Thursday, 24 March 2016

My Top Ten Lincoln Songs

Happy Easter. For no reason at all, here's ten songs about various different Lincolns... the President, the car, the county, the town... and the mall.

10. Tim McGraw & Kid Rock - Lincoln Continentals And Cadillacs

Let's start with a bit of shamelessly contemporary country pop. We'll get to the more authentic stuff later...
9. Tony Rice - John Wilkes Booth right about now. Written by Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tony Rice's song digs deep into the tragic tale of the actor who assassinated Abraham Lincoln in protest against the president's abolition of slavery, "in the name of God and Dixie".

8. Donald Fagen - Maxine

The Nightfly is one of my favourite albums of the 80s, yet Maxine is probably my least favourite track on there. That's not to say it's a bad song - it fits the late night jazzy feel of the concept very well and tells a typically Fagen-esque tale of love and longing. There's a great sax solo too. But it's no New Frontier, I.G.Y. or Nightfly, is it?

Oh, and in case you were wondering...
While the world is sleeping
We meet at Lincoln Mall
Talk about life
The meaning of it all
Try to make sense of the suburban sprawl
Try to hang on, Maxine
7. Josh Turner - Loretta Lynn's Lincoln

Add a splash of wit to your country and you've got a guaranteed fan on this blog. Great song; always makes me smile.

6. The Gaslight Anthem - Old White Lincoln

If you're going to base your whole career on sounding like a tribute act... you can do much worse than choosing Bruce as your role model.
And I always dreamed of classic cars and movie screens
And tryin' to find some way to be redeemed
Bring a dollar with you, baby
In the cold, cold ground
Paddy McAloon would have something to say about that...

5. Dave Davies - Lincoln County

After the success of Death of a Clown and Susannah's Still Alive, Dave Davies' solo career (extracurricular to the Kinks) looked like it was taking off. Lincoln County sadly put an end to that when it failed to chart (except in Holland, where it made #15). A shame, because this also meant his proposed album, with the excellent title of  A Hole in the Sock (of Dave Davies), was also shelved.

Some debate on t'internet about whether the song is told from the perspective of Jesse James or Billy The Kid. I have no idea.

4. Mercury Rev - Lincoln's Eyes
What explodes like a fractal, pops like a light bulb
Looks really awful at four in the morning
Moves with a dead stare, coils around your ankles
Fangs long as neckties and strikes without warning?
Answers on a postcard.

All Is Dream was the album in which Mercury Rev came closest to disappearing up their own rabbit hole into wispy, dungeons and dragons fantasia. Lincoln's Eyes would be the prime suspect if it weren't so haunting and beautiful. Yet, despite being almost as impenetrable as Nick Kershaw's Riddle, it succeeds through a sly sense of humour in the last verse which makes it genuinely affecting.
What explodes like a fractal, pops like a light bulb
Strolls in like Joel Grey* at four in the morning
Armed with a big nose, fragile as a sea horse
Lives in your soul and loves you like I do?

3. Marvin Gaye - Abraham, Martin & John

I have no idea why Marvin's timeless tribute to Lincoln, King and the two Kennedies isn't on youtube, but I hardly need to link to it: you either know it like an old friend already or you need down purchase a copy immediately.

The original version, recorded by Dion, is pretty cool too. As is Smokey Robinson's cover.

2. Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen - Hot Rod Lincoln

Written and originally recorded by Charlie Ryan back in 1955 - who actually was a hot rod racer (google it) at the time - but I have a definite preference for the 1971 cover by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. Maybe it's the name, surely one of the greatest band names ever (not counting Kathleen Turner Overdrive). Question: can a cool name make you pre-disposed to like the band? I would have wanted to hear more of this band from their name alone... although my first exposure to them was through a late night radio play of this very song.

George Frayne IV, aka Commander Cody, did not always take lead vocals on his band's recordings. Indeed, on the album this track hails from (Lost In The Ozone), Billy C. Farlow is the lead vocalist on every track... except Hot Rod Lincoln. 

Thus ends my limited knowledge of Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen. 

1. Bruce Springsteen - Nebraska

I'm very much looking forward to seeing Bruce again this summer, revisiting The River with the E-Street Band (although it won't be the same without Clarence). But the dream would be to see him play Nebraska live the way it was recorded: just Bruce, his guitar, his harmonica and his cassette deck.

The title track starts out in Lincoln, Nebraska... before going full Badlands on us. One of the most powerful songs he ever recorded.

You want to know why 
I did what I did?
Sir, I guess there's just a meanness in this world... 

Which Lincoln gets your vote?

Friday, 18 March 2016

My Top Ten Danny Songs

I used to work with a guy called Danny. I once heard him (non-ironically) tell a client, "yeah, yeah, it's cool, it's happening, it's us". Plus he called EVERYONE 'mate'. He couldn't finish a sentence without sticking that word on the end. As a result, I have a deep, irrational distrust of anyone called Danny... so I apologise if that's you. I'm sure you'd never say, "it's cool, it's happening, it's us". Would you?

Anyway, here's ten songs about Danny. No Daniels, they'll get their own turn some other day, Elton.

10. The Fall - Rollin' Dany

Mark E. Smith and co. cover a 1958 Gene Vincent song as the B / AA side of the Fall's 1986 single Couldn't Get Ahed. Missing out letters was cool back then. 

9. Billy Bragg - Danny Rose

Originally recorded by Lal & Mike Waterson in 1972 (with Richard Thompson and Martin Carthy on guitars), but I'm more taken by Billy's cover because... well, it's Billy. No idea who this Danny Rose is - but it's not Woody Allen's or any of the footballers.

8. Richard Hawley - Danny

Gorgeous instrumental from Hawley's third album, Lowedges.

7. Rufus Wainwright - Danny Boy

The second track on Rufus's debut album (18 years old, folks) is the first of three Danny Boys to make the Top Ten (all different songs). This one's a typically dramatic and beautiful ode to a former beau who let Rufus down (not advisable unless you want to be immortalised in song). 
We walk the streets
Gently starin' wonderin' what to do
The sun in sheets
Pourin' down those streets to eyes green and blue
And a ship with eight sails could come 'round the bend
Or a herd of bulls charging stop lights red
I'd be blind
6. Jackie Wilson - Danny Boy

The original Danny Boy: the Irish anthem, set to the tune of Londonderry Air, and a firm favourite of my dad, has been recorded by everybody from Elvis to Johnny Cash (twice), Patti LaBelle to Thin Lizzy. But I'll be damned  if I've ever heard a better version than Jackie Wilson's 1965 cover. He takes that tune to new places.

5. Ooberman - Danny Boy

Danny Popplewell will forever be Bradford's greatest musical export in my ears, and considering how long a career Stuart Murdoch has maintained in a very similar vein, I always feel it's tragic that Ooberman were not a much, much bigger band.

This is a pretty obscure b-side from their single Tears From A Willow... but it's still great.

4. Conway Twitty - Lonely Blue Boy (Danny)

OK, this one takes a bit of explaining. This song was written by Ben Weisman & Fred Wise who wrote a number of songs for Elvis movies, of which this was one, although it wasn't released at the time. A little later, the chorus (and title) were rewritten from Danny to Lonely Blue Boy, and re-recorded by Conway Twitty who had a US Top Ten hit with it in 1960. I could have linked to the Elvis version - y'know, the one that's actually called Danny - but I prefer the one by Mr. Twitty. I first came across it on the soundtrack to Punch Drunk Love, that rarest of beasts: a good Adam Sandler film. (No, really.)

That's twice Elvis has lost out today - don't worry, you're still the king.

3. The Ramones - Danny Says

At first, this doesn't sound like a regular Ramones song at all - it doesn't begin with a "One-choo-three-four!" for a start. Phil Spector's influence is all over this one though, and it does build (in typical Spector fashion) to sound just like a Ramones song: indeed, Joey apparently thought this was one of the best songs Spector produced for the band.

The Danny in question is Ramones' manager Danny Field, the man who also signed Iggy and the MC5 and also worked with Jonathan Richman. Without him, they say punk might not have happened.

There are a couple of cool covers of this song by Tom Waits and the Foo Fighters.

2. Prefab Sprout - The Songs of Danny Galway

From Paddy McAloon's glorious 2014 comeback album, Crimson/Red. I loved this song from the moment I first heard it, but it took Miller (yes, him again) to point out that it was a in fact a tribute to one of the greatest songwriters to ever walk the face of the earth: Wichita Lineman's own Jimmy Webb.
In words he paints a vivid scene, of places you may not have been
Yet listening, you're moved to swear, I know that house, I've climbed the stair
I've shared those overwhelming feelings, I've suffered loss - I've known such joy
Emotions we all know, are burnished til they glow, in the songs of Danny Galway
1. Anne Murray - Danny's Song

Have you been watching the Mick Jagger / Martin Scorcese TV show Vinyl? You know, the one about the record industry in the 70s with Jagger's son James doing his best to distance himself from his new Wicked Stepfather (like Jerry Hall hasn't got enough money) by working alongside daddy dearest? The show's not been particularly well-reviewed but I'm really loving it (once you get past the typical Scorcese excessive glorification of sleaze) and the soundtrack is excellent, mixing classic rock 'n' roll, soul, blues, punk and cheesy 70s pop to great effect.

A recent episode closed with Anne Murray's classic rendition of Danny's Song (written by Footloose maestro Kenny Loggins, trivia lovers) and it was a weird case of synchronicity since I've been playing this track a lot lately ever since I heard it played on the radio as a tribute to Wogan (it was one of his favourites I didn't get round to writing about in My Top Ten Terry Wogan Songs).

Altogether now...
"Even though we ain't got money
I'm so in love with you honey..."

Which one do you think is cool, happening, us?

Friday, 11 March 2016

My Top Ten The Fear Songs

There are lots of songs that deal with fear... Don't Fear The Reaper, Fear of a Black Planet, Party Fears Two, The Pop Singer's Fear of the Pollen Count... but this week I want to look at songs that deal specifically with THE Fear.

What's interesting is that all these songs come from the last 20 years (pre- and post-millennial angst must be the driving factor). Be afraid... be very afraid...

10. Graham Coxon - The Fear

Still the least annoying member of Blur, and pretty prolific as a solo artist. This is from his second album, way back in 2000, and it's obviously about being caught between Damon and Alex. What could be scarier?

9. Ben Howard - The Fear

Very popular with the young uns these days, and he certainly plays a mean guitar on this one. Not really sure he says anything to me about my life... but then, he was born in 1987*, so he's still a whippersnapper.

8. Ricky Ross - The Fear

An ominous little angry-acoustic number from the main man of Deacon Blue, virtually impossible to find on the internet because of someone called Rick Ross who apparently is also rather popular with young people these days. The live version I tracked down is a little echoey, but at least you can hear Ricky's accent is still strong.

7. Röyksopp - The Fear

I don't pretend to understand what Röyksopp are all about, but every now and then I dig a bit of ambient electronic fear-mongering.

6. Boo Radleys - Best Lose The Fear

We'd all like to disappear every now and then. This is from Giant Steps, the album just before the Boo Radleys woke up the whole world (for fifteen minutes, anyway).

5. Travis - The Fear

It's easy to pigeonhole Travis as the rather twee and jangly band they became, but there was a real edge to their first couple of albums, and I'd forgotten how much I liked this particular song from The Man Who.

And just in case you were wondering, they took their name from Harry Dean Stanton's character in Paris, Texas... not Bickle or Dave Lee.

4. Ian Brown - F.E.A.R.

The title almost disqualified it, but if you're familiar with the song at all you'll know that Ian is as obsessed with the definite article as any of the other songs on this list. Plis, if I was walking round Soho and a King Monkey came riding towards me, backwards, on a bicycle, I think I'd be pretty damned terrified.

3. Doves - There Goes The Fear

It's weird when you consider that Doves started life as the (imho bloody awful) dance-pop combo Sub Sub. I far preferred Doves, and this was perhaps their finest moment - a Top 3 single that was deleted on the day of its release, meaning if you didn't buy it immediately, chances are you never got a copy.

If you're wondering what Doves fear, the video offers a few clues...

2. Lily Allen - The Fear

I heard Bob Harris play this among his usual mix of country, classic rock and Americana the other week... and it didn't stick out at all. Because like many other artists Bob plays (and unlike so much other contemporary pop music), Lily Allen actually has something to say in this song... and in her work in general. She may well be one of the most important pop stars we have in this country at the moment. With so much bland, anodyne and over-produced music clogging up what's left of the singles chart these days ("I was born in 1972, you know!"), it's great that Lily can still hit Number One with a song like this: a scathing indictment of contemporary society packed with wit, attitude and genuine pop hooks. 

(*Lily was born in 1985, a much better year.)

1. Pulp - The Fear

This Is Hardcore remains my favourite album of the 90s. The opening track set the tone for the darkest Pulp record (which is saying something, if you've heard Freaks or Masters of The Universe), the one that marked the grubby death of Britpop just as Different Class had celebrated its heights. Radiohead had set the ball rolling a year earlier with OK Computer, but Pulp's wilful act of pop self-destruction was the audio equivalent of stage-invading Michael Jackson's messianic abyss at the Brits. Plus, at 26 years old, alone in a tiny one-up one-down hovel somewhere between the pylons and the motorway, this record really was the soundtrack to my life...
This is our Music from A Bachelors Den
- the sound of loneliness turned up to ten.
A horror soundtrack from a stagnant water-bed & it sounds just like this.
This is the sound of someone losing the plot -
making out that they're okay when they're not.
You're gonna like it, but not a lot & the chorus goes like this:
Extra points for quoting Paul Daniels there.

It's a weird thing, but I still think of the 90s as being within reaching distance... yet this was released 18 years ago now, and by then decade was almost done. When I realise that, I really do feel The Fear.

Which one gives you the heeby-jeebies?

Friday, 4 March 2016

My Top Ten Honest Songs

I can honestly say these are the most honest songs in my record collection...

10. The Aliens - Honest Again

The Aliens were the brainchild of Lone Pigeon: former Beta Band member and brother of King Creosote Gordon Anderson. This is from their 2007 debut album, Astronomy For Dogs, and it sounds, as far as I can tell, like ELO if Jeff Lynne hadn't spent ALL his childhood listening to the Beatles.

9. The Innocents - Honest I Do

Debut 1960 hit from this short-lived American harmony group. Lovely stuff, stumbled across on a dusty old compilation.

8. Lace Curtains - Bedroom Honesty

Obscure American indie - no idea where I came across this one, but it's a cool little infidelity song.
Teeth mark bruise on your arm
That's what he gave you
No chocolates in a heart

Just the same old screw
When you take off your clothes
And realize you have no more secrets

I hope it's a surprise
That this is as intimate as it gets
7. John Mellencamp - Hard Times For An Honest

Two weeks running for Johnny Cougar , and rarely does his live up to his reputation as a Midwest-Dickens than in this 1987 album track... it could almost be his theme song.

6. The Streets - Can't Con An Honest Joe

Sounding, as he does, very much like a Guy Ritchie creation, Mike Skinner really ought to get on my nerves. But I love his Arfur-Daley-meets-Eminem routine and I wish he hadn't packed it in.
It's all one big con.
5. The Broken Family Band - Honest Man's Blues

Classic from the Welcome Home, Loser album of 2005
If you work in a whorehouse you're gonna get fucked
If you sleep in a river you're gonna get ducked
If you count all your chickens you'll die like a dog
And if you lie to me again I'll take you closer to God
While I'd given up on hearing anything new from this excellent band after they split in 2009, I was overjoyed to discover that lead singer / songwriter Steven James Adams has released two solo albums - his latest came out just last week and is now on my ever-expanding wishlist. 

4. Billy Joel - Honesty

Every time I post a Billy Joel song, I find myself wondering why he quit. (That's become something of a recurring theme in this post, hasn't it?) As a teenager, he was one of my absolute favourite pop stars - look, if you came here muso-cred, move along now. But it's been 23 years since he released any new material (though he continues to tour) and I've never heard an explanation as to why - particularly when many of his contemporaries (Bruce, Jackson Browne, James Taylor) press ever onwards. I keep hoping for an honest revelation from the man himself - but he even turned down an offer for his autobiography and gave the publishers back their $3m advance.
Honesty is such a lonely word. 
Everyone is so untrue. 
Honesty is hardly ever heard. 
And mostly what I need from you.
Apparently Beyonce covered this. But I'm not hip so I wouldn't know.

3. The Wedding Present - Be Honest

There's something going on with youtube at the moment where a lot of the tracks I try to link to aren't working, so I'm having to link to sub-standard live versions instead. Which is a crying shame in the case of Be Honest, because the false start on the Bizarro version is classic. 

2. Dawes - To Be Completely Honest

So I was talking to my good friend and fellow muso Steve (not that one) Miller the other day and I happened to mention two artists I'd been digging lately were The Front Bottoms and Dawes. I went on to point out that my only problem with Dawes was their name - I even said something like "it has to be the stupidest name for a band ever (unless they were actually a Doors tribute band, in which case it'd be quite cool)". I went on to hammer my point home by saying that it was as bad as calling yourself Hoo or Smiffs or... I dunno, Ryan Adams.

Steve pointed out one slight flaw in my argument: "It's still a better name than The Front Bottoms".

Anyway, Dawes. Despite the name, I'm digging their latest album, All Your Favourite Bands, a lot. Kind of like The Eagles if they'd got Mark Knopfler in to play guitar. Which, I know, you're probably thinking sounds like a terrible idea. But it works for me.

Sadly, there's only a live version of To Be Completely Honest available on youtube, and it doesn't really do the song justice. Plus, it's nowhere near the best track on the album. But. Y'know. Still #2.

1. Sam Cooke - You Send Me
Honest you do,
Honest you do,
Honest you do.
I thought about not giving this the Number One because it doesn't have the h-word in the title, but honestly? It's as close to perfection as you can get and not be dreaming.

Can you honestly think of any others...?
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