Friday, 29 July 2016

My Top Ten Songs... of July 2016

I haven't done one of these posts for awhile. Mainly because, when I did them in the past, they were always the posts which received least response. But the raison d'etre of this blog is to allow me to write about music I like, and sometimes it's very difficult to shoehorn a lot of those songs into (even loosely-connected) categories. So to get all these off my chest... here's ten songs I've been listening to for the last month or so. Give 'em a listen and you might come to love them too...

10. El Vy - Need A Friend

What the guy from The National does when he's not in The National. A bit funkier than his main band, but still very intriguing.

I picked this up in the library near work, which was a good source of new music to me until the end of last year... when council budget cuts appear to have caused the supply of new CDs to dry up. Look after your local library, people!

9. Sundara Karma - Vivienne

When you're a true music fan, you find new things wherever you go. A couple of months ago we were having lunch in a Manchester cafe and I picked up a copy of one of those free City Life style magazines (a very badly produced one in serious need of a proofreader...but such is life in the 21st Century). Anyway, amid all the ads for nights out and kebab shops was an interview with this new band who were appearing in Manchester at the time. I was intrigued by the fact the interviewer said they'd been compared to Springsteen (though rather miffed when the lead singer admitted he'd only started listening to the Boss when someone made that comparison). Anyway, I made a mental note to give them a listen...

...and while they don't have an album out as yet, this early single does show promise. Sounds as much like Bruce as The Killers do, to be honest, but it's still nice to hear guitar bands embracing chrouses these days when so many of them appear to have abandoned such pleasantries.

8. Son Volt - Drown

I did think about doing a Top Ten Drowning Songs to shoehorn this one in, but it seemed a little morbid. Can't remember which of my favourite bloggers turned me on to Son Volt a year or so back, but I'm extremely grateful. They're one of many bands to come out of the break-up of the legendary Uncle Tupelo. While Jeff Tweedy went all Wilco, Jay Farrar turned Son Volt. Only tracked down one album by them so far, but this was by far the stand-out track. 

7. Everything But The Girl - The Night I Heard Caruso Sing

I'll admit that I never paid much attention to EBTG back in the day, largely because their biggest hits involved flirtations with dance producers like Todd Terry and wat da kidz call beatz. Turns out I should have listened a bit more carefully to their albums, much of which are completely dance free. This is just gorgeous, a mournful (yet joyous) piano-led ballad about a father-to-be haunted by the true horrors of the 1980s. When that trumpet comes in, you could almost be listening to Shipbuilding...

6. Sturgill Simpson - Turtles All The Way Down

Welcome to Metamodern Sounds In Country Music. Nothing to do with turtles, as far as I can see, but when was the last time you heard a country song with lyrics like this...?
There's a gateway in our mind that leads somewhere out there beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy but then again it might make you go sane...
David Icke is obviously a fan. (Another topical reference there, for the kids.)
(But, in Sturgill's defence, the song's about doing too many drugs. So that makes it all OK.)

5. Simon & Garfunkel - Blues Run The Game

Having owned every Simon & Garfunkel album since I was in my mid-20s, I thought I knew everything they'd done. Imagine my confusion then when I heard this on the soundtrack to Martin Scorcese's Vinyl (well, I enjoyed it even if the critics didn't: no second series though). I recognised it immediately as Paul and Art (with those harmonies, it couldn't have been anyone else), but it turned out to be a bonus track only included on the 2001 reissue of Sounds of Silence... serves me right for buying an earlier version!

Anyway, I finally tracked it down on a reasonably priced second hand compilation. Turns out it's not a Paul Simon, but a cover of a song by Jackson C. Frank (a guy with a pretty interesting story who I'm determined to investigate further). His version's pretty cool too (and produced by Simon, to boot)... but it doesn't have those harmonies.

4. Weezer - Thank God For Girls

There's not many guitar bands you were into in the early 90s who are still producing records that stand up favourably against their earlier material (especially now that Fountains of Wayne have called it a day). Thank God for Weezer then, whose latest album (The White One) contains possibly some of their best songs ever... of which this leads the charge.

3. Amy Rigby - Cynically Yours

Amy Rigby: where have you been all my life? Like Dar Williams (who we'll get to in a moment), Amy Rigby is an artist who's been in my peripheral vision for awhile now, but I'd never taken the plunge. How I wish I'd done so sooner if the material on her 18 Again collection is anything to go by: sharp, witty songs that rock and under your skin because they have lots to say and come straight from the heart.

Cynically Yours could be a Tom Waits song: in fact, if you played this on vinyl and held your fingertip on the disc to slow it right down, it'd probably sound just like one. It's a realistic love song for everyday folk... forget the "hearts and flowers, you're my everything" bullshit, if the most you can ask from a partner is "you don't suck"... this is the song for you. I especially like it when Amy gets her other half to sign a pre-nup...
2. The Indelicates - Dead Ringer For Love

OK, here's one to cause a commotion. I've written a number of times about my deep and abiding respect for the Jim Steinman / Meat Loaf combo, and this was one of their biggest hits (with Free Cher, while stocks lasted). I generally don't think it's a wise idea to cover a Meat Loaf song written by Jim since the definitive version already exists and you're only going to come off second rate.

Fortunately, the Indelicates are well aware of this. The above lo fi demo was recorded by request for one of the special editions of their last album, 2015's Elevator Music. The deal was, huge fans of the band (or those with enough money) could buy not just the album, but a bunch of other stuff too... one being: Simon & Julia Indelicate would record a cover version of any song you requested. Sadly, I couldn't afford to buy anything but the CD myself, but enough people did go the Special Edition route, and one of them was their mate Keith Top of the Pops, who requested this particular cover... knowing that Simon & Julia were also Steinman fans. Sometime later, the band collected all these covers together and made them available FREE to anyone who'd bought a copy of Elevator Music... which is how I ended up hearing this...

Why I ended up listening to it over and over again, on a loop, basically filling an entire 45 minute commute with the same song...? Well, you'll have to give it a listen to find out. As I said, it's a raw, off-the-cuff live recording - about as far from the whistles and bells production number of your average Steinman song as you could possibly get. And Simon even forgets the lyrics halfway through, so polished is not a word you'd use to describe it. But it's infectious fun. If you like that sort of thing...

Their version of Romeo & Juliet is sublime too...

1. Dar Williams - FM Radio / Mad River

Dar Williams is someone I've been meaning to check out in more depth for a while now. She's been buzzing round my radar, occasionally popping up on compilation albums, tribute albums, other people's blogs and Bob Harris's 3am radio show, which I still catch via the iPlayer. But I've never bought an album by her until recently... when I bought two!

Both the above come from her most recent album, last year's Emerald, another one of those records which definitely would have been in in Best of 2015 list... if I'd heard it in time. The first is pure 80s pop: a homage, if it makes you feel better, but this is as good as the Bangles at their best. You know, the sort of song they don't make anymore? I was intrigued to discover it was co-written by Jill Sobule - I can hear her quirky humour here, but that could be Dar, I don't know who wrote what.

The thing I love about FM Radio, beyond it's insane catchiness (Radio 2 should have A-listed it!) is the way it tackles the whole "kids who want to be pop stars" idea...something you'd be forgiven for thinking is a post-X-Factor invention. Dar knows better, remembering her own youth in the 70s when all she wanted was to hear her own songs coming out of that FM Radio. The song starts out as hero worship (Every night I do stuff with my hair. Maybe Queen needs a clarinet player!") but turns into a rallying cry for young women to start writing and performing their own songs...with a tongue-in-cheek coda...

Hey little sister, take off your head phones. 
Don’t try to scrutinize, it’s just a dead zone.
Wake up the neighbors, tell me how you do feel. 
And live the fantasy that makes your life real
So if you wanna play, follow your glory, 
And if some guys says that’s not your story...
Take a lesson from the FM that I knew then....
It’s like a public pool, you decide where to jump in
To feel the sexiness, the passion, the fusion and the fission.
Remember Bruce Springsteen divorced a model and married a musician!

Mad River, on the other hand, is less pop, more serious songwriting...with just as much of a hook once you give it a few listens. Considering Dar's flirtatious mention of the Boss above, this comparison might seem obvious... but Mad River is the best River song I've heard since the one Bruce wrote. It's a great story that touches on much deeper issues than just jumping into a river... I can't get it out of my head.

More Dar Williams, please... luckily, she's been at this since the early 90s, so there's much for me yet to discover...

If you have any further recommendations for August listening, you know where to leave them...

Thursday, 21 July 2016

My Top Ten Songs For Bricklayers

This week, following on from previous trade-related Top Tens including My Top Ten Carpentry Songs and My Top Ten Songs For Electricians, we're giving a shout out to all the brickies out there.

Special mentions to Brick (above), Edie Brickell, L7's album Bricks Are Heavy and Kate Nash's album Made of Bricks. Extra special mention to the one that got away (because it was too damned loud even for me, Bob!): Bricklayer by Hüsker Dü. Don't listen to that one with headphones on.

10. Pink Floyd - Another Brick In The Wall

Sometimes you just have to start with the obvious choice.

But Pink Floyd, man... why don't I get Pink Floyd?

I mean, I listen to this and, of course, it's a classic of its age and reminds me very much of the days when it was being played heavily on the radio. And I like the message behind it, I like the bassline, I like the guitar... they even make the children's choir work, which is a rarity in rock songs.

Still, despite all that, and despite numerous attempts to get into their back catalogue, the Floyd have never quite made their mark on me. Perhaps I need a little education... or at the very least, a little thought control.

9.  Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick

And if that wasn't enough proggy-concept weirdness for one Top Ten, here's Ian Anderson with (possibly, not definitely) the longest track I've ever featured here... all 44 crazy minutes of Tull's flute-tastic "satire" of concept albums, only one track (split over two sides on the original LP but edited together later)... but that's the point, man.

I have to confess, I was only familiar with the 3 1/2 minute edit from Tull's Greatest Hits album till today, but in the interests of completeness, I have dedicated myself to listening to the whole thing while I type this post. And it's actually quite groovy. Which only goes to prove...

I. Am. Getting. Old.

8. Iggy Pop - Brick By Brick

On the other hand, Iggy is someone I have more and more time for the older I get. This is pretty late era Iggy in that it's only from 26 years ago, but while more focus is given to his 70s heyday, there are real gems in his 80s and 90s work too... hell, that new album produced by Josh Homme earlier in the year sounded pretty cool too. 

7. The Jam - Bricks And Mortar

You know I love The Jam, but occasionally Weller chucks subtlety out the window and crosses the line between Angry Young Man and Whinging Old Git. He even kicks off this track from the debut Jam album by telling us (not showing us) what the song's going to be about ("Bricks and mortar, reflecting social change") before wittering on like an Our Price Victor Meldrew about them knocking down houses to build car parks "while hundreds are homeless". Hardly Joni Mitchell, Paul.

What I like best about Bricks & Mortar though is the second verse...
Why do they have to knock them down
And leave the site dormant for months on end?
Who has the right to make that choice?
A man whose home has cost forty grand!
Those rich bastards in their forty grand mansions - you stick it to 'em, Weller!

Different times.

See also Bricks & Mortar by The Editors. Not too shabby, but Wittering Weller Wins It.

6. The Commodores - Brick House

Lionel Ritchie takes a back seat while Commodores drummer Walter "Clyde" Orange brings the vocal funk to this single from the band's 1977 debut album.
The clothes she wears, her sexy ways
Make an old man wish for younger days, yeah, yeah
She knows she's built and knows how to please
Sure enough to knock a strong man to his knees
Shamelessly sexist lyrics, you might think - although they were actually written by a woman, Shirley Hanna-King, the wife of founding Commodore William King. So perhaps you might see this as a female empowerment anthem... or at the very least another in the long line of records praising Plus Size Ladies (there's got to be a Top Ten in that). The title is a radio friendly version of the expression Placebo used in full on this cool tune from their 1998 album Without You, I'm Nothing.

5. Feeder - Cement

Early Feeder single from 1997, but just as hook-laden and with as huge a singalong-a-chorus as their later hits. Just great, nothing else to say. 

4. Kasey Chambers - Barricades & Brickwalls

Kasey Chambers has a sound reminiscent of a lot of young contemporary Country heroines (think Kacey Musgraves or Taylor Swift before she went pop and shacked up with Loki). But she's actually Australian and a little longer in the tooth than the aforementioned ladies: this is from her second album, released in 2001, back when I dug her a lot. I've not heard any of her more recent efforts: really must try harder.

3. The Atomic Fireballs - Hit By A Brick

Jazzy, finger-snapping goodness from an American swing band who released only two albums in the late 90s... though they sound like they come from 50 years before that.

2. Mull Historical Society - Build Another Brick

I've been listening to the new Mull Historical Society record a lot lately and I can't get the opening track out of my head.  It's Colin MacIntyre's 7th album release since MHS's 2001 debut Loss (although a couple were released under his own name) and it continues his winning streak when it comes to writing catchy alternative pop songs. People bang on about the state of the music industry and there's no denying it would be good to see MacIntyre become a household name, but it's still reassuring that an artist like this can maintain a career in today's pop quagmire, even if it has to be largely under his own steam... he's even branched out into novel writing now as well!

1. Ben Folds - Brick

When it was released in 1997, Brick was unlike any other record Ben Folds had recorded to that point. He'd made a name for himself with cheeky, uptempo piano-stomping tunes that sounded like Jerry Lee Lewis gone indie. And this was a straightforward ballad that became a crossover hit and had his fanbase crying "sell out" at the same time. Although perhaps not too loudly once they listened to the lyrics...

Brick is a song about abortion: but weirdly neither pro- or anti-abortion, it just tells a story from the perspective of a young couple who've been through it... as Folds and his high school girlfriend did years earlier. Nothing to do with bricklaying then, but I make the rules up as I go along and may the best songs win...

Off the top of your hod... which one would be your favourite?

Friday, 15 July 2016

My Top Ten Songs About Bad Kissers

Kissing is a popular subject for songwriters... perhaps because most people dream of becoming pop stars as a way of getting some. But here are ten songs you probably wouldn't want to lock lips with...

10. Will Powers - Kissing With Confidence

OK, first confession. For many years - in fact, until very recently - I thought Will Powers was a man. Knowing only this song, I thought the male voice was Will and the female was an uncredited backing singer. Turns out Will is really the creation of celebrity portrait photographer Lynn Goldsmith and his voice is actually hers slowed down.

You probably knew that already.

Anyway, Kissing With Confidence comes from Will's 1983 album Dancing For Mental Health which was a spoof of self-help shysters and the way they preyed on vulnerable people's insecurities. It was written by Goldsmith, with a little help from Nile Rodgers, Steve Winwood, Todd Rundgren and Carly Simon's songwriting partner Jacob Brackman. Nice to have celebrity pals.

Anyway, in the song Lynn starts out as a particularly bad kisser...

I'd giggle like I had no brains
Or else I'd start to cough
I thought my perspiration stains
Would turn a fellow off

...but this is soon fixed by Will's self-help advice and she soon becomes a kissaholic.

I put an end to worrying, I learned the way from Will
And showed me kissing with confidence was an acquired skill
When my boyfriends get too hot I can cool 'em down
Now I'm kissing with confidence everywhere in town.

9. Blake Shelton - Kiss My Country Ass

Some would consider this the worst kind of redneck anthem: provincial deep south BS, the sort of thing that gives country music a bad rep around the rest of the world. I defend my interest by suggesting Blake might be being a little tongue-in-cheek here... although the video would suggest otherwise. I think it's a case of giving the baser part of his fanbase exactly what they believe they want. And it's fun if you can put yourself in their heads. I'm not sure if Brad Paisley's Southern Comfort Zone was a direct response to this song, but it could well have been.

Still, pogue mahone and all that.

8. Magic Wands - Kiss Me Dead

Fuzzy guitared dream pop (they call it "lovewave") from a California indie band who toured a few years back with The Jesus & Mary Chain. One listen to this and you can tell they were supporting their heroes.

7. Green Day - Geek Stink Breath

Well, you just wouldn't. Especially when he starts picking scabs of his face.

The song's actually about Billie Joe Armstrong's meth habit.

6.  Cinerama - Mr. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Not a cover of John Barry's theme to Thunderball, but a typically Gedgian tale of infidelity and its consequences by David... and his... erm... ex-girlfriend.

5. George Michael - Kissing A Fool

Yes, George Michael.

Yes, Kissing A Fool.

I was 16 when this came out, and I probably should have been too cool for George by then, but I was a frustrated romantic and this smoky, low key ballad hit all the right notes. A few months later, I remember playing it in my dad's car on the night I borrowed it to take a girl out on a date for the first time. That night was typical of what I laughably refer to now as my teenage love life, and yet... time makes fond memories of almost everything.

And no, there was no kissing on that date. But yes, if there had been, this song would have been apt. (There was no second date either. She was just trying to make her ex jealous.)

4. Tennessee Ernie Ford & Helen O'Connell - Cool, Cool Kisses

This was another strong contender for My Top Ten Bickering Couples Songs a few weeks back. A few months ago I got my ears around a very cheap 50 track compilation of Tennessee Ernie songs; up until that point I only really knew him for Sixteen Tons, but this collection was an eye-opener. Lots of interesting songs with funny little stories to tell, of which this is one of my favourites. It features a couple arguing about how they can put up with most of their partner's flaws, but when the kisses go cool, that's a bridge too far...

Helen: Don't mind that smelly pipe that's always stickin' in your face!
Ernie: Don't mind your shoes and stockin's always scattered 'round the place!
Helen: I'll put up with the cigarettes you put out on the floor!
Both: But your cool cool kisses I just won't take no more!

Bear in mind, however, this is from 1950, so it's a sign of the times when Helen sings (in a humorous vein)...

Don't mind the way you beat me every time we have a fight...

All of which leads me quite nicely into...

3. Florence & The Machine - Kiss With A Fist

Perhaps it says something about me that my favourite song by Ms. Welch is her punky debut single (originally recorded by her previous band Ashok, under the title 'Happy Slap'). A lot of people think it's a song about domestic violence, but Florence claims that's not the case, that the violence is metaphorical, and it's more about the mental turmoil some couples put themselves through in extremely passionate relationships.

Or something.

Kiss With A Fist is the shortest song Florence has ever released, and it's a lot more fun that much of the wispy, floaty, pseudo-Kate Bush stuff she's released since (although I do like quite a lot of that too). But I guess there's more of an audience for that sort of stuff than 2 minute guitar blasts these days.

See also The Crystals - He Hit Me (and It Felt Like a Kiss). But that's Phil Spector for you.

2. Jenny Lewis - Acid Tongue

One of my favourites from Jenny Lewis, it begins with her fending off the advances of a lecherous cobbler and ends with her dropping acid and getting unlucky in love. Probably not your best bet for a safe smooch.

To be lonely is a habit like smoking or taking drugs
And I've quit them both, but, man, was it rough...

1. Richard Thompson - Cold Kisses

Thompson plays a particular unpleasant character in this one, going through his girlfriend's belongings for evidence of her ex-boyfriends... trying to find out if any of those cold kisses might ever get warm again. A classic example of Thompson's bravura songwriting, it ends with him hearing his girlfriend's key in the lock, only for him to quickly tidy up so that she can find him sitting reading a paperback when she comes in, oblivious to his jealous snooping.

Here I am behind enemy lines
Looking for secrets, looking for signs
Old boyfriends, big and small
Got to see how I measure up to them all
This one's handsome, not too bright
This one's clever with his hands alright
Tougher than me if it came to a fight
And this one's a poet, a bit of a wet
Bit of a gypsy, a bit of a threat
I wonder if she's got over him yet?

Perhaps I should have played this one in my dad's car on that hopeless first date...

Which one would you swap saliva with?

Thursday, 7 July 2016

My Top Ten Tennis Songs

As it's the Wimbledon final this weekend, I thought I'd have a go at a Top Ten Songs About Tennis. I had a great Number One in mind, but was surprised by how difficult it proved to scrape together the rest of them. I had to go pretty obscure in places, but sometimes that's a nice change of pace from being overwhelmed by choice (as I often am when I think of a subject these days). Still, I can't believe there aren't more songs about tennis. Perhaps you know some that I couldn't think of...?

Special mentions to Tennis (the band), Ballboy, Hooton Tennis Club and (Chalk Dust) The Umpire Strikes Back by The Brat... which was hilarious for 10 minutes when I was 10 years old but seems frankly ridiculous (that such a thing could go Top 20 in the singles chart) 34 years later. Oh, and I'm In Love With Steffi Graf by Hugh Laurie, which does still make me chuckle.

(Album art above comes from the "great lost Who album": Who's For Tennis, reconstructed courtesy of the excellent Albums That Never Were blog.)

10. Lorde - Tennis Court

So. Lorde. OK, middle-aged music lovers, what do we make of Lorde?

I was very much enamoured with Lana Del Rey when she hit big with Video Games (although the law of diminishing returns applied with later releases). Lorde appears to follow Lana's template aurally, the differences being she's younger and hipper, a New Zealander, and secretly Stan's dad in South Park. Yeah, South Park pretty much put paid to me talking Lorde seriously.

Anyway, Tennis Court is a perfectly decent pop song. There's a little too much of what da kidz call "beatz" for my liking, but that's just because I've already preferred instruments to computers. I have it in my collection because google play had an offer on the album for 99p a year or so back and I like to try new things. Not really listened to it that much, but as I've said before, I'm not really the target audience for cool contemporary pop music any more, am I? So they're not doing their job right if old fogies like me dig it too much.

9. Cream - Anyone For Tennis?

The problems I have with Eric Clapton aside, there's no denying Cream made some excellent records. I'm not sure this is one of them... but it's worth watching the video to see the embarrassing things pop stars had to do to get their records seen  on TV in the 60s.

8. Phranc - M-A-R-T-I-N-A

I first discovered Phranc when I heard Steve Lamacq play her excellent single Folksinger as an oldie on 6Music. Turns out it was released all the way back in 1989, on Phranc's second album, I Enjoy Being A Girl. M-A-R-T-I-N-A is from the same album, which I soon secured a very cheap copy of. Strangely, Folksinger (which is a far better song) isn't on youtube, yet this is. Still fun, but perhaps not the best place to start if you've never heard Phranc before...

7. Sky Sailing - Tennis Elbow

A warm and lilting sunshiney American indie song from Adam Young, the guy also behind the band Owl City (y'know: Fireflies), taken from the 2010 album An Airplane Carried Me to Bed.
I served and scratched a rainbow
So curved, I felt the pain go
Through my joints
And now I don't wanna play
Swinging down, I sent the birdie
Downtown, At 7:30
And I'm convinced that I've got tennis elbow
6. Lilys -  Tennis System (And Its Stars)

You may remember Lilys as the band who had a Top 20 hit back in 1996 with the short, sharp spunkiness of A Nanny In Manhattan (after it was featured in a Levis' ad). This is from the same album (perhaps surprisingly, the band released a total of 8 between '92 and '06). Very 60s influenced, filtered through 90s indie (which perhaps explains why they were successful in the UK at the height of Britpop)... and the lyrics are proper mental.
Tossing young men from high windows
Care air lighter than Cosmo
Knows no bounds of charming
Building aisles of sound from my room
And sung so softly none understood
What now?

5. Chris Rea - Tennis

Title track from Rea's third album, released in 1980, which I'm guessing wasn't particularly successful as it falls into a hole between his brief 70's success with (Fool) If You Think It's Over and mid-late 80's superstardom.

Tennis is an interesting song, looking at how the media concentrates all its attention on sporting tournaments and ignores much bigger world events...
There are people in boats in the middle of the sea
Crying and dying like Jews
Do you like tennis?
Freedom is the man with the red grenade
She ran out of gas, got beat and raped
Do you like tennis?
Didn't really work for the Chilcott Report, did it, Tony?

4. Bicycle Thief - Tennis Shoes

Cool "lost classic" from the sole 1999 album from this American guitar band... although the album was re-released in 2001 with quite a different track list. Tennis Shoes is on both versions, so it must be considered one of their better songs. I think it is, anyway.
Sun was comin' up on New Orleans
When I opened my eyes
It was another perfect morning
I didn't know where I was
Or where I was going
For most of my life
If there was a chance to fuck it up
Well, I did...
Yeah, I did
3. The Pernice Brothers - The Ballad of Bjorn Borg

A gorgeous track by Joe Pernice & co. from their excellent 2001 album The World Won't End.
Poetic lyrics and lush harmonies combine to evoke the long hot summers of our youth... back when Bjorn was in his prime. Sadly I can't find the audio anywhere online.

2. Half Man Half Biscuit - Outbreak of Vitas Gerulaitis

Knowing very little about tennis, I originally selected this track only because it contains the amusing pun, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wade?"

However, on further investigation, I learned that Vitas Gerulaitis was actually a Lithuanian tennis player who won the Australian Open in 1977 and the Men's Doubles at Wimbledon in 1975 (partnered with Sandy Mayer). Nigel Blackwell: king of obscure references. I particularly like the Scooby Doo bit...
Why, it’s Mr Kowalski
It was you all along!
That ski lodge would have been mine
If it wasn’t for you meddling kids

But what can you do
When your Mum’s in Rampton, bouncing off the walls
And singing “Who’s afraid, of Virginia Wade?”

Why do that today when you can always put it off until tomorrow?
Was our motto
Subsequently engraved on a plaque
As a reminder of the attack
Of Vitas Gerulaitis
1. Frank Turner - Love Forty Down

Good old Frank Turner, you can always rely on him to save the day. It seems incredible to me that more songwriters haven't used tennis as a metaphor for relationships (given the obvious pun on the word 'love'). Perhaps it's too obvious. Frank doesn't take the obvious path here though - he's much cleverer than that. Instead, this is a song about staring down "the barrel of (his) fourth decade" and being afraid that life's slipping away from him. As with many of Frank's songs, it's also about not giving up. Maybe that's why he remains one of my absolute favourite contemporary songwriters. I feel every word he writes...

Which one takes Game, Set and Match as your favourite tennis song?

Friday, 1 July 2016

My Top Ten Songs About 1972

So I had an idea for a series of sporadic posts about specific years. Not songs that were released in that year but songs that directly referred to it. Should keep me busy until at least... oh, say, 2525?

Anyway, I thought I'd start with the year that Eminem, Ben Affleck, Cameron Diaz, Karl Urban, The Rock, Biggie Smalls, Jennifer Garner, Brad Paisley, Idris Elba, Liam Gallagher, Gwyneth Paltrow and Billie Joe Armstrong were born. Oh, and yours truly. A lot of the time these days, I feel very old. But if I'm only as old as those guys... actually, I don't feel too bad about it.

1972 was the year of Watergate, terrorism at the Munich Olympics, and Atari's first video game: Pong. Just in case you're older than me and you remember such things first hand.

Oh, and it was also the year the UK signed The European Communities Act, which allowed us to join the EU the following year... whatever happened to that?

10. Bloodhound Gang - The Inevitable Return of the Great White Dope

Oh, and James Moyer Franks... or Jimmy Pop, if you prefer... was also born in 1972. Although he's made a career out of acting like he was always born exactly 14 years ago, no matter what it says on his birth certificate or the calendar. As evidence, I submit the fact that this is from an album called Hooray For Boobies. As always, I make no apologies for liking The Bloodhound Gang. They keep me in touch with my inner juvenile delinquent.
One thousand nine hundred and seventy-two:
That's the year I got here, when my dear mother's water blew.
Not really realizin' the prize that's been begot to her
The bona fide lo-fi high-octane philosopher.
Genius with a penis, the few, the proud, the me
I liked me so much I had to buy the company...

Conclusions you drew, proportions you blew:
Lost son of Iggy? False bigger nose than Ziggy? True!
Yes my name is Jimmy Pop; no, my pop's name is Dick.
Don't admit to kick it slick you thick, derelict critic
Put down for missed notes, put up with misquotes.
Don't want the whole story? Should have bought the Cliff Notes!
9. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Same Old You

But Jimmy Pop isn't the only one to associate 1972 with Ziggy...

Hey, I remember you back in '72
With your David Bowie hair and your platform shoes
You had a part-time job, selling fast food
But out on the street you were nobody's fool!
8. Ben Folds Five - Michael Praytor, Five Years Later

From Ben Folds' 2012 reunion with the other two members of his Five, here we find him remembering an old school friend who he first met in '72 (Ben would have been 6). When he meets him again 24 years later, both their circumstances have changed drastically. It's a meditation on the strange way we connect to people, then lose touch, and sometimes reconnect with very different people years later... told with Folds' typically witty lyrical detail.

7. Belle & Sebastian - Me & The Major 

A timely illustration of the class and generational divide that should, perhaps, be required listening for anyone blaming the baby boomers for recent ridiculous political decisions in the UK. One of many stand out tracks from the album If You're Feeling Sinister, it begins with Stuart Murdoch reflecting on everything that stops him being close friends with this man of much higher standing... although he soon ends up feeling sorry for him.
Now he is swapping his tent for a sheltered home
He doesn't have a family, and he is living alone
He remembers all the punks and the hippies too
And he remembers Roxy Music in '72
He doesn't understand and he doesn't try
He knows there's something missing and he knows it's you and I
We're the younger generation, we grew up fast
All the others did drugs
They're taking it out on us
6. Jake Owen - 1972

This week's token contemporary country track (ah, I remember the days when all I wrote about was indie!), although Jake Owen wasn't born till '81 so it appears he's reminiscing about his father's childhood in this song. I do like a good lyrical pun though, and this one starts out with a doozy...
Daddy drove in over, it was sky blue
He worked at a record store after school
Called it Sympathy for the Vinyl
And that's before we even get to the serious rhyming overdose that is...
We’ll be chillin' like a villain on some Dylan while we’re killin' some booze
We’re gonna kick it like the kids did in 1972
Call me a philistine, but I love that stuff.

5. Bruce Springsteen - Brothers Under The Bridge

Like Born In The USA, this is another Bruce song about coming home from Vietnam and finding not a lot waiting for you.
I come home in '72
You were just a beautiful light
In your mama's dark eyes of blue
I stood down on the tarmac, I was just a kid
Me and the brothers under the bridge

Come Veterans' Day I sat in the stands in my dress blues
I held your mother's hand
When they passed with the red, white and blue
One minute you're right there... and something slips...
Not to be confused with the '83 song Brothers Under The Bridges, a much more defiant and uptempo rocker... which doesn't appear to be set in 1972.

4. Okkervil River - John Allyn Smith Sails

American poet John Berryman (whose real name features in the above title) committed suicide in 1972. Okkervil River's Will Sheff is obviously a Berryman fan - even though he wasn't born until 4 years later. The song takes a confessional and confrontational first person approach similar to Berryman's poetry...
From a bridge on Washington Avenue
The year of 1972
Broke my bones and skull
And it was memorable

It was half a second and I was halfway down
Do you think I wanted to turn back around
And teach a class
Where you kiss the ass that I've exposed to you?
...before segueing seamlessly into Sloop John B. (a traditional folk song from the Bahamas long before Brian Wilson got his hands on it), adding a completely new meaning to "this is the worst trip I've ever been on..." (although, to be fair, Brian probably knows a thing or two about bad trips too).

3. Dexys Midnight Runners - Until I Believe In My Soul

The longest song on Too-Rye-Aye is the one that points the way forward for Kevin Rowland, away from the sheer pop bombast of Come On Eileen and Jackie Wilson Says to a much more introspective and experimental stream-of-consciousness lyricism. It's also one of the first songs in which he appears to be arguing with himself and reaching no real conclusion, both of which would become recurrent motifs in his work (and still are today).
And I'm on the train from New Street
To Euston. I'm going out to Harrow again
And I'm trying to get the feeling
That I had in 1972.
Oh but you're going too fast for me here,
I'm saying, wait a minute there, wait a minute there
Hold it, stop! Let me get this clear...
(That's all there ever is) oh yeah yeah yeah?
(That's all there ever was) yes, yes. Ha ha ha.
(The same for everyone) Oh yes. Yes. Yes.
2. Morrissey - Late Night, Maudlin Street

If ever there was a word crying out to be shoehorned into a Morrissey song, Maudlin was it. Apparently influenced by Joni Mitchell on this one, Moz remembers his first year as a teenager in miserably hilarious fashion. 7 and a half minutes of maudlin glory from his debut solo album, Viva Hate, recorded 29 years ago.
Don't leave your torch behind
A powercut ahead; 1972, you know
And so we crept through the park
No, I cannot steal a pair of jeans off a clothesline
For you
But you ... without clothes
Oh, I could not keep a straight face
Me - without clothes ?
Well, a nation turns its back and gags...
1. Josh Rouse - 1972

Josh Rouse was born in 1972 too. Back in 2002, to celebrate his 30th birthday, he wrote this song in tribute to the year of his birth. The album it came from was filled with lush 70s AM radio style pop. Harry Nilsson - the man who was at Number One in the UK Singles Chart on the day I entered this world - would surely approve.
She was feeling 1972
Grooving to a Carole King tune
Is it too late, baby?
Is it too late?

Was 1972 a good one for you? Or do you just remember it through song...?

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