Monday, 20 February 2017

The Top Ten Songs I Hated When I Was A Kid... #2

...but like or love now.

It's time to get Nutty.



2. Madness - Baggy Trousers

I was 8 years old when Madness released the single that defined their "Nutty Boys" image. And at my junior school, the tough kids loved it. They'd jump up and down in their junior DMs, pulling your hair and encouraging you to eat dirt in honour of their favourite song. I've always hated bullies, so it follows that I'd hate their music too... especially when they were ramming it down my throat. Along with their fist.

As the years went by, I grew to like and respect Madness, although their greatest moment was a Labi Siffre cover, and I still find Suggs annoying. Listening to Baggy Trousers now though, I can appreciate the witty observational detail of the lyrics, particularly, "all the teachers in the pub, passing round the Ready Rub". But it still makes me feel a little of that 8 year old's anxiety, the fear of the school bully. Ironically, I got off lightly at junior school: I suffered far worse at high school, by which time Baggy Trousers was a distant memory.
Oh what fun we had
But at the time it seemed so bad...



Sunday, 19 February 2017

February #3 - A Bad Year For Rock 'n' Roll



At the end of 2016, there was one thing that every blogger I read agreed on. And now Chuck Prophet's put that to music, on this lead track from his new album, Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins...

3. Chuck Prophet - A Bad Year For Rock 'n' Roll

'Nuff said.





Friday, 17 February 2017

My Top Ten Science Song Songs Volume 2: Physics



This week's science lesson is on Physics. Take notes in your books; there will be a test.


10. Landscape - Einstein A-Go Go

Let's start with the father of modern physics... and some classic oddball synthpop from 1981.

See also Einstein On The Beach by Counting Crows which you probably won't like as much as Landscape... though I do.

9. Jim White - Objects In Motion

Jim White finds a suitcase full of old love letters floating in a river... and starts getting metaphysical.

From the album Drill a Hole in That Substrate and Tell Me What You See... which shows Jim also has an interest in geology, I guess.

8. The Verve - Space & Time
We have existence and that's all we share...
More metaphysics from Tricky Dicky Ashcroft. Or Mr. Smiley as I like to call him.

This whole album is very evocative for me of '97 / '98, when the world still seemed full of endless possibility... and aching loneliness. I could probably write more about that, but it has very little to do with physics, so I'll save it for another post.

7. They Might Be Giants - Particle Man

Forget Einstein. This is what genius sounds like.

6. Pixies - Distances Equals Rate Times Time

And this is how you create a great pop song in under one minute twenty seconds. 

Missing from my Maths Top Tens because I thought it to do with Physics.

5. Nick Cave - Higgs Boson Blues

In which Nick Cave drives his car down to Geneva to teach you some particle physics.

If I'd had a Physics teacher like Nick Cave, I'd have got higher than a D.

4. Big Audio Dynamite - E=MC2
I like a bit of a cavort.
For years, I thought the dialogue sampled in this song were Michael Caine.

It's actually James Fox from Nic Roeg's Performance.

But you knew that.

3. Ooberman - Physics Disco

The only song I own which actually features Physics in the title. 

Ooberman are one of My Top Ten Unsung Legends of Pop. They should have been bigger than Oasis.

2. Billy Bragg - Qualifications

OK, so the top two songs are only tenuously connected to Physics, but both brag about a qualification in that particular field of science... and both of them make me smile a lot whenever I listen to them.
So what's the point in university?
For three years I read philosophy
Now I read barcodes all day long

Beep-beep-beep sings that check-out song
With my qualifications
Talking bout my qualifications
Would you like to see my Ph.D.?

My BSE? My GCSE?
I gotta First in Physics so I ought to know
If your fries are for here or to go
1. The Undertones - My Perfect Cousin
He's got a degree in Economics
Maths, Physics and Bionics
No wonder he's his mother's little golden boy...

Not the obvious Number One, but indisputably the best song on here. 



 Which one makes you want to get physics-al?


Thursday, 16 February 2017

February #4: Who's The Boz?

A nice bit of Boz for you today...
 

4. Boz Scaggs - Alone, Alone

Boz Scaggs is a difficult artist to pin down. A founding member of the Steve Miller band, he went on to a successful career as a solo artist in the 70s, developing a smooth, soulful sound at times not a million miles away from the jazz-rock stylings of Steely Dan.

Dig a little further back into his catalogue though, before the hits started coming, and you find a more varied sound, case in point: today's offering, the alt-country vibes of Alone, Alone from his 1971 album, Moments. Shades of Gram Parsons on this track written by Santana bassist David Brown.

I can honestly say I've listened to this song over and over and even studied the lyrics online... and I really can't say what Boz's message is here. Is it that no matter how many friends we have, we're all inevitably alone? Or that everyone feels alone and doesn't appreciate the friends they've got? Or that no matter how well you know someone, you can never know how lonely they feel? It's certainly got me thinking... and the mournful steel guitar matches the tone of the lyrics well, as does the album cover.

Plus: Boz Scaggs. Great rock 'n' roll name or what? His real first name is William (so is mine: though I only ever use it at work, all my friends know me by my second name, the one you guys know me by), but I was pleased to discover that Scaggs is his actual surname. Suggestive of an old, worn out guitar case that's been on the road too long...






Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Kenny Wednesday #2 - The Gambler


No, we're not back to Kenny Rogers. Not yet. (Although The Gambler is a great song.)

Instead, for the second Kenny Wednesday, I bring you... Kenny G!

(No, not that one. Yet.)


2. Kenny Gamble

This Kenny was one half of the legendary songwriting partnership Gamble & Huff. Kenny & Leon (Huff) also formed Motown rival Philadelphia International Records and pioneered the Philly sound. They're the men responsible for many, many classic soul standards, including If You Don't Know Me By Now, Backstabbers, Me & Mrs. Jones, Show You The Way To Go and When Will I See You Again?

But there are two Gamble & Huff compositions which stand out above all others to me, and I really couldn't choose between them... so I'm going to play you both...

The first one reminds me of being a teenager, when I was neck-deep in my first full-on Motown phase. It also reminds me of a teenage crush, unrequited love... you know the sort of thing. But this was the song which could turn that around. The rules were all right there in the lyrics, I just had to follow them one step at a time...
I'm gonna do all the things for you
A girl wants a man to do, oh baby
I'll sacrifice for you
I'll even do wrong for you, oh baby
Every minute, every hour
I'm gonna shower
You with love and affection
Look out it's comin' in your direction...



The restraining order still stands, thirty years later.

And then there's this, which I discovered quite a bit later. A charidee record, released in 1977 when the New York City dustbin men went on strike... it led on to a lot more socially-conscious work for Gamble & Huff, putting their money back into regenerating parts of Philadelphia to really clean up the ghettos Gamble grew up around...





That really is an All-Star line up: Teddy Pendergrass, Archie Bell, Billy Paul, The O'Jays, Dee Dee Sharp... and the peerless Lou Rawls doing that incredible spoken intro.

Monday, 13 February 2017

February #5: Goodnight, Al



5. Bob James, David Sanborn & Al Jarreau - Since I Fell For You

Farewell then to Al Jarreau, who passed away on Sunday, aged 72. I won't pretend to be the biggest expert on his work (I'm not going to attempt a Top Ten), but there are two recordings of his I will treasure forever. Both are from the soundtrack to the TV show Moonlighting, and I've explained my teenage obsession with that show in previous posts. Of course, Al recorded (and co-wrote) the Nile Rodgers-produced theme tune, which brings memories flooding back whenever I hear it. But there's another, lesser-known song he also recorded for the soundtrack which I love even more.

Since I Fell For You was written in 1945 by Buddy Johnson and has been recorded many, many times since by everybody from Van Morrison to Glen Campbell, Fontella Bass to The Rascals. But though I've heard a number of other versions, nothing comes close to this collaboration between Al Jarreau and jazz heroes Bob James and David Sanborn. And that's all down to the first time I heard it...

Towards the end of the third series of Moonlighting, the "will they, won't they?" dynamic between Cybil Shepherd and Bruce Willis was reaching its peak. Episode 11 was titled Blonde On Blonde, and it is possibly my favourite episode of any television show ever. A bold claim, perhaps, but I vividly remember the first time I watched it, my reaction to the final scene, and how fortunate I felt to have recorded it on VHS so that I could watch it again and again and again... until the tape wore out and I had to buy the series on DVD.

In the episode, David Addison (Willis) becomes insanely jealous when he realises his business partner Maddie Hayes might be heading off to find a stranger for a one night stand. He follows her all across town to "protect" her, but ends up following the wrong blonde and gets arrested for a murder he didn't commit in the process. Willis has never been funnier and Glenn Gordon Caron's script is bursting with cracking one liners I now know off by heart. While in the police station holding cell, David meets the "wrong" blonde he's accidentally been following who confesses to the murder herself and also persuades David to tell Maddie just how he feels. Released from custody, David hot foots it over to Maddie's house late at night, in the pouring rain, to profess his love. As he knocks, he - and the viewers - feel the weight of three season's build up... and then, Mark Harmon opens the door.

This is the moment teenage Rol sat up in bed and screamed at the TV: "Nooooo!"

Fade up Al Jarreau over the closing credits...



Moonlighting ran for another couple of seasons and I loved every episode, even the duff ones, but it was never as good as this again.




Sunday, 12 February 2017

February #6: Power Pop Emergency? Who You Gonna Call?


I've been meaning to feature some Robbie Fulks here ever since Charity Chic recommended him last year. I bought his Very Best Of collection on emusic soon after and found him to be right up my street: witty, intelligent, story-telling country rock that makes me smile and tap my feet and sing along. I was just about ready to post one of my favourites, Roots Rock Weirdoes, when my old friend Sally pointed me towards a Fulks track I'd not heard before...

6. Robbie Fulks - Fountains of Wayne Hotline

Now, as has been established here many times before, I'm a huge Fountains of Wayne fan. I'm still mourning their demise and secretly praying for a ressurection. They made witty, intelligent, story-telling power pop records that made me smile and tap my feet and sing along... and it's obvious that Fulks is a fan too... even if he appears to have worked out their formula.

Prepare yourself for the greatest Fountains of Wayne tribute / piss-take you'll ever hear...

(This one's for the REAL musos out there!)



Friday, 10 February 2017

My Top Ten Science Songs Volume 1: Chemistry


Last year I did a number of posts about Mathematics. I thought I'd follow that up with some musical science classes. You see, I finally started watching Breaking Bad. Yes, I know, I know, I'm nearly ten years behind the curve. Ironically, I've already watched the first two seasons of Better Call Saul, and I've been meaning to watch BB for ages, but... you know, time.

Anyway, for Walter White, we have to start with Chemistry...

Special mentions to The Chemical Brothers and My Chemical Romance.


10. Rush - Chemistry

Because I love Spirit Of Radio, I bought the Best Of Rush. I can do prog in small bursts before it all gets a bit pompous for me. I'm always impressed by the guitar work on records like this... but I prefer Yes though, mainly because Jon Anderson's voice is a thing of wonder.

9. Interpol - Rest My Chemistry

There are three types of chemistry songs. The first: where chemistry is a metaphor for the spark between two people. The second: where chemistry is a metaphor for drugs. The third: where it's both.

This, like our Number One, belongs the third category, I think.

8. Blur - Chemical World

The way Damon dances around in the countryside in this video... seriously, if you were out for a nice Sunday afternoon walk and you bumped into him, you'd turn swifty in the opposite direction.

Weirdo.

7. Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip - Development

If you potter about on youtube, you'll find a number of songs where people have tried to rap the Periodic Table. When Scroobius Pip gets into his own attempt at that, about halfway through this song, I just wish he'd carried on till he got all the way up to Oganesson.

6.  Emma Pollock - Chemistry Will Find Me

Ironically, despite being on Chemikal Underground and writing this song for her 2010 album The Law Of Large Numbers, Emma Pollock studied Physics at university...

5. John Otway - Bunsen Burner

John Otway's fans helped him celebrate his 50th birthday by getting this into the Top Ten in 2002.  He even made it back onto Top Of The Pops. Brilliant.

4. Esiotrot - My Chemical Romance Saved My Life

This one's a bit of a stretch, I confess, since it's obviously about the band mentioned above and not really anything to do with chemistry... but they're my rules, I can break them if the song is good enough. Great lo fi indie, made even better by the inclusion of a mournful trumpet.

Plus they're Tortoise backwards, so there's that.

And finally, any song which includes the line...
We define ourselves by our record collections
Well. You know.

3. Semisonic - Chemistry

One of those late nineties / early noughties guitar bands it's never been cool to admit to liking... so, obviously, I think they're great.
I remember when I found out about chemistry
It was a long, long way from here
I was old enough to want it but younger than I wanted to be
Suddenly my mission was clear
So for awhile I conducted experiments
And I was amazed by the things I learned
From a fine fine girl with nothing but good intentions and a
Bad tendency to get burned
They lose points for that silly CD single cover (above) though.

2. Elvis Costello - The Element Within Her

The obvious choice is Chemistry Class from Armed Forces, but much as I love that album, I love Punch The Clock more. I have in the past observed the cliché that artists in love don't always make the best records and that heartbreak and misery make for much better songwriting partners. This is often the case, and you'd expectit to be true of the gleefully cynical Elvis Costello more than most. And yet, and yet... Punch The Clock is full of shiny, exuberant love songs, and it's brilliant. 
It's the element within her
Something under her skin
That is shining out through the face of the girl
Two sapphires and couple of rows of pearls
1. Suede - The Chemistry Between Us

Having led the Britpop charge, Suede went full on anthemic pop band on their third album, Coming Up. Although it does have a soaring chorus, sumptuous strings and plenty of la-la-las, at over 7 minutes in length, The Chemistry Between Us was never going to be a hit like the FIVE Top Ten singles this album produced. As with many of Suede's earlier hits though, it is obsessed with drug culture, although Brett Anderson claims the lyrics are anti-drugs, about people who can only make connections when they're high.
Oh, Class A, Class B...
Is that the only chemistry?

Look at that: I can still do indie and guitar pop! Funny how the subject matter led more to those kind of bands... 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

February #7: Not Pretty, Not Self Pity


7. Ani DiFranco - Not A Pretty Girl

Another fine charity shop purchase, this 1995 album by Ani DiFranco, a name I've heard bandied about in the same circles as Alanis Morrissette, though she's got a little bit more punk-folk grit to her sound.

Ani started her own record company, to get control over her music and her career, back in 1989: long before everybody else started doing the same thing. She's been outspoken in her criticism of major record labels even longer than Prince was (and she worked with him on a number of occasions) and is well known as a political activist... which we obviously need a hell of a lot more of in the music world right now. And the ordinary world.

The title track from this album made me think of the Kasey Chambers track I featured in My Top Ten Self Pity Songs Volume 2: except that while Kasey encapsulates teenage insecurity in her fears about not being pretty enough, Ani takes on gender stereotyping and big business, effectively tackling both men and The Man... and winning this round, indisputably.





Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Kenny Wednesdays #1 - Fast & Loose



Last week's post on Kenny Rogers & The First Edition was received far better than expected, to the point that Brian at Linear Tracking Lives! suggested I "Keep the Kenny comin'".

I'm sure this isn't what he had in mind, but over the next 10 weeks, I'll be posting a different Kenny every Wednesday. I was surprised how many Kennies I found... I've already got more than ten, and I'm sure you guys will have a few suggestions. And the great thing is, I can promise you now, very few (in fact, potentially only a couple of them) will be Muso-Friendly.

We'll get back to Kenny Rogers sooner or later, but let's start with another huge name of the 80s... although not as huge in the UK as in the US.



KENNY WEDNESDAYS #1: Kenny Loggins

Kenny Loggins started out as a songwriter in the late 60s. His first compositions were recorded by The Nitty Gritty Dirt Bans, though he was never a member of that group himself. He went on to team up with Jim Messina (formerly of Eagles influencers Poco and a post-Neil Young member of Buffalo Springfield) to record a number of successful US soft rock albums in the mid-70s. Loggins & Messina never really troubled the UK airwaves though, and neither did any of Kenny's later solo albums (although they all went Platinum in the US).

And then came Footloose...

I loved Footloose when I was a kid. It's pure 80s hokum - fleet-footed Kevin Bacon falls for the daughter of Fire 'n' Brimstone preacher John Lithgow who believes rock 'n' roll is the devil's music. (It is, let's face it. That's why it's so cool.)

Now, I've never been a dancer. And you won't find a lot of dance records making their way onto this blog because, as Moz once sang, they say nothing to me about my life. But few records are likely to get me tapping my toes like Footloose. It makes me feel like a teenager again. (Although not like the teenager I actually was.)

Loggins went on to record the theme to Top Gun too, but I never really got Top Gun. I watched it, sure: it was required viewing if you were a teenager in the mid-80s, but I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about. They were all a bunch of dicks. Footloose though... wow.


Monday, 6 February 2017

February #8 - Frank Starts A Band



8. Frank Hamilton - Started A Band

I bought Frank Hamilton's 2016 album Songs To Make Life Slightly Less Awkward largely on the basis of its title and a review that promised a young singer songwriter with something to say. "Because there seem to be precious few of those these days", etc. etc.

The first thing to say is that I don't think Hamilton will be bothering the Muso crowd any time soon. There's no edge to his songwriting, and the guitar and beats instrumentation is as safe as his most famous contemporaries (I'm looking at you, Sheeran). But there is a voice here, and he namedrops influences from Dylan to Morrissey to blink-182, The Streets to Bright Eyes to The Beautiful South... without ever really sounding like any of them.

However. We do still have an artist here crafting proper, guitar-led pop songs: fun and sweet and ever-so-slightly melancholy. It might not blow you away, but it might just bring a smile to your face. Like pop music is supposed to. I've listened to the album on and off for a few months now and there are some lovely melodies, and lyrics which continue to reveal greater depth. I hope he gets the break he deserves...


Sunday, 5 February 2017

February #9 - Teenagers Kick Our Butts!


9. Dar Williams - Teenagers Kick Our Butts

Dar Dar Dar, as Trio once sang. No, I don't think the German band (part of the New German Cheerfulness wave, apparently) were singing about Dar Williams back in 1982. She'd have only been 15 then. A teenager... I wonder whose butt she was kicking?

I've been working my way slowly through the Dar Williams back catalogue; as she's such an amazing songwriter, I don't want to rush it. Currently listening to her 1997 album End Of Summer which features lots of great tunes I could post here, though my favourite is probably this one, which I'll play for anyone with teenage children... or anyone who has teenagers in their class, and struggles to understand where they're coming from.
When I grew up, well it felt great
I watched how others took their fate
Some felt afraid and undefended, so they got mean
And they pretended what they knew made them belong more than you.
I'm sure you know there's lots to learn
But that's not your fault, that's just your turn, yeah, yeah
It's a song about growing older and forgetting what it's like to be an adolescent. And remembering that our future is in their hands. Let's face it: very few of them would have voted for Brexit or Trump...
And when the media tries to act your age
Don't be seduced, they're full of rage
Find your voice, do what it takes
Make sure you make lots of mistakes
And find the future that redeems
Give us hell, give us dreams
And grow and grow and grow

And someday when some teenagers come to kick your butts
Well then like I do try to
Love
Kick our butts!
Love
Kick our butts!
Oh I love
Kick our butts!


Friday, 3 February 2017

My Top Ten Burger Songs


Feeling peckish?

10. Jimmy Buffet -  Cheeseburger in Paradise

Let's start with Jimmy: an acquired taste, I have to concede. But then, so are most burgers. Extra cheese on this one, I think.

9. Todd Rundgren - Boogies (Hamburger Hell)

If you've not yet worked it out: Todd Rundgren was proper mental. I suppose that's why he ended up producing Bat Out Of Hell. His solo stuff, though: it rocks, but it's mad. 

8. Kool & The Gang - Raw Hamburger

VERY early Kool & The Gang - from 1969. Great brass section and shooting-the-breeze vocals.

7. Ramones - Oh, Oh, I Love Her So

Joey Ramone picks up girls at Burger King.

Of course.

6. Pop Will Eat Itself - Def Con One

I was going to save this for my Top Ten Fast Food Songs... but I'll just use it again then. It might well be Number One in that countdown.

I always wondered if PWEI were sent a lifetime supply of Big Macs after recording this.

5. Placebo - Burger Queen

Iffypedia says this track was written about a homosexual, drug-addicted goth in Luxembourg... so it's really 'Bourger Queen, if you want to be pedantic about it. Great song from the second Placebo album, Without You I'm Nothing.
Slightly bemused by his lack of direction
Hey You, Hey You 


Came to this world by cesarean section 
Hey You, Hey You
Chooses his clothes to match his pallid complexion
Hey You, Hey You
Now it takes him all day just to get an erection 
4. The Little Hands of Asphalt - Eating Fish In Hamburger Heaven

Brilliant lyrics and a top tune from Oslo's Sjur Lyseid, tipping his hat to Springsteen and telling a story (I think) about a one night stand that's doomed never to go any further...
My shirt says "Replacements" 
Yours, it has a statement 
That's where we start falling apart
3. John Cougar Mellencamp - Hotdogs & Hamburgers

A song about the shitty treatment of Native Americans by The White Man, filtered through the metaphor of a horny teenage boy trying it on with "a pretty Little Indian Girl". Mellencamp at his best.
Now everybody has got the choice
Between hotdogs and hamburgers
Every one of us has got to choose
Between right and wrong
And givin' up or holdin' on
2. Morrissey - America Is Not The World

Normally we might take this as just Moz's spangly Hollywood big-screen remake of Meat Is Murder... 
In America, it brought you the hamburger. 
Well America you know where 
You can shove your hamburger. 
And don't you wonder, why in Estonia they say? 
Hey you, you big fat pig, 
You fat pig, you fat pig!

Steely blue eyes with no love in them, scan the world,
And a humourless smile, with no warmth within, greets the world.
And I, I have got nothing to offer you
No-no-no-no-no, just this heart deep and true, 

Which you say you don't need...
In light of recent events though... it seems due a re-issue. 

1. Little Feat - Hamburger Midnight

The debut single from Little Feat's self-titled 1971 debut album finds Lowell George broke, sleeping in his car and suffering from the ha-ha-hamburger midnight blues...



Would you like fries with that?

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

February #10 - Kenny Keeps Trying



10. Kenny Rogers & The First Edition - Trying Just As Hard


The earlier the better when it comes to Kenny Rogers. Though he made some great records when he went solo too, it's the nine years with The First Edition I find most appealing. It was here that he recorded Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town; Reuben James; and The Dude's psychedelic stoner anthem, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In).

I was lucky enough to come across a collection of First Edition era Kenny in the charity shop a few months back and beyond the obvious glories, there were a number of hidden gems I'd never heard before. Here's one I've been enjoying a lot, where country rock meets gospel. Keeping that positive vibe going into February...


Another great band photo too, I'm sure you'll agree.
 
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