Sunday 26 July 2015

My Top Ten Songs About Wearing Black

Black is slimming. Black is flattering. Black is mysterious. Black is sexy. Everything is the new black.

Here's ten songs about wearing black... with, surprisingly, not a goth in sight.

10. Everclear - White Men in Black Suits

I was a huge Everclear fan back in the late 90s, around the time they ditched their grunge roots and went power pop with the album this came from: So Much For The Afterglow. Yes, I liked them when they became popular... not a very muso thing to admit, is it?

No idea who the White Men in Black Suits are in this song... however, part of me hopes they're alien investigators... or just your basic, bog standard aliens. That'd make me happy. Like the imminent return of Mulder & Scully has made me happy.

9. The Hollies - Long Cool Woman (In a Black Dress)

Rocks a lot harder than most Hollies songs - largely because they were doing their best to imitate Creedence when they recorded it. John Fogerty was, apparently, not impressed.

8. Juliet Turner - Burn The Black Suit

A wonderfully sarcastic lyric from this Irish singer-songwriter...
I found out how to keep you keen, I read it in a magazine.
One of those expensive ones, so it must be true, it must be true.
Seems large amounts of alcohol is all it takes to make you fall.
If I stroke your ego through the night, it'll be all right, it'll be all right.
7. Alannah Myles - Black Velvet

Creeping southern blues rock classic (though Alannah herself was Canadian), this still drips sweat and sex all over the turntable. It would have been a little less steamy had she kept her real name... Alannah Byles.

6. Warren Zevon - Angel Dressed In Black

With typically cynical paint, Warren daubs the image of a paranoid, crack-smoking loser whose girl has left and not come back. He's starting to worry terrible things may have happened to her...but we suspect the truth might be a little more obvious.

5. Suzanne Vega - I Never Wear White

One of the stand out tracks from Suzanne's eight studio album, Tales from the Realm of the Queen of Pentacles, released just last year. Conclusive proof... she's still got it.
My colour is black black black
For the crone, and the bastard
The schoolgirl in uniform
The servant in the hall.

Black is the truth
Of my situation,
And for those of my station
In life. All other colors
4. The Shangri-Las - Dressed In Black

Melodrama never came classier than the Shangri-Las. Here, a forbidden love affair leads to teenage heartbreak on a Wagnerian scale, (over-)produced with Spector-esque glee by George Francis "Shadow" Morton - the man who brought the shadows to many of the Shangri-Las greatest musical moments.

3. AC/DC - Back In Black

When AC/DC front-man Bon Scott died in 1980, the band almost called it a day. Instead they decided he would have wanted them to carry on, so they offered the job to Geordie's Brian Johnson... and gave him the unenviable task of writing a lyric paying tribute to his predecessor. This is what he came up with... the title track from an album that stills ranks as one of the Top Ten highest selling records of all time.

2. Johnny Cash - The Man In Black

He WAS the Man in Black. And here's why...
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day
And tell the world that everything's okay
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back
Until things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black
(Though, in truth, it was just easier to keep black shirts clean when JC was on long tours.)

1. The Smiths - Unlovable

Another example of Morrissey and Marr throwing away classics on b-sides. The ultimate maudlin-Moz lyric... he wears black on the outside because black is how he feels on the inside. And if he seems a little strange... well, that's because he is.
Message received - loud and clear!

Which is your little black dress?

Sunday 19 July 2015

My Top Ten Dolphin Songs

Last week's post about vacuum cleaners had less hits than anything I've ever written here. Which I guess shows that nobody is particularly enamoured by pop songs about household appliances. (So I'll be revisiting that again soon, dead horses need flogging.) I'll surely be on safer territory this week... everyone loves dolphins, right? (Although...that one it just me...or does it look a bit like the Alien?)

10. The Byrds - Dolphin's Smile

 A song about cutting your moorings and floating free away...sounds tempting, right?

9. Ian Brown - Dolphins Were Monkeys

Well, if anybody would know about being a monkey...

8. Prince - Dolphin

Leave it to Prince to write a sado-masochistic reincarnation fantasy about dolphins... weirdo. Of course, considering this was written during the Slave / Symbol / TAFKAP days, its lyrics are pointing straight at his record company...
U can cut off all my fins
But 2 your ways I will not bend
I'll die before I let U tell me how 2 swim
And I'll come back again as a dolphin
7. Martyn Joseph - Dolphins Make Me Cry

The grown-up world is seriously depressing Martyn Joseph... that's why dolphins make him cry.

6. Shed Seven - Dolphin

From the York yobboes' debut album, this was their first single to crash into the Top 30 at the dawn of Britpop in 1994. They'd go on to much greater things, but Dolphin stands the test of time pretty well.

The video features Rick and the band performing in a waterless swimming pool. Can't help but think it'd have been more interesting if they'd filled it up as the song went on... but I guess there might have been health & safety issues with that.

5. Terrorvision - Perserverance

From York to Bradford, and more brilliantly raucous Britpop hooligans... they were right about the whales and dolphins. (Terrorvision went on to name their greatest hits album after this very lyric, so it obviously meant something.)

4. Crosby, Stills & Nash - After The Dolphin

This Dolphin was the London pub where the first aerial bombing of WWI took place. Here, Graham Nash asks if the world was ever the same after that fateful night...? 

3. Ooberman - Dolphin Blue

Ah, Ooberman. They should have been so much bigger.We need more pop stars called Popplewell.

2. Beth Orton & Terry Callier - Dolphins

Written and originally recorded by Fred Neil (who also wrote the gorgeous Everybody's Talkin'), this is surely the most covered Dolphins song in history. Tim Buckley's is probably the most famous; Billy Bragg did a heartbreaking cover on Don't Try This At Home; but there's something about the dreamy combo of Beth O. and folk-jazz pioneer Terry Callier that just does it for me like no other...
I've been searchin'
For the dolphins in the sea
And sometimes I wonder
Do you ever think of me?
1. David Bowie - Heroes

Arguably Bowie's greatest moment, with a little help from Brian Eno, Tony Visconti, and Robert Fripp on feedback. Strangely, it wasn't that big a hit when it was first released in 1977, but time has been very decent to it. Shows what the recording buying public know!

I wish you could swim
Like the dolphins
Like dolphins can swim...

Which is your Flipper?

Sunday 12 July 2015

My Top Ten Hoover / Vacuum Cleaner Songs

Ten odes to the humble vacuum cleaner (and other Hoover-related thingamabobs). Unfortunately, I couldn't find any songs named after the Dyson. Sorry, Sir James.

Special mentions to Hoover, Hooverphonic, the extremely tantalising Jimmy The Hoover (lost classic!), Mindless Drug Hoover (swearily hilarious) and, of course, Freddie's greatest drag moment (above).  

Extra special mention to the Shake 'n' Vac ad. Because.

Sadly, I couldn't find The Yodelling Hoover by The Soft Boys anywhere on t'internet, but I'm sure it's great because it's Robyn Hitchcock.

10. The Candyskins - Mrs. Hoover

 Forgotten Britpop 15-minuters give it their all in this cheery ode to women in their underwear vacing up.

9. Glen Hansard - Broken Hearted Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy

A tiny lo fi delight from the soundtrack to busker's love story Once.

8. The Toy Dolls - Her With A Hoover

Despite only ever having one UK hit (a punked up version of Nellie The Elephant, very popular in 80s school discos), The Toy Dolls are, surprisingly, still in the go and still releasing records. This year's is called Olgacoustic, presumably because lead singer Michael "Olga" Algar is busking on it. Their previous record surely had the best title ever though: The Album After The Last One.
One more, two more
Fleas on the bedroom floor
No ones ever seen her, with a vacuum cleaner
Three more, four more
Mice unite at the kitchen door
It weren't no rotten rumour,
He could never move her,
And I never saw her with a hoover.
7.  Pere Ubu - Vacuum In My Head

One for the John Peel fans. David Thomas has a vacuum cleaner in his head and it's sucking up everything he knows.

6. Edwyn Collins & Bernard Butler - Can't Do That (The Hoover)

A laidback psychedelic groove that shows what happens when you spill Orange Juice on Suede.

5. Arctic Monkeys - I Wanna Be Yours

Alex Turner is a great lyricist, finding  grubby romance in the everyday mundanity of old man's pubs, pick 'n' mix bags and late night taxi journeys. But here, he bows down to a true master, reworking John Cooper Clarke's poem of the same name...
I wanna be your vacuum cleaner
Breathing in your dust
I wanna be your Ford Cortina
I will never rust...
4. Sugar - Hoover Dam

Bob Mould goes all 'To Be Or Not To Be' on the edge of the Hoover Dam. No vacuum cleaners, but a damned fine tune, nevertheless.

3. 'Til Tuesday - Love In A Vacuum

Before going on to a superlative solo career, Aimee Mann was the lead singer of synth-heavy 80s new wave band 'Til Tuesday. This is one of their best,but it's not as timeless as her later work.

2. The Christians - Hooverville

A politically charged anthem from the mighty Christians... nothing to do with cleaning up your house, unless they're asking crooked politicians to do just that.

1. Elvis Costello - Hoover Factory

Elvis pays tribute to the distinctive Art Deco design of London's Hoover Building... now owned by Tesco.

I don't think I'll be compiling a Top Ten Tesco Songs anytime soon.
Five miles out of London on the Western Avenue
Must have been a wonder when it was brand new
Talkin' 'bout the splendour of the Hoover factory
I know that you'd agree if you had seen it too...

Which is your dustbuster?

Sunday 5 July 2015

My Top Ten Richard Songs

Ten songs about Richard... and not a dick in sight.

Special mentions to messrs. Wagner, Strauss, Hawley, Thompson, Ashcroft, Carpenter, Oakes, Reed Parry, Marx, Swift, Hell and Cheese... and, of course, Keef and Sir Cliff. Plus any other famous musical Richards you might think of.

10. The Faces - Pool Hall Richard

Hardly Ron and Ronnie's finest hour, here they lose at both pool and love due to the titular Rich. They may be the victims of their own dodgy lyrics though, not least the closing lines...
You're breakin' my heart
But you're stealin' my tart
Shut up
 There may also be more going on than just simple pool hall rivalry...
You make me jealous but I worship you
One day soon I'm gonna beat you clean
Wipe that smile right off your chin
...or that just could be my depraved mind.

9. The Lilac Time - Gone For A Burton 

Stephen Duffy pays homage to one of his celluloid heroes...
The night that Richard died
The newscasters cried...
I tried to google whether this was actually the case... google let me down.

8. First Aid Kit - Waltz For Richard

Great storytelling from the Söderberg sisters' debut album: a relationship falls apart, yet we're only given half the story...
On our last trip to the coast
We watched the boats sail the sea
'How effortlessly they float,'
You turned and said to me.

And sedately I sat there
In my quiet mist of rage
How I wanted to tell you
But I was hushed by my shame..
7. Titus Andronicus - Richard II or Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds

The New Jersey titans delve deeper into their Shakespearian roots - and also paraphrase this week's top song in one verse - in this angry dissection of why people do really bad things in times of war.

6. Frank Turner - Richard Divine

Frank's Richard can't cope with life; Frank has little sympathy for folk who give up without a fight...
He said he's not for sale, 
Said that he felt hounded, 
Crowded and surrounded by this life he didn't choose. 

But everybody plays this game on a daily basis. 
They're not heroes, 
They're survivors, 
And its not Shakespearean if they lose.
5. Sun Kil Moon - Song For Richard Collopy

A typically personal song from Mr. Kozelek, this deals with the disappearance / death of the bloke who fixed his broken guitars. It seems to be asking the question: in a case like this, do we mourn the individual or the loss of what they did for us?

See also Richard Ramirez Died Today of Natural Causes in which Kozelek considers his own mortality following the death (from cancer) of an infamous serial killer on death row.

4. Simon & Garfunkel - Richard Cory

Based on a poem by Edwin Arlington Robinson, Richard Cory is a song about envying the rich and powerful... even when they're bloody miserable.
So my mind was filled with wonder,
When the evening headlines read:

'Richard Cory went home last night
And put a bullet through his head'

And I - I work in his factory
And I curse the life I'm living
And I curse my poverty
And I wish that I could be
Oh, I wish that I could be...
Richard Cory
3. Supergrass - Richard III

One of Supergrass's loudest and most in-your-face singles, this also became one of their biggest hits: released at the height of their popularity in 1997 (yes, 18 years ago). It has nothing to do with the king buried in a car park or Shakespeare's hunchbacked villain. Apparently the 'grass had a habit of giving their songs people's names before they settled on an actually title and this was the third song they'd christened Richard. They decided to stick with Richard III because it seemed angry and bitter like the king (is often portrayed) himself.

2. Joni Mitchell - The Last Time I Saw Richard

Another artist at the height of her powers, Joni's Richard comes from her seminal album Blue. Legend has it the Richard in question is actually her ex-husband Chuck Mitchell, though I'm not sure whether Joni has ever confirmed this. Amazingly evocative lyrics on this one...
Richard got married to a figure skater
And he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolator
And he drinks at home now most nights with the TV on
And all the house lights left up bright...
1. Billy Bragg - Richard

There's a raw beauty to the songs on Billy's debut album, and it's no wonder that they caught John Peel's ear... although the mushroom biryani Billy bribed him with certainly helped. It was originally recorded by Billy and Wiggy's band Riff Raff.

Richard comes from the lovelorn side of Billy's songwriting spectrum (rather than the politically charged) and it's the kind of bittersweet ode to rejection only a young man could / should write... though even old men like me can remember what it felt like.
I really love your style
Did you read it on the Look and Learn?
How long can we go on?
Do you think I only love you
Because you sleep with other boys?

So which is your Richard Burton... and which is your Richard Whiteley?
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