Thursday 26 June 2014

My Top Ten Festival Songs

Two Top Tens in one week? Wow... it's like the good old days! Actually, most of this one was compiled ages ago... back when I had free time in which to properly research these things. I've just been waiting for the appropriate time to run it. And as Glastonbury heralds the official start of the UK summer festival season this weekend, now is that time.

I will be watching Glastonbury - I'm particularly keen to catch John Grant (but which numpty decided to put him on at the same time as the Pixies?) - though this year's headliners leave a lot to be desired. Many people are whining about Metallica's headline slot, but while I'm hardly their biggest fan, I reckon they'll be a damn site more interesting than Th'arcade Fire or bleedin' Kasabian. I must be getting old. Where's Stevie Wonder when you need him?

10. The Waterboys - Glastonbury Song

More about the location and its mythic and mystical history than the festival itself, but I bet there's a fair few festival goers who reckon they found god at Michael Eavis's farm...

9. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros - Coma Girl

Joe goes to a festival "way out west" (Blackpool?) and takes some acid. It starts raining, then things get weird...

8. David Bowie - Memory of a Free Festival

Back in 1969, Bowie was among the organisers of a free festival in Beckenham, South East (that-) London. This was his rather trippy tribute, a great album track that never should have been released as a radio single... even back in 1970 when the radio was a lot kinder.

Many years later, Dario G would steal the hooky chorus from the song's second half for his woeful dance-pop dirge 'Sunmachine'. You have to question why the Dame would ever allow such a travesty... but he does move in mysterious ways.

7.  The Velvet Underground & Nico - All Tomorrow's Parties

Not actually about a festival, but they named a festival after it so that's good enough for me.

Plus, it led to the creation of Knee Deep At ATC by Los Campesinos, which is about the festival in question.

6. The Animals - Monterey

The summer of love began here...

Young gods smiled upon the crowd
Their music being born of love
Children danced night and day
Religion was being born
Down in Monterey

The Byrds and the Airplane
Did fly
Oh, Ravi Shankar's
Music made me cry

The Who exploded
Into violent light
Hugh Masekela's music
Was black as night

The Grateful Dead
Blew everybody's mind
Jimi Hendrix, baby
Believe me
Set the world on fire, yeah!

5. Aphrodite's Child - Altamont

...and died here, two years later.

Aphrodite's Child were a Greek band made up of Demis Roussos and Vangelis (plus some other bloke). This somewhat satanic response to the Altamont tragedy featured on their final album, 666, considered by some to be a precursor to the prog-rock concept album that lumbered through the 70s like a bilious diplodocus and eventually spawned punk as a direct reaction.

Echo & The Bunnymen also did a pretty cool song called Altamont, but I think that's more metaphorical.

See also An Array of Passionate Lovers by Pete Atkin (and Clive James) which tells the story of this fateful day in far more detail...

    That big-mouthed dude in the flash duds
    Preached fighting in the streets
    But the crowd of kids held an angel with a knife
    Who carved himself a slice of another guy's life
    And the blooms of blood unfolded from the buds
    And the bad karma came down in sheets
    And the troops of love got wise, they were paying
    Too much for their seats

4. Deep Purple - Smoke On The Water

If you've ever worked in a guitar shop, chances are you've heard this riff on a daily basis. And are now royally sick of it.

The titular smoke spread across Lake Geneva when Montreux Casino burned to the ground during a Frank Zappa concert in 1971. Although this wasn't part of that year's actual Montreux Festival (the fire happened in December, the festival in June), it did force the festival to change venues for the next few years while the Casino was rebuilt. A tenuous link, but good enough for me to crowbar it onto this list.

3. Joni Mitchell - Woodstock

The most famous music festival ever, and the most famous song ever written about a music festival... yet as Joni explains here, she never actually made it to Woodstock. More famous recordings of this record exist, of course, by Matthew's Southern Comfort, Crosby, Stills & Nash et al... yet only Joni can get away with singing "We are stardust, we are golden..." with a straight face, if you ask me.

2. The Hold Steady - Chillout Tent

Probably my favourite Hold Steady record, I love how Craig Finn's vocals mix with guests Dave Pirner (from Soul Asylum!) and Elizabeth Elmore (of The Reputation... who I've never heard of either, but should investigate), playing the parts of the young lovers who have a one night stand in a rather extreme festival chillout tent.

She looked just like a baby bird
All new and wet and trying to light a Parliament
He quoted her some poetry, he's Tennyson in denim and sheepskin
He looked a lot like Izzy Stradlin

They started kissing when the nurses took off their IVs
It was kind of sexy but it was kind of creepy
Their mouths were fizzy with the cherry cola
They had the privacy of bedsheets and all the other kids were mostly in comas

1. Pulp - Sorted For E's & Whizz

As Jarvis explains in his introduction during the song's first public performance at Glastonbury '95, this song was originally written about outdoor raves. Yet it became synonymous with festivals in my mind for a number of reasons, not least because it was this show that cemented the band's reputation as the greatest of the Britpop era. The public spat between Blur and Oasis, arguing over that crown like spiteful schoolboys, sullied both their reputations. Meanwhile Pulp snuck in the back door, stepping in as final night Glasto headliners after the Stone Roses pulled out at the eleventh hour, and history gave them the prize. (Earlier this year, during Britpop's 20th Anniversary celebrations, it was Common People that was voted the nation's favourite anthem: not Country House or Roll With It.)

But the real reason this is my Number One Festival Song is that it reminds me more than any other of my own festival-going days - of watching Pulp live at Leeds ('96?) and experiencing a moment unlike any I'd ever had before... or would again. That was in the days before music festivals became TOO big and corporate... it wouldn't be long before the magic was stolen by giant screens you could only watch from half a mile away, sponsored wellies, beer tents and portaloos, and drunken crowds of idiots who'd never even heard of the headliners. I'd rather watch a music festival on TV these days... I really must be getting old. Still, back then, in that moment, I was one of just 20,000 people standing in a field... and it felt alright.

Those were my festival favourites... which one gets you lining up on the front row?

Monday 23 June 2014

My Top Ten Bang Songs

Because everybody enjoys a good bang. It's onomatopoeiatastic.

Special mention to The Bangles, natch.

10. Shirley Bassey - Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Not an official Bond theme, but written by John Barry and performed by Dame Shirl, it might as well be.

He's fast and he's cool
He's from the school that loves and leaves 'em
A pity if it grieves 'em
Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang's not a fool...

David Gedge stole the title for an excellent Cinerama song, but the internet let me down on that one.

9. B.A. Robertson - Bang Bang

The 70s king of bad lyrical puns strikes again!

Tony and Cleo struck out for the freeo down Egypt's way
But Caesar had squeezed her in Rome on his quilt for a day
Hey, hey
Now Anthony got really angry
Oh oh Caesar's hanky panky
She told em she would use em
And boy did she abuse em
Fall in love and blew em away

Ouch. That's B.A...D.

8. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Bang

And here's why I wouldn't ever... with Karen O. I couldn't handle the post-match commentary.

7. They Might Be Giants - Bangs

Why do Americans not just call it a fringe like everybody else?

6 Blur - Bang

Early Blur, from back when they were more baggy than Britpop. They Might Be Giants would consider Blur's haircuts perfect for this track.

5. Divine Comedy - Bang! Goes The Knighthood

Neil Hannon updates Noel Coward for the Miss Whiplash era.

So chain me, restrain me and teach me to kneel
Bind me and grind me beneath your high heels
Crack goes the whip and if someone should tell
Bang goes the knighthood, as well

4. Nancy Sinatra - Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)

Written by the late Mr. Bono (Sonny, not the other one... he's not late... and I don't want him ever to die because I don't think I'd be able to stomach the fawning obits) and originally a hit for his ex-missus. But Nancy's version edges that one out, for me... it's just that little bit more tragic.

3. Art Brut - Bang Bang Rock 'n' Roll

I'll admit it: my love of Art Brut is disproportionate to all the other, more famous artists in the history of pop music. Perhaps because I have a sneaking suspicion that if I'd ever had the guts to form a band, they've have sounded a lot like Eddie Argos and his motley crew. (They'd certainly have sounded more like Art Brut than they would Mötley Crüe.)

I don't want a girl that's with the band
I just want a girl that's gonna hold my hand
No more songs about sex and drugs and Rock and Roll
It's boring!

That said, I don't share Eddie's apparent disregard for The Velvet Underground.

We Are Scientists do an amazing cover of this track too... so good, it sounds like an actual rock song!

2. REM - Bang and Blame

According to Iffypedia, this was REM's most successful single since Shiny Happy People and they've not had a more successful record since. I find that a little hard to believe considering that makes it "more successful" than Man On The Moon, Drive, The Great Beyond, What's The Frequency, Kenneth? and Everybody Hurts (among others). Perhaps it was a much bigger hit in the rest of the world than it was in the UK? Anyway, it's a good song... but not as good as the ones mentioned above.

1. The Stone Roses - She Bangs The Drums

From the opening hi-hat tickles to the euphoric chorus, this could well be the Roses' finest moment: it describes the way we feel. (If only we felt that way more often!) And while many might balk at the idea of kissing Ian Brown where the sun don't shine, you can't fault his choice of breakfast: passionfruit and holy bread. Yum.

Which one gets you banging?

Monday 16 June 2014

My Top Ten Pirate Songs

Ahoy and avast, me hearties... get a load of this booty!

Special mentions to Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, Pete & The Pirates, Peggy Sue & The Pirates and The Streets - Original Pirate Material.

10. Ocean Colour Scene - Policemen & Pirates

Close your eyes and it's 1996 again, we're all still young and the world's our pearl-filled oyster.

9. Jimmy Buffet - A Pirate Looks At 40

Speaking of feeling one's age...

Yes I am a pirate, two hundred years too late
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder
I'm an over-forty victim of fate
Arriving too late, arriving too late...

8. Adam Ant - Jolly Roger

Not content with being the Dandy Highwayman, Adam Ant takes to the high seas...

7. Thea Gilmore - Pirate Moon

Thea Gilmore songs are like buried treasure on youtube - terribly difficult to dig up. Thank god X marked the spot on this one - it's gorgeous.

6. The Pogues - Turkish Song of the Damned

Because every Pogues song sounds like it's sung by a lairy, drunken sea captain, I figured I'd have no problem including them in this list. Especially as one of their greatest albums is called Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. I was rather surprised then by how long it took me to track down an appropriate tune... but this one saved the day. Read the full story behind it - and its rather bizarre genesis - here.

5. Rickie Lee Jones - Pirates (So Long Lonely Avenue)

A strange and beautiful song in which the pirates are metaphorical and melancholic.

4. Tom Waits - Shiver Me Timbers

In later years, Tom Waits would come to resemble a real life pirate in both vocals and appearance (in fact, only Keith Richards and Shane MacGowan could beat him in a Captain Pugwash Lookalike Contest). Back in 1974, when this was released though... they'd have made him walk the plank as an imposter. Still gorgeous, despite that...

And the fog's liftin'
And the sand's shiftin'
I'm driftin' on out
Ol' Captain Ahab
He ain't got nothin' on me
So come and swallow me, follow me
I'm trav'lin' alone
Blue water's my daughter
'n I'm gonna skip like a stone

3. Lambchop - National 'Talk Like a Pirate' Day

Ah-harrgh, you scurvy landlubbers... part of me would prefer it if Kurt Wagner made up this day... yet it turns out it's an actual phenomenon (September 19th, if you're interested). Which may even be better.

Without your eye patch and your parrot
I've been informed it's National Talk Like A Pirate Day
Perhaps this singing is a refuge
From other equally uncomfortable thoughts

2. Warren Zevon - Mutineer

Warren would have had no problem talking like a pirate... he even begins this song:

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum
Hoist the mainsail - here I come...

Like much of this amazing songwriter's work, however, he manages to make his playful lyrics heartfelt and affecting. The more I listen to Warren Zevon, the more I want to hear.

1. Cosmo Jarvis - Gay Pirates

A song so good Stephen Fry tweeted it, Cosmo's Gay Pirates tells of the doomed love affair between two pirates who are victimised because of their sexuality. Both hilarious and heartbreaking, it's a real triumph.

And I'm sick of being beaten
And whipped and lashed to death,
I want one night with no gang-rape
But I won't hold my breath.

But it's you my love
You're my land ahoy
Yeah, you're my boy

Those were my favourite pirate songs... but which one blows you down?

Tuesday 10 June 2014

My Top Ten Home Songs

To celebrate our new home - ten songs with the title 'Home'... and nothing else.

10. Blake Shelton - Home

Originally recorded by Michael Bublé, but I prefer Shelton's country take.

Also recorded by Westlife, but I've managed to survive this far without ever hearing their version.

9. Lene Lovich - Home

Not for the faint of heart.

8. Depeche Mode - Home

A song from the wrong side of town.

7. Villagers - Home

There's a scary story involving a saint and a snake going on in this track from Villagers' debut album... I'm not sure I know what it's all about, but I do know that Conor O'Brien looks about 12 in the video. It's not policemen who are looking younger as I get older: it's pop stars.

6. Sheryl Crow - Home

Sheryl can belt it out with the best of them, but on a subdued song like this one, she really shows she can sing.

5. Public Image Ltd. - Home

I've never been able to take John Lydon seriously. If I did, I'm not sure I'd like him.

4. American Music Club - Home

I'm afraid of my own shadow because it's what I've become
Why do I waste my time with people who'll never love anyone?

3. Billy Bragg - Home

Can't find this on youtube, but Billy's having a big row with them at the moment over artists' royalties, so perhaps they're limiting his exposure. It's a pretty rare track though, from his internet only release 'Pressure Drop' that followed some of the major themes in his book The Progressive Patriot...

I walked down from the station 'cause I wanted to see,
The kind of things that you might miss from the back of a taxi,
There's just no way to tell you what these things mean to me
This is home.

The place I threw my guts up outside the old wine bar,
The junk shop on the corner where I bought my first guitar,
The grass verge by the pig flats where we sat and revved our cars,
This is home.

2. Iggy Pop - Home

Imagine if everybody in the world was as cool as Iggy Pop...

1. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Home

An irresistibly catchy whistling refrain (often used as backing music on TV programmes) grabbed my attention... but it's the cutesy, conversational boy-girl vocals from Jade and Alexander that kept me coming back.

Do you remember that day you fell outta my window?
I sure do ‒ you came jumping right out after me.
Well, you fell on the concrete, nearly broke you ass, you were bleeding all over the place, I rushed you out to the hospital, you remember that?
Yes, I do.
Well there's something I never told you about that night...
What didn't you tell me?
Well, while you were sitting in the back seat smoking a cigarette you thought was gonna be your last, I was falling deep, deep in love with you, and I never told you till just now!

There were a bunch of other interesting Home songs in my library - including goodies from The Lilac Time and Hefner - but I couldn't find any of them online. Bloody useless internet.

Anyway... which one would you come home to?

Monday 2 June 2014

My Top Ten Songs About Moving House

In case you were wondering why there's been a serious Top Ten drought round these parts lately, this post should explain. And yes, I was tempted to give the Number One slot to Nineteenth Nervous Breakdown.

I tried my best to stick to songs that were literally about moving house, so the likes of Curtis Mayfield, Primal Scream, Kate Bush and Supergrass (with songs about moving... or moving up... in a more general sense) will have to wait till another list. Likewise songs about leaving home...

And because I have no time to waffle on, I'll let the music do the talking this time. (Stop cheering, everybody.)

10. The Weakerthans - Sun In An Empty Room
Take eight minutes and divide
By ninety million lonely miles
         And watch the shadow cross the floor
         We don't live here anymore

9. Electric Blanket - We Will Help You Move
We will assist you with your sofa
And chairs!
8. Bob Mould - Moving Trucks
Today I am starting the rest of my life
Today I can touch the sky
And I can leave the beeping sound
Of that truck behind
          No moving trucks to hold me down

7. Drew Blackard - Right About Now I'd Like to Move to Austin and Buy a Purple House
I'd like to move on down to Austin town
Buy a purple house let the weeds grow out
Livin' on my own with my garden gnomes
They'd protect my home with their devil bones
6. Art Brut - Moving To LA
When I get off the plane
The first thing I'm gonna do is
Strip naked to the waist
And ride my Harley Davidson
Up and down Sunset street
I may even get a tattoo
My problems are never gonna find me
I'm not sending one letter
or even a postcard back
I'm drinking Henessey
With Morrissey
On a beach
Out of reach
Somewhere very far away
5. Carol Bayer Sager - You're Moving Out Today
Pack up your dirty looks
Your songs that have no hooks
Your stacks of Modern Screen
Your portrait of the Queen
Your mangy cat away
Your baby fat away
You're headed that-a-way
You're moving out today
4. Lambchop - So I Hear You're Moving
Neighborhood's getting better - I'm moving out!
3. Eels - Packing Blankets
Packing blankets and dirty sheets
A roomful of dust and a broom to sweep up
All the troubles you and I have seen

And all our troubles will be gone
Blowing out over that bridge
Floating up into the sky
Making the storm clouds cry
2. Billy Joel - Movin' Out (Antony's Song)
Working too hard can give you a heart attack-ack-ack-ack-ack...
1. The Animals - We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
Girl, there's a better life for me and you...

Which one makes you want to pick up sticks?

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