Saturday, May 16, 2009

Another Ten Songs Your iPod Needs

Curious, this. I thought I - and everybody else for that matter - would've got well-sick of this 'what I've got on my MP3 and why you should have it too' conceit by now. But, seemingly not. So, ever onwards ... Let's start in 1974.

1. Dr Feelgood - 'Roxette' (United Artists Records UP35760-A): One of the great rock and roll TV performances of all time, this - from The Old Grey Whistle Test. Watch as Wilko Johnson provides Paul Weller with an entire career plan in one three minute burst of manic thrashing, strutting and glowering at the camera. That's entertainment, dear blog reader. And, something you just don't see anywhere near enough on TV these days, 'the mad bloke with the guitar.' Love this song. Love this performance. Love the late and much lamented Lee Brilleaux givin' that harmonica some serious spit. What a fabulous - and very under-rated - band the Feelgoods were. 'You don't have to be a musician to play rock 'n' roll,' Lee once said. 'You've just got to love it and want to play it.' Dynamite.

2. Half Man Half Biscuit - 'The Trumpton Riots' (Probe Plus TRUMP1-A): Same show, albeit with a marginally modified - less grey - title (and different hosts) ten years later! 'ELEVATE!' The fact, dear blog reader, that Nigel Blackwell still hasn't been knighted for his services to music, the celebration of tack-TV and stand-up comedy is one of the great unjust crimes of the last fifty years, far bigger than any MP claims scandal. I'm not actually sure if that is a Dulka Prague away kit he's wearing on this, I believe the Halfies only ever TV appearance (more likely, it's a Tranmere away kit). 'We've had Cant conformism since 1966/And now subversions in the air in the shape of flying bricks.' The Halfies are, of course, still going strong and I, along with a few thousand other lunatics, still continue to buy the occasional records they put out every couple of years. Because there is, quite simply, nobody else like them on the planet.

3. Dreadzone - 'Little Britain' (Virgin VSCDG 1565-A): This brilliant live performance, complete with two false starts, is from Poland in 2007, apparently. Mighty Dread! A beautiful song, full of intelligent lyrics and clever samples (mostly from Lindsay Anderson's 'If ...' - 'Britain today is a powerhouse!') 'This is our land/This is your land.' Yer mon. GO!

4. Stevie Wonder - 'Superstition' (Tamla 54226-A): I love the music of Motown and all of its associate labels. Music you can dance to and fall in love to. Music that, for the few minutes that it's on, makes you happy, makes you buzz, makes you alive. I quite like the early 'doo-wop' years, but, for me, the company reallly hit its stride sometime around 1961 when 'Please Mr Postman' was a hit and, from there until the early seventies, they barely put a foot wrong. One can look for a specific date for the end of this 'gloden' age and the general consensus is that -if such a date exists - it's somewhere around 1972. Different reasons are often cited, not least the company moving lock, stock and two smoking en masse to LA and, in that instant, losing the in-house groove - actual and conceputal - that they enjoyed back in Detroit at Hitsville to become something more corporate. More business. But, personally, I put the end of the classic Motown period squarely at 8 November 1972 and the release of this single. Because, frankly, after this there was nowhere else for them to go. How do you top perfection? Tell it to The Man, Stevie.

5. The Stone Roses - 'I Am The Resurrection' (Silvertone ORE40-A): Eight minutes and ten seconds of stomping, whopping and spinning Northern Soul. 'I Am The Resurrection' distills everything that was great about The Roses into one song - Reni's funky drums, Mani's bone-shaking basslines, Johnny Squire's solo - Pete Townshend tripped-out on E and sent to Jupiter. it's the arrogance, the cockiness, it's Salford personified. 'I am the resurrection/and I am the life/I couldn't ever bring myself/to hate you as I'd like!' And then came Speke Island. And a few miles across town, Liam and Noel were watching earnestly and taking lots of notes. Britpop, in all its marbled forms, start right here - at the death of baggy. Or, alternatively, here's the 'live at the Blackpool Tower' version which goes on for about half an hour and featuring some of the very worst singing of Ian Brown's career! And it's still magical. 'Down, down/You bring me down...'

6. Massive Attack - 'Angel' (Wild Buch Records WBRCD10-A): The rumbling bass intro sparks with sheer menace, and danger. Yet Horace Andy's soft, floating (almost feline) vocals speak words of comfort, reassurance and even love. This curious juxtaposition is the key to the song's power as layer after layer of rich, deep, textured sounds cover, but never suffocate, the core elements of the record. Add in Angelo Bruschini's tough, angular guitars and you have something to be admired, feared and danced to all at the same time. Possibly the finest ever use of a song in dramatic television was 'Angel' cropping up at the climax to an episode of The West Wing, weaving in an out of the narrative across five intense, heart-stopping moments as Zoey Bartlet is kidnapped. 'Love you/love you/love you/love you/love you/love you/love you...' Epic, in every sense of the word.

7. The Animals - 'We've Gotta Get Out of This Place' (EMI Columbia DB7639-A): I doubt very much whether Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil have ever been within a thousand miles of Newcastle upon Tyne. When they wrote 'We've Gotta Get Out Of This Place' they were in New York and were writing a vaguely brooding number of The Righteous Brothers. But the notorious Allen Klein heard it, liked it, passed it to Mickey Most in London and it ended up being recorded by The Animals at Regent Sound in their first session after Alan Price had left the band (that's Dave Rowberry on the keys). So, Chas Chandler arranges a three note bass intro that has became a template for Peter Hook's career and Eric Burdon takes one look at the lyrics, thinks of growing up in Walker and sings 'In this dirty old part of the city/where the sun refuses to shine/people tell me their ain't no use it trying.' And, The Animals howled. I have to say, also, that's a jolly lovely Rickenbacker 360 Hilton Valentine's playing there!

8. The Four Tops - 'It's The Same Old Song' (Motown 1081-A): You've really got to admire Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. They were a trio of cheeky bastards! They've had a bunch of hits with The Vandellas, The Supremes and, latterly, The Four Tops but some of the more picky end of the music press have started to complain that, musically, 'I Can't Help Myself' was just like 'Where Did Our Love Go?' Which was exactly like 'Baby Love.' Which was a bit like 'Nowhere To Run.' Which was similar to 'Can I Get A Witness?' Which was exactly like 'Leaving Here.' Etc. etc. So, the next song they write is called 'It's The Same Old Song' and features 'I Can't Help Myself's chords, played backwards. You've honestly got to stand up and salute irony like that! And, here's Levi, Duke and the boys on Shindig! Never mind the quality, feel the groove. And, nice threads.

9. The Bodines - 'Therese' (Creation CRE: 028-A): Another classic little example of C86 Indie in the style of, let say, The Mighty Lemon Drops or Ride or early primal Scream. The Bodines, from Glossop in Derbyshire and fronted by the floppy-fringed singer Michael Ryan, were an edgy, slightly awkward and angular guitar band live but this single, produced by Ian Broudie, was a thing of rare jangly beauty. Then, as with many of their contemporaries, they signed for a major label (Magnet, in The Bodines case) and it all went horribly wrong.

10. The Kinks - Waterloo Sunset (Pye Records 7N 17321-A): And, let's finish off with one pretty much everybody knows. Ray and the Muswell Hillbilly Boys reminding us that whilst vast chunks of the 1960s were far more crap that you've ever been led to believe some of it was, actually, as good as your dad'll make out. Not sure what that small furry animal is doing draped around Dave Davies's chin there, but anyway ... From Beat Club. You gotta love them German kids, they really like their 'guitar-based raaaawk.'

Next time on 'Songs To Sing and Learn', some Teardrop Explodes, some Echo and the Bunnymen, a bit of Joy Divison, a splash of R Dean Taylor, a bit of The Move, a token sprinkling of Bob Marley and, if I'm feeling really contrary, Charlie Drake.

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