Friday, April 29, 2005


Imagine you're walking through a north African souk, feeling breathless in the heat and slightly light-headed from the sun, the smells, the blinding whitewashed walls. You're being pushed this way and that, losing your bearings from time to time and struggling to keep up with the sea of people ebbing and flowing in and out of the squares, the narrow streets and courtyards. You hear the feminine wailing of the muezzin echoing in your head from the previous evening, you hear drums and gradually a beat begins to form around you, a tense, insistent patter of percussion that presses against your head. You're getting dizzy and the people, the market stalls, the houses are beginning to spin around you.....and you find you're the one spinning around, losing yourself in the insistent seduction of the music.
But then you come to, and realise you've been smoking opium and listening to Jean Michel Jarre in Finchley. Bah.

"Buddy Holly"

Over on Cocaine Jesus' blog, he reviews "Teenage Kicks" by the Undertones and quite plausibly calls it "one of the best singles ever". I suggested a couple of others that might vie for that accolade, but CJ reckoned they're a bit too "Beatlish", which is fair enough. So it set me to thinking what more recent tunes could arguably be called one of the "best ever".
And then I played "Buddy Holly". Weezer have got it just about 100% right with this: it's got perfect pop roots, a snappy chorus, great harmonies. But better yet, it's got the buzz-saw guitar favoured by grunge and the lyric is just off-centre enough to be a love song with a difference: "What's with these homies dissing my girl?/Why do they gotta front?/What did we ever do to these guys that made them so violent?" It's vaguely dysfunctional, disaffected, but there's no hiding the fact that underneath lies a great, great pop song.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

"Snuff Rock"

Some time in the late 70s, Alberto Y Los Trios Paranoias recorded the now-infamous "Snuff Rock" EP; four tracks about death, recorded as a spoof on the punk movement: "I don't give a damn/I don't fucking care/Gonna kill me mum and dad and pull out me hair/Fed up with the dole and the human race/Gonna cut me liver out and shove it in your face." If there has ever been a set of songs - "Kill", "Gobbing on Life", "Snuffing Like That" and the reggae rip-off "Snuffin In A Babylon" - that better skewered the whole New Wave attitude, I can't think of it. The Albertos went on to do the same to heavy metal with "Heads Down No Nonsense Mindless Boogie". But these four tracks are perfect: the music is a perfect pastiche, the vocals are spot-on, in fact these songs are better than most punk output. Even the reggae is right: "Snuffin in a Babylon/All de people/Dropping like flies/Nobody left 'cept I an I."

"I Touch Myself"

There's something abandoned about this song, something of the obsessional: "I love myself/I want you to love me/When I´m feeling down/I want you above me/I search myself/I want you to find me/I forget myself/I want you to remind me." This song is half-clothed, utterly spent after an intense night of passion, carelessly caressing a cup of coffee at the kitchen table and staring blindly out the window while trying to make sense of a storm of emotions. It's all in the voice here; the song bravely tries to keep up with the lyric, but it's doomed to fail. What's sad is how the Divinyls never topped this.

"S-s-single Bed"

I can't help but think of this as the musical equivalent of a clumsy, half-cut fumbling in the back of a taxi after the company Christmas party. You know the idea; you've drunk a glass or two too much, you've ended back up at her tiny flat, you've listened to some music, drunk a bit more, clumsily kissed and made very hazy love in the sitting room. There's just a single bed, so you have to sleep on the sofa, and tomorrow morning, you're both going to turn up in the office and try not to be too obvious. Noosha Fox's voice is half-apologetic girl, half not-at-all-apologetic seductress: "Ain't it a shame/You missed the last train/Cos all I've got/Is a single bed/There ain't no room/For your sweet head." Jittery and funky, a stop/start beat, this is enjoyable in a nudge-nudge kind of way.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

"A Design for Life"

"Libraries gave us power/Then work came and made us free", and ever since then we've been on a colossal bender, according to the Manic Street Preachers. "I wish I had a bottle/Right here in my dead face/To wear the scars/To show from where I came". Evidently the life of leisure that 21st century progress has afforded us is being wasted, misspent, pissed against the wall round the back of a nightclub. Once again, you have a chorus that reaches for somewhere up near Jupiter, soars as high as our drunken aspirations, borne away on some most un-Manic strings, and you just wish for a moment, sadly, that this was a song about love, children or peace, and not about the fetid blast from our inebriated lungs. But for all that, it's a massive, huge song.

"We Care a Lot!"

Faith No More were still an unknown band when this came out, a raw slab of thudding bass and a slash of guitar -- a bit like a tribute to Killing Joke -- and singer Chuck Mosley chanting relentlessly: "We care a lot!/About disasters, fires, floods and killer bees/About the NASA shuttle falling in the sea/About starvation and the food that Live Aid bought/It's a dirty job but someone's gotta do it!" This is a caustic, ironic, angry look at compassion fatigue, at the efforts of celebrities to parlay their caring into bigger sales, and the state of things in general. This is as angry and vital as the Sex Pistols or the Clash when they first burst into view, but it's not the unfocussed scatter-gun aggression of punk, or the shoe-gazing squall of grunge. It's taking careful aim and letting rip.

"Here Comes My Girl"

Once in a while you hear something that manages to capture the defiance, the spirit, the raw courage that life sometimes needs. This does that job beautifully. Tom Petty does the swagger and aggression of gunslinging youth so well, and his shout "When I got that little girl standing right by my side I can tell the whole wide world to shove it!" is one of the great in-your-face moments in rock, like Roger Daltrey's scream at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again". The redemption of love, the relentless optimism of youth, the certainty of the here and now, it's all here.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

"Albedo 0.39"

Utterly spooky, totally out there. This comprises nothing more than gentle electronic patterns, over which a man's voice recites various characteristics of the earth:
"Maximum distance from the sun: 94,537,000 miles
Minimum distance from the sun: 91,377,000 miles
Mean orbital velocity: 66,000 mph
Orbital eccentricity: 0.017
Obliquity of the eccliptic: 23 degrees, 27 minutes 8.26 seconds
Length of the tropical year, equinox to equinox: 365.24 days
Length of the sederial year, fixed star to fixed star: 365.26 days
Length of the solar day: 24 hours, 3 minutes 56.555 seconds in mean solar time
Length of the mean sederial day: 23 hours 56 minutes 4.091 seconds in mean solar time
Mass: 6,600,000,000,000,000,000,000 tonnes
Equatorial diameter: 7,927 miles
Polar diameter: 7,900 miles
Oblaqueness 1/298th
Density: 5.41
Mean surface gravitational acceleration of the rotating earth: 32.174 ft/sec/sec
Escape velocity: 7 miles per second
Albedo is defined as "The fraction of incident electromagnetic radiation reflected by a surface, especially of a celestial body."

Don't say you never learn anything from this blog!

"Lemon Incest"

I'm making no apologies for blogging this. Serge Gainsbourg was one of the most provocative artists of the 20th century, never settling for anything less than controversy in all he did. But people tend to be blinded by the provocation and tend not to look beyond the surface. For a start, he was one of the wittiest writers going, and if you have even a basic understanding of French, you'll see what I mean. This track caused an immense furore when it appeared: a duet with his daughter Charlotte. Obviously, he's doing his best to outrage. But in French "Incest de citron" sounds awful close to "un zeste de citron", or, a zest of lemon to the cooks out there. And the song itself is an arrangement of one of Chopin's finer moments. I'm sorry, but I'm prepared to give the man some latitude. Look beyond the deliberate attempt to upset morals, and give him some credit for seeing humor where it might not always be evident.

Friday, April 22, 2005

"Disorder In the House"

This is a song with a story. In September 2003, Warren Zevon was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and given weeks to live. In the time he had left, Warren decided to record some more music with his friends. By the time he got around to recording this, his senses were so dulled by painkillers that it took him innumerable takes to sing in time: the video footage of this final act of defiance is heart-wrenching, as Warren's co-writer Jorge Calderon tries to help him with the beat.
Given that background, this song is an incredible achievement. The fact that it's up to Warren's life-long standards of wit and intelligence is beyond incredible. "Disorder in the house/All bets are off/I'm sprawled across the davenport of despair/Disorder in the house/I'll live with the losses/And watch the sundown through the portiere". The incendiary guitar is courtesy of Bruce Springsteen, who does his friend proud. Warren lived for a year after his diagnosis, saw his final album released, and left this world a better place for his work.

"Rough Boy"

This song never fails to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. It's a slow, stately blues, something you can wallow in, powered by an insistent drum machine, but lifted into a totally different plane by two of the most plangent, simple, tearing guitar solos I've ever heard. They say Jimi Hendrix could make a guitar cry, but when he met Billy Gibbons he must have passed the secret on. There's a moment close to the end of this song when the guitar, which has been crying for a couple of minutes already, breaks out into a jagged sob, and it just kicks the whole song into that final, ethereal plane.

"Three Lions 98"

Here's an odd one. Every time the World Cup comes around, and football fans around the world go collectively gaga, the music industry takes it upon itself to provide musical encouragement to the national teams. Over the years, there have been some pretty dreadful efforts which I won't detail, though "World in Motion" by New Order was pretty special. But, for some unfathomable reason, this effort by the Lightning Seeds sticks in my head. Partly it's because of the awful record the England team has compiled in major championships since 1966, and partly it's the relentless optimism of a nation that won't give up hope. Musically, there's little to recommend this, but STILL I have a soft spot for it. Maybe it's the radio commentary spliced into the mix, but mostly I think it's the fact that this, reissued version of the song also mixes in the sound of the crowds chanting the chorus - recorded two years earlier when the song was originally issued. Some of the singing is pretty awful and the lyric is a little impenetrable to non-fans, but there's an enormous sense of pain and regret, hope and anticipation, that never fails to raise a small lump in the throat.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Every Day is a Winding Road"

This is wonderful. The congas stutter into gear, a bass comes rumbling up from somewhere near the center of the earth and is joined by what I can only describe as a guitar that sounds like it's plugged into a racing engine, and then the whole thing is off and running. A wonderful, hip-shaking backbeat and a kooky, marginalised lyric that opens out into a chorus as wide as sunset in Texas. Off-beat observations, and Sheryl Crow's voice sounds like it's always reaching for something more... "I hitched a ride with a vending machine repair man/He says he's been down this road more than twice/He was high on intellectualism/I've never been there but the brochure looks nice."

"Night Moves"

I remember seeing the animated film "American Pop" many years ago, in which this song played a pivotal part. One of the characters has long wanted to make it as a singer-songwriter, and plays this song as his audition piece. It's a gentle, moody song, reeking of experience and dust, of harsh lessons learned and electric, humid summer days when the thunderclouds lie close to the ground. It's one of Bob Seger's most atmospheric songs and one of his best. The kid got the gig in the film, by the way, and became a huge star.

"Isn't It Time"

More pure pop heaven. The Babys weren't around for long, just long enough to showcase John Waite's voice -- later heard on the AOR staple "Missing You". This reminds me a little of the Raspberries; an orchestral rock ballad, with all parts present and correct: the piano riff that hooks you, the brass blasts that kick the chorus into touch, the strings hanging on for dear life and the female backing vocal that comes back, time and again, to warn you that this whole love thing is a hell of a risk.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

"Tiny Dancer"

This song has undergone a bit of a renaissance in recent years, perhaps due to its climactic "appearance" in the film "Almost Famous", but almost certainly because millions of music fans have realised that, before he dove head-first into high camp and Liberace-like excess, Elton John really could pen a fantastic tune. He's not quite a singer-songwriter, given that the lyrics were almost always by Bernie Taupin, but he had a gift for finding the killer hook or the aching chorus. And lyrically, too, here's an aching chorus for you: "Hold me closer tiny dancer/Count the headlights on the highway/Lay me down on sheets of linen/You had a busy day today". Wonderful. Like Billy Joel, Elton John has/had a knack for writing a chorus so high and wide you could drive an 18-wheeler through it. There's an almost-hippy air to this song, as if he's chronicling something he remembers from a decade or so earlier, but at heart it's a song about the music business, touring, groupies. Which is probably why it was a shoo-in for the "Almost Famous" soundtrack.

"Pretend We're Dead"

I love the guitar sound on this. It's like a dentist's drill recorded at 78 rpm (for you under-30s out there, look up "gramophone" at but played back at 33 rpm; it just reaches into your head and literally tickles your ears from the inside. I don't know a great deal about L7, but I know when a song is hitting the spot: "Turn the tables with our unity/They're not a moral nor majority/Wake up and smell the coffee/Or just say no to individuality." This is either grunge power or girl power, but it rocks.

"25 or 6 to 4"

OK, hands up who gets this song. It's either a bad acid trip or random word association, but it's a nervous, jittery song, like a panic attack. I have masses of respect for Chicago, seeing how long they've survived in the business and what great songs they've produced, but I just do NOT get this. The skittish drum pattern sets the tone, while the short, sharp blasts of brass drive home the worried, sweaty feel. I have no idea what "25 or 6 to 4" means, but I'll bet it's a drug reference. Please correct me if I'm wrong. And please someone, explain to me how Peter Cetera went from singing this to singing the execrable "Power of Love" 20 years later.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

"Life in the Fast Lane"

The Eagles, again. This is probably the clearest explanation of what the whole "Hotel California" album is about: "They knew all the right people/They took all the right pills/They threw outrageous parties/They paid heavenly bills/There were lines on the mirror/And lines on her face/She pretended not to notice/She was caught up in the race/Out every evening/Until it was light/He was too tired to make it/She was too tired to fight about it." Pure unadulterated hedonism that started to take its toll way too quickly. "He said call the doctor/I think I'm going to crash/The doctor said he's coming but you got to pay in cash". The fact that this song still sounds even vaguely country is a testament to the fact that a good musician is still a good musician no matter how many drugs he's taken.

"Riders on the Storm"

There seems to be a healthy debate concerning the Doors and particularly, Jim Morrison's status as a cult god. Was he an unutterable wanker who faithfully inflated his own sense of self-importance before expiring in a haze of his own overextended imagination? Or was he really a poet-genius who simply couldn't control his impulses? When the Doors were restrained, when they held themselves in check and when Morrison wasn't allowed to run riot, they were a pretty damn decent band. This track is probably the best example of low-key Doors, minus the Ghormenghast of Morrison's indulgences (such as "The End"), or their occasional forays into straight-ahead rock. It's almost jazz in some ways, delicate keyboards and a gentle but insistent beat, and you can almost forget the lyric as the melody swirls around you like smoke in a crowded club. This really works.

"Gimme Some Lovin'"

Remember when dance music was just that - music you could dance to? Nobody talked about hard house, old school, garage, trance etc... hell, dance music nowadays has more genres than jazz. Better yet, it didn't matter if there were guitars to the fore; as long as it had a beat you could move to, you were out there on the floor shaking your stuff. Well, this is one of those wonderful, genre-defying songs that I remember getting totally overexcited to in the days before the United Nations forces told me I didn't know how to dance and therefore shouldn't try to. When you hear the Hammond organ stutter into gear like a twelve-cylinder engine and the unstoppable bass rhythm leads you into Stevie Winwood's soul-drenched yelp, you know you've entered the happy zone.

Monday, April 18, 2005

"Angel Dressed in Black"

"Sitting on a sofa/Sucking a bowl of crack/Thinking to myself about my/Angel dressed in black." Paranoia, hallucination, inertia, fear, the hint of self-harm, this song is holding a kitchen knife behind its back. There's a cheery, drug-fuelled dismissal of all the possible Bad Things that could have happened to her while she has been away: "She might have been arrested/She might have been attacked/She might be lying dead somewhere/My angel dressed in black" and then the suggestion that she may well be just a hallucination anyway. Listening to this is like having a rambling, confused conversation with someone who's picking the yellow M&Ms out of a large bowl, scratching their arms uncontrollably and muttering to themselves about nothing in particular.

"Bad Company"

There's been plenty of songs written about gunfighters, bad boys, cowboys gone wrong, but I find that most of them romanticise, mythologize if you like. The Eagles' "Desperado" is a good example. This, by Bad Company, has a gloomier, altogether more dirty feel to it, like a sepia portrait that's been slashed once too many times. There's no redemption here, no happy ending, no triumph of good over evil, just a stately piano, gentle washes of cymbal, and Paul Rodgers' tired, aching voice, almost pleading for an end to the running, to the fear. "Now these towns/They all know my name/Six gun sound/Is our claim to fame/I can hear them saying/Bad company/And I won't deny it/Bad company/till the day I die".

"Girls and Boys"

From what I can work out, this song is about androgyny, unemployment, dumbing down, sex as a commodity, holiday romances, sexually-transmitted diseases and the lack of original thought. It's a sneering look down the nose at the lumpenproletariat in the same way that Pulp's "Common People" isn't. I didn't think the class divide was quite as entrenched as this. Or perhaps it's not class. Maybe something else has taken over as the main yardstick in judging our fellow humans. Our aspirations? Our thoughts? Our sexual preferences? In any case, Blur were terrific observers and chroniclers of the Brit life in the same tradition as the Who and the Kinks were in their time. The song is vaguely hypnotic, perhaps suggesting the mindless follow-the-leader thing that the lyric suggests. And the chorus is sung with an uncomfortable amount of relish...

Wednesday, April 13, 2005


There are some songs that are just unstoppable in the same way that a gang of thugs backing you up against a wall in an alley is pretty irresistible. This is one of those songs. We're not talking about volume, but a stomping beat and a wall of voices in your face. Heaven 17 were, despite their pop sensibilities, pretty far out for the 80s. They broke out from the same electronic underground that spawned the Human League, and were a massive club success when "Fascist Groove Thing" came out. This song is all about winding you up into a ball of tension, taunting you with the starts-soft-but-gets-louder chorus and the general sense of abandoning yourself to a higher groove.


I've got issues with this song. It's a fab song, but it's too damn straightforward, too simple in its message. According to the lyric, an old streetsweeper dreams of his retirement and buying a boat which he's going to name "Dignity". Even a ten-year old's going to get that... And compared to the rest of Deacon Blue's output, this is pretty entry-level stuff.
Or am I being too fussy? Maybe Songs About Issues shouldn't always make you think, maybe a straightforward message is good enough. All right, there's a pretty neat line in there about reading Maynard Keynes (hello, Mrs Thatcher) but all in all I'm left wondering whether Ricky Ross could have tried just that little bit harder....

"In Your Eyes"

Sinead O'Connor called Peter Gabriel "completely barking" mad once. Fair enough, he's worn some pretty strange stage costumes in his time, but at the same time he's produced some pretty astounding music. O'Connor's fairly thoughtless comment just makes one wonder whether sanity really is a prerequisite for art. Anyone who's heard the epic, elegiac "Here Comes the Flood" or "Don't Give Up" will testify that the man could draw tears from a stone. The difference with this track is that, for me, the emotion doesn't come so much from the beautiful sound the song makes, but rather from the closing vocal solo by Youssou N'Dour: a soaring, wailing, joyous sound that skips around the chorus like a child, absorbed in its own intricate patterns, a sound of innocence and redemption at the same time.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

"Sebrina, Paste & Plato"

I think the best pop songs have to have an element of the ridiculous about them, a whiff of fantasy and unlikeliness. And this is just chock-full of al of that. Put aside the gorgeous harmonies, the perfect chorus and the outstanding musicianship, and listen to the whole thing and you get the impression you're at the Mad Hatter's Tea Party, where things are not quite as they should be. "Chesney's looking dapper in his brand
new dunce cap/Strolling down the runway to an "F" (never has he looked so lovely)/With all the others watching, eating paste and Plato (the one and only)/He fights the urge to run and kiss the chef". As the t-shirt would say, "Dude, WTF?" Jellyfish are sorely, sadly missed.

"Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?"

"Looking like a born again/Living like a heretic/Listening to Arthur Lee records/Making all your friends feel so guilty/About their cynicism/And the rest of their generation/Not even the government are gonna stop you now/But are you ready to be heartbroken?"
Sorry? You lost me around Arthur Lee, Lloyd. And what's with "Pumped up full of vitamins/On account of all the seriousness"?
But never mind, I can forgive the slightly obscure cafe society literary thing, because the song's so damn good. And possibly because I envy Lloyd Cole's ability to whistle up a song as lovely as this over a latte in some Camden bar and grill....Delicate guitar, what sounds like an accordion that's just right for the mood, and a voice that betrays not one bit of sympathy for the victim of love, but instead just a hint of guilty pleasure, as if someone you'd been in love with from a distance for a long time had been crossed by a lover, someone who never loved them nearly as much as you do.

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Inspired by the film of the same name, this is an existential lament only it doesn't quite know it. It's a slow, seductive, round-the-dance-floor-at-the-end-of-the-party sort of song that has so many layers of interpretation it's dizzying. Just like the film. I never heard another song by Racing Cars again, but after this, I don't suppose I need to.

"English Rose"

Not many love songs have the merit of being as simple and straightforward, yet as plangent and ethereal as this one. Anyone who remembers The Jam and their angry indictments of modern day injustice and unpleasantness was probably as surprised as I was to hear this. Like Nick Lowe's "Tonight", this is as simple as ABC, yet it's packed with all the pent-up, raw, pure, idealistic emotions that we've all felt, whether 18 or 80. Paul Weller had the wit to write a song that takes us out into the depths of the universe, and yet brings us right back home in the next line which, to me, is what love feels like.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

"Hoo Dee Hoo"

I was walking home this evening, listening to this song and it struck me how many good lyrics are obscured, hidden behind the music that's supposed to be the more important part of the synthesis. Here's a great case in point: the Rainmakers were one of the most literary bands to come out of the mid-West during the guitar revival of the 80s and 90s. This is a fairly martial rock workout, but the lyrics take it to another level entirely: "Well one year it was the factory, and one year the farm/We heated with wood and the house caught fire/I reached for a figure through the smoke and the sparks/But which one did I save, the girl or the guitar?" And then: "I made a lot of good money, got a lot of good press/Writing paperback novels like a man possessed/Every name was changed, every story was true/Every priest was me, every stripper was you/And we danced like angels cast out for being lovers/And I wrote their life story on a matchbook cover". Now THAT'S story-telling!

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

"The Indifference of Heaven"

"Time marches on/Time stands still/Time on my hands/Time to kill". There's something wanky and pseudish about this, you say? Hush, you're listening to a genius at work: "Blood on my hands/And my hands in the till/Down at the 7-11." As far as lyrics go, this song is perhaps as good as you'll get: "They say everything's all right/They say better days are near/They tell us these are the good times/They don't live around here/Billy and Christie don't/Bruce and Patti don't/They don't live around here." It's not a self-pity song so much as a world pity song. Things are bad all over, for you and me as well as Warren Zevon, and it doesn't hurt to sometimes point this out.

"Driving With Your Eyes Closed"

As you might have guessed by now, I'm a sucker for an interesting lyric. Don Henley doesn't often deviate from Worthy and Important Global Statements, but on this track he's more relaxed. It's a spare, stripped-down song, in which he drops in a wonderful couplet: "Some guys were born to Rimbaud/Some guys breathe Baudelaire" among other observations.


I never knew quite what to make of Public Image Limited: John Lydon's tilt at being taken seriously as an artist or just cashing in on the cachet of his reputation as a serious shit-stirrer? In any case this song, for me, outed Lydon as someone who could actually sing. I mean, listen to the chorus: He's in tune, dammit! And the rant: "Anger is an energy!" just seems to make sense in some inexplicable way.

Monday, April 04, 2005

"Life's Been Good"

If you're Joe Walsh, life has been damn good to you. First, you're part of The James Gang, who write two classic rock songs, "Funk #49" and "Walk Away". Then you go solo and write another great, great song, "Rocky Mountain Way". If this isn't enough, you get a call from The Eagles who need a new guitarist, and your first job is to stick a nifty solo into the title track of their new album. That album's called "Hotel California". So, while you're counting the money and reaping the plaudits for one of the most recognised solos in rock history, you whistle up another solo album and hey presto! Another classic! This track is a funny, knowing look at being a rock star, nothing too introspective or self-obsessed, just good "clean" fun. You have to enjoy a guy who titles an album "The Smoker Your Drink, The Player You Get".

"Fall At Your Feet"

Another very sexy song, but in a completely different way to Aerosmith's Pink which I mentioned a few days ago. This is a slow-burning, intense and passionate love song, prepared to let go with hope. Crowded House seem to be a thirty-something pleasure, not "vital" enough for the kids, but when you can create a mood such as this, and write lyrics like this, there's no shame in being appreciated by a more mature audience...."The finger of blame has turned upon itself/And I'm more than willing to offer myself/Do you want my presence or need my help/Who knows where that might lead?"

Sunday, April 03, 2005

"Keep On Rocking in the Free World"

There's a word to describe Neil Young: curmudgeon. Uncle Neil is like your original Angry Old Man. He's pissed off with the State of Things, and he doesn't care who knows it. At least, he is these days. Time was when he produced whimsical hippy-type odes like Old Man, Heart of Gold and After the Goldrush. Then the seventies got a bit ugly, and he began to see the dark side. Albums like "Tonight's the Night" and the great, great "Live Rust" showcase his gradual descent into chronicling the essential nastiness of man: "There's colors on the street/Red, white, and blue/People shuffling their feet/People sleeping in their shoes/There's a warning sign in the road ahead/There's a lot of people saying we'd be better off dead/Don't feel like Satan, but I am to them/So I try to forget them any way I can." He's not afraid to address The Issues and climb on that soapbox to make us listen and think, and for that he should be a Canadian National Monument.

Get well soon, Neil.


There are two versions of this song that seem to have two completely different emotions and interpretations. Elvis Costello wrote the song, and his version plays for quiet dignity and a clean, strong production. But Robert Wyatt's spare, jazzed-down take goes beyond dignity and achieves utter pathos, due mainly to his shaky, reedy voice. And for me, this is much the more powerful version. The economic and social devastation wreaked by successive years of Thatcherism is laid bare, exposed not so much by direct accusation but more by implication: "Is it worth it?/A new winter coat and shoes for the wife/And a bicycle on the boy's birthday/It's just a rumour that was spread around town/By the women and children/Soon we'll be shipbuilding." And the simple, plain facts: "With all the will in the world/Diving for dear life/When we could be diving for pearls." This isn't a song that gets you caught up in righteous rage, but one that lays a hand gently on your arm and points you in the right direction.

Friday, April 01, 2005

"Stop Dragging My Heart Around"

Stevie Nicks has, on the whole, been very clever in choosing her duet partners. Lindsay Buckingham, Don Henley (probably the best), and this one, with Tom Petty. There's something very catchy about the way their voices meld together: Nicks' bewitching, beguiling, soul-inflected call and Petty's keening nasal whine, but what probably tips the balance here is the fact that it's a Heartbreakers song, rather than one of Nicks' gossamer-clad occultist weirdnesses. This is important: too many misguided people think Nicks wrote this. There's no nonsense in the tune, led by Mike Campbell's trademarked chime, while Petty does anguish, as he always has, so damn well. A dark, angry, cathartic song.

"Misty Mountain Hop"

After seeing "Almost Famous" and hearing this song playing as the band arrive in New York to the memorable line: "Welcome to New York. It's OK to be nervous", I can't help but think of the dark underbelly of late 60s and early 70s so-called "innocence" whenever I hear this. Before, I had always enjoyed the back-beat, the hardcore opening riff and Robert Plant letting it all go: "Baby, baby, baby do you like it?". But I've read enough rock star biogs to know that there was just as much unpleasantness as there were God-like moments in front of a stadium crowd. There's something about the heavy-as-fuck beat -- perhaps it was the sheer size of Bonham's drumsticks -- that reminds me of ELO's "Don't Bring Me Down" (or should that be the other way around?) and makes me wish I had been around to hear this when it first came out, rather than filtered through history and a hundred and one pastiches.

"Saturn 5"

Today's lesson is how to mix 60s keyboard perkiness with crunchier-than-kitty-litter guitars and a hellacious beat. So ironic that this peach of a song should come from the dying days of the Inspiral Carpets' career: but sometimes the death throes produce the best work. You can dance your most abandoned, E-fuelled dance to this, you can strut across the bathroom like a lizard with the horn, or you can just howl along with the trippy lyrics: "Lady take a ride on a Zeke 64/Jerry wants to be a Rockette/There's a popular misconception/Says we haven't seen anything yet/Laying down the lifeless corpse of/President 35/The lady crying by his side is/The most beautiful woman alive." Happiness!