Pity poor Jackie Lantern of the internet's "Saved By The Torso", for it is he who will be suffering through "What A Bloody Trainwreck", my mix tape. Over at the WV Bloggers Forum, we decided to do a mixtape trade between the members (technically a mix CD trade, but that doesn't have the same ring) and I got Jackie's name. You might want to drop him a sympathy note. I don't know whose tape I'll be getting yet. I spent considerable time picking songs and trying to arrange them in a listenable order, none of what I had come up with was pleasing to me. I'm an audio perfectionist; both my job and my curse. I had joked on the forum that I was trying to find songs that would make me appear cool, but what I ultimately decided to do was to plug in the ol' MP3 player and pick the first 15 or 16 tracks that came out. For good or for bad, I was going to justify owning them and provide a little history. The first songs to emerge in a shuffle are, I think, far more indicative of someone's personal tastes than a carefully crafted playlist could ever be. Plus, it was easy and I was running out of time. Now that I know Jackie has it, I'll make it public. So that you, my gaggle of adoring fans, can play along at home, the titles are linked to either a YouTube of the song, or a brief audio clip from Amazon. One of them I couldn't even find, so the lyrics had to do. Oh, and thanks to Scarlet for suggesting the idea in the first place.
Deep breath, here we go.
Stan Ridgway, "Big Dumb Town"
I had always had a passing appreciation for Stan Ridgway; former frontman for Wall Of Voodoo. I had used another of his songs, "Drive, She Said" as bumper music on 58Live for my own enjoyment, figuring nobody would really know it or care. Then, a week or so after Paul and I left the air, someone called a comment into the newspaper ventline - "I miss Paul and Spike. They were just a little too smart for a big, dumb town." It's always a possibility that the wording was just a coincidence, but I think it was the other Ridgway fan making his presence felt. The song does have another meaning though; related, again, to the trials and tribulations we suffered at WCHS, the song's protagonist sounds an awful lot like our old General Manager.
Glen Philips, "Men Just Leave"
Another former front man, this time of Toad The Wet Sprocket. Glen Philips went off to do his own thing after Toad split and ended up making "Abulum", a lo-fi collection of songs, sung in a voice ever so slightly different than the one he had used in Toad, writing songs that were a little more introspective. The follow-up album, "Winter Pays For Summer" was a little more disappointing, but still worth a listen.
Yeah, yeah... I know. It's unfashionable to like Coldplay these days. I'll say this for them though, they write a good hook, and that's what has made them so successful. Musicians used to gauge hit-making success by what was termed "the old, grey whistle test" whereby if the ancient cleaner at the end of the night was whistling one of your songs, chances were you had a hit. Coldplay pass the 21st-century equivalent; "the recognisable polyphonic ringtone test".
Mondo Rock, "Cool World"
Australian band Mondo Rock and their front man Ross Wilson have been jobbing around with huge domestic but little international success since the 80s. Wilson hit it big in the early 70s with a song called "Eagle Rock" which has since been made popular by, of all people, The Wiggles, who incorporated it into their shows. Wilson has appeared on their show several times, under the name "King Mondo", a nod to Mondo Rock. This is from the 1981 album "Chemistry" which, held up against the likes of Duran Duran et al, probably should have been held in higher regard by the rest of the world at the time. The synthesizers and the 'every bugger had to have one' nuclear song "The Summer Of 81" date the album somewhat, but it stands up extremely well in historical context.
Happy Mondays, "24 Hour Party People"
I blogged extensively about the passing of Factory Records boss Tony Wilson recently, and the Mondays were one of his discoveries. So the legend goes, they came in last (or second to last) in a battle of the bands competition held by Factory, but were signed by Wilson anyway. The intellectual record boss had often compared caterwauling frontman Shawn Ryder's lyrics to the poetry of William Butler Yeats and, perhaps, if Ryder had been a half-moon glasses-wearing intellectual instead of a swearing, drug-addled Mancunian with long hair, he might have been held in the same esteem by intellectuals and pseudo-intellectuals alike. There's no denying Ryder's grasp of language and emotion, it's just that it's sometimes a little difficult to appreciate if you can't stand the music. For me, the Mondays perfection has always been in their imperfection. It's clear that Ryder doesn't care whether he can sing or not and that he's just there for a good time, but when you really sit down and read what he's written without being distracted by the music or his yelling, it's astonishing to think that a guy in his early 20s wrote it. This song gave the title to the movie about the 'Madchester' scene and encompasses all that was right and all that was wrong about the era and the people who made it.
The song that introduced Seal to the world - the original cut of the song before Seal and Trevor Horn remixed it, leaving legendary acid house producer Adamski in the dust. This version spent several weeks at number one in the UK, Seal's solo version peaked at eight.
Jonatha Brooke, "I'll Try (Return To Neverland)"
Jonatha Brooke has been compared, perhaps unfairly, to artists like Sarah McLachlan over the years and always seems to be teetering on the brink of recognition. This, not her strongest work, comes from Disney's Peter Pan sequel (which used far more elements from the original play than the first movie did). It does, however, show off her astoundingly beautiful voice and her penchant for unusual chord progressions.
Barenaked Ladies, "Thanks, That Was Fun"
I've been a BNL fan for fifteen years or more and keep waiting for the big, sucky sell-out album. Despite their selling "One Week" out to all and sundry for advertising (a move they criticised in their first album), they've never produced it. They've managed to be consistently great throughout their career, defying classification - as singer/guitarist Ed Robertson put it, "we're a funny band that performs serious songs, we're a serious band that performs funny songs".
Dubstar, "It's Clear"
It was, of all things, the cover of their first album, "Disgraceful", that propelled the band into infamy, featuring what could only be described as a brightly-coloured muppet vagina, despite claims of it being 'a pencil case'. It was, post-controversy, changed to a fuzzy slipper in later releases, but by that point, the damage had been done and the band were at the forefront. They never really found their rightful place, the bubblegumesque music matched with lyrics that ranged from dark to emotionally honest to painfully introspective, a mix which alienated most people who either like one or the other. Their first big toe-tapper, "Not So Manic Now", dealt with an elderly, confused and infirm woman being attacked in her home by a faux door to door salesman.... This one... well, I have no idea what it's about. It's good, though.
Half Man, Half Biscuit, "Paintball's Coming Home"
A blistering attack on all that Britain's upper middle classes hold dear, the title has nothing to do with the song - a trademark move from the band whose other titles include "Twenty Four Hour Garage People", "Styx Gig (Seen By My Mates Coming Out Of A)", "Dead Men Don't Need Season Tickets" and, in a nod to Starship, "We Built This Village on a Trad. Arr. Tune". Half Man Half Biscuit have been knocking around since the mid 1980s consistently flying under the radar and never embarking on tours, preferring one-night gigs that happen to coincide with the away fixtures of their favourite soccer team. They once refused an offer to feature on Britain's most influential music show, The Tube, because it would have clashed with a game.
Another Toad The Wet Sprocket spin-off! Half of Toad formed Lapdog at around the same time as Glen Phillips' solo work emerged - it's good, harmless, toe-tapping stuff.
Lemon Jelly, "The Staunton Lick"
I first encountered this song on Sirius' excellent Chill Channel - seemingly taken from one of those "Teach Yourself Guitar" LPs from the 1970s (or, if not, a bloody good impression of one), it's a nice little track that builds nicely.
Linda Ronstadt, "Easy For You To Say"
Umm... well, let's just skip past this one, shall we? I'm going to take the fifth.
Radiohead/Sparkehorse, "Wish You Were Here"
I'm not a fan of cover versions as a rule, but this one knocked me over. Where most cover versions either completely wash over the original arrangement in order to put their own stamp on it, or just copy it note for note, Radiohead created a worthy companion piece that stands shoulder to shoulder with the original.
Robbie Williams, "No Regrets"
Another unfashionable choice. Williams is loved and despised equally in his home country and has made several attempts to make it big over here, none of them amounting to much. My sister says it will never happen because middle America doesn't understand and can't embrace camp. Williams is hardly RuPaul, but certainly does little to quell any rumours of bisexuality. Me... I can't stand him either, but I realised that once I got away from the incessant publicity and TV appearances and I just listened to the music, there were some truly great songs in there. He has a real knack for lyrics and isn't afraid to mix fun with emotion. It seems odd that in order to appreciate the subtleties of what someone can do, one has to completely separate themselves from them. Background vocals on this song come from the Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant and Neil Hannon from The Divine Comedy.
The Monkees, "Nine Times Blue (Demo Version)"
Whenever someone says to me, "the Monkees couldn't even play their own instruments", I break out this tune. It's an extra track from the re-issued "Head" album, the first where they wrote and played their own music instead of having to sing over session musicians. Nesmith and Peter Tork were both pretty established musicians before the Monkees ever came about and it was Nesmith who fought hard for the recognition they deserved as artists. Although it eventually came, it was his headstrongedness that eventually dismantled the band. He left first, followed by Tork, leaving Jones and Dolenz to record one more album under the name which was, if I'm being polite, disappointing. This particular track was a studio out-take, just Papa Nes dicking about on a guitar, playing a half-written song to kill time in the studio. It's a comfortable, note-perfect performance which kills any remaining doubt that he was, first and foremost, a musician. (incidentally, Tork's competence was more than proved to me when I saw The Monkees - all four of them - live in Glasgow in the late 1990s and he played "Cripple Creek", solo, on the banjo. Wow. A-fucking-stounding.)
The Sundays, "I Can't Wait"
It's hard not to fall head-over-heels in love with Harriet Wheeler's voice - strong yet vulnerable, defiant yet frightened, world weary yet naive.
Whale, "Hobo Humpin' Slobo Babe"
Um... how can I defend this one? They're Swedish! I don't even know what a Slobo is.
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