Blog Archives

Slideshow: Unacceptable in the 80s

In the 1980s, the music scene was changing at a breakneck pace, and artists who first became famous in the 60s were finding it difficult to stay relevant (and therefore rich). Many long-established artists tried changing things musically, often by embracing the use of synthesisers and electronic drum machines. Worse still, they also tried to improve their “branding” by changing their dress sense and visual aesthetics. This led to some unintentionally hilarious record covers. The slideshow below has ten album covers that show older artists trying, and failing, to look cool in the 80s. Click to activate…

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10 Music-Related Facts That Will Make You Feel Old

Ben Folds once sang: “Seconds pass slowly / and years go flying by”, and truer words have never been sung. Because I’m a cruel, cruel man, I’ve compiled a list of ten facts from the world of music that will make you feel like life is quickly passing you by…

The youngest member of Hanson is married with three children

Zac Hanson, the band’s drummer, was only twelve when “MMMBop” was released. So fresh-faced was this little mite, that many people mistook him for a girl. As he sold millions of records, and was one of the youngest people ever to get nominated for a Grammy, I’m sure he didn’t lose any sleep over it. He was married in 2006 and had his first child in 2008.

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John, Paul, George, Ringo… and Peter?

Along with being the most revered rock band of all time, The Beatles are probably the most parodied. Their distinctive songs, accents, haircuts, and clothes, were all ripe for satire. However, there have been many poor spoofs of the “Fab Four” over the years, mainly by kneejerk reactionaries in the 60s and those looking for lazy laughs of recognition.

Peter Serafinowicz is a very funny man, a skilled impressionist, and a big fan of his fellow Liverpudlians, which is why his Beatles spoofs are some of the greatest ever. He’s done a good many over the years, but here’s five of the best…

I’ll Kill

Serafinowicz has done a few videos for Funny or Die UK, including this song which shows that Paul McCartney might not be the loveable guy he makes himself out to be.

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Soggy Island Discs

I was listening to Desert Island Discs today and naturally it got me thinking about what eight songs I would choose. The thing is, I’m not stranded on a desert island; I’m stuck on a soggy island off mainland Europe. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a list of eight pastoral, autumnal tracks suitable for a cold November in Great Britain. Here they are, in no particular order, with links so you can have a listen…

Bob Dylan – Shelter from the Storm Dylan is one of those artists with so many good songs, that picking just one proved to be difficult. This is one of my favourite non-political songs of Bob’s and has lyrics fitting for the time of year.

The Beatles – Rain Another ‘weather’ song. But this is actually an upbeat track about ignoring the rain and getting on with your life. If you haven’t heard it, I wouldn’t be surprised. It was the B-side to Paperback Writer and didn’t appear on any of their studio albums. It was recorded during the sessions for Revolver, which explains the brilliant psychedelic feel.

Nick Drake – Place To Be Nick Drake released three albums in his short life, and they’re all worth a listen. My favourite is his final, most sombre offering: Pink Moon. Like most of the album, this song just Drake singing and playing acoustic guitar; but it’s hugely affecting.

Brian Eno – An Ending (Ascent) This is from the classic ambient album ‘Apollo – Atmospheres and Soundtracks’, and is meant to evoke the NASA moon missions. But the feeling of tranquillity and open space, gives it a wider appeal.

Aram Khachaturian – Gayane Ballet Suite – Adagio This is another ‘spacey’ one, as it was featured in ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. It plays as the astronauts go about their daily routines on the long trip into the unknown.

Jim White – Static on the Radio This guy is one of the great alternative country/Americana artists around. His documentary about the Deep South, ‘Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus’ is also great. This song is a duet with the brilliant singer-songwriter, Aimee Mann.

Brahms 3rd Symphony – 3rd movement – Poco allegretto Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony would make a good choice, but somehow this piece by Brahms (a huge fan of Beethoven) speaks to me more. It’s so contemplative and mournful. The “F, A-flat, F” motif is said to represent the German phrase “Frei aber froh”, meaning “Free but happy”.

Richard and Linda Thompson – Night Comes In Richard Thompson is one of the most underappreciated artists around today. He’s always been a critics’ darling, but that’s never translated to record sales. This track is from the brilliantly reflective ‘Pour Down Like Silver’ album, recorded after his and Linda’s conversion to the Sufi faith.

Abbey Road Resurfaced (Side 2)

Here Comes the Sun – This, for me, is a stone cold classic. Like Harrison himself, it’s modest and sincere. My only minor quibble is the stereo placement, which makes it sound a little limp. It actually sounds a lot a lot more Beatles-y than many of the songs that John and Paul were writing at the time. However, that might be because they had moved ‘beyond’ recording three-minute long pop songs. Speaking of which…

Because – Another high-point of the album. It has an unusual song structure and sounds more like a hymn or a classical piece than a traditional pop-song. That’s to be expected, as it’s adapted from Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. Paul Simon did something similar with his song American Tune: which just goes to show that you can adapt classical music without going all ‘Prog-y’. To my mind, this is the song that best illustrates Lennon’s worldview.

You Never Give Me Your Money – This song feels almost like a mini-medley in itself. It’s about the band’s financial difficulties with their record company. Boo-hoo! You won’t get much sympathy from me, especially when you sing about picking up your bags and getting into a limousine. I can’t help but think that this song, along with Taxman, were probably off-putting to their more blue-collar listeners. Again, it suffers from bad stereo placement: Paul’s vocals alternate between the right and left channels, for no good reason.

Sun King – This had the potential to be another great track, but the ending ruins it for me. That part always reminds me of The Blues Brothers movie, when Murph & The Magic Tones sing ‘Quando Quando Quando’.

Mean Mr. Mustard/Polythene Pam – You can usually rely on McCartney for the silly character songs, so it’s a bit of a shock to hear Lennon do a couple. Musically, MMM could be a children’s song, if it wasn’t for the lyrical content. Polythene Pam also has some lyrics which were probably a bit risqué for the time. These two songs aren’t unpleasant, but just seem like cupboard clearing.

She Came in Through the Bathroom Window – This one starts out really strong, with its catchy melody and strong guitar work, but descends into the usual McCartney character/nostalgia stuff. Although it’s about the same length as some of their earlier tracks, like And Your Bird Can Sing, it seems brief and unsatisfying.

Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End – Well, after an album of disappointing me, McCartney really pulls it out of the bag with this medley. Again, it feels like a bit of cupboard clearing, as it’s lots of little bits strung together, but I think it’s a fitting finale. Or it would be, if it wasn’t for…

Her Majesty – I really thought this was a mickey take when I first heard it. I only found out later that it was left on the album accidentally. It’s grown on me, and in weird way; I think it was a happy accident. It feels like its inclusion is somehow poking fun the idea of an emotional climactic finale. Overall, I think it makes for a fitting ending to the band’s career. It’s just a shame they released Let It Be afterwards, really.

Abbey Road Resurfaced (Side 1)

It’s been 40 years since Abbey Road was released, and there’s been a load of celebrations taking place to mark this anniversary. Lately, it must have been almost impossible to drive down the actual Abbey Road in London’s NW8, without almost running over four idiots re-enacting the famous front cover photograph. What with The Beatles – Rock Band game being released, and the reissued albums, it seems like we’re in the middle of Beatlemania once again.

I thought now would be an appropriate time to reassess Abbey Road. Many people cite it as the best Beatles album, or even the best album ever made. However, I’ve never found it to be either of those things. I think that when you consider all the songs, you find an album which is unsatisfying, by Beatles standards. So, I hereby present to you the first part of my track-by-track dissection of the album:

Come Together This is one of the strongest tracks on the album, and makes for a very good opener. I find the lyrics to be somewhat less than meaningful, and the drums a little limp, but I love the overall ‘feel’ of the song. It almost seems like funk or soul. At the time, the band was playing with soul musician Billy Preston, and John Lennon even suggested that he joined them full time. I wonder if Lennon felt threatened by acts like Sly & the Family Stone, who in 1969, were surely a lot more relevant than The Beatles.

Something – Again, this is another track that I really like. Famously, Frank Sinatra said it was his favourite Lennon/McCartney song [sic]. I think it’s probably as good as some of John and/or Paul’s earlier work. But I don’t think it’s surprising that Sinatra liked it. It wouldn’t sound out of place on an album by Sinatra, Gene McDaniels or any other crooner. It’s very good, but hardly groundbreaking.

Maxwell’s Silver Hammer This is the first song in what I like to call this album’s ‘Trilogy of Error’. The song has been rightly criticised over the years; mostly for being rubbish. It has all the worst aspects of McCartney’s writing: it’s a silly, slice of life, character song. It must be difficult for bands to try and balance light-hearted material with the more serious songs, and I think this album fails in that respect.

Oh! Darling – I don’t have much to say about this one as it’s mediocre. I’ve always liked Macca in his blues shouter mode, but the music and lyrics are just too bland for it to be truly interesting.

Octopus’s Garden – The band liked to allocate one song per album for Ringo to sing, but did he really need to write the song too?! This, along with MSH, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, makes the album feel quite frivolous. With its nautical theme, it also seems like a cynical attempt to repeat the success of Yellow Submarine.

I Want You (She’s So Heavy) – I love the sinister nature of this song, especially the end section. It shows just how much darker Lennon’s work had become. Many people have criticised the abrupt ending, and I’ll admit to finding it disconcerting at first. Maybe that’s the point though.

Stay tuned for my critique of Side 2 of Abbey Road…

Single White Album

All this reissuing of Beatles material started me thinking about the “White Album”. Many view it as one of the best albums of all time, but producer George Martin felt that it should be a single album rather than a double. As you might imagine, being the curmudgeon that I am, I agree with him. So, after lots of deliberation, I present to you my track listing for a single-LP White Album:

Side 1:
Back in the USSR
Dear Prudence
Glass Onion
While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Happiness is a Warm Gun
Martha My Dear
Blackbird

Side 2:
Helter Skelter
Revolution 1
Yer Blues
Julia
Mother Nature’s Son
Sexy Sadie
I Will

There was no great philosophy driving my choices for the album: I just picked the songs that I like the most. I do enjoy others on the record, but I find some a little inconsequential. As for the order of the tracks: I tried to start each side with up-tempo numbers, giving way to the more gentle ones. I thought this would avoid any major clashes in musical styles. However, Back in the USSR and Dear Prudence run together, so I left that as it is. I possibly could’ve crammed one more song on there, but that would’ve affected the sound quality of the LP. Yes, I’ve given it that much thought.

Of course, the album would never have come out with this exact set of songs. There was always a lot of politics involved when it came to the band members and their representation on albums. For a start, this set has more songs by Lennon than McCartney; which I’m sure would’ve annoyed Paul. The band were also keen to have one song on each album sung by Ringo; so they probably would’ve traded a Lennon track for one written by Starkey. Yuck! Harrison might also have felt a little hard done by with just one track; although it wasn’t without precedent.

All in all, I think that there are enough songs from the White Album sessions for really great album that’s one LP and a bit in length. This shows the limitations of the LP format and brings up the idea of ‘Addition by Subtraction’. There’s probably a lot more to be said on that matter, but I’ll save that for another day.

N.B. I reserve the right to change the track listing at will.