Thursday, 31 August 2017

My Top ∞ Radio Songs #17: The Day I Didn't Meet All Saints

The worst job I ever had in radio was S&P. Sponsorship & Promotions. This was as close to working in sales as I ever got and it was way too close. But it was just after I'd completed my university degree so I was looking for more of a full time position than the night job I'd been doing while I was a student. (Yes, we've jumped ahead in time some. Why will soon become apparent.)

Sponsorship & Promotions, as the name suggests, involves selling clients name-checks and sponsorships around programmes and features on the station. So when you hear "The Breakfast Show - in association with Barney's Bacon Barms" or "Traffic & Travel with Terry's Tyres", it'll be S&P that conned some gullible local business into handcuffing their reputation to on air tat. But the S&P department doesn't just do this. They also create events and promotions that clients can get involved with such as competitions, roadshows and parties in the park.

It was this latter which I'd been given the job of organising in a kind of event-manager sort of way (even though I had no experience in event management and didn't want to do it) by a boss who didn't trust me at all. To the extent that she opened my personal mail in case I was abusing company privileges to blag freebies from clients. I wasn't: I was just getting my monthly comics delivery sent to work as there was no one at home to receive parcels. When I came in to work one day to find my comics spread out all over her desk, I was rather surprised, to say the least. I then had to prove that these were something I had bought and paid for myself. Nothing like a boss who trusts you.

Anyway: I'd been given the job of event managing the station's first Party In The Park, although to be fair, not a lot of event management was required since we were merely piggy-backing a council event that had already run successfully for a number of years. The council show involved heritage acts (you know: The Tremeloes, Showaddywaddy and other bands that had been at it for years with nary an original member in sight). We were taking the following day (using the same stage and equipment) to showcase some contemporary chart acts. The problem was that back in the day record companies were reluctant to let anyone who'd even have a whiff of chart success anywhere near a provincial radio station, so all we had to fill the bill were a bunch of hopefuls and wannabes. The kind of acts record companies would happily send to the farthest corners of the planet to open a milk carton in the hope it would increase their exposure... or just to get them out of the office. In return for giving a stage to this bunch of no-marks and ne'er-do-wells, one record company had taken pity on us and offered us their Next Big Thing as headliners. A band called All Saints who were destined to hit the charts with their debut single any day now. This meant very little to me at the time as I was in full-on Britpop mode so if it didn't have loud guitars and angry/earnest/world-weary young men... or Louise Wener... I wasn't really interested.

To be honest, I was dreading this event. I knew my boss would take a back seat and leave the heavy lifting to me, and that she'd only show up to accept the accolades if it went well... or to dole out the recriminations if it didn't. I really didn't have a clue what I was doing and I'd been getting by on bluff and luck in that job thus far. But this was going to be my big test, and a feeling in my water told me I was destined to fail. If I did, my career in S&P would be over. Not that this would be the end of the world, I still spent half my working day in programming, but the new boss there wasn't exactly my biggest fan either. We'll get back to him.

The night before Party In The Park, I went to bed early. But I did not sleep. How could I? This was going to be awful. Truly awful. Midnight. It hadn't been planned very well. 2 a.m. I had no idea what I was doing. 3 a.m. The whole thing was destined to be an unmitigated disaster. 4 a.m. I wasn't an event manager! I was just a twenty-something loser who answered the phones, made coffee, worked in the record library and did a bit of co-presenting! 5 a.m. Thousands of people were going to be gathering in front of a stage later on that afternoon in expectation of a big show and when it stank to high heaven, it would all be my faul...

I finally fell asleep a little before 6 a.m. The alarm was set for seven. At roughly twenty past six, I was awoken by the phone. 


It was my boss.

"We need you to come in to work. After what's happened, we're going to have to cancel the party in the park."

What? Cancel the... What had I done? What hadn't I done? Oh my god. This was worse than I'd ever expected. I couldn't get my head round it. The sheer weight of my own ineptitude drove me back down into the bed.

"What... what happened?"

"What happened? What happened? Haven't you heard the news? Princess Diana is dead!"

All Saints entered the UK singles chart for the very first time later that afternoon.

I never got to meet them. But, on the plus side, at least I didn't have to deal with my own personal disaster. Every cloud...

17. Jesse Malin featuring Bruce Springsteen - Broken Radio

As Elton John proved with his godawful remake of Candle In The Wind, you can twist the lyrics of just about any song to reflect a big event or tragedy. There are some lines in this week's radio song I could contrive to link to the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, but I'm not that crass. I'm not a royalist, I never gave much of a toss about Diana, Charles, the Queen Mum or any of them. It would be hypocritical of me to say I did... and frankly, the international outpouring of grief that followed her death made me ill. Bowie, Prince, Elvis: I understand the grief. They gave something of value to our lives. You'll have a hard time convincing me the royals ever did anything comparable.

However. A lady died in a car crash, and that's always tragic, especially when she's the mother of two young children. That's just awful, whoever you are. Rest in peace, Diana, I bear you no ill will. You may have lived your life like a candle in the wind, but you were no Norma Jean.

This is a sad song, but a very beautiful one too.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

My Top Ten Lauren Bacall Songs

"You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and blow"

Quite a few of the songs featured in My Top Ten Humphrey Bogart Songs also made mention of his fourth wife and the greatest love of his life, Lauren Bacall. So you might think I'd struggle to put together a Lauren Bacall Top Ten without some crossover. Au contraire...

10. Kevin Roth - Just Like Lauren Bacall
She knew 
Just what to do
When the boys came...
I will hold my hand up and say that I'd never heard of Kevin Roth until very recently. Iffypedia doesn't tell me much about him either, other than he's "is an American folk singer and Appalachian dulcimer player who has released forty-five albums".

FORTY-FIVE ALBUMS? Dude needs a bigger iffypedia page.

9. ABC - Love Conquers All

 Another of Sheffield's greatest pop bands...
When Bogart saw Bacall
He knew that love conquers all
8. Alabama 3 - Wade Into The Water

Time for your baptism... Alabama-style.
I got as drunk as Bogart, you were just smokin' like Bacall
7. Kitchens of Distinction - When In Heaven
Imagine what could happen after this drink: I'm wearing wings
Join Lauren Bacall, float up to heaven's gate
Wearing danger smiles. She'll meet with the stars
They'll break down doors
Those shining pearls float off in space
I'm raving beautifully
Well, you're definitely raving, Patrick.

6. Pavlov's Dog - Mersey

Smoothy 70's AOR. You can't beat it.
And all the other times
That I wished that you were here
And everything went crazy
When my head filled up with beer
I played that I was Bogart
And that you were my Bacall
And everything just shattered by curtain call
5. The Clash - Car Jamming

Meanwhile, Joe is certain he saw Lauren Bacall in a traffic jam. There are worse people to get stuck behind.

4. Thea Gilmore - Movie Kisses

Poor old Thea, such a cynic...
Here it is
The not-so-happy-ending
We've done
Our picket fence defending
We did Bogart and Bacall and now the spotlight's gone and anyway
All those movie kisses just last too long
3. The Wedding Present - You Jane

I doubt this will be the last time we'll hear from David Gedge in this particular series...
There’s really no need to explain
He’s Tarzan and you’re Jane
He’s Bogart, you’re Bacall
I’m sure he has it all
2. The Amazing Rhythm Aces - Hit The Nail On The Head

Another forgetten gem from the greatest decade.
I can tell you're from down south
The way you say ya'll
You look at me over your shoulder
Just like Lauren Bacall
1. Jesse Malin - Wendy

One of Jesse's very best. (And he'll be back again tomorrow with another one.)

Wendy took me with a smile
Country lips and Bacall style
Through Tangiers or to Bombay
Her self-portrait in the USA

    Which one makes you want to whistle?

    Tuesday, 29 August 2017

    The Top Ten Records I Bought Because I Fancied The Singer #1: Oh Carol

    OK, I've been threatening this one for a while. Plumbing new depths of embarrassment and shame, I will reveal ten records I bought purely on the basis of fancying the singer. Most of these will sound terrible to modern day ears; some of them even sounded terrible at the time.

    We all know there is an inextricable link between pop music and s-e-x. Especially as the main target audience for pop music is teenagers and arguably nobody is more interested in s-e-x than teenagers. (You may choose to dispute that. Who am I to judge?) There is a dark and serious side to this of course: the music industry has been exploiting young female singers for years (watch Charlotte Church's John Peel lecture for her opinion on that), but there's also a case that many female pop stars knowingly choose to exploit their own sexuality to increase their fame. Madonna is the most famous example of this, although curiously, Madonna chose to sex herself up after she'd established herself as a musical force: she was a right scruff-pot when she became famous. Which only goes to prove that it was musical talent which made her... and then her own choice to start flashing her bits to the world. Perhaps the same could be said for the more contemporary example of Rhianna. But when you watch a Rhianna video these days... or pretty much any video featuring a female chart act... they make the sexy videos of my own teenage years seem tame in the extreme. Even Madonna's more raunchy stuff looks quaint now.

    Of course, male artists aren't immune to all this. Some have even come out and complained that they feel exploited for their sex appeal. Poor dears. Take a look at a picture of Justin Bieber from 8 years ago and one from today. You think maybe his record company realised his fanbase had grown up a bit and weren't interested in My Little Pony any more? This is a drop in the ocean compared to the way the music industry has exploited young women over the years, but it's one step towards a weird kind of equality...

    All that said, I dread to think what pop stars will be doing in videos by the time my boy's a teenager. "It weren't like that back when I were a lad..."

    1. T'Pau - Sex Talk

    Carol Decker. Of all my teenage pop star crushes, you were the most devastating. The fiery red hair. The aggressive performances. The short skirts... oh yes, those skirts. But while there will be music I now shudder at the very thought of later in this list, I actually think I liked T'Pau for their songs almost as much as for Carol. I bought the Bridge of Spies album on the strength of the first two hits, Heart & Soul and China In Your Hand. I wouldn't call either of them classics, but there was much worse going on in the charts in 1987: the year the 80s went bad. At least T'Pau weren't pumping up the volume or jacking their bodies. At least they had some guitars!

    And let's not forget T'Pau were named after an obscure Vulcan from the original Star Trek TV show, and although I was never a Trekkie, at 15 I was watching the Shatner/Nimoy teatime repeats with glee.

    However, much as I might make a case for their music, or their sci fi roots, it was Carol who really sold me on T'Pau. In my memory, every TOTP performance featuring the band involved Carol in a micro-skirt with the cameraman lying on the floor and shooting up. Purely in the name of research, I have rewatched a lot of old T'Pau TOTP appearances while writing this post... and in none of them did Carol actually wear a skirt as short as I remember, and in none of them did the cameraman strain his back. This appears to be a false memory from the feverish imagination of a depraved 15 year-old. In fact, if you are so bored as to want to check out Carol's TOTP performances on youtube, you will find her trouser suits and big-lapelled, shoulder-padded jackets to be egregious fashion crimes, even for 1987. The only time she wears anything remotely like I remember... in the video for the single Sex Talk. Which I bought, even though it was 6th single from the album. (It had, apparently been released before the album with the alternative title 'Intimate Strangers', but I never knew this, and neither did the charts.) I suspect it was the video that persuaded me to make this purchase of a song I already owned on the LP. The single was different: a live version as featured in the video. I doubt that would have persuaded me; I generally can't be bothered by live tracks. This was Carol Decker singing about s-e-x though (something I still knew nothing about at 15... and arguably haven't learned a whole lot about since) and to top it off, she even mentioned Spider-Man in the lyrics! This was my kind of woman: I'm telling you, we were destined to be together.

    Strangely, that never happened.

    Sex Talk remains my favourite T'Pau song, and it's probably the only one I would take a punch for these days, particularly as their subsequent albums (which I bought out of duty rather than love) did very little for either me or the charts.

    More of these will follow. And they will plumb depths this blog has never plumbed before.

    In the meantime, I'd love to hear about the records you bought purely because you fancied the singer... either in the comments box or, preferably, in your own blog (if you have one: if not, set one up so you can embarrass yourself in a public forum like I do).

    Monday, 28 August 2017

    The Glorious 10th: Hello Update

    So we've reached (approximately) the halfway point on the Glorious 10th Hello Challenge: time for a quick update.

    So far you have guessed 6 of my Top 10, and one of you (I think) has correctly identified my Number One (though a number of you have guessed that it will be included). Sadly there's no Status Quo (sorry, Jez) as despite them naming the album above 'Hello', they never bothered to write a title track for it.

    Anyway, here are some clues for the ones still outstanding...

    10. A very angry man who seems pretty sweet when you hear him talking on the radio.

    9. A band that were a shadow of their former self after the loss of a key member. Still managed the occasional gem though.

    8. A forgotten Britpop band formed by half of a more famous group.

    4. The one you won't get because it's so obscure even I hadn't heard of it until I took a shot in the dark. It will be my pleasure to introduce this artist to you on the 10th.

    Let's see if any of that helps.


    There are 22 artists pictured in the header I created to accompany this feature. How many can you name...?

    And finally, here's another great Hello song that sadly I couldn't include in the Top Ten because it wasn't called simply 'Hello'. I can foresee the rules to this competition evolving with time...

    Saturday, 26 August 2017

    NEW ENTRY: They made The Shaggs sound like Yes...

    I'm continuing to work my way through Stephin Merrit's audio-autobiography, 50 Song Memoir, one disc at a time... though I appear to have got stuck on disc two because it's bloody excellent, particularly the years '77 - '80. I've already featured '80 London By Jetpack here, and included '79 Rock 'n' Roll Will Ruin Your Life in the ICA I did over at JC's place. '77 may be the best "I hate you" song ever written and I will find the appropriate place for it soon, but today I have to talk about this...

    The Magnetic Fields - The Blizzard of '78

    One ten year old was found after three weeks
    In a snowdrift ten feet from his door
    Some fell asleep in their cars and awakened no more

    25 people died shovelling snow
    Have that done by somebody you hate
    166 looters arrested, but wait

    I spent the blizzard of '78
    On a commune in Northern Vermont
    With all the Isaac Asimov anybody could want...

    I'm sorry, but if those aren't the best opening lines to any song you've heard this year, then I want to know what you think is better.  But wait...

    This isn't actually a song about a blizzard at all. It's about Stephin Merritt's first forays into popular music at the tender age of 13. And the lyrical references are beyond sublime... if also very, very obscure. The musos among you will surely get a chuckle.

    Music was very much not allowed
    So we we said, "Hey kids, let's start a band!"
    Proof that Ganesh loves us
    There was no tape deck at hand

    The first band I'd had was called "One and a Half"
    We were a duo, technically
    So if Tonto's Expanding Head Band was a band
    So were we... 
    It gets better though. To whit:
    I played guitar, Chris played tin cans
    Caroline played tambourine
    Chris was 11, Caroline 12, I 13

    We called ourselves "The Black Widows"
    We weren't the last nor the first
    But we were almost certainly by far the worst

    We made The Cramps sound orchestral
    That's an achievement, I guess
    As for rehearsal
    We made The Shaggs sound like Yes
    I dunno. Maybe this is just the kind of thing which only appeals to me because I'm obviously a bit weird, but The Blizzard of '78 has become one of my favourite songs of the year. Even though Merritt has chosen to record the music for it as though it's being played by himself and his rubbish pre-teen friends.

    I call that genius. Your mileage may vary...

    Thursday, 24 August 2017

    My Top Ten 'Doctor Doctor!' Songs (Volume 1)

    Doctor, Doctor, I think I’m a goat!
    How long have you felt like this?
    Since I was a kid!

    Doctor, Doctor I think I'm a bridge
    What's come over you?
    Two cars, a large truck and a coach.

    Doctor, doctor!  I keep thinking I'm a dog.
    Take a seat.
    I can't, I'm not allowed on the furniture.

    Ah, the humble 'Doctor, doctor' joke... is it a relic of simpler times, or do you still feel the urge to try one on when you visit your G.P.?

    Here's ten songs where more whinging pop stars try to get help from the NHS. You'd think they would be able to afford BUPA...

    10. UFO - Doctor, Doctor
    Doctor, doctor, please
    Oh, the mess I'm in
    Doctor doctor, please oh, the mess I'm in
    She walked up to me and really stole my heart
    And then she started to take my body apart
    One of those awful organ theft scams, obviously.

    9. Skeeter Davis - Prescription For The Blues

    Skeeter is looking for a doctor who'll help put her out of her misery...
    Just like a little baby all night night I cry
    Now doctor if you can't cure me why I just as soon to die
    So give me something poison, doctor won't you please
    And then I'll sign a paper sayin' I died with heart disease
    Oh doctor, doctor, write me a prescription for the blues
    She probably needs to go to the Netherlands.

    8. City Boy - Surgery Hours (Doctor, Doctor)

    City Boy take a visit to the Carry On Doctor...
    Oh, Doctor, Doctor, soothe my aching knee.
    Higher, higher if you please
    I'm sure my temperature's running so low I could freeze.

    Have you got something to warm me?
    It gets worse. (In a good way.)

    And what was their doctor's phone number? 5705, obviously.

    7. Talking Heads - Creatures Of Love

    David Byrne: definitely someone in need of a check-up... from the neck up.
    Doctor, doctor, tell me what I am
    Am I one of those human beings
    Well I can laugh or I can learn to think
    So help me now to find out what I feel...
    You need a doctor of philosophy mate. Let's not even talk about the time you went to the docs because you were Making Flippy Floppy...
    Doctor, Doctor
    We have nothing in our pockets
    We continue
    But we have nothing left to offer
    Faces pressed against the window
    Hey! they are just my friends
    Check this out don't be slick
    Break our backs it goes like this . . .

    6. Harry Nilsson - Coconut

    Today's life lesson from Harry... don't drink lime and coconut together.
    "Doctor, ain't there nothin' I can take?"
    I said "doctor, to relieve this belly ache"
    I said "doctor, ain't there nothin' I can take?"
    I said "doctor, to relieve this belly ache"
    Milk of Magnesia.

    5. Pink - Don't Let Me Get Me

    Poor Pink. So hard being a multi-millionaire pop princess... especially when people keep comparing you to Britney Spears!
    Doctor, doctor, won't you please prescribe me somethin'
    A day in the life of someone else?
    Cause I'm a hazard to myself
    I know the feeling.

    4. Paul Simon - Allergies
    Doctor, please
    Doctor, please
    Open up it's me again

    I go to a famous physician
    I sleep in the local hotel
    From what I can see of the people like me
    We get better
    But we never get well
    You've got to feel sorry for Paul Simon's doctor... that's got to be a full-time job!

    3. Rick Springfield - Bruce

    Then there's the tragic case of Rick... so much in Bruce's shadow, he has to go to his doctor about it.
    Doctor, doctor you gotta help me yeah
    You gotta make it right for me
    It seems this other man's name has been following me around
    And it just won't let me be
    You see I got this name and he's got this name too
    And you know they're kinda close only a blind crazy fool
    Would think I was him it's like saying green is blue
    But let me tell you brother it started being a bother
    When he made the cover of Time magazine
    Never mind, Rick, you made a top tune out of your troubles! I'll always remember you for that.

    2. Robert Palmer - Bad Case of Loving You (Doctor, Doctor)

    In which Batley Bob falls badly for his beautiful (saw)bones.
    Doctor, doctor, give me the news
    I've got a bad case of lovin' you
    No pill's gonna cure my ill
    I've got a bad case of lovin' you...
    Restraining order.

    1. The Young Rascals - Good Lovin'

    Another one I owe to Bruce Willis, I'm afraid, who did a memorable performance of this track in one of my favourite episodes of Moonlighting. Another Bruce also had a crack at it. The original was never a hit in the UK, but it was a Number One on the other side of the Atlantic. Always loved it...
    I was feelin' so bad,
    I asked my family doctor just what I had,
    I said, "Doctor,
    (Doctor )
    Mr. M.D.,
    (Doctor )
    Now can you tell me, tell me, tell me,
    What's ailin' me?"
    (Doctor )
    He said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah,
    (Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah)
    Yes, indeed, all you really need
    (Is good lovin')
    Not sure you can get that on prescription though. Believe me, I've tried.

    This was Volume 1 because I could easily go another ten. Bunch of hypochondriacs, these pop stars. Any ideas for what might be in Volume 2...? (Other than The Thompson Twins, who were just too obvious, even for me.)

    Wednesday, 23 August 2017

    My Top ∞ Radio Songs #16: Is There Anybody Out There?

    I've lost touch with most of the people I knew in the early days of my radio career. This was long before the internet and facebook and all the little social media tricks that allow me to keep tabs on the people (I liked) that I worked with in my latter days at the station. Ironically, four of the best friends I made in that job are supremely anti-internet and have no social media presence at all. I do try to keep in touch with them the old-fashioned way, but you can't do that with everyone. And of course, some of the people I am still connected to online I really have no reason to stay in touch with. We were never that close in the first place, but in the first flush of social media, our affections were profligate.

    Thirty years ago though, if someone left your workplace, you said goodbye to them most likely for good.

    I tried googling the first DJ I ever worked with, but he has the same name as Aphex Twin so that's all the internet will give me. He left the station six months into my career. The DJ who briefly replaced him on (what I still think of as) my Saturday morning show sadly died in 2008 from a viral infection, aged just 46. I managed to find his obit online, but again I'd lost touch with him 20 years ago. I've mentioned before how another of the first DJs I ever worked with (he presented the show before ours) went on to a career in television comedy as a famous impressionist. Every time I see him on TV I remember how nervous he used to be, presenting that Saturday breakfast show, how he'd shake in his chair when the mic went live. I guess he must have conquered those nerves.

    I worked with so many good people during my time in radio, most of them lost to me forever. Not that it'd be practical to stay in touch, especially not for someone as anti-social as me. But it's weird how one day someone can be a really good friend and a big part of your life... and the next they can be distant strangers.

    I worked with a few absolute arseholes as well. We'll get to them. Oh yes.

    16. Steve Earle - Satellite Radio
    Is there anybody out there? One-two-three on the satellite radio?
    Big daddy on the air, are you listenin' to me? On the satellite radio.
    At the galaxy's end where the stars burn bright are you tunin' in and turnin' on?
    Is there anybody listenin' to earth tonight on the satellite radio?
    This radio song seemed appropriate today, plus it's a favourite. And Steve Earle made my day last week by calling out Donald Trump in a Rolling Stone interview...

    "I don't see him finishing the term. I don't see how he does it. Although it's hard to predict what this guy's gonna do. We've never had an orangutan in the White House before. There's a lot of "What does this button do?" going on. It's scary. He really is a fascist. Whether he intended to be or not, he's a real live fascist. That's what's going on."

    Gotta love Steve Earle.

    Tuesday, 22 August 2017

    My Top Ten Humphrey Bogart Songs

    Another new feature. I pick a famous actor or actress, then find ten songs which link to them one way or another... and try to explain the link in as few words as possible.

    We're starting with Humphrey Bogart because he is a legend. Not the greatest actor ever, but certainly one of the greatest movie stars. This guy had charisma, attitude, presence by the bucketload. He was a tough guy, sure, but he knew how to take a beating too. And while the kids of today probably wouldn't even know his name, the songwriters of yesterday couldn't stop writing about him. I could probably have made this a Top 20, just from songs that mention him by name (I won't be as direct with every star I choose), and I didn't even have to go to Nik Kershaw.

    10. Peter Hammill - No More (The Submariner)

    Get ready to have you brain fed through a Van der Graaf Generator. Prog off!
    Oh! To be King John or Douglas Bader,
    Humphrey Bogart or Victor Mature!
    Which one is false and easy?
    Which one harder?
    9. Hall & Oates - Heavy Rain

    Anyone who doesn't dig Hall & Oates, well... when you're slapped, you'll take it and like it.
    We've seen a million faces
    All staring at you and me
    But just like Humphrey Bogart said
    Before he passed out on his bed
    Here's looking at you kid
    And the rocky road ahead
    8. Melissa Etheridge - Watching You

    Probably one I should haved saved for volume 2 of My Top Ten Stalker Songs...
    Sure I'm alright
    No I'm not very cold
    Every now and then I can feel the subway heat
    So go on inside
    I'll leave you alone
    Anyway Bogart's on in the window down the street
    And I gotta do something
    7. Roxy Music - 2HB

    2HB? To Humphrey Bogart. Thanks, Bryan.
    Here's looking at you kid
    Hard to forget
    Here's looking at you kid
    At least not yet
    Your memory stays
    It lingers ever
    Will fade away never
    6. The Good Rats - Tough Guys

    Lots of famous tough guys from the golden age of Hollywood pop up in this Good Rats song, but Bogie takes centre stage...
    Bogie, I've always dug your crowd
    The fat man and Peter
    And Claude and the rest

    Play it again, Sam
    These falcons have gone
    To their nest
    Oh, yes
    5. The Beautiful South - I May Be Ugly

    I pulled this one out for My Top Ten John Hurt Songs, but it's too good to ignore here...
    He dreamt of those old-fashioned movies
    Where Bogart gets the dame
    But a lorry load of Lorre
    Is still the score of pain
    "A lorry load of Lorre"... that's some top alliterative punning right there.

    4. Suzanne Vega - Freeze Tag

    Two kids mucking around in a playground as winter draws in...
    You stand
    With your hand
    In your pocket
    And lean against the wall
    You will be Bogart
    And I will be
    3. The Donnas - Pass It Around
    But there's always someone who's gotta spoil it for the rest of the gang
    You're such a little Bogart and I'm sorry but you just can't hang
    Why don't you pass it around
    Don't bring the party down
    If you don't pass it around
    We'll run you right outta this town
    I had to Urban Dictionary this one...

    "To keep something all for oneself, thus depriving anyone else of having any. A slang term derived from the last name of famous actor Humphrey Bogart because he often kept a cigarette in the corner of his mouth, seemingly never actually drawing on it or smoking it."

    See also Little Feat - Don't Bogart That Joint.

    2. Al Stewart - Year of the Cat
    On a morning from a Bogart movie
    In a country where they turn back time
    You go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre
    Contemplating a crime
    She comes out of the sun in a silk dress running
    Like a watercolor in the rain
    Don't bother asking for explanations
    She'll just tell you that she came
    In the year of the cat
    Definitely Al's finest moment. (I wonder if I could have managed a Peter Lorre Top Ten?)

    1. Bertie Higgins - Key Largo / Casablanca

    Two for the price of one. Another couple I owe to Wogan, I suspect. No idea how else I'd remember these songs. The interweb informs me that "Bertie Higgins is one of China's most requested American entertainers". Good for him.
    We had it all
    Just like Bogie and Bacall
    Starring in our old late, late show
    Sailing away to Key Largo...

    If you think I've missed any obvious ones out... they might crop up in volume two of this series... so you might be able to guess who's coming next.

    Feel free to leave a comment, but remember: people lose teeth talking like that. If you want to hang around, you'll be polite.

    Sunday, 20 August 2017

    My Top 90 Mid-Life Crisis Songs #2: Mr. Tanner

    Imagine you'd wanted to do something - to be something - since you were a small child. Imagine you'd devoted a large part of your adolescence to honing a particular skill, and a large part of your 20s trying to turn your passion into a career. Imagine everyone told you you were really good at it, that you kept getting close... positive rejections, promised offers that never became reality, encouragement from professionals in the same field.

    When do you stop dreaming? When do you call it a day? Because, realistically, you have to at some point. You might be 30, you might be 40... you might be 90... but at some point, you have to accept the reality of the situation. It's not going to happen.

    2. Harry Chapin - Mr. Tanner

    Mr. Tanner is a dry-cleaner from a small mid-western town with an exceptional baritone voice. All his friends tell him he should try it professionally, so one day he does. He saves up the money and books a ticket to New York to perform for a concert agent.

    Harry Chapin wrote this song after reading particular scathing newspaper reviews of a singer's debut performances in New York.
    Mr. Martin Tanner, Baritone, of Dayton, Ohio made his
    Town Hall debut last night. He came well prepared, but unfortunately
    His presentation was not up to contemporary professional standards.
    His voice lacks the range of tonal colour necessary to make it
    Consistently interesting.
    Full time consideration of another endeavor might be in order.
    Mr. Tanner goes back home to Ohio and never performs again...
    Excepting very late at night when the shop was dark and closed.
    He sang softly to himself as he sorted through the clothes.
    This blog is my shop, very late at night.
    But music was his life, it was not his livelihood,
    And it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good.
    And he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul.
    He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole.

    Although Harry Chapin died in 1981, his 1974 lyrics to Mr. Tanner were recently turned into a children's book by the illustrator Bryan Langdo.

    Friday, 18 August 2017

    My Top Ten Bowling Songs

    Fuck it, dude... let's go bowling.

    (Special mention to Bowling For Soup, the only band to ever read one of my blog posts and tweet a reply about it. Pity they never wrote a bowling song.)

    10. The Blue Nile - High

    Bowling alleys as a metaphor for the modern malaise? Yes please, Paul.

    In the bowling alleys
    In the easy living
    Something good got lost along the way

    9. The White Stripes - Red Bowling Ball Ruth

    What a racket. In a good way, of course.

    8. Donald Fagen - Miss Marlene

    Now we know where Donald Fagen spends his Saturday nights...

    Whether straight or hammered
    She was the best in town
    When she released a red ball
    All the pins fall down

    Can't you hear the balls rumble?
    Can't you hear the balls rumble?
    Miss Marlene
    Were still bowling
    Every Saturday night
    Saturday night

    7. The Auteurs - Showgirl

    Luke Haines knows how to show a girl a good time...

    I took a show girl for my bride
    Thought my life would be right
    Took her bowling, got her high
    Got myself a showgirl bride

    6. The Handsome Family - Bowling Alley Bar

    When Brett and Renee are on fire, they can't be beaten...

    Dented cars make me think of you
    Sitting on a red leather stool
    Drinking with your sunglasses on
    In the bowling alley bar

    And the sound of crashing pins
    Behind us when we kissed
    The night I wrecked my father's car
    Behind the bowling alley bar

    5. John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John - Summer Nights

    Can't listen to this without remembering that time Adam Buxton interviewed Paul Weller...

    Took her bowling
    In the arcade
    We went strolling
    Drank lemonade
    Do you think
    This rhymes with laid?

    4. Camera Obscura - Let's Go Bowling

    More Glaswegian heartbreak from Tracyanne and the gang...

    Anyway, I got myself some bowling shoes
    An' they are all that I can see
    With all my might I scored a strike
    My friend you wouldn't believe
    My teenage years were wasted all on me

    Yeah, I can relate to that last line.

    3. Lambchop - Let's Go Bowling

    Musically, this wouldn't be out of place on The Big Lebowski soundtrack.

    Lyrically: it is devastating.

    Put that camera away
    Take no pictures of the ruins of our life
    That died without a fight and oh
    We're doing everything just right
    Except for touching and for holding and consoling
    Let's go bowling

    2. Elvis Presley - Down In The Alley

    Originally recorded by The Clovers in 1957, Elvis brought a desperate energy to it that lifts it above much of the soundtrack fodder he was recording at the time. I love the anoraky detail you can find on iffypedia about old Elvis songs: "Presley recorded it between 4 and 7 AM in the early morning of May 26, 1966 at the May 25—28 studio sessions for RCA at the RCA Studio B in Nashville, Tennessee". Did this guy ever sleep?

    Janie, Janie, Janie, Janie, Jane Jane
    Down in the alley, just you and me
    We're going bowlin' till half past three
    Just rockin' and reelin', we'll get that feelin'
    Down in the alley, oh baby gee

    1. Camper Van Beethoven - Take The Skinheads Bowling

    Of course, there could only be one Number One on this chart. The Manics do a pretty faithful cover too. From the album Telephone Free Landslide Victory. Mark E. Smith would be proud.

    Maybe it's a metaphor for racism, maybe it's just nonsense. Either way, it scores 300.

    Which one is right up your alley?

    Thursday, 17 August 2017

    My Top ∞ Radio Songs #15: The Saturday Boy

    My first job then: answering the phones and making coffee on the Saturday morning show, 9 till 12.

    A few things to say about that. First the phones. Nowadays, presenters can operate the switchboard from the same desk they drive the music and mics. Back then, the switchboard was in another room, grandly monickered MCR... no, not My Chemical Romance, but Master Control Room. Which makes it sound like something out of a Bond film... when actually, it was far more Thunderbirds.

    I will talk about answering the phone in much more detail soon, since it became a big part of my job when I started working on the late night Phone-In show. I will also talk about MCR in much more detail, since I spent quite a bit of time in there over the years... just me and the ghost. (Oh yes, we will talk about the ghost.) I may even dig out some old photos from the attic to give you more of a flavour of the place. Orange hessian is all you're getting today.

    That first switchboard didn't last long. I suspect by 1988, it'd served its time well. It may even have been in there since the station opened in '75. Big clunky buttons you had to force down with your thumb to put the caller on hold. Tiny red flashing LEDs. A phone with a long, long cord. Yes, kids, phones used to have cords. You don't know you're born. It was soon replaced by an ultra-modern white plastic one with both red AND green LEDs. The future truly arrived once I started working in radio.

    And then the coffee. I'm not sure I'd ever made anyone coffee before I started working in radio. I'd certainly never drunk it. Although my dad, in later years, became quite the coffee aficionado, I don't remember him drinking when I was a kid, and my mum certainly didn't. We were a house of tea drinkers. How the hell was I supposed to make coffee? I remember the girl who I was replacing had to show me that. Boil the kettle. A spoonful of Nescafe. Powdered milk. Stir it or the bits won't dissolve. Eventually the station got a fridge and real milk. That made my job so much easier. And when the vending machine arrived... well, for a while I thought it was going to make me redundant. I had tremendous sympathy for the Luddites, smashing those looms. How we all marvelled at the vending machine. It even had a button for Beef Tea! 

    (Don't. Just don't. Gravy: yes. Beef Tea: never. Bovril, this was not.)

    I didn't drink coffee till I started working in radio. It was working nights that got me started. I didn't drink alcohol either. I know, pretty unusual for a 16 year old, even in 1988, but I was stubborn. If I saw all my mates running towards something, I ran the opposite way just to be contrary. Remember, I was the kid who steadfastly refused to get into The Smiths, just because my mate kept telling me I'd love them. 

    The alcohol came later as well.

    In 1988, I was in that weird hinterland between childhood and adulthood. (Of course, when I look at the average 16 year old now, I realise how far away adulthood really was. At 45... I'm still waiting.) Coffee, alcohol, scenes of a sexual nature... all these things lay ahead of me. And radio would give them all to me... and not, on the whole, for the best.

    The clearest memory I have of this being a major crossroads in my life was the Saturday morning I had to go into work late because I had a piano exam. (The jock forgot I'd told him the week before I was going to be late, so the first half hour of his show was, "Where the hell is Rol?") It's weird though... In my memory, piano lessons were something I did as a kid. Radio was something I did as an adult. But there was a time when both existed simultaneously. Hard to comprehend now.

    15. The Loose Salute - Turn Your Radio Up

    It's also hard to comprehend Slowdive & Mojave 3 drummer Ian McCutcheon forming a band that sounds like The Loose Salute: jangly West Coast Americana and quite lovely too.

    Wednesday, 16 August 2017

    My Top Ten Elvis Songs

    One of my earliest memories is of my mum crying as she closed the living room door, leaving me in the kitchen wondering why. That was 40 years ago today. I was five years old and I'm not sure I knew who Elvis was, but it wasn't long before I found out.

    This memory is significant to me for many reasons, but mainly because (as I've mentioned before) my parents come from the generation pre-rock 'n' roll. Born in the late 1920s, the music of their teens was Frank Sinatra and Glenn Miller. My mum would be 28 by the time Elvis had his first UK hit, and 28 was at least 38 back then. Rock 'n' roll didn't pass my parents by, they just never tried to catch it. Why would they? It was music aimed at teenagers, made by people a lot younger than them. But Elvis dying still made my mum cry, because he was bigger than any star we could imagine today. He was beyond a legend. And though there will no doubt be a lot written today about how he stole rock 'n' roll and turned it white, about how Colonel Tom stopped his reaching his true potential, about how he grew old and bloated and lonely and tragic... even though he was only 42 when he died... I prefer to remember the good, because it far outweighs the bad.

    When I started raiding my sister's record collection, one of the albums I listened to a lot was this...

    When I started buying albums myself, it didn't take me long to pick up this...

    A few years later, I splashed out on these three box sets...

    ...and each time, I played them to death. Far more than I'd listen to any new purchase these days.

    All that said, the idea of picking only ten Elvis songs seems beyond daunting. Let's give it ago anyway...

    10. Party

    The only Elvis song I've ever performed in public.

    Back in high school, I liked to tread the boards a little. Our most memorable production was a comedy pantomime of Robin Hood. Of course, I wanted to play Robin... but I ended up as Little John. I was never fated to be a dashing, romantic lead. My mate Simon got Robin, some 8 years after he beat me to the title role in our junior school production of Tom Sawyer (I played Huckleberry Finn: arguably the better role, but not the one with his name on the programme).

    Anyway, the best bit about getting to play Little John was that I got to close the first act with a musical number, singing Party by Elvis. (I know: why wasn't this on the soundtrack of the Kevin Costner film? So much better than Bryan Adams.) It wasn't an Elvis number I knew at the time, and it's from his least-celebrated phase - those duff movies Colonel Tom kept getting him to make in the 60s - but it always brings back happy memories. I didn't actually sing it live - our teacher / director just played the song out over the speakers and I did my best Top of the Pops-style mime over the top. I did sing... you just couldn't hear me over Elvis. Which was probably for the best. Particularly as this was pre-internet and lyrics sheets were hard to come by on Elvis albums. But when I wasn't sure of the words, I just lapsed into my well-honed Elvis mumble. Actually, having checked out the original Wanda Jackson lyrics online, I'm not sure Elvis knew them that well either. He still made them work.

    Of course, none of this made up for missing out on the chance to snog Maid Marian... or go out with her, after the show was done, for the next 6 months, as Simon did.  But... at least I had Elvis.

    9. An American Trilogy

    The Vegas years are much-mocked.

    Because people are idiots.

    Elvis sweat bullets and blood up on that stage, and turned these old Civil War tunes into operas.

    8. Always On My Mind

    Yeah, the Pet Shop Boys cover is pretty amazing. But just listen to this again. I mean, really listen to it. My god, it's perfect.

    7. Jailhouse Rock

     Look in the dictionary under rock 'n' roll: there should be a link to this song.

    6. Suspicious Minds

    Following his career-saving '68 Comeback TV special, Elvis returned to the studio to record some of his most affecting songs. Three of the songs on this list were recorded in that session, another (Don't Cry, Daddy) narrowly missed out. There was magic in Memphis that day.

    5. In The Ghetto

    Of course, there's an irony about one of the richest and most successful men in the world recording a song about ghetto poverty... but this is hardly Another Day In Paradise. It's all down to the performance. To sing a song like this, you need sincerity. Elvis had sincerity by the bucketload and it wasn't an act.

    4. Heartbreak Hotel

    One of the first Elvis songs I loved, from his earliest days in the studio. We all like to think of rock 'n' roll as being about cadillacs and bobby socks, milkshakes, bubble gum and jukeboxes. Here's one about depression and suicide, and a rock song where the primary instrument is not the guitar, but Elvis's voice. Sends shivers down my spine, every time I hear it.

    3. Kentucky Rain

    Written and originally recorded by 70s country star Eddie Rabbit, this one just breaks me up every time I hear it. Elvis at his most devastating.

    2. Guitar Man

    I probably came to this via the Jesus & Mary Chain version. Which is truly excellent... but can't quite match the original.

    The alternative take above (which was on the 60s box set) which switches into the song What'd I Say at the end, was apparently Elvis's preferred version as he was never happy with the single as released.

    1. (Marie's The Name) His Latest Flame

    Why this one song, above all others? Primarily, it's the sound. An upbeat (Bo Diddley-inspired) backing track and intense vocals, masking a tale of heartbreak... much as the hero of the song hides his own feelings from the friend who's unknowingly copped off his with ex. A classic Doc Pomus lyrical conceit. (I have Ben Folds & Nick Hornby to thank for my mild Doc Pomus obsession: he led a sad, if interesting life.)

    And then came Johnny Marr and Morrissey, making this song even more essential...

    Elvis Aaron Presley. 40 years gone: never forgotten
    Which is your crowning moment from The King?

    Oh, and I just remembered this... My Top Ten Songs About Elvis. Worth another plug.

    Tuesday, 15 August 2017

    New Entry: Tense, Nervous Jason?

    You'd be forgiven for thinking that the new Jason Isbell album continues down the same alt-country path as his previous record (one of the best albums of 2015), Something More Than Free. He has, after all, called the new one The Nashville Sound... I mean, you don't get more country than that, right?

    Imagine your surprise then, when you discover that Isbell has chosen instead to craft a flawless ROCK album, still country flavoure, but with a heart of SOLID ROCK. And that heart is Anxiety, the 7 minute lynchpin that holds the whole record together. Make no mistake, this song is a BEAST. It is ROCK that DEMANDS CAPITAL LETTERS. Even though the majority of it is a mid-tempo country song, it's bookended by power chords that will rattle your speakers and make your heart jump out of your chest. Nobody's done something so interesting - and apt - with the whole loud-quiet-loud mix since Kurt Cobain compared his libido to a mosquito. Very appropriate for a song on this particular subject...
    Why am I never where I am supposed to be?
    Even with my lover sleeping close to me
    I'm wide awake and I'm in pain
    Anxiety is a weird thing. I can stand up in front of a class of 30 strangers and feel supremely at ease. Other situations though, much smaller things, can make me feel panicky and desperate. And as most of us know, there's nothing worse than the anxiety that hits you in the middle of the night. I've talked about that before. Time to seek out The Peace Of Wild Things... 


    Sunday, 13 August 2017

    My Top 90 Midlife Crisis Songs #1: Forever Young

    Here comes another new feature (this was "How I Spent My Summer Vacation")...

    Having turned 45 earlier this year, I straight away went out and bought myself a Lamborghini, chatted up the 18 year old on the Tesco checkout, and started using Just For Men on my sideburns. OK, I didn't do any of those things: but I did stare down the ever-darkening tunnel of my own mortality and wonder if I could hear any songs there. (Actually, something I did do was book myself in at the Ear, Nose & Throat clinic to finally get myself checked for a hearing aid. The songs do keep getting quieter.)

    Anyway, I decided to start featuring some of my favourite songs about getting older. Will I get to 90? Well, that's the question every 45 year old must ponder...

    For those of you who think I'm still a whippersnapper at 45, I'm starting with Neil Young. Recorded in 1972 when I was just getting born and Neil was 27 (despite pretending that he's still 24 in the lyrics: he was lying about his age even before he hit 30!). Having just spent his riches on a huge ranch in the country, he wrote this song for the old caretaker who asked him how such a young fellow could afford such a place. "Just lucky, I guess," was Neil's response...
    Old man take a look at my life
    I'm a lot like you
    I need someone to love me
    The whole day through
    Ah, one look in my eyes
    And you can tell that's true.
    James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt are kicking around in the background of this song, but those two pretty much lived in the recording studio in the early 70s.

    This series will get more personal as it goes along. You may want to look away now.

    Thursday, 10 August 2017

    The Glorious 10th


    This is my new monthly feature, stolen  from the guys at WYCRA who aren't using it anymore (with respect and the encouragement of a number of former WYCRA readers).

    Following on from my WYCRA tribute Top Ten Goodbye Songs, the most obvious place to start was with My Top Ten Hello Songs.

    I decided to do this once a month, and it made sense to do it on the 10th day of every month, hence 'The Glorious 10th'. So you have up till the 10th of September (or just before) to leave your suggestions.

    Here are the rules...

    1. You can suggest as many songs as you like that are called Hello, but they have to be called JUST Hello and nothing else... so you can't have Hello Goodbye or Hello, I Love You, and you can't have songs that feature Hello prominently in the lyrics, such as Pop Song '89 by REM. Sorry.

    2. There are a few exceptions to Rule 1. You are allowed a repetition of the title word: so if you know any songs called Hello Hello or Hello Hello Hello, you can suggest them. You are also allowed songs which included parentheses: so if you know a song called Hello (I Hate You) or (I Just Called To Say) Hello, they would be allowed too... as long as every other word in the title is inside the brackets. I will also allow plurals: Hellos; and punctuation: Hello!? Chances are none of these rules will help you this time, but they may in future. Mis-spellings probably won't be allowed unless I really, really like the song. Sorry, Noddy.

    3. If there are a number of versions of the same song, I may not pick the original. If you guess the right song but not the right artist, you'll get half marks (1 for first to guess, half for everyone else).

    4. You will be allowed a maximum of 10 guesses, since I only have ten songs. I'll count your first 10, after that no points will be awarded.

    5. Points will be awarded thus:
    • 1 point for every song in my Top Ten you correctly guess.
    • 2 points for being the first person to guess that song.
    • 3 points for guessing the song's position in my Top Ten.
    • 5 points for guessing my Number One song and correctly identifying it as such.
    • 1 bonus point for any song I have in my collection which I couldn't squeeze into the Top Ten.
    • 1 bonus point for any new songs you suggest which I like.
    • Points will be deducted for really bad suggestions (i.e. U2).

    Over to you...







    4. If anybody gets Number 4, I'll give you 10 points.




    Good luck.

    Here's the best song that wasn't allowed...

    And finally, just in case there was any doubt about it: yes, I will go there.

    Hello, I must be going...

    P.S. I just noticed that Jez finally brought The Chain late last night. Must be something in the air.

    Wednesday, 9 August 2017

    My Top Ten Glen Campbell Songs

    I'm not sure I can do Glen Campbell justice. I'll let his good friend, songwriting God Jimmy Webb, say it for me...

    "One of [Glen's] favourite songs was “Try A Little Kindness” in which he sings “shine your light on everyone you see.” My God. Did he do that or what? Just thinking back I believe suddenly that the “raison d’etre” for every Glen Campbell show was to bring every suffering soul within the sound of his voice up a peg or two. Leave ’em laughin.’ Leave them feeling just a little tad better about themselves; even though he might have to make them cry a couple of times to get ’em there. What a majestically graceful and kind, top rate performer was Glen on his worst night!"

    I was lucky enough to see Glen Campbell play live on his farewell tour in 2011.It wasn't his worst night, but it could hardly be described as his best. He forgot a few lines, fumbled a few guitar chords. The illness was obviously affecting him. Yet it was still one of the most powerful and memorable performances I've ever had the privilege to see. At the end, he got a standing ovation... and there were tears in all our eyes.

    There will be a lot written today about Glen Campbell's contribution to popular music. Not just the big hits, but his guitar work for the Beach Boys, the Monkees, Elvis et al. (Although don't let anyone tell you Glen played guitar on Viva Las Vegas: it's a myth.) There's very little I can add, except to say that whenever I heard a Glen Campbell song, I feel a little better. And whenever I hear the ones listed below... I feel a hell of a lot better.

    (Oh, and if you're still in any doubt about Glen Campbell's importance in popular music... here's Alice Cooper. Yes, Alice Cooper.)

    10. Country Boy (You Got Your Feet In L.A.)

    I didn't pay a lot of attention to this song until I saw Glen play it live. It obviously meant a hell of a lot to him and that performance made me hear the lyrics properly for the first time.

    I'm a country boy myself. I grew up on a farm. There's a part of me that would happily spend all day in the fields... minus the manual labour, of course.

    9.  A Thousand Lifetimes

    Glen's most-loved songs were all written by other people. Like Elvis, it was his voice, his performance, that brought untold depths to those songs. Plus he was an amazing guitar player - that was still evident when I saw him live. He did write and co-write a number of his own songs though, and this is my favourite, from one of his most recent albums, Ghost On The Canvas. Co-written with his producer, Julian Raymond, it's a song that expresses Glen's fears of living with the illness that blighted his final years, but it also cries "je ne regrette rien" in the face of all that. As powerful in its own way as the latter Johnny Cash recordings.

    I've held onto coal in my bare hands, prayin' for diamonds
    I've trusted in the words that to my face turned out were lying
    I've trapped and I have tripped and I have loved and I've abandoned
    Each breath I take is a gift that I will never take for granted

    8. Dreams of the Everyday Housewife

    There are plenty of country songs about women getting older, losing their girlish charms, and wondering whether they ended up with the right man. They're normally sung (and even written) by women though. Chris Gantry's song manages to find a male perspective that is both loving and respectful though. Glen's performance makes it shine.

    She picks up her apron in little girl-fashion
    As something comes into her mind
    Slowly starts dancing remembering her girlhood
    And all of the boys she had waiting in line
    Oh, such are the dreams of the everyday housewife
    You see everywhere any time of the day
    An everyday housewife who gave up the good life for me

    7. These Days

    In his later years, Glen tried to connect with younger audiences by recording songs by contemporary artists. Although not as successful at this as Johnny Cash, there were some outstanding results, including Green Day's Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life) and Foo Fighters' Times Like These. But it was his cover of Jackson Browne's These Days which stood out most for me. Not the most up-to-date tune from the set; it was written when Browne was 16... back in 1967. The lyrics take on much greater depth when sung by someone nearing the end of their life.

    I stopped my rambling
    I don't do too much gambling these days
    These days
    These days I seem to think about
    How all the changes came about my way
    And I wonder if I'll see another

    Interestingly, the verse above is missing from Browne's recording. It did feature on Nico's version though.

    6. Where's The Playground, Susie?

    More epic heartbreak from Jimmy Webb, close in its lyrical ambiguity to McArthur Park. Glen's voice was made for heartbreak in the same way as Roy Orbison's.

    5. Galveston

    A song as misunderstood as Born In The USA, according to Jimmy Webb. Originally written with a much sadder tune, Glen turned it upbeat, making it seem almost patriotic... rather than the homesick fears reflected by the soldier in Webb's lyrics. The switch works though. For me, this guy is doing whatever he can to survive. It's still an anti-war protest song... it just doesn't hit you over the head with its message.

    4. By The Time I Get To Phoenix

    Glen leaves his lady and crosses the country to get away from her... feeling bad about it all the way.

    Pedants ahoy! Jimmy Webb was challenged about how realistic the journey described in this song's lyrics actually was...

     "A guy approached me one night after a concert [...] and he showed me how it was impossible for me to drive from L.A. to Phoenix, and then how far it was to Albuquerque. In short, he told me, 'This song is impossible.' And so it is. It's a kind of fantasy about something I wish I would have done, and it sort of takes place in a twilight zone of reality."

    Iffypedia, however, sides with Jimmy (while disputing his above claim)...

    "However, the drive is actually possible. If she "rises" at 6:00 a.m. when he is in Phoenix, and she eats lunch at 12:30 p.m. when he is in Albuquerque, it gives him six and one-half hours to make the 420-mile drive, an average of 65 mph. The drive from Albuquerque to Oklahoma is just 340 miles, giving her plenty of time to get home and go to sleep."

    Talk about taking the romance out of a song...

    3. Gentle On My Mind

    I think I knew Elvis's version of this song first, and that is amazing... but Glen's is superior. It's a desperately sad song if you study the lyrics, but the light guitar refrain makes it sound carefree and joyous. It's a weird song in search of a chorus: I always feel an urge to break into the much bigger chorus of Don MacLean's Castles In The Air whenever I sing along.

    Watch the clip above if you're in any doubt about Glen's skills with the guitar.

    2. Rhinestone Cowboy

    I'm not sure how the wider world sees Rhinestone Cowboy. It is the most well-known Glen Campbell song, but it's viewed by many as a country cliché and isn't afforded half as much respect in muso circles as my number one. Written by Larry Weiss, the man who also penned the lyrics to the similarly themed Hi Ho Silver Lining, it's a song about not giving up and making the most of whatever success that comes your way.

    And I dream of the things I'll do
    With a subway token and a dollar tucked inside my shoe
    There'll be a load of compromisin'
    On the road to my horizon
    But I'm gonna be where the lights are shinin' on me

    1. Wichita Lineman

    The greatest song ever written, given its best ever performance. That opening guitar countdown sends shivers down my spine every time.

    I've written about how much Wichita Lineman means to me before... here and here... I'm sure I will again. Jimmy Webb + Glen Campbell = Perfection.

    I hear you singing in the wire
    I can hear you thru the whine
    And the Wichita lineman
    Is still on the line...

    Rest in peace, sir. Thank you for the music.

    Tuesday, 8 August 2017

    My Top ∞ Radio Songs #14: My First Boss - No Static At All

    My first boss may have damaged me for life, by leading me to have unrealistic expectations of what bosses should be like. He was a human being for a start, humorous and generous, and although from time to time he did have to lay the law down, you always felt like he didn't want to have to do it. Almost like it pained him to do so. He was encouraging and supportive and helped me quickly progress from volunteering to an actual paid job. He virtually found a job for me where there wasn't one and gave me opportunities to develop my skills in all areas of the business... although looking back, I could have made more of those opportunities.

    He wore a suit which was slightly too big for him and had huge square spectacles which made him very easy to cartoon. He had an unusual voice for radio which was often mimicked by the staff (myself included) but he indulged us. He wore bright red, patent leather boots, and if anyone ever asked him about them, he replied...

    "The suit says 'management'... the shoes say ROCK 'n' ROLL!"

    On occasion, I would co-present shows with him. I did this with a variety of jocks during my first few years: we'll get onto that. He played it mostly straight, I went for the sarcastic retorts. (Yes, I was Sidekick Simon.) He used to make out that he thought I was going to take a joke too far, get worried, fade me out in case I said something I shouldn't. I'd play up to that. An example: one time, I was complaining on air about another driver who'd cut me up on the way to work. I made out like I was going to read out the guy's registration number on air. The boss feigned panic and started the next record. It was a good routine.

    I remember one time I was co-presenting a late show with him and he'd come up with a suitably banal phone-in competition called 'What's In My Brain'. It was very Partridge, long before Partridge was a thing, but knowingly so. He gave cryptic clues and people had to call in and guess what he was thinking about. The prizes were shit. A key-ring, a CD you'd never heard of from the chuck-out box, a car sticker. The switchboard glowed red hot. People liked that sort of thing back then. It was cheesy, but it was real. Nothing slick. The only clue I remember was something about 'Is there gas in my car?' I didn't get it myself at the time. Neither did many of the listeners. Kid Charlemagne hadn't even been a hit... 15 years earlier. Was it even a single in the UK? Somebody guessed it pretty quick though and we moved on to the next question.

    14. Steely Dan - FM (No Static At All) 

    When I started in radio, FM was still quite a big deal. A lot of people still called it VHF, and a lot of listeners still tuned in on Medium Wave (A.M.). But that would change very quickly. FM was taking over and radio was changing with it... 

    I've never seen the movie FM, which Steely Dan wrote this track for. I'd like to, because it sounds right up my street: a bunch of rebel DJs fighting the sales people who want to turn radio commercial. Just like Rex Bob Lowenstein who started this series off. It's a theme I will return to again and again and again...
    Worry the bottle Mamma, it's grapefruit wine
    Kick off your high heel sneakers, it's party time
    The girls don't seem to care what's on
    As long as it plays till dawn
    Nothin' but blues and Elvis
    And somebody else's favorite song...
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