Sunday 31 December 2023

Snapshots #325: A Top Ten Songs About Famous Composers

War, war is stupid, and people are stupid... but not you guys! You always solve the Snapshots. It's a miracle!

This week, ten songs about famous composers...

10. By the time I get there, she'll be rising.

The opening line of By The Time I Get To Phoenix.

9. One day, they will fly.

Sparks will fly, when they grow up.

8. Kiss me, behind the Mulberry.

Kiss me, Kate, behind the Mulberry Bush.

7. Clichéd utterances from Scottish Spector. 

Och aye... does anyone in Scotland actually say that? Maybe when they're talking to Phil Spector?

6. Grander than a garden shed.

No, I've never heard of Gazebo either, but apparently this was a 1983 Number One in 7 European countries. In the UK, we were too busy listening to Karma Chameleon.

5. 1% of a million fruitcakes.

4. Just like Frank and Betty.

Frank Black and Black Betty, that is.

3. Random menus in disarray. 

"Random menus" was an anagram.

2. Usually found in an offal competition.

Usually found in an offal competition.

Is this the only UK Number One song ever to be sung almost entirely in German?

1. Throw away your black and blues.

Chuck out your blackberries and blueberries... and tell Tachaikovsky the news!

Chuck Berry - Roll Over, Beethoven

Compose yourselves. Snapshots will be back next Saturday.

Saturday 30 December 2023

Saturday Snapshots #325

Do You Know Where You're Going To, this Saturday morning? Easy - you're going to solve this week's Snapshots! Turn your brain Upside Down and try to work out who the ten artists below could be... then tell me the Chain Reaction that connects their songs.

10. By the time I get there, she'll be rising.

9. One day, they will fly.

8. Kiss me, behind the Mulberry.

7. Clichéd utterances from Scottish Spector. 

6. Grander than a garden shed.

5. 1% of a million fruitcakes.

4. Just like Frank and Betty.

3. Random menus in disarray. 

2. Usually found in an offal competition.

1. Throw away your black and blues.

I'm Still Waiting for the answers... if you are too, all will be revealed tomorrow morning.

Friday 29 December 2023

My Top Ten Albums of 2023

23 words describing each of my Top Ten albums of 2023. Because I use far too many words the rest of the year...

10. Whitehorse - I'm Not Crying, You're Crying

Husband and wife Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland join forces for their 8th album, venturing further into Canadian Americana territory than ever before.  

I went down division five local RCMP to file a missing persons report.
Well, they looked me up and down then their eyes went to the ground
They burst out laughing and they showed me the door
Said, "We ain't never seen nobody so lost before."

9. Robert Forster - The Candle & The Flame

A tender tribute to his wife's fight against cancer and a touching rumination on the aging process. His most personal album to date?

Feel changes in my mind
I’m walkin’ to school in ‘69
The next day I’m 35

8. Emily Breeze - Rapture

It's taken her a long time to break through... but the wisdom of bitter experience gives Emily an edge over her younger rivals.

One day you will find yourself at a friends 40th birthday party
Wondering how the days turned into decades and if anyone still does drugs
And you will dance, dance off the minutes and the moments
And magic and the misery and the miracles and monotony
As you unfurl into infinity among the solar systems and galaxies
A dopamine driven pinball machine studded with hair and nails and teeth
Hard wired with desire and fear and dreams hosted by the ghost of a memory
of a memory, of a memory, of a memory of a memory

There's nothing wrong with an ordinary life

7. LYR - The Ultraviolet Age

Poet Laureate Simon Armitage's latest band might come with the subtitle "For English Teachers Only"... but they deserve wider recognition. Poetry in emotion.

She said she liked
the flowers I sent
but wondered why
they had no scent,
and why the food
had lost its taste,
and why the nurse
had covered her face?

And why the gates of the park were shut?
And why the shops were boarded up?
And why the swings were tied in knots?
And the music... why had the music stopped?

6. Laura Cantrell - Just Like A Rose: The Anniversary Sessions

Back after 9 years, and better than ever, with an ear for lyrical detail and a joyful tune... the First Lady of Americana?

Angry white man, you'd have me believe
You're beset and besieged
Your reputation is aggrieved
Climbed your way up to the tallest high chair
Do you feel safer up there?
I see you're loaded for bear ...

Angry white man
My favorite part
Is saying "bless your heart, 
Bless your heart"

5. Jim Bob - Thanks For Reaching Out

Jim Bob's self-proclaimed masterpiece. Beware the hype, JB - cynical miserablists like me will expect too much. Great record, just not your best.

This is my mixtape, my romantic gesture
A dozen red roses left on your doorstep
This is my balcony scene, my drunken tattoo
My heart-shaped balloon, my graffiti on a factory wall
This is my Taj Mahal, my Albert Memorial
My Hanging Gardens of Babylon
This is my Long and Winding Road, my God Only Knows
My Up the Junction
Typed out on a bus and sent from my iPhone

4. Ben Folds - What Matters Most

A slow-burner, with only one track representing his piano-stomping past; otherwise this is a reflective post-fame record to be relished by middle-aged musos. 

But it's a big world with un-famous people
Who deserve the grand applause
And they quietly carry on
I'd like to think that I could be that strong

Daydreaming on the bus, that's all
Now it's back to anonymous

3. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit - Weathervanes

Just another great Jason Isbell record. The quality never dips. If Laura is the First Lady of Americana, this guy is the President...

Are you looking for something easy?
Do you need to feel alive?
Do you crave a love that tears through your life like a Category Five?
My momma spent every day alone
In a house of noise and names
She got so tired of putting out fires
She just laid down in the flames

We're running out of options
I've told you all my jokes
If you insist on being lonely
Can you leave a couple smokes?

2. BC Camplight - The Last Rotation Of The Earth

Supposedly his final record (let’s hope not!), this sees Brian waiting for the Tesco man and dreading the future. Brutally honest and life-affirming.

"Oh, what a bеautiful morning"
I say to the Tesco guy
"I've seen my fair sharе
But there's something about this one"
He goes, "Are you okay?"
I look him in the eye
We both smile

1. Jenny Lewis - Joy'all

Wry melancholia, world-weary romance, exuberant self-sufficiency... it’s another flawless set from the former Rilo Kiley chanteuse - like the Carpenters but more kick-ass! 

My forties are kicking my ass
And handing 'em to me in a margarita glass
I was infatuated with an older man
And then I dated a psychopath

So I'm 44 in 2020 and thank God I saved up some money
Time to ruminate like, "What the fuck was that?"

Like a shot of good luck
I got a puppy and a truck
If you feel like giving up
Shut up
Get a puppy and a truck

Thursday 28 December 2023

2023: The Best Of The Rest

Before we get to the Top Ten, a brief round up of other noteworthy records I've been listening to this year that I couldn't shoehorn into previous posts.

Karine Polwart didn't have a new album out this year, otherwise she would have been in the Old Faithfuls category. She did, however, release an EP called Seek The Light, from which came one of my favourite tunes of 2023, Windblown. Folk Radio explains the song's background...

"...the story of the old Sabal bermudana palm that was the pride of Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden (RBGE), the oldest specimen in its living collection. Sadly, the plant’s desire to seek the light sealed its own fate. Its towering growth threatened to push through the dome of the garden’s iconic Victorian tropical glasshouse."

Karine Polwart, Dave Milligan & Pippa Murphy - Wind Blown

Staying in Edinburgh, we find local lad (although he was born in London), Dan Wilson, who released his latest Withered Hand record this year. He's hardly what you'd call prolific - this is only his third release since 2009 - but he's always worth a listen.

Withered Hand - Waking Up

Our final Scottish offering comes from another perennial favourite, Daniel Meade, who describes his latest album, Your Madness Is My Medicine, as "a welcome return to the boogie woogie & rock n roll".

Daniel Meade - Your Madness Is My Medicine

Andrew Blackaby comes from London where he became a Born Again Christian at age 13, and then had to fight to extract himself from the grip of his church. His latest record, Comeback Innocence, deals with the extra dollop of teenage angst that ensued...

And we're doing our best, we're doing our best
I guess that much is true
But like Travis Driftwood on The Man Who
I'll drift away from you

Blackaby - Teenage Purity

Another Andrew, though far more Savage than the last, is the co-frontman of New York-via Texas band Parquet Courts. He also does his own thing, and I was rather taken by this single... not just because I like songs about Elvis. It reminds me of Stephen Malkmus.

A. Savage - Elvis In The Army

The Gaslight Anthem came back this year, bringing their old pal / idol Bruce Springsteen along for the ride. Bruce appears to be filling his spare time by guesting on other people's records these days - he's popped up on songs by Bleachers, John Mellencamp, Jesse Malin, Lucinda Williams and probably a load more I haven't come across just yet. Anyway, I've only just started giving serious time to the latest Gaslight Anthem album, but it does appear to be something of a return to form.

The Gaslight Anthem (ft. Bruce Springsteen) - History Books  

The Sleaford Mods are a band I can only take in small doses, because they look and sound like the kind of dodgy geezers you'd steer well clear of if you saw them walking down your local high street on a Saturday night. Still, when they drafted in Florence Shaw from Dry Cleaning to start swearing along with them in her usual deadpan style, they got a sizable amount of plays from me. Extra marks for re-using the title of the 1978 sequel to The Guns of Navarone...

Sleaford Mods feat. Florence Shaw - Force 10 From Navarone 

And while we're here, it's worth mentioning the Mods' "Christmas single", a cover of West End Girls by The Pet Shop Boys which sounds exactly like one of the blokes described above grabbing the mic on Karaoke Night and giving it his "best"... with everybody in the audience too scared to snatch the mic back. All profits going to Shelter though, so you can't knock 'em for it.

Sleaford Mods - West End Girls

Finally, the album that I would have placed at #11 in my Year End Countdown, if I could have been bothered to count past ten. Rare Birds: Hour of Song by ramshackle Welsh wonders The Bug Club is as good as most of my Top Ten, to be fair, but I was annoyed by all the spoken word between-song interludes... to the point that I edited them out to create a music more enjoyable record. A hugely enjoyable purchase, nevertheless...

The Bug Club - We Can't All Play Saxophones

The Bug Club - Short And Round

Wednesday 27 December 2023

2023: New Music From Old Faithfuls

There are certain artists whose work I will buy sight unseen. Or do I mean "hear unheard"? They've got a new record out? I must have it now. I know there will be enough in there to tick the boxes on my musical appreciation scale whether the cognoscenti or the reviewers or the zeitgeist agrees with me or not. Of course, they won't all be winners (I point you towards Bruce's soul covers album of last year), but I still want them on the shelf.

Here are the Must Have records I bought Hear Unheard this year...

Lloyd Cole - On Pain

I wrote about Lloyd's new album after seeing him play live for the umpteenth time at the end of October. I don't have much to add to that review. It is still on rotation and most of the songs have wormed their way into my good graces, but I'd still prefer it if he got over this 80s electronica phase and went back to making nice safe guitar music. Lyrically though, he's still got it. As the album's opening lines ably demonstrate...

I can't be trusted with your money
Look what I did
Every time that you gave it to me
I can't be trusted with your secrets
Look what I did
Every time that you gave them to me

Lloyd Cole - On Pain

The Handsome Family - Hollow

Brett and Rennie Sparks returned with their first album of Gothic Americana in seven years. It's not as immediate as their earlier stuff - age brings a kind of contemplative wisdom to their songwriting, I guess - but it rewards the effort if you're willing to give it time. 

The Handsome Family - Skunks

The Hold Steady - The Price Of Progress

Another band I've been following faithfully since the early noughties is Craig Finn's The Hold Steady. Finn has a pretty steady work ethic at the moment, alternating Hold Steady releases with his solo albums... although I have to confess, I'm starting to prefer the latter. The Price Of Progress is the band's ninth album, and it's a good listen, but not quite as good as A Legacy of Rentals, last year's Top 3 offering from Finn on his own.

The Hold Steady - Sideways Skull

Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real - Sticks & Stones

One artist who's only entered my Reliable Purchase list over the last couple of years is Willie's boy, Lukas Nelson. He's incredibly prolific - this is his 8th album in 13 years - and pretty much sticks to a formula of hard luck, heartbroken country with much time spent drowning his sorrows in booze, but if you like that kind of thing, he rarely puts a foot wrong.

Lukas Nelson & The Promise Of The Real - Wrong House

Juliana Hatfield - Juliana Hatfield Sings ELO

A late entry, but one I've no doubt I'll be listening to well into the New Year. Following on from her excellent Olivia Newton John covers record of 2018, Juliana picks another top 70s/80s artist to reinvent. (We'll skip over her Police covers record, for reasons to do with the manufacturing of silk purses from bovine ears.) Actually, "reinvent" is probably taking it a bit far, as these are pretty faithful to the originals, but she doesn't choose the obvious tracks (apart from Don't Bring Me Down) and the result is the best kind of aural comfort food.

Hamish Hawk - Angel Numbers

It takes quite an effort to become an Old Faithful after only one album, but Hamish Hawk went to the top of the class following his 2021 LP Heavy Elevator. I've been salivating with expectation for the follow-up, and it may well be that I set my expectations too high (something I'll discuss again in this year's Top Ten). Angel Numbers is a great album despite my unrealistic hopes of stadium-conquering crossover glory... but there's still time, Hamish.

Wherе's my limelight?
If I'm to nurse the fеver I carry inside
I'll starve, I will not stifle my appetite

It's nigh-on high time
I can barely make out the mountain no-one taught me to climb
And frightened allies take swipes at my sides

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Namesakes #65: The Boxers

Well, it is Boxing Day. I imagine you might have better things to do. But just in case you're at a lose end, here are some Boxers. Who will win this Title Fight?


Taken from the soundtrack of a 1964 Broadway musical that explored controversial themes for the time (the immigrant experience, mixed race relationships, boxers dying in the ring). The show ran until 1968 with Sammy Davis Jr. in the lead role, by which time his marriage had ended and his voice was seriously damaged. This was the overture...


In 1983, the geniuses at Gypsy Records had the brainwave of getting a bunch of professional boxers to enter a recording studio. From the image below, I've been able to identify Errol Christie, Terry Spinks and, yes, Frank Bruno. You might recognise some of the others.

Imagine Chas 'n' Dave's Snooker Loopy without the talents of Chas or Dave.


A promo single for the famous South African boxer Arthur ‘The Fighting Prince’ Mayisela, released in 1986... though you could probably work that out just by listening to it.


1999 German hiphop "cover" of the Simon & Garfunkel classic... except all they really do is steal the "Li-la-li" bits and then make up the rest on their own time. I like this a lot more than I expected to - it reminds me of the Fun Lovin' Criminals.


Eminently forgettable fare from a landfill in Sackville, New Brunswick, released in 2013.


From 2016, a Chicago band described by one fan on bandcamp as "that filipino psychedelic doo-wop band". I'm not sure I hear any of that, but...


This, on the other hand, is a punk band who actually do come from the Phillipines.


Meandering acoustic singer-songwritery stuff from Asheville, North Carolina in 2019.


Finally, an Australian band from 2020, with a track called... erm...

Did any of them knock you out... or should we just ban Boxers altogether?

Monday 25 December 2023

Time To Make The Gravy

I never see much point in writing a blog post for Christmas Day - I'm sure you've all got far better things to do with your time than read my inane ramblings. Still, I would like to thank you all for putting up with this drivel for another year. You're a very special bunch. I hope you have the Christmas you deserve.

Here are some Christmas songs I'm not yet sick of, starting with Rhett Miller's band, The Old 97s, who made a surprising guest appearance in last year's Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special on Disney+. 

If you act nicely through the night
And don't jump on your bed
Santa comes with sugar plums
And hurls them at your head

But if you're on his naughty list
He shoots missiles at your toes
He might just roast your chestnuts
With his powerful flamethrower

They also do a song with Kevin Bacon, because who wouldn't want to do a song with Kevin Bacon if they got the chance?

BBC Radio Scotland DJ Ian Anderson plays Australian songwriter Paul Kelly's How To Make Gravy every year at this time. It's about a convict writing a letter home to his family at Christmas and it's become a firm favourite.

Now here's his Bobness with his madcap cover of Mitch Miller's festive tune from 1960...

Andy Burrows & Tom Smith made one of my favourite Christmas albums in 2011. The post-relevant NME gave it 1/10 which makes it a winner in my book. 

Finally, the best Christmas song ever written by The Handsome Family... 

Sunday 24 December 2023

Snapshots #324: A Top Ten Reindeer Songs

Happy Christmas Eve!

Here are some Reindeer Songs...

10. Truck that took the late James Broad's indie power-pop band to gigs.

The late James Broad was the lead singer of the excellent Silver Sun, responsible for the loudest gig I ever attended. These guys though are the...

Silversun Pickups - Dots and Dashes (Enough Already)

And that's as close as I could get to a song about Dasher.

9. If we have a White Christmas, these ladies will have no problem getting around.

Sister Sledge - He's The Greatest Dancer

8. Go ahead, punk, make my day by giving me something that is helpful or beneficial.

Clint Eastwood said "Go ahead, punk..." Something that is helpful or beneficial is a boon.

The Clint Boon Experience - Comet Theme No. 1

7. Someone's sneaking round the corner. Could it be Mack...?

The Knife - Christmas Reindeer

6. Befuddled by Fat Hell.

"Fat Hell" is an anagram. That's Brix Smith fronting, not Mark E. As she does on this tune...

The Fall - Vixen 

5. A body of representatives.

The Delegation - Dance, Prance, Boogie

And that's as close as I could get to Prancer.

4. Award winning lady meets man of ash.

She won an Emmy. He's in Ash.

Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler - Jesus The Reindeer

3. He made OK cameos.


Sam Cooke - Cupid

2. Hard to make out who it is.

Badly Drawn Boy - Donna & Blitzen

1. All these guys (and plenty more).

Clockwise from top right...

Don't forget to leave a carrot out for the reindeer tonight.

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