Saturday 26 September 2015

My Top Ten Pig Songs

In a change to the advertised Top Ten (we'll get back to Gene songs next week), here's a Top Ten for Number 10. You might call it schadenfreude... I call it just desserts. But then, I'm from Yorkshire, and as Dodgy Dave will tell you... we hate everyone.

10. The Beatles - Piggies

I thought long and hard about whether to include this one. The White Album is my favourite Beatles LP (on the days I don't prefer Abbey Road) and George is my favourite Beatle, so theoretically I should like it. In truth though, the lyrics sound like they've been written by a 6th Former who's read Animal Farm and is just discovering that people are pretty shitty... which is probably why the song was quoted by Charles Manson as justification for the murders of Sharon Tate et al.

In the end, I was swayed to give it a mention by the wag who has added the following line to its iffypedia entry this week...

"This is British Prime Minister David Cameron's favourite Beatles song."

I wonder how long before that gets edited out?

(Plus, Piggies is better than Pink Floyd.)

9. Green Jelly - Three Little Pigs 

What can I say...? I have a soft spot for ludicrous cartoon metal songs based on nursery rhymes, especially when their videos are made out of plasticine. Shoot me.

8. Canned Heat - Sic 'Em, Pigs

Despite being critical of my good friends in the Los Angeles Police Department, this hippie blues boogie from my Best of Canned Heat album wins a place on the chart (beating out fine contenders such as Black Sabbath, Nine Inch Nails, The Cocteau Twins, Jane's Addiction and Nina Simone) because it's the only pig song I own in which the singer performs pig snorts as part of his vocal - pretty authentic ones, too.  

This track was banned by many US radio stations as it ends with a mock recruitment call to join the LAPD in which one of the band reads out the copshop's actual phone number... which is a cool bit of hippy protest nonsense the Dude would be proud of.

7. Elvis Costello & The Brodsky Quartet - Swine

Big Elv's dalliance with "classical" music worked better than expected. Here, he lets the Brodsky Quartet do most of the heavy lifting before going off on what sounds like a typically vicious lyrical rant... although, apparently, he didn't write those lyrics alone: the quartet chipped in with all the words on this album, a series of letters to Juliet Capulet, of which this is probably the nastiest.
You're a swine
And I'm saying
That's an insult to the pig...
6. The Sir Douglas Quintet - Bacon Fat

Class old rock 'n' roll number - if in doubt, invent a wacky dance and name it after a favourite foodstuff. Doug Sahm had a surprisingly long career (this is the only one of his songs I own, but it's not even mentioned on the band's lengthy iffypedia discography), though it appears he only had one actual hit (1966's She's About A Mover - also worth a listen if you have the time). 

5. Arab Strap - Piglet

Philophobia is arguably the best Arab Strap album even if it does leave you feeling like you need a good wash after listening to it. Here, Aidan Moffat details what happens when he looks through his girlfriend's copy of Winnie The Pooh while she's in the shower... and discovers a terrible truth she's been hiding. Things go pretty bad from there and the song ends with one of the bitterest put downs ever committed to vinyl / digital media. 
And when we were with your friends 
I just as might as well have been no one. 
And you can't get over your dead dog 
Well, it takes one to know one.
4. Meat Loaf - In The Land Of The Pig, The Butcher Is King

(Yes, but who's the Prime Minister?)

I'm still waiting on that new Meat / Steinman album that was promised earlier in the year. Here's one of their lesser collaborations: yes, it does sound a little Steinman-by-numbers with lines such as "they're the plugs and we're the sockets"... though apparently it was originally written for a Batman Musical he was involved with.

Can you imagine that? A Batman Musical sounds like a really bad idea (remember that dreadful Spider-Man one?)... unless you got Jim Steinman to compose the music. Then... it just might work, in a mad Tim Burton-esque. Sadly, it was never to be.

3. Suede - We Are The Pigs

(Well, quite. Some might argue that the truth behind these outrageous allegations really doesn't matter... even if DC didn't do it to a dead pig, he and over-privileged ilk have been doing it to the people of this country for years. We are the pigs.)

We Are The Pigs is a weird Suede song. It was the debut single from their second album, released just as Bernard Butler quit. A much darker record than the first one, it came out while the rest of Britpop was having a knees up. I think it stands up pretty well with the passage of time, though there were stronger tracks on Dog Man Star. This video was also banned for awhile... for being "too violent" or criticising the establishment? Nobody in Suede read out any British police phone numbers (999?) during the recording.

2. Admiral Fallow - Squealing Pigs

I like to think of Admiral Fallow as a 21st Century Deacon Blue... which is a little unfair to Ricky Ross and his pals, since they're still in the go and producing fine records. It's a better comparison than the "Scottish Mumfords" tag I've seen them labelled with elsewhere though, especially considering the downward trajectory of Mr. Mumford and his offspring of late.

Squealing Pigs was AF's debut single and is still one of their best... though I haven't heard their new album yet. 

1. Morrissey - Life Is A Pigsty

The epic centrepiece of Mozzer's 2006 album Ringleader of the Tormentors, and only he could have written a song with that title... at what point does it become self-mockery, eh, Moz? Reminiscent in places of Meat Is Murder (yet much more palatable), this actually goes a bit Space Oddity about halfway through... and is all the better for it.

I can't wait to hear what Moz thinks of Mr. Cameron now... 

Which is your bacon sandwich?

Monday 21 September 2015

My Top Ten Jeans Songs

Surprisingly, despite making Number One in last week's Top Ten Jean Songs, Bruce doesn't make the Songs About Jeans chart at all... despite that iconic image above. (However, a band of his biggest fans do feature at #5.)

Here are ten songs about pulling your blue jeans on and getting that denim all dirty...

Special mentions to The Swinging Blue Jeans, Beth Jeans Houghton & The Hooves Of Destiny, Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans, Mr. Little Jeans, Pissed Jeans, and Jack Jeans (I had to link to that one).

10. Gene Vincent - Blue Jean Bop

Be-Bop-A-Lula is one of the defining records of rock 'n' roll, but Gene Vincent was never really able to bottle that lightning again. This is about as close as he got, a "minor" follow-up "hit"... although this was back in the days when "minor" hits still sold a million copies even if they only made number 49 in the charts.

9. Little Man Tate - Hello Miss Lovely (So You Like My Jeans)

Unfairly labeled a poor man's Arctic Monkeys, Little Man Tate called it a day in 2009. Which is a shame, because they wrote witty, spiky guitar pop songs... the sort of thing the radio is sorely missing these days.

8. David Dundas - Jeans On

The 70s was obviously a great decade for songs about jeans (see below) and this is the one that famously doubled up as an advert for Brutus Jeans. It seems Dundas was a member of British nobility - his full name and title is Lord David Paul Nicholas Dundas - as his dad was Lawrence Aldred Mervyn Dundas, 3rd Marquess of Zetland (also a famous tennis player in the 40s).

Well, I never knew that.

Of course, iffypedia might have made it all up... you never know.

The song was also covered a few years back by Chungking... but sadly, I can't find their version on youtube.

7. The View - Same Jeans

Scruffy Scottish indie kids - they've had the same jeans on for four days now - with their only Top Ten hit from 2007. It's rare I say this... but it seems longer ago than that.

6. Jimmy Webb - Lady Fits Her Blue Jeans

As previously discussed on this site, Jimmy Webb is god. Although he's more famous as a songwriter than a performer, he's also released a succession of excellent solo albums over the last 40 years, five of which were recently reissued in an extremely affordable box set on the Rhino label. Considering how rare these albums were prior to the box set, it's pretty much an essential purchase for fans of quality songwriting. This is taken from the 4th album in the 5 disc set, 1974's Land's End. Gorgeous stuff.

5. The Gaslight Anthem - Blue Jeans & White T-Shirts

The Gaslight Anthem always wear their New Jersey roots on their sleeves and this one describes perfectly Bruce's famous 80s dress sense... while also throwing in a sly reference to early Tom Waits.

This track's a bit of a rarity, from the 2008 EP SeƱor and the Queen, but it stands up as well as some of their better known songs.

4. The Donnas - Dirty Denim

Classic spunky & punky girl-pop from the California foursome led by the female Brett Anderson. In the Suede versus Denim battle, it's hard to call a winner. The other Brett never wrote anything as bitchy as this...
You look like you've only slept for an hour
You smell like you haven't taken a shower
And your hair is so dirty
It makes you look like you're thirty

Your pants are slung way too low
I see stuff I don't wanna know
I wonder why you're so moody?
Is it 'cause you've got no booty?
3. Lana Del Rey - Blue Jeans

That second Lana Del Rey album - the one with Video Games on, the one that made her a star - is still an amazing piece of work, even if she's failed to live up to its potential since. The cognoscenti may have tried to expose her as a phoney or a poseur... but what do the cognoscenti know? She has a new album out this week - fingers crossed it's a return to form.

2. Denim - Back In Denim

Lawrence (he has no second name... except he does, and it's Hayward) started life in fondly remembered 80s indie band Felt. Then sometime in the early 90s, he folded up the Felt and embraced Denim - with added glam stomp. Since then, he's gone ultra lo-fi with Go Kart Mozart... but if you ask me, Denim will always be his finest hour.

1. Neil Diamond - Forever In Blue Jeans

Listen - money talks, all right? Even if it don't sing or dance or walk...

There is a popular mondgreen associated with this tune, that Neil's actually singing "Reverend Blue Jeans". Which would be wonderful... if it were true.

What can I say, if you don't appreciate a bit of classic Neil... there's something missing in your life.

Next week (if I have time) - the final part of the trilogy. My Top Ten Gene Songs.

Meanwhile, don't put your jeans back in the wardrobe just yet. Which is your Nick Kamen?

Monday 14 September 2015

My Top Ten Jean Songs

Ten songs about ladies called Jean... you may be surprised how many of them you know.

Special mentions to Jean-Jacques Burnel, Jean Knight, Wyclef Jean, Jean-Luc Ponty and Jean Michel Jarre (most of whom aren't ladies, but I didn't want them to feel left out).

10. The Pogues - Five Green Queens And Jean

According to the forum, Five Green Queens was a card game Shane used to play in his London flat... and Jean was his landlady. In case you were wondering.

9. Camera Obscura - I Love My Jean

Camera Obscura's take on an old Robert Burns poem - an idea suggested to them by the late, great John Peel. 

8. Warren Zevon - Jeannie Needs A Shooter

From the sublimely titled album Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School, this cool Zevon classic was co-written by Bruce Springsteen. Of whom, more later...

7. Belle & Sebastian - String Bean Jean
The girls have got a house that’s like a caravan
And it’s like your holidays whenever you go round
And we always have a laugh and then we all get in the bath
To save on the leccy bill
Me & Jo & Phil’
When he's cooking with gas, no one can write a lyric quite like Stuart Murdoch...
She asked me “Do I need to lose a bit of weight?”
And I told her “Don’t be stupid ’cause you’re looking great”
And I call her String Bean Jean because the label on her jeans says
Seven to eight years old – well that’s pretty small
6. Julian Cope - Jellypop Perky Jean

At his best, Julian Cope was an 80s alternative Elvis. I like to think that if the King had lived beyond '77, he might have recorded this with Rick Rubin as part of his career renaissance.

5. Eels - Jeannie's Diary

Top unrequited love song from the amazing Mark Oliver Everett - E to his mates.
She could have anything she wants
So why not me?
She could have anything she dreams
Oh, to be one single page
One single page
In Jeannie's diary
 4. David Bowie - Blue Jean

A slab of "sexist rock 'n' roll" according to Bowie, "a song about picking up birds". From the height of his 80s success, this was the first single released after his hugely popular Let's Dance album. (The Musos, of course, claim it's when he sold out.) Although Blue Jean was a big hit too, the rest of the subsequent album (Tonight) was below par for the Dame. 

See also The Jean Genie, arguably a much better song... but it's not about a girl called Jean. It's about Iggy Pop instead.

3. Michael Jackson  - Billie Jean

A song so famous, so spectacular, so era-defining and legendary... it deserves a Top Ten all of its own. Here are 10 amazing facts I found on t'internet (with a couple I knew already - like the Eddie Argos one) about Billie Jean. I don't know if these are all true... but what does truth matter in the iffypedia age?
10. They mixed the song 91 times before they got a version they were happy with.

9. The video was the first by a black artist to receive heavy airplay on MTV... but only after the head of CBS threatened to expose the channel's "racist" playlist policy.

8. Lydia Murdock recorded an answer song called Superstar from the perspective of the Billie Jean character. Like a lot of answer records... it's bloody awful.

7. Much better is Eddie Argos's answer song, Billie's Jeans, recorded by Art Brut side project Everybody Was In the French Resistance...Now! It's told from the perspective of Billie and Michael's grown-up lovechild.
My mother always told me
You, not me, were the mistake
She never regretted the chance she had to take
My mother always told me
Everything you put her through
I told her we're better off without you

She can't have been the only girl
Illegitimate children all over the world
One day you're gonna get caught
And that's an awful lot of child support
6. Kanye West remixed the track for Thriller's 25th anniversary. His version was... bloody awful. Unsurprisingly.

5. Jacko re-recorded the song with new lyrics as part of the Pepsi Generation ad campaign. That was bloody awful too. 

4. Producer Quincy Jones tried to get Jacko to change the song's title to Not My Lover in case anyone thought it was about tennis player Billie Jean King. Jones also got Jacko to overdub some of the vocals while singing through a 6 foot long cardboard tube. Apparently.

3. The song has been covered by everybody from Ian Brown to Chris Cornell to Neil Finn to German punk band The Bates (who turned it into a tribute to Hitchcock's Psycho). The best alternative version must surely come from the much-missed Civil Wars. Gorgeous stuff.

2. Daryl Hall claims Jacko confessed to copying BJ's famous bassline from the Hall & Oates song I Can't Go for That (No Can Do). Hall didn't sue because he'd nicked the bassline himself from somewhere else.

1. Although Jackson claimed the song was written about generic experiences he and his brothers had with groupies, his biographer tells a far more detailed story about a psychotic fan who claimed Jackson was the father of one of her twins (yeah, I had to check that was medically possible). The fan became so obsessed with Jacko she even sent him a gun and asked him to participate in a suicide pact which would allow them to be together in the next life. Jacko framed her photo and hung it above his dining table. Allegedly.

And despite all that, it's still only my third favourite Jean song. But as you've seen, the competition was pretty fierce this week.

2. The Smiths - Jeane

For many years, Jeane was the great lost Smiths song. Available only as a b-side to the original vinyl release of This Charming Man, it took me ages to locate a scratchy second hand copy which I dubbed onto CD-R and eventually ripped to my computer. (I know, vinyl fans, you're shuddering as you read that, aren't you?) It wasn't released on CD until 2008 as part of yet another Best Of compilation, but it was the main reason I bought that disc - I already owned most of the other tracks. (Which proves home taping doesn't stop true fans buying record also.)

Jeane should have been a much bigger song - but with typical Morrissey / Marr perversity, they virtually threw it away. (Let's not forget, this is the band that originally put How Soon Is Now? out as a 12-inch b-side.) It's classic kitchen sink Shelagh Delaney-esque miserablism from Moz with another speeded up rock 'n' roll riff from Johnny. Billy Bragg does a great version too.  

And yes, in most other Top Tens, it would have been Number One.

1. Bruce Springsteen - Bobby Jean

There's some debate in my head about whether Born In The USA deserves a place in my favourite Bruce albums DESPITE the fact it was his bestselling pop global megastar moment. The muso-snob in me will always prefer the album which preceded it (the ultra lo-fi Nebraska, recorded on a tape recorder in his back bedroom) or the one which followed it (the gloomy comedown divorce record, Tunnel Of Love). But if I was going to see Bruce play live again (and I sincerely hope I get another opportunity to do so before he calls it a day for the sake of his knees), I'd rather hear him play Glory Days or Bobby Jean than any of the songs on those other two discs. I'd even settle for Cover Me, and that was rubbish. ('Rubbish' being a relative term where Bruce is concerned.)

On the surface, Bobby Jean is a love song to an old high school girlfriend who may or may not have met a tragic end. Legend has it, however, that the song was written about E Streeter 'Little' Stevie Van Zandt (of the Sopranos and Lilyhammer fame) after he quit the band prior to the release of Born. It's still a love song - but one about missing your old pal after he's gone. Since Little Stevie rejoined the E Street Band, he often takes centre stage with Bruce when this song is performed live.

Next week, the essential sequel: My Top Ten Jeans Songs.

Meanwhile, which Jean is your Harlow... and which is your Hilda Ogden?

Monday 7 September 2015

My Top Ten Vegetable Songs

This week, I'm not just helping you with your five a day... I'll double that healthy goodness, and throw in a few spare veg on the side...

Special mention to.... Prefab Sprout, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, The Gourds, Radish, The Black-Eyed Peas and Beans on Toast.

10. The Beach Boys - Vegetables

Let's get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we? I love the Beach Boys. Most days, I'd rather listen to them than The Beatles, The Stones and most other 60s bands. I don't think it's hyperbole to call Brain Wilson a godlike genius. But there are times when... well, the drugs don't quite work.
If you brought a big brown bag of them home,
I'd jump up and down and hope you'd toss me a carrot.
I've linked to the original version of this song (titled Vega-Tables) above because it features Paul McCartney's greatest ever performance... chewing a stick of celery as percussion. 
I know that you'll feel better
When you send us in
Your letter and
Tell us the name of your...
Your favourite vegetable.
Off the back of this recording, Brian decided to open a health food shop in Hollywood called The Radiant Radish. It didn't last.

For more non-specific vegetable tracks, see Radiohead's Vegetable and Joshua Radin's not particularly sporty Vegetable Car

9. Weezer - Pork And Beans

Weezer's record company told them they needed to be more commercial. This was their ironic response... and to double the irony, it became a hit.

See also Little Richard's Rice, Beans and Turnip Greens... which also leads us to Sultans of Ping FC - Turnip Fish.

8. Teenage Fanclub - The Cabbage

Typically jangly fun from the Fannies - not sure what it's got to do with cabbages. Maybe that's all they had in their vegetable rack the day they wrote it.

7. The Ronettes (not The Crystals) - Mashed Potato Time

Recorded by The Ronettes, credited to The Crystals when included on their 1963 Greatest Hits album. That Phil Spector, eh? What a git. Made some cool records though.

See also Skunk Anansie's Charlie Big Potato which is as scary as you would imagine it to be.

6. Pavement - Carrot Rope

Pavement's biggest UK hit, though it wasn't released as a single anywhere else.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to work out just what the hell Malkmus and co. are going on about here. Personally, I think it's something dodgy...

5. Courtney Barnett - Canned Tomatoes

Ah, you're saying, but Rol... a tomato is a fruit! Right? Hmm. Depends who you ask. According to this fascinating article in National Geographic, the American Supreme Court ruled that “tomatoes are the fruit of the vine, just as are cucumbers, squashes, beans and peas", whereas the EU have decided that "carrots, sweet potatoes and... tomatoes" are all fruits. But, I'm sorry, if tomatoes are the same as carrots and peas, I think I'll stick with my original rule: if I eat it for pudding, it's a fruit. And I don't eat tomatoes for pudding, so...

On her recent "hit" Dead Fox, Courteney Barnett goes into some detail about her vegetable-buying habits...
Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables
And I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first
A little pesticide can't hurt
Never having too much money, I get the cheap stuff at the supermarket
But they're all pumped up with the s**t
A friend told me that they stick nicotine in the apples
Prior to this, she released Canned Tomatoes... which has rather less to do with vegetables, from what I can make out.

If you agree that tomatoes are veggie, you might also dig Kaiser Chiefs - Tomato In The Rain and the record Fatboy Slim sampled for Rockafeller Skank: Sliced Tomatoes by The Just Brothers.

4. XTC - The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead

Andy Partridge's timeless ode to the good guys who fall foul of shadowy conspiracies...
Peter Pumpkinhead put to shame
Governments who would slur his name
Plots and sex scandals failed outright
Peter merely said any kind of love is all right
If pumpkins are your thing not just on Halloween, see also Kate Nash's Pumpkin Soup and Dogs Die In Hot Cars - Queen Of Pumpkin Plukes.

3. Half Man Half Biscuit -  Asparagus Next Left

Nigel Blackwell sees sinister intent behind the most innocuous of hand-written country road signs.
“This-a-way For New Potatoes”
An arrow points innocently
Dirt track to a darker place
That’s what it says to me
“Last Chance For Hanging Baskets”
They’re even giving you clues!
“Fresh Broad Beans and Aubergines”
Euphemisms, Audrey, euphemisms!
Beyond that, we get the usual unrelated moments of observational genius, most notably...
We all knew someone at primary school
Who had a very powerful magnet
There's a very serious message in this song, however: a dire warning for the unsuspecting motorist...
So stay alert on the minor roads
Remember Phyllis Triggs
Oooh! Rhubarb! Lets go!
She’s still not been accounted for
2. Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip - Cauliflower

Dan le Sac does not make my kind of music at all. Blippy bloppy dance music - car alarms mixed with electronic belches and drum machines. I'm too old for this shit.

 It says something then for the razor sharp lyrical prowess of the awesome Scroobius Pip that I rate this (and anything else the pair release together) so highly.
I fell in love with a girl from the city
Still got cauliflower ears from when her voice first hit me
And a swollen lip, from when her lyrics first kissed me
And when I went to pull back ever so gently bit me
I still hear her sometimes but it's not the same
Like when you get a pen and paper and write your name
Over and over and over again
Although it hasn't, in the end it somehow seems to change

You see, that's not just songwriting. It's poetry. And I'm an English teacher, so I know a little bit about that.

The video's brilliant too.

1. Booker T & The M.G.s - Green Onions

It's not often you'll find an instrumental topping one of my Top Tens, but it's not often you hear an instrumental as perfect as Green Onions. The crisp drums, creeping bassline, sharp stabs of Steve Cropper's guitar - and, of course, Booker T.'s indolent organ... no vocalist could have improved upon this. Some debate over whether they called the track Green Onions as a reference to marijuana, their mate's cat or just because Booker didn't like green onions and wanted to throw them all in the bin. In the end, it's better we don't know the truth.

See also The Onion Song by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (in which a metaphor is stretched beyond credibility: still brilliant, though) and Glass Onion by The Beatles (in which many metaphors are stretched beyond credibility: less brilliant, but the Walrus was Paul).

I know you'll feel better if you leave a comment and tell me the name of your favourite vegetable song...
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