Archive for the ‘Music’ Category
Brains are great. I love how certain things can conjure up memories. Stuff you’d forgotten about. Sometimes in Mexico City, there will be a whiff coming from the sewers. A nasty smell, but a smell you get used to after a while. I could be walking somewhere, get the whiff, and right there, my brain double-clicks a memory of being in Chiapas, on my first visit to Mexico. The first time I smelled that Mexican sewer smell. I like the sense memories. When something comes back that you can’t fully describe. and music is very good at that sometimes. I’ll hear a record that reminds me of the coldness of my un-radiated childhood bedroom in January. And Josh Rouse’s album, whenever I hear it, makes me think of peacocks. Just peacocks. And if the image in my brain has to be expanded, it’s peacocks on a chilly, sunny day. I had a look through a bunch of old photographs to find out exactly why and where those peacocks came to be associated with Nashville, and that album came out the month before my ex-grilfriend and I took a day trip to Wörlitz, a town about an hour and a half southwest of Berlin. And there, in Wörlitzer Park, were peacocks. Here’s a couple of photographs of the ‘cocks, and one of Billy checking a ‘cock out.
Similarly, the Elbow album will always bring back the coldness of standing in Battery Park, New York, looking out at the Statue of Liberty in December 2008. Everybody already loved that album by the time I bothered to listen to it, and it seemed to fit my trip to New York perfectly at the time.
The Grizzly Bear album is an album I don’t particularly like. But yesterday, I figured I’d give it another go. Still a bit unimpressed. Some good songs, but overall, it’s just not for me. And it reminds me entirely of the first time I listened to it, in my room in Berlin at the end of 2009, starting work on a drawing of the mountains that surround the Beagle Channel. Part of that drawing ended up being used in the banner at the top of Flip Flop Flyin’. The idea was to draw a 360˚ view of the mountains. Every last one of them. This is the space I’d allocated in the image for those mountains:
And this is how much I’ve done of it. I never got beyond that part of the drawing that was used on FFF. But, listening to Grizzly Bear has reminding me that I should finish it. I’ll be working on it today, in fact.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Nashville – Josh Rouse
Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now – Justin Townes Earle
Blue Horse – The Be Good Tanyas
Sweet Heart Rodeo – Dawn Landes
The Seldom Seen Kid – Elbow
The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do – Fiona Apple
Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear
All Quiet on the Noise Floor – Jason Falkner
It’s Heavy in Here – Eric Matthews
The Lateness of the Hour – Eric Matthews
And, yes, I did copy and paste the title of the Fiona Apple LP.
Well, Sunday was interesting. Before we get to the interesting stuff, though, let’s talk music: forever, forever, ever, forever, ever?
I was reading an amusing account of Rihanna’s recent flounce around seven North American and European cities to promote her new album on Popjustice. It’s worth a read. In the account, the writer mentioned a Swedish pop group called Icona Pop. I am not as up on my Swedish pop music as I should be. So I Internetted around a bit, and found a place that was streaming their six-track Iconic EP. I have since found out that I am totally behind on this, but damn shit, their song “I Love It” is utterly fantastic. I listened to that one song a ton yesterday. I’m listening to it again as I type these words. Just in case you are out of the loop like me, here’s the YouTube thing:
While we’re on the topic of ace pop music – and really, is there any type of music as good as really good pop music? I’m all over some Pink Floyd, but gimme a “Holiday,” “Better the Devil You Know,” “Never Ever,” “Push The Button” any day of the week – here’s a couple more that I’ve been listening to recently. First, Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing”:
And here’s the amazing amazing amazing so-damn-awesome “Losing You” by Beyoncé’s sister, Solange Knowles.
Incidentally, “Dirrty” by Christina Aguilera was number one in the UK this week ten years ago.
And while she’s damn hot in that video, she looks even better nowadays:
Right, let’s get on with it. I should first explain a little about my living situation. I live in a strange building. There’s a salon de fiestas directly beneath my apartment, and on the ground floor, an out-of-business restaurant. The function room can be annoying at times. There are often parties on Friday and/or Saturday, but on the whole, it’s tolerable because they usually finish at 2am and there’s plenty of Fridays and Saturdays when I’m not even home at that time. But this Saturday night’s party didn’t finish until gone 2.30am, which would not be a problem were it not for the regular thing that happens every Sunday morning: a church group. You don’t see many black people in Mexico City. I see more if I walk down the stairs while the church group is arriving or leaving than I will the rest of the week. Not sure where they are from, but they all speak English, and the service is English. The leader of the group is always yelling “Jeeeeeeeeeeee-zus!” They aren’t particularly loud, apart from the first 30-45 mins when they have a drummer and they sing some songs. So, if I’ve been out, I’m woken up, without having had enough sleep, by Christians. Does nothing to make me feel any warmth towards the church, quite frankly. So: late party noise, six-ish hours sleep, early church noise, and then a mid-afternoon party going on upstairs. My upstairs neighbours are complete and utter cunts. I’m sorry to use that word. I’m not actually sorry, because I can’t think of another word strong enough. We need one, actually, that doesn’t apply negative vibrations to a slang word for vagina, don’t we? We need the strongest swear word to be one that isn’t about a female body part.
So anyway, they started having their party which was a little frustrating, so I upped and went to Starbucks for a bit (see previous post). When I came back, I saw about fifteen people arriving. Sigh. That means this is a proper party, not just a loud gathering. It felt like my cue to go out for the evening, and hope that, being a Sunday, it wouldn’t go on too long into the night. So I went out, to a place called Tortas Jorge. It’s a nice place. They usually have a guitar player singing all night. There’s loads of bullfighting posters on the walls. And the service is terrifyingly slow. But, you can sit down at a table, mind your own business, and have a few drinks. It’s nice. So, I did just that: had a few drinks, had a torta, listened to the man singing, wondered exactly how young the girl across the way was, who was caressing a man who was knocking on sixty years old (she couldn’t have been more than 22 or 23). Generally, a pleasant Sunday evening. I left there around 10pm.
With the optimism of a Belieber asking for a retweet, I walked down my street towards my apartment. From about 100 metres away, even though the lights from the apartment were dim, I could still make out figures on the balcony, and from about 50 metres away, I could hear the thud-thud-thud of music. Of course it was too much to hope that it would be over, regardless of the day of the week. So I went to a bar in my neighbourhood that I’d walked past, but never been into before, called Micheladas el Camellito.
If i told you it were a gay bar, and you had a peek inside, you wouldn’t be shocked by my description. It wasn’t a gay bar, though. There were no women in there, just a few tables occupied by dudes. A late middle-aged dude in a sweater sat on his own near the back, and two pairs of husky dudes sat at separate tables near the front, and a couple of guys sat outside in motorcycle leathers. The walls were black, the lights were red, the music was trance-y, and the TV was showing the Packers-Giants game. I ordered an Indio. They had no bottles, so it would be “barril.” Fine. Half litre or a litre? I guess I’m gonna be here for a while, so litre, por favor. It came in a plastic cup, the sort you get at sports events or concerts. The beer was shit. And I was starting to get a headache. Could do with going home. The game had finished, so the bar staff had fired up YouTube and we could see what they were choosing on the TV screen. Sound and picture quality: not good. It was nearing 11pm: no way the party will be over. But the bar was grim. Colour photocopies of caricatures stapled to the wall: Bono, Michael Jackson, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, Lady Gaga, Mr. Bean, Barack Obama.
Then things got interesting. One of the pairs of husky dudes got up to leave. They stood for a while outside near a parked taxi. And then they got in. One of them in the driver’s seat. As he pulled out to drive away, he rammed into the car parked in front of him. As it happens, a bar employee was stood outside smoking while it happened. They had a wee chat through the driver’s side window, and being a nosey bitch, I went outside to “have a cigarette.” As I lit up, the car pulled away, and the barman ran down the street thumping on the window for as long as he could keep pace. One of the other husky dudes from the bar came out. As did the other barman. This barman grabbed his keys, and opened the door of the car that had been rammed. The husky customer grabbed his keys, too, and went to his car. They both sped off. Like, way too fast. TV car chase fast. It was kind of thrilling to watch. It didn’t happen at the time, but for the sake of this re-telling of events, let’s just pretend that the “Starsky and Hutch” theme tune was playing in my head as it happened.
The other barman and husky dude stood around talking, peering down the street in both direction, and I went back inside to finish my beer. The sweater man coughed. Then cleared his throat. Then I heard him spit on the floor. Then I heard the sound of chunks being blown. He’s not-? Is he? He is! He was sat there, throwing up all over the floor. No attempt what. so. ever. to get to the bathroom. I couldn’t smell it, but it still made me retch a little just knowing it was there on the floor a few metres away. I glugged down beer a bit too quick. Didn’t taste good. Thankfully, to distract me from vomitty man, the husky dude and the barman’s cars came back around the corner and parked outside. And so did the taxi. At this point, I got money out of my wallet, put it on the table, and got ready to leave: I don’t want to be a part of a bad Mexican scene.
And this is the amazing thing: everyone was really calm and amiable. When the cars pulled up, I was half expecting the taxi driver and his pal to be dragged from the car, taken out back and given a good going over. Didn’t happen. The taxi driver was all, hey sorry about that. The barman whose car had been pronged was all like, whatevs. The husky dude came back inside to get his beer, caught my eye, and we raised our beers towards each other and “salud!”-ed. He went back outside and told his husky pal about what happened. I didn’t hear it, but could see his arms indicating a pincer movement. The vomiting guy got up, struggled with the one step in the bar, and stumbled out into the night. I asked the barman for the bill, and if his car was okay. He told me it was fine, in a manner that sounded like, “yeah, we do this all time.”
I walked home smiling, desperate to write this all down. The party was still going on, so I put on my big headphones and listened to Daft Punk. It’s 1.30am right now. The party died down about an hour ago. There’s still house music going on, and there are still loud shoes clomping around, but sleep is definitely possible. Good night, y’all.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Stankonia – Outkast
Iconic EP – Icona Pop
Since I Left You – The Avalanches
Pesents Author Unknown – Jason Falkner
Congratulations – MGMT
Let England Shake – PJ Harvey
Homework – Daft Punk
Discovery – Daft Punk
I messed up the order a bit yesterday. I woke with “Reptilia” from the Strokes’ second album in my head, so listened to that one before What’s Going On. The Nik Kershaw album… I loved that when I was thirteen. That record was a present from a friend of my father’s. He was working in a town called Skegness, a town on the coast of Lincolnshire, about an hour away from Lincoln where we lived. Can’t remember whether it was a work-related connection, but he was friends with an Indian family. I remember going there once. They had a nice house. And the daughter, Varsha, who I guess must’ve been in her twenties, bought this album as a present for my sister and I. And she wrote a greeting on the front of the record sleeve. In blue pen, on Nik’s face. At the time, that was a real bummer. I was very particular about my records. Plus, the thought of having to share one with my sister was horrifying. It was incredibly nice of her, though. As with a lot of pop records from the 1980s, it hasn’t aged well once you get beyond the singles. “Wouldn’t It Be Good” is still amazing, a really lovely song. “Human Racing” also holds up, mostly because it’s a well-written song with a pretty melody. That time in music, that time when we were all waiting to be obliterated by a nuclear war, was pretty good for catchy, slightly-melancholy, pop songs.
I have kept a thought in the back of my head that if I ever meet a woman who loves Nilsson’s The Point! record, I would be a fool not to woo her and spend the rest of my life with her. Hasn’t happened yet, but there’s still time. I own three copies of this album. It is my dream – a dream I will never realise because I don’t have the patience – to draw and animate a new version of the The Point! The original is great, but it’s so of its time, as, I guess, is the story; a story that, apparently, Nilsson thought of whilst high on acid looking at some trees. It’s such a lovely story, wiith some heartbreakingly lovely songs, that it could really do with being popular again, and somewhat egotistically, I reckon I could do it. But I never will. The idea is filed away in the folder in my brain with all the other too-much-work ideas.
Here’s the full original animated movie, narrated by Dustin Hoffman. Watching it will enhance your Sunday. And the rest of your life.
Title TK isn’t the best Breeders record, but it’s got “Huffer” on it, which is aces. Not got owt to say about the David Bazan album (I bought it from him after his show in Berlin a few years ago, and he seemed like a pleasant chap). Or the Bill Callahan abum. Or the Gillian Welch album. Underworld, though: of course I’ve got stuff to say about that puppy. Beaucoup Fish is a stunner. Not a bum song on there. I was pretty into the Tomato aesthetic at the time as well, so it was perfect. “Jumbo” is, of course, the best song. Can’t hear it without thinking about my friend John. There’s one moment in the song near the end, five minutes and 47 seconds in, when it has broken down, and there’s a little shuffle-y bit of drums before it kicks back in. John and I both love this moment of the song. One time, around the time when they were touring this album, they played live at Brixton Academy. We went along, took what people take when they go to see Underworld, and danced the night away. There was one point in the night, though, when my legs gave up on me, so I sat down at the side, back against the wall, dancing in my head. There was a woman in front of me who was really going for it. She had delightful calves. And because of my heightened state, I leant forward, tapped her on the back, she leant down, and I told her she was a great dancer. She smiled so big at that point, thanked me, and told me she was studying to be a professional dancer. I smiled back, probably did something dorky like a thumbs up, and she got back to dancing on her legs, and I got back to dancing in my head. It was a beautiful moment.
Yesterday’s albums. Left to right, top to bottom:
Room on Fire – The Strokes
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
McLemore Avenue – Booker T & the MGs
Human Racing – Nik Kershaw
This is a Pinback CD – Pinback
The Point! – Harry Nilsson
Title TK – The Breeders
Curse Your Branches – David Bazan
Sometimes I Wish We Were an Eagle – Bill Callahan
Time (The Revelator) – Gillian Welch
Beaucoup Fish – Underworld
Into the Great Wide Yonder – Trentemøller
It is, by the way, entirely a coincidence that for the first three days of doing this, I’ve listened to twelve albums each day. I’m happy about the coincidence, though, because it fits into the three-by-four grid nicely.
I figure this is possibly a good way to keep up the recent spurt of writing. I like writing, but sometimes I just can’t be arsed. And once I get going, I feel like I should keep going, keep pushing along. So, with the lack of daily baseball podcasts to listen to at this time of year, it makes a wee bit of sense to listen to music and maybe write about it. After Thursday’s day-long enjoyment of album after album, I did the same thing yesterday. Once again, I began with What’s Going On. Figured it could be good to start with the same record and see where it took me. In a way, it took me to a similar place as Thursday. Then, it was Blue Lines by Massive Attack, today a vaguely related album: Raw Like Sushi by Neneh Cherry. That album’s best song, “Manchild,” was co-written by Robert Del Naja, and the album was co-produced by Cameron McVey, who also co-produced Blue Lines. The album as a whole hasn’t dated particularly well. Still enjoyable to listen to, but aside from a few songs, mostly for nostalgic reasons.
I’m already coming across a problem with writing about these albums: how do I do it without just saying “it’s great”? Got to try to avoid that. Got to push myself to go beyond that and see what my head can come up with.
Even though Morning Dove White came out before I met him, it always reminds me of an old friend called Darren. He loved One Dove, especially their singer, Dot Allison, and who can blame him? We worked together at a record distribution company in the late 90s. It was a beautiful time. The music industry in the UK seemed to be going great guns. People still went to record stores and bought records and CDs. And we’d get awesome bonuses if the records we were distributing reached their targets (£100 bonus for getting this record into the top ten, £500 bonus if that record gets to number one; that kind of thing). Best of all, though, was the atmosphere in our part of the building. We did telesales. Not telesales in the sense that we were calling random people about double-glazed windows; we called the same bunch of record stores every week. You get to know people on the other end of the phone, and generally, it was an incredibly enjoyable job. You’re talking about music all day: what’s not to love? I was there for three-and-a-half years, and I’m still friends with many of the people I worked with. In a way, it was too much fun. It was my first office job, and no office job could have a hope of living up to it.
Dancing comes back to me when I hear certain records. If I listen to the Happy Mondays, I find myself shuffling around in that late eighties/early nineties white British man way. And listening to either of the first two Prodigy albums has a similar effect. If I walk to the kitchen, I won’t walk, I’ll end up doing some ridiculous rave-y hoppy skippy dance all the way. And it’s not just when I’m on my feet. If I’m sat at my desk, my work rate slows significantly. My hands are too busy dancing to hold a mouse or do keyboard shortcuts.
When I worked for the aforementioned company, I had the chance to go to the offices of the record company that released the Gravediggaz’ second album, and briefly met the two members of the group that weren’t RZA or Prince Paul. I forget their names. I’m useless in such situations. They were just two dudes, but, really, what the heck of interest did I have to say to them? And why would they give a shit about what I had to say? I can’t remember what I actually did say, but I can be fairly certain it was a whole load of meaningless nonsense.
I’m at a point in my life, I think, where I’m finding it pretty much impossible to sing along with David Bowie songs without slipping into a bad impression. And there’s a certain amount of Rolling Stones songs where I’m pretty much doing an impression of other people’s impressions of Mick Jagger. It’s strange that Let’s Dance was Bowie’s biggest selling album. Beyond the first three songs – “Modern Love,” “China Girl,” “Let’s Dance” – it’s not overly consumer-friendly. I can’t help but imagine that a lot of the people who bought this album after hearing those singles were probably quite disappointed with the remaining five songs.
I saw Brendon Benson live in Berlin in 2003. I think the venue was called Magnet. I remember enjoying it, but I don’t remember much of the event other than it was the night that the Iraq War started. The next day, on Viva – a German MTV-ish channel – instead of the usual happy smiley VJs, there were serious-faced VJs, sat around wearing CND t-shirts, discussing war with German teenagers. That’s nearly ten years ago now, but the images from that first night of the war are still really fresh in my mind. I’ve had very little hardship in my life. It’s been a relatively normal life so far. There have been a few small earthquakes that have rocked Mexico City since I’ve been here, and the first time, I was like a baby. It didn’t feel nice at all. And the aftershocks for the next couple of days weren’t fun either. It was difficult to sleep. The rumble of a big truck going down the street would nudge me awake: is it another earthquake? I would be so utterly terrified and crying and useless if a war were to happen in my city.
Jason Falkner is one of our time’s most underrated musicians, I think. He’s written and recorded some wonderful solo records, and he’s also been involved in lots of other great things. He was in Jellyfish, he’s worked with Jon Brion, Paul McCartney, Air (he sang on “Radio #1″), Eric Matthews, Beck, Aimee Mann, Ben Lee, Daniel Johnston, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Glen Campbell, and he co-wrote five of the songs on the Brendon Benson album. He is aces. If you have babies, and you wanna get them enjoying the Beatles early on in their lives, you could do a hell of a lot worse than buying Falkner’s two Bedtime with the Beatles albums, on which are his instrumental versions of the band’s songs, arranged as lullabies.
The last song on Jason Falkner Presents Author Unknown is called “Untitled” (YouTube). It’s one of my favourite ever songs. It’s incredibly beautiful. For about two minutes it goes along, being all lovely, with a few strings coming in here and there, and pretty much exactly halfway through, it shifts into a fully string-laden coda (not sure if that’s technically the correct word) with the same two lines repeated over and over again: You may not have been able to change the world/But at least you changed my world. I was listening to this album a lot when my mother’s second husband died after having had cancer for a while. My relationship with him wasn’t always wonderful; he was, after all, not my father, and that was a difficult thing to get my head around for a while. But he was a good man. And when he died, those two lines from the end of Jason Falkner’s song went through my head a lot. Like most of us, he wasn’t important in the grand history of the planet, but he was important to the people who knew him. Which is pretty much what we can all hope for, really.
And on that somewhat sombre note, here’s the names of the albums pictured above just in case you don’t recognise some of them. Left to right, top to bottom:
What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Raw Like Sushi – Neneh Cherry
Morning Dove White – One Dove
Space Is Only Noise – Nicolas Jaar
Actually – Pet Shop Boys
Music for Jilted Generation – The Prodigy
Queens of the Stone Age – Queens of the Stone Age
Niggamortis – Gravediggaz
Viva! La Woman – Cibo Matto
Let’s Dance – David Bowie
Lapalco – Brendon Benson
Presents Author Unknown – Jason Falkner
Yesterday was one of those magical days. I woke up, made coffee, and put on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It was a joy to listen to first thing in the morning. Next I played Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, and it just continued. Every album I decided to listen to was brilliant. And I listened to every song on every album, too. Can’t remember the last time I did that with more than a couple of albums in a row. It was a fine time, Lucille.
A couple of days I mentioned on Twitter that I was happy that I lived in a world where “Little Red Corvette” was a thing that exists. And these albums make me happy to be alive right now, too. But, of course, I can’t help but think of the music I will miss once I am dead. That really great album that will come out one day or one month or one year after I die. And it will come. And then there’ll be another and another and another. I’ve often thought of all the great music my father would’ve liked had he still been alive. I think he would have loved Supergrass and Wilco and Richard Hawley and Baxter Dury and Super Furry Animals, and probably stuff that I wouldn’t even imagine he would like. Ho hum. It awaits us all.
Anyway, sometimes it’s nice to not let music drift by your ears because it’s just there in your iPod and on your journey. It’s nice to listen to things and be thankful for all the great musicians and songwriters out there.
This is what I listened to yesterday. Great albums all.
More finger painting here.
Drawing of the Stone Roses playing “Waterfall” on British telly a long time ago.
More finger painting here.
Drawing of Happy Mondays playing “Performance” on British telly a long time ago.
More finger painting here.
R.A. Dickey and Andy Pettitte. And Dillinger’s lyrics.
A while back, shortly after Adam Yauch’s death, I did a chart of who sang what on “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)”. At the time, I intended it as the first in a series. Here’s the second in the series, looking at my favourite Beastie Boys song, “The Sounds of Science.” Click the image to embiggen.
Sad news. Here’s a little pixel-y animated GIF I made in 2004, of a part of the “Ch-Check it Out” video.
Radiohead, Foro Sol, 18 April 2012.
It was good to hear There There, but aside from that, they were average. They need to get out of their arses and realise the glitchy songs don’t really have a place when you’re playing to a jillion thousand people in a baseball stadium. But then, I thought their last album was shit, and they played a bunch of songs off it, so, y’know. I got drunk, though, so that was good.
Pulp, Palacio de Los Deportes, 23 April 2012
Way way way better than Radiohead. First time they’ve ever played in Mexico. Crowd so into it. And it’s rare I feel any patriotic pride for my home nation, but there was something so amazing about hearing songs with lyrics about things which seem so local, so British – woodchip on the wall, for example – being sung by 10,000 Mexicans. I got drunk again.
This was released ten years ago. Ten years. Still a beautiful song and a wonderful video. I can still clearly remember going to Saturn, a big electrical chain store, in Berlin on my lunch break with my then-girlfriend to go and buy the Pet Shop Boys “Release” CD on the day it came out. Not my favourite Pet Shop Boys album, but this is definitely top five Pet Shop Boys songs for me. Especially the bit where Chris Lowe says “we’re going home.” Love that bit.
And not really giving a shit about lip syncing properly.
Last night I listened to the “Divine Madness,” one of the many “[Shouty Word] Madness”-titled compilations of music by the British band, Madness. Looking at the track listings of those compilations, “Divine Madness” seems to be the best one, at least for a brain like mine, that likes things to be complete and in chronological order. It’s got all of their British singles from 1979 to 1986 (apart from, oddly, what would’ve been the second to last of the sequence, their cover of Scritti Politti’s The Sweetest Girl; although Wikipedia tells us that a later re-packaging of the album corrects this).
When I think of my childhood, and the music that I liked, it’s not very often that Madness come to mind. Aside from Baggy Trousers being the first 7″ single I bought, my childhood musical memories tend to be headlined by Adam & the Ants, Duran Duran, Simple Minds, Dire Straits, Bruce Springsteen, and U2. As you can tell from that list, I was not one of those kids who was buying imported hip hop 12″ singles when I was a teenager (although I did buy the 7″ picture disc of White Lines). But listening to “Divine Madness” last night, and again this morning, they do, in a way, complement the memories of those years pretty well. And, in that way that music can, hearing Madness songs flashes my brain back to moments during those years.
So, here’s a review of a compilation album that came out in 1992, full of songs released between 33 and 26 years ago. Say what you want about me, but you cannot accuse me of not having my finger on the pulse of popular culture. I’ve inserted a few YouTube videos into the text, but rather than doing all 22 of them, I’ve only included the videos of songs I bought on 7″ when they were in the pop charts.
The Prince 1979
Can’t say I was really aware of this song at the time. I have no strong memory of it at all. It didn’t get into the top ten, and I was eight years old, so I have forgiven myself.
One Step Beyond 1979
I’ve always liked bands that have a band member that doesn’t really do a whole lot. (See also Paul Rutherford, Bez, Cressa, Barry Mooncult, Shinya Hayashida.) At the time, that’s kinda what I thought about both Suggs and Chas Smash. Suggs does virtually nothing on this song, and aside from the intro, all Chas does is shout three words.
My Girl 1979
Pfff, I’m nine years old when this is in the charts. It’s a song about a girl. Why in the hell would that be of interest to me?
Night Boat to Cairo 1980
It’s funny looking back how exotic some places seemed to be. The whole James Bond franchise was pretty much based on that concept: you’ve never been to India or the Swiss Alps or wherever, and Roger Moore is there right now, about to slip into something more comfortable, which, at that tender age, I had no idea meant “the vagina of the pretty lady with a strange accent and well-conditioned hair.”
Baggy Trousers 1980
As I mentioned, this was the first single I ever bought. My memory, my faulty creaky memory, is that I’d kinda been gearing up to buying a record all of my own for some time. It was probably just a couple of days, though. Time seems mammoth when you’re a kid, and the impatience of wanting to buy Baggy Trousers on a Wednesday and having to wait ’til Saturday was torture worse than Dick Cheney could ever imagine in his cold, black, recently-chucked-in-the-bin heart. My mum worked at a clothes stall at a covered market in the centre of Lincoln at the time, thus she knew the people who owned the market’s record store, Save Records. She mention that I might be able to get a few pence off of my purchase if I went there. For whatever reason, I didn’t go there; I bought Baggy Trousers at WH Smith. It was one pound. After that, I bought most of my records from Save Records where I got them for 90p, which allowed me to spend the remaining 10p of my pocket money on sweets. Sweets! Sweets! SWEETS!
After the school-themed previous single, this one seemed a bit adult to me. And the title was difficult to spell correctly. The first line is “Received a letter just the other day.” How many nine year old kids get letters? Not me. Therefore: adult-themed material. (Not adult as in naked people doing it, but adult as in gas bills and paying for groceries.)
The Return of the Los Palmas 7 1981
Hold on! This one’s an instrumental (aside from some background chatter and the odd bit of ad-libbed talking). That’s not right. Music should have singing on it, shouldn’t it? At the time I was well aware of Telstar by the Tornados, as it was one of the seven inch singles that my dad had from his youth. But that just sounded like fantastic space future music, not music made by normal people. Space music don’t have no singing. I’m kind of of the opinion that pretty much all instrumentals done by bands who normally do singing are rubbish. They often have a feel of “the album is due and the singer’s too busy slipping into something more comfortable, so let’s make this one an instrumental.” This song is an exception to that possibly-harsh view of instrumentals.
Grey Day 1981
Can’t say I have many memories of this song. Quite like it now, though. It’s got an enjoyable middle eight.
Shut Up 1981
The second Madness single I bought. I would not be surprised if the video was influential in that. Cops and robbers and a piano dropping from the sky. The spaghetti western-style guitar solo is pretty cool, too. And about two-and-a-half minutes in, the piano playing gets pretty great, and sounds slightly “off,” for want of a better word. I liked that. The 7″ copy I had of this had what I assume was a slight pressing error. You can faintly hear the start of the song a second or so before the song actually starts, like a pre-echo. I have other records like that, but it was really noticeable on this, because of the big crashy piano chord at the start.
It Must Be Love 1981
Eleven years old, and as with My Girl, I care way more about Kenny Dalglish, Kia-Ora, and picking my nose than anything to do with girls.
Cardiac Arrest 1982
No way I was going anywhere near this one. I remember clearly my mother expressing the opinion that it was an inappropriate song title. That was the moment that I learned that cardiac arrest meant heart attack, something my father had recently had. The song is good, the chorus has a lovely melody, I quite like the lyrics, too, but it’s not a topic that I’m ever that keen to hear sung about.
House of Fun 1982
Not really sure why I didn’t buy this. The most memorable video they did, I’d say. And, snigger, it’s about buying rubber johnnys!
Driving in My Car 1982
If you, dear reader, are a youngster who wasn’t around to buy vinyl records in the early Eighties, you won’t remember that for a couple of years, record companies put out compilations that- well, let’s backtrack a bit: before the Now That’s What I Call Music series, most pop hits compilations in the UK were a bit crappy. They’d have some good stuff on there, but there’d always be a few songs you’d never heard of, that barely dented the top 40. I assume this is because the record companies putting out the compilations would be forced to include the crappy songs if they wanted to licence the hit song songs. Anyway, there was a couple of years when compilations would be double LPs. Not in the sense we all know double LPs to be, with the gatefold sleeve and that, but as “buy one, get one free” offers. Driving in My Car was on one of those such records that my father had bought, so I didn’t need to buy this single. Hurrah for my Dad!
Our House 1982
This had a children’s drawing of a house on the cover. As a twelve year old, that seemed stupid. There’s that great “a-wuh a-wuh” bit of bass guitar near the start of the song (39 seconds into the YouTube clip). Pretty song. Lyrics that, really, I was too young to appreciate back then. In a way, it’s kind of a shame that Madness had all the fun videos. They were great, obviously, but I wonder if they haven’t detracted from the band as artists. If they existed as records with the only visuals being black and white Top of the Pops clips like bands from the Sixties, maybe Madness would be more lauded. Not that they aren’t appreciated, but you know what I mean.
Tomorrow’s (Just Another Day) 1983
Never did understand the need for part of that song title to be in brackets. Seems to me that brackets in song titles are there to kinda remind the person in a record store about the line they like from the chorus, but without the bracketed title bits, the title of this song would be simply Tomorrow’s. Listening to this song now, it’s clear that my age was almost perfect for these years of Madness’ career. As I entered my teens and became a wee bit more grown-up, so did their music.
Wings of a Dove 1983
Good golly, this song is a happy one, isn’t it? That’s the main feeling I have about it, and the memory I have of it: the overwhelming joy. That may partly be because it was released in the summer when we were on our family holidays. I can’t remember where we went in 1983 (it was either Wales, Somerset, Devon, or Cornwall) but this songs sounds like the joy and the sunshine, the Beano summer special and a copy of Smash Hits in the back seat of the car as we listened to endless Radio 1 driving from beach to cafe to pottery gift shop and back to our sleeping bags at the camp site. Probably because we were on our holidays, and thus away from the telly, I don’t remember this video at all. But I do remember being thrilled that the single sleeve had a white-on-white embossed dove. (You can just about make it out on this photo, a little bit up and to the right of the middle of the sleeve.)
The Sun and the Rain 1983
The fourth of six straight Madness singles I bought. I guess I’d decided to buy all their records by this point. Once I liked a band to a certain extent, I was kinda determined to buy them all. This was never really one of my favourites, but listening to it last night and watching the video again before typing these words, it’s bloody fantastic. Another really pretty chorus, something I will say again about the next two singles.
Michael Caine 1984
The back of the single sleeve had an old picture of Michael Caine. Without glasses, with short straight hair. I could not marry that image of the young Caine with the contemporaneous one I’d seen on the telly: older, curly hair, big glasses. This is probably my favourite Madness song. It is utterly beautiful from start to finish. Love the bass playing, love Chas Smash’s (Carl Smyth by now) singing, love how well the “My name is Michael Caine” bits fit in to the flow of the song, love how it stops and then starts with an ace bit of piano and guitar (around 1:58 in the video). The chorus and singing therein are brilliant. Love it all. And it was released in the winter, and I think it fits the cold British wet February days, perfectly.
One Better Day 1984
If Michael Caine didn’t exist, this’d be my favourite Madness song. As it is, it’s a really damn close second. The seven inch single of this came with a fold-out poster, six times the size of the record. Can’t remember what was on the poster. I think the best thing about this song is how it takes about two minutes to get to the chorus, and when it does: bam! a gorgeous melody, Abba pianos, and the strings that are so pretty, in that way that almost feels like you are being emotional blackmailed to like the song. It’s even got a decent saxophone solo, and for me, that’s usually the sign of a song I will hate.
Yesterday’s Man 1985
Uncle Sam 1985
(Waiting For) The Ghost Train 1986
The three songs I didn’t bother copying to my iPod. Pianist Mike Barson had left the band after the “Keep Moving” album, and the crappiness of Yesterday’s Man and Uncle Sam pretty much signalled the end of my interest in Madness. Barson was back for the one-off single (Waiting For) The Ghost Train, but, y’know, whatever: it’s not very good. But maybe Madness had done their job in my life. I was 15, I’d moved on a little bit, moved away from Smash Hits and on to the NME.
Still, a couple of years ago my mate Mark mentioned that their then-album “The Liberty of Norton Folgate” was pretty good. And he was right, it’s a cracker. It’s nice when bands come back with something special after a long time of not really being that special. I still hold out hope that Weezer can do an album as good as the blue one and “Pinkerton.” I sometimes imagine Prince might do something good again, too. You never know, do you? I’d love to listen to a 60 or 70 year old Prince come back with something as ace and pervy as Darling Nikki. But maybe he won’t. And just like Madness, he’s done more than enough to make me happy over the years. Bands don’t owe me anything. I’m just happy that Madness were there to take me from being nine years old into my early teens.
London’s tempo is 122.86 beats per minute.
I brought along some field recording gear to use while I was staying in the lovely pod/room/boat. I went out during the day and recorded sounds that I thought might be useful and evocative. It turned out that most of the sounds—even the church organ in Southwark Cathedral—seemed to converge around a common rhythm. It’s a bit too good to be true—that every large city should have its own rhythm, but here it is. I let the sounds dictate the groove, the tempo, and then I simply played along.
1. Great song.
2. Peter Wolf looks very cool in the video.
3. At 2′ 08″ he does a great drawing of a car on the blackboard.
4. J. Geils Band had a member with the best nickname ever.