Friday 26 February 2016

My Top Ten Lonely Night Songs

Night-time is the loneliest time... especially if you're a songwriter.

This was a really tough one to put in order.

10. The Postal Service - The District Sleeps Alone Tonight

When Gibbard's girlfriend moved out, to a whole different district of Washington, this was his response.
You seem so out of context in this gaudy apartment complex
A stranger with your door key, explaining that I am just visiting
And I am finally seeing
Why I was the one worth leaving
Covered by lots of people, though obviously I prefer Frank Turner's version

9. James Taylor - Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight

James Taylor made this sort of thing look really easy.

The Isley Brothers did an excellent cover too.

8. Blake Shelton feat. Ashley Monroe - Lonely Tonight

Glossy and as shamelessly bling as the worst of contemporary r 'n' b, it's hard to explain why I dig the poppiest artist in modern country music as much as I do. This one's an outrageously schmaltzy power ballad that harkens back to the 80s (with 21st Century production values) and, frankly, the video made me choke on my Wotsits. But Blake Shelton can do no wrong in my eyes, because he writes pop songs that are catchy as the plague and TELL ACTUAL STORIES. I have no further defence.

7. Dr. Hook - I Don't Want To Be Alone Tonight

Tells basically the same story as the Blake Shelton number, but without the glitz. You see, you can't really believe Blake Shelton would be the guy in this story. Dennis Locorriere, though? He's a true hard-luck hero.

6. Harry Chapin - There's a Lot of Lonely People Tonight

Every time I think there might be a little justice in the world, I remind myself of Harry Chapin: a supremely talented singer-songwriter from the 70s who should have been as big as Elton John or Billy Joel, but for whatever reason never quite made it. (The same could be same of Harry Nilsson. Maybe there's a curse on Harry's. Maybe Cliff was right to change his name.) There's A Lot Of Lonely People Tonight is from the excellent album Short Stories, and while it's nowhere near the best track on there, it's still beautiful. There's a fragility to Chapin's work you don't find elsewhere. You feel like he's lived these stories, every one of them. 

5. Justin Townes Earle - Am I That Lonely Tonight?

Top Charity Shop Buy of the week, the 2012 album Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now by Steve Earle's son, Justin (his middle name is a tribute to legendary country singer Townes Van Zandt). Excellent acoustic Americana that reminds me very much of Ryan Adams' debut (and best) album, Heartbreaker. The CD cost me 75p, but I'll definitely be buying more of this artist's work in the future. If I ever have any money again.

4. Richard Hawley - Lonely Night

Nobody else does loneliness like Sheffield's answer to Roy Orbison. This is from his first full-length album, released in 2001... though it could just as easily have been released in 1957. 

3. Elvis Presley - Are You Lonesome Tonight?

Originally written in 1927, and recorded many times before The King got his hands on it, Are You Lonesome Tonight? was a huge hit in 1960... but is arguably remembered more for the live version recorded in Vegas in '68 where Elvis cracks up laughing and can't make it through the song.

2. John Cougar Mellencamp - Lonely Ol' Night

A single from probably my favourite Mellencamp album, 1985's Scarecrow, this was apparently inspired by the Paul Newman film Hud. Apparently, the wife of one of JM's pals told him not to feature "pretty girls" in the video as it wouldn't be realistic to suggest they had lonely nights. Mellencamp responded by offering her a role. She accepted, and played his girlfriend.
She calls me baby
She calls everybody baby
It's a lonely ol' night
But ain't they all?
Now. Is it a better song than Elvis's masterpiece? Definitely not. But it means a little bit more to me - and that's what this blog is all about.

1. Paul McCartney - No More Lonely Nights

Well, here's a first. As previously mentioned, I have a kind of love/hate relationship with Sir Paulius Thumbs-Aloft, and though I respect all he's given us... sometimes, he doesn't half get on my wick. No More Lonely Nights - a majestically schmaltzy slice of 80s balladeering that Collins would have given his right drumstick for - really ought to be awful. You may well argue that it is. And yet, I have a huge fondness for it, from the shiver-inducing a cappella intro to the Dave friggin' Gilmour guitar solo at the end. Plus, if you read between the lines, it's as good a stalker anthem as Every Breath You Take...
And I won't go away until you tell me so
No, I'll never go away...
The video, which begins with a long sequence in which Macca plays some kind of lonely but jolly Clive Dunn character working the nightshift as a projectionist in a low rent cinema... before jumping into a Victorian dream sequence in which Ringo goes over a waterfall in a rowing boat (and then things get really weird)... almost made me bump it down to #2. (Although it's not as bad as the video to One Lonely Night by REO Speedwagon, which was SO bad it got them disqualified from this whole Top Ten.)

Hopefully, those ten songs made you feel a little less lonely tonight...

Thursday 18 February 2016

My Top Ten Fish & Chip Shop Songs

What are you having for tea on Friday night?

Here's ten songs about Britain's great national dish... and the shops that sell it.

10. Denim - Fish & Chips

From Lawrence's middle-period (between Felt and Go-Kart Mozart), and the great "lost" album (until they re-issued it) Back In Denim.

9. Bill Bailey - Unisex Chip Shop

Bill Bailey does an excellent Billy Bragg impersonation / homage / mickey take... so good, if you close your eyes, it could be Billy himself.
I wanted to free her
In my dreams, I would see her
Running naked through the woods round Rainham
If I had some tigers, I'd train 'em
To protect her
From the sexual fascism that was lurking
Round the gherkins
 Mr. Bragg was a fan... he even joined Mr. Bailey on stage to duet on this very song. 

8. The Specials - Friday Night, Saturday Morning

In which Terry Hall pops into a chip shop very late on a Friday night... but only for a pie...

7. Eddie & The Hot Rods - Fish & Chips

...Eddie, on the other hand, knows exactly which Friday night food to choose.

6. Elvis Costello - Fish 'n' Chip Paper

I think it's a shame Elvis Costello got a bit sniffy about his early pun-littered lyrics, because he wrote some absolute belters - and often threw them away on album tracks. This is a typically bilious rant against the tabloid press, probably only bettered by Billy Bragg's Scousers Never Buy The Sun.
If you've got something to hide, if you've got something to sell
If you've got somebody's pride she might kiss and tell
Or wind up with a fight fan in the Hammersmith Hotel
You better speak up now if you want your piece
You better speak up now
It won't mean a thing later
Yesterday's news is tomorrow's fish and chip paper
5. Relaxed Muscle - Battered

Dark and scary, it's Jarvis returning to his Sheffield roots, along with The All Seeing I's J.P. Buckle and Richard Hawley on guest guitar. They're all off on a dangerous night out in South Yorkshire, where it's not only the fish that'll get battered.

4. The Lancashire Hotpots - Chippy Tea

Being a full-blooded Yorkshireman, I can only grudgingly award this song fourth place. If I lived a few miles in the other direction over the Pennines, I might have made it Number One. But look, I let them win against Sheffield, just this once... because the first ever Fish 'n' Chip shop was in Oldham. 

3. The Hold Steady - Chips Ahoy!

This one's a bit of a cheat since Chips Ahoy! is the name of a racehorse in the song, not a chip shop. But it would be a great name for a chip shop and this is one of my favourite Hold Steady songs. So until I get around to compiling a chart based around Horseracing Songs...

2. Jilted John - Jilted John

It's still one of the greatest lyrics in the history of music (and arguably the best punk song ever), courtesy of the man who would become John Shuttleworth...
I was so upset that I cried all the way to the chip shop...
Bathos has rarely sounded so good. London Lee even named his blog after it.

1. Kirsty MacColl - There's A Guy Work Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis

Ah, Kirsty. We miss you so much.

Although They Don't Know had been a big radio hit a couple of years earlier, it failed to hit the chart due to distribution shenanigans. Which makes this, two years later, Kirsty's first chart smash. It always felt like a country song to me (despite the very British location: re-recorded for American radio as There's A Guy Works Down The Truck Stop...), but just to confirm that, Kirsty also recorded a full on yee-haw version. They don't write 'em like this anymore...
He’s a liar and I’m not sure about you...

Do you want bits with any of those? (Or scraps, if you're not from round these parts.)

Friday 12 February 2016

My Top Ten Linda Songs

If I live long enough, I'll do a Top Ten for every name in the phone book. Here's ten songs about Linda... or, as with the lady above, Lynda.

Special mentions to Linda Ronstatd, Linda Thompson, Linda McCartney, Linda Perry, Linda Lewis, Linda Clifford, Linda Jones, Linda Lyndell and Linda Gail Lewis (Jerry Lee's sister).

10. Leroy Taylor - Oh Linda

Originally released in 1967, this forgotten soul number was resurrected in the UK by the Northern Soul DJs of the 70s. Can't find much out about Leroy Taylor himself, but I always like to hear that old soul sound.

9. The Valves - Linda Vindaloo

Gritty Scottish punk from 1979 that I probably came across through JC, The Vinyl Villain

8. Barry Manilow - A Linda Song

From one year earlier than The Valves, yet as far away from Scottish punk as you can get. And the reason I'll never be a cool music blogger: I actually prefer this one.

7. Mark Collie - Linda Lou

Shameless Country Song of the week - it even begins with Mark drinking a Pepsi while gassing up his truck. See also Linda Lou by The Tractors, which is a bit more Creedence. 

6. John Prine - Linda Goes To Mars

An amusing John Prine number about a bored wife and her overactive imagination.

5. The Lemonheads - Layin' Up With Linda

Originally recorded by American punk rock nutbag GG Allin and his backing band at the time, The Carolina Shitkickers, though I prefer Evan Dando's version because his voice always gives me shivers. King Slacker that he is, I wish he'd get off his lazy arse and record some more songs.  
Layin' up with Linda used to be fun
Nobody ever paid the rent, there was never anything done
Then one day I killed her, now I'm on the run
But living with Linda used to be fun 
4. Luke Haines - Linda's Head

From the mind-boggling, yet hugely nostalgic, concept album 9 1/2 Psychedelic Meditations On British Wrestling Of The 1970s & Early '80s, this is Luke Haines's tribute to 80s wrestlers "Exotic" Adrian Street and his tag-team partner / manager / wife, Miss Linda. I could make this stuff up, but it wouldn't be as interesting. 

3. Bruce Springsteen - Linda, Let Me Be The One

One of many "lost" Springsteen tracks recorded in the mid-70s (around the time of Born To Run), this was finally released in the late 90s on the Tracks box set. It's classic rock 'n' romantic storytelling... as with so many of those " lost" songs, hearing it now you realise how much of a perfectionist Bruce was, deciding not to release it for all those years.
The midnight boys are outside
Scraping tears up off the street
Standin' guard beneath the window
Where only Linda sleeps
The leader is a kid named Eddie
Walkin' like an angel in defeat
He trashes her old man's car, slashes Linda's name in the seat
And calls out
Linda will you let me be the one!
2. Hue & Cry - Looking For Linda

A chance meeting with a lady called Linda McAllister in a Stirling pub inspired inspired Pat & Greg Kane to write this tribute, possibly as a way of encouraging her to keep fighting as she was having quite a hard time of it, by all accounts. Released in 1989 (not a great year for music), it remains my favourite Hue & Cry single, though (like a lot of late-80s chart hits) it sounds a little thin and synthy today.

1. The Beach Boys - Lady Lynda

A big 70s hit for the Beach Boys in the UK, though it didn't do much for them back home, the melody of Lady Lynda is based on Bach's Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. The song was written by Beach Boy Al Jardine and Ron Altbach of King Harvest (the band who did the original version of Toploader's big 90s hit Dancing In The Moonlight). The Linda in question was Jardine's wife... when they divorced later, he tried rewriting it as Lady Liberty (in... erm... tribute to the Statue of Liberty). Yeah, like that was going to work.

Which is your Lady Linda?

Alternatively, if you'd like to suggest a name for me to have a go at creating a Top Ten... just leave a comment. I always like a challenge.

Friday 5 February 2016

My Top Ten Hairstyle Songs

Thinking of trying a new hairstyle? Here's ten suggestions from the best barbers in pop...

Special mentions to The Voice of the Beehive, Braid, The Crewcuts, Popcorn & The Mohawks, Mohawk Lodge... and, at a push, (The) Pixies.

10. Tom Waits - Trouble's Braid

It's only 1 minute 17 seconds long, but sometimes that's all Tom needs.
Well, I pulled on trouble's braids
And I hid in the briars out by the quickmud
Stayin' away from the main roads
Passin' out wolf tickets, downwind from the bloodhounds
9. Luxembourg - Close Cropped

David Shah's original band, Luxembourg, should have been massive. So should his next band, The Melting Ice Caps. He's an undiscovered indie genius as far as I'm concerned - the bastard son of Jarvis Cocker and David Gedge. Or something like that.
I want your close-cropped hair
I want your pale blue eyes
And I want your soft hands
And your handsome thighs

I want your gormless grin
Your regional accent
And I want your cracked lips
And I want your snake hips
And I want it right now
8. The Charlatans - Jesus Hairdo

 So baggy it's trippy.

7. They Might Be Giants - Bangs

 Bangs are basically what we in the UK would call a floppy fringe.
To drape across your forehead
To swing concordant angles as you incline your head

And although I like you anyway, check out your haircut
A proscenium to stage a face that needs no makeup
I was going to say that this must surely be the only pop song in the world to feature the word 'proscenium'... then I found at least five more. Go figure...

6. The Divine Comedy - Bernice Bobs Her Hair

Anyone else adapting an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story into song, you'd have to accuse them of pretentiousness. Neil Hannon..., it's still pretentious. But that's why we love him.

5. Super Furry Animals - Ice Hockey Hair

A not particularly complementary tribute to the much-maligned mullet - according to Gruff Rhys, you've sunk to the lowest of the low if you stoop to asking advice off a woman with Ice Hockey Hair. Or Bono.

For other famous mullets in rock songs, see Army in which Ben Folds grows a moustache and a mullet and gets a job at Chic-Filet when his band split up then reform without him. And then there's Mullet Head by the Beastie Boys: 'nuff said. And finally, of course, there's the peerless National Shite Day by Half Man Half Biscuit, in which we get...
There's a man with a mullet going mad with a mallet in Millets...
4. 10CC - Dreadlock Holiday

The story behind Dreadlock Holiday casts this oddball 70s Number One in an interesting light. The song's based on the experiences of 10CC's Eric Stewart and The Moody Blues' Justin Hayward when on holiday in Barbados (although the lyrics change that to Jamaica). In an attempt to talk themselves out of a) getting robbed and b) a dodgy drugs transaction, they explain to the locals harrassing them how much they like cricket and reggae. They don't just like it: they love it!

The 1970s, ladies and gentlemen: different times.

3. Happy Mondays - Kinky Afro
Son, I'm 30
I only went with your mother 'cause she's dirty
...was a serious contender for My Top Ten Opening Lines Vol. 1. 

Maybe when I get round to Volume 2...

See also  James - Afro Lover and Luke Haines - White Honky Afro.

2. Camper Van Beethoven - Take The Skinheads Bowling

CVB's David Lowery claims he has no idea why this song was a hit, and that the lyrics are utter nonsense with no hidden meaning. Which is pretty frustrating, because I was certain I knew what it was all about. Drat. Still, it's from an album called Telephone Free Landslide Victory, which should have tipped me off. 

TTSB was famously featured in Michael Moore's movie Bowling For Columbine and has also been well-covered by the likes of the Manics and Teenage Fanclub.

1. Morrissey - Suedehead

Why do you come here?
And why do you hang around?

Morrissey's debut solo single, and still one of his best. Much was made at the time that it charted higher than any Smiths single, and while Morrissey solo won't ever match his former band, it's interesting to note that he's had far more success as a solo artist, and a career that's lasted almost five times as long.

The video is gloriously dated though, beginning with Moz reclining in a bubble bath in his swanky Chelsea apartment (complete with There Is A Light... bathmat and the complete works of Byron) before a local urchin arrives to invite him to Fairmont, Indiana to visit the place where James Dean died. Once there, Moz stalks the snowy streets dressed like Chris Lowe from the Pet Shop Boys, graffitis his name in the local school, drives a tractor (see above) and plays the bongo for a herd of cows before camping out for the night on Dean's gravestone. If you've never seen it before, look up "hilarious bollocks" in the dictionary. All of which has nothing to do with the song OR the suedehead subculture, but it's still a winner.

Which will you be asking your salon for...?

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