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My Top 20 Favourite David Bowie Songs

My Top 20 Favourite David Bowie Songs

Nearly two weeks ago I woke up and turned on my computer only to be greeted by a headline that I had to read several times to take in. David Bowie was dead at the age of 69 after having cancer for 18 months. It was strange experiencing that level of disbelief at the death of someone I didn’t know. I went on Facebook and started to read the quotes, the lyrics, the tributes, the generic and the specific…I turned it off after about 35 seconds. I saw his son Duncan Jones had confirmed it was true. I left my bed, feeling annoyed at myself. I didn’t know him. It was sad, sure. A great loss. Doubtless. But that was it…

It seemed appropriate to stick on some Bowie as I showered. As soon as the opening strumming of my favourite Bowie song kicked in and the water hit me I started to sob so hard I stopped being able to see.

Now obviously I am ok. Don’t get me wrong. My brief shower cry, followed by getting teary eyed on the train to work after a Bowie song came on when my ipod was on shuffle is not the same as actual grief. Unlike the family and friends of the man, I was able to move on with my week. But there are many ways to feel and my own thoughts on the matter can be summarised thusly:

I didn’t know he COULD die.

I am not ready to live in a Bowieless world.
I don’t want to get too maudlin or personal. I could though. I used to write stories in English about David Bowie coming to rescue me from school on a flying pig. While other kids had posters of Leo Dicaprio from Titanic I had Bowie falating Mark Ronson’s guitar.

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In school when I was supposed to be working on other things I wrote Bowie sonnets, Bowie musicals, Bowie films all of which in my head would end with us meeting. I used to cry even imagining this happening. I grew up with his music impacting me in so many ways. I used to play the songs so often. In sickness and in health. From a very young age he was a bonding agent between and my Dad. The last present my Dad ever gave me was a Bowie CD which was both kind and sad for reasons I won’t go into. I used to play these songs with my friends and we would dance around with our socks hanging off our feet.

I remember as a teenager going out with some friends near the beach. They were all drunk when they decided they must have a Burger King. It was a quiet restaurant at about 3 in the morning. We were loud. The staff didn’t look pleased to see us. Then the TV, up in the corner on a shelf, caught my eye. It was playing a special about David Bowie. So I parked myself as close as I could to it and settled in, totally engrossed. So engrossed that I was surprised when about 10 minutes later a very large man forcibly picked me from my chair by the elbow and hurled me towards the door. It turned out one of my friends had tried to surf over the tables using a plank of wood he had found on the beach and had managed to knock over a bunch of chairs while the others were having a fry fight. The Night Manager had had enough and was banning us from his fine establishment effective immediately.

‘Can’t I just-‘ I gestured to Bowie who was wearing a green suit and singing his heart out. The Night Manager looked at the TV and then back at me. He could see I was sober and no trouble…He nearly relented. Then my friend screamed:
‘Em! We have to go! This place is full of rats! Holy shit-there’s one there! Look Em!’
‘No’
‘Just look at the rat!’
‘Are you pointing at the Manager?’
‘No just look…’
‘Right, you are pointing at the Manager’
‘Cause he’s a dirty big rat!’

‘ALL OF YOU LITTLE CUNTS GET OUT NOW BEFORE I CAVE YOUR HEADS IN! EVEN YOU SUNSHINE…’

The sunshine was aimed at me. I took one last sad look at the TV before slinking out, back into the cold…

The point is: I actually stayed to argue with the guy who had just assaulted me because I wanted to watch David Bowie videos that badly…Ok now I read that back, it is not that profound an anecdote. Sorry for wasting your time.

From a young age I recognised that here was a guy who was not afraid to try new things. David Bowie that is. Not the violent Night Manager at a certain beach side Burger King. There was a newness to every album which felt exhilarating It never felt inauthentic or pandering. He was both a one man hit machine and a great artist at the same time. That is fucking hard to pull off. He looked amazing and yet seemed quite blokey. He didn’t alienate punters but he made the oddballs feel ok about their oddness.

So while it would be easy to wax lyrical about what a unique gem he was let’s get one thing straight: I am talking about the music. The man is not a guy I knew. I don’t call him a hero. He generally came across well in interviews, seemed genuinely funny and as he got older he seemed to grow ever more comfortable in his skin. I remember hearing that when Ricky Gervais first spoke to him on the phone he was blown away by him saying ‘Sorry I’m just eating a banana’ The idea that Bowie eats bananas like the rest of us seemed kind of far-fetched. That level of fame has to be a bit toxic surely?

Recently someone suggested to me that he was the ultimate rebel. I disagree. I feel the more shocking things he did and characters he assumed were all played from a safe place. The looks? Some of them were fun but I don’t believe for a moment that he and Adam Ant and all the rest were coming up with this shit on their own. They had their Malcolm McLarens and their Lindsay Kemps telling the what to wear and how to wear it. The white skinny male musicians ruled the world then and their carefully calculated abandon of social norms was celebrated and accepted by their fans who saw their concerts and bought their records. What did he really have to rebel against?


This I suppose…

When the 80’s hit and suddenly being part of the LGBT community was seen as being dangerous, Bowie was quick to distance himself from the bisexual label he had proudly flaunted previously. In 1983 he declared he was straight and stated that ever saying he wasn’t was the biggest mistake he ever made.

But nobody is perfect. And it comes down to the music. If the music was shit nobody would be talking about him donning heels and dating supermodels. Nobody would care about the size of his cock. He would have been relegated to the footnotes of the glam era if it were not for the fact that the guy knew his way around a guitar. The voice was so distinctive. What it lacked in prettiness it made up for in emotional range. The vocals, the records, the sounds…That is what I wanted to pay tribute to.

I am including cover versions because they count as my favourite David Bowie songs. Because I like his interpretation of the songs better than other versions. I am not including Blackstar because I am not ready to look at that. Also I don’t hit a wide range of his work because…well you know the drill. This is a personal list. But if you have stumbled across this because you want to learn more about Bowie…Just buy the albums. Any off them. All of them. Well, not ALL of them. Actually no fuck it, all of them. But here are a bunch of tracks that I am sneakily including even though they didn’t make my list: Fame, Golden Years, I’m Afraid of Americans, Something in the Air, Jean Genie, Changes, The Man who Sold the World, Diamond Dogs, Thursday’s Child, Seven, Modern Love, Let’s Dance, Suffragette City, Wild is the Wind, Boys keep Swinging, Under Pressure, John I’m Only Dancing…

Oh and I like that time he sang Wake Up with Arcade Fire…


And he produced the Lou Reed classic Transformer:


And when he co wrote Lust for Life with Iggy Pop:

He was really good wasn’t he?

 
And…I am starting off the list by massively cheating. Sorry.

 
20. EVERY TRACK ON LOW (Low) Funnily enough. Every track on Low is from the album Low.

 
Sorry again.

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In my defence…I don’t tend to listen to these tracks apart from each other. Ever since I was…much, much, much younger than I am now I have listened to Low as one long flowing never ending track. My Dad didn’t have this one on record so I went and bought it in one of those CD shops along with Bowie’s Modern Love and probably the latest B*witched album cause I was a confused little puppy.

From the very first track I was excited. This was Bowie, Jim, but not as I knew it. A great number of the tracks are instrumental only including opener Speed of Life. I was so in even though I had no idea what was going on:

I lost count of the number of times I came home from school, angry and pissed off and rage filled and ready to pluck out the eyes of a baby if it meant I could leave school any earlier (turns out that is not a thing) and I would stick on Low, maybe light a couple of candles…Not to relax. To burn myself to check I could still feel pain. But anyway the point is Low is such a spectrum of moods..The songs are sad, fun, scary, delightful, inspirational and it is just an enjoyable way to spend 40 minutes before you take a deep breath, let go of what is bothering you and add to your book of revenge poetry. That’ll show ’em.

I remember back when I was working for a helpline for young people one of the supervisors asked each volunteer to debrief using a David Bowie album as a framework. NOBODY else got it. Meanwhile I said: ‘I don’t feel LOW after that shift…My computer was fine so I didn’t end up BREAKING GLASS and it went by at the SPEED OF LIFE. Due to the combination of telephone and online work I relied on both SOUND AND VISION…

The Supervisor and I were cracking each other up. It was 2am and everyone else hated us and wanted to go home.


Also, what happened to the carpet???? I guess we’ll never know:

 

19. All the Young Dudes (All the Young Dudes)

While we’re here: RIP Dale Griffin.

Yes this is primarily a Mott the Hoople song and it is their version I am familiar with. However Bowie wrote this supposedly to keep the band from breaking up due to a lack of success. And he liked it enough that he sang it. too A lot. Also listen to it: It’s a Bowie song through and through. Not to take away from the Mott the Hoople version which I like much better than the studio recording of Bowie singing it.


Bowie claimed to be baffled when it was claimed as an anthem for a disaffected glam youth as he wrote it with the apocalypse in mind. This doesn’t surprise me. A fuck ton of his songs are about the apocalypse.

I have always loved this song. I enjoy a shout along chorus and the lyrics capture a bunch of stuff I can’t numerically speaking be nostalgic for but I am anyway so shut up.

 

18. Heroes (Heroes)


This is a song that I don’t really enjoy until the ‘I…I will be king’ bit where the vocal suddenly becomes a lot more intense and the whole ‘we can do it’ vagueness of the sentiment begins to come across as kind of desperate and sad. If it was just a song about being a hero, I’d struggle to get behind it. Just listen to his wonderful delivery of ‘And we kissed…as though nothing could fall’

Speaking of which he wrote that bit after witnessing his record producer making out with one of the backing vocalists…However the dude was cheating on his wife. As a result Bowie chose not to comment on who the couple in the song were. But it is not every day your philandering ways are name checked in a Bowie song so the producer took full credit.

Just keep that in mind the next time you try and pretend this is a romantic, triumphant song, won’t you?

 
17. Ashes to Ashes (Scary Monster and Super Creeps)

I was obsessed with this video when I was a kid because of just how thoroughly I didn’t get it. I remember pressing my nose against the screen wondering what the clown outfit and the fact that the players on either far side kept touching the ground meant…

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Reveal your secrets to me…

I love the style of Ashes to Ashes musically and of course the references to previous success Space Oddity. There is something cool about name checking your biggest hit in order to discredit your protagonist as Bowie writes off his astronaut hero as a strung out junkie. Bowie claimed Ashes to Ashes was intended as a nursery rhyme and a kiss off to the 70’s. He also acknowledged the fact that as kids we want to be spacemen but then we grow up and realise even they don’t have it together. Call me a blithering fan girl, but I love it as a concept. It is the Lance Armstrong effect: If someone ever seems too amazing to be true they are probably hiding something. Don’t let anyone tell you who to look up to.

Now I will go back to patiently awaiting the Dolly Parton sequel to I will Always Love You called Actually it Turned out you were Pretty Easy to Get Over.

 
16. Oh! You Pretty Things (Hunky Dory)

It is a pretty simple piano lead track with a bitching chorus and biting verses, a completely divine snarling beast of a track. I love the references to kids in it as it just rings true especially about ‘Look at your children, see their faces in golden rays, don’t kid yourself they belong to you, they’re the start of the coming race’ Sure it is just another in a series of never ending Bowie songs about the end of the world but don’t all parents have that moment where they realise their kids are not in fact just mini versions of them but their own people who can’t be controlled?

It is worth noting at this juncture that I don’t often enjoy white guy at a piano music especially these days when that kind of shit leads to earnest songs about lost love and found love and round and round the garden like a teddy bear love. But this? This is my jam. It is so well sung and brings me so much joy with each and every listen.

 
15. Ziggy Stardust (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars)


I am not writing that album title again.

Where was I?

Oh yeah. This album is my favourite. I know, I know. What a cliché. If you asked 100 non Bowie fans to name a Bowie album they’d go with this one. It was a commercial success, kid of gimmicky bla bla bla but there are so many treasures within I just don’t care.

This was probably my favourite track as a child. I wrote a story around it about 4 women who meet under weird circumstances and become mates as the world gets attacked by spiders from Mars. One was an actress whose Oscar speech is interrupted by the invasion, one was a clichéd punk character who can eat metal, one was a stress head business woman and one an old homeless lady. The story ended with David Bowie slaying spiders.

You’re welcome.

Obviously it is actually about the rise and fall of a band and how the lead singer gets too caught up in it…Whatever. It showed rock could be truly beautiful and I will love it forever.

One of my favourite ‘Live’ style album I have is Bowie at the Beeb which features the best of Bowie’s sessions at the BBC. Several of my favourite versions of Bowie songs and indeed any songs are featured on this album. This is by far my favourite cut of Ziggy:

 
14. Sorrow (Pin Ups)

If I ever did a playlist of my ‘break up’ songs, this would go in the subsection of ‘over it, not over it’ It is easy to dismiss those that hurt you as the spawn of Satan and not worth your time but you know that friend who is always posting quotes on Facebook about how strong they are and how they are holding out for someone who appreciates every little thing about them? This song gets those losers.
You see, winners don’t need to constantly reassure everyone they are fine. They are too busy winning for such shit.

With the violins and the Bowie echoes and his sad mournful cry of ‘with your long blonde hair’ Bowie gets it. You are not ready to move on but you WISH you were.

So this is a cover version but as far as I am considered this is the only version that exists. He just Bowies it up the way only Bowie can. That specific vocal growl on the word sorrow, the over enunciating and the finger clicking sadness and the saxophone, oh the saxophone!

Heartbreak has never sounded more groovy.

 
13. Space Oddity (David Bowie)

What can I really say? It is a brilliantly imaginative song which was unlike anything before it or since. It is a mini opera, a tour de force, poetry in motion…There is nothing to dislike or pick apart. The vocal is stunning, the lyrics are evocative and the music still sounds spot on even after all these years. It doesn’t date. Hell even the early work of the Beatles seems kind of twee now. But Bowie’s first big single? It could come out tomorrow and still top the charts.

Oh fun fact: It was criticised by many due to the fact it could be interpreted as a pop at Apollo 11 and so the BBC agreed not to play it till Tom Hanks and the others were safely back home.

Major Tom is not so lucky, joining the great Laika going round and round and round…

Like most people, my favourite bit is the melancholy little moment of ‘planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do’ leading in to the clapping…I love clapping. And then the oh so beautiful music swells…Ok it is perfect. Did I mention it is perfect? He could have retired HERE.

I am so glad he didn’t.

 
12. Lady Stardust (Ziggy etc)

I always loved this song deeply in a way I can’t really bring myself to explain. I recognise why it was not a single like Starman and the like but it holds a special place for me. It is probably written for Marc Bolan of T Rex fame. You don’t need to go that deeply into the lyrics for this: The demo was called a Song for Marc.

It didn’t stop me writing a different plot around it in my childhood bedroom. I had a script called Lady Stardust and everything. Over the years my fantasy casting for the lead role of Lady Stardust has evolved considerably starting with Julian Lennon and ending with Peter Dinklage. I would play the love interest, Emily Browning my best friend, Andy Serkis my Father in a role that would bag him a long overdue Oscar and David Bowie would be so impressed with the script he would cameo briefly…

Well that was the plan.

 
11. The Bewlay Brothers (Hunky Dory)

The closer to arguably Bowie’s tightest album took a while to sink in the first time I heard it. I stared at my grinning Father in confusion. He nodded reassuringly. It was ok, he was telling me. It was supposed to end like this.

He wasn’t wrong.

Nobody knows what it is about. Some critics decided it was about Bowie’s ill brother, others him being gay (which he wasn’t in the end) Bowie’s take was it was deliberately indecipherable, designed for multiple re listens. Who cares? The ‘Oh we were gone…’ section is one of my favourite moments in any song but the whole thing grips me..It moves me and I don’t need to understand why or where it came from. Oh and when those voices come in…I can’t decide whether to laugh or hide.

 
10. Five Years (Ziggy etc)

More apocalypse now because that was the kind of dude he was.

It is such a great opener to the album the way the drum beat comes in and then…we are told a story. We as a planet have 5 years left. Well shit. Are you sure Bowie? But the newsreader is crying so…guess so.

Despite some questionable lyrics in the second verse he pulls it back big stylee with one of my favourite lyrics of all time: ‘And it was cold and it rained so I felt like an actor’ He sings with such passion leading into the pub sing along of a closing chorus that leads to our man just shrieking 5 years over and over again as dramatic strings scream at us. Then…then drum comes back.

I appreciate I have just described an abridged version of the song. But as we get deeper into his catalogue I find I have less to say. The stories he tells speak for themselves. They stand up right and exist in the world.

 
9. Rebel Rebel (Diamond Dogs)

While Diamond Dogs is, in my opinion, not one of the stronger records it has some great moments. Not to mention a deeply disturbing front cover. It was the era of the bright red hair and Halloween Jack. His mentor the performance artist Lindsay Kemp said of the hair: ‘I told him to be extreme but I didn’t mean that extreme!’

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Rebel Rebel is an up beat masterpiece that celebrates those who march to the beat of their own drums. It is the phenomenal riff that had Bowie on his knees thanking his muse as he recognised right away it would be upheld as one of the great rock riffs and of course it was this song that cemented him as a pioneer of the glam rock era.

Me? Well it just makes me boogie. And point aggressively at people near by telling them their face is a mess. I love every glorious, glamorous second of it.

 

8. Life on Mars (Hunky Dory)

When people talk Bowie this one usually comes up pretty quickly. The appeal of a song this pretty is kind of universal and yet it still feels like one for the misfits. It is more storytelling in line with Five Years but it is even more powerful because musically it captures this unknowable majesty that can only come from a truly perfect lead into a chorus. The anticipation is so dramatic and big that you fear the chorus won’t rise to meet it…But boy oh boy does it.

And how about those lyrics? Bowie maintains it was a bad break up song…Huh? I had a teacher at school who enthusiastically cornered me to tell me his theory that it was about a teen pregnancy…which works well for verse 1 but doesn’t go any way to explain why Mickey Mouse is a cow and why the sailors are fighting in the dance hall. It is a mystery to me why it works so well…
Although it did start as being performed to the Sinatra “classic” My Way which you kind of hear. I say “classic” cause I hate that song. Unless it is being sung by Sid Vicious.

Anyway I digress, this is great. It is better than all of your songs. So there.

 
7. Drive-In Saturday (Aladdin Sane)

Bowie does the 50’s…Yes please. I feel like if David Bowie had been in charge of writing Grease it would have turned out a lot better. He nails the nostalgia of the doo wop era but makes lines like ‘Gee it’s hot, let’s go to bed’ sound so fresh. I love it all but it is the chorus that really breaks me. I love every moment but especially ‘she’s uncertain if she likes him but she knows she really loves him’ Fucking…yes. This.

Also I love the term video-films. Aces. Did they ever really call them that?

I love the back vocals, the sax, I just want to sway and sing and ride in a Cadillac to the diner.

Oh also it was another apocalypse song…Dude really thought the world was going to end huh?

 
6. Young Americans (Young Americans)

Oh my…How do I start? It is Bowie doing Philly soul with Luther Vandross backing him for added authenticity. The term “plastic soul” was used to describe the sound and Bowie embraced it, acknowledging he was stealing an established sound from the soul singers in the dance halls up and down America. He didn’t invent the style but he sure does play the hell out of it.

But best of all is his use of the backing vocalists. While it is crazy to imagine Vandross backing anyone (Unlike the others he looks directly at the camera when it is on him-he wants to be the star) just listen to how they are used: They are collaborators, not window dressing. They make the song sound so much better than it ever could without them.

This is another story in a song but the specific meaning behind the lyrics has always been lost on me. One of the best nights of my life was loudly singing this during a jam in a London establishment called Jazz after Dark several years ago: I belted the words and phrases and joyful/sad shouts without knowing what I was singing really-I just knew I wanted to break down and cry because the song is everything I want it to be and more. I jump around when it is on. I reach my hands out to try and capture how it makes me feel and bottle it.

 

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5. Kooks (Hunky Dory)

Once upon a time, a kid called Zowie Bowie was born to David Jones and Angie. He later changed his name to Duncan Jones because of course he did. He went on to a win a well deserved BAFTA for his brilliant film Moon. He got teary eyed as he admitted he had finally figured out what he wanted to do with his life. Two weeks ago his Father died.

How strange it must be to know your Dad meant so much to so many, to know so many people in the world stopped and cried for your Parent. Is he touched by it or does he resent it? I don’t know. I suspect I would be ungracious in my grief. I would wish to shut everyone out.

I think of both Duncan and Bowie’s teenage daughter…My heart hurts for them because…well because it is sad. It was always going to be sad.

Kooks is a little love letter to the boy named Zowie. Unlike other lullabies for infants composed by rock Gods, Kooks is neither overly syrupy nor uncomfortably personal (fun game: Guess which two songs I am thinking of there!) It is a sweet invite to…Well you know. Stick with the family and see what happens.

Ok, this entry is painful to write. If it is painful to me God knows how Duncan feels. His Mother, Angie Bowie appears to not be in his life (on learning of David’s death while on a TV show called Big Brother she chose to stay on the show, isolated from her loved ones) Stay in our lovers story indeed…I know a lot of people who frown quite loudly at people who get divorced as if they intended their marriages to implode…Sometimes to love your kids you need to show them you love yourself enough to get out.

But let’s stay positive. David captures some charming details about early parenthood and promises his son that if the homework sucks they will just burn it and escape in the car..

Nope…Now I’m crying.

Ok it is a beautiful song and I am sorry your Dad is dead Duncan. I hope you are ok.

Let’s leave it there.

 
4. Starman (Ziggy etc)

This was the first one.

The song that used to send me to sleep when I was sick. The track I turned to as I gazed out the window wondering what my life would become. The track I would perform for my appreciative Father as he stood in his door frame chain smoking and sipping glass after glass of whiskey. His death before the age of 60 was as surprising as it was shocking.

Basically, this was my introduction to the Master. I believed it. I breathed it. I wanted so badly to be rescued by the Star Man. I was the narrator of the song, calling my friend to panicky tell them I saw…something. Then Bowie would beam down and take me away…

That was the plan. I honestly didn’t understand he wasn’t the Starman of the song. I was too young to get that being a musician wasn’t the same thing as being magic.

Except…It totally is.

If you are this good…It is.

 
3. God Knows I’m Good (Bowie at the Beeb)

I have listed Bowie at the Beeb because that is the version I listen to even though it comes as an album track on the eponymous album that launched him into the stratosphere.

Sure it is dramatic in an almost biblical sense, a story of a poor woman praying that nobody will notice her shop lifting…But it works for me. It comes from his vocal in the beeb version. He is so passionate and so right on and I just can’t get enough of it even if it is a bit OTT in how literal it is. But then, it is just more story telling. It feels kind of personal but Bowie maintained it wasn’t about his poor Mother or anything…Just a woman.

I don’t know why sincerity like this appeals to me in some artists and not in others. Maybe some people can pull of empathy better than others. The likes of Geldof, Collins and their ilk make me cringe because I sense it is self serving, like they are congratulating themselves on noticing suffering. Most people who actually help people, really help people, don’t need to make a big public parade of it to make themselves feel adequate. A song like God Knows I’m Good doesn’t end with a message about how we should all look twice at criminals because some of them are desperate not cruel. Bowie just observes the story in an omnipotent sort of fashion and relays it beautifully.

I love it. I think of it often. When people make mistakes, when I make mistakes, when I fear that nothing I do is ever going to help anyone I remember that deep down most people are decent and we are all trying. All the time.

 
2. Amsterdam (Bowie at the Beeb)

This is a cover version. It was the B side to Sorrow. And it keeps reminding me that he was the best.

So…here is the thing. The reason I love this performance so much is this: Strip away the glamour and the clout and what remains? A talented bloke with a distinctive voice who could blow anyone away with his talent. Anyone.

If Bowie had remained Dave Jones and had decided to go into plastering or something like that and then one night showed up at a folk night as all the best guitarists do in the end…Picture it for me. Everyone does their turn as is tradition. And it reaches him. He gets out his guitar, tunes it up and gives us a classic sounding sea shanty…

Can you just hear the silence in the pub? No matter what, he was destined to share a gift this good. It was undeniable. If it wasn’t the charts it would have been the clubs. He would have been heard because you can’t not listen.

Even without any of the dog and pony stuff, David could sing and play guitar, And this tour de force show of rancid passion and howling anguish just makes me want to…I want to find him and thank him for being the best.

 

 

And finally…
1. Rock and Roll Suicide (Ziggy etc)


It was always one I loved dearly. But it wasn’t until he died I knew it was my favourite.

It is to my mind, the perfect song both vocally and musically. It is both interesting to my ears and reassuring to my soul.

I love it. I love it. I love it.

It tells me, quite literally that I am not nor will I ever be alone.

I have always loved songs that take you on a journey. This song does that. There are so many shifts and changes, so many subtleties and so much explicit showmanship that it demands repeated listening.

It is heart breaking and uplifting.

Messy and tidy.

Profound and nonsense.

I am sorry that I am struggling, as I always do, to sum up what a song this good means to me. When I hear it, I imagine the band following me down the street as I walk alone in the dark, I hear the build up, I walk a bit straighter, I hold my head higher, I just believe it….

I am not alone.

It is a magnificent feeling to know with certainty that music can genuinely solve that gnawing, gnashing feeling that you are broken and cannot be fixed. It is breathtakingly reassuring to learn that a song this bright and beautiful can take you out of your problems and hold you.

It is all Bowie.

We are not alone.

 

 

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My Top 100 Favourite Beatles Songs (Part 6)

My Top 100 Favourite Beatles Songs (40-31)

 

40. Revolution (1968)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 13

Main Composer: Lennon

The first time I heard ‘Revolution’ was watching a documentary about Lennon when I was about 11 and I was so blown away by that intro that I didn’t really take in the rest of the song. Sure it is a rip off, or homage if you like, of Pee-Wee Crayton’s 1954 blues track ‘Do Unto Others,’ but the combination of Lennon’s guitar and McCartney’s howl was just too much wonderfullness to take. I am not exaggerating. I am pretty sure I had to lie down afterwards. While occasionally screaming: ‘I love you John!’

A couple of years later, I listened to the White Album for the first time (or The Beatles to give its actual name) and was disappointed by the shoo be doo wopping pace of ‘Revolution 1’: It sounded like a windy down tape…Had I imagined the manic and joyful ferocity of the first?

Nope. There are a few different versions of this song. The one above, featured on Past Masters, is my favourite. And I was not the only one. Lennon wanted ‘Revolution’ to be a single but McCartney thought the ‘Revolution 1’ cut was too slow and Harrison backed him up (I am not sure where Ringo was at the time. Possibly mowing the lawn) but Lennon was determined to get his political message out there so agreed to change the pace.

Because of course, it is a political song. Indisputably. It was 1968 and America was still at war with Vietnam. Martin Luther King had been assassinated. Shit was going down. And Lennon went against the wishes of their now deceased manager Epstein, and decided that The Beatles were going to take a stand. Now with Yoko, there was a different energy to everything he did and he/she/they felt that he should use his music to spread the message about…whatever.

What exactly are his views? You would be forgiven for not really having a clue because the words are somewhat overpowered by the unusually hard rock edge of the track particularity the noisy as all fuck guitar. Behind the backs of the technical people, presumably they got Ringo to get a long coat and pretend to deliver a pizza to the studio as a distraction, they overloaded the recording console to create that awful distorted racket towards the end of the song. I love it. Don’t get me wrong. But my point is this: If you really want someone to read your message, don’t put it inside a really funky bottle or nobody will notice because they will be distracted by the funky bottle.

I speak shit, of course people noticed the politics, everyone cared what The Beatles had to say back then. So what was Lennon’s big point? Essentially he is saying if you are going to fuck shit up you should at least have a plan. If you are going to hurt others you don’t have his blessing. Except he dithered a bit at first…

If you do listen to ‘Revolution 1’ you can hear that one of the lyrics went: ‘But when you talk about destruction…Don’t you know that you can count me out, in’ and he also says ‘out, in’ in the live version of the ‘rock’ edition of the track…Are you following? Please say you are following…

Let me break it down:

Rev 1: More bluesy and low, he says ‘Count me out, in’

Revolution: Faster and with added rock. He says ‘Count me out’ But when he performed it live you can hear him say ‘Count me out, in’

Revolution 9: The shit of a horse and one of the several reasons I am not going to get into here why I never really cared for The White Album as a whole.
So why does that one word matter? It adds/removes ambivalence. On one hand, he is torn, but by the time the single came out (Only as a B Side, to ‘Hey Jude’ of all things) he was sure: Violence = Lennon out *literal microphone drop.* Some praised his convictions, others grumbled. Lennon continued to qualify his statements as the years went on:

‘The lyrics stand today…They’re still my feeling about politics: I want to see the plan…I want to know what you’re going to do after you’ve knocked it all down. I mean, can’t we use some of it? What’s the point of bombing Wall Street? If you want to change the system, change the system. It’s no good shooting people.’

Lennon said this in 1980. Shortly before he was…you know. Murdered. Yeah. Maybe there was something to his ideas after all.

Depressing thoughts aside, I still have tremendous affection for the version of ‘Revolution’ known simply as ‘Revolution,’ especially the live version where the boys rock out. I love comparing this band to the band they were at the beginning. Their evolution was a revelation!

McCartney may have been little more than humouring Lennon’s political ranting (After all, a saccharine ‘you can do it’ song written by McCartney alone was still the lead single, suggesting he didn’t truly subscribe to Lennon Politics 101) but his bitchin’ backing vocals are wonderful and the track fits neatly next to ‘Helter Skelter’ in my Beatles list as an example of how heavy the boys could be when they felt like it. Listen… And imagine 11 year old me, completely missing the historical subtext and Lennon’s conviction and just thinking he was oh so dreamy…

Rock on my babies.

Favourite Bit: The first few seconds can’t really be topped for me. Lennon’s guitar and McCartney’s howl. All it takes to make me happy.

 

 

 

39. Ticket to Ride (1965)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 17

Main Composer: Lennon (with McCartney)

What made John Lennon and Paul McCartney become friends in the first place? McCartney has publicly recalled how unappealing he found Lennon the first time they met as youngsters at a town fête because up close the older boy smelled like beer. When he tells this story, it is said fondly, like McCartney is shaking his head in amusement at his baby self, knowing that the sniffy youth is going to get caught up in a hell of a lot more than a sneaky sip of alcohol. Nonetheless, the first impression tells a story: These two were not cut from the same deck. What they had in common was the music. That was it. A love of Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Elvis…When both men were asked for explanations of the ambiguous lyric: ‘She’s got a ticket to ride’ McCartney opted for ‘A British Railway ticket to the Isle of White’ and Lennon claimed it was the card Hamburg hookers carried to prove they didn’t have STI’s. I know who I believe.

Lennon’s claims McCartney’s contribution to this song was telling Ringo what to do on his drums, but McCartney, possibly channelling his younger self, piped up that in actual fact they wrote it together, side by side, although he would be a gentleman and give Lennon 60% credit. Oh boys. Why must you be so…You? Actually I wouldn’t have it any other way. If it weren’t for the constant competition, I sincerely doubt the sound of The Beatles would have evolved as it did.

Is ‘Ticket to Ride’ a song worth fighting over? Yes. It is beautiful. A wistful track, wonderfully sung, when some fantastic changes of paces such as the bridge ‘Don’t know why she’s riding so high…’ and the outro of ‘My baby don’t care…’ and some great ominous, stormy drumming from Mr Starr. Respect him I say! Respect the narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine or I will slash you!*

What I love about The Beatles, and it is impossible for me not to keep repeating this, is how they took clichés ideas like: ‘Oh dear my girl has left me whatever shall I do?’ and made it unique and punchy. This song is so very punchy. Listen to that shift in tone between ‘I think I’m going to be sad’ and ‘You better think twice, you better do right by me’ There is menace in a lyric like that and I doubt it was there accidentally. The electric guitar over acoustic, the upper range on the fade out…All these little technical choices that just add to what may have been a fairly simple idea. And they knocked it up in about 3 hours. When James Paul McCartney met John Winston Lennon they were both keen amateurs. It wouldn’t be long before they were rewriting the rules of music. All in their efforts to best one another. Thank the Lord for town fêtes.

* I won’t slash you. That would be wrong.

Favourite Bit: I find it very hard to choose…The guitar work, the rhythm section, the vocals, all those wonderful shifts…Everything is strong. But I love the sound of the two boys singing together throughout, especially the ever so slightly elevated passion on ‘She would never be free…when I was around’ I love them. I love them. I love them.

 

 

 

38. Help! (1965)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 15

Main Composer: Lennon

And now, ladies and jellyspoons, we return to the sub-section of Beatle tracks known as: Lennon’s cries for help. While ‘Yer Blues’ and ‘I’m a Loser’ were pretty transparent this one is LITERALLY a cry for help with an explanation mark and everything. And he was super serious.

Lennon saw this time as his ‘Fat Elvis’ period, and it is clear that while his face admittedly did have the glow of a woman in her second trimester, he was exaggerating the situation slightly. I mean, Elvis’s problems with consumption cost him his life. Lennon just got a bit chubby. But it hurt his ego. Lennon didn’t want to be the fat Beatle. More than that, he didn’t want to be the married Beatle.

McCartney’s dance card was full. At this time he was romancing actress/socialite Jane Asher and a dozen or so others (Not so twee when it came to the ladies were ya, ol’ Mull of Kintyre?) while Lennon had to make do with the same boring Wife and Son he had had for ages. It’s just not fair is it? Oh wait. Yes it is. Come on, Lennon…Don’t be that guy…

But here is the question, that has been asked so many times: Is it possible to be part of a phenomenon like that and come out of it a solid family man in your early 20’s? Almost certainly not. He also had pretty dodgy attachment issues anyway, meaning that it was never going to be easy: Add unlimited access to fame, food, drink and drugs? It was never going to happen. Not that this in anyway makes it up to Cyn and Julian. They should never have been made to feel like a consolation prize. But it does explain why Lennon felt his enviable place in the world was a badger trap his foot had got caught in.

Anyway, Lennon was unhappy with the production on his unhappy production. The call and answer siren, which makes the song so memorable, was too commercial for him. I can appreciate that: The whole thing seems a trifle too upbeat for such a mood and while that juxtaposition can work, I can see why it would make him wince. If you saw lyrics like: ‘My independence seems to vanish in the haze…Every now and then I feel so insecure’ written down you wouldn’t fit them with a song that ends with ‘Help me woooooooooooooooo…’ I feel like this was written slightly before The Beatles had truly broke free of their mercenary restrains. Help! Indeed.

Obviously I am still a fan though. It is one of those songs that you hear once and know forever. Harrison is doing some cool stuff on guitar (so what else is new right?) and Ringo is giving it some on the tom-toms (Naturalment!) everyone sounds tight (Of course…) and Lennon’s fixed smile cannot mask the boiling heat of desperation simmering below the surface of his cheerful delivery…

Won’t somebody please help him?

Favourite Bit: Harrison’s descending notes behind the song really sell ‘Help!’ as more than just a catchy ditty, capturing the mood even better than the showy lyrics do.

 

 

 

37. A Hard Day’s Night (1964)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 11

Main Composer: Lennon

Look, I believe everyone is entitled to their perspective on pop culture. Just because I don’t understand something, doesn’t mean people who get it are wrong anymore than it means I am a philistine. Living by this philosophy, respecting others basically, is easier said than done when it comes to things I am passionate about.

Recently I heard a media figure talking about Justin Bieber. Now, I don’t know much of the work of the Bieber: I can confidently point to two tracks he sings and I am not a fan of either of them. But that is ok. They are not for me. That does not make them bad. Just…not for me.

But when the media figure reflected that early Beatles was teeny bopper pop and then they went off the wall and came out with ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ surprising everyone and he look forward to hearing Bieber’s ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ equivalent once he was done appealing to teens, I nearly flipped over my coffee table. I swore out loud in an empty room. I gritted my teeth so forcefully I heard something crack. My eye began to twitch and hasn’t stopped since.

Because as much as I would love to respect this…this…statement…I feel this person is beyond ignorant about pre Pepper Beatles. I suspect he is just saying words because, and we all do it, he needs to pretend to be knowledge about music. The Beatles appealed to teens and yes, some of their early work isn’t as good as what came later. But to dismiss EVERYTHING they did pre-Pepper as ‘Teen Pop’ tantamount to what is churned out by the Bieber machine is outrageous. If Justin Bieber, for all his talent at playing several musical instruments, marketing his hair, and driving poorly, has produced one song as strong, critically lauded and as fondly remembered as the 1964 Beatles album opener ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ I will drink out of a mop bucket the little cunt has peed in myself.

In the most long-shot defence of modern pop since all those think pieces about Nicki Minaj being a feminist, The Beatles had a lot more barriers to break through compared to now. Is it remotely possible for a modern musician to get an audience excited with an opening chord now? Probably not. But let us not linger in the present, when we have the past…

Clang.

Pausing only to redefine song introductions and create another iconic moment in their own impressive history: And we are off! (Sorry I don’t know what the chord is. If you are interested look it up, but few can agree…)

Ringo, who it would seem was basically Lewis Carroll in disguise, pulled the phrase ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ out of his brain after leaving the studio and discovering at some point the day had become night and of course it demanded to be a song. And what a song! It is a euphoric burst of manic energy that captures the giddy fairground cliché that was Beatlemania. Even the weaker lyrical moments (I love the ‘I give up’ nature of a line ending in ‘You know I work all day…to get you money to buy you things’ Things. Good stuff.) just gets blown past at such a fast pace that it really doesn’t matter all that much if the title is the peak of the wordsmithery on display. I can’t really criticise. I just invented the word wordsmithery.

The lyrics were Lennon, scribbled on the back of his son Julian’s first birthday card (we get it John, you don’t care about your family, for the love of God…) but much of what makes this song such a classic is Harrison’s guitar work. Back then, a 12 string guitar was a rare thing and Harrison never got much time to work out what he was doing which only makes the final product all the more awe-inspiring. Both his solo and the fade out, give the tune depth and really make it soar. It is another great vocal performance too from both Lennon and McCartney. A+ all round, boys.

Nearly every time I have cited a song from ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ on this list, which I maintain is an excellent album so this is a consistent theme, I have felt the need to mention the movie of the same name. It is a simple idea, but it works: The boys run around and…Well that’s it. But the script is sharp and endlessly quotable (‘How did you find America?’ ‘Turned left at Greenland’), they are all clearly having fun and for the soundtrack they only managed to blag the biggest band in the world: Them. Obviously. Anyway it is great and life affirming and way more fun than most films about things. It is worth it just to hear them sing…They’re going to give you everything. After all, I was never going to see them live. Watching the film keeps them forever young.

If Bieber’s film is still being watched in 50 years…We will talk.

Favourite Bit: It is getting harder and harder to single things out but I never could resist a McCartney Howl: ‘When I’m home…Feeling you holding me TIGHT! TIGHT! YEAH!’

Also, I would also like to recommend trying to check out the Goldie Hawn version of this (yes really) as her frustrated lounge singer act really does work in a very different way.

 

 

 

36. We Can Work it Out (1965)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 30

Main Composer: McCartney (Lennon did the bridge)

I love this song. To be honest, this whole list has been a fucking delight to write about. I wrote down the order about 2 years ago now. Whenever I go back and look at what I have to review next I am excited and happy. That is what good music does to a person. It makes their soul light up.

Now the version of the song I want to post is a promo where the boys mime to ‘We can Work it Out’ but I would ask that you give it your full attention, for your own sake. It is glorious. Lennon is clearly arsing about (I would love to see what he is doing when he is out of shot) and McCartney is on the verge of giggling throughout at his antics, finally cracking completely right at the end and it is beyond delightful, made all the more enjoyable by the fact that Ringo and Harrison are stoney faced and bored throughout:

I love the creativity and theatricality of this song, with the interesting chords, slightly ominous and certainly sad sound of the harmonium and the inspired shift into a waltz which is so unique to this track alone.

‘We can Work it Out’ is another beast inspired by McCartney’s on/off relationship with Asher. But of course it is: I thought I could smell patronising! Sure it sounds fair, sweet and calming on the surface but imagine somebody actually saying this to you when you were angry and hurt about something: ‘Think of what you’re saying…you can get it wrong and still you think that it’s all right…’ Just…Gah. Lennon clearly thought so too and his contribution is the amazing bridge where he chimes in impatiently, with a brusque and threatening ‘Life is very short and there’s no time…So I will ask you once again…’ Their approaches to life and women were somewhat different and it is illustrated well here.

While both of them acknowledged that their attitudes to conflict (manipulative and rational vs heady and confrontational) came through in the song, some people interpret the sentiment of the track to actually be about the two of them and their natural sparring nature, an early warning sign of the breakdown in communication between the two leader types. Perhaps there was a little bit of that in there. But thankfully it would be a while before things fell apart.

Favourite Bit: I do love it when Lennon and McCartney sing together and the whole bridge, lyrically, vocally and musically is a highlight of my mine when considering everything they ever did. Life is very short…

 

 

 

35. Let it Be (1969)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 8

Main Composer: McCartney

It seems strange to be saying this as a starting point: I feel this is one of the most overrated Beatle songs, when compared only to other songs by the Beatles. This is one of the most cited, covered and honoured works they ever did and while I think it is excellent I can’t honestly say I understand what makes it special to so many people. I sometimes have a sneaking suspicion the maudlin sentimentality of the production and the words transcended the band and seeped into public consciousness as a song that means something. Need something to be played while we show footage of sad things? Play ‘Let it Be.’ Need a graduation song? ‘Let it Be’ Something for our choir competition? ‘Let it Be’ A funeral? A wedding? A Christening? Whatever your event, ‘Let it Be’ can cater to you.

I am not saying I don’t see that is an evocative song. It makes me think of spirituality, loss, beauty, freedom, and all that good shit. But in a way I resent the impact it has on me because I feel manipulated by the ‘Ooooh/Ahhhhs,’ the Church style organ and the easy to digest imagery.

Do I sound like a snob? Maybe. I know I am more or less saying: ‘I prefer my Beatles songs less marketable’ when they were the most commercially successful band of all time. But I am listening to the Spector version and cringing. Just…No. This? Is not a Beatles song:

It wants to mean something so fucking bad. For three words that basically mean ‘Leave it Alone’ this version over eggs the pudding to the point that is not even a cake anymore: It is a unicorn made of rainbows. Even McCartney (you know, the guy who went on to form Wings) said Spector’s version ‘sounded terrible’ and Lennon, who had brought in Spector and would go on to work with him on his solos stuff, bluntly said the infamous ‘wall of sound’ production: ‘Puked all over it’

So how does it go down when you strip that stuff back? It works:

I like the other boys singing in the background. I like that it regains the simplicity of the music. It is still earnest and largely empty but it is sweet and retains a kind of community spirit, a Liverpudlian feel: It was supposed to have been inspired by a dream McCartney had about his mother, but then he would say that.

As you can tell, I have very mixed feelings about this song. So why has it ranked higher than stuff I have loved without doubt? Well there is a reason it has endured. The ease of the piano track and the lyrics, the heartfelt message of…something, and of course another wonderful McCartney vocal means that while I don’t think it deserves to be named the best Beatles song of all time (As it has been. Many fans of the boys really, really love it) it is pretty and deserving of recognition.

It started life as a track for Aretha Franklin and when I first heard her version (like a lot people, after I heard The Beatles doing it) I was struck by how right it felt in the hands of another artist: She makes it a love letter to God, an acceptance of how little control we have, a gospel song that sounds like a classic hymn, performed by one of the biggest and best vocals of any generation:

That voice can sell the melodrama and silliness of the production (there is a fucking saxophone!) and make it sound like it means something. Hell, Aretha could sell a used car made of mayonnaise and I would buy it.

But even she doesn’t make me cry. No. That…that only came when I got The Anthology collection in my hands. You see, Lennon was super critical of ‘Let it Be’ post break up, pointing out it was all McCartney’s ego and just a poor man’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’ at that. And Rolling Stone magazine cite his quote in the Antholgy recording: ‘Are we supposed to giggle in the solo?’ as Lennon mocking the mawkishness of the song. But then McCartney says: ‘This is going to knock you out boy’ and sings his song. With sharp notes and ad libs. And it is lovely. And at the end, a slightly jokey and yet oddly thoughtful sounding Lennon says: ‘I think that was rather grand. I’d take one home with me’

This is my ‘Let it Be’ They were friends. They were brothers. And even Lennon understood there are times when you just have to…y’know…let it be.

Favourite Bit: The Anthology version is the only one that really captures the best of this song: That raw vocal from McCartney with amble support from a sorrowful sounding Lennon on every chorus just radiates beauty.

 

 

 

34. Blackbird (1968)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 38

Main Composer: McCartney

Just to really highlight and hammer home my point that ‘Let it Be’ is not the best McCartney has to offer, I give you: ‘Blackbird.’ Ok this is just my opinion, save your angry emails…I often like light, folksy McCartney and this is such a charming little ditty that was all solo, just a man and his guitar. And recordings of a car alarm and a bird.

‘Blackbird’ was kind of McCartney’s answer to ‘Revolution’ as it was his political message and featured as part of the White Album. However he wasn’t lamenting the lack of bird song in the chart. This was McCartney’s quiet message of support and solidarity with black women struggling and surviving within the civil rights movement. But, as he put it, he didn’t want it to be called ‘Black women living in Little Rock’ presumably because it doesn’t scan as well. He wanted it to be a more symbolic and poetic reflection on how far they had come and how strong they had to be.

Patronising? Not really for me to say. I feel the ‘Black woman living in…’ version of the song would never have worked and this one does because it is quiet and not as pleased with itself as other McCartney songs with ‘messages’ are. I think it helps that he was in quite a hopeful place himself, meaning he was able to approach a song about other people without his usual ‘will people buy it?’ calculations and with a refreshing lack of vanity. Christ, he is almost tender in his delivery. How come? Linda. McCartney performed this song for the very first time to a group of insanely lucky fans who were camping outside his house. He opened the window late at night, called down to see if they were still there, and played them his new song. The self same night Linda stayed over with him for the first time. McCartney was no longer a boy. He was maturing. He was in love entering into a lovely new time in his life…

Ok so this was around the same time he wrote ‘Why Don’t we do it in the Road?’ about two monkeys fucking in the street, but…Just let me have this one. Please?

(By the way, that song doesn’t make the cut.)

Favourite Bit: I love how the lyric: ‘All your life…you were only waiting for this moment to arise’ is triumphant, hopeful and sad all at the same time. Not everyone lived to see change for the better. Good people died for the simple message of ‘Why don’t we all treat each other good and see what happens?’ It seems obvious but the fight goes on. 10 minutes on the internet will show you that…

 

 

 

33. I’m So Tired (1968)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 83

Main Composer: Lennon

My name is Cokieblume (it isn’t really) and I am an insomniac. It is 05:01. And I am awake. A horrible kind of awake that only really happens because of a brutal and inexhaustible feeling that something is not quite right and it cannot be fixed. Ok, it doesn’t help that I like writing best of all in the middle of the night and before you know it, the middle of the night can become the early morning…

Nonetheless, this right here? Is my jam. I feel ya, Lennon. I feel every word of this song. Well apart from the bit about Sir Walter Thingy. True story: My version of this song used to cut off right after this line for some reason, meaning that for a good few years I thought that was the end of the song and that the whole thing had been a build up so Lennon could stick two fingers up at a long dead aristocrat.

Even the music sounds groggy and sleepy, the vocal matches it perfectly (this is one of the few songs where Lennon admitted he sounded good) and the sentiment is painfully familiar to me. Sometimes when I am especially out of it I find myself howling: ‘I’d give you everything I’ve got for a little piece of mind’ to nobody in particular. I likes drama.

But to be fair, so do a lot of people. How else do you explain that many fans insisted that the mumbling at the end of the song was Lennon saying ‘Paul’s dead, I miss him, I miss him’ rather than ‘mumble mumble mumble’? Talk about hearing what you want to hear…

So why was Lennon up past his bedtime? He wrote this in India, pining for Yoko while married to Cyn, with his body readjusting due to not being able to have booze, cigarettes or pot while hanging with the Maharishi. His mind would race at night after mediating all day (is that how it is supposed to work?) driving him to the brink of despair with insomnia. You heard it here first. Relaxing is bad for you.

Anyway, it is the inner monologue of so many insomniacs that I feel like it should be our national (we are a nation now yes?) anthem. He nailed it. And now I might go to bed. But first…

Favourite Bit: The delivery of the bridge as a note of urgency begins to creep in…

 

 

 

32. Drive my Car (1966)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 43

Main Composer: McCartney (Lennon was also involved, but I would give the edge to Paul)

So this has become infamous for being the end result of a nearly dry writing session between McCartney and Lennon. The original line was about ‘ Buying Golden Rings’ but as that wasn’t great, they had a cup of tea and knocked out ‘Drive my Car’ instead. It is not the best anecdote I have ever heard, but you’d think it was given how many times McCartney trots it out on chat show appearances. I suppose the reason people like it is it makes them sound so ordinary when they were anything but. Two mates working on a song, drinking tea and having a cigarette together.

Anyway, ‘Drive my Car’ is the brilliant opener to ‘Rubber Soul’ an album which I feel often gets overlooked as a game changer for the boys in terms of musical experimentation. ‘Drive my Car’ isn’t especially unique or anything. It is just fun. That’s all. A little narrative about a girl who flirts with a dude by suggesting he be her chauffeur only to admit at the end she doesn’t even have a car. Also ‘drive my car’ is a blues expression meaning ‘Let’s have some sex.’ Clever.

More rock than blues, Harrison was influenced by Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’ and gave this track a bass sound that had not really been heard on any of their records before. McCartney’s vocal is notably more rock than pop (always a plus in my book) and there is even a jazzy piano and some funky chords for those of us who like our songs to have a lot going on. With all that genre jumping and word play, it could have ended up clunky (like Ringo’s cowbell) but instead it is a slick, confident opener that is easy to retain and boogie on down to. Yes. I say boogie on down sometimes.

I really love all the elements at play in the song and I am glad the boys hit upon the lyrics they did: It is great to be able to follow the story and get a kick out of where it goes. Plus they all sound like they are having a ball: ‘Beep-beep-beep-beep-yeah!’ indeed.

Favourite Bit: I think it has to be the piano part actually.

 

 

 

31. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967)      Rolling Stone List Ranking: 60

Main Composer: McCartney

So what do you do when you are tired of being the biggest band in the whole universe ever? Easy! Be a new band! Write a concept album! Cause Brian Wilson to have a nervous breakdown! Life is sweet! And so the Sargent was born…

The landscape was changing and leading the charge was The Beach Boys and ‘Pet Sounds.’ The creativity behind their vocals, music and song writing inspired The Beatles to push their sound into new places. Brian Wilson is rumoured to have had a bit of a meltdown upon hearing that he had somehow made The Beatles better, faster, stronger and retreated to live in a sauna for a few years to calm down. That’s show business I suppose. But what of the little people?

I was very young the first time my Dad sat me down and put on this record and my little brain nearly exploded. And that was just from looking at the record sleeve! Even as a tyke, I knew I was looking at history, something eternal, something unstoppable. And then everyone settled down and that intro kicked in…

Of course, people debate if ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ actually constitutes a concept album when the concept is largely abandoned before the end. It has a beginning and a conclusion of sorts but of what comes in between is simply good music and there isn’t much of a theme. Nonetheless, the images, the sounds and the ideas are iconic and nothing will change that.

But what of the song? It is exciting. Even McCartney sounds liberated, bellowing in a happy yelp, introducing a new band to the world…He beckoned me in to Pepper Land and I haven’t really left since. A Staggering opener to what is one of the great moments in music, nay all, history.

Favourite Bit: I think the introduction bit of the guitar, just because it takes me back immediately to sitting crossed legged on a horrible carpet in a little bungalow, pitched far too close to the speakers, hugging the record sleeve and realising that The Beatles were cool.

 

sgt-pepper

 

 

 

Next Time…We answer the unanswerable: Who is Billy Shears? Did Lennon set someone’s furniture on fire for making him sleep in a bath? And how does a Nun creep anyway? 30-21

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Girls Aloud: A Retrospective (Part 1)

Girls Aloud: A Retrospective. Part 1: Intro/The B Sides

Back when I finished up this post, I announced my plan to write a retrospective focusing on the tenure of Girls Aloud as Pop Champions. Now you might have read that and assumed that I was going to talk about the ups and downs of fame as experienced by Cheryl, Nadine, Sarah, Nicola and Kimberly. So here is the thing: I’d be lying if I said that the members of Girls Aloud don’t interest me at all. I am not cool. I freely admit to being fascinated by show business, however naff and low rent that may seem. But I don’t feel I have anything much to say about them as individuals or as a group. This passion piece is about one thing and one thing only: The Music.

Because that is why I love Girls Aloud. It is not about the public feuds, the misdeeds, the footballer husbands, the feisty attitude, the Ghost Hunting, the fashion…Although…

Frequently named one of the sexiest women in the world. Anything is possible.

As I discussed in the aforementioned post, Brian Higgins and his team at Xenomania are the source of some of the best pop music of the last decade and that is in no small part thanks to the fact that Girls Aloud were willing to take chances. Higgins talked about early encounters with the girls when he was working on tracks for their first album. When presented with second single ‘No Good Advice’ the girls complained: This isn’t our sound’ and he, brilliantly, pointed out that they didn’t have a sound as they couldn’t create music. Burn.

Let’s stare at him until he admits we have musical talent. Ready…Go!

There and then, Higgins issued an ultimatum: Either they accept that he knows what he is doing and they don’t or they find someone else to write some songs for them. After a time out, the girls were able to admit that Higgins and Co were bloody good and agreed to let him do his thing and that right there was the best decision of their career. To be successful as a reality TV act you have to be able to see beyond your own ego. You don’t need to be a musical genius, you just need to recognise when you are in the presence of one.

That’s not to say Girls Aloud are not part of the music. In fact, Higgins will have fisticuffs with anyone who tries to claim otherwise, saying: ‘It’s great artists that make the producer great…no matter how good a tune might be, if the girls couldn’t take charge of it and make us excited, we’d chuck it out.’

I usually enjoy their vocal work on the records and almost always love their stage performances. I think it is unfair to dismiss them as talentless. They may not be remarkable but there are flashes of real humour, understanding and skill in their work that can only be attributed to them. They all brought something to proceedings but for anyone just dying to know here is my personal ranking:

5. Sarah Harding

At Her Best Vocally When: She has some solid moments live where she demonstrates a surprisingly strong ability to hold long belting notes and nail a kind of scratchy throat sound in her lower range. On the records, that scratchy whine of hers often sold some great lines.

Not So Good When: For a singer she has appalling control over volume and her ability to hit notes/sing in key/be on pitch reliably is 50-50. Overall, the sound of her voice live doesn’t appeal to me as much as the others but I know a lot of people rate her so it comes down to personal taste.

On Stage: Her stage persona was a bit too desperate for me (Her constant assertion that she was a rock chick also wore me down) but it did seem to get fans all riled up, so fair play. Rather worryingly she really didn’t seem all there in the last tour, but I was always touched by her emotional display during the weepier songs.

In a Word: Needy

 

4. Cheryl Tweedy (Cole) (Fernandez Versini)

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At Her Best Vocally When: Hold the jokes. I genuinely think her head voice and mid range vocal has a lovely tone and a nice soft quality that while not exceptional is pleasant to the ears. In some of the songs where there was a bit of rage/sadness needed she brought a convincingly bittersweet quality to her delivery.

Not So Good When: Frustratingly limited, no strength or flexibility in her range. Some of her live performances, particularly as a solo artist, sound flat throughout.

On Stage: Easily the member of the band who connected with the fans best even before X Factor she remains a fairly charismatic live performer and I always enjoy her in high energy choreography routines. While her live vocals are more miss than hit I feel the group would be poorer without her as she always seems really into it in a way that is infectious.

In a Word: Zealous

 

3. Kimberly Walsh

At Her Best Vocally When: She is allowed to be sultry and smoky. The nicest thing about Kimberly’s voice is when she infuses a bit of ‘glam’ into her lower range. It has an easily identifiable tone and is very nice indeed. Her delivery is always clear and crisp thanks to being a Stage School Pro and she actually has a bigger range to her voice than she often got to sing with Girls Aloud.

Not So Good When: I don’t know if it is nerves or what, but her voice often goes quite shaky when she sings live and it makes it sound like she has a very limited vocal range which is not reflected in her theatrical successes (a long run in a West End musical would be tricky if you couldn’t sing at all)

On Stage: Kimberly is a solid dancer and clearly wants to be there, (I feel like I am writing a school report card now) While she is rarely the stand out for me on any one song she is a team player: The consummate professional who comes across quite chummy and affable for the most part, she puts her all in and has a quality pout.

In a Word: Fair

 

2. Nadine Coyle

Whip my hair back in forth<br /><br /> (Nadine is getting really good with these hair flips…)></a><br /><br /> <br><p>Whip my hair back in forth</p><br /><br /> <p>(Nadine is getting really good with these hair flips…)</p></p><br /> <p></div></p><br /> <p><div id=

At Her Best Vocally When: Despite the fact I resent that she gets the lion share of the vocals, I do see how it ended up happening. Easily the Aloud with the best control over her voice and this is all the more impressive when you consider her range and ability rivals some of the big divas. She is often pointed as the only member of Girls Aloud with a good voice, something I would (and do) dispute but I have to admit she has a strength to her voice that colours the songs sometimes to the point that they would fall down without her. Some of her big belting notes have left me with goosebumps and she can riff like nobody’s business.

Not So Good When: Sometimes she overeggs the pudding a bit in her desire to push her voice in a way that sounds displeasing. Her innate ‘Irishness’ sometimes means the very clever lyrics get lost and I personally find her vocal on many of their records quite bland and uninventive. Sure, she can really belt, and I love it when she does, but she doesn’t make much of some of the verses that don’t ask her to bounce around vocally.

On Stage: I think she is the most guarded Alouder in terms of her personality which often makes it seem like she hasn’t got one, making it harder to connect with her on stage. Despite this, I much prefer her live voice to her recordings and she has given the world some truly inspired riffs, struts and poses. God bless you Nurh-Deen.

In a Word: Diva

 

1. Nicola Roberts

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At Her Best Vocally When: Timbre! I am partial to the soft, gentle and often fierce quality that infuses the vocal chords of the Ginger One. She is the only Aloud who is reliably funny in her delivery (Examples WILL follow) and for my part has the most pleasant sounding sweet quality on every song where she got a line. There weren’t many singles where she was given the opportunity to show off but she made up for it by really making the most out of her small moments. As the years went on, she demonstrated a fantastic range, can make her voice soar, and has a spine tingling ability to connect to the material, however nonsensical it was. She has two distinct ‘characters’ in her voice: Little Nicola who has an almost criminally tender quality and Miss Roberts who has the most phenomenal belt. Easily one of my favourite vocalists of all time and by far my favourite out and out pop star.

Not So Good When: She often overdoes vibrato and sometimes her top range can sound screechy. It is not to everyone’s taste. In the early days she sang too quietly and I suspect that cost her the right to take centre stage in the first couple of albums.

On Stage: Here’s the thing: Nicola freely admits she wasn’t a good performer at first. And man, she wasn’t. Although she moved beautifully (second to only Cheryl) and clearly loved to sing, there were times when she would look like she would rather be anywhere than in a big arena singing with her pop band and quite frankly her grumpy ass face just made me love her more. But from the Tangled Up tour onwards she started to get more confident and began to sneakily steal the shows with her ethereal beauty and a real shining star quality. I especially can’t get enough of her interpretations of certain moments in the songs she is just so…

Yes. I love Nicola Roberts. I loved the nervous, awkward, dour faced Nicola and I LOVED the angelic, graceful, beaming Nicola. I will never not love her.

In a Word: LOVE

Now I have covered that and had fun looking through Girls Aloud gifs, It is time to talk B Sides.

What is a B Side? Well, it used to be the additional and less important song on the reverse side of a phonograph record. In my day, it was generally the superfluous bonus tracks on CD single releases. Sometimes B Sides break through (‘Rock around the Clock’ possibly being the most famous example) but 9/10 they get ignored and as such are usually reserved for lower quality, unfinished material.

Brian Higgins has spoken about how important it was not to forgo quality in B Sides because what was going to emerge as a strong single was never clear in the early stages. In the ‘Collection’ album sleeve, Higgins explains:

‘We would not worry about specifically trying to write ‘hits’. We just wrote a load of stuff that covered all of the musical possibilities we wished to experiment with at that time with the band. On many occasions therefore, the B-sides were songs created within the main body of work – they were not afterthoughts, they were songs that at some stage were vying for a much greater prominence…

Girls Aloud has always been about blurring the edges between pop and indie, creating confusion and breaking down artistic boundaries. If Girls Aloud ever have a legacy, I believe it will be that they show how pop music offers unlimited possibilities for artistic expression.’

Expressions like these…

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With that said, let’s dive in. My Top 10 Girls Aloud B Sides:

 

 

10. Blow Your Cover (B Side of Call the Shots)

I don’t really know why but I always imagine this being performed by flapper girls:

This is what it is like in my head…

I just want to move constantly when it is on. It is so wonderfully goofy. The lyrics have some cringe factor, with chat about ‘Sexy señorita’ and the exaggerated ‘Say what?’ and then there is the bit where I was convinced they were saying ‘Chilli gives me the bends’ when the internet suggests it is ‘Chilling gives me the best’ Ok that makes even less sense. I nearly omitted it from the list because the lyrics are sooo stupid but…Hell that chorus just wins me over. You win, Higgins. Now back to flapper dancing…


WEEEE!

Compared to the A Side: Call the Shots is a really strong single that can’t be overshadowed by the B Side but ‘Blow Your Cover’ is still pretty fun.

Best Lyric: I am partial to ‘Don’t show that sucker your soul, he’ll get his hands on your gold, you won’t know how much he stole, until he’s gone’ Wise words indeed. Well…words, anyway.

Best Vocal: The vocal work is a hodgepodge of noise but Cheryl seemed to have the most fun with some of the odder phrasing as her voice stands out during the ‘Say What?’ moments.

 

 

9. Nobody But You (B Side of Biology)

I often felt like Girls Aloud struggled with classic girl band ballad type songs. Xenomania were always at their best with the floor filler stuff. But every now and then they were able to combine pulse pounding music with sweet sickly ballad tripe and create magic. ‘Nobody but You’ is something in between and that is possibly why it didn’t make it to the Chemistry album which has its quota of sad sounding love songs. It is a shame that it got demoted to B Side while their uninspired cover ‘See the Day’ not only made the album but was released as a single.

It is unhurried and steady, flirting with being a boring r n b love song, but then it is eerie, like the girls, who all sound great in their solo moments, have been slowed down: They sound like wind up toys being let go and running out of power. The song kind of spins out at a strange pace but still has a solid beat throughout. The lyrics are pleasantly ambiguous about the quality of the love with lines ‘I care about love boy, I care about you, but I couldn’t think of anything better I’d rather do’ and ‘You slide into my head, my so-called life gets kind of grey’ Is this a good thing? It doesn’t sound that great. If it is great why do they cry all night? Oh well. Pretend happy is better than nothing. (copyright: Tony Kushner. I don’t think he was talking about a Girls Aloud song though)

Compared to the A Side: It is a very, very different song so really I find it easier to compare it to the other slow songs on the album and I do think this one deserved to make the final collection more than ‘No Regrets’ or ‘See the Day’

Best Lyric: There are a lot of great moments but ‘ You are so damn divine…I’d like to peel back your love and climb inside’ rings truest to the icy sadness of obsession. Passion is not always on fire, you know.

Best Vocal: Nicola’s delivery of ‘The rain goes into hiding…when I see you in a crowd’ and ‘My eyes they sparkle…even when you’re not around’ because the lines are either very loving and hopeful or very sad and clingy depending how you want to hear it and only her voice can tell both narratives.

 

 

8. On a Round (B Side of No Good Advice)

The warning sirens blare, the drums kick in…And then the fun begins. This is the earliest B Side on the list and the only one that comes from their first album: Very early Aloud was a bit more hit and miss for me as they were working with multiple producers but this is just so childish I have to love it.

Despite this NOT being listed as a Xenomania track…I am dubious. It is quite hard to find who wrote it and I can’t help but believe Higgins was involved anyway. Hell, the lyrics seem to be Xenomania just boasting about how good they are at writing songs, talking about how to build a solid sound that gets people moving. And boy, will this get you moving. The chorus almost sound like a jump rope melody a kind of playground ‘na-na-na-na’ anthem. This is matched by the youthful, silly energy of the girls who still can’t believe their luck that they are getting to be popstars.

Compared to the A Side: The two songs go very well together and cement the fact that if Girls Aloud were going to follow the Reality TV route and get hustled out of the charts, they were not going to go quietly. It sounds a bit unfinished compared to ‘No Good Advice’ but I actually like the rough production, it always makes me think of them knocking this out in 1 take and then going for lunch. But ‘No Good Advice’ feels like the more legitimate single.

Best Lyric: ‘No need to change a thing, don’t touch it, keep it on a round’ I always imagine Higgins delivering this line to the girls after their protest that ‘No Good Advice’ wasn’t ‘them.’ He knew what he was doing…

Best Vocal: The vocal work is fairly indistinguishable here but I would say the most stand out moment is actually Cheryl’s confident delivery of the opening line: ‘Don’t let that beat sleep in the suburbs, keep it buried underground, if you know what’s good for you, keep it on a round’

 

 

7. Dog Without a Bone (B Side to Sexy! No, No No…)

This song was initially a single contender, around the time they needed a hit to go with their Singles Collection ‘The Sound of Girls Aloud’ and to me this demonstrates the high standards of Xenomania that this was eventually rejected in favour of something a bit more frenzied and urgent. Because…this is a tune. It has a fantastic shout along chorus, (I always picture stomping around the dance floor pointing at people in a needlessly aggressive way) a great growling riff and even pays homage to classic glam rock in its execution. Are you honestly telling me you can’t imagine David Bowie snarling this one out during his Jean Genie phase? Yeah I went there. And if you come at me I will just shout ‘You’re like a dog without a bo-o-ne’ while pointing in your face. That’s how I roll.

Compared to the A Side: ‘Sexy!…’ Is easily one of the most experimental songs they did, and in comparison ‘Dog Without a Bone’ seems quite safe. I still think it stands alone as a thumping track though.

Best Lyric: I think I have to go for the whole flipping the bird chorus: ‘Oh you’re like a dog without a bone, hanging round my heels every night, it’s like you got nowhere to go, babe are you for real, cos this ain’t right…You’re like a dog without a bone, hanging round my heels for just one bite, tonight I’m dancing on my own, baby cos it feels right.’

Best Vocal: I do enjoy Nicola’s indifferent delivery of the second bridge, but Nadine’s voice delivers just the right bark in the ‘five inch bullet’ sections. Pun very much happily intended.

 

 

6. I Don’t Really Hate You (B Side to See the Day)

This one took a while to register at first, but once I got into it I couldn’t get enough. Plus it is one of the rare occurrences where Nicola sings more than the others. Huzzah! And why not? Who else could deliver a kiss of death like ‘I don’t really hate you…Just don’t want to date you’ so flatly. Brutal.

‘Soz babes…’

It is basically one of the meanest yet most reasonable brush off songs I have ever heard. It goes in a few different directions and the melody, while kind of clumsy and undecided, fits well with the head space of the narrative voice. The first bit is them firmly letting the person know they are not interested (Don’t tell me I’m beautiful, I’m not available) and then they are getting angrier (put out your fire…you’re sticking to me like glue) and then they try and be nice (You’ll find your way, don’t wait around for me), back to mean (I’ve got a secret that I think you ought to know…the happy people are the ones who have a soul) before surrendering to their indifference in the chorus and then it goes into this really bittersweet, slightly patronising section where they wish the person all the best and reassuring them that they will find love someday…Admit it. You have either been rejected with this line or rejected someone else with it.

‘I Don’t Really Hate You’ is kind of beautiful, even though it is held together so awkwardly. Nonetheless, the lyrical content is great and the music does work even if it took me a while to accept it. After all, they don’t have all day to polish that distinctively disconnected style in every track. I just wish they had done it with this one. Because seriously…’I Don’t really hate you…Just don’t want to date you’ is such a painfully familiar sentiment.

Compared to the A Side: This is sooo much better. ‘See the Day’ is ok, but nothing special. It is a cover after all. I really would have liked to see so many other songs from ‘Chemistry’ be a lead single and ‘I Don’t Really Hate You’ certainly deserved to be heard too.

Best Lyric: As is clear, I am a big fan of a lot of these lyrics (Hence my sadness that the hasty production loses a lot of them) and Kimberly’s bridge: ‘I’ve got a secret that I think you ought to know…The happy people are the ones who have a soul’ stands out as being kind of mean in a ‘where the fuck did that come from?’ kind of way. But the winner has to be the chorus: ‘I Don’t really hate you…just don’t want to date you…There’s not much else to it…don’t wanna talk about it’ Ooft. I felt it.

Best Vocal: Nicola steal this one easily with her faux sweet: ‘To tell the truth you’re just too good for me…all I do all day is chase my dreams’

 

 

5. Androgynous Girls (B Side to Love Machine)

I fucking love this song. Yes. We are at the cursing with enthusiasm portion of the evening. It is just so cynical. 10 years before Lorde lamented how boring boasting rich people are, Xenomania were acknowledging what is fashionable is very often bland and unrelatable. It drips with disinterest and ‘so fucking what?’ about everything. The first verse makes an effort to be a-typical pop: ‘I told ya, Last Monday, your friends are ca-oool’ before descending into ‘I think, I feel, I said Oh no I want you honey’ like they are just shrugging their way through the clichés.

And then that chorus. They really sell the ‘isn’t life pointless? We may as well piss about’ (not actual lyric) feel of the whole thing and it is an earworm and a half. Even when Xenomania are half assing it, I can’t get it out of my head. Not to mention the riff behind the whole thing is groovy as all hell. Disagree? No worries guys. Shit will happen. What a beautiful life.

Compared to the A Side: They fit together nicely, musically speaking, but when standing side by side this song does start to look weak.

Best Lyric: ‘Pretty boys back in fashion with androgynous girls and pretty soon shit will happen…what a wonderful world’ Impassivity this naked is always alright by me. I would love to hear Steven Wright saying these lyrics.

Best Vocal: I actually enjoy everyone in this, it is hard to pick. I suppose Nadine does the best job with ‘I think I feel I said oh no I want you honey, but as I liked my lips you turned and said no worries’

Here is the demo version which sounds a little more raw, and a little bit better (ie I can hear more Nicola):

 

Now the next two songs are, aside from the chorus where she gets support from Nadine and Nicola respectively, Cheryl solos. They would also be where I would go to try and convince Cheryl naysayers that she is worth a bit of your time…

 

 

4. Crazy Fool (B Side to Whole Lotta History)

I love how the intro of this sounds like a retro video game before heading into this pretty dark place with a scorned Cheryl whose vocal just steams over with long held back bitterness. Unlike most Xenomania lyrics, this one is not hard to decipher. Her Ex is dating someone just like her and she finds it funny. In an angry way. Cheryl might not have the best range (has she even nailed down one octave? Not being horrible, genuinely interested) but I really like her voice on this one. The growl behind it, burns. It is a total smack down on whomever it is about but equally makes her seem quite petty. Everything about this just buzzes with dodgy energy and I love it.

This was actually recorded quite a bit before any of her marriage drama, which dominated so many headlines, but perhaps Brian saw which way the wind was blowing when he gave her this. Who knows? Either way, it is a tight little pop song which for me is up there with the best of angry disco. Let’s boogie our rage away!

Compared to the A Side: Whole Lotta History is one if their better sad ballads but I would take this over it any day. It would need to give the other girls more to do before it became a single though.

Best Lyric: The delivery is what sells this more than the individual lyrics but I get a kick out of the line: ‘Bet you didn’t even think I knew about that girl that you’ve been talking to…Now you do.’ It is all in the pause.

Best Vocal: It is practically a Cheryl solo and you know what? Good on her. She nails it.

 

 

3. Hoxton Heroes (B Side to Can’t Speak French)

In its own quiet way, this song was actually very controversial. Music press picked up on it after Xenomania writer Miranda Cooper talked about it in a Guardian interview saying that she and the girls had written a song ‘slagging off the whole indie scene’ That is putting it lightly. Girls Aloud (Consisting of Cheryl here, and Nicola helping in the chorus) have a lot of fun sticking two fingers up at the guitar toting pretty boys and their hangers on who feel confident that they can look down at manufactured pop when they couldn’t produce memorable music if their life depended on it.

Part of the controversy came from the fact that the girls seemed to be lampooning their most vocal fan base: Wry hipster types…

Who? Me? Nope.

But to me, that is part of the fun. Even the chorus is the adult equivalent of going ‘So’s your Mum!’ There is very little menace in it. It makes it all the funnier that it sincerely upset some people.

Personally I feel Girls Aloud earned the right to suggest that anyone and everyone ‘get a sound of your own’ when they single handedly saved Pop from disappearing up its own arse in the 2000’s. ‘Hoxton Heroes’ is a battle cry from a war that was won long ago: I will spend the rest of my life unironically loving Girls Aloud. Other people can listen to Coldplay wannabes that are going to be the ‘next big thing’ and sneer at my ‘taste’ but I will know they are just sad because they didn’t get into RADA. Better luck next year, Devon.

Compared to the A Side: The A Side is good…This is better. The low level production does let ‘Hoxton Heroes’ down a bit. Still, I wish more people could hear it. Pop should have a sense of humour.

Best Lyric: So many to choose from it hurts…’I don’t know your name…You’re just another band with a different game…You’re all the same…You said you played at Reading then you chart at 57′ Sure success can’t be measured in numbers but…This lyric just makes me think of all the fucking bands that have failed to entertain me on every conceivable level as they indulge in their terrible and always long (why so long?) efforts at music. This is totally fine by me as long as they are not smug about it. As long as their terrible band isn’t their whole identity. Because seriously…Get a job.

Best Vocal: Cheryl’s brilliantly snarly: ‘Walk round the place like you’re number one…So why don’t you write a tune that we can hum?’

 

 

2. She (B Side to The Promise)

At this point in proceedings, I just want to remind you how much of an afterthought B Sides usually are. But this is so complete. A neat, total and genuinely awesome song. Many years in, and they still weren’t running dry creatively. It is addictive, well sung, well paced and, like all the best Xenomania songs, fucking deranged.

I put this higher than I was initially expecting just because I find it so cool. The arrangement begins in quite a conventional way before that brilliant descent into earnest rock that putters out so soon after it arrives that it is hard not to want to hear it again right away. There are so many production touches from the guitar work throughout, to the slinky, sly delivery of the Bridge that leads into the shouty chorus (‘Hey! She’s got your number!’) to the inclusion of lines like ‘Midnight…cruising up to heaven in the neighbourhood…In skin tight…Balenciaga, damned if she’s looking good’ What? What the actual fuck? But they play it so straight. I just love it. Try not loving the chorus and that outro. Go on. Try. I dare you. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…

Compared to the A Side: The A Side remains their most popular song, according to polls and such, and won them a long desired Brit Award but I would have loved to have seen ‘She’ released as an A Side. It would have been a bitching single.

Best Lyric: In part because I love Nicola but I do enjoy: I see her… working on the double playing who’ll be next, Tequilia…half a pint of trouble and we’re heading west’

Best Vocal: Everyone is on it in this one. Nicola is as charming as ever in the first verse and I love her ‘playing who’ll be next’ delivery, Kimberly talking about cruising (cruising!) Cheryl’s shouty bit of the chorus, Sarah was a good choice to sing about smoky eyes…But Nadine crushes the outro especially the yelpy ‘you’ leading into the commanding: ‘You in the middle, grab your coat, let’s go!’

 

 

1. Memory of You (B Side to The Loving Kind) 

This song was initially only released on the 7 inch vinyl record version of The Loving Kind. So I didn’t hear it right away. I could have missed it. If it wasn’t for the murmur. The murmur that this song was one of their best. When the fans got the chance to vote for the Disc 2 tracklisting of their second Greatest Hits album, Memory of You won by a landslide. Here is what some critics had to say about it:

‘Memory Of You’ (…) is a total corker.’

‘[“Memory Of You”]…it’s epic, angelic (read; godly), uplifting, inspiring, quite attention diverting (I swear on my deceased guinea pig I’m not able to concentrate on anything with this song blasting through my rusty speakerphone) and, not to mention (and probably the most important one of them all, too:), unbelievably good.’

‘Because, quite frankly, most B-sides are shitty remixes or boring instrumentals nowadays which will be forgotten about in approximately three seconds. But then there’s this one: simply astonishing, rather confusing (because what are those lyrics about, really? A holiday in Japan? The wonders of the universe?) and sounding like a massive hit record from the twenty-second century.’

‘It’s absolutely fantastic and it just gets better every time I listen to it.’

‘Memory Of You (originally called Japan) is, without a doubt, one of the best songs Girls Aloud have ever released and bloody deserves to be a single.’

‘…How does one define the concept of a “B-side” again? Because I thought the B-side was a passively listenable extra from an album session, often times not developed much further past its demo format and usually better off left slapped onto a bonus CD on a greatest hits compilation. Well, I’d like someone to explain to me how the b-side to Girls Aloud’s “The Loving Kind” fits that definition, because judging from what I’m hearing, “Memory of You” damn near eclipses its host single.’

‘Far more dance oriented than pop (think early’90’s club!), the song finds Kimberley and Nicola taking the lead in an edgy, frostbitten, electro-tinged haunter. With the aid of super serious, super slick vocal performances, the ladies delve into a territory far from the camp quality that has become the signature Aloud sound. Go darker, Aloud…This works brilliantly for you.’

‘Best Aloud B-side, ever.’

Yeah. Pretty much what they said. This song is a fucking masterpiece. I cry when it comes on. That’s all I have to say. This is beyond beautiful. I want it so badly. Even when I am listening to it. Listen to it. Let it take over your brain. And please, please, create an acoustic folk cover version of it and send it to me. Love, Cokieblume.

Compared to the A Side: Sorry Pet Shop Boys. This trounces the very good ‘Loving Kind’

Best Lyric: ‘Late at night I dream I’m falling into love again…25 electric angels are dancing in the rain’ Does it make sense? No. But I picture rain stroked window panes and the dead eyed lost girl pulling flakes of paint off the frame wondering where he is…It is one of the most evocative songs I have ever heard.

Favourite Vocal: As much as I love Nicola and her chat about sheep, Kimberly’s robotic delivery works well on this wistful track and the section that goes ‘When I lost you in Japan…’ is goosebumps inducing. And that chorus…

Much to the chagrin of die hard fans, they never did sing this one live. However I don’t mind too much. While it would have been nice for their final tour to include a few more fan favourites rather than a cover of ‘Call me Maybe’ (I wish I was kidding) I almost feel like a live version of this would never live up to the recording. Interestingly, Nicola did a solo version for the B Side of one of her solo singles. Much to my surprise I find I do prefer Kimberly singing it. Make of that what you will:

Honourable mentions that are also worth a listen if you enjoyed this: The Crazy Life, History, It’s Your Dynamite, Why do It? (That’s the song title. Not me questioning what I am doing with my spare time)

Next Time on my Girls Aloud Retrospective: We look at the best of the Album Tracks. I am excited.

So is Cheryl. See?

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(With thanks to http://xenomania.freehostia.com/artists/girlsaloud.html and http://girlsaloudgif.tumblr.com)

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Mini List: My Top 20 Favourite Musical Songs #13

My Favourite Musical Songs: #13

13. It’s a Fine Life from Oliver (Version included from the 1968 film performed by Shani Wallis and Company…Also I am not using the exclamation mark that is suppose to come after Oliver cause I think it is stupid.)

There is a long tradition in musicals whereby we are invited to celebrate in the moral victory that is being poor. While the characters claim to be stressed about having no money for their rent, having a hard knock life, wishing they had a room somewhere far away from the cold night air or literally singing about much better life would be if they were a rich man they often seem to be having a lot more fun than the characters with financial stability. When you watch these shows you are encouraged to like them at least in part because they take their bad lot with a smile and a song. In a lot of these stories the characters are rewarded for their happy-go-lucky attitude with a change in circumstances without having to sacrifice their tremendous gift for the kind of uncensored straight talking that only comes from attending the University of Life.

But Nancy? Nancy does not get rewarded for her gutsy zeal in the finale of ‘Oliver.’ Or indeed, at any point in ‘Oliver.’ In another show, lines like ‘When you’ve got someone to love…you forget your cares and strife’ would possibly cause me to role my eyes in irritation. But the context of this cheery song and the surprisingly subtle (for a musical) air of desperation Nancy has throughout brings depth to what would otherwise be a ‘Chim-Chim-Cher-ee’ sort of tune. What I am trying to say is: I find it very easy to like Nancy because she really seems to want to believe that her life is good enough…even when it clearly isn’t. And it is not about to get any better either.

The score of ‘Oliver’ is fantastic with plenty of corking numbers and is one of the few shows where I genuinely prefer the movie version to any stage adaptation I have seen. While the decision to award it Best Picture remains one of the most grumpily contested choices The Academy ever made, I try and defend it by pointing out it is the definitive version of an oft told/produced story that could only have been improved upon if they had recast the title character. Seriously. Mark Lester couldn’t sing or act. What was the point of him??? However the rest of the cast are perfect and more than make up for him. All the musicals numbers are divinely staged, shot and performed and it is just so gosh darn fantastic. So I suppose its only crime is not being ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ or ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ neither of which were actually nominated for Best Picture in spite of their eligibility. But that is hardly the fault of ‘Oliver.’ Come on guys. The kid went through enough.

Anyway, I love pretty much all the songs: ‘Boy for Sale’ in a superb vocal, ‘Who Will Buy?’ is one of the most stunning ensemble production numbers on film, Ron Moody is terrific in ‘Reviewing the Situation’ and fully earned his Oscar nomination but ‘It’s a Fine Life’ won the day for me as it is part the joyous roar of the working class and part a tragic cry for the recognition of sacrifice. Shani Wallis’s career defining Nancy is undeniably the star of this one, so devoted to her admittedly hunky man and so proud of her roots that she cannot really see the horrible irony of singing cheerfully of how it is ok to go without things and how you might get a black eye but you are alright until he gets the other one. Or does she? There is a knowingness to this character, elevating her above the usual superficially drawn musical characters.

There is a reason Wallis will always be Nancy: Her interpretation is phenomenally layered and genuinely heartbreaking. Not to mention it is a great intro song, is catchy as hell, and Nancy is one the few female leads who sings in an alto range which makes her extra special. If she opened her mouth and sang like a choir girl it might not be so convincing.

The little details make it: The hole in the arm pit of her red dress, her gleeful attempts to get Bill’s attention (I love the way Oliver Reed plays this scene like he is just waiting for her to shut the fuck up), the look on her face when she realises he is going without a word and the joy when she then clocks that he is waiting for her. Foolish devotion to an angry criminal has never been more charming. Nancy may not get her happy ending but she will always be one of musical theatre’s best roles and in a way that is the legacy we all want…Right?

I think I’d better think it out again…

OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: Lord knows how many versions I have tried to sift through. It would be easier to say what actress hasn’t had a bash at this one. Some of the Nancy Girls include Ruthie Henshall, Sonia Swaby, Kerry Ellis, the ‘I’d Do Anything’ girls…And more am dram with Dick Van Dyke accents than you can shake a pathetically performed stick at. Sometimes the original is just the best.

BEST BIT: As emotional as ‘As Long as He Needs Me’ is, I find this song moves me just as much thanks to the little section beginning at 3:42 when she has a moment of quiet contemplation where she notes that this is as good as it gets for someone like her. It always brings a lump to my throat. She is so wonderful. And like so many women before and since, doesn’t she deserve more?

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Mini List: My Top 20 Favourite Musical Songs #14

My Favourite Musical Songs: #14

14. Chip on my Shoulder from Legally Blonde: The Musical (the 2007 Broadway Cast on MTV performed by Christian Borle and Company)

There seems to have been a hell of a lot of ‘Film that had an audience that would almost certainly pay to see a stage version of said work: The Musical’ type shows of late. I am not saying these ideas are necessarily rubbish. The truth is there are very, very few entirely original musical stories out there. So if the idea of turning something that already exists into a show with songs is lazy, the modern world can hardly be blamed for this: It has been done for years. When I hear people lamenting that truly original pieces of entertainment don’t exist anymore and therefore nothing is as good as the work of yesteryear, I take endless pleasure in bursting their bubble by informing them that every song in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was a rehashed track and that the ‘Wizard of Oz’ was a remake. People like imaging that the art of their youth is somehow morally superior as it is not satisfying enough simply to enjoy the diversion. If you like something, who cares where the idea came from or how artistically worthy it is?

So I may say that these musical adaptations don’t have to suck but I didn’t always feel this way. Oh no. I confess: I hated ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘We Will Rock You.’ And I continue to loathe them. I feel a stomach ulcer coming on whenever someone assumes I love them because I like musicals. Just…no. Nobody is watching musicals for their plots but if I wanted to hear a poorly written excuse for people to sing karaoke standards I would open my window at home and enjoy the sounds of the attention starved drunks at my local pub rather than waste £35. So even though these are examples of jukebox musicals rather than movie adaptations they still set me on a self righteous path of avoiding any new musical for quite a while. This is the story of how that period in my life came to an end.

As I said, this self imposed black balling of fresh new talent lasted some time and I despaired every time a new show was announced. Who was really crying out for Shrek the Musical? Dirty Dancing the Musical? Legally Blonde the Musical??? That last one in particular sounded seriously weak. For those of you who don’t remember Reese Witherspoon starred in the 2001 movie about a girl who is dumped for being too blonde but then follows her ex boyfriend to Harvard Law School after getting in herself somehow. She attends solely to win him back but it turns out she is, like, totally great at law and somehow wins a murder trial before she even graduates.

The film was ok, despite taking place so so far from reality that it may as well have been set on Neptune, but I had no desire or intention to seek out the musical version. Then…I saw the cast perform a song from the show on some kind of US morning show. Several days later the song was still in my head. So I took to Youtube to find out more (the show was still on Broadway and quite far away from the West End) and discovered someone posted the entire version with handy sing along pink letters and an enthusiastic crowd. Unusually, this was not a badly ripped recording but a performance made especially for MTV. I knew within 7 minutes I had found a new love. The show is pretty irresistible. It is sweet, funny, I love the soundtrack and, best of all, the writer made some changes from the movie that improved the story in countless ways.

As soon as Luke Wilson’s character is introduced in the movie version of ‘Legally Blonde’ we know that he and Elle are going to fall in love. And, through no fault of Wilson and Witherspoon, it is impossible to care. They have very little to work with and, as a result, there is no chemistry. Similarly Witherspoon’s Elle Woods montages her way to legal success: She is shown buying a laptop, reading law books while on a treadmill and slapping a classmate to get him a date. I am not sure how that makes her a better lawyer but I think it is all to do with personal growth and that.

I like that Chip on my Shoulder does two things successfully: 1) It shows that in order for Elle to become a good lawyer she is going to need to make some personal sacrifices and 2) it shows that Emmett is a good fit for her. He is supportive, challenging and sweet and therefore watching them bounce of each other and start to fall in love feels more like a journey than a tedious inevitability. He is intrigued by her from the start but he doesn’t start to fall for her until she demonstrates that she is actually pretty smart. And he has his own baggage. He is not just a squeaky clean bland helper monkey to our main character like in the film. (Sorry Luke Wilson. You were great in Royal Tenenbaums.) The Musical Emmett is snarky, bitter and willing Elle to emerge from her first year of law school victorious almost as much for himself: Note the ‘WE can’t win if WE don’t follow through’

There are undeniably catchier, funnier and more moving songs in this superbly silly musical, but this sequence is a winner for me. The message is a good life lesson, and unlike the film we get a real idea who Emmett is and what he is all about and we can see why he would fall for Elle and she for him. Additionally, we actually see how she gets good at lawyering. There is a real journey here as he explains why it is not good enough just to be average and why it is ok to be resentful of what life throws at you as long as you turn it into useful energy. Like any good musical, this turns into a mantra that inspires our heroine to greater things. And it did the trick on me too.

After a few drifting years I went and got myself a profession. And no. It wasn’t blogging. Getting my dream job took a lot more time, money, energy and emotional intelligence than I had. And while I slogged away, working for free to get experience, reading all the books that had ever been published, travelling across the country to attend the course I wanted and answering extremely annoying questions from people who were confused as to what I was actually going to be able to do with another degree, I whispered to myself over and over: ‘With the chance I’ve been given I’m going to be driven as hell…I’m so close I can taste it…So I’m not going to waste it’ while nursing the massive chip on my shoulder. I pictured having the diploma in my hand whenever I wanted to slack off and I felt a hunger that I never known. And it was worth every horrible minute. Because now people pay me to do the work I love. This is just a silly musical song: But it is also great life advice. In fantasy you can treadmill your way to legal glory and life long stability. In reality, taking a leap of faith for a new career in a competitive and troubled work climate is never going to be bump free. So make your anger count.

Much of what works with ‘Chip on my Shoulder’ is the great delivery of Christian Borle who manages to make singing to a girl while an overexcited crowd applauds at the mere sight of a menorah seem like the most natural thing in the world. Seriously, it doesn’t even feel like he is in the same show as everyone else at times so understated and real is his work as Emmett. Some favourite touches include his dismissing her calling his motivation sweet at 2.35, getting her blood up at 4.15 and his wonderful smitten response at her getting one up on Warner in class from 10.32 onwards. Check out the accompanying cute little dance. Bless him.

So ‘Legally Blonde: The Musical’ worked for me. Who knew??? Maybe I should give ‘Ghost: The Musical’ a chance after all…

OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: I have listened to a few (admittedly dodgy quality) renditions but none are quite as convincing as Borle…possibly because rumour has it he and co-star Laura Belle Bundy were a real life Emmett and Elle leading to his divorce during the run of the show…What would Emmett say?!

BEST BIT: For me the truth begins to sink in with the line at 2.45 ‘Though I can’t take the day off, I just think of the pay off’ a powerful message for those of us who do not get everything handed to us on a plate.

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My Top 100 Favourite Beatles Songs (Part 5)

 

My Top 100 Favourite Beatles Songs (50-41)

Dedicated with some love and a lot of pain to the memory of ACM without whom I never would have made lists with such pleasure, had such a happy introduction to The Beatles or existed.

50. If I Fell (1964)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 26

Main Composer: Lennon

Another part to this list, another ‘Hard Day’s Night’ memory. I will always associate this song with the above clip where a grumpy Ringo is cheered up by Lennon as the four of them play around in a TV studio. It is both funny oddly appropriate that Lennon would romantically serenade his band mate with a plea to be true to him. They were so powerful and so young and the only people who could have known how that felt were The Fab Four themselves. Without love and dedication to each other, it never would have lasted as long as it did.

Taking the film out of my listening experience, no easy task, this is a beautiful song, an early Lennon ballad that he described as a precursor to some of his more poignant work on Rubber Soul. McCartney has in the past pointed to this as an example of Lennon’s warmth and ability to tap into his emotional side, a trait he was not always credited with. McCartney is considered the sentimentalist and Lennon the wit. And yet I find the lyrical content of this song quite…Unique. For the time. It isn’t just about asking someone to stay true and not hurt him: there are lots of moments where he reflects on how unhappy his ex-girlfriend will be when she finds out he is dating someone else. It is quite a bitter, needy, self involved love song and therefore it stands out for me compared to a lot of other 60’s love letter melodies.

Speaking of melodies, man is the tune not sublime? That combination of melancholy guitar, tight vocal harmonies and genuinely wondrous chords. It is so delicate, well paced, the intro is unique and is a great example of the four of them all working as a team to produce a distinctive sound.

When they toured in ’64 this was their only slow number and it suffered for it: It is hard to play a ballad this soulful when you have thousands of screaming girls rendering you unable to hear yourself sing. I couldn’t even listen to a live version of this, so distracting did I find their overwhelmed and overwhelming fans so God knows how they coped. Well the answer is clear. They didn’t. Soon it would be miming. And then the touring stopped. Mum was right. If you don’t appreciate your toys they get taken off you.

Favourite Bit: Tough one. I love the musical arrangement but I think the intro wins the day as it is what made me fall for the song. In particular the line ’cause I’ve been in love before, and I found that love was more… than just holding hands.’ You don’t say.

49. Got to Get You Into my Life (1966)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 50 (so close!)

Main Composer: McCartney

This song is so joyful, like someone has just come away from an excellent first date and decided to throw a hopeful parade in celebration of the affection they feel for their new relationship. And that is pretty much what this song was inspired by…Sort of…

Listening to the soaring vocal, the jaunty horns and soulful expression of happiness it all sounds quite innocent, until the refrain of the title: ‘Got to get you into my life’ A trifle menacing, a little bit desperate and shouty…Who is McCartney so keen on? Who has he discovered that he needs every single day of his life?

Check the year. Check the album. Yes, this is a ‘Revolver’ track. You with me? This is a song written by McCartney about his brand new love affair…with drugs. And no, this is not like with ‘Lucy…’ where people have decided what the song is about based on subtext. McCartney calls this song his ‘ode to pot’ pointing out it is the same as someone writing about their love of chocolate.

This admission makes the lyrics, which are already good, even better. His declaration that he wants marijuana in good times or bad, for richer, for poorer, that he basically wants to take pot behind a middle school and get it pregnant, makes the happy clappy tambourine jam suddenly seem quite unhealthy and worrying. And then of course you think to yourself: Why was I ok with this chat when I thought it was about a woman? How is putting your hopes, dreams and fears on another human being any wiser than investing in drugs? Which is more likely to hurt you and leave you fucked in the head? Yeah that is right. I am getting DEEP guys.

I love the way the song fades out to McCartney shouting repeated phrases from the track…It works as a slightly ominous warning to the danger of obsessive love, of any sort. Whether it be a person, weed, food, boxsets, wine or all of the above…You will end up stuck on an endless loop of repetitive and destructive behaviour while trying to convince yourself it is still as good as it ever was between you. Hey, as long as it helps more than it hurts…right?

Favourite Bit: This is a great McCartney vocal throughout, apparently being high as a kite didn’t stop him singing good, but I love his barking delivery of the line ‘Got to get you into my life!’ The 60’s sounded fun. If only some people who were there had some stories about how good it was…

48. Here, There and Everywhere (1966)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 25

Main Composer: McCartney

Another McCartney penned ‘Revolver’ track about committing to love only this one really was about a woman: Jane Asher. While they spent a lot of time apart pursuing their passions and did eventually split around ’68, she often inspired some wonderfully heartfelt tracks and some of the best work McCartney ever did. This song was penned while he was hanging out at Lennon’s waiting for him to wake up. He sat by the pool, strumming his guitar and it was done by the time his slumber-devoted bandmate emerged.

‘Here, There and Everywhere’ to me is like the audio equivalent of sunshine returning after a dark day. It is cautiously optimistic, like that little sigh after a string of sneezes. So sweet, soothing and contented. There are so many little touches that are simultaneously straightforward musical ideas and truly inspired moments of innovation. I wish I was more knowledgeable about musical stuff so I could tell you exactly what I mean…Ok let me try…How many male singers could get away with singing in falsetto for an entire track without really grating on the ear? Unlike others I could mention (Oh hi Chris Martin, how are the kids?) it doesn’t sound like he is showing off for the sake of it but creating a sound that worked for the tone of the track. McCartney remembers it as doing a Marianne Faithful impression. Look her up. He could have done well good on Stars on their Eyes.

And let’s not not forget his team mates: The other three are doing some solid and very basic back up work that does not overshadow McCartney’s vocal but does enhance the song and sound great. Then there is the wonderful contrast between the major chords in the verses and the tonic minor in the middle 8, that flows so neatly, assisting the narrative of the song, the aforementioned cautious optimism. After all, theirs was not an easy love affair. But it had its moments. This was one of them.

Favourite Bit: I love the shift in the ‘I want her everywhere’ sections, especially the ominous guitar scale running behind the scenes. Just dandy.

47. I Wanna Be Your Man (1963)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: N/A

Main Composer: McCartney (Lennon helped)

It might seem the behaviour of someone who is not well to place this song above some of the previously mentioned tracks. This sounds as rushed as it was and, after all, it is a Ringo vocal. Well I am not going to sit here and try and convince you this song outranks the likes of ‘Penny Lane’ and ‘Please Please Me’ musically but then it might take me a while to write anything as hearing ‘I Wanna be Your Man’ always results in me standing up, throwing my head back and forth while dancing like I have been cast in ‘Pulp Fiction’ without pausing for breath for the entirety of its 2 minute run. And joining in the ‘owww!’ moments, naturally. I really like how much fun it is, right from that quick little intro to the yowling chorus…and then it is over. Oh. Ok. Just one more time…Sorry…excuse me…

8 plays later…Oh yeah. This writing…thing. Ok. So. The track was written for The Rolling Stones and they released it rather than The Beatles. This was actually The Stones’ second single. Really think about that. There was a time when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were new to the scene. They were…young. And didn’t resemble haunted trees in an animated film. And were apparently not confident enough in their own penmanship to compose all their own tracks. The story goes that The Beatles were hanging out with The Stones while they were recording (oh to be a fly on that wall) and offered up the half done track. They went off to a corner to complete the song, much the astonishment of The Stones who were inspired by the speed of the dream team and went on to do pretty well themselves as song writers. The early 60’s really were the stuff dreams were made of huh? As long as you were a young skinny white male with a guitar, I suppose.

While Brian Jones’s slide guitar sounds great on The Stones version I don’t like Jagger’s vocal nearly as much as Ringo’s. Ringo’s speed, his distinctive rhythm and his joyful ‘good golly’ Teddy Boy breathless wonderment just sells the hell out of this song for me.

Lennon was not complimentary, pointing out any song that was composed for the purpose of Ringo taking the lead that was then given away to a rival band was never going to be a song worthy of comment. I disagree mate, and here is my comment: It makes me dance all crazy. And Ringo lead to drummers being properly considered part of the band, with his little platform so he could be seen. And I like the song. So there. Ok that was quite a few comments…back to dancing! I wanna be your lover baby…I wanna be your man…

Favourite Bit: How fast it goes! Just speeds by! Wheee! Sorry I am off to dance again…

46. All I’ve Got to Do (1963)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 97

Main Composer: Lennon

It has been said that this is the first rock and roll track where the bass player played chords as a vital part of the song. It has also been duly noted that this was Lennon trying to do his Smokey Robinson and the Miracles thing. It has been widely acknowledged that all of the guys wanted to be Smokey, and his vocal and musical influence is all over ‘Meet the Beatles.’ Another piece of trivia for you is they never performed this one live as the stop and start thing would have been too complicated to work out what with all the screaming kiddlers ruining the musical nuances parading the work of the Fab Four. It has also been said that another reason they never did it live is the other band members struggled to remember how it went, as they recorded it moments after Lennon played it for the first time to McCartney. It was not rehearsed or anything so nobody really knew what they were doing.

Now we have got all that out of the way let me say why this song ranks in the top half of my Beatles list. Had I been a teenager in the 60’s (wistful sigh) I suspect this track would have been the moment I starting sticking posters of Lennon on my bedroom wall, drawing hearts round his face on my record sleeves and doodling: ‘Mrs Emma Lennon’ on my work books. Seriously. I LOVE this vocal performance. It is just…dreamy. He is singing right at me. All he has to do is call and I will be there and we will kiss and it will be nice. Yeah!

Lennon was not a fan of his singing voice and once he discovered studio trickery would do anything to avoid hearing his voice in its purest form. As I have discussed in previous editions, McCartney had the technically superior voice but both of them had immeasurable strengths as leading men. Lennon’s vocal here carries weight as he has a way of injecting a lot of meaning into his lyrics without ever over egging it. His voice has this wonderful throaty quality that just carries through even when he is talking about the most generic things. And…Sigh. He just had to call on me. He just had to call on me.

Favourite Bit: Easily the emotional kick of the bridge, ‘You just gotta call on me’ and his little cry of ‘oh’ He was one of my first loves. Well crushes. And what is the difference anyway? When you feel it, it is real.

45. I’ve Just Seen a Face (1965)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 58

Main Composer: McCartney

In the first part of this saga, I admitted that I started working on this list years ago. As a result, the order has shifted about quite a bit but I decided just to commit to the ranking I had chosen. Having said that, I really feel the need to confess that I have grown to adore this song, this song that I had not heard prior to my decision to gather all of their works together and listen to the albums in the order in which they were recorded, making notes as I went. This song. This wonderful, wonderful song. This song that makes my heart bounce. Forgive me James Paul McCartney. This deserves a much higher ranking than 45.

It is a straight up high tempo country song, right down to the slight twang on his Liverpudlian accent. From the intro, to the sing along chorus, the fast paced lyrics to the repeated howl of frustration: ‘Falling! Yes I am falling! And she keeps calling…me back again’ this is as loveable a 2 minute declaration of infatuation that ever I did hear y’all.

The lyrical wordplay matched with the dizzying pace is just perfect: Try singing along. It is harder than it looks. It is a surprisingly complex mash up of words that fall out in perfect order in the recording, but performing it live would be a challenge. McCartney has pointed out that it works because it is instant: Each line demands the next. It is a curious beast, pretty unique in style and execution (it is country/blue grass without a banjos and fiddles) and it stood out to me right away in how unlike the rest of The Beatles sound it is. Maybe that is why it has grown on me. It is not easily mixed up with another song. It is a glimmering jewel that is not trotted out whenever The Beatles get honoured for something. So when it pops up it is a delightful reminder of how easily, how comfortably, they could skip genres.

I always imagine someone singing this in a musical with a long tracking shot and lots of lamppost spinning a la Gene Kelly. That is what I see in my head. Sometimes, if I am in a good mood, it is me.

Favourite Bit: While I love the break neck speed of the verses and the twangy guitar, I get endless joy hollering: ‘Falling! yes I am falling! and she keeps calling…me back again’

44. You’ve Got to Hide your Love Away (1965)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 31

Main Composer: Lennon

This is a seriously cool song. But I still can’t listen to it without singing in my best Bob Dylan voice. I mean…come on! Lennon went through a prolonged phase of idolising Zimmerman but this almost sounds like he had just given up being John and decided just to be a tribute act to his hero instead. Both Lennon and McCartney commented on it so I am not just being cynical. It really smacks of American folk music and Lennon growls and mumbles like the Godfather of jangly rock himself.

So why do I like it? Pretending to be Dylan kind of suits Lennon. Unlike Bob himself, Lennon can actually hit some notes and inject some honest to God feelings into his words and with the unusual absence of the other boys singing back up (press play again if you want to check) it comes across as a resigned, vulnerable confessional, performed by a folk pro. The chorus is memorable and there are some distinctive choices like the presence of both a tenor and an alto flute, snare, tambourine and maracas. With all of that going on, it should sound like an overstuffed mess but instead it sounds more stripped back and raw than ever. The perfect gazing out of a window while it rains song. And another that is barely 2 minutes long! How do they do that???

Some believe this was written as an ode to The Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein who was gay but not openly so due to the fact that, get this, such ‘practice’ was still illegal in the UK at the time. Much has been written about Brian’s relationship with John, none of it conclusive. Some say they had sex, some say Brian wanted him but John wouldn’t hear of it, it has been said that John was so far in the closet that he was chilling with the fawns…I can’t really pretend to have any idea. Still 50 years have passed and there are still people out there who don’t like the idea of same sex relationships for…reasons. Reasons I can’t even pretend to comprehend or relate to but reasons that mean there are still many, many people who have to pretend, confess, tread softly, deny, announce, sacrifice and bury their thoughts and feelings in an attempt to remain on solid ground. So adding Brian’s fear, façade and painfully short life into the mix of what was already a pretty melancholy tune just highlights that Lennon wasn’t the only one needing help when The Beatles were at their height.

Favourite Bit: I love the musical arrangement, the little ‘hey’ in the chorus, but most of all I love the lyrics, especially the line: ‘Feeling two foot small’ It was supposed to be two foot tall but Lennon said small by accident and left it in commenting that: ‘the pseuds will love it’ He had a point.

43. I’m Looking Through You (1965)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: N/A (Seriously?!)

Main Composer: McCartney

I am quite shocked this didn’t cut it for Rolling Stone. So far, I have accepted that perhaps they know more than me but…Didn’t they love snarky McCartney? I LOVE snarky McCartney! It very nearly rhymes and man, was he passive aggressive when Asher had pissed him off. Those frustrated rocker growls at the end of the chorus, his snarling insistence that love has a ‘nasty habit’ of disappearing overnight, and his belief that he has seen though her. Ouch. I really love the melody, the melodrama of the lyric and McCartney’s vocal which has some great screamer moments. Also, Ringo plays a matchstick box. So what’s not to love about that??? Get it together Rolling Stone Magazine!

He actually wrote the song at her family home, where a lot of his post argument compositions came from. The emotional baggage is raw and selfish: She went to have her own career and he felt this meant he was free to find someone else as she was gone. This might be fair (wait for it) if he hadn’t been in the most successful and busy band of all time. And he really complained because she wanted to study acting in another city to the one he happened to be in??? Jeez Macca. Grow up.

In subsequent and countless interviews and biographies McCartney admitted he was very self involved at this age, he was so used to being nakedly admired and desired that he just couldn’t accept it when he didn’t get his way. It must be really interesting to be a musician and to write autobiographical songs like this and listen to it back cringing at your younger self. It must be like having your diary published or something. There you are, forever a twenty something, jumped up, ego maniac, who wasn’t ready to commit to a relationship with someone who didn’t worship you, like you felt you deserved. How do you deal with that? I suppose you can laugh about it. Or you can just convince yourself you are different now so it is ok. We all change and evolve and make room for the possibility that others may be just as important as us. Isn’t that right Paul?

Favourite Bit: Ooh the lower vocal on the bridge: ‘Why tell me why did you not treat me right? Love has a nasty habit of disappearing overnight’ Just…Just…God…I want to go back in time and slap him.

42. I Feel Fine (1964)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 42 (Hey!)

Main Composer: Lennon

So was it? Do you know? I don’t.

So here it is. One of the most controversial and possibly ground breaking opening two seconds to any song ever in the whole entire universe.

Was it the first time anyone had ever used feedback on a record?

I don’t know. Nobody is paying me to do this. I am writing it for fun. So I don’t know. But for argument’s sake let us say it was at least one of the first. That is pretty good. Lennon claims it for The Beatles anyway as he defies anyone to find a record that did it deliberately. According to George Martin, feedback was a regular occurrence in Beatles Land as Lennon always turned the volume up too high on the amplifier causing that distinctive grumble that welcomes ‘I Feel Fine’ to the fold.

Let’s leave that particular moment aside and pay attention to what happens next. What a groovy riff. What a cool bit of guitar playing. Harrison is fairly dismissive of his and Lennon’s work on this track, pointing out any blues riff with that tempo sound this way, citing the similarity it has to a wonderful track by Bobby Parker called ‘Watch Your Step.’ He is not wrong. But still, ‘I Feel Fine’ has earned its right to be called unique: it has that wonderful shift in the middle 8 to a real happy ‘early days Beatles sound’ and then back to the runner about his baby loving him and feeling fine about it.

And then there is Ringo. Yes, ladies and gents. It is that time again where I try and convince you that Ringo is a good drummer. Nay, a great one. Open your ears. Look past the gloriously obvious. It is like…properly rhythmically interesting. And unique. And just…Ok guys come on please just admit he is good ok?! He is more than keeping up with the others and even adding some calypso flavouring to proceeding. Credit where credit is due. Plus in one of the promo videos he rides an exercise bike. So there’s that.

I enjoy the smugness of the lyric: ‘She’s in love with me and I feel fine’ Like: ‘Yep…job done’ I feel like it should be delivered by Burt Reynolds while he is reclining on a hammock. It is full of slightly sickly lines about ‘little girls’ (EWWW) but Lennon et co imbue the song with enough enthusiasm to make it a pleasure to listen to anyway. So the feedback was cool, the guitar sounds good, the drums are fantastic, it has elements of blues/rock/pop/folk/country/calypso, the vocals are charming…For once Rolling Stone and I agree and it feels finnnnnnne…

Favourite Bit: Has to be the intro. That riff, that sound…So awesome.

41. Helter Skelter (1968)     Rolling Stone List Ranking: 52

Main Composer: McCartney

While this should have been made clear by now, perhaps it needs to be said in very blunt terms: McCartney was a competitive mofo. Some have credited him with preemptively inventing heavy metal, a claim which is something of a stretch but it is hard to deny that ‘Helter Skelter’ is noisy. One of my favourite facts I have come across so far is that this crazy array of crashing, bashing and smashing was made possible by my other favourite band.

McCartney was farting about in Scotland when he read a piece talking about The Who’s ‘I Can See for Miles.’ Now the story is either that it was a review of the song or Townsend boasting about it and no source seems to share the same quote. But essentially the offending publication claimed that The Who had created the most outrageously loud and raunchy rock n roll track in the history of all the world ever. Intrigued, McCartney sought it out, expecting I Can See for Miles to be teeming with screaming vocals and heavy vibes…He felt underwhelmed by the song, as it was not what he was imagining and so set out to make his own raunchy, noisy mess. The result is of course, ‘Helter Skelter’

Oh and yes I know what/who this song is associated with and no I am not going to talk about it. That’s all I am going to say about that. You want to know more, you know where Google is.

McCartney also resented the stick he got for writing sentimental ballads and wanted to prove there was more to his abilities than that by writing a song about a children’s slide. Fair enough. Another way to read the lyrics is the language of a person who is out of their head on drugs. The boys went a bit method for this and all the people working at the studio, such as the sound engineer, agree that the group were somewhat under the influence during the recording of this song. The documented madness includes Lennon refusing to play the tune right and pissing about on a saxophone, Ringo screams of pain after playing the drums for several hours and Harrison setting fire to an ashtray before wearing it like a hat. It all sounds a bit like the Tea Party in Alice in Wonderland. With extra skunk and a baffled sound engineer looking on.

The Beatles are such a critically acclaimed band that they have become a very easy target for music snobs in recent years: To say you don’t like The Beatles makes a hell of a statement, like you are against the idea of music that people of all ages, backgrounds and interests can relate to and just want to sit in a darkened room enjoying music that only you and a niche group of people ‘get.’ My point is, The Beatles are generally regarded and accepted as one of the best and most important things to happen to music, full stop. That is why it is always interesting to me to come across a track like this one where the critics, both then and now, are divided. The boys have plenty songs that people dismiss as ‘not their best work’ but this one seems to be polarising: People either think it was them at the peak of their innovation with ‘Helter Skelter’ paving the way for Metal itself or they think it the groaning, clumsy work of a bunch of hippies high off their own power. And drugs.

Me? I fall somewhere in the middle in that I love it, I really love listening to it, but artistically I think it is total nonsense. But who cares? I don’t. Not when I get to hear that McCartney scream. As I have said, it is my favourite colour in his vocal, when he really lets rip, and it is on great form here. I love the trippy, out of tune bass and saxophone, I love the way it descends into noisy cymbals and strange gurgling guitars, I love the confident intro, the taunting lyrics, the false ending and the way the noise fades in again and I love, love, love the unprocessed moment of Ringo throwing down his drums sticks, following Lennon innocently asking ‘How was that?’ and howling: ‘I’VE GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!’ I love that they kept that take, I love they didn’t polish this particular turd, because this song was meant to sound raw and heavy. A furious crashing of buzzing joy, simultaneously a shot of adrenalin and a song that crushes your spirit.

I will always have a place in my soul for ‘Helter Skelter,’ one of the most gloriously untidy songs the Fab Four ever produced. Even though when I am listening to it I am impatiently waiting for that ending…Possibly my favourite way any song has ever concluded.

Favourite Bit: Never has the question been easier. Say it with me now: ‘I GOT BLISTERS ON MY FINGERS!!!’

Next Time…The band flirt with getting political, Lennon thinks his bum looks big in this and the music world is set alight by the arrival of a military man…40-31

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Mini List: My Top 20 Favourite Musical Songs #15

My Favourite Musical Songs: #15 

15. We Beseech Thee from Godspell (Version included from the 1973 film performed by Jeffrey Mylett and Ensemble)

Not all that long ago I was enjoying some musical chat with a fellow enthusiast. I reflected that Godspell remains one of my favourite scores and she looked at me like I was mental ‘Godspell? Godspell? Really? God it’s awful!’ Don’t worry I didn’t punch her in the face. I turned the other cheek…get it? You don’t? Oh ok, this is, like, a play about Jesus and John the Baptist and that. Sorry I should have explained. Anyways, I stopped to consider her point. She is more musically minded than me in many ways: She can play musical instruments and everything. So I thought to myself…is Godspell any good?

Ages ago there was a TV show where people voted for the top 100 musicals. One of those talking head shows. In the brief section where Godspell was discussed (it made it to number 72) Everyone who spoke about the show slagged it off. One quote I vaguely remember was a man who claimed passionately that if you wanted something to terrify your kids into submission, make them watch Godspell. The attitude being that it was twee and preachy.

To be honest if I really look at it, I can see why people don’t like it. Hell, just watch the video I posted and just look at those goofy hippies larking about: Would you want to hang out with them for an hour and a half? It is one of the shows where I can fully appreciate that it could be more fun for the cast than for the audience if you don’t know what to expect.

The story is based on the gospel of St Matthew and told in a series of parables. Now depending how meta the production goes you can have a group of modern day people acting the roles quite transparently right down to referring to each other by their first names and not character names. Or they can have character names but the characters names are actually the first names of the first ever cast. Or they could each be named after the philosopher they most resemble. John the Baptist and Judas Iscariot are played by the same actor so if you are not paying attention it is a bit…Confusing. Sometimes it is a play within a play that ends in Crucifixion but no resurrection, much to the chagrin of traditionalists. Sometimes Christ is less of a latter day hippie than a Harlequin in the ‘King of Fools’ Commedia Dell’Arte tradition. Basically it is a teenie, tiny bit pretentious. Classic 1970’s off Broadway cult hit.

The only song from the musical that has really become inescapable is Day by Day which I came across before I knew about the show as a result of my VHS of ‘Hey Mr Producer’ I was mostly thrown by the first actor being a man because I was young and was not aware men could do that sort of voice stuff:

What with all the people in coloured shirts, singing a very low energy song you can understand why I was not that keen to seek out and watch Godspell. But this rendition, while well sung, is not representative of the show. But many, it would seem, are not blown away by what can be done with the full length stage version either. In the hands of the wrong director and cast, Godspell can very much come across as strange children’s entertainment. The last version I saw had a lot of double denim and overhead clapping. And the film? It has been a while since I watched it but it is easily best remembered for having Victor Garber as Jesus wearing a superman t shirt. That’s it.

Have I sold you on it yet? I am guessing not. What I am trying to say is it might flat out suck and it is certainly capable of being done poorly. The material doesn’t stand alone: It needs an intelligent cast and well thought out direction. I personally think the music is great (Composer Stephen Schwartz would go on to pen several Disney classics as well as Wicked) but maybe you need to be engaged in the narrative to enjoy it and there just isn’t that much story…except the last few days of Christ but we all know how that ends.

If you compare it to the Lloyd Webber show that was based around a similar idea: he went with a rock opera told mostly from the point of view of Judas that humanised everyone involved. Godspell…pretty much went with bible stories told through a bunch of costume changes and stuff.

Maybe I am not even close to to guessing why people don’t like it because I just don’t know. Part of the reason I am really struggling to properly analyse what works and what doesn’t about this show is personal bias.

Godspell came into my life at a strange time when I really didn’t feel very hopeful about my future and my self esteem was insanely low. And it helped. It is only with hindsight that I can see just how much it helped. It was a turning point in my young life, a light at the end of a very dark tunnel: I listened to and cradled protectively my £9.99 soundtrack from HMV, I sang the songs every single day and I believed. Not that Christ would sort my life out. I believed that if music could make me this happy then maybe one day other things would too. Guess what? I was right.

So I love nearly every song in Godspell and if it was a list of favourite musicals it would easily make the top 5. But ‘We Beseech Thee’ is the stand out that wins a place on my list of individual songs as it is a wonderfully upbeat track that perfectly captures the joy that comes from belonging to a community. And it is not about religion. It’s about love.

OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: This version wasn’t used in the final film which annoys me because it was replaced with a rather meh track called ‘Beautiful City.’ So that is why I decided to include it so Jeffrey Mylett could have his moment that he should have had in the film. I assume someone will tell him. So apart from Mylett…Well…John Barrowman also sings this brilliantly.  As cheesy as he is, he has a wonderfully pure sound to his voice and I really like his rendition:

I looked up the new Broadway Cast version and was horrified by how much the singer sounds like a 90’s boy band member. It is horribly nasal and I couldn’t get more than 30 seconds in. I include it under notable versions as a good example of the problem with this show…When people want to fuck it up they really fuck it up:

But I wish I could play you the first, second and third performances of this song I ever heard: In my head, it is a three way tie between who was the best Jeffrey.  Jonathan, Julian and Kappa were all truly wonderfully and evidence that ‘amateur’ productions do not need to suck. If they don’t know they helped me through a dark time just by being talented, I hope someone tells them.

BEST BIT: As has been previously noted I love a build up, and from 2.51 onwards we get the irrepressible burst of joy, that cannot be contained and it does makes me ever so happy.

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