Saturday, 26 December 2009

Week 17 - Dub a Dub a Dub Dub (The True Sound of Christmas)

Yes it's Christmas, yes it's a blog about Christmas songs, and yes there are some less traditional ones in it. Big whoop, wanna fight about it?

Anyway, ridding myself of the true spirit of Christmas for a minute and pretending to be oh-so jolly, I'll wish everyone a Merry Christmas, but hold off extending those sentiments to the new year as I'm hoping to have done another blog by then.

For me, Slade, Wizzard et al are beyond the pale when it comes to Christmas tunes. They're so deeply imbedded into the festive fabric that I can't begin to consider them songs. They're like the chill wind blowing through the aisles of supermarkets and shops selling yuletide tat. As such I can't really hear them anymore. Although I do still hear Noddy scream "It's Chriiiiiiiiiiiistmas", oh yes. I hear that as if I'm in Alabama State Penitentiary and Bubba's just crept up behind me and whispered "I'm gwine-a make you my beeeatch". I don't much care for it. It's not that I don't like Slade, the rest of the year their songs are great.

Another 'traditional' one that doesn't make my best three is Fairytale of New York. I love this, whether it be Kirsty and the Pogues, Christy Moore or even No Use for a Name. The problem is that I can listen to this at any time of the year, and quite often do.

But onwards.

First up is a song from 1965, but you really wouldn't know it. It sounds much later. It's the Sonics doing Santa Claus. I'm not a fan of saccharine sludge and this really puts the claws into Santa, proper fuzz guitars from a garage band. Considering the lyrics revolve around getting nothing for Christmas, it's remarkably upbeat. Rock on.

Next is a wonderful track by a band I've always struggled to get in to. It's Just like Christmas by Low. A lovely voice and sleigh bells means it just oozes festive cheer. It seems to be about a tour of Scandinavia and how the band find their seasonal spirit in Oslo. Oh, and it mentions snow and wintery places. All good.

Finally, I suppose this is by far the most 'traditional' song on this list - it's on those 100% Christmas! albums you see. It's a song about war, and perhaps cynically added a bridge and sleigh bells to make it Christmassy. Still, it has one of the most recognisable intros ever. It's perfect music for nodding your and playing the imaginary trumpet and is ripe for a dub cover version. Word to the wise though, don't put it on repeat on a jukebox boozer, publicans don't always appreciate it.

It's Jona Lewie's Stop the Cavalry and I love it!

Ho ho ho, merry Christmas and all that.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Week 16 - Scandimania part two

I don't think it will be much of a surprise to find out that this is a follow up to last week's Nordic love-in.

Therefore I won't disappoint you.

This week ventures deeper into Scandinavia than just the Polly Tones, but thankfully not into the regions of Abba, A-Ha and the Rasmus. Instead it's a mixture of haunting folk covers and awesome modern psych, just the way I like it!

But anyway, on with the show.

Remember German synthpop act Alphaville? If you do, you'll definitely remember this, practically their only hit - certainly their only one of note. This version, however, is a beautifully chilled cover by Norwegian singer/songwriter Ane Brun. She's got a great voice and this version of Big in Japan sounds like it could almost have been done by Joanna Newsom. But it wasn't, and Brun does it very well indeed.

Next up is another track that the Bees inspired me to listen to. It's on their wonderful Sound Selection album, on which they present a load of tracks which have inspired them, from funk to rock and reggae to psych. It's the last category that this song falls into.

This time we move to Sweden, with Gustav Ejstes's Dungen.

Jämna Plågor is a rollicking dark psych tune that stunned me when I first heard it, not least for the fact it was created in Sweden in 2005 and not Brazil in 1968! It's one of those songs that you kind of forget is instrumental as you get sucked in to the beats. Cracking, and once again, thank you Bees.

You know I said some would be haunting folk covers? Well, two are. Also, you know that John Lewis Christmas advert with the nice cover version of Guns n Roses' Sweet Child O' Mine? Yeah? Well, my final song is not that.

However, it is by the same artist. From Mr and Mrs Bergsman came Victoria Bergsman, from her came The Concretes and from them Victoria split and named herself Taken by Trees.

Digressing a tad, The Times voted Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion their album of 2009. Animal Collective are one of those bands like Flaming Lips, for me anyway - the songs I like, I love, but the other stuff I can take or leave. One of the tracks on MPP is My Girls, and that is good.

But what is better than the original is Taken by Trees' version of it. She changed the title to apply to her gender and called it My Boys.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Week 15 - Scandimania part one

Every once in a while something comes along that stops you dead in your tracks. You can't quite believe what you've heard and you want to know more.

Reading a piece by Paul Lester in the Guardian, I followed up his excited suggestion and listened to The Polly Tones' reworking of Brian Wilson's SMiLE.

Malin and Viktor moved from a small town in northern Sweden to London to build a career in music and, judging by this attempt, it's only a matter of time before it happens.

What could easily have been an embarrassing hash has turned out to be a jaw-dropping effort that deserves its place in musical history. The duo have pared down Wilson and Van Dyke Parks' mind-altering orchestrations to just voice, guitar and editing. It's hard to explain just how well it works. Yes, there appears to be layering and a couple of other instruments, but it's clearly a bare, yet sumptuous end product. Malin's voice is great and Viktor on occasions sounds uncannily like Wilson, and their arrangements are spot on. It makes you wonder how long they've worked on this project. But who cares, it sounds great!

Heroes and Villains, by far my favourite track on SMiLE, is simply inspired. The final of the 10 songs they've done is Surf's Up and that too is brilliant. Even though I almost feel dirty saying this, I found The Polly Tones' version easier to listen to than Wilson's!

So, without further ado, I give you The Polly Tones' SMiLE.

Part One - Our Prayer/Gee, Heroes & VIllains
Part Two - Roll Plymouth Rock, Barnyard, Old Master Painter-You Are My Sunshine, Cabin Essence
Part Three - Wonderful, Song for Children, Child Is Father of the Man, Surf's Up

I'll leave the final word to Paul Lester: We'd like Mr Wilson to hear their SMiLE. It would blow his giant mind.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Week 14 - Talkin' Different Genre Blues

Now, don't let me mislead you from the start. This isn't about Blues. This is about songs with Blues-style titles that are anything but.

I'm never sure what to think of Cat Power. On the one hand, I admire her as an artist, but on the other I can't get into her style. I don't necessarily mean that with regard to different songs, sometimes it happens within one track. However, from her Jukebox album, Blue is a stunningly soulful piece. Lovely sounds complemented by, rather than topped off by, her vocals.

One female artist I do like is Joanna Newsom. Her voice isn't everyone's cup of tea. Some people may say it's like a cat being strangled on a washing machine, but I like it (the voice, not laundry-themed feline murder). The harpist's This Side of the Blue is a stunning dreamscape of sounds. One of the most beautiful songs I know of, plus it's about time I put a folky track on here. Trust me, there'll be a lot more to come!

The Coral are a great band. They burst onto the scene in 2002 with their eponymous album, containing tracks like Goodbye and Dreaming of You. Since then, they've had a mixed output. Magic and Medicine was a great album - Don't You Think You're The First, Pass It On and Bill McCai. However, Nightfreak and the Sons of Becker was a quite dodgy album. It was a modern psychedelic work, but a bit too piecemeal for me. The Invisible Invasion contained In the Morning, a quality song, but little else. Fortunately, their most recent album, Roots and Echoes, is possibly their best since their debut, containing She's Got a Reason and Put the Sun Back.

But enough of the biographical stuff, the song I've chosen this week is a beaut off Magic and Medicine.

It's called Talkin' Gypsy Market Blues and its lyrics go thus: Talkin' gypsy market blues, I was too late and I never got to choose.

As you may know, there are many Talking blah-blah Blues song titles throughout history - whether it's Woody Guthrie's Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues, Townes van Zandt's Talkin' KKK Blues or Bob Dylan's Talkin' Hava Negilah Blues.

Now, to try to tie this back together, when I first heard Talkin' Gypsy Market Blues, I imagined The Coral as a bluesman in modern times. I figured they wanted to do a song in the talkin' blues spirit, but because all the good titles had gone they were stuck with a song about a gypsy market. Hence "I was too late but I never got to choose".

A lovely story, but hopelessly inaccurate! Instead it seems like a holiday in Portugal gone wrong. A man wants some boots, goes into an Al Stewart Year of the Cat-style haze, then decides he doesn't want the boots anymore. But, it's still a cracking song.


Monday, 16 November 2009

Week 13 - Ode to Ewar Woowar

Very sad news came out on Monday from Cornwall. The actor Edward Woodward died at the age of 79. For a man who hasn't particularly been full-on in the public eye for quite some time, he's certainly never been off my screens for long.

This is due to the quality of his roles. Arguably his finest moment came in 1973 when he teamed up with Britt Ekland and Christopher Lee in the Wicker Man. The film is fantastic for many reasons. Without giving too much away, it's all about suspense, symbolism and eerieness. And the soundtrack's awesome.

It wasn't all big-screen adventures. Woodward was perhaps best known for playing Robert McCall in the 80s American crime drama The Equalizer. In the 90s, after the high octane rollercoaster of The Equalizer, came a very British drama. Common As Muck was a wonderful BBC comedy drama about the lives of northern binmen. Sounds odd, but Woodward was exemplary as the leader of the group, Nev. It ran for two series, but has stuck in my mind as a pleasant, down-to-earth and occasionally very funny piece of TV-friendly drama.

But, Woodward's last great role was as a busybody Neighbourhood Watch enforcer in the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost film, Hot Fuzz. I'm sure he was cast as a tribute to The Wicker Man. The plot of Hot Fuzz follows the Anthony Shaffer's cult classic somewhat, but is a brilliant film in its own right.

As I'm sure you'll have guessed, this week is all about songs to do with the great man, Woodward himself.

First up is a surprising one. It's Woodward singing.

He released an album or two in the 1970s and his swing-style voice is surprisingly good. Check out him singing a beautiful, relaxing version of The Way You Look Tonight.

Next is one from the soundtrack of the last film I mentioned, Hot Fuzz. It's quite easy to see why I chose this - it's got 'fuzz' in the title. This has been in my mind quite a bit this week, as I've thought about Woodward and Hot Fuzz, but Supergrass's Caught By the Fuzz doesn't quite nudge the next one off the top of my mind.

The reason why I've not included the original of this song is because I thought I'd included it in the Halloween blog. Turns out I didn't! Anyway, this is another unexpected track. There's not many (my guess is none) Madchester bands who released an album that included a cover of a Wicker Man song on it. However, in 1991, Mock Turtles released Turtle Soup. It contained their standout hit, Can You Dig It?, plus a final song called Wicker Man. But, the song of the week is their version of the track which featured in The Wicker Man as Britt Eckland stripped off and banged and wailed on the walls of the room next to Woodward's, Willow's Song.

RIP Edward Woodward.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Week 12 - Verifique o nível da óleo

Bom dia! As they might say in Portuguese-speaking nations.

The other week, a strange thing occurred to me: Apart from songs in English, my favourite language for music is Portuguese. I'd always assumed it was French (Jaques Brel, Serge Gainsbourg, Sylvie Vartan) or Welsh (Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, Super Furry Animals). However, if you take the 60s psychedelia boom and couple that with the cool jazz of
bossa nova, and various other oddities, Portugal and Brazil have supplied some truly

First is arguably the greatest introduction to Brazilian psychedelia you could ever wish for. There's so much wonderful Brazilian psych out there, from the Beat Boys' O Meu Tamborim to, well, there's too many to mention. Check out some Nuggets albums!

But, top of the list is Rita Lee and Sergio Dias's group Os Mutantes. There's so many styles of music in the Mutantes' back catalogue - bossa nova, tropicalia - but they're best liked by me for their fuzzy psychedelia. There's no better example of this than A Minha Menina. The Bees covered this too and Os Mutantes' influence is easy to spot in their music...and it's all the better for it!

The quirky Wes Anderson film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou brought to my attention a Portuguese musician called Seu Jorge. He starred in the film and provided some cool musical interludes. Most of these were Portuguese language cover versions of David Bowie songs. The best is probably the chilled out take on Life on Mars.

But the song that's been in my head all week is from an odd source. I first heard it on 2009's Eurovision! The stage show was lush - as if designed by Lemon Jelly. Have a look at it here. It was such a happy and musically interesting song I fell in love with it. How it only finished 15th I'll never know. That's not true, I think we all know why it finished there!

I've heard that Flor-de-Lis, the band behind the song Todas As Ruas Do Amor, are releasing an album in December. It's a strange time to release what will hopefully be a sunny slice of tropicalia, but I'm certainly looking forward to it. I like Eurovision, but there are songs that are just too good for it, this is one of them and Sebastian Tellier's Divine was another.

* In case you were wondering, the title means 'check the oil level'.

Week 11 - Celebrating Samhain

So, this is Halloween and what have we done?

Well, quite simply, I've put together a few top spooky songs. Not all of them are necessarily associated with Halloween, but they all have eerie undertones.

Halloween is a great time of year - apart from the trick or treaters. People get dressed up in weird and wonderful costumes, there's a blitz of excellent films on TV and it's the proper start of dark and dangerous winter. Ooh, frightening eh?

First up is a bit of a jokey one. It's the Benzedrine Monks of Santo Domonica doing their version of Nirvana's Smell's like Teen Spirit. I've never really heard of them (BMoSD) before, but I've just checked on t'internet and apparently they did a film called Chantmania. I'm going to have to hunt it out as Smell's like Teen Spirit is great. Like I said, it doesn't really link to Halloween, but monks chanting are definitely a bit eerie. Especially if you're wandering around the historic East Riding town of Beverley...

Next is the Killer Tongue by Spanish rock group Fangoria. It's from the film of the same name (or La Lengua Asesina in Spanish) - not that I've seen it - but it's a beautifully cheesy horror rock song with a great dance-like intro.

Finally is a song that will really take quite some time to leave your head. It's the one and only Gonk. Created by H Chappell for George A Romero's Dawn of the Dead, the Gonk is a fantastic rollicking instrumental number. If you've seen the film, you'll recognise it from the end credits as the zombies wander round the shopping mall.

Listen away to arguably the greatest incidental film music and then try to get it out of your head. It'll take quite some time.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Week 10 - Beneath the Covers

Interesting one this week. A lot of people are interested in fun cover versions of songs, but what about those who, as Blazin' Squad may say, want to flip reverse it?

This week's blog is about the original songs behind cover versions, but the cover versions are much more well known than the poor originals.

Also, you'll be pleased to know, this is another 'cut to the chase' blog. So, let's get down to brass tacks...

First up is Eminem's My Name Is. You remember the cool soul beat before Marshall Mathers kicks in with his woefully misogynistic and self-centred lyrics kick in? Well, that is a sample of Labi Siffre (yes, he of It Must Be Love and Something Inside So Strong fame). His tune, I Got the Blues, starts off with a beat redolent of Primal Scream's Vanishing Point album. It's so cool, dammit. Thanks Eminem for drawing this to my attention.

Next up is such a tragic case, and one I feel totally compelled to support.

Jake Holmes was a jingle writer - he of 'Gillette the best a man can get' anonymity. But he also penned an absolutely awesome album. If you haven't got it, please get your grubby mitts on The Above Ground Sound of Jake Holmes (if not just for the title). The tracks on it include a version of the Frankie Valli song Genuine Imitation Life.

However, that's not where I'm going with this. Rumour has it that a certain Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin saw Holmes one night perform a ditty by the name of Dazed & Confused. Legend, not rumour (!), has it that Page forgot about it, but suddenly remembered it during a jam by the awesome rockers.

As brilliant as Led Zeppelin's version is (and I must say, I think this whole 'ripping off of black music' thing is a bit harsh), Holmes' version is much better for pure desperation and psychedelic angst. God bless you jingle man.

The next one is the song that's been in my head all week - indeed the song that inspired me to wrestle these unfamous chaps from under the covers.

The Happy Mondays may seem like a bunch of scallies from Little Hulton, Salford. Actually, they are. However, they managed to inspire themselves through a bizarre love of almost unheard of 1960s and 70s songs. They loved Donovan so much one of them married his daughter. But, Mr Leitch isn't where I'm going - he's not so obscure.

Step On was a massive hit for the baggy boys in 1990. Ok, so the original by John Kongas may have been a Top 10 hit in 1971, as He's Gonna Step On You Again, but most people will have forgotten it by the time Factory Records' most profitable fun boys released it as Step On.

Listen and enjoy the early-70s bagginess of it all. Brilliant.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Week 9 - A Tale of Three Cities

Songs about cities, eh? Is this another excuse to crowbar a Ryan Adams song into this blog? Well, no.

I could've very easily put his New York, New York into here as I do love it, but there's only so much Adams one blog can take! For now, at least.

So what will it be? Paris in the Springtime? London Calling? LA Woman? Again, all good, but nah, too easy.

Instead I've gone for songs about Las Vegas, Chicago and
Manchester by artists from Georgia, Detroit and, erm, Eccles.

The first, as mentioned, is about Sin City, the gambling capital of the world, neon Mecca, or if you're Spanish, The Meadows.

Gram Parsons is rightly achieving the notoriety he deserves. From his time in the Byrds, to his death and alleged burial in the Joshua Tree National Park, Parsons never led a straight-forward life. He pioneered 'space country' and lived the archetypal West Coast rockstar life. Indeed it was his death in 1973, at the age of 26, that really fuelled his legend. Passing away from an overdose of morphine and alcohol, his manager, Phil Kaufman, decided to carry out Parsons' request. It appears Gram had asked his manager that, should he die, he wanted to be cremated in the Joshua Tree National Park. Parsons' body was due to be flown to his parents' in Louisiana, so Kaufman and a friend stole it from LA Airport and, in a borrowed hearse, drove it to Joshua Tree. Obviously they were being chased by police, but managed to outrun them. Once in Joshua Tree, they tried to cremate his body by pouring gallons of petrol into his coffin. This resulted in a huge fireball in the middle of the desert.

Anyway, the song about Vegas is Ooh Las Vegas. Having been to the city, it's a wonderful evocation of the glimmering lights and clanging slot machines...and the booze.

Secondly, and moving to the end (or start) of Route 66, we are welcomed by the ecstaticly blissful Chicago by Sufjan Stevens. Devotchka may be the main artists on the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, but Stevens' mix of triumphant strings, brass and emotional vocals is one of those songs you can't fail to love. Beautiful.

But, and a little closer to home, is the song of the week.

A lot of you may not know Aidan Smith, but he's a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Eccles, Salford. He first came to my attention when he was signed by Badly Drawn Boy's record label Twisted Nerve. I went to see his first gig, when he supported Mr Gough at the Comedy Store, and his first solo gig at Matt n Phreds in the Northern Quarter. I've met him a couple of times and he's such an unassuming character, seemingly bemused by the life of a recording artist. Although I never met this guy, Aidan Smith reminds me of Nick Drake - some excellent and touching songs, but Smith adds wry humour to his songs (see the lyrics to John Peel favourite Song for Delia Smith)

Song for Manchester
is a typically humourous track, in which Smith sings about how his songs aren't particularly popular in places like London and Nottingham, but he doesn't really care. However, when performing in Manchester he wants people to like them and, in turn, the audience gives him a renewed energy for songwriting.


Thursday, 15 October 2009

Week 8 - The Melbourne Supremacy

It's not all INXS, the Wiggles, Jason and Alf from Home & Away, Australia you know. To be quite honest, I've only just discovered this too.

While our Antipodean chums might not be all that bad, they have struggled to make much of an impact over here with their music. Sure, there have been bands Midnight Oil, Wolfmother, Silverchair and AC/DC, but there seems to have been a distinct lack of top quality bands. You may argue that Nick Cave, The Church and Pendulum are good and I'd agree. They are excellent. But for every one of those there's a Savage Garden.

But, in a time when Australia is more renowned for 'midget horse races' and ill-advised tributes to Michael Jackson, I want to concentrate on the good things to come from the island nation, namely one city in the south - Melbourne.

It's strange, but I acquired two albums last week and both artists were from the same city. This came a few weeks after I discovered another Melbourne resident.

Temper Trap's Sweet Inspiration is a tune that's taken me ages to get in to. I first heard it on an advert and it's fair to say I detested it. Then, a week or so later, I saw 500 Days of Summer. It's got a great soundtrack, but when Sweet Inspiration came on I tutted with apathy. But, last week I heard it somewhere and it clicked. I rather enjoyed its seering guitars and melodies.

Cut Copy are an act I've admired for a while. I heard their set at Fabric (on CD, not at the club unfortunately) and thought it was an excellent playlist (check out Ciccone Youth's electro-rock version of Madonna's Into the Groove). However, it's only recently I came across one of their albums - In Ghost Colours. The opening track of that is Feel the Love. It's a wonderfully dreamy tune that brings with it thoughts of New Order being remixed by Lemon Jelly and Avalanches.

Now, on to Jens Lekman. Okay, so he's Swedish, but he's made Melbourne his home. This guy is simply outstanding - one of the best things I've come across in many years. Coupling lovely tunes with excellent rye humour, some of his subject matters are brilliant. He's seemingly obsessed with Rocky Dennis, the poor disfigured guy who became the subject of the film Mask - no, not that one (probably). He's so obsessed - making three songs and an EP about Dennis - that at one of his first gigs in Australia he was billed as Rocky Dennis. Another great songs revolves around mishearing a girl say they're only make believe. In the song, Lekman thinks she's said their love is only maple leaves.

But the song that's been in my head all week, and periodically for a few months, is Black Cab. Starting in such a jolly way as "oh no god damn, I missed the last tram. I killed the party again, god damn god damn", it contains the lyric that is also the name of his excellent compilation album - Oh You're So Silent Jens. Plus there's talk of taxi drivers being psycho killers, which is all good.

I think I may have discovered Lekman earlier, but my mate's recommendation fell on, erm, tired and emotional ears after our return from Glastonbury. However, all was not lost as my discovery of him was sure to happen at some point, and I sincerely hope yours does too.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Week 7 - Sup Up Your Beer

There's something about drinking songs that really inspires. I'm not necessarily on about the 'di-de-di-de-ho' type where flagons are waved and sprayed. I suppose I mean the ones that you listen to before a good night out, ones that get you 'in the mood'.

My selection is obviously personal to me, so it tends to have evolved from situations in my life. Oh, sod it - instead of explaining, I'll cut to the chase!

First up is Stand By Me by Ben E King. Picture the occasion - seven drunken late-20-year-olds in a sheep-infested field in the Peak District. They go a-wandering up the hills, down the dales and so forth. They remember a film they saw in their youths. That film was Rob Reiner's 1986 coming-of-age drama Stand By Me (how did you guess?!). In it, a group of youngsters take a walk into the wild, down the railway to see a dead body. There was a railway where we were, but we didn't see any dead bodies. It was dark.

The next song is Sally McLennane by The Pogues. It was a St Patrick's Day in about 1996, I'd just acquired some bottles of Guinness, by hook or by crook (but mainly the latter). I was in my bedroom reading Dubliners by James Joyce and listening to Pogues songs. No idea why, I haven't got a shred of Irishness in me, and thankfully I've long since stopped that lunacy! But it was a great moment and a song that's long lived in my mind - one that I quite often listen to before stepping out on the town. It fills me with a sense that the night is going to be a good one, and that fun shall be had by all. It also took on a new resonance when myself and a drunken friend tried to rewrite it - I'm sad to say, I must be Darren Day - and so forth. It ended as a tribute to former Croation footballer Davor Suker. I've no idea why, but I think drink had been consumed.

The final song is from a time similar to the first one. It's from an awesome drinking game that is sure to set you on your oblivion. It's called Ring of Fire. Now, I bet you can't guess what song I associate with it?! It's become its theme tune. So much so that we cannot begin the drinking until we've parped along with the intro to Johnny Cash's Ring of Fire.

The reason that's my song of the week is because that's pretty much what I'll be doing this weekend. I thought I'd better get it out of the way in case something awful happens to me. But if it does, this blog will take on a strange meaning. God, now I really hope nothing happens! Enjoy.

Week 6 - A Week of Departures

So, Patrick Swayze, Keith Floyd and Felix Bowness all gone. What a depressing week. Although it did take me a while to realise Swayze wasn't like his character in Donnie Darko - a child abuser. But, after I got past that, I was quite upset that in such a short space of time three people who had a large influence over my youth were no longer with us.

As I've mentioned, Swayze, apart from starring in Dirty Dancing, was also in Donnie Darko. A great film that, although relatively recent, has left its mark on my psyche. There's also some great music in it. Not just Mad World, but mainly Under the Milky Way by 80s Australian rock band Church.

Next was Keith Floyd, the maverick chef who arguably changed British cooking programmes for ever. Even as I write this I'm watching his influence on TV. Jamie Oliver's getting down and dirty with rednecks and African Americans in Georgia - going somewhat off the beaten track to discover real food that doesn't always get its 15 minutes of fame. This is what Keith Floyd did. Instead of standing prim and proper in front of the studio camera, he could often be seen cooking a Thai curry on a little boat, or whipping up a creamy desert in a provincial French kitchen. All this to a soundtrack of the Stranglers. Fanny Craddock eat your heart out. (I'm very glad I didn't mis-type that sentence).

But, for me, the saddest of the aforementioned three was Felix Bowness. Felix played grouchy jockey Fred Quilley in classic sitcom Hi-De-Hi. I loved Hi-De-Hi. A proper homage to holidays past - not for me, but for thousands of Brits. Good old fashioned comedy. It also had a great theme tune: Go, go, go do the holiday rock...yeeeahh! Brilliant.

However, I can't help feeling I've led you all down a blind alley here. Even though there are enough good songs mentioned previously to fill a blog, this week's song of the week is nothing to do with anything that has gone before.

Instead, I have gone for another sad departure from that week. While they may not have wriggled from this mortal coil, they have stopped touring and called it a day - after 34 incredible years.

They may not have a lengthy back catalogue that fits in with their long career, but what they do have are songs that everyone knows and surely loves.

Yes, that's right, Chas n Dave. I had the pleasure of seeing Messrs Hodges and Peacock at Glastonbury. It was in a bursting tent, with thousands of festival-goers outside. It was also the time when Michael Eavis and Bob Geldof were telling everyone to 'Make Poverty History'. Chas n Dave did their piece too. They said 'Make Poverty History' and then did the Cockney intro, saying 'Oi' at the end. It's the thought that counts...

So to honour the Cockney rockers, here are my three top Chas n Dave songs.

3) Snooker Loopy
It's educational, alright! Everytime I play snooker I sing it in my head to figure out what to pot next. Plus, who can argue with the line 'cos I wear these goggles'?

2) Rabbit
Ever tried doing this at karaoke? Don't. even with two people, it's nigh on impossible.

1) Sideboard Song
Scruffy little teds? Arcane furniture? Beer? Perfect! Ok, so it conjures up the image of Alf Garnett, but it's still a corking song. Oh yeah, god knows what the video is about, but it's summat to watch eh? Enjoy.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Week 5 - Three Degrees of Jeff Mangum

A funny thing happened on the way to this blog. I was looking into a band who I'd been listening to and realised he'd played some part in two other bands I liked. That man, as the title suggests, is Jeff Mangum. Perhaps shamefully, up until last week I didn't know who he was.

For those like me, he's the singer from Neutral Milk Hotel, the 1990s American indie/rock/psych-folk band. While they never hit the heights of stardom, they certainly flirted with it. Their second album - 1998's In an Aeroplane over the Sea - has become an almost cult recording. Some great offbeat tunes ranging from psychedelia through folk to quite heavy rock.

Neutral Milk Hotel, I've just discovered, were my second introduction to Mangum.
The first was Apples in Stereo.

Now, while he wasn't a member of these, Louisiana's NMH are intertwined with Colorado's Apples in Stereo. The latter's Robert Schneider first met Mangum in Ruston, LA, having moved from South Africa at an early age.

The pair went to school together, but Schneider packed up and attended college in Denver, where he formed Apples in Stereo. It was here Schneider set up the Elephant 6 recording company, alongside Bill Doss, Will Cullen Hart and Jeff Mangum. So, four friends from school set up a recording company and, in doing so, also created some of the toppermost American indie bands of the 1990s.

Mangum, along with Doss and Hart, were also part of Olivia Tremor Control, a band I have only just recently discovered - thus being the third part of the Mangum trilogy. Olivia Tremor Control are an intriguing and quintessential American 1990s indie/college rock band formed in Athens, Georgia.

So, there we are. And for those interested, you can now download a song by each of the Elephant 6 artists mentioned.

The first is The King of Carrot Flowers, Parts Two and Three by Neutral Milk Hotel. What a great introduction! "I love you Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, I love you." From quite an odd and quavery beginning, the song then launches in to a fantastically uptempo rock number.

Next is Lucky Charm by Apples in Stereo. I first heard this when it appeared in an episode of Teachers in the early 2000s. A pleasant, simple ditty that repeats itself in your head.

Finally is Hideaway by Olivia Tremor Control. Not very typical of the band, but this song is a wonderful example of blissful English shoegazing music taken across the pond and given the college rock treatment.


Friday, 11 September 2009

Week 4 - I've Got a Feeling You'll Have Heard of These

It may not be a surprise what this week's blog is about. Go anywhere this week - newspapers, magazines, music shops, computer games, tv shows - and you'll have been bombarded by this band.

I love the Beatles. For me, they're a world apart from anything else. So much so that, when people ask me who my favourite bands are, I never mention the Beatles. I think it's a waste of words as most people will admit to thinking the Beatles are one of their favourites.

In under a decade they totally changed modern music and their influence is still so apparent today - not just in bands such as Oasis. In fact, I find it quite poetic that, a few weeks after the Gallagher brothers called it a day, the Beatles will have up to 12 of their albums in the charts!

For four guys from Liverpool, they have had a quite preposterous impact, they even introduced Britain and the western world to sitars, reverse tracks and yoga.

But all the technical and cultural stuff aside, their music is what they're best known for - and quite rightly.

Just going through a list of their tracks is like looking at a 'best songs of all time' list. And all done in under ten years.

The Radio Times ran a feature a few weeks ago in which Paul McCartney spoke candidly about the longevity of the band, and his relationship with John Lennon. Also in this feature was a section where celebrities - including Sue Johnston, Michael Parkinson and Stuart Maconie - chose their favourite Beatles tracks

What a question to ask! As Maconie said, it's like asking someone to pick out their favourite line from Shakespeare - there's so much to choose from. The excellent Maconie being the main exception, most people chose the George Harrison number 'Something'. Now, I love that song: it's so laid back, romantic and blissful. However, I also love other perennial favourites such as She Loves You, Can't Buy Me Love, Ticket to Ride, Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need Is Love... I could go on!

This week, I've decided to list some classic Beatles songs that never, or rarely at any rate, get mentioned as 'favourites'. Again, ending with the song that's been in my head most of this week.

Here goes:

  1. Across the Universe
    I think this might be my favourite Beatles song, full stop. But then again, I say that about most of their songs at times! Generally being a McCartney man, there's something magical about this Lennon number that just relaxes me and makes me happy. Plus Sanskrit is welcome in any song. I thought long and hard about putting this one is, as it is arguably the most popular of my choices and may be seen to be a cop-out. However, in my opinion it's not loved as much as it should be - so go on, start loving this more.....More, I said!

  2. Blackbird
    A brilliant McCartney number this, done well by Crosby, Stills & Nash too. When I saw McCartney play at Glastonbury in 04, he played this to an almost silent crowd of 90,000. A truly amazing moment - although not quite as good as the singalong to Hey Jude which took over the entire site and lasted for a good few hours after Macca had left the stage.

  3. Carry That Weight
    For some unknown reason, it's only in the past few years that I've really listened to and got into the later Beatles albums such as The White Album, Let It Be and Abbey Road. God knows why! Carry That Weight is part of the medley which ends Abbey Road and is rumoured to be about encouraging the band to carry on after the death of their manager Brian Epstein.
    For me, it's just a glorious anthemic sing-song that could go on for hours if it wanted. It's also arguably one of their most influencial pieces that glam and BritPop certainly took to heart.

  4. I'll Follow the Sun
    I first came listening to this when I found a copy of an album by The Quarrymen - the Beatles in a previous guise - and loved it. After a few listens it occured to me that I'd heard it loads of times while growing up, as it's on the 1964 album Beatles for Sale. A melancholy little McCartney ditty with a great guitar twinkles, it's a beauty of a song.

  5. Things We Said Today
    For Christ's sake! This was a B-side and recorded just because they needed music for their film, A Hard Day's Night. For how many other acts would this have been the pinnacle of their careers?! Great harmony between Macca and...well, Macca. Double-track heaven. It's also a bit heavier than the other ones I've chosen.

  6. I've Got a Feeling
    With an intro Shed Seven have ripped off, this raucous rooftop song from Let It Be is just glorious late-60s rock. A lovely feelgood tune to rock out to. I love Lennon's verses in this too. Brilliant. Enjoy this footage from their rooftop concert on 30 January, 1969.

  • Beatles fans, also take a look at the Music Makes Me blog, you'll see a link for it on the right. There you'll find a great project - re-creating all Beatles albums, but using unusual cover versions of the songs. Check it out...!

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Week 3 - The Death of Summer

So, judging by the weather, it looks like summer's gone and that's what I've been mourning this week. I've been remembering those glorious days spent with the grass and sun.

However, I don't mind - to pretend I do seems really dumb.

It amazes me how many good songs relate to the passing of the seasons, and the eagle-eyed among you may have already picked up on one which fits this past week nicely.

But more on that one later...

Firstly, I'd like to run down some other songs that pop into my head during the year.

So, let's start at the beginning, eh?

  1. Death Cab for Cutie - New Year
    There are so many songs celebrating Christmas, but what about the other festival seven days later? Not so many, just this one, New Year's Kiss by Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, and New Year's Day by U2. However, the last one seems to be an anthem for Solidarity rather than a celebration of the start of a new year.
    But this song by Death Cab for Cutie is a belting little number, with fierce chimes and lyrics revealing a dawning realisation that, even though a new year may have dawned, very little changes.
    Plus they are named after a song by the Bonzos - never a bad idea - and Ben Gibbard has arguably one of the best voices in indie rock, as he also demonstrates with The Postal Service.

  2. Bangles - Hazy Shade of Winter
    There are two songs that sum up winter for me: this and I Smell Winter by The Housemartins. Of course, I could have gone for that, or even the original Simon & Garfunkel version of this song, but this is a shameless excuse to see Susannah Hoffs on video. No contest is it? Art Garfunkel, complete with Marie Antoinette hairstyle, or Susannah Hoffs?!
    Anyway, on with the song...
    But look around, leaves are brown now
    And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

    Look around, leaves are brown
    There's a patch of snow on the ground...
    It conjures up a wonderful image of slush on busy streets near rusty brown railings separating the urban hustle from the brown, sleeping park the other side, complete with crisp air and the freezing smell of winter. However, the song itself tells of homelessness and dispair in the fierce winters of New York.

  3. Screeching Weasel - First Day of Summer
    Ah, you can't beat this. Feelgood US punk from the Chicago-born band and their Bark like a Dog album from the excellent Fat Wreck Chords stable. It's fair to say NOFX's Fat Mike and his record label soundtracked most of my teens, but I didn't get into Screeching Weasel until I reached university, where I also got into The Queers.
    These last two bands were obviously very much inspired by The Ramones, and it shows.
    This hi-tempo and anthemic number really sums up the time around mid-May when I look ahead to barbecues, Glastonbury, trips to Bridlington/Scarborough beaches and long days sat drinking, overlooking the Ouse in York.
    This optimism of a great summer is obvious in the lyrics here, but comes with a nice warning not to take those sunny days for granted:
    Come on now it's the first day of summer
    please don't let it slip by just try
    to squeeze all of the life out of it
  4. Ryan Adams - Halloween Head
    I've written plenty about Ryan Adams already, so I'll keep this one relatively brief.
    I love Halloween - the smell of bonfires, the hint of magic in the air, and the fancy dress parties where people dress up in all manner of weird get-up.
    Now, that picture to the right isn't the kind of Halloween Head Ryan Adams goes on about. He mentions having a head full of 'tricks and treats', a great image suggesting a mischievous mind.

But anyway, back to the summer-ending song that's been in my head all week.
It's a great slice of happiness from the Wirral four-piece who took their name from a character in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
I heard somewhere that the arrangement in this song is reported to increase serotonin and release endorphins so you feel a rise in happiness. I'm no chemist, but I'm not sure about that. It certainly is a happy little ditty nonetheless.
The Boo Radleys remained underground for quite some time, recieving critical praise for their album Giant Steps. However, it was their 1995 hit Wake Up Boo! that shot them into the charts, peaking at number 9.
Anyway, have a listen for yourself and see if you can spot the quotes I ripped out of it at the start.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Week 2 - All-Time Top 5 Break-Up Songs

Websters dictionary defines 'break-up song' as 'a short musical composition intended to soothe one's soul after the unfortunate ending of one's relationship and that'.
Obviously that's Billy Bullcrap, but I've always wanted to start a piece with a quote from Merriam-Webster, but have never found the use.

Break-up songs are an odd kettle of fish - everyone's got their perception of what a good break-up song should be, and what image it should conjure up.

I read somewhere that The Smiths' I Know It's Over was voted the all-time greatest break-up song. I'm not sure I agree, it's a cracking song but a bit depressing - as unbelievable as that is coming from Mozzer, Marr, Rourke and Joyce.

While doing some research about this depressing genre, I came across a suggestion of Broken Heart by Spiritualized. Now, I love this song, but it's never popped into my head when thinking it's all over. However, it's a top suggestion and can see why people while away those solitary nights listening to Jason Pierce's heartbreaking voice.

However, if I was to split up, the last thing I'd ever want within a 50-mile radius of me is Bobby Brown's wailing scag-hag screeching her head off about how she-ee-ee will always love me-ee-ee.

For me, it's not about crying on a bed of satin sheets and roses, it's more a case of sitting stony-faced in some dark bar in Georgia, Carolina or Nebraska, drinking whisky and reflecting on where things went wrong. For this reason, it may explain why a certain artist features twice in my All-Time Top Five Break-Up Songs.

So, let's get on and have a butchers at them, in reverse order, naturally.

5) I Know It's Over - The Smiths
Ok, so it may not be my number one, but it's hard to ignore this depress-a-thon.
The line 'because tonight is like any other night, that's why you're on your own tonight' really gets at you, nevermind the suicidal sounding lyrics.
If anyone's ever split from a girl after being told they're not 'nasty' enough, they will appreciate the line 'it's so easy to laugh, it's so easy to hate, it takes strength to be gentle and kind'.

Overall, a great example of post-split depression, but a bit too on the 'down' side for me!

Check out a video of it at Youtube. It's a strange video, with images of a Smiths performance not of I Know It's Over, spliced with clips from what appears to be a film about Ukrainian lesbians.

4) For No One - Beatles
From Revolver, my personal favourite Beatles album, this McCartney song of faded love really tears at you.
'And in her eyes you see nothing, no sign of love behind the tears, cried for no one. A love that should have lasted years.'
Musically it's great too, with the clavichord and french horn adding to the downbeat air

For No One at Youtube

3) Harder Now That It's Over - Ryan Adams

Quite a dark song that seems to be about people a couple who got into a fight and the woman got nicked. 'I didn't feed you to the cops. When I threw that drink in that guy's face, it was just to piss you off cos honey it's over'
Then the typical rye humour of Ryan Adams claiming 'it's harder now that it's that the cuffs are off'.
Also a theme Adams returns to quite often is something I mentioned earlier - sitting in bars drinking: 'I'm the one between the bars and lost forever now, cos it's over now.'

This song is from his 2001 album Gold. If you haven't got it, please do. It's an almost phenomenal work.

Hear the song here.

2) Days - The Kinks

I love the idea of this song being a break-up one. It's lovely and almost worth splitting up just to play it to your former lover - almost!
'Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me. I'm thinking of the days, I won't forget a single day, believe me.'
And later, this bit: 'But then I knew that very soon you'd leave me, but it's all right, now I'm not frightened of this world, believe me.'

The emotion in this one is much more content than the other ones. There's no regret, no pleading for more, just an appreciation of what's gone before. However, there's still the trepidation of spending nights alone. 'I wish today could be tomorrow. The night is dark, it just brings sorrow anyway.'

God I love the Kinks, and this 1968 song is wonderful. Watch it here.

1) Sun Also Sets - Ryan Adams

Wow. Just wow. Feel the pain, the angst and the bewilderment of how things 'faded out, faded out so fast'.
A quite astonishingly good song about a love that suddenly went wrong. There's still the theme carried over from the Kinks:
'When you get the time, sit down and write me a letter. When you're feeling better, drop me a line. I wanna know how it all works out.'

This 2007 song from his Cardinals album, Easy Tiger, takes its title from Hemingway's novel Sun Also Rises.

Now, it's stupid to say Ryan Adams is a good a writer as someone like Hemingway...but!
No, but the imagery used in 'there it is, we were only one push from the nest' is great.

It also talks of how with every difficult split, you lose something. Something which was a positive personal trait, but you maybe now don't believe enough in yourself to still see it.

A rock'n'roll ride of emotion that's been in my head all week!

Awesome. Enjoy.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Week 1 - Displacing talk of coconuts on Fridays

A very busy week. Friday afternoon at work. Extremely tired, counting down the hours, trying to stay awake. Idiots talking incessantly about coconuts and other ridiculous things. Anger growing. Need to find a happy place.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere this classic came into my head and all was good in the world.
From 1962 New York to 2009 East Yorkshire, this Carole King and Gerry Goffin penned tune was something I hadn't heard nor thought about in quite some years, but it was certainly a very welcome reunion.

So, purely because it rescued me from very dark times, that's why it's my song of the week.
Although, it could quite easily have been anything by jazzer George Shearing after a Kerouac-inspired hunt for songs by the old blind English-born pianist.
Likewise, it could so easily have been Atlas Sound's Recent Bedroom as I finally figured out it was that song which featured on the conclusion of Johnny Vegas' sitcom Ideal.
But no, it's Up on the Roof by The Drifters, and here it is:

One thing that strikes me about the video is the releasing of doves from the coop. It brings to mind Will Ferrell in the remake of The Producers.
That Was the Song of the Week That Was, ta!


So, something I've often thought about doing is a musical diary; something to sum up my week in music - like a Top of the Pops for my internal jukebox.
It occurred to me I could do a weekly blog about the song that has played a large part in my week - about one of those songs that sticks in your head for days, or just acts as the soundtrack to your week.
So that's what I'll do.
Each week I'll stick up an mp3 of said song and tell of why I've chosen it, and maybe a little bit of info on the song...if I can be bothered. Who knows if I'll stick to that last bit, it may turn out to be a dull lecture on songs no-one really cares about. What I will try to stick to is the weekly update and upload.
There you have it. Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave comments about your songs of the week and why it is.
That is That Was the Song of the Week That Was.