Wednesday 31 January 2024

Self-Help For Cynics #21: Welcoming

Hello darkness, my old friend
I've come to talk with you again...

I called this series Self-Help For Cynics because I've always been very cynical about most kinds of Self-Help. The dictionary tells me...

The words misanthropic and pessimistic are common synonyms of cynical. While all three words mean "deeply distrustful," cynical implies having a sneering disbelief in sincerity or integrity. 

I reckon I'm all three of those, but I'm trying to change... and writing this series is a big step towards doing that.

Amy Rigby - Cynically Yours

That said, I'm willing to accept that my cynicism has taken a bit of a back seat in recent editions of this feature. In fact, beyond the odd "that might not work for you, but it could be worth a try" sort of comment, I've pretty much gone along with everything I've read.

Dan Bern - Welcome

Today though, we cover an idea that has me raising an eyebrow like Roger Moore and scrunching up my face like Les Dawson. You might argue it's not possible to do both at the same time, but in my head at least, that's what I'm doing.

Welcome to Welcoming.

Alice Cooper - Welcome To My Nightmare

In the last few nail-biting editions of SHFC, we've discussed how it's best to confront your emotions head on rather than avoiding them, bottling them up or trying to distract yourself from them. The more I read, the more I see this advice given as a way of rewiring our amygdala / monkey brain, teaching it not to panic or feel anxiety in certain situations and gradually becoming a lot more chilled in the process. 

My Chemical Romance - Welcome To The Black Parade

"Feel the fear and do it anyway!" was the mantra that I rebuffed in my younger days. Now I'm grudgingly having to accept there might be something to it. However, there's a school of thought that takes this idea one step further and suggests we take time to actively welcome negative emotions. Monkey Brain Guru Dr. Jennifer Shannon explains...

When you experience fight-or-flight sensations but there is no immediate threat, it is a false alarm. Regardless of how urgent these sensations seem, resisting them will only prolong them. Pointless as they seem to be, uncomfortable sensations, like negative emotions, are necessary. The more we can welcome them, the more easily they will metabolise.

The Electric Soft Parade - Welcome To The Weirdness

At best, this sounds to me like wallowing. At worst? Could it be a form of sadomasochism? Not according to the New York Times... 

...researchers found that people who habitually judge negative feelings — such as sadness, fear and anger — as bad or inappropriate have more anxiety and depression symptoms and feel less satisfied with their lives than people who generally perceive their negative emotions in a positive or neutral light.

I took a moment to think about this in terms of music, and I wondered about famously "miserable" lyricists like Leonard Cohen, Townes Van Zandt or The Pope Of Mope himself, Stephen Patrick M-Word... were they actually happier because they "welcomed" their negative emotions? Although if that's really the case, welcoming didn't work for Nick Drake, Elliott Smith or Kurt Cobain, did it? 

Elliott Smith - Everything Means Nothing To Me

Then I thought back to the opening lines of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, as memorably delivered by John Cusack...

What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?

...and I thought... I thought... actually, maybe this provides an answer to that conundrum. Why do I like miserable music? Because it allows me to welcome negative emotions, thereby lessening their hold on me.

Rodney Allen - Happy Sad

If that were the case though, wouldn't the Goths and Emos be the most well-adjusted members of society? Maybe they are...

The Divine Comedy - The Happy Goth

Look! I found a website called "HAPPIFY"! Pour your cynicism on that, fellow misanthropes! But first, let's hear their advice...

When you feel out of sorts, centre yourself with a few deep breaths and connect inward to the emotion you're experiencing. Give it a name, and allow it the space to simply be. Say, "Hello, sadness" if that's what you're feeling, and let it roam freely until it's ready to leave—because emotions are fleeting by their very nature.

Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness

Scientists have done a variety of studies to back this up, because that's what scientists do. One involved getting volunteers to dip their hands into an ice water bath. Half the group were told to try to ignore or deny the uncomfortable sensations they felt, while the other half were told to accept the discomfort of the freezing cold. Guess who managed to keep their hands in the bath the longest? 

Brendan Benson - Cold Hands (Warm Heart) 

You might argue that actively seeking to accept or even prolong uncomfortable feelings could be rather counter-productive... or even self-destructive...  but not according to that New York Times article I mentioned earlier.

“What one resists, persists,” said Amanda Shallcross, a naturopathic physician who studies emotion regulation at the Cleveland Clinic. When you avoid your emotions, “you’re bound to experience longer-term negative mental and physical health.”

Faron Young - Hello Walls

Dr. Jennifer Shannon calls negative feelings "necessary feelings" and invites us not only to welcome them, but to provoke them. She suggests practicing by welcoming everyday anxiety-causing situations such as arriving late, listening to someone complain about you, or being in a long queue. I actually tried this final one last week when I was stuck on the M1 for an hour on my way to work. I sat there and I paid attention to what I was feeling, how my body was handling the anxiety... and I can honestly say that it did help, I didn't get as wound up as I normally would. It didn't stop me badly needing a wee though.

James Taylor - Traffic Jam

Taking this one step further, Dr. Shannon suggests "actually triggering your own negative feelings to welcome". Here are some of her suggestions...

  • Listen to a political candidate you dislike (to be fair, that could be any of them, but Trump's imminent return is enough to cause any sane person sleepless nights)
  • Watch a movie you know you won't like (life's too short for Tom Hanks, I'm sorry)
  • Turn on some music you find distasteful...

U2 - With Or Without You

I'm sorry, Dr. Shannon, but you can take this welcoming stuff too far, you know!

Remember that when you do welcoming exercises, you are not attempting to get rid of or control the feeling, nor are you trying to like the feeling.

U2 - Beautiful Day

So it's just about learning to suffer?

You are simply welcoming whatever emotion arises in that moment with your breath. Breathe in to accept the feeling. Breathe out to let go of control.

U2 - The Sweetest Thing

No. I'm sorry. This is too hard. Why would I want to do this again?

You are getting good at feeling bad.

Ah. Well, in that case...

Watching those three videos - welcoming the music of U2, you might say - did enable me to properly understand my reaction to this band. I realised it's not so much the music that causes me an unpleasant reaction... it's just Bono's smug, supremely punchable face. And that's useful, because as this series has proven time and time again, the more we understand our emotions and reactions, the easier they are to accept. 

Here's something nice to wash that unpleasant taste out of your ears: Norwegian Americana hero Harald Thune, doing his own bit of welcoming...

Tuesday 30 January 2024

Namesakes #70: The Strangers

I'm behind on my posts and you almost didn't get a Namesakes this week. Fortunately, George came to the rescue with the piece below. He's even come up with a new name for the feature. I prefer mine, but I'll let him have his way just this once...

Bands With The Same Name - The Strangers

I don’t think it has escaped Rol’s notice that I am enjoying the series of BWTSN. Playing all the songs, as I do, is somehow like listening to a radio programme, some good tracks, some astoundingly awful, some tedious, rather than listening to an album of a group I might like, so expecting to mostly like the songs with one or two duffers (for example, playing a late-era Fall album). Rol has, again, kindly offered this page to me, and I hoped to unearth some bands all called The Stranglers, and to my amazement I unearthed seemingly dozens of them. Nope, my typing let me down, I had found a whole load of Strangers. So, here you are, a bunch of Strangers to get to know better. And to any teachers who read this, here’s 16, yes sixteen*, songs to play to your class as they do a test, something to inspire them...

(*We'll see.)


To start, some red hot surfing rock and rolling American Strangers...


And here are the early 1980's soul-funk-disco Strangers (Heatwave soundalikes):


Some Australian Strangers now, who started off sounding like The Shadows, which is of course Not A Bad Thing.

137 seconds of splendid twanging. They drifted/moved away from their twangy roots, judging by later videos that will not be inflicted on you.


Strangers from a third continent now. This is an early 1970's  Afrorock/Afrobeat band from Nigeria...


A song from these Strangers (Boston USA), which I saw described as garage rock, from 1965...


Here’s a description of our next group, “After being estranged from the world, The Strangers are here to inspire a new movement in hip hop and bring restoration and guidance back to the hood”. 


Before playing the next one, I high hopes of a good listening experience. These doo-wop/Rhythm and Blues Strangers were signed to the King label. In the picture that’s Pringle Sims, second from the right.

Words that I never uttered to my partner in our courting days, even though she did live to the north of me.


Other words not seen enough on these pages, or other blogs: a song from Finland’s best 1960's twangy-guitar band:

……that translates as Three Guitars.


More European Strangers, and Thessaloniki’s best 1960's pop band (I think the translation said something like that).

This particular song seems to have attracted two of Walter’s (our pigeon) friends to the yard! Luckily, neither of the cats are near.


Next: Dublin’s very own version of Herman’s Hermits...


Not Belgian Strangers next, because (1) no videos, and (2) it seems to be a compilation album of singers none of whom are called Mr or Ms Strangers, not a band or bands, although they might all be strangers to each other. Unless the world of 1960s Belgian pop was a small village. Instead, a twangy version of a film’s theme tune by these Strangers (from Sweden).

Another Shadows-style group. 


No German-Swiss Strangers, but despite that let-down, there’s more, all the way from Panama (as the introduction says), these Strangers are wailing about pity:

That’s eleven so far. 

(I hate to quibble with a Maths teacher about numbers, but... er...)


Here’s some Birmingham (UK) Strangers (sounding a bit like Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas to these ears)...


There’s more. And again from the 1960s, New Zealand’s Strangers (have you noticed that the only continent not represented is Asia?)


More Scandinavian twangy-guitar/beat pop, from Denmark:


Anyone still here? One more to go. And it’s a one off release, one commenter on the video claims that this is his father singing.

Did I save the best until last? Am I the only one who has heard each of these songs all the way through? Which of these Strangers would you now like to be more acquainted with?

(Despite the midway miscalculation, we ended up with 16 Strangers after all. In future, I'll ask George to show his working. Apologies also to those of you who are used to the songs being in some kind of chronological order. Again: numbers, not his strong point.) 

Thank you to George for his sterling work today. This is a band name I probably would have got around to at some point, but it seems only appropriate that he does the work for me... after all, there's no one Stranger than George!

My only worry is that we'll feel his absence in the comments box today, especially with Ernie off defusing bombs and ordering his Martinis shaken not stirred in Athens. I guess I'll have to listen to them all myself...

(By the way, I did check, and there don't seem to be any other bands called The Stranglers, so George's typo worked in his favour.)

Monday 29 January 2024

Neverending Top Ten #6.7: The 150th CD

When Sam was very small, I started making compilation CDs to play in the car whenever we were out and about, with the aim of giving him a solid introduction to the wonderful world of pop music in all most of its many varieties. I don't have a date for when I made that first CD, but he must have been about one, so it was a good 9 years ago. These were the first three tracks on CD 1...

It wasn't about choosing my favourite songs, but what I thought he'd like as a one year old. He was obsessed with cars from a very young age, so the Beatles' "beep beep yeahs" seemed like an obvious opener. I'm not sure why I chose Jet Plane next, other than that it has a similar travelling message and a soaring melody that was good to sing along to. Daydream Believer, on the other hand, is just one of the greatest and most joyful pop songs ever written. It had to be there.

That first CD included other singalong greats like Sweet Caroline, Build Me Up, Buttercup and a Motown double-whammy of I Can't Help Myself and You Can't Hurry Love. Paul Simon's You Can Call Me Al was on there because we used to listen to Graceland a lot at bath / bedtime back then. Although many of the favourite artists of my youth were present (REM, Billy Joel, Freddie Mercury), there was no Bruce or Huey, Johnny, Jarvis or anything by The Smiths. And though Glen Campbell made the final cut, he was wearing rhinestones, not searching in the sun for another overload. I rip to 80 minute CDs, so I'm always limited to between 20 and 22 tracks. That said, there were a couple of leftfield choices...

And this was the most contemporary song on there...

A good nah-nah-nah-nah chorus was bound to appeal to a one year old.

Anyway, I've kept making these CDs over the years and gradually broadening Sam's knowledge of popular music, though the song choices have become less obvious and more eclectic as time's gone by. Last week, I put together SAM 150, a compilation which ranged from The Staple Singers to Leo Sayer, Pete Townsend to Modern English, Joni Mitchell to Ash, The Climax Blues Band to The Trammps to The Shangri-Las. It also included the following, even less obvious choices...

Thanks to Martin for that one.

Top power pop tune - one listen, and Sam was singing along.

And then there's this... a new discovery, but one that had me hooked as soon as Diamante Azzura Bovelli started belting out her tribute to the year I turned 15, like Pat Benatar or Bonnie Tyler at their best. Again, Sam was soon singing along. Which, considering he was born in 2013, is kind of like me singing about 1936 when I was a kid. Imagine that. 

Not that I'm trying to make you feel old. But Diamante, in case you fancy another nail in your coffin, was herself born in 1996, nine years later than the year she dreams of dancing in.  

Still, 150 CDs. You can't say I've completely wasted my life...

Sunday 28 January 2024

Snapshots #329: A Top Ten Musical Death Threats

If you feel you've been affected by any song that has threatened your life or the life of someone you know, please call our helpine.

10. Tom calls Ricky about a mix up.

"Tom calls Ricky" is an anagram.

Kirsty MacColl - Can't Stop Killing You

9. What Hulk does.

Hulk Smash!

SMASH - (I Want To) Kill Somebody

8. Lightly slap the long eared bunny. 

Pat the hare.

Pat Hare - I'm Gonna Murder My Baby

Sadly, in December 1963, Pat Hare made this song a reality when he shot his girlfriend and a policeman who came to question him. He spent the last 16 years of his life in prison, where he formed the band Sounds Incarcerated.

7. Suicidal ideations.

They wanna die. But they want you to die first.

The Wannadies - Kill You

6. Inventive mother.

He was a Mother of Invention.

Frank Zappa - My Guitar Wants To Kill Your Mama

5. Getting bored with the hot weather?

Another Sunny Day - You Should All Be Murdered

4. Part of Marvin's hearing aid and a bit of a dick.

Marvin Heard It Through The Grapevine. Moby was a dick.

Moby Grape - Murder In My Heart For The Judge

3. That Peter Gabriel album is a Knock Out.

The Peter Gabriel album was So. It was KO.

Soko - I'll Kill Her

2. Find mayhem in Emmental cheese sandwich. 

...mayhem in Emmental cheese sandwich. 

Eminem - Kill You

1. Not suitable for vegetarians.

Meat Loaf - I'll Kill You If You Don't Come Back

If you survived this one, I'll see you back here next Saturday...

Saturday 27 January 2024

Saturday Snapshots #329

No matter how Posh you are, you still need to take the lens cap off your camera before you can take a photograph.

Never mind. Here are ten artists to Spice up your Saturday. Who are they and what might they all be singing about?

10. Tom calls Ricky about a mix up.

9. What Hulk does.

8. Lightly slap the long eared bunny. 

7. Suicidal ideations.

6. Inventive mother.

5. Getting bored with the hot weather?

4. Part of Marvin's hearing aid and a bit of a dick.

3. That Peter Gabriel album is a Knock Out.

2. Find mayhem in Emmental cheese sandwich. 

1. Not suitable for vegetarians.

Answers tomorrow morning...

Friday 26 January 2024

Product Placement #25: Weetabix

Hands up if you had your mum buy Weetabix just so you could get the free gifts?

I found a website that details all the free gifts given away inside a packet of Weetabix, from the 1930s to the present day. I remembered quite a few of them from the 70s and 80s. 

They don't have free gifts inside Weetabix anymore. Further evidence, if evidence were truly required, that life was so much better when we were kids. 

As discussed last week, I couldn't eat Weetabix with cold milk, so I had hot milk (which made them dissolve into a paste) and a large spoonful of Golden Syrup to make them palatable. Sam eats his with just cold milk, nothing else. He's a much healthier child than I was. 

Here are some songs that mention Weetabix, starting, of course, with Mark E. Smith...

Real ale, curry as well - sophisticate!
Spanish guitar doesn't get far
In computer teaching job
His dreamgirl sings adverts for the Weetabix
A fancied wit that's imitation of Rumpole of Bailey

The Seahorses were John Squire's band after he fell out with Ian Brown. I see John's working with Liam Gallagher these days. He obviously has a penchant for collaborating with Neanderthals.

Please, may I leave the table? I don't think that I'll be able
To swallow your family values again today
Because a giant squid, he stole my wife and kid
Full story and pix, ten pence off your Weetabix, yeah, yeah

Louise is gluten free. She has, on occasion, tried that dietary alternative to Weetabix. Although these guys don't recommend it...

I would rather die than eat gluten-free Weet-Bix!

For many people though, Weetabix are symbolic of the start of the day. This probably rings a bell for a few people...

Kids to school, waking up at 6
Half asleep and making baby bowls of Weetabix
Now dogs keep barking and the neighbours start shouting
And next thing I know my eyes closed, just despairing

At least Jilted John gets a bit longer in bed...

I got up at half past six
And had two Weetabix
And then I put my Parka on
And went into the street

For Lindisfarne's Alan Hull though, Weetabix is part of a much bigger breakfast...

Intimate breakfast scene: sausage, egg and beans
Weetabix, jam, lightly grilled brown ham

Greedy git. These days, I just have a coffee. And some of us are struggling with our budgets, Alan - take this dude, for instance...

I want to dine out in style but I'm bloody skint
I've got 27p and a Polo mint
And a natural aversion to another buttered Weetabix

While Poly Styrene appears to be a bit confused about what Weetabix are for...

My mind is like a plastic bag
That corresponds to all those ads
It sucks up all the rubbish
That is fed in through by ear
I eat Kleenex for breakfast
And use soft hygienic Weetabix
To dry my tears

My most important discovery today was that Goths like Weetabix too...

Tune into the horror
This is Dracula's daughter
There is a coffin and crucifix too
And then just after the struggle
With the good and the evil
There's a Weetabix advert to view

We end with the closing track from Robyn Hitchcock's debut solo album from 1981, Black Snake Diamond Röle. It's a Love song...

The gnomes are moving through the night
They sing and fiddle with delight
And we eat Weetabix and sing
About the joys that love can bring
Ah, ah, ah, ah - if they ever come...

Have you had yours?

Thursday 25 January 2024

Idiomusic #1: Nowhere Fast

The interweb tells me than an idiom is "a group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words". I'm not sure I agree with that - you often can figure out the meaning of an idiom if you sit and think about it. 

"Raining cats and dogs"? 

It's belting down; the rain is so heavy it's like small domesticated animals falling out of the sky.

"Sit on the fence"?  

There's one field of opinion to the left, one field of opinion to the right - you can't decide which you agree with (or don't want to upset either field owner) so you sit on the fence in-between.

Regardless, having taught English to students of other languages, I will say that the preponderance of idioms in our language is one of many things that makes it so bloody difficult to learn (or to teach, at least).

All this is an introduction to a lazy new feature where I pick a random idiom and see how many songwriters have decided to steal it to make a tune from.

We begin... by going Nowhere Fast. And I guess we have to start with this one, a fine example of why (latter day crimes not withstanding) Morrissey should still be considered the greatest lyricist of his generation.

And when I'm lying in my bed
I think about life
And I think about death
And neither one particularly appeals to me

Girls At Our Best! (exclamation mark theirs) came from Leeds in 1979. They self-financed their debut single on their own Record Records label and it reached #9 in the UK Indie chart. It was later covered by The Wedding Present.

Girls At Our Best! - Going Nowhere Fast

A little bit of cowpunk next from Jason Ringenberg and his hot backing band...

Jason & The Scorchers - Gettin' Nowhere Fast

Still on the country side of town, here's a Fabulously Superlative singer...

Marty Stuart - Goin' Nowhere Fast

Some shiny new country next. A bit too polished for some of you hard-bitten cowpokes, but I like this kind of stuff in small doses...

Old Dominion - Nowhere Fast

And here's a gentleman who sounds like he should be in a country band - or the Waltons. It's Jim Bob...

Carter USM - Nowhere Fast

Meanwhile, in New York City...

Joey Ramone - Going Nowhere Fast

Shoes were an American power pop band from Zion, Illinois. They were one of the first bands to be played on MTV... presumably before anyone started watching it. 

Shoes - Nowhere So Fast

Capital Cities come from LA. Hmpf. They should come from Washington DC.

Capital Cities -  Patience Gets Us Nowhere Fast

And now, a little German beat music from the 90s...

Johnny No And The No-Men - Going Nowhere Fast

I did find a band called Nowhere Fast as well. They released a solitary album in 1982. That's the record cover at the top of this page. You can listen to all of it on the tube of you. I'm guessing they went... 

You can finish that sentence yourself, I'm sure.

The phrase Nowhere Fast is an oxymoron, so it was bound to appeal to Jim Steinman who loves contradiction as much as he does hyperbole. This was one of only two Steinman compositions on the fourth Meat Loaf album, Bad Attitude, and naturally it's one of the best two songs on that record.  It was originally recorded by Fire Inc. for the soundtrack of the rock n roll movie Streets Of Fire starring Michael Paré, Diane Lane, Rick Moranis and Willem Dafoe. The movie was an expensive flop, but it's got a pretty decent soundtrack.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Self-Help For Cynics #20: Ninety Second Emotions

Last weekend, Louise and I had a bit of an argument. It wasn't a particularly important one, just one of the hundreds of squabbles most human beings living under the same roof as other human beings will subject themselves to over the course of the year. I can't even remember what it was about now, but at the time I was livid.

The O'Jays - 992 Arguments

I'm kinda putting off tackling the subject of anger in this series, because it's a huge kettle of anchovies. I'm avoiding it because it looks like it'll be hard work... and those of you who read last week's post will realise that's rather counter-productive of me. Hey, I'm not claiming to be following my own advice all the time - take your "physician, heal thyself" comments and stick them where the sun don't shine. 


Drive-By Truckers - Sun Don't Shine

Anyway, after the argument, I took myself off to stew in the living room. I hate any kind of disagreement, so will take the first opportunity to run away and do whatever I can to avoid it starting up again. This will usually involve not discussing the subject of the argument or anything else for as long as possible, since any form of communication might re-trigger the aggro. Some people might call this sulking. I prefer to term it Crisis Management. 

Billy Bragg - Sulk

After about a minute though, Louise came to find me. "Here we go again," I thought, at which point Louise said...

"Are you finding those new tuna tins hard to drain? I find they leave a ring and you have to press down and it doesn't get all the water out so you end up with really mushy tuna and..."

I'll spare you the rest, but it was as though our earlier disagreement hadn't even happened and instantly we were back to discussing the trivial annoyances of day to day living. Well, Louise was, anyway. Me... I find it much harder to reset my emotions like that. 

The Band of Holy Joy - Baubles, Bangles, Emotional Tangles

In her immensely readable book Unf*ck Your Brain, the delightfully foul-mouthed Dr. Faith G, Harper tells us...

"Our emotions influence our thoughts and behaviours. They are meant to be a physiological signal to the rest of the brain. Once they have done their jobs, they are then meant to dissipate.

Do you know how long an emotion is actually meant to last?

90 seconds.

Seriously, just one and a half minutes for an emotion to run its course. 

But you are calling "bullshit" right now, I know. Because if that were really the case, why do our emotions last hours, days, or years? 90 seconds? Not so much.

Emotions last longer than 90 seconds because we continue to fuel them with our thoughts. We do this by telling ourselves the same stories about the triggering situation over and over. This is when they stop being emotions and start becoming moods."

The Sound - The One And A Half Minute Song

Our emotions last exactly as long as that tune. And this one...

Van Morrison - Hold On, George

And exactly one second longer than this.

The Swell Maps - Read About Seymour

So how do we stop our 90 second emotions becoming full-on hissy fits, extended bouts of pout, or lock-yourself-in-the-toilet meltdowns?  

The answer, according to the experts, presumably people who never experience more than 90 seconds of negative emotions at any one time, is to take control of our own feelings and become emotionally self-aware. 

Slaves - Take Control

Yes, we can self-regulate our emotions! 

Warren G ft. Nate Dogg - Regulate

This all seems like a shed-load of work to me, but here's a few tips from Psychology Today about how to stop 90 seconds of upset ruining your entire day...

“Look at the second hand on a watch. As soon as you look at it, you’re now observing yourself having this physiological response instead of engaging with it. It will take less than 90 seconds, and you will feel better. Of course, you can always go back to thinking those thoughts that re-stimulate the loop. There’s probably a thought somewhere in your brain of somebody who did you wrong 20 years ago. Every time you think of that person it still starts that circuit. When things are getting hot and you’re getting hot-headed, look at your watch. It takes 90 seconds to dissipate that anger response.”

The Sweet - Own Up, Take a Look at Yourself

We keep coming back to this on Self-Help For Cynics. Make yourself aware of what your brain is doing as a first step to taking back control. But how easy is that to do in the heat of the moment when your brain is fired up with the matter at hand? I reckon it'll take practice.

Uriah Heep - Look At Yourself

Sweary Dr. Faith takes this idea one step further. She suggests facing your emotions head on. Sitting down and wallowing in them. relishing them, living them to their full potential.

Not avoiding them.

Not just putting up with them.

Actually grasping the nettle and saying to yourself, "Hey, I'm angry / frightened / sad / etc. right now. This is what it feels like. It might feel pretty awful, but I know it won't last, so let's just give it a bit of time, give it its space."

Primal Scream - Don't Fight It, Feel It

Again, hardly the easiest course of action - particularly for those of us who are Professional Conflict-Avoiders. But, Dr. Faith assures us...

"If you attend to what you're feeling, you get over it way more quickly than if you avoid it. I've noticed I'm bored with myself about three minutes into committing to sitting with my feeling for five. I'm ready to go make a cup of coffee, read a book, find the cookies I hid from myself, or do anything other than perserverate."

REO Speedwagon - Can't Fight This Feeling

Perseverate, people! That's my word of the week. The kind people at Dictionary Corner tell me it means... repeat or prolong an action, thought, or utterance after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased.

Kate Bush - Feel It

All this makes me think that the brain is like a small child that wants our attention when we're otherwise occupied. You can try to ignore the child's continued efforts to disrupt your day... or you can try to muddle along, balancing the thing you're doing with giving the child a bit of attention. Or you can drop everything and give the child your full attention - blatantly. "OK, I'm watching you... what are you doing? Can I watch you do that too? Show me more! Let me watch YOU!" 

I've actually done this with Sam on occasion, and often he'll get bored with this sudden bout of hyper-attention and actually want to be left alone for a bit. The people in the know tells us that our brain will do exactly the same thing... if we give it the attention it craves.

The Creation - How Does It Feel To Feel?

As with everything else in this series, I don't claim any of this is a magic wand or a miracle cure. But it is something to think about...

Tuesday 23 January 2024

Namesakes #69: The Crusaders

What's the greatest double act in history? Sonny & Cher? Peters & Lee? Chaka Demus & Pliers?

Surely it must be Religion and War, that inseparable dynamic duo who enjoyed their greatest hits during The Crusades, religious wars that began in the 11th century... and are still going on in one form or another today.

Calling your band The Crusaders therefore comes with quite a bit of baggage. Not that this stopped any of these guys...


Joe Sample, Wilton Felder and Nesbert "Stix" Hooper started playing together in 1954 as The Swingsters. In 1960, they moved from Texas to LA and became The Jazz Crusaders, though they dropped the J-word in the early 70s in order to reach a wider audience, which they did in 1979 with their crossover hit Street LIfe, featuring Randy Crawford on vocals. They stuck around in one form or another until 2010. Drummer Stix Hooper is the only surviving member of the original line-up.

I decided to go with the 11 minute version, 'specially for George...  


Next up, an early 60s soul act from California. You'll be disappointed to learn, I'm sure, that this isn't a prototype for that famous Cher song.


Ohio surf band (Ohio is not on the coast, though it does border on Lake Eerie, so maybe they went surfing there) from 1964. The first band of Roger Troutman, who would go on to become a George Clinton protégé and a big name in the 80s funk scene, both solo and as part of the band Zapp. His work was often sampled by West Coast hip hop acts... probably not this track though. 


Southern Californian God-Botherers (the first of many) from 1966. Also known as The Love Exchange. Which sounds a bit icky to me.


Another religious group from Illinois who released a number of albums in the 60s and 70s, and also collaborated with Lowell Mason, "The Singing Midget". And that is why I do this feature.

Jerry Reed does a great version of that song.


Garage rockers from Nebraska in 1967 with a song title that proved sadly prophetic for the rest of their career.


A lost gem of Philly soul from 1969...


From Church Hill, Tennessee in 1970 comes another religious group. I could only find a link to the full album, I'm afraid. Still...

"It is their hope that this recording will present many hours of listening pleasure, and that you will receive as great a blessing from listening as they receive from singing them."

There were probably about 150 other religious groups I could have included in this feature, but I'm not going to. Every US State had at least three, it seems. Just be satisfied in knowing that I listened to every one and chose the very best for your delectation.


A change of pace now with some Aussie punks from the 90s who liked to dress up as your actual Crusaders. What's not to love?


Spanish Oi! band from about 10 years ago...


And finally, some German Oi! from around the same time...

Twelve different Crusaders to choose from... but which will you worship? Choose well, or the soldiers will be round to speak to you.

Monday 22 January 2024

Celebrity Jukebox #121: Pluto, Marlena & Mary

Another three names from my record collection heading for that great concert in the sky, starting with the wonderfully monikered Pluto Shervington, real name Leighton. Best known for his unappetising recipe for Ram Goat Liver and its follow-up, a Top Ten hit in 1976 called Ram in which a Rastafarian doing his weekly shop tries to buy cheap pork (forbidden by his religion) in order to have enough money left over to spend on weed. They don't write 'em like that anymore...

From the same era, we also say goodbye to soul / blues / jazz singer Marlena Shaw, a lady who expertly balanced a feminist stance (see her album Who Is This Bitch, Anyway?) with provocative covers like the one above. That aside, it's the music she'll be remembered for, including the theme tune to the controversial movie Looking For Mr. Goodbar, the wonderful Yu-Ma / Go Away Little Boy and a classy version of Ashford & Simpson's California Soul...

And finally, it's with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to the lead singer of the Shangri-Las, Mary Weiss. Although she mostly gave up music in the late 60s to become an interior designer, she made a triumphant return 40 years later with an acclaimed solo record...

However, her greatest contribution to popular culture came with the Shangri-Las, a band who took teenage melodrama to another level, providing a key influence to the next generation of stars and songwriters, including the Ramones, Blondie, the Jesus & Mary Chain and Jim Steinman.

When I say I'm in love, you best believe I'm in love, L-U-V

That's Mary with the opening line to a classic Shangri-Las song from 1965...

It's also the opening line to this, from 1973...

And this, from 1990...

And this, from 1991...

Here are a couple of nice lyrical tributes...

Voices from nowhere and voices from the larger town
Filled our head full of dreams and turned our world upside down
And there was Frankie Lymon, Bobby Fuller, Mitch Ryder
(They were rocking)
Jackie Wilson, Shangri-las, Young Rascals
(They were rocking)

And there's only one thing I like more than a stereotypically subservient female automaton
And that's a stereotypically subservient female automaton that's unbelievably crap at its job
Cause when you're asked to play Girl Band
(I love Girl Band)
You play The Shangri-Las
(I also like The Shangri-Las)

And here's Mary herself will a little teenage dating advice.

Back to the Shangri-Las though, and while Leader Of The Pack is their most famous song, for me they never bettered the overblown adolescent angst of this Shadow Morton masterpiece based on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. A pop song so utterly unique that it will... never... happen... again.

Sunday 21 January 2024

Snapshots #328: A Top Ten Songs About Different Types Of Fish

Something very fishy was going on yesterday morning. 

What did you catch?

10. In the end, he's pretty selfish.

He's pretty selFISH.

Fish - Goldfish & Clowns

Don't say I don't give you extra clues. We had Richard Herring yesterday too!

9. She'll do little to strip the raincoat from Cold War paranoia.

Eliza Dolittle...

Joseph McCarthy was in charge of Cold War paranoia. Take away his mac and he's just Carthy.

Eliza Carthy - Herring Song

8. The best possible, according to Kenny.

Kenny Everett always did things in the best possible taste.

Taste - Catfish

7. Named after their "black" German guitarist.

Brinsley Schwarz - Do The Cod

6. From Iceland, where they mix an oilier Martini.

"Oilier Martini" was an anagram for this Icelandic singer...

Emiliana Torrini - Tuna Fish

5. Sure to be run over.

Middle Of The Road - Soley Soley

OK, so the fish is a sole. But I still couldn't resist this one.

4. Get Marilyn to pay for it.

Bill Monroe!

Bill Monroe - Pike County Breakdown

3. Sounds like she's saying no to a tree, a bomb or a Red record label.

Neneh Cherry (featuring Michael Stipe) - Trout

2. Could be one of the Simpsons.

Not Homer's clan, a different Simpson...

Orange Juice - Salmon Fishing In New York

1. They often get broken.

Sadly, hearts gets broken all the time.

Heart - Barracuda

A tough haul this week... though I did have a few more caught in the net...

Half Man Half Biscuit - Grafting Haddock In The George

Tom Waits - Swordfishtrombone

Baby Lemonade - Secret Goldfish

The Heart Throbs - Tuna

Radiohead - Packt Like Sardines In a Crushd Tin Box

Mansun - Drastic Sturgeon

Something far less fishy next Saturday.


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