Friday 26 August 2016

My Top Ten Songs About 1969

Following on from My Top Tens Songs About 1972, we slip back three years before I was born to the days when man first walked on the moon and The Beatles were still a thing (but not for much longer). The year PJ Harvey, Cate Blanchett, Edward Norton, Dave Grohl, Javier Bardem, Graham Coxon, Matthew McConaughey, Nicky Wire & James Dean Bradfield, Ice Cube, Christian Slater, Elliott Smith, Justine Frischmann, Jack Black, Cerys Matthews, Michael Sheen, Keith Flint, J-Lo, Jay-Z and Badly Drawn Boy were born.

The year of Woodstock, Nixon and (according to the book cover above), nudity. Yep, no one had ever taken their clothes off until 1969. Reason enough to celebrate with nine songs that mention that year... and one complete shoe-horn.

10. The Vines - 1969

The closing track from that electric first Vines album - 14 years ago, when it was 1969 in their heads.

9. Babes In Toyland - Sweet '69

Joyous racket from the third Babes In Toyland album, made all the more exciting by the inclusion of a cowbell in the percussion section. 

Love the video.

8. Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg - 69 Année érotique

From the album that brought us Je t'aime... moi non plus. More kitschy sleaze from the master.

Bad Seed Mick Harvey translated this (along with many more Gainsbourg compositions) into English on his 90s albums Intoxicated Man and Pink Elephant. They're nice enough versions, but the lyrics only work in French.

7. Sonic Youth & Lydia Lunch - Death Valley '69

Seriously scary (don't even watch the video) which closed the second Sonic Youth album: sounds like Jim Morrison's worst nightmare set to wax. Amid all that horror, Kim Gordon's bass stands proud.

6. The Highwaymen - Songs That Made A Difference

Johnny Cash recalls the good old days - y'know, when pop songs were actually about stuff. Willie, Waylon and Kris help jog his memory.
Hey babe, do you remember,
Back in nineteen sixty-nine?
We gathered round the room.
You sang yours and I sang mine.
We took turns with the guitar,
In the front and center seat.
Shel and Kris and Dylan,
And a couple off the street.
Joni Mitchell cried on, "Both Sides Now."
We sang songs that made a difference.
And we can again somehow.
5. REM - Star 69

OK, so I know this one isn't about 1969 at all, just the 'last number called' feature on American phones, but I couldn't resist shoehorning it in because it features some of Stipey's most bonkers lyrical ramblings about a mate who burns down a warehouse then calls Michael for an alibi.
I know all about the warehouse fire
I know squirrels didn't chew the wires
3 people have my number
The other 2 were with me
I don't like to tell-tell but I'm not your patsy
This time you have gone too far with me
4. Morrissey - Little Man, What Now?

The shortest - and oddest - song from Viva Hate. With nods to both Judy Garland and German novelist Hans Fallada, Moz affectionately recalls a TV star of the late 60s who has slipped into obscurity. Various theories abound on who the Little Man in question was... Alan Bennett seems to think it was Jimmy Clitheroe.

3. Nanci Griffith - Drive-In Movies and Dashboard Lights

I picked up a copy of Nanci's 1988 album Storms in a charity shop a few weeks back and it's a beautiful record. She looks really young on the cover, so I was surprised to read that it was her 8th album and she already had over ten years in the business when it was released. Apparently it was seen at the time as her "pop" album... "pop" meant something very different back then.

Drive-In Movies & Dashboard Lights is my favourite track - the tale of a small-town girl who gets by on looks alone... and learns a hard lesson a few years later...
Where is she now?
The backseat queen of fraternity
Where is she now?
She's heavy on thigh
And light on integrity
Someone should have told her
When beauty's all you offer
How soon the world discovers
That your beauty's gone
It's gone
Unlike our Number One artist this week (who only pretended to be), Nanci actually was 16 in 1969. Which might explain why she sets a number of her songs in that year, including So Long Ago and her Viet Nam elegy Traveling Through This Part Of You.

2. Iggy & The Stooges - 1969

The first Punk album? Discuss.

The opening track on Iggy's debut racket doesn't sound like anything else released in 1969... maybe that's why he was so bored?

1. Bryan Adams - Summer of '69

I sometimes think I should have called this blog 'Irk The Purists' ('Irk The Musos' might be more on-point, but that wouldn't reference Half Man Half Biscuit). Bryan Adams at Number One? Bryan Adams ahead of Iggy Pop? Are you saying Bryan Adams is more rock 'n' roll than Iggy, Rol? Are you? Are you? 'Cos them's fighting words.

Clearly, I'm not saying anything of the sort, but this song - his finest hour, by far - will always take some beating. (Plus, his mum's from Huddersfield like me.)

Just listen to those opening chords and tell me your heart doesn't beat a little faster. And when he buys that first guitar at the five 'n' dime, tell me you're not instantly transported back to the (nostalgia-tinged) summers of your youth. Iffypedia Mathematicians will quickly be able to establish that Bryan was only 10 years old in '69 though: perhaps a little too young for a job at the drive in and some of the other stuff he gets up to in this song. Turns out - shock horror! - the title isn't actually a reference to the year at all... it's something to do with sex-type-stuff. (You see, that's what Iggy was missing*!)

Somehow, I have managed to live the last 32 years without ever seeing the video to this song. It's cheesy as a Quattro Formaggi, but it still brought a grin to my face.

Apparently One Direction covered this. No, I'm not going to listen to that. I have SOME standards!

Which one makes you remember the best days of your life?

(*Yes, I seriously doubt that too.)

Thursday 18 August 2016

My Top Ten Traffic Jam Songs

Fortunately, this blog never gets enough traffic to cause congestion, so this is dedicated to all those bloggers who live life in the fast lane... and then have to pay to avoid blockages.

Special mentions, of course to Traffic and The Jam (although, we'll hear from one of those in just a moment).

10. Vega4 - Traffic Jam

Late single from the early noughties indie band, very much follows the Snow Patrol template, but pleasant enough, I suppose.

9. The Jam - London Traffic

Can't blame the so-literal-they-hurt lyrics of this one on Weller as it's a rare Bruce Foxton composition. Not sure how well thought out his solution to London traffic jams is though...
Take a look at our cityTake the traffic elsewhereLeave the city free from trafficGive the place a chance to surviveDirt and filth cover LondonGive it a chance to breathe again
Thirty odd years later, Weller would eventually tackle the subject himself in Fast Car, Slow Traffic.

Question: were The Jam named after a traffic jam... or strawberry, raspberry and boysenberry?

8. Paul Buchanan - Cars In The Garden

Yearning melancholia from the Blue Nile frontman... or an old geezer whinging into his piano about all these new-fangled motor cars clogging up the roads? I remember when this was all fields, etc. You decide.

7. Peaches & Herb - Four's A Traffic Jam

70s soul is always at its best when there's a long talky intro (this one even begins: "You know, baby...") and this one scores double points because both Peaches AND Herb get to have a mumble at the beginning.

While there was one ever one Herb Fame (real name... well, not really, but don't just wish it was?), seven different women filled the Peaches vacancy between 1966 and the present day. This is from their must successful album, 1978's 2 Hot (the one with Reunited on), when the third Peaches, Linda Greene, was doing her thang. Sadly, at no point in his career did Herb Fame ever consider hooking up with this particular Peaches...

...because, let's face it, that would have been monuMENTAL.

All that aside, I love this track. The lyrics feature a couple talking themselves out of an extra-marital affair because of how it'd hurt their respective spouses and kids.
Our story ends without kissing
Fair thee well
And a promise not to tell

Three's A Crowd, Four's A Traffic Jam
6. Warren Zevon - Gridlock

Leave it to Warren to hit the nail on the head always...
It's 5:00 PM on a weekday, friend
I'm going home, but I don't know when
I hate this traffic, and I hate this town
Gotta honk my horn, try to get around
I feel like going on a killing spree
Tomorrow I'm going on the R.T.D.
The traffic crawls, and the engine stalls
I'm stuck on the edge of the urban sprawl
5. Jane Wiedlin - Rush Hour

The Go-Go everyone remembers after Belinda Carlisle, Jane Wiedlin also released 4 solo albums, although this was her only hit single. Still it must be one of the biggest radio hits of the 80s, so I suspect she made a pretty penny from it.

Anyway, Jane likes traffic jams because it gives her an excuse to smooch her man. She obviously didn't like them enough to feature them in the video though. You can see how that meeting went...
"So, Jane, for the video, I thought we'd get a road full of cars..." 
"I wanna swim with dolphins." 
"Yeah, but it's about the rush hour. So I thought maybe we start with you behind the wheel of a nice, sexy Mercedes (I'm sure we can do a product placement deal)..." 
"Maybe you could stand on the hood of a Porsche playing your guitar...?" 
"Betty, can you get me some dolphins, please? Don't ask."
4. Catatonia - Road Rage

Not, strictly speaking, about traffic jams as such, but included here for three very good reasons:
i) Traffic jams always give me road rage. 
ii) Any excuse to hear Cerys's heartbroken Welsh growl again. 
iii) It's a far better song than any of the alternatives I had which were more on target.
(By the way, I did reject some other fine songs which mentioned Traffic - Lloyd Cole and Ned's Atomic Dustbin come to mind - because they didn't mention jams at all.)

3. Slaves - Do Something

Incredibly, even though Slaves have only released one album to date, I had two songs to choose from for this Top Ten. The more obvious title would have been Despair & Traffic, but Do Something works better for me, from its apt chorus of  'If you're not moving: do something!" to the Fight Club-esque mantra (appropriately stolen from an advertising campaign, like most 21st Century wisdom): You are not stuck in traffic: You ARE traffic!" The band even close with a little safe driving advice, "cheers!"

Every time I think I'm getting too old for punky rackets and I'd be better off listening to nothing louder than my old Billy Joel records, a band like Slaves come along and blow the cobwebs away...

2. Jimi Hendrix - Crosstown Traffic

All hail James Marshall Hendrix and his tissue-paper & comb kazoo. Hendrix is often remembered only as a serious artist and guitar god, but there's a lot of humour to his lyrics too, and Crosstown Traffic is a great example. If you're going to use traffic jams as a troubled relationship metaphor, this is the way to do it...
I'm not the only soul who's accused of hit and runTyre tracks all across your backI can see you had your funBut darlin' can't you see my signals turn from green to red?And with you I can see a traffic jam straight up ahead

1. James Taylor - Traffic Jam

From James Taylor's most successful album, 1977's JT, this fun, jazzy little number is a great antidote to traffic jam blues.

Which one gives you road rage?

Thursday 11 August 2016

My Top Ten Rio Songs

The Rio Olympics reminded me that this blog is now four years old. The London Olympics were going on when I started My Top Ten (having carried the idea over from my previous blog, Sunset Over Slawit) and I celebrated with a number of Olympics-themed Top Tens. Back then, I'd convinced myself I could do a Top Ten with very little commentary, so if you happen to click back to My Top Ten Olympics Songs, you'll find that for some of the entries I didn't even say a word. Obviously that didn't last very long...

In last week's comments, The Swede said that "In terms of sheer musical quality, <My Top Ten Songs About Record Company Bosses> has to be up there with the very best of your top tens." I doubt he (or anyone else, for that matter) will have the same praise for this week's list... but you've got to take the rough with the smooth.

Still, ten songs about Rio de Janeiro... it's got to be do-able, right?

10. Duran Duran - Rio

OK, let's start with the obvious one again.

Is it possible to separate song from visuals? In the 80s, the answer to that one became a lot tougher. Russell Mulcahy's video to Rio is seen as the worst example of 80s excess with Simon le Bon and co. poncing about on that yacht in their Anthony Price suits. Yes, just watching the first 30 seconds on youtube makes me want to punch them all.

And yet... the song itself isn't that bad. Is it? It's got a terrific intro (the sound of Nick Rhodes chucking a bunch of small metal rods onto the strings of a grand piano, apparently) and a soaring chorus (based on the hook from the TV Eye song Stevie's Radio Station: a band fronted at the time by Andy Wickett, an early Duran Duran member who gave Simon le Bon singing lessons and eventually signed away his songwriting royalties for £600 when he quit in '79). I do own this album because google play were giving it away for 50p or something a while ago, and I certainly wouldn't turn Rio off if it came on the radio.

If it came on the TV though...

9. The Police - Regatta de Blanc

Contemporaries of Simon le Bon, yet The Police are still regarded as cool in many circles, despite Sting's later crimes against good taste.

Iffypedia calls the title track to their second album "an instrumental", however lists the "lyrics" as follows...

Rio Rio Rioo
Rio Rio Rioo
Rio Riay Riayo
Rio Riay Riayo
Rio Riay Riayo
Rio Riay Riayo
Rio Riay Riayo Riayo,
Riayo, Riayo, Riay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay

He used to be an English teacher, you know. Just like me.

8. Quantum Jump - Over Rio

I saw an article recently claiming 10cc were "the British Steely Dan", an assertion which, I reckon, shows a fundamental misunderstanding of both groups. On the other hand, Rupert Hines' Quantum Jump (the band behind late 70s hit The Lone Ranger) have the smooth, jazzy sound and witty lyrics that Fagen and Becker did so well. They're nowhere near as good as The Dan, but they... well, I dunno, something. I like this one, anyway.

7. Violent Femmes - Jesus of Rio

This week's most mental song. Which, considering some of the competition, is a pretty wild achievement. Mere words cannot do it justice.

6. Pablo Cruise - I Go To Rio

You know when you see a track in your record collection and you have no idea how it got there and you think "well, I've obviously never even listened to that"... and then you listen to it and you think... shit, how do I know this song so well?

In my defence, I listened to a lot of Radio 2 in my formative years. This version of I Go To Rio was released in 1979, three years after Peter Allen's high camp original. The Muppets did a pretty cool version too.

I'll get mi coat.

5. Scott Weiland and The Wildabouts - Hotel Rio

What the lead singer of Stone Temple Pilots did next. A promising racket: a bit more rock 'n' roll than the more grungy stuff STPs became famous for, though sadly Weiland died of an overdose shortly after this album's release.

4. Hey Marseilles - Rio

Imagine the Decemberists crossed with the Polyphonic Spree with a smidgen of Mumford. If that sounds like your worst nightmare, don't click the link.

3. Citizen Cope - Dancer From Brazil

A gorgeous slice of laidback alt-country-soul from Tennessee's Clarence Greenwood. About as far from Julian as you can get and still be cool.

2. Barry Manilow - Copacabana

OK, this is a bit of a stretch, but I couldn't resist it. Barry's Copacabana is the hottest spot north of Havana, quite a distance from Rio's glorious Copacabana beach. But close enough for a Cuban cigar in my book.

A couple of the songs on this list, I might not admit to liking in polite company. However, I feel no shame for admitting my love for Tony and Lola's tragic tale. Much is made in the media of Barry Manilow (and this song in particular) being a "guilty pleasure", but I've never felt guilty about enjoying a bit of the old Bazzer boogie. Copacabana has everything I want from a song: a great story, witty lyrics, drama, panache and a great tune. Damn that Rico!

1. Michael Nesmith - Rio

Mike Nesmith has a fascinating story too... if you can be bothered to hear it out... from getting his job in The Monkees because the producer liked his wool hat to the being the first to quit the band in 1970, owing the record company almost $50,000 because he still had three years left on his contract. Thank god his mum invented Liquid Paper... when she died a few years later, the inheritance helped him pay off his debts. Probably the most musically gifted Monkee, he did write a number of their songs, including Listen To The Band and Different Drum (a hit for Linda Ronstadt). But Rio is by far my favourite of his songs, and the title track of a 2 disc Nesmith compilation I picked up a few years back.

It's only a whimsical notion
To fly down to Rio tonight
And I probably won't fly down to Rio...
But then again, I just might

The video's pretty crazy too, showing pretty conclusively that you can take the boy out of the Monkees, but you can't take the Monkee out of the boy...

But which one makes you go, "Rio Riay Riayo Riayo, Riayo, Riayo Riay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay"?

Thursday 4 August 2016

My Top Ten Songs About Record Company Bosses

Ten songs sticking it to (and occasionally praising) The Man. 

10. The Rolling Stones - Andrew's Blues

In which Mick & Keef take (gentle) piss out of their original manager, Andrew Loog Oldham... although this was recorded back in 1964 while they were all still mates. Never officially released, and probably a little NSFW if you do your blog reading in the office.

9. John Fogerty - Vanz Kant Danz

Originally titled Zanz Kant Danz in direct reference to Fogerty's old boss at Fantasy Records, Saul Zaentz, who (back in the 80s) owned the rights to the Creedence Clearwater Revival back catalogue. When Fogerty had a hit solo single with The Old Man Down The Road, Zaentz claimed it was a rip off of Creedence's Run Through The Jungle... and effectively sued Fogerty for plagiarising himself. He lost, but this was Fogerty's response...

Vanz Kant Dance, but he'll steal your money...

Watch him, or he'll rob you blind
To be fair, it's not Fogerty's finest hour (and the Claymation pig video is awful), but it's a great story, and because it's the 80s: we forgive you.

8. George Harrison - Beware of Darkness /  John Lennon - Steel & Glass

Allen Klein goes down in history as the music company mogul who managed to piss off both the Beatles and the Stones. You can chase up the history of all that yourself, but both the above songs have been seen as former Beatles having a dig at their former manager. An early version of Beware of Darkness contained the lyric "Beware of ABKCO" and many believe Steel & Glass was Lennon putting the boot in too (although John remained closer to Klein than the other Beatles and refused to confirm the song was about him).

There you stand with your L.A. tan

And your New York walk and your New York talk

Your mother left you when you were small

But you're gonna wish you wasn't born at all
7. Aerosmith - No Surprize

A&R man Clive Davis was the guy who signed Janis Joplin, Donovan, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, Earth, Wind & Fire and Santana (among others) to CBS before founding Arista Records where he brought us Patti Smith, Barry Manilow, Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys. One of his biggest signings at CBS though was Aerosmith, and Steven Tyler thanked him personally by mentioning him in the opening track to their 1979 album Night In The Ruts. It's not the band's best album as they were pretty much imploding at the time due to money issues, drug abuse and relationship problems (guitarist Joe Perry quit the band for five years during it's recording while still owing CBS a bill of $80,000 in room service... that's a lot of bottles from the mini bar).

No Surprize is the best track on an otherwise dodgy album, and it works as a potted history of Aerosmith from the early days...

Nineteen seventy one

We all heard the starters gun

New York is such a pity

But at Max's Kansas City we won

We all shot the shit at the bar

With Johnny O'Toole and his scar

And then old Clive Davis said

I'm surely gonna make us a star
...right up to the horrific realities of being a tragically impoverished rock star in 1979.
Candy store, rock n' roll
Corporation jellyroll
Play the singles, it ain't me
It's programmed insanity! 



Could ever make a mountain fly

If Japanese can boil teas

Then where the fuck's my royalties?
Hey, Steven: doesn't everybody boil tea? What makes the Japanese so different?

6. Bob Dylan - Dear Landlord

Another unconfirmed one, but most Dylan fans believe this to be a thinly-veiled attack on his Bobness's former manager, Albert Grossman: a man who, in name and appearance (Dylan described him as being like Sydney Greenstreet in The Maltese Falcon) must be the archetypal music business boss.

Dear landlord

Please don't put a price on my soul

My burden is heavy

My dreams are beyond control

When that steamboat whistle blows

I'm gonna give you all I got to give

And I do hope you receive it well

Depending on the way you feel that you live
5. Mike Garry & Joe Duddell - St Anthony: An Ode to Anthony H Wilson

Written and released posthumously, which is probably why it's a little more respectful than most of the "tributes" on this list, but there's also much to suggest that Anthony H. Wilson was a little different from many of the other bosses mentioned here. The Factory founder is held in high regard by most of the artists he signed and lots of other folk he crossed paths with along the way... which is demonstrated by the video which features contributions from the likes of Iggy Pop, Christopher Eccleston, Bernard Sumner, Shaun Ryder and Rowetta, Mark Radcliffe, Miranda Sawyer, Terry Christian, John Cooper Clark and Steve Coogan (who played Wilson in the 2002 film 24 Hour Party People).

St. Anthony was written by Manchester poet Mike Garry and set to music (based on the tune of New Order's Your Silent Face) by composer Joe Duddell, who's previously worked with New Order, James, Elbow and others. It's a hugely affecting piece of music, a credit to all those involved. For more information (or to download the charity single or EP), click here.

4. Joni Mitchell - Free Man In Paris

Poor old David Geffen. He had such a tough time being a multi-millionaire music mogul that he could only ever feel free in Paris. Fortunately, Joni Mitchell was there to soothe his furrowed brow with this top tune from Court & Spark.
I deal in dreamers and telephone screamers
Lately I wonder what I do it for
If I had my way
I'd just walk through those doors
And wander down the Champs-Élysées
Going café to cabaret
Thinking how I'd feel when I find
That very good friend of mine

I was a free man in Paris
I felt unfettered and alive
Nobody was calling me up for favors
No one's future to decide
You know I'd go back there tomorrow
But for the work I've taken on
Stoking the star-maker machinery
Behind the popular song
Doesn't your heart just bleed for him?

By the way, I'd love to have given this one to Carly Simon for You're So Vain, but although she has claimed that song is about a composite of three men, she won't confirm that David Geffen was one of them (even though a lot of people suspect he was...along with Mick Jagger & Warren Beatty).

3. Belle & Sebastian - Seymour Stein

It's an indie top three this week, just like the good old days. Proper indie too, nothing yobby or from the watered down 21st Century!

Stuart Murdoch takes a backseat and lets Stevie Jackson sing lead vocals on this one, a story about the rest of the band flying out to LA to visit the legendary record producer while Murdoch stays home and moons over a girl. (Typical Stuart Murdoch, really: this is the same guy who called this album 'The Boy With The Arab Strap' as a reference to the grumpy Scottish band... and claims to have had no idea what they'd named their band after.)

I heard dinner went well

You liked Chris's jacket

He reminded you of Johnny

Before he went electronic
Interesting that both this and the next song reference The Smiths. That's proper indie right there!

2. The Pooh Sticks - I Know Someone Who Knows Someone Who Knows Alan McGee Quite Well

Ah, the Pooh Sticks. Self-aware indie pop not afraid to mercilessly take the piss out of the whole business, where (more than any other profession), it's not what you know: it's who you know.  And not only does this late 80s indie classic mention the notoriously grumpy Creation founder... but also this next guy too...

1. The Smiths - Frankly, Mr. Shankly

It's been so long since I featured The Smiths on this blog... you'd almost think I wasn't a fan.

As has been well established, this was Morrissey's ungracious tribute to Rough Trade boss Geoff Travis. He did apparently once write Morrissey a poem... and, well, Moz makes it quite clear here what he thought of that.

And finally, this is one to play to anyone who ever tells you the Smiths were "miserablists".
But sometimes I'd feel more fulfilled
Making Christmas cards with the mentally ill
I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of!

The Beatles, The Stones, The Smiths, Dylan and Joni Mitchell. Shit, I'm turning into MOJO. Your suggestions are welcome for songs about the managers of less well-known music industry managers. I was surprised I couldn't find any songs about Phil Spector, Joe Meek or Berry Gordy. Perhaps you know differently...

Vanz Kant Danz'

John Fogerty's animosity toward his old record-company boss Saul Zaentz lasted until the latter died in 2014. It all stemmed from Creedence Clearwater Revival's 1967 contract with Fantasy Records, which Fogerty for years wrestled to get out of. The wounds were still fresh in Fogerty's mind when he released his comeback LP, 'Centerfield,' in 1985. The album's closing track, 'Zanz Kant Danz' ("but he'll steal your money," went the chorus) pissed off Zaentz so much that he sued Fogerty for defamation. The song's title was later changed to 'Vanz Kant Danz,' but the point was made and the damage was done.

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