Sunday 29 May 2016

My Top Ten Bickering Couple Songs (Volume 1)

Let's celebrate the bank holiday weekend with a good argument, as so many couples do.

Here are ten of the best arguing couples on record... although I had plenty more to choose from, so don't be surprised to hear a Volume 2 one day soon...

10. Ute Lemper & Neil Hannon - Split

Way, way back in the year 2000... before many of today's 16 year olds were even born... German musical actress Ute Lemper teamed up with the likes of Scott Walker, Nick Cave, Elvis Costello and the Divine Mr. Hannon for a "pop" album. This was one of the acrimonious highlights...

I was there for you.
You were there for me...
And him,
And half of the western world it seems...


No, baby, that's not fair,
There were two or three...
...At most
But I don't like to boast.


Oh you make me sick.
9. Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty - You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly

I first heard this duet as recorded by one of my favourite bands of the noughties: The Indelicates. In fact, I'd be featuring their version here if it was on youtube: they really do make it their own. Hunt it down if you can.

In its youtube absence though, the original recording by Loretta and Conway is pretty damned cool too. Because looks ain't everything and money ain't everything...

8. Dexys - I'm Always Going To Love You / Incapable Of Love

Dexys' (minus the Midnight Runners of their youth) 2012 album One Day I'm Going To Soar is one of the greatest comeback records in the history of pop... and these two songs are undoubtedly the highlight. It all begins with a passionate fling between Kevin Rowland and new recruit Madeleine Hyland which goes awry when Kev admits he doesn't know how to love her. (Men!) After a bitter row, she chucks him out... which leads directly into the explanations and recriminations of the following track. Too-ray-aye this ain't...

7.John Prine and Iris DeMent - In Spite of Ourselves

John and Iris take turns listing their faults... but in spite of all that, they're still very much in love. Which is always nice to hear.

She don't like her eggs all runny
She thinks crossin' her legs is funny
She looks down her nose at money
She gets it on like the Easter Bunny
She's my baby, I'm her honey
I'm never gonna let her go


He ain't got laid in a month of Sundays
I caught him once and he was sniffin' my undies
He ain't too sharp but he gets things done
Drinks his beer like it's oxygen
He's my baby
And I'm his honey
Never gonna let him go
6. Space & Cerys Matthews - The Ballad of Tom Jones

Space are unfairly remembered as another bunch of Britpop also-rans, but listen to this again and it's a thing of unique beauty that sets them on an entirely different platform from the likes of Cast, Menswear and those two idiot brothers. It's weird, yes, but never too self-consciously quirky. The lyrical detail saves it, along with the genius move of employing Cerys for guest vocals: who else could have sung, "I have never thrown my knickers at you!" with such conviction (not to mention perfectly setting up Tommy Scott's comeback, "And I don't come from Wales")?

Best thing about it? This was actually their biggest chart hit... although we probably remember them more for Me & You Vs. The World or Female of the Species. Seriously, give this one another listen and remember: this song was on radio station A-lists all across the country. That's something which would never happen today...

5. The Beautiful South - A Little Time

Paul Heaton has probably written more bickering couple songs than anyone else I can think of (see also You Keep It All In, Your Father & I, Even A Palm Tree, etc. etc.).

The beauty of A Little Time though is that on first hearing it sounds more like a traditional love duet. Heaton wisely chose not to sing this one himself, instead giving the male part to the much less sarky-sounding Dave Hemingway, while original Beautiful South femme fatale Brianna Corrigan could well be singing the Diana Ross part of Endless Love. Until you listen to the lyrics. Or watch the video...

The bitch! She killed his teddy!

4. Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle - Picking Up After You

Tom and Crystal love to have a good whinge about the state the other one leaves the house in... makes you think they deserve each other. Things do get a little personal at times though. Highlight for me is when Tom asks Crystal...
Tell me - how long have you been combing your hair with a wrench?
3. Lush & Jarvis Cocker - Ciao!

Another forgotten classic from the Britpop era in which Lush's Miki Berenyi trades barbs with Jarvis, celebrating the demise of their "relationship". Methinks they doth protest too much...

'Cause I've met this girl and she's so good to me
She's really beautiful, fantastic company
 Oh, when I'm with her I realise what love can be
'Cause she's fifty times the person you will ever be  


Good luck, mister, do you think I care?
Since you've been gone the offers have been everywhere
 I've got a million guys just lining up for me
I've turned a corner, boy, my life is ecstasy...
2. Dean Friedman & Denise Marsa - Lucky Stars

Marsa was uncredited on Friedman's biggest hit, yet she plays an essential part. It's Dean's lyrics that make this most like a real couple's argument though. The song's filled with non-sequiturs, rhetorical questions, clumsy inference, misunderstanding, sarcasm and the two of them finishing each other's sentences. You may consider it cheesy 70s MOR (sax break and all), but it's much deeper and smarter than that.

Plus, unlike a lot of the arguments on this list, this one has a happy ending...

1. Otis Redding & Carla Thomas - Tramp

Nobody bickers like Otis & Carla... there's not a wasted line in this classic. Best bicker? Without question...
Carla: Look here. You ain't got no money.

Otis: I got everything.

Carla: You can't buy me all those minks and sables and all that stuff I want.

Otis: I can buy you minks, rats, frogs, squirrels, rabbits, ...anything you want, Woman.
Tramp wasn't written as a duet. The original version by Lowell Fulsom is just one guy bragging about what a lover-lover man he is. The beat's been sampled by everybody from Joe Tex to Ice Cube to Prince (on 7). The song's been covered by everyone from Salt 'n' Pepa to ZZ Top to the Steve Miller Band. But no other version comes close to Carla and Otis...

What are the chances of you agreeing with any of those? Bloody zero! You'll just disagree to be awkward. I know you.

Next week: Divorce Songs.

You asked for it!

Friday 20 May 2016

My Top Ten 'We're All Going To Hell' Songs

Bowie. Prince. Frey. Haggard. Rickman. Lemmy. Wogan. Shandling. Paul. Martin. Corbett. etc. etc. etc.

All gone.

Trump. Boris. Cowell. Kanye. Cameron. McIntyre. 

Still alive and prospering.

Let's face it, these are the end times. But let's not be down. Let's celebrate instead with ten singers who know exactly where we're all going... and still plan on having a half decent time when they get there.

10. The Pretty Reckless - Going To Hell

We'll start off this week with a blast of contemporary American hard rock from former Gossip Girl star Taylor Momsen and her band. It's wrong in so many ways, and for admitting to liking it... well, you know where I'm going.

9. The Long Blondes - I'm Going To Hell

I'm starting to think The Long Blondes were one of the last great British indie bands. Post Britpop, they never really made it as big as they should have, and their career was cut short when guitarist and songwriter Dorian Cox suffered a stroke in 2008. They're still missed. (Although lead singer Kate Jackson releases her debut solo album very soon.)

8. Kathleen Edwards - Going To Hell

I never grow tired of listening to Kathleen Edwards, one of Canada's finest musical exports... even though she appears to have put her glorious voice on ice for a while to concentrate on running a coffee shop. That's a sign of the times, right there...

7. Chris Rea - The Road To Hell Pts. 1 & 2

Ah, the 80s: so much to answer for. Chris Rea's biggest hit became synonymous with a particular type of uncool dadrock that Alan Partridge would have turned up to 9 1/2 in his Kia Optima and wound the windows down while cruising up the M6. But leave all that aside and this is still a wonderfully atmospheric slice of blues-rock aided greatly by Rea's gravelly growl, particularly if you listen to the full 7 minute version. 

6. My Chemical Romance - Mama

I do like Gerard Way. He's a proper pop star. He's nicked bits from Bowie, Freddie, Alice Cooper: he understands the theatrical nature of rock 'n' roll... this one even steals its rhythm from Susanna by The Art Company. He knows his stuff. Pity his solo record was a weak stab at Britpop (!) and he seems to be focussing his attention these days more on writing comics than dressing in silly black clothes and pogoing into the crowd. 

5. Robert Johnson - Me & The Devil Blues

If anyone was going to end up in Hell, Robert Johnson was a good bet... considering that deal he made at the crossroads to get him where he got (arguably creating popular music while he was there).

On this track, the devil comes calling for Robert. It was only a matter of time...

Because he was such an influential artist, I felt it important to own every single Robert Johnson recording. It's not hard to do - they fit comfortably on a double CD, including the alternative versions.

Me & The Devil Blues has been recorded by everyone from The Doors to Cowboy Junkies to Gil Scott Heron (and Clapton, obviously). But none of them ever tried to beat Bob...

4. Tom Waits - Everything Goes to Hell

As usual, Tom hits the nail on the head. What is he building in there?
Why be sweet, why be careful, why be kind?
A man has only one thing on his mind
Why ask politely, why go lightly, why say please?
They only want to get you on your knees
There's a few things that I never could believe

A woman when she weeps
A merchant when he swears
A thief who says he'll pay
A lawyer when he cares
A snake when he is sleeping
A drunkard when he prays
I don't believe you go to heaven when you're good
And everything goes to hell, anyway
3. Chris Isaak - Down In Flames

I was a big fan of Chris Isaak back in the early 90s, but he'd slipped off my radar somewhat until I heard him on Bob Harris a few weeks ago. This song in particular sold me on his latest album (2015's First Comes The Night), which turned out to be a terrific set of classic (original) rock 'n' roll songs. As on his most famous songs from back in the day (Wicked Game, Blue Hotel, San Francisco Days), he still owes a great debt to the Big O, but there's a wicked sense of humour at play amid the heartbreak: and Down In Flames is a song Elvis would have given his star spangled jumpsuit for in his latter days. (Well, except for that one line at the end of the second verse...)
James Dean bought it on the highway
Marilyn found it in a pill
Elvis died – or did he? – they're looking for him still

Some go soft and quiet
Some go out with a bang
Well it's way too late for the pearly gates I'm going down in flames

Down in flames
Down in flames
When the good times end and they count my sins
I'm going down in flames
Isaak claims to be a very bad boy in this song, but he seemed like a genuinely decent bloke when I heard him interviewed. Very funny and down-to-earth with a real passion for playing music live, even if he's no longer blessed with hits. But he'll be 60 this year and he doesn't look a day over 35... so maybe he did do a deal sometime in the early 90s that sealed his fate.

2. Morrissey - There's A Place In Hell For Me And My Friends

There are two distinct versions of this classic Morrissey tune. There's a typically jangly guitar-led live version which originally appeared on the Live at KROQ release and as the b-side to My Love Life. And then there's the mournful, piano-based torch original which closes the unfairly maligned Kill Uncle album, and still remains one of the most beautiful things Moz has ever recorded. Bizarrely, on Kill Uncle's 2013 re-issue ("repackage, repackage"), the latter was replaced with the former, which diminshed the whole album's impact greatly. Whoever was responsible for that switch... well, there's a warm place for you down below...

1. AC/DC - Highway To Hell

When songwriters die, we suddenly hear their lyrics in an entirely different way. That's been proved time and time again this year, from Bowie to Prince, Lemmy to Glenn Frey. But rarely was it more true than back in 1980 when Bon Scott drank himself to death in a Renault 5. Highway To Hell was Scott's last album, and many see the lyrics - particular those of the title track - as a great one-fingered salute to all those who were telling him to slow down.
Goin' down
Party time
My friends are gonna be there too
It's strange - but gratifying - the way AC/DC have become accepted by the masses over the last few years. You'll regularly hear tracks like Highway To Hell and Back In Black played on Radio 2 - a station that wouldn't have touched them 30 years ago. Bon Scott may be long gone... but he'll never be forgotten. I hope he's having a good time down there. 

Which one will you be listening to when you reach your final destination?

Friday 13 May 2016

My Top Ten Twilight Zone Songs

"There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone."

And when you get there, these ten songs may well be playing from a broken radio...

10. The Fall - Time Enough, At Last

The only song on this list actually inspired by a specific episode of The Twilight Zone: and it's one of my favourite episodes too. You know, the one where bibliophile Burgess Meredith wishes people would leave him alone so he could have more time to read his books. Emerging from a basement library one lunchtime, he discovers the bomb has dropped and he's the only survivor. Everyone else is gone... and now there's no one to interrupt his reading! Joy! Then he stumbles and drops his reading glasses and they shatter...

...just as Mark E. Smith shows up. 

9. Charlie Daniels Band - The Devil Went Down to Georgia

Some will tell you Charlie's The Legend of Wooley Swamp is better Twilight Zone material, but it's a bog standard tale of revenge from beyond the grave, if you ask me (though still very entertaining). The Devil Went Down To Georgia, on the other hand, is not only the real deal - it was Daniels' biggest hit. The song owes a lot to the legend of Robert Johnson - although it's a fiddle rather than a guitar that Johnny's risking his soul for in this version. The great thing about it is that the Twilight Zone twist is apparent from the first line - people often think of the Twilight Zone as a show where the stories turned weird at the end, whereas very often they started with a twist... and then the ending was anybody's guess.
And he played fire on the mountain, run boys, run.
The devil's in the house of the risin' sun.
Chicken in the bread pan, now they're pickin' out dough.
"Granny, will your dog bite?"
"No, child, no."
Everyone knows this song, of course. But have you heard the sequel, The Devil Comes Back To Georgia? It almost doesn't work... but Daniels pulls it off by casting Johnny Cash as the narrator. That move definitely beats the devil.

8. Nina Simone - Pirate Jenny

Nina relocated Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill's bloodthirsty tale of Jenny the Pirate Girl from Germany to South Carolina and turned it into a violent Tarantino-esque revenge fantasy about a young slave girl who's mad as hell and just won't take it any more. Then a ghostly pirate ship arrives in the harbour and things get really dark. The final verse, with Jenny riding away on that ship, is more chilling than anything you'll have seen on Tales of the Unexpected.

If you only know Nina when she's Feelin' Good... take a listen to when she's feelin' bad.

7. Stan Ridgway - Camouflage

In the lonely jungles of Viet Nam, a young Private First Class on a search patrol gets separated from his platoon and soon finds himself surrounded by Charlie. Luckily there's a big marine called Camouflage on hand to save him... with superhuman powers to boot. With Camouflage's help, the soldier finds his way back to base where he discovers, "things are never quite the way they seem".

Semper fi'!

6. Frank Turner - Silent Key

The weirdest song Frank Turner has ever written spins an eerie anecdote about the death of Challenger astronaut Christa McAuliffe. As the O rings fail and Christa "dies", she sees another world...
For the next agonising two minutes and forty-five long seconds
She called out the truth on a broken radio:
"I'm alive, I'm alive, I'm alive".
Tragically, the only one to hear Christa's last broadcast is a four year-old radio-ham operator 4000 nautical miles away. In the loft of his Hampshire family home, this young boy hears her final words...
"The darkness up above
Led me on like unrequited love,
While all the things I need
Were down here in the deep blue sea."
And that boy's name? Frank Turner, of course...

(Only a live version available on youtube, but it's worth tracking down the original - from last year's superb Positive Songs For Negative People - to hear Christa's words sung by the divine Esme Patterson.)

5. The Eagles - Hotel California

The most famous Eagles song has inspired endless debate about just what's going on in its lyrics - it's up there with American Pie for inspiring the conspiracy theory crackpots. But it's spooky as hell and certainly involves a journey to another dimension, replete with a freaky cast of Twin Peaks characters - from the girl with the Tiffany-twisted mind to the strange guests in the Master's Chambers, gathered for a terrible feast.

Stay at the Hotel California ("Such a lovely place!") and you're guaranteed to be woken in the middle of the night by ghostly voices; room service will never deliver your wine ("We haven't had that spirit here since 1969..."); and the dancers just want to forget...

Most of all, in classic Twilight Zone tradition...
You can check out any time you like...
But you can never leave.
Of course, it could all just be one big metaphor... but them, so could much of Rod Serling's best work.

4. The Divine Comedy - Something For The Weekend

Neil Hannon's cheeky pop hit of the late 90s sounds like a typically jaunty bit of Noel Coward-esque whimsy, particularly when it begins with a giggling girl and Hannon's best Leslie Phillips impression. But wait a minute... what's that breathing in the woodshed? Is it a monster? The girl's seen it. Dare Neil go take a look...?

OK, the twist is a little bit more down to earth than many of the songs here, but it's certainly a cautionary tale about the monster lurking inside pretty girls everywhere...

3. Harry Chapin - Corey's Coming

Many Harry Chapin songs have a twist in the tale - or a sting in the tail. But none are quite as spooky as this tale of John Joseph, an old homeless man waiting for his long lost love to return. He tells the story of Corey to a young man who isn't quite sure whether to believe him... especially when the local townsfolk tell him John Joseph has always lived alone. When the old man dies, the narrator is the only one present at his funeral... until he looks up from the grave to behold a surprising figure. At which point he learns... "Reality is just a word."

And like I told you, when she holds you
She enfolds you in her world.

I used to have a boss called John Josephs. I try to not let this song remind me of him.

2. Godley & Creme - Under Your Thumb

Lol Creme finds himself at a deserted railway station in a terrible thunder storm and takes shelter in an old broken-down train carriage. But he's not alone on that train, there's a ghost on board too. The ghost of a woman who takes to screaming out the train window, "Don't wanna be under your thumb forever...!"

At which point, sod the rain, most sane people would have got off and got wet. Lol, however, decides to stick around, light a cigarette, and pick up an old newspaper. What he reads there will chill you to the bone...

1. Helen Reddy - Angie Baby

If you heard it on the radio and weren't paying much attention, you'd think Angie Baby was just another innocuous, country-tinged ballad from the 70s. Until you actually listen to the lyrics and pay attention to the story... At which point, you are so deep in the Twilight Zone, you start to ask yourself if Rod Serling himself penned this tune.

Angie's a lonely girl who rarely leaves her bedroom and her only escape is through the songs she hears on her tinny old radio. She's never had a boyfriend and probably never will. But that doesn't stop one of the neighbourhood lads eyeing her up, with wicked intent. What happens when he knocks on her door? Something seriously trippy...

The Uncle Devil Show (Justin Currie along with Kevin and Jim McDermott) did a pretty cool cover of this twisted classic back in 2004.

There are lots of songs with twists at the end - from Lola to A Boy Named Sue to The Velvet Underground's twisted masterpiece The Gift - but none of those belong in the Twilight Zone. However, if you can think of any more that unlock the door to another dimension... I'd love to hear them.

Friday 6 May 2016

My Top Ten Hot Pants Songs

So, while I was putting together My Top Ten Pants Songs last week, I came across quite a few songs about hot pants. The question was...

Would it be possible to find ten songs featuring hot pants... without too much misogynist bullshit?

And the answer is...

10. Princess Superstar - Trouble

If you're looking for sexy...
Fatal Attraction, boil a bunny while I breakdance
Fart in my hotpants in a crowded theatre at Sundance (must have been the hot ranch)'s Princess Superstar to kill the mood. I like my rappers with a wicked sense of humour, and PS flips more puns than Eminem. This is the same song where she confesses:
Ahh, enough of this, I killed Snuffalufagus
With pills and made a snuff film to prove to Big Bird he exists (See he is real!) 
Which is top quality rhyming, whichever way you cut it. 

9. Van Morrison - Moonshine Whiskey

Far be it from me to get on the wrong side of the notoriously grouchy Van The Man, but...
Come with me tonight
Gonna put on my hot pants
And promenade down funky broadway till the cows come home
Thanks. I think I'll pass on that, Van.

8. James Brown - Hot Pants (Part 1)

Saying this sounds like every other James Brown jam is kinda missing the point. I think for a large part of his career (and with a few obvious exceptions such as It's A Man's Man's Man's World), James Brown pretty much released the same record. When I saw him live about 20 years ago, the whole show felt like one long song (and The Godfather didn't even come on stage for the first half hour!). Still, it's funky in all the right places: that's what counts.

7. The Wedding Present - Hot Pants

Two minutes of titantic surf rock from the Weddoes: close your eyes and it could be Dick Dale.

6. The Dramatics - Hot Pants In The Summertime

Ah, the 70s. When such nonsense was acceptable...

Different times.

Back in 1964 when they formed, The Dramatics were originally called The Dynamics. There was a printing error on their third record though and I guess it was cheaper to change the name of the band than get all those labels reprinted...

5. Jarvis Cocker - Don't Let Him Waste Your Time

And the main lesson to be had here: even if you want his advice on hotpants, don't accept a ride in Jarvis Cocker's cab.

4. Prince - Peach
Uh-oh... here she comes with those gold hot pants on again... 
Sexist guff of the highest order, of course. And yet, because it was Prince, somehow he got  away with it...

The thing is, while even Prince was pushing it here, it's far less offensive than the majority of modern day r 'n' b which seems to have set objectification to eleven to the point that everyone takes it for granted. I joke about the 70s, but the way women are portrayed (or even choose to portray themselves) in mainstream pop these days is far worse than it was in the 70s... because we should know better by now.

So says an old stick in the mud who's been teaching media studies as a sideline for the last couple of years and can't get his head round what the kids take for granted these days. 

3. The B52s - Hot Pants Explosion

A rarity in pop music: a song that objectifies both women and men in equal measure. Gotta give Fred and Kate credit for that...
(Fred:) I'm in shippin', if you're receivin'
'Cause what I see I ain't believin'
The longest legs in the shortest pants
You got me doin' a matin' dance

(Kate:) Sap's up spring's on the rise
I'm bustin' out my tube top tonight
Workin' the night shift, I get off at three
Breakin' out of that factory
Thunder thighs-hangin' out!
Moon beams, dancin' about

(Both:) If you would be so kind
Put on those red hot pants and take a stroll through my mind 
2. The Donnas - Hot Pants

Don't wear hotpants around the Donnas, and certainly don't try it on with their blokes... just a friendly warning.
Hey little girl, you're tryin to get with my guy
I've got two words: hands off, or baby I'll make you cry
I don't pull hair and I don't fight dirty
But piss me off at 9 and you're lunchmeat by 9:30
1. Loretta Lynn - The Pill

If you want to find the toughest, sassiest, "girl power" recording artists of the last 50 years, country music would be a great place to start looking. Dolly, Tammy, Loretta... these ladies took no shit and told it like it was. The Pill is a 1975 hit by the Coal Miner's Daughter, although it was recorded three years earlier: the record company were just too chicken to put it out. Even when they did, half the country stations in America refused to play it.

The Pill tells of a wife who's sick of being pregnant over and over again (Loretta herself had 6 kids; three before she was 19!) so is proud to switch to birth control when it becomes widley available so she can enjoy a little of the freedom her husband's been relishing. If you thought this post was destined to end up sexist... here's to Loretta's hotpants!
All these years I've stayed at home while you had all your fun
And every years that's gone by, another baby's come
There's gonna be some changes made right here on nursery hill
You've set this chicken your last time cause now I've got the pill
This old maternity dress I've got is going in the garbage
The clothes I'm wearing from now on won't take up so much yardage
Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills
Yeah, I'm making up for all those years since I've got the pill

Final word goes to the B52s this time...
Who says hot pants are dead and gone?
Wait'll they see what you've got on
Yeah, I never saw nothin' so doggone hot
You belong in Ripley's Believe It Or Not! 
Which one gets you screaming, "Supercalihalitosis, oooh that outfit's the absolute mostest!"

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