Saturday 25 April 2015

My Top Ten Songs (Volume 1: April 2015)

I thought I'd try something different on this blog, since nobody reads it anyway. The thematic Top Tens will continue, but every month I'm going to try to give you (my nonexistent reader) an earshot of just what I'm listening to right now. Some of these will be new songs, some will be old, some will be VERY old. You might not care, but it's enshrined in the blogger's code of practice that we do whatever the hell we want if we want to stay interested...

So here, for your delight and disgust, are my Top Ten Songs right now. I'm not saying any of them are better than my all time favourites...there's nothing here that competes with Wichita Lineman or Levi Stubbs' Tears...but they're all pretty cool in their own way, if you have time to give them  listen.

10. Tom Brousseau - Hard Luck Boy

Heard Cerys Matthews play this on 6 Music and had to track it down. The story of a young boy whose mother takes him on one final shopping trip, it stuck in my imagination and just wouldn't shift. It's the opening track to the American songwriter's eleventh album (according to iffypedia... though some of them seem pretty hard to track down and aren't available at all on Amazon). He describes himself as a "musical storyteller and guitarist" and after hearing this track, I'd hoped the rest of the album would be similarly spoken word short story territory. Unfortunately it's a little more traditional folky singing that fills out the record, but Brousseau still has a gift for tender, heart-bruised lyrics that paint evocative pictures in your mind.

9. Danny & The Champions of the World - Never Stop Building That Old Space Rocket

Another new discovery who, it turns out, have been around for ages: this is from their fourth album released in 2013 (and apparently they have a new one out this summer which is rumoured to be their best yet). Described as "British Americana" (whatever that means), if this track's anything to go by, they tell heartfelt stories of hope and optimism with guitars. You know, like pop songs used to (says the old bling-less bastard in the corner who's just turned off the radio because another scary chick is singing about the size of her ass...ets). I will be investigating them further.

8. Charli XCX - Breaking Up

Having condemned the contemporary music scene with that previous comment, you may be surprised to find this in here, but I always liked a bit of spunky girl pop. 2015's answer to The Go Gos, Joan Jett, Shampoo and Daphne & Celeste... this is what I'd be listening to all day if I was still 15.

7. Black Star Riders - The Killer Instinct

Well, they certainly don't make 'em like this anymore. Except... it turns out they do. When I first heard this, I thought it must be an oldie: it reminded me of the Boomtown Rats doing their very best Springsteen impression or Thin Lizzy circa 1981. I was closer with the second guess: BSR are the remains of Lizzy who had been touring for many years in tribute to the late, great Phil Lynott but finally decided to create something new, with a new name to boot. I think Phil would be proud...

(I thought they'd long since stopped making album covers as outrageously rock 'n' roll the one above too.)

6. Idlewild - Utopia

Another old favourite back from the dead, this is the closing track from Idlewild's first album in 6 years. While the rest of the record is pretty varied, it's obviously Idlewild in most places. Utopia is a different beast altogether, built around a haunting piano refrain with the sustain pedal working overtime... it's great to hear them still keen to experiment.

5. Father John Misty - The Night Josh Tillman Came To Our Apartment

From his second album, which has been on frequent rotation in my car since it came out, a superb slice of character assassination right up there with You're So Vain from the eponymous JT / FJM...

If the opening verse doesn't make you cheer, you've no right to call yourself a pedant.
Oh, I just love the kind of woman who can walk over a man
I mean like a goddamn marching band
She says, like literally, music is the air she breathes
And the malaprops make me want to fucking scream
I wonder if she even knows what that word means
Well, it's literally not that...
Figuratively speaking...although a true pedant might question his exact definition of malaprops.

4. Meat Loaf - Everything Louder Than Everything Else

In preparation for the long-awaited Meat & Jim reunion album later this year, I've been re-listening to some of their earlier collaborations...and discovering new ways to appreciate them. I ended up sobbing at Objects In The Rear View Mirror (May Appear Closer Than They Are) once the true meaning of that metaphor finally revealed itself to me (I think you have to be a certain age - I didn't get it when I was 21). And I finally figured out just what Meat wouldn't do for love... it's obvious if you just listen to the lyrics, folks. But out of everything on Bat Out of Hell 2 (an ill-advised sequel that's aged surprising well), Everything Louder Than Everything Else is, in many ways, the ultimate distillation of Jim Steinman's songwriting... from the self-explanatory title to the fact that you can almost hear him screaming when the song starts to fade out prematurely around the 7 1/2 minute mark... "No, no, we're not done YET! Somebody get the bagpipes!"

Over the many years I've been writing this blog (and the previous one) I've grown a little tired of explaining why I think Jim Steinman is a genius. If you're not on board that train, it's your loss. But in short, he takes everything I love about Springsteen, Jim Morrison, the Stones and rock 'n' roll, throws in a blender with Dante's Inferno, Richard Wagner and Stephen Sondheim, then turns the resulting noise up to twelve. He's clearly insane, but he knows it... and he has a wicked SENSE OF HUMOUR (which is probably why all the stuffy muso-critics don't get him). Further explanation follows, taken directly from the lyrics of this song...
What's the meaning of life? What's the meaning of it all?
You gotta learn to dance before you learn to crawl!

But it seems to me to the contrary, of all the crap they're going to put on the page,
That a wasted youth is better by far than a wise and productive old age!

If you want my views of history, then there's something you should know: 
The three men I admire most are Curly, Larry and Moe!
Don't worry about the future, sooner or later it's the past
If they say the thrill is gone, then it's time to take it back!

And I like my music like I like my life...
Everything louder than everything else!
3. The Decemberists - Philomena

I confess I haven't paid much attention to the Decemberists since The Crane Wife, and that's nearly ten years ago now. However, their new album, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (great title), has grabbed me by the lapels, and while this might not be the best song on is the dirtiest.
All I ever wanted in the world
Was just to live to see a naked girl
But I found I quickly bored
I wanted more, oh, so much more...
And if you're wondering just how much more Colin Meloy wants (extra points for being the lead singer of a cool folk-indie band with a name like Colin)... well, all I'll say is that the chorus goes Down. Down. Down.

2. Lightin' Rod - Sport

Came across this on a Blaxploitation compilation I picked up from the library. I've been getting into quite a lot of old 70s funk recently, but this is in a different class altogether. I knew nothing of Lightnin' Rod, but turns out it's a pseudonym for Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, a New York poet who became known as The Grandfather of Rap. The fictional character Sport, introduced in this song, is so cool he makes John Shaft look like David Cameron...
Yes I was a down stud's dream, a hustler supreme
There wasn't no game that I couldn't play
And if I caught a dude cheating, I would give him a beating
And I might even blow him away!
However, the rest of the album isn't quite as funky: Jalal had Kool & The Gang helping him out on the opening track. 

1. Sun Kil Moon - Dogs 

I've written about the album this comes from (Benji) a few posts back, but I still can't get over it: I've not heard anything like it... ever. If I were to try to describe it, I'd say it was Loudon Wainwright III doing Nebraska. Which doesn't do it justice at all. Starkly autobiographical lyrics over a ghost train acoustic guitar. And Dogs is the most mesmerising track on there: A Complete History of Mark Kozelek's Sexual Failures (& Successes), it's frank and explicit enough to make Jarvis Cocker blush. But it's also honest and heartwarming and contains truth in the way they say all great art should... I just hope names were changed to protect the guilty.
Oh Patricia, she was my first love. 
She sat eight rows behind me and I couldn't breathe. 
I gave her Pink Floyd - Animals when we were in sixth grade. 
And it was on her turntable when I met her on Sunday...

So... what have you been listening to lately?

Thursday 16 April 2015

My Top Ten Secretary Songs

Ten songs to help run your office...

10. Paul McCartney - Temporary Secretary

Many years ago, I remember reading an article arguing that this was the worst song Sir Thumbsaloft had ever recorded. Personally, I disagree - and not just because he's done much worse things over the last 30 years. Listening to it again now, I think he accidentally created the soundtrack to a lot of ZX Spectrum games in the 80s... and a fair bit of early 90s dance music obviously used this track as a template.

The lyrics are bollocks though.

9. The Raconteurs - Intimate Secretary

Not to be outdone by Lord Macca, here Jack White and Brendan Benson elevate bollocks lyrics to an artform. Almost.
I've got a rabbit, it likes to hop
I've got a girl and she likes to shop
The other foot looks like it won't drop
I had an uncle but he got shot
8. Betty Wright - Secretary

A rather old-fashioned warning to housewives... is your husband's secretary putting a little joy in your man's life?

7. Joy Rider & Avis Davis - Nasty Secretary

A lost punk gem from 1979 New York. Not really sure why Joy's got it in for this particular secretary, except the lady in question won't seem to put her calls through...
Get it straight, yer boss is a jerk
He pays you like a peon and he treats you like dirt
If you're good he'll send you away, down to Miami for a week with no pay...
The Hives did a pretty cool cover of this too.

Quick tip - don't google search 'Nasty Secretary' at work... or you might be looking for a new job by the end of the day. 

See also Stewart Copeland's Klark Kent - Office Girls. More secretary punk, this time from a UK Police-man.

6. Soft Cell - Facility Girls

Marc Almond's secretary may be a bright young thing with a promising career... but what is she at night?
She's got the ability
She's got the facilities...
5. Belle & Sebastian - Step Into My Office, Baby

A little gender equality: here Stuart Murdoch plays a male secretary who gets eaten alive by his new female boss. She's got an out tray full of guys...

4. Harry Chapin - Halfway to Heaven

Another classic story song from the late, great Harry C, one of the best midlife crisis records I've ever heard. A tragic tale of a middle aged man risking everything for a misguided fling with his secretary...
God damn, I'm one crazy mixed up mixture of a man...
3. Billie Jo Spears - Mr. Walker, It's All Over

Probably the best song purely about the perils of being a secretary... it should really be Number One, but I follow my own weird rules round these parts, which is why these lists are nothing more than internet detritus. Don't take them seriously...
In this building there's a crowd of guys with old familiar thoughts upon their minds
That's a lot of hands a reaching out to grab the things that I consider mine
And the president pursues me even though he's old and hair a turnin' white
Mr Walker it's all over I don't like the New York secretary's life!
2. Del Amitri - Nothing Ever Happens

Justin Currie's ode to mundane loneliness only features secretaries in its opening lines, but it remains one of the best singles of the 80s in my humble opinion... I'd feature it here every week if I could. 
Post office clerks put up signs saying 'Position Closed'
And secretaries turn off typewriters and put on their coats...
1. Dolly Parton - 9 To 5

Although the movie focused on rebellious secretaries, the song itself could be adopted by any working Jo (or Joe) who spends their life just putting money in the boss man's wallet...
They let you dream
Just a watch 'em shatter
You're just a step on the boss man's ladder
But you got dreams he'll never take away

In the same boat with a lot of your friends
Waitin' for the day your ship'll come in
And the tide's gonna turn
And it's all gonna roll you away

Which one is taking your calls?

Monday 6 April 2015

My Top Ten Joan of Arc Songs

Who wouldn't burn themselves at the stake for Saint Joan? Here's ten artists paying fiery tribute...

Special mention to Joan Of Arc (the artist), perhaps most infamously known for A Tell-Tale Penis...

10. Clem Snide - Joan Jett of Arc

Linking perfectly to last week's post, Eef Barzelay's ode to a different kind of burning steak, with additional lyrical nods to Hall & Oates and John Mellencamp. More power to the puns!

9. Lene Lovich - Joan

Lene's Joan spends a little too much time listening to the voices in her head... but imagination is essential to creative art.

8. Grant Nicholas - Joan of Arc

Feeder's Grant Nicholas released his debut solo album last year and this is one of the stand out tracks. It has that same epic Feedery guitar sound, but a lot more beard.

7. Low - Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc will never save you now, claim everybody's favourite musical Mormons. But then, Joan of Arc never promised much...

6. Prefab Sprout - Green Isaac

I have to admit, Paddy, I've no idea what Green Isaac is all about... but I always love the way you spin those words together, like a little Shakespearian spider.
Oh, but to shine like Joan of Arc, you must be prepared to burn...
5. The Arcade Fire - Joan of Arc

Th'Arcade Fire take aim at their more zealous fans... like, chill out, guys, we're only a band... m'kay?
First they love you
Then they kill you
Then they love you again
And then they love you
Then they kill you
Then they love you again
Love love love you

Kill kill kill you...
4. Justin Currie - What Is Love For?

Another typically cynical and gloriously maudlin offering from Mr. C: a perfect ode to heartbroken bitterness.
What is love for?
Who does it help?
A one eyed king who leads everything straight into hell?

And what is love for?
What does it change?

Did Joan of Arc drag anyone back from history's flames?

And what does love do?
Does it favour a fortunate few?
Does it step on the hearts it can't use?
What does it do?
3. Leonard Cohen - Joan of Arc

Leonard's Joan gives herself to the flames both physically and metaphorically. An amazing, heartbreaking lyric.

2. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark - Joan of Arc / Maid of Orleans

OMD score extra points for releasing two consecutive hit singles focused on the same historical character... has that ever been done at any other time in the annals of pop? Unfortunately, it's not quite enough to win them the top slot, not when they're up against this little belter...

1. The Smiths - Bigmouth Strikes Again

Well, it had to be, didn't it? "How could anybody possibly know how I feel?" Morrissey once famously asked, and yet could any other artist really know what it's like to be burned at the stake quite the way he has throughout his tortured career? (Insert winking smiley face.) Of course, Saint Morrissey's Joan was rather anachronistic, worried more about her melting Walkman and the smoke getting up her Roman nose than the fate of Orleans, but maybe that's why she had no right to take her place with the human race.

Which is your Maid of Orleans?
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