Friday, 31 July 2015

Perfection and other tales ...

I've a couple more compilation tapes to share ...

Firstly, I'm to admit I got it wrong. I did think about it a lot, and I was always pretty comfortable with my choice of Over the Rainbow as the greatest song of all time, but I also wished at the time that my answer was a little bit more interesting, a bit more likely to prompt the response "yes, I hadn't thought that, but that rings true". Maybe this is a bit more like it.

I didn't get it far wrong, mind. Number 7 has become Number 1. The feeling's been growing throughout the year. It's come up on my ipod a few times recently, it's been featured in an excellent BBC4 documentary, it's somehow become obvious to me. It's Brian Wilson's favourite song. Boom-ba-boom-ch, boom-ba-boom-ch ... you know the one ... Be My Baby.

Now, the one thing that ever so slightly irks me about this being the greatest song of all time is that it rather caters to the argument that this rock'n'roll is all about the 3 minute thrill, the sonic rush, appealing to the heart, the soul, the hips, but not the brain so much. Be My Baby lyrically is, unavoidably, a little banal. But, really, fuck it! It's so flawless, it's sound is so thrilling, it doesn't let up for a second, the vocal, the drum, the chorus, the backing vocal, it still sounds so modern, it's a joy to everyone under the sun, able to memorably define two very different classic films, Mean Streets and Dirty Dancing.

It's the perfect song, the perfect song of all perfect songs.

Talking of which ... this is a tape called Perfection.

It's a certain kind of perfection, of course. The sweet spot.

  • Be My Baby - The Ronettes
  • Billie Jean - Michael Jackson
  • Oh Boy - Buddy Holly
  • Gimme Some Loving - The Spencer Davis Group
  • Shining Light - Ash
  • Going Underground - The Jam
  • (Love is Like a) Heat Wave - Martha and the Vandellas
  • Umbrella - Rihanna

  • Fun, Fun, Fun - The Beach Boys
  • Johnny B Goode - Chuck Berry
  • The Rat - The Walkmen
  • Crazy in Love - Beyonce
  • Dancing Queen - ABBA
  • Good Times - Chic
  • Family Affair - Mary J Blige
  • Yes - McAlmont and Butler
Find me a spare second in any of those song ...

This is a tape called ...

Girls Groups other than the Spice Girls

Be My Baby - The Ronettes
Remember (Walkin' in the Sand) - The Shangri-Las
Throw Shapes - The Pipettes
Love in the First Degree - Bananarama
No Scrubs - TLC
Bills, Bills, Bills - Destiny's Child
Love Child - The Supremes
Pure Shores - All Saints

Jimmy Mack - Martha and the Vandellas
Will You Love Me Tomorrow - The Shirelles
Don't Let Go - En Vogue
Push It - Salt n Pepa
Trouble - Shampoo
All the Things She Said - Tatu
Biology - Girls Aloud
Please Mr Postman - The Marvelettes

Pretty basic stuff, really ... see how many tapes demand to be kicked off by Be My Baby

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Best British Things

What are the best British things? A great stupid question.

I want to avoid, if it's even possible, being too cliched about it, or too phoney. I'm certainly confining it to recent times, and certainly not going to mention too many things which I don't directly love myself. Some people say "national treasures", though it's become a ghastly phrase. As it happens, I'm not going to include Stephen Fry.

They can be macro things or micro things, they can be a moment in time or an era.

I always have a trigger for a dumb idea - this time the trigger was Alan Partridge - has any character ever been so faultlessly well-realised across a variety of different formats for so long? Alan Partridge is a thing of such incredible genius, it's stayed strong through being a sketch of a sports reporter, a chat show host, a sitcom staple, a radio show host, an author, an author talking about being an author, an action hero, a documentarian. He's skewered everything it's possible to skewer, he's given a generation (my generation) it's very best catchphrases. And Partridge from 1992 is as funny as Partridge from 2013 and as funny as Partridge from 2020 will be, but never stuck and safe, always developed and different. I think Alan Partridge may be the very best British thing I can think of.

Well, best small thing. Best big thing ... well, it might well be the progenitor of Partridge, the BBC. It's good that recent events are giving people cause to pause and think about how amazing the BBC is. I'm currently constantly 2 seconds away from an angry rant about the people who are intent on taking it apart and those that would let it happen ... most of them probably get their news on how wasteful and bloated the BBC is from the BBC ... I'd pay £1000 a year for it, you can quote me on that.

I'm not going to mention Shakepeare or Paul McCartney or really anything not in its prime after about 1990, I'm not going to mention war heroes or scientists, really it'll just be cultural things, though that's got a pretty broad sweep to it.

I've been thinking about it for a while - here's something slightly interesting I noticed. It's quite striking a) how few British films of this era really feel like like they're going to do down as classics, that are groundbreaking, faultless, bold. Not that there aren't loads of very good enjoyable British films but here's b) the more interesting thing - so many of them seem to be "about Britain", showing it off, advertising it, saying what a grand country it is and what splendid people it produces etc. We know why this is to an extent - it's the formula for "quality" British merchandise making it in Hollywood. So, you know, Pride, Belle, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything, The King's Speech, The Queen, East is East, even something like The Full Monty. There are too few acclaimed British films that could be something other than British, if you see what I mean.

Out of all that lot, and even the more offbeat likes of Trainspotting and Under the Skin, of Dead Man's Shoes, I found it hard to elevate anything cinematic to the level I'd hope.

So perhaps Shane Meadows, Mike Leigh, Ken Loach, each their own little industry/brand name/oeuvre. But are their films really consistently gloriously good enough? They may be, but it'd be disingenuous, I think, of me to include them,  though I'm a fan of all of them, they just didn't quite sit right for me, not like Partridge. Nick Park? Yes, probably, but, again, I'd be bluffing. Danny Boyle? He's rather a marvel, isn't he, though perhaps he's made a few too many films that didn't quite work.

But Danny Boyle does lead me on nicely, in as much he did a million times better job of doing exactly what I'm doing now, distilling the best of British, in July 2012. And if the London Olympic and Paralympic summer wasn't a treasure to be proud of, I don't know what it is.

Pretty self-explanatory. The Olympics. On the BBC. Big scale marvels ... The Olympics ... won under Ken Livingstone ... I'll lose most people here. Ken Livingstone's career is not short of cringeworthy moments, but I think he's the greatest politician of our time. Systematically, relentlessly, spun against. To even begin to compare his achievements as London mayor compared to his successor's ... his successor's most lauded achievements were just inherited from him. I really truly feel like he did so very much for London, embodied London truly, transformed it for the better and could have done more. A lot of people really hate him. So be it. I think he's been a powerful force for good.

And of course ... moving on ... he guested on Ernold Same, by Blur. Now, music gave me as many problems as film really ... the big scale might say Acid House, might tentatively say Britpop, might say Glastonbury - I think I'll skip past their huge imperfections and sour tastes and the names that came to my mind were Damon Albarn, Roots Manuva, PJ Harvey, Gruff Rhys and the Manic Street Preachers. I would say that, though. But, you know, over time, daring, humanity, representing the best of Britain, hope for the new music, big ideas, bravery, these are the ones for me. As many people would say Massive Attack. Radiohead, Portishead, I suppose ...

Then, going really small, Yes by McAlmont and Butler. Here it, look at it, make it up. Nothing like it.

Let's go big again ... Edinburgh Festival ... is just an amazing thing ... so's the Notting Hill Carnival, though more condensed. But Edinburgh Festival, what a thing it is. So many comedians ... talking of comedians, I'm going for Ross Noble. Seeing him for the first time, 3 years ago, I came out pretty certain it was one of the very best "things" I'd ever seen.  Has to be seen to be believed. This is a master.

Staying with comedy ... the people of League of Gentlemen, all they've done and all they do.

Free museums. The National Gallery just being something you can wander into for a few minutes if you're popping into town.

Talking of art, not a specialist area of mine, people who make grand inclusive artistic statements that really work ... Jeremy Deller and Antony Gormley tentatively suggested.

The East Coast main line.

Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Steve McQueen's ongoing career.

Bill Drummond ... perhaps.

David Suchet's Poirots, all 68 of them.

Our Friends in the North, of course.

Tony Harrison ... Ishiguro ... and, look, I've never read a word of it, never seen more than a frame of it, but as a model for heart-warming and valuable success and how not to let it be spoilt however enormous it became, what JK Rowling did with Harry Potter is incredible and wholly admirable.

Tom Stoppard, very much so. Gosh, there's nothing subversive about what I'm coming up with, is there?

Emma Thompson. Kristin Scott Thomas. Daniel Day-Lewis. Extra level, something other than actors. Peter Mullan.

Quizzes ... cups of tea ... I think I'm losing focus ...

once I let something slightly off-topic in, I could go on and on.

Basically, it's Alan Partridge and the East Coast main line. Best we've got ...

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

The last time I heard Joni ...

... was earlier today.

I had got it into my head, as you know, that Blue was the only truly great Joni Mitchell album. I'd also found an interview she gave last year enlightening, fascinating but rather off-putting in its portrayal of a woman of extremely high self-regard. Even more off-putting was Alex James-esque bozo David Crosby's relentless "she's the best of all us" campaign, which felt rather self-serving, considering he was the one who "discovered" her.

I was, of course, deeply concerned when news of her hospitalisation initially emerged, especially with the haziness of her details. But it's only since the full seriousness began to emerge, including Crosby giving the (apparently false) information out that, after her brain aneurysm, she's no longer speaking, that I found that all I wanted to listen to was Joni Mitchell.

It's been more than a month now. It wasn't a task I set myself or a deliberate act of respect, it was just that every morning, as I settled for work, I'd put Joni Mitchell on and then not put anything else on all day.

There are specific circumstances. I've spent the rest of the year listening to as much new music as possible, usually a couple of new albums a week, trying to get to know them, assess them, feel them, before moving on to the next one. I expect I needed a change from that.

I also needed to work hard. I always work hard, but for the last couple of months, I've been sitting down to write questions in a way I really needed to concentrate, and to feel calm.

Joni Mitchell, above all, seemed right for the task. I reiterate, this wasn't a deliberate attempt at reassessment or an act of penance for previous judgement, it's just what happened.

I loved Blue so much, so instantly, when I first heard it 15 years ago, but dismissed several of her other works, in the following years, almost as instantly - Clouds and Ladies of the Canyon I'd found twee, living up to the cliche of what people think Joni Mitchell is. Court and Spark and The Hissing of Summer Lawns were acclaimed, but I'd found, respectively, poppy and self-satisfied, and obscure and self-satisfied.

So in the decade and a bit in between, I've listened to Blue hundreds of times, and the rest pretty rarely. However now, whether faced with the almost certain reality that there'll never be another Joni Mitchell album, it wasn't Blue I listened to. Blue's not really background music anyway. It's pretty unignorable. I wanted music which was stimulating, which was there, but which didn't regularly delay my work patterns.

So I've been listening to all of them, all the way through. In fact, currently I'm listening to her whole career in chronological order. I'm not actually here to reassess, to say "I was wrong, they're all classics". I don't even know what I think, I've just kept listening. Well, I can tell you Hejira's a really good album. That's my one piece of assessment.

I'm currently on the 80s albums. Not sure if I'll last all the way through those ... but who didn't sound rubbish in the 80s?

I'd recommend listening to a major career in order all the way through, actually. The gradual shifting, till you suddenly find yourself listening to a whole different voice (let alone sound) to the one you started with.

Anyway, like I say, I'm not going to review the albums as such. But I did get to thinking about the Joni Mitchell/Bob Dylan thing. Crosby should be applauded, really, for smashing the patriarchy of rock criticism and daring to suggest that Joni Mitchell isn't just the greatest "female" singer-songwriter but the greatest full stop. Perhaps the idea threatens me many people have told me it's Bob Dylan, could I really cope with it not being?

Well, look, to use a slightly ghastly American sports term, I'm pretty satisfied that if you put the two résumés up next to each other, Bob still wins. I'm quite sure plenty of my reverence for Dylan was a learned reverence, but I do remember it went to a whole new level when I  began to listen to all those songs, those matchless songs, better than anyone else had ever written, which didn't make it onto albums - Blind Willie McTell, Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Up to Me, She's Your Lover Now, Angelina, everything on the basement tapes, the list does actually go on and on. Dylan's got more songs, just way more songs, that strike you, that mean something to me and millions of others. Joni Mitchell herself, and David Crosby, and others, of course, are sniffy about Dylan's actual musicianship, and he's said himself he's no melodist like McCartney or Wilson, but it's incredible how many sounds and styles he conquered, or even created. Joni Mitchell's career has range, certainly, and I'd guess she is technically a better singer, guitarist, melodist, arranger, producer, but the range of Dylan's career is one of its most underplayed elements.

Oh look, I'm using a blog about Joni Mitchell to talk about Bob Dylan. How annoying! and it would, I presume, annoy the shit out of her. Little vignettes emerge of the sour personal competitiveness between them - Dylan falling asleep at a playback of Court and Spark, Mitchell affronted by having to open the Rolling Thunder Revue. Perhaps she was the only one he felt threatened by, perhaps she felt she deserved the blanket reverence he received. Just conjecture, really. That is a fly-on-the-wall I'd love to have been.

Anyway, "résumé" is just one way to compare, of course. I don't happen to think Bob Dylan, for all his great albums, ever absolutely perfected it. Blood on the Tracks is close, others might see Highway 61 in those terms, or Blonde on Blonde, but I would take Blue to the desert island above any one album he ever released. There's a song on 'Don Juan's Reckless Daughter' called Paprika Plains which is 16 minutes long. As yet, I don't have space for that on my desert island.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Tapes and tapes

I can't write ... anything. Apart from quiz questions. I've tried various times in the last month or so to come up with something for this blog but I've got nothing.

Here have been my ideas - they're good ideas ...

  • Let's treat the careers of our favourite bands as if they're tenpin bowling games.
  • Common People vs A Design for Life: Compare and Contrast
  • What do people really want from a festival headliner?
  • What is the perfect support act?
  • Lines that burst out of songs, starting with "Michigan seems like a dream to me now ..."
Hopefully those blogs will come in time, but I'm all out of prose style.

Let's make some compilation tapes ...

Compilation for adventurous people with lots of money, who like trains and planes, who want to see lots of different cities

Let's Get Out of This Country - Camera Obscura
Lille - Lisa Hannigan
Paris - Friendly Fires
Vienna - Ultravox
Budapest - George Ezra
Istanbul (not Constantinople) - They Might Be Giants
Night Boat to Cairo - Madness
If You See Her, Say Hello - Bob Dylan
Marrakesh Express - Crosby Stills and Nash
Liberian Girl - Michael Jackson
Gimme Hope Jo'anna - Eddie Grant
Mozambique - Bob Dylan
A New Jerusalem - Carly Simon

Bombs Over Baghdad - OutKast
Holiday in Cambodia - Dead Kennedys
Shanghai - Ed Harcourt
Pyongyang - blur
Anchorage - Michelle Shocked
Via Chicago - Wilco
Do You Know the Way to San Jose? - Dionne Warwick
Loco in Acapulco - The Four Tops
Kingston Town - UB40
New Amsterdam - Elvis Costello
Going Down to Liverpool - The Bangles
Homeward Bound - Simon and Garfunkel
Until I Believe in My Soul - Dexys Midnight Runners

This one is called "Still got it"

That's Why God Made the Radio - Beach Boys
Nobody's Empire - Belle and Sebastian
Come On Let's Go - Paul Weller
Irish Blood, English Heart - Morrissey
Cocoon - Ash
Nothing I Can Do About It - Idlewild
Ruckus in B Minor - Wu-Tang Clan
Love is Gonna Lift You Up - Bobby Womack
Show Me the Wonder - Manic Street Preachers
The Never Ending Happening - Bill Fay

Maria - Blondie
New York is Killing Me - Gil Scott Heron
It Starts and Ends With You - Suede
Workingman Blues - Bob Dylan
You Got Me Singing - Leonard Cohen
40 Days of Rain - Roddy Frame
Losing You - Randy Newman
We All Go Back to Where We Belong - REM
Where Are We Now? - David Bowie
Ong Ong - Blur

Right, that's it for now