Thursday, 27 April 2017

BONUS POST: That Facebook Meme

It seems apt that on the day I'm guest-posting over at JC's place, I end up doing a Bonus Post... after all, he's one of the only bloggers I know who sometimes manages two posts in the same day. (Jez is the other one, but he doesn't post every day like JC.)

Anyway, you've probably all seen this meme over on facebook. It's been doing the rounds. I had to have a go, of course, and I thought I'd post my response here in case you wanted to have a guess. 

Ten bands/artists I've seen live. One of them is a lie.

By the way, I haven't chosen any of the OBVIOUS acts you all KNOW I've seen live. If this list was made up of Springsteen, Billy Bragg, Elvis Costello, Lloyd Cole, Morrissey et al, it would be far too easy.

1. Depeche Mode
2. Suzanne Vega
3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
4. Guns n Roses
5. Alison Krauss & Union Station
6. Bon Jovi
7. Oasis
8. Hayseed Dixie
9. James Brown
10. Nearly Dan (Steely Dan tribute act)

One final clue: 8 of the true ones were really, really good. The ninth really, really wasn't.

April #1 - I'm Not Here Today...

...instead, I'm over at JC's place, compiling my first Imaginary Compilation Album about The Magnetic Fields. What an honour. Pop over and say hello, why don't you?

Oh, and if you happen to have travelled in the opposite direction thanks to JC, then thank you. Welcome. Pull up a chair, grab your headphones. Stick around if you've got the time. Say hello. You might find something of interest in the last few posts. Honest. I haven't written about Billy Joel in weeks...

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

My Top ∞ Radio Songs #1 - 4

I love radio.

Or, to be more honest, I love the ideal. The idea of what radio can be...though it rarely is.

I worked in radio for 23 years of my life, but only for the first 4 or 5 was that radio station allowed to be even a fraction of what it could be. I want to write something about that. About my years in radio: the good times and the bad. And about the ideal: what I believe radio could and should be.

I also love songs about radio. A few years back, on the old blog, I had the idea of doing a Top Ten... but I couldn't whittle them down. In the end, I settled on a Top 40, but there were still many great ones I missed out... and many more I've discovered since.

And so, I decided to start a new ongoing feature. This won't be a Top Ten. That funny squiggle, in the title line, just in case you don't know, it's an infinity symbol. Because I reckon I can write about radio songs on and off here forever... and never write about them all. I'll die before I run out... or get bored of blogging, at least. There's always that possibility.

To start, here's three of my favourites. All of them tackle the idea of what radio could and should be... and feature an old DJ who's forced to face the fact, as I was many years ago, that it rarely is. They're also three songs which inspired a short story I wrote some time ago, so I thought I'd include that as well, to mark the beginning of my new infinite feature. I will number these songs as I go along, then we'll all see how long it takes to count to infinity. Oh, and there's a bonus track at the end of the post which seemed fitting.

1. Harry Chapin - W.O.L.D.

2. Mark Germino & The Sluggers - Rex Bob Lowenstein

3. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers - The Last DJ

Dead Air

The printout from the weather centre comes through at 3.43am, and finally someone has given it a name. Cumulus Letalis. Jesse reads the report like he’s supposed to, like he has every night for twenty-eight years, then he taps the screen that fires off Celine Dion on the playout system and stares out at the stars. Celine Dion! Has it really come to this?

At least they weren’t responding like every other station in town. In fact, the WXYW reaction was as far from that as you could get. Station Manager Steve Carlton had made that quite clear at the Crisis Management Meeting yesterday afternoon.

“If these clouds really spread to Boston, like the weather centre predicts, you can guarantee our competitors will be in full-on panic mode. They’ll have reporters up on the rooftops, man-in-the-street vox-pops, eye-in-the-sky choppers tracking the evacuation effort, everybody from the feds to NASA throwing in their two cents worth… there won’t be a station in town sticking to playlist with a live presenter. There will of course be the ones who go to automation and get the hell out of Dodge…”

“Like we all should be doing,” said Gerry Gerrity, WX’s shit-hot breakfast jock (and A-1 pain in everybody’s ass). He still had his blue-tooth clipped to the side of his temple (he regularly took calls from his agent in the middle of station meetings, and never lowered his voice); Jesse thought he looked like a stapled schlong.

“Well, obviously I can’t force anybody to stay and work,” said Carlton, “but—“

“I’ll do it,” said Jesse. It was the first he’d spoken in a station meeting all year. Maybe that explained the looks he got from around the table. But he’d long since given up caring what any of them thought. You can’t expect to maintain any semblance of self-respect when you’re playing James Blunt for a living.

“If you hate the job so much,” Audrey used to say, “quit!”

“I don’t hate the job,” he told her. “I hate what they’ve turned the job into. A business – this was never supposed to be a business!”

“No? What’s it supposed to be then? A calling?”

Audrey never understood.

“What else am I going to do?” he’d ask her. “What else am I good for after all these years but playing records and talking?” They didn’t even call them records anymore. It was all “tracks” nowadays.

“Tracks is what train runs on,” Jesse used to tell them, but he stopped when they started looking at him like he was their grandpa. These kids they were getting in the station nowadays, they wouldn’t even know a record if they saw it.

At a little after 4.30, Jesse watches the clouds rolling in from the South. From the 57th floor of the WXYW Tower of Power, he can see the whole of the city and beyond. Across the bay as far as World’s End and Quincy. And while they still had clear skies overhead, he knew it’d only be a matter of time. From Florida to Virginia, past Delaware and Philly - up to New York and Jersey. Over the last few days, those lousy clouds had squirmed up the whole of the Eastern seaboard. And once they settled, that was it. Everything went dark. No communications, nobody in or out of any of the cities, no idea what was going on inside. They sent in the army, the Hazmat teams, FEMA… they lost contact with all of them within a few hours. The President declared a state of emergency, but it quickly became apparent the only solution was a complete evacuation, at least until they figured out exactly what they were dealing with. If they ever did. But even with warning, they couldn’t hope to get everybody out of Boston in time, and the highways had been jammed as far as Vermont for 72 hours now.

Of course, there were plenty of theories. Alien invasion. Terrorist attack. The wrath of God. (Though surely God would have taken the West Coast first?) But all the satellites showed was that strange, low-lying cloud. Cumulus Letalis. You didn’t have to be a classical scholar to decipher the Latin.

“At the end of the day, there are going to be thousands – if not tens of thousands - of listeners who either can’t get out of the city in time, or just plain don’t want to leave their homes,” Steve Carlton had told him, in private once the others had gone. “And while everybody else will be fighting it out to provide up-to-the-second disaster reportage… there will be a large proportion of the audience share who simply don’t want to know – who just want to bury their heads in the sand and hope that this all… blows over. Which, after all, it just might just do. That, Jesse, is where WXYW comes in – offering the perfect mix of adult contemporary classics to soothe the fearful spirit... and a steady, reassuring voice to becalm the troubled mind.”

Jesse wouldn’t miss Steve Carlton and all his inconceivable bullshit. His audience research that suggested listeners wanted a friendly, calm, natural, quietly humorous presentation style on the one hand, while the sponsors wanted an upbeat, non-ironic, in-your-face sales patter from their jock-read promo scripts on the other. His song sampling results that involved playing 30 second hooks down the phone to stay-at-home shut-ins, then building an entire playlist around their ability to Name That Tune in 29… rather than letting the experts – people like Jesse – put their heart and soul into selecting the kind of imaginative, entertaining and provocative music choices that had been delivering consistently strong ratings for a good ten, fifteen years before some idiot with a computer and an attitude decided they knew best. Some idiot who didn’t even know the difference between ELO and ELP. Didn’t even care. And people wondered why Jesse had volunteered to stay behind. There was nothing in this job for him anymore… but since Audrey moved out, the job was all he had.

At half past five, Jesse reads out the day’s Mad Mad Mondegreen email. Listener-suggested songs with amusingly misheard lyrics. “We’ve got to insult microwave ovens,” says Brody in Cambridge, from the song, ‘Money For Nothing’, by the immortal Dire Straits. As Jesse fires off the track, the first fingers of dawn unclench over Logan and Fort Dawes, and though the smother of cloud already hugs the streets beneath him, from atop the second tallest building in Boston, Jesse can still see the sunrise, and the stars winking out in the west. It occurs to him now that while below, the unknown is at last being discovered, as long as he remains up here in the studio… the lousy clouds might never even reach him.

He tries the switchboard for an outside line. He has some crazy idea about calling Audrey, doing his best to make some kind of peace. But the phones are down, and his cell has lost its signal. He eats a Twinkie from the vending machine and burns the roof of his mouth with vile black coffee.

At 6.13, the lights go out in the studio and the desk goes dead. A few seconds later, the emergency generator kicks in and Jesse makes a quick apology for the momentary loss of service, before restarting Dido. He turns his face into the sun that’s rising again - over the advancing cloud line this time - and closes his eyes ‘til the lids go transparent. He sneezes when he opens them again, and wipes snotty fingers on the side of his chair. What a pity Gerry Gerrity won’t be following him this morning.

By 7am, Cumulus Letalis has taken all the land Jesse could see, but still the Tower of Power remains above, so far unaffected. He wonders what would happen if he got in the elevator and punched ‘G’. He wonders how many people got out of the city in time, and how many remain below, down in the mystery. He wonders about Steve Carlton and Dana Oxbury, and that cross-eyed guy Mandy from Sponsorship & Promotions. He wonders about Audrey. He wonders about Audrey a lot more than he might have expected to. But as he watches a jet scar the immaculate blue above, he knows it’s far too late for regret. Particularly when the cloud is rising. He could open the studio window and step out across it now… though soon, those same studio windows will be sinking underneath, and only the transmitters will be visible from above.

“One final matter,” Steve Carlton had told him, suddenly unable to meet Jesse’s eyes, like even he knew the bullshit only went so far. “When… I mean, if something should happen, and you’re no longer able to keep broadcasting… I would of course expect you to switch to automation before… well, at the first sign of… aherm…”

But Jesse has his own plan for when that happens, and as the sunlight blinks through the advancing brume, he knows the time has come to put said plans into action.

“And now,” he says, killing David Gray mid-song and really smiling into that mic for the first time in years, “in a change to our regularly scheduled programming… here’s some tunes you won’t hear every day.” He switches off the playout computer and slips in a CD (if the studio still had turntables, he’d have brought vinyl), introducing a few records from his own… personal collection.

“This first one goes out to Audrey, wherever she might be – you always did love The Ramones, honey…”

4. The Ramones - Rock 'n' Roll Radio


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Randy Tuesdays #2: Before The Gender Swap

2. Randy & The Rainbows - Denise

Dominick "Randy" Safuto and his gang had a one hit wonder with their doo wop classic 'Denise' in 1963. 15 years later the song would be re-recorded as 'Denis', the song that gave Blondie their first big international hit. This much I know for sure. There are, however, a number of things I don't know about this record...

  • Listen to the intro of Denise. Is that Peggy Sue or what? Maybe four years after Buddy Holly's death, they were safe to steal that so blatantly...
  • Despite only ever having one hit single, Randy and the Rainbows are still together today... In fact, there are TWO different bands currently doing the circuit with that name: one featuring Randy Safuto and his brother Frank, one featuring another original member, Mike Zero. What terrible event split them asunder? No one knows. And was their longevity aided at all by the success of the Blondie cover?
  • Why did Deborah Harry change Denise to Denis... and not Dennis? On the surface, the answer is blatantly obvious. Dennis isn't a very sexy name. But still... is Denis French? Is that why Debbie slips into cod-French halfway through the song? Why is Denis sexier than Dennis anyway? Are French men just sexier in general?
  • I wonder if the change from Denise to Denis was at all influential to David Lynch & Mark Frost when they created David Duchovny's cross-dressing DEA agent Denis/Denise Bryson in Twin Peaks...?

And finally...

  • Does anyone prefer the original to Blondie's recreation? Or is this one of those rare examples of a cover version that improves on the original?

Sunday, 23 April 2017

April #2: Jarvis Feels Chilly

2. Jarvis Cocker & Chilly Gonzales - Tearjerker / The Belleboy

Room 29, the new Jarvis Cocker album, is sure to confound and delight old Pulp fans in equal measure. Lyrically, it is classic Jarvis: a suite of songs set in sumptuous and seedy hotel rooms, full of the sly wit, outsider chic and unashamed sleaze that set Pulp apart from all other Britpop bands. Musically, it's a whole new kettle of fish. No guitars. No drums. No keyboards... except for Chilly Gonzales's grand piano. Occasionally they drag a string section in, but mostly this is smoky lounge bar stuff with occasional deviations into classical piano. It took me about one and a half listens to make up my mind.

I love it.

Closest comparison I can make is when Elvis Costello made The Juliet Letters with The Brodsky Quartet... although this is much, much better.

If Room 29 isn't in My Top Ten Albums of 2017, it will have been a blinding year for music.

Couldn't choose between these two tracks, so give them both a listen. I hope you love them like I do.
You are such a jerk
You are a tearjerker
You don't need a girlfriend
You need a social worker...

Life could be a bed of roses...
If it wasn't full of so many pricks...
Who want to take it out
On the Belle Boy


Saturday, 22 April 2017

April #3 - Annie Get Your Gone

3. Annie Keating - All Gone

The Swede begins his latest post thus: "How often, dear reader, have you opened a post of your own with the phrase 'I don't know very much about this lot, but....', or words to that effect?"

Well, quite.

I know nothing of Annie Keating, other than that I found her 2013 album For Keeps in a charity shop and took a flyer. Turns out that was an excellent move as this is right up my street: folky country rock... let's be frank, Americana... reminiscent of Lucinda Williams or Kathleen Edwards, both of whom I love. Although Ms. Edwards appears to have put music-making on hold at the moment to open a coffee shop in her native Canada... yes, it seems she prefers Americanos to Americana.

Thank you. I'm here all week.

Anyway, in the meantime, Annie Keating makes a very welcome substitute...

Thursday, 20 April 2017

My Top Ten Songs About Prince

It's been a year since he died and I still haven't quite come to terms with it. I accepted Bowie's death, I knew Leonard wasn't long for this world. George was a shock, but not entirely. Prince though...

Of all the artists we lost last year, Prince was the one I felt the hardest. For about a month after his death, I listened to little else but his back catalogue on repeat. He was one of the biggest superstars of my life. Many of the others had been recording long before I was born, but Prince started making music in my lifetime, created some of the most amazing records I ever heard... and then was taken far too soon. I wanted to honour that again, but since I've already compiled My Top Ten Prince Songs, here's the next best thing...

10. The Bloodhound Gang - The Bad Touch

This one again. Sorry about that.

It's just, they're (dreaming) of doing "the kind of stuff only Prince would sing about"...

9. Jesus Jones - Right Here Right Now

It did seem in the early 90s like the world might well be changing for the better. When Jesus Jones wrote this, they proclaimed Bob Dylan's dream was coming true...
I saw the decade in, when it seemed 
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything

Then there's your Sign o' the Times
So... did the world wake up from history?

Did it heck as like.

8. Goldie Lookin' Chain - Guns Don't Kill People, Rappers Do

Witty Welsh rap. What's not to love?
Guns don't kill people rappers do,
From Bristol Zoo to B&Q,
I want to rap, I want to rhyme
Heard it in a song now I'm into gun crime,
Its a sign of the times like Prince changin his name,
Gotta have a shooter to be in the rap game,
Like Michael Ryan about to snap,
Guns don't kill people its just rap!
7. Missy Elliott - Work It

This is probably the first time I've featured Missy Elliott here, but I am a fan in small doses. I particularly like this one: always impressed by her ability to rap backwards. Wonder how she does that live?
You know Missy feel supa dupa
Prince couldn't get me change my name, papa
Kunta Kinte a slave again, no sir
Picture black sayin', "Oh, yessa, massa"
6. Beck - Debra

Beck's whole Midnite Vultures album was a huge departure from his earlier work and wears its Prince influence proudly. A lot of artists have been influenced by Prince musically, but this song also shows huge lyrical influence. It could be the b-side to Raspberry Beret. Speaking of which...

5. Clint Boon Experience - Not Enough Purple, Too Much Grey

I'll just slip this one in here and leave you to decide whether it's about Prince or not. It certainly sums up the post-Prince world to me.

4. Hot Chip - Down With Prince

I'm not always the biggest Hot Chip fan, but how can I resist when they channel the purple one?

3. Eminem - Without Me

Eminem, the self-proclaimed "worst thing since Elvis Presley", rarely has a positive word to say about any other artist (except, maybe, Dr. Dre). But while he cheerfully puts the boot into NSYNCH, Limp Bizkit and Moby in this track, he really can't bring himself to say anything bad about Prince, using him instead as a comparison for how long Marshall Mathers spent writing songs before he got his break.

2. Smog - Prince, Alone In The Studio

Bill Callahan's epic captures better than anything what made Prince a superstar. He was a perfectionist. He lived for his music, more than just about any other artist we've had in popular music. Not all of that music was perfect, but it was his life. More than food, more than sex, more than anything else... music was what mattered to him.

1. Prince - My Name Is Prince

And he is funky.

Of course, the irony of this song was: very soon after, he stopped calling himself Prince and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol just to piss Warner Brothers off. We all had to call him TAFKAP for the next eight years. But he was always Prince in our hearts.

Goodnight sweet Prince. I Wish You Heaven.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

April #4: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Crap

While the other half is insistent on poisoning our three year old's ears with the latest Now CD whenever she takes him out in her car, I have pledged to give him a broader musical education. So I've begun compiling CDs full of upbeat, quirky or sunshiney pop songs from the 50s to the present day and I stick them on whenever I'm driving him about. As previously discussed, he picks up songs very quickly, often recognising them from a few notes of the intro ("Daddy, is this Mr. Blue Sky?"), although when he sings along he rarely remembers more than the chorus. You have to be careful with your song choices though... Louise asked me why I'd picked "Crazy For You" by Madonna rather than one of her other earlier hits. Well, I didn't want him singing "Like a virgin" at nursery, did I? And Sexy MF is definitely off the plate.

4. The Carpenters - Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft

He does like this Carpenters oldie though (yes, yes, I know it was originally by Klaatu), particularly because of the funny "radio DJ talking to space alien" intro, and so I was chuffed to pieces when he started singing it in the bath last night. Until...

"Calling occupants of inerplantetary crap."

"No, no, Sam, it's 'craft', not... Calling occupants of interplanetary craft. Don't say... Can you say 'craft'?"


"Erm... 'craft'. CRA-FT."


"No, no, don't say... that's a naughty word, see, we don't say..."

"Well, daddy, there's nothing naughty about craps, just because they have pincers, they don't want to hurt you..."

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Randy Tuesdays #1: Where else am I going to start?

1. Randy Newman

Randy Newman is a mystery wrapped in an enigma with oxymoronic tendencies that lead to a serious dichotomy. On the one hand, he wrote some of the most razor sharp, acerbic lyrical throwdowns of the 60s, 70s and 80s: brickbats such as Rednecks, God's Song and Short People that took sarcastic songwriting to a whole new level. And let's face it, this particular track, written in 1972, is more appropriate today than ever...

On the other, he ended up writing heartfelt ballads for Pixar films, most notably Toy Story's You've Got A Friend In Me, a song guaranteed to force a lump into the throat of even the most hard-hearted cynic (i.e. me). Actually, I think that must be why Pixar gave him the job... and why he did it so well. I've resisted watching any of the Toy Story films for the last 20 years because of my severe Hanks allergy, but I finally relented for Sam's benefit and found them both enjoyable and moving... as long as I hammer nails into my ears whenever Woody speaks, I can really see their appeal. If you want sentiment without saccharine... yeah, Randy Newman was a good call.

Anyway, I've been a fan of our first and foremost Randy for a great many years, but the song that initially brought him to my attention was the glorious 80s pop sunbeam of I Love L.A., a recording that truly manages to have its cake, eat it, then throw the cake back up again... and go back for another piece. You know he's taking the piss, but you also know he genuinely loves the place. No song sums up the curious contradictions of Randy Newman better than this one...

Sunday, 16 April 2017

April #5: Why is Grandaddy's boat in the barn?

5. Grandaddy - The Boat Is In The Barn

I was very cautious about the Grandaddy reunion album. They were one of my favourite bands of the post Britpop era (saw them live at the Leadmill in Sheffield, early 00s), but I've struggled a bit with Jason Lytle's solo material. As Lytle is the driving force behind the band, I wasn't sure if he could really recapture that old Grandaddy magic again.

Well, after spinning the new record for a few weeks, I think it's fair to say he has. Last Place touches on familiar Grandaddy themes (nature vs. technology, the modern world making us obsolete) and is full to bursting with that curious mix of spacey guitars and sad Beach Boys harmonies. It's a worthy successor to their last album, 2006's Just Like The Fambly Cat, and in places even touches on the greatness of their masterpiece, The Sophtware Slump. (Lytle does like to test spellcheck.)

My favourite song at the moment is this one, a classic break-up record. I had to listen to it a while to work out why the boat was in the barn, but once it clicked, the metaphor was perfect.
I saw you sitting at a table by the water
And you were going through the photos on your phone
You looked so happy and relieved to be there all alone

Getting rid of all of me is what I figured
Delete, deleting everything that had occurred
That's when I backed away and headed out without a word

Saturday, 15 April 2017

April #6: "The silkiest chops in the singing game"

6: Lou Rawls - Street Corner Hustler's Blues / World Of Trouble (Live)

Someone famous once said, of Lou Rawls, that he had, "the classiest singing and silkiest chops in the singing game". Now that's a pretty bold claim about any artist, but you might give it a little more credence when you know who said it.

Francis Albert Sinatra.

And I reckon he knew a thing or two about classy singing and silky chops, don't you?

I've been a fan of Lou Rawls for some time now, and he's one of the few... the very, very few... recording artists that I'm interested in hearing a live album by. Generally, live albums... well, you had to be there. But a Lou Rawls live recording... well, you wish you had been there.

Rawls wasn't just a great singer. He was a glorious raconteur too. As evidenced on today's track from his 1966 album Live! I don't know exactly when or where it was recorded, but I would give my little toe to have been there in that club, watching this guy do his stuff...

Take a look in the dictionary under 'cool'. Lou Rawls will be staring right back at you.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

My Top Ten Na Na Na Songs

Whenever I write these lists, I end up talking a lot about lyrics. I've always been a lyrics man, ever since I was a lonely teenager sat with his headphones on studying the Steinbeckian stories of Bruce Springsteen, trying to puzzle out the puns of vintage Elvis Costello or wondering (in my 20s, sadly, as I came to him late) how Morrissey could write so incisively about my life when he'd never even met me.

But... there is an alternative. Those jubilant singalongs where the lyrics don't matter - all you need is a good nananana! Don't even start me on the sha-la-las, lalalas, shooby doos or woo-hoos...

Be warned, this Top Ten starts off scary... and then goes places you really won't want to believe.

10. Bananarama - Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye

Originally by Steam, who had an unfortunate habit of being photographed like this...

...hence why I went with the Bananarama version. Well, that and they have nana in their name.

9. Opus - Live Is Life
Na-na na na-na.
"Formed in 1973, Opus remain active today."

Just you try to sleep tonight with that little factoid pinging around in your cranium.

8. Blur - Charmless Man
Nana nana naa na-naa-aa...
I bet Damon Albarn knows his claret from his Beaujolais. 

7. King - Alone Without You
Na-na. Na n-na. Nana na na na n-na.
Ah, the 80s. So much to answer for. What do you get when you cross a quiff and a mullet? A quillet or a muiff? Surely you must be paulking!

6. blink-182 - All The Small Things
 Nana nana nana na nana naa. Nana nana nana na nana naa.
Always loved the video to this, where the pop punk rascals pretend to be NSYNCH.

5. The Beatles - Hey Jude

Little-remembered beat combo from the 60s. Apparently the lead singer went on to form Wings. Don't know what happened to the rest of them.

4. My Chemical Romance - Na Na Na

Before they imploded and Gerard Way converted to pseudo-Britpop solo albums (!) and comic book writing, MCR became one of the more interesting pop bands of the 21st Century. Emo? What's emo?

3. Wilson Pickett - Land Of 1000 Dances
Na. Nana na naa. Nana na naa nana na nana na. Nana na naaa.
Already featured (in far more detail!) in My Top Ten Mashed Potato Songs, but too good to miss out.

2. Pink - So What
Nana nana na na naa, nana nana na na.
I love Pink. And I don't care who knows it.

She does scare the bejeebus out of me though.

1. J Geils Band - Centrefold

John Warren Geils Jr (pictured above) died earlier this week at the age of '71. He was the lead guitarist of the band that took his name, although lead singer Peter Wolf co-wrote a lot of the bands biggest hits along with keyboardist Seth Justman. In the UK, they're really only known for one song... but what a song!
Na na nana na na. Na na na nana na na na.
Their harmonica player was called Magic Dick.That will be all.

This was a re-post (edited somewhat to act as a tribute to the late J. Geils) from my old blog (December 2010). The scary thing is, the original post was a Top 20. So be warned... I have a volume 2 on standby if you say anything too hurtful in the comments section...

April #7 - Rosie Wears A Pretty Dress

My sister used to have a sofa just like that.

7. Rosie Thomas - Pretty Dress

Another recent discovery which I owe to Whispering Bob. Described as "neo-folk" by the same type of people who go out of their way to over-pronounce the usually silent 'l' in the word folk. Plus, she's on Sub-Pop, so the musos will have to cock an ear.

Rosie comes from Michigan, is friends with Sufjan Stevens, and does stand-up comedy as well as singing and songwriting fine tunes like this one. Very Joni Mitchell, with a little bit of Kate Bush, and a third ingredient I recognise but can't quite place. Pretty Dress comes from her 2005 album If Songs Could Be Held, which is an awful title in no way indicative of the subtlety and sincerity of her tunesmithery. It's the classic tale of the gawky girl who wants to grow up into a princess, with a little Red Riding Hood imagery thrown in to suggest a darker ending than usual to this kind of song...

Put your red coat on and walk with the light in the woods
If it gets dark don't get scared
There's so much waiting for you
Cover up your ears and don't show them
'Cause you're much better than them

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Kenny Wednesday #10 - "I hope you're old enough to understand"

And so we reach the end of My Top Ten Kennies. The final post was set in stone from the start. Indeed, it was Kenny Rogers who inspired this feature in the first place, and with a little suggestion from Brian, we were off. The only question remaining was which Kenny Rogers song was mighty enough to bring Kenny Wednesdays to a close?

Perhaps the most obvious choice would be Ruby, the tragic story of a disabled Korean war veteran whose wife is stepping out on him, something he'd put a stop to... if only he could reach his gun. Based on a true story (although the soldier was a WWII vet who did end up killing his wife), Mel Tillis's song was originally recorded by Johnny Darrell, but it was Kenny who made it famous. HOWEVER, I already gave that one a pretty good showing in My Top Ten Ruby Songs.

My all time favourite Kenny Rogers song is his debut hit from 1968, the anti-LSD, counterculture classic Just Dropped In (To Check What Condition My Condition Was In), as memorably featured in my favourite movie, The Big Lebowski. But I featured that just a couple of weeks back on My Top Ten April Fool's Day Songs.

The Gambler was in contention for a while... I even have a soft spot for the Bee Gees-written Islands In The Stream (with Dolly), although Rob Brydon did his best to steal that from me. In the end though, there was only one choice...

10. Kenny Rogers - Coward of the County

As a kid, I always felt I was, to paraphrase Michael Jackson in one of his many matey chats with Sir Thumbs Aloft, "a lover, not a fighter". There were times when I was bullied, or beaten up, or just picked on by the bigger, harder kids... and in those times, Coward of the County was a great inspiration to me. I know that may sound like the corniest thing I've ever written here, but I honestly believed "you don't have to fight to be a man". Of course, the whole message of CotC is that sometimes you do have to fight... and I always told myself that if anyone ever hurt someone I loved in the way the Gatlin Brothers hurt Becky, then I'd step up like Tommy did and wipe the floor with them.

In reality, of course, I'd probably just have had my head kicked in. Or worse. So it's probably a good job it never happened.

And so Kenny Wednesdays are no more. But don't despair. I've been promising that I knew exactly what would replace this series once we reached ten, and so now it can be revealed...

It's time to get Randy!

Come back next week for the first instalment of Randy Tuesdays. Let's drop the big one... and see what happens.

Monday, 10 April 2017

April #8 - Here's One You Won't Like

8. American Authors - Believer

I have a pretty good handle on what type of songs to write about if I want a positive response in the My Top Ten comments section. What genres, what eras, what countries of origin. That in mind, I have a pretty good idea that my latest charity shop gamble will leave 90% of my regular respondents ice cold. I apologise for that in advance, but I think this is a pretty cool pop song.

Taken from the band's 2014 debut album, this is apparently one of their best loved tunes. I've not listened to the rest of the album yet, I just picked this at random and burned it onto one of my in-car comps. It's a great driving song, complete with shouty chorus and Friends-theme-tune-style handclaps. (Ugh - I know!) It's over-produced as most American alt-rock is these days, but I can even forgive it that.

You're really not going to like it though. Honest. I know you by now. That's OK. You don't have to pretend for me. I'm a big boy. I can take it.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

The Top Ten Songs I Hated When I Was A Kid #4

4. Culture Club - Karma Chameleon

When I started this series, I knew I'd have to write about this song... and I knew it would involve confessing to something I'm now pretty ashamed of.

I was a homophobic child.

There's no getting away from this fact. Like many of my age in the 80s, I viewed gay people with suspicion and said some pretty horrible things about them, through blind ignorance. It was only when I started working in radio (at 16) that I ended up meeting a lot of gay people, some of whom would become close, long term friends (three of the best friends I've had over the last 30 years, in fact) that my eyes were opened and my prejudice washed away.

But before that, there was Boy George.

I was 11 when Karma Chameleon hit the top of the charts and I hated it. Because there was George, a Boy dressed like a girl, and I really didn't like it. I can't take full responsibility for that: it was the attitude of the times, and only through the outspoken work of openly gay pop stars like George and Jimmy Sommerville did people's attitudes finally start to change. It would be a good few years before George Michael or Freddie Mercury (both of whom I adored back then) officially came out. And it took Barry Manilow till LAST WEEK to finally admit it. I realise now the horrible irony of hating a song which is essentially about accepting people without prejudice... because I was prejudiced myself. But at 11, it's hard to see the forest for the trees,

Having just listened to Karma Chameleon all the way through for the first time in ages, maybe the song has finally grown on me, as well as the message. Love that harmonica...

Friday, 7 April 2017

My Top Ten Existential Songs (Volume 1)

I've been off work ill for most of the week, fighting a head-cold of volcanic proportions... or man-flu, if you prefer. Lying there in my sick bed, in between sleeping and watching Twin Peaks to prepare for the new series in May, I had some time to ponder the big questions of life. Why am I here? What use am I to anyone? Will Pulp ever get back together?

 Here are ten tunes that ponder similar existential quandaries...

10. Bob Dylan - Blowing In The Wind

Let's start with his Bobness, still as relevant today as he ever was...
Yes, 'n' how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
 A song full of rhetorical questions... which always reminds me of Homer Simpson's response...

9. The Cure - Killing An Arab 

Robert Smith reads too much Albert Camus and ends up writing a song about The Stranger. Why did he do it?
I can turn
And walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I chose
It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing
8. George Harrison - What Is Life?

Can you think of anyone better suited to turn existentialism into a love song? 

The video, seemingly recorded after George's death in 2001, is really quite lovely.

7. Manic Street Preachers - Jackie Collins Existential Question Time

Oh, Mummy, what's a sex pistol?

6. Diana Ross - Do You Know Where You're Going To? (Theme From Mahogany)

Another one I remember vividly from my youth... though this was released in 1975. How many three year olds wonder where they're going to? (Beyond the toy shop?) I might have to ask my boy...
Do you know where you're going to?
Do you like the things that life is showing you?
Where are you going to, do you know?
Do you get what you're hoping for?
When you look behind you there's no open door.
What are you hoping for, do you know?
5. Radiohead - Fake Plastic Trees

Of course, there had to be Radiohead. Stick a pin in the Radiohead songbook and you'll burst an existential bubble every time. It wears me out.
But I can't help the feeling
I could blow through the ceiling
If I just turn and run

And if I could be who you wanted
If I could be who you wanted
All the time
All the time
4. Joni Mitchell - Both Sides, Now

It's not just clouds that Joni has been pondering...
I've looked at life from both sides now
From win and lose and still somehow
It's life's illusions I recall
I really don't know life at all
3. REM - Stand

Try this next week: consider your place in the universe. (Alternatively, consider how young Michael Stipe looks in this video.)
Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven't before

Now stand in the place where you work
Now face west
Think about the place where you live
Wonder why you haven't before
2. The Flaming Lips - Do You Realise?

OK, so along with Wichita Lineman and ThereIs A Light That Never Goes Out, I want this song playing at my funeral. I hope that's not too big an ask.
Do you realize that everyone you know
Someday will die?

And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know
You realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
1.Talking Heads - Once In A Lifetime

I really struggled getting this week's Top Three into order; any one of them could have taken the top slot. But come on, you don't get much more existential than this... do you?
And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go to?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right? Am I wrong?
And you may say yourself, 

"My God! What have I done?"

I called this post Volume 1 because I'm sure I've just scraped the surface of existential pop songs. Feel free to suggest some more big questions and I might do a volume 2 sometime...

Thursday, 6 April 2017

April #9: The Best Thing I've Heard This Week

Someone told me a story the other day about why The Hold Steady weren't releasing new albums at the moment, and why Craig Finn was solo. It sounded plausible enough: it actually sounded like the plot of one of Finn's own mini-widescreen indie movies set to song. I don't know if it was true so I'm not repeating it here. It doesn't matter, the solo albums are pretty damned brilliant. Much better than the last Hold Steady album, as it goes. Finn is a born storyteller, and nowhere is that more evident than on this cut from his brand new record, We All Want The Same Thing. It's kind of the title track, and it's far more blatantly a story-song than anything else on the album. Hell, two thirds of it are just Finn talking, telling that story.

But what a story. Best thing I've heard this week.

9. Craig Finn - God In Chicago

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Kenny Wednesdays #9: The Runners Up

With only one more Kenny Wednesday to go after this one, it appears I have a surfeit of Kennies. Time for a Top Ten of the ones that didn't quite make the grade (maybe because they're a Ken or Kenneth, maybe because I wasn't particularly enamoured with them in the first place), along with a nod to those who suggested them...

First though, thanks to JC for suggesting Kenn(ed)y by The Wedding Present, which is an all time favourite of mine, but... if I include that, I have to start thinking about The Dead Kennedy's, Kenickie, Kent and all manner of other things. Kendrick Lamar. Whoever he is.

10. Kenny - The Bump

I know I've been going on a lot lately about my immersion in all things 70s... but I think this is one you had to be there for. I was there in 1975: I was three. But still...

Charity Chic and Alyson wanted to hear it again though... and who am I to deny them?

9. The Julie Ruin - Party City

Here's one I found in my own charity shop pile, the debut album from The Julie Ruin: Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox and Kenny Mellman. 

This is probably my favourite track from the album because it features a little wordplay around record collections.

8. Kenny Hollywood - Magic Star

Joe Meek's instrumental hit Telstar was a huge hit in the 60s for The Tornados. But did you know there was an instrumental version recorded too? No? Well, you do now. (I bet Marie knew about this one.)

7. Frank Sinatra & Kenny G - All The Way / One More For The Road

I have two theories as to why Kenny G is loathed by the muserati.

i) As recently discussed over at Alyson's blog, musos can't stand anyone with a shaggy perm. In the case of Michael Bolton, they'd be absolutely right. In most other cases though... I beg to differ.

ii) The saxophone is an instrument that very much upsets guitar purists. I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps because it's seen as a grandstanding, show off instrument... or perhaps because it hints at jazz.

Anyway, I have absolutely nothing against Kenny G. That said, I only own one recording on which he parps that sax and wags that shaggy perm. It's from Old Blue Eyes's late stage Duets album, a CD I was very fond of when it came out. The tracks above are probably my two favourite Sinatra songs, and while the original versions are far superior, I think Kenny G puts on a pretty good show of "duetting" with the Legend... even though I very much doubt they were ever in the same studio.

This one goes out to Chris and The Swede who both wondered if I'd go there...

6. You Am I - Ken (The Mother Nature's Son)

You Am I are an Australian band I was first introduced to by my old Aussie blogging pal (now semi-retired, it seems), Deano. It was good to hear from him again with this suggestion.

5. Kenny Lynch - Up On The Roof 

I thought someone had suggested this particular Kenny, but I've lost track of the comment now: apologies if it was you. I remember Kenny Lynch as a stalwart of variety TV shows when I was growing up. He had a successful musical career before that, most notably with his version of Up On The Roof... which stopped the (far superior, sorry, Kenny) version by The Drifters being a hit in the UK.

Most bizarre of all though, he wrote the lyrics to John Carpenter's music for the title track (You Can't Fight) of Carpenter's movie Assault On Precinct 13, as recorded by Jimmie Chambers. 

4. Ken Boothe - Everything I Own

Classic, suggested by The Swede, disqualified for lacking the requisite NY. Lovely, lovely song though.

3. REM - What's The Frequency, Kenneth?

Another suggestion from Deano, also disqualified for obvious reasons, but still a top tune. 

2. Generation X - The Prime Of Kenny Silvers

A top story song, and a decidedly un-punk song from Billy Idol and Tony James's second album, Valley of the Dolls. A kind of glam/prog epic, it hearkens back to the kind of music punk was set up to replace... which probably explains why the album didn't do particularly well in 1979. A shame, because I love this track. It was a serious contender for the 9th Kenny, until a little birdie reminded me of this...

1. The Small Faces - Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Thanks to C for pointing out this week's Number One: and the official Number #9 in my Top Ten... otherwise, the spelling of this Kenney's name would have made him slip through the net. Not only was Kenney Jones the drummer in the small faces, but he also replaced the late Keith Moon in The Who.

Seriously, if your biography includes the words, "replaced the late Keith Moon in The Who", I think you can consider your life a success.

Only one Kenny left. No prizes for guessing who. But... which song?

Monday, 3 April 2017

April #10: Tragic Todd & Comic Todd

There are only two types of story, at least if you go by Shakespeare: comedies and tragedies.

Actually, some argue there's a third: histories, but they tend to be one of the former in disguise. Actually ii: if you study writing as much as I did in my misspent youth, you'll find there are many different numbers given to how many basic stories there are: 7, 10, twenty-something... but, as usual, I digress. Let's just stick with two for today, shall we?

Americana is one genre of music where storytelling is all-important and one of its foremost practitioners is the great Todd Snider, an artist who was introduced to me by the DJ Bob Harris. Many other favourite artists found their way into my record collection via Whispering Bob, so I was very sad to see his late Saturday night Radio 2 show end last week after 20 years. It appears to have been his decision to quit (he's still presenting his country show on the network) but I'm sure a large part of his decision will be down to the way Radio 2 have messed him around over recent years. He'll leave a big gap in my record collection... I even thought of doing a Top Ten Artists I Discovered Through Bob Harris... but then I decided no one else would be interested (not that that's ever stopped me before).

Anyway, back to Todd Snider, the storyteller. I'm showcasing two Todd story songs today, one a comedy (that really does make me chuckle), one a serious tragedy. You'll have to listen to them to find out which is which. Go on, I'm not going to do all the work for you...

10. Todd Snider - You Think You Know Somebody / Talkin' Seattle Grunge Rock Blues

Saturday, 1 April 2017

My Top Ten April Fool's Day Songs

Ten songs about April Fool's Day, along with ten amazing facts about the artists in question. But which ones are true and which ones are the APRIL FOOL?!?

10. Soul Asylum - April Fool

It was only after failing the audition to play bass in Soul Asylum that Kurt Cobain decided to form Nirvana. As a result, Soul Asylum's place in rock 'n' roll history is set in stone.

9. Aretha Franklin - April Fools

Following her acting debut in the film Blues Brothers, Aretha Franklin briefly considered taking the Kathy Bates role in the film adaptation of the Stephen King novel Misery. She was talked out of it by her good friend George Michael (with whom she duetted on the 1987 Number One, I Knew You Were Waiting For Me).

8. Patti Smith - April Fool 

When 90s singer-songwriter Patti Smyth had a big hit with her Don Henley duet, Sometimes Love Ain't Enough, the original Patti Smith sued her for the right to the pronunciation of her own name. When Patti the first won the case, Patti the second was forced to change the i sound in her name to a y sound to avoid confusion.

7. My Life Story - April 1st

Comedian and Pointless presenter Alexander Armstrong was a member of Jake Shillingford's My Life Story orchestra. He played trumpet on a number of MLS songs, though not, sadly, this one.

6. Del Amitri - April The First

Del Amitri's lead singer & songwriter Justin Currie is a distant relative of infamous Spitting Image puppet and John Major bit on the side, Edwina Curry. (Seriously, April Fool's gags aside... imagine going down in history as "John Major's bit on the side". You've got to have some sympathy for poor Edwina...)

5. Loudon Wainwright III - April Fool's Day Morn

Loudon Wainwright III is actually the fourth generation of Loudon in his family. He just thought III sounded cooler. Then he decided to mess with tradition and call his own son...

4. Rufus Wainwright - April Fools

Rufus wrote the lyrics to one of his best songs, Going To A Town, while under general anaesthetic for an operation on a particularly nasty ingrowing toenail.

3. Kurt Wagner & Cortney Tidwell (KORT) - April's Fool

Lambchop mainman Kurt Wagner was such a fan of Marvel's X-Men comic book in his youth that he wrote a fan letter to the book every month. In recognition of his dedication, writer Len Wein named an X-Man after him. Kurt Wagner: Nightcrawler.

2. U2 - April Fool's Day

Following the success of their 1983 hit New Year's Day, Bono and Thedge briefly considered recording a whole album based around days of the year. The project was soon abandoned, but this track did later resurface as the b-side to their 1987 release, In God's Country (not a big hit, probably because it was the SEVENTH single from The Joshua Tree). I'm not the world's biggest U2 fan, but I do think this is one of the best things they ever recorded.

1. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition - Just Checked In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)

My favourite April Fool's song doesn't actually have April Fool in the title. It does feature in the lyrics though...
Someone painted April Fool in big black letters on a Dead End sign
I had my foot on the gas as I left the road and blew out my mind
Eight miles outta Memphis and I got no spare
Eight miles straight up downtown somewhere
I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in
When Kenny disbanded the First Edition in the early 80s to go solo, several other members of the band went on to form New Edition and top the charts with the song Candy Girl.

I'll reveal the answers next week. In the meantime have fun guessing the April Fools...

Thursday, 30 March 2017

March #1: The Greatest Song In The History Of The Universe

If I was ever asked to go on Desert Island Discs, I'd have a real dilemma at the idea of choosing only eight records to take with me. I'd probably spend days on the selection and I would never be satisfied with it.

However. That bit at the end of the show where Kirsty Young asks the guest to choose just ONE of their eight songs... that bit would be easy.

The most perfect pop song ever written. The most amazing combination of vocal, instrumentation and lyrics. A song that engulfs me with emotion every time I listen to it.

1. Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman - by Glen Campbell

After the video, there's a story I wrote ten years ago, inspired by this song. You don't have to read it. It's not compulsory. There won't be a test. It won't be featured in the final exam. But I dug it out again recently and didn't think it was too bad. Like all writers, there are bits I'd do differently now, bits that don't quite work, but you can't spend your life rewriting old stories. Otherwise, Jimmy Webb would still be working on this one, and nobody would ever have heard it...

And I Need You More Than Want You

“Hi, is Raquel there?”

“I’d like to speak to Raquel.”

“Could you put me through to Raquel, please?”

“Yeah, I can hold while she finishes up on that call.”

“Well, will she be back in tomorrow?”

You were the only person I could ever talk to, you know that? I still remember the first time, once we got past all the phony sexy stuff – once we started to talk like real people… how easy it all was. Course, it was your job to keep me on the line as long as possible, but you sure caught on that all the purrs and the oohs and the moans, they’re weren’t gonna work with me. Not with me, honey.

And so you let me talk. About my wife and the kids. About how Hannah couldn’t even eat breakfast in the same room as me no more; how she’d cook my eggs then go sit out in the yard – or lock herself in the bathroom, rainy days. About Scott getting arrested down in Haysville for possession and distribution – near a playground too. About Caira, pregnant again at 15, and no wonder the way she dresses. About little Larry, stealing all those goddamn cars. You let me talk, and not once did you say how maybe it was all my fault. Not once.

“Aren’t you worried about your phone bill?” you asked me that one time. That’s when I knew you cared too. That’s when I let you in on the secret. This wasn’t costing me nothing.

You know, I remember exactly where I was, every time we spoke. The view from each and every pole. The angle of the sun on the sides of the buildings; a swirl of seagulls over the town hall clock. Clouds shaped like Australia; the rising smell of morning bacon and cars. That couple on the bench, like two budgerigars kissing.

“I’m just testing the connection, ma’am.”

“We’ve had reports of a fault on the line out these parts – you had any trouble yourself?”

“Well, if it snows again, it surely might bring them down. But there’s nothing else I can do ‘til that happens.”

Yeah, it’s only 99 cents a minute, but those minutes sure add up, don’t they? And somebody has to pay the bill. Still, the way I see it, it’s somebody different every time – and they can always dispute the charges, should they like. The county has a whole department set up to investigate that sort of thing – but I know those guys. They’re third-rate. Couldn’t find Colorado with a compass. No way they’re gonna catch me. Still, it was sweet of you to be so concerned, it really was.

You know the day I knew I meant more to you than just another john? I was up on the main road out of town. Jimmy thought maybe there was a line down that way, but I couldn’t find nothing. I realised I had me some time to kill, so I gave you a call. That was the day your ma died, but you needed the money so bad you couldn’t take it off. You sounded so relieved once you heard it was me – you didn’t have to put on that show no more. She was only 65; nobody saw it coming. At least it was quick.

I let you talk that afternoon, while the eighteen-wheelers grumbled by below, shaking the spider webs where the wires joined the pole. It was a cold, blue sky day, and when I extended my bottom lip, breath steamed the tip of my nose. I remember some little chubby bastard rolling by on his skateboard, sat with his feet up at the front, paddling his arms like crazy on the sidewalk.

It was that same night I told Hannah I was leaving. But things change so quickly, and never the way you imagine them.

“I’m sorry, sir, Raquel doesn’t work here anymore.”

“Would you like to talk to one of the other girls?”

“I’m afraid that’s just not possible—“

“Please, sir, if you won’t cease with these calls, I’ll be forced to report this matter to the authorities.”

It’s been almost a year now, but you know something, Raquel? Sometimes I still think I can talk to you. I’ll be up on the lines when the wind gets high, and that noise they make – if I close my eyes, it’s like your voice coming straight at me down the wires, from far, far away. And I always think, if I connect myself up right then – just dial some random number when I hear that whine – you’ll be there at the other end, ready to talk all over again. And though it hasn’t happened yet, honey – one day, yeah? One day…

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #8 - The Best POSSIBLE Taste

8. Kenny Everett - Snot Rap

I never got to hear Kenny Everett on the radio. He was sacked from Radio 1 before I was born and though he ended up on the station of my youth, Radio 2, in the early 80s, I never caught the Saturday lunchtime show on which he made an infamous joke about Margaret Thatcher... and amazingly kept his job (for a while). I wish I had heard him, because he would have been exactly what I wanted from a radio DJ back then.

I loved his TV show though, and watched it from an early age... even though I suspect I was too young for much of the material. I'm not sure how well it would hold up today, but when I was 12, I thought Sid Snot, Cupid Stunt, Reg Prescott and Gizzard Puke were hilarious. I loved the Snot Rap single too. And it still makes me smile today. Considering some of the wholly innocuous records the BBC cheerfully slapped a banned sticker on in the 80s, I'm amazed this got played...

And while we're on the subject of comedy Kennies, I'd be remiss if I didn't give a mention to Kenny McCormick, whose musical career has been rather hampered by his hood being zipped up too tight... and the fact that he keeps getting killed. Doesn't stop him though...

Only two Kennies to go. The last one has been set in stone from the start, but there's still time to sway my position on #9 if you act quickly. If I've forgotten your favourite Kenny... speak now or forever hold your peace.

Kenny G fans, this is your moment! Start your petitions now...

Monday, 27 March 2017

March #2: How To Ruin Your Life In 3 Minutes

2. The Magnetic Fields - Rock 'n' Roll Will Ruin Your Life

If the question is ever asked, "What's The Greatest Triple Album of All Time?" there really can only be once answer... since by their very nature, triple albums are mostly over-stuffed turkeys in need of gutting and trimming into a healthy one disc, low fat bird.

The exception, of course, is The Magnetic Fields' 1999 masterpiece, 69 Love Songs. If you're familiar with that, you'll knows its many Merritts... notably lead singer and songwriter Stephin Merritt, a man in a (Magnetic) Field all his own.

Well, many years later, with a few slightly less spectacular records under his belt, Mr. S(&)M has done it again.


I received his autobiographical 50 Song Memoir for my birthday. It's certainly an impressive package, and early signs show there's much here to love. Whether it'll reach the everlasting heights of 69 Love Songs, I'll have to get back to you on. If it does... well, this could be the greatest quintuple album in history. (Yes, 69 Love Songs crammed that many tracks onto 3 discs, but 50 Song Memoir chooses instead to devote a disc to each decade of Merritt's life thus far, one song per year. It's a pricey proposition at thirty quid, but if you've got a birthday coming up...)

Here's my favourite track thus far...

Rock'n'roll will ruin your life
Like your old no-goodnik dad
Kill your soul and kill your wife
Rock'n'roll will ruin your life
And make you sad
And I mean sad

Sunday, 26 March 2017

March #3: When Things Get Too Bad... Shoot Me With A Silver Bullet

The other night I had a panic attack.

This is not a gag. Nor is it one of those posts where the blogger bares his soul and throws himself on the pity of his readership. It's just a post about music. Sometimes though, to talk about what music really means, what it really does, you have to give a little bit of yourself.

I've not had a lot of panic attacks in my life. I could count them on my fingers and still have enough left to flick you the Vs. And I seriously doubt whether by many people's standards - people with far bigger anxiety problems than I have - what I class as a panic attack would really pass muster. I wasn't blowing into any brown paper bags.

Neither does it matter why I had it. Sometimes the pressures of life, work, being a parent, feeling alone... sometimes such things, and other things, get on top of a person. And when that happens, you might need a little something to get you through the night. For many, that might be a snifter or two of their chosen poison, but since I quit poison getting on for 17 years ago (a story for another time perhaps, it's not as dramatic as you might imagine), all I can rely on is some really good music.

Anyway, I was laying there in bed and I knew I wasn't going to get to sleep feeling like I did. And I also knew that music was the best / only option to soothe what ailed me. Luckily, in the era of the cloud, I didn't even have to get up to scour the CD shelves. I just had to type a name into the tablet and my panacea awaited. Long term readers might make an educated guess as to which name I chose...

They would be wrong.

3. Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band - Night Moves

Maybe some other time I'll explain to you why I chose Bob Seger. It's not tied to any particular story or moment in my life. It's a feeling, a sensation, a quality which is hard to explain... and I'm sure you won't get. It doesn't really matter. Bob Seger was exactly what I needed. Thank you, Bob.

Friday, 24 March 2017

My Top Ten Songs About Chuck Berry

After Tuesday's Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs, The Swede asked if there was any danger of a Volume 2. I'm sure this isn't quite what he meant, but hopefully it'll do...

It was inevitable Chuck would find his way into the lyrics of some of the musicians he influenced. Here are ten of the best Chuck references I could find...

10. Mott The Hoople - Honaloochie Boogie

Ian Hunter gets converted to rock 'n' roll...
Now my hair gets longer as the beat gets stronger
Wanna tell Chuck Berry my news
I get my kicks outta guitar licks
And I've sold my steel-toed shoes
9. Garland Jeffreys - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll

Jeffreys had been making music for over 20 years when a racist insult led him to record this track asking for a little acceptance, reminding the bigots that the black fathers of rock 'n' roll such as Chuck, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino paved the way for Elvis, Gene, Buddy and Jerry...

8. The Rainmakers - Downstream

Hey - remember the Rainmakers? Let My People Go-Go? Those guys. They didn't just have one record, you know.
Well, we're rounding St. Louis and heading for the coast
When we pick up Chuck Berry in a little rowboat
With one oar in the water and one in the air
A lightning rod for a white guitar
And lightning struck once, and lightning struck twice
And I said "If there's a God, He sure ain't nice"
And Chuck said "God is an Indian giver
I don't trust nothing but the Mississippi River"
7. Dar Williams - I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono

Obviously more a song about John Lennon than Chuck Berry ("I could sell your songs to Nike"), but Chuck does play a very important part...
When John called the wind an opera
Making love with every chakra
When he said her voice would carry
And when he whispered old Chuck Berry
Only then would Yoko set him free 
6. Tom Petty - My Life / Your World

Another top guitarist name-drops a tribute...
They came this mornin' with a dog on a chain
They came and took my little brother away
His generation never even got a name
My momma was a rocker way back in ´53
Buys them old records that they sell on T.V.
I know Chuck Berry wasn't singin' that to me
See also Christmas All Over Again, in which little Tom sends Santa his list...
Now let's see
I want a new Rickenbacker guitar
Two Fender Bassmans
A Chuck Berry song book
5. The Beach Boys - Do You Remember?

Brian Wilson remembers "the guys that gave us rock 'n' roll"... just a handful of years after it happened!
Chuck Berry's gotta be the greatest thing that's come along
He made the guitar beats and wrote the all-time greatest song...
I wonder which one he meant?

4. Amy Rigby - Don't Ever Change

Dar Williams and Amy Rigby in the same post... that's the power of Chuck Berry. Wreckless Eric fans, you'll find Mr. Rigby accompanying here too.
I saw my baby sitting there at the breakfast table
His hair a mess and he forgot to shave
And I wished that he would get up, make it all better
Stop drinking so much, learn how to behave
Then the radio was playing a Chuck Berry song
And he was looking at me asking what was wrong
I made a list of the things I could say
But he gave me a wink and it all went away, I told him
Hey I love you, you're perfect, don't ever change
Don't ever change
 First person to point out that Don't Ever Change was a Crickets song loses a point.

3. Richard Thompson - Guitar Heroes

The greatest guitarist I've ever seen play live is Richard Thompson. It was a solo show, but I swear it sounded like there were three of him. I've seen some amazing guitar players before and after, but nothing that quite matched RT.

Here he is showing his chops, playing tribute to some of his own guitar heroes... including Les Paul, Django Reinhardt, The Shadows and Chuck Berry. 

2. Jim Steinman - Love & Death & An American Guitar / Wasted Youth

Jim Steinman is, officially, as mad as ten lorries, so when I say to you that this spoken word story, first featured on his ill-fated solo album and then rechristened and reused many years later on Bat Out Of Hell II... when I say to you that this is Jim's greatest moment of pure insanity... that's saying something. Obviously inspired, in part, by Jim Morrison's lyrics to The End, this features Young Jim S. bashing the shit out of his guitar till it bleeds the colour of wild berries... yes, it's "Chuck Berry red"... before taking the poor guitar upstairs to his father's bedroom to bash the shit out of his old man.

The story doesn't end the way you expect.

1. ELO - Rockaria

Jeff falls for an opera singer....
She's sweet on WagnerI think she'd die for BeethovenShe loves the way Puccini lays down a tuneAnd Verdi's always creeping from her room
And she ain't gonna rock 'n' roll. How will he convert her?
Well we were reelin' and a rockin' all through the nightYeah, we were rockin' at the opera house until the break of lightAnd the orchestra were playin' all Chuck Berry's greatest tunes...
Roll over, Beethoven, indeed.

And that is why Chuck Berry will live forever.

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