I almost forgot this stone cold masterpiece completely. What a crime that would have been. The Wicked Pickett in all his soulful, screeching glory. Phew. That was a close one.

And the moral is: don't give a girl you fancy a new car just to get a free ride. Who knows who else she might take for a spin?

1. The Pogues - Sally MacLennane

Shane Macgowan's finest hour? The lyrics to Sally MacLennane are witty, joyous and wistfully nostalgic. It's the story of Jimmy, an old harmonica-playing pal who leaves town twice, the latter time never to return.
He soothed the souls of psychos and the men who had the horn
...has to be one of the greatest lines in the history of pop, surely?

It took me many years to discover that the titular Sally wasn't a lady at all but a pint of stout. But then, you'd expect nothing else from Shane.

So... which Sally is the pride of your alley?

Thursday, 30 October 2014

My Top Ten Vampire Songs

To celebrate Halloween, here's ten tunes that will drive a stake through your heart.

I had to whittle this list down somewhat: I had enough vampire songs to fill a Top 30. Apologies if your favourite didn't make the cut.

Special mentions to Vampire Weekend, Nosferatu D2 and Baron Von Rockula.

Meanwhile, if you're looking for more Halloween horror, check out My Top Ten Zombie Songs and My Top Ten Haunted Songs.

10. Future Bible Heroes - I'm A Vampire

Wonderfully kitsch glam Vampirella spoof from the twisted mind of Stephin (Magnetic Fields) Merritt.
The sun will never touch me
I abhor its filthy light
I am the mistress of the damned
And of the children of the night
I have all the love I need
It is your blood I crave
I am the bitch goddess from beyond your grave
I can turn into a bat
I can cast the evil eye
I have ever so much money
I'm gorgeous
And I can fly
I survied the Inquisition
Been a harlot
Been a queen
Survived for seven hundred years
And still look seventeen
In a similar vein (punintended), you might also enjoy I've Got A Fang by They Might Be Giants.

9. Queens of the Stone Age - The Vampyre Of Time And Memory

As close as QOTSA ever came to a ballad... although the video is terrifying! 

8. My Chemical Romance - Vampire Money

MCR do the Ramones. Hilarious.

See also Vampires Will Never Hurt You. When all around you are popping fangs - how can you keep your head?

7. Radiohead - We Suck Young Blood

One of the best post-OK Computer Radiohead songs... and let's face it, if you were casting a movie about vampire rock stars, Thom Yorke would be your first call. After Robert Smith and Andrew Eldritch. And Nick Cave. And Cher.

6. The Sleepy Jackson - Vampire Racecourse

See, this is when I start to realise how fast time goes by. It only seems like yesterday I was buying the debut album by Aussie band The Sleepy Jackson on the strength of this single... turns out it was eleven years ago. I wish I was immortal...

(No idea what this song is about or why the vampires are racing... but it's cool.)

5. Concrete Blonde - Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)

Creepy southern gothic, perfect for Halloween. Johnette Napolitano could be the voice of Vampirella: The Musical. If they ever made Vampirella: The Musical. They really ought to. 

4. Neil Young - Vampire Blues

I don't claim to be the smartest guy on the internet... but I reckon this just might be Neil having a dig at the oil industry. See kids, metaphors are ace.

3. Arctic Monkeys - Perhaps Vampires Is A Bit Strong, But...

And speaking of metaphors... here's Alex Turner taking pot shots at the music industry. This could well have sneaked into my Top Ten Songs About Record Companies, but I thought I'd save it for now instead.

2. The Birthday Party - Release The Bats
My baby is alright
She doesn't mind a bit of dirt
She says 'horror vampire bat bite'
She says 'horror vampire
How I wish those bats would bite'
Whooah bite! bite!
I'm glad Nick Cave calmed down a bit with age. If he'd kept up this level of intensity, he'd have been dead long ago.

1. Bauhaus - Bela Lugosi's Dead

If vampires are the ultimate in gothic horror, you don't get much gothier than this. Even Christopher Lee's scared of this bunch. Great song... all nine and a half freaky-deaky minutes of it. 

Those got my vampiric votes... but which one makes you rise from the grave?

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

My Top Ten Pigeon Songs

And so we reach my Top Ten Pigeon Songs, a post I wrote over a year ago... but I've been holding it back in reserve for the moment when I finally ran out of time to write any new ones. Luckily, it's half term next week, so hopefully I'll have a little more time to stockpile blogposts until Christmas. Otherwise... it may go a little quiet round here for awhile.

Anyway: pigeons. I like pigeons. Although I do seem to be in the minority. Here's ten odes to "rats with wings", some of them decidedly unpleasant...

Special mentions to The Pigeon Detectives and Lieutenant Pigeon.

10. Blur - The Woodpigeon Song

Obscure b-side... and, let's be honest, lads, it sounds like one.

9. The Uncle Devil Show - Sidelong Glances of a Pigeon Kicker

A one-off side project for Del Amitri's Justin Currie, this bizarre Beatles-esque pop tune was one of a handful of songs released by The Uncle Devil Show around ten years back. You could spot Currie's cynical tone a mile off...
A bird on the wing is a beautiful thing
With the exception of species whose speciality's faeces
So here's permission to land under the half brick
In my hand, in my hand...
8.  Genesis - Pigeons

Amazingly, this is post-Gabriel Genesis. Can't help but feel they were trying a little too hard to out-weird their former leader. From the Spot The Pigeon EP, which brings us nicely to...

7. Dick Dastardly & Mutley - Stop The Pigeon

Someone else who isn't a pigeon fancier. But how could I leave this out?
Mutley, you snickering,
Floppy-eared hound
When courage is needed,
You're never around.
Those medals you wear on
Your moth-eaten chest
Should be there for bungling
At which you are best.
6. John Prine - Clay Pigeons
I'm tired of running round looking for answers to questions I already know.
Written by Blaze Foley - now there's a great name for a country singer... or a burnt out detective.

5. Tom Lehrer - Poisoning Pigeons In The Park

Another classic slice of comic misanthropy... and pigeonthropy.

4. Cyndi Lauper - Sally's Pigeons

Cyndi recalls a childhood friend who's no longer with us.

Watch out for a young Julia Stiles playing teenage Cyndi in the video.

3. Kid Creole & The Coconuts - Stool Pigeon
Now if you wanna squeal, said the FBI
We can make a deal, make it worth your while...
Not about your feathered variety of pigeons, obviously. Kid Creole was cool.

2. The Handsome Family - Passenger Pigeons

Once upon a time, the Passenger Pigeon was one of the most abundant species of bird on earth. It was hunted to extinction at the beginning of the 20th Century... probably by the likes of Justin Currie, Tom Lehrer and Dick Dastardly.
Once there were a billion passenger pigeons
So many flew by, they darkened the sky
But they were clubbed and shot
Netted, Gassed, and Burned
Until there was nothing left
But vines of empty nests
I can't believe how easily
A billion birds can disappear
1. The Unthanks - King of Rome

Dave Sudbury's song tells the true story of Charlie Hudson, whose racing pigeon was entered into a 1913 race from Rome back to its home in Derby. But...
On the day o' the big race a storm blew in 
A thousand birds were swept away and never seen again
...and Charlie's bird was feared lost with them. But then, a miracle happened.
I was off with me mates for a pint or two 
When I saw a wing flash up in the blue 
"Charlie, it's the King of Rome 
Come back to his West End home 
Come outside quick, he's perched up on your roof"
Originally recorded by Sudbury, made famous by June Tabor... but this glorious version by the Unthanks and the Brighouse & Rastrick Brass Band takes some beating.

Ten pigeons set flying... but which one will win your race?
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