Friday 28 October 2016

My Top Ten Clown Songs

Every Halloween, I like to post a horror-themed Top Ten. In recent years, I've done My Top Ten Frankenstein Songs, My Top Ten Vampire Songs, My Top Ten Haunted Songs and My Top Ten Zombie Songs (although for some reason, I didn't post that one at Halloween). I was going to do werewolves this year, but it turns out there's something much scarier out there at the moment... and I don't mean Donald Trump. Louise has even made us buy new curtains in case we glance out and see one of these stood in our garden. And so, as a special Halloween treat, I bring you My Top Ten Clown Songs. Let's be careful out there...

Special mention to the scariest clown you'll ever hear: Harpo's Rock 'n' Roll Clown. Now I wouldn't want to meet him on a dark night.

Second special mention to the weirdest threesome in rock history... Joni Mitchell, Tom Petty and... Billy Idol: Dancin' Clown.

Final special mention to Insane Clown Posse. They're supposed to be scary, but I think they're hilarious.

Other fine clowns who were in the running include Elvis Costello (three times, actually), Neil Diamond, Admiral Fallow, Toby Keith, The Cocteau Twins, Jimmy Webb, Brett Anderson, Grand National, Status Quo and Manfred Mann... obviously. Yes, I could have done a Top 20, but I don't do those anymore.

Here's the clowns that did make the circus...

10. The Replacements - Lay It Down, Clown

Let's set the pace, shall we? In case you think this Top Ten's gonna be full of big shoes, cars with their wheels falling off and custard pies in the face. Here's Paul Westerberg's switchblade-carrying clown, angry that rumours keep spreading all over town...

9. Malcolm Middleton - Crappo The Clown

And don't come to Malcolm Middleton looking for a red nose either. A broken nose, maybe...
Two people left in my world
One of them's a dick, can you guess who it is?
Can you win a prize?

Malcolm Middleton: he can destroy hope. Me, I find him perversely hilarious (but in a very different way to Insane Clown Posse).

8. Turin Brakes - Last Clown

This is the world we live in now, Turin Brakes. I picked up two of your albums (and one by Counting Crows), at 'three for a quid' in the local charity shop the other week. That said, I liked them enough that I might pay full price for the next one.
Last clown, drinking in a bar that's about to be closed down
A hero, I was in people's plans I was shaking their hands
I got lost in the world, slow motion walking and diatribe talking
As bad as things be, I'm a natural survivor
7. Warren Zevon - Something Bad Happened To A Clown

By the time you reach the end of this list, you'll realise there's not one happy clown in sight. No wonder they all end up turning bad...
He used to honk his horn and everyone would laugh
He used to honk his horn
She doesn't think he's very funny anymore
Footprints in the sawdust leading to the edge of town
Something bad happened to a clown
6. Idlewild - Like A Clown

Great track from last year's "comeback" album, Everything Ever Written.
The typical code of conduct
At the international clown hall of fame 
Not to smile until you've painted on your smile 
You go looking for laughter 
Yeah, you could be another poet like John Crowe Ransom, Whitman or Hart Crane 
All those words you leave behind 
Will fit together in time 
Like a clown 
You'll do anything for fame 
Tell me did you ever meet another clown 
Who said I'll be around for you now?
5. Everly Brothers - Cathy's Clown
Don't want your love anymore
Don't want your kisses, that's for sure...
The best opening Phil & Don ever wrote. It sold 8 million copies on 7" alone. John Lennon copied the vocal arrangement on Please Please Me.

Aussie band You Am I wrote an entirely different song with the same title. That didn't quite sell 8 million.

4. Dave Davies - Death of a Clown

Dave Davies' only real solo hit (though I have featured one of his other, less successful, solo singles here before) is a resigned shrug towards the circus-like life of a touring rock star, co-written with Ray. 

3. Ron Sexsmith - Clown In Broad Daylight

One of my favourites from Ron, although the live acoustic Ron-cam recreation above isn't as good as the album version. Great lyrics though...
Everything is alright for against the backdrop of ordinary life
It's the easy laugh that gets you through
Your working day and the hogwash
Sad but true, he's a clown in broad daylight
2. Judy Collins - Send In The Clowns

One of the saddest songs ever written. Hence it's been recorded by everybody from Frank Sinatra to Grace Jones, Lou Rawls to Madonna. I'm particularly fond of Mark Kozelek's latest version (not the one on youtube), but Judy's is the definitive recording. The song was written by Stephen Sondheim for the musical A Little Night Music, and he claims it's not literally about circus clowns: just fools like us.

1. Smokey Robinson & The Miracles  - Tears of a Clown

And this is why Smokey Robinson is a god. Just listen to these lyrics: in a chirpy pop song, for Smokey's sake!
Just like Pagliacci did
I try to keep my surface hid
Smiling in the crowd I try
But in a lonely room I cry
The tears of a clown
The music was written by Stevie Wonder who couldn't come up with a decent lyric so took it to the Motown Christmas party and played it to Smokey in the hope he'd come up with something. He did.

Tears of a Clown is also one of the only pop songs to feature a bassoon. More on that here.

There are those who will tell you that The Beat's version is better, but they are men of a certain age (i.e. about 5-10 years older than me) and though it's a fine opinion I respect greatly... I must disagree.

Which one honks your horn?

Wednesday 26 October 2016

October #1 - Meat Loaf & Jim Steinman

1. Meat Loaf - Going All The Way (Is Just The Start)

First up, if you don't like Meat Loaf, you can skip along to the next blog right now. You've made up your mind about that a long time ago and neither this record - nor anything I write about it - will change that opinion. But if you've ever given Meat the time of day, stick around with open ears... and an open mind. 

To say I've been looking forward to this record, the reunion between Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman, is something of an understatement. It's been 23 years since they last did a full album together, and that was 12 years since the previous one and 16 since their first. At risk of irking the musos even more than I usually do, this is as big as Morrissey and Marr recording together again (not as The Smiths, obviously)... or Billy Joel releasing a new album. (Hahahaha: I'm equally serious about both those comparisons, and somewhere a muso just stabbed my voodoo doll with a rusty stylus.)  

But you can build something like this up way too much, and let's face it, the Moz-Marr reunion would probably be as damp a squib as the Stone Roses comeback (though I'd grin and bear it and play it to death all the same) while Billy would struggle to match We Didn't Start The Fire these days, let alone his classic 70s output. So I've been fully prepared for Braver Than We Are to be a disappointment, ever since it was announced as "Coming Spring 2015"...

When it finally "dropped"*, 18 months later, I followed the link to the first single,  and was predictably bummed. At 11 1/2 minutes of full-on bombast, this operatic "Song in 6 Movements" felt like Steinman finally falling victim to self-parody. I sat back and waited for the album with a heavy feeling in my gut, and the first reviews did little to offer any relief. "Meat's voice is a wreck," they whinged. "It's not a new album of Steinman material at all," they carped, "just cobbled together leftovers with the occasional 'new song' thrown in!" One reviewer even swore he was the biggest Bat Out of Hell fan ever before calling Braver Than We Are the worst album he'd ever heard, saying he'd had to force himself to listen to it again just to write the review. Wow, First World Problems of Irked Musos... doesn't your heart just bleed?

On finally encountering the beast then, I was prepared for the worst, and the first few times I listened to it, I did wonder if my lack of outrage was just a brave face forced upon me by decades of hero worship (for Steinman primarily, Meat to a lesser degree). And then something weird happened. I fell in love with the freak... and that love affair began with the very song I'd rejected at the start.

Going All The Way Is Just The Start may well be the ultimate Jim Steinman song. No, it's not better than Bat, Paradise, Dead Ringer, Total Eclipse, More Than You Deserve or Objects In The Rearview Mirror. It's not up there with the classics. But it does do everything you want from a Jim Steinman song, and then some. It's 12 minutes of roaring guitars, Roy Bittan-esque piano, ridiculous, overblown imagery, layer upon layer upon layer of melodramatic tosh like the very best rock 'n' roll has to offer. It grows and builds and crescendos like it's the very last song at the end of the world, like if it just keeps on going, maybe we won't have to turn out the lights after all. If this is, as widely assumed and reported, the very last Meat Loaf record and the last will and testament of Jim Steinman, then it does the job just fine.

Yes, there are problems. Meat's voice, first and foremost. There's no denying it's long past its best. I saw an interview with him where he claimed Steinman had insisted he sang every song in the lower register, and that was probably Jim just being kind. He even struggles a bit with that. There are hundreds of vocalists who could have done a better job on this album, but none would have made the same emotional connection to Steinman's last full batch of songs. This had to be a Meat Loaf album, even if he sang it with his dying croak. Steinman describes Meat's performance as "heroic", and I honestly believe there's a truth to that: it's more than just the usual JS-BS. Plus, Jim has a back-up plan to help out the biggest song, dragging both Ellen Foley AND Karla De Vito back from Hell to pitch in: what should have been a duet becomes a grand ménage à trois. Together again for the very first time, these three really are Crusaders of the Heart.

So ignore the musos. If you ever loved Meat 'n' Jim, give this album a try. Be brave: persevere with it as it I did and you will come to love it. 

(*I'll discuss that word another time, suffice it to say I'm using it ironically.)

Tuesday 25 October 2016

October #2 - The Browns

2. The Browns - The Three Bells

If I were to get to the end of 2016 and not mention this song, I'd be doing my listening habits a grave misjustice. Frankly, I've been rather obsessed with it over the last 6 months or so... which is rather odd considering that it was recorded in 1959 (well, this version, at least: the original French song, recorded by Edith Piaf, is older still). Although I may have encountered it prior to this year, my love affair began when John Grant opened his first 6Music show with it earlier this year. To be honest, much as I love John Grant's own music, our tastes are quite different: much of the rest of his show was made up of 80s electronica (he has a particular soft spot for Vangelis), which only floats my boat in small doses. The Three Bells was unlike anything else he played, although I do seem to remember he said it was the first pop song that had stuck in his head as a child.

I love everything about this song, from the conceit (a life told in three verses, symbolised by church bells proclaiming Jimmy Brown's birth, marriage and death) to the blissful harmonies of Jim Ed Brown and his sisters Maxine and Bonnie. I have sung along to it in the car more than any other song I've listened to this year: it's even been a hit with the rest of the family. I can't promise you'll enjoy it as much as I do, but to paraphrase Mark Radcliffe (and probably a bunch of other people): if you don't appreciate this even the slightest little bit, you don't like music.

Monday 24 October 2016

October #3 - Paul Simon

A couple of months ago, Paul Simon released a new album. The record company hype proclaimed it his best since Graceland. That album is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, but it certainly marked the zenith of his (solo) career back in 1986 (for all the controversy that surrounded it). Simon has only released 6 albums since, and with the exception of his ill-fated 1997 musical The Capeman, I've enjoyed every one of them. With that in mind, I took the hype with a pinch of salt...

But, you know what? The hype might be true for once. Don't get me wrong: Stranger To Stranger is not in the same league as Graceland, but it is his most coherent set of songs since... well, certainly since Graceland's successor, Rhythm of the Saints. Which is kind of odd, considering it's a relatively short album and two of its 11 tracks are brief instrumentals (I bought the Deluxe Edition, but you're not missing anything if you go with the standard release, except the rather lovely Dion duet). However, musically, it's his most playful and experimental record since Graceland, largely due to the collaboration with Italian electronic maestro Clap! Clap! (Don't worry, Simon's not gone dance). It also hit Number One in the UK album chart (making him, at 74, the oldest male artist to ever do that) and became his best-selling album since Graceland in the US.

Wristband was the first radio single (do they call them Impact Tracks or summat these days?) and on the surface, it's the somewhat smug tale of a rock musician getting locked out of his own gig who's then refused backstage entry by a security guard because he doesn't have a wristband. As with the best of the Graceland songs, its lyrics are witty and clever... but also have a bit more to say about the state of the world as Simon turns the wristband into a metaphor for privilege, the class system and the growing anger of the "have nots" (those without a wristband) in today's society.

Thursday 20 October 2016

My Top Ten Supermarket Songs (Volume 2)

Back to the supermarket, but this time we're doing our shopping the generic way. Own brand songs all the way... and one of those topics that (coincidentally) throws up a bunch of my all-time favourite artists...

Special mention to Inbetweener by Sleeper, which doesn't actually mention a supermarket but the video does take place in one (also a laundrette), as well as featuring Dale 'Supermarket Sweep' Winton, shaking his Pringles for all to see. Thanks to Mark for reminding me of that one! And yes, Mark, I'm with you on Louise Wener...

10. Iggy Pop & Green Day - Supermarket

Sounds exactly like you'd imagine a Green Day song fronted by Iggy would sound.
Everybody sells
And everybody buys...

9.  Mull Historical Society - The Supermarket Strikes Back / Barcode Bypass

This week's BOGOF offer, two great Supermarket Songs from Colin MacIntyre.

8. Courtney Barnett - Dead Fox

My favourite from Courtney. Sounds like she goes shopping with Stephen Malkmus...
Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables
And I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first
A little pesticide can't hurt
Never having too much money, I get the cheap stuff at the supermarket
But they're all pumped up with shit
A friend told me that they stick nicotine in the apples...
7. Gene - Supermarket Bombscare

Just a b-side, from their last album, Libertine, in 2001. Bloody gorgeous though. 

6. Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Abominable Snowman In The (Super)Market

Because it scans better, Jonathan reduces Supermarket to Market for the majority of this song, but his intro makes it clear the market... just like this song... is Super.

Two weeks running for JR. He's obviously a fan of supermarket songs too.

5. Bruce Springsteen - Queen of the Supermarket

Ah, the critics cried. This is what happened to the Born To Run rebel? Writing love songs to check-out girls? Yes, I've actually heard this called the Worst Song The Boss Ever Wrote.

What an ignorant response to a song that actually showcases the same blue-collar romanticism and heartfelt balladry Bruce built much of his career on. And he's growing old gracefully, guys: no longer chasing the factory girls underneath the boardwalk where they all promise to unsnap their jeans, here he just wants the checkout girl to take off that company cap that hides her beautiful hair. 

This is why the critics know jack. Because they're so obsessed with cool, they forget real world romance.

Also, no-one criticised Billy for sharing similar sentiments as he got older...

4. Billy Bragg - Brickbat
I steal a kiss from you
In the supermarket
I walk you down the aisle
You fill my basket
And through it all
The stick I take
Is worth it with the love we make
And let's not forget: he used to want to plant bombs at The Last Night of the Proms.

3. The Kinks - Come Dancing

Included here purely because it's one of my all-time favourite Kinks records, and probably the first one I loved. (I was a child of the 80s.)
They put a parking lot 
On the piece of land
Where the supermarket used to stand
Before that they put up a bowling alley
On the site that used to be the local palais...
I love the bit where the two silhouettes are "saying goodnight" by the garden gate... only for the girl's mum to shriek out at them: "What are you doing out there? Come on! Are you gonna be out there all night?"

2. The Clash - Lost In The Supermarket

Mick Jones sings this one, but it's a Strummer song. The anti-consumerism lyrics guarantee that.
I'm all lost in the supermarket
I can no longer shop happily
I came in here for that special offer
A guaranteed personality
Have I irked the musos this week? No? How about this...

I prefer the Ben Folds version.


1. Pulp - Common People

Inevitable, really. Arguably the greatest single of the Britpop era (if not the greatest song), and certainly the greatest video, in which tiny Jarvis gets pushed around a supermarket by Sadie Frost...

The bit where Jarvis says, "I'll see what I can do..." makes me laugh every time I watch it. Seems ridiculous that they edited the chorus on youtube to remove "...and screw..." I don't remember them doing that back in the day. Dancing and drinking is fine, boys and girls, but let's not put up any shelves afterwards...
I took her to a supermarket
I don't why but I had to start it somewhere...

Which one do you want to check out?

Tuesday 18 October 2016

October #4: Blitzen Trapper

4. Blitzen Trapper - Nights Were Made For Love

This is one of those bands who I've heard good things about for a few years now but never really paid much attention to. But two things happened recently which gave me the opportunity...

Firstly, as mentioned previously, I rejoined eMusic. I used to be a member a few years back but belt-tightening and a sense that I'd exhausted all the good music on there caused me to put my membership on hold. I gave the site a trawl again recently and was pleased by how many desirable records I saw... either they've enlisted a bunch of new artists or my tastes have broadened. Although I'd always prefer to have the CD, the fact I can download a full album for under a fiver (half that if they're having one of their booster pack sales) was enough to tempt me back. The belt gets ever tighter (and not only because of middle-aged spread).

Secondly, I heard Bob Harris play a great track from BT's latest effort, All Across This Land on his late night / early morning show a few weeks back. When I saw the album on eMusic, I hit download... and it's quickly turned into one of my favourite albums of the year (although, as with many of my favourite albums this year, it was actually released in 2015).

All Across This Land has a classic American rock sound - a couple of the tracks could well be Tom Petty at his best, while the one I've chosen today is Bob Seger doing Springsteen. I'm at the age now where there's no bigger compliment of a record than to say: you thought they didn't make them like this anymore. Well, think again...
All the boys sit on the fender
As they watch the sun go down
And the lights shine like the end of things
On the darkest side of town
Where we grew up here in Oregon
Raking fields after the rain
And the west was all the world was
Now the west just fades away
Yeah the best of friends
The worst of luck
It never turned our hearts to stone
We were stupid, strange and young at heart
And all we wanted was to rock and roll
Yeah all we wanted was to rock and roll

Sunday 16 October 2016

October #5 - Dexys

5. Dexys - Grazing In The Grass

One Day I'm Going To Soar, Kevin Rowland's comeback album, was one of my favourite discs of 2012. So I was very excited to hear of a new release from the band who no longer Run at Midnight, even though the idea of a covers album focussing on "Irish and Country Soul" (whatever that means) set alarm bells ringing for many.

Covers have long been a part of Rowland's act: from forgotten soul acts like Chuck Wood and Johnny Johnson to Van Morrison's big Jackie Wilson tribute... or was that Jockey?

However, the real reason some might have feared a Dexys' covers album goes back to Rowland's infamous 1999 solo album, My Beauty (his second: sadly, I've never been able to track down an affordable copy of his 1988 solo record, The Wanderer). Here, Rowland abandoned his usual sartorial elegance in favour of this little ensemble...

...a move which led to the critics ripping him a new one and the pissed-up revellers at Reading Festival sharing the contents of their beer bottles with him (i.e. after they'd drunk the beer and then refilled them).

The thing is - and I've never been ashamed to admit this - I like My Beauty. It's a cracking set of interpretations: defiant, personal and wilfully anti-muso (the covers include Mama Cass, The Monkees and Whitney Houston... or George Benson, if you remember the original). So I was actually very excited by a similar project from the rejuvenated Dexys... perhaps a little too much.

Dexys Do Irish & Country Soul is a curious record, and though the critics have been far kinder to it, I haven't warmed to it as I did My Beauty 17 years ago. The title's a little misleading, for a start: yes, you'd expect I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen and Curragh of Kildare... but how Irish are Jerome Kern, Barry Gibb, Diane Warren, Joni Mitchell or Red Stewart? The selection of songs is even more wilfully obtuse than on My Beauty, but though the arrangements are gorgeous and Rowland's voice rarely better, there are times it still feels a little karaoke for me: particularly on You Wear It Well and Warren's How Do I Live? (made famous by LeAnn Rimes). There's less re-interpretation than I'd expected, less of Rowland's usual originality. I don't now, maybe it'll grow on me.

All that said, this one track's an absolute belter. Originally by 60s soulsters The Friends of Distinction... but Rowland makes it a true Dexys classic. Can you dig it, baby?

Friday 14 October 2016

My Top Ten Supermarket Songs (Volume 1)

This week, I thought we'd pop down the supermarket. This is Volume 1 because it's about specific supermarket chains. More generic supermarket songs will follow...

Sadly, I couldn't find any songs about Morrisons, Waitrose or Ocado...

10. FINE FAIR: Toy Dolls - Nowt Can Compare To Sunderland Fine Fair

After Jason Donovan, I have no more shame...

9. TRADER JOE'S: Tristan Prettyman - The Rebound

Tristan Prettyman cruises her local Trader Joe's supermarket looking for guys who are on the rebound. Watch out with that banana.

8. ALDI: Fat White Family - Breaking Into Aldi

In with a bullet, this brand new track from the FWF, with a little help from my second favourite Lennon child...

Heard this on 6music the other day and thought it sounded great.

I understand Marmite is still available in Aldi. No need to break in.

7. SAFEWAY: Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Safeway Cart

Neil Young has written so many songs, there will come a time when he runs out of subject matter. Here's one about a shopping trolley... from the same album on which he wrote a song about a Piece of Crap. Great album though.

6. ASDA: Suede - Asda Town

B-side of The Wild Ones, one of my favourite Suede singles; this actually sounds like the stuff Brett would release when he went solo a few years later. I saw him play live during that tour and it was a very special, slightly rakish, king of night.
And like the birds we'll fly tomorrow
And like the birds we'll fly
From your Asda Town
Never coming down
'Cos they're take, taking it away
I'd like to see Asda use this in their Christmas TV ad this year. Sod Take That.

See also Millionaire by The Puppini Sisters, which is rather nice too.

5. WAL-MART: PJ Harvey - The Hope Street Demolition Project

Brought to you by the owners of Asda...

Possibly stretching the idea of a concept album beyond its natural elasticity, but when Polly Jane kicks out on her latest album, she's as good as ever.
They're gonna put a Wal-Mart hereeeeee...
See also sunrise in a Wal-Mart Parking Lot by Clem Snide... it can be so beautiful.

4. STOP 'N' SHOP: Jonathan Richman & The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner

Yes, it is a real supermarket chain. Jonathan didn't make it up.

3. SAINSBURY'S: Saint Etienne - Teenage Winter / Amanda Palmer - Leeds United

This one was a tie.

Teenage Winter is possibly my favourite Saint Etienne track. Sarah Cracknell could read a shopping list and make it sound amazing. Plus, Bob Stanley really does love old records... as much as we do. This song is about the death of pop music as a physical object for teenagers to cherish. Once you get that, it's one of the most heartbreaking songs you'll ever hear...
Mums with pushchairs outside Sainsbury's
Tears in their eyes
They'll never buy a Gibb Brothers record again
Their old 45s gathering dust
The birthday cards they couldn't face throwing away
Teenage winter coming down
Teenage winter coming down
Still in Sainsbury's, we find Mrs. Gaiman flashing back to the time she was dating Ricky Wilson from the Kaiser Chiefs. He gave her a Leeds Utd. jersey as a pressie. She lost it.
But who needs love when there's Law and Order?
And who needs love when there's Dukes of Hazard?
And who needs love
When the sandwiches are wicked
And they know you at the Mac store?
No, the Mac store is not a supermarket. But I can't mention this song without quoting that chorus, because I love it. As for the supermarket...
Sure, I admire you
Sure, you inspire me, but you've been not getting back so
I'll wait at the Sainbury's
Countin' my change, making bank on the upcoming roster
I'm guessing maybe Ricky took her down the Leeds Sainsbury's one time too. He knows how to spoil a girl, that Wilson lad...

2. THE CO-OP: The Jam - A Town Called Malice

I give Weller a hard time on this blog occasionally... but when he's on form, no one can touch him...
A whole street's belief in Sunday's roast beef
Gets dashed against The Co-Op
To either cut down on beer or the kids' new gear
It's a big decision in a town called Malice
See also Saturday's Kids: Saturday's girls work in Tesco's and Woolworths! (Not anymore, sadly.)

1. TESCO: Half Man Half Biscuit - L’Enfer C’Est Les Autres

I had to give this One to Nigel Blackwell because not only does he use that gloriously misinterpreted quote from Sartre as his title (sadly, Jean-Paul wasn't quite being as misanthropic as Nigel and I might wish), but also because this track contains (among various other hilarious ramblings) perhaps the best Half Man Half Biscuit line ever... via Johnny Cash, of course.
I shot a man in Tesco, just to watch him die
From the top HMHB album 90 Bisodol. What else do you need to know? 

Some people don’t know how to walk on the pavement these days
Well it’s not that difficult, there’s hardly a whole host of waysHere they come, love’s young dream, arm in arm, approaching me 
Now, I’m not looking for your smile
I’m just asking for some single file 
But it’s not forthcoming so I have to assume 
That this narrow path belongs to you 
And therefore you must beThe Duke of Westminster and his good lady wife 
So, I tell you what, I’ll just walk in the road
How about I just walk in the road?
You stay as you are, and I’ll just walk in the road

How about that first verse? Is it just me...?

Other Top Tesco songs (I could have done a Top Ten, but I'm waiting for the sponsorship deal to kick in) came from Lily Allen (LDN), The Pogues (Rain Street*), King Krule (Easy Easy) and Glass Animals (Life Itself).

*Careful, that one's a bit rude.

Which one gets your custom? Whichever you pick, it's still 5p for a carrier bag...

Wednesday 12 October 2016

October #6: De La Soul

6. De La Soul (featuring Snoop Dogg) - Pain
Your music means everything to you...
Are you concerned about the status of your playlist 
And precious collection?
We feel you
And we're here to help...
Have no fear: De La Soul is here!
I'd be lying if I claimed to be an expert in hip hop. I like some of it, mainly the stuff that tells interesting stories or has a witty undercurrent and isn't just about (to quote Scroobius Pip) "guns, bitches 'n' bling".

De La Soul are one of those groups I've always admired from a distance, enjoying (even loving) some of the singles but never really immersing myself in a whole album. However, a couple of intriguing reviews and the fact that it was available on eMusic led me to take a punt on their new crowdfunded offering, ...And The Anonymous Nobody, and I've found myself drawn back to it quite a lot over the past couple of weeks.

Pain seems to be the "impact track" (apparently singles don't exist anymore) of the moment and it's definitely a stand-out, due to the laid back beat, chiming chorus and guest appearance by a certain Mr. Dogg (no long a Lion, it seems: I try to keep up on these things). But it's by no means the only high point on the album: other ecletic guest stars include Jill Scott, David Byrne and Justin Hawkins (no - it works: it really works!), while even ubiquitous hipster Damon Albarn manages not to grate too much. Yep, I'm pleasantly surprised by how much I'm enjoying this record...

Tuesday 11 October 2016

October #7 - Guy Clark

7. Guy Clark - L.A. Freeway

Amid all the more high profile musical losses we've felt this year, it's worth sparing a moment to mourn Guy Clark who died in May at the age of 74. I'll hold my hand up and say I didn't really know him until it was too late; it was only when I heard Bob Harris paying eulogy to him that my interest was piqued, leading me to purchase a compilation of his first two albums, Ol' No.1 and Texas Cookin' from the mid-70s. I've been listening to it on and off ever since...

My favourite track is LA Freeway: it's just one of those songs that makes my heart a little lighter. It's a "gotta get out of this town" song, recorded in the same year as Born To Run. Clark never really broke the big time as a performer: damned if I know why from listening to these records. At least his songs were appreciated by other artists - he's been covered by Johnny Cash, Alan Jackson, Bobby Bare and Brad Paisley, among many others. You can pick up these two discs (in one) NEW for under three quid at certain online retailers, and I'd heartily recommend you do so if you like a bit of classy country storytelling...
Pack up all your dishes.
Make note of all good wishes.
Say goodbye to the landlord for me.
That son of a bitch has always bored me.

Throw out them LA papers
And that moldy box of vanilla wafers.
Adios to all this concrete.
Gonna get me some dirt road back street

If I can just get off of this LA freeway
Without getting killed or caught
I'd be down that road in a cloud of smoke
For some land that I ain't bought bought bought...

Sunday 9 October 2016

October #8 - Look Park

8. Look Park - Minor Is The Lonely Key

Fountains of Wayne are one of my favourite bands of the last 20 years. They only released five albums in that time, but I loved every one. Since their last one came out in 2011, I was hoping this might be the year they popped up to surprise us again. Imagine my heartbreak then, on hearing they'd called it a day... only to find some succour on discovering that half of the songwriting partnership behind FoW, Chris Collingwood, had formed a new band, Look Park.

Early interviews with Collingwood suggested that Look Park had a different sound to the traditional FoW power-pop and that his songwriting had also developed and "matured". That's a word which fills me with dread when I hear it from bands who excel at quirkiness and humour, and when Collingwood also revealed that his former FoW partner, Adam Schlesinger was responsible for putting more of the the f-u-n in FoUNtains, I got a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. (Collingwood even invoked the B-word as an influence, which is never a good sign. Oasis, anybody?)

Anyway, I like the Look Park record. Collingwood's voice is always a pleasure, and there are some beautiful images in his songwriting. It's a sad album though, and it lacks the wit and novelistic approach to character that made the Fountains so special. It's a fine solo album, but as with most solo albums, it does make you yearn to hear the full band get back together. (And let's face it, Look Park is a pretty bland band name.) I should probably spend a little time with Schlesinger's side-project, Tinted Windows while I'm waiting for the reunion Collingwood describes as unlikely.

Here's my favourite song on the record...

Friday 7 October 2016

My Top Ten Songs About Magicians

After all that maths, time for a little magic...

There are, of course, hundreds of songs about magic and magic tricks, so I tried to specifically stick to songs that mention magicians in the title or specifically tell stories about magicians. So no Queen, Pilot, Lovin' Spoonful, ELO, Perry Como... or the Steve Miller Band. Not this time, anyway.

Special mentions to The Magicians and 4 or 5 Magicians (whose excellent Tom Waits Blues is worth tracking down if you can find it anywhere).

10. Jefferson Starship - Magician

There is a grey area, a twilight zone, if you like, between the psychedelic wonder of Jefferson Airplane and the 80s radio conquering might of Starship. This is that strange hinterland, the coccoon phase, the metamorphosis. Tread carefully...

9. Barenaked Ladies - Vanishing

 A track originally called 'Magician', all about a... well, y'know. And you're the one vanishing...

8. The Marvelettes - My Baby Must Be A Magician

Should probably save this one from my Top Ten Hypnosis Songs... ah, sod it, I'll just run it again then too. If you haven't fallen under its spell in the first ten seconds, there's no hope for you.

7. The Crookes - Yes, Yes, We're Magicians

It must be tough being a new band from Sheffield: you're instantly shouldered with the burden of being the next Arctic Monkeys, Pulp or Human League. Particularly if Steve LaMacq gets on your case.

The Crookes were cursed to fail in just such a way a few years back... and we've heard very little of them since. Shame, because this one was lovely.

6. Clifford T. Ward - Time, The Magician

If like me, you're tired of getting older, quicker, every day... CTW's song places the blame for our unhappiness squarely at the feet of that old robbing bastard with the hourglass.

5. Amy Rigby - Magicians

That Rigby woman again. Damned if I can get her out of my headphones.
You tell me life is just unfair
But I can hear that anywhere
Let's leave reality out of this shall we
No need to mention it it's always here
Stick the rhetoric with those old slick politicians
We're magicians
We make reality disappear...
4. Jason Isbell - The Magician

The former Drive-By Trucker is enjoying unprecedented solo success at the moment - he won Artist, Song and Album of the Year at the American Music Awards recently for his latest album, Something More Than Free. Deservedly so, it's one of the best records I've heard in the past 12 months.

This is from his debut solo record, Sirens of the Ditch, and the magic was definitely there back then too...
And I am an orphan man but ain't we all?
And I can make myself disappear
I am an orphan man but ain't we all?
And I could be somewhere worse than here...
3. Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip - The Magician's Assistant

I mentioned my love of Scroobius Pip over at A History of Dubious Taste recently and was pleased to hear that Jez agreed with me that (although, musically, Dan le Sac's beats weren't really our thing) Pip is a wordsmith par excellence.

The Magician's Assistant is the perfect example of that. It's a letter to an ex-girlfriend who may or may not have taken her own life, and it stops you in its tracks... if you can get past the whirling, blipping racket in the background. Which I can, easily. But I'd still rather have a guitar, piano and some real drums.

If you can't deal with the blips, here's Pip performing it unaccompanied.

2. Barton Carroll - Let's Get On With The Illusion

Barton Carroll is a new discovery... who's been hiding in my record collection for a good few years now. Maybe it's just me who does this, but I trip over so much music that interests me, from time to time I buy a record and don't get round to listening to it... for years.  This is from his 2010 album Together You & I, which I must have bought soon after its release but only became hooked on a couple of months back.

Carroll's a bit of an enigma: he doesn't even have a wikipedia entry, so lazy bloggers like me can't summarise his discography with one easy click. It took me ages to work out whether he was American or British (he sounds like a Yank, but some of his songs employ a very English vernacular: at times he reminds me of Richard Thompson, but other times he sounds nothing like that). I can't even find out the identity of the female singer who duets with him here. I did discover that he's now giving this album away for free on his website, and I highly recommend you take the time to download... AND LISTEN... to it!
And I’ll buy you a dress and a big diamond ring
And the vows that I conjure up won’t mean a thing
But if you can lower that curtain and get me to sing

(Him and Her)
I’ll take the magic, black or white
I couldn’t care less if it’s bona fide
Since you and I know love’s a lie
Let’s get on with the illusion
1. Prefab Sprout - The Old Magician

As time goes by, my appreciation for the last Prefab Sprout album, Crimson / Red, grows ever stronger. I love the early Sprout records, but this 2013 MASTERPIECE (let's not use that word lightly, fellow bloggers) is surely one of the most consistently excellent collections of songs released in the 21st Century. It confirms Paddy McAloon's place as a lyrical GENIUS (two-hyperboles-for-the-price-of-one, this week only).

The Old Magician works on two levels: as the story of an aging conjuror coming to terms with the fact that his best tricks are behind him... and as a metaphor for growng old itself. It's witty and heartbreaking at the same time, and it contains some of the best lines Paddy has ever written. I can't decide which is my favourite, but it's probably a toss up between the two highlighted below...
Lord have mercy and be kind
When our faculties unwind
Overlook the hat and gloves
The tired act that no-one loves
There was a time we produced doves

The old magician takes the stage
With sleight of hand he’ll disengage
As dignified as you’ll allow
He’ll take his last, his final bow
He’s lost all his illusions now

Remember: there was a time we produced doves...

Tuesday 4 October 2016

October #9 - The Coathangers

9. The Coathangers - Springfield Cannonball

I'm always excited when I find a post-2010 CD in the charity shop, especially if it looks vaguely alternative (i.e. it's not some X-Factor reject). If it's a quid fifty or less, I'll generally take a punt, even if I've never heard of the artist.

I was vaguely aware of the Coathangers; I'd noticed their latest album on emusic a couple of months before finding their 2014 disc Suck My Shirt (from which this track hails) in the local hospice shop. Turns out they've been around for a while: this was their 4th long player.

Because I buy a lot of music in charity shops (and far too much to ever listen to properly... maybe when I retire!), I often cherry pick tracks to create in-car compilations of new stuff. This was the random selection I chose and it'll definitely lead me to give the rest of the album more time... when things quieten down on the new release front (see my last post).

To me, the Coathangers sound like all the best (American) punk girl bands: the Runaways, the Go-Gos, the Donnas, L7, et al. Plus they look like the sort of band April from Parks & Recreation would love. Springfield Cannonball may be sound & fury signifying nothing... but sometimes, that's all you need in the car on the way to work...

Sunday 2 October 2016

October #10 - The Wedding Present

10. The Wedding Present - Secretary

Around June, I was starting to think that this was going to be a quiet year for new releases from my favourite artists. There had been a few notable ones in the first six months of the year, but I'd been listening to a lot more new music from the past and I was starting to think maybe I'd reached the age where not only were the charts meaningless to me, but the new release shelves held little interest too. I might not even have enough 2016 albums to fill a decent Year End Top Ten at this rate...

Along came September, and my fears were put to rest... only to be faced by a much more pressing fear: how the hell would I get through all these new albums by December? Because in the month of September, the new releases I desired shot way past double figures, my bank account started having palpitations and an age-old question resurfaced. Why the hell does everyone want to bring out new tunes at the same time of year? Is swamping the pre-Christmas market the only way to maximise your (dwindling) album sales? I could understand it if it was only the major labels doing this: they always have. But I buy very little from the major labels these days...

Seriously, in the space of about four weeks, there have been new albums from (deep breath) Pixies, The Handsome Family, Billy Bragg, Nick Cave, Okkervil River, Drive-By Truckers, Meat Loaf (with Jim Steinman: that's the important bit!), The Wedding Present, John Prine, Slaves, Bruce Springsteen (a greatest hits to tie into the autobiography, yeah, but still featuring never-released bonus tracks), Spearmint, Teenage Fanclub, De La Soul, Dawes... and I've probably forgotten a bunch more.

Plus I've got Luke Haines, Brad Paisley (maybe?), Leonard Cohen, Rumer, Ultrasound and who knows who else still to drop; there's a bank heist with my name on it any day now.

I mean, thank god Morrissey doesn't have a record contract at the moment!

Anyway: the new Wedding Present album, Going, Going... A crowd-funded 20-track behemoth that comes with a DVD I'll probably never get time to watch. I've only had time to flip through it once yet. Loved the atmospheric instrumental opener Kittery (this from someone who is largely 'meh' about instrumentals), but the track that immediately caught my ear and sounded Most Gedge was Secretary, a glorious 2 minute blast in which Leeds's finest whinges repeatedly that, "I only ever seem to get through to your secretary," and, "No, I really don't want to leave a message," over an urgent guitar, interrupted by a dreamier bridge that's a little more Cinerama.

There's probably far better songs on the album, and I may end up writing about them at a later date, but for now this will do fine.

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