Sunday, 26 June 2016

My Top Ten Songs For Idiots

This week, ten songs dedicated to idiots everywhere. Especially those in positions of power. Because, like a lot of people in the UK right now, I'm angry.

We need Woody Guthrie's guitar more than ever, it seems.

I think I'm going to let the songs do the talking this week...

10. NOFX - Idiots Are Taking Over
There's no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated
Political scientists get the same one vote as some Arkansas inbred
Majority rule don't work in mental institutions
Sometimes the smallest softest voice carries the grand biggest solutions
9. Meat Puppets - Hour of the Idiot
This is the hour of the idiot
That was a time when the crime could take command
This is the mirth of human brilliance
A wonderful hour of the idiots at hand
8. John Wesley Harding - Idiot's Delight
Power's aphrodisiac, addicts die of thirst
The new El Presidente saw his bubble finally burst
And the king returned from exile, by request to break the curse
He fulfils election promises with temporary cures
And everything's worse than it once was without the same allure
And his stepson is on squad inspection making overtures
It's alright
It's alright
It's alright tonight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delight
It's all performed for the idiot's delight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delight
Power's aphrodisiac, addicts die of thirst
The new El Presidente saw his bubble finally burst
And the king returned from exile, by request to break the curse
He fulfils election promises with temporary cures
And everything's worse than it once was without the same allure
And his stepson is on squad inspection making overtures
It's alright
It's alright
It's alright tonight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delight
It's all performed for the idiot's delight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delïght
Power's aphrodisiac, addicts die of thirst
The new El Presidente saw his bubble finally burst
And the king returned from exile, by request to break the curse
He fulfils election promises with temporary cures
And everything's worse than it once was without the same allure
And his stepson is on squad inspection making overtures
It's alright
It's alright
It's alright tonight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delight
It's all performed for the idiot's delight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delïght
Power's aphrodisiac, addicts die of thirst
The new El Presidente saw his bubble finally burst
And the king returned from exile, by request to break the curse
He fulfils election promises with temporary cures
And everything's worse than it once was without the same allure
And his stepson is on squad inspection making overtures
It's alright
It's alright
It's alright tonight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delight
It's all performed for the idiot's delight
Because it's all performed for the idiot's delïght
7. The Auteurs - Idiot Brother

They were keen philosophers
They were keen on hurt
They were like a pair of dumb dogs
Rolling in the dirt

You and your idiot brother
Waiting in the wing
Which one holds up the other?
Which one pulls the string?
6. Jane's Addiction - Idiots Rule
I got a lie
A fat fuckin' lie
About a law
Idiots obey
They made it easy
Now cheaters have their way
You hi-di-ho's
You're living on your knees

5. Green Day - American Idiot

Headline from The New Yorker on Friday: 

British Lose Right to Claim That Americans Are Dumber

Take it away, Green Day...
Welcome to a new kind of tension.
All across the alienation.
Where everything isn't meant to be okay.
Television dreams of tomorrow.
We're not the ones who're meant to follow.
For that's enough to argue.
4. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Idiot Prayer
If you're in Heaven then you'll forgive me, dear
Because that's what they do up there
If you're in Hell, then what can I say?
You probably deserved it anyway
I guess I'm gonna find out any day
For we'll meet again
And there'll be Hell to pay
3. Bob Dylan - Idiot Wind
It was gravity which pulled us down and destiny which broke us apart
You tamed the lion in my cage but it just wasn’t enough to change my heart
Now everything’s a little upside down, as a matter of fact the wheels have stopped
What’s good is bad, what’s bad is good, you’ll find out when you reach the top
You’re on the bottom
2. Radiohead - Idioteque
Who's in bunker, who's in bunker?
Women and children first
Women and children first
Women and children...

We're not scaremongering
This is really happening, happening
We're not scaremongering
This is really happening, happening
1. The Supernaturals - Idiot

Don't agree with this post? I'll let the Supernaturals answer that one...
So don't think that you will get an apology 
'Cos that's the last thing you'll get out of me...

Of course you're entitled to your opinion. I'm just letting off steam through music. And like the Supernaturals say... I'm just an idiot, sweetheart.

But at least I know it...

Saturday, 18 June 2016

My Top Ten Record Collection Songs

This week's post is dedicated to all regular readers of this blog, and to music bloggers everywhere. I thank you for your time and your patronage. And I want you to know: I share your pain.

I guess it looks as if you're reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?


Not alphabetical...




No fucking way!

10. Kevin Devine - Guys With Record Collections

Geeky acoustic whimsy from this Devine New York singer songwriter's 2006 album Circle Gets The Square; it sets the tone quite nicely for this week's list...
So I'm starting up a Boys' Club
For guys with record collections
And the girls they hurt to get them...
Shame there's only a lo fi live version on youtube, the studio recording is much better.

9.  Rod Stewart & The Temptations - The Motown Song

Here's one that will sort the Men from the Musos. Originally by Larry John McNally - his version is slightly more cred, but a lot less of a guilty pleasure - Rod pops it up with the Temptations on backing vocals and manages to create the best record of his post-70s heyday. Being pretty creaky myself, I always think of this as a pretty recent entry in the newly knighted Sir Rodney's discography, although it's now 25 years old. According to iffypedia, however, it did at the time mark his 30th year in the music biz since he first auditioned (for Joe Meek - who wasn't particularly impressed!) back in 1961. 
Bring over your old Motown records
Put the speakers in the window and we'll go
On the roof and listen to the Miracles
Echo through the alley down below...
If anyone ever asks you what the early 90s looked liked: show them this video.

8. The National - Looking For Astronauts

If you're an avid record collector, Matt Berninger has some advice that will chill you to the bone...
Throw from your window your record collection
They all run together and never make sense, but that's how we like it, and that's all we want
Something to cry for and something to hunt
7. Marah - Why Independent Record Stores Fail

An amusing story told from the perspective of a guy who works in a record store, doting over the pretty city girl who's running her bony fingers through his 45s...
I ain't too good at saying things
But I could tape you certain songs...
A shame young men don't woo this way anymore. Not that it was ever a great success for me, but I enjoyed giving it a shot.

Ironically, this was released as a vinyl-only b-side for Record Store Day.

6. Todd Snider - Vinyl Records

Todd Snider has a very big record collection - and he takes it everywhere with him. Even on a plane. (Can someone please buy him an mp3 player?)
I got all of Booker T's, Tom T. Hall's
Bobby Bare, Belafonte and the New York Dolls
Billy Joe, Jimmy Croce, Kiss, Crosby Stills and Nash
John, June and Roseanne Cash
I got Forbert, Fromholtz, Stevie Ray
T-Birds, Yardbirds, Sam and Dave
And as some of y'all mighta guessed already
I got piles and piles and piles of...
Tom Petty
5. Corinne Bailey Rae - Put Your Records On

Good to see Ms. Bailey Rae back (at last) with her third album, released just a few weeks ago... and on my list. This is the record that got her noticed in the first place, 10 years ago, and it still sounds fresh and beautiful today.

Plus, she's from Leeds. So extra marks for that.

See also I Put Your Records On by The Pierces, just to prove that it's not just blokes who are obsessed with record collections.

4. Adam & The Ants - Stand & Deliver

What's the Dandy Highwayman doing here? Simple...
The devil take your stereo
And your record collection!
The way you look,
You'll qualify
For next year's old aged pension.
That's you told. Fan-diddly-qua-qua!

3. Eric Church - Record Year

In the holy trinity of contemporary country stars (wherein Blake Shelton is the sparkly eyed pretty boy beloved of the tabloids, Brad Paisley is the honourable family man and class clown, and Eric Church is the dangerous bad boy tamed by a good woman), Church is winning out for me at the moment. I'm sure that'll change as sure as one of the other two brings out a new record, but I'm so enamoured with Mr. Church's last one, Mr. Misunderstood, they're both gonna have to work extra hard to make me put that aside. It's only ten tracks long, but so many great albums know that less is more.
I guess I really oughta call and thank you
I rediscovered Red Headed Stranger
Got down with old James Brown
And found New Grass Revival
If you find your way back, I owe you a beer
For my record year
Record Year has to put up a fight - on most other albums it would be the standout track. Simply put, it's about a guy who gets dumped by a girl... and retreats to his record collection for comfort. What is it John Cusack said at the start of Hi Fidelity...?
What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?
2. Billy Bragg & The Blokes - Tears Of My Tracks

True blues from Billy (the only blue this Righteous Red ever gets) when he's forced to sell his vinyl...
I'm down but I'm not out
Lord, I'm hurting
Somebody owns all my albums now
They probably don't even wonder how
My name got written on the sleeves...
Imagine buying a load of second hand records only to find them all signed by Billy Bragg!

Although the story's a little bit different, this song always reminds me of this classic deleted scene from the aforementioned Hi Fidelity.

1. The Mystery Jets - Greatest Hits

In my Top Ten Divorce Songs a couple of weeks back, Number One with a bullet was Lloyd Cole's Half of Everything, about a couple dividing up their belongings after a break-up. This is the record collection version of that story... see how many great old albums you can identify in The Mystery Jets' finest hour...
You can take The Lexicon of Love away
But I'm keeping Remain in Light
You can take away It's A Shame About Ray
But I'm holding on to Country Life
Well you can keep No Need To Argue and I'll keep The Aeroplane Over The Sea
But hold on to The Boy With The Arab Strap
'Cause I'm holding on to Village Green

Which one makes you go fan-diddly-qua-qua?

Sunday, 12 June 2016

My Top Ten Taxi Songs


This week, ten songs that'll get you home in a hurry.

Special mentions to the band Death Cab For Cutie (named after a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song) and Rick Springfield & Randy Crawford's Taxi Dancing, which was another contender for my Bickering Couples Top Ten.

Sorry, Joe le Taxi fans, I was 15 in 1987... and even then, I was too old for 14 year old Vanessa Paradis.

10. Bob James - Angela

The theme from Taxi: simple as that. Jazzy but cool. If you're of a certain age... even if you didn't watch the sitcom that gave us Danny DeVito, Andy Kaufman and Christopher Lloyd (not to mention Judd Hirsch, Marilu Henner and Tony 'Who's The Boss?' Danza)... this will likely bring back warm and fuzzy memories. I was ever-so slightly too young for it myself - Cheers was more my era - but it still makes me feel good.

See also Bernard Herrmann's Theme From Taxi Driver: same era, equally jazzy... not quite as warm and fuzzy. You talkin' to me?

9. Jens Lekman - Black Cab

Sweden's answer to the Magnetic Fields (via Jonathan Richman) isn't too fussy who he picks up in his cab...
They might be psycho-killers, 
But tonight, I really don't care...
Still in Scandinavia, check out Jens' Norwegian equivalent Sondre Lerche, with his Airport Taxi Reception. Taxi songs are big in Europe. You're still not getting Vanessa Paradis.

8. Tim Buckley - Nighthawkin'

Like a lot of struggling songwriters, Tim Buckley moonlighted as a taxi driver, which was probably the inspiration for this song about picking up a crazy Viet Nam vet on a scary night in L.A.

7. Warren Zevon - My Ride's Here

The final track on Zevon's penultimate album, many saw it as him preparing to shake hands with the reaper following his diagnosis with terminal cancer. By all accounts, the song was written well before that though... which makes the whole taxi-death metaphor eerily prescient.

I was staying at the Marriott
With Jesus and John Wayne
I was waiting for a chariot
They were waiting for a train
The sky was full of carrion
"I'll take the mazuma"
Said Jesus to Marion
"That's the 3:10 to Yuma
My ride's here..."

6. Prince - Lady Cab Driver

8 minutes of funky jam from the 1999 album; here, Prince gets taken for a ride by the eponymous lady and then she joins him in the back seat. You can guess the rest... but who the hell's driving the cab?

5. Bruce Springsteen - City Of Night

Another one you won't find on youtube, this is an outtake from the Darkness On The Edge Of Town sessions, finally released a few years back on The Promise collection. It begins with Bruce hailing a cab but then heads downtown into a deeper meditation on how we survive the darkness...

4. Harry Chapin - Taxi

Another epic story song from the Raymond Carver of popular music. Here Harry is a taxi driver who picks up an old flame on a rainy night. After she initially pretends not to recognise him, they eventually get to talking about old times and the space in between.

You see, she was gonna be an actress,
And I was gonna learn to fly.
She took off to find the footlights,
And I took off to find the sky.

When the ride's over, the guilty woman overtips her former lover and he pockets the change without further comment. But as with many Harry Chapin songs, this one has a sting in its tail. It seems both of them achieved their ambitions in life... metaphorically, at least.

3. Paul Simon - Gumboots

It starts and ends as a conversation in a taxi cab, and sandwiched in between is some of Paul Simon's finest witty wordplay. Although it's ultimately a song about very little (the Seinfeld of pop songs), Gumboots has always been one of my favourite tracks from Graceland.

I was walking down the street
When I thought I heard this voice say
"Say, ain't we walking down the same street
Together on the very same day?"
I said, "hey senorita
That's astute," I said
"Why don't we get together and call ourselves an institute now?"

Of course, the words are pure Paul Simon, but the tune is based largely around a melody by South African musicians Lulu Masilela and Jonhjon Mkhalali. It appeared on an unlabelled cassette compilation called Accordion Jive Vol. III which somebody gave Simon in the early 80s. It took him a while to hunt down the music's origins, but when he did, Graceland was born. Of course, there's controversy over how much credit (or money) those original artists received, but popular music as a medium has been ripping off its own roots for decades: Paul Simon didn't invent that practice. Elvis, Lennon & McCartney, the Stones, Led Zep... it's been going on for years. (And still is, as Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith can attest.)

Graceland is 30 years old this year. Just to make you feel ancient again.

2. Arctic Monkeys - Red Lights Indicate Doors Are Secured

I've liked a lot of what the Arctic Monkeys did next, but that debut album is close to perfection. It was written by a bunch of chancers who had no idea how big they'd become... and as soon as they became that big, they'd never write anything like it again.

Red Light... is Alex Turner's stream-of-consciousness ramble about trying to get a taxi home with his mates on a Saturday night in Sheffield. It's full of the kind of everyday lyrical minutiae only people who aren't pop stars can write, while also managing to reference both the Stones and Springsteen during a drunken altercation at the taxi stand. Brilliant.

1. Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi

"They paved paradise and put up a parking lot..." has to be one of the greatest opening lines ever (I must try to remember it when I do Volume 2 of My Top Ten Opening Lines). Alliteration doesn't always work in lyrics, but here it provides Joni's pop opus with the prerequisite punch.

This ecological protest song was written after Joni visited Hawaii and opened her hotel curtains to see acres of parking lots, but what's most interesting is that the eponymous taxi may not even be a taxi at all... it might be slang for the big yellow police cars in her native Toronto. Which gives us a slightly different way of interpreting what might be happening when said taxi takes away her old man...

The song's been covered by a number of people, including Bob Dylan, Amy Grant and the Counting Crows... who annoyingly destroy the big yellow taxi line by changing the lyrics to say "took my girl away" which neither rhymes nor scans like the original and annoys me every time I hear it. Janet Jackson also used the hook for her hit 'Got 'Til It's Gone'.

Big Yellow Taxi is also the second best song in the history of pop to feature a slamming screen door. But I'll hold onto that for my Top Ten Screen Door Songs...

Which one gets your meter running?

Sunday, 5 June 2016

My Top Ten Divorce Songs

Last week it was the arguments; this week, it's the divorce. If you have anything to say about that... well, don't talk to me, talk to my lawyer.

10. Tammy Wynette - D.I.V.O.R.C.E.

Too obvious to be Number One, so I decided to start off with it. A wonderful conceit to this song, the idea of parents spelling out words they don't want their children to hear because they'll upset them too much. Of course, Billy Connolly savaged the idea with his parody. Bastard! Tammy's original just about survives... but you must also remember that this is a woman who promised to Stand By her Man. What happened there?   

9. Roger Miller - Everything's Coming Up Roses

No wonder Roger Miller ended up as a King of the Road if his ex-wife treated him like this in divorce court.
She's accusin' me of hangin' out
With girls of ill repute
Adultery, abandonment
Even alcohol abuse

I just heard my mother shout
Your honor throw the book
And even my attorney
Just gave me a dirty look...
The first time I heard this song, I was convinced there was a happy ending twist coming, but no: from the moment his wife takes the stand in court, Roger is screwed.
Why, even Johnny Carson got a better deal than mine.
There's a nice topical reference for the kids.

See also Divorce Me C.O.D. by Merle Travis... where the shoe's on the other foot!

8. Liz Phair - Divorce Song

A long drive across the US brings out the worst in a bickering couple and when she suggests they - maybe - get separate rooms at the motel they stop at, he takes the opportunity to lay down a few home truths.The wife ends up regretting opening up this particular can of worms...
The license said
You had to stick around 
Until I was dead 
But if you’re tired of looking at my face 
I guess I already am.
7. Brad Paisley - Death of a Married Man / Harvey Bodine

Brad Paisley enlists the help of Eric Idle for the intro to this witty country song about a man who dies while paying charades only to be brought back to life five minutes later by a defib machine. At this point he decides it's time to say goodbye to his "miserable wife"...
He called his lawyer,
He called his priest,
And told them they'd restarted his heart.
How his wedding vows were
"'Til death do us part..." 
6. Kool & The Gang - Jones Vs. Jones

Before you dismiss Robert 'Kool' Bell (aka Muhammad Bayyan), consider this:

Long before their 70s / 80s heyday (in which they sold over 70 million records), the band originally got together as The Jazziacs in 1964, led by 13 year old Robert and his 12 year old brother Ronald. They lived in the same New York apartment building as their godfather... Thelonius Monk... and often hung out with Miles Davis at their local boxing gym.

Jones Vs. Jones only made #39 in the US charts in 1981, but it broke the UK Top 20, and I reckon we're about ready to treat this band with the same respect we give the Temptations and the Four Tops. Heartbreak rarely sounded so soulful...
'Cause I received a notice
They called me on the phone
To come and sign the papers
Of Jones vs. Jones
Gone are the days of me and you...
5.  Paul Simon - Hearts & Bones

Supposedly about Paul Simon's break-up with Carrie Fisher, they being the "one and one-half wandering Jews" referenced in the opening line (Princess Leia is half-Jewish) who return to their natural coasts (he's from New York, she's from LA) to "step out occasionally and speculate who had been damaged the most".

4. Elbow - Grounds For Divorce

Possibly the loudest song Elbow have ever recorded - when that fuzzy guitar kicks in, it'll shatter your windows. As always though, it's Guy Garvey's lyrics that set this apart from the majority of contemporary British guitar bands: laced with Northern wit and grimy Mancunian poetry.
I've been working on a cocktail called "Grounds For Divorce",
Polishing a compass that I hold in my sleep,
Doubt comes in on sticks, but then he kicks like a horse,
There's a Chinese cigarette case and the rest you can keep
And the rest you can keep
3. Steely Dan - Haitian Divorce

If you ever fancy getting a divorce without waiting for your other half to agree to sign the papers, then pop over to Haiti where one person can divorce another, no strings attached.

That's the genesis of this song about Babs and Clean Willie. After a particular nasty row (there's shouting and biting involved), Babs heads down to Haiti for a quickie (divorce, that is) but ends up meeting a guy in a bar and having a different kind of quickie instead. Returning home to Willie, she tries to make things work... until the baby is born, and he certainly doesn't look like her husband's kid.

Becker & Fagen (the 80s cop show that never happened) mix a little reggae in with their laid back jazz-rock on this one. Forty years old, but it stands the test of time... unlike Babs & Clean Willie's marriage.

See also Mexican Divorce by The Drifters.

2. Bruce Springsteen - Brilliant Disguise

Tunnel of Love (one of about 7 contenders for my favourite Bruce album... depending on what day of the week it is) is well acknowledged to be Bruce's divorce album, reacting to the break-up of his short-lived marriage to model Julianne Phillips. It's an album full of self-doubt, and no more so than on this, the first single...
Now look at me baby
Struggling to do everything right
And then it all falls apart
And out goes the light...
After the world-conquering bombast of Born In The USA, many people wanted a repeat of those Glory Days. Born contained darkness, but kept it hidden (so well hidden, on the title track, that it remains one of the most misunderstood songs in the history of pop), whereas Tunnel of Love worked its metaphorical title to the full: the darkness that love can lead us into. It wasn't the stadium-chomping successor we'd expected, instead it was a much more mature and confident record than we deserved: confirming Bruce as an artist with something to say, and perhaps one who wasn't entirely comfortable being the biggest rock star in the world. Tunnel sold 6 million copies, compared to the 18 million Born hauled... and I can't help but think that's exactly the way he wanted it.
We stood at the altar
The gypsy swore our future was right
But come the wee wee hours
Well maybe baby the gypsy lied
So when you look at me
You better look hard and look twice
Is that me baby
Or just a brilliant disguise?
I saw Bruce play live again on Friday night in Coventry. Probably the fourth time I've seen him now (it's getting hard to remember such trivia) but once again I was astounded by the show he put on. I've seen a lot of live music in my day (though not that much these days), a lot of big bands, big names, megastars. But I've never seen anyone put on a show like Bruce. 3 1/2 hours of solid, wall-to-wall action: the instant one song ends, it's 1-2-3-4, and here comes the next. 3 1/2 hours that were over in a flash. He came on at 6.40 and by 8.30, I was thinking, 'most bands would still be in the dressing room now, waiting for the underpaid support act to finish'. And there was still a good 90 minutes to go: longer than a lot of big names bother these days. If you're not down with Bruce, that's fine, I'm not here to persuade you otherwise. But when it comes to putting on a show, there's no one like him as far as I can tell. (I never saw Prince live, one of my great musical regrets... y'know, I thought there'd still be time... but from what I hear, he's maybe the only one who came close.) 

Anyway, Bruce didn't play anything from Tunnel Of Love on Friday night. It probably wouldn't have fit the rock 'n' roll extravangza that 'The River' tour had promised. He didn't play anything from Nebraska or Tom Joad either. I didn't miss them - not with so much else going on - but I'd have loved to have heard them anyway. 3 1/2 hours... and he barely scratched the surface of what I'd have liked to hear him play...

1. Lloyd Cole - Half of Everything

Is there a better (bitter?) divorce song written from the wife's perspective than Tammy's...? I'd have to argue for this, an epic even by Lloyd Cole's standards.

I've seen Lloyd play live more than any other artist (maybe because he tours a lot and doesn't charge much for tickets... but again, I've lost count), so I've heard him explain more than once how the title of this song is about a couple dividing up their things after nasty break-up. But the song goes much deeper than that, and the wronged woman stays strong...
Tell her that she done me, that she done me good
Tell her that she done me, like a lady should
I never ever seen her and I hope I never do
I might have to show her just what love can do...

Which one makes you wish you'd signed a better pre-nuptial agreement?

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