My top twenty (one)

I have issues with listening to music…

I really, really, love it. I mean really. Like I love it like an irrationally jealous partner loves something, to the point where I find bad music physically painful and the most painful of all being cover versions of wonderful songs done badly. I really can’t abide shit music either, which is a bloody nuisance as there is so much of it about. On the television, in films, in pubs out of people’s car stereos. Shit music everywhere, so much of it in the world… Fortunately there is plenty of good stuff too although there doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as much good new music about as there used to be. That could just be my age though, I’d hate to think I would turn into the equivalent of one of those shambling old wrecks of teddy boys I used to see about back in the 1990s who were convinced that music ended the day elvis made his first movie. Talking of which, I find this strange resurgence of 50s Rock and roll impossible to fathom with its bizarre Disneyland reality, completely ignoring the fact that the 50s were not only endemically racist but god forbid you were an unmarried mother, even slightly mentally ill or homosexual as your treatment would see you dead, chemically neutered or incarcerated for a lifetime. 

Anyway, I don’t want to be that person who is permanently ranting about the lack of originality in modern music and harks back to a halcyon age as there never was one but we all gravitate to the music of our youths if we aren’t careful. That said, there is something far worse than being stuck musically in a past decade, constantly reliving better times from a safe and fuzzy distance, and that is being ‘down with the kids’ in some embarrassing radio dj way, waiting to be pulled in on sexual abuse charges like the rest of the sad bunch. I prefer to remain slightly bemused at it all and have my midlife crisis at home rather than out in public trying to act like I’m still twenty as seems to be the fashion now. I have done my best to avoid seeing the tattered remains of the bands and performers that I saw in my youth, shadows of their former selves dragging their aging bones around a stage to pay their kids private school fees, their messy divorce bill or all those tax demands that have finally caught up with them. There are/were a few exceptions to this who shined through but we lost most of them last year in the great talent cull of 2016. 

I go through periods of not listening to music at all, usually when things have been grim and I refuse to let a good song be one associated with a wretched time. Second only to smell, music pulls us right back to a moment in time and there we are again, reliving that experience, I want to make sure I’m never rubber banded back to bad ones. 

I’ve been trying to work out my top twenty songs but it’s impossible, I started with ten but the artists left out were too many and even then I had to cheat and change it to twenty one. There is a notable exception in Kate Bush who is currently on the naughty step for being a fan of Theresa May, I will let her off eventually but that is keeping her track Delius from its rightful place in there somewhere. This is my top twenty one right now, tomorrow who knows?

Public Image Ltd. – Pop tones.

I used to listen to this constantly on my first crappy Philips Walkman thingy back in 1989 on the Barnet bus to art school, taped from my vinyl copy of the Metal Box album. What I liked about it then was its jarring, discordant, quality, the sheer racket of it. What I like about it now is that it sounds pretty much exactly what it’s like to go utterly mad, with the melodic but nerve janglingly shrill guitar combine with a bass line that meanders off rather than providing a steady rhythm. There is nothing stable about any of it. Add to that the fatalistic or rather posthumous lyrics in John lydons usual nasal whine of a voice and you have something that is both monotonous and disturbing at the same time.

The Carpenters – Rainy days and Mondays.

As a child of the seventies I can never remember a time without the Carpenters, like air or wallpaper, they were there so much that you ceased to notice them. To the young Chris they were that bland music that was on in the background whilst housework was being done. Most things pass children by and it wasn’t until much later that I realised how hauntingly sad most on the Carpenters songs were and how beautifully they were put together. Neither Karen nor Richard were very happy people, between Karen’s shockingly low self esteem and the resultant anorexia and Richard’s prescription drug abuse, fame didn’t do them much good and that sadness and melancholy seeped into their music. I could have picked any of their songs really, calling occupants, superstar… any of them, they are all wonderful. I got back into them via the art/noise band Sonic Youth who loved them so much that not only did they do an amazing cover of Superstar but also wrote a song about Karen Carpenter, Tunic (song for Karen) about her finally being happy in heaven.

The Beatles – Tomorrow never knows

One of two wtf? Moments on this list, back in the early nineties  goth band The Cure held a secret pirate radio night on which all the band members played some of their favourite tracks and, then guitarist, Porl Thompson chose this as one of them. I’d heard all the usual hits countless times of course and watched and loved Yellow Submarine, secretly routing for the blue meanies of course, but this track had escaped me. It’s just a perfect bit of relentless noise, the driving drum track that almost seems sampled and looped, the vocals through a Leslie Cabinet (a speaker with a motor attached to make the sound whirl), backwards masked guitar licks and that’s just the few bits I can recognise. This was My Bloody Valentine territory decades earlier and it still sounds edgy forty odd years after it was recorded.

Sonic Youth – Teenage riot. 

I bought the album, Daydream Nation,  from the Our Price under Waterloo Station whilst it was still in the indie charts. It must have been 1990 I’m guessing and I had the misfortune to been working in a civil service building in Blackfriars where I utterly failed to fit in. Margaret Thatcher was still conducting her reign of terror over the United Kingdom and the walk to one on Londons key Stations led me past Cardboard City, the shanty town for the homeless that had sprung up amidst London’s underpasses. I remember thinking that this had been some kind of portent when I got home and played it. Teenage Riot was the opening track and it felt like being beaten about the head with a musical baseball bat. Sonic Youth have a whimsical approach to tuning guitars, and indeed to their wiring, the sounds they get from them can be surprisingly melodic whilst at the same time sounding like you have been attacked by a swarm of bees or accidentally fallen into a bottle bank full of smashed glass. This was/is a perfect Sonic Youth track, tight enough to almost be a pop song whilst being wilfully noisy enough that that would be the last thing it would ever be.

The Cure – Disintegration (or any other song)

The Cure were ruined for me by an obsessive friend, from something that helped me get through some wretched times and was also there for the good ones, they became like some offshoot of the Ludivico Technique in A Clockwork Orange as I got sucked into going to far too many concerts and going backstage to the point of being cringey. A band, however good, are just a bunch of people and the poor sods have been doing a job of sorts. The last thing any of us want after a hard day at work is to entertain a bunch of saddos who can’t get music into perspective. Never meet your idols, it’s a rule I’ve had for a long time, they are just people, nothing more. If you are bullied and badgered into doing anything, you will end up hating it and for a long, long, time the cure were about little more than the deja vu of hearing the same songs too often, acquiring back stage passes and wishing I was at home with a nice cup of tea and my pyjamas on. Beyond a point, going out becomes a pointless and cruel torment left only for people desperate to kid themselves they are having fun or to try and find a life partner or new friends by no other means than liking the same music. 

I’ll let you into a secret… Many cure fans are arseholes, many classical music fans are arseholes, many jazz fans are arseholes, many reggae fans are arseholes, many folk music fans are arseholes because… many people are arseholes. Any communion you might feel says more about your needs than their outlook and value system. People are just people.

I can finally listen to the cure for what they are, a combination of wonderful music and intelligent lyrics, I have no desire though to watch a man creeping towards retirement age still dress like a moody teenager, it’s just too depressing and has slipped into the realm of showbiz shtick.

Dinosaur JR – Freak scene 

I first came into contact with Dinosaur Jr with their cover of The Cure’s hit single Just Like Heaven, it was a glorious racket. The more I heard by Jay Mascis, who pretty much is Dinosaur JR for all intents and purposes, the more I realised just what a remarkable guitarist he is, up there with Hendrix and Clapton in fact, but where as most use that facility to play faster or more complex pieces, Jay uses it’ll go flying off into cacophony like road runner off a cartoon cliff, and then resolve that noise back into a melody again. It has been a source of concert irritation that I have never seen him live. I have come close but something went tediously wrong. Very sore point that!

My Bloody Valentine – To here knows when.

How on earth do you describe the sound of my bloody valentine? Well I suppose the best way to describe the tracks made around the time of the Loveless album is the nearest you can get to the sound of an hallucination or fever dream with whispered and unintelligible vocals buried deep in the layers of the tracks. To here knows when is a prime example of that. It hard to recognise what instrument the sounds began their lives as as they are so heavily processed and layered. At the time it was made it was rumoured that the studio costs almost bankrupted their record label, creation, I just think it’s a shame that they didn’t try a bit harder as it would have spared the world from having to listen to Oasis and all their terrible Beatles knock offs. My bedroom sported a billboard sized poster of the album cover for many years, I wish I still had it…

Nine inch nails – Something I can never have

It’s so strange, I love nothing better that to sit in silence reading with nothing more than the occasional bird tweeting away in the background, but then I also love things like  nine inch nails. It’s the quality of a sound that I find attractive and the quality of a song and Trent Reznor is a master of both. It’s interesting to note that N.I.N cites P.w.e.i as one of their greatest influences and that both their lead figures Reznor and Clint Mansell have become professional film scorers in their later years. Something I Can Never have is deceptively sedate as nine inch nails songs go and is mostly just piano, but what I love about it is the subtle way the background shifts four fifths  of the way through, It’s almost as if floor falls away from under you. I wouldn’t be suprised if there is some sort of subsonics in there somewhere. It’s the audio equivalent of finding out that your partner has been sleeping with someone else. Hmmm…. Remind me why I like this? I am a weirdo!

Die antwoord – cookie thumper

I’m so pleased that these guys are on here! At least there is one band whose debut album is less than a decade old so maybe  I’m not so out of touch after all. Ok, granted they are nearly as old as me but at least their music isn’t. I find them utterly fascinating, like some demented, sweary, maniac, pop stars from a parallel dimension, musically they are hard to pin down, on the surface it sounds like some crappy rap rave combination but there is something deeper hidden there. They are a sort of inverse of the gorillaz, humans who have almost become cartoons of themselves, to the point or having their own line in action figures and they are really niiiiiice ones, but sadly out of my price range. One day… Anyway, Cookie Thumper… Half in Afrikaans and half English and both are indecipherable, just great, jolly, sweary music to do housework to. OH! And a cookie thumpers is not someone who beats up biscuits. A cookie in this case us South African slang for a woman’s genitals, so… Well, you can work out the rest for yourself. 

Time for Heroes – the libertines 

Pete Doherty… You have to love him. A total mess but wonderful with it. The rest of them are just there as window dressing basically. The thing is with your archetypal beautiful disaster of a pop star is that they look great from a distance but you don’t want them in your life, a bit like trying to have a wild fox as a pet. Messy people spill out over everything and there is no one messier and still alive than Pete. I love the way you can hear mr Doherty chewing up the microphone on this track and the lyrics are wonderful. He would have made a great eighteenth century poet. 

David Bowie – kooks

Oh david! Why did you have to die? I have a list though of people we could swap you back for, it’s a rather long one. We could even do a ten for one swap. I never had kids, I missed the boat on that one and I’m past it now. But if I did, I would have sung this song to them, poor things!  

Pop Will Eat Itself – Harry dean Stanton

pwei for short, wrote their own rule book and everyone else knicked it. The first rock band, the first any band in fact, to make an entire album from samples. The first to use that infamous James brown drum loop. Their own career was hampered by the broad Midlands accents, unlike Black Sabath or Led Zeppelin who swiftly lost theirs. Pwei were the kings of the obscure both in samples, Japanese movies, adverts, children’s televisions shows, you name it… and in who they referenced. Harry Dean Stanton is a case in point, named after an American character actor in the first alien movie, is about the singer / song writer Clint Mansell turning thirty, thoroughly past it in rock music terms if you go for the club 27 rule. There is a really nice little sample from the anime film Akira in this for added cool factor. Not long after this, Clint buggered off to Hollywood to write film scores, including that for Requiem for a Dream.

New Order – your silent face. 

In pre internet days it was so much easier to romanticise about musician nd to believe the myths woven around many musicians tend to be self absorbed twats, but that’s ok because so many artists are too, and most other people thinking about it. New Order sadly fall into this category but back as a daft teen they were the band that soldiered bravely on after , profit of doom, Ian Curtis hung himself. Their music is wonderful though and this track is a perfect example. Incidentally, I am a massive fan of their late label boss Antony H Wilson who did his unintentional damnedest to thwart their career.  

Placebo – Nancy boy

Five holes in a plastic bag, the greatest lay I’ve ever had. I still shudder at the thought of what that means. Placebo were/are one of the tightest bands going. Singer songwriter Brian Molko is an amazing writer, able to weave multiple meanings into his lyrics.

Cocteau Twins – kookaburra

I still remember hearing this track for the first time, spilling out from the radio, the Janice long show, back in about 1985 when being on the radio meant something as it wasn’t split up into the sea of dross it is today. That soaring voice, speaking in tongues with guitars crashing and soaring. Music from another planet. I am blessed to have seen them play live, a rarity even back then… Astounding!

Radiohead – fake plastic trees

Radiohead, thank you for making this hideous, spiteful, world bearable on even the worst of days. Following the traditional verse chorus verse song structure more than later works, this song still has it all. A perfect bit of melancholy pop.

Elizabeth Frazer & Jeff Buckley – all flowers in time bend towards the sun.

Bit of a sore point this one as it feels like all flowers have been carpet bombed with napalm and agent orange and aren’t facing anything but certain doom  at the moment. I can’t listen to this right now, too upsetting but it is still one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded. It only exists as bootleg demo tracks as Jeff died before it was ever properly recorded. Some lovely things are smothered to death  before they really begin, and this is one.

Des o Connor – dick a dum dum

A guilty pleasure this, a wonderful bit of sixties pop crap. Clever lyrics though but very dated sexism. Written by Jim Dale strangely, later to star in numerous Carry On movies before moving to America to become a Broadway star and the American voice of the Harry Potter books

Marilyn Manson – long hard road out of hell.

A music journalist who formed his own band because all the others were rubbish. You have to love that dedication to theatricality, the archetypal rock star, never afraid of controversy and still producing consistently brilliant music. Bloody good artist too.  This track shows him really finding his way as a performer.

Sugarcubes – birthday (Icelandic)

A lovely little gem of a record here, showing off Bjork’s voice before she turned into the fully fledged work of art she would later become. Like holding the seed of a giant redwood in your hand before nipping into your time machine and seeing it fully grown centuries later. 

Pink floyd – shine on you crazy diamond

God…. This song…. When I was at my lowest ebb at the turn of the century, mad, homeless, jobless, my life down the toilet,  I would listen to this and think about how badly syds life went. I did something he never did though, I made it back. It took nearly two decades though but I did it. Whether I remain here is another thing, but for now… Shine on!


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