This is the blog post that I’ve been waiting to happen. The recent spurt of writing has been good, and using the idea of writing about the records I listened to as a clothes hanger upon which to hang some typing has worked pretty well. But today… I dunno, can’t really think of anything to type about, so what follows is just coming out of my head without any real thought.
I woke up with “Me and the Farmer” by the Housemartins in my head, planned to listen to one or both of their albums, then found, unexpectedly, I didn’t have them in my iTunes. So I settled for what I still think of as Paul Heaton’s “other band,” a band that were going for almost four times as long, The Beautiful South. And this is the first day since I’ve been doing this that I’ve listened to a best-of compilation. I listened to two of them: this one, and the Erasure one.
I’m a fan of best-ofs. That wasn’t always the case. I still am to a great extent, but I used to be more of a music snob. And the idea of best-ofs used to rub me up the wrong way. One should hear songs in the context the artist had designed them to be heard. Singles are an artificial way of hearing music. Those songs are supposed to be heard as part of a collection of songs written and recorded during a period of time. That, of course, is horse shit.
It’s the album that’s (mostly) a fake concept. A musician writes a song. Can be two minutes or five minutes or 20 minutes, but it’s a song that starts, middles, ends. Then when he or she has a bunch of them recorded, that’s an album. The album is a great idea, I love it, but it’s just a convenient way for record labels to sell something first and foremost. And this is the great thing about best-ofs: we get no rubbish songs on there just because they were written around the same time as the few good songs. B-sides are (were?) b-sides for a reason: they were the crappest songs written and recorded during the album sessions. And, while it’s a massive generalisation, you can say the same about three or four of all album tracks. I’m not talking about albums like Pet Sounds or What’s Going On, albums which we have collectively appreciated for being great works, but there are very very few albums which couldn’t have at least one song removed without the overall thing being affected adversely.
I’ve bought a couple of other Beautiful South albums in my life. I can remember virtually none of the non-singles from those albums. I always got the feeling that when a band was described as a “singles band,” it was said with a slight sneer, like they weren’t substantial. Fuck that. There’s 14 songs on Carry On up the Charts, and all but a couple of them are fantastic songs. There’s a lot more enjoyment to be had with that album than any of their proper records. Similarly with the Erasure best-of. That one is an absolute cracker. And Erasure, looking back with an, at times, faulty memory, possibly the first time in my life that I actually noticed a gay singer using the word “you” all the time instead of being specific about gender. It’s nice to be inclusive like that, and it’s kind of clever in a way that back then sexuality wasn’t talked about as openly as it is nowadays, but it’s kind of sad that there’s probably still a great chance that a gay singer is lunikely to have massive hits and sing lyrics about a “he.”
For a moment, let’s just pause, sit back, (and in my case, listen to it again as I type), and reflect on how absolutely lovely “A Little Respect” is. Such a pretty song. One of the 100 best songs of my lifetime. (This is something I really should write down one day. I’m so wont to say it’s this, it’s that, but I don’t really know. Perhaps this is in the top 50, or maybe it’d be number 101 on my list.)
And here, embedded in the page for your enjoyment, is my favourite Beautiful South song, “Prettiest Eyes.” I’m such a sucker for a pretty melody and lyrics about the sort of couple one would love to be half of.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Carry On up the Charts – The Beautiful South
Storytelling – Belle and Sebastian
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
About A Boy – Badly Drawn Boy
Pop! The First 20 Hits – Erasure