Friday, 13 August 2010

101. 101 Songs

I think it's only appropriate to finish as this blog began, 18 months ago, with a list of 101 great songs. If you can cast your mind back, the very first list was a studied attempt to employ my cold-hearted critical faculties to establish what ought to be considered the greatest 101 songs in the history of popular music - an utterly flawed idea, but interesting to try. I followed that up, in the same post, with a list of what were my favourite 101 songs of the time, trying to avoid too much crossover.

Both of those lists were without numbering, because that kind of numbering would be absurd - how does one establish what makes the 62nd best song better than the 63rd best? So this time around, of course, I'm doing a list of my favourite 101 songs of all time, but with numbering.

Although there'll be crossover, plenty of it, there are quite a few changes, my taste has changed somewhat in the last 18 months, how I've thought about songs, what I'm looking for in songs. I've been considering this list for the last few months, so it's not just spur-of-the-moment, flavour-of-the-month. Hope you like it and are inspired to buy every song on the list you don't know, so trusting have you become of my impeccable taste in the last year and a half.

Before I get to the list, I'll write a little bit about doing this blog, which I'm very grateful to anyone whose stuck with and made comments about. I'm pretty glad I've managed to get to the finish line and I think the fact that people have read it and at least feigned an interest in its continuation is what's meant it didn't peter out around No.23.
Having said that, I realised pretty quickly after starting it that I didn't really want people to read it, the whole thing was terribly embarrassing, so I didn't "publicise" it beyond a very small number of people. In a way that's a shame, i'm sure other folk might have enjoyed parts of it, but let's be honest, I could do without the hassle of lots of people reading my attempts at poems and knowing my thoughts on various matters. So, I think the balance was right in the end. You who read it helped it get to the end, but any more would probably have paralysed it.
Is it as I hoped? Pretty much, to be honest. I had no grand plan really - I formulated the idea that the blog should be like this very quickly, having initially thought I'd just do lots of lists of 101 things, which I then realised would be very very boring, I was thinking about the Spearmint song Sweeping the Nation, how it was both a song about the music industry and a song with a list in it, and so i started thinking about other songs about the music industry, and i remembered my comic poem The Turkletons - the name of my fantasy band - and thought that would be fun to include, and not too embarrassing, because it's a very light jolly thing and hardly a young man baring his soul.
So I thought, well there's lots of songs on themes, perhaps I can link things together and include some more of my poems, as an extra bonus (for whom?). I knew of course that songs were often listed together thematically but i wasn't actually aware that the Guardian did pretty much exactly the same thing every week. O well, that's what comes of reading the Independent.
And I knew I had to do 101, I knew that's how it had to be, though that seemed an awful lot ... and so it proved. There have been various impasses, where I just couldn't come up with anything interesting about anything. So, probably, I've included several posts which are inadequate even for my own low standards, but I just had to do them to keep the momentum going.
So do I think I could have done it better? Well, yes, obviously, but not so much with the poems. I have no illusions to writing genuinely good poems, so I'm pleased that a few of them I wrote especially for it have been satisfactory to my own level. I've probably got a fair bit better at writing them from actually having to think about people reading them and also from people commenting on them, so in that sense the blog has served its purpose. It shouldn't really be that embarrassing either - I've 99% managed to avoid including anything which reveals more about me than I'd like, which is drippy or prurient or indiscreet. But it's embarassing that some of them are just plain bad - because no one wants to be seen to do things badly. But basically i'm pleased enough with how that part's gone.
I'm more disappointed with the bit inbetween, the written sections in between the lists and the poems - too often, I settled for writing in a jokey, conversational style, rather than really making an effort to construct solid sentences and coherent thoughts. Some of my favourite posts are the ones where I had an idea and made an effort to explain it - particularly the one about left-sided Welshmen ...
Another minor disappointment, or rather consideration, is the density of the blog, the fact it's all words words words. That was a conscious decision, the luddite in me not to have links and pictures and all that. Having said that, as i've read more blogs in the last couple of years, I have seen what they can be all about, how full of different links and media and stuff to alleviate the boredom. The only link on my whole blog is to Bruce Springsteen dancing camply - go figure ...
Anyway, something I'm vaguely considering as a longterm project and monumental exercise in vanity is making each post a physical thing, a mix tape or CD with accompanying sleevenotes - that would be kind of fun, wouldn't it?

I'll do another blog now, one which I'll have far less problem with anyone reading. You could probably tell I was always gagging to just write about sport, so the next blog will just cut out the bullshit and be about sport. It has an idea behind it but not a central defining idea. It'll be less stressful than this one.

But more than all the stuff that I've written, the blog has been about the songs, songs as part of a cannon, songs written in reference to other songs, songs on cliched rock subject matters, songs on odd subject matters, mainly great songs, occasionally awful songs. None of the songs in the list below are awful. No indeed.

Here's a fun little coincidence - a month or two ago, as i'm a boring geek, I put together an iTunes playlist where I just selected my favourite 10 songs by band/artist after band/artist I liked, with the idea of doing it till I ran out of artists who I felt had 10 songs worth listening to. In a bit of a trance, I kept on doing it till I stopped with no bands left to include, and how many songs were there? 1010. 101 Bands. De La Soul, you erred. 101 is the Magic Number.
Anyway, recounting that little tale has put me in such a good mood that i'm going to, as well as just listing the songs, give you a little bonus - a sentence or two for each song about why I love it. I'll try to make it as plain and non-rock journalist-flowery-bullshitty as possible. Forgive me if I occasionally err.
Anyway, I hope you like my favourite 101 songs. You really should just buy all of them you don't own. How much will it cost you? Only the cost of feeding your children for a week. Do it.
They are


101. Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
It's so lonely, and stoical. The famous classic line in it is "And I need you more than want you, and I want you for all time" but I just love the sound of the line "and if it snows that stretch down south won't ever stand the strain".
100. Thunder Road - Bruce Springsteen
I've loved it so long. It's, with Born to Run, the definitive Bruce Springsteen car-girl-escape to victory song, but I prefer Thunder Road for its slow build-up and it's more romantic, less bombastic.
99. We Are Your Friends - Justice Vs Simian
'Cause anyone will dance to this. I remember this was sound of Benicassim 2006, coming out of every soundsystem everywhere, and back then I was even more indie not dance than I am now, but by the end of the weekend I'd danced more than ever before in my life.
98. Shining Light - Ash
Saved and shaped their career. I just love the way the verse has a great tune so you suspect there may not be a chorus and when the chorus comes it's twice as good as the verse.
97. Northern Lites - Super Furry Animals
This was their biggest hit (Number 11 - massive!) yet the song's almost over before you get to the chorus. It's about weather. It's just one of dozens of Furries songs of similar quality, but with particularly jolly memories.
96. Someone Great - LCD Soundsystem
It's a very sad song, beautifully written, with lots of jarring lines, and I think is key to why people (overly) idolize James Murphy. Cos he's cool, he's old, he's fat, he makes people dance and he's got heart. What a combo.
95. Smile - The Jayhawks
A small, sweet, elegant band who take a shot at writing a massive song with a massive chorus. It's so cheesy and if Westlife sang it would be Number 1 for 10 weeks.
94. England - The National
The National are my and many other people's band of the moment and this is the stand-out from their latest album. It's atypical in a sense, with the piano dominating, but typical in the way it builds, builds, builds.
93. Paper Planes - M.I.A
It's such an odd mixture, because her vocal is much sweeter than usual, but all the different musical elements are kind of unnerving. In different moods, it can be creepy, angry or joyful.
92. He's Simple, He's Dumb, He's The Pilot - Grandaddy
I just love the bit in the first minute where it builds up to lift-off and it's like diving out from underwater into the open air. It's truly an epic song. and it's one of the great song titles.
91. Lit Up - The National
It's another National song. It's probably their most straightforwardly anthemic song. It has a massive chorus. People can pretend what they like but everyone loves a song with a massive chorus.
90. Moon River - Audrey Hepburn
It's funny with these kind of standards that one really does prefer to hear them sung in a small untrained voice like Hepburn's, rather than say Andy Williams or Frank Sinatra. There's such sadness and vulnerability when she sings it in the film.
89. September Gurls - Big Star
Big Star are a massively influential band to modern tuneful indie, this feels like one of the first modern pop songs - it's thin and perfectly imperfect. For bands like Wilco, Teenage Fanclub, Replacements, even B and S, this was a sound to emulate.
88. Save Me - Aimee Mann
The extended line that follows the words "Save me" in the chorus is always surprising. i always think it will stop before it is, but it's such very confident use of words.
87. Temptation - New Order
It's joyful dance music. I don't really like New Order and I couldn't believe when i heard it they'd done anything so good.
86. Tiny Dancer - Elton John
Obviously, the scene in Almost Famous. People should make more effort to create scenes like that in their own lives.
85. Saint Simon - The Shins
When he goes up an octave to sing "Mercy's eyes are blue when she places them in front of you, Nothing really holds a candle to the solemn warmth you feel inside of you." I mean, that's pretty distinguished stuff.
84. Somewhere - Tom Waits
I'd love this song by anyone, including Barbra Streisand, it's an amazingly beautiful song, but i guess it's the Tom Waits version for me. It doesn't feel like a joke at all when he sings it and the strings are impeccable.
83. Hummingbird - Wilco
For a long time, this would have been a lot higher, I just thought it was the prettiest song. It's the Wilco song to convert non-Wilco lovers.
82. Snow Is Gone - Josh Ritter
Beside the sheer lushness of the chorus, he includes the word migratory in this without even blinking. He's really very good at words.
81. You and I Are a Gang of Losers - The Dears
My love for this song was seriously dimmed by hearing it near the end of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but being on the outside of almost everything is definitely the place to be.
80. Piazza, New York Catcher - Belle and Sebastian
First time I heard this was Stuart Murdoch talking through the album of XFM - he said they'd given it a band treatment but then decided to just return to the "demo" version - a very good idea.
79. Over the Rainbow - Judy Garland
I suggested in my original list that this was the greatest song ever - hardly a revolutionary viewpoint. I don't know why so many modern versions of it see fit to change the tune. That's just stupid.
78. Us - Regina Spektor
Has somewhat suffered from over-exposure and tweeness overload, but it has pretty much come through unscathed. My favourite bit is "Our noses have begun to rust"
77. It's a Motherfucker - Eels
I never really liked the Eels, but this song turned that around pretty much. It's about as unfussy and unforced as a song gets.
76. To Ramona - Bob Dylan
I think this is the Bob Dylan song I would be most confident would convert Bob Dylan-haters and I can mosy confidently be sure displays superhuman lyrical ability. There's nothing not to love in this song.
75. Pictures of Success - Rilo Kiley
It's pretty ornate, pretty ambitious, contains all the things I like about Rilo Kiley - perhaps they've never topped it.
74. Lloyd, I'm Ready To Be Heartbroken - Camera Obscura
Songs like this and 'Us' you feel in a just world they'd be massive hits, they're pop songs, big choruses, easy listening, but they never really get much higher than No 122 in the hit parade.
73. You Masculine You - Lambchop
Although I've owned this album for 10 years, it's only in the last year it's become my favourite song from it. All their songs seem so full of humanity.
72. Cavatina (from The Deer Hunter) - John Williams
I do love the film, so really it just came from there. I think it's playing during the bit Robert De Niro returns to his hometown and drives past the party they're holding for him.
71. Find the River - R.E.M
Although REM are a massive band who've been successful on various levels for 30 years, you tend to feel that it's only Automatic for the People and songs like this that make people think them a great band. I know that's not what their indie fans think.
70. Be Not So Fearful - Bill Fay
I first heard this through Wilco and had the pleasure of seeing Bill Fay sing it with Wilco at Shepherds Bush a few years ago. It's like a hymn.
69. One Man Guy - Rufus Wainwright
Lucky to have a song by a father like this ready made to be sung with a ready made sister to sing it with.
68. Blue - Lucinda Williams
Sometimes I find her voice a bit too much, a bit too full of heartbreak and character, but this I love - like so many of these songs, it seems very simple.
67. You Broke My Heart - Lavender Diamond
It's a bit mental, almost menacing, at times seems kind of ecstatic, like she's possessed or something. It'll be a shame if they don't do another album.
66. Rebellion (Lies) - Arcade Fire
In some ways this is the anthem of the last 10 years, isn't it? There's so much indie that sounds like this now, though. I think it's been downhill for them since this.
65. Ain't That Enough - Teenage Fanclub
Another band who make it all sound incredibly easy. This song rewinds me of the beach at St Andrew, which is nice.
64. Halloweenhead - Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams seems more often to do whiny songs and country songs (which, don't get me wrong, I love) but when he does nasty, city songs, they're often his best. This rocks.
63. Burn Baby Burn - Ash
As does this. Over time, I've come to prefer it to Shining Light, and it has a well-deserved position as an indie floor-filler.
62. A Rainy Night in Soho - The Pogues
They should really have this at the karaoke bars in Soho - they're missing a trick there. I've heard it being covered in Soho - that were good.
61. Dinner at Eight - Rufus Wainwright
It's very much like a song from a musical, which is a good thing surprisingly often.
60. Lose Yr Frown - Electric Soft Parade
Once in a field in Dorset at 3am one morning I had the opportunity of congratulating its writer. I don't make a habit of such things.
59. Like A Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan
What a fascinating choice. My favourite verse is the third verse, which I wrote on my school yearbook page, cos i was supercool.
58. Such Great Heights - The Postal Service
Another one where you know it was a minor hit but think it really ought to be a major hit. Iron and Wine's version is very nice, but I much prefer this.
57. I'm A Cuckoo - Belle and Sebastian
Belle and Sebastian of the last few years has had the thing where they're still lyrically whatever cliched terms music journalist described them, but musically they're seriously muscular and as far from twee as it gets. This is probably the best of B and S post 2000.
56. Slide Away - Oasis
Funny that there's two Oasis songs in this and no Blur. I do prefer Blur. You just can't knock this though. You understand what the fuss was about and how they never wrote another song like this.
55. Van Occupanther - Midlake
The moment of truth in this is the line "They told me I wouldn't but i found an answer. I'm Van Occupanther, I'm Van Occupanther." How is that the answer to anything? But it somehow is.
54. Debaser - The Pixies
This is about 'Un Chien Andalou' and still sounds utterly crazed. I think there's nothing in the world I'd rather dance to.
53. Yes - McAlmont and Butler
I don't think there was any better single than this in the years we were growing up. Everyone you speak to loves it.
52. Is There A Ghost? - Band of Horses
Beginning to realise that this band is all about the voice. And here the voice is pretty awesome.
51. Kathleen - Josh Ritter
There often seems to be an undercurrent of menace in Josh Ritter songs. One can't help but fear that the fate of Kathleen ended up being a bit grisly.
50. Time to Pretend - MGMT
All you needed really were the seven notes. I guess they know that their career is going to be defined by the seven notes, which must be annoying.
49. Isis (Live Unreleased Version) - Bob Dylan
This version, captured on the Rolling Thunder Tour (I think it's on Biograph) is the most insane and rocking that Bob Dylan ever sounded, with the last two verses in particular reaching a pitch of sheer unhinged excitement which is the last thing most people would associate with Bob Dylan.
48. The Mercy Seat - Johnny Cash
I much prefer this to Cave's original, the piano driving it on and swelling and Johnny Cash's voice in its true rightful setting.
47. The Rat - The Walkmen
I'm quite a recent convert to this song, which seems to be building up considerable critical momentum as one of the great songs of recent times. I heard them playing it at ATP, the intro building the crowd to a frenzy, when suddenly the power went. That they were able to come back 15 minutes later and deliver the song with the same power was extremely impressive. This chap can sing.
46. La Tristesse Durere - Manic Street Preachers
This was the first Manics song I loved and has lasted the pace better than any of the others. Everything they do well is done to the best and all the things you wish weren't there with them aren't there.
45. No One's Gonna Love You - Band of Horses
This seems to be becoming some thing of a new American standard too, as I've recently heard covers by Cee-Lo and by an opera singer. It's pretty soppy, really.
44. Dreamy Days - Roots Manuva
The sample is MacArthur Park, it's grand and clearly an attempt to have a big hit, which it wasn't.
43. God Only Knows - The Beach Boys
I have heard this described as ineffable, so I shall not attempt to eff it.
42. If the Brakeman Turns My Way - Bright Eyes
He does these big overwrought songs where words just pile up on top each other and sometimes it doesn't work and is pretty annoying, but this is great, like something on Blood on the Tracks in a way.
41. Sad Eyes - Josh Rouse
Josh Rouse had a period of being a great songwriter but too often seems to treat his gift lightly and just be arsing about - this is really a grand song, every early 70s, almost like the Eagles, but also ornate and musical-ly.
40. A Case of You - Joni Mitchell
Blue is one of my favourite 5 albums and i'd say this is the best song on it - I think it's one of those archetypal songs for me where i'm always searching for others which sound a little like it.
39. There She Goes, My Beautiful World - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
I suppose it's about art and the circumstances in which folk create art, and it's very learned and very funny and a real pop winner.
38. With Arms Outstretched - Rilo Kiley
This is a campfire folksong singalong - you can guarantee that anything that finishes off with handclaps will win me over.
37. The Boy With The Arab Strap - Belle and Sebastian
Talking of handclaps. Would this song still be great without the handclaps?
36. Rise - Josh Rouse
This was in the Top 5 18 months ago. It contains the line "30 years old and nothing's changed" but that becomes less and less appropriate.
35. Mr November - The National
I'm getting the feeling I've written about more and more of these songs previously, and don't want to repeat myself. This is tremendous fun when they do it live. I think it's about meeting record company deadlines.
34. More Adventurous - Rilo Kiley
I love the way it's sung, the way's it phrased, the way it barely has a chorus. And i love the phrase More Adventurous.
33. And the Racket They Made - King Creosote
Oddly, this reminds me of golf. Well, not that oddly.
32. Don't You - Micah P Hinson
Another song which builds and builds, putting layer upon layer, till it becomes something gargantuan. Has thoroughly failed to come anywhere near to this since.
31. A Matter Of Time - The Leisure Society
My favourite song on what i think is one of the best British albums for many years. Is even better live than on record.
30. Float On - Modest Mouse
I've heard someone say this is the song they want at their funeral. That was an odd and unreliable person, mark you, but it's a super song.
29. Live Forever - Oasis
Not sure what this one's doing so high up, but the numbers don't lie.
28. Grace - Jeff Buckley
Jeff Buckley's singing on this is just possessed, inhuman, but it would be a great song even without that.
27. All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
This is almost dance music and yet it's one of my favourite songs. How odd is that.
26. I See a Darkness - Bonnie 'Prince' Billie
So I heard the Johnny Cash version first. I wonder if he ever considered making it I See The Darkness. That would have been rubbish.
25. Slaveship - Josh Rouse
This is one of the jolliest songs imaginable. Again, it's hard to believe how average Josh Rouse's early and later career have been, considering his golden period 2003-2006.
24. Scottish Pop - Spearmint
Coming up a trio of songs from 2001 happy-ish days. This is a fey indie pop song about fey indie pop and it's beautiful in every way.
23. To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High) - Ryan Adams
The first Ryan Adams song I heard and stil perhaps his career high, so easy, somewhat atypical, even the argument at the start is lush.
22. She Fell Into My Arms - Ed Harcourt
I don't know why I still love this song so much, but I do. I still stick by Ed Harcourt generally - he's had all but no success and not much in the way of sustained critical acclaim, but i reckon his time will yet come.
21. Northern Sky - Nick Drake
See what I wrote about God Only Knows. Same applies.
20. Au Fond Du Temple Saint - Jussi Bjoerling
From The Pearl Fishers by Bizet, I came to this through a Furries compilation - it's a great tune.
19. Danny Callahan - Conor Oberst
It's a very sad song with a jaunty tune, it really sucks you in. And all the words do really fit perfectly, which seems obvious but they really do.
18. St Patrick - James Yorkston and the Athletes
This was on a double-A side with a Lone Pigeon song, and it was the Lone Pigeon I was more interested in then, strangely. This is one of my favourite lyrics ever.
17. People Ain't No Good - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Again falling out of the Top 5, but not that far- strangely Nick Cave has just gone through his favourite 30 of his own songs in Uncut, and this wasn't in it. What a dick.
16. For a Dancer - Jackson Browne
It's just a cheesy, sad ballad really, but I don't think I've enjoyed listening to any song more over the last year.
15. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space - Spiritualized
Last year the intended original version which actually samples Elvis Presley was actually released, but i think I prefer the version I originally owned, from 1997. I think it was just the most beautiful thing i'd ever heard. It seems less unique now but still magical.
14. Idiot Wind - Bob Dylan
So this is my highest Bob Dylan song. I guess I prefer it to Rolling Stone cos it's got heart and bitterness and isn't smug, it's wretched.
13. Take Me Anywhere - Tegan and Sara
The chorus just explodes, like glass shattering in a good way. I've always loved this song but I'm actually loving this pair more and more each day. What a sound their voices make.
12. Lost in the Plot - The Dears
Sounds like Gene ... I can't believe there's no Gene in my Top 100. I think it's particularly the space-age guitars in the middle section that I love.
11. In California - Joanna Newsom
This is my favourite song on what I think could well be the greatest album. I'm interested in how it came together, how long it came to put together, whether it was already beautiful in the early songwriting process etc
10. The Trapeze Swinger - Iron and Wine
First heard this at Green Man and that'll never be topped. It's absence from iTunes also makes it reassuringly precious.
9. Sons and Daughters - The Decemberists
It's a marching song, I suppose, and it has gongs and bombs and is the perfect way to finish any album.
8. She's a Jar - Wilco
Another benchmark in my musical taste, such a crazily dark song, it suckers you in, this was the real starting point of my love for modern Americana.
7. Bring da Ruckus - Wu-Tang Clan
Have embarrassed myself many times by singing this in inappropriate places. I don't think there's anything better than this in hip-hop. The menace, the esotericism, the wit, the spare setting, the fact there's loads of rude words.
6. Listen, Listen - Sandy Denny
I think, along with Jeff Buckley on Grace, this is my favourite bit of singing. She had just the most perfect voice.
5. From the Morning - Nick Drake
Can be heard soundtracking adverts for something like butter, which is a little odd. The quietest song ever.
4. Dry the Rain - The Beta Band
I remember making a list of my 10 favourite songs about 10 years ago and I'm pretty sure this was at Number 4. That's pretty crazy. Again, where does a band go from here?
3. My Girls - Animal Collective
I've listend to this song substantially more than any other in the last year - this was a band I was fully ready to give the big thumbs down to after owning the album for a while and then seeing them be pisspoor , but this song is epic and exultant.
2. Ice Hockey Hair - Super Furry Animals
Everything that Furries songs should be - epic, silly, offbeat yet universal, I think no song makes me happier to listen to.
1. Bryte Side - The Pernice Brothers
Same as at the start of the blog really. It would be a shame if this wasn't still my favourite song. It's the fifth track on an album which probably sold no more than a few thousand copies worldwide, so probably passed a lot of its purchasers by, is probably almost entirely forgotten by everyone except me. I wonder if about 5 or 10% of all the times this song has ever been listened to are by me. That would be excellent.

So, those are my songs, that was my blog. Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

100. 13 List Songs

Losing My Edge - LCD Soundsystem
12 Reasons Why I Love Her - My Life Story
I Wanna Go To Marz - John Grant
They Can't Take That Out Away From Me - Frank Sinatra
My Favourite Things - Julie Andrews
Faster - Manic Street Preachers
You Get What You Give - The New Radicals
Thou Shalt Not Kill - Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip
Destroy Rock'n'Roll - Mylo
America, Fuck Yeah - Trey Parker and Matt Stone
Scottish Pop - Spearmint
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover - Paul Simon
How To Fight Loneliness - Wilco

Ha! I've done 13, just to show I'm not regimented, I'm not tied to a number, not 10, not 100, not 101. Well, I am tied to 101, actually - this is without doubt the penultimate post of this blog, and in a way the last true one, as you shall see. Freedom awaits!
This list here is here to show that lists are cool, lists are art, these are cool songs, sometimes beautiful songs, and they're lists, so if people think lists are for losers, they are wrong wrong wrong. They're not all entirely lists, but they all are strongly list-based, and I feel their emotional heart lies in the list. What Manic Street Preachers lyric is better known than "I am stronger than Mensa, Mailer and Miller, I spat out Plath and Pinter."? "We don't talk about love, we only want to get drunk" - Yes, that one's better known, and about twenty others, but you get the point.
The most joyful list here is in Scottish Pop by Spearmint - they a band who rather mastered the list song - if i'd been short of numbers I could have included another couple by them - they are a very geeky band.
I'll say more when I get to the last post about lists and this whole big list, but here is a list, as inspired by something said by TV's MB one cruel day:

Number of hats owned - 16
Number of GCSEs - 10
Number of grams of chocolate eaten this week - 720
Number of wickets taken for School 1st XI 1995 season - 30
Number of Films in Empire's Greatest 500 Films of All Time list seen - 301
Number of Status Updates per month - 14
Number of poems catalogued in old notebooks - 2668
Number of birthdays passed - 32
Number of Songs on my iPod - 21568
Number of quizzes run - 308
Number of Facebook Friends I like to think suggests someone is trying too hard -300
Number of Facebook Friends - 139
Number of Facebook Friends whose activities and thoughts on the world I'm the slightest bit interested in - 12
Number of Lists made in the last 10 months of the 10 Best Footballers of the Last 10 years - 10
Number of milligrams of Warfarin taken per week - 58
Number of haircuts paid for in the last seven years - 0
Number of miles training completed for Marathon Number 2 - 828 (an arbitrary number)
Number of minutes satisfaction gained from completing Marathon Number 2 - 0
Number of Big Lebowski t-shirts owned - 6
Number of people who could give a flying fuck - ...

Monday, 9 August 2010

99. 10 Songs About Jim, James, Jimmy, El Jimirino if you're not into the whole brevity thing

Jimmy Mack - Martha and the Vandellas
Oh Jim - Gay Dad
Sweet Baby James - James Taylor
James - Camera Obscura
A Man/Me/Then Jim - Rilo Kiley
Jimmy Jazz - The Clash
Jimmy - MIA
Jimi - Martha Wainwright
Jimmy Jimmy - The Undertones
Jim Cain - Bill Callahan

I could also have included Little James by Oasis. It's funny that some music journalists must have been so in fear of Liam Gallagher at that time that they didn't say it was the most comically bad song of all time. And my original list had the theme to an 80s TV show which I really don't want to think about now (2012 edit).
Anyway, I had an old, longer list for this post, but can't find it, so you'll have to make do with this, though I thnk this is pretty much what was meant to be there and if not, I'll change it if I find the other list.
So, I've already done David, which is me, so now James which is another common name, indeed the name of my brother. When we were growing up, James was top of the boy's names charts, but it's far from it any more. Still, we all know a lot of Jims or Jameses don't we? I don't think the Jim/James debate is as crucial and feverish as the Dave/David debate, but i certainly know plenty of Jameses who've generally balked at any kind of shortening or nicknaming. Funny that the French for James is Jacques, cos that sounds like Jack, which is a different name.
Anyway, I thought there were lots of goods songs about Jimmy, so i did the list, and it's turned out pretty well - i think this is the first mention of Gay Dad in the whole blog - better late than never.
This is a companion piece to an earlier little thing about football you may recall - it also dwells on the profound effect happenings to do with left-sided sportsmen in the early 90s had on not just themselves, not just the people around them, but THE WHOLE FUCKING COSMOS.

This isn't about if though, this is about when -


When Jimmy missed the black I knew
that nothing I'd been told was true -
however well you strike the white
nothing will ever turn out right.

I knew no God was in his heaven
when Jimmy failed to gain that seven
which meant he'd have too much to catch
that would have given him frame and match
and Vs to all who'd said "That White'll
never win Snooker's World Title."

When Jimmy missed that simple pot
I knew this spinning world was not
a spinning ball of hope and glory -
though we'd been fed a different story
of the whey-faced boy from Tooting
for whom each man on earth was rooting
against the pock-faced Scottish robot
who earned no love and messed up ... no pot.

Each year, the same tale would be told -
It's Jimmy's year, he's not too old,
and as he sailed through round on round,
we told ourselves our faith was sound,
but learnt, each time he spurned the chance
to disregard that fine romance.

When Jimmy blew it that last time
his sweat, his twitch was mine, all mine,
his incapacity to seal it,
I did far more than merely feel it.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

98. 10 Songs about Friends

See My Friends - The Kinks
Old Friends/Bookends - Simon and Garfunkel
All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem
We Are Your Friends - Justice vs Simian
Good Friends Are Hard to Find - Ed Harcourt
Thick As Thieves - The Jam
I See a Darkness - Bonnie "Prince" Billie
You've Got a Friend - Carole King
Thank You Friends - Big Star
We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful - Morrissey

I said this one would be the next one last time, though I wish I hadn't. Though the songs are excellent, with particular recommendation for the third and fourth - and special mention for gallant runners-up like the theme tune to 'Golden Girls' and those two friendy songs by Queen - the idea of writing about something worthwhile about friends beyond that seems more ridiculous than most.
In particular as the phrase that has been stuck in my head for the last month is "musical statues", so i felt dutybound to shoehorn musical statues into a post about friends, which hasn't been easy.
Anyway, I haven't written something about friends so much as the dirty word that is nostalgia - I'm nostalgic for a time when people used to, in all seriousness, ask each other question like Who's your favourite out of 'Friends' and Which one of 'Friends' do you think you're most like? I'm like a combination of Gunther and Tom Selleck, people would say, and we'd laugh, how we'd laugh.
I think our age-group, specifically, is slightly lucky to have made our friends before the internet redefined what friends were. I'm all for having hundreds of friends I've never met or if i have met them I'd cross the street to avoid, but it's just a little different from the old days, isn't it, when one solitary person to call a friend was hard-earned gold dust.
Having said that, my friends are a bunch of bitches who've all secluded themselves in their mansions with big plants and little babies, so don't have time to do fun, youthful things like putting firecrackers in postboxes anymore, so maybe it's time I used the internet to find a new brigade of cool kids to hang out with.
Anyway, this is called

I miss the summers of tarmac and gold dust -
I knew I'd miss them before they began
when friends hid in corners and never unravelled.

We made a pact not to talk about blackboards,
Bravestarr and shit and whatever else
people pretend makes them kindred spirits.

But something has given, ticked over, repeated
and i'm right back playing at musical statues,
now cracking and crumbling when the song ends.

I miss your blacklists of dull words and concepts
but i'm too tired now not to swallow whole those
mist-covered mountains ands smoky top decks.

I swear I've kept my half of the bargain
'cos i heard us talking - I think it was us - about
how hard it is making friends after thirty.

I miss the summers of vomit and chocolate
though I'm almost sure I was boring and awful,
so just let me control these shrinking circles.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

97. 10 Songs about Strangers

Strangers in the Night - Frank Sinatra
If I Am A Stranger - Ryan Adams
The World Is Full of Strangers - Camera Obscura
The Kindness of Strangers - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
I Saw the Stranger - Ace of Base
Goodbye Stranger - Supertramp
Strangers - Ed Harcourt
Rank Strangers To Me - Bob Dylan
Stranger to Himself - Sandy Denny
Mistaken for Strangers - The National

Well, what a magical mystery tour this blog has been, I had rather forgotten than Ace of Base existed. I think when that song came out I thought it was one of the very worst ever, but at my tender years, what did I know? A couple I'd have included if they'd received a few more votes were Madonna's Beautiful Stranger, Michael Jackson's Stranger in Moscow and Dina Carroll's Don't Be a Stranger - all in their way, horrible songs.
In any case, these are generally extremely serviceable songs - if you heard Ray Stubbs singing Strangers in the Night on Celebrity Fame Academy, you'll never hear the Frank Sinatra song the same way again. When I thought of songs involving strangers, I immediately thought of Van Morrison at the end of Astral Songs mumbling "I ain't nothing but a stranger in this world, I got a home on high, so far away, way up in heaven, in another place, in another time etc etc." What a mental!" But then again, I could have gone down the line of being a stranger in this world with songs like 'I Just Wasn't Made For These Times'. But I suppose I've been quite literal, cos I don't want to babble on about how really we're strangers to ourselves and to each other and no one really knows each other and blahblahblah...
I hate the phrase "Hello Stranger!" because the people that usually say it to you are people you hardly know trying to be overly friendly or familiar. Not that people say it to me often. I think the last time was in 1997. And maybe that was just someone on Neighbours.
But anyway, strangers become friends, friends become strangers. I'll do 10 Songs about Friends next, i suppose.

For ten years I was dreaming
you were drowning; so you tell me.
But I swear the river's not mine
as you should know, I'm non-swimming.
It's been so long but you've noticed
my hair thinning and eyes glazing.

If I'm doing you a favour
I'd say we're strange as strangers.
If I tell you that it feels right
it's cruelty that befriends us.
You're at such pains to be earnest -
I embraced the age of fakers.

[NB I note, a couple of years after writing this post, that it's one that people often enter the blog with. If this is is your first look here, feel free to look at other stuff in the blog, general musings on popular music, a lot of it more entertaining (I hope) than this one]

Friday, 25 June 2010

96. 10 Mathematical Songs

Mathematics - Mos Def
The Magic Number - De La Soul
The Calculation - Regina Spektor
Black Math - The White Stripes
Mathletics - Foals
Music is Math - Boards of Canada
Mathematics - Cherry Ghost
One Plus One is One - Badly Drawn Boy
I Believe in Symmetry - Bright Eyes
When I Argue I See Shapes - Idlewild

To begin with, a 1965 quote from Bob Dylan
"Well, you know my songs are all mathematical songs. You know what that means so I'm not going to have to go into that specifically here. It happens to be a protest song ... and it borders on the mathematical ... It's sort of a North Mexican thing, uh, very protesty. Very very protesty. And, uh, one of the protestiest things I ever protested against in my protest years."

So many wonderful things in that, but the main thing is that there are plenty of mathematical songs. All songs are mathematical, some more obviously so than others.
I suppose mathematical can often mean formulaic and formulaic is seen as a bad thing, but it depends what the formula is - The Motown Formula was just fine, the Westlife Formula less so.

I have a funny, unfulfilled relationship with Mathematics. As people know, i'm pretty obsessed with numbers and statistics and was pretty capable with the basics of mathematics when I was younger, but I let it go before I believe it got interesting and turned into the real thing.
I tend to feel those that really pursue their mathematics are much closer to knowing what's really going on than the rest of us, so I rather regret that I began to find it boring and unworthwhile. I was wrong.
And once you let it go, it's one of those things you definitely won't get back. Even if I wanted to reengage with something I did well when i was younger, if it was Latin, French, History say, that would be possible to some extent, with Maths that opportunity has gone for ever. We get worse and worse at Maths the older we get, and, for me, it's not just a case of not remembering trigonometry and calculus, it's the basic stuff which you find yourself struggling with, which is incredibly annoying.
There are times now where I, like many people, find myself haunted by numbers and puzzles. I suspect a lot of people have this worse than me.
Furthermore, in attempting to establish truths about life, sport, culture, politics, the worth of anything, I do think there are algorithms that exist that reveal everything, and i feel like my capacity for numbers ought to put me, in a good position here, but these days my maths feels imprecise and speculative, to the extent to which I can't really prove a lot of things I know to be true. The other side to this is that people who aren't numerical often dismiss the use of statistics in argument (lies, lies, statistics etc - hate that shit). Dare I say one of the areas where this is enormously vexing is sports punditry, where so few experts who get paid for their opinions have any grasp on even the basic numbers. A recent example of this was Alan Shearer talking about Jon-Dahl Tomasson after he'd missed a couple of first-half chances. Shearer said "Jon was with me at Newcastle and he wasn't prolific then and you can tell from these missed chances he's not a prolific type of striker" Ok, Al, have you checked his record? 52 goals in 112 international games. Prolific. This man gets paid to talk about this stuff, it's unacceptable.
And, less sportily, maths and people not understanding numbers properly impacts on loads of things, like my continuing blood-thinning treatment requires an INR (thinness) level kept between 2 and 3 (with 1 as the norm) but it varies so needs to be checked and dosage changed from time to time, and whenever my dosage needs to be changed, they always get it wrong, obviously wrong, so my blood often sinks below the level it should be, which results in unneccessarily regular checks, and if i was just left to look after my own dosage (which really i suppose i should do, and sometimes do, but whatever), i'd keep it just right. It's not medicine, its maths. Everywhere.
But the thing is some people just aren't numerical and have intelligence which lies in other areas. And there's only so much you can do about that. Of all the things I was terrible at teaching when I was terrible at teaching, I was most terrible at teaching Maths - I had no clue how to even explain how and why 2 + 2 = 4 to children who couldn't simply grasp that that was true. It was utterly tortuous, both for me and, no doubt, for my intended victims.

I wish I could have made this more of a mathematical song. It does start off like that. Anyway, there's not much in it which hasn't been dealt with above.

I sang my sums when I was younger for golden stars and cold Mars Bars
built unending towers of number with bold mastery of old dark arts.
Then I played a game of trains which never reached their destinations -
the game plagued deep sleepless migraines with bleak answer-free calculations.

Every week i'd build a maze and set my sore self at its centre
then lose the plans within two days until no human soul would enter.
I'm building simple shapes and trainlines but never can complete the angle,
collecting wires to connect cables impossible to ever untangle.

Monday, 21 June 2010

95. 10 Songs about Glamour

Faded Glamour - Animals That Swim
Vogue - Madonna
The Model - Kraftwerk
Glamour Girl - Chicks on Speed
Fashion - David Bowie
She's In Fashion - Suede
Glamorous Indie Rock'n'Roll - The Killers
Glamorous - Fergie
Modern Girls and Old Fashion Men - The Strokes and Regina Spektor
I'm Too Sexy - Right Said Fred

An uneven group of songs ... but how about I'm Too Sexy - funnily enough it's very evocative for me - it reminds me of a fun holiday in the summer of 1991. It really is the most ridiculous song ever. In this week's Guardian Magazine, Richard Fairbrass went on a blind date with Peter Tatchell. You couldn't make it up.
The song which this post is all about is Faded Glamour by Animals That Swim, one of my favourites. It's 90s indie, it's the kind of music everyone likes, and if you haven't heard it yet, do so now, you'll like it.
Apart from that, what can I say about glamour? If you know me, ponder for a moment how far down the list of adjectives to accurately describe me "glamorous" would come. Somewhere just behind "immortal" and "Asian" basically.
I don't really have much time for glamour and fashion, that's as true now as ever, but I do like the idea of faded glamour (a stupid art-school idea) and I am sometimes impressed when people have really made an effort and actually look like they're from films.
But is glamour in itself seductive, surely it's just the beauty contained within glamour, which would be there anyway ... no, i think I'm wrong as I'm writing this, I can perfectly see how glamour is seductive, though not really to me, except in the idea of creating a funny pastiche of glamour. Anyway, I'm rambling. I'm on safer ground when talking about sport.

[NB I note, a couple of years after writing this post, that it's one that people enter the blog with. If this is is your first look here, feel free to look at other stuff in the blog, general musings at popular music, and some of it less gloomy and self-important! Thanks]

So, I wrote this somewhat based on the song Faded Glamour, and I think it's pretty funny, though I confess at the moment i'm finding pretty much everything I say and think funny, which is disturbing.


I was never king of any city that you've heard of,
it was autumn when i realised that I hadn't packed the suncream.
I'm as ready as I can to be a modern alcoholic,
if I let you see my veins you'll know the future's not worth writing

All that I am missing is glamour
and a way out
All I feel is warmth when I know
how this might play out.

I wish I could play music for a different class of city boy
but nothing is forever, I see cigarettes are twice the price
I wish i could be king for a different class of city folk,
you said I was a prophet but, really, there's enough of those

All I've got to offer you is confirmation of your taste,
That nice chap in the flatcap was in a film a few years back.
No one knows the contests I am losing every second -
I put stickers on their backs and yet they go home unassaulted.

It was autumn that I realised that I'd skipped the golden summers
in a vain attempt to find at least 15 songs 'bout Leonard Cohen.
Children of the city can go one or two of three ways,
I'm so sick of people saying I've a good life and it suits me.

I got lost on Longacre with a bottle of red I borrowed
from a book about Bob Dylan. I was twenty - far too early
to be a modern alcoholic, now I think I'm getting closer.
I'm still basking in that warmth and it keeps my bloodlines flowing.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

94. 10 Songs about Football

Ok, so I decided to do this one anyway, for reasons I'll explain below. These weren't to be football songs, but proper songs by proper bands on a football theme. They're not brilliant, but they're a decent bunch. James Corden is not here.

Leeds United - Luke Haines
Belfast Boy - Don Fardon
God's Footballer - Billy Bragg
Theme From Sparta FC 2 - The Fall
Flowers and Football Tops - Glasvegas
The Joyful Kilmarnock Blues - The Proclaimers
Don't Come Home Too Soon - Del Amitri
All I Want for Christmas is a Dukla Prague Away Kit - Half Man Half Biscuit
Munich Air Disaster 1958 - Morrissey
My Life in England - Dexys Midnight Runners

I said they're a decent bunch - the Morrissey song is fucking appalling . For a supposedly great lyricist, he has written some of the worst lyrics I've ever heard. Anyway, I suppose the Del Amitri song is, in a way, an actual football song, though it doesn't sound like one. Not all actual football songs are awful, and, of course, many football chants are magnificent. I have a huge soft spot for Chas and Dave's series of Tottenham songs as well, obviously. I think they were my favourite songs as I was growing up.
Anyway, I think it only right to do a list about football at this time - what is more important than football right now? I'm a little worried about football, though. I wonder if it'll go the way of rugby. Rugby very quickly fucked itself up after professionalism because the players got too big and too fit for the pitch, and the hits are too hard, and they keep on changing the rules to try to sort things out but end up making it worse, and i think it's in a fairly parlous state as a spectacle. Football, a much purer and less physical game, has survived very well many things, but will it survive Sepp Blatter? International football is rarely a patch on club football in anything except passion, spectators etc. The actual football at the World Cup is light years behind Champions League, i think ...
But today was a good day. Chile had some lush players. However, how many lush players aren't at the World Cup? As you'll see below, one central conceit occupied my thoughts at great length (and, bearing in mind the thread running through this whole blog, how could I resist it), as it has occupied many people's thoughts for many years, but, besides that particular issue, I think there's a bit of an absence of superstars at this cup - and certainly no superstars have come up trumps yet. It's pleasingly hard to have an idea how it's all going to pan out at this stage - I'm not going to make myself a fool by predicting anything. It would be a different matter if this central conceit had come into being. The central conceit is given away by the title.

If there's anyone who hasn't worked out yet
how we reached the state we're in,
Stare hard at the brightest star and
find the enemy within -

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
as he would, had it been thought through,
O, white light, o bold red cross, then
things would have gone just as they ought to.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England,
David Beckham would be at Preston
winding down a solid career
with meagre laurels left to rest on.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
as no heritage should have served to inhibit
France and Spain would still long for fulfilment,
Brazil would be a mere museum exhibit.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
Cricket'd be dead as Latin and Greek,
Golf and tennis would be parlour pastimes,
Rugby'd long have gone up the creek.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
I'd have shamefully hidden my Celtic connection
and prayed to John Bull and Henry V
to keep me under St George's protection.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
I'd have discarded higher education
to sell flags and drugs on Ealing Common
to follow Ryan Giggs from nation to nation.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
the Anglican Church would be packing them in
with thankful agnostics who bet it all
on Giggs and Shearer whacking them in.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
the Worldwide Web would never have caught.
We'd all be crowded round little TVs
watching Ryan Giggs on Question of Sport.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
Charles and Diana would still be married.
Prince and Princess of Western England
would be the titles that they carried

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
Tony Blair would still be in Sedgefield,
one failed coup then, life reexamined,
a background whinger from the leftfield.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
all past misdemeanours wouldn't have mattered.
Bin Laden would be sharing prawn sandwiches
with Saddam Hussein in their box at Old Trafford.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England
America would have rejoined the Empire,
Pluto would still be a proper planet,
Frodo would never have left the Shire.

If Ryan Giggs had played for England -
a notion of which i've had dreams a plenty -
If Ryan Giggs had played for England
he'd have probably burnt himself out by twenty.

Monday, 7 June 2010

93. 10 Songs about Manliness

When A Man Cries - The Divine Comedy
You Masculine You - Lambchop
No Scrubs - TLC
Whatta Man - Salt'n'Pepa and En Vogue
A Man Needs To Be Told - The Charlatans
Manhood - Dexys Midnight Runners
Wolf Among Wolves - Bonnie Prince Billie
Am I Just A Man? - Steve Mason
How Men Are - Aztec Camera
It's A Man's Man's Man's World - James Brown

Ha! Good one. I like this one. And there were loads more, like Bob Dylan The Man In Me The Crib's Man Needs, Mannish Boy. And Westlife. It makes me think of that speech in The Big Lebowski by the big Lebowski - "Do my tears surprise you? Strong men also cry, Mr Lebowski. Strong men also cry." For what is a man? What is the definition of manliness? Widely accepted as the most manly thing of all time is Zinedine Zidane's headbutt of Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup Final. Zinedine Zidane is undoubtedly no scrub. Although I myself am a weak-ass emasculated gimp, and that description applies to all my friends too, I'm lucky enough to have played a bit of football and also in my job come face to face regularly with roomfuls of baying city boys, so worry not, real men still exist, testosterone is still going strong. Damn straight.
These songs are actually mainly pretty good - the Dexys one is extraordinary, it's from only a few years ago, for their reunion greatest hits. The Lambchop song is a real beauty, i think i'm coming to love that band more and more as i get older, it's definitely music for older people, older men indeed  Now, to be fair, i also did a list of 10 Songs about Womanliness, or indeed Feminity or whatever, so 2 for the price of one you lucky people, though only one poem, if that. Anyway, those songs are

Independent Women Pt 1 - Destiny's Child
Stand By Your Man - Candi Staton
Three Times A Lady - The Commodores
For Today I Am A Boy - Antony and the Johnsons
All Woman - Lisa Stansfield
Is A Woman - Lambchop
Just Like A Woman - Bob Dylan
What A Girl Wants - Christina Aguilera
Woman Like A Man - Damien Rice
She's Always A Woman - Billy Joel

An odd bunch, some beauties, some shockers, and mainly by men. I should really have included 9 to 5 and I Will Survive. I've heard it said the Bob Dylan song and the Billy Joel have a touch of misogyny to them, I don't know, maybe they do. I've always thought they're misogynistic in the way Born in the USA is triumphalist i.e. not at all, but what do I know? I confess that John Lewis ad even I found somewhat touching, but you know, i spent my 8th birthday being dragged around John Lewis, Brent Cross by my mum, so i guess I'm the target audience.
And, look, Lisa Stansfield! Amazing. No relation to Marlo Stanfield ...
Anyway, back to men and manliness ... Who else is manly?
Miguel Cotto
Howard Webb
John Prescott
Phil Brown
Idris Elba
All darts players ...
I think that's about it, really. I suppose the idea of Gerard Butler is that he's manly, but goddamn if that's manly in 2010 we're all doomed ...

He remembers all the bad days,
eerie sad smiles, how their lifestyles
seemed ill-suited, and he felt like

Sonny Liston, he'll end useless
sad and neutered, using squalor
as a fortress. Then he feels worse,

so he acts just like Dwain Chambers,
played his power wrong, lost all caution,
flexed those muscles till they tore.

This is progress; these are lifestyles
more in keeping; these are light lies
best passed over, light and useless.

Men of honour, hot and scornful
know a failure when they see one,
roll their eyes at his appeasement

and he looks like Laurence Olivier
as Othello, strange and shameful,
stained and hollow, thieved and seething.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

92. 10 Songs about Parklife

Itchycoo Park - The Small Faces
Round Are Way - Oasis
Old Friends/Bookends - Simon and Garfunkel
Down At The Reservoir - The Bluetones
No Woman, No Cry - Bob Marley
Another Sunny Day - Belle and Sebastian
Heavy Metal Drummer - Wilco
Stealing Beauty - Spearmint
Summertime - Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince
Parklife - Blur

More than parks, I was going for songs about chilling out and relaxing in the summer, often with a nostalgic "aah, those were the best days" feel to them. The list actually started from trying to put together a list of 10 songs about football which weren't per se football songs, like Round Are Way, one of those great Oasis b-sides. I also realised this was a very Britpoppy song subject, i left off Alright and Staying Out For the Summer and things like that. Funnily enough, I was chatting to someone last night who was trying to put together his own definitive Britpop compilation and, for him, Parklife was the definitive Britpop song, which i suppose it was, though I never liked the song itself at all.
Who doesn't have nostalgia for days spent hanging out in parks? I look with envy at the kids with cans of cider hanging out on the swings. I didn't do enough of that, still don't. These days I'm surrounded more by commons than parks, and I spend plenty of time on them, but mainly running, rather than basking. Whichever I'm doing, I tend to wish I was doing the other. I've said this before, I'm sure, but London's huge array of greenness is, for me, its greatest feature. Everywhere you go, there is something magnificent in its own way. I do not believe another city tops it, I really don't.
I was up at the top of Centrepoint last week (hardly the Sears Tower, but still a great view) and trees, trees, a sea of trees was all you could see. I'm almost inclined to list London's 10 Best Green Bits cos, you know that's the kind of guy i am, obviously, but ... o sod it, i will. These are my favourites - personal associations, of course, come to the fore, but I'll be reasonably objective

Battersea Park
Hyde Park
Richmond Park
Clapham Common
Regent's Park
Victoria Park
Gunnersbury Park
Holland Park
Lammas Park
Clissold Park

Yay, and there are so many more, good lord, Kew Gardens. Hampstead Heath, Wandsworth Common. Green Park, Boston Manor Park - dammit, I love parks. What is not to love?


Raise your hands for Lammas, David, Demon Days are here again,
Let's go down to Lammas Park - the sun will never disappear.
You and me and everyone else and Happy Shopper Kola Kubes,
Raised by wolves in Lammas Park, we're right back where we belong.
Find the secret stash of conkers hidden by the tennis courts.
No one really enjoyed conkers - maybe it's better when you're drunk.
Someone bought these cans of Pimms -they'll be done in half an hour.

But I'm tired of all the drinking
I've got to keep on running
someone get me fresh legs
light and made to order
by some unexplained magic
it seems a day for smoking
but there's never one of those,
there's never one of those

The season smells of suncream
the devil's in the detail
get the stumps and bat out
the kids are getting restless
Let's put them in their hutches
you never learn from mercy
I'll be Curtley Ambrose
it's not too big a stretch

I wonder if I'll get away with graffiti on the picnic benches.
After all, you only live once; tomorrow belongs to the Queen Mother.
Maybe just one gin and tonic - heavy legs can't quite face running.
Lights are out in Lammas Park, look! there goes another year.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

91. 10 Anti-Tory Songs

Tramp The Dirt Down - Elvis Costello
Stand Down Margaret - The Beat
The Lodgers - The Style Council
Thatcher Fucked the Kids - Frank Turner
Waiting for the Great Leap Forward - Billy Bragg
Maggie's Farm - The Specials
Margaret on the Guillotine - Morrissey
Blue-Skinned Beast - Madness
The Grocer's Daughter - TV Personalities
The Day That Thatcher Died - Hefner

Well, it's almost topical. As yet, I haven't heard any anti-coalition songs.
As you can see, most of them are more specifically anti-Thatcher than anti-Tory, and there seems to be a shared idea of revelling in the notion of her death. Also, nearly all these songs are from the 80s - the lack of anti-Tory songs for the last 15 years or so is understandable, and one hopes will soon be redressed.
The Specials, incidentally, adopted Dylan's Maggie's Farm, and the best song here is the Elvis Costello one
Thatcher is still the British left's main bogeyman, and we grew up hearing about her that she "destroyed the unions", "believed there was no such thing as society", "destroyed the north", "ripped apart communities" etc and these were obviously bad things. If, like many people, you had direct experience of your world being inexorably changed by Thatcher's policies, it's easier to make this hatred concrete, but as a public school west london leftie like myself, who was 12 when Thatcher resigned (i do still remember the moment i heard, incidentally, walking down the corridor past the common room, being told by a boy called Max), you can trot out the anti-Thatcher cliches, but i think you can easily end up looking exposed and silly.
My political awakening came via things like the pages of the mid-90s NME, where loads of leftie journalists still traded in fiercely honed anti-Thatcher rhetoric, and shows like Our Friends In The North, but the anger and righteous fury it gave me was vicarious, and looking back, rather phoney, albeit well-intentioned and grounded in the correct instincts.
I've read books about Thatcher and tried to get a balanced picture as well as trying to find fuel for fury, but what I'm left with is still a very unclear picture, almost a ghostly figure at the centre, which surely is the last thing one should ever think about Thatcher, but there we go.
I could never vote Tory, never will, but i don't necessarily see that as something to be proud of, or something that reflects any certainties i have. Nor can i truly say it's "tribal" (I'm not a tribal kind of chap).[I just don't like tories. They're not as nice as lefties. That's just my experience 80 to 90% of the time and always has been. It's simple.] [[Drawn back to this post as I am in April 2013, I abhor this piece of writing, this reduction of my own beliefs and stupidity of these words. Many of the people I love most in the world are a bit, or a lot, right-wing. I suppose it does represent my inherent prejudice, so it's honest, but really. I'm left-wing because I believe in a politics of compassion and fairness and welfare. I am sickened by current Conservative policy, and i'm not sickened by critical reaction to Thatcher on her death, but I think I am sickened by the slightly dim gloating. That's what we're meant to be better than, brethren. I am extremely moved by the song 'Tramp the Dirt Down' and think it is a valid statement, but there is a difference between that 1989 song about realising that you hate someone so much that you can imagine yourself celebrating their death ... and actually celebrating an 87 year old's death. Her death is bad for the left, so should not be celebrated. It is a boon to the right, and has also exposed ugliness in many people of a leftish persuasion. Don't all those folk who always imagined themselves celebrating her death feel a little like Benjamin at the end of The Graduate. Anyway, back to 2010 ...] What ought to be admirable about right-wingery is its honesty, its realism, its ability to do what needs doing in a straight, albeit nasty way. It's not the same kind if idealism that is endlessly corruptible as leftism. And yet we all know that that is the last thing one would actually associate with western conservatives of the last 40 years.
What I do remember also is that Thatcher cried self-pitying tears for herself when she left Dowing Street, and I, along with may others, felt sick, and that Gordon Brown left with warmth and grace, perhaps aware of his fuck-ups and why people wanted him out, but back, now he was out of it, to being a proper human being again.

OK, so bearing all that in mind, I wrote this almost exactly five years ago, as you'll be able to tell from its title. I suppose it has some prescience, though there is a worrying undercurrent to it where i thought i was getting more right-wing and was really troubled by terrorist bombings and my experiences trying to teach in South London, (god, there's even a shadow of Cameron's "broken Britain" in it - horrendous ... incidentally, i think a personal demonisation of Cameron and the Eton clique should be avoided, i don't think Cameron seems per se like a villain and until he acts like one, lambasting him may seem pretty cheap and weak) and thankfully, I haven't gone that way, and i don't think i see Britain pulling itself apart in the precise way i did then, i think the good will pull itself together again and separate from the bad, yes i do. This is Obama's world and Britain will have its Obama - it's not Diane Abbott but i think she's doing rather well at the moment
(by the way, there are some lines in this i really don't understand, i wrote it as stream of consciousness, i thought i'd leave it as it was as it mainly make sense, but the fourth verse, your guess is as good as mine)


Bus rides through Camberwell and I know a bit about race -
Car trips to Alnwick and this ain't one England
or Britain or United Kingdom or whatever.
My throat's strained from trying to shout my way out of
all these peculiar worlds, every estranged day.

I get the percentages and I get the picture -
London, this universe unto itself,
Suffocates then uplifts, uproots then cements
every stunted society they tried to disavow
and remind me why we need a strong opposition ...

And in Bamburgh, I wonder if they've a clue
and in St Andrews, I doubt they have a care
about these scarred streets and sickening stories
and I'd spit on your trickle-down effect
and you, you worm, where's your Respect now?

God, i know the numbers and i know the fractions,
I've got them in deep and they won't come out
and the answer's not magic and the chances are small
that there's hope outside value in any restrictions
and sometimes it's hard to make a joke of it all.

And sometimes I feel like I hate diversity
and think the world would be a better place
if everyone was like me, a fair bit like me
and one day I won't be reciting humanist lies
and the dreams of progress will be dust.

So I know the numbers and have seem the map,
the blue, blue map of my selfish future
and no wonder we're in the state we're in
and no wonder this country has close to shattered,
and who'd put it back together again?

It's basically a mad rant, i think using 'and' quite so much recreates the feeling of someone a bit worse for wear down the pub, just having more and more thoughts popping into his head - "and another thing" "and another thing" "and also"

Thursday, 3 June 2010

90. 10 Drinking Songs

Streams of Whiskey - The Pogues
Lilac Wine - Jeff Buckley
Hymn to the Alcohol - Hefner
Drank Like A River - Whiskeytown
Crocodile Shoes - Jimmy Nail
Woozy With Cider - James Yorkston
Tequila - Terrorvision
There's No Drinking After You're Dead - Paul Weller
Fill Her Up - Gene
The Parting Glass - The Clancy Brothers

This was always going to be a topic, it's kind of amazing it's taken me this long to get round to it. There really are plenty of drinking songs. I've done well to include Jimmy Nail too. Somehow this isn't a great list of songs, but they are all suitable to the topic.
Having said all that, perhaps I took so long to do an entry about drinking because really i have nothing to say about it. People who talk about drinking are a first class bore, and people who don't talk about their drinking are likely to be a worry ...
There's an interview with Christopher Hitchens in The Guardian recently where the interviewer rather takes him to pieces and says he's nothing but a classic pub bore and alcoholic, who orders another drink by saying "Put a Xerox in that". Cool.
My favourite drinks, in case you were wondering, are

Hooper's Hooch
Blue WKD
Gin and Lucozade
Smirnoff Ice
Egg Nog
Turbo Shandy
South Comfort and Lemonade
Rum Chai

Not actually, tho i'm sure, besides eggnog, i haven't always shown them all such disdain. Just typing the words rum chai made me feel a bit queasy.
But, hark, i wrote a drinking song one day ...

I was born one spring in a bone dry county,
I was trying to escape before I could walk.
My only role model was Norm from Cheers
I made for Boston, got as far as New York.
I learnt enough to last a lifetime
and burnt bridges in a thousand bars.
A thousand more bars back in the country
gave welcome to lucky wandering stars.

I lost my heart to god know's what
on at the least three nights a weekend
and two out of three set the priest on me
to tell me how I was set for a bleak end
He'd lost good friends to what I'd got
before there was any thought of retrieving.
Good father, please have the decency
to pray for your friends while you are leaving.

I didn't belong in Nashville and I
didn't last all that long in Jonestown
My money ran out halfway to Tulsa
but i steered a path back to my hometown.
My daddy said I was just back for money
but my mother cried and helped me to deny it.
I left a week later with pockets laden
though I hadn't believed for a second he'd buy it.

It's amazing how quickly something so laden
can suddenly seem so pathetically shrunk.
The phrase that I lived by had less and less meaning
"It's always the drinking, it's never the drunk".
Like it was yesterday, homewards again,
dry as I's born, on that late spring day.
My mother would only say one thing to me
"It's gotten so green since you went away."

And now for the first time, I longed to remain
in the driest county in all of the states
but the message was clear to my sobered brain.
What once wouldn't let go of me now had no place.
I've always kept moving but never before
has my heart been so heavy at time of my going,
no choice for me but to find the next bar
where work can be found and where whisky is flowing.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

89. 10 Songs about Possibility

All Possibilities - Badly Drawn Boy
The Impossible Dream - Andy Williams
The Universal - Blur
Possibly, Maybe - Bjork
The Possibilities - Micah P Hinson
Something Changed - Pulp
Worlds of Possibility -The Pastels
You Give A Little Love - Bugsy Malone soundtrack
Impossible Germany - Wilco
One Of These Things First - Nick Drake

The song from Bugsy Malone is the one that begins "We could have been anything that we wanted to be ..." in case you were wondering where that fits in.
i don't know why I'm doing this post now, I just suddenly thought I really ought to. I'm getting increasing numbers of pangs of nostalgia, and for me nostalgia in its true sense is directly linked to the extinguishing of the possibilities of the past. Today I was just walking home and i saw a battered old Golf with a sticker on it which said "This car has security etching" and I thought about how long it is since that would have meant anything to anybody, like any bit of new-fangled technology that comes and goes and means nothing.
It's all very well talking about parallel lives, parallel universes, but does anybody think they actually exist? I'd have thought not. For me, it's not about regret, or thinking "ooh, that life would have been better", it's about considering the time when something that no longer exists as a possibility had potential importance. As the lifespan of the human race carries on, how sad it is that the number of things with potential importance, both personally and politically, will become fewer and fewer.
I'm looking at this the wrong way round, aren't I? I should be looking at the idea that anything could happen, it could happen to you, it really really really could happen, impossible is nothing, if you get one shot to seize everything you ever wanted in one moment, would you capture it or would you let it slip, but, what can i say, all that means nothing to me.
If anything is possible (which it isn't really) then equally everything will become impossible.
When almost anything can act as a lump-in-the throat sickener, that is not a good state to be in. I feel myself getting more sentimental, but am still just about resistant to most things that try too hard to manipulate that feeling. What I'm saying is that I still don't go weak at the knees when I hear 'Memory' from Cats. '
But nothing gets to me like 'The Sound of Music' ...
I haven't written a poem, i only have a thought about the saddest thing i ever saw ...

When I watch The Sound of Music and see our childhood in it,
I see those billion potentials erased
and there will not be so many again
and eventually there'll be no possibilities left.

Bummer, eh?

If you ask me nicely, I'll deconstruct that thought for you. But basically, it's lederhosen. Lederhosen set me off.

Friday, 28 May 2010

88. 10 Songs about Doctors and Hospital

Danny Callahan - Conor Oberst
Switching Off - Elbow
Nothing Compares 2 U - Sinead O'Connor
Down at the Doctors - Dr Feelgood
Dr Feelgood - Aretha Franklin
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors - Editors
St James Infirmary Blues - White Stripes
Wires - Athlete
Sick Bed of Cuchulainn - The Pogues
I Don't Want to Die (in the Hospital) - Conor Oberst

There's one particular stinker on this list, but I suppose that depends to some extent on how you view people smoking outside hospitals. Editors think a deep and powerful line is "The saddest thing that I ever saw was smokers outside the hospital doors" whilewhen i see people smoking outside the hospital I see something rather joyful about it. Worth bearing in mind that Editors are a band so bad they apologise for how bad they are during their gigs.
Hospitals aren't great, they're not great places to be, they're always the wrong colour and things either happen too slowly or too fast. I think I'd spent about two hours of my life in a hospital before the age 27 (well apart from the first few hours of my life) and now I've probably made about 200 odd separate trips since for various reasons. I wouldn't want to work there. It freaks me out that so many people i knew growing up wanted to become doctors and then went through with it and became doctors. Why do people put themselves through it? It's just a mindset I don't have, and i'm not entirely without compassion for my fellow man. Most doctors are excellent but always give you the impression they need to stop talking to you as quickly as possible. When one actually slows down and gives you an unexpected bit of time, even if it's just 30 seconds, it is a rare gift they possess and give. Like JD from Scrubs. Bloody good doctor, JD from Scrubs.
Imagine if you went to the doctor and he actually told you "Boy, you better try to have fun no matter what you do." He'd be a fool.

Here be a storm cloud of spitting impatience,
mechanical aides and marvellous devices
as likely to be the mute victims of racist
abuses as sweet-natured Malaysian nurses
reduced to the role of hectoring harpy
by stubborn, frustrated, bed-ridden nasties
who once were warriors, or at least worthies
as likely to stand without fear in a crisis
as now lose control of any/all functions.

Here be the Gods, all clean-shaved and sleeveless
remembering a name for the quarter hour needed,
straight words employed to back up firm smiles -
disarm then attack all remaining hostiles -,
and peace descends, hard won, briefly and barely
till the next shift steel themselves for new curses
on curtains that close at the wrong time entirely
and orderlies that bring you a meal you didn't order,
on the country of birth of the physiotherapist
who's doing the reverse of what the nice doctor told her.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

87. 10 Songs about California

In California - Joanna Newsom
California - Rufus Wainwright
California Girls - Beach Boys
Lithuania - Dan Bern
California Soul - Marlena Shaw
California - Joni Mitchell
California Dreamin' - Mamas and the Papas
California Love - Dr Dre ft 2Pac
California Stars - Billy Bragg and Wilco
California Uber Alles - The Dead Kennedys

Some of these folk are from California, but I think more of them aren't. I haven't been to California, I expect I will some day soon. I was made for sunny days.
There are a huge number of songs about California. California is a very easy word to fit into a verse. A lot of the songs about California are magnificent. Listen to the Joanna Newsom song (which has triggered this post). You may not get into it. If you do get into, it will stop your heart several times, over and over again. At the moment, I would consider it the best song on the best album of all time. I hadn't been a massive fan of Joanna Newsom before this year. She's from California.
There's a seaside village in Norfolk called California, with shut-down arcades and boarded up cafes. I went there and it was raining. It's on the East Coast. Doesn't work.
I haven't been to California, but i know it's as far west as you can go, 10000 miles from Lithuania, and until I've had it proved otherwise I'm prepared to believe that the people there wouldn't kill me for no reason.
OK, I can pretend this is about California even though it doesn't have California in its words. Thankfully it's about nothing, but it does contain my second use of the phrase 'lament for the death of the left' for those eager blog spotters. That phrase still lags a long way behind Ryan Giggs in the 101 songs wordle though.
I've almost finished this 101 songs marathon, but what happens to people like me when they get near the end of a marathon is they kind of give up and crawl apologetically across the line, so having done the stopping for a wee, stretching the legs, dropping into a shop for banana and cursing one's own inadequacies bit, I'll probably totter rather disappointingly to the finish from now. Till next time, when i'll nail it.

Look west, young man, beyond the whimpering smokestacks
and squint a second less than you may need to.
High speed's coming, high time fast toward you spinning,
bringing new rules no fool would e'er agree to.
Go long, young man, read notes on bigger pictures,
Ignore that misanthropic instincts tell you
Sincerity's a tool for worlds of conmen
touching your sleeve to steal back what they sell you.

Be epic, be ten thousand miles by airplane,
'cross deserts, mountains, valleys, winking neon.
A harp will soothe those first few nights of sunburn,
Wrap yourself in magic, disregard doctrine.
Laments of the left's death are easy writing -
there's only one extreme that you can be on.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

86. 10 Songs About Longing

A Short Weekend Begins With Longing - The Leisure Society
Without You - Nilsson
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want - The Smiths
I Want You - Elvis Costello
Unsatisfied - The Replacements
The Wanting Comes In Waves - The Decemberists
Wichita Lineman - Glen Campbell
Still I Long For Your Kiss - Lucinda Williams
Unchained Melody - The Righteous Brothers
Take This Longing - Leonard Cohen

Before we get down to business, did you know that Unchained Melody was originally the theme song to a 50s movie called Unchained? - which makes sense, when you think about it.

I choose this topic as an excuse to write a little bit about Nick Cave's lecture called 'The Secret Life of the Love Song', which I bought on CD about 10 years ago, and which has been inordinately influential on my thinking about songs, particularly love songs. It's a brilliant piece - I listened to it again recently and it still rang so true. Who, after all, is more qualified to talk about the nature of the love song than the man who wrote the immortal lines ""I'll stay here till Billy-Dilly comes in, til time comes to pass and furthermore I'll fuck Billy-Dilly in his motherfucking ass" said Stagger Lee "I'm a bad motherfucker don't you know, and I'll crawl over 50 good pussies just to get to one fat boy's asshole."" Aah, Cave, Cave, Cave.
But seriously folks, what Cave introduced me to, in his clever, slightly unhinged, way, was the idea of Duende in art, and even more pertinently, the Portuguese word Saudade, which he claimed was at the heart of all great love songs.
When in doubt, go to wikipedia - to spare you the trouble, the second paragraph of Saudade's entry in Wikipedia reads
Saudade has been described as "a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist ... a turning towards the past or towards the future." A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as a lost lover or a family member who has gone missing. It may also be interpreted as a deep longing or yearning for something which does not exist or is unattainable.
Well, if that ain't just the human condition right there.

Now, as I write, I know that Cave talked about what I'm just about to write about, but I can't remember the full extent to which I extrapolated to form my own theory based on his words - that the managing of this Saudade, this hole at the centre of us, defines what kind of people we are. We all have it but we don't all know it - not knowing it may lead us down many paths, religions, lifestyles, relationships, triumphs and disasters, knowing it may do the same, but may more likely lead to attempts to contain and even harness it. I do remember even developing an image in my head that this saudade was like a balloon which you could never pop but you could push and shape as you needed it. I wonder if i even pushed the somewhat folksy image to the extent of wondering if some very smart people even did eventually learn how to untie the knot and slowly let the air out. Perhaps. I honestly can't recall.
So, I think it's true, all great love songs, maybe all great works of art, have longing at their heart, maybe sometimes more in the sense of making the audience long for something within the piece, whether in terms of desire, nostalgia, talent ... whatever.
I suppose longing, lacking, wanting is seen as a necessarily bad thing, but if it is just what is, unavoidably, then perhaps people should stop seeing it like that. For, really, what would we be without it?
(I intended the question to be rhetorical, but then it strikes me the answer might be Simon Cowell)
Anyway, this is called


Words fail
The beating of the heart
The child in the womb
You think I'm going soft
Words fail me
Every time I speak
I can't account for that
Or ever speak away
the longing
Words fail
The sudden flush of grief
The instant sight of death
You think I've lost the will
to back my own beliefs
but what do I dare say
when all that I can feel's
this longing.
And words fail
the love i've thrown away
and how it couldn't have gone
any other way
Words fail
The wilting of ideals
Coming home to roost
And longing's all I have
it's all I'd never lose
for any stylised speech
for any frozen love
Words fail
the poets of the age
whoever they might be -
Oh, let's not kid ourselves
I won't kid myself
when all that I've got
is borrowed
barring brief respite
from ever-thriving longing.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

85. 10 Songs about the Coppers

Hey there, schmucks, i thought i'd ease my way back into this here blog thing, which has taken such a long winter break i can't really remember what the point is or whether any of it is good or bad. I'd got it onto my head that it was all bad but i just reread some of it and you know, it was ok. Especially the lists of songs. Those are the best bits. Obviously.

Caught By The Fuzz - Supergrass
Police and Thieves - Junior Murvin
Get Myself Arrested - Gomez
Stay Too Long - Plan B
Fuck tha Police -NWA
I Fought The Law - The Clash
Highway Patrolman - Bruce Springsteen
99 Problems - Jay-Z
I Shot the Sheriff - Bob Marley
Cop Killer - Body Count

Now, being an unnervingly law-abiding fellow, my encounters with the filth have been sickenly few. I see plenty of them about South London but I'm afraid I'm one of those people who walks past police and gives them a smug look as if to say "you're not interested in me, are you, you can take one look at me and know that i'm not the kind of person you need to bother ..." What's worse is not that i don't look like i commit crimes but that i really have hardly ever done anything illegal even to the pettiest, pettiest degree.
And i don't really have an opinion on the police in general - i acknowledge that something with such immediate power over people's lives is going to be more corrupt than anything else, that there's going be any number of nasty scumbags in it, petty tormentors, institutionalised psychos etc but i also think it's obvious it's a great and noble profession we should all give thanks for every day. I'm not the kind of person that says or thinks things like "go catch some real criminals".
I experienced the police at close quarters a couple of times a) when my flat was broken into, when they were quick, competent, pleasant, amused at what a tip my room was in ("Did the thief do this, sir?" "No officer, i'm afraid this is the state the room was in anyway." "You might want to do something about that, sir") but ultimately useless and b) when i was on a jury for a robbery and there were various cops as witnesses and you realise what a drag it must be for them to be treated like corrupt criminals by defence lawyers desperately seeking to establish an element of doubt in the jury's mind. "When did you write those notes up, Sergeant? I put it to you that you wrote them up fifteen minutes later than you said you did and therefore your account cannot be used as accurate evidence ... etc")
But, like most people, mainly i've seen police on TV, which they are never off. Police shows make up so many of the great TV shows, it's unreal. Obviously The Wire is the best one, but there really are so many others it's not worth listing. I will mention Our Friends in the North, though, which wasn't a police drama as such, but it's expose of corruption in the Met in the 60s and 70s was one of the most eye-opening things I ever saw.
So, the songs, the songs, a fair bit of reggae and hip-hop, where trouble with the law is standard fare, and I love the Bruce Springsteen song, which belongs to this beautiful subgenre of the lonely noble American hero, the Wichita Lineman, the Engine Driver. It begins "My name is Joe Roberts, I work for the state" such a bold and disarming lyric. Many's the time I've sat down to write something and just started with "My name is Joe Roberts". There's something brilliant about it in a way I can't really describe - it tells you the kind of song it is, the kind of person the narrator is, the world we're inhabiting, there's so much loaded in starting a song with that line.
The other two songs I just mentioned begin in the same way - "I am a lineman for the county"; "I'm an engine driver ...". I didn't begin this below like that, perhaps i should have done. It's that kind of verse.


The Oban ferry's two miles distant,
framed by suspicious sky of blue
but I can feel the storm from the west
conspiring to wreck the summer revels -
a tear winds tired down my cheek.

I've paperwork to do this morning
six drink/drives since midsummer's,
two small crashes, one more serious.
Work needs doing on the river road
but they can't make it till next week.

Each morning I thank the good Lord
this isn't Govan or Summerisle.
I hear there's a ceilidh band on the boat
who're making waves all over Argyll -
a long night ahead, not too long, I'm afraid.

I'm moving on to Tyree in October
then I'll be back home in the new year.
Megan turns two at Halloween,
but I can't be sure I'll make it back.
Maybe you could come visit instead.

It's hard, my dear, to be without you,
so hard to keep my thoughts on home.
You can't imagine how tired i feel.
I wasn't born to be alone -
I find it so hard here on my own.

There's more young folk on the island
than I've known before, all free and fair,
dancing, lauging, unresentful
of the tepid duties I carry out -
they're not like the young folks back home.

There'll be girls on the ferry who don't mind
the wind and the rain and wild reception.
They'll fling their bodies into the storm
and joke about the licensing laws
and what they'll do to dance 'til dawn.

I wish you'd come see me less seldom -
i don't know why the city binds you.
I find it so hard alone sometimes
I forget myself on this wild isle
just to feel human, just to stay warm.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

84. 10 Songs About Fathers

Papa Don't Preach - Madonna
Father and Son - Cat Stevens
Bloody Motherfucking Asshole - Martha Wainwright
Papa Was a Rolling Stone - The Temptations
My Old Man - Ian Dury & the Blockheads
Daddy's Gone - Glasvegas
Dance With My Father - Luther Vandross
Alcoholic - Starsailor
Five More Minutes - Mull Historical Society
Dinner at Eight -Rufus Wainwright

It would probably be possible to create a whole list from the laundry washed in public of the Wainwrights, but i've just included a couple, though Beauty Mark is another good one by Rufus Wainwright. Dinner at Eight is an outstanding song, definitely my favourite by Rufus Wainwright, even though it sounds like it belongs in a musical.

There are also quite a few of these in the world of extremely adult AOR, what with Vandross, Clapton's My Father's Eyes and the beast that is Mike and the Mechanics' The Living Years. Hey, nothing wrong with it if people have got something to get off their chest.

It does strike me, though this is hardly a new thought, that the role of fatherhood has declined without measure in the last few decades and that we no longer live in a patriarchal society at all.

There are various different levels to this. First of all, how many people do we know or hear about whose defining parental relationship is with their father - this applies both to people we know and the number of celebrities who go on and on about how great their mother is in interviews. I suppose it was always thus that the father was a distant figure but his clear and defined status as head and provider of the household overrode that - it goes without saying that this is not so often true anymore, but next to that and linked in to it is, i think, the passing of the idea of a paternal god. If God was a father, that fed into the idea of one's own father - now it is not hippy-thinking to view "god" as female, whichever way you look at it, mainly in the sense that we are realise our status as a race is entirely wrapped up with the Earth, and the Earth has always been personified as female. I think both subconsciously and consciously people's highest power now is an alma mater rather than a pater familias. There are various other little factors governing this as well, like the fact the monarch has been a female for nearly 60 years - all this is pretty obvious stuff, I guess. I think, as fatherhood finds its new role, what's interesting is that the modern conception of a "good" father is a father who is able to take on several of the roles traditionally given to a mother as possible. All good stuff.

This is just an outsider's view looking in, on various levels, but i guess the fact that more and more people are outsiders to what fatherhood means is indicative of the point. The whole line of thought was triggered by what I wrote below, based on one of the great fathers of all time, Agamemnon, and the seemingly inescapable idea of the sins of the father passed down from generation to generation, whereas now I feel the sins of the father can, if lucky, be very easily escapable, and one no longer needs to put oneself before the judgment of Athena ...

This one is dedicated to some of the great fathers, Agamemnon, Royal Tenenbaum, and of course, our current "Daddies' Sauce Father of the Year", John "JT" "Captain Fantastic" Terry...
It's intended to be comical, rhythmical and littered with allusions that give value to my education ...


They say that things get better.
The future is unwritten.
There's no cycle of violence.
Sometimes things just get better.

He named his son Orestes.
Wit was his only refuge.
The son he named Orestes
took beatings in the playground.

He said he had the illness
to end all feuds and bad blood.
It wasn't consequential
if that was true or not.

For years even the furies
bowed down to his royalty,
this king through generations
destroyed all things around him.

You see, Little Orestes,
this pattern that emerges.
There's really no avoiding
the judgement of Athena.

He died one summer evening
in mystery and in torment.
Orestes did not do it
if that's what you are wondering.

Sometimes things just get better.
The furies leave the mirror.
Succession is forsaken.
A new story is written.

Orestes became Duncan.
No one is any wiser.
Duncan had a girl called Jo,
not Iphigenia.

A king has many enemies
and chance has many allies.
He paid and was not paid back
on that summer evening.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

83. 10 Songs for the Free Spirits

Ruby Tuesday - The Rolling Stones
Me & Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
I'll Fly By the Seat of My Pants - King Creosote
The Freeest Man - Tilly & the Wall
King of the Road - The Proclaimers
Liza Radley - The Jam
Wherever I Lay My Hat - Marvin Gaye
Wild and Free - Curtis Mayfield
Free Man In Paris - Joni Mitchell
Restless Farewell - Bob Dylan

Of course, none of these are a patch on the theme from The Littlest Hobo, but I've already used that at least once, and I feel it's so universally applicable, it's cheating to overuse it.
It's hard to know what to feel about free spirits, for as Cliff Huxtable said "Theo, you've got to take responsibilty for your actions" and free-spiritedness is often just selfishness, isn't it, but I don't imagine there are many people who don't do their best to avoid being trapped, and free-spiritedness is one of the most enviable states. If you can manage it without messing too many people about, you've got it made.
When I was doing room service as a gap year job, we used to sit round for about 1/2 hour when shifts had finished at 2am, and I, a callow youth, used to listen in wonder and contempt to the self-aggrandising exploits of head waiter Eddie. He did at point actually say, with no irony "I guess I'm just too much of a free spirit for this institution" which is one of my favourite quotes of all time, one I've reused at every opportunity. He was a cock. A total cock. Which is perhaps why I, rather unfairly, assume anyone who is described as, or who describes themselves as, a free spirit is 99% certainly a total cock ... deep down.
Having said that, I've been described as a free spirit myself. There are two possible responses to this 1) Yes, I am a bit of a cock 2)I'm really not a free spirit in any way, I'm entirely self-conscious, hung up and linear, and all the better for it.
Perhaps one confuses free-spirited with free-mindedness. Then again, I can't exactly pinpoint what the distinction is, but i'm sure there is one.
Still, many paeans to free spirits have been written, the most famous of them being Ruby Tuesday, and I think it's a nice figure to idealise and idolise in song.

Frankly, I have no idea what the following is about, but I do recall that many years ago, when I wrote it, I called it

For the Free Spirits

so it must be appropriate in some ways

For the Free Spirits

These strictly suburban images etched
on this loosened memorial board
serve as the last cursed of this middling class
(bracketed with the trusted and ignored).
I never quite believe another life
sweats and shimmys and sulks elsewhere,
dances on mountaintops, sleeps in gutters;
In winter, sure, we shiver, stepping out
of the shower and into the towel,
and tritely talk over the all the disorders
of which we hope we can fall foul.

All those CDs and all those shoes -
a worthless search for discounts, bargains,
unnoticed, self-serving sins of our age -
save our souls from more pointed arguing.
Maybe, at night, our impoverished minds
unite and cry to the elemental.
Til then, I prepare, praise, check fore and aft
for one vague chance of the accidental.