Tuesday 26 August 2014

My Top Ten Songs Named After TV Programmes Of My Youth

Even though we only had three TV channels when I was a kid (four once I turned ten... although it took our TV a while to pick up C4), I did watch a hell of a lot of television. It seems strange now that the whole family would sit round and watch whatever was on, from duff quiz shows to Are You Being Served and 'Allo 'Allo (which we only watched because my dad used to work with Gordon Kaye, before he became famous).

Anyway, here are a bunch of songs named after the shows I watched when I was a lad. Some of these songs are much better than the shows that inspired them... others never could be.

I've avoided TV theme songs that also became chart hits - so you won't find Dennis Waterman's I Could Be So Good For You, Hey Hey We're The Monkees or Al Jarreau's Moonlighting, no matter how good they were. (Leo Sayer's Moonlighting would have made #11, in case you were wondering.)

10. Ed Sheeran - The A Team

So there comes a point in every middle-aged music blogger's life when he has to tackle the music wot da kidz are listening to these days. Though it's impossible not to be aware of Ed Sheeran, or this, his debut hit, I have to confess I included it here only because I loved The A Team as a kid. And you may find this impossible to believe... but this is actually the first time I've sat down and listened to the song in its entirety.

Having done so, while I don't think I'll be rushing out to buy the album, I was pleasantly surprised. One of my biggest complaints about modern pop music - or at least that which makes the increasingly irrelevant singles chart - is that it's not actually about anything. As regular readers of this blog will no doubt have guessed, I like lyrics. I like lyrics that tell stories or paint pictures or surprise me or make me laugh or think. Engaging lyrics will even drive me to buy records by artists whose musical stylings might otherwise leave me cold (step forward Eminem, Scroobius Pip, et. al.). And while Sheeran is hardly Jarvis Cocker, he has at least crafted a hit record that's about something and he uses words in an interesting and creative way.

Still, this would have been even better if Hannibal, Face, B.A. and Murdoch had dashed in to save Sheeran's tragic homeless junkie at the last minute. Just saying.

9. The Verve - Columbo

Taken from The Verve's somewhat lacklustre comeback album, Forth, I've no idea why this track is named after Peter Falk's scruffy detective.

Just one more thing... I heard rumours the other day of plans for a Columbo movie starring Mark Ruffalo (perfect casting). I hope he still has the cigar. (But you know he won't have.)

8. Palma Violets - Last of the Summer Wine

Every other week, the music press crowns a new band as the latest "saviours of indie". Palma Violets were given this accolade a year or so ago, and since then I've heard very little from them.

I've no idea why they chose to name this record after our famous local TV show (LOTSW was filmed, for many - many - years in the neighbouring village of Holmfirth). Lyrically there are no clues... actually, lyrically there's very little going on at all. The only line that seems remotely connectable is this:

Well, I'm loving the high road
I'll never ride alone again!

...which might, at a push, be a reference to the infamous racing bathtubs episode. But probably isn't.

7. Guillemots - Cats Eyes

C.A.T.S. Eyes was the rather duff sequel to The Gentle Touch in which Jill Gascoigne teamed up with Rosalyn Landor and Leslie Ash as a cut price British answer to Charlie's Angels. This delicate song by the Guillemots is almost good enough to make me forget it. 

6. The Libertines - What Became Of The Likely Lads?

Although the TV show was called Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? this is close enough for one of Columbo's cigars in my book. A song about a band splitting up just as they're on the verge of something great, which is what was happening to The Libertines as they released it... and also leads us neatly onto our next number...

5. The Rezillos - Top of the Pops

Pretty cast iron way of getting your record played on Top of the Pops... although the Rezillos promptly fell out after this cheeky gambit and failed to capitalise on their TOTP experience.

4. Ash - Kung Fu

Already featured highly in My Top Ten Martial Arts Songs, here it pays tribute to David Carradine, grasshopper. 

3. Dweeb - Scooby Doo

Forgotten Britpop classic from the late 90s that owes more than a little to the aforementioned Ash. This was their towering achievement, a perfect two minute blast of power-pop.

Scooby Doo was my favourite Hanna-Barbera cartoon as a kid. Until they brought in Scrappy, naturally... 

There is an even cooler song about Scooby, but as its title isn't the name of the show itself, I had to hand the prize to Dweeb. 

2. Peter Gabriel - Games Without Frontiers (Jeux Sans Frontières)

I was never really a fan of It's A Knockout, as it was known in the UK, even as a little kid I thought it was all very silly. I much prefer Peter Gabriel's song in which he uses the ridiculous TV show as a metaphor for political idiocy. It's a wonderful pop record, with amusing lyrics, Kate Bush purring French backing vocals, an infectious whistling refrain and lyrics the BBC had to censor. ("Whistling tunes, we piss on the goons in the jungle" became "Whistling tunes we're kissing baboons in the jungle" for the single mix.)

1. The Divine Comedy - Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World

I used to love this show when I was a kid.
“Mysteries from the files of Arthur C Clarke, author of 2001 and inventor of the comm­unications satellite. Now living in retreat in Sri Lanka after a lifetime of science, space and writing, he ponders the riddles of this and other worlds”.
It was here I first found my love of UFOs, sea monsters, stone circles and, of course, the infamous Bigfoot film. I bought the series on DVD a few years ago and enjoyed it just as much on repeat viewing... although perhaps for slightly different reasons. There's one bit with an "eminent scientist" of the day, in the back of a taxi, giving his views on crop circles or the Loch Ness Monster or Egyptian reincarnation or somesuch... and frankly, it is the most astounding thing I have ever seen in my life. You would not believe the hairpiece he's wearing... I'm amazed ACC didn't want to investigate that.

Anyway, Neil Hannon was obviously a fan too, as demonstrated by this choice cut from his Victory For The Comic Muse album...
Do you remember that old T.V. show:
Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World?
Well, if ITV make a new series
They ought to come take a look at my girl

I don't understand her
She doesn't make any sense to me
I don't understand her
It's like she's speaking in Swahili.

Which songs remind you of your childhood TV addictions?

Monday 18 August 2014

My Top Ten Biscuit Songs

Last year, I shared My Top Ten Chocolate Bar Songs and I was sure I'd follow it up with some biscuits. It's taken a while, but eventually I came up with a cool baker's dozen.

Then I scoffed three of them on the way to the blog.

For the benefit of completeness, I'm going to pretend the word 'biscuit' means 'biscuit' the world over and means roughly the same as 'cookie', although here in the UK, a cookie is just one distinct type of biscuit.

Speaking of which, special mentions must go out to The Cookies, Biscuit Boy (another of Paul Heaton's shortlived aliases), Wiskey (sic) Biscuit, and - of course - the mighty, mighty Half Man Half Biscuit.

10. The Maccabees - Happy Faces

While I'm happy to see the Maccabees enjoying the success they've had in recent years, it does make me feel rather old and out of touch. There's something I don't quite get about this band, although they do produce some catchy little ditties. They'll do until the proper indie revival hits.

9. Lou Reed - Wagon Wheel

Considering the whole Mick Jagger / Mars Bar thing, I was a little nervous about googling Lou Reed's Wagon Wheel. (And when I did, I found some rather disturbing definitions of the term that cast... euurggh... new light on the lyrics.) To keep my family audience, I'm going to pretend this is a song about eating a whole Wagon Wheel in one mouthful... something which is much easier these days than it used to be given that Wagon Wheels are now about a quarter of the size they were when I were a lad.

8. Kelis - Biscuits 'n' Gravy

This is a tasty treat from Kelis's latest album, Food, in which she comes on all celebrity chef. Originally trained as a Cordon Bleu saucier (and could there be a saucier saucier? etc. etc.), Kelis has been promoting this record out of a food truck. Well, considering how popular her milkshake was, I reckon I'd try one of her biscuits... I'd probably pass on the gravy though.

7. Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic

No, I wouldn't have thought of a pretzel as a biscuit either. The internet (well, some of the internet) begs to differ. Actually, there appears to be much debate over what a pretzel actually is...

...but for the purposes of this blog I decided to go with the biscuit definition as long as it allowed me to squeeze some classic Steely Dan into this post. A great song overrides all other rules: that's my logic.

(Hear this track again in my forthcoming Top Ten Chip Songs, Top Ten Bread Songs, Top Ten Pastry Songs... etc. etc.)

6. The White Stripes - Ball and Biscuit

Jack White claims to be a seventh son, imbuing himself with a kinds of bluesy super powers. He certainly plays a mean guitar. Not sure where the biscuits come in though.

5. The Stranglers - Nice In Nice

Jean Jacques Burnel enjoys a rather plain, rectangular, sugar sprinkled biscuit in the south of France.

Bonus: the video shows the Stranglers performing this song on Cheggers Plays Pop. That just wouldn't happen nowadays, would it?

4. Luscious Jackson - Lady Fingers

In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a a lone survivor will unearth the video of Lady Fingers and come to believe that this is what the 90s really looked like. Lots of happy young people in brightly coloured clothing dancing on buses.

Confession: I used to find this song inexplicably arousing.

3. The Killers - Leave The Bourbon On The Shelf

I was never a fan of Bourbon biscuits, they'd always be left to go soft in the tin while everything else - even the Nice biscuits! - got gobbled. So it gave me a warm feeling when I discovered Brandon Flowers couldn't abide a Bourbon either.

What are you talking about? Jack Daniels? Jim Beam? Don't be silly. This song is about biscuits: I won't hear anything else.

2. The Beach Boys - Breakaway

A chocolate biscuit, not a chocolate bar (see above for those). And while I could probably have found songs called Taxi, Trio, Club, Bandit and Penguin... none of them were by the Beach Boys.


1. Pulp - Mis-shapes

The ultimate underdog anthem, this reinforces why Pulp were the greatest Britpop band. While Oasis were the lager lout Loaded lads and Blur the poncey art-school posers, Jarvis was a man of the little people, a geek-made-good. "Raised on a diet of broken biscuits," indeed... I bet Damon didn't even know what a mis-shape was.

Mis-shapes was a triumphant rallying call for all those of us who believed we never really fit in. You ask me, there are two types of people in this world: those who think they've got it sussed... and those who know we never will. In the video, Jarvis plays both these roles - and even has a fight in a disco with his spiv self - although we all know who'll win in the end.

And brothers, sisters, can't you see?
The future's owned by you and me.
There won't be fighting in the street.
They think that they've got us beat, but revenge is gonna be so sweet.
We're making a move.
We're making it now.
We're coming out of the sidelines.
Just put your hands up - it's a raid, yeah.
We want your homes,
we want your lives,
we want the things you won't allow us.
We won't use guns,
we won't use bombs,
we'll use the one thing we've got more of - that's our minds, yeah.
That's our minds. Yeah.
And if that wasn't enough, the video also guest stars Melissa Wilks who played Zammo's girlfriend Jackie Wright in Grange Hill and who I had a massive crush on about ten years earlier. Sigh. Another schoolyard crush I had no hope with...

Those were my favourites from the tin... but which one takes the biscuit for you?

Monday 11 August 2014

My Top Ten Shipwreck Songs

Until someone lays down a record about The Poseidon Adventure, these are my favourite shipwreck songs...

10. IAMX - The Great Shipwreck of Life

Ex-Sneaker Pimp Chris Corner has made some interesting records under his new IAMX identity. This is one of the strongest.
Release cold gender bombs,
on chromonial closets, middle England.

Stay with me.
I'll be Peter Pan and you just be pretty.
But no, I've no idea what 'chromonial' means either.

9. Neil Diamond - Captain of a Shipwreck

Neil Diamond's stripped back Rick Rubin renaissance wasn't quite as successful as Rubin's glorious re-invention of Johnny Cash, but it did produce a couple of interesting albums. And Neil's voice is still dynamite.

8. Julian Cope - The Shipwreck of St. Paul

Julian gets biblical on our arses. That's like the First of the Fallen giving Sunday School classes. Scary stuff!

7. Woody Guthrie - When That Great Ship Went Down

A US marine in WWII, Woody Guthrie worked in the mess, washed dishes and sang songs to keep the crew's spirits up. Although none of the ships he served on actually sank, one hit a mine and another was torpedoed during the D-Day invasion of Normandy. So I guess he knows what he's talking about more than the rest of the people on this list.

6. Kirsty MacColl - Titanic Days

Probably this week's most tenuous link, but any excuse to dig out some Kirsty. We'll return to this "unsinkable" ship a little later...

Tragically, Kirsty MacColl lost her life in a boating "accident". Her family fought long and hard to see justice done in her name.

5. The Divine Comedy - The Wreck Of The Beautiful

A - ahem - beautiful and haunting tale of an old ship consigned to the breaker's yard along with all her ghosts.
I thought I heard her call, maybe I heard nothing at all.
I thought I heard her call from the wreck of the Beautiful.
4. Jim O'Rourke - Ghost Ship in a Storm

Speaking of haunting... and beautiful.

Jim O'Rourke's ghost ship must surely owe something to MacArthur Park too...
It’s just my luck
I get hit by a car
While carrying a cake

Dripping cherries
Onto pavement
Bride and groom on my face

I’m not there like a ghost ship in a storm
Another damned cake left out in the rain.

3. Harry Chapin - Dance Band on the Titanic

Harry's tribute to the most famous shipwreck ever. A great story song, telling how the band kept playing to help calm panicked passengers right up until the last minute. All those brave musicians went down with their ship.

2. Gordon Lightfoot - The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Probably the most famous song ever written about a shipwreck (what do you mean you've never heard it?), Lightfoot's Canadian classic. A true epic, even Lightfoot thinks it's his best song, it was memorably covered by the Dandy Warhols and Laura Cantrell, among others.
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed
In the Maritime Sailors' Cathedral
The church bell chimed 'til it rang twenty-nine times
For each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
Of the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the gales of November come early
1. George Harrison - Wreck of the Hesperus

Another one from my teenage years, though it's actually a song about growing old. The Wreck of the Hesperus is a grimly tragic poem by Longfellow and Harrison uses it here as a metaphor for his advancing years. While he feels "old as Methuselah", he at least consoles himself that he isn't yet as decrepit as the titular ship.
I'm not a power of attorney
But I can rock as good as Gibraltar
Ain't no more no spring chicken
Been plucked but I'm still kicking
But it's alright, it's alright
So exactly how old was George when he wrote this song?


Two years older than I am now.

But I know where he was coming from. Call it Mid-Life Crisis if you will, but I've been feeling my age a lot lately. Lifting and carrying Sam - and while he's still less than year, he is - officially - the tallest baby in the Colne Valley (people often mistake him for a 2 year-old) has brought on all sorts of aches and pains. My back was never that good anyway, but now I ache all over... don't even start me on my knees. Or the grey hairs which have multiplied over the last 12 months. I wouldn't be without any of these ailments, they're all worth it... but 42 ain't that old, neither was 44 George.

Of course, George Harrison died in 2001, aged just 58. So technically, 44 was well-past middle-aged for him. However, by the age of 44, he'd lived more than I could in ten lifetimes. Louise tells me that my own life expectancy is 100+ (and she works in pensions, so she has to know these things) while Sam could well live to 120, barring a zombie apocalypse. So it's all relative. And it doesn't matter anyway as nobody ever reads these bits, so it's not like I'm expecting you to counsel me through my MLC or anything. Sometimes it just helps to get these thoughts down on the page. Writing has always been my confidante, and this blog is just about the only writing I do these days, bar lesson planning. 
But it's alright, it's alright
It's alright, alright
It's alright

Which one is your iceberg?

Monday 4 August 2014

My Top Ten Car Parts Songs

This week, I'm going to build a car, from scratch, out of songs...

No wheels or tyres though, they'll get a separate Top Ten... some other time. There were far too many to choose from.

Special mention to The Brakes. And, of course, Bruce Springsteen, the man you need to see if you require any Spare Parts.

10. The Bluetones - One Speed Gearbox

Ah, the old "describing myself as a knackered old car" metaphor put to excellent use by Mark Morriss and chums.
I need a station
I need a break
I need an oil change
I need something to help me along on my way
Just need something to keep me awake
Yep, I know that feeling.

Elvis Costello has an equally ineffective gearbox... 5ive Gears in Reverse.

9. Primal Scream - Accelerator

Very disappointed I couldn't find a song called Clutch.

This is from one of my favourite Primal Scream albums, XTRMNTR, although I have to be in the right kind of mood to listen to it. It's LOUD.

8. Joy Division - Transmission

As bleak as you feel after you get a huge repair bill when you only took your car in for a simple MOT.

7. Kurtis Blow - The Breaks (sic)

Strictly speaking, this shouldn't be allowed because of the homophone. However, I'm going to bend the rules and allow it because...

i) The opening lyric, wherein Kurtis raps about "brakes on a bus, brakes on a car".

ii) It's freakin' amazing.

Fans of 6Music will hear this song quite a lot. Even though it's 34 years old and was never a hit, breakfast show presenter Shaun Keaveny plays it about once a week.

6. Sniff 'n' The Tears - Driver's Seat

Proper musos and indie kids will be horrified that this fares better than Joy Division and Primal Scream. I am an odd music fan, aren't I?

Anyway, I was amused to read that while this record was a big hit across the world, it failed to chart in the band's home country (the UK) because of a distribution problem caused by the record company. D'oh. Incredibly, despite being one hit wonders, Sniff 'n' The Tears appear to still be semi-active. Their last album was released in 2011.

5. Grace Jones - Pull Up To The Bumper

Shows what an innocent child I was... I had no idea, until a few weeks ago, just how filthy this song is. I actually thought it was about a long black limousine pulling up to Grace's bumper and then... erm... driving inbetween.

Yeah, I never really got that last bit.

4. Eminem featuring Nate Reuss - Headlights

On which Marshall "apologises" to his mum for all the nasty things he's rapped about her over the years. And who knew the bloke from Fun was Marshall's brother?

Oh, and something about headlights.

3. Radiohead - Airbag

In a fast German car, an airbag saves Thom Yorke's life.

Typical Audi driver.

From The Bends, Radiohead at their best.

2. Meat Loaf - Objects In The Rearview Mirror (May Appear Closer Than They Are) / Paradise By The Dashboard Light 

How about that - a two-fer at #2! Two genuine Jim Steinman epics, one from the original Bat Out Of Hell album, the other from its underrated sequel.

I've written about Paradise... before (I even gave it a much-deserved Number One) so here's a few words about Objects... or OITRM(MACTTA) if you're into that whole brevity thing:





And when the sun descended and the night arose
I heard my father cursing everyone he knows
He was dangerous and drunk and defeated
And corroded by failure and envy and hate 
If this song doesn't tear your heart out like a Thuggee priest, then you just don't get the Steinman / Meat Loaf combo at their mad and melodramatic best.
She used her body just like a bandage,
She used my body just like a wound
I'll probably never know where she disappeared
But I can see her rising up out of the back seat now
Just like an angel rising up from a tomb
Make no mistake about it: that is superior songwriting in action.

1. Johnny Cash - One Piece At A Time

And yet, much as I love those last two records, much as I'd sell my soul to the devil for a Jim & Meat double-decker, I had to give this week's Number One to Johnny as he steals an entire Cadillac from the General Motors factory in his lunchbox... one piece at a time. Over a number of years.

What could possibly go wrong with that plan?
Now up to now my plan went alright
'Til we tried to put it all together one night
And that's when we noticed that something was definitely wrong
The transmission was a '53 and
The motor turned out to be a '73 and
When we tried to put in the bolts all the holes were gone
Someone actually built a working model of the car Johnny describes in this song - it's pictured below.

Leave a comment if you think you can do better than a Kwik Fit Fitter...
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