Monday, January 31, 2011

John Barry

The first alarm call of the morning was a brief interlude of a radio presenter saying something about James Bond scores. The third call was during a news break, where the reader mentioned something close to "he won five Academy Awards". I woke up then, realising that another musical legend was gone. If there was any morning song in my head, it was washed away in a tide of Barry goodness. Here are just two of my favourites.



Sunday, January 30, 2011

Joy Division - Means To An End

ORIGINATION Closer CD
LAST LISTENED TO
last night
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
goodie goodie yum yum
RATING
★★★★★

It seems appropriate that on such a bleak morning, grey, overcast and lifeless, that Joy Division would be in my head. There is and almost certainly always will be an association between their music, their sound, and darkness; a near-tangible miasma of unhappiness, of gloom, that is inescapable. For me this makes them difficult to listen to, which is unfortunate because they made some very good music.

Means To An End is from their second (and in some ways last) album. To my untrained ears, it seems typical of their sound. Hooky's bass is front and centre, driving the tune, framed by machine-like drums, whilst jagged, skeletal guitar breaks around the incessant rhythm. Over it all is Ian Curtis, the dark centre.

I don't listen to Joy Division very often and I doubt I ever will.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Public Enemy - Fight The Power

ORIGINATION Fear of a Black Planet CD
LAST LISTENED TO
last night
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
pretty bloody high
RATING
★★★★★

I was first intoduced to Public Enemy at the height of their powers at the beginning of the '90s. On a trip to Italy in '91 I picked up a copy of It Takes a Nation of Millions. Most likely it was because I had spending money and decided I would rather use it on music, than on some local tat. It was a bold, provocative album and it still is, however it is its successor that I listen to more often these days.

For me, Fear of a Black Planet is bolder, louder, longer and packs more hits. Biggest and boldest of all is the closing track, Fight The Power, which is both one of their funkiest tunes and their most relentless. Deceptively simple sounding, it is as intensely-woven as any Bomb Squad track, a bold mix of beats and samples that keep rolling and bouncing on and on, funky and tough. Over it Chuck D's rap is conscious, unyielding, calling for something more than peacefull acceptance of how things are. It flows smoothly, hitting on the beats, interspersed with some of jester Flav's less wacky interjections, giving Chuck pauses to catch his breath.

There is a fire here, of young bloods looking to kick down the old. Do they really think Elvis was a racist? Or are they rabble-rousing, beating on sacred cows? With PE and Chuck, you just never can tell.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Jacksons - Blame It On The Boogie


ORIGINATION the damned radio
LAST LISTENED TO
now
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
bah
RATING
★★★★★

It blundered its sunlight way into my head across the moonlight airwaves and through a slightly forgetful good times radio alarm clock boogie. There had been a sunlight tune in there, in my barely awake moonlight brain, but it withered good times and was burnt away by the might of the Jacksons boogie. I was sunlight powerless to moonlight retain information good times on it boogie. And so sunlight this morning is a moonlight cheat, a breaking of the good times rules I set for my boogie self. I am sunlight so very moonlight pleased by good times this boogie. Sunlight. Moonlight. Good times. Boogie. Sunlight. Moonlight. Good times. Boogie. Sunlight. Moonlight. Good times. Boogie. Sunlight. Moonlight. Good times. Boogie.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Scott Joplin - The Entertainer

ORIGINATION er-hm
LAST LISTENED TO
unknown
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
zero and technically still there
RATING
★★★★★

This morning, again, I woke with no song in my head. However, as I sat eating my breakfast several hours later, this tune just slid on in there. I'm not sure I've ever actually chosen to listen to it in the past. Sure, like most kids in my school I was taught how to play it on the xylophone (or possibly glockenspiel) and of course I've seen The Sting but that's been about it. Now I'm wondering what took me so long to have a listen. It really is a joyful and timeless piece.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Doors - Love Street

ORIGINATION Waiting For The Sun CD
LAST LISTENED TO
early December 2010
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
low
RATING
★★★★★

I've been listening to the Doors for twenty years, which is not as long as some have, but long enough. For what it's worth, their debut was the very first CD I bought. Today's song is from their third album, when their initial rush of inspiration was beginning to run thin. It is one of the lightest songs on the album and is neither strong lyrically nor musically. Doors-lite. For all that, it is as indelibly etched onto my brain as most of the rest of their catalogue.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Kills - U.R.A. Fever

ORIGINATION Midnight Boom CD
LAST LISTENED TO
May 2010
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
minimal
RATING
★★★★★

A couple of years ago I was sitting in a bar, eating a late lunch as the low winter sun disappeared somewhere behind thick cloud cover. The bean burger and chips were warming and filling, however my enjoyment of them was gradually intruded upon by the music playing. I realised I was nodding along, and had been for a little while, to a sparse bluesy-rock sound that was pretty appealing. Eventually I asked the bartender what he was playing and he named a band I had never heard of. On my way home I bought the album: Midnight Boom by The Kills.

U.R.A. Fever is the opening track of the album. It's a low-key beginning, that nonetheless signals clearly the dislocated boy-girl singing, rough guitars and slight electronic tinge typical of the whole album. The skeletal frame of the song is hung with enough hooks, in both some choppy guitars and a memorable repeated lyric ("U.R.A. fever / ain't born typical"), to make it memorable.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Duran Duran - Friends Of Mine

ORIGINATION Duran Duran LP
LAST LISTENED TO
a few days ago
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
average
RATING
★★★★★

An album track this time and one that sounds very much a song of its period, a piece of slithering '80s pop-funk with electronic leanings. As albums go, this being Duran Duran's debut it is pretty strong, making Friends Of Mine quite a well-crafted song rather than a piece of filler. The influence of tracks like this, particularly the guitar sound and Simon Le Bon's vocal inflections, can clearly be heard in the music of many of the current '80s-leaning bands.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Duran Duran - Planet Earth


ORIGINATION Duran Duran LP
LAST LISTENED TO
last night
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
absolute certainty
RATING
★★★★★

It is Easter 1984 and the two leaving-year classes are on the annual school trip to West Germany, to the Rhineland, by bus. To this day the decision to do it and who took it is lost, however the fact remains that a tape of Duran Duran, almost certainly a home-made compilation one of the girls brought along, was played on the coach stereo for almost the entire trip, repeated and repeated and repeated, until every tune was etched into our minds. Of all those endlessly-heard songs, Planet Earth is the one that stuck indelibly. It will forever conjour the freedom of the autoroute and of the autobahn, the particular alert weariness of long distance travel, mid-eighties Europe and seeing the Atomium slide by on the horizon.

Even if Planet Earth had a catalogue of faults, I would always look on it favourably and so an objective opinion would never be possible. It is one of those songs that will stay with me forever.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Angelo Badalamenti - Freshly Squeezed


ORIGINATION Twin Peaks
LAST LISTENED TO
every day for a week
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
astronomic
RATING
★★★★

When Twin Peaks hit the nation's television screens at the start of the last decade of the twentieth century, I was just a little young to fully appreciate the leap forward in programme making that it represented. Nonetheless I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Film director David Lynch was one of the driving forces behind the show and of all the cinematic elements he introduced, for me it was the soundtrack that made the strongest impression. Strongly jazz-influenced and scored by long-time Lynch associate Angelo Badalamenti, it was and is almost unique in its filmic approach to television. It contains several leitmotifs, not least of which is the cyclic, strolling bass line that features prominently in Freshly Squeezed.

The piece was first introduced onscreen when FBI Agent Dale Cooper, who is having breakfast at his hotel, is approached by coquettish teenager Audrey Horne. Something of the multi-level nature of that encounter is carried in the music, which is playful yet holds the sexual undertones.

The two most important elements of the piece, however, are the cycling bass and the vibraphone. The bass is the very epitome of cool, which oozed from many of the show's characters and in particular Agent Cooper. Good or bad, the inhabitants of Twin Peaks were almost all very cool and the bass line, repeated with variations across several parts of the score, reinforces that impression. In contrast, the ethereal modulation of the vibraphone represents the show's dream world, again most commonly shown in Agent Cooper. In the combination of these two sounds, Freshly Squeezed has become for me the part that most represents the whole.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Caro Emerald - Back It Up

ORIGINATION Deleted Scenes From The Cutting Room Floor CD
LAST LISTENED TO
yesterday
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
pretty good
RATING
★★★★★

A few weeks ago, whilst engaging in my ongoing struggle with the snooze button, my hand paused on its way to the button. There was something playing that snapped at my half-awake brain's attention. I listened to the song, grabbed my pen and wrote the name on my hand, hit snoozed and kept on at that for a while longer. Mid afternoon, when I took my gloves off to make my lunch I found the note. After some searching, I figured out what it meant and I was excited because it was something new and fun.

Caro Emerald, the name that I found mis-spelled on my hand is a Dutch jazz singer. Her debut album spent, from which this was the first single, spent an amazing 30 weeks at number one in the Dutch charts. The song is a lovely slice of poppy jazz, with a bouncy percussive groove, some nice and fat brassy stabs and over it all Emerald's bright vocals dance. A fresh and fun meeting of old and new.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Newcranes - Frontline

ORIGINATION Frontline LP
LAST LISTENED TO
September 2010
CHANCE OF WAKING TO IT
slim
RATING
★★★★★

Back in the early ’90s, not washing was all the range amongst certain student circles. Crust was in, clean was out. The Levellers ruled all. The far lesser-known Newcranes were always lumped into that crowd, whether they liked it or not. However, their sound owed far more to Eastern European musical traditions that British ones. Notably here, on the title track with its Ukranian male choir intro and predominant accordian melody.