Tuesday, 27 October 2015

My Top Ten Frankenstein Songs

It's Halloween this week, so it's time for a suitably horrific Top Ten to go along with these previous spooky entries...

My Top Ten Vampire Songs

My Top Ten Zombie Songs

My Top Ten Haunted Songs

And yes, I know the Monster isn't called Frankenstein.

10. Bobby 'Boris' Pickett and The Crypt Kickers - The Monster Mash

Let's start with the obvious one. It's a graveyard smash!

Originally released in 1962, though it was banned in the UK by the BBC for being "too morbid" (different times) so it wasn't a hit over here until the early 70s.

9. Jack Savoretti - Dr. Frankenstein

I'm not sure what I make of Jack Savoretti. I have a couple of his records, but they've never really grabbed me by the lugholes. This is a pleasant enough tune though, not too earnest-young-man (the curse of many of today's male singer songwriters, I feel: they need to crack a smile every now and then), and it deserves a mention for giving Shelley's original Doctor some consideration... rather than the more obvious Universal or Hammer take on the character as seen... well, here:

8. Blue Öyster Cult - The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein's Castle at Weisseria

OK, so I wouldn't choose to listen to this every day, but occasionally I do dig a bit of hysterically operatic pomp-rock. And let's face it, it deserves a place on this countdown for its title alone.

Carpe diem!

7. Oingo Boingo - Weird Science

The theme tune to the 80s teen comedy in which two high school nerds create their own "Franken-babe" in the shape of Kelly Le Brock.

You had to be there. And be a teenager.

I was vaguely aware of Oingo Boingo beyond this song, but I did not know that they'd been around since 1972 (when they started life as The Mystic Knights of the Oingo Boingo), or that their lead singer / songwriter was movie and Simpson theme tune composer Danny Elfman. 

6. Sam Cooke - Another Saturday Night

Sam is new in town and having no luck whatsoever finding himself a date for Saturday night...
Now, another fella told me,
He had a sister who looked just fine
Instead of being my deliverance
She had a strange resemblance
To a cat named Frankenstein!

5. The Edgar Winter Group - Frankenstein

This is what rock music looked like in the 70s, kids. If you watched The Old Grey Whistle Test, anyway. A monumental rock instrumental, this song apparently made history for being the first time  anyone had ever strapped a keyboard around their neck and played it like a guitar. Winter goes on to play both saxophone AND drums here during the same performance: without ever taking the keyboard off.

The original recording was spliced together from loads of separate tapes in which Winter played most of the instruments himself: hence, Frankenstein.    

4. Aimee Mann - Frankenstein

Annoyingly, the only version I could find on youtube is a live recording where Aimee drags half of Toronto up on stage with her to take part in the song. Which is a shame, because this is Metaphorical Aimee at her best, giving electric life to the story of a horrific romance...
And when later we find that the thing we devised
Has the villagers clamouring for it's demise
We will have to admit the futility of
Trying to make something more of this jerry-built love
3. Aerosmith & Run DMC - Walk This Way

Originally released by Aerosmith in the 70s, the more famous version is Rick Rubin's masterful car crash of hip hop and rock which broke rap into the mainstream charts for the first time and led to many far less-enjoyable rock/rap combos. It's a great song in both incarnations, but what's the Frankenstein connection, I hear you ask?

Well, Steve Tyler came up with the title based on a scene in the Mel Brooks' film Young Frankenstein. He left his original lyrics for the rest of the song on the back seat of a taxi so the version that was finally recorded was a sleazy something he came up with in the stairwell at the studio while the rest of the band were twiddling their fingers and bitching about him behind his back.

2. John Grant - GMF

The best song on this list by a mile (hell, it's one of the best songs of the 21st century), but I couldn't make it Number One for reasons detailed below.

No, the F in GMF doesn't stand for Frankenstein... but there is quite a lot of Frankenstinian imagery going on here, notably here...
Half of the time I think I'm in some movie.
I play the underdog of course.
I wonder who they'll get to play me.
Maybe they could dig up Richard Burton's corpse?

I am not who you think I am.
I am quite angry--which I barely can conceal.
You think I hate myself, but it's you I hate
Because you have the nerve to make me feel.
Imagine those lines delivered by Monster to his creator... and they make a twisted kind of sense, don't they? And if further evidence is needed...
I should've practiced my scales.
I should not be attracted to males.
But you said that I should learn to love myself.
Well, make up your mind, Dr. Frankenstein!
If you've not got into John Grant yet, please reconsider. Don't forget: you could be laughing 65% more of the time...

1. Alice Cooper - Teenage Frankenstein / Feed My Frankenstein

I had to give this one to Alice: he won on sheer numbers. Two great songs about Frankenstein AND a whole career cobbled together from horror film theatrics. It lives!

Of the two, 1986's Teenage Frankenstein is the stronger strong, a classic ode to teenage alienation... even though it was written by a 38 year old man. 
I'm a teenage Frankenstein
These ain't my hands
And these legs ain't mine
Got a synthetic face
Got some scars and a brace
My hands are rough and bloody
I walk into the night
Women faint at the sight
I ain't no cutie-pie
I can't walk in the day
I must walk in the night
Teenage Frankenstein was written for the soundtrack of Friday The 13th Part VI: Jason Lives. You know, the one where Jason comes back from the dead and hacks to death a bunch of nubile teenagers after they're finished with (or, occasionally during) copulation. Ah, yes, it brings back memories of my own teenage years. Not the copulation: the duff 80s horror sequels.

Feed My Frankenstein, on the other hand, featured in a slightly more memorable film: Wayne's World. Wayne and Garth even feature in the video. Unlike TF, it wasn't an original Vincent Furnier composition: it was first recorded by Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction.

Which one makes you do the Monster Mash?

Monday, 19 October 2015

My Top Ten Opening Lines (Volume 1)

Something a little bit different this week. I'm not going to tell you the song: you either know it from its opening line or you'll have to click on the link. A great opening line can drag you kicking and screaming into a song and never let you go. It's a hard nut to crack... and it's even harder for an old and permanently befuddled brain to remember all the great opening lines in his record collection (they've not yet invented the search criteria for that)... but these were the ones that occurred to me off the top of my head. Hence why this post is a Volume 1... because I'm sure I'll remember loads I've missed sooner or later and then I can stack up another list further down the line.

And yes, I did seriously consider including "I am a lineman for the county"... but hopefully I got that out of my system last week. For a while, anyway.

10. Wop bop a loo bop a lop bom bom!

Could have been Number One, but I chose to kick off with it instead. In many ways, this is the opening line of popular music itself...

9. Been a whole lot easier since the bitch left town...

OK, considering the caliber of the artists on the rest of the list, including this bunch will no doubt set the cat among the pigeons. (No, it's not Bros.) But anyone who's ever been through a bad break-up will surely nod their head...

No? Just me?

8. In a time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey...

Because we've all felt like this one time or another, right?

7. Bobby said he'd pull out, Bobby stayed in...

The best songs are like short stories, and the best short stories grab your attention from the opening line. There are plenty of examples of that on this particular album (and throughout this particular artist's career), but this is surely the most direct. Start with the sex scene...

6. You look so good when you're depressed... 


6. "Rather than you," she said, "I prefer solitude"...

I couldn't decide between them. He's written many a fine lyric, and if I thought about it harder I could probably fill an entire Top Ten with opening lines just from this guy.

5. Only the very young and the very beautiful can be so aloof...

Written after a "bad experience in a gay sauna", apparently.

That'll explain the cheesy sax.

4. I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour...

This line - this entire song - is the reason I (and many others) hated them back in the day. But we just didn't get it. This isn't miserablism - it's laughing through the graveyard of our lives. In that respect, it may we be the most positive song ever written.

3. You painted up your lips and rolled and curled your tinted hair...

Come on. You know you love it. 

2. Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street...

Beginning with an observation that every lovelorn young male will surely recognise... no wonder this was his biggest hit.

1. I don't believe in an interventionist God...

It only really makes sense when you hear it with the following three lines...
But I know, darling, that you do
But if I did I would kneel down and ask Him
Not to intervene when it came to you
Surely the greatest opening lines to a love song, ever.

Unless you know differently...

Monday, 12 October 2015

My Top Ten Songs For Electricians

Some time ago (well, 2+ years... my, how time flies) when I unveiled My Top Ten Carpentry Songs I fully intended to follow it up with songs devoted to other popular trades. Finally, I decided to have a go at electricians - but I wanted to avoid all the obvious Electric songs (Dreams / Friends / Avenue / Ladyland / Spanking of War Babies etc.) because they'll fit into their own post one day. So here, instead, are ten songs specifically about electricians... or about the things they deal with on a daily basis.

Special mention to Cliff Richard - Wired For Sound which is as close to a guilty pleasure as I get (considering how broad and cheesy these lists do sometimes go). I tried to find room for Sir Cliff here, but in the end I had to admit that it's a song more about speakers (tall ones and small ones - Cliff has no time for midi). The rollerskating video is always worth a look though...

Further special mentions to Elvis and George Harrison, both of whom (according to t'internet) started out as apprentice electricians before more successful careers beckoned...

10. Robert Palmer - I Dream Of Wires

Perhaps I should have gone with Gary Numan's original version, but I was always a huge fan of Bob Palmer's voice and I consider it a tragedy that he died as young as he did because I bet he could have gone on and on... as Numan himself has done.

Anyway, I Dream Of Wires is one of the few songs I know that actually mentions an electrician in its lyrics, though it actually tells of a completely "wireless" future wherein the "last electrician alive" looks back fondly on a world that was a little less alien...
We opened doors by thinking
We went to sleep by dialing 'o'
We drove to work by proxy
I plugged my wife in, just for show

New ways, new ways
I dream of wires

So I press 'c' for comfort
I dream of wires, the old days
Other songs to mention electricians directly include Better Things by Massive Attack & Tracy Thorn  (You say the magic's gone / Well, I'm not a magician / You say the spark's gone / Well get an electrician), Demystification by Zounds (My electronic shaver won't plug into the wall /
Now I can't go to the party, the electrician didn't call) and Nick Cave's amazing Babe, I'm On Fire. Oh, and this...

9. John Parish - Kansas City Electrician

An artist whose solo work I only discovered quite recently, though he's been knocking around for years, working with the likes of PJ Harvey, Eels and Sparklehorse. KCE sounds like classic American alt-rock, so I was surprised to find out that Parish is actually from the UK (Yeovil), though I guess his lyrical slang ("nowt", "that bloke") should have given him away. A great song: made me go out and buy the album.  

8. Muse - Plug In Baby

I have a curious relationship with Muse. I liked their early material very much and even went to see them playing live when they were just starting out (at The Leadmill, I think). Matt Bellamy spent most of the show with his back to the audience... and I never really recovered from that. (Believe it or not, I much preferred the support act. They were called Cold something. Cold...play? No idea what happened to them.)

7. Teenage Fanclub - Sparky's Dream

A cracking single from the Fannies, one of their best. The Byrds have a lot to answer for.

6. Electric Six - Danger! High Voltage

Very silly.




Good, though.

The video's a work of art.

5. The Wonder Stuff - Change Every Light Bulb

The opening track from what is sometimes my favourite Stuffies album, Construction For The Modern Idiot. Not heard this in ages.

4. Athlete - Wires

A very emotive song, more so when you know that it's about the premature birth of lead Athlete Joel Pott's daughter and the life support system that kept her going.

3. Slaves - Sockets

I haven't made up my mind yet, but Slaves are definite contenders for the best new band of 2015. They've got the snotty punk appeal of early Supergrass, but a little more to say for themselves lyrically. They're just two lads from Kent (Laurie Vincent on guitar / bass and Isaac Holman on drums: they both sing) but they make a hell of a satisfying racket.

On first listen, the Sockets they sing about here appear to be the ones in your head rather than the ones an electrician would fix. The video suggests otherwise...

2. Barenaked Ladies - Light Up My Room

The Barenaked Ladies are a clever band - sometimes a little too clever - but this is the closest they ever got to capturing my heart as well as tickling my funny bone. Here, a whole town is infected with electricity thanks to a nearby Hydrofield (what the Canadians call a bunch of pylons, basically), making every resident into an amateur electrician.
I can put a spare bulb in my hand
And light up my yard...
1. Glen Campbell - Wichita Lineman

Longtime readers of my ramblings may have seen this one coming: but I'll be honest with you, when I started planning this post I hadn't even considered that a lineman was an electrician. Once I'd made the connection, it had to be Number One, for the sheer fact that it is the greatest song ever written (Jimmy Webb Is God) and, though there are many fine versions in existence, no one will ever top Glen's haunting and heartbreaking delivery. I could go on and on about what makes it so special (the way that the melody and the lyrics merge together to create a seamless jewel; the yearning romanticism and evocative imagery; "And I need you more than want you / And I want your for all time") but I've probably said it all elsewhere. Simply put, there is no finer recording and if I could make it Number One every week, I would.

Which one would you get to wire your house (for sound)?

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

My Top Ten Gene Songs

No, this isn't my Top Ten Songs by the band Gene... although I was tempted, because they were amazing. (And isn't it about time Martin Rossiter released another solo album? The first one was a belter.)

Instead, it's the logical (to me, anyway) conclusion of my Jean / Jeans / Gene trilogy. Most of the songs below are about blokes called Gene or Eugene... a couple of them might be a bit more genetic.

Special mentions to Gene (obviously), Genelab, Geneva, Gene Kelly, Gene Pitney, Gene Watson and... er, Genesis. Plus a number of the gentlemen mentioned below...

10. Foil - Reviver Gene

OK, so it might not be about a bloke called Gene, but it's a forgotten Britpop gem and I wanted to give it a quick play.

Can't find much out about Foil other than that they came from Edinburgh and made a good racket. What else do you need to know?

9. Sufjan Stevens - Eugene

A starkly beautiful cut from Stevens' latest record, the autobiographical Carrie & Lowell.
Emerald Park, wonders never cease
The man who taught me to swim, he couldn't quite say my first name
Like a Father he led community water on my head
And he called me “Subaru”
And now I want to be near you
8. The Monkees - Papa Gene's Blues

Unlike a lot of Monkees songs which were written by other people (including Neil Diamond and Carole King), this is an original Mike Nesmith composition. Nesmith went on to have quite an impressive solo career post-Monkees... I hesitate to say he was the Gary Barlow of his day, because, obviously, he wasn't a wet git.

7. Walter Becker - Selfish Gene

The Steely man who isn't Donald Fagen pokes playful fun at a particular selfish Gene, with typically arch Dan-esque lyrics.

6. Catatonia - My Selfish Gene

Oh, Cerys - such a voice. Heartbreak in every breath.

OK, strictly speaking, this one isn't about a bloke called Gene either... but it is glorious.

5. Teenage Fanclub - Gene Clark

The Fannies pay their dues to Gene Clark, chief songwriter of The Byrds, one of the band's biggest influences. Some fantastic guitar work on this one... ironically, with nary a Byrdsy jangle in sight.

4. Johnny Cash - Daddy, Who's Gene Autry?

To answer Johnny Cash Jr.'s question, his dad reveals that Gene Autry was the singing cowboy... an actor who made almost 100 singing cowboy films between 1934 and 1953. Although he retired in the early 60s, he enjoyed a good old retirement, living until 1998 when he died at the grand age of 91.

Fun fact: the guitar Johnny plays in the video of his gutwrenching version of Hurt was signed by Gene Autry. 

3. Ian Dury & The Blockheads - Sweet Gene Vincent

We discussed Gene Vincent in the Top Ten Jeans Songs - and here's Ian Dury mourning his decline with some Thunderbird wine: possibly the sweetest thing Ian ever recorded... for the first minute twenty... until the rock 'n' roll kicks in. Vincent died in 1971 and has been immortalised in a number of tribute records, including Gene & Eddie by the Stray Cats and Luke Haines' masterful Gene Vincent (Rock 'n' Roll Mums and Rock 'n' Roll Dads).

2. Pink Martini - Hey Eugene

I have to confess that Hey Eugene is the only song I know by Pink Martini - and although it's a cracker, I kinda thought they were one "hit wonders until I did a little digging for this post. Turns out they've released 7 albums since 1997.
Hey Eugene do you remember me?
I'm that chick you danced with two times through the Rufus album Friday night at that party on avenue A:
Where your skinhead friend passed out for several hours on the bathroom floor and you told me
You weren't that drunk, and that I was your favourite Salsa dancer you had ever come across in New York city..
I obviously need to investigate further...

1. Frank Turner - Wherefore Art Thou, Gene Simmons?

As Frank explains in his intro here, he was inspired to write this tribute to the elastic-tongued Kiss frontman after reading his biography and discovering that The Demon (real name Chaim Witz) claims to have slept with 4600 women... and taken a photo of every one. What a... Romeo.
A mother said, "Beware of boys in bands
And certainly don't let them write you songs
For they will come to you on bended knee and kiss your pretty hands
When the singing's done, and the suns up they'll be gone."
While her mother has a point, I might resent the implication.
That every boy who plays guitar plays women like Gene Simmons.
Though, as Frank confesses later in the song, he's not entirely innocent himself...

Which is your Gene Hackman?

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