Monday, 28 September 2009

58. 10 Songs inspired by a Buckley

I Never Asked To Be Your Mountain - Tim Buckley
Eternal Flame - Joan as Policewoman
Just Like Anyone - Aimee Mann
Grace - King Creosote
You Were Right - Badly Drawn Boy
Memphis Skyline - Rufus Wainwright
Try Not to Think About It - Juliana Hatfield
Memphis - PJ Harvey
Dream Letter - Tim Buckley
Dream Brother - Jeff Buckley

And you could add to that all those average songs since then by British indie bands with high-voiced singers. JJ72? Funnily enough, I have nothing against Coldplay, but when they came out, before I'd heard them, I'd seen them being compared to Jeff Buckley, so was interested. When I first heard Shiver on the radio, I thought I'd just heard the new Shed Seven single. Chris Martin's not a terrible singer, but he's not Jeff Buckley. Buckley was also, I gather, an influence on Thom Yorke's singing of Fake Plastic Trees, which is a Radiohead song I rather like.
Anyway, I suppose everyone's a bit over the Buckleys now, aren't they? They had their time at the turn of the century, when there was a lot of Tim Buckley in the press. I even went to a Tim Buckley tribute concert at the RFH where various middle-ranking British stars paid their respects and did a version of one of his songs.
There was also a tribute album a few years pack, the best of which is, I think, King Creosote's version of Grace (above) which he really reshapes and makes suitable for the human (not superhuman) voice. Grace is my favourite Jeff Buckley song. Even now, it's incredible to listen to, it's his most stunning vocal tour de force, and just such a well-crafted song.
It took a while to realise that I don't particularly like Tim Buckley. His voice and his lyrics are often rather hammy. There are some pretty ones, mind, but i bet Jeff Buckley's version of I Never Asked To Be your Mountain which he sang in New York in the early 90s was the best one ever.
I do, after all, remain a big Jeff Buckley fan. I think Grace is a classic album and I think the next one would have been class too. Strangely, besides Hallelujah, my early favourite Jeff Buckley songs (I, like most people, became a fan after death, though i remember reading about him when he was promoting Grace) were The Sky is a Landfill and Morning Theft on the sketches album.
The story is eerie, i guess, and has been played up that way, with a joint biography drawing parallels between father and son, and the songs they wrote for each other decades apart.
Anyway, i thought it would be naff for me to write about Jeff Buckley (though i suspect there are one or two such atrocities in my past) so i tried to be more vague and just start with the line "sketches of your sweetheart" and go from there. I think, sometimes, though, I find it hard not to stick to a script which I don't want to stick to. This isn't about Jeff Buckley but i wish i could have gone further off-topic.

"I'm not drowning, I'm waving" I heard you say too often -
drawing too much attention to the clown behind the tears

It's always been too easy to push your own enigma
with weak impersonations of furies, wolves and queens

I can't say I remember I ever heard you howling though
I've learnt it turned from party piece to perceived cri-de-coeur

You won't make me feel guilty - I don't care about history
I'll live with all the hatemail, 'cause i know what I saw

Though I may remain baffled by endless loves engendered
I can applaud your effort to play the part intended

sitting in a strip club lunchtime after lunchtime
and all you could produce were sketches of your sweetheart

This is my fitting tribute - not war cry or confession,
nor trilling imitation of adolescent excesses

If all those tears are genuine there's something I am missing
so I'll keep my snakes well hidden and toast unlived potential.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

57. 10 Last Songs

It struck me this week that I was neglecting the original idea, which was to make actual tracklistings for compilations tapes - orders lovingly put together and honed to create a perfect whole.
It was time to put the focus back on the music ... man.
In doing so, I have, ironically, not created a tape which works as a whole, as all these songs are, as the title suggests, last songs, so none of them should be 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th songs.
So, in a sense, the order in which they are listed represents the extent to which they fulfil their role in reverse, you see.

Goin' On - Flaming Lips
Misstra Know-It-All - Stevie Wonder
The Good Will Out - Embrace
Jet Lag - Brendan Benson
Judy and the Dream of Horses - Belle and Sebastian
Rock'n'Roll Suicide - David Bowie
For Now and Ever - Super Furry Animals
The Spirit of Giving - The New Pornographers
Sons & Daughters - The Decemberists
With Arms Outstretched - Rilo Kiley

All these are last songs on albums and all are are of a certain style, suited to the singalong, the handclap, the communal feeling.
Although this is a classic trick, they were surprisingly tricky to find, for a few different reasons. Firstly, bands quite often like to soften the blow on an album by putting a light or short track after what would appear to be the more natural ending - the most famous example being The Beatles ending their recording career with Her Majesty rather than The End, then you have Elbow putting Flying Dream 143 after Grace Under Pressure on Cast of Thousands or Friend of Ours after One Day Like This on The Seldom Seen Kid, that kind of thing. Which is fine. Somewhat more annoying is the modern obsession with bonus tracks being tagged on to the end, so that the actual big ending to an album loses power, so probably bands don't bother so much with it. Also (and i'm as guilty of this as anyone) very often one just doesn't reach the end of an album.
Indeed, album sequencing seems rather a lost art, which started off with CDs and has been hastened with the digital age. Most folk wouldn't know what the last track on an album was, they'd just pick and choose, so why should the artist bother creating that big outro -
A shame, as some of these are real favourites of mine. I'm a sucker for the big songalong - one or two of these are pretty gratuitous - The Embrace one sticks out, but at the time I remember it putting a lump in my throat.
I love the last three more than anything - if I was ever DJing at some hipster's joint, I would want to close the evening with one of them. Having played the tunes at a wedding recently, I regret that by the end I was too wasted to plan my my ending properly, and just kept going till I was switched off, rather than giving the event a suitable indie-singalong close.
Although a faux-poignant manufactured big ending can be a turn-off to the cynical mind, and these things have to be earned, when they are earned, there's nothing wrong with giving in to it.


You took all you could get
from that last cigarette
swore to love it henceforth in absentia
as, at last, you breathed out
no onlooker could doubt
what this whole-hearted sacrifice meant to you

But you tried to explain
that you'd come to abstain
as a protest against dull continuity -
such a misapplied phrase
and the eyebrows it raised
stained your good name into perpetuity

And suspicion it grows
at the country-rock shows
when you huff and turn tail as the end draws near
said you'd come to be bored
by the usual encores
that the cliches of closure offend your ears

If you scorn the best parts
'cos your set on being smart
then that scorn may find its own way back to you
so you'd bitch and you'd moan
if Bob played 'Rolling Stone'
an indulgent, extraneous track to you

Cold and callow, you'd boast
that a trumpet's last post
was a trick best ignored and best trivialised
and you can't understand
these conventions you've damned
bring the best from the honourably civilised.

Friday, 18 September 2009

56. 10 Songs for the Aftermath

Death of a Party - blur
11.11 - Rufus Wainwright
Aftermath - REM
After the Goldrush - Neil Young
Sunday Morning - Velvet Underground
Papa was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
Talkin' World War III Blues - Bob Dylan
My Love Has Gone - Josh Rouse
Sequestered in Memphis - The Hold Steady
Left Alone Among the Living - Spearmint

I'm just back from watching The Hurt Locker, which really is one hell of a film, and in a couple of different ways fits in with my train of thought. First of all in terms of PTSD, which I couldn't know anything about, but which is looked at in the film in the sense of ... what do you do after? how can you do anything after? and secondly there were scenes in it which fit in with the title of the poem I've written underneath ... eerily.
In these songs, there are various different types of aftermaths - which reminds me, when the Rolling Stones released the album 'Aftermath' in the 60s, Ringo Starr suggested to the rest of the Beatles that they call their next album - which turned out to be 'Rubber Soul' - 'After Geography'. As a joke. Cos he was the joker. In the Beatles. Peace. But no autographs.
The much-maligned Snow Patrol's second album is called 'When it's all over we still have to clear up' and they have a song with that name too, and the title exemplifies one kind of aftermath, that kind of 'shit what happened i don't remember o no we've got to clear up' feeling you get in extremis in films like The Hangover and Very Bad Things, and that Yellow Pages advert from the early 90s, you know the one. Films does this better than songs, probably, but Sequestered in Memphis is rather a good narrative song.
Then I suppose there's the aftermath in terms of the people left behind, whether in Papa was a Rolling Stone or the Spearmint Song Left Alone Among the Living - some people just leave a wake behind them.
Then I guess there's the After the Goldrush boom and bust idea, and Talkin' World War III Blues is about what happens after the big explosion. I think the Rufus Wainwright song is, too, in a more real way.
Anyway, I wrote this after reading a passage in the book '45' by Bill Drummond, who used to be in the KLF. I liked the book very much at the time, indeed could say i was inspired by the author's wild art terrorist pranks and his bemused attitude to them, but the passage in question was out of step with the rest of the book - beautiful and surprising.
Anyway, this is called


Call it the calm after the crash,
Two planes in mid-air come down just yards apart
then silence splits the land.

Festivals abound - I'm tired after half a night.
No one can pick me up on the lapses in my thought.

The calm after the crash -
the theatre empties within seconds.
They've all got trains to catch,
the drama is forgotten.

Turbulence - a child's word -
a parent's anecdote, the nausea descends
on eavesdroppers unwitting.
"I'd be so good for no one
I've been no good for you
I'm clutching at thin air
and you, you're only smoking."

Two aeroplanes have crashed,
collided in mid-air
Rain's falling, wind is blowing -
the fires have both gone out.
New life is springing up,
moss to cover cracks -
the calm after the crash.

So, that's it, really. Silence after everything.

Monday, 14 September 2009

55. 10 Songs of Song

This Song - Badly Drawn Boy
Tower of Song - Leonard Cohen
Your Song - Elton John
Redemption Song - Bob Marley
Sing a Song - Jenny Lewis
This is Just a Modern Rock Song -Belle and Sebastian
Sing a Song For You - Tim Buckley
Sing Me Spanish Techno - New Pornographers
Songs My Mother Taught Me - Paul Robeson
I Write the Songs - Barry Manilow

Some people hate self-referential songs - the smugness, laziness in the lyric, the rhyming with long ... the apotheosis of this awfulness perhaps being Robbie Williams, in the song Strong using the line "and that's a good line to take it to the bridge".
I can understand that - researching this list made clear to me just how many songs there are with "song" in the title, and many of them are about song (as opposed to say Song 2 or Song for Sunshine, which is perhaps just lazy titling) or whatever, so perhaps it's an overused theme.
However, I think this is a nice bunch.
Your Song is often cited as a terrible lyric, but i think it's very bold, very well-controlled and funny, not a bad lyric at all.
A lot of these songs are about the power of a song to act as comfort or whatever - some work better than others. I don't really like the Jenny Lewis lyric, but it's a pretty tune (that reminds me of the Regina Spektor song On the Radio (On the Radio, we heard November Rain, the solo's awful long, but it's a pretty song).
There's a famous scene in Don't Look Back where Donovan sings a pretty song of the name 'To Sing For You' and Dylan replies with 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue', which is meant to be a master putting the novice in his place, but i quite like the Donovan song and don't think Baby Blue is one of the great Dylan songs.
The B and S song contains one of my all-time favourite lyrics "This is just a modern rock song, this is just a sorry lament, we're four boys in our corduroys, we're not terrific but we're competent". It may be smug, it may be self-referential, but it'll do for me.
On the subject, might I highly recommend Nick Cave's The Secret Life of the Love Song, a lecture thing he gave around 10 years ago. I think I'll come to it in more detail down the line, but it's really interesting and has hung over plenty of my thoughts about songs. Including this ... which is really about the absence of songs


The listed have few titles
The words they have no chords
to help convey their meanings
and lift them from the wornout pages
to the readiest hearts and ears.

And i would write you secular hymns
Balm in the broadest minor key
But I have written no songs
And i have found no church for me.

Or I would write you children's songs
simple rounds to sing along to
but i have written no such and
have found no children to belong to.

The catalogue has no index
For no reader strays upon it
Dead verses have no critics
to mould and shape their future
and give merit to their past.

And I could write some folk songs
borrow form from the common hoard
But I have written no songs,
to be trusted or be ignored.

Or I could write punklove songs
bold, three-chord, starshaped gems
but I have written no songs
and nor does anyone await them.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

54. 10 Songs about Riots

White Riot - The Clash
Street Fighting Man - The Rolling Stones
Some Riot -Elbow
I Predict a Riot - Kaiser Chiefs
Old Soul Song (for a new world order) or No one would Riot for Less - Bright Eyes
Riot Radio - The Dead 60s
Daughters of the Soho Riots - The National
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised - Gil Scott Heron
Riot Van - Arctic Monkeys
Ghost Town - The Specials

I don't think Bob Dylan was ever in any riots, though Joe Strummer definitely was.
I've never been in a riot, whether willingly or unwillingly. I suppose it can happen when you least expect it, but really I'm a little lily-livered and would probably run off home for my tea.
I haven't even been on a march, and it's one of those things like not recycling I've got no real excuse for, so i just get a bit sneery and right-wing when challenged on it.
It wasn't always thus, I used to be pretty convinced I'd "get involved" but some of us just don't get involved, because we like watching TV too much.
I wonder what would get a riot out of me ... Eddie Murphy maybe ... Eddie Murphy post 1990, in particular. Makes me so mad.
Anyway, I look back at myself and I cringe. Just like everyone does. But you don't cringe so much if you don't have a paper record of what is cringeworthy.


I'd hoped for somewhat better
when I looked back at anger
spraying wildly off old pages

I'd hoped the rhyme of battle
with Seattle would have carried off
the smallest tinge of wit

I'd hoped (though I remembered
the name 'The Peasant's Revolt')
that my links were not too ponderous

I'd hoped I hadn't taken the name
of Jack Straw (twofold) in vain
though I guess that was the starting point

I'd forgotten that I compared
Bill Clinton to Richard II -
I give kudos for that

I'd forgotten a rather neat line
about hating the effing stewards
and bowing before the effing owners

I'd forgotten the heavy and absurd
use of fuck and shit which used
to litter almost every verse

I'd hoped to feel more guilty
at how little I give a shit now
about riots and revolutions

instead I just felt guilty
for my poor 10 year old notebook
to've borne such foaming nonsense.

Friday, 4 September 2009

53, 10 Songs with Imagined Encounters

Roy - Animals that Swim
Sylvia Plath - Ryan Adams
Ingrid Bergman - Billy Bragg and Wilco
Judy - Pernice Brothers
I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine - Bob Dylan
The Queen is Dead - The Smiths
She's Madonna - Robbie Williams
Beatles - Kathryn Williams
Walking in Memphis - Marc Cohn
Let It Be - The Beatles

Hey there, sports fans, this is a nice little subcategory of songs, where the singer has some kind of vision of a famous person - Bob Dylan made rather a habit of this, but there's only one from each performer and one for each subject, which means no place for Badly Drawn Boy's You Were Right, which is a song i used to really love, and in it he's married to the Queen and Madonna lived next door.
Why didn't Badly Drawn Boy keep on producing great stuff? That was a shame. I met him once after a gig (I'm not imagining it), he was very nice - Andy Rourke from The Smiths was there too, i imagine that would excite a lot of people more. His first album I've been listening to recently, it's really a great album. Anyway, I digress.
Some crackers here, Roy by Animals by Swim is really funny, about Roy Orbison. It imagines meeting him in a murky London bar, and says "I thought he was dead" (Roy Orbison is dead, of course). I'd be interested to know about more of this kind of song. Pop stars should be talking to and imagining, summoning up their heroes all the time. It's an agreeably crazy thing to do.
I like the Billy Bragg one, taken from a Woody Guthrie lyric, about Ingrid Bergman and Ryan Adams does the same thing, to slightly unsatisfactory effect, about Sylvia Plath.
So I've brought the same kind of craziness to a story about Jenny Lewis. It's kind of twee, twee mcgee, and some may question whether Jenny Lewis deserves to be mythologised in this way. Sure she does.

I met Jenny Lewis outside the Hilton
on Park Lane. The summer evening was pressing
my nerves to tobacco, and I was admiring
wealth's tacky apparel and feeling so healthy
when Jenny came sliding through the side entrance
not looking for nothing but i begged her to ask me
for a light. She begrudged, and exhaled like a sailor
and I told her I loved her - always a good start.

I wasn't the first, not even ten thousandth
but she deigned to seem shocked that I stated the obvious.
I quoted a lyric from Track Six of the second
Long Player just to prove it wasn't just her red hair
that moved such a man who hid in dark doorways
at a hint of affection to express so entirely
his deepest devotion at just one exhalation
with eyes shut, fingers crossed and arms outstretched.

She spun round and back and urged me to speak on -
I waged her she felt too this grim city sickness
afflicting and withering us soft country soulsters,
born in the wrong place, raised at the wrong time.
I can't say she nodded, I can't say she didn't -
"look at this place, now, Jenny, look at these people
coughing and conning themselves and their loved ones
and crashing and crashing the same cars, always.

"Jenny, I'd ask you to take a walk with me
somewhere unheard of by doctors and lawyers
if I could muster the strength of adventure
to put out this cigarette, walk out on this city
uncaring and fragile, to take care of itself -
but bear with my bent-double, crippled bravado
i used up in the instant i first saw your red hair
so out of place on this grey, green, blue lane."

"Brother, how many times do you rightly imagine
I've heard men of your ilk offering to walk me
out of my troubles and into some forest.
But I read 'bout the forests and i'm sticking to cities."
"Ten thousand times, maybe, but men will keep asking,
Jenny Lewis, if you keep writing such songs
of such longing and sorrow. How could one man
with one part country soul withhold his best efforts?"

Jenny she smiled and said "brother, remember,
i'm all California and I'm all child actress.
Don't be too enticed by my hollow devices -
I'm not worth those efforts, shrink back to your doorway
and i'll return gleaming to my Hollywood stagepost."
I knew she was lying to spare me my blushes
and she'll still be waiting on hard city pavements
for the right country soulster to offer her a light.