Sunday 30 August 2015

My Top Ten Dog Breed Songs

This is Nip. When I was a boy, she was my dog. We got her when I was 7 or 8 and she died when I was in my early 20s. She was rightly named for a small dog - she liked to nip strangers on the heel, or, occasionally, jump up and bite their bum.  Sadly, I couldn't find any songs called Lancashire Heeler... but here are ten other popular dog breeds, in Nip's honour...

Special mentions to The Bloodhound Gang, Pit Bull, The Pointer Sisters, The Korgis and, erm... Jarvis Cocker-Spaniel.

10. Furniture - Song For A Doberman

You must be out of your brilliant mind if you don't like Furniture.This isn't one of their best, but it's still brilliant in its own way.

9. Bow Wow Wow - Chihuahua

Taking self-deprecation to new heights, Annabella Lwin opens one of the most interesting Bow Wow Wow songs singing:
I can't dance and I can't sing, I can't do anything
I can't even find my way around town
And I'm 15 and a fool, can't you see
So don't fall in love with me
I'm a rock and roll puppet in a band called Bow Wow Wow
Better of to be a rabbit, at least they have more fun with a gun
I just go on and on, and on and on and on
I wasn't supposed to sing that one
She then goes on to explain that chihuahua is a Greek word that sums up her current predicament... except chihuahua is actually Spanish, and the dog is named after a Mexican state which translates its own name as "dry, sandy place" (according to 2 minutes research on t'internet, anyway).

All of which goes to prove one thing: that Malcolm McClaren, what a wag, eh?

Bjork and the Sugarcubes also had a pretty cool song called Chihuahua, but it wasn't as mental as Malcolm.

8. Half Man Half Biscuit - Corgi Registered Friends
You call Glastonbury “Glasto”
You’d like to go there one day
When they’ve put up the gun towers
To keep the hippies away
Stick this in your Volvo (glove compartment) - another righteous rant against the middle-classes from the best Liverpudlian band to feature in this week's Top Ten (heh, I can't help myself). But no, you're right - this isn't one of the Queen's precious pooches... it's Gas Safe by its a former name.

7. The Beatles - Hey Bulldog

Not one of their greatest moments, but one of the best songs from Yellow Submarine, nevertheless. Originally written as 'Hey Bullfrog'. But that would have been silly. 

6. Aimee Mann - Labrador

In which Aimee tires of being man's best friend...
When we first met
I was glad to be your pet
like a Lab I once had that we called Maisie
but fetching sticks
was the best I had for tricks
you got bored
you got mad then you got crazy
5.  Harry Chapin - Greyhound

OK, so Harry's greyhound is a bus, not an actually hound... but it is "a dog of a way to get around" and a "doggone easy way to get you down". Plus, it's Harry Chapin, one of the greatest unsung songwriters of his generation. Any excuse to give him a spin. 

4. Super Furry Animals - Golden Retriever

A tribute to two Golden Retrievers owned by Gruff Rhys's girlfriend, this wins the award for the week's best video... but it's surprisingly not the best dog-breed-themed song written by a Welsh indie band. Keep listening for that one...

3. Morrissey - Alsatian Cousin

The opening track from Morrissey's debut solo album, Viva Hate (now 27 years old, if you're counting), Alsatian Cousin is a characteristically defiant blast of noise defined by Vini 'Duritti Column' Reilly's guitar. Of course, everyone wondered what the track would have sounded with a Johnny Marr flourish, but Viva Hate stood the test of time and AC sounds edgier today than just about anything else Moz has released since. It also benefits from the sound of yelping dogs over the intro... though they don't sound like Alsatians to me.

2. Gorkys Zygotic Mynci - Poodle Rockin'

More intro-dogs, and here we have a song actually about a poodle - Oscar the poodle who belonged to the band's producer. Which is weird, because at the time of its release I thought it was a tribute to Joe Elliott and Def Leppard. The video leaves you in no doubt though...

1. Simon & Garfunkel  - The Boxer

Legend has it Paul Simon was walking home through downtown Manhattan one evening when a medium-sized boxer dog ran up and stole his guitar.

Of course, this could all be a lie... lie-la-lie... lie-la-lie lie lie la-lie...

Whatever, just listen to those lyrics: this must surely be one of the greatest songs of the 60s. No lie-la-lie.

Which is your Best in Show?

Monday 24 August 2015

My Top Ten Blackpool Songs

As we're not getting a summer holiday this year, this is as close as I'll get to the seaside. I was always an East Coast lad myself - Scarborough, Brid, Filey - but I've had the occasional foray to the Las Vegas of the north over the years (last time we went, I swore off rollercoasters forever after Louise persuaded me to go on The Grand National).

Blackpool has produced many a great musical son and daughter - including Robert Smith, Maddy Prior, Chris Lowe of the Pet Shop Boys... and some of the artists featured below.

Special mention to George Formby and his euphemistic little stick of Blackpool rock.

10. The Delgados - Blackpool

Motherwell's finest obviously went south for their childhood holidays...
Can't imagine, how excitingWas to come here, so invitingWhen we were young in September days
This gets pretty weird in the middle, but Emma Pollock's dreamy vocals are always worth a listen.

9. Therapy? - Tatty Seaside Town

Originally recorded by Blackpool's punk sons, The Membranes, this is their tribute to those hot August nights when it all kicks off in the 'pool.

The Membranes were apparently the first band ever signed by Alan McGee to Creation... until the deal fell through because McGee didn't have the cash to pay their studio fees. According to t'internet.

Having said all that, I prefer the cover by this bunch of Irish punk-tuation freaks. Sorry.

Punk fans: see also Blackpool by Sham 69 who aren't from Blackpool... they're from Hersham.

8. Roy Harper - Blackpool

Another famous Blackpudlian tunesmith, though Harper doesn't appear to have much to say about his hometown on this eponymous ode. It's mostly instrumental (featuring some fantastic guitar work from Roy) punctuated by one short verse...
The rain falls like diamonds
Pinpricks the still waters
Spreadeagles its laughter
Across the green sheet of
The sleeping sea
Do we get the feeling Roy was biting his tongue...?

7. Graham Nash - Military Madness

Arguably Blackpool's most famous musical son (fans of The Cure are most likely to argue), although Nash's mum moved him back to Salford after the war. There, he became a founding member of the Hollies before buggering off to California to super-group team up with David Crosby, Stephen Stills and (occasionally) Neil Young.

Military Madness tells of his childhood in Blackpool and his anger over the war that took his father.

6. Jethro Tull - Up The 'Pool

Lyrically, this is the best song about Blackpool you'll find anywhere, and if this blog was completely objective, it'd be Number One with a Kiss Me Quick Hat. But though lyrics are often a priority for me, the tunes below are better: in my humble opinion. Still, a good effort from the beardy seed drill inventors...
There'll be bucket, spades and bingo, cockles, mussels, rainy days, seaweed and sand castles, icy waves. Deck chairs, rubber dinghies, old vests, braces dangling down, sun-tanned stranded starfish in a daze.
5. Soft Cell - Say Hello, Wave Goodbye

Blackpool born David Ball was the Chris Lowe of Soft Cell... curiously, Lowe is also from Blackpool, yet Chris doesn't ever appear to have persuaded Neil to set any songs in his hometown. Marc Almond, on the other hand, was happy to reference Blackpool's famous gay nightspot The Flamingo in one of Soft Cell's biggest hits.
Standing in the door of the Pink FlamingoCrying in the rainIt was a kind of so-so loveAnd I'm going to make sure it neverHappens again
4. Blur - This Is A Low

One of my favourites from Blur, a love song to the Shipping Forecast they used to listen to while on tour in America to remind them of home.
And on the Malin head,
Blackpool looks blue and redThe Queen, she's gone round the bend Jumped off Land's End
3. Manic Street Preachers - Elvis Impersonator, Blackpool Pier

The Manics obviously have something to say about the slow death of pop culture here...
All American trilogy in used up cars and bottled beer
All American trilogy the future's dead, fundamentally
Great tune though.

2. The Beautiful South - Oh Blackpool

Paul Heaton's ode to Blackpool from the first Beautiful South album is actually a stinging attack on the Liberal Democrats - or were they the SDP in 1987? It's a jaunty pop tune that shows Heato's Housemartins roots more than most BS tracks and challenges the notion of a left wing party swinging to the "centre (right)" just to get more votes. Still topical, then.
I'm out tonight and can't decide
Between Soviet hip or British pride...
Heaton has written more songs that mention Blackpool than any of the other artists in my record collection: see also When I'm 84 and Get Here. Strange, considering he's a lad from the opposite side of the country. Do people from Hull really go all that way for their holidays?

1. The Kinks - Autumn Almanac

Blackpool only gets one mention in Ray Davies' tribute to Muswell Hill's hunchbacked gardener, but it stands out amid the wonderfully quirky lyrics...
I like my football on a Saturday,Roast beef on Sundays, all right.
I go to Blackpool for my holidays,
Sit in the open sunlight.
Moreover, this is another Kinks song that celebrates Britain in all its oddball glory - a land of toasted, buttered currant buns, rheumatism and disappointing summers. And that says Blackpool to me more than all the trams, tower and illuminations...

Which is your pop Pleasure Beach?

Tuesday 18 August 2015

My Top Ten Miracle Songs

With college enrolment upon us, it's a miracle I've had time to put together a top ten this week. Here are ten miraculous tunes - special mentions to Miracle Mile and - of course - Smokey!

10. Mike & The Mechanics - All I Need Is A Miracle

Let's start as we mean to go on this week... by wallowing in 80s nostalgia. Sometimes these Top Tens are hip and indie. Sometimes they range from the 40s to the present day. Sometimes they embrace the cutting edge (though only occasionally, to be honest). Sometimes they're guilty pleasures. Sometimes they start with Mike & The Mechanics and (depending on your cred-threshold) it's all down hill from there. As Huey said: it's hip to be square.

Mike Rutherford was never going to be the coolest man in rock - hell, he wasn't even the coolest man in Genesis (although he was, at least, cooler than Collins) but he did write a decent pop song on occasion. This benefits from Paul Young (not that one) on vocals and Roy Kinnear in the video. Go on, give me a break...

9. Ian McNabb - Livin' Proof (Miracles Can Happen)

Stepping out of The Icicle Works warmed Ian McNabb up considerably. He's recorded some amazing anthemic rock songs since, and rarely gets due credit for them. This is from his self-titled 2001 album, known as the Batman album because Ian (at least, I presume it's him) wore a pretty bad Batman costume on the cover. But not as bad as the one George Clooney wore. There were no nipples on Ian's.

8. Queen - The Miracle

The Miracle isn't one of Queen's best songs, but it was released at the height of my obsession with the band in 1989 (I was 17). It struggles under the weight of a saccharine and simplistic message - there are loads of miraculous things in the world (including The Taj Mahal, Jimi Hendrix and a cup of tea on Sunday mornings) but we're all still waiting for the miracle of world peace - but no more so than Lennon was lauded for with Imagine, Give Peace A Chance et al. In retrospect, however, we now know this was written soon after Freddie's HIV diagnosis so he was obviously seeing the world through sentimental shades. The video's conceit - 'let's get a bunch of kids to dress up as us and perform the song for us' - has been done to death in subsequent years... and it's always very, very annoying, whoever does it.

7. Bruce Springsteen - Countin' On A Miracle

Written in the wake of 9/11, the album this came from (The Rising) gave Bruce's songwriting a shot in the arm after a few years of wedded bliss had dulled his muse.

6. Eurythmics - The Miracle of Love

I was never a huge Eurythmics fan when I was a lad, with the exception of any songs they recorded with the word 'Angel' in the title. My appreciation has grown over the years, and this now sounds glorious when listened to through the headphones of nostalgia.

5. Limmie & The Family Cooking - A Walkin' Miracle

Limmie Snell doesn't get to do a whole lot on this 70s soul classic: in the video, he just wops and bops some backing vocals with his shirt unbuttoned while his sister Jimmie does all the heavy lifting. The band were from Ohio but had more hits in the UK than their home country. A Walkin' Miracle was originally recorded in 1963 by The Essex (also from the USA, not TOWIE) featuring Anita Hume.

My Top Ten - scrabbling around for obscure musical trivia on iffypedia so you don't have to.

4. Elvis Costello - Miracle Man

From Declan's debut, My Aim Is True, released in 1977 yet still sounding fresh today.

Baby's gotta have the things she wants.
You know she's gotta have the things she loves.
She's got a ten-inch bamboo cigarette holder
and her black patent leather gloves.
And I'm doing everything just tryin' to please her,
even crawling around on all fours.
Oh, I thought by now that it was gonna be easy,
but she still seems to want for more.

Been there, got the T-shirt, Elv.

3. Prefab Sprout - Life's A Miracle

Let Paddy tell you why life's a miracle...

Tell someone you love them, there's always a way
And if the dead could speak I know what they would say
To you and me... don't waste another day

2. Colin Blunstone - I Don't Believe In Miracles

The voice of the Zombies also has the voice of an angel. After the Zombies broke up towards the end of the 60s, Blunstone apparently went off to work in the insurance industry, handling burglary claims. Fortunately, he realised proper jobs are rubbish and returned to the pop charts in the year of my birth, 1972. A beautiful song: I can't imagine anyone singing it better.

1. Leonard Cohen - Waiting For The Miracle

One of Lennie's finest (helped on by his sometime songwriting parter Sharon Robinson), Waiting For The Miracle is a mystery wrapped in an enigma waiting for a bus in the desert. Its menacing tone made it perfect for the soundtrack of Natural Born Killers, but the lyric holds all kinds of fascinating ideas and observations. Is it a love song, a song about love never realised, or a song about love finally achieved? Is its protagonist an old man looking back on a life of missed opportunities or a dead man talking to us from the other side? What is the miracle, who's waiting for it, does it actually happen... or will it never, ever happen?

One more listen and you might guess the answer...

Do you believe in miracles?

Monday 10 August 2015

My Top Ten Mexico Songs

Hola, amigos, gringos and muchachos... and other stereotypical Mexican greetings. This week, in lieu of anything resembling a decent summer in the UK, I thought I'd go somewhere hot...

10. Morrissey - Mexico 

Always keen to sieze the role of the underdog, Moz finds empathy for Mex when he senses "the hate from the Lone Star State". (As we'll see later, not all Texans are enemies of Texas.)
It seems if you're rich and you're white
You think you're so right
I just don't see why this should be so
Sometimes I think he writes songs like this just to confuse the NME.

Special mention here to Jose Maldonado, The Mexican Morrissey.

9. Nirvana - Mexican Seafood

Kurt has a yeast infection and it hurts when he pees. No, really.

Originally recorded as part of Nirvana's first ever studio demo - way back in 1988, before Dave Grohl even joined the band.

8. James Taylor - Mexico

The idea of Mexico as an idyllic, take-it-easy getaway is questioned by the king of idyllic, take-it-easy Californian cool.

7. Cake - Mexico

I'll never say no to a slice of Cake.

I don't know much about Cinco De Mayo
I'm never sure, what it's all about
But I say I want you and you don't believe me
You say you want me but I've got my doubts

Apparently, Cinco De Mayo is the day the Mexican army thrashed the French. Seems reason enough to celebrate to me. (Only kidding, French readers.)

6. Toby Keith - Stays In Mexico

I'm often vocal in my defence of contemporary country against naysayers who claim it's cheesy, overblown, jingoistic nonsense.

I will stand up and make a claim for the best of the genre representing the kind of classic storytelling guitar pop Squeeze, Kirsty MacColl or Pulp once brought into the UK charts: the kind of songs you might think nobody writes anymore.

Toby Keith is an interesting case though. At times he commits all the crimes named in that first paragraph - sometimes egregiously. He has neither the wit nor the smarts of Brad Paisley nor the sincere pop cool of Blake Shelton. But on occasion, he writes a clever, amusing ditty like this one that I just can't get out of my head. It's about a couple of strangers who meet in a Mexican bar. Both are married, but not to each other...
One more tequila
And they were falling in love
One more is never enough...
I was amused by a review quoted on iffypedia saying the song was "great until you process the depth of its immorality; then, you’re just sick to your stomach." Yeah, like nobody's ever written a pop song glorifying infidelity before...

5. Frank Sinatra - South of the Border

Originally recorded by "the singing cowboy", Gene Autry, but nobody beats old blue eyes.

4. The Coasters - Down In Mexico

Classic Leiber and Stoller number from 1956, resurrected by Quentin Tarantino in the soundtrack of Death Proof.

3. Elbow - Mexican Standoff

Guy Garvey wishes a love rival dead... if only he was tough enough to take some kind of action... 
Your sweet reassurances don't change the fact
That he's better looking than me
Yet he'd look ideal 'neath the wheels of a car
Oh, Mexican standoff, I wish I was hard
One of the best lines in the second series of True Detective came from Vince Vaughan...

"That's one off my bucket list: a Mexican standoff with actual Mexicans..."

2. Fountains of Wayne - Mexican Wine

Love the Fountains - surprised they don't show up here more often. This is from the excellent album Welcome, Interstate Managers (one of their best) and it showcases their always entertaining mix of power pop guitars and Douglas Coupland-esque lyrics...
He was killed by a cellular phone explosion
They scattered his ashes across the ocean
The water was used to make baby lotion
The wheels of promotion were set into motion
1. Blake Shelton - Playboys Of The Southwestern World

A few weeks back I was singing the praises of Shelton's Austin, but here we go a little bit further south as he and his old buddy John Roy take a Mexican vacation and end up with "a little change of plans... like when Paul McCartney got busted in Japan". With a little help from Van Morrison's Brown-Eyed Girl along the way (I love the way Shelton sings those sha-la-las kinda out of tune, like a couple of drunk mates would). A great song about friendship, with a wicked sense of humour and a wonderfully flawed narrator too.
Ah we're still best friends
(Temporary cell mates...)

Which is your Mexican Hat Dance?

Monday 3 August 2015

My Top Ten Afternoon Songs


This week, ten very good afternoons.

10. Franz Ferdinand - Wine In The Afternoon

The b-side to one of my favourite FF songs, Eleanor, Put Your Boots On, this is all about being young, having no commitments, and being able to do whatever the hell you want...

Remember that?

9. Crash Test Dummies - Afternoons and Coffeespoons

If you're not up to wine in the afternoon and the inevitable snooziness that follows, perhaps a good cup of Joe is what you need. Courtesy of those 90s Canadians oddballs who brought you the colossal Mmm Mmm Mmm Mmm, here's their interpretation of T.S. Eliot's The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

8. Panic At The Disco - Nine In The Afternoon

Sounding more than a little like Sgt. Pepper's meets Jellyfish, the emo-kings show they can party so hard it affects their ability to tell the time.

7. Arctic Monkeys - View From The Afternoon

Alex Turner's grubby street poetry was at its very best on that first Monkeys album...
I want to see all of the things that we've already seen
The lairy girls hung out the window of the limousine
Of course it's fancy dress
And they're all looking quite forlorn in bunny ears and devil horns and how
6. Del Amitri - Before the Evening Steals the Afternoon

More lush romantic storytelling from the always-on-the-verge-of-heartbreak Justin Currie.

5. Luke Haines - Saturday Afternoon

Another top cut from Luke's tribute to 70s/80s Saturday afternoon wrestling, this will bring back glorious memories to anyone who grew up in that era. Give it a listen - it will remind you of your childhood.

4. Queen - Lazing On A Sunday Afternoon

In just over a minute, Freddie delivers a camp Noel Coward-esque romp that's as uniquely Queen as Bohemian Rhapsody... but a completely different direction. In running through his week day by deliciously detailed day, Fred beat Craig David to the punch by about two decades, and a lot more style.

3. Pulp - Acrylic Afternoons

Jarvis updates the theme of this week's number one with typically sleazy zeal...
On a pink quilted eiderdown
I'm gonna take your knickers down
Net curtains blow slightly in the breeze
Lemonade light filtering through the trees
It's so soft and it's warm
Just another cup of tea, please
One lump, thank you, that's, that's good, cheers...
Doesn't leave a lot to the imagination, does he?

2. The Kinks - Sunny Afternoon

With tongue firmly in cheek, Ray Davies bemoans his huge tax bill and deserter girlfriend while lazing around in the garden of his very big house in the country.

See also Afternoon Tea in which Ray has been dumped by another girl (Donna) who's left him with only the price of a cup of tea.

1. The Starland Vocal Band - Afternoon Delight

As I always say, if you're going to go down in the history of pop as one-hit-wonders, better make sure that one hit's a belter. The SVB's ode to post meridiem nookie takes some beating, with lush harmonies hiding the cheekiness of its lyrics. The band were originally known as Fat City and the husband/wife songwriting duo at its centre also co-wrote Take Me Home, Country Roads with John Denver. Afternoon Delight is one of those perfect pop songs that I never tire of hearing. It always makes me feel a little better when it comes on the radio... and the video proves you didn't have to be drop dead gorgeous to get on the radio in the 70s.

My motto's always been
'When it's right, it's right'
Why wait until the middle
Of a cold, dark night?

Which is your afternoon delight? 
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