Monday, 28 November 2016

November #1 - The First Record I Ever Bought

In December, I'll be counting down (as I do every year) my favourite albums of the year. Before that... a confession.

Over at What's It All About, Alfie? recently, Alyson revealed the first album she ever bought. She seemed almost reluctant to admit it was an Elvis album... as though that was something to be embarrassed by. God, I wish my first record was an Elvis record.

It's time that the tale were told...

(After Queen and Neil Diamond, I think you're ready for this now.)

I was 15 when I bought my first records. Quite late, considering. I'd been getting into music a lot around that time. Both my sister and brother had left home and had kids of their own, so I used to babysit for them often to earn a bit of spending money, and when I did I always ended up working my way through their records. I'll be honest, my sister had the cooler collection, although my brother did have A Kind Of Magic by Queen, and I played the grooves out of that (as previously discussed). My sister though: she had Elvis, and the Supremes, and the Beach Boys, and Bowie, and Kate Bush... and I babysat for her a lot because she worked till 9 in the evening and her husband was a long distance lorry driver, only home on weekends. Four or five nights a week then, I'd sit in my sister's living room after my nephews were in bed and watch a bit of TV... then fall into that record collection. It was my teenage awakening.

Eventually, I got my first record player. I might be imagining this, but I think it was a little red turntable with built in speakers. I don't think I had it long and I have no idea what happened to it (or whether it's just romanticised nostalgia) but I know that pretty soon after I got a midi system with a built in cassette deck for making mixtapes... and the rest is history. Thirty years later, this blog is the end result.

The first album I owned then, there's no problem there. Queen's Greatest Hits. A Christmas present from my sister because she saw how much I loved that band. I thought Bohemian Rhapsody was the greatest song ever written. There are days when I'll still fight its corner.

But that doesn't count as my first record, does it? It has to be the first one I bought with my own money, right? Strangely enough, the first single I ever bought, rapidly followed by the first album I ever bought, were both by the same artist. Here's a few clues to his identity...

It was 1987 and he was riding an incredible wave of success.

We shared the exact same birthday (day, not year... I was only 15, remember).

He grew up in New Jersey.

I honestly thought that when I grew up, I wanted to be him.

Oh, yes.

His name was...

Longtime readers of this blog will by now have guessed that my favourite artist is Bruce Springsteen. (There was a time I'd have said it was a toss-up between him and Morrissey, but I'm coming to realise, as I grow older, Bruce is in a different class.) I believe in the redemptive power of rock 'n' roll, and Bruce has been my constant companion since I first dove into its river. So wouldn't it be a wonderful kind of symmetry if the first single - or the first album - I ever bought was one of his?  

But life's not that neat, is it?


This is the first single I ever bought...

Then, a week or so later, this was my first album...

And you know what, I'm not ashamed to admit this: I loved them then, and I still love them now.

I could tell you how I was a huge fan of Moonlighting, and David Addison was the coolest guy on TV.

I could tell you that the song Respect Yourself (originally by the Staple Singers) is such a classic, even a smug Hollywood egomaniac couldn't ruin it.

I could tell you how the single was saved by the uncredited - at the time - guest vocals of June Pointer (with her Sisters on backing vocals).

I could even go with the flow and say, hey - as croaky as Willis sounds on this record, at least his voice isn't as bad as Meat Loaf's on that record I chose as my Number One last month.

But why should I have to defend the purchasing choices made by a musically-naïve adolescent any more than I have to defend the "guilty pleasures" of a 44 year old muso-irker?

Respect Yourself was a reasonably classy, yet still tongue-in-cheek, rendition of a great old song - and, I'd argue, Willis's cover of Under The Boardwalk, backed by the Temptations was even better (plus it was the 12th best-selling UK single of 1987, folks... so never underestimate the British record buying public). And there were some equally fun tracks on the rest of the album. It was never going to set Willis on the road to rock 'n' roll stardom (maybe he foolishly thought it would... but then Die Hard came along the following year and he saw a much more lucrative future), but it did the job right then. And it holds a special place in my heart.

(Willis's second, and final album, was called If It Don't Kill You, It Just Makes You Stronger. It didn't make his recording career stronger. I still have a copy on my shelf, one I'll never, ever give to the charity shop (and let's face it, who'd buy it?), even though I probably won't ever listen to it again.)

We only get one life and the choices we make matter, even the duff ones. They all mean something to us, and this record means something to me. Let's never forget...

If you disrespect everybody that you run into
How in the world do you think everybody's supposed
To respect you?

Friday, 25 November 2016

My Top Ten Queen Singles

Struggling for time, so I thought I'd repost this as it's timely for two reasons. Firstly, I suggested a Queen song over on the latest edition of The Chain this week and spurred a little debate. Secondly, it's 25 years ago this week since Freddie passed away and Queen died with him. Hard to believe, but harder still is the fact that they've been gone longer than they were around. (All due respect to Brian - not Roger, because he's an arse - but you can't have Queen without Freddie. John had the right idea.)

I still remember the day Freddie died. I was at uni at the time and I remember sitting in the lecture theatre, not hearing a word. He was probably the first real hero I lost. 25 years later... well, look at the year we've had. I don't suppose it'll get any easier...

Originally posted September 2012 - I've not changed the order, though I probably would have done if I'd thought about it...

Queen were the first band I ever truly loved. The idea of choosing only ten of their songs was just too daunting. So here's my Top Ten of the stuff everybody knows. Give me a break - I still had FORTY songs to choose from. One day I'll bore you with my Top Ten Queen Album Tracks. Until then...

10. Headlong

The last great Queen single, by which time Freddie was a shadow of his former self. Not that you'd know it, listening to this.

9. Hammer To Fall

Not the obvious choice from The Works album, but although Radio Gaga soundtracked my adolescence ("I'd sit alone and watch your light, my only friend through teenage nights") and I Want To Break Free features the wonderful video that ended the band's American career, there's something special about Hammer To Fall. Might be the guitar hero power chords - Brian May did invent the air guitar, after all.

8. Spread Your Wings

I'll be honest, I didn't even know this had been released as a single. It only ever reached number 34 in the charts, but it's always been a favourite.

7. Tie Your Mother Down
Tie your mother down
Tie your mother down
Take your little brother swimmin'
With a brick that's all right
6. Breakthru

Late 80s Queen is often dismissed by purists... but then, Queen are often dismissed by musos in general. Time to irk them further then. I was 17 when this song came out and I sank my heart into it, convinced it was the anthem that would change things between me and whichever lacklustre young lass was ignoring my feeble attentions that week.

Plus - Queen perform atop a high speed locomotive in the video. What else do you need?

5. Killer Queen

I keep meaning to write an in-joke into one of my comics in which a certain character keeps her Moët & Chandon in a pretty cabinet. Nobody would get the joke, but it'd make me smile every time I looked at it.

4. You're My Best Friend

If I'm in the right frame of mind, this song makes me weep. I know, I'm weird.

3. Seven Seas Of Rhye

Nobody did utter nonsense quite like Freddie & the gang. This, their first ever hit, ends on a slice of music hall frippery that never fails to remind me of the opening to The Queen Is Dead. Coincidence?

Meanwhile, just listen to that piano!

2. Bohemian Rhapsody

You may have expected to find this at number one. Or you might have predicted I'd be controversial and drop it from the list entirely. It's impossible to ignore though, and there was a time in my life when I considered it the greatest song ever written. Me, Wayne, and Garth... party on - excellent!

1. Somebody To Love

Before I discovered The Smiths, this song was my How Soon Is Now.

Each morning I get up I die a little...

Any other Queen fans out there? Outraged that I didn't have room for A Kind Of Magic, Flash, or Crazy Little Thing Called Love. I feel your pain... but there can be only ten.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

November #2 - Neil's First Time

2. Neil Diamond - Desiree

Although I'd planned to feature this song anyway this month (because it's been on rotation: no idea why), it became a little more timely after Alyson from What's It All About, Alfie? raised a question over at A History Of Dubious Taste about whether Neil Diamond was acceptable in these circles (since most things are, but Michael Bolton clearly isn't). Of course, we all jumped up in support of Mr. Diamond... well, Jez and I did, but I'm sure the rest of you were nodding along in silent approval.

Anyway, here's one piece evidence in the Neil Diamond Rocks case, a 1977 number in which Neil tells us about his first love, and drops in a little innuendo along the way that would make Alison Moyet proud...
It was the third of June
On that summer's day
When I became a man
At the hands of a girl
Almost twice my age...
(By the way, Alison Moyet Rocks too. Get over it.)

Built around a bassline very reminiscent of It's Still Rock 'n' Roll To Me* (Billy Joel Also Rocks... but as he released that song three years AFTER Desiree, maybe he was also a Diamond fan), Desiree has everything you could want from a pop song: a great story, a dramatic performance, and stabs that Elvis could have karate-kicked you off the stage to. Today, I'm leaving my shirt unbuttoned for Neil.

*By the way, if you have the time to watch Billy's video too, I'd recommend it for the way he dances at the drum break. It looks like he's squaring off in a pub fight, about to headbutt you. Class.

Monday, 21 November 2016

November #3 - Bertel Haugen Spends Too Much Time With His Books

3. Bertel Haugen - Tytyros 

Heard this on 6music (Cerys) and was instantly taken with it. Here's the potted biog from Bertel's bandcamp page because I'm feeling extremely lazy today...

"Bertel Haugen was born on a small farm in rural Wales to a Dutch mother and a Norwegian father. He now lives in London where he records quirky folk songs. Bertel uses all sorts of household implements, from pencils to whisks, to create his drum sounds and plays all the instruments himself."
If I describe the background to this particular song, it may sound a tad pretentious. Bertel is obviously fond of Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis (the man who wrote Zorba The Greek & The Last Temptation of Christ). Having read Kazantzakis's 1954 novel Freedom Or Death, he decided to reinterpret it in this song. Stop! Don't click on yet! I promise you this isn't as stuffy as it sounds! There's a lightness and gentle humour here I really like. Plus it contains my favourite lyric of the week, so please give it a go...
She says I spend too much time with my books
I don't care enough about my looks
She calls me a coward to my face
She says I am just a disgrace...
And so I quit.
Paul Simon would be more than happy with that, I reckon.

Friday, 18 November 2016

My Top Ten Mashed Potato Songs

For Mash, get... ten songs that will make you want to do the mashed potato...

Although the Top 3 is inevitable, this may well be the most mashed-up Top Ten I've ever compiled, genre-wise. I'm not too proud to say I Love It.

This week's post is dedicated to jjdaddyo (sorry, jj, I don't have a link anymore since blogger deleted my bloglist a while back: if you still have a blog, let me know where it is) who recommended our opening tune for the second volume of My Top Ten Supermarket Songs a few weeks back. It would have fit in well there... but it fits even better here.

10. Joe Jackson - (Do The) Instant Mash

From Joe's 1979 debut record, Look Sharp, the one where pretty girls are out walking with gorillas down my street...

9. Neil Young & Crazy Horse - T-Bone 

As previously discussed, there are by now very few subjects Neil Young hasn't written a song about, but this is out-there even by his standards. 9 and a quarter minutes of Neil complaining that he's only got mashed potato: no T-bone. From 1981's Re-Ac-Tor album, not one of  his most critically-acclaimed records. I doubt he gives a shit what the critics think. I hope he eventually got his T-bone.  

8. The Ronettes - Mashed Potato Time

There are a number of records on this Top Ten (as well as a bunch more I didn't have room for) which refer to the Mashed Potato dance craze of the early 60s. This is the one that does so most directly, originally recorded by Dee Dee Sharp, it was re-recorded by the Ronettes under Phil Spector, who then credited it to The Crystals once the Ronettes had split up. That Phil Spector, eh? What a genius / maniac / tool.

See also (Do The) Mashed Potato by James Brown, Shake A Tailfeather by Ray Charles and The Blues Brothers, Let's Dance by Chris Montez, Do The Strand by Roxy Music and Little Latin Lupe Lu by Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels (for Hi-Fidelity fans).

7. Terrorvision - Discotheque Wreck

From the superb 1994 album, How To Make Friends & Influence People, Terrorvision cheekily steal the mashed potato lyrics from this week's Number One and slip them effortlessly into this superfly guitar stomper which confirms them as Bradford's finest rock band.

6. Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong - A Fine Romance
We should be hot as a couple of hot tomatoes
But you're as cold as yesterday's mashed potatoes...
Written by Jerome Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields for the Fred Astaire / Ginger Rogers movie Swing Time, this will be more familiar to anyone of a certain age as the theme tune to an 80s ITV sitcom starring Judi Dench and Michael Williams. That version was sung by Dame Judi herself, but the problem with it was, as the rhyme above shows, this is a song that should only ever be sung by Americans... because no matter what Fred & Ginger sang in Let's Call The Whole Thing Off... nobody, British or American, ever says "po-taa-toes". 

So we'll stick with Ella and Louis, because you can't beat them. Or mash them.

5. Eminem - So Far

One of the best tracks from Eminem's 2013 comeback album, Marshall Mathers 2, this is built around the chorus to Joe Walsh's Life's Been Good and features the usual First World whinging about how hard it is to be a white, rich rap star. Luckily, Eminem understands the irony of this and... damn it, say what you like Eminem, but dude can rhyme...
Can't pump my gas without causin' an accident
Pump my gas, cut my grass, I can't take out the fuckin' trash
Without someone passin' through my sub harassin'
I'd count my blessings but I suck at math
I'd rather wallow than bask, suffering succotash, but the ant-
Acid it gives my stomach gas
When I mix my corn with my fuckin' mashed
Potatoes, so what hoe kiss my country bumpkin ass
Missouri southern roots, what the fuck is upper class?
There are some mashed potatoes in there if you look for them.

4. Nirvana - Sliver

Oh boy, I'd forgotten how much I loved this. It's so easy to remember Kurt Cobain for the tragedy, the reluctant artist stuff, the end... so easy to forget this guy had one hell of a sense of humour too. Occasionally. Here, his mum and dad leave him at grandma's house while they go to a show and he has to eat her mashed potato and can't chew his meat too good.
Grandma, take me home!
3. Wilson Pickett - Land of 1000 Dances
Nana nana
Nana nana
Nanana Nanana
Nana nanaaaaaa!
If your exposure to the above nana chorus is limited to Ini Kamoze's Here Comes The Hotstepper... here's where it came from.

I was amused to discover though that the song's original 1962 recording, by New Orleans r 'n' b man Chris Kenner, didn't feature any nanas at all though. They were added three years later in a version by Cannibal & The Headhunters. But it was Wilson who took all those nas to another level.

That said, it's interesting to hear what Jimi Hendrix and Patti Smith do with this song too.  

2. The M.A.S.H. - Theme From M.A.S.H. / Manic Street Preachers - Theme From M.A.S.H.

Of course, the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital had very little to do with mashed spuds... but then, as already discussed, very few songs on this list are actually about potatoes.

Interesting story behind this one. Robert Altman, director of the original M.A.S.H. movie wanted a song called 'Suicide Is Painless' to feature in a key scene of the movie... and specifically wanted its lyrics to be duff: "the stupidest song ever written". He tried to write those lyrics himself but couldn't get them stupid enough... so he gave the task to his 14 year-old son Michael, who wrote them in 5 minutes... and became a millionaire in the process. Not too stupid then, eh, Robert?

The thing is, there's a thin line between stupid and profound, and in the context of the film... and certainly the TV show that followed, using this song as its theme tune... this nonsense suddenly began to feel very profound indeed. I loved M.A.S.H. when I was a teen, not so much the Altman version, but certainly the Alan Alda show. I was one of the hundred million plus viewers who tuned in to the final episode and sobbed when this song played out for its final time. Stupid, yeah.

I found it impossible to choose between the original and the Manics' 1992 cover version, released as a charity single, double A-sided with the Fatima Mansions' cover of Bryan Adams' Everything I Do, I Do It For You. (Punctuation note: it's not often you see a sentence that contains three apostrophes after the s like that. Sorry, English teacher geeking out here.) James Dean Bradfield's guitar and vocal suit this song perfectly. Sadly, it would become a little too prophetic for another member of the band though...

1. The Contours - Do You Love Me?
You broke my heart
'Cos I couldn't dance
You didn't even want me around
But now I'm back
To let you know
I can
Shake 'em down
Another one featuring that ridiculous mashed potato dance step. Originally written for The Temptations, who'd done a runner that day, so Berry Gordy gave it to The Contours instead when he bumped into them in the Motown corridor. It was their only real hit: but what a hit.

Of course, being of a certain age, my first exposure to this song was in Dirty Dancing. I was 16 when that film his video in the UK. It was regular Friday night viewing, at least when Ferris Bueller's Day Off (or Friday the 13th... I was a complex child) was unavailable for rental at the local video shop.

Personally, I prefer roasties, jackets or chips. But if you've got to have your potatoes mashed, I don't think you can deny the tastiness of this Top 10. Any favourites I missed out?

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

November #4 - One Sore Audience

4. Audience - Seven Sore Bruises

Back in the late 90s, I was very much taken with the debut album of pop-indie act theaudience (sic), fronted by Sophie Ellis Bextor: Janet's daughter, who would go on enjoy to a chequered, sometimes interesting career in the mainstream pop world.  This was one of their best songs.

This post, however, is not about that band.

Instead it's about a "British art rock" combo from the early 70s who released four albums, the last of these being Lunch, from where today's track hails.

I wish I could tell you I knew more about this band or had heard any more of their music. Sadly,  today time only permits me to write a post about the one song of theirs I do know, Seven Sore Bruises.

I came across this song via the blogosphere a few years back and stuck it on one of the random in-car compilations I create to help me discover new tracks that are hiding in my collection. I liked it a lot - enough to feature it here - although I honestly thought it was a lost Northern Soul anthem rather than a "British art rock" nugget. So we all learned something new today.

No video today as the song isn't on yotube. You can listen to it at the link below...

Audience - Seven Sore Bruises

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

November #5 - Tom Brosseau Takes A Trip With His Grandma

5. Tom Brosseau - A Trip To Emerado

I'm not sure how to pigeonhole Tom Brosseau: I've heard his music called folk, I've heard it called country, even Americana. But really, it's just a guy and his guitar telling little stories. Nothing too earth-shaking, but it's the minutiae in his lyrics that makes his songs so beguiling. I say "songs", and Brosseau does sing, but he also talks... and I think I like his talky tracks more than the ones where he stretches his vocal chords. I first came across him a year ago when Cerys played his haunting shaggy dog story Hard Luck Boy on 6music. Now he's back with another new album (there's been quite a few) and I'm most taken by the trip he takes here across North Dakota in his grandma's car. There's room in the back if you want to come along...

Tom Brosseau - A Trip To Emerado

(No video today as it's not on youtube. Here it is on bandcamp.)

Sunday, 13 November 2016

November #6 - The Ex Mrs. Steve Earle

6. Allison Moorer - Tear Me Apart

Another grower from the charity shop pile, the 2015 album Down To Believing from Shelby Lynne's younger sister and the current (edited following Charity Chic's comment below... I trust him to keep reading the Americana version of Heat to keep me up to date on such things) latest ex-Mrs. Steve Earle, Alison Moorer.  Not much more to say about this one: I like it enough to play it here.

Friday, 11 November 2016

My Top Ten Leonard Cohen Songs

Well, this year just gets better and better doesn't it? All I can think of today is the title of that Kate Atkinson novel: When Will There Be Good News? Annus Horribilis doesn't even begin to cover it. The optimist in me thinks 2017 can only get better... but it's not looking likely at the moment. 

Anyway, Leonard Cohen. In a morbid synchronicity, my copy of his now-final album arrived today. I haven't had chance to listen to it properly yet, but I love the title track. If Bowie's final record was about the end of Bowie, Cohen's appears to be about the end of everything. You Want It Darker? All we can do right now is pray for some glimmer of light. 

In tribute then, ten of my favourite Leonard Cohen tunes. They may be (mostly) the obvious ones (minus a couple), but not (perhaps) in the obvious order. Really tough narrowing it down to ten...

10. Democracy
From the wars against disorder
From the sirens night and day
From the fires of the homeless
From the ashes of the gay
Democracy is coming to the USA
Of course, I should have featured this on my last Top Ten...
It's coming to America first
The cradle of the best and of the worst
It's here they got the range
And the machinery for change
And it's here they got the spiritual thirst
It's here the family's broken
And it's here the lonely say
That the heart has got to open
In a fundamental way
Democracy is coming to the USA
9. First We Take Manhattan

Leonard Cohen tackles terrorists: firsthand. Chilling, despite the creaky 80s production.
Ah, you loved me as a loser
But now you're worried that I just might win
You know the way to stop me, but you don't have the discipline
How many nights I prayed for this, to let my work begin
First we take Manhattan, then we take Berlin
8. Death Of A Ladies' Man 

Cohen + Spector really shouldn't have worked. They were polar opposites in so many ways. And yet...
"I'll never see a face like yours in years of men to come
I'll never see such arms again in wrestling or in love."
And all his virtues burning in the smoky Holocaust
She took unto herself most everything her lover lost
7. Closing Time

The happiest song on this list. Under other circumstances... any other week... I might have placed it higher because of that.
Yeah the women tear their blouses off
And the men they dance on the polka-dots
And it's partner found, it's partner lost
And it's hell to pay when the fiddler stops
It's closing time
6. Famous Blue Raincoat

One for Hillary...?
It's four in the morning, the end of December
I'm writing you now just to see if you're better
New York is cold, but I like where I'm living
There's music on Clinton Street all through the evening
Apparently, he was never particularly satisfied with this one. Iffypedia suggests he was briefly a member of The Church of Scientology around about this time... he heard it was a good place to meet women!

5. Everybody Knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
Everybody knows
Yes, that seems pretty scary, but let's not forget he could make us laugh too...
Everybody knows you've been discreet
But there were so many people you just had to meet
Without your clothes
And everybody knows
4. Hallelujah

Many others would plasce this at Number One, obviously. Who am I to argue? 

Jeff Buckley did it proud.

3. Chelsea Hotel No. 2

Lloyd Cole, Rufus Wainwright, Lana Del Rey... you can tell the quality of a tune by those who choose to cover it.

Apparently written about Janis Joplin, though he came to regret revealing that.
I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
You were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
But for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
Who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
You fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
We are ugly but we have the music."
2. Waiting For A Miracle

My Top Two are the first two Leonard Cohen songs that really grabbed my attention... but that's an understatement: frankly, they blew the doors right off. Cohen's 1992 album The Future is a masterpiece, but I first noticed them both on the soundtrack of Oliver Stone's Tarantino flick, Natural Born Killers. These songs are haunting, devastating, and... terrifyingly prescient.
When you've fallen on the highway
and you're lying in the rain,
and they ask you how you're doing
of course you'll say you can't complain --
If you're squeezed for information,
that's when you've got to play it dumb:
You just say you're out there waiting
for the miracle, for the miracle to come.
1. The Future

Looking down this list, hearing these songs again, you wonder if the events of this week were too much for Mr. Cohen to keep on fighting. It feels like what he's predicted so long may well be coming to pass... I'm just waiting for the headline to confirm it: Donald Trump Killed Leonard Cohen.
There'll be breaking of the ancient Western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms, there'll be fires on the road
And a white man dancing
You'll see a woman hanging upside down
Her features covered by her fallen gown
And all the lousy little poets come around
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson
And the white man dancing

Give me back the Berlin Wall
Give me Stalin and St. Paul
Give me Christ or give me Hiroshima
Destroy another foetus now
We don't like children anyhow
I've seen the future, baby
It is murder

Things are going to slide
Slide in all directions
Won't be nothing
Nothing you can measure anymore
The blizzard
The blizzard of the world
Has crossed the threshold
And it's overturned the order of the soul

When they said repent
I wonder what they meant

Hey, I know, that's no way to say goodbye... but it's the best I can do.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

My Top Ten Trump Victory Songs

As with my Brexit Top Ten, I'm presenting this one without comment... other than the lyrics below.

But if you're reading this blog in the USA and you disagree with some silly limey's verdict of your election result, remember that your constitution still allows me the right to free speech... well, at the moment, anyway.

10. Harry Chapin - Sounds Like America To Me

You see I know when a child is hurting
That silence can be wrong
And I know that when old folks are helpless
I can't just pass along
And I know when someone's hungry
I can't just sing this song
And when I hear somebody crying
I can't just wonder who that it could be
And I hear somebody crying now
And it sure sounds like America to me

9. Angaleena Presley - American Middle-Class

Now daddy can't get his pension or Social Security
Worked thirty damn years in a coal mine feeding welfare families
Struggle hard and hide it well,
You sure ain't rich and you sure as hell ain't poor enough to get one little break
'Cause everything would collapse
 Without the hardworking God-loving members of the American middle class

8. Thea Gilmore - Land of the Free

This land is your land
With one roll of the dice and one guiltless command
Now you're sitting watching TV
Accepting moral direction from a crank shrink with an impressive CV
Your new god is your video screen
Washed up, spun out by and American dream,
Only memories of ghosts that patrol this place
And this land, your land is a terminal case

7. Bruce Springsteen - American Land

The McNicholas, the Posalski's, the Smiths, Zerillis too
The Blacks, the Irish, Italians, the Germans and the Jews
The Puerto Ricans, illegals, the Asians, Arabs miles from home
Come across the water with a fire down below
They died building the railroads, worked to bones and skin
They died in the fields and factories, names scattered in the wind
They died to get here a hundred years ago, they're dyin' now
The hands that built the country were always trying to keep down

6. Gil Scott Heron - Winter In America

And now it's winter
Winter in America
Yes and all of the healers have been killed
Or sent away, yeah
But the people know, the people know
It's winter
Winter in America
And ain't nobody fighting
'Cause nobody knows what to save
Save your soul, Lord knows
From Winter in America

5. Billy Bragg - Help Save The Youth Of America

When the lights go out in the rest of the World
What do our cousins say
They're playing in the sun and having fun, fun, fun
Till Daddy takes the gun away
From the Big Church to the Big River
And out to the Shining Sea
This is the Land of Opportunity
And there's a Monkey Trial on TV

4. Drive-By Truckers - Once They Banned Imagine

Are you now or have you ever been in cahoots with the notion that people can change
When history happens again if you do or you did you’ll be blamed
From baseless inquiry
To no knocking entry
Becoming the law of the land
To half cocked excuses for bullet abuse regarding anything browner than tan

Cause once they banned Imagine it became the same old war its always been
Once they banned Imagine it became the war it was when we were kids

3. Beautiful South - The Sound Of North America

The lyrics of "New York"
May have Frank Sinatra singing
But the rhythm and the melody
Were dead black men swinging

2. Todd Snider - Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Male

Conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American male.
Gay bashin’, black fearin’, poor fightin’, tree killin’, regional leaders of sales
Frat housin’, keg tappin’, shirt tuckin’, back slappin’ haters of hippies like me.
Tree huggin’, peace lovin’, pot smokin’, porn watchin’ lazyass hippies like me.
Tree huggin’, love makin’, pro choicen, gay weddin’, widespread diggin’ hippies like me.
Skin colour-blinded, conspiracy-minded, protestors of corporate greed,
We who have nothing and most likely will ‘till we all wind up locked up in jails
By conservative Christian, right wing Republican, straight, white, American males.

1. Queen - Is This The World We Created?

Is this the world we created?
We made it on our own
Is this the world we devastated, right to the bone?
If there's a God in the sky looking down
What can he think of what we've done
To the world that He created?

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

November #7 - Car Seat Headrest Win Song Title of the Year

7. Car Seat Headrest - (Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't A Problem)

This is Will Toledo...

Will is in a band called Car Seat Headrest, so named because he used to record his songs in the back seat of his car: "for privacy" and also, possibly, to give them an interesting acoustic quality. The band used to be just Will, and between 2010 and 2015, he released 8 albums on Bandcamp before getting a deal with Matador. Since then he's released two more. Now he's got an actual band. I first heard one of his records on 6Music when Katie Puckrick was doing a show on power-pop, a genre I've always enjoyed. Will flits between genres though and he's not just a power-popper.

Drugs With Friends is from Will's latest album, Teens of Denial, which came out just a few months ago. Apparently, when he was younger he always thought drugs would be a key element of being a rock musician, but when he tried them he just felt sick. This track is kinda Dandy Warhols meets Eels. I think it's pretty cool.
Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit In a stupid looking jacket
I walked around town and thought I was in Sodom
There were filthy people seeking comfort for their bodies
It was so obscene

Filled with loathing and religious fervour
I laid on my friend’s bedroom floor for an hour
And tried not to piss my pants

And then I saw Jesus...

Sunday, 6 November 2016

November #8 - Guess Who's A. Flasher?

8. The Guess Who - Albert Flasher

The charity shop well has been drying up a little lately: I don't know what people are doing with their old CDs at the moment, but they're not giving them to me via charity. Still, I did have a few good hauls earlier in the year, which I'm still picking my way through, and one of these included The Best of The Guess Who, a Canadian band I previously knew very little about other than their big hit, American Woman.

There's an amusing story behind the band's monicker. Originally formed in the late 50s, they went through a couple of names before settling on Chad Allan & The Reflections. When a US band had a hit with The Reflections name, Chad & co. changed theirs to The Expressions... but then tried an interesting tactic with their next single, a cover of Johnny & The Pirates' Shaking All Over. Apparently the record company wanted to fool DJs (and the public) into thinking the song had been recorded by a much more famous band (perhaps even The Beatles), under a pseudonym. The gambit worked: Shaking All Over was a hit (#1 in Canada; #22 in the USA... but back then, #22 was a hit)... except The Guess Who? stuck with DJs who refused to start crediting it to Chad Allan & The Expressions, even after their true identity was revealed.

Chad quit the following year, but The Guess Who have been around (on and off, in one form or another) ever since. Although their last album was released in 1995, they're still touring today. Albert Flasher was a single released around the height of their success in 1971. The lyrics are largely 60s stoner nonsense, but I was slightly disappointed to discover that the opening line is...
I was a workshop owner
...because I've been singing...
I was a workshy boner
...for the last few months, and that seemed far more appropriate.

Friday, 4 November 2016

My Top Ten Songs For Tall People

This week, ten songs for Little Johns everywhere. Special mention to The Tallest Man On Earth, and Long Tall Sally, who had her moment in My Top Ten Sally Songs.

10. Django Django - Giant

Darling of young indie types everywhere, this is one of their more approachable songs for old ears like mine.

9. Liz Phair - Big Tall Man

Liz Phair can indeed be a complicated communicator, but she couldn't possibly be any more scary even if she was a Big Tall Man. I like the talky style of this one.

8. The Four Preps - Big Man

Towering 1958 tune from I've no idea where. Sometimes these songs just end up in my consciousness and I have to play them. Great piano intro.

7. Ben Lee - 10 ft Tall

I was very much into Ben Lee around the time he released this, as part of his third album, Breathing Tornados, back in 1998. Not heard a lot from him since, although he's still at it, by all accounts.

Not to be confused with...

6. XTC - Ten Feet Tall
Right, the chemistry is right
This boy has reached his height
This feeling just goes on and on, and on and on
From strength to strength
I'm ten feet long
Andy lets Colin do the heavy lifting on this one, released as a single in the USA because it was as close as XTC got to a "West Coast" vibe.

5. Billy Joel - Big Man On Mulberry Street

Growing up in Hicksville, New York, and being a bit of a short-arse as a teenager led Billy Joel to take up boxing to defend himself. He became quite successful on the amateur circuit until his nose was broken and he decided to concentrate on his piano playing instead. He became a bigger man that way...
And so in my small way
I'm a big man on Mulberry street
I don't mean all day
Only at night when I'm light on my feet
I was a huge Joel fan as a teenager (imagine how cool that made me!) and I also loved the TV show Moonlighting. So I was like a pig in clover when the two came together...

4. Johnny Cash - A Thing Called Love
Six foot six
He stood on the ground
He weighed 235 pounds
But I saw that giant of a man brought down by
A thing called love
This is a song I remember Radio 2 playing when I was a kid but despite it being a biggish hit on both sides of the Atlantic, it doesn't often feature on Greatest Hit collections, so I had to hunt down the album of the same name - released in 1972, the year of my birth - to get it in my collection. A good move this, because the rest of the album is pretty cool too.

A Thing Called Love was written by Jerry Reed Hubbard who also gave Elvis Guitar Man and recorded the theme to Smokey & The Bandit... in which he appeared as Cledus Snow. 

3. Human League - Empire State Human

This early Human League single (from 1979, folks!) apparently deals with Phil Oakey's boundless ambition to become a pop superstar. Arguably, while the Human League would record far better pop songs (realising Oakey's ambition), they would sacrifice a little of the quirkiness and fun heard on this early track in the process.
With concentration
My size increased
And now I'm fourteen stories high
At least!!
Empire state human
Just a bored kid
I'll go to Egypt to be
A pyramid...
2. Jim Croce - Bad, Bad Leroy Brown 

Based on one of Jim Croce's old army "buddies", this song deals with a guy who's always on the lookout for trouble. 
All the downtown ladies called him 'Treetop Lover'
All the men just called him 'Sir'
But no matter how big you are, or how bad you are (even if you're "meaner than a junkyard dog"), there's always someone bigger and badder... and by the end of the song, Leroy looks "like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces gone".

Bad, Bad Leroy Brown was a US Number One - Croce's last before his tragic death in a plane crash in 1973. The song would later be covered by Frank Sinatra, as well as inspiring Freddie Mercury to write Queen's Bring Back That Leroy Brown and Loretta Lynn to pen Mrs. Leroy Brown. There's even a couple of wrestlers who took their name from this song: Bad Leroy Brown & Junkyard Dog.

1. Jimmy Dean - Big Bad John

I've loved this song since I was a kid when Terry Wogan used to play it. This legendary giant, who was "six foot six and weighed two forty five" (ten pounds heavier than Cash's big bloke) was the strong silent type at the mine where he worked, although "everybody knew you didn't give no lip to Big John". Then one day a timber cracked and all the miners thought "they'd breathed their last... 'cept John". Some say the heroic measures he took to hold up those joists till all his fellow miners escaped were modelled on the Ancient Greek tale of Polydamas of Skotoussa, though something tells me that might be crediting Jimmy Dean with a little too much classical learnin'.

I learnt a couple of surprising things about Big Bad John while researching this post. First, about Jimmy Dean himself, who I always pictured as a big, bad-ass Johnny Cash type. Not so...

Apparently, he's most famous in the U.S. for his sausage: Jimmy Dean Sausages, a successful brand he founded in the late 50s.

But most surprising of all were the sequels. Firstly The Cajun Queen, in which Big John's ex-girlfriend arrives in town, finds his body, and resurrects him with the kiss of life. Like all bad sequels which destroy the integrity of the original movie, we can choose to pretend it never happened...

Except, then comes the third installment, Little Bitty Big John, in which John's son discovers what his father got up to down that mine.

And if that wasn't enough, there's My Big John by Dottie West, told from the perspective of John's Cajun Queen... wisely ignoring both previous sequels. 

Which is your treetop lover?

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

November #9 - John Prine Takes The Garbage Out

9. John Prine & Iris DeMent - Who's Gonna Take Your Garbage Out?

Back when I did My Top Ten Bickering Couple Songs, John Prine & Iris DeMent featured high up with their excellent duet In Spite Of Ourselves, from the 1999 duets album of the same. 17 years later, Prine has released another album of duets, For Better, Or Worse, featuring big names from the country world such as Miranda Lambert, Alison Krauss and Kacey Musgraves. There are some fine (and funny) tunes among this bunch, but I was immediately drawn to his latest collaboration with Iris DeMent since they've always complemented each other so well in the past.

I wasn't familiar with the original version of this song by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubbs, but I think John and Iris more than do it justice...
John: I take too much abuse to me that's all I ever get
Iris: Yeah callin' a man like you a husband is just like callin' old wild cat a pet
You'd better stop your runnin' around, say nothin', stop movin' on
John: But who's gonna take your garbage out when I've packed my bags and gone?
Prine recently fought a second bout with cancer. After having part of his neck removed in the late 90s, he not long ago had surgery to tackle a new growth on his lung. Soon after, he was back out on the road, and recording this new record. Let's hope he's got many more to come...

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

November #10 - Girls Like PINS

10. PINS - Girls Like Us

Another interesting charity shop find, the 2013 debut album from Manchester girl group PINS: what the Jesus & Mary Chain might have sounded like if Phil Spector had put them together... "First things first, let's get rid of those lanky Scottish blokes..."

(See, I can do short posts if I try really hard. And after October's #1, I figured you all needed a break.)

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