Friday 30 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 5: Division)

***Before I start this week's Top Ten: a plea for help.***

Last night, my blogroll disappeared from the sidebar of my site. I have no idea where it went, but all efforts to recover it have been in vain. I have tried my best to reconstruct it from memory (and via the blogroll of my old blog, Sunset Over Slawit, although many of those links are long gone now) but I'm sure there are many favourites I've forgotten. So if you know that I'm a reader of your blog and usually list it to the right... but you can't see it there now... please leave a reminder in the comments box. If you're a music blogger reading this site but I DON'T read your blog, it may be that I just don't know of its existence. Anyway, the same goes for you guys... just leave me a link and I'll add you to Rol's roll.

I calculate that this must be the last of my mathematical posts. It may well prove my last post ever after I'm laughed out of the blogosphere for one particular selection. But, hey: Irk The Musos!

Special mention to Joy Division... and Half Man Half Biscuit's superb "tribute", Joy Division Oven Gloves.

10. Kevin Ayers - 2 Goes Into 4

Psychedelic king and Soft Machine founder Ayers brings us a brief coda to his 1974 album The Confessions of Dr. Dream and Other Stories. It starts out with a simple bit of maths... and then goes quickly mental.

Surprisingly not the shortest record on this week's Top Ten though...

9. The Song Which Dare Not Speak Its Name

OK. Here we go. I make no bones about this: it is a truly awful record. But I would argue that's largely down to the production, by the three men responsible for the nadir of popular music in the late 80s. And yes, it's sung by a bloody soap opera star... although arguably one I've grown to have more respect for in his later years (I saw him in the stage version of Jeff Wayne's War Of The Worlds and he was excellent). The song itself - if you strip away all that awful production - stands up well as a decent enough pop song. If it'd been recorded 20 years earlier by The Supremes, it would be remembered now as a classic.

That said, I know: it's awful.


I was 16 when it was released, and even though my musical tastes had moved well beyond teen-pop, something about this record (and a couple of other singles from the same album) appealed to my cheesy sense of fun. I remember singing along to it with a friend (who was a strict Smiths / Pet Shop Boys devotee) at the top of our voices on the school bus, ironically perhaps, but not caring about the embarrassment attached.

I didn't have to tell you this. I could have denied its existence in the playlist of my memory and clung onto my shreds of blogger cool, but no... honesty is the best policy. I often say on this blog that I do not believe in Guilty Pleasures and will shamelessly extol the virtues of Barry Manilow, the Bee Gees, Genesis, Bryan Adams, Taylor Swift, Elton John, Abba, Guns n Roses, Whitesnake, Lady Gaga, et al. where other bloggers fear to tread. I mean I draw the line at U2 and Michael Bolton, but that's about it. But this time, I fear I've just gone too far...

Perhaps I should consult Jez over at A History of Dubious Taste? If anyone will stick up for me here, it's got to be him...

8. Tanya Donelly - Divine Sweet Divide

Back to cool with the former Throwing Muse, Breeder and Belly-lady.

Out go the jangly guitars, in comes a solo piano which shows off Tanya's voice at its very best.

7. Against Me! - Bitter Divisions

I became momentarily obsessed with White Crosses, the album this (bonus) track comes from, a few years back. It took Against Me! into more anthemic, Green Day territory than their earlier, punkier recordings and proved a good sing-a-long, thump-the-steering wheel protest record.

I haven't really been paying much attention to the band's career since then, so I was interested to read that the lead singer, Laura Jane Grace (formerly Thomas James Gabel), recently revealed herself to be transgender, as chronicled in 2014's Against Me! album Transgender Dysphoria Blues. As I have a friend / former colleague who recently went through the same thing, I'm very interested in tracking that record down.

6. Death Cab For Cutie - Long Division

Ben Gibbard stretches the metaphor, but it's forgivable when the rest of his lyrics are so emotive and evocative.
The television was snowing softly
As she hunted for her keys
She said she never envisioned him the type of person capable of such deceit

And they carried on like long division
And it was clear with every page
That they were further away from a solution that would play

Without a remain remain remain remainder
5. The Cardigans - The Great Divide

From First Band On The Moon, the album that broke The Cardigans onto the international stage (it's the one with Lovefool on!) this low key, bittersweet track puts Nina's vocals front and centre.

4. Neil Young - The Great Divide

Another Great Divide, from Mr. Young's 24th album... released 16 years ago. There have been 14 more since. Sounds timeless.
In the great divide
Nothin' to decide
No one else to care for or love
In the great divide
I don't fit in too well
3. Big Star - St 100/6

Not actually a calculation of division, though it looks enough like one to get it in here. The title is apparently an imaginary catalogue number Alex Chilton and Chris Bell gave to an imaginary record on an imaginary record label they threatened their real record label they might release if they didn't get their skates on and put out their debut album. Less than a minute in length, it's the final track on #1 Record, an homage to Abbey Road era Beatles.

2. Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach - Long Division

While Hal David and Elvis Costello were extremely different lyricists, both dealt in melancholia and wordplay. While never aiming to equal the Bacharach / David collaboration, 1998's Bacharach / Costello juxtaposition brought a new lease of life to both artists. It gave Costello the timeless melodies he'd been moving towards after years of feasting at the new wave, country, soul and alt-rock tables, and it afforded Bacharach the opportunity to write his first album of new songs in 21 years. Just beautiful.
And every night you ask yourself
"What am I to do?"
Can it be so hard to calculate?
When three goes into two
There`s nothing left over
1. Aimee Mann - One

OK, I owe this one to Martin because I really didn't have a Number One for this final Maths Top Ten until he suggested this a couple of weeks back... and we won't ever get a more perfect One than this One.
One is the loneliest number, much much worse than two
One is the number divided by two... 
Of course, One is originally by Harry Nilsson, an artist whom I have a huge amount of time and respect for, and not only because he was Number One on the day I was born. But much as I love Harry's version, the divine Ms. Mann knocked this One out of the park when she recorded the soundtrack to Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia: a good film made great by its musical score.

Perhaps this Perfect One will make up for that Imperfect Nine... somehow, I doubt it.

Which one is most likely to divide opinion?

Wednesday 28 September 2016

September #1 - Amy Rigby

1. Amy Rigby - Keep It To Yourself

"Amy Rigby finds the humour in tragic situations and the tragedy in humorous situations; something very few songwriters are able to do. Think Randy Newman and Loudon Wainwright, at their best."

So said Steve Earle, one of Amy Rigby's biggest fans... well, until a month or so ago, when I stole that title from him.

I've spent my life hunting down songwriters who tell stories, who expose the human condition knowingly using wit and wordplay and an arched eyebrow. That search brought me to Elvis Costello, Warren Zevon, John Grant, Thea Gilmore, Jarvis Cocker, Frank Turner, Shirley Lee, E, Lloyd Cole, Kathleen Edwards, Justin Currie, Courtney Barnett... the list goes on and on. But somehow, it never brought me to Amy Rigby.

To be honest, I almost discovered her a few years back when I was first on eMusic. I'd added her to my Wants List at some point, but then I quit the site and never gave her a chance.

All of which leads me to talk about Keep It To Yourself: I'd like to say it's one of the best tracks on her 18 Again Anthology, but to be honest, they're all outstanding. Amy is one of the wittiest, most brutally honest songwriters I've ever encountered. This one is a revenge song, making veiled suggestions to her new boyfriend that if something bad should happen to her ex... well, it wouldn't be the end of the world... as long as she didn't find out about it.
But here's his address
Here's his picture
Here's the make and model of his car
He works until 4.30, then he hangs out at the topless bar
With a girl on each arm
If he should come to harm
Just keep it to yourself.


Monday 26 September 2016

September #2: Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Jesus Alone

On first hearing the opening track to Nick Cave's new album, I knew two things:

1) It was one of the best songs I'd heard all year.

2) It was almost certainly Nick Cave's most powerful recording.

The one thing I didn't know was whether I could listen to it again. In fact, I almost stopped within the first 60 seconds. When I heard that first verse... I honestly didn't know if I could go on.
You fell from the sky
Crash landed in a field
Near the river Adur
Flowers spring from the ground
Lambs burst from the wombs of their mothers
In a hole beneath the bridge
She convalesce, she fashioned masks of clay and twigs
You cried beneath the dripping trees
Ghost song lodged in the throat of a mermaid
You know the story. You know happened to Nick Cave last year. And if you know Nick Cave at all, you'll have known he'd have to confront that tragedy in his music. Head on. But could I? There was a time when I could have listened to this record objectively, but I'm a father now and the idea of losing a child means more than it ever did. (My nephew died 15 years ago. I saw what that did to my brother, and to my whole family.)

I've listened to Skeleton Tree a few more times since then, and I can see that it's a potent, compelling and cathartic piece of art. But I still wish I'd never had to hear it, and that Nick Cave had never been forced to record it. Some things are more important than art. Will I keep listening to it? Yes. Because it deserves to be heard and confronted... head on.
With my voice, I am calling you...

Friday 23 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 4: Multiplication)

Almost finished our Maths lessons now... how well do you know your times tables?

10. Bobby Darin - Multiplication

Always start with the obvious one. Bobby Darin is seen as the safe side of rock 'n' roll, and most of his tracks do have all the rough edges filed off. But if you're a fan of the era (as I am), it's still fun to give songs like this a spin every now and then.

9. Doc & Merle Watson - Three Times Seven

Ah, the arrogance of youth, perfectly expressed by Doc Watson, covering an old Merle Travis song from the 40s with his son, also called Merle.
I'm three times seven and I do as I doggone pleaseThere ain't no woman this side of heaven gonna get me on my kneesI'm three times seven, gals, and that makes twenty oneLord, I just won't tame, I'm gonna be the same 'till I'm three times twenty one
8. Mr. Hudson & The Library - 2 x 2

Mr. Hudson & The Library were guilty of that aggravating mix of beats and guitars I tired of very soon in the decade they will forever refer to as The Noughties (even though there was very little naughtiness involved). They redeemed themselves through evocative lyrics: 2x2 is a fine example of this. I understand Mr. Hudson himself is still in the go, but sadly the Library closed down. Sign of the times...

7. Ride - 0 x 4

Where shoe-gazing meets power-pop. Ride split in the late 90s but reformed recently to ride (punintended) the seemingly bottomless wave of nostalgia tours catering to middle-aged men desperate to recapture their misspent youth for at least one night a week... of which I would surely be a part if I had the time or the money.

6. Cake - Multiply The Heartaches

Cake's cover of the George Jones / Melba Montgomery country song was renamed to include 'Subtract One Love' in the title, so feasibly I could have included it in last week's chart. I stuck with the original name so we don't confuse our budding musical mathematicians.

Hard to believe Cake have been baking up tracks like this for over 20 years now, and they're still going... though there hasn't been a new album since 2011.

5. Commodores - Three Times A Lady

Definitely one to irk the musos due to its sheer ubiquity. I don't listen to Steve Wright's Sunday Love Songs, but I'd be disappointed if I turned him on and he wasn't playing this. However, as monumental über-ballads go, this one is in a class of its own and Lionel Ritchie is a legend.

If it's still too soppy for you, you might try the Cobra Starship version... but that only really works if you appreciate the original.

4. Silver Sun - 17 Times

James Broad's Silver Sun were one of my favourite bands of the Britpop era - although they weren't Britpop at all. Pure power-pop mixed with Beach Boys harmonies and James's angelic lead vocals; guitars so chunky they give Yorkies a run for their money. 17 Times is a b-side but it doesn't deviate from the template one jot. Like the Ramones, most Silver Sun songs sound exactly the same... but it's such a great song, who cares?

3. Cinerama - 7x

The 7x ingredients for Coca-Cola were a closely guarded secret, although the formula was allegedly revealed a few years ago.

Only David Gedge could use the Coca-Cola formula as a metaphor for a mysterious lady who won't talk to him anymore...
"It's 7X," and that's all that they'll say about Coke And you're just as circumspect and I didn't mean that as a joke
Because I know everybody's got a secret deep inside But you, oh you must be quite unique, the things you hide
2. The Doors - Love Me Two Times

We need more harpsichords in rock songs.

1. De La Soul - The Magic Number

Schoolhouse Rock was a series of educational songs that ran in and amongst Saturday morning kids shows on American TV in the 70s. These included a song for each of the times tables up to 12, the most famous of which was Bob Dorough's Three Is A Magic Number. This has been covered by a variety of pop and rock acts over the years, most notably Blind Melon, Jeff Buckley and Embrace. They're all fine versions (I'm particularly fond of the Embrace one), but they all stick very closely to Dorough's original. De La Soul, on the other hand, took the basic track and made it their own.
Shake, rattle and roll to my magic number...

Which is your multiplication fixation?

Wednesday 21 September 2016

September #3: The Drifters

3. The Drifters - Hello Happiness

The story behind this one is simple. I've had a Drifters Best Of CD for a number of years now but never really given it much attention. The other day, I had a hankering to hear Under The Boardwalk again (a song with which I share a complicated history, but you're not ready for that yet). Imagine my horror when it turned out that my Best Of didn't contain (arguably) their biggest hit.

So I bought a proper Drifters compilation and gave it my ears. And though I loved all the great old tunes I recognised, there was one I didn't remember... which floored me. It's a wonderful, summery 70s pop soul nugget led by Johnny Moore (who, it turns out, sang lead on far more Drifters hits than the relatively short-term Ben E. King), but it's the guitar that gets my heart beating faster: just extraordinary.

Monday 19 September 2016

September #4: Mark Kozelek & Mike Patton

4. Mark Kozelek & Mike Patton - Win

Covering Bowie is a dangerous game this year: everyone's at it, but you're likely to be eviscerated by the hardcore mourners if you put a foot wrong. Not that such things will worry Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek and Faith No More's Mike Patton who relish upsetting the applecart any chance they get.

Which is what makes their touching, piano & vocals cover of Win such a delight. It helps that the track is from Young Americans, probably my favourite Bowie record, but Kozelek's voice is also well-suited to covering the Thin White Duke. And for such a cantankerous old git, he brings a real vulnerability to this version, ably abetted by Patton's understated backing vocals.

The track comes from Kozelek's excellent album 'Mark Kozelek Sings Favorites', a welcome change of pace from the (often hilarious) stream-of-consciousness rambles that have characterised the last few Sun Kil Moon records. The album features an eclectic mix of covers recorded in a similarly sparse, emotive style, including Send In The Clowns, I'm Not In Love and Modest Mouse's Float On.

Friday 16 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 3: Subtraction)

Maths lessons continue. This week: subtraction. Take it away...

10. Pavement - 5-4 = Unity

Malkmus goes jazz. It makes sense on the album, and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain is arguably the very best Pavement album. There is a rare version with vocals, but I think I prefer the instrumental... and you won't hear me say that very often. Yeah, I know the 5-4 is a time signature, not a subtraction... but it looks enough like a sum to make the grade.

Of course, this track owes a huge debt to my Number #2 this week... but we'll get to that soon enough.

9. Charlie Louvin - Two Minus One

Here's country pioneers The Louvin Brothers minus one (Charlie's brother Ira). No wonder he's lonesome.

8. Marion - Minus You

Britpop casualties, though this out-take from their second album (released only on the Japanese version) stands up strong, if you like that Suede-y sound. Marion are touring the 20th anniversary of their debut record this month. It's good to see there's life in the old dogs yet.

7. Tavares - Don't Take Away The Music

Ralph, Pooch, Tubby, Butch and Tiny give it their all in this triumphant disco anthem. Not as good as Heaven Must Be Missing An Angel or Whodunit, but few things are.

6.  Dr. John - Me Minus You Equals Loneliness

Voodoo blues direct from New Orleans. Perfect for a warm summer evening... sorry, Ihave a feeling we saw the last of those for a while this week...

5. Paul McCartney - Take It Away

80s cod-reggae McCartney: do I apologise now or later? Look, it's got George Martin on keyboards! Look, it's got Ringo on drums! Look, it's got John Hurt in the video! Look it's got...

How is it possible to be so annoyed by one smugly-slappable star yet find so many of his songs addictive? I wish I understood pop music.

4. Beck - Minus

Remember when Beck sounded mad and scary like this? It seems so long ago...
It's a sensation
A bankrupt corpse
In the garbage classes
With the crutches of frogs
Frogs! Frogs! Frogs!
Yeah, thanks, Beck. Nice Beck. Don't hurt me, Beck.

3. ABC - All Of My Heart
Add and subtract
But as a matter of fact
Now that you're gone

I still want you back.
See, I could have featured this last week, but it strikes me that this is a song of loss, so the subtraction has already won out over the addition.

Epic. Majestic. Heartbreaking.

Don't let anyone tell you the 80s were rubbish...

2. Dave Brubeck Quartet - Take Five

I'm not the world's biggest jazz fan, and certainly no expert, but I won't turn away any genre in my search for a good tune. And Take Five is more than a good tune. It's a masterpiece.

Plus, the composer, Paul Desmond, left the royalties to charity on his death. The American Red Cross make around a hundred grand a year off this song (and other, less famous compositions Desmond bequeathed them).

1. Frank Sinatra - They Can't Take That Away From Me

George & Ira Gershwin. Frank Sinatra at his peak. It doesn't much get better than this.

Of course, there are many other fine versions, by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Natalie Cole, Tony Bennett, Robbie Willia--

See you next week.

Which one takes you away?

Thursday 15 September 2016

September #5: The Bee Gees

5. The Bee Gees - Marley Purt Drive

This'll separate the musos from the shameless...

I owe this one to the King of Music Bloggers, Any Major Dude, who included it on one of his mixes some time ago. From 1969, this is not your typical Bee Gees record. In fact, it owes quite a debt to The Weight by The Band, although the story it tells is entirely different. Apparently, Barry, Maurice and Robin were listened to a lot of country music at the time so they enlisted bluegrass banjo player Bill Keith for Odessa, the album this came from.

It's the lyrics that get me though (as is so often the case), the story of a guy with "fifteen kids and a family on the skids" who has to (quite understandably) "go for a Sunday drive". What he finds waiting on his doorstep when he gets home is another story entirely...

Tuesday 13 September 2016

September #6: Bobbie Gentry

6. Bobbie Gentry - The Girl From Cincinnati

I was reading Huey Morgan's excellent music book Rebel Heroes: The Renegades of Music & Why We Still Need Them and was impressed by the respect he gave Bobbie Gentry for being one of the first ladies of country music to take serious control of her own career, writing and producing a lot of her own work. I wasn't familiar with much of her work, beyond the big hits (Ode To Billie Joe, her Number One cover of Bacharach & David's I'll Never Fall In Love), so I picked up a CD that combined two of her most successful albums, Ode To Billie Joe and Touch 'em With Love.

There is lots to love on that record, but The Girl From Cincinnati is definitely a favourite at the moment. A bonus track, not on either of the albums, but released as a single in 1972, though it never charted. It's the classic story of a small-time girl lured to LA with big promises only to find it a real struggle to survive. One thing's for certain: she ain't going back to Cincinnati...

I was friendly with producers
And was heading out with the stars
I played the backseat heroine
In a thousand different cars

From Cavalier to Playboy
To the Johnny Carson show
To holding up some dogfood
For a firm in Idaho

I've a screen-test every weekend
And I'm constantly on call
I'll be twenty-five next summer
And thirty-five next fall

Thursday 8 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 2: Addition)

Maths lessons continue. This week, it all adds up.

10. Medicine Head - One And One Is One

Thanks to Charity Chic for reminding me of this one, otherwise I'd have gone with One Plus One Is One by Badly Drawn Boy, which is also a cool song... but not quite as cool.

They're both rubbish at adding up... but they're not the only ones on this list guilty of that crime.

9. Nine Below Zero - Eleven Plus Eleven

I will hold my hand up and say that there is a gap in my musical education when it comes to Nine Below Zero... I never even liked The Young Ones (apart from their collaboration with Cliff). But there are many bloggers out there who hold this band in high esteem and I must have picked this up from one of them. I like it: particularly the harmonica. Beyond that, I know nothing... 

8. The Violent Femmes - Add It Up

Basically, if you add up the lyrics of almost every pop song ever written then boil the results down to their most basic meaning, this is the product of that equation.
Why can't I get just one screw...?
7. The Beatles - Come Together

Also a suggestion, from an Aussie Beatles fan on Facebook...
He roller-coaster, he got early warning
He got muddy water, he one mojo filter
He say, "One and one, and one is three."
Got to be good-looking 'cause he's so hard to see
Is Abbey Road the best Beatles album? Discuss. (Rather than discussing why the Beatles aren't Number One. Because that's just obvious.)

6. Bob Seger System - 2+2 =?

Long before the sweeping, classic rock Americana of the Silver Bullet Band, Bob Seger was in a bunch of other bands dating back to the early 60s: The Decibels, The Town Criers, Doug Brown & The Omens, The Last Heard... and this, the first to get his name up front. This Vietnam protest record was their first single, from 1969, and Jack White once claimed it was his favourite song. Can you hear any hints of Seven Nation Army in the guitars?

5. Radiohead - 2 + 2 = 5 (The Lukewarm.)

Thom goes all George Orwell on our arses again: if it's not the Karma Police, it's the Thought Police. That's who he blamed George Bush Jr.'s election victory on.

A long time since I listened to this, it sounds a lot better than I remember.

4. Beach Boys - Add Some Music To Your Day

I still consider Sunflower and Surf's Up to be "late period" Beach Boys, which is ridiculous really, when you consider that this was released just 9 years into their career... and they're still going, almost 50 years later!

But there's a maturity to the songwriting on songs like Add Some Music... that's not found on the pure pop cars, girls & surfboards bliss of their classic 60s output. It feels like the nights are drawing in a little, there's an Autumn chill in the air, but they're still doing all they can to hold on to the sunshine... 

3. Love - Seven And Seven Is

Another claimant for the "first ever punk song" crown, here Arthur Lee turns up the psychedelia to 11 before detonating an atomic bomb in its closing seconds. Not even the Sex Pistols got that punk.

Apparently Arthur had the hots for a girl in high school who shared his birthday, March 7th. I'm guessing it never went anywhere, judging by the pent up frustration in his voice...

2. Okkervil River - Plus Ones

When he's on point like this, few contemporary lyricists can match Will Sheff. Here he adds one to a whole host of famous numerical hits and manages to craft a fine love song out of the results...

Listen out for the 97th Tear, 100th Luftballoon, TVC16, 9 Miles High and the 51st Way To Leave Your Lover... among others.

1. Haircut 100 - Love Plus One

I don't care who you are, if you don't consider this one of the greatest pop tunes of the 80s, you need your ears checked. Plus, Nick Heyward is a damned fine bloke, although he wasn't swinging from a rope dressed as Tarzan when I met him.
Where does it go from here?
Is it down to the lake, I fear?
I wish I'd thought to ask him what was so scary down at the lake...

Which is your plus one?

Wednesday 7 September 2016

September #7: Kate Jackson

7. Kate Jackson - Wonder Feeling

I've talked before about how I consider The Long Blondes to be one of the last truly great indie bands, their career cut short when guitarist and songwriter Dorian Cox had a stroke in 2008.

Since then, there's been much talk of the band's lead singer, Kate Jackson (not the one from Charlie's Angels) writing new material with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler. After a few years in which most of her time has been spent in Paris on her alternative career as a visual artist, Jackson's debut album was finally released earlier this year.

I have to admit that a lot of my old Britpop heroes have been rather disappointing me lately. I've hungrily sought out the new albums by Suede, James and Richard Ashcroft this year, and although they sounded exactly like I'd have expected them to, and will satisfy many longtime fans, I was starting to fear my own tastes had moved on. But Jackson's album has surprised me. Even though she herself comes from the post-Britpop era - The Long Blondes were formed in 2003 - this is a record that stands up well with the best of the female-led guitar bands of that era (think Elastica, Sleeper, Lush, et al.) while Jackson's voice remains as powerful and provocative as it was on the best of the Long Blondes records. The Britpop sound makes sense - after all, Bernard Butler was central to the evolution of that scene, while Jackson herself would have been 16 at its height. However, there's something refreshing as well as nostalgic about this album that sets it apart from many of the old lags still proudly flying the Britpop flag. Here's hoping we don't have to wait too long for Jackson's next record.
There's a girl who used to sit and read
One day a boy fell at her feet
He watched her dance made her a tape
Said he thought that her eyes were great
On the bus and in the park
In each others bedrooms after dark
Their dreams are real
I know exactly how they feel

Kate Jackson - Wonder Feeling from Spinning Arrow Productions on Vimeo.

Tuesday 6 September 2016

September #8: Doris Duke

8. Doris Duke - Divorce Decree

Back at the beginning of June, I compiled My Top Ten Divorce Songs. This caused a bit of a stir at Top Ten Towers from an other half who rarely pays attention to my internet ramblings... but we're over it now the alimony is sorted. As is typically the case, a couple of weeks later I discovered a new (to me) Divorce Song which would definitely have made the list... had I known about it at the time. Still, that's another advantage of the changes I've made to this blog... now I can find room for those songs at a later date.

Doris Duke is considered by those in the know to be a (forgotten) queen of the deep soul sound, and her 1969 album I'm A Loser (which I was pleased to find on eMusic after Huey pointed me in its direction) is certainly worthy of your attention. It has that timeless soul sound which they could only do properly in the 60s and early 70s (attempts to recreate it in later years, with modern recording methods, never quite work) plus lyrics that venture a little deeper into the halls of heartbreak than many.

Oh, and we always need more pop stars called Doris. Obviously.

Monday 5 September 2016

September #9: Cute Is What We Aim For

9. Cute Is What We Aim For - Risqué

All hail Poundland, the best record shop in town... well, to be fair, it's about the only place in the town where I work that sells CDs these days, apart from the charity shops (my regular haunts). £land sell a lot of used "reconditioned" CDs from days gone by, and amid the same Hearsay, Starsailor and Robbie Williams albums you'll find in every charity shop, you'll also find some more obscure indie stuff from the last 20+ years. Often it's stuff I've never heard of or the name might ring a faint bell, but for a pound I'm willing to take a punt. (I'd always spend that pound in the charity shops first, but on days when they come up dry, Poundland is my safety net.)

Anyway, New York's Cute Is What We Aim For. To be honest, the band's ridiculous name didn't even jingle the faintest bell, but I could tell by the album cover and song titles what sort of music it'd be and I've been pleasantly surprised by the tracks I've burnt onto my in-car compilations CDs so far. Risqué was the first of these and it certainly shows that the band are on the poppier side of alt-rock. The internet can't decide whether they're emo or power-pop: I'd say they definitely veer more towards the latter.

Risqué is from their debut album, 2006's The Same Old Blood Rush with a New Touch and they've released one more since. They are still in the go (well, the lead singer, Shaant Hacikyan, is still using the band name: all the other original members buggered off). If I see that second album in Poundland, it's a definite...

Friday 2 September 2016

My Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 1: Basic Math/s)

The two essential subjects for all students at the college where I work are English and Maths. As an English teacher, I'm supposed to embed a little mathematics into all my lessons, so I thought I'd try embedding some into this blog. I'll work my way through the various branches of arithmetic (addition, subtraction, multiplication and division) over the next few weeks (though perhaps not all at once), but I thought I'd start with basic maths... or math, depending on which side of the Atlantic you do your sums on.

Special mentions to Maths & Physics Club, Mutemath, and all those weird Math Rock bands I find so very hard to get into.

10. Jimmy Buffet - Math Suks

Now, that's not a very good attitude to start off with, is it, Jimmy? Go to the bottom of the class!

(By the way, your spelling's not all that great, either.)

9. Half Man Half Biscuit - Mathematically Safe

Just about the closest Nigel Blackwell ever got to writing a straight-up love song.

8. The White Stripes - Black Math
Uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh uh ah...
7. Brad Paisley - You Do the Math

Ah, I just love that happy guitar sound and those cheery (swap they r for an s if you're so minded) lyrics. Long may Brad strut his country stuff.

6. Los Campesinos! - Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s)

Starts out sounding like Belle & Sebastian, then goes cheerfully mental, like all the best Los Campesinos! records. When Americans miss the s off the end of Maths, Aleksandra, Oliver, Tom, Harriet, Gareth, Neil and Ellen Campesinos! start overusing exclamation marks.

5. Jim's Big Ego - Math Prof. Rock Star

Carmine Infantino was a legendary comic book artist, most famous for an extended run on DC's The Flash back in the 70s and 80s. His nephew, Jim Infantino is the man behind the hugely entertaining alt-rock band Jim's Big Ego, perhaps most famous for their song The Ballad of Barry Allen, about Uncle Carmine's most famous superhero. This is another great song from them, reminiscent of the Fountains of Wayne with added REM guitar.
When he was young he never thought that he would be a
Math Prof Rock Star
And after hours outside of his office, there's a line waiting
Full of girls lining up to ask about their quadratic equations
She leans over the desk and twirls a pencil in her hair
Complains that the grade he gave her was way unfair
And all the professors they laugh about it and wish him well
But the guys in the class are just jealous as hell
Find out more about "the Greatest Band In The History of Recorded Music" here.

4. dEUS - Little Arithmetics

Quick geography test: how many bands can you name from Belgium?

Tougher than you think, and I could only think of one better than dEUS. Any guesses?*

3. Margaret Glaspy - Emotions & Math

Title track from the excellent 2016 debut record by this refreshing Californian singer-songwriter which I took a punt on via eMusic after hearing Cerys play it on 6Music. So far, the gamble is paying off... though the rest of the album isn't as radio-friendly as this one...
Counting all the days 'til you're back
Shivering in an ice cold bath
Of emotions and math
I've gotta get outta this tree
Off of this limb
I'm a woman acting like a kid
A skinny mess
That's breathless from telling you
All the things that I'm gonna do
Phew. I reckon I need an ice cold bath after that one...

2. Idlewild - Close The Door

Always good to hear some classic Idlewild again, and here they are at their's time for the maths test!

1. Cherry Ghost - Mathematics

I saw Cherry Ghost play live around the time this track was big. This was by far their best track, reminding me of the New York romanticism of Dion... which was odd, because Simon Aldred's a gruff Manc. He's made some great music since, but Mathematics is still his finest moment.

*My answer was Soulwax.

But which one wins your maths test?

Thursday 1 September 2016

September #10 - Hindu Love Gods

September marks a new beginning for this blog...

As mentioned before, I was getting frustrated with not being able to write about what I'm listening to right now unless I could find a way to shoehorn it into a Top 10. Many great songs which I wanted to share with the world just fell by the wayside because I couldn't find an interesting theme or 9 other linked songs (or else I found way too many!). I've tried doing a "What I'm Listening To Right Now" Top Ten every now and then but they tend to go on for weeks, and who's got the time?

So every month, as well as my regular themed Top Tens, I thought I'd count down my favourite songs (new and old) of the moment. Just stuff that's rattling round in my ears that you (or someone) might dig. These will fit around the normal Top Tens, one song at a time. 

So let's start with an oldie... well, it's an oldie where I come from...

10: Hindu Love Gods - Raspberry Beret

Of course, you can't beat Prince at his own game, so these guys make the beret their own. Essentially an R.E.M. side-project (Michael Stipe was an occasional member, the other three were always present) fronted by Warren Zevon*, Hindu Love Gods released one single in 1986 and one album in 1990 (at which point they also released the above track which became a minor radio hit).

Sadly I don't own the album (it's always out of my price range... but then, my price range these days usually stretches up to £1.50 in the charity shop) or the earlier single, but I do own this track on Zevon's Best Of album. It's a fantastic rocked-up version of one of Prince's poppiest hits and Zevon's voice has raely sounded better.

(*And occasionally Bryan Cook from the bands Oh-OK and Time Toy... Me neither.)

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