Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Week 28 - Half Man, Half Rock Musician

Okay, so I've been away for a few weeks now. Soz, like.

The thing is, I've had a few technical problems. Technically, I've been pissed since late March. But now I'm back on the reasonably straight and narrow.

I've also wondered what the hell to write about, but, as has been mentioned in previous blogs, it's now a good time to unleash the beast that is Half Man Half Biscuit.

These Wirral lads should be our national musicians. They sing about all things British and their lyrics reflect that. Whether they are singing about "thin men, bin men" or "Zeal Monochorum", Nigel Blackwell's voice presides over all matter of brilliance.

It's hard to contain them to one subject, as I learnt from my first acquaintance with HMHB. It was thanks to Mark and Lard's Cheesily Cheerful Chart Challenge that I got to know and love the Wirral wordsters. Almost every day they'd be featured, mainly because they had a song and a lyric for every subject.

I once got mentioned on the show. They had a subject about Laurence Llewelyn Bowen and how he pretended to be gay to get girls. I suggested a cod-punk song by The Griswolds called Let's Pretend We're Gay. It was on your actual Radio One. Ace.

Anyway, back to HMHB. The first set of Half Man Half Biscuit songs I'm going to use is one about fellow musicians.

I have to admit, it's quite coincidental that the three songs I've chosen are some of my (many) favourites by HMHB.

First up is a parody song (more of those later). Any song that starts with "Give me Love, give me Can, give me Meatloaf" is good by me. The fact its bridge goes "Michael Ball or the Fall, I could listen to them all, in the twilight or the afternoon" only makes it better.

Irk the Purists is a parody of the religious Sing Hosanna and sings about a matter quite close to my heart.

As you will know from previous blogs, I really don't care if songs are cool or not - I like them if I like them! In Irk the Purists HMHB sing the names of random bands (some good, some not so) in the spirit that I have just mentioned. They don't care what the preconceptions are, they just enjoy good music.

The chorus (to the tune of Black Lace's Agadoo) is amazing: "Husker Du, Du, Du, Captain Beefheart, ELO, Chris De Burgh, Sun-Ra, Del Amitri, John Coltrane". Pick the bones out of that!

Next up is one of the first songs to get me into HMHB. It's a song about finding a tape my the Strokes guitarist's dad. Ironically, I quite like this guy's major song. It's a track called It Never Rains in Southern California, and is a lovely country-pop song from the 1970s.

However, HMHB suggest that having a track by this guy is an obsenity. In the song (live in this version), the man comes home to be greeted by his kids on the patio. They are warning him of a tape that's inside his house. It is, of course, an Albert Hammond Bootleg. The curious thing is, is it appears to have been brought in by a man claiming to be a former head of the FA - Stanley Rouse. The HMHB song is great though - no matter how much I love It Never Rains in Southern California (although I remember listening to Hammond's track in my LA hotel room, while it pissed itself outside. The rotter).

Finally, is a folk song about some of the 1980s chart hi-risers. Well, maybe not, but it's Climie Fisher. Oh yes.

This is a stone-cold beautiful track about the (made-up) resentment between the duo. In the track, it is claimed that the latter went on to gain a research job in the BBC and Climie went into the gravel business.

The twist is that Fisher has a hatred of gravel (and shale). The oomph of the track comes when Climie does an interview with a mixed aggregate magazine in which he criticises Fisher for a lack of recognition in their music career.

The fun starts when Fisher reads this article and swears revenge. Enjoy The Ballad of Climie Fisher here.

Anyway, next up is probably more HMHB, although I do have some other irons in fires, so who knows.

Irk the Purists.
Albert Hammond Bootleg
Ballad of Climie Fisher

Monday, 5 April 2010

Week 27 - You'd better rise up Janet Weiss. Sorry, I mean Jesus Christ...

So this is Easter, and what have you done? Another fiscal year over and a new one just begun.

I think I may have just realised why festive songs mainly stick to Christmas. Easter songs just haven't taken off, have they? In spite of that, I'm going to write about three songs pertaining to this time of year - or at least have a bloody good go at it.

The first one is a 1974 glam rock hit from the British act Mott the Hoople. It's from their album entitled The Hoople, a follow up to, yep you've guessed it, Mott. Most people associate Ian Hunter's crew with the smash hit version of Bowie's All the Young Dudes, but they did do some other quality tracks, namely All the Way from Memphis and this one, Roll Away the Stone. You see, it does have something to do with Easter, as Jesus had to do what Mott say to escape from the cave.

Before I go on to the next one, some of the others I could have chosen for this would have been Mumford and Sons' The Cave, but apart from its title, it has very little to do with the Easter story of Christ. Likewise Belly's Judas Mon Coeur and Easy Star All Star's version of Radiohead's Airbag. The latter, I was going to use for the line 'I am back to save the universe', but I usually think they sing 'I am back to save the Univac', so I decided against that.

But anyway, onwards. I wouldn't say I'm particularly a fan of John Lydon. I don't mind the Sex Pistols, but they weren't a patch on the Clash or other contemporaries. I don't even like Public Image Ltd much either. Their This Is Not a Love Song grates on me. However, I do like the one I've chosen here.

What happened at Easter? Well, as far as I remember, Christ was locked in a cave, rolled away a stone and rose again - the resurrection.

So, we've had the rolling away of the stone and naturally this Public Image song comes next. It's called Rise and is pretty good, all the previous stuff considered.

No prizes for guessing the final song, especially if you've read the paragraph in which I recount the story of Easter. Also no prizes as it'd be really hard to dish them out.

This is a monster of a song. I've written about the album this comes from in the first part of my 10 top albums of the past 30 years. It's a song that separated the Stone Roses from their contemporaries. Full of self belief and that typical Manchester swagger, it comes in at over 8 minutes. There are radio edits out there, but the full version is true quality. Of course, it's I Am the Resurrection.

Enjoy and hope you had a joyeux paques.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Week 26 - Up, Up and Away

So, here I am. I'm just a few hours before leaving for, what I consider, impending doom. I really don't believe that flying is this dangerous, but wouldn't it be fun and ever-so delightful if this was the last message to the 'world'*?! *By world, I mean the two or three people who read this!

But, on the other hand, this blog could serve as hope to poor fliers such as myself.

This is the recipe for success, or failure if it all goes a bit Pete Wrong.

First of all: I went to an Italian wine tasting evening. That was great, some beautiful whites and reds. Then there was a quiz where the first prize was a bottle of Italian red. Myself and two friends (Steve and Jim) acted as a team and, bizarrely, won. So, we drunk said bottle.

As I'm setting off from my home at 8.15am and flying at 2.45pm (with 2 hours' drinking time at the airport - Stansted), I decided to partake in a few Italian beers - Peroni. This is all part of my manic masterplan: Get drunk, wake up early - tired, then drink some more at the airport, planning to be so tired and leathered by the time I get on the plane that I won't even notice it's setting off. Perfect!

My back-up plan, however, is the tried and tested method of music.

I have a couple of certain songs that see me through a flight. They are quite unusual, but it seems to work for me. I've been told they are overly morbid, but what the hey!

The first (and newest, in terms of success) is a cracking tune that really inspires me because of a movie scene. Oddly, it's the end of Fight Club. Edward Norton realises he's Tyler Durden (oops, SPOILER alert, maybe a bit too late, mind). He's sat in a tower block, with half of his brain shot out and there's the Pixies' Where Is My Mind playing in the background. If that's not cerebral, and at peace with death, I don't know what is.

Next is one of the best voices in music. Ever. I was tempted to make a whole blog about the most beautiful voices in song. I still may do. However, Hope Sandoval has it tied up. She was the vocalist in the early 90s' band Mazzy Star. There are so many gorgeous songs, but Fade into You is just lovely. I can almost imagine myself falling from a plane and singing this - with a smile on my face! Check out the singing though, how awesome is that?!

Finally, and the only one that is proven to make me happy while the plane is setting off, is this kind of twisted track. By itself, it's very much an old-fashioned spiritual, but made with very modern instruments and vocals. Spiritualized's Lord Let It Rain on Me contains the lyrics 'Lord let it rain on me, let it all come down. I'll sell my soul to let it roll, and I'm about ready now". That pretty much sums up how I wish to be at one with mortality, as does the slow beat at the start.

I'd love to think this helped nervous flyers. For all I know it may put them off to...erm...billy-o. Who knows, I could end up here next week describing something else. Let's hope so, eh? But this is, I hope, an insight into what I'd like to believe is a stream-of-consciousness blog.

Maybe it could be prophetic, or maybe just pathetic. Ah well, we'll see!

Monday, 15 March 2010

Week 25 - The Final Curtain

I'm going on a long-weekend break in a few days and, as I'm a bit of a poor flyer, my mind has turned to mortality. There's a cheery thought, eh?

As such I've been hastily planning my funeral. Well not really, that's a bit too much (hopefully). However, I have come up with a few songs I think would be great to be played at such an event.

I thought I'd got this sown up years ago with Pearl Jam's Alive, Reef's Come Back Brighter and Harold Melvin's If You Don't Know Me by Now. They are quite comical and would probably be better suited to a TV show or film. I certainly think there is a place for rye humour at funerals.

The humour is evident in my first two choices.

First up is a track from a guy who, I've just found out, spent most of his childhood in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, despite being from Maryland, USA. Famous for his lo-fi sound, Bill Callahan is Smog. He's responsible for some great tracks, Cold Blooded Old Times and Let's Move to the Country being two. However, it's from his 2000 album, Dongs of Sevotion, that my first track is from.

Dress Sexy at My Funeral by Smog is a hell-raising plea from beyond the grave from Callahan to his wife. The title gives away pretty much all you need to know, but the lyrics are as good as you'd hope. He instructs the widow to dress provocatively and flirt with the minister, and to speak about their love-making. Towards the end he sings:
"Also tell them about how I gave to charity, and tried to love my fellow man as best I could. But most of all don't forget about the time on the beach."

I love the idea of the next song being chosen by a supposedly grieving widow/widower. It's quite a cheery song as it is, but if you put it in the context of a funeral, it takes on a really twisted meaning.

I'll Feel a Whole Lot Better by the Byrds is the Californian folk/pop/rockers at their best. It's impossible to listen to this without smiling. The chorus takes the title and adds a couple of key words: I'll probably feel a whole lot better, when you're gone.

Finally, a true funeral song. It's brilliant. What's not to like about folk, cricket and a morbid subject such as death?!

Manchester-born singer-songwriter Roy Harper is something of a one-off.
There are few contemporary folk musicians who can claim to have inspired Led Zeppelin - most of their inspiration came from dead American bluesmiths...and Jake Holmes. Harper is also the lead vocalist on Pink Floyd's Have a Cigar. He's also no stranger to humour - Exercising Some Control is a laugh riot about the scrapes a man got up to with his dog, called Some Control.

But his masterpiece is When an Old Cricketer Leaves the Crease. It's full of cricketing puns about death. It conjures up beautiful imagery of hazy English summer days, with the faint thud of cork on willow. It's also incredibly contemplative and sad, but there's something in the lyrics that, no matter how depressing the underlying message, always leaves me with a slight smile. That's also how funerals should be, I think.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Week 24 - Ode to Humberside

A cheeky little blog this week. It's pretty much a way to crowbar a new discovery into it. But anyway, let's carry on with the charade as usual!

Although I was born in the north-west, I've grown up what was previously known as Humberside, which encompassed what are now the snappily titled East Riding of Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire and North-East Lincolnshire. Humberside covered from Bridlington in the north to Grimsby in the south, from Goole in the west to, erm, Withernsea in the east. Two of those towns will feature later on...

But first up is a town that I grew to know and like when I worked there for 18 months a few years ago. Known ironically as Sunny Scunny, it's a steel town and quite often the butt of jokes. It's actually quite a nice group of towns. The first song is from a comedy punk band from Sunderland renowned for their chart smash in which they regaled the story of a elephant who packed her truck and said goodbye to the circus. The elephant's name was Nellie. Trump, trump, trump.

This song, whoever, is a parody of the Charlie Daniels country classic The Devil Went Down to Georgia. The Toy Dolls altered the title. Hear it here: The Toy Dolls - The Devil Went Down to Scunthorpe.

Next, we head to the coast and the old harbour town to the north of Humberside. This track is bizarre. It's beautiful, but I can't figure out how the hell this title came about! It's by John Darnielle and Mountain Goats. Bear in mind they're from North Carolina, how did they come to write a song that references a small town on England's east coast?! Enjoy it here: The Mountain Goats - Going to Bridlington. I love the line 'the moon was rising over Bridlington and you had blood all over your hands'.

Finally, from a small harbour town to the centre of the fishing industry - and back south of the Humber. I wasn't looking for this track when I found it, but by Christ I was happy I did! He's not everyone's cup of tea, but he's defnitely no Phil Collins. Thankfully. From his glam-rock ditties, accompanied by outrageous glasses, this guy has also had one of (if not the) biggest ever singles - the saccharine ode to Diana, Princess of Wales. I'm sure everyone will agree that if he can write a song about her, the least he could do is write one about Grimsby...!

Thankfully he has. Off his 1974 album Caribou - the one that contained The Bitch Is Back and Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me - is a track called simply Grimsby. There are too many great lyrics to quote, but my favourite two are: 'Oh England you're fair, but there's nothing to compare with my Grimsby', and 'Take me back to your rustic town, I miss your magic charm. Just to smell your candy floss, or drink in the Skinners Arms'.

Hear it and love it here: Elton John - Grimsby.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Week 23 - Freaky Laughter

After the seriousness of the past few weeks, I'm going to get a bit more light-hearted in this blog.

I'll be combining two of my favourite genres which I didn't think went well together. Until I thought about it. Those two genres are comedy songs and psychedelia.

I like humourous tracks, be they downright silly or those that contain lyrics to make you smile. However, I also like psychedelia - in particular mellow, trippy psyche. So yeah, why shouldn't there be some songs that fit into both categories?!

Thankfully there are a few, otherwise this blog would be thankfully short.

When you think of comedy songs from the psychedelia era, you probably think of the Bonzos or the Rutles - Neil Innes at least! So did I. However, arguably the Bonzos' best psyche track, Keynsham, isn't particularly 'comedy' - apart from the ending: "Tell me more about Keynsham.... 'I don't want to talk about it'". Probably the finest purveyors of the chanson comedie are Half Man Half Biscuit (surely, more on those in a forthcoming blog). Again though, they don't really touch psychedelia, prefering to stick to indie, folk and post-punk.

The comedy song genre has been ridiculed in the past - quite rightly in many circumstances - but in the past 15 years or so, it has seen a revival. A couple of TV shows and some Radio 1 DJs have overseen this. Don't worry folks, the DJs don't include Chris Moyles.

Those DJs were the original (and best) saviours of the breakfast show - Mark and Lard. I was never a fan of Radio 1, but these two were a huge reason to listen to it. Their afternoon show was simply a must-listen-to, packed full of nonsense segments and good music. Lard, who was a one-time member of Mark E Smith's The Fall, and Mark Radcliffe, who had spent many years trying to gig round the Manchester area, formed a 'band' - The Shirehorses.

The premise of The Shirehorses was simple enough. They were the true creators of contemporary hits and the acts that had seen chart success with the tracks had ripped them off: John Squire's Seahorses being a rip off of The Shirehorses, and the former's hit, Love Is the Law (containing the lyric 'now we know where we're going, baby') being a rip off of the latter's Now We Know Where We're Going, Our Kid. Both The Shirehorses albums are worth getting, indeed the second one (Our Kid Eh?, which was later 'ripped-off' by Radiohead) contains a brilliant spoof of Eminem's Stan, called Tony.

But it's from the first album that my first track is taken from. Sir John Mills begat Hayley Mills who, in turn, begat the lead singer of Kula Shaker - the leaders of the 1990s' Indian psyche revival. Actually, they were the only ones in it, weren't they? Kula Shaker had a hit called Tattva. But, according to The Shirehorses, they had a similar song first! Judge for yourself - here's The Shirehorses doing Ta La. It involves the duo mucking around with sitars, so that's a good start, and also contains the lyrics: 'Shall we take a pilgrimage to our spiritual Mecca, oh bollocks to it let's have curry and rice'. Brilliant.

Next up, an all-consuming cult (I said cult, I wasn't on about Chris Moyles again) TV show. I stumbled upon The Mighty Boosh when it was still being shown late at night on BBC3. I couldn't believe the BBC had commissioned it, it was hilarious, surreal and had bizarre but good songs.

Noel Fielding and Julian Barrett's show originally saw two zoo keepers getting up to all manner of odd scrapes, but in the second series they moved in with their shaman friend, Naboo, in Dalston, north London. Barrett's character, Howard Moon, is a pretentious oaf who is convinced he's a jazz supremo and adventurer.

It's in his guise as the latter that the crew visit the wilderness. Howard is desperate to photograph the yeti, but he gets entranced by them, leaving Fielding's Vince Noir, Naboo and his familiar, a gorilla called Bollo, to save him from 'yeti magic'. See how that goes here - The Mighty Boosh, Yeti Magic.

There's some similarities between the Boosh and the next lot. Fans of each seem to put themselves firmly in one camp or the other. Why?! I'm a fan of both. Just because something you've been waiting for has finally happened twice, why just like one of them?

You've probably guessed who I'm on about. This lot are a duo from New Zealand. In fact, they billed themselves as New Zealand's 4th
most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo. I think the main difference between the Boosh and Flight of the Conchords is that the latter started off with the comedy songs and then went into television.

In the show, Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie are two innocents abroad. They've gone to New York in search of fame and fortune, but have found it hard to come by - largely thanks to the incompetence of their manager Murray (the excellent Rhys Darby). Like I said, they are quite innocent, which segues quite nicely into details of the next song.

At a gig, the duo are wooed by two hot girls and go back to their flat. Bret is given an acid tab, but only swallows a tiny amount. However, this has an effect on him and we get to see his velvet-clad psyche alter-ego: The Flight of the Conchords - Prince of Parties. I love sitar in psyche, and the reversed loops are great too. I've had a certain bit of this in my head all week, the bit where it goes a little like this (hit it): 'Rava shalank a lank a Ravi Shankar'.


Friday, 12 February 2010

Magic Crazy as This – a Valentine’s Special

February 14: a date that’s in the heart of everyone - especially those in the greeting card and floristry industries. But this isn’t a snide sneer at St Valentine’s Day. It’s aimed at showing, musically at least, there’s more to romance than Whitney Houston, Celine Dion and Steve Wright’s Sodding Love Songs.

I’m sure I’ve already stated my dislike for the trilling shriek of Houston. To me, anyway, that’s not romance, that’s the result of 15 years’ spent locked in a room with only a Chihuahua and a rubber mallet. Maybe an egg and cress sandwich too, in one of those triangular plastic packets.

Anyway, I’ve managed to narrow down my favourite ‘romantic’ songs to just three. Tracks like The Beatles’ I Need You and Ed Harcourt’s Apple of My Eye miss out, but that’s the kind of stuff I’m on about, rather than the latest jazz vocalist to rip the remaining soul out of Have I Told You Lately.

Quite appropriately, the first track is Bright Eyes’ First Day of My Life. I went to a wedding last year and they played You & Me by the Wannadies as they left the church. A good choice I thought as it was lively and everyone left with a smile on their face. However, I’d forgotten about this track. I can’t think of anything better as you leave the church than this. “This is the first day of my life, swear I was born right in the doorway”. You know, like the doorway of the church. Good, eh?

Another motif that runs through my choices is odd lyrics. Bright Eyes uses the line: “These things take forever, I especially am slow”. Not particularly hilarious or mind-blowingly prophetic, but I like it. Having said that, it’s no: “I sing bad poetry in to your machine”.

Nice segue, eh? Yeah, that’s right. My next choice is REM’s At My Most Beautiful. At the time this song (and album, Up) totally passed me by. It's a fine line between romantic and creepy and REM tread that line expertly in this. If you take the song to be the start to a successful courtship of a person, it's a lovely track. However, if the wooing failed, it was probably because Stipe was perceived to be stalking the object of his affections!

Thankfully I choose to believe the former and the line “I’ve found a way to make you smile” is lovely. It also backs up my theory.

Finally, it’s my favourite romantic song. It’s one that I’d like to be my first dance if I were to get married. Nick Drake’s Northern Sky is beautiful and kind of revolves around a pre-nuptial agreement: “Would you love me for my money,
Would you love me for my head,
Would you love me through the winter,
Would you love me 'til I'm dead.
Oh, if you would and you could,
Come blow your horn on high.”

However, the first verse is the one that gets me:

“Never saw magic crazy at this,
Never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea,
Never held emotion in the palm of my hand,
Or felt sweet breezes in the top of a tree.
But now you're here,
Bright in my northern sky.”

It’s poetic and never has a more beautiful song ever been written.

Happy Valentine’s Day, I feel quite touched.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

30 Years, the Final Part

This is it then. My top three albums of the past 30 years. Like I said at the start, these may not be the most influential or the most well known, but they are the three that I can put on at any time and enjoy. I also said I was quite surprised by the results, and I stand by that!

First up is Wish We Never Met by The Gadjits. They were a ska punk-ish band (with a touch of rockabilly) from Kansas who, through differences and
a lack of recognisable success, have split up - which is a shame. Their sound is underpinned by a quality organ and lead singer Zach's brilliant voice. The subject matters revolve around the seedy underbelly of midwestern life.

The first time I came across them was on a compilation album from Hellcat Records, founded by Rancid's Tim Armstrong. On that was the brilliant Bad GaDJit. This is a great starting point when trying to discover the Gadjits.

In Angel and a Devil
they sing about the choices you make when growing up with regards to drugs. It's also a track that conjures up memories of Sublime, with cool guitars and rhythm.

A cheeky track is Manuhkin, which seems to be about having sex with a blow-up doll with the faces of famous people grafted on to it. It's quite tender, but always with a glint in its eye.

There's so many good songs on here that it was so hard to pick out just three. Somebody's Wife, Outsider and Cowboys Always Win are rollicking, organ-heavy tracks; Carnival Sense is a rock 'n' roll-style fun track; and Jenny Jones (Leave the Death Rock Kids Alone) is a choral ribbing of US chat shows like Montel and, obviously, Jenny Jones, that see a teen dressed differently and automatically presume they're evil.

Do try to get this album, it's just pure enjoyability. And cool as hell.

I mentioned Tim Armstrong in the Gadjits' write-up, and he's back here in my second favourite album.

Rancid are often compared to The Clash, which is praise of the highest order. However, in the self-titled album and And Out Come the Wolves, they were White Riot era Clash. They didn't seem to have anything to suggest they could come up with a Sandinista or London Calling.

How wrong that assumption was.

Life Won't Wait is a full blown punk classic. While contemporaries NOFX were goofing around (brilliantly, I may add!) and Green Day seemed to be going faux-political, Rancid went serious - and it paid off massively.

Not that you'd know from the start. The Intro is straight from the early albums and could easily be pinched from Rats in the Hallway. Bloodclot is a 'hey-ho' thunderbolt, but again, not radically different.

Hoover Street signals that something new is going on here. It's polished, political and powerful. There's plenty of quieter sections to hear Armstrong's lyrics about Salvadorian immigrants living in dire conditions. The chorus is basic, to say the least, but it works. Black Lung lets the listener know that new inspirations have been sought. This album was partially recorded in Jamaica, where the band struck up a friendship with ragga/dancehall star Buju Banton (who features on some tracks). The mix of these styles takes this album to a new level. Despite not being a particular fan of Banton's style, I really love the result.

Rancid? Ragga? Revolution? Perfect! The title track, Life Won't Wait is simply stunning. It mixes ska, ragga and punk to such a degree that it even outshines stuff by The Specials. It was co-written by Rancid with Banton and The Slackers' Vic Ruggiero and features Banton singing in a few verses. It's just sublime and very danceable too. This is a call to every musician - more of this kind of stuff please!

New Dress is a beautifully political song, with kicks. Lyrically it's involved with the break down of Yugoslavia and how the West helped in the independence of those states. However, with independence, the West also brought capitalism to unstable economies and countries, so the result leaves confused youngsters in Nike shoes and what-have-you in a new war-torn nation. Warsaw also offers a view on the rapid spread of capitalism to eastern Europe.

Think of Rancid and there's no chance you'd think of this next track. Crane Fist features rinky-tinky piano a la Jools Holland and samples. Don't take my word about it though, listen to it yourself.

Despite me saying this is a rapid departure from form, Rancid show they still can rock in the style to which their original fans were accustomed. The likes of Leicester Square, Lady Liberty and The Wolf are pure punk - power chords and raucous, soaring choruses. The latter being one of my favourites, rivalling The Clash's White Riot and NOFX's The Brews.

For a 22-track album, it flies by in a flash (well, 60mins) and I'm struggling to think of a track I don't like. Life Won't Wait was released in June 1998. So was 5ive's album. Christ.

Next up is my favourite album. Woo! This was one of the easiest choices I've made. I could probably tell you this decision in my sleep. Quite out of character - especially considering my past nine choices - this band are my favourite. Uncoincidentally, it also contains my favourite song.

It's Levelling the Land by the Levellers from 1991. It kicks off with the anthemic One Way and also contains Liberty Song. There are also a few political songs such as Another Man's Cause, which reveals the futility of war, particularly the Falklands, and how it's the soldiers and their family are most effected, not the decision-makers.

First up for my choices is the campfire-tastic Boatman. It really speaks to me as it's my ideal live, a rover, a boatman and whatever. Plus I love the campfire singalong style of it, but more of that later.

My next choice is another campfire singalong blast, apart from mishearing 'weir' and 'wee'. Have a listen to it - Far from Home. Again the imagery conjured up really appeals to me - a nice, honest life on the road.

The last song on the album tells the not-so-glamourous side of being a traveller. It's a true tale too, and incredibly heart-breaking and anger inducing. The Battle of the Beanfield was a real event in 1985 as a convoy of travellers converged on Stonehenge for a free festival. The police tried their hardest to stop them, laying down exclusion zones and roadblocks. What resulted was disgraceful, view the unedited ITN footage here. The Levellers' song narrates brilliantly.

My final song is a lot more cheerful, it's about the fearlessness of youth. Drinking and smoking and taking 'a drink of the Rev Jimmy Jones' and setting 'the table for the barber Sweeney Todd'. It's The Riverflow and easily my favourite song of, well, ever I think. Upbeat, rollicking and pleasantly lairy.

So there it is, I've quite enjoyed it.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

30 Years, part two

So, here we are. Another week, another run-down of my top 10 albums from the past 30 years. Last time I told you of the first four in chronological order, and I'll carry on in that vein - for this one anyway.

Onwards, but staying in 1997 with one of the coolest bands of the era.

Taking inspiration from the Velvet Underground amongst others, the Dandy Warhols were arguably America's most successful band of the BritPop era as their sound fit in perfectly. However, their suave and occassionally humourous outlook saw them stand heads and shoulders above most of the other artsy bands.

The Dandy Warhols Come Down is their best album. It starts of with the monsterous shoegaze track Be-In, but really kicks in with the fabulous Boys Better. With a rollicking backing and excellent keyboard riff, this tune could go on for ages before I get bored of it.

The Dandies really got noticed over here in the UK when Not If You Were the Last Junkie on Earth got plenty of airplay. The chorus of 'heroin is so passé' really caught the ear of many fans. As did the anthemic Everyday Should Be a Holiday.

With songs like Minnesoter, I Love You and the somewhat controversially titled Hard On for Jesus, Come Down is a quality album, but it's a song about another idol of theirs that really takes this into my top 10. Pixies bassist Kim Deal was an idol to most indie rock kids of that era, she just exuded cool, and their song Cool as Kim Deal saw them take a sideswipe at the posturing indie rocker scenesters: 'I'd rather be cool than be smart', 'I'd rather be cool than be loved', 'Just wanna girl as cool as Kim Deal'. It's a bit of a weird message considering many of their fans would be those that they were having a dig at!

As you'll have noticed, the word 'cool' has featured prominently in this. Quite rightly too, the Dandies are cool, they conjure up images of bohemian apartments in Greenwich Village.

I was listening to Guy Garvey's excellent 6Music show the other week and he played a song by the next band. He said that if you didn't have their debut album, you were missing out. He's right. Sunshine Hit Me by the Isle of Wight's The Bees is excellent - certainly considering it was recorded in a shed.

However, their follow-up album was recorded in the slightly plusher Abbey Road Studios. It's no less good though, in fact it's better. The songs on 2004's Free the Bees are, to a track, brilliant.

It's hard to pick just three songs from this, but I'm going to give it a blast. The trouble is, the styles are quite radically different. There's the fun freakout of Chicken Payback; the Beastie Boys-ish organ-tastic Russian; the trucking Wash in the Rain; a garage rock blast in No Atmosphere; the hazy meander of Go Karts and others.

But the three I'm going to include start with the first track. Beginning with a garage rock version of the Beatles' Hard Day's Night intro chord, These are the Ghosts is beautiful, combining indie rock and hints of psychedelia - something the Bees do brilliantly.

Next up is the album's penultimate track - a superb indie-folk-psyche dance tune about asking a girl's parents if you could take her to a hootenanny, or is it a hoedown? Listen to One Glass of Water and I'd be amazed if you weren't dancing around the room. It also contains the lyric: I'm no King Kong, I may be hairy but not quite as strong. One of the most joyous songs ever!

Finally, in this sense and also on the album, is surely Britain's answer to Woody Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land - mainly because the title is similar. This Is the Land makes me think of a super-speedy trip through the roads of the country. Either way it's great.

Anyway, on to the final album for this week. It's the most recent of my ten favourite albums of the past 30 years too, being, as it is, from 2007. I've done quite well since my early blogs in avoiding this artist, but there's no avoiding him here.

So, what is the best Ryan Adams album? Let's face it there have been plenty. Gold? Rock'n'Roll? Demolition? Cold Roses? Cardinology? All great, but it's Easy Tiger for me. The album cover should tell you all you need to know about it: Ryan Adams sat, almost with his head in his hands, and a cigarette on the go. All that's missing is the bourbon, but he'd given up the drink by this stage.

I've already used Halloweenhead and Sun Also Sets in previous blogs, so I won't go there again - despite them being utterly brilliant. There's
also the country rock ballad Two, on which he sings alongside Sheryl Crow, and the cheekily monickered Oh My God, Whatever, Etc. The album's final track is bewilderingly sad. I Taught Myself How to Grow Old is a tale of lonesomenes and being distant from love and life.

From the end to the start. Easy Tiger kicks off brilliantly with Goodnight Rose, which harks back to Adams' Cold Roses era, vocals of anguish and quite harsh country rock music - in a good way!

Next, I've chosen an unusual Adams song, Pearls on a String. It certainly dabbles more than its toes into bluegrass, even if it's not fully submerged. It's an uplifting tune about hope (which makes it more unusual for Adams!). Plus, it's got a great chorus to sing along with.

And finally...back to Adams at his typical best in These Girls. Talking about 'bad' girls and how he can't help himself sometimes - 'god bless all the late night girls' and 'I get hypnotised and I wanna go to bed. There's also two cracking lines in this: 'One Christmas I got a funeral and they handed me the reciept' and 'how many lies I tell without my tongue'. The former is a great example of bad luck and getting kicked when you're down. The latter could either be lying to yourself, or using your eyes to convey something to one of these girls. I dunno, I didn't write it. But I do enjoy listening to it!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Week 19 - 30 Years, part one

So, the Brit Awards celebrates its 30th this year - the awards ceremony that seems to have done less with its life than I have.

I watched Mel B present the highlights of previous years. Obviously, the one that stands out is Jarvis Cocker rubbing his ass at the crowd in protest at Michael Jackson celebrating allegations of child dodginess by surrounding himself with children. But, like the awards of late, this programme managed to edit out any semblance of interest by not
showing Jarvis. Not content with this, they had Trevor Nelson and Cat Deeley (seriously) lambasting Cocker for this in such an inane way that even the commentators on the I Love.... series of shows would wince at the vacuity of it all.

But anyway, to celebrate their 30th year, one award the Brits will be dishing out is the Album of 30 Years, which honours the best British album of the past 30 years. Supposedly.

As you can see from the nominees
(right), there's the banal, the expected and the just damn bizarre. If (What's the Story) Morning Glory, why not Definitely, Maybe or Blur's Parklife?! If Sade, why not, well anything else?!

This selection did one thing for me, it got me thinking of my 10 favourite albums from the past 30 years. I'd planned on doing something of this ilk for a while.

First things first, I don't want this to come across as muso's list where I'm trying to score points by choosing little-known or controversial albums. I'm not saying my list is better or worse than the Brits. It's personal. Click on the links to hear the songs.

Secondly, there are no compilation albums - which is a shame for the likes of the Smiths, Madness, the Specials and Carter USM.

Finally, I'm really surprised by the results. I thought the 90s were rubbish, but the majority of albums have come from then. Whether it's because that's when I grew up I dunno, but I doubt it as I bought more music during the 2000s. Odd.

On with the show.

This first of three installations will contain the first four albums, chronologically, with the exception of any to be included in my top three - that's part three. Exciting, eh?!

So we start with a bona fide classic. As far as debuts go, this is up there with the best. In fact, as far as albums go, it's up there with the best. The Stone Roses' 1989 self-titled release got a 10-year-old me in to music.

Chugging into your ears, the intro to opening track I Wanna Be Adored reminds me of Manchester's Piccadilly Station, with the train wheels scraping on the metal tracks as they come to a halt and the people depart onto the pimpled concrete (I have very strong memories of that concrete for some reason!). It's a stunning opening track and signalled to the world the intent of the precocious band who would help change the of the city, and the style of British youngsters.

But it wasn't all swagger with the Roses, they could produce glimmering, cheeky songs too. Songs about getting hands stuck to their jeans and the likes. (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister is a beautiful track and expertly ambiguous. Is it about love, drugs or prostitutes? Who knows, just enjoy it.

There are reasons not to like This Is the One, well Man Utd come out to it, but it's such a good song I can bypass that. I absolutely love this song, it's just ace, it wouldn't get outclassed on any album. It is one of my all-time favourite songs and not putting this album in my top 3 was really hard, but I think it's become more of an old friend than an album!

If those three songs aren't enough, there's also the likes of She Bangs the Drums, Waterfall and I Am the Resurrection. Now that's great!

From Madchester to sunkist LA for the next one. People will say the Red Hot Chili Peppers have done better albums than this - Blood Sugar Sex Magick and Californication for two - but this 1995 album doesn't have a bad track among it.

One Hot Minute is one of their more experimental albums and often goes on about drug addiction and whatnot.

Warped is a dark and muddy intro to an album, but Aeroplane is more serene, even containing Flea's daughter and her classmates singing. Typically, the cheeriness hides something sinister - probably drugs, what with the mentions
of spikes and sitting in his kitchen, overcoming gravity. Also, the slap bass is phenomenal, not that I'm usually into that stuff. My Friends also fits into the serene bracket, whereas Deep Kick is more like Warped.

Coffee Shop is a funk rock track to dance to, and Pea is just beautifully bizarre! One Big Mob kicks off with a punch but then mellows into a trippy haze before going full circle, lovely. This is the time when the album shows some semblance of order and the rest of the tracks are more accessible especially Tearjerker. Towards the end the Chilis vent about religion.

This is showns perfectly in the funky and somewhat angry Shallow Be Thy Name. "I was not created in the likeness of a fraud" and all the talk of being heretical. It's a rollicking good ride anyway, unless you're of a vehementally religious persuasion.

To sum up One Hot Minute: Drugs may be bad, mm'kay, but they lead to some excellent music.

For the penultimate album of this installation, we have some more from a rocky ilk.

Mention Reef to people and they'll immediately picture their biggest hit, Place Your Hands. But there was a time when Gary Stringer and co were serious contenders to the Led Zeppelin throne.

Their 1995 debut Replenish brings out the surfers in them and, couple with the Zeppelin-style riffs, makes this a criminally overlooked album.

Starting with the stellar Feed Me, Dominic Greensmith's drums conjure up a stormy sea and Stringers somewhat affected vocals add to the buffeting nature of the opener.

Next up is the riff-alicious (!) Naked which reached number 11 in the charts, unsurprising considering the guitar work of Kenwyn House and Jack Bessant, and Stringer bellowing "I'll blow you away".

Taking it down a notch and conveying a tranquil bay is the obviously titled Mellow
. It's a great track to put on and drift away to sunny Cornish shores. As is the rest of the album, containing the rocky single Good Feeling and the title track.

Finally for this week, it's a totally different style of album, although it does allow you to drift off into another world, like parts of Replenish.

Moving on to 1997 and an album that - coupled with the Stone Roses - must surely be in most 'best album' lists. Following the disbandment of the hugely influential Spacemen 3, Jason 'J Spaceman' Pierce formed Spiritualized. He struck gold once more.

There weren't too many acts in the 90s that could blend strings, gospel and preposterously loud guitars and have commercial and critical success. Maybe it's because pillheads had a load of money! Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Through Space is an amazing piece of work, from Kate Radley's low-key announcement at the start to the Dr John vocals on the bluesy Cop Shoot Cop. It's an emotional ride and no mistake, guv.

To start with there's the title track with the Kate Radley's aforementioned mutterance. Done entirely in loops, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating Through Space is a sublime piece of paradoxically uplifting melancholy - mixing heartbreak with hope.

That's a theme that resonates through Spiritualzed's work, and it's employed perfectly in All of My Thoughts. Another theme is sonic surprise. In this track the beautiful music is interrupted by ferocious freakouts.

But the incredible track on here is the utterly heartbreaking Broken Heart. Having heard it many times, I should be immune to it now, but tiny beads of water still find their way to the corners of my eyes!

There's not a bad track here, and I haven't even mentioned Come Together, Electricity or Cool Waves.

Anyway, that's finally it for this week. The next two weeks' installments should be shorter!

Friday, 15 January 2010

Week 18 - When Good Vocoders Go Bad

Firstly, an apology. As you can probably tell, I didn't get round to doing a New Year blog and, as the one I had in mind was various, exotic versions of Auld Lang Syne, I thought I'd better leave it for another time. Like August.

But anyway, onwards into a new decade.

As the season of goodwill is far behind us, I thought I'd serve up an abhoration of a blog. Yes, that's right, it's this blog's version of When Animals Attack, but more terrifying.

I was listening to an album recently, Bossa N Ramones, and was overwhelmed by how good it was. In general. Even some of the Ramones songs I'm not massively keen on work well, and there's a beautiful version of The KKK Took My Baby Away (if you can get past the weirdness of it!). However there was one that made me pull a face usually associated with a pungent whiff. But more on that later and onwards to the vocoders.

Let's get this straight, the vocoder isn't totally evil. Air, Daft Punk, Super Furry Animals and (ahem) even Peter Frampton use it well. But some people take a bone and run with it. However, like kindly dogs, they don't bury it away from human eyes/ears, these musicians decide it's the best thing in the world and they must make an entire song with it.

First up is the obvious one, but I'll just do a YouTube link to it as I don't want the police to find it on my hard drive! Hello Cherilyn Sarkisian, aka Cher. She say she believes in life after love, but she also believes in murdering the hell out of the poor vocoder that some lackey probably found while looking in the bins trying to find clothes for Cher. Yes, it's that travesty from 1998, Believe.

God, I hate that more than I remember.

Anyhoo, next up is another trip back in time, further on this occassion. There's no worse recipe than a dash of funk added to a modicum of R&B, sprinkled too liberally with vocoder and served up in the cracked bowl of the 1980s. This didn't stop Larry Blackmon and co. In 1986, Cameo slapped their culinary abortion onto our plates and we, amazingly, lapped it up. There's still some leftovers available for the chav-tastic 80s clubs. Prepare to screech 'Aw' like a cat suffering from diarrhea: here's Cameo with Word Up.

And finally, the song that inspired me to hurt your ears. Remember I was saying about Bossa N Ramones? There's a version of Pet Semetary on there. It's kind of charming, but there's no escaping the vocoder (or it might be a custom made dsumi, apparently. Either way it's an overused vocal enhancer).The perpetrator of this is Yasmin Gate and I wish her no ill, but...well, oof.

So, I'll leave you with Yasmin Gate doing the Ramones' Pet Semetary.