Thursday, 27 November 2014

My Top Ten Songs About Driving At Night

When songwriters can't sleep... they go for a drive.

10. Rialto - Drive

A noirish tale from the much-missed Britpop band, always a cut above many of their contemporaries.

9. Tom Petty - Night Driver

Tom's drifting home with headlines in his eyes, fighting sleep... WAKE UP, TOM! Phew. Nearly left the road there for a second. How about pulling over at the next rest stop, buddy?

8. The Cars - Drive
Who's gonna drive you home tonight?
The Cars' biggest hit (twice) comes loaded with so much extra meaning, it's hard to just listen to it as a song anymore. Plus, it was played to death on the radio when I was a teenager and I think I OD'ed on it. Good song, but Rick Ocasek & co. made far more exciting records.

7. Dion - Drive All Night

From Mr. DiMucci's late 80s comeback album, this keeps the hand-clapping doo-wop feel of his earlier hits filtered through more contemporary production courtesy of Dave Edmunds and Bryan Adams.

Well, when I say "contemporary", I mean "contemporary: 25 years ago". Sigh.

6. Roy Orbison - I Drove All Night

Fun fact - although everyone thinks Cyndi Lauper recorded this first (she made the charts with it before Roy), The Big O actually recorded it two years before Cyndi. It wasn't released as a single (with a little help from Jeff Lynne) until after his death in 1992. Anyway, much as I love Cyndi's sultry take on the tune, there's only one Roy O. Plus, although Cyndi's video features a car projected onto her naked body (not as exciting as that might sound), Roy's video guest stars a young Jennifer Connelly (and Jason Priestley, ladies). Ah, you decide. (Just don't suggest the Celion Dion version.)

5. Hamell On Trial - The Long Drive

Ed Hamell's Chandler-esque tale begins with a long drive in which his private detective hero leaves at midnight... worth a listen for any Philip Marlowe fans out there.

4. C.W. McCall - Convoy

Doubtless if I ever get round to compiling a Top Ten Trucking Songs, this'll be Number One. Although McCall's convoy (the inspiration for Sam Peckinpah's movie starring Kris Kristofferson, Ali McGraw and Ernest Borgnine) trucks on through both day and night, it nudges its way into this chart because of the hour it begins:

It was the dark of the moon
On the 6th of June...

3. Tom Robinson Band - 2-4-6-8 Motorway

Having already hurtled to the top of My Top Ten Motorway Songs, it was tempting to give Tom's trucker anthem a miss in favour of his other night driving anthem (a European retelling of the quintessentially English 2-4-6-8,) Drive All Night. But although that's a very fine song - and its title suggests it deserves a place here more than its more famous sibling - I just can't bring myself to choose it over 2-4-6-8. Plus, iffypedia informs me that the chorus of 2-4-6-8 is pilfered from a Gay Lib chant "2,4,6,8, Gay is twice as good as straight... 3,5,7,9, Lesbians are mighty fine". Brilliant!

2. Golden Earring - Radar Love

I can't think of many Dutch rock bands, and I can only think of one other record by this bunch... but this song is good enough to have been covered by everyone from REM to Def Leppard to U2... and none of them came close to matching the original. Close your eyes and this could be Led Zep. It begins with some amazing power chords before the chugging drum rhythm kicks in and then Frans Krassenburg's Robert Plant-esque voice chimes in with those masterful opening lines.
I've been driving all night
My hands wet on the wheel
By the time Brenda Lee starts coming on strong on the radio, I've almost driven through the central reservation. Just one fantastic rock record. Apparently Golden Earring had over 30 top ten hits in Holland. I might just have to splash out on a best of compilation...

1. Bruce Springsteen - Drive All Night / State Trooper

Although I feature Bruce a lot on this blog, I'm always wary of giving him the Number One because it reeks of favouritism. (Strange, I know - after all, it's my blog, I can do what I want. And it's not as though anyone's reading...) Here though is a double bill of two of his finest songs, both involving driving at night, albeit from completely different perspectives.

Simply put, Drive All Night is one of the greatest love songs ever written. I'd rate it just a step below Wichita Lineman, and there's no finer compliment in my book.

I swear I'll drive all night again
Just to buy you some shoes
And to taste your tender charms

The simplest of gestures, yet it speaks of true love in my book... and I'm sorry if that's perpetuating the "all women like shoes" stereotype... but Louise's wardrobe is one step away from Imelda Marcos's, and she's not the only woman I know like that. (Not that I'd ever dare buy her some shoes... I'm totally clueless in that department... as so many others. I'm no Bruce.)

State Trooper, on the other hand, is a much darker proposition. From the epically lo-fi Nebraska album (famously recorded on a 4 track cassette deck in Bruce's back bedroom), it's a tale of late night desperation. A man on a long, lonely drive across the states begs a policeman not to pull him over. It's creepy, brooding and compellingly tragic.
New Jersey Turnpike, ridin' on a wet night 
'Neath the refinery's glow, 
Out where the great black rivers flow
License, registration, I ain't got none, 

But I got a clear conscience
'Bout the things that I done
Mister state trooper please don't stop me...

Which one would you flash your headlights at?

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

My Top Ten Ghetto Songs

I've been listening to loads of old soul music lately, from the 60s (the obvious culprits: Motown, Atlantic) to the 70s (Philly, Barry White!) and even the 80s (George Benson). Much of this I remember hearing on the radio in my youth and I find it's good to unwind to at the end of a hectic day / drop off to sleep to. However, even though I have lots of this music in my collection, it often doesn't feature in these lists, probably because the primary subject matter is love and loss... not a lot of soul records about vampires, record companies or... pigeons. 

But here's a Top Ten that ended up pretty soul heavy... which says a lot about the artists in question and the social conditions that shaped them. 

Special mention to Dreamers of the Ghetto... not a soul act, but still pretty soulful.

10. Gil Scott Heron - The Get Out Of The Ghetto Blues 
"I know you think you're cool
Just 'cos they bus your kids to school
But you ain't got a thing to lose
You just got the get out of the ghetto blues..."
9. Jimmy Webb - High Rent Ghetto

Jimmy Webb is God. 

8. Isaac Hayes - Out of the Ghetto

"I took you out of the ghetto - but I could not get that ghetto out of you."

Funkylicious. Gotta love Isaac Hayes.

Also covered by Donald Fagen on his "lost" 2012 album Sunken Condos (I didn't even know it existed till I stumbled across it in the library over the summer). 

7. The Clash featuring Allen Ginsberg - Ghetto Defendant

Possibly the strangest thing The Clash ever recorded, this collaboration with beat poet Allen Ginsberg is a fascinating oddity. Only the Manics would get away with releasing something as politically charged and offbeat as this these days.

6. Donny Hathaway - The Ghetto

Best known (by me, at least) for big soul duet ballads with Roberta Flack, I hadn't heard much else from Hathaway until I came across this 7 minute funky jazz slab from 1970. Laid back and lovely.

5. Al Wilson - Queen Of The Ghetto

A popular songwriting theme - a grown up child looking back on a single mother who turned to prostitution to make ends meet. See also the amazing Son Of Hickory Holler's Tramp by O.C. Smith and What Would You Do? by City High (also covered by Bastille... see, I am down wit da kidz).

4. The Detroit Spinners - Ghetto Child

Known only as The Spinners in the rest of the world, 'Detroit' was added to their UK releases to avoid confusion (and legal wrangles) with the English folk group. This is a song about being ashamed of where you grew up... as are the next two soul classics.

3. Diana Ross & The Supremes - Love Child / I'm Living In Shame

Two songs that are thematically linked - the second was actually written as a sequel to the first. Neither mention the g-word by name, but both fit this list perfectly.

In Love Child, a young woman rejects the advances of a lover for fear of bringing a child into the world she can't afford to bring up. All this because of a deep shame over her own childhood...
I started my life in an old, cold run down tenement slum
My father left, he never even married mom
I shared the guilt my mama knew
So afraid that others knew I had no name
In I'm Living In The Shame, the same woman, now a little older and a mother herself, expresses guilt over the fact that her own mother died without ever knowing her grandchild.
Came a telegram
Mama passed away while making home made jam
Before she died she cried to see me by her side
She always did her best
Ah cooked and cleaned and always in the same old dress
Working hard, down on her knees
Always trying to please
2. Elvis Presley - In The Ghetto

You probably expected this to be Number One, didn't you? It's certainly the most famous Ghetto Song and one of the King's most moving records (shut up, cynics). Elvis always performed In The Ghetto with such conviction... even though he was living about as far from the ghetto as it was possible to get by the time this song was released.

Nick Cave also released a memorable cover of the track as his debut solo single.

1. The Philadelphia International All-Stars - Let's Clean Up The Ghetto

An addictive 8 minutes featuring some of the biggest Philly stars, including Teddy Pendergrass, Billy Paul, Archie Bell, The O'Jays... and the mighty, mighty, mighty Lou Rawls. What a voice - nobody does that deep, talky soul like Lou. They don't make charidee singles like this anymore... hell, they don't make soul music this cool anymore either!
I tell you, the garbage in some places
Was stacked up two, three stories high
At night, ha ha, boy, at night it weren't even safe to walk the street
'Cause they caught the rats, the roaches and the water bugs
I mean they were hustlin', baby, tryin' to get somethin' to eat, see?

Which one can't you forghetto?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

My Top Ten Sally Songs

A good friend of mine (who shares my appreciation for fine music) celebrates a very special birthday today. In her honour... ten tunes that share her name.

10. Kerbdog - Sally

Top Irish grunge. Amusing video in which our eponymous heroine does everything she can to rid herself of the annoying band playing outside her flat... wrecking her own home in the process.

Frank Turner does a lovely acoustic cover.

9. Robert Palmer - Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley

Batley Bob gets caught out trying to make excuses for his dalliances with Sally... and for using that most obvious of rhymes in his title. (Gracie Fields has a lot to answer for.)

8. Eric Clapton - Lay Down, Sally

Every time I include an Eric Clapton song on this blog, I feel like I have to apologise for his infamous Enoch Powell rant, the one that labeled him a bigot in the eyes of many. Then again, if I excluded every musician who's ever spoken objectionable twaddle, there'd be far less variety round these parts... and Morrissey would have been banned a long time ago. (Still, Eric... really?)

Lay Down, Sally is a nice chugging guitar tune that probably would have placed higher if it wasn't for my aforementioned reservations.

7. Lou Reed - Sally Can't Dance

Look kids, drugs are bad... m'kay?

6. Father John Misty - This Is Sally Hatchet

A wonderful, Tarantino-esque tale from Father John, with a very Beatlesy groove. This Sally is a killer. You'll be extra careful when slicing up your pizza after watching the video.

5. Flight of the Conchords - Song For Sally

The Conchords are rarely better than when they're arguing over the same girl. Shame she's already engaged to Mark. Still, if he was involved in an accident and Sally got the life insurance money... not that it's about the money, honestly...

And we'd fall asleep together
And we'd wake up in the sunlight
Well, maybe I'm a dreamer
But maybe one day you'll see
That dreams are-


Yeah, yeah
She gets it
Stop cockblocking me!
4. Stone Roses - Sally Cinnamon

A Birdsy jangle from Brown & Squire. I'm never quite clear whether this particular Sally really is Ian's world... or whether he's just picking her pocket on the train.

3. Little Richard - Long Tall Sally

Classic rock 'n' roll song about grassing up your uncle 'cos he's cheating on poor old Aunt Mary with the eponymous tall, bald-headed lady who's not built for comfort, she's built for speed.
Some fun tonight.
2. Wilson Pickett - Mustang Sally

Due to a typo when making my shortlist in preparation for this Top Ten, I almost forgot this stone cold masterpiece completely. What a crime that would have been. The Wicked Pickett in all his soulful, screeching glory. Phew. That was a close one.

And the moral is: don't give a girl you fancy a new car just to get a free ride. Who knows who else she might take for a spin?

1. The Pogues - Sally MacLennane

Shane Macgowan's finest hour? The lyrics to Sally MacLennane are witty, joyous and wistfully nostalgic. It's the story of Jimmy, an old harmonica-playing pal who leaves town twice, the latter time never to return.
He soothed the souls of psychos and the men who had the horn
...has to be one of the greatest lines in the history of pop, surely?

It took me many years to discover that the titular Sally wasn't a lady at all but a pint of stout. But then, you'd expect nothing else from Shane.

So... which Sally is the pride of your alley?
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