Saturday 24 January 2015

My Top Ten Peach Songs

What could be more wholesome than a nice juicy peach? Unless you're a songwriter...

(Special mention to Peaches, Peaches & Herb and The Moldy Peaches.)

Be warned: not all the peaches in this list will be fruit of the prunus persica tree. Some peaches may have an alternative meaning... remember Nicolas Cage's first time in Wild At Heart? 

10. Smog - Peach Pit

Speaking of which, Bill Callahan does a pretty good job of soundtracking that scene in one minute twenty three seconds of sleaze right here.

9. Beck - Peaches & Cream

There was a time when Beck wanted to be Prince. Here he is making garbagemen scream. My favourite lyric from this song...
You look good in that sweater

And that aluminum crutch
I'm gonna let you down easy
I've got a delicate touch 
Give him a break - aluminium wouldn't have scanned.

8. Rufus Wainwright - Peach Trees

Rufus proves that peaches don't have to be synonymous with rumpy-pumpy: they can also symbolise true love...

7. Merle Haggard - Peach Picking Time Down In Georgia

Merle (extra points for having a first name like Merle) Haggard (extra points for having a surname like Haggard) takes a tour of the southern United States at harvest time... with added self-pity.
When it's peach-picking time in Georgia
Apple-picking time in Tennessee
Cotton-picking time in Mississippi
Everybody picks on me!
6. Handsome Family - Fallen Peaches

Finally got round to watching the first series of True Detective over Christmas. Very happy to see T. Bone Burnett chose a Handsome Family song as the show's theme tune. Experts at the fine art of murder balladry, this one would fit in very well on that show too...
Ahead of me ran Jackson
Who took a bullet to the chest
And beneath the swaying peaches
Jackson slowly bled to death
5. Eels - Peach Blossom

A very sexy song - and video - without any innuendo whatsoever. E really is just opening the window to smell the peach blossom.

4. The Front Bottoms - Peach

With a band called The Front Bottoms, you're probably expecting pure filth from this track. But this is pretty much a love song... albeit one that goes a little vampiric halfway through.

3. The Stranglers - Peaches

In which Hugh Cornwell pops down his local beach to perv it up. Banned by the BBC in the same summer as The Sex Pistols were getting up all our safety-pinned noses with God Save The Queen, it's been claimed that the innuendo of Peaches was a savage critique of macho mores. Which is kind of like having your peach-melba and eating it.

2. Prince - Peach

At least with Prince you don't have to wonder if there's any innuendo going on... the purple one doesn't believe in innuendo. As ever, he's about as subtle as a giraffe.
Her hotpants can't hide her cheeks...
And yet, because it's so very, very funky, we let him get away with it.

1. Presidents of the United States of America - Peaches

The great thing about the Presidents' Peach song is that there's no metaphor here at all (I don't think): this is purely a song about peaches. Except the President of the Presidents, lead singer Chris Ballew, seems a little unclear about where peaches actually come from (i.e. someone puts them in that can, Chris). Worth watching the whole video as the band inexplicably get attacked by ninjas about two-thirds of the way through. When has that ever happened in a Coldplay video?

Which one is your peach cobbler?

Saturday 17 January 2015

My Top Ten Motorcycle Songs

I'm all revved up, with nowhere to go...

Special mention to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. 

And for anyone who might be wondering... much as I love it, I couldn't include Motorcycle Emptiness by the Manics as it's not about bikes at all. It's, like, a metaphor, man.

10. Chris Spedding - Motorbikin' 

70s one hit wonder in the vein of Kung Fu Fighting, although Spedding made a pretty good career for himself as a session musician afterwards, working with everyone from Roxy Music to The Wombles. He also produced the very first Sex Pistols demos and ground his axe on Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds.

9. Mick Harvey - Harley Davidson 

An old Serge Gainsbourg number, updated and translated by the Bad Seed and Anita Lane. I was kinda surprised that this was the only Harley song I could find.

See also the fantastic Girl On A Motorcycle by Cinerama which has a similar vibe, but much more David Gedge.

8. The Rumblestrips - Motorcycle 

A joyously upbeat ska-tinged indie-pop song about a young lad with a pushbike who wishes he had something a bit more powerful between his legs. Like Dexys meets the Supernaturals. Great "one take" video too.  

7. Richard Hawley - Motorcycle Song

Forget the hard rock romanticism of motorcycling - trust Richard Hawley to get lost on an old bike full of holes, somewhere off the road to Scarborough. 

6. The Icicle Works - Motorcycle Rider

And this is where we start to rock. From the final Icicle Works album, released in 1990, although it's actually closer to a solo album since Ian McNabb had booted the rest of the band out by then.

5. Montrose - Bad Motor Scooter

Long before he took over from David Lee Roth in Van Halen (imagine filling those shoes!), Sammy Hagar was leader singer of another band named after its lead guitarist, (Ronnie) Montrose. You may laugh at the idea of a rock song about a scooter... but this one rocks harder than most Harleys. 

4. Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild

The most obvious song on the list, from the most acclaimed motorcycle movie ever.

It is, of course, always worth mentioning that this song was written by Mars Bonfire. Out rock 'n' roll that, if you can!

And in case you were wondering, I had to disqualify Born To Run despite Bruce's irresistible invitation to "wrap your legs round these velvet rims and strap your hands cross my engine". Because if I included BTR every time I wanted to shoehorn it in, it'd be Number One every week. And that wouldn't be fair on everybody else.

3. Richard Thompson - 1952 Vincent Black Lightning

The best motorcycle songs all involve some kind of tragedy, and even though the hero of Richard Thompson's masterpiece doesn't meet his end on the back of his beloved bike (instead, he takes a shotgun blast to the chest), he still leaves the titular VBL to the love of his life: Red Molly.
Says James, in my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeveses won't do
They don't have a soul like a Vincent 52
He reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
He said I've got no further use for these
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride
2. The Shangri-Las - Leader of the Pack 

The ultimate 60s teenage death disc. (If only somebody like Taylor Swift would revive that genre!) Leader of the Pack has been much covered and/or parodied over the years, from The Detergents' "tragic" Leader of the Laundromat to the hilariously camp Julian Clary (Joan Collins Fan Club) version ("Is he picking you up after school today?" "No, I don't go to school anymore... I'm 28 now.") and the even camper Twisted Sister cover. And let's not forget Terry by Twinkle, which tells the same story, without the tune.

But that's not to say the Shangri-Las got there first: indeed, the very first teenage motorcycle tragedy hit came courtesy of Lieber & Stoller back in the mid-50s... Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots by The Cheers.

1. Meat Loaf - Bat Out Of Hell

What's left to say about Bat Out Of Hell? I've been reading Meat's autobiography recently, and also watched the BBC4 documentary on his career. I never knew he'd released a record prior to this, a Motown album of duets with a female singer called Stoney. Sadly it's not available on either CD or download or I'd check it out. I'm sure it'd be interesting, though disappointing as most of his non-Steinman recordings inevitably are. (Rumours of a Jim & Meat reunion record to be released later this year have me drooling like a puppy.) 

Meat Loaf + Jim Steinman = sheer alchemy. There's nothing else like Jim Steinman's songwriting anywhere in the solar system. It's the place where rock 'n' roll genius meets pure batshit insanity. And although there have been some fine Steinman records NOT sung by Meat, the two go together like Jonathan & Jennifer Hart: when they meet... it's moidah! Far smarter musicologists than I have written copious amounts on what makes this their masterpiece, so there's not much else I can add. But if I ever were to hit the highway on a silver Black Phantom bike, this would be playing in my head. If you don't get revved up by its power, you're missing out on one hell of a ride...

So... which one gets your motor running?

Saturday 10 January 2015

My Top Ten Dead Pet Songs

The death of a beloved pet is no laughing matter. It can be a genuinely traumatic experience - for some people, even more devastating than the death of a relative. I'm not making light of that, and neither are any of the songwriters featured below... although some of these songs, when heard through cynical 21st Century ears, might be the source of derision for some... especially our unfortunate Number One.

10. Pinback - Penelope

Penelope was a goldfish belonging to Pinback mainman Armistead Burwell Smith IV. The fish apparently died of dropsy and he wrote this, one of the band's most successful tunes, in tribute.

9. The Byrds - Bugler

One of three Byrds songs about beloved pets - see also Old Blue, who ends up in Pet Heaven alongside Bugler... and Fido (I kid you not) who manages to survive. Although, considering the song in question was written back in 1969...

8. Okkervil River - Dead Dog Song

A pretty blunt title from the Okkervil lads, but this is more emotional than you might expect. Unlike The Byrds, however, Will Sheff doesn't appear to believe in doggy heaven...
He'd never been to church, so he doesn't have a soul
He isn't waiting at the place where all of us will go
But the woodchucks wouldn't run so wild
The bushes wouldn't be so overgrown if we were not alone
7. Amy Winehouse - October Song

Dedicated to Amy's pet canary Ava (after Ava Gardner) who flew away to live "in paradise". Will she be reborn like Sarah Vaughan?

6. Queen - All Dead, All Dead

Written about the death of Bryan May's childhood cat, and how terrible he felt at her passing. Freddie was also a cat lover - the song Delilah was written about one of his own furry feline friends.

5. Joni Mitchell - Man From Mars

Joni's cat wasn't actually dead when she wrote this - she just thought he was. They'd had a bit of a falling out after Nietzsche (only Joni Mitchell would have a cat called Nietzsche) kept pissing outside its litter tray (Joni: I hear your pain) and when she chucked him out, he didn't return until after she'd written this tearful lament.
I call and call
The silence is so full of sounds
You're in them all
I hear you in the water
And the wiring in the walls
Man from Mars
This time you went too far
4. Paul Simon - Mother & Child Reunion

Apparently written about the death of Simon's favourite childhood pet - which puts an entirely different light on those familiar lyrics. The title, however, was allegedly the name of a dish at his local Chinese restaurant. That could be apocryphal interweb nonsense, but I hope it isn't. 

3. Elvis Presley - Old Shep

Probably popular culture's most famous ode to a deceased pet, it's been mercilessly mocked over the years and has lost much of its bite. If you can put that aside though, it's bloody heartbreaking.

Old Shep has historical importance too - it was the first song Elvis ever performed live, aged 10, at a country show. He came fifth and won $5. Happy 80th, Elvis. 

And speaking of Elvis...

2. Neil Young - Old King

Undoubtedly the best song in this list... but it doesn't make Number One for reasons explained below. Neil's dog was actually called Elvis, but he changed its name when he wrote this tribute "to avoid confusion". Elvis used to go on tour with Neil but he's "riding on Jimi Hendrix's bus now".
Then I thought about the times we had
Once when I kicked him when he was bad
Old King sure meant a lot to me
But that hound dog is history
I actually find the above verse tremendously affecting, though I can see how others might find its basic rhyme scheme rather mawkish. It reminds me of my first dog, Fly, and how devastated I was as a child when she died. All I could think about was the time I'd smacked her because she wouldn't stop barking. I cried for days. In the end, my dad gave me a hammer and stone chisel and let me carve her name into the dry stone wall near where he'd buried her. It worked: it helped me say goodbye

1. Jim Reeves - Old Tige

Many years ago, when I used to work in hospital radio, Jim Reeves was our most requested artist. Perhaps there's something about being close to death that makes people turn to big Jim. To be fair though, his most popular tune was I Love You Because... Old Tige was only requested once and it took me quite a while to find it in the station's badly organised record library. When I finally did, I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Old Tige takes the dead dog premise that was arguably perfected on Old Shep to a whole other level. It's the sort of song that, if it was recorded nowadays, could only be a piss-take. Yet Jimbo plays it perfectly straight... hilariously so. I'd forgotten all about Old Tige until Guy Garvey played it recently on his 6Music show... and I'd forgotten just how much I "love" it.

The song is a classic recitative - a story told (not sung) with backing harmonies laying out a haunting chorus. It follows a young man's return from the army and a lonely walk across misty moorland with his faithful dog who's come to greet him. Along the way, he remembers all the good times they had together, such as the time "he saved me from the charging bull that... gored my dad to death". Tige once again saves his master's life on the foggy journey home (basically, he stops him falling into a reservoir), but there's a tragic and heartbreaking twist to the tail when Jim finally rolls on home... see if you can guess what it is.

What's your favourite (dead) pet sound? Surely it can't beat Old Tige...

Thursday 1 January 2015

My Top Ten Louise Songs

Today isn't New Year's Day here at Top Ten Towers. It's a very special birthday for a very special person. And in celebration... here's ten songs that mention her name...

10. Jona Lewie - Louise (We Get It Right)

See, Jona didn't just stop the cavalry and spend all his time in the kitchen at parties. He was also a whiz on a pair of rollerskates. And, judging from his vocals in the chorus, he was also occasionally possessed by Beelzebub.

9. Bonnie Tyler - Louise

Ah, yes, our Bonnie - a voice that could sink a thousand battleships... as this video ably demonstrates. This isn't her finest hour (it wasn't written by Jim Steinman), but it did knock Neil Diamond - Hey Louise out of my countdown, so you may be grateful for that.

8. Joni Mitchell - Cherokee Louise

Classic Joni storytelling, though the subject matter's a little grim for a birthday party.

7. Ryan Adams - Thank You, Louise

As is this one from Ryan. Lovely song - but really, you guys know how to kill a mood, don't you?

6. Dean Martin - Louise

Now this is more like it!
Every little breeze seems to whisper 'Louise'...
At last, one I feel comfortable dedicating to my special lady...

5. Grandaddy - Jeez, Louise

Jason Lytle falls foul of Louise's mother - she always hated him. Fortunately not something I have to worry about as my "mother-in-law" (the law never really got involved) is lovely.

4. Scott Walker - Big Louise

Nobody does heartbreak and loneliness like Big Scott.

3. Orange Juice - Louise Louise

Back to the 80s for my Top Three, kicking off with Edwyn Collins and an appropriate birthday wish...
Have a wonderful birthday, dear
Such a wonderful birthday, dear
It only comes but once a year
I'll spoil your party with a punky sneer
And I promise, I will try not to do that.

2. The Human League - Louise

Phil Oakey rides around on a barge, singing into a remote control, bemoaning the loss of Louise. Why did she leave him? The clue's in the mullet, Phil. (I should talk - you should see my hair at the moment.)

This is the best song in my collection with Louise in the title. So why isn't it Number One...?

1. Lloyd Cole - Perfect Skin
I choose my friends only far too well...
Ha - got you! I never said it had to have Louise in the title. (See also Visions of Johanna by Bob Dylan.) Here's one of Lloyd's finest, and the line "academia blues" seems a pretty accurate description for his songwriting in general. It's about the girl with "cheekbones like geometry and eyes like sin". A lethal combination, but at least she keeps up to date by reading Cosmo. This is a song of contradictions...
Up eight flights of stairs to her basement flat
Pretty confused huh?
But if you're looking for a moral... strikes me there never has been one.

Thank you for everything, Lou. I love you, hon'. Have a great birthday.
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