Thursday 28 May 2015

My Top Ten Songs (Volume 2: May 2015)

Here are the worms that have been tickling my eardrums this month...

10. Ash - Cocoon

After 2007's Twilight of the Innocents, Ash claimed they were done with albums and would only release singles from now on because the internet was changing the way we consumed our music and kids were shit. Or something. Eight years on, thankfully, they've changed their mind, with a brand new album onomatopoeiacally titled Kablammo!

Judging from the opening single, there are no great leaps of innovation here, just hard & fast rock 'n' roll in the traditional Ash style, sounding like they never went away. It's good to have them back.

9. Modest Mouse - Pistol (A. Cunanan, Miami, FL. 1996)

Modest Mouse are a band I occasionally love, but never for an entire album (even when they rope in Johnny Marr, as they did last time round). Their latest long player, Strangers To Ourselves (like Ash, their first in 8 years: lazy gits), has some pretty good tracks, but only one that blows my socks off.

Pistol is told through the voice of serial killer Andrew Cunanan, the murderer of Gianni Versaci (and four other people). Taking place one year before his tragic killing spree, it's disturbing and exhilarating: like Natural Born Killers on warped vinyl.

8. Christopher Cross - Arthur's Theme (The Best That You Can Do)

Dudley Moore's Arthur is not a great film...don't try and convince me otherwise. It is, however, undoubtedly one billion times better than its dire 2011 remake featuring the execrable Russell Brand. Anyway, the best thing about Arthur is its theme tune, composed by the combined might of Chris Cross (not to be confused with Kriss Kross), Peter Allen, Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach. Yes, it's cheesy 80s soft rock of the kind many lump under the "guilty pleasures" banner these days... but I don't believe in guilt when it comes to music. Class is class.

Heard this again playing on a Gold station in the local café. Made my day.

7. LunchMoney Lewis - Bills

Look, kids, a quirky novelty rap record (with piano!) from the current pop hit parade... yes, they actually still have that. Anyway, LunchMoney (Gamal to his mum) will no doubt go on to a glittering career as another bland Kanye wannabe (without piano), but right now he's cool and different. And I still like his tune... although give it another couple of weeks and I'll probably be heartily sick of it. Such is the law of novelty records.

6. Juicy Lucy - Who Do You Love?

If there's a recurrent theme to this particular post, it's that I still discover a lot of music through (a choice selection of trustworthy) radio shows... and that when I hear a song I like that I haven't heard before, I often jump to wildly inaccurate conclusions. Like when I first heard this, I thought it must be a new Nick Cave record. Turns out it's a cover of an old Bo Diddly track, recorded in the early 70s by a British blues rock band who were previously known as The Misunderstood but changed their name in honour of a prostitute from Leslie Thomas's novel The Virgin Soldiers (filmed in 1969 with an uncredited cameo from David Bowie).

Anyway, this rocks like your mum's socks and doesn't sound like it's well into it's 40s. But then, neither do I.  (Or maybe I do. Make up your own minds.) Also, for those of you who are interested in such things, the album cover features various images of "a burlesque dancer named Zelda Plum, naked except for a covering of fruit". Ah, the 70s...

5. Used To - We Can Deal With The Details Later

Heard Jarvis playing this on 6Music and had to track it down. Cynical, world-weary indie, it could have been Luke Haines before he went batshit crazy. Apparently the band have an album coming out soon called 'Festival of Disappointment' which is a good enough title to get my money. Can't find anything out about them on t'interweb though, and they only appear in the video with giant mirrors on their faces. You know, I wouldn't be surprised if this was another bizarre Luke Haines side-project. We'll have to wait and see.

4. Kool & The Gang - Get Down On It

Sam's first earworm. "Get Down... On It" has become his catchphrase over the last few weeks. We've even got him boogying to this... although he has a disturbingly Miley-esque twerk to his dance style that I'm hoping he grows out of before he embarrasses himself at the play group disco.

3. The Good Rats - Advertisement In The Voice

One of my favourite radio presenters at the moment is ex-Fun Lovin' Criminal Huey Morgan. He's on 6Music every Saturday morning but also does a bizarrely scheduled 3-6am show earlier on the same day on Radio 2. In the past, this'd mean his only listeners would be insomniacs and graveyard shift workers... but in the 24/7 world of takeaway i-Player programming, it means I can listen to him whenever I like. Which is good, because he plays a great mix of music (rock, funk, soul, hip hop, MOR), much of which I've never heard before... but I certainly want to hear again.

I've heard him play this achingly nostalgic ballad by The Good Rats a couple of times over the last few weeks and I was wondering whether it was a new release... until I did a little digging and discovered that it's from the band's 1976 album Ratcity In Blue. For those of you who've never heard of them before (myself included), The Good Rats came from Long Island, New York, and while they never quite made the big time, they did open for Springsteen, Meat Loaf and Ozzy (among others) and put out a good few records that are now on my Wants List.

Advertisement In The Voice will crop up here again if I ever do a Top Ten Lonely Hearts Column Songs. It stars a man who's got a good job, a nice house and all the trappings of wealth... but no one to share them with. And if I'd listened to those lyrics a little more attentively at first, I wouldn't have mistaken this for a new release...

I have a nine room house completely furnished in the best of taste
And I drive a brand new Porsche
I have a Quadraphonic system with complete access to tapes
And I could be your Santa Claus...

Ah, yes, 1976: when having complete access to tapes was the height of technological sophistication...

2. Elbow - What Time Do You Call This?

A new Elbow single is always a cause for celebration and this is Elbow at their most heartwarmingly anthemic. Sadly, it's not the precursor to a new album (though Guy Garvey's solo album should be out soon), instead it's a standalone "single" taken from the soundtrack of Simon Pegg's new romcom Man Up. As always, Garvey's lyrics perfectly mesh bittersweet romanticism with amusing northern colloquialisms to breathtaking effect...

Call me out on all my lies
Hold my ticker with those eyes
Weather every winter while
Check my spelling, ring my bell
Don't expect tender sex
Check my spelling, ring my neck
Separate me from my breath
Kiss me nearly half to death, ohh
(What time do you call this?)

1. Blake Shelton - Austin

I first came across Blake Shelton - and his debut single, Austin - a couple of years back while I was compiling My Top Ten Answering Machine Songs. I liked it enough that I bought his greatest hits package; but while there are many fine songs on that collection, my admiration for Austin just grew and grew. It's a great story - girl leaves boy, goes back home to her folks, realizes (after a year) that she's made a mistake, calls him up again as a longshot... and gets a surprise from his answering machine. But it's the minutiae of detail that make it so affecting, the inference that this guy is filling his life with activity - bowling, the Friday night ball game, weekends at the lake - to fill the hole she's left in his life. And though her response is cheese on a stick, if you don't get lump in your throat when you hear that last verse... you've no right to call yourself a hopeless romantic.

All that said, the one thing I can't get out of my mind is this: if this guy really is leaving details of his entire social calendar on his answering machine on a daily basis... it's to be hoped no burglars are calling.

So, those are the tunes that have been on high rotation in my head this month. What's been gnawing at your tympanic membrane?

Thursday 21 May 2015

My Top Ten Caravan Songs

Apologies for the dearth of Top Tens over the last couple of weeks. May is the busiest month in teaching - the GCSE English exam is just over a week away as I type this and so things have been pretty hectic for me (not that my students seem unduly concerned by its imminence).

Anyway, it's a Bank Holiday Weekend here in the UK, and across the country folk are dusting down their caravans and heading off to seek the sun. Here's ten songs they might play on the way.

Special mentions to Caravan*  and the mighty, mighty Camper Van Beethoven.

(*A curious psych-folk band with a very dubious taste in album titles: Cunning Stunts, For Girls Who Grow Plump In The Night and If I Could Do It All Over Again, I'd Do It All Over You. Ah, the 70s. Different times.)

10. Blur - Caravan

I'm glad Blur finally got their act together and brought out a new album this year. I've only listened to it a few times, but I already know it's better than their last, Graham Coxon-less, effort, 2003's Think Tank. Caravan comes from that record, and like most of the rest of the album, it sorely misses Coxo's guitar.

9. Black Sabbath - Planet Caravan

Normally, if you went on holiday and ended up parking your caravan next to Ozzy & co., you'd very quickly move somewhere quieter. However, you might stick around if all they played was this trippy psychedelic number. Not at all what you expect from the BS Boys...

8. Courtney Barnett - Kim's Caravan

A haunting, mesmeric ode to our dying world from the Australian wunderkind's debut album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. (Great title.)

7. The Adventure Babies - Camper Van

A lost indie gem from the last band to sign to Factory records before they went bust in the early 90s. The EP this came from is available to download free from the band's website.

6. Ella Fitzgerald & The Duke Ellington Orchestra - Caravan


5. Van Morrison - Caravan

Van The Man and his Caravan. CaraVan The Man. Etc.


4. The Doors - Spanish Caravan

See, the Doors weren't all portentous doom, Oedipal urges and Viet Nam. They liked to travel round Europe in a caravan with a flamenco guitar too.

3. Jim White - If Jesus Drove A Motor Home

If Jesus drove a motor home,
And he come to your town,
Would you try to talk to him?
Would you follow him around?
Honking horns at the drive thru.
Double-parking at the mall.
Midnight at the Waffle House...
Jesus eating eggs with ya'll.

Well, would you?

2. Inspiral Carpets - Caravan

Can't go wrong with a bit of Clint Boon's majestic organ.

1. The Housemartins - Caravan of Love

Christmas 1986, and fourteen year old Rol stands on the edge of the dancefloor at the school disco wondering if anyone will ever slow dance with him to the Housemartins' a capella cover of the Isley Jasper Isley song Caravan of Love.

No one ever did.

So... which one will you get stuck behind on the motorway?

Friday 8 May 2015

My Top Ten Looking For... Songs

Looking for a great old pop song? Here's ten...

10. David Bowie - Looking For Satellites

I remember reading an article years ago about how the Dame had taken to writing songs by snipping up old newspapers and gluing random words together to create his lyrics. I wouldn't believe that for most of his songs...but this one? Damn straight.
Nowhere, Shampoo, TV, Combat, Boyzone
Slim tie, Showdown, Can't stop...
Still, this is surely the most credible song Boyzone ever appeared in.

9. Chris Rea - Looking For The Summer

Very atmospheric tune from the old gravel-gargler. Not sure if this is the official video, but it works very well.

8. The National - Looking for Astronauts
Take all your reasons and take them away to the middle of nowhere, 
And on your way home
Throw from your window your record collection...
Now, if I were to follow The Natonal's advice on this one, I'd be throwing out quite a few of their records too...

7. Philip Jeays - Looking for a Horse to Ride

 If you've never had the pleasure of Philip Jeays before... do yourself a favour and click the link above now.

6. Prefab Sprout - Looking For Atlantis

Rarely a week goes by when I don't feel like a good Paddy. Here he is in his finest white suit, live on Wogan. 
Say you do find your volcano and the darn thing is still hot...
Lesson one : Child don't waste it
Lesson two : The world's your cherry
But tomorrow ? Maybe not
Lesson three : Come on and taste it
Now that's what I call a chat up line!

5. Seafruit - Looking For Sparks

Lost gem from the Britpop era; I'd forgotten how much I liked this. Seafruit's Geoff Barradale is now the manager of the Arctic Monkeys. In case you were wondering.

4. Hue & Cry - Looking For Linda

1989 was in many ways the nadir of 80s pop, but there were faint glimmers of sunshine from the likes of Hue & Cry and their best single, a trainbound love story with an alcoholic runaway who spent more on one packet of cigarettes than was wise, especially in them days.

Iffypedia calls Hue & Cry "sophisti-pop", lumping them in with the likes of Deacon Blue, The Style Council, The Blue Nile and Aztec Camera... yet, curiously, not Lloyd Cole... who's surely more sophistipop than the rest of them rolled together?

3. Warren Zevon - Looking for the Next Best Thing

Appreciating the best but settling for less...Warren Zevon: never content. That's why we love him.
Don Quixote had his windmills
Ponce de Leon took his cruise
Took Sinbad seven voyages
To see that it was all a ruse

(That's why I'm) Looking for the next best thing...
2. Robert Palmer - Looking For Clues

From wayyyy back in 1980 when Batley Bob shared his eyeshadow with Gary Numan. Loved this song for years but never seen the video before... it's a terrifying Kubrickian nightmare. (And discovering amazing oddities like that is why I keep doing this blog.)

1. Tom Waits - (Looking For) The Heart of Saturday Night

The very definition of louche, this drips grubby atmosphere from every glorious note. Tom Waits at his very best.
Tell me, is it the crack of the pool balls, neon buzzing?
Telephone's ringing, it's your second cousin
Is it the barmaid that's smiling from the corner of her eye?
Magic of the melancholy tear in your eye...

Makes it kind of quiver down in the core
Cause you're dreaming of them Saturdays that came before
And now you're stumbling
You're stumbling onto the heart of Saturday night

Those were my favourite Looking For... songs. Were you Looking For... any I didn't include?

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