Tag Archives: Music

My Top 100 Favourite Songs Performed by Women (85-81)

 

85. Many Moons performed by Janelle Monae (2008)

 

I’m just going to say it: It’s a bit of a crime that Janelle Monae isn’t currently enjoying the kind of world wide attention that ought to just be given as a gift to people with this much talent. She is almost too much. Watching her, I can’t even handle it…The dancing, the vocals, the face, the energy and then she does this kind of forward moon walk thing (Isn’t that just called walking? No it isn’t! Watch the video!) And my heart skips a beat. This is the song I went with because it was the first one of hers I saw and I was utterly besotted. Unless I count her brief interjection on fun’s monster hit We are Young…Which I don’t. Because they barely feature her…Which…If you have Janelle Monae are you really going to have her just stand there and say “Carry me home tonight” a couple of times? What the fuck fun?? With no capital letter???

But anyhow. It is not like she is some underground darling, but she is a one woman Outkast who stomps all over genre conventions and pops up in critically acclaimed award winning films (Moonlight, Hidden Figures) while owning being a queer black woman in the public eye like a mother fucking boss…What I am getting at is this: if she was a dude, every person on the planet would know her name by now. Her voice is effortless and charming, almost tricking you into believing what she is doing is easy…It isn’t. Trust me.

So when you lose the visuals does the song hold up? In my opinion…yes. While the list bit at the end gives me flashbacks to Madonna rapping about doing Pilates and drinking double shot(ies) (Let’s never go back!) Many Moons is a foot stomping jam to get down to while still managing to mean something. Although I could have sworn she was encouraging us to “ooh ahh like a panda” but that’s silly. It is “panther” Glad to have cleared that up.

Highlight: “When the truth goes BANG” it is at this point Janelle appears to be ready to take off…I will miss her when she finally leaves us to return to wherever they make perfect people.

 

84. I Touch Myself performed by Chrissy Amphlett (1990)

 

I was 15 years old and working in a pharmacy on a Saturday afternoon, manning the till closest to the main entrance. The day was moving very slowly and I was far from the action. People usually paid at the till where they got their prescriptions and short of cleaning display cases containing perfume that had been there since approximately World War 2, there was very little to occupy my attention.

There was a limited number of CD’s available in the shop and we still argued about which of our very slim pickings would go on at any given time. Was it to be Roxette’s Greatest Hits or Ricky Martin’s Greatest Hits? One of life’s great thinkers, I’m sure you’ll concede. On that particular day someone had had enough and brought in a mix CD from home (It was 2003 if that helps) and just put it on without asking. And I was standing in my polyester trousers, wishing the time away, drumming my core bitten nails on the neglected display case when the background noise sharpened into the fore with the sound of…

“I don’t want anybody else…When I think about you I touch myself”

My eyes made a game attempt to escape my head as I tried to catch the eye of one of my colleagues on the other side of the room. But if they had heard what I did, they didn’t react. They just continued to chat and/or sort, also ignoring their cleaning duties. I assured myself I must have misheard…But then I heard it again. No. I can’t be hearing that right. You can’t write pop songs about exploring the cave of wonders…If anybody had been looking, they may well have seen sparks emitting from my head as I tried to figure it out…Must be my ears hearing things…Things like WHEN I THINK ABOUT YOU I TOUCH MYSELF.

Fast forward about 4 years and into a particular low point in my mental health. In a desperate bid to get me to stop crying and, crucially, stop talking about myself, one of my new flatmates lent me her copy of Austin Powers assuring me I would be unable to stay in a bad head space while it was on. So towards the end of the film Austin Powers goes into seduction mode and guess what song starts playing…

“Well fuck me.” I exclaimed out loud. “I DIDN’T imagine it.”

To be fair, I Touch Myself isn’t actually that outrageous. Despite being a metaphor free declaration of how Chrissy ticks the box whenever she thinks of you, it is a happy, triumphant, 80’s-are-now-the-90’s-and-we-are-having-trouble-adjusting piece of well performed weird that is quite honestly hard to object to. Going beyond that, I genuinely love it. As did Lou Reed and we all remember how hard he was to make happy.

I was surprised to learn that the premise of the song did not stop it gaining traction worldwide (the group are Australian). From what I have read, very few radio stations banned it and it was on MTV round the clock which…I suppose isn’t actually that shocking. The video is VERY MTV. And directed by Michael Bay. Sans robots and explosions.

I don’t know, maybe I underestimate people and it is just me who is all buttoned up and shameful about my fondness for finger painting…I was also all ready to declare this the ONLY mainstream hit about female pleasure but I was proven wrong by a very rudimentary google search (Fun fact: I did NOT write this at work.) Hells bells, it isn’t even the last song ON MY OWN LIST exploring (Hee-hee) female sexuality. So…yeah. Turns out I’m part of the problem. And it also turns out that the George Formby song “With a Little Ukulele in my Hand” is about wanking too. Thanks Google.

GOOGLE

Perv.

Anyway, I have taken up A LOT of space with this entry and I’m not done yet. See, the reason I think this ode to polishing the pearl works is threefold: It isn’t too threatening to any easily offended listeners, Mark McEntee’s guitar work and most of all Chrissy Amphlett’s matter of fact, knowing and cool delivery. She is a brilliant singer with effortless star quality. Sadly, she died back in 2013 due to MS and breast cancer. One of her last wishes was for her most famous song to be used in a campaign to encourage women to check their breasts for potentially life threatening lumps…Yep…Who knew a song this goofy could be this moving?

*Wipes eyes* Now I’m done.

Highlight: That chorus is just such a hoot. But I’m going to give it to the fade out as Chrissy saying: “I honestly do” just makes me smile like a Cheshire Cat thinking about masturbation. She’s not lying, gang. She honestly paddles the pink canoe whenever…Ok I really am done now.

 

83. Fever performed by Peggy Lee (1958)

 

As you may have spotted, I am not that cool. While the concept is somewhat subjective I have always known I wasn’t capable of it, it always felt like something out of my reach. Perhaps that is why I am once again paying tribute to a performer who knew the power of reigning it the fuck in. By that I mean, Peggy Lee manages to deliver one of the most iconic vocal performances ever committed to one of those wee spinning discs without sounding like she’s breaking a sweat. She makes you go to her. She’s not trying to impress you. She doesn’t need to.

Peggy’s version is actually a cover of an RnB hit from 1956, performed by Little Willie John whose original work is…actually pretty great. I looked it up just now expecting to write it off as an inferior track, seeing as Lee’s Fever is legendary whereas I had never heard of this Little Willie man. But to be fair to the Willie in question, he’s a great singer and his version is super sexy. Better than Lee’s? They are both groovy with their own take on the simple, sultry lyrics. Why not enjoy both? Let your fever rise…

Overall, I can see why it has sustained as a jazz standard as opposed to a rhythm and blues one. While I’ve heard it done pop stylee too it just works best with the bass, the drum, Lee’s clicking fingers and that vocal…It is like she is licking the words, they are just dancing on her tongue. The added verses for Lee have become standard when people cover it and I like that it acknowledges that women also make stupid choices because of lust. I love the little invisible winks with the sillier lines (how many songs can get away with a “for sooth?”) the use of the word “chicks” not sounding gross, and who else could say “fev-er!” quite like that?…And that outro…“What a lovely way to burn” indeed…

Highlight: While the Shakespeare infused verse is tremendous fun, I got to give it to “Daddy, oh, don’t you dare…he gives me feverrrr” The day I’m sure a lot of Father’s dread is the day their Daughter chooses fever over family…

 

82. Safe From Harm performed by Shara Nelson (1991)

 

I was watching a list show (how about that…) all around the greatest albums of all time and it was suggested by the list that I might enjoy trip hop act Massive Attack’s début Blue Lines. The good people on the TV box did not lie to me. It remains a favourite, especially album opener Safe From Harm. While Unfinished Sympathy is another wonderful showcase for featured vocalist Shara Nelson and the groups’s biggest hit by miles, it is the album version of Safe from Harm that first hooked me and it hasn’t let me go since. Though it turns out I HATE the single mix. It’s so strange how easily a favourite song can feel ruined innit? Oh God, do you know what I sound like…

You: My favourite Massive Attack’s song is Unfinished Sympathy!

Me, an Intellectual: Mine’s is Safe From Harm. Album version only of course.

Anyway…

Blue Lines was a real collaborative effort between the Bristol based band and their musical pals. They even recorded the majority of it in Neneh Cherry’s nursery, a detail that just makes the whole thing that much more rock and roll for some reason…except the fact that they couldn’t work out why the room smelled so bad for weeks before finding a used nappy behind the radiator…

Shara Nelson contributed writing material to the three songs she featured on and would go to make her own records, even being shortlisted for the Mercury music prize which is one of those awards I would deffo want if I was a proper songwriter. She has worked steadily since the 80’s and endured through changes in public taste in musical style. And her singing here is steller. I love the mood of the song, it sounds so haunting, urgent, pretty, inviting and powerful. It may not be a genre of music I engage with often but with a message as simple as I can’t fix the world but I have to protect my own, performed as beautifully as this..this is all I need to be converted.

Highlight: “If you hurt what’s mine, I’ll sure as Hell retaliate” I feel like even the most peaceful people on this planet can relate to this sentiment and Shara’s glorious anguish.

 

81. Can’t get you Out of my Head performed by Kylie Minogue (2001)

 

Before I could really form words I was listening to and watching Kylie. We had about 5 VHS’s when I was a very young tot and 2 of them were collections of Kylie Minogue’s pop videos. I am pretty sure they were purchased for my older Sister but all I really knew was they were all I had to watch when the cartoons were not on. So I pretty much had every track, dance routine and outfit memorised. I have this really strong memory of singing a Kylie song at my then Boyfriend (we were 4 years old) at school and expecting him to swoon…Instead he bellowed: “STOP SINGING!” right in my face and ran away. Love is complicated.

In 2000, she made a comeback after a few quiet years. She had always been pretty successful in the UK but I certainly hadn’t noticed her and her mega watt smile on my TV for a while. By this point, I had a few more VHS’s in my collection and my interest in the tiny Australian had waned considerably. And Spinning Around (the big comeback hit) did nothing to change this. I was pleased to see she was doing well and looking fine but I was not blown away by the latest songs.

Then 2001 arrived and with it came the Cathy Dennis and Rob Davies penned monster smash Can’t get you of my Head. As I have discussed in a previous blog post, this track is a clear stand out of 2001 chart music, with a hook that just won’t quit and I will forever be willingly hypnotised by its unyielding embrace.

The song itself had to be on the list but I want to give props to Kylie’s performance of it too. I have seen her be blasted for her lack of ability on many an occasion and I am going to say publicly that I don’t think that is fair. There is more to singing and performing than having all the octaves locked in your voice box and I genuinely like her. I can think of many mediocre pop/dance songs she has recorded and managed to do something with, songs she has made into hits purely because she is a charismatic presence on a track. Hell, prior to 2001 she was best known for and forever associated with Waterman cheese from the 80’s like Locamotion and I Should be so Lucky. But this and her collaboration with fellow Aussie and all round talent machine Nick Cave suggested that she was dying to move her sound forward and her success in this particular arena demonstrates that she possibly belonged there all along. It certainly forced people to stop making soap actor turned pop star jokes…well…for a while.

My point is, she might not be a vocal gymnast but Dennis and Davies didn’t give their baby to just anyone. They must have known they had solid gold and they handed their treasure to Kylie and she sold the Hell out of it. Her vocals on this communicate just the right notes of sexuality, sensuality, wonder and desperation. With each new hook in the song comes a new shade of Kylie’s voice and they really are a match made in heaven.

And no. I have never fully been able to get this fucking glorious track out of my head.

Highlight: Oh man…I think in the last moments of the song when she simply repeats the “I just can’t get you of my head” refrain as the “ooooh” comes in. The climax delivers and I just want to go back and start over everytime.

 

 

 

Tune in Next Friday for 80-76!

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My Top 100 Favourite Songs Performed by Women (90-86)

 

90. Nothing Breaks like a Heart performed by Miley Cyrus (2018)

 

Making this list has lead to some surprises. This is another one of those “If you had told me” moments. I honestly would have included Miley as one of my least favourite singers not all that long ago. I hated her voice back in the Disney TV/early music career days…And I mean…I HATED it. The first time I actually heard her sing rather than just saw pictures of her little head grinning like a well fed goat from some poster on some billboard, I was embarrassed for her. Her attempts at belting, her limited range… “Does she know she sounds like that and people can HEAR her?” I thought.

I found her acting either forgettable or just bad, her personality on chat shows obnoxious, her attempts to be “ghetto fabulous” (her words, not mine, never mine) poor taste, her transparent efforts to seem scandalous just fucking dre-

Then a friend told me she did a version of the Bob Dylan track “You’re Going to make me Lonesome when you Go” and it was…good? He didn’t lie. I actually loved it. She not only sounded pleasant but she emoted and everything. It turns out, her voice is very well suited to country/blues style jams about sadness. (this is called foreshadowing!) At first I thought it was a fluke. Even a broken clock sings in tune twice a day and all that…

While I continued to feel at best indifferent to her original content, my appreciation of her interpretations of other people’s tracks didn’t end with the Zimmerman. A couple of years back she started doing these “backyard” performances, largely to promote her charity that supports vulnerable young people. Again, I had to admit her variant of Jolene, 50 Ways to Leave your Lover and Don’t Dream it’s Over sounded pretty and powerful. That low register, that smoky timbre, that vulnerability…Ooft. And as a performer and a person she came across…really well. I began to shift uncomfortably at about this point…Maybe judging people’s personalities based on what they said while promoting films at 15 makes…ME the prick?

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And then came her collaboration with hit factory Mark Ronson and boom bam, I’m officially a fan. Whether she’ll want me after all that shit I just said, I don’t know. But truth is, she works her ass off on this, utilising the colours in her voice that work best, the soulful rasp and distinctive tone that you can link to her immediately. In a musical landscape increasingly relying on tuning to make singers sound passable, it is nice to have a mainstream artist who you can turn on the radio and go: Oh that’s Miley. And that…is a…good thing? Sorry, I’m still adapting. I can’t believe I am typing out an enthusiastic endorsement of the singer whose bleating used to make me want to Reservoir Dogs myself out of self preservation…

And while I’m feeling spiteful, For the record, I HATE the video. I have not included it above because I am impatient with pretty much all “plot” videos and this one in particular. It often strikes me as a lack of confidence that the material will speak for itself when artists do big concept pieces that play over the actual song I want to hear and this is no exception. Miley? Mark? This song is good. Stand down with the tits, OJ parallels and children with guns. (No really, what the fuck is that video?)

I also feel obliged to point out that a lot of people have gone after this song for sounding like country classic and aforementioned Miley covered track Jolene. But it turns out that’s fine because Dolly Parton is Miley’s actual Godmother so I guess suing would make Thanksgiving awkward. And also, how could anyone object to a 2019 Jolene that is this much of a banger? It is wonderfully old school and yet a breath of fresh air. On Wiki it is referred to as country disco and all I can say is Howd-y, that’s a good combo. The lyrics, depicting a painful break up, are really beautiful and the production is sublime. This is the newest song on my list and it remains to be seen if it will still be a favourite in years to come. But either way, for turning me around faster than I can say achy breaky heart, I have to give Miley Cyrus serious credit. I’m sure she’s been anxious for my approval all this time, the poor wee mite.

Highlight: Her reading of “things fall apart” is just spot on.

 

89. Never Forget You performed by Shingai Shoniwa (2009)

 

I was watching one of those shows where singers compete for a desirable prize on TV. This song was performed by 4 such singers. They mugged their way through the tune uneasily and by the end of it I was convinced of two things: 1) Casting a west end role via asking untrained teenagers to sing pop songs is a terrible idea overall and 2) I had to hear that song they were singing again but…you know…performed by someone who could do it good.

Enter the Brit School’s Shingai Shoniwa and her three piece indie group The Noisettes who are probably best known for the advert friendly ditty Don’t Upset the Rhythm (Go Baby Go). According to their wiki page they gained a rep as one of the “rowdiest live acts in London.” To that I say: Huh. Ok. If you say so?

But anyways, Never Forget You. It feels like one of those classic summer bops that you can only listen to while clutching a glass of something while fucking up a barbecue in your back garden on a British July afternoon. But that’s not what gets me about this song….It is fun and catchy sure, but it is Shingai’s conversational, slightly smirky and utterly captivating vocal that tells the very relatable story and it is pure magic to my ears. Every line sparkles, her voice as clear as crystal and she really sells the bittersweet sentiment and earnest longing. I found out via my reading that she initially hoped to be an actress and if she can sell a monologue as well as this song I say Hollywood should give her a call.

It appears to be a song about meeting up with an Ex to reminisce and say goodbye. It is wistful and charming and gets me right about here (gestures to heart) because not all Ex’s are people to dread and resent and sometimes you just have to let them go and hope they remember you as fondly as you do them. I am sure they would if I could sing like Shingai.

Highlight: “I borrowed your silver boots, now if you’ll just let me give them back to you” is the only line that suggests that Shingai’s request to meet up with her Ex to catch up on old times is a tad more desperate than she’s letting on. I love her delivery of it and so do the hairs on my arms on a good day.

 

88. Quittin’ Time Performed by Mary Chapin Carpenter (1990)

 

In different drafts of this project, I had cut MCC from the line up but it didn’t feel right until she was back in. Again, nothing has ever mattered less than this but I may have lost sleep over who to include because I have some issues that need addressing…But not today!

This is one of several entries on the list that is somewhat influenced by nostalgia as my Mum had a cassette tape of her greatest hits in the car for most of my early childhood and I associate MCC’s soothing vocals with the security of travelling in the back, sitting on my little booster seat, staring out the window as my eyes grew heavy, knowing that my Parents would get me home safe. I was especially partial to this one, even before I really understood what she was going on about.

Aside from that, I always felt MCC’s vocals were very…grown up. I associate her country/folk style with what I always imagined an adult would sound like. She just sounds so sure of herself. Not that this reflects adulthood at all, but I feel like it should…

Also the sentiment of the song feels like the kind of pain you only get with time and experience. The moment when you say out loud something is not working in your relationship and acknowledging that while it is hard to let go you can’t go on living a life that is not your own. MCC is able to communicate that pain in her interpretation of this song but she also sounds resolute and decisive. See? Grown up. There are a lot of songs about heartbreak but this is one that feels a lot smaller and yet more true than most.

Highlight: “It’s SO hard admitting…” The stress on “so” makes me nod in agreement when I hear it.

 

87. Nothing’s Real but Love performed by Rebecca Ferguson (2011)

 

This is one of three acts on this list that broke through courtesy of a reality TV singing competition. Rebecca Ferguson is the only one of the three acts that didn’t win. But from the first moment I heard that voice I thought: She’s too good for this goofy three ring circus faux tension/outrage nonsense. And I maintain that view. Sure TV talent shows have their place and I have watched them because they make for good TV but what they make a lot less often? Memorable music. No, strike that. LISTENABLE music.

Rebecca’s talent, in an equal world, would transcend the platform on which she was discovered and she would be rated up there with the greats. Because the voice is great. So great. So, so great. Instead fellow finalists One Direction became household names (Even my indifferent Partner can name some of them) and Cher Lloyd got a number 1 with a song called, ahem, Swagger Jagger, that borrowed the melody from My Darling Clementine. I KNOW life isn’t fair but if I woke up one day and found I had the God damn jazz/blues/soul/classical/pop voice that could define a generation I would be absofuckinglutely raging to have to take tips from the Manger of Zig and Zag and the Teletubbies.

simon

This guy. He makes money by releasing Unchained Melody 857 times and telling people they need to give a thousand per cent. He’s richer than me.

Rebecca’s début single is an understated song about how love beats money and cars and how having a bad day isn’t a big deal if you have love etc. Is it good? I don’t really know. I dithered over which song of hers I wanted to showcase and I’m still not sure I’m choosing the right one but I went with it because of how I felt the first time I heard it. I was just so stoked she was putting herself out there and thrilled to be hearing her voice again.

I liked the first three singles she put out a lot. I liked the first album. I liked the second. I liked the Billie Holliday cover album. The fact that I liked her version of a Katy Perry song proved she was a minor miracle worker: She made Perry’s generic “I’ve grown, honest” track about self empowerment actually sound like it means something. And I especially like that when Donald Trump asked Rebecca to perform at his inauguration she said she would only do it if she could perform Strange Fruit. Y’know. A famous song about the lynching of black people. The White House declined.

So I’m a fan. I respect her work, her principles and am in awe of her talent. But if I’m honest, I am still waiting. I think and hope there is more to come. Material that lives up to her. Or maybe that song doesn’t exist. In the meantime, don’t sleep on Rebecca Ferguson or dismiss her because of X Factor. Once in a while the odd things happen and a shy single Mum in her 20’s can hold up a microphone and be worthy of that “holy shit” moment that they dish out so freely on these shows via the power of editing. Once in a while, the moon turns blue and we are given a gift we ought to cherish. When I listen to Nothing’s Real but Love I am reminded that while love is what counts, pure, powerful magnetic talent may be valued just a bit higher by me.

Highlight: The delivery of “Then the door gets slammed, slammed right in my face” suggests it has happened to her a lot.

 

86. Chandelier performed by Sia (2014)

 

Ooft. Ok…Deep breath…There are a lot of iconic songs about addiction, mess, bad decisions and poor impulse control. For me, too many of them focus on the extreme potential outcomes (death, near death, jail) which leaves a lot of listeners feeling cosy and smug in their “that will never be me” camp because of course, most people who battle gamely against their own bad instincts will find any reason to justify their shitty behaviour including: At least I’m not THAT bad. And then there’s Chandelier. Sia’s song about the party girl life focuses on the “fuck it, I’m going to go for it” euphoria followed by the next day shame that must immediately be silenced by more live for now nihilism and the abandoning of good sense in exchange for escape…And that deafening silence is several million “that will never be me” alcohol abusers going…Oh yeah. That is me.

Without getting too personal I massively relate to this song’s frantic melancholy and accurate representation of excess at any cost but then who doesn’t? Alcohol may not be my weapon of choice but I know the weariness, self righteous fury and exquisite agony of the “Throw ’em back till I lose count” feeling. And even if we all do different moves I bet you know that dance too. If not: Congratulations! I’d like to be you and you sound kind of boring…At the same time. Also, I don’t believe you.

Sia’s vocals are insane on this song. The “I push it down/here comes the shame” verses sound so vulnerable and the haunting shriek of the chorus just wrecks me. The range alone is impressive enough but the emotion conveyed in her delivery blows my mind.

My enthusiasm for the song here would suggest it is ranked too low but if I’m honest I can’t listen to it very often because it makes me feel gloomy. Sometimes, I don’t want to think about the times when I’m just holding on for tonight. And Sia won’t stop reminding me.

Highlight: “I’m going to fly like a bird through the night” The way her (presumably bleeding) throat gasps this line makes me thank the Music Gods that camera shy songwriter Sia (That isn’t her in the video. That is a dancing child.) continues to record some of her material herself. Outstanding.

 

 

Tune in next Friday for 85-81! 

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My Top 100 Favourite Songs Performed by Women (95-91)

 

95. Ex’s and Oh’s performed by Elle King (2014)

 

In 2015 while milling about my place of employment, I heard Ex’s and Oh’s on the radio in passing and was instantly like: “YES.” Discovering new music I like while not even hunting for it is deeply satisfying and doesn’t happen nearly as often as I get older. Unless it is a hobby, once you are passed a certain age (cue sweeping generalisation in 3, 2, 1…) you are not trying to seek out new artists, you are not as tuned into to what’s happening in music because you are less interested in wading through all the stuff that just isn’t for you to hunt for the nuggets of gold that speak to your soul. But as soon as I heard Elle King lament her player status while a fuzz guitar whined with her, my answer was YES.

It is a grower of a track (it was something of a sleeper hit on the alternative scene) that combines genres of music appealingly (country, blues, rock: hooray!) It has a bit of everything and the throaty, amused, bewildered narrator yelps her dilemma convincingly. I believe Elle King is weary of dudes following her around. As one of my favourite online critics (Todd in the Shadows, check him out!) said in his summary of this track, in stark contrast to her contemporaries I have no trouble believing Elle has been around the block and knows what she is talking about, thus making her wonderful delivery all the sweeter.

Having said that, I don’t buy that she is a stone cold bitch to her Ex’s. The brash defiance of this track reinforces my belief that the louder somebody declares they don’t care about anything or anybody, the bigger the chance that they care a LOT, more than anything in fact. But honestly, the juxtaposition between public declaration of self and private longing…well… it all just makes me want her more. Sign me up to following Elle King around all day, hoping she will love me.

Highlight: “They always wanna come, but they never wanna leave” almost mocking, definitely word weary, slightly dirty and a little bit magic.

 

94. I’ll Stand by You performed by Chrissie Hynde (1994)

 

Chrissie Hynde has a wonderfully distinctive rock vocal that, to me, manages to be both pleasant to the ears while still having that front woman-who-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude of the classic alternative musician. I like a good few of her songs mostly for her singing ability and while this one feels slightly generalised in its emotion in theory, in practice it is my favourite because her voice rings round in my head when I am trying to be better than I am. It is a song about support and it encourages me. Even when I fail, I feel like she’d forgive and forget.

It is also about identifying common ground with someone in crisis (or so the lyrics would suggest) and there is something really reassuring about lines like: “I get angry too…Well I’m a lot like you” While the lyrics could apply to a lot of situations there is an often overlooked simplicity in normalising the feelings of others that might feel wrong to them. We are all a bit lost, mixed up and hoping we are not the only ones. And it is Chrissie that makes the simplicity of the whole thing work. She doesn’t communicate overwrought emotions, which the lyrics on their own suggests the song requires. Hell, I’ll Stand by You has been re-purposed as a charity/appeal single many times for exactly that reason. But when Chrissie sings it? Her performance is truthful, sounds great and it is more moving for the fact that she doesn’t try to move you. I’m not sure she is even capable of being treacly.

She insists her distinctive, forceful delivery come from a lack of training, explaining that she sings out of time as she can’t count/hear music. And when asked how she got so comfortable in a classically male dominated genre she pointed out she does have experience in all the emotions needed to sell angsty songs. I believe her.

Highlight: “Take me in into your darkest hour” It sounds a tad voyeuristic out of context but when Chrissie sings it it becomes a warm invitation that I would struggle to turn down.

 

93. Back to Life (However Do You Want Me) performed by Caron Wheeler (1989)

 

When it comes to discussing the history of 80’s/90’s dance music and its place in British club culture (And don’t you wish everyone would shut up about that topic? All the time, yak, yak yak…) there is always at least a nod to Soul 2 Soul and their pond crossing, Grammy winning, reggae philharmonic orchestra featuring, number 1 RnB crossover smash Back to Life. It was a touch of class on the scene, a heavy, sharp, cool club masterpiece. It is also unapologetically black.

I bring this up because I’ve watched interviews with founding member and record producer Jazzie B talking about how difficult it was to get the group on a magazine or on TV before and even after they broke through, especially when the went to America. I read one article where he remembers the group showing up to an early TV spot and being told they couldn’t all be lit due to their varying skin tones. To be a group trying to reflect late 80’s Camden Town dance floor culture while still celebrating and embracing what it is/was to be black British is a Hell of a wire act and not one the world was crying out to see at the time. What am I getting at is this: Watch the video. It is bold. They are bold. When this song went to Number 1 it was reflecting a subculture in London that hadn’t been widely represented in music. The sound, the video, the collaboration between various exciting and talented artists with an uncompromising vision…Artists such as…

Lead vocalist Caron Wheeler had been singing back up for the likes of Phil Collins and acknowledges that she felt like a “traitor” knowing what she really wanted was to sing soul. And probably get the fuck away from Phil Collins. So she was thrilled to have the opportunity to lead a mainstream hit that was everything she wanted. I mean, the name of the group was LITERALLY Soul 2 Soul. It was right there! A mix of modern and classic. Funk and R&B. The freedom in her voice, the relief, the energy…Knowing this bit of background about her just gives so much to the listening experience. She took the lead in a few of their singles and went on to enjoy some success as a solo artist but this is the one. The one that took shuffling sounds that would later emerge as hip hop, reggae violins, and Caron’s incredible vocal and turned it into a gem that still shines just as bright today. Regardless of how the studio is lit.

Highlight: While the a cappella version on the album is a strong platform for Caron’s range as a singer I miss the violins and the beats when they are gone…So I’m going to give the highlight to her ad libbing during the “However do you want me” sections.

 

92. I Will Survive performed by Gloria Gaynor (1978)

 

If you had told me a decade ago that I would grow to appreciate this song, I’d have given you a look. You’d have felt shivery with the power of said look, realising in that moment that you had crossed a line and gone too far.

I briefly worked as a waitress in a place that had karaoke and I heard approximately 78 versions of I will Survive, each worse than the one before. It got to the point that I couldn’t even be in the room when I heard that distinctive piano opener…I would drop whatever I was holding, be that a vase, a birthday cake or someone’s new born baby and launch towards the nearest exit. Because, let’s face it, if you are singing this at karaoke…chances are you are not over it, Hun. Hell one woman gave a 20 MINUTE introduction to her performance explaining all the terrible things that had happened to her (From what I remember there was many dead pets and at least one car accident…possibly gout was involved? Or a trout? Was she attacked by gout or a trout?) and how she would nonetheless survive. I wanted to suggest she use some of that survivor wisdom and experience that made her so very special to read the fucking room and sense that she was depressing the shit out of everyone. But heckling from the staff was frowned upon by the Manager as it impacted our tips for some reason. So I held my tongue and cursed Gloria Gaynor and her stupid disco classic.

The thing is, as naff as the jokes inevitably are, this song did in fact survive the death of disco. It may be dated but the production and Gloria’s soaring story telling have endured where lesser songs have faded. She sounds like she means every word. I wouldn’t want to take her on and try and wheedle my way back into her heart and home. She just won’t have it will she?

I watched an interview with Gloria many years ago where she talked about having major surgery and how a rumour went round that: “The Queen was dead…But the Queen is not dead, she is surviving and thriving” She is talking about herself by the way. How baller is that? Anyway, this sound bite stayed in my head because this song is so iconic that it became part of her identity. She said it with such passion, like OF COURSE I didn’t die or become paralysed in that accident like people feared I would! Remember that song, when I said I WILL SURVIVE over and over??? She remains one of the most celebrated survivors of all time and she certainly won’t let us forget it.

So eventually I came round to this song and I bow to how wonderful she sounds singing it and how real her performance feels. My only problem with it now is this: because of how impressive and empowering the message is, I have always wanted the opportunity to spurn an Ex by growing past them and then rejecting their pleas to return. But, tragically, all of my Ex’s made the very sensible decision to bounce as soon as we broke up so I’ve never had the chance. Never mind. I’m sure I will…Y’know…

Highlight: “Weren’t you the one who tried to break me with goodbye? Did you think I’d crumble?” It must be so satisfying to say this to someone…Only works if you’d ACTUALLY reject them if they came back. Talking to you, drunken karaoke singers.

 

91. You Oughta Know performed by Alanis Morissette (1995)

 

There is currently an article doing the rounds where a fully grown woman revisits this iconic game changing album (Jagged Little Pill) that she loved so much as an angry teenage girl and comes to the slow, brutal realisation that it isn’t very good. Here is the thing: Pop culture nonsense aimed at girls is always getting the shit beaten out of it and then being told it is it’s own fault for dressing like a slut, or whatever.

I could go on about this all fucking day but in a nutshell: If we have to accept that Catcher in the Rye is a classic because it speaks to misunderstood, tortured teenage boys despite the fact that the protagonist is an insufferable cock nugget, then we should equally accept that Morissette’s rage fuelled revenge anthem deserves the praise and attention it got at the time of release. It is not automatically worthless because it speaks to a much maligned demographic that we love laughing at and then asking them impatiently why they are so sad.

Anyway the lecture is over, Because oh my God, You Oughta Know is a perfect encapsulation for what it is to be a messy, cringey, boiling over, utterly authentic teenage girl in the 90’s. YOK is honestly as close as I could get to turning my tear stained teen diary into a song. Apart from the actual terrible songs I wrote. And no, I will not share these here. One of them was called Freak. But really, no.

Again, quality of musicianship is up for debate but how perfect are the sentiments? I will give you a clue: Totally spot on. Ok, not for everyone’s experience. Ok, it is so ripe for parody. Ok, the melodrama is exactly the reason it is hard to take it seriously. But listen to Alanis howl that IT’S NOT FAIR and tell me you don’t relate to that raw rejection of feeling rejected?

Do you remember the first person you promised to hold until you die? Well, did you?

And do you remember the first person who promised they would never leave you who went on to act like you never existed? Well, do you?

For the record: the protagonist of this song is in the wrong. Of course when you break up with someone you are allowed to move on and you are entitled to do so without having your Ex call you while you are eating to whine about how sad they are. But try telling that to Baby Alanis or anyone who has been blindsided with a break up. I dare you. While you’re at it, tell them there are plenty more fish in the sea! They’ll like that!

To this day, people like to discuss who it was about and there are some theories that just won’t go away. But I honestly don’t think it matters. Don’t you see? It was always about her feelings, her performance, her talent, her pain…It was never about the man, he could have been anyone. Maybe that’s why people hate it so much.

Highlight: I listened to it on a loop for an hour, struggling to give up any of my favourite moments but it has to be the most famous line: “And everytime I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it” Not because of the edgy and undeniably brutal “fuck you” in that sentiment but the little repetition of “Well, can you feel it?” That delivery…The hurt is palpable.

 

 

 

Tune in Next Friday for 90-86!

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Women’s History Month Special: My Top 100 Favourite Songs Performed by Women

Women’s History Month Special: My Top 100 Favourite Songs Performed by Women

Intro/100-96

I started writing this about a week ago for my own amusement. Most things I write are for my own amusement for I am very self involved and don’t like going outside all that much. But after telling a few people what I had been up to while they had been doing life stuff and getting an enthusiastic response rather than a wave of pity, I decided to return to my dust covered Cokieblume blog and share my findings with a few friends and the folks that stumble across said blog while googling gross things. (That’s right. WordPress tell me what you were looking for. Dude. Really?)

Also, Women’s History Month is going to be over in, like, two days so I thought I’d better post Part 1 before that happened. The plan is for a new post to go out every Friday until it is done. Which will take a while…But it is still a Women’s History Month project. Because I say so. And I am woman. Hear me roar etc.

So before I get started here is my unnecessarily defensive list of house keeping points:

PGGAQ (Probably Going to Get Asked Questions)

So the ranking…Is it about the songs or the singers? The lyrics or the vocals? The melody or the star power?

Well…All of the above? The ranking is, as usual, mostly arbitrary and somewhat influenced by who/what I wanted to write about. I would say the first 100-50 is more about songs than singers though sometimes the singers make the songs, 50-20 are a combo of favourite singers/songs, 20-10 is my favourite girl groups ranked according to favourite songs they put out, (Confused yet?) and the top 10 are my favourite female singers of all time (as of now) and the music they perform that I especially love. Clear as crystal right?

Where is…?

This is a personal preference list. If you are horrified by the absence of Mariah, Whitney, Christina, Ariana, Billie Holiday, Adele, Daphne and Celeste etc etc know that it is probably because I am not a fan of either their voice(s), their material or both. Or I am unfamiliar with their back catalogue/talent. Which brings us to…

I can’t believe you missed out X! What do you know?

Nothing at all! Except what I like and that’s what I’m writing about.

Your taste is a bit basic…

More of a statement than a question but yes Hurtful Stranger it is! I own that I don’t go very far out of my comfort zone here and part of that was a practical decision not to include much of the obscure in order to simplify the basic research/construction of the task at hand. With that in mind…

Can I tell you about this singer I like that I think you will like?

Please do! I may not leap on them right away but I genuinely like having dialogue with people about music they are passionate about as long as I am not being told I am wrong for liking what I like. As my pal Alex likes to cross stitch: Personal taste is not up for debate.

You say you are celebrating Women’s History Month…Don’t you think we should be celebrating real female heroes like Rosa Parks? Or Marie Curie? Or Teachers? Or Doctors?

Sure. If you want to write a blog about your top 100 Favourite Female Teachers or send me a biography of Rosa Parks then go right ahead. I am writing about songs and singers I like.

But X doesn’t even write their own songs so how much credit do they deserve?

I will talk a bit about the people behind some of the songs because of course that is a big part of why I love the music on this list, but for the most part I will be focusing on the singers because that is what SELLS most of these tracks. The human voice is my favourite instrument and always will be. Whether it is because of their vocal range, their natural charisma, their unique qualities…Every singer on this list has something I admire. The fact that a sizeable chunk of these songs are written by people other than the women singing them (Though not as many as I expected to be honest…Turns out I am super sexist too) does not in anyway negate the talent of these singers, the interpreters of the words. The front women, if you will. Today, I am focusing on and celebrating them. And since we’ve dove into that particular hornet’s nest…

Are you going to do a Men’s one?

Maybe.

Are you ever going to finish the Disney Films, Beatles list etc?

I intend to. But who knows?

I thought you liked musicals and movies…I don’t see any musical theatre/musical film people on this list! What gives?

Well spotted, hypothetical question asker. I decided to stick to chart music (with one exception that I will explain later) just to simplify the process for myself. Otherwise we’d have Liza Minnelli, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews, Lea Salonga, Patti LuPone and many many many others clogging up the list and it would have to be a top 1000. Plus, the tonal whiplash would have been too hard to manage. My love of musical/classical performers is actually quite a different beast to my love of pop (and r n b, hip hop, folk, country, disco, house…etc. It’s mostly pop, guys.) and perhaps that is another list for another day. But given how long it usually takes to complete these projects…Maybe not.

Onwards!

PART 1: 100-50 SOME OF MY FAVOURITE SONGS MADE GREAT BY FEMALE VOCALS

100-96

 

100. I Confess performed by K.D. Lang (2011)

I struggled with this one. This list got out of hand on more than one occasion as I sat in a panicked 3am state trying to decide exactly which songs I wanted to include only to suddenly remember another one…Have you ever stopped to think about just how many songs you have listened to in your life?! It is a metric fuck ton and trying not to forget a singer I really like drove me a little mad for a few nights. A fun kind of mad though. Because it doesn’t matter of course. I’m not sure anything has mattered less in the history of the whole planet. But nonetheless, it hurt quite a bit when I had the final list completed, cross checked and was ready to start when suddenly my brain screamed: “Fucking K.D. Lang isn’t on the list you stupid piece of cock cheese!”

After briefly stopping to tell my brain to chill out and not be so rude, I had to concede that a list focusing on female vocals I really like that didn’t include K.D. Lang would have been be a bit wrong. Honestly, I liked Kathryn Dawn Lang before I even heard her sing. I watched an interview with her many years ago and was like: Who is that? And more importantly, does she want a best friend? And then, it turned out, her singing voice is powerful, versatile, rich, emphatic and empathetic. Oh shit. I shouldn’t be blowing all those adjectives this early there is still 99 + songs to go…

I considered her marvellous Roy Orbison endorsed version of Crying and her star making hit Constant Craving…But it is her 2011 album Sing it Loud and especially the collection opener I Confess I go back to most. The Siss Boom Band sound great and everything from K.D.’s diction to the little country twangs all the way back to the authentic longing in her delivery just make me swoon…In fact, authentic is the word that summarises her best. Now can we seriously be friends now please?!

Highlight: The light and low touch on the “’adly” words make my brain melt.

 

99. Harmour Love performed by Syreeta (1977)

Some songs are eternally linked with something else in the mind of the listener. Like how ketchup is paired with chips, like walking past a building you used to live in and being transported back to who you were then, like how even though your parents got divorced years ago you can’t really work with one without remembering the other…Y’know. Links. Connections. The inability to truly separate is what makes life’s little losses so unbearable to begin with: We suck at moving on.

This is my long winded way of explaining that the inclusion of Syreeta’s Harmour Love on this list can be entirely laid at the door of Junebug, a 2005 indie darling that utilises this happy go lucky tune in two distinct ways. It shows up in both the opening and closing credits. In the opening, Madeline and George meet at an art auction and are instantly besotted with each other. Cue giggly hook up, scored by a lyrically appropriate ditty about the literal experience of falling in love.

By the time the song returns at the film’s close, a lot of shit has gone down and suddenly the chirpiness feels…Well…not insincere exactly but more weighted? Like to feel that light, frothy, charming joy comes at a price. Lasting relationships can never stay in that “funny, funny feeling” place forever and boy does Junebug leave you with that message.

Leaving the film behind, Harmour Love is just…lovely. It is the audio equivalent of skipping. Syreeta is not a singer whose material I am that familiar with but her vocal delivers the mood of the piece beautifully. I love how even in the video she is beaming. The beam carries through the tune.

When looking up this song, I learned that it was written by her first Husband (who she was divorced from at the time of recording) who also does backing vocals on the track. So what? I hear you cry. This what, I shoot back: The dude in question was Stevie Wonder. Huh. There you go. Again, to sing a song about the wonder of love BY and WITH your Ex Husband…What must that be like? There is more going on beyond the jolly surface of this one.

Highlight: I love her little “Oh Joe” just after the first chorus.

 

98. Ain’t Nobody performed by Chaka Khan (1983)

As will become clear, I like my chart music with a bit of drama. The groovy, synth heavy production may be the star of the show in Ain’t Nobody but kudos is due to Chaka Khan for injecting such umph into the fairly generic lyrics and making it sound really, really important and urgent. Dance floor fillers live forever when the vocal is as memorable as the production: While musical fads come and go, the voice endures. And Khan’s belting, vocal range and even distinctive pronunciation of certain words (wassss, freeddooommmm, forev-eeerrrr) demonstrate why she is known in some circles as the Queen of Funk. It is a wonderful performance. There are approximately a billion trillion covers of this song and while they came and go, it is the Chaka Khan version I want to make shapes to for years to come.

Highlight: “I needed somewaaaannn” The way she makes the sound “one” into “wan” just works for me. There is a lot of that magic in this song and I can’t get enough.

 

97. Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree performed by Brenda Lee (1958)

I have spoken about Rockin’ before when discussing Christmas songs on another post and while I considered ignoring Christmas themed tracks due to the cognitive dissonance of talking about such things in March there were a few I just couldn’t ignore. This one? I have always enjoyed it and that is in part due to the musical touches (rock guitars, saxophone etc) but also because of Lee’s vocals.

A lot of 50’s Christmas songs just exude naffness but I always pictured Brenda performing into the mic with one hand on her hip, maybe blowing bubble gum bubbles, producing that effortless, smooth sound from her pipes while rolling her eyes. She isn’t trying too hard. The clear, crisp vocals have the slightest hint of a rasp but she is not pushing herself. It sounds great and damn cool to my ears…Would you like to know how old she was when she recorded this?

Are you ready?

13. 13 years old. She was 13 fucking years old! And I shouldn’t swear when discussing the musical output of a child, but for reals can you credit that???? And she is only 4ft 9 inches so not only was she 13, she was tiny and probably needed to stand on a box to reach the aforementioned microphone to sing with the chords of an adult while still being a baby…her nickname in the 60’s was Little Miss Dynamite…Yep…as I suspected by those ice cool vocals…Ms Lee is a bad ass.

Highlight: “Do some CArolling” That almost imperceptible squeak on the word carolling pre-empts where her incredibly successful career would take her (Hint: It’s Nashville) and I love it. I could listen to this 2 minute song over and over and not get bored.

 

96. Whenever, Wherever performed by Shakira (2001)

This song…It is my happiness juice. While I am slightly embarrassed to admit this…But, no. No apologies. No excuses. Whenever, wherever this song is playing I will be there and dancing like a total prick.

And I can’t be the only one. Not only was this Columbian born Shakira’s English language début (hence the bizarre diction and weird lyrics which frankly add to the brilliance of the whole thing) and her break through hit in America it remains one of the biggest selling singles OF ALL TIME. It received world wide success, topping the chart in 29 nations and smashed records all over the shop. Yes. The pan pipes song with the line: “Lucky that my breasts are small and humble, so you don’t confuse them…with mountains” was just that universal. No matter your language, religion, sexuality or race…You too felt blessed that your mammaries could not be mistaken for Ben Nevis. #blessed.

Shakira’s performance works for me because of her commitment. Regardless of the much mocked sexy ass rubbing in the video, the shitty green screen, the ease with which she could be parodied (I know someone who does an excellent Shakira impression and I bet you do too) it is a song that once heard, is not easily forgotten. The reason her cry (Le-ro-lo-le-lo-leeee) is so distinctive is because nobody had done it before. Her voice is powerful, strong and full of passion and I honestly like it a lot. What can I say? We’re meant to be together.

Also, Gloria Estefan helped write it. I couldn’t think of a way to effortlessly bring that up so I’m just sticking that nugget in at the end.

Highlight: In the last chorus, the “You’ve got me head over heels” is just so knee-bendingly earnest. Me encanta.

 

 

Tune in Next Friday for 95-91!

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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.

bowie-mick-blowjob

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.

tumblr_mpjp1zpi8I1swlrzxo3_500

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.

OOC

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.

cheryl-cries-applauds
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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