Thursday, 30 March 2017

March #1: The Greatest Song In The History Of The Universe

If I was ever asked to go on Desert Island Discs, I'd have a real dilemma at the idea of choosing only eight records to take with me. I'd probably spend days on the selection and I would never be satisfied with it.

However. That bit at the end of the show where Kirsty Young asks the guest to choose just ONE of their eight songs... that bit would be easy.

The most perfect pop song ever written. The most amazing combination of vocal, instrumentation and lyrics. A song that engulfs me with emotion every time I listen to it.

1. Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman - by Glen Campbell

After the video, there's a story I wrote ten years ago, inspired by this song. You don't have to read it. It's not compulsory. There won't be a test. It won't be featured in the final exam. But I dug it out again recently and didn't think it was too bad. Like all writers, there are bits I'd do differently now, bits that don't quite work, but you can't spend your life rewriting old stories. Otherwise, Jimmy Webb would still be working on this one, and nobody would ever have heard it...

And I Need You More Than Want You

“Hi, is Raquel there?”

“I’d like to speak to Raquel.”

“Could you put me through to Raquel, please?”

“Yeah, I can hold while she finishes up on that call.”

“Well, will she be back in tomorrow?”

You were the only person I could ever talk to, you know that? I still remember the first time, once we got past all the phony sexy stuff – once we started to talk like real people… how easy it all was. Course, it was your job to keep me on the line as long as possible, but you sure caught on that all the purrs and the oohs and the moans, they’re weren’t gonna work with me. Not with me, honey.

And so you let me talk. About my wife and the kids. About how Hannah couldn’t even eat breakfast in the same room as me no more; how she’d cook my eggs then go sit out in the yard – or lock herself in the bathroom, rainy days. About Scott getting arrested down in Haysville for possession and distribution – near a playground too. About Caira, pregnant again at 15, and no wonder the way she dresses. About little Larry, stealing all those goddamn cars. You let me talk, and not once did you say how maybe it was all my fault. Not once.

“Aren’t you worried about your phone bill?” you asked me that one time. That’s when I knew you cared too. That’s when I let you in on the secret. This wasn’t costing me nothing.

You know, I remember exactly where I was, every time we spoke. The view from each and every pole. The angle of the sun on the sides of the buildings; a swirl of seagulls over the town hall clock. Clouds shaped like Australia; the rising smell of morning bacon and cars. That couple on the bench, like two budgerigars kissing.

“I’m just testing the connection, ma’am.”

“We’ve had reports of a fault on the line out these parts – you had any trouble yourself?”

“Well, if it snows again, it surely might bring them down. But there’s nothing else I can do ‘til that happens.”

Yeah, it’s only 99 cents a minute, but those minutes sure add up, don’t they? And somebody has to pay the bill. Still, the way I see it, it’s somebody different every time – and they can always dispute the charges, should they like. The county has a whole department set up to investigate that sort of thing – but I know those guys. They’re third-rate. Couldn’t find Colorado with a compass. No way they’re gonna catch me. Still, it was sweet of you to be so concerned, it really was.

You know the day I knew I meant more to you than just another john? I was up on the main road out of town. Jimmy thought maybe there was a line down that way, but I couldn’t find nothing. I realised I had me some time to kill, so I gave you a call. That was the day your ma died, but you needed the money so bad you couldn’t take it off. You sounded so relieved once you heard it was me – you didn’t have to put on that show no more. She was only 65; nobody saw it coming. At least it was quick.

I let you talk that afternoon, while the eighteen-wheelers grumbled by below, shaking the spider webs where the wires joined the pole. It was a cold, blue sky day, and when I extended my bottom lip, breath steamed the tip of my nose. I remember some little chubby bastard rolling by on his skateboard, sat with his feet up at the front, paddling his arms like crazy on the sidewalk.

It was that same night I told Hannah I was leaving. But things change so quickly, and never the way you imagine them.

“I’m sorry, sir, Raquel doesn’t work here anymore.”

“Would you like to talk to one of the other girls?”

“I’m afraid that’s just not possible—“

“Please, sir, if you won’t cease with these calls, I’ll be forced to report this matter to the authorities.”

It’s been almost a year now, but you know something, Raquel? Sometimes I still think I can talk to you. I’ll be up on the lines when the wind gets high, and that noise they make – if I close my eyes, it’s like your voice coming straight at me down the wires, from far, far away. And I always think, if I connect myself up right then – just dial some random number when I hear that whine – you’ll be there at the other end, ready to talk all over again. And though it hasn’t happened yet, honey – one day, yeah? One day…

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #8 - The Best POSSIBLE Taste

8. Kenny Everett - Snot Rap

I never got to hear Kenny Everett on the radio. He was sacked from Radio 1 before I was born and though he ended up on the station of my youth, Radio 2, in the early 80s, I never caught the Saturday lunchtime show on which he made an infamous joke about Margaret Thatcher... and amazingly kept his job (for a while). I wish I had heard him, because he would have been exactly what I wanted from a radio DJ back then.

I loved his TV show though, and watched it from an early age... even though I suspect I was too young for much of the material. I'm not sure how well it would hold up today, but when I was 12, I thought Sid Snot, Cupid Stunt, Reg Prescott and Gizzard Puke were hilarious. I loved the Snot Rap single too. And it still makes me smile today. Considering some of the wholly innocuous records the BBC cheerfully slapped a banned sticker on in the 80s, I'm amazed this got played...

And while we're on the subject of comedy Kennies, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a mention to Kenny McCormick, whose musical career has been rather hampered by his hood being zipped up too tight... and the fact that he keeps getting killed. Doesn't stop him though...

Only two Kennies to go. The last one has been set in stone from the start, but there's still time to sway my position on #9 if you act quickly. If I've forgotten your favourite Kenny... speak now or forever hold your peace.

Kenny G fans, this is your moment! Start your petitions now...

Monday, 27 March 2017

March #2: How To Ruin Your Life In 3 Minutes

2. The Magnetic Fields - Rock 'n' Roll Will Ruin Your Life

If the question is ever asked, "What's The Greatest Triple Album of All Time?" there really can only be once answer... since by their very nature, triple albums are mostly over-stuffed turkeys in need of gutting and trimming into a healthy one disc, low fat bird.

The exception, of course, is The Magnetic Fields' 1999 masterpiece, 69 Love Songs. If you're familiar with that, you'll knows its many Merritts... notably lead singer and songwriter Stephin Merritt, a man in a (Magnetic) Field all his own.

Well, many years later, with a few slightly less spectacular records under his belt, Mr. S(&)M has done it again.


I received his autobiographical 50 Song Memoir for my birthday. It's certainly an impressive package, and early signs show there's much here to love. Whether it'll reach the everlasting heights of 69 Love Songs, I'll have to get back to you on. If it does... well, this could be the greatest quintuple album in history. (Yes, 69 Love Songs crammed that many tracks onto 3 discs, but 50 Song Memoir chooses instead to devote a disc to each decade of Merritt's life thus far, one song per year. It's a pricey proposition at thirty quid, but if you've got a birthday coming up...)

Here's my favourite track thus far...

Rock'n'roll will ruin your life
Like your old no-goodnik dad
Kill your soul and kill your wife
Rock'n'roll will ruin your life
And make you sad
And I mean sad

Sunday, 26 March 2017

March #3: When Things Get Too Bad... Shoot Me With A Silver Bullet

The other night I had a panic attack.

This is not a gag. Nor is it one of those posts where the blogger bares his soul and throws himself on the pity of his readership. It's just a post about music. Sometimes though, to talk about what music really means, what it really does, you have to give a little bit of yourself.

I've not had a lot of panic attacks in my life. I could count them on my fingers and still have enough left to flick you the Vs. And I seriously doubt whether by many people's standards - people with far bigger anxiety problems than I have - what I class as a panic attack would really pass muster. I wasn't blowing into any brown paper bags.

Neither does it matter why I had it. Sometimes the pressures of life, work, being a parent, feeling alone... sometimes such things, and other things, get on top of a person. And when that happens, you might need a little something to get you through the night. For many, that might be a snifter or two of their chosen poison, but since I quit poison getting on for 17 years ago (a story for another time perhaps, it's not as dramatic as you might imagine), all I can rely on is some really good music.

Anyway, I was laying there in bed and I knew I wasn't going to get to sleep feeling like I did. And I also knew that music was the best / only option to soothe what ailed me. Luckily, in the era of the cloud, I didn't even have to get up to scour the CD shelves. I just had to type a name into the tablet and my panacea awaited. Long term readers might make an educated guess as to which name I chose...

They would be wrong.

3. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - Night Moves

Maybe some other time I'll explain to you why I chose Bob Seger. It's not tied to any particular story or moment in my life. It's a feeling, a sensation, a quality which is hard to explain... and I'm sure you won't get. It doesn't really matter. Bob Seger was exactly what I needed. Thank you, Bob.

Friday, 24 March 2017

My Top Ten Songs About Chuck Berry

After Tuesday's Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs, The Swede asked if there was any danger of a Volume 2. I'm sure this isn't quite what he meant, but hopefully it'll do...

It was inevitable Chuck would find his way into the lyrics of some of the musicians he influenced. Here are ten of the best Chuck references I could find...

10. Mott The Hoople - Honaloochie Boogie

Ian Hunter gets converted to rock 'n' roll...
Now my hair gets longer as the beat gets stronger
Wanna tell Chuck Berry my news
I get my kicks outta guitar licks
And I've sold my steel-toed shoes
9. Garland Jeffreys - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll

Jeffreys had been making music for over 20 years when a racist insult led him to record this track asking for a little acceptance, reminding the bigots that the black fathers of rock 'n' roll such as Chuck, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino paved the way for Elvis, Gene, Buddy and Jerry...

8. The Rainmakers - Downstream

Hey - remember the Rainmakers? Let My People Go-Go? Those guys. They didn't just have one record, you know.
Well, we're rounding St. Louis and heading for the coast
When we pick up Chuck Berry in a little rowboat
With one oar in the water and one in the air
A lightning rod for a white guitar
And lightning struck once, and lightning struck twice
And I said "If there's a God, He sure ain't nice"
And Chuck said "God is an Indian giver
I don't trust nothing but the Mississippi River"
7. Dar Williams - I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono

Obviously more a song about John Lennon than Chuck Berry ("I could sell your songs to Nike"), but Chuck does play a very important part...
When John called the wind an opera
Making love with every chakra
When he said her voice would carry
And when he whispered old Chuck Berry
Only then would Yoko set him free 
6. Tom Petty - My Life / Your World

Another top guitarist name-drops a tribute...
They came this mornin' with a dog on a chain
They came and took my little brother away
His generation never even got a name
My momma was a rocker way back in ´53
Buys them old records that they sell on T.V.
I know Chuck Berry wasn't singin' that to me
See also Christmas All Over Again, in which little Tom sends Santa his list...
Now let's see
I want a new Rickenbacker guitar
Two Fender Bassmans
A Chuck Berry song book
5. The Beach Boys - Do You Remember?

Brian Wilson remembers "the guys that gave us rock 'n' roll"... just a handful of years after it happened!
Chuck Berry's gotta be the greatest thing that's come along
He made the guitar beats and wrote the all-time greatest song...
I wonder which one he meant?

4. Amy Rigby - Don't Ever Change

Dar Williams and Amy Rigby in the same post... that's the power of Chuck Berry. Wreckless Eric fans, you'll find Mr. Rigby accompanying here too.
I saw my baby sitting there at the breakfast table
His hair a mess and he forgot to shave
And I wished that he would get up, make it all better
Stop drinking so much, learn how to behave
Then the radio was playing a Chuck Berry song
And he was looking at me asking what was wrong
I made a list of the things I could say
But he gave me a wink and it all went away, I told him
Hey I love you, you're perfect, don't ever change
Don't ever change
 First person to point out that Don't Ever Change was a Crickets song loses a point.

3. Richard Thompson - Guitar Heroes

The greatest guitarist I've ever seen play live is Richard Thompson. It was a solo show, but I swear it sounded like there were three of him. I've seen some amazing guitar players before and after, but nothing that quite matched RT.

Here he is showing his chops, playing tribute to some of his own guitar heroes... including Les Paul, Django Reinhardt, The Shadows and Chuck Berry. 

2. Jim Steinman - Love & Death & An American Guitar / Wasted Youth

Jim Steinman is, officially, as mad as ten lorries, so when I say to you that this spoken word story, first featured on his ill-fated solo album and then rechristened and reused many years later on Bat Out Of Hell II... when I say to you that this is Jim's greatest moment of pure insanity... that's saying something. Obviously inspired, in part, by Jim Morrison's lyrics to The End, this features Young Jim S. bashing the shit out of his guitar till it bleeds the colour of wild berries... yes, it's "Chuck Berry red"... before taking the poor guitar upstairs to his father's bedroom to bash the shit out of his old man.

The story doesn't end the way you expect.

1. ELO - Rockaria

Jeff falls for an opera singer....
She's sweet on WagnerI think she'd die for BeethovenShe loves the way Puccini lays down a tuneAnd Verdi's always creeping from her room
And she ain't gonna rock 'n' roll. How will he convert her?
Well we were reelin' and a rockin' all through the nightYeah, we were rockin' at the opera house until the break of lightAnd the orchestra were playin' all Chuck Berry's greatest tunes...
Roll over, Beethoven, indeed.

And that is why Chuck Berry will live forever.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

March #4: Sometimes It Snows In March

Some fool on the radio this morning was saying how people are shocked about the fact it's been snowing certain parts of the country over the last couple of days. "In March!" As though it's never snowed in March before. Personally, I can remember plenty of times on or around my birthday when the new sprouting daffodils have been smothered in a blanket of white. This is not unusual.

Anyway. It's not snowing here today. My commiserations if it is where you are. The only snow you'll see on Top Ten Towers today is this...

4. Phoebe Snow - Married Men

My 70s sojourn continues with another new discovery I feel I may have been vaguely familiar with in my early, Wogan-dominated, Radio 2 childhood. Phoebe Snow was a folky, jazzy, bluesy singer songwriter who scored a big mid-70s hit in the states with the song Poetry Man. I don't remember that at all, but I feel like I might have vague memories of her cover of Paul McCartney's Every Night, which was a Top 40 (just) hit in the UK in 1979. That song is the lead track on an album I've been listening to a fair bit lately, Against The Grain... on which, you'll also find today's offering, The Married Men. Lyrically, it's a knockout...

One of 'ems got a little boy
Other one he's got two
One of 'ems wife is one week overdue

I know these girls they don't like me
But I am just like them
Pickin' a crazy apple off a stem

Givin' it to the married men
The married men
All o' that time in hell to spend
For kissin' the married men

All of which brings us to one of the things I like most about writing this blog. I could just post this song and say "I like it", but I always like to do a little digging too. That's how I discovered The Married Men is also a cover, of a song by The Roches, a band I didn't know at all... but having checked out their version, I might even like it more than Phoebe's.

The Roches were a folky harmony group made up of three sisters, Magie, Suzzy & Terre. They worked with Paul Simon on his Rhymin' Simon album and Suzzy was even married to Loudon Wainwright III for a while (I do own some music by their daughter, Lucy Wainwright). Sadly, Maggie Roche died in January of this year, which turns this into an RIP post... but The Roches are definitely a group I'll be investigating in the future.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #7: King Kenny

7. Kenny Anderson (a/k/a King Creosote)

I have to admit, when I started this Top Ten, I didn't immediately think of King Creosote. It took Charity Chic to give me a gentle reminder that his real name is Kenny Anderson. One of the reasons KC didn't immediately jump to mind is that he's been on my Get Round To Listening To Eventually pile for a while now. That pile's one step over from the Bottomless Wishlist Pile: it's for those artists I've actually got round to acquiring music by... just not got around to listening to yet. Am I the only one who does this? Acquire more music than it is humanly possible to consume? Is it a sickness? Why can't I set myself some ground rules: don't buy any new records until you've listened to all the ones you've not listened to yet? Would that be so hard?

The weird thing is, I actually own more songs by King Creosote than I do by Kenny Loggins, Kenny Wells and Gerard Kenny put together. Bloody hell - I better start listening to some of them.

Well, I've done just that. And they're pretty good. But as I've just discovered King Creosote has released over 40 records, it may take me a while to work my way through the rest. Thanks for that, CC.

I've chosen the following track because I have cats and first thing in the morning, when there's furballs on the kitchen table, urine on the floor and a very bad murder in the litter tray, I often want to jump on at them. Plus, it makes me smile. (The song, not the litter tray.)

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