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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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Girls Aloud: A Retrospective (Part 2)

 

Girls Aloud: A Retrospective. Part 2~Album Tracks

Why do we find it so hard to celebrate success? When Girls Aloud’s first album launched, the reception had one common thread: Confusion. The music critics clearly felt hard done by, as they had been ready to declare the manufactured, too many cooks production, product of reality TV a yawn-inducing disaster. And when it wasn’t they didn’t really know what to say. Why not offer up any of the following: Awesome? Well done? Can’t wait for the follow up? Most of the reviews I have read end by reminding the audience that the girls will struggle to maintain their career at the same level.

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Hindsight is marvellous isn’t it? While Girls Aloud’s march of success wasn’t without bumps in the road (and fists in other people’s faces) it is clear to anyone who has been paying any attention at all that they didn’t peak with album one.

So I am here to celebrate my favourite Girls Aloud tracks from every Girls Aloud album because while the quality of their work really does speak for itself, I needed an excuse to look through millions of Nicola gifs:

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It’s not stalking if our marriage is only in my mind…

Let us get some bias out the way: These are not the tracks that are necessarily musically their best because I am not fit to judge such things and the order they have been put into is largely pedantic. These are simply my favourites. I decided to do a Top 20 only to discover I actually couldn’t narrow it down to that few. That is how much I love this group. So, after more hours than I care to admit, I was able to give you a Top 24. You are welcome. I say that, because more people read Part 1 than I was expecting so I guess I am not the only one who needed some closure after the demise of the best pop group of the past 20 years.

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The night the lights went out…Ok so that wasn’t actually the moment they broke up and we were all expecting it but…still…Nooooo…

Between December 2002 and their dispantion in March 2013 Girls Aloud released 7 albums in total, two of which were single collections including limited new material. Taking the ‘Hits’ records out of the running (although their new tracks will be counted in the actual list) here is how I feel about them as a whole starting from fair enough to ohmygodiloveit:

EARLY GA

5. Sound of the Underground (Album: 1. Peak Chart Position: 2. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 1)

Before Xenomania and the great Brian Higgins took over proceedings completely, the sound of Girls Aloud struggled to get off the ground. While there are a lot of songs with fun, silly, danceable choruses, the girls themselves get lost a bit and man oh man the ballads are bad. In the end, while several of them nearly made the cut, only 1 album track from their début made my personal list. I would still recommend it for completion’s sake but it is not a must have.

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4. Out of Control (Album: 5. Peak Chart Position: 1. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 4)

Some reviewers gleefully pounced on this record as evidence that Xenomania were starting to run dry. While I disagree and actually enjoy it a lot, I see where they are coming from. This is an album that plays it a little safe compared to what came before, but it still has moments of sheer lunacy and joy that more than make up for any repetition or lacklustre ideas. Plus Nicola and Kimberly get to sing a lot more than they usually do which is never a bad thing.

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3. What will the Neighbours Say? (Album: 2. Peak Chart Position: 6. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 4)

To be honest with you, there is nothing between this and Tangled Up. Both of them are excellent albums, this one may have the edge on Tangled Up purely because of how it took things to the next level for Girls Aloud musically, but I swapped them when I saw how I rated the individual tracks on the actual list…It was tough though. This is not a game to me…This is super cereal.

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2. Tangled Up (Album: 4. Peak Chart Position: 4. Number of Tracks in my top 24: 5)

See above. Excellent album, some cool songs, a couple of missteps, but pretty awesome. This one kind of felt like the most experimental musically speaking which meant a lot of the tracks are not the most personal sounding songs in the world, but I forgive it because man alive can I dance to them…

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1. Chemistry (Album: 3. Peak Chart Position: 11. Number of Tracks in my Top 24: 7)

What the Hell British public? Just as the good people at Xenomania mastered the modern pop album, interest seemingly began to drop off, going by the peak chart position. Thankfully their subsequent singles collection and a successful tour revitalised things but if it had all ended here it would still been quite the triumph. Chemistry borders on a concept album as most of the material talks about the fast paced modern world, the illusion of fame and success and generally just being a 20-something with lots of money. It is so close to perfect it hurts a bit: But one or two incredibly insipid tracks, that don’t fit with the flow at all and just scream management interference, stop it just short of being a greatest hits collection in its own right.

Bizarrely you can get a special edition version with a bunch of Christmas songs on it, which is a bit like throwing Hava Nagila on the tail end of ‘Pet Sounds’ but ok…whatever sells more units I guess.

Additionally the single choices for this record baffle me beyond belief but we will get to that in Part 3…But enough of any negativity. Chemistry has 8 tracks (Plus an intro) that were not released as singles and 7 of them appear in my top 24. If you have to own only one Girls Aloud album, this is the one.

Enough of this nonsense! Let’s have some slightly different nonsense! Right now! Yeaaaaahhh…

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24. Live in the Country (Out of Control)

 

I debated not putting this song on the list because so many fans seem to really hate it: I think it is because in the same year Memory of You was a B Side Live in the Country made the album and so I do understand. But this is my list and frankly any song which conjures up images of a pissed up Sarah Harding staggering around a village fête is ok by me.

The track was created as a response to band member Harding’s choice to swap London for a farm and while the chorus isn’t all that, the verses are awesome and the drum/bass descending into animal noises alone deserves a mention.

Best Lyric: ‘I want a stall at the fête selling strawberry shortcake, and walls that are very discreet’ Excellent.

Best Vocal: While Kimberly’s crisp delivery of the line above is fantastic, I have to give it to my girl Nic for her beautiful slight mispronunciation of the word eccentric with: ‘I’ll be out of my head, but they’ll say I’m eccentric, and look the other way…’

Any Live Performances?: Nope.

 

23. Control of the Knife (Tangled Up)

 

Girls Aloud do reggae…Kind of. The ska influences are undeniable here and while it isn’t as impactful as a lot of their work it is fun to dance to and it is kind of cool to have them tackling something new. I love the juxtaposition of the horns that kick in at the end and the repeated refrain (Got sweet hassle, sweet talking me, got cheap babble, cheap talking free) in a computer voice. However it is missing a much needed conclusion…Enter the live version…

Best Lyric: ‘You’re keeping control of the knife…But I’m not your darling’ is enjoyably cold for such an uptempo number.

Best Vocal: Well I will have to take it to the live version to answer that…

Any Live Performances?: Yes, they did it on their Tangled Up Tour to great effect. Bringing in Kelis’s ‘Trick Me’ at the end works surprisingly well as does Cheryl barking out dance instructions. Speaking of Cheryl the look she gives the camera as she howls: ‘I’ll never let you trick me twice!’ is genuinely a little scary. Hell, everything about this performances works because of her: The aggressive way she attacks the choreography is superb. She may not be the strongest singer but damn, the tiny Geordie can work it:

 

22. Here we Go (What will the Neighbours Say?)

 

One of the most important members of the GA team is Miranda Cooper, former pop star and Xenomania lyricist. Normally she works with a crew and GA to make the magic happen but on this occasion this song was one she had written for herself. Recorded under her alias Moonbaby, this would go on to be the theme to a somewhat popular show called ‘Totally Spies’ and was also recorded by the lead singer from Aqua. So by the time the girls got it, well, it was somewhat second hand and that kind of shows: It sounds a little more generic than a lot of their best stuff.

Nonetheless, they still seem to have fun with it, especially when it comes to the dirtier lyrics. That opening line, delivered by a then still 18 year old Nicola, ‘Put your tongue in my ear, it’s queer but kind of fun’ sets the tone nicely. Plus there is a brilliant synth hook, some good guitar work and the build up to that nearly-but-not-quite rock chorus is a nice ride. And yes. Totally Spies is a children’s show. And yes. They changed the lyrics a lot to make it broadcastable.

Best Lyric: By a country mile: ‘I don’t do sex, but I do do second base…So I suggest you wipe that frown from off your face’ Outstanding…

Best Vocal: They swap back and forth a lot in this one but I still can’t quite get over Nicola’s ‘Put your tongue in my ear it’s queer but kind of fun…’ but Kim also does a great job with ‘I suggest you wipe that frown from off your face’

Any Live Performances?: Yes they did this on their first little tour and it comes to life a bit more than it does on the recording. I like Sarah best in this one actually as her shouty vocals lend itself to the spirit of the original track more than the others:

 

21. Love is Pain (Out of Control)

 

That intro always confuses me because while the song is a sharp, smooth, cold bit of glacier dance pop, I always think of ‘The Bad Touch’ in the bit before the vocals…Make of that what you will. Unsurprisingly, this is largely considered to be a song about Cheryl’s cheating Husband but it is the simplicity of the track and the underplayed vulnerability in the delivery that sells it for me, not any behind the scenes drama that may or may not have been going on. A solid bit of break up dance music.

Best Lyric: None of the lyrics work well out of the context of the song, where the mood it creates is the thing, but there is something about the line ‘…Feel I could wipe you’ that appeals to me. The idea that you can just wipe a person who hurt you from your mind is pretty appealing…they should make a film about it or something…

Best Vocal: Easily Nicola’s opening verse…While Cheryl also does a great job with her moments, I think Nicola’s dainty delivery (‘I couldn’t have sung any softer without whispering’ she complains in a behind the scenes interview) is just stunning.

Any Live Performances?: They first did it on some ITV special and it is a good performance for Cheryl’s wounded puppy dog eyes for sure (seriously, girlfriend was hurting…) but the Out of Control Tour gave the song the wind machine it deserves:

 

20. Real Life (What will the Neighbours Say?)

 

I really, really like the lyrics to this song. To me, it is about the gamble of fame and how addictive it is and how everyone just wants a little more…Soon it is no longer a bit of fun but an occupation where the outcome really matters. You need people to love you in order to keep doing it and once you are on that kind of ride, that relies on others almost 100%, it is not up to you when you get off…But maybe I am reading too much into it. After all this is a song that talks about kung fu twists.

Best Lyric: ‘Dance while your dollar’s going up up up, catch your lucky number while it’s rising, rising…’

Best Vocal: Nadine’s bridge is suitably dramatic: ‘I think I’m falling! I’m not done crawling!’

Any Live Performances?: I have heard it made an appearance on their Greatest Hits Tour but the full version was also part of the set list during their first outing around the country and includes some excellent work from everyone:

 

19. Some Kind of Miracle (Sound of the Underground)

 

This is the only non-single I like enough to take with me from the first album but I really do find it charming. It was originally going to be a single until they were asked to sing a cover for a Richard Curtis film…Which is kind of a shame because this song deserves to be heard. On the surface, it could belong to anyone but the bridge and chorus both have an intense quality I love, and for me it is how I used to feel at discos…there is something just beyond adorable about a song with lines about a ‘dj box’ and a ‘glitter ball’ and then there is the ‘ba-ba-ba’ which just reminds me of 5pm CBBC drama theme tunes, and then out of nowhere that line ‘something kinda sexual…makes doing you incredible’ Jesus that escalated quickly…This is where the similarities between this and my school disco experience come to an abrupt end.

Best Lyric: ‘I roll my eyes as if I don’t care anyway, but deep inside I close my eyes and pray’ sums up my flirting technique.

Best Vocal: Again, they swap around a lot so there is not a lot of time to take in interpretation plus to add to my confusion I have both the version that was going to be released as a single and the original album track where they all sing different lines…I think it has to be Cheryl who says: ‘I’m tired of hanging round the DJ box pretending that I’m cool’ Just because I am a little bit obsessed with the inclusion of that phrase and the way they make it fit…Is that what you call it? Really? A DJ Box?

Any Live Performances?: Sadly not, but here is the alternative version which differs a bit (it is a bit more polished) just for a change:

 

18. Deadlines and Diets (What will the Neighbours Say?)

 

Another almost single, this kind of feels like an All Saints song tonally (specifically Never, Ever. I swear I wrote this before seeing the same thing written online in a Stylus review…) and is that rare thing: A Girls Aloud song that is kind of cool. Well, as cool as any song that includes the line groovy can be. Although, Cheryl’s delivery suggests it is being used in a post-modern sarcastic way…Does that help?

This is another song that was recorded by Moonbaby, but unlike ‘Here we Go’ I feel like Girls Aloud succeed in making it their own. These are girls who you can imagine waking up, looking around and going: ‘Oh fuck, not again.’ Especially Harding.

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The repetition of the bridge and chorus gets a bit old, but perhaps it is to emphasise the cycle of one night stands? Whatever, they sound great and it really sells the story: It has me reaching for the aspirin every time.

Best Lyric: The filthy innuendo of…’Wham bam, my life’s a disaster movie…But as I’m going down I’ll grin’ Tee hee.

Best Vocal: I know my bias is starting to show for the ginger one, but on the recording Nicola’s defeated and dry delivery of the final bridge/middle 8 is just too good.

Any Live Performances?: Yes. And check out those market stall dresses…You can tell this was their first tour huh?

 

17. Close to Love (Tangled Up)

 

You heard it here first: Girls Aloud need more wood. Yep. So this song is stupid but it isn’t cheesy: the production is excellent and it is all just so enjoyable. It is that kind of song that you have to bop to, just for the sake of moving. It is proper disco with funny lyrics and frankly sounds like it has been around forever. I can’t listen to that chorus without grinning. I don’t have much else to say about it: It is fun, fast and damn fine.

Best Lyric: ‘We’re gonna start this fire, cause I know I should, watch the flames go higher, we’re gonna need more wood’ Innuendos FTW.

Best Vocal: Nadine sounds pretty awesome in the live version, but I gotta go with my girl Nic, for the second bridge.

Any Live Performances?: Yes they did it on the Tangled Up Tour. Now that is clearly not them singing live on the chorus (that may have been added in post production though) but the dance routines crack me up on this one and it is as fun as a song like this should be. Any video that starts with Cheryl slapping Kim’s arse is going to be a good ‘un:

 

16. Crocodile Tears (Tangled Up)

 

While I will always love up tempo Aloud, this is one of several slower songs that demonstrate that with the right balance of pretty music and a spot on emotional pitch the girls can sell the fuck out of something more ‘adult’ in theme. It is about a break up but unlike a lot of girl band ballads, it has a darker shadowy vibe with a kind of resigned shrug of defeat behind it. Rather than wringing their hands and crying their eyes out, I imagine them staring numbly at the extra toothbrush, unsure of what to do next.

Musically it is hard to pin down quite what they were trying to do, but it works for me anyway. But most of all, and I can’t always say this, it is the performances that make the song. I really feel the morose defeat behind lines like: ‘ we better stop…before we tumble’ I can’t say how much direction they got with their delivery but it is just the right balance of genuine heart break and irritation at their bad luck.

Best Lyric: While I enjoy ‘stupid Cupid took a terrible landing…’ I like the emotional simplicity of ‘Why on Earth did you leave me? Did you need to leave me?’ best of all. Those two lines say so much with so little.

Best Vocal: I really like Sarah’s heartfelt ‘I gotta stop…dreaming away now’ but Kimberly’s trademark light delivery fits beautifully with her ‘Why on Earth did you leave me?’ It suggests a suitable bewilderment that comes with being dumped.

Any Live Performances?: Given that there are some lovely vocals on this, I am sad they never did it live.

 

15. It’s Magic (Chemistry)

 

A Nicola solo! It’s a Christmas Miracle!

Like the B Side ‘I Don’t really Hate You’ this doesn’t quite feel like a complete song in how it meanders and it took takes a few listens to ‘get it’ as a result but I got there in the end. It tips the hat to 80’s dance pop at every turn  and there is an odd urgency to the production despite the mellowness of the sound. While I wouldn’t have said no to it being a group effort it is nice that Nicola got an opportunity to carry a whole song (her second incidentally, but this one works better for me) and she pulls off an understated delivery with flair.

Best Lyric: For some reason I love the line ‘I need some help shifting this heartache’ It is such a relatable sentiment.

Best Vocal: It is all Nicola, but I like her delivery of ‘With you, only you, I know that I can be myself…funny how I can find that with you and no-body else’

Any Live Performances?: No. I guess I understand why…This is more about the production than it is about the performance.

 

14. Watch Me Go (Chemistry)

 

I usually find songs about sex kind of bland, like they have been written by people who have heard of this thing called ‘doing it’ but have never actually engaged in the activity themselves and, to be honest, the initial lyrics of ‘Watch me Go’ are no different. All this talk of all day fuck fests involving bondage and laboured metaphors about explosions (Like cum! I get it!) just scream: ‘Isn’t this filthy, aren’t we bad?’ which just sucks. (like cu-Ok we ALL get it)

But the beat is truly fantastic and then, in classic Xenomania fashion, there is a sudden shift in tone with the cheerful verse: ‘Strippers and the vicars in the back…’ What? What’s happening? And suddenly the song becomes a parody of ‘sexy’ with all this chat about taking it from a big trombone, like something out of a Carry On film…and then back to the super serious sexy song. But they are not done there, ending the song with a possibly pissed up Sarah Harding singing in a mocking voice ‘I know what you’re thinking you’ve been thinking about my butt’ What??? It is almost like these moments have been inserted to catch out people who are not listening properly and it is gloriously fun.

I have read reviews comparing this song to works from Salt n Pepper, Gwen Stefani, J Pop (in general) and Michael Jackson and none of these are inaccurate. The JC production is fantastic and it is real grower. And yes. That is another sex reference. Enjoy.

Best Lyric: ‘Strippers and the vicars in the back, First man cracked, Jump on the main line track, I take a little bit of pay, okay, and the beat of the big trombone!’ Because I didn’t see it coming. There’s another for you.

Best Vocal: Cheryl has a lot of fun with the ‘strippers and the vicars’ and Nadine has some great moments but I have to give it to Sarah’s hilarious fade out.

Any Live Performances?: Thank goodness they did this one on the Chemistry Tour. Even Nadine once said she wishes she could have done ‘Watch me Go’ more often. Plus how much fun does Cheryl have with her bit? And then there is my beautiful awkward Nic…God I love her.

 

13. Love is the Key (Out of Control)

 

That apparently Georgian choir intro going into a hook that I swear is so immediate that I felt I must have heard it somewhere before, is a strong start somewhat undermined by Kim’s silly faux American accent doing a largely typical ‘opposites attract’ song. Yawn. Hell, they even have Nic say the line: ‘I don’t mind the friction, cause opposites attract’ They are not even trying to pretend it is anything…nope. End of sentence. It isn’t anything.

Pushing aside the laziness of the verses the clang-clang electro country thing is great, the bridge (written by Kim herself) and the chorus are enjoyable enough. While Kim’s bridge lost me a bit by using the word guy three times it got me back with lines like ‘Now we’re picking out the tiles and curtains’ and ‘If you love somebody don’t ask why…Cupid mystifies’ And then there is that…’oh-oh-oh-oh-oh’ that MUST have existed before! Point is, there is a lot to get down to, not least of all the excellent inclusion of a harmonica solo in the fade out played by none other than The Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr. Yep. A member of The Smiths features on a song with lines like ‘I’m mocha-chocca latte, you’re more espresso shot’

I will let him tell it:

‘I was working with Brian Higgins on a Pet Shop Boys record, and let it slip that I liked the guitars on a couple of Girls Aloud’s early singles. So he got me in a headlock, took me from behind and, before I knew it, I had a harmonic in my mouth.’

That’s show biz, kids.

Best Lyric: I like the line about picking out tiles and curtains. It is recognisably mundane and evocative, Cokieblume said pretentiously. Thanks Kim.

Best Vocal: Kimberly’s drawl on the word ‘blonde’ makes me roll my eyes but hell, it works. This is her moment really.

Any Live Performances?: Yes. They did a wonderfully camp version on the Out of Control Tour

 

12. Wild Horses (Chemistry)

 

So…While ‘Wild Horses’ is a great combination of sinister and delightfully fizzy, it is perhaps most fondly remembered as the song that has Girls Aloud making train noises. And quite rightfully so. What starts of as a classic backing vocal style ‘whoo-whoo’ builds to an actual ‘WHOOO-WHOOO’ and it is, of course, brilliant. But then, so is everything about this song.

The creepy intro that goes into the silly, sassy chorus, then a naff childishly delivered verse going straight into a much, much darker part musically aided by a snarling, low vocal by Sarah who has never sounded better. I love the shifts in tone considerably, it gives the track an urgency and an edge that is just so enjoyable. I read one review which likened the love affair discussed in the lyrics as being about sex so bad it becomes like sexual assault. Jesus. Quite a reading for a song with faux train noises, no?

Best Lyric: Is it wrong to award this to the train noise? I’m sorry but…I have to.

Best Vocal: Sarah’s work in some of the verses is genuinely great.

Any Live Performances?: Yes but sadly not the whole song. It goes into single ‘Wake me Up’ which is no bad thing but I wouldn’t say no to a whole performance of ‘Wild Horses’

(Skip to the end for classic Nadine/Nurhdeen bantz)

 

11. Racy Lacey (Chemistry)


The fact that so many of the stand out tracks on Chemistry got buried by lacklustre singles like See the Day and Long Hot Summer is a bit of a mystery. But I suppose when a large percentage of your fans are preadolescence, your pop princesses can’t be seen to be twisting round the stage celebrating/condemning a girl who has ‘a PHD with her legs apart.’ Although overall I imagine the average 12 year old girl can relate more to a song like this than a love ballad.

‘Racy Lacey’ is nasty despite of, or perhaps because of, how upbeat it is. These 5 are way, way too comfortable berating a girl for chewing up and spitting out men. It is undeniably the taunt of the playground bully more than a wry observational song about modern sexuality made all the more explicit by how it was introduced/performed on the Chemistry tour. Make no mistake: Lacey is the school bike and we should all hate her for it.

The intent and message of Racy Lacey always makes me think of a girl I knew at school who had a ‘reputation’ who one day confided in me that she was actually a virgin and had only ever kissed a couple of boys. I repaid her confidence by writing her into a play several years later. And putting her on this blog. Sorry. But the point is this: Some people are not always what they seem and the ‘na-na-na-na’ vibe of Racy Lacey never fails to conjure up this girl in my head.

Confused messages about casual sex aside, Lacey has a backing track that wouldn’t be out of place on an Austin Powers soundtrack, it is a send up of the groovy, complete with wacky sound effects, as well as a catty snarling chorus that is irritatingly memorable and an abrupt ending that concludes one of the best pop albums of the last 10 years with one hell of a mic drop. Unless you have the extended version with all the Christmas songs…Seriously…why?

Best Lyric: That is a very silly question. ANY song that has the line ‘She’s got undulating, grundulating, grinding hips’ gets a lifetime pass from me.

Best Vocal: I enjoy the mean girls bridge and chorus performed by everyone best of all but I do think Nadine stands out with her withering ‘And she’s worn them out by half past nine’

Any Live Performances?: Yep. Lacey got a delightfully tacky outing on the Chemistry tour. Bet that woke up the parents who had brought their kids to the concert…


10. Waiting (Chemistry)

 

I first heard this song while watching the Chemistry Tour and I immediately fell deeply in love and it remains a track I listen to a lot. However it stops short at number 10 because the recording just isn’t as good. The live performances are full of the energy and zest a tune like this needs and the studio work falls flat in comparison with none of the girls nailing the humour and pace such rich work highly deserves: it always feels a bit like they are struggling to keep up with it.

Having said that, it is still great. Musically it has a retro vibe running through it but it doesn’t broadcast it-That opening riff is so wonderfully assured, keeping in mind this was made before Mark Ronson started trying to bring funky swing back to the commercial mainstream. The lyrics are some of my favourites ever with wonderful golden nuggets spread throughout. Just…I genuinely can’t even handle the line: ‘Hey there buttercup…You’re like a peach on ice’ Read it again. Say the words out loud. I treasure and cherish the minds that brought that image into my head.

Best Lyric: As above. But for the sake of happy fingers I will write it again: ‘Hey there buttercup…you’re like a peach on ice.’ Fucking…yes.

Best Vocal: I think Nicola’s ‘Mr Magic is not some toy’ sounds great and bonus points to Sarah for ‘If every guy’s a dog then baby throw me to the wolves, I’ll never get to heaven with my glass half full’ I have no clue if it is trying to be flirty, sexy or just weird but I love it.

Any Live Performances?: For reasons I still don’t understand yet appreciate they incorporated ‘Waiting’ into the Out of Control Tour setlist, keeping in mind this was an album track from an record that came out about three years earlier. I guess they just like singing it: The live versions are much, much better than the recording. While I love that in the OOC performance a more confident Nicola found yet another ace way of saying ‘Mr Magic is not some toy,’ the energy and goofy dancing (especially from Cheryl) in the Wembley performance is off the charts.


9. Every Now and Then (Ten)

 

When Girls Aloud got back together to celebrate their ten year anniversary after three years apart, it was fair to say the fans were disappointed that the new album was packaged as a greatest hits collection when we were all dying for new material. But then we heard the 4 new tracks that padded out side one and…well…what I thought of the singles will have to wait for part 3, but my fucking God…Xenomania were awake again and God bless them all.

Every Now and Then is quite the banging tune. It is all kinds of intense and while the robo voice effects/icy production have been done better elsewhere it is still top drawer Aloud. The build up to the chorus is sublime and when it hits…All you can do is grab hold of something and hang on tight.

We all knew the end was nigh. When I heard Every Now and Then I wept a bit. Because it was over and because it was over. You see, they shouldn’t have ended because they were still phenomenal. But they should have ended because they were STILL phenomenal. It remains a fitting send off to the group that I genuinely do think about every now and then.

Best Lyric: ‘Never ever going back, I said I never would again, it’s better now that we’re apart, but I still think about you every now and then’ Does that not just sum up break ups so tidily? Xenomania should do Hallmark cards.

Best Vocal: Nicola sounds perfect in the opening, Cheryl sounds appropriately heartbroken with ‘but my heart won’t beat again’ and ‘you know why’ but Nadine’s voice really soars on this one in the chorus and ‘it flickers now and then.’

Any Live Performances?: No. No. Nope. It’s ok…I’m fine…

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I’m not really over this. Fucks sake they did Call Me Maybe on the last tour but not this?!

 

8. Miss You Bow Wow (Out of Control)

 

This song could well be the worst thing that ever existed. Or, more likely, a fairly innocuous bit of fluff. But here is the thing…I couldn’t tell you. I am not fit to judge it because it makes me happier than words can possibly explain. I have for the last several years screamed ‘I REMEM-BERRRR…’ at random moments quite a lot of the time and it never fails to fill my heart with a kind of lit up joy. Hell, I sing it so often my Partner regularly joins in with lyrics they made up themselves. Sometimes it alarms me just how much of my spare time is spent this way. You know how you can work out how many years people spend filling in tax returns and bathing etc? I suspect at least 5% of my life so far has been spent bellowing the lyrics to ‘Miss You Bow Wow’

And what lyrics. I ask you, not for the last time on this list, what the actual fuck is this song on about? He is looking bow wow wow? What??? Oh the words are quite remarkably dumb and yet they repeat them over and over as if that is going to help! The guitars and lines like ’20 minutes in the holiday bar then I slip into your girlfriend’s jeans’ suggest they were going for something with a little edge and if that is true they missed the mark with unutterable ineptitude…But if they just wanted to make another electro pop ear worm that is both perfect and ridiculous at the same time that I could dance around my room to then I salute you Xenomania…I DO remember living the dream…

Best Lyric: It does have to be: ‘I remember living the dream…20 minutes in the hotel bar, then I slip into your girlfriend’s jeans’ Horrible magic.

Best Vocal: The best bits are sung by Nadine, Cheryl and Sarah together so it is hard to single anyone out, but Sarah seems to be having the most fun with it and it suits her voice.

Any Live Performances?: Oh hell yes. From the Out of Control tour. Half the views on this video are me. I love this performance. Nadine may flub the lyrics to her solo but makes it up with her riff, Cheryl and Sarah are having a ball, and even my sadly silenced Nic gets a gorgeous moment at 3:18 and watching them jump and down like idiots on the second chorus is just…This is happiness.

 

7. Models (Chemistry)

 

A stonking opener to a superb album and the most single ready song they never released, Models is a fast paced, pissed off, sarcastic scene setter-Letting you know the tone of the album right off the bat. The theme of the record, to put it simply, seems to be: Is modern fame not just shallow and a bit shit? Which is a wonderful back bite to come from a now established and possibly world weary reality TV show commodity.

And the thing is, they can pull it off. Sure Cheryl was thrust into the middle of exactly this sort of bullshit by dating a footballer (‘only A list allowed’) and the rough edges borne of the council estates most of them grew up on was beginning to be rubbed out altogether, but they can still sell the Hell out of a song that needs a bad attitude. Each of them bring something to the table on Models whether it’s a silly posh accent, a Northern twang on the chorus, or bellowing the word ‘shit’ like her life depends on it (God bless Nurhdeen) each girl is fed up of London Fashion Week and the like in her own special way.

It is a heady, toxic, delirious slice of perfect electro pop and a genuine triumph of modern music. Models: Because when Girls Aloud get bored, the vocals get better.

Best Lyric: There’s a lot of funny stuff, the chorus is pretty great, but my personal vote goes to: ‘The girl’s got style, legs for miles, seen ’em walk all over you…’ We know that couple, yes? Sure we do.

Best Vocal: I really love how much Nurhdeen loves: ‘You get your kicks like flies to shit buzzing round the model zoo’ Fucking class act that girl.

Any Live Performances?: They seem to be having a whale of a time during the Chemistry tour…and with songs this good I’m not surprised:

WARNING: Photo compulsive epileptics beware! There are a lot of flashing lights in this one.

 

6. Girl Overboard (Tangled Up)

 

Girl Overboard is dance music at its most joyfully dramatic and I really love that the mood of the piece fits with the best of serious Aloud: All emotionally desperate but achingly beautiful. How dare I call it a ‘piece’ you say? Well fuck you, I would take ‘Girl Overboard’ over…well, insert any highbrow nonsense you dare here please. The girls sound great, the music is intense, the beat bloody well means business and I wave my arms up and down shouting ‘Oooh-oooh’ every time. It gets awkward on public transport.

Reading reviews of this song (and indeed the album) the phrase ‘Euro’ comes up a lot and while I can understand why (is it possible to listen to it without imagining you are in Ibiza getting an STI?) I will defend the lyrical content as being more interesting than your average floor filler. I have always interpreted it as a comment on the out of control head rush of the sudden fame the girls experienced. It is so easy to get lost. As with ‘Real Life’ above I might be giving Cooper and Higgins too much credit here but I can relate to that feeling of being overwhelmed and trying to stop for a moment to take in what is happening.

Or maybe it is about a girl who fell off a boat, I don’t know.

Best Lyric: ‘Somewhere along, I played it wrong, fell into a world so far from home’ Just…yes.

Best Vocal: I like everyone here, which is always nice. But I will single out Nicola on the last ‘somewhere along…’ as her vulnerable vocal suits it best.

Any Live Performances?: Yep. After the big intro, Girl Overboard kicks off the great Tangled Up tour. It is good stuff too. As with pretty much every track on this tour DVD it sounds like the chorus is dubbed but pushing that aside the solo moments are superb. Nadine really brings it, Nicola remains my Queen, and Sarah sounds fantastic but, rather unfortunately, my takeaway from this performance is that the choreographer clearly had their work cut out. The routine in the dance break, without the ‘boys’ to cover them, just screams ‘I am 14 and I made this up in front my mirror’ and I kind of love it:

 

The final order of the top 5 was a nightmare. Each of these songs are actual classics. Indisputably perfect. To try and write about my love for them hurts my heart. It is like trying to write my wedding vows or something. How can I condense the strength of my feeling into a few measly lines? The world must know though…So here we go…

 

5. Graffiti My Soul (What will the Neighbours Say?)

Originally composed for the Britney Spears album ‘Me Against the Music’ I am surprised her ‘team’ turned it down given how well I feel it would have suited Brit-Brit’s distinctive vocal styling and the record she put out that year. Apparently she recorded it but in the end they felt the lack of chorus was a problem. Cheryl said that the way Brit delivered the line ‘You dream of touching me there’ still haunts her nightmares and frankly I feel we all deserve to hear that. But oh well. All the more for Aloud.

You may have spotted I have not yet posted the link to the song. I feel it deserves a preamble before it literally blows your socks off. Xenomania are at their best when the lyrics are insane/catchy, the beat is big and bad and there is a hook to cling to. Here that hook is the guitar riff taken from the song ‘It’s not the Drug’ by Peplab. Supposedly Brian Higgins went all the way to Amsterdam to ask to nab it for the track and the band, presumably startled when he leapt out of a stripper cake or something, said yes. Combine it with utter filth and you have pure joy.

Utter filth? Hell yes. Remember all the innuendo in Here We Go and Deadlines and Diets I mentioned ages ago? Well for Graffiti my Soul they thought ‘fuck subtlety with a lubricated horse dick, let’s just literally give the 18 year Catholic girl the opening gambit of…’

 

That’s right. Nadine Coyle has a fist full of love that’s coming your way. And boy oh boy oh boy does it make me giddy:

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Are you honestly telling me you feel nothing? Sure it is a noisy, chaotic, brash mess but it is also 5 young girls declaring an open heart as good as suicide and warning would be suitors that they are not yet interested in kids and cash…It is a celebration of being young and horny and they sell it without being too gratuitous. Unlike the likes of the Pussycat Dolls, when Girls Aloud sing about sex it doesn’t feel like a marketing gimmick trying to hook in boys-This is one for the girls. And yet it doesn’t feel patronising either. It understands the joy of being desirable without any of the longing for longevity. Kind of like being a teenager in a reality pop band…

Plus, even if you are not 20 years old and eager to do the knuckle shuffle on a Saturday night with a ‘walking talking mannequin’ you just met at a bar, it is still one of the most danceable songs I have ever heard.

Graffiti my Soul gets me going in a way I can’t explain. I want to weep. Just…thank you Xenomania. I stamp my feet in gratitude.

Best Lyric: Could there be any other? I’ve been waiting more than a year to write: ‘Spike heels and skin tight jeans, I’ve got a fist full of love that’s coming your way’

I’m sobbing right now. I love it sooooo much.

Best Vocal: Oh it has to be Nadine. I can’t get enough of her battle cry. Her ‘I’m complicated…And I celebrate it’ is also great.

Any Live Performances?: Oh the school disco vibe is strong in this one:

 

4. On the Metro (Ten)

I never thought I’d live to see the day a Girls Aloud song NOT produced by Xenomania would get this close to my ears so very often. But here we are. In late 2012, Girls Aloud released their final album and of the 4 new tracks my stand out favourite was produced by…The Committe. Nope. Me neither. Whoever they are I want to shake their hands. The President, the Vice President, the whole committee. But having said that the production is probably my least favourite bit of the track as it isn’t actually that pleasant to the ears for the most part. Eventually the nasty bit fades to the back of your brain but that doesn’t change the fact that you now have a headache.

But it is all worth it. It is fabulously camp and manages to be both horrendous and glorious at the same time. But the real reason this song beats some slightly better disco/dance tracks for me are the lyrics. So who was responsible?  One of them, producer DJ Fresh, was extremely irritated that the song was never released as a single. I share his distress.

But anyway back to the lyricists. Oh look at that-

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Of all the blogs, in all the internet…I wish you would come to mine.

Can I just take a minute to talk about how much I love Nicola Marie Roberts? Because I do. I love her so much.

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I know the context. And no I am not sharing. Still love her.

Keep in mind when the group was formed the world didn’t really know how to respond to the moodiest of all moody teens. Kimberly had alluring lips, hips and a natural warmth, Sarah was all lairy, Nadine had the pipes and Cheryl captured the nations hearts with her frank Geordie ways. Nicola got near constant shit thrown at her because she rarely got solos so just kind of hung around the stage looking a bit awkward and generally like her cat had just been run over, not to mention she had the audacity to have red hair and pale skin…But I knew. So when all the girls went away to work on solo projects I waited patiently. I wasn’t even worried. I knew when Nicola emerged again that would be good enough for me.

But as high as my expectations were she surpassed them. Sporting an attitude so thick it wore a dunce cap and wearing many silly outfits, Nicola reinvented herself as the talented one. Not the ginger one. Not the ‘ugly’ one. Not the rude one. Although she mentions all of these labels on the record and wears them as badges of honour. Her war wounds. But more than emerging with her pride still in tact Nicola had arrived as the only one in Girls Aloud who understood how to be witty in song.

Her triumph may not have lead to global superstardom or even a ‘local girl dun good’ story but nonetheless the same critics who called her out for sticking out like a sore thumb in the girl band photo shoots now hailed her as the saviour of weird pop.

But here is not the place for a glowing review of the phenomenal ‘Cinderella’s Eyes’ This has all been leading up to one thing: Her contribution to Ten, the gloriously spot on On the Metro.

 

This is a story we all know. Many of us have lived it. And the detail is sparkling. Nicola is in a bar, nursing a drink, a dude comes over dancing self consciously, she thinks it is going well, but when she returns from the bathroom he has gone and so she heads home on the train in drunken tears, writing his name on the window. While Robyn nailed the pain of watching your love make out with another at a disco in ‘Dancing on my Own’ and Sia the self destructive nature of binge drinking in ‘Chandelier’ it is Nicola Roberts who wins the ‘Dancing gone Wrong Song’ prize for nailing the horror that is the night out hook up that doesn’t even last the whole night.

Oh and guy from Liquid in 2005? The one who kissed my hand and told me I was beautiful? I know that you feel the same baby, but I don’t have your number only got your name, so do look me up won’t you?

Best Lyric: Oh lordy…Let’s go with ‘I left my heart at the disco, now I’m crying on the metro’ It is so simple but really highlights the juxtaposition of the dramatic and the mundane that inevitably comes when you are hammered.

Best Vocal: I’m not just saying it cause she wrote it but Nicola nails that opening: ‘A hundred O’s and X’s lighting up the dark, now they turn into a question mark’ and she really relishes singing about her soda pop.

Any Live Performances?: In Classic Nicola style, this was her response when a music website asked their readers if ‘On the Metro’ should have been the lead single off Ten:

Did I mention I love her?

But thank goodness it didn’t go the same way as Memory of You, Every Now and Then and #3 and #1 on this list. They did perform it on their final tour. I was there. Actually during this song I was so close to the girls I could have reached out and touched them. But I didn’t. Sarah seemed to be having a hard enough time keeping up without such a distraction. I simply cheered. And cheered. And cheered.

(WARNING: More flashing lights.)

 

3. Singapore (The Sound of Girls Aloud, Special Edition)

This one nearly went on the B Side list seeing as it was recorded during the Chemistry sessions but didn’t make the cut. But it did make it to AN album. I only looked it up because I was doing a youtube quiz about their songs (Oh sure, you’ve made better decisions?) and I didn’t recognise it. Why did it take so long for me to discover? Well Singapore was unceremoniously banished to the second disc on the special edition version of their FIRST greatest hits album which was actually just all their singles. Yeah. I am a fan and all but I am not THAT much of a completest. So even though it has become one of my favourite songs period, it nearly passed me by due to the poor choice to give it the Memory of You treatment and shove it as far away from the limelight as humanly possible.

I sort of understand why though. Singapore seems a bit unfinished. After a great intro/bridge/chorus, the ‘Dreams means more’ section meanders horribly, always making me think of the classic jingle ‘beans mean Heinz’ some of the rhythm/rhymes are tenuous as all hell and the song kind of tails off when it runs out of things to say.

Having said all THAT…It actually makes me cry the happy/sad sort of tears when I am in the right sort of mood. It captures the inevitable doom of the long distance relationship in an almost unbearably tender and poignant fashion. Behold. And let the stop motion jelly babies tell you the story:

It contains some of my favourite lyrics and vocal work and very possibly my favourite (is this true? It feels true) chorus they ever did. Just listen to it…The sentiment is spot on: The suppressed emotion behind a line like: ‘Ciao, I’m waiting for your call’ when it immediately follows a line like ‘God it nearly breaks me’ just speaks volumes about the pain they are in. It is actually proper clever and stuff.

And then there is: ‘In my head I can see our long goodbye…you kiss my lips as I try to fix your tie’ You can see it can’t you? She is thinking about the time they will have to say goodbye even as they have this little intimate moment…She can’t enjoy it because the sadness is coming…

The chorus flows so beautifully, the bridge is truly heart breaking, with Cheryl really nailing her self frustration as she coos: ‘Gotta stop believing what the movies say’ Man, I feel I could talk about the lyrics forever. Oh just one more…Who can resist Nicola struggling to fit the word ‘tropicana’ into the opening verse? If you can, I hate you. So…Get out.

But more than anything else, that chorus. I can see this lost soul, stumbling around the street, bereft without her love, watching the sun go down in dismay, turning down the invites to go out, wrapping themselves in his 2nd favourite hoodie (he took his favourite one to Singapore obvs) even as the sad karaoke track bubbles cheerfully behind them, fading out…Ok just ONE more listen…

Dark streets…only suffocate me…
Best Lyric: ‘In a world where the sun don’t always shine…I can see tropicana in your eyes’ is fantastic but let’s just take another hour or two to admire how each line of the chorus feeds the next: ‘Dark streets only suffocate me, now you’re off to Singapore, heart aches, God it nearly breaks me, Ciao: I’m waiting for your call’ Romeo and Juliet can eat shit and die as far as I am concerned. That is pure poetry. Ok I know R&J is not a poem…Just shut up ok?

Best Vocal: Kim and Sarah get a raw, raw deal with the Beans means Heinz section. Seriously. The other three truly get a chance to shine though. Nadine DOES make my heart ache, I TRULY believe Cheryl when she says she wishes he was with her but my Nicola wins again. Her delivery of the tropicana lyric is charming but what cinches it is the way she sings the line ‘That’s the way I feel…You’re all the love I need’ she KNOWS it doesn’t rhyme. Listen to her: She wants to say kneel so bad…It makes me smile every single time.

Any Live Performances?: Nope.

Chery Cole

Cheryl is angry too…

But at least someone animated some jelly babies dancing for me. It helps. It really does.

 

2. Black Jacks (Tangled Up)

I have previously discussed how part of the charm of Xenomania comes from the bonkers nature of their lyrical content. Sure we all love a bit Zimmerman and Tupac and all that poetic truth but sometimes there is something a bit charming about singing along with a song and then going: ‘What the fuck did I just say?’ A lot of pop at the time Girls Aloud were flying was just dull. Like all the words had been spoken and so it was just about putting them in a new order. Essentially love is important, break ups are hard, money is good and the DJ better turn up the music or else. And then you get an album track like Black Jacks which has a chorus opener like ‘there’s black jacks running down my back and I say stop cause I love you baby’

What the actual fuck does that mean? It is like they put some clichés in a blender and switched it on. Then stuck the chunks together in a random order. What is a black jack anyway? They never do say.

Here’s the middle 8:

‘Teacher didn’t you know, I’m getting into the boat, these boots are making me slow, ain’t you going too fast, the future’s set in the past, you keep on telling me so’

What?

Out of context it is almost too silly. It is drivel, about nothing at all. But then you add that fabulous 90’s Northern soul sound and couple it with 60’s psychedelia and it suddenly fits. It is urgent, fun, brilliant…It works so well. I feel alive when I listen to this song. I want to run out into the street and start swinging someone round in a circle against their will:

 

Each section works together and separately. The opening is a great build up handled deftly by Nurhdeen, then there is the joy of the punchy, shout out along chorus and that rowdy ‘New York nothing’ segment is spectacularly well placed…There is nothing I would change. Oh except more Nicola. Always more Nicola.

I don’t have much else to say except…

Best Lyric: ‘There’s black jacks running down my back and I say stop…cause I love you baby’

What does that mean???? Nobody knows…I don’t even care. It just works.

Best Vocal: Nadine dominates most of the vocal on this one, I prefer her delivery of the line: ‘Wasting my time, out at sea when you’re following me all the way’

Any Live Performances?: They performed it during the Tangled Up tour and I quite enjoy Sarah’s enthusiastic whooping for a change and their exuberant shouts during the ‘New York Nothing!’ segments. Also Nadine changes the line ‘Jumping IN your face’ to ‘jumping ON your face’ which is pretty excellent.

 

Nearly 10 thousand words later we have arrived at our destination. I would apologise for the delay but it was a hell of a ride…

 

For me anyway. I enjoyed it.

 

1. Swinging London Town (Chemistry)

Swinging London Town is the best Girls Aloud album track that was never a single and never performed live by the group. And no. It is not just because Nicola Roberts named it her favourite Girls Aloud song. And because her voice dominates it. And because…Nicola…

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Where was I? Oh yeah. So shit gets real fast with this one. Right from the off the music is blistering, the lyrics are saturated with biting satire, the beat is crazy, the tempo shifts just as it is losing you and then the whole thing builds to an almighty climax. It tells the story, paints the pictures, invites you in and the girls sizzle, smirking their way through the dizzying tunnel of electro pop into the delicious cool pool of cynicism. It is a masterclass in not giving a shit delivered by a team of writers who care too much and it is as close to perfect as a frenzied ‘here we fucking go!’ kind of track can ever, ever be.

I love it. I worship it. I bow down to Swinging London Town:

(More crazy flashing for a short time but it might be worth a seizure in my personal experience, the song is that good) 

Lots of people have compared this to ‘West End Girls’ by the Pet Shop Boys and it is easy to see why. In many ways Girls Aloud and Xenomania did pick up that particular baton and run with it. The synth, the guitars, the buzz-it is so groovy. That is my main point you should hold on to. In my enthusiasm I will be getting pretentious but more than anything else the song soars with how much you want to dance to it. Keep in mind that the year this album came out the biggest, most heard songs around the globe were Maroon 5’s ‘She will be Loved’ and James Blunt’s ‘Your Beautiful’ We needed Chemistry. So badly. Girls Aloud saved the charts. And the fact that the album only got to #11 suggests we didn’t even say thank you.

Do I mean Girls Aloud saved the charts? Or do I mean Xenomania? Nope. This time I mean the girls themselves. Many critics like to single them out as the least essential members of the team but fuck that. Each girl takes their section (Sarah Kimberly, Nicola, Cheryl, Nadine, Nicola again because yessss) and performs the hell out of it. They seem to understand that they are part of the problem. Sure the price of the cocktails make them choke on their sushi, but it is all they have. Even the music fades in and out, teasing the fleeting nature of reality pop success. Sure it is empty and frivolous but in their world weary delivery you can taste their fear-This is all temporary.

‘I guess I’m neck deep in it and starting to drown, along with all the wannabes in swinging London Town…’

Sure all the big female soloists have money notes and key changes and can perform basic 5 part harmonies (something I am sure all the members of Girls Aloud would admit when cornered they never got the hang of) but can your Mariahs and Christinas take lines like ‘I pussyfoot from drink to drink in swinging London Town’ and make it sound so true? Or how about ‘Now a downward slide to rehab and all of it for free’? Or ‘Daddy’s Bentley still full of gear?’

Do we know them? Really, really know them?

I honestly believe Xenomania cracked it here: Marrying the best the girls could offer with superb lyrics and a stomping beat. Chemistry was at least partially meant as an experiment exploring the shallowness of fame in 2005. Swinging London Town is the final report-Fame in 2005 is both attractive and repulsive. Simultaneously inviting and horrific. Like holding down a job, having children and dying-Nobody knows the truth of it until it is too late to escape.

So you might as well dance.

Best Lyric: Oh God, don’t make me choose! I personally have a soft spot for Kimberly’s verse. ‘Do you know the me that wakes in places, faces I’ve never seen, the mother of all hangovers to remind me where I’ve been, and if I stop, I’m sickened, it really gets me down, so I step back into the city lights the Queen of London Town’ That moment of self realisation immediately masked with extra strength delusion is so wonderfully human.

Best Vocal: Another tricky one, just reinforcing I made the right call by putting this song at Number 1 on my list. I think they all sound wonderfully distinctive-Sarah’s growl, Cheryls light touch, Nadine’s gurn, Kim’s crisp delivery, but I have to give it to Nicola. Is it bias? Possibly. But listen to her lament the fate of the poor little rich girl who does it cause she can and admire the final verse where she closes the door to the party gently but firmly behind her with the most beautiful parting shot.

You already know the answer to the live performances one. Gutted.

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Well if you made it through all of that there is a chance you are crazier for the Aloud than I am. In which case you will want to return again in the future for Part 3 when I go through the GA Singles and rate them in order of personal preference, thus revealing my very favourite Girls Aloud tune.

Nicola is shaking with antici-

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pation.

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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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Mini List: My Top 20 Favourite Musical Songs #11

 

My Favourite Musical Songs #11

11. One Day More from Les Miserables (Version included is the 1995 10th Anniversary Concert recording, performed by the Dream Cast (their words, not mine!) lead by Colm Wilkinson)

One of the most recognisable scores in musical history, and easily the strongest ‘Enjoy the Interval!’ song I have ever heard, ‘One Day More’ is a wonderful way of bringing all the characters together as they reflect on what is still to come in Act 2.

We could have read the book but…Nah.

If ever a musical could be described as epic, it begins and ends with this bad boy. In this song alone there is romance, revolution, old grudges, brotherhood, prayer, grimy thieves, and hope presiding over all. The sheer power and scale of this song just slaps you round the face. It is so iconic, and has been imitated more times than I can count, but never bettered. And that includes the efforts of composer Claude-Michel Schonberg and producer Cameron Mackintosh both of whom have worked on shows that lazy reviewers such as myself can point at and loudly state: ‘Poor Man’s Les Mis!’ before disguising my outburst as a cough. Because I have manners and that, bitches.

So yes, ‘One Day More’ and ‘Les Mis’ rule all and are untouchable. Although ‘La Resistance’ from ‘South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut’ did a pretty good homage because Trey Parker is a clever man:

Beautiful.

Going back to ‘Les Mis,’ The impact of ‘One Day More’ and how well it is performed causes every hair on my arms to stand to attention. And it just…well…It makes me want to go start a revolution. While ‘Do you Hear the People Sing?’ possibly edges this out as the song that people go to when they think of rabble rousing anthems, I have always preferred ‘One Day More.’ Mostly because it incorporates nearly every character in a way that really maps out what is at stake for each of them and everybody is just so into it.

It is not possible to pay tribute to every great moment, but I have to give a shout out to my favourites: We have 1:19, Eponine longing for Marius, 1:45 Marius wondering if he even has the nerve to stand his ground, 1:58 Val Jean belting One Day More as Javert intones impressively how unimpressed he is with the students, the wonderful Madame Thenardier at 2.20 whose voice carries even though she is about a foot down from her microphone and the chorus of voices, each with their own message, struggle and need from 2:47. I like to think the actors are competing at this bit in which case Michael Ball as Marius wins. Gosh he’s loud.

Even if you don’t know the music or have not seen the whole thing on stage (Despite owning both concert versions and having been in two different productions, I have never seen ‘Les Mis’ live. It is on my bucket list…) you will recognise the iconic costumes or the earworm melodies and, quite simply, the fight. The fight is what makes ‘Les Mis.’ The characters live and breathe in a way that many musical creations just can’t because their longing becomes our longing. We are not just rooting for Val Jean: We can see the perspective of all of them regardless of stage time, from the naïve Enjolras, to the heart sick Eponine to the obsessive Javert all the way to the hard on their luck but ready for change ensemble. They all want their ‘something’ so badly…It is relatable. Not everyone will live to see their dreams realised. That too, is relatable.

 

OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: Take your pick. Seriously I don’t even know where to start here because there is ALWAYS someone I consider a weak link in the cast and then people I feel who just nail it, and I think it all comes down to personal taste, given the size and scope of the ensemble. You may notice the same faces popping up over and over but I am writing this based on the different versions of the song that are out there:

I am going to be honest and say I am not that familiar with any of the non-commercial versions (ie ones not in the English language) but that still gives me a lot talk about.

The original London cast are pretty swell, and come together every 5 years ago to belt out ‘One Day More’ and it never fails to impress me. Even though I feel some of the cast members have been replaced by better actors over the years, respect where it is due, these guys still deliver.

The 25 year anniversary concert cast leaves me cold to be honest, but that by no means suggests they are bad just not my favourite Les gang. The individual performers are pretty good, except for American Disney pop star Nick Jonas’s Marius who only has one facial expression and it is constipated. Although there is an argument to be made for a skinny, awkward teen being a better fit for the role than the roly-poly Tenor-Monster that is Michael Ball. Still Jonas is so one note that it just screams ‘We want children to come to the theatre! Because they legally have to be accompanied by adults with credit cards! Please spend money on London trips!’ What’s next? Justin Bieber as The Phantom? Oh God…It’s going to be Justin Bieber as The Phantom isn’t it?

Seriously. Watch his little face. Acting is just sooo hard.

Right. The film cast. Got to get this out there…Rip it off like a band aid…Fuck me, I hate them.

Hugh Jackman? Talented but wrong, wrong, wrong for Val Jean vocally. The vibrato is out of control and the control is out of vibrato. Russell Crowe? I can’t even…Not remotely right for the part. Even he knows it.

SHAME!

He may have tried to hit back at critics by saying they were not aiming for technical perfection but trying to capture real emotion…But real emotion can be carried through good singing and his interpretation of these wonderful rich lyrics fall so far flat it nearly comes round to being funny. If you were moved by the performances (and hey, they are not ALL bad) then good for you. But I can’t bear this cast. There is a smugness that perforates the air of the thing, like they believe they are making film history just by showing up.

I find the soundtrack unlistenable and the visual work even worse…The direction is appalling. But anyway. This is turning into a review of the film and I don’t want that. Like I said, personal taste. But here is the cast performing at the Academy Awards like it is an awkward school assembly. You should watch it if only to see the marvellous Helena Bonham Carter looking embarrassed to be there and like she would rather be anywhere else while sporting an ill fitting tux/gown. Never change, HBC. Never change:

(One Day More begins at 0.48)

I am going to include Channel Awesome’s tribute to ‘One Day More’ because of their jab at Russell Crowe’s vocal and equally because it is actually directed better than the Oscar winning film:

(One Big Song begins at 0.48)

The ‘Hey Mr Producer!’ concert celebrating Cameron Mackintosh finished with this beauty, which almost has the same cast as the 10th Anniversary version except they have a stronger Cosette (Sorry Pocahontas but you are a mezzo and y’know it!) and weaker Thenariders/Enjolras. So it balances out:

(One Day More begins at 1.35)

But which is my favourite? While I would love to make my own dream cast (Anyone want to compare Dream Cast, casts? I am so up for this…Anyone?) the 10th Anniversary gang are pretty spectacular. You have to hand it to a cast who get a standing ovation at the interval.

 

BEST BIT: The line: ‘Tomorrow we’ll discover what our God in Heaven has in store…’ There is something so powerfully ominous about this. This is not ‘Annie.’ Not all of these characters are going to make it to the end.

It is called The Miserable Ones after all.

 

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Mini List: My Top 20 Favourite Musical Songs #12

My Favourite Musical Songs #12

12. I Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind from Spring Awakening (Version included is the 2006 Original Broadway cast soundtrack and performed by John Gallagher Jr and Lauren Pritchard)

Easily one of the most underappreciated musicals of recent times, ‘Spring Awakening’ successfully blends genres in a heartfelt show about the pain of growing up. The score is wonderful, the story packs a punch and the cast do youthful teen angst better than the elderly seniors of ‘Grease.’

The fate of ‘Spring Awakening’ is possibly the most compelling argument I have against jukebox musicals because why did the show barely struggle through a 3 month run in the West End while ‘Mamma Fucking Mia’ just goes on and on and on? Because people know they are getting an easy night with ‘Mamma Most Uninspired Plot I Have Ever Seen Played Out Before My Eyes Mia’ and the like. As ticket prices go up, less people are willing to sit through something without knowing what they are getting.

If they don’t have a well known score or a previously successful name behind the scenes (Trey Parker and Matt Stone of ‘South Park’ and Tim Minchin’s relatively new musicals are making healthy profits) original material becomes well tuned lambs to the theatrical slaughter. There is nothing wrong with wanting to go out and have fun and sing along to Waterloo but it does come at a price, that of the innovative and challenging. I am not saying you have to care but it does make me grumpy. Like that famous internet cat.

‘Spring Awakening’ won some big time Tonys during its original Broadway run and that was how I came to find it. I listened to and watched the medley they were giving me (of the three songs sampled, two of them needed edited lyrics to get past the American TV censors) and I tried to process what I was seeing. And yes. That is a pre-Glee Lea Michele. Without auto-tune or nothin’:

It seemed like ‘Emo: The Musical.’ That was my first impression. All this chat about teens wanting to find themselves sexually and oh life is a Bitch and grown ups are all bla bla bla. Having happily left high school by the time this came out, I wasn’t sure if it was the show for me. But when I tracked down the original material I realised there was more to it than that. Not much more admittedly. But songs about masturbation, wet dreams and first time fucks take on a lot more pathos when set in a community where young people going through adolescence are not given any real explanation for the onset of puberty and the efforts of the elders to keep the children young and in line, leads to impossible tragedy. Not only this but there is abortion, child abuse, rape, secretly gay teens, suicide…All based on a play from 1891 that was banned for many years.

It is quite telling that the play, written by Frank Wedekind and adapted by Stephen Sater, tackles issues that are still very much hot potatoes today. Without touching on any personal details whatsoever, this is a blog about music and Disney after all, my job involves working with teenagers dealing with a lot of the aforementioned issues and the musical does a pretty great job capturing the pain and confusion that comes from not being heard and feeling trapped by your age and lack of power. The staging is inventive, with lots of cool touches like the hand-held microphones only being used for the inner thoughts of the characters and all the adults being represented by two phenomenally versatile older actors. The rock/folk score from Duncan Sheik is effortlessly beautiful and the crossover of the two genres works particularly well in my favourite song/scene.

The context for ‘I Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind’ is Moritz plans to shoot himself after a series of humiliations, until a chance encounter with an old friend makes him pause. Ilse fled her home to escape her sexually abusive Father (I never said it was a happy story…But seriously, if ‘Mamma No The Man You Fucked 20 Years Ago is Not Going to Show up And Propose to You Unexpectedly, Move On Mia’ is the alternative, that I would take grim everytime) and is delighted to see him again. Together they start to reminisce about their uncomplicated early childhood. However the fleeting moment between them passes. And their problems remain.

‘Don’t do Sadness’ is a contentious shriek of desperation, ‘Blue Wind’ a melancholic lullaby for an idyllic time, and the melodies are like additional characters: one raging and erratic, the other soft and inviting. They sound brilliant battling one another from 4:22, with the juxtaposing beliefs that things are stuck and that all things must pass. As much as I love a musical theatre vocal, I appreciate that the creative team chose to hire actors who were mostly young and untrained as it adds an authenticity to their angst. Sadly it does mean in the live versions they are often as flat as pancakes that have been ironed, but you can’t have it all.

In short, both ‘I Don’t do Sadness/Blue Wind’ and the musical ‘Spring Awakening’ are a moving and honest approach to the suffering of the young and I genuinely love them. You know what I am NOT so keen on??????

Because why have dignity when you can murder classic disco? Get it while it’s awful!

It made how much at the box office? Pass the gun, Moritz.

 

OTHER NOTABLE VERSIONS: Despite the relatively short life of the show, there have been some fantastic Moritz/Ilse pairings. Obviously these are all of poor quality. For the record, I don’t condone recording shows but I own a physical copy of the album and if they released it on DVD I would buy it right away…But they won’t. So this is the best I can do.

Blake Bashoff and Emma Hunton, who took over the roles on Broadway after JGJ and LP left are really brilliant without just doing copy cat performances:

I also really appreciate Lauren’s understudy Phoebe Strole:

The British cast had Lucy May Barker and Iwan Rheon who went on to be cast as the psychotic Ramsay Snow in ‘Game of Thrones.’ I guess he was pleased it didn’t run for 10 years then?:

 

There are lots of examples online of young actors filling their boots with this great material, including some amateur versions now the rights are available. While I really appreciate the work of all the names mentioned above I still reserve the most love for Lauren Pritchard and especially John Gallagher Jr for their superb work as part of the original cast.

 

BEST BIT: Got to be from 4:22 to the end. Is it rock, is it folk? No, it’s raw human emotion, kids.

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Filed under Music, Musicals

Reviewing Number One Singles from the Year 2002 (Part 3)

Reviewing British Number One Singles from the Year 2002: Mid October-End of December 

 

 

Date of Number 1: 26.10.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 2

Artist: Nelly feat. Kelly Rowland

Song Name: Dilemma

Fact: Kelly had previously topped the charts twice as part of Destiny’s Child but this was the first solo (duo?) number 1 for both

My Take: Settle down, kids. I am here to tell you of the Great Long Ago. Back in the Great Long Ago, it was not clear which member of Destiny’s Child were going to break away as the stand out star. Sure, sure, Destiny’s Child was always a vehicle for B’s ego that went through members like a particularly catty sorority, but her plan for worldwide domination was derailed slightly by a clumsy effort to become an actress. Thus paving the way for Kelly Rowland to be the first DC star to release a solo record. While Beyonce donned an afro and an innocent smile for an Austin Powers sequel and a crappy feel good film about a choir respectively, Kelly was scoring a worldwide smash with Southern hop hop rapper Nelly. But Beyonce was not going to take the success of a lifelong friend lying down.

She set to work releasing her own duet with a marketable rapper type, her then secret boyfriend Jay-Z. While ‘Bonnie and Clyde ’03’ was critically acclaimed it also had to face down accusations of plagiarism and while it did well it was not as commercially successful as the Nelly/Kelly collaboration. 1-0 Kelly. Yes, children. There was a time when Beyonce being the most important person in the whole frigging world was NOT a forgone conclusion. And mobile phones looked like this:

What does it want from us???

Yes it is fair to say that way, way back in ’02 things were looking pretty damn sweet for Kelly Rowland. And it shows in the video for ‘Dilemma.’ she is confident, charming and lookin’ fine. But the song, you ask, is it a good music? The melody is sweet and catchy and, like a lot of songs that year, completely inescapable at that time. Unlike Kelly, I am not crazy about Nelly. Maybe it is his cockiness, the lack of emotion in his delivery or his annoying little face plaster and gormless face. Who knows? (The answer is all of those things but especially the plaster one) But this song is very easy to consume and the chorus is painfully easy to retain. In fact, the star of the show (apart from the old school phone in the video) is definitely Kelly Rowland.

It is hardly a new idea for a rapper to bring in a suitable female vocalist to warble sweetly over the chorus to add a softer, feminine mood to a love song. However normally the girl has been seemingly chosen at random and is fairly generic. But the narrative of the song and accompanying video is actually quite easy to get invested in (for four and a half minutes) because Kelly brings a lot of personality to her character. I had never consciously heard the word ‘boo’ used to describe a boyfriend before and I really like its inclusion and her delivery here. It is pretty sweet. Plus the look she gives the girl Nelly has taken to the movie is just solid gold. I have spent quite a long time looking for it online but you will have to settle for another shot of the really old phone:

Sorry

Round 2 of Kelly vs Beyonce: The Solo Careers didn’t end so hot for Kelly (More on that if I ever get round to writing about 2003) but cheer up girl: Round 1 went well.

 

Did I own it: No. At the time it annoyed the hell out of me because the chorus would get stuck in my head for days. I have mellowed on it now.

Could I sing along now: We have talked about me and rapping…But yes.

Worth remembering: Hmmm…I have to say not really. It is good but the only thing that elevates beyond many, many duets like it was the chemistry between Nelly and Kelly (the rhyming names mean it was meant to be) and that God damn ear worm of a chorus.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 9.11.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: DJ Sammy & Yanou feat. Do. (Yes, Do. That’s the end of their name.)

Song Name: Heaven

Fact: This is a Bryan Aadams song remixed by a Spanish DJ, a German producer and sung by a Dutch singer. It sounds like the set up of mildly xenophobic joke, but it is just a fact. I wouldn’t joke in the fact section.

My Take: Hypocrisy thy name is…Well still Paul McCartney but also me. I am a hypocrite. I wrote off the Ketchup Nonsense because they rereleased it within the year but DJ Sammy did the same thing, bringing out this dance track as a stripped back ballad known as the ‘candlelight mix’ mere minutes after the success of the clubbing version. Even worse, there was a third edit made especially to capitalise on 9/11 grief in America which includes a little girl talking about her Dad. People assumed her Dad died in the two towers attacks in 2001, and her voice on the track was a sobering reminder to cherish the innocent…Actually she was just a random DJ’s kid who was told exactly what to say and given emotional direction. Lovely. I have decided not to try and find that version, dubbed the 9/11 remix, because I like my ears and I don’t want to have to cut them off.

So why am I a hypocrite? Sure I think it is cheap and lazy to keep bringing out the same song over and over and I think the twice released 9/11 remix, which it should be noted was an unauthorized production, is pretty fucking gross. But…I really, really like this song.

Now I don’t usually get dance music and I don’t really see the appeal of clubbing. I love a dance but not to dance music. I just find it tediously repetitive. Not like writing about chart music that is always fresh and fun…Look how much fun I am having!!!!

But this track…It has what it takes to get me on the dance floor. I can move to it, it builds to a fist pumping chorus, the vocal is pretty but not demanding my full concentration, it is largely distinguishable from other dance tracks but has that tried and tested feel to it, it is different enough from the original that the two are not really comparable and similar enough that the genre swap is not offensive, the lyrics are easy to remember and shout out along with the track, the beat means that you can jump up and down while lights go flash/flash/flash and it is totally, enjoyable naff.

All the ingredients are there. And it makes a sweet trance like cake. Heavenly.

Yes I went there.

 

Did I own it: No actually. I wasn’t yet at an age when I was going out a lot (Well, I never did reach that age but there was deffo a point when I was going out MORE.) so I never really wanted to listen to this kind of thing. It is only with time that I recognise the appeal of ‘Heaven.’

Could I sing along now: Yes. Would you like me to? I warn you, my vocal is fearless and filled with passion.

Worth remembering: Hard to say. Compared to the other Euro dance songs I have endured as part of this project this is fantastic but on a large scale…I am going to say yes just because I enjoyed it SO much more than I remembered.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 16.11.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Westlife

Song Name: Unbreakable

Fact: This Number 1 marked the 50th Anniversary of the UK Singles charts. I wonder if it considered asking for a divorce?

My Take: So I am not allowed to have fun anymore? I enjoy one silly dance song and have some nice words for Kelly Rowland and suddenly I’m the bad guy? I have already sat through a Beatles cover by Gareth Gates have I not served my time yet???

This is just so boring. It doesn’t even sound like a real song. It sounds like something constructed in a lab designed to test just how badly innocent drivers want to live. If this came on the radio while you were driving home, could you stay awake? I would rather take my chances in the never recommended sport of Sleep Driving than ever listen to that from start to finish again.

I am never nice about Westlife but this, funnily enough given the title, has broken me. It is the worst of a bad lot. It feels like someone is very, very slowly licking my face. But not someone pretty. Someone like Jeff Goldblum in the second act of The Fly.

5 boring Irish guys actually willingly sang a song this fucking dull. Nobody made them do it. They did not arrive in a foreign land wanting to make it as a dancer only to be kidnapped and forced into a studio to shake their souls for a quick buck. This was their career…their 11th cocking number 1. Why aren’t they good at it yet??? WHY???

 

Did I own it: No

Could I sing along now: More

Worth remembering: Westlife. Please 2002/3 I am counting on you!

 

 

Date of Number 1: 23.11.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 2

Artist: Christina Aguilera

Song Name: Dirrty

Fact: This did pretty well here despite her new ‘raunchy’ image being a turn off for her fans state side: In the US ‘Dirrty’ failed to make the top 20.

My Take: Oh thank God…This isn’t Westlife. Thanks Chris, babe. I mean that. Because there was a point when there wasn’t a huge difference between the dross she sang and the awful crap Westlife churned out. She was singing naff ballads and hitting everyone over the head with the oversized mallet that is her voice for a good year and a half before…this.

What has been great about looking back at ‘Dirrty’ is the reminder that everything cycles around. Right now, at the time of writing, people are going a bit apeshit over Miley Cyrus and her choice to wear less clothes and wiggle her arse when cameras are pointed at her. People are questioning her sanity because she likes pot and sticks her tongue out a lot. None of this would be anymore than a mild nuisance to the average member of the press if it wasn’t for the fact that she had been the property of Disney throughout her adolescence. That transition from child star to young adult is not an easy one. But how quickly we forget: This is not new. Hell, just over a decade ago people were watching Christina rock up in assless chaps and wondering if she had lost her damn mind.

Let’s.

Keep.

Some.

Perspective.

I am not going to get on a soapbox about the pressure female stars have in particular to behave/look/eat/smile a certain way, because what can I say that you don’t already know? But it is still fun/depressing to see that we as a society are easily distracted by stupid ass nonsense that doesn’t really matter. (Welcome to my blog!) Miley might keep working. She might not. She might be in trouble. She might know exactly what she is doing. It might be she is genuinely exploring the type of woman she wants to be. It might be a cold and calculated business plan.

But back to 2002. If Christina’s attempt to reinvent herself was a business choice it was not a lucrative one at least not at first. I mentioned back in the ‘Lady Marmalade’ review that she was already starting to distance herself from the squeaky clean Disney shtick and experiment with bizarre hair and revealing clothes. So new. But it would seem that, by and large, the world was not ready as it didn’t garner good sales in the USA although the second single (you may have heard of it) undid some of the damage. But the marketing gimmick of ‘I’m not a little girl anymore’ did  serve a purpose. People talked about the video. People talked about her. Despite the fact that critics were unimpressed with ‘Dirrty’ as an example of her new material it sent a clear message to the music world: I am done singing big cheesy ballads.

Until this flops. Then it is right back to the cheesy ballads!

Ok, now on with the song. Hilariously, I fell for this whole thing at first. I was 14 when this came out and I remember listening to the lyrics and actually thinking: ‘What a wild party she is having! Gosh! It has spilled over into the parking lot you say? Oh Christina, you rascal!’ Now, I cringe at how naked this whole charade is. Of course this was a business decision, of course she is deliberately trying to provoke shock and outrage, OF COURSE those trousers are uncomfortable and a misguided statement of independence. How spent, how done. I mean, how many ways are there to say: ‘This party is off the hook?’ It turns out not that many. There is nothing original about ‘Dirrty.’ Not one thing.

Having said that, I used to dance inappropriately to it a lot and it is still works in that regard. Also I believe the way she acts in the video…felt right to her. She seems to be quite at home rolling around in a boxing ring. Sure, the whole thing is desperate as all hell, but she actually seems to be enjoying this more than when she had to do that whole lip biting Disney princess routine. I may cringe at her attempts to be controversial but I am pleased that nobody seems to have made her do it.

The musical arrangement is fine if not especially memorable, her vocal is actually quite good: The nature of the song means she can’t riff it to death so she is left having to bark that distinctive yelp rather than OD on vibrato and I quite like it. She makes this partying business sound really serious, a quality I always find appealing in cheesy pop songs. I mean how can you not enjoy lines as simple as ‘sweat dripping over my body’ delivered like this: ‘Sweat dripping over my BOD-EY!’ We get it Xtina, you don’t have to yell at us.

Redman’s rap is a pretty uninspired conclusion though. I feel that name checking other, better rappers on his guest verse was an error. It just made me want to go listen to some Lauryn Hill or Ol’ Dirty Bastard. Christina seems to know instinctively that she needs a hook for that last round of choruses and she went with the always popular dirty bathroom orgy:

Yes I Googled this…Shut up, it is research…

Christina’s ‘arrival’ may not have worked for everyone but her career would soon be receiving one hell of a boost…Until then it was up to us Brits to appreciate her ‘dirrty’ side. You are welcome ‘Tina.

 

Did I own it: I taped it off the radio before purchasing the album it came from after being encouraged to by my Fair-weathered Friend who lived across the road from me. She kept saying I should buy it and, sick of hearing her go on about it, I did. She immediately borrowed it and didn’t return it for months. I wasn’t as sharp at 14 as I am now.

Could I sing along now: Yes. It is very fun emulating the distinctive, impressive and ridiculous style of Ms A. She is both an excellent and terrible singer at the same time, quite a feat.

Worth remembering: No. If it wasn’t for all the silliness that was her image shift and her gurning performance I wouldn’t have remembered it at all and I had nearly forgotten. The same cannot be said for Single the Second from ‘Stripped’ the album. But that is another story for another day.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 7.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Daniel Bedingfield

Song Name: If You’re Not the One

Fact: This was released 12 months after his début single

My Take: This song got made fun of a lot by a boy at my school who liked doing the falsetto leap in the chorus. Badly. I associate the ‘silly voice’ version I heard so often with this track to the point that I was surprised to hear it again after several years and learn that Daniel actually has a very strong voice. I much prefer his voice in the first bit of the chorus which has a gorgeous quality…To me the falsetto is overkill and made the track ripe for mockery. He is clearly talented and musically competent…But…Ick. Ick is my takeaway from this song.

In fact the whole thing makes me uncomfortable. Kind of like ‘Hero’ in the first half of 2002, Bedingfield is just so over earnest and intense: He has a lot of feelings and by Golly is he going to share ’em!

He doesn’t even go here! 

In this song he reminds me of Jason Segal’s Nick Andopolis in ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and I am Seth Rogen’s Ken Miller as the listener. It is just so awkward to hear someone that ok with being vulnerable in that sickly, needy way. It crosses a line. Oh and in case you don’t get the reference, a gift for you:

DB: As long as I am using my real emotions, that’s all that matters.

Me: Lots of wackos use their real emotions.

I love that show…Anyway…

I am ok with him being in touch with his emotions but recording it naked so as to be truly vulnerable (true story) and then releasing it into the world was a step too far. It is like walking in on someone masturbating: It is ok that they have stuff that needs a release but I don’t need to see, hear or think about it. Ever.

 

Did I own it: No. Hated it then, embarrassed by it now.

Could I sing along now: Only the chorus. And not without cringing.

Worth remembering: I guess this was his most memorable hit…I am going to say no though.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 14.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Eminem

Song Name: Lose Yourself

Fact: Taken from the soundtrack to his movie ‘8 Mile’ this song would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Song

My Take: Arguably at the peak of his commercial and critical success, Eminem succeeded where so many musicians had failed and made a smooth transition into the movies. So smooth in fact that he made it look easy. ‘8 Mile’ is the semi-autobiographical account of Eminem’s rocky road to becoming a confident, legitimate rap artist but the film ends way before he gets famous leaving lead single ‘Lose Yourself’ to inform us of some of the consequences of fame and the pitfalls of success. You will never guess…It is not as fun as it looks. I know! I was shocked too!

‘Lose Yourself’ is a strange beast. It plays with clichés but somehow emerges as something original: And it is all in the delivery. A call to rise up and chase your dreams until they are caught? Heard it. A famous person whining about feeling like people only like them for their money and success? Yawn. Determined to succeed and failure is not an option? Got it. The bits where he talks almost sound like parody lines of inspirational posters: ‘You can do anything if you set your mind to it, man’ Oh can I Slim, can I? Then that settles it! I am going to build that ship made of Jelly Beans I always wanted to live in and set out on the high seas and I shall call it: Marshall Mathers the 2nd: The Dream Believer Man.

But pushing the Jelly Bean ship aside, and I never say that lightly; he sounds so bitter, so confused, so determined, so angry…When he says ‘best believe somebody’s payin’ the Pied Piper’ another rapper may have tried to sell that as a wry little joke, but Eminem’s delivery always has me reaching for my wallet: He can have my money if he wants it that badly. I just…believe him. The guy was meant to go into acting. I am sorry he hasn’t done more.

But then, first and foremost he is a rapper. His flow is so natural, so quick, simultaneously controlled and raw but also real: it could be generalised emotion like Pink, it could be emotional overkill like Dan, but in the hands of Eminem ‘Lose Yourself’ with all its standard talk of taking your moment when it comes your way sounds like an indignant howl that will not be ignored. And that is because it is based on his reality as he knew it. I am not totally convinced that everything he says happened the way he claimed but I think he sees it that way. And as he is the narrator, his word is law.

This song makes my adrenaline buzz, my blood pump and my feet tap. It is a masterpiece about conquering performance anxiety and coming out of unpleasant experiences with cold eyed determination. While the cynic in me who never sleeps finds some of the lines corny and the sentiment cliché, the part of me that feels things believes in Eminem. Give him the Oscars. Give him all the Oscars. And I’ll go get started on my Jelly Bean ship.

 

Did I own it: Yes. I liked it then, I liked it now and although I liked the film fine when I saw it many years ago I have to say the highlight was by far the last ten minutes of rap battles which are phenomenal and showcase what makes him special much more than any one single ever could.

Could I sing along now: Yes. Every word. But you will never hear it, you lucky people.

Worth remembering: Yes I think so. As did The Academy. Not that Eminem showed up. Legend has it he fell asleep watching cartoons with his young daughter and didn’t bother attending. He only found out about his victory the next day. That’s how he tells it anyway. As I said, he is in charge of his narrative…

 

 

Date of Number 1: 21.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Blue feat. Elton John (Yes. That Elton John.)

Song Name: Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

Fact: This was only Elton’s 5th Number 1 despite it being his 31st year in the ‘biz. It was Blue’s 3rd.

My Take: For some reason that I still don’t fully grasp, legitimate artists seemed to want to perform with Blue. Elton John isn’t really the type to do something because his record company suggest it. He appears, and I could be wrong, to be his own man. So does that mean…he respects Blue? Or was it just that if they were going to cover one of his songs he wanted to oversee it so it wasn’t butchered? Whatever the story behind it, it happened. And it wasn’t a fluke. Blue would go to duet with Stevie Wonder, who according to Anthony Costa of Blue when he was getting roasted on ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ was a big fan and wanted to work with them.

Huh?

Well whatever Mr John and Mr Wonder. You guys have earned your stripes and can do whatever makes you happy. But Blue…what are you looking so cocky about? Stop strutting around Elton’s piano and listen to me a sec’: Do you deserve my respect? What have you done to deserve my love? Prove to me you are worth it. Come on do it!!!

No.

Well this is better than 5ive’s ‘We Will Rock You’ cover from 2000 because at least this fits in a sensible genre for them (sad love song) and they don’t dare try and change it up all that much from the original. Although they do sneak in an entirely unnecessary record scratch noise.

The message of the song itself is a simple idea. It kind of reminds me of a less fun version of ‘We can Work it Out’ by The Beatles, all about trying to manipulate someone into forgiving you and not wanting to take responsibility for a fight. It is not my favourite of Elton’s back catalogue by a long shot: (Oh since you ask it is a toss up between ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ and ‘This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore’ I think I’m going to listen to that instead, hold on…) but I don’t begrudge the existence of ‘Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word’ as it captures the ambivalence of an unsatisfying romance quite well and is pleasant to the ears.

But did it need to be remade? Of course it didn’t but is Blue’s attempt to sing it tolerable? In my last review of a Blue song I was obligated to compliment the vocal ability of Simon and Lee through gritted teeth. Nothing has changed in that regard. All 4 of them are competent and Simon and Lee continue to teeter on the line between ‘Satisfactory’ and ‘Good’ As boybands go, they all do an acceptable job. They don’t really bring anything exciting to their little moments to shine though. This is highlighted further by Elton’s chorus. He is not a great singer but he is a musician so has a technical understanding of what he is doing, already elevating him above the Blue boys plus he can emote without trying all that hard. Elton John phoning it in is was always going to sound more convincing than Blue giving it their all.

I have looked up them singing this live just to see for myself how much of their acceptable vocal comes from studio manipulation. My suspicions were first raised when I went to see my favourite musical on tour only to discover Anthony Costa was starring in it. He was a surprisingly competent comedic actor (things took a turn for the ‘no real training’ in Act 2 but props when they are due he did better than I had any right to expect) but his singing voice was terrible. From what I can gather, they are able to scrape through live as long as all the tough vocal bits are given to Lee Ryan.

Ah Lee Ryan. Lee Ryan. Mate. The recording shows potential but I personally object to the way he whines when he sings. It is annoying. It is all the more annoying by the fact that he clearly has one hell of a vocal range. In fact, Ryan claims that Elton John was so impressed with him that he encouraged him to go solo. Which he did. It didn’t work out well. One of the main reasons it didn’t work out well was Blue’s attempts to cross the pond to America were, errr, marred slightly by Lee Ryan’s passion for animal welfare. Yes you read that right. Lee Ryan really loves big animals such as whales and elephants and it makes him all kinds of mad that they are endangered. Here is a quote from a promotional interview he gave:

“What about whales? They are ignoring animals that are more important. Animals need saving and that’s more important. This New York thing is being blown out of proportion…Who gives a fuck about New York when elephants are being killed?”

This is a direct quote. I read the transcript. To what New York thing is he referring, I hear you wonder? A fair question. So here is the answer: the 9/11 attacks. Feel free to read that again. While I can’t find the exact date the interview took place also sources use phrases such as ‘shortly after’ and ‘in the aftermath.’ According to the transcript, his bandmates tried desperately to shut him down, while imagining any Grammys they were going to get washing down a river of hopelessness I imagine, but he shouted over them claiming that he is the outspoken one of the group and says what needs to be said. Clearly in his own mind, Ryan is the Malcolm X of the animal kingdom:

‘Rational thought before engaging in rhetoric is overrated! Incidentally, there is this great new drink you have to try called PAINT!’

I feel Elton may have been backing the wrong horse there. Especially considering if Lee Ryan was a horse and the big race was his career he heard the gun go off, panicked, backed up and stumbled over breaking all his legs.

What was my point? Oh yeah…the cover version is ok but doesn’t need to exist. I feel like I say that a lot. And Lee Ryan is lucky he can sing because there is literally no other job he could do without accidentally killing someone.

 

Did I own it: No. I distinctly remember being annoyed about liking it as much as I did though. Which is sad. The only thing less cool than admiring a duet between Blue and Elton John is secretly admiring a duet between Blue and Elton John.

Could I sing along now: Yes. The lyrics are very easy to remember and I am pretty sure that, should the karaoke machine break while you are singing it, I could provide you with the lyrics at a moment’s notice.

Worth remembering: The song is about as inoffensive as it gets but I can’t honestly imagine ever choosing to listen to it again.

 

 

And now we arrive. It is time. They are here. I have paid my dues talking about Ketchup songs, Westlife, Blue, Gates…I am so excited. So much so I am going to temporarily abandon the format to talk about this. Because my excitement and enthusiasm for this group requires one very important thing: Context.

 

My Take: Look back over the singles chart in the UK 2001 and 2002. Do you notice a pattern beginning to emerge? Television had found a way to influence the Top 10 like never before. Greedy record company executives had discovered they could earn big bucks without needing to come up with innovative material by pushing new, undemanding stars through the medium of reality TV. People would see them, people would know them, people would like them, people would buy them. Rather than the more traditional audience finding an artist through their music, audiences could now find music through artists. Sure it is ass backwards, but the numbers indicate it really, really works.

In 2002, I was 14. Now, I am not going to go into detail about my life at this time, because why would I? But 2002 was a particularly memorable year for all the wrong reasons. But I am not going to sob story it up. I am going to instead focus on one of the few positives of that time. My Saturday Night Routine. It was off the hook. Get this: I would finish my dance/acting/singing school and then go get a cheeseburger and some chips, come home, smother them in ketchup, open a can of coke and watch Popstars: The Rivals. Bliss. It was my escape, my safe place. All would be well as long as I had that first bite of a really cheesy burger and the search for a new girl and boy band. I was really invested in the results of this particular show, because I needed to focus my emotional energy on something unimportant. And it helped. It really did.

I had watched the first Popstars show and most of Pop Idol. I would engage in the narrative, the whole shebang: The auditions, the bootcamp, the voting, the nerves, the families all crying about how hard their 17 year old has worked to be a popstar for so long (why isn’t she in school?) the crappy outfits, the awful puns from the judges, the final victory and then the confetti. The only bit that let me down was the music. That is when I would tune out. The story was over. When is it next on? Oh, Gareth Gates has an album out? Who cares?

And I wasn’t being unfair. Even Will Young, if you remember, has admitted the two songs that were his debut were dreadful. Gates released a cover he had performed on the show Pop Idol. If we flash forward a bit into the future the second Pop Idol winner would sing a song called ‘All This Time’ that told the story of her victory. In slow, ballad form with a key change before the last chorus and a choir. Obviously. Then the winner of Fame Academy, the BBC rival effort of Pop Idol, gave us David Sneddon who penned a song called ‘Stop Living the Lie’ a slow piano ballad about being true to yourself. I think. I wasn’t really listening.

Then The X Factor. Oh Lord, where do you start? The first winner did a cover of a Phil Collins song that had only been released by Westlife a few years earlier. The second winner did a song about his victory. It was a slow ballad with a key change before the last chorus and a choir. The third winner did a cover of the song that the first American Pop Idol winner sang as her winner’s song. It was a slow ballad about her victory with a key change before the last chorus. Oh and a choir.

I could keep going but you get the point. No effort. No passion for music, just a passion for making something that sounded festive and marketable to old ladies and young children. There are lots of those. Let’s give them another key change, they’ve earned it.

I have a point. It is coming. Context is everything.

So in December 2002 Popstars the Rivals came to an end. They had 5 boys in one band and 5 girls in the other and they were going to compete for the Christmas number 1. Boys v Girls! Battle of the sexes! The boys, right from the start, were the obvious winners. The girls by default were the underdogs because girls watch the show and girls like boy bands crooning about love. And what the target demographic wants, it gets. It was also acknowledged that the boys were tighter as vocalists and some people voiced the, somewhat misogynistic, view that boys tend to gel better than girls as people. It was a forgone conclusion.

The boys were christened One True Voice and managed by Pete Waterman, who gave them a cover of a Bee Gees song called Sacred Trust as their first song. It sounded like this:

If you can make through the seemingly never ending 4 minutes and 44 seconds then you are…Well…strange. And yes. One of them is significantly taller than the other 4. And yes, that is the best bit.

I am grateful now and I was then that it wasn’t a song about their victory with a choir. But it is still mind meltingly dull. But they didn’t care. They sang it and sat back and waited for their tween audience to carry them to the top of the charts.

Meanwhile Westlife and Boyzone manager Louis Walsh and Polydor records were assigned the unenviable task of taking care of the 5 girls. Louis had been very, very open about the fact that he didn’t ‘get’ girls and quickly fopped them off to his ‘team’ So what cover version would they be doing? Louis thought the bittersweet Christmas song by East 17 ‘Stay Another Day’ was a sound business plan. It nearly went that way and the girls did give a lacklustre performance of this on the B Side. But for the A Side…Remember Xenomania? The production house of wonders I talked about briefly in the last post? Man at the top Brian Higgins offered them a song.

Now I want you to imagine you are me. Not just me now. Me at 14. You have had a whole year of syco cover versions as a precedent and then the boys premièred their first video ‘Sacred Trust.’ Then the smiling presenters said: ‘And this is Girls Aloud’s single ‘Sound of the Underground.’ And then…I heard this:

YESYESYESYESYESYES

Yes.

Yes.

And nothing ever hurt again. Thank you, thank you…weird silver teenagers! 

Right from that surf guitar intro you know they have broken every rule about what a reality TV show first single should be. I am trying to calm down but it still has the same effect on me, more than 11 years later. I am welling up with joy. This was so much better than it had any right to be. This mash of electronic beats and solid rock, that sound so urgent, this dirty, dirty track, those girls that are not winking or pointing or even smiling. Did Brian Higgins know what he had? Did Sarah, Kimberly, Nadine, Nicola and Cheryl? Did Louis Walsh even listen to the damn thing before it was released? I still remember staring at the screen after it was over thinking: ‘What the fuck was that?’

I wasn’t the only one. Music critics all over the country who had been ready and willing to pour scorn on the song as a way of fighting back against the tide of reality TV musical acts had to lower the pitchforks and admit it wasn’t half bad. I remember at the time there was a lot of qualifying statements being wheeled out. A lot of: ‘It is good…for what it is’ Hell, even I am at it, what with all my ‘CONTEXT’ talk. That is why I want to just lay it out straight: I think it is a great song.

And it hasn’t dated. Lots of end of the decades magazines cited Girls Aloud and Xenomania for taking the pop world out of the dark: it wasn’t kid pop like Bwitched had been or overly sexual like Pussycat Dolls would be or a winner’s ballad or an American r n b snoozefest. It bypassed any route that had previously been on the map and it did it without trying to sound like it had edge. It is to the point, clipped, tight, and you can dance to it. It seems so obvious that this is what new pop acts should have been aiming for but nobody had wanted to rock the boat.

Now for the more musically high and mighty among you you might well be able to point to many similar tracks that were released before SOTU and say Xenomania were inspired by drum and bass, or they sampled this and the vocals are backed up by sessional singers and bla bla bla. Feel free to sit in the corner and take a nap because the point isn’t whether or not this song is actually exceptional. Maybe it isn’t. Hell, for a long time I was sick of it because I had listened to it too often. But you know what it wasn’t? Predictable. And for that reason alone I love it. I love every imperfect, messy, hollow, dazed, dead eyed moment of it.

This is the point where I should clarify: I know I can’t really give Girls Aloud too much credit for how well this record turned out. To be fair, they do a competent job, especially Nadine Coyle the 17 year old Irish girl who even made the key change tolerable through her commitment to the material, and considering they had been popstars for all of 11 minutes I think they deliver what was needed to make this song work. Others will disagree about their charisma and personality and I genuinely can’t argue for too long against this viewpoint: I like them, I get them and while they might not recognise the irony in the sincerely overblown lyrics, they sell it anyway.

My only major bone of contention is the lack of Nicola Roberts, the red head, who only gets one solo line and often slips out of frame in some ratios of the video which I don’t think was an accident. I have much to say about my love of Nicola Roberts but if your first introduction to her was this song you would be left baffled as to how I ended up so committed to her. It is a long story, that starts with the first 3 seconds of this performance:

And ends…never. It will never ends. Nicola Roberts is the love of my life. I am getting distracted. But I love her. She is the only popstar who could play Wembley and look like she would rather be anywhere else.

Pictured above: ‘The Ugly One’ Because the press are assholes. And so are people. 

But the star of the show is and will remain Xenomania. Xenomania, particularity Higgins and Cooper, would go on to write and produce the majority of Girls Aloud material and thus a new age of pop was about to begin. An age so wonderful and so joy filled that I can’t contain my love. Because here is the thing: They were not done being awesome. Not by a long shot. First Xenomania saved the Christmas Number 1 from being a Bee Gees cover. It was a good start. But it was only the beginning.

 

Date of Number 1: 28.12.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 4

Artist: Girls Aloud

Song Name: Sound of the Underground

Fact: All that stuff I said above.

 

Did I own it: Do you know? I did. I have the single version in CD. I have got it in mp3 form. I have it on their first singles collection and I have the version from their live album. I really like Girls Aloud.

Could I sing along now: Do you know? I think I could.

Worth remembering: Do you know? I think it is.

 

 

 

Round Up

 

Total Number of Number 1’s: 30

 

My Hopes for 2003: The oblivion of the traditional boy band and less key changes before the last chorus. The two are linked.

 

 

Best Song:

Do you need to ask? In fairness, let’s consider this. ‘Lose Yourself’ is pretty brilliant, George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’ has endured for a reason, although it is hardly representative of the era, the Sugababes had a solid year, I really like the Elvis remix…But no. This is my list and it has to be Girls Aloud. Here is a live version in case you wanted to hear it again. This was performed 10 years after their Popstars victory. It was one hell of a lap.

 

Worst Song:

Tricky. While 2002 threw up a lot less than 2000 and 2001 it was still one disgusting baby. It is a toss up between Will Young’s ‘Anything is Possible’ and Westlife’s ‘Unbreakable’ both of which barley qualify as actual songs. I think it has to go to Westlife simply because while I was bored during the awful Will Young song this actually had me thrashing around in pain such was my body’s rejection of it.

 

Surprisingly Not Terrible:

I was not expecting my fist pumping, jumping up and down enthusiasm for a Bryan Adams dance record. That took me by surprise.

 

How did this happen? Song:

While I thought Elton John volunteering to sing with Lee Ryan would be a cinch for this category, I have to give it to Atomic Kitten because I am still wrapping my head around how this song became an international sensation and why I care so much.

 

Nostalgic Overload:

I find myself coming back to ‘Just a Little’ for this one as this provides another great underdog story. I can’t explain why I like it but I do.

 

A Song to Save in the Time Capsule just to Confuse Historians:

‘If You’re Not the One’ so the historians can shuffle on their couch uncomfortably while Danny Bedingfield gaze into their eyes with a combination of lust and heartbreak…He has so many feelings you guys…But just a heads up he will take your soul so don’t look at it took long. He wants to die with you, he says so in this very song. Does that not sound like a threat?:

 

 

 

Next Time…Well here is the thing…Before I move onto to 2003 I am going to use this space to talk more about one of my favourite musical acts of all time and hopefully convince anyone out there who still remains cynical that Girls Aloud and Xenomania were the best thing to happen to chart music in the past 15 years. I have been working on this ever since their break up last year and in many ways I have been preparing for it all my life. Even if it changes just one person’s mind then all my hard work will have been…Actually no scrap that. One person is not enough! So Next Time…Whether you like it or not…Girls Aloud: A Retrospective

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Reviewing Number One Singles from the Year 2002 (Part 2)

Reviewing British Number One Singles from the Year 2002: July-Mid October 

 

Date of Number 1: 20.07.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 3

Artist: Gareth Gates

Song Name: Anyone of Us (Stupid Mistake)

Fact: His second Number 1, an original song no less. Taken from his album ‘What my Heart Wants to Say’ Oh my-

 

My Take: -God. Sorry I had to go throw up at that album title. I mean…Anyway. I can’t recall this song at all and I was aware of chart music at the time. Before listening to the track (my current state) I have tried to remember it but just keep humming ‘My Favourite Mistake’ my Sheryl Crow. I suspect this is another song. So let’s hear it!

Chimes…I am worried…This sounds suspiciously like…yep…A generic love song from the good people at syco, Simon Cowell’s record company who have been responsible for many humdrum ballads over the years. Classics such as: ‘Mumble Mumble I love you,’ ‘Please forgive…something something’ and ‘I hope you come back so I can…finish counting my money…’

My problems with this song begin early. This is the opening line: ‘I’ve been letting you down, down’ Right there. That is lazy, lazy. Couldn’t think of a two syllable word, huh? So just repeated the word down? Nice. Three weeks at the top of the charts, British public. Good shout. And then, confusingly this next line ‘Girl, I know I’ve been such a…’ I assumed clown. But no ‘Girl I know I’ve been such a fool’ What? Why not clown? That would have rhymed and everything. I honestly didn’t see the fool coming. 1-0 to Gatesy. Not that he wrote it. He was too busy being really fucking sorry.

Ok, I am not going to sit and heckle this song much longer. It is toe curlingly cheesy and follows a cookie cutter formula where the instrumental is standard, the backing vocals ooh in a determinedly sinister way, and Gates croons gently about wanting forgiveness for cheating while gurning earnestly in an ill fitting suit. Even if you haven’t heard this song you have heard this song. It was almost fun predicting everything that was going to happen like when I bellowed ‘and key change’ only for the music to drop and…Key change! A waste of everybody’s time. Speaking of which…

Obvious Joke Time: He made a stupid mistake recording this song! Ha ha ha ha…Ho ho ho…

 

And he doesn’t feel nearly bad enough about it.

 

Did I own it: No. I am sure I owned a version of this kind of song at some point but this particular one passed me by.

Could I sing along now: ‘It could happen to anyone at all…Anyone can cheat…Shows a massive lack of respect…but anyone can do it…So I guess you should forgive me…That seem fair right?…I mean you are not getting any younger yourself…Younger yourself.’ I think those are the words.

Worth remembering: Oh mercy, no.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 10.08.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 2

Artist: Darius

Song Name: Colourblind

Fact: Another bloody Pop Idol contestant, this time the dude who came in third. This was his only Number 1.

 

My Take: So it is official. Reality TV had won. As soon as Gareth was done being sad about his stupid mistake, up came another sodding Pop Idol to take his place. But there are two, very small, silver linings here. Silver lining the First: Simon Cowell did not financially benefit from this song. Despite offering to sign Darius after the show (What was the point of first prize being a record deal with syco if the top 3 all got the same prize?) Darius declined. The second silver lining is a bit of stretch because this particular piece of information is only positive if the artists is good at it, but he had a lot of creative control over this venture and did actually write the song. So there’s that.

For those of you who don’t remember or who were busy in the early 2000’s (Keep in mind I was a teenager. What the fuck else did I have to do with my time? Although I am not sure what my excuse is now…) Darius first appeared on our TV screens when auditioning for Popstars which was subtly different from the Pop Idol cause they were looking to put together a group and the public had no say in the outcome. He was played up as some sort of deluded doofus and quickly became the butt of many jokes in the British Press, mainly due to two things. One was his exit from the competition, where he made a point of telling the (clearly pressing on the security button) judges that he would go on to have a very successful career which would include number one songs, platinum albums and a gradual ascent to Lord Commander of the World. And, most notoriously of all, was his performance of Britney’s Baby One more Time…Which…Well…Can’t really be described…Oh wait yes it can. It was horrible. Just horrible. If you can handle the cringe you should watch it…I dare you:

However here is the thing: Normally the person with this kind of attitude being laughed at on reality TV shows is supposed to be funny because they are not living on Planet Earth. Are they going to do well? No. They have no resources, no resilience, no ability…Darius on the other hand came from an extremely wealthy family and was at the time of the show attending a prestigious University. He was coming at life from a position of privilege. Why on Earth would his dreams not come true? So unlike most deluded reality contestants he didn’t go back to his 9-Midnight 14 hour overtime shift at Sainsburys. He just comforted his sad disciples (‘How much love is there in this room?’), cut off his pony tale and tried again. He knew he could have success because wealthy people are starting from the top: Even when they trip on the ladder they are permitted to climb back up again because they have already made it. His public humiliation would have been rough but it would not have put a dent in his self belief because it was one set back in a lifetime of win. So he did this next show. He proved he wasn’t crap and then he made his album like he was always going to do. Because he was always going to be fine. Whether it was modelling, academia, sports, TV or music…He was going to be fine.

Right back to the song…It is pretty hard to get offended by. The vocal doesn’t blow me away but it is competent. The little ‘feeling colour…’ lyrical idea is cute, I guess, although ‘feeling black’ was a questionable choice. The chorus has a nice summer pop feel to it but gets old fast…Am I being too harsh? It honestly is ok. And given how a lot of these reviews go Darius should count himself lucky…But then hopefully he already does.

 

Did I own it: I did not but I did go watch him sing it at Amadeus the terrible under age club by the beach in Aberdeen. He wore a kilt. It was an exciting time for music.

Could I sing along now: Nobody knows…something something beautiful…

Not really.

Worth remembering: No. Sorry Darius. Your obituary will start with that Baby One More Time…Video and you know it. Remember you have to get older, young people. If you are going to make mistakes, don’t do them at auditions with TV cameras.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 24.08.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Sugababes

Song Name: Round Round

Fact: Their second number one as part of their second line up

 

My Take: Remember in my ‘Freak Like Me’ review when I pondered if Mutya and Keisha, the founding members of the group, ever felt disappointed with the direction the group went in after they switched labels? Keisha recently called Round Round out as her most hated sugababes song and I guess I can understand why. It isn’t really about anything and it came courtesy of Xenomania a production company based in London whose MO is producing catchy hits. Now for the record: I LOVE Xenomania and think that Brian Higgins and Miranda Cooper are Pop Gods. But If you are a song writer yourself I can see why you may not want to be told what to sing in order to sell. And they did sell. They sold lots.

Despite the three ‘Babes getting credited as song writers there are also 7 other names on there so their contribution was minimal if it happened at all. So Mutya and Keisha (And Heidi I suppose but…Meh) were doing what was commercial rather than staying true to the sound of ‘One Touch’ which was unashamedly home grown.

However, the sound that was starting to quietly emerge was surprisingly sophisticated. Listen to the production on this thing: There is a fantastic drum track happening, some really cool sound bites and the lyrical idea is memorable enough to get stuck in your head without being cheesy or wholesome. It is slick. It is pop, but it is dance pop. Drum and bass pop. Sexy pop. Rnb pop. Smooth pop. A little bit of Rock pop in there. I especially love the strange dooo-dooo noise that emerges behind the 4th chorus…Plus I love me some Mutya.

I just want to bathe with her…Wait, what were we talking about?

 

For that matter the other two vocals are pretty solid too. So overall…I quite like it. It is not Earth shattering music but Sugababes filled the gap left by All Saints, making pop that sounded cool and understated but also eerily catchy. Also like AS they all seemed to hate each other thus colluding with that myth that groups of women can’t enjoy each others company in a professional setting but I am less thrilled with that legacy so moving on…

I understand why Keisha doesn’t dig it, as it is a prime example of the Xenomania House Rules: You throw some stolen hooks (this one comes courtesy of Tango Forte by Dublex Inc.) and some nonsensical lyrics at a wall and see what sticks. Xenomania tracks are often musical adventurous and almost always unbelievably ear wormy. But they are never meaningful. They are not about anything. Ever. But I can’t share her irritation with this fact because Xenomania were prepearing to shake the charts up…And change my perception of pop music forever. Oh yes. They are coming…

 

Did I own it: No, but only because I had the album already.

Could I sing along now: Yes. I can’t say I know all the words because while they are awesome at harmonies, the ‘Babes are bad for mumbling. ‘Something…something beat down low?’ Eh?

Worth remembering: Yes. There is a chance this judgement has come after too many Pop Idol singles but I think it is good enough that if it came on when I was out now I would be happy. Not that I go out. I do this instead.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 31.08.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Blazin’ Squad

Song Name: Crossroads

Fact: This group had ten members in it. This was their début and their only number 1.

 

My Take: I thought I remembered this song. Hell, that fucking chorus has been stuck in my head for the past 12 years. But I did not remember it being a religious song. And it really, really is. Hell the bridge is just them going: ‘And we pray, and we pray…’ over and over. They seem to be trying to see something meaningful about the consequences of living a sinful life come Judgement Day but it is hard to tell through the lacklustre delivery and the distracting fact that every member of the group is literally about 4 years old.

Another thing I didn’t know is it is actually a cover version of a Grammy award winning song by an American hip hop group called Bone Thugs N Harmony dedicated to the gangsta rap star Eazy-E who died of AIDS at just 31. It seems a bit disrespectful to take a song about a group’s dead friend and remove all the direct references to him in order to make the song about growing up in North-East London. I guess that whenever somebody covers a song they are putting their own take on whatever the songwriter was feeling but I still feel uncomfortable with them pulling this trick when A) it is a deeply personal tribute and B) they try and pretend it isn’t. It would be like releasing ‘Candle in the Wind’ where you change the verses to be about taking a really good shower or something.

If they wanted to write a song about the dangers of gang culture in the UK, why not…do that? But instead they retain the spiritual themed bridge/chours of the original while threading in some needlessly earnest tripe about how doing crime is bad. Releasing ‘Crossroads’ was in fact a last minute call after they had already shot a video for another song and the choice to start their career with a track that was already award winning and also their only cover proved to be a good one in terms of making an impact initially but a poor one in regards to longevity. To be fair they had a couple more hits and their first album did well but they were unable to sustain success and it must suck to have your most well remembered hit be something that you had very little to do with artistically when you do in fact write your own stuff. Not that they could have written all of their own stuff. They were 4 after all. 4 years old.

AWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

 

The streets made men of them, the charts made babies of them…the world didn’t care.

 

Did I own it: No. To be fair, I liked that it was a different sort of act (Seriously: try and count all the Pop Idol singles in 2002) but it wasn’t really my thing. I’d be interested to find out if they were actually any good as musicians because this effort is…underwhelming to say the least.

Could I sing along now: The bridge and chorus yes. That chorus man…Can’t. Get. Rid. Look it up at your own risk…There be dragons. Catchy, catchy dragons.

Worth remembering: No. I won’t ever forget the stupid thing but that alone is not enough to make me care.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 7.09.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 3

Artist: Atomic Kitten

Song Name: Tide is High (Get the Feeling)

Fact: This was the second time this song topped the charts in the UK, the first being in 1980 courtesy of Blondie.

 

My Take: Several years ago I was visiting an exhibit in a museum in Liverpool which promised to discuss the A-Z of Liverpool Music. I was intrigued (Just what could they possibly use for B?) and it turned out the A of this particular gimmick was for Atomic Kitten. I burst out laughing and, turning to the happy Asian tourists behind me hoping to explain my outburst of glee, I elaborated: ‘Ah Yes. Of course…Remember Atomic Kitten Mania? Such a significant impact on all of our lives!’ I turned back to the wall and the three skinny chicks in combat trousers and crop tops grinned back at me with the frozen lost look of three extremely ordinary people who had done rather well from not very much at all and who had no control over when it would end.

Being a popstar is fun…Wait, where are you going???

 

As much as I mock (and I do) it is easy to forget just how well they were doing at this point. 2001 had given them two massive singles that had sold extremely well and then in 2002 the Kittens went global. ‘The Tide is High’ made them Number 1 all over the world doing mad business in New Zealand, Australia (where it was a Christmas hit, oddly enough), all over Europe (only excluding France and Italy who I guess didn’t care for the Kits) and all over Asia where it became the biggest selling British cross over single of 2002.

That…is impressive. The numbers don’t lie. So was it the song or them that people responded to?

They look so friendly…

As I mentioned above it was a tried and tested hit for Blondie. Now before you embarrass yourself by jumping on youtube to leave a ‘OMG Blondie original was soooo much better I was born in the wrong generation #oldbeforemytime’ comment, Blondie actually covered it themselves. It was written in the 60’s by Jamaican reggae musician John Holt and performed by his ska group The Paragons. Their version sounds like this:

 

The Blondie version actually retains the steel drums, Caribbean vibe which lends a nice juxtaposition to Debbie Harry’s very American sound. While I think it is one of my least favourite Blondie tracks overall, it still works.

What a fucking journey that song must have gone on to end up in the paws of Atomic Kitten huh?

Well, as previous entries should have made clear by now, Atomic Kitten were very, very lucky. ‘The Tide is High’ was actually going to be released by teen pop sensation turned respected actress Billie Piper who begged her management not to do it as she wanted to give up making music because she was bad at it (I assume that is what she said, admittedly I wasn’t there). But waste not want not, thought the record company. I mean, why scrap a perfectly good Jamaican song you have lying around when you have the ska ability of Atomic Kitten sitting down the corridor sharpening their nails? Right guys?

This song has actually been covered a whole heap of times and after sifting through many, many versions I find I usually appreciate it best when there is at least some effort to retain the musical context of the original. After all, the lyrics are very simple and repetitive so the production kind of needs to have tight vocals, good instrumentals and a lovely bobbing rhythm in order to sell the feel of the track. The people down at the Good Ship Generic Music Management, however, decided to strip the song of its laid back, wistful charm and cultural influence and make it all plastic and edgeless. I am not sure why, but it clearly worked out. Mercifully they did remove the awful male vocal that is present on Ms Piper’s version though. Small mercies and all that.

So back to the Cat interpretation. There is an added middle 8 that is totally disconnected to the rest of the song hence the ‘Get the Feeling’ and a dance routine that I in no way used to do whenever this song played on TV. So was it worthy of the success it had? In my opinion: Kind of. I stand by what I said about the record company surgically removing what makes the song charming in the first place. The production choices in the Kitten version are criminally generic and the verses really show up the fact that this song is not really meant to be a poppy track. The rhythm is all off and stilted and…God…it is all just so shiny. Safe. Soft.

However here is the thing I can’t really explain: Natasha Hamilton saves it for me. Again. As with ‘Eternal Flame’ I find her weirdly hollow, blatantly calculated vulnerability somehow endearing. Possibly it is because she was about 8 months pregnant in the video but still wearing her skinny jeans. She really isn’t the kind of girl who gives up just like that. I am sure her management had to go and scream into a pillow after she told them the blessed news, seeing as she was the second member of their teenage band to get knocked up in the space of a year. And that is not a teenage band as in a band for teenagers.

In conclusion, I am baffled by my findings and they might be the words of someone who has just spent over an hour listening to one song but there is an infectious joy to the Kitten’s take on a reggae standard which does make me smile. Sure, it isn’t special. But the combination of the cheesy dance, the committed cheerfulness and the unsettling hold Natasha Hamilton has over what remains of my brain means I actually still really like this. While the song itself deserves better than them, I am actually glad the Kittens did better than they deserved.

 

Did I own it: Yes. I had the single which had a medley of tracks from their forthcoming album on it. ‘Sold!’ I thought and off I went to get it as soon as it was available. My favourite track was and remains ‘The Last Goodbye.’ I did say when I started this I was going to be honest about my more embarrassing music choices over the years but I draw the line at doing the ‘Tide is High’ dance for your entertainment.

Could I sing along now: Yes. How could you not?

Worth remembering: Oh man…The song definitely has a winning quality that I will always enjoy on some level. But if only one version is allowed in this strange Music Vault I have concocted, it will have to be the one by The Paragons.

 

I am sure you thought I was never going to stop talking about Atomic Kitten for a while there didn’t you? Well if you liked that, wait till you see what happens when we get to the end of December. They. Are. Coming. But first…

 

 

Date of Number 1: 28.09.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Pink or P!nk as I believe she is officially known as when written down.

Song Name: Just Like a Pill

Fact: Her first number one over here as a solo artist.

 

My Take: It never occurred to me for a moment that this was actually supposed to be in any way about drug addiction. It was clearly about some kind of unhealthy relationship: Hence ‘like’ a pill. So colour me confused when I discovered a quote from Pinkie claiming that this supposedly personal song was inspired by her own drug issues. I say supposedly personal…I am not so cynical that the presence of a second writer on the track is enough for me to dismiss Pink’s contribution. If I was being honest in the meanest way I would say the lyrics are bad enough that I can fully believe she wrote them unaided. They sound like the poems I used to write when I was 13. The bad ones. That I have burned. But a personal experience song? ‘Just Like a Pill’ could be applied to anything or anyone and therefore the words leave me cold particularly as a ‘drugs are harsh, man’ message. If this song was trying to say something new or creative about addiction it is an empty mess I want no part in.

However the advantage of writing a catchy pop song with an open message like this one is it can in fact be applied to anyone or anything. So young girls can hear this song and relate it to their own issues which is not a bad deal as a marketing gimmick. Plus I can’t criticize Pink for not wanting to go into detail about her drug related woes: Why not keep it generic?

My interpretation of the lyric, back when I was giving Pink more credit than she apparently deserved, was that it is about fame. Fame is the thing that is just like a pill. It is clearly very, very bad for you, to have your hopes, dreams and livelihood tied to the approval and acceptance of others, but once you get a taste of a world where you appear to matter you don’t want to return to a world where you don’t, even if it is all artificial and subjective. The need to keep gambling with your emotional well being in order to get your validation fix is a dangerous one and that is how I always heard this song. But, like I said, it can be about a bad relationship, a dodgy curry, watching Wheel of Fortune…Take your pick. ‘I’m lying here on the floor…where you left me…I think I took too much.’ Could be any of the above. It is frustratingly vague about what is ‘just’ like a pill. Hell it turns out, according to the interview I read with the lady herself, that drugs are just like drugs. Give that girl a coconut!

So musically, what are we working with? I like that intro and the way the bridge builds so nicely to the chorus but once you get past that it just keeps repeating the cycle…Oh I get it…Like you do with drugs! This song is soooo layered. Or should have been 1:05 minutes long. Either/or. But I made it to the end, several times actually, because I do like Pink’s voice and I like the ‘tude she brings to the track. Again: I don’t appreciate how broad the tone of the thing is, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe she means every damn word.

I know a lot of people who really hate her. I am not one of them. While not all her songs are winners and she does insist on giving a lot of money to PETA (Look them up Pink! They do more harm than good!) I don’t think she gets enough credit for her live vocals and I appreciate the conviction with which she attacks her work, which is possibly what people who don’t like her find annoying: She enjoys being a singer so much that it might sometimes seem like she is forcing her vulnerable ‘tough girl who is really messed up’ shit on us a bit. When there are so many pop singers who are dead behind the eyes, it can be a bit much to have someone like Pink in the charts, trying to connect so hard that it is off putting to some. Or maybe people just don’t like her music. That I can relate to. As much as I respect her, the effort in her performance is not always extended to her records. ‘Just Like a Pill’ seems to promise a personal exploration into the depths of Pink’s soul. What emerges is puddle deep.

 

Did I own it: I acquired it at some point, not when it first came out though. I always switch off after the first chorus now if it comes on thanks to shuffle. It has made its point.

Could I sing along now: Yes. I remember it was a regular song on one of those music video channels when I was a bit younger and the edited version didn’t make any sense. Instead of: ‘I can’t stay on your life support there’s a shortage in the switch, I can’t stay on your morphine, cause it’s making me itch, I tried to call the nurse again but she’s being a little bitch…’ It went: ‘I can’t stay on your life support there’s a shortage in the switch, I can’t stay on your life support cause it’s making me itch, I tried to call the nurse again but she’s being a little switch…’ in a really clumsy way. I can’t help but always sing switch instead of bitch at that point in the song now. How is someone behaving if they are being a little switch? Wouldn’t it have been easier to bleep out the words morphine and bitch?

Worth remembering: No. Sorry Pink. Please don’t write a song about me.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 5.10.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 2

Artist: Will Young & Gareth Gates

Song Name: The Long and Winding Road

Fact: I chose to do this to myself. Nobody is making me do it.

 

My Take: Why?

 

The question that has plagued mankind for years.

Why? Why do we live? Why do we suffer? Why do some people have to suffer so much more than others? Why must we be so cruel to one another? Why, why, why, why WHY, must bright eyed pop stars from reality TV insist on covering Beatles songs?

I don’t want this. I am going to put off the moment I actually have to (not have to, this is my choice…Why do I hate myself???) listen to the Will ‘Haven’t I fulfilled my contractual obligations with the Idol series yet?’ Young and Gareth ‘spiked hair and shiny clothes’ Gates version, by talking about The Beatles. Cause I never do that.

Basically I have never liked this song much. Gasp! I know. It is basically a McCartney solo number which is very self indulgent and lumbering and was, at least in part, responsible for the demise of the group. McCartney was so outraged when he heard what producer Phil Spector did to his precious song that nine days later he cited it as one of the deciding factors in his choice to call time on The Beatles. What Spector did to the song, incidentally, was add a silly choir and some OTT orchestration. Bastard. In an attempt to spare you a comment, I am aware that making a simple song bombastic is not the worst thing Spector has ever done but I am not going there. Ok? Good…Point is, McCartney was not McHappy. After all, this was his baby. How dare Spector mess with the sound mixing of his song, like he was some kind of ‘music producer’? Of course McCartney was happy to take the Grammy for the Spector produced ‘Let it Be’ album that included this track because…you know…shiny prizes are shiny.

Hypocrite? Moi?

 

So I suppose I should be grateful Cowell didn’t give the Idol Children a Beatles track I really loved as their new toy to break. Nonetheless, at least if it was a fast happy song, or a catchy classic they might be able to sell that. I don’t see them adding anything to what was already, in my opinion, a pretty dull lounge bar style piano ballad not fit to grace the back catalogue of the most consistently innovative band of all time. I vaguely remember Young and Gates doing this song, and sleepwalking their way through it. But then I forgot. I forgot for the longest time. It was a happy time.

So here we go…

Oh God… The production JUST sounds like a karaoke backing track. Jesus, it must be easy being Simon Cowell. Album producing down at syco must take about 14 minutes. Both Gates and Young have a lot of vocal ticks that make me cringe when inflicted on The Beatles, and their interpretation of the (admittedly corny) lyrics is pretty vapid. They might as well be singing ‘The Long and Winding Road…That leads to your door…I’ve come for a cup of tea…Is your Nan doing better? Kidney problems are the wors-s-st. Work’s been a dream this week, we always get more done when Kelly’s on leave…’

But…If they did this a cappella at an open mike night I would probably clap at the end. Because as much as it pains me to praise anything this bereft of creativity, neither are technically bad singers. In fact, they are technically good singers. Better yet they are actually quite distinctive singers, especially Young. So as much as I won’t be listening to this ever again It wasn’t the worst 3 and a half minutes of my life. This version is totally pointless but at least it is not totally worthless too. Although it comes pretty damn close.

 

Did I own it: No. Even I was fed up of Reality TV stars at this point. But that was because I didn’t know they were coming…They are almost here…

Could I sing along now: Here and there but not really. As I said, I don’t even care for the original that much.

Worth remembering: Of all the songs I have ever talked about I can’t stress loudly enough how much this doesn’t deserve to be remembered. To be clear, it is not the worst song I have ever reviewed for this feature or even the worst cover version but man alive, it is not worth remembering.

 

 

Date of Number 1: 19.10.2002

Number of weeks at the top: 1

Artist: Las Ketchup (Oh God…)

Song Name: The Ketchup Song

Fact: These were (are? I assume they still exist somewhere) 3 Spanish sisters bringing us the gift of a Mediterranean novelty song. And I didn’t even get them anything…

 

My Take: Oh God that chorus…Why must they repeat it 3 times in a row? It doesn’t benefit from repetition. I remember back when this song was inescapable asking my Spanish speaking friend what the chorus meant. I was mainly asking because at one point it sounds like they are saying ‘boogie’ and I wanted to know if the chorus was instructions to the dance you were supposed to do or if was actually hard hitting historical free verse about the Spanish Civil War. He looked at me wearily and said: ‘It doesn’t mean anything.’ I assumed he was being pretentious, lording my own ignorance over me, but having just looked it up it would seem he was telling the truth. The verses are a mix of Spanish and English but the chorus appears to be gobbledegook.

I guess it is fun and you can dance to it and there was a little routine, reminiscent of ‘Macarena’ and ‘Saturday Night.’ The Ketchup sisters (almost certainly not their real surname but I am fucked if I am looking it up. I don’t mean to be disrespectful but they are not going to be back on this list and I oh so don’t care) seem to be having a good time and while I could live the rest of my life quite happily never hearing them sing again their enthusiasm here goes a long way. It is such a happy song that it seems almost impossibly po faced to hate on it but I am going to anyway. I hate it. Not because of the made up chours, sing a long beach video, the silly dance or the way it dominated the radio at the time of release. No. I hate this song because they re-released it at Christmas. It was the exact same song only they added jingle bells. It was literally the laziest God damn thing I have ever heard. And that is why I say, loudly and clearly: Fuck. This. Song.

 

Did I own it: No

Could I sing along now: I wish I could say no but man, is this bad boy catchy. Sure I can’t sing the words but I can make the noises.

Worth remembering: Yes. It should have won a Ivor Novello award.

 

The length of this started to get away from me a bit so I have split it into three parts instead of the usual two. The third page should be easily accessible as it is written and ready to go. So go. Read it now. Enjoy. It is here: Click here on this. Are you lost? Why are you still here? Check the tags or click the arrow or go to the archives or save it for later but you will read it won’t you? Without you I am just reminiscing about pop music from 2002 by myself and that is just sad…

 

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