Monday, January 31, 2005

"Vigilante Man"

Simple blues, going back as far as you care to go. If you work from the basic premise that modern music finds its roots in cotton-field blues, then modern music has forgotten its roots in the worst fashion. Less is more, guys. I've become accustomed to a version of this song performed by David Lindley and Ry Cooder, which lazily, menacingly winds its way along for seven minutes or so, effortlessly carried along on Ry's slide and Lindley's picking, reeking of the same parched elegance that the likes of Robert Johnson must have had when they walked into some roadhouse on a dry dusty evening. As Ry says in the intro: "This is an old Woody Guthrie song. Some of these songs he wrote for ... all time."

Sunday, January 30, 2005


You know when you first hear a song that gets its hooks deep into you and you can't stop listening to it? This is me with "Go" at the moment: I caught the tail-end of this song on a TV show and just had to have it. I have no idea who Steriogram are, or where they are from, but this just gets to me. I think it's the chorus, the great guitar, the cleverness of the writing, the hint of grunge. I had the same thing happen to me with "Smile" a couple of years ago, and I'm still not tired of that either.

"Ocean Spray"

This song literally ACHES. A love song that's in love with nobody in particular. I like the video too, which suggests James Dean Bradfield's got an acute case of insomnia, but what clinches this for me is the distorted riff at the end of the chorus, and the plangent, otherworldly horn solo. Now, a horn solo maybe isn't to everyone's taste, but this one just... just... works, and takes the song into another dimension entirely. "Ocean Spray" is a long way away from what you'd expect from the Manic Street Preachers: it's a delicate and quite beautiful song. You don't need to prepare yourself for the perfect slogans or the slightly heavy-handed sermonizing they can sometimes be prone to. And the song is the more powerful for it.

Friday, January 28, 2005

"He's My Best Friend"

Pure bubblegum, sure, but what bubbles!...... Jellyfish were as unlucky as any band could ever be not to make it huge. Perfect pop performers, they were the natural heirs to the Archies, the Beatles, Badfinger, Squeeze, and with lyrics that took you on a long, fun, and slighly freaky trip. "Best Friend" sounds perfectly harmless, a joyful romp through layers of harmony, and about the second or third time you listen to it, you have to reach over and hit the Pause button, and think about what you just heard. The double-entendres are so well-couched that you dig out the liner notes, just to check those lyrics. And then you realise it's a song about masturbation. "My hand's a five-leaf clover/It's Palm Sunday over and over/I never had the luck of sinners/Til I was wrapped around your finger"..... priceless.

"American Girl"

I can't think of any way to describe Tom Petty's voice other than a "keening nasal wail". This is epic stuff, tons of atmosphere, an unstoppable beat and Mike Campbell's guitars never sounded more like bells. There's a couple of moments right at the start when one of the band makes a "tch" sound, which just seems so perfect as the song winds up. It's a spare, stripped-down rocker, under-produced, with a terrific biff-bang-pow dry drum sound and just the right amount of harmony. I can't help thinking of this song as some sort of companion piece to Bob Seger's "Hollywood Nights", which might be doing Tom Petty a huge injustice, but hey, it's my list.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


Have you ever met someone, fallen utterly head-over-heels in love with each other, felt like you were reborn, and then, in your quieter moments, not quite been able to completely believe your luck? This must be your lucky day, 'cos I have a song that fits that particular bill. Gorgeous power chords, shovelfuls of of echo, and a voice that fits the sense of wonder and disorientation. "Hey I'm a lucky guy/Without a reason and I/Don't understand." Or "Could be I'm happy, I'm sad/Could be I'm losing my head/Over you." Or "So if I'm dreaming, don't wake me tonight/If this is all wrong/Then I don't want it right." Too simplistic? Too much goo-goo eyes? Pah. Go and make love to a dictionary, then. Icehouse were never much cop, but they did a fabulous version of Killing Joke's "Love Like Blood", and then they did this. Listen to this song, and then you'll know what you've missed all your life.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


You have to love Neil Young. If he wasn't singing gentle, post-hippy comedowns like "Heart of Gold", or pissing off the Southerners in his thin, reedy warble of a voice, then he was cranking up the monitors to 11 and stamping on the electro-fuzz-distorto-crunch pedal with the guys in Crazy Horse, and pissing off the Spanish instead. Ain't no pleasing some folk. Anyway, a lot of people reckon "Live Rust" is one of the best live albums made, and it's hard to disagree when you hear him lurch into "Powderfinger" here. You can't help but get the feeling that this song was meant to be acoustic, but here it gets the electro-fuzz-distorto-crunch treatment. It puts me in mind of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", the sense of a way of life fading before the bright light of war, and it makes sense that this should be a Neil Young song. I mean, he wrote the book on intelligent, if occasionally impenetrable, lyrics.

Monday, January 24, 2005

"(Get a) Grip (On Yourself)"

Aahhhhh, literate new wave. It's hard to classify as "punk" a song that's so well performed. The Stranglers were old men by 1977, but they had the chops and weren't afraid to use them. "Grip" is fuelled by unstoppable keyboard runs and a proper thudding drum, with guitars well in the background. The lyrics are a bit dense, but rather that than some of the mysogynism they came out with ("Peaches", anyone?). The song fairly hammers along at 100mph with Hugh Cornwell's vaguely knowing, sneering voice reciting over the top. This one's useful when your lip curls of its own accord and everyone around you is being tiresome.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

"I'm In Love with a German Film Star"

Achingly hip and laid-back. This song wears dark shades and a long overcoat. You can imagine it sitting in the back of some cafe, watching tourists, locals and idly passing the time. Lots of echo, vaguely Gothic in a sort of Siouxie way, some noodly guitar and a gentle insistent beat, while the lyric rhapsodises about just how amazingly cool one human being can be.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

"Life Is Hard"

There's a nice little genre of songwriting that skewers the mores of the age - call it social commentary, satire, whatever. Timbuk 3 were never really more than a novely act in most people's eyes, simply because their one big hit, "The Future's So Bright (I Gotta Wear Shades)" was so oddball. But this is an entirely darker affair, more on a par with "Welcome to the Boomtown", in which disgustingly self-satisfied yuppies get what they deserve: "After he stiffed the waitress, and ran out on his tab/Big Mac had a heart attack in the back of a yellow cab/By the time the sound of the sirens said the ambulance was coming/His heart had stopped beating, but the meter as still running/Life is hard." It's tough not to like a song that takes aim at a whole sub-generation of the greediest, most ruthless and self-serving people since the days of the British Empire.

Friday, January 21, 2005

"Bitter Suite"

This one comes courtesy of the Tortured Teenage Angst Department of the Fellowship of Deep and Meaningful Songwriters. I don't know which way to lean when it comes to Marillion - some say they were originally shameless Genesis rip-offs, but others (mostly students like me at the time) thought they were great. Anyway, this is terrific, absolutely dripping with atmosphere, imagery and proper, bitter lyrics: "The mist crawls from the canals/Like some primordial phantom of romance/To curl under a cascade of neon pollen/While I sit, tied to the phone like an expectant father/Your carnation will rot in a vase." Wow. Gotta run, my English professor's waiting......

Thursday, January 20, 2005

"No More I Love Yous"

When Annie Lennox covered this and took it into the charts, I had this great big smug smile on my face, since I had the original by The Lover Speaks in my collection and knew the song inside out. "I used to be lunatic from your precious face" is a wonderful line for those moments when you can't quite believe your luck that your girl/boyfriend's chosen YOU (obsessive types might want to cross-reference to Icehouse's "Crazy"). It's an odd, sort of ramshackle song, held together by the aching voice and the mocking chorus girls.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

"There She Goes"

Yet another contender for Most Perfect Pop Song of All Time. So simple, so elegant, so....fine. The La's came out of nowhere with this beauty, full of the required ringing guitars, aching harmonies, a soaring chorus, and then they promptly disappeared. But few other bands have left a three-minute legacy to match this. And it's about drugs.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"Space Truckin'"

Is this unfashionable? Ah well. Come on, this isn't one of your ponderous heavy-metal riffola blowouts. Given that it's Deep Purple, you'd be forgiven for thinking the worst, but "Space Truckin'" is pretty nimble and packs a mean punch. Ian Paice's drums are sensational on this, Ritchie Blackmore's guitar riff constantly pushes on, and the song builds up unstoppable momentum. Just great. Yes, certain later songs just don't really work ("Child in Time", anyone?), and Deep Purple moved on into more turgid territory, but this kicks ass all over the place.

Monday, January 17, 2005

"The Pretender"

Jackson Browne's a brave man. So is any of those sensitive singer-songwriter types. They put their inner weaknesses and demons out there for all to see, and find by happy chance that there's a bunch of us out there who can TESTIFY! I like this one for the nifty device he uses at the start of the chorus, and the wonderful line "Caught between the longing for love/And the struggle for the legal tender." Oh, and the fact that children *solemnly* wait for the ice cream man. I'd be pretty certain there's a little of The Pretender in all of us. So while he might have written a song called "For Everyman", I think *this one* might be it.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

"Find You"

One of the few songs I haven't got in my collection that I really, really need to find. Jason & the Scorchers were from Steve Earle's branch of country rock, and they knew how to light up your stereo. This is all sorts of things: chiming, driving, rocking, flat-out, twanging, you name it. There's even a hint of hillbilly in there somewhere. "I'm gonna find you, to find me/I want to climb into your family tree". Chortle.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

"La Grange"

It's a simple enough formula: one guitar, one bass, one drumkit, two beards and a Beard. Build a base of filthy driving rhythm, apply blues licks liberally, add healthy doses of vaguely suspect humor and a healthy growling howl on top. Voila; ZZ Top. This is merely my favorite of theirs, but i can listen to them ad infinitum and enjoy every second. What's not to like about music that makes you move and brings a smile to the face?

Friday, January 14, 2005


There seems to be an occasional theme of dissing the South among songwriters. Neil Young's "Southern Man" is the one we all know, Randy Newman wrote "Rednecks" and then there's Warren Zevon's "Play It All Night Long" which, in the words of David Letterman, may be the only song ever written to use the word "brucellosis". Anyway, I've always thought that "Renegade" was Warren's apology for having written "Play It All Night Long". The version I listen to is a live solo performance, just Warren, a piano and violin, and it's a stately, epic, bitter indictment: "We ain't seen no reconstruction here/Just the scorched earth all around/And the high school band played Dixieland/While they tore our tattered flags and banners down".

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Istanbul Not Constantinople"

Sometimes you have to have a laugh. I think this is funny as hell, and it always makes me smile. In fact, They Might Be Giants always make me smile.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

"Sneaking' Sally Through the Alley"

Robert Palmer had a fantastic soul voice: "Every Kinda People", "Some Guys Have All the Luck", even "Simply Irresistible" are all wonderful performances, but on this song he takes it to a whole new level. It might help that he's jamming wth the Meters, who were about as funky as it's possible to be, but you can feel the joy and hear how much fun they're all having. This is a joy to dance to.

Monday, January 10, 2005

"Being Boiled"

I have a soft spot for electronic music, the idea that wires and transistors can do what catgut and wood have done for centuries. The whistles, squeaks and buzzes that the Human League started out playing with are assembled into a sparse, droning dystopia about as far from Bach as you can get. And the lyrics - baffling art-school vocabulary. You could call it Meccano music.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"State Trooper"

Sometimes the simplest things are the best. Bruce Springsteen may have gone through a period when he was writing commercial, but this is sensational. One man and his guitar, a dusty, hopeless night, a highway that won't end, This is right up there with "I'm on Fire" as an example of how good Bruce can get: "The only thing that I got/Been bothering me my whole life".

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

"Song 2"

Someone's taken "Song 2" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit' and spliced them together, and it just about works. Weird. Blur are fun - they'll try anything. This is a kitchen thrash chorus from hell, great to jump up and down and throw yourself around to. Brilliant.

Monday, January 03, 2005

"Pick Up the Pieces"

I love this. I was re-introduced to it when browsing a furniture stall in Camden Market, and couldn't help dancing around the achingly expensive retro lampshades and occasional tables. It's hard to believe this comes from a bunch of bearded Scots blokes who look like they've been debating Descartes in a pub all afternoon, rather than some taut-as-a-drum soul band from Chicago. Stick this on your MP3 player and embarass the hell out of yourself on the Underground platform.