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In Memoriam – October 2011

November 2nd, 2011 3 comments

The Grim Reaper feasted on a rich harvest in October, though he (or she; let’s not be sexist about grim reaping) thankfully let off a bit towards the end. Incidentally, today’s post is the best-timed of the year: published on All Souls Day.

The headline death this month probably is that of folk-music legend Bert Jansch, who influenced so many musicians ““ and not only folkies. Among those who cited Jansch as influences are Jimmy Page, Elton John, Nick Drake, Johnny Marr, Mazzy Starr’s Hope Sandoval, Neil Young, Donovan, Blur’s Graham Coxon, Suede’s Bernard Butler, Al Stewart, The Fleet Foxes and Paul Simon.

Clarence Johnson, who has died at 69, might have become a soul legend with the Chi-Lites; instead he became a fine producer of soul music. With future Chi-Lites frontman Eugene Record and Robert “Squirrel” Lester (the good-looking one in the Chi-Lites), he was a member of doo wop band The Chanteurs. That band then merged with members of The Desideros to form The Hi-Lites who, after Johnson left, renamed themselves the Chi-Lites (in tribute to their hometown of Chicago). Of the Hi-Lites line-up, only one member, Marshall Thompson, is still alive.

Even if the name means nothing to you, you’ll be familiar with the photography of Barry Feinstein, who died at the age of 80. Many Feinstein photos became famous album covers, including Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changing, George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass, Janis Joplin’s Pearl, The Byrd’s Mr. Tambourine Man, and Eric Clapton’s eponymous solo debut.

Two young musicians died young of brain haemorrhage. Peter Sykes of the upcoming British Indie group This Many Boyfriends (I’ve been unable to ascertain his age) and Zimbabwean musician Taku Mafika, 28. Both tracks included here to mark their passing are quite excellent.

Tragically upcoming R&B singer Gilani Taylor, 27, died in Los Angeles of injuries sustained in a car accident three weeks earlier which also killed her young daughter. It seems the driver of the car that caused the accident fled the scene. A tragic story. Likewise, Joel “Taz” DiGregorio of country band Charlie Daniels Band (whose big hit The Devil Went Down To Georgia he co-wrote) died in a car crash. Another band member and co-writer of Devil, Tommy Crain, died in January. And Aaron Beamish, drummer of Canadian rock band Slow Motion Victory, died in a skateboarding accident, apparently after being hit by a car. At 25, Beamish is the month’s youngest dead. He died on the same day as the month’s oldest, 100-year-old Edmundo Ros.

The most bizarre death must be that of Finnish metal guitarist Mikko Laine, who was run over by a truck while apparently sleeping backstage in Holland. Also strange was the death of hard rock guitarist Terry Span, who fell into a coma after being hit by a fellow band member. It seems Span had tried to break up a fight between band mates.

As a fan of The Blues Brothers, I must also note the death at 75 on October 5 of actor Charles Napier, who played Tucker McElroy, the grudge-bearing leader of the Good Ole Boys.

Clarence Johnson, 69, soul producer and doop wop singer with The Chanteurs (who would become the Chi-Lites), on September 23
The Chanteurs – Wishin’ Well (1961)
The Brighter Side of Darkness – Love Jones (1973, as producer)

Uan Rasey, 90, jazz trumpeter on movie soundtracks (Taxi Driver, Singing In The Rain, Ben Hur, West Side Story, Chinatown a.o.), on September 26
June Christy & Pete Rugolo – Midnight Sun (1953)

Peter Sykes, guitarist with indie pop band This Many Boyfriends, on September 27
This Many Boyfriends – Young Lovers Go Pop! (2011)

David Bedford, 74, British composer and musician (collaborator with Mike Oldfield), on October 1

Kay Armen, 95, actress, singer and composer, on October 3
Kay Armen feat. The Balladiers – Cuddle Up A Little Closer, Lovey Mine (1943)

Mikko Laine, 30, guitarist of Finnish metal band Sole Remedy, on October 3

Bert Jansch, 67, Scottish folk musician and songwriter, member of folk group Pentangle, on October 5
Bert Jansch – Needle Of Death (1965)
Bert Jansch – Just A Dream (1995)

Bess Bonnier, 83, jazz pianist, on October 6
Bess Bonnier – Sonnet XVIII (Shall I Compare Thee To A Summer’s Day) (1999)

Donald Banks, 76, bass singer with soul group The Tymes, on October 7
The Tymes – You Little Trustmaker (1974)

Mikey Welsh, 40, bassist (Weezer, Juliana Hatfield), apparently of suicide on October 8
Weezer – Island In The Sun (2001)

Roger Williams, 87, easy listening pianist, on October 8
Roger Williams – Autumn Leaves (1955)

David Hess, 69, songwriter and actor (including a terrifying turn in 1972’s Last House On The Left), on October 8
Pat Boone – Speedy Gonzales (1962, as composer)

Taku Mafika, 28, Zimbabwean Mbira musician, on October 10
Taku Mafika – Zhizha (2009)

George “Mojo” Buford, 81, blues harmonica player, on October 11

Kim Brown, 66, British-born singer with Finnish rock band the Renegades, on October 11

Paul Leka, 70, songwriter and arranger, on October 12
Steam – Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (1969, as songwriter)

Buddy Sharpe (Bernard Gareis), 73, leader of Rockabilly band Buddy Sharpe and the Shakers, on October 12

Joel DiGregorio, 67, keyboardist and songwriter with The Charlie Daniels Band), in a car crash on October 12
Charlie Daniels Band – Saddle Tramp (1976)

Chuck Ruff, 60, drummer with Sawbuck, The Edgar Winter Group, Sammy Hagar a.o., on October 14
Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein (1973)

Theron Brison (known as Thee Ram Jam), 48, masked funk bassist, Bootsy Collins collaborator and drug counsellor, found murdered on October 14

Betty Driver, 91, English Big Band singer and actress on UK soap Coronation Street, on October 15
Betty Driver – I’ll Take Romance (1935)

Tongai “˜Dhewa” Moyo, 43, Zimbabwean musician, on October 15

Pete Rugolo, 95, jazz bandleader and arranger, movie/TV composer (theme of The Fugitive), jazz arranger, on October 16
Billy Eckstine & Pete Rugolo’s Orchestra – I Apologise (1951)
Pete Rugolo and his Orchestra  – Jingle Bells Mambo (1954)

Bob Brunning, 68, English blues bassist (Savoy Brown, original line-up of Fleetwood Mac), on October 18
Savoy Brown – I’m Tired (1969)

Earl Gilliam, 81, blues pianist, on October 19

John-Alex Mason, 35, blues musician, on October 19

Barry Feinstein, 80, photographer of musicians, on October 20
George Harrison – Behind That Locked Door (1970, album cover photo)

Terry Span, 48, guitarist of hard rock band Alisteir Wild, on October 20

Edmundo Ros, 100, Trinidadian bandleader, on October 21
Edmundo Ros and his Rumba Band – Zombie (1941)
Edmundo Ros and his Orchestra – Light My Fire (1970)

Aaron Beamish, 25, drummer of Canadian rock band Slow Motion Victory, in skateboarding accident on October 21

Freddie Ferrara, doo wop singer (The Del-Satins, The Brooklyn Bridge), sang back-up on Dion’s hits Runaround Sue and The Wanderer, on October 21
The Del-Satins – Ballad Of A Dee-Jay (1962)

Gilani Taylor, 27, R&B singer, from injuries in a car cash, on October 21

Gene Kurtz, 69, bassist and songwriter, on October 23
Roy Head and the Traits – Treat Her Right (1963, a co-writer and bassist)

Tommy Doss, 91, singer with Sons of the Pioneers, Bob Wills, Ole Rasmussen a.o., on October 25

Jimmy Savile, 84, British sexual abuser, disc jockey (BBC, Radio Luxembourg) and television presenter (Top of the Pops), on October 29

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“You”re gonna look pretty funny trying to eat corn on the cob with no fuckin’ teeth.”

Albums of the Year: 2001

October 30th, 2009 5 comments

I was very pleased that the first post in this series of my personal top 10 albums for every year of the outgoing decade (depending how you count decades, of course) created such a positive and generous response. Thank you for all the comments; they are always appreciated. I should point out again that I can include only those albums I actually have and know well. So Gillian Welch’s The Revelator fails to make the cut, though I believe that those of my friends who argue for its brilliance might have a point.

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Ben Folds ““ Rockin” The Suburbs

ben_foldsThe are at least two types of Ben Folds fans: those who don”t think that Folds has ever topped the work he did in union with with Robert Sledge and Darren Jessee as the ironically named Ben Folds Five, and those who prefer his more mature solo output. Put me down as belonging in the latter group. While the very funny title track, the driving Zak And Sara, Annie Waits or Not The Same would fit snugly in the Ben Folds Five canon, Folds” solo debut exhibited a greater empathy for the subjects of his lyrics. On Rockin” The Suburbs (released on September 11), Folds took the baton from BFF songs such as Brick, Don’t Change Your Plans or Best Imitation Of Myself, musically and lyrically.

Folds is a wonderful story teller. The story of Fred Jones, the old newspaper man whose retirement is going barely noticed by “all of those bastards” who don’t even remember his first name, is particularly poignant. Indeed, throughout the album Folds moves the listener: in the father-and-son relationship of Still Fighting It, in the desperation of the guy still trying to get over a girl in Gone (“the chemicals are wearing off”¦”), or in the tenderness of the astonishing love declarations on The Luckiest (one of the greatest love songs ever written; alas Folds has since divorced the song”s addressee). The album is not flawless “” there is a weak trio of successive tracks in the middle) “” but it does suggest that Ben Folds is this generation”s Randy Newman. And that is high praise.
Ben Folds – Fred Jones Part 2.mp3
Ben Folds – Zak And Sara.mp3

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch Soundtrack

HEDWIGThe first time I saw the Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I was gobsmacked. The curious storyline, the intense performances, the incongruous humour (black GIs in East Berlin!), the imaginative setpieces, the animation and costumes, and, above all, the fantastic music, written by Stephen Trask and performed mostly by John Cameron Mitchell as the genitally mutilated Hedwig, which ranges from ballads and punk to Ziggy-style glam rock.

The highlight of the film is the Wig In A Box setpiece, also the soundtrack”s most appealing track. Since I am urging those who have not seen the film to catch up with it, I”ll restrain myself from describing the scene. I expect that many viewers will want to see it repeatedly. I”ll limit myself to posting only one song from each album here (apart from the #1 album of the year), but I also might have posted the gorgeous The Origin Of Love, with its Aristophanes-inspired lyrics, or Wicked Little Town, or Midnight Radio, or the explosive Angry Inch”¦
Hedwig and the Angry Inch ““ Wig In A Box.mp3

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Judith Sephuma ““ A Cry, A Smile, A Dance

sephumaBefore the Idols franchise spewed forth disposable singers of debatable ability, at least in South Africa, televised talent shows in the country brought several artists of notable aptitude to the public”s attention. One of these was Judith Sephuma, born in the northern town of Polokwane (then Pietersburg) and a music graduate from the University of Cape Town. Her 2001 debut album is a captivating blend of jazz and Afro-pop which fully met, and even exceeded, the expectations observers had invested in the artist since her performance at the inauguration of President Thabo Mbeki in 1999, a year before she made a huge impression at the misnamed North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town (the local equivalent of the Montreaux festival). If the wonderful Randy Crawford had been South African, this is what she might have sounded like.
Judith Sephuma ““ Mmangwane.mp3

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Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Bavarian Fruit Bread

sandovalMuch as I love Sandoval”s group Mazzy Starr, I struggled long and hard to “get” this album. It”s the sort of ambient set one needs to be in a perfect mood for (perhaps when one is recovering from a bout of inebriation). But when everything is set, it hits home in its quiet way. If Sandoval sounds fragile on Mazzy Starr, here you want to pack her in cotton wool and keep the volume low, just in case she breaks. The result is exponentially mesmerising and ultimately gorgeous. It”s not the sort of album from which one can pick a representative track (though I”ll try here); it works best as a body of music. If one is in the mood.
Hope Sandoval & the Warm Inventions – Around My Smile.mp3

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Richard Hawley ““ Late Night Final

HAWLEYLast month Hawley released a masterpiece, Truelove Gutter. Without wishing to resort to hyperbole, I”ll claim with confidence that it is not only the best album of the year, but one of the best of the decade. Hawley, a former member of Britpop groups Longpigs and Pulp, has produced a series of delightful and always affecting albums that started with his full debut, Late Night Final (it was preceded by a self-titled EP in 2000). The gorgeously melancholy, late night mood of that great triptych of Hawley albums “” Coles Corner, Lady”s Bridge, Truelove Gutter “” is already evident here. His voice has now dropped a register and the arrangements have become more intricate since Late Night Final (on which Hawley”s country influence is still evident), but the basics of the Hawley sound, and the quality, are already there. The stand-out track is Baby, You”re My Light, which I featured on this mix (which also features Ben Folds” The Luckiest).
Richard Hawley ““ Love Of My Life.mp3

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Death Cab For Cutie ““ The Photo Album

dreath_cabDeath Cab For Cutie is one the most stupid band names in modern music. It evokes the image of shouting and wailing nu-metal emo types, or perhaps a death metal outfit that failed in conjuring a suitably satanic-sounding moniker. Death Cab are nothing of the sort, of course, nor do they deserve to be dismissed for featuring so prominently on the teen drama-soap The O.C. (which was actually quite good for a couple of seasons and featured some excellent music that otherwise would not have received wider exposure). The Photo Album is Death Cab”s transition album, still drawing from the Indie rock of the earlier albums but preparing for the almost symphonic feel of 2003″s Transatlanticism and last year”s Narrow Stairs. It lacks the diversity of 2005″s Plans, but like Plans and more than Transatlanticism, it does have tracks that stand on their own. This is solidly guitar-driven, ambient Indie rock, but more accomplished (or, purists might say, polished) than the four preceding Death Cab albums.
Death Cab For Cutie ““ I Was A Kaleidoscope.mp3

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Rilo Kiley – Take-Offs & Landings

rilo_kileyIn 2004, Rilo Kiley released a brilliant album in More Adventurous. The preceding two albums are more patchy. Take-Offs & Landings borrows its influences widely, blows some alt.country over it, and voila. Sometimes it works, and there is nothing here that is really objectionable, but this is very much the work of a group still finding its way. Likewise, the wonderful Jenny Lewis is still discovering her voice, which here is still banking on its cuteness before it became the sexiest voice since Julie London”s. If all this sounds half-hearted, then that is not quite fair on an enjoyable album. It suffers not on its own merits, but in comparison to what the group and Lewis as a solo artist produced later.
Rilo Kiley ““ Plane Crash In C.mp3

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Alicia Keys ““ Songs In A Minor

alicia_keysAt a time when soul music is dying a gangrened death at the hands of dancing corporate muppets and sexless nasal whiners, we ought to be grateful for the few artists who still refer to the rich heritage of the genre. So I find it difficult to sympathise with those who dismiss the artistry of Alicia Keys. OK, she”s not quite all that which the hype claims her to be, as a pianist or as a singer. Much of her material is bland. It”s safe to say that she cannot compare with, say, Roberta Flack. Judging only from her appearances at the Grammys (which I still watch for reasons I cannot comprehend; probably only for the In Memoriam section), I find her a bit smug, a bit corporate, a bit too convinced of her own genius. And yet, her albums includes a clutch of tracks which, had they been recorded 35 years earlier, would be noted as fine contributions to the canon of soul music, celebrating the derivations of her material as reflecting an astute choice of influences. Despite all the caveats I have raised, I”m glad that Alicia Keys is around.
Alicia Keys ““ A Woman’s Worth

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The Shins ““ Oh, Inverted World

SHINSPlaying the song New Slang from this album, Natalie Portman”s character in the fine film Garden State promises Zach Braff”s protagonist that it will change his life. Without wishing to spring spoilers upon the reader who unaccountably have not seen the film, it indeed does so. The Portland, Oregon-based band”s debut thus broke out from the ghetto of Indie cult on the back of Braff”s championing. If the Kinks had been Americans recording their music in the “00s, this is what they might have sounded like. I have quite enjoyed The Shins” subsequent albums, which are musically accomplished, perhaps more than Oh, Inverted World. But if I want a fix of The Shins, it”s the debut I turn to.
The Shins – One By One All Day.mp3

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Weezer ““ Green Album

WEEZERWhat is it with all those people who are so quick to dismiss every Weezer album because it isn”t Pinkerton? It seems to be accepted wisdom that Pinkerton, one of the great albums of the 1990s, set some kind of standard that Rivers Cuomo and the other three chaps must live up to. The trouble is, by the time the Pinkerton evangelists listened to the other Weezer albums, they were no longer of an age when they locked themselves in their bedrooms because school and parents and jocks sucked and listened to Pinkerton in the recovery period between wanks. The Green Album is a fine album; it has some great tunes, it”s fun, it doesn”t challenge you; it does everything you”d want from a Weezer album. Island In The Sun is my cellphone ringtone, by the way.
Weezer ““ Island In The Sun.mp3

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More Albums of the Year

Unrequited love – Glad To Be Unhappy

February 6th, 2009 11 comments

What is worse: losing a love you once had, or never been loved, or not being able consummate reciprocated love, or never having been loved back? They all suck, of course, and we”ll visit all of these in this series. Here we deal with unrequited love, a subject we”ll return to again later in the series.

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The Mamas and the Papas – Glad To Be Unhappy.mp3
glad-to-be-unhappyThe group”s main songwriter John Phillips was a bit of a bastard. He had Cass Elliott singing about being fat, and he had his not always scrupulously faithful wife Michelle sing about her inability to remain monogamous. On 1967″s Glad To Be Unhappy he had Denny Doherty and Cass Elliott sing about unrequited love “” knowing well that Cass was in unreciprocated love with Denny and that Denny was in love with John”s wife (need I post a Venn diagram?). There was, clearly, a lot of pain. So John has them croon the sadistic taunt “Like a straying baby lamb, with no Mama and no Papa, I”m so unhappy”! And then the mocking: “I can”t win, but here I am, more than glad to be unhappy.” The sentiment is not foreign to the experience of unrequited love, of course. “But for someone you adore, it”s a pleasure to be sad.” That ties in with the lyric of a song used in last year”s series (and which will be recycled this year): “There is pleasure to be had in this kind of pain” “” the emotional masochism is a lifeline to hope, the delusion that the true love will come eventually.

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The Holmes Brothers – I Want You To Want Me.mp3
holmes-brothersThis is a slowed down, quite superb cover of the Cheap Trick hit by the blues/soul/gospel Holmes Brothers. The lyrics make more sense when sung by a goofy pop-rocker, but this version is just too lovely to be ignored. Unsurprisingly, the singer is promising sacrifices to get the girl, right down to shining “up the old brown shoes” and making himself even more presentable by wearing a new shirt (throw in the use of deodorant and shampoo, and you might clinch the deal). It is not clear, of course, whether our hero”s sartorial countenance is the problem. Indeed, he seems quite clueless if he thinks that shiny shoes will provide comfort to the girl who seems to be experiencing a case of dejection herself, as our singer observes: “Feelin” all alone without a friend, you know you feel like dyin”. Oh, didn”t I, didn”t I, didn”t I see you cryin”?” Or is he just projecting?

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Damien Jurado – Simple Hello.mp3
Frienditis is the condition when the person you”re in love with just wants to be friends. It usually happens to nice guys. Women love these men, but “just not in that way” (the dreaded phrase). And if she gets a boyfriend, the former confidante might well be dispatched (and he”d be an idiot to stick around anyway, having her relationship mock him into perpetuity). This is what seems to have happened here. Damien in his 2005 song recalls that “we used to be friends” who”d talk on the phone every night. He later reveals that she has her own group of pals now, having previously established that she now completely ignores him (“Simple hello would”ve been nice. Instead you walked right by”). But this isn”t a song about just friendship; his feelings obviously ran deeper. Now she has a man: “Every time I see you with him I think: “˜Why even try?”” It”s not that Damien is bitter; he is despairing: “Think I”ve had enough, and I think I”ve lost control “¦Think I”ve lost my mind.” Sorry, mate, but you”˜re on your own here. Burn the pictures. Let her go.

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Ani DiFranco – Untouchable Face (live).mp3
ani_difranco2There is an even more acute sense of hopelessness when the object of unrequited affection is in a solid, happy relationship. So it is in this superb song. “I think you two are forever, and I hate to say it, but you”re perfect together.” Which sounds pretty magnanimous. Except it isn”t, as we learn in the next verse: “So fuck you and your untouchable face, and fuck you for existing in the first place.” Quite right. This isn”t in angry outburst, though. There is some self-loathing and immense sadness in this song. Witness the final verse: “In the back room there”s a lamp that hangs over the pool table, and when the fan is on it swings gently side to side. There”s a changing constellation of balls as we are playing. I see Orion and say nothing. The only thing I can think of saying”¦is fuck you.”

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Weezer – Only In Dreams.mp3
weezer-blueAfter all this profundity, we can find refuge in Weezer and in dreamland. Mr Cuomo is in love: “She”s in the air, in between molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide”, but evidently he is too shy or otherwise reluctant to approach her, except in his dreams where he has the courage to ask her to dance, and she accepts (rhyming “˜dance” with “˜chance” ““ charity impels me to interpret this as a shrewd homage to the lyrical genius of Abba). In his fantasy he is charming and considerate, literally sweeping the girl off her feet on the dancefloor: “It”s a good thing that you float in the air ““ that way there”s no way I will crush your pretty toenails into a thousand pieces.” We imagine she laughs with her head tilting back, revealing her throat (Body Language 101: it means she wants you). We don”t go to Weezer for lyrical sophistication, so we see the conclusion coming: “But when we wake, it”s all been erased.”

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The Association – Cherish.mp3
This 1966 hit was recommended last year by the great whiteray of Echoes In The Wind. The opening verse is perfectly eloquent in expressing the yearning of the fool in unrequited love: “Cherish is the word I use to describe all the feeling that I have hiding here for you inside. You don’t know how many times I”ve wished that I had told you; you don”t know how many times I”ve wished that I could hold you; you don”t know how many times I”ve wished that I could mould you into someone who could cherish me as much as I cherish you.”Â  Then comes the despondent resignation: “Perish is the word that more than applies to the hope in my heart, each time I realise that I am not gonna be the one to share your dreams.” So wonderfully poetic, you”d think she”d fall for him. And yet: “I”m beginning to think that man has never found the words that could make you want me, that have the right amount of letters, just the right sound that could make you hear, make you see, that you are driving me out of my mind.” The trouble is, our bard here thinks that she”ll call bullshit on his attempts of persuasion: “Oh, I could say I need you, but then you”d realise that I want you, just like a thousand other guys who”d say they loved you with all the rest of their lies, when all they wanted was to touch your face, your hands and gaze into your eyes.” And here”s the obstacle many people in unrequited love face: they are so fearful of rejection, the end of the dream, that they will scratch for excuses not to make a move. Some other schmuck will, she will fall for it, and The Association will sing their beautiful and sad song forever.

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Barenaked Ladies – Jane.mp3
The songs so far have described pretty straightforward situations of unrequited love. This one is more complex. He is what seems to have happened. Our hero met the apparently very lovely Jane (named after a Toronto street corner) in a shop where she worked. They moved in together and, at Jane”s insistence the relationship remained platonic (he”d sing and she”d dye his hair; sounds like frienditis to me). Jane is being admired by many men, but doesn”t want relationships. “Jane doesn”t think a man could ever be faithful.” Experience might have given her good reason to think that. And our hero seems to agree. “Jane isn”t giving me a chance to be shameful.” And he seems to think that the relationship wouldn”t work anyway (“I wrote a letter, she should have got it yesterday. That life could be better by being together is what I cannot explain to Jane”). The housesharing arrangement ends ““ nicely put by reference to Juliana Hatfield and Evan Dando. Jane still works at the shop, and our hero is “still dazzled by her smile while I shoplift there”.

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Billy Bragg – The Saturday Boy.mp3
billy-braggThere aren”t many songs that feature the word “unrequited”. We”ve had Glad To Be Unhappy earlier, and here”s Billy Bragg using it in perhaps the best song from his 1984 debut album. It”s the poignant story of a schoolboy crush. At first she reciprocates the affection, but after a while (which in schoolboy terms is a wink of the eye) things cool off. “But I never made the first team, I just made the first team laugh. And she never came to the phone, she was always in the bath.” The boy experiences his first broken heart, poor kid. “In the end, it took me a dictionary to find out the meaning of “˜unrequited”, while she was giving herself for free at a party to which I was never invited.”

iPod Random 5-track Experiment Vol. 7

October 18th, 2008 7 comments
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The iPod Shuffle function is very useful in bringing to the listener’s notice songs that have bypassed them. Of course, there is always the temptation when being confronted with a song one is not in the mood for to skip subsequent tracks, thereby compromising the arbitrary purpose of the random shuffle. And sometimes iPod comes up with a fantastic sequence, as it did this morning, compelling me to violate my no-weekend-posting rule to resurrect the iPod Random 5-track Experiment series, which last ran in March.

Nick Heyward – Whistle Down The Wind.mp3
Alas, poor Nick Heyward. He was just too clean cut, too cute and too saddled with a insurance salesman’s name to be respected. When the barely pubescent girls put up their Nick Heyward posters from Smash Hits, the deal was sealed: Heyward would not, could not be taken seriously by the cogniscenti. It’s a pity. Haircut 100’s pop was better than it has been given credit for, and Heyward’s 1983 North Of A Miracle debut solo album is at least in part quite excellent. The album’s first three singles, including Whistle Down The Wind, made the UK Top 20, but none made the Top 10. Perhaps the catchy Blue Hat For A Blue Day is the better remembered song, but Whistle is the better song. The chorus is just lush and lovely, and much more mature than his age at the time, 22, might suggest. Heyward made some fine music in the 1990s as well. Check out the gorgeous Not The Man You Used To Be.

Bruce Springsteen – Hungry Heart (live).mp3
This version is from the box set of Broooce live recordings released in 1986. It captures the energetic bonhommie between headliner, band and audiences beautifully. You don’t need to see video footage to know that everybody is having a just great time. Springsteen lets the audience take the lead with the first verse and chorus. A minute in, Bruce roars some sound of approval and repeats what the crowd just sang. More than Born To Run, I think Hungry Heart is the quintessential Bruce Springsteen & the E-Street Band song.

Herman’s Hermits – No Milk Today.mp3
I posted this before on the Teen Dreams mix, but can’t understand how No Milk Today failed to be included in the Perfect Pop series (which came to an abrupt end when I misplaced my shortlist of yet-tobe featured songs). Written by Grahame Gouldman, later of 10cc, the song was a massive hit in Germany, but did not perform as well as other Herman’s Hermit hits in the US, where the group in 1965 ““ the year before No Milk Today ““ outsold the Beatles. The arrangement is deceptively complex, featuring an orchestra and excellent use of bells.

Blondie – X-Offender.mp3
I posted this before in the 1970s Time Travel series. Few moments in pop music are sexier than Debbie Harry’s spoken intro. Oh, but the ’70s were an innocent age, when acts like Blondie were ordered not to feature the word “sex” in the title of a song which very much is about just that (a prostitute’s sexual attraction, possibly reciprocated, to the cop who bust her). Having said that, I think X-Offender is a better title than the original Sex Offender. Originally released in 1976, X-Offender didn’t attract wide notice until the following year. And soon after Blondie broke really big with Denis.

Weezer – Island In The Sun.mp3
I tend to make my own cellphone ringtones. At one point, Island In The Sun was the personalised ringtone alerting me to calls from Any Major Wife. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I note that my wife loves to phone. So I’d get lots of calls signalled by Island In The Sun. That kind of thing can spoil a song, especially when the “hep hep” causes interruptions in the midst of intensive concentration (as my prose here might suggest, my bids at intensive concentration are largely unsuccessful). I changed AMW’s ringtone just before the ringtone ruined the song for me. Happily, I still love this impossibly happy tune ““ which may or may not be about drug addiction. Weezer weren’t going to include it on their 2001 Green Album; it was included only at producer Ric Ocasek’s insistence. As it happens, it was released as a single, promoted with a great Spike Jonze video (actually, there were two videos), and became Weezer’s biggest hit.

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On current rotation – June

June 24th, 2008 1 comment

I’m not sure if 2008 is turning out to be a good year for music or not. A year ago, new releases by Wilco, Rosie Thomas, Bright Eyes and Brandi Carlile had me very excited. Sky Blue Sky turned out to be my album of the year, and I will be listening to it for many years to come. I’m not sure I’ve yet discovered my album of 2008, even though there are some albums I really like. But, none as much as Wilco’s last year. Here are tracks from some of 2008’s albums I’m enjoying very much, to go with the previous rotation, which featured Tift Merrit, whose effort may well be my album of the year so far, with Kathleen Edwards and the Weepies in the mix.

Jay Brennan – At First Sight.mp3
Jay Brennan – Half-Boyfriend.mp3
Jay Brennan – Housewife.mp3 (all three direct download links)
To start off, three tracks from an exciting new artist in the genre of “guys with guitars named like schoolteachers”. The alternative title for the genre would be singer-songwriter, but that has become a bit of a dirty word (unjustly so). I am sharing the above tracks at the invitation of Jay Brannan’s record company, where he is stablemates with the absolutely wonderful Rosie Thomas. And Brannan does channel the Thomas/Damien Jurado/Sufjan Stevens vibe, right down to the engaging lyrics which ask you to pay attention (just listen to Housewife ““ video here). His debut album, goddamned, will be released on July 1. I’m looking forward to hear more of Brannan’s songs; on evidence of these three songs, it could well be contender for my year-end list.

The Weepies – All Good Things.mp3
The Weepies – Can’t Go Back Now.mp3
I have bigged up the Weepies since I started this blog. The new album, Hideaway, came out in April, and has been on regular rotation ever since I got hold of it. It’s one of those albums I play when I survey my music, and have no idea what I fancy; the default go-to album de jour. The Weepies ““ Deb Talan and Steve Tannen ““ have produced a richer sound than previously without straying too far from their acoustic roots. This is a very warm album; I sort of imagine it like having good coffee and freshly baked waffles on a sunny Saturday morning.

Kathleen Edwards – I Make The Dough, You Get The Glory.mp3
I featured Kathleen Edwards (and Deb Talan) in the Songbirds series. So I was really looking forward to her new album, Asking For Flowers. At the first listen, I was a little disappointed. Second, third listen…same. I was about to write off the album when Indie Pop Ian virtually instructed me to give it a few more chances. Seeing as he is a man of refined taste who shares my love for the Songbirds, I did. And, boy, was he right, and I wrong. This is a mesmerising album with fantastic lyrics and a great alt.country bent. Forgive me, Kathleen, for doubting you. Come December, this may well be in the top 3 of my albums of the year.

Weezer – Heart Songs.mp3
Some say Weezer are living off the greatness of two albums they made in the ’90s. I think that’s a little harsh. The last set was, in my view, pretty good (Perfect Situation is a top notch song). So I approached the new album with hope, and some trepidation. Because Weezer albums can be quite poor, too. The new album, nicknamed the Red Album, falls in between the two extremes. There are a few tracks that beg to be skipped, and others that are a joy. I particularly like Heart Songs, in which Rivers Cuomo tabulates all the artists who influenced him, from childhood to stardom: Gordon Lightfoot, Eddie Rabbitt, Springsteen, Grover Washington, Abba, Devo, Quiet Riot, Judas Priest and so on ““ though I think he might be confusing Debbie Gibson with Tiffany…

Death Cab For Cutie – Talking Bird.mp3
And yet another album I had been looking forward to. I was gratified to read The Quietus giving it a positive review (more surprisingly, The Quietus didn’t rip the new Coldplay album to shreds, as I had expected and, indeed, hoped). Death Cabs’ Narrow Stairs is a fine, richly textured album which rewards repeated listens. It satisfies my occasional desire for a Death Cab fix ““ for now. The rub is this: Narrow Stairs does not have the stand-out tracks of 2005’s Plans (I’ll Follow You Into The Dark, Soul Meets Body), and as an Indie symphony does not quite reach 2002’s Transatlanticism‘s lofty level. So I wonder if in, say, three years time, I will listen to Narrow Stairs instead of these two albums (or, indeed, some of the earlier ones, such as We Have the Facts And We’re Voting Yes from 2000). Maybe it’s too early to say: I will continue to play Narrow Stairs in the hope that it will lodge itself permanently in my head. It just might.

Neil Diamond – Act Like A Man.mp3
Micah P. Hinson – Throw The Stone.mp3
I played this album with Any Minor Dude sitting next to me (playing a football manager game). He looked up from guiding Manchester United to greater glories and pointed out that he liked what he was hearing: Micah P. Hinson and the Red Empire Orchestra (Any Minor Dude also endorsed Jay Brannan, by the way). Sounds like Johnny Cash, he said. And he is quite right, of course. In fact, throw in Nick Cave and Steve Earle, and you have Hinson’s sound. The album is coming out in mid-July, so I trust that the buzz is going to build. This album deserves it.

Love Songs For Every Situation: Unrequited Love

February 19th, 2008 7 comments

Unrequited love is a real bastard. The rejection can scar a person for life, depending on its nature. My chapter of unrequited love was set in the seasons 1988/89 and 1989/90, and was cruelly soundtracked by the disgusting cheering of the fans of Arsenal and FC Liverpool, as if to taunt me further in my indescribable pain. There was no comfort, other than Manchester Utd’s FA Cup victory just days before the object of my desire left South Africa. I cannot say whether it was a good thing or not that she and I were very close friends. There was much affection, indeed a certain kind of love. But from her side obviously not that kind of love. So there was always hope, which again and again and again would be gently but brutally crushed. Would it have been easier to let unrequited love turn to festering hate?

Morrissey – There Is A Light That Never Goes Out (live).mp3
I presume everybody has this Smiths track already, so here is a live performance by Morrissey from 2004 in Manchester, ripped from DVD. That line about the doubledecker bus crashing into us is justly regarded as a classic lyric, but the one that really gets me is this one: “And in the darkened underpass I thought, ‘Oh God, my chance has come at last’, but then a strange fear gripped me, and I just couldn’t ask.” Don’t I know the feeling! For days, weeks, months one prepares for the perfect moment. The words are ready and practiced, the mood is set in one’s mind. And then, when the perfect opportunity presents itself, one chokes. And what setting could be better than a darkened underpass, where the object of ones desire cannot see the blushes. Ah, but she’d see the potentially crushed face, the dazed look, when they emerge into the light. At which point the 10-ton truck killing the both of us would appear to be an inviting proposition. So one waits for a really long, dark tunnel…

Freshlyground – I’d Like.mp3
South Africa’s most popular band, probably, engaged in a spot of self pity in this tender anthem to unrequited love and the self-loathing which often accompanies it. To the casual observer, the reactions she anticipates from her putative displays of affection seem exaggerated, even silly. Would her object of desire really say the singer deserved to die or humiliate her otherwise for showing affection or making a phone call? I suppose any vaguely negative response, or even a lack of response, would feel like an extreme reprimand or punishment to the one who is in unrequited love. The song might be dealing with a further complication: the lyrics make sense also in a context where the protagonist has same-sex feelings for somebody who is heterosexual (which could also explain the fear of being rejected harshly). Either way, the singer asks questions that make sense to anyone who has experienced unrequited love: “What do I do with all these feelings tearing me up inside? What do I do with all these wasted hours dreaming of you at night?”

Weezer – Pink Triangle.mp3
Weezer provided the flip-side to the theory posited in the entry for “I’d Like”. Here the protagonist is falling for a lesbian. “I’m dumb, she’s a lesbian. I thought I had found the one. We were good as married in my mind, but married in my mind’s no good. Oh, pink triangle on her sleeve.” Which raises the question if there is any comfort to be had if the woman a man desires is at least not with another man. Is Rivers holding out some hope when he asks: “If everyone’s a little queer, can’t she be a little straight?”

Nick Drake – Man In A Shed.mp3
This apparently is based on Drake’s own experience of living in somebody’s backyard, admiring the girl of the house from afar, but she doesn’t acknowledge his existence, presumably thinking she’s above his station in life. Drake clearly doesn’t buy into the class hierarchy (and Amen to that). Employing what might be termed Byronic Marxism, he declares: “So leave your house, come into my shed. Please stop my world from raining through my head. Please don’t think I’m not your sort. You’ll find that sheds are nicer than you thought.” Observe also Drake’s exquisite guitar work on this track.

Mazzy Star – Give You My Lovin’.mp3
You have to love Hope Sandoval. So it is difficult to believe that Hope should have any unhappy experience of unrequited love. And yet she sings: “When I see you I want to kiss you, but I know that ain’t right. So I ask if I can hold you. Oh babe, I need you so bad. Oh babe, I only want to make you glad.” What crazy fuck would say no to these words from the wonderful Ms Sandoval? She believes such crazy fucks do exist: “Discomfort arouses when I speak of you, as if you’ve been saying something bad about me.”

The Band – It Makes No Difference.mp3
You may thank one of the commenters in this series for this song from The Last Waltz, which would otherwise slipped below my radar. And what a fortuitous alert: this is a most beautiful and heartbreaking song. It makes no difference, Rick Danko sings, “where I turn, I can’t get over you when the flame still burns… the shadow never seems to fade away… like a scar, the hurt will always show… who I meet, they’re just a face in the crowd on a dead-end street.” The Counting Crows are drawing their influence from The Band (even framing a song around the news of Richard Manuel’s death), but their lyrics are usually unpenetrable. Here Danko is writing poetry you can actually make sense of, hitting the listener in the guts. “Well, I love you so much, and it’s all I can do just to keep myself from telling you that I never felt so alone before.”

The Temptations – Just My Imagination.mp3
The sweetest song about unrequited love. Our guy plays a trick on us as he begins: “Each day through my window I watch her as she passes by. I say to myself, ‘You’re such a lucky guy. To have a girl like her is truly a dream come true.’ Out of all of the guys in the world, she belongs to me…” Ah, but the alert reader will have spotted that in this post nothing is as well as that. So in verse two, the punchline pokes you in the eye: “But it was just my imagination running away with me.” Our friend even pleads with God to play cupid (and here we briefly call to mind Sam Cooke’s hymn to unrequited love), but how can God fix him up when “in reality, she doesn’t even know me”.

Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him.mp3
And from the sweetest song to the most acerbic. Observing from indoors, Joe sees Jeannie, and every other pretty woman, walking with gorillas down his street. This makes him angry. Knowing that he is puny, and they are gorillas, he employs his imaginary superpowers: “But if looks could kill, there’s a man there who’s more down as dead.” Zapp! He is possibly better served engaging his wit: “They say that looks don’t count for much, if so, there goes your proof”, he sings about Jeannie’s boyfriend (would that be the same Jeannie whose diary Eels wish to be a page in?).

The Buzzcocks – Ever Fallen In Love.mp3
It seems that our boy is having some sort of relationship with the woman who nonetheless is rejecting his love. She doesn’t treat him well. “You spurn my natural emotions, you make me feel like dirt.” He won’t cause a scene though, because then he might just lose her. So while she keeps rejecting him, he’s getting increasingly frustrated and, the clue here is not in the lyrics but in the intensity of music, obsessed with the one-sidedness of it all. Unrequited love happens in established relationships as well. Think of the stunning Odyssey song I posted in the Love Ends post.

Johnny Mathis – Misty.mp3
The person in unrequited love often is like a pathetic puppy. Mathis certainly is in this definitive reading of Erroll Garner’s standard, better even than Sarah Vaughn’s. And the key is that Mathis actually does sound like a lovestruck puppy. The girl sounds like a bit of a tease (she lets him hold her hand), “you can say that you’re leading me on”, and Johnny likes it, “but it’s just what I want you to do”, because as long she takes notice of him, he has hope that his total love will find reciprocation.

Jens Lekman – Maple Leaves.mp3
This song puts an unusual spin on unrequited love. Jens can’t find a way into her heart “” “if you don’t take my hand I lose my mind completely” “” but the problem seems to be twofold. For one, the girl has such low self-esteem, she perhaps cannot accept that somebody could love her (“You said you hated your body, that it was just a piece of meat. I disagreed”). The second problem may be that incredibly unjust curse suffered by millions of nice men: the girl sees you as a friend! A bloody friend! “So we talked for hours and you cried into my sheets”. Of course, it may be that Jens just couldn’t understand her accent. “She says the dreamer just make-believe, but I thought she said maple leaves… and when she talked about about the fall I thought she talked about Mark E Smith.” No wonder he “never understood at all”.

Joshua Radin – Do You Wanna.mp3
I might be way off the mark here, but this is how I read the song: Joshua is in love with his friend (Ducky Dales everywhere!). She is in a destructive relationship. He brings comfort, but doesn’t want to be seen doing so with the ulterior motive of preparing the ground for his romantic relationship with her. And, you know, he cares firstly for her well-being. Which makes him a star among men “” and sets him up for friendship standing in the way of romance and sex. “No one believes you smile alone. You wanna retrieve your high on the phone, but when you hang up all I wanna do is help you to pick up the pieces from your past. But there’s nothing more to gather, holding on to moments that won’t last. Or would you rather end it all; do you wanna?” Well, even if I’m totally wrong, I’d be pleased if this song, from Radin’s excellent First Between 3rd And 4th EP in 2004, is going to turn one or the other reader on to this wonderful singer-songwriter, whose new album will feature Ingrid Michaelson and Catherine Feeny, plus some production by Rick Rubin.

Barenaked Ladies – If I Had $1000000.mp3
Beneath the jocular mirth of this song there is a slightly pathetic subtext. Here our boy wants, Dr Evil style, a million dollars (Canadian, presumably) to buy the object of his desire everything, from a “nice reliant automobile” to a green dress (“but not a real green dress, that’s cruel”). All that sounds very nice, even amusing, until the pathos of the final line of the third verse: “If I had one million dollars, I’d buy your love.” Poor bastard.

Richard Cheese – Creep.mp3
I presume that everybody who needs it already owns Radiohead’s “Creep”. So here, to introduce some levity into the proceedings, is the lounge-jazzy version by the great spoofologist Richard Cheese. In the original, our boy is so intoxicated with self-loathing that he places himself several leagues below hers. He might have a good reason for doing so, but for every “creep” and “weirdo” there is a beacon of hope: Pete Doherty pulled Kate Moss. That must give hope to anyone who believes the unattainable to be just that.

Love Songs For Every Situation: Falling In Love

February 11th, 2008 3 comments

I’ve said it before (sort of): Valentine’s Day is crap. But that is no reason not to deal with the subject of love this month. All of it: the good, the bad, the shitty. And, oh man, love can be a real bastard. So over ten posts I’ll aim to cover almost all emotions that accompany love: the butterflies that take residence in one’s stomach, the giddiness of being in love, the betrayal and pure pain of love dying, the emotion of being left heartbroken, the bitterness that follows a broken love, the regrets of a love failed, the confusion and conflicts that love deals in several ways, the pure pain of unrequited love, and love that cannot be (not necessarily in that order).

We’ll kick off with the butterflies of falling in love, that incredible emotion when you know that somebody else has dominates your mind, the euphoric fear as you realise things will not be the same again, as you face the prospect of happiness or utter heartbreak. The artists in our selection here are generally a hopeful lot.

The Spinners – Could It Be I’m Falling In Love.mp3
The singer in this glorious slice of 1973 soul has discovered with amazement that he is falling for his latest flame. He makes grand promises of that love being everlasting, mainly, one suspects, because he fears that “there will never come a day when you up and take your love away”. In the fadeout he is begging that she, who in the first verse seems to have fallen for him, will not fuck him over. He doesn’t use such language, of course, but the message is clear: dude is giddy and scared.

Colbie Caillat – Realize.mp3
I’ve posted this before (twice, I’m ashamed to say), but I’m all for recycling. And this song is as perfect for this post as Colbie believes she and her object of love are for each other. A cute song which acknowledges that love on first sight is not a common occurrence. She and the paramour have known each other for a while, and suddenly — pow — she realises she’s in love. That happened to me once while away in Johannesburg (possibly the ugliest city in the world). Sitting in the car, I realised — pow — that I was in love with a girl back home. Alas, the story will have to continue in the post about unrequited love.

The Weepies – Gotta Have You.mp3
Another recycled song, I’m afraid (I promise, it’ll get better as we go along, but this is about finding the right song for the right emotion. And this one happens to feature four I’ve posted before). The cute Deb Talan sets out her agenda: she has to win the heart of the man who has entered hers. I’m not sure she is going about it the right way as she admits to deliberately annoying him in the first verse. Yet, her commitment is evident: “No amount of coffee, no amount of cryin’, no amount of whiskey, no amount of wine; no, no, no, no, no, nothing else will do: I’ve gotta have you, I’ve gotta have you.”

Stephen Bishop – It Might Be You.mp3
As I said in the introduction to the Valentines mix tape (thanks for the nice comments, those who bothered), love demands some cliché, and Stephen Bishop is our man for that purpose with the love theme from Tootsie, which was a rather nice movie starring the lovely Jessica Lange, and some chap. Beware though, only the melody is cliché; the lyrics are quite beautiful. “I’ve been saving love songs and lullabies. And there’s so much more no one’s ever heard before”. Awwww! This is a vinyl rip, for that extra piece of romantic nostalgia (that is to say, I can’t find my Stephen Bishop CD).

Michelle Featherstone – Falling.mp3
The wonderful Michelle Featherstone doesn’t go with the giddy in this quite fantastic, Mazzy Star-ish song. Love is sucking her in and making her knees buckle, but not necessarily in a good way. She’s not comfortable making herself vulnerable: “In my state of vertigo I can’t look down, can’t feel the ground, so will you catch me?” The fear of falling…

Weezer – Falling For You.mp3
Oh yes, falling in love can come in all sorts of musical genres (though in C&W that would probably involve a doggy gone died). So we’ve had the Spinners falling in love soulfully, Colbie Caillat acoustically, the Weepies folkily, Michelle Featherstone darkly and Stephen Bishop schmaltzily. Weezer doing so alt.rockingly. And what a joyous song to do it with. The lyrics are less joyous. Rivers Cuomo knows he’s setting himself up: “I’m shakin’ at your touch, I like you way too much. My baby I’m afraid I’m falling for you. I’d do ’bout anything to get the hell out alive, or maybe I would rather settle down, with you.”