Wednesday, March 28, 2012

101 Songs I Love #5

The City - Sarah Harmer


 I don't know, you buy a random album on holiday because it's floating around near the top of the charts in that country (on this occasion Montreal, Canada) and you don't always pick a winner. But Oh Little Fire by Sarah Harmer was certainly worth the purchase. This is my favourite track from it so I picked it despite the fact it doesn't have a video.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

101 Songs I Love #4

The Model - Kraftwerk

I can't pretend to have been there (or even alive) when Kraftwerk were changing the face of music forever (and whether you like them or not, you cannot argue with that) and I don't know what led me to buying The Man Machine album when I must have been about 13 (other than the fact that my local Smiths Of Wigan record shop was selling it cheap) but I've been in love with them ever since.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

101 Songs I Love #3

The Battle Of Who Could Care Less - Ben Folds Five

 Ben Folds Five...the band that makes me a little bit sad that Ben Folds went off to do his own thing because try as he might he could never be quite as good to my ears as he was back then (although he is mighty mighty fine as a solo artist). Of course now they are kind of back together so we may hear a new album from them. Which is fine by me.

Monday, March 19, 2012

101 Songs I Love #2

Chewing Gum - Annie Sometimes I really do despair with the record buying public. How this wasn't number one for a month I really don't know. Catchy, nonsensical and's everything a great "throwaway" pop song should be. And yes, I wouldn't mind being in a room with "five Annie's" at all...

Saturday, March 17, 2012

101 Songs I Love #1

Mean Woman Blues (Live at the Star Club, Hamburg 1964) - Jerry Lee Lewis

As far as I am concerned, Jerry Lee Lewis is the true King of Rock'n'Roll and if there is one recording that exists on planet earth that is THE definitive proof of that it's the Live At The Star Club album. Indeed I won't argue with anyone who calls this the greatest live record of all time. For me this is the standout track on it. It's not one of his more famous tracks of course, but it's just an out and out Rock'n'Roll stomper. Kicks things off with a bang. If I had a time travelling machine, this would be one night I'd be going back to.

Friday, March 16, 2012

101 Songs I Love...The explanation

Other than the fact that I'm bored, think it'll be a cool idea and that it's easier than actually reviewing stuff over the upcoming days, weeks and months I will be compiling a list on here of 101 Songs I Love.

And it really is that simple.  They are not in any "order" of preference, I have no pre-conceived list of what I'm going to choose...I'm just going to post 101 Songs I Love, one at a time whenever the mood takes me and that is that.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Singles 15-1

Hope this isn't too controversial! :-D

15) I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing (UK Singles Chart Peak – 13) 
The album version is very good, if a little simpler than this single version which just about shades it in the IWNDTKOF stakes.  This is what John Shuttleworth would call a “fun track” with it’s catchy tune and funny lyrics.

14) Heart (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1) 
Historically this wasn’t one of my absolute favourites but it’s prominence as the opening track of the Pandemonium tour really got me hooked on it and at the moment I absolutely love it. Which goes to show that whilst this list might be my “of the moment” rankings, if I tried this again in six months time the list might show some very distinct changes.

13) Se A Vida E (That’s The Way Life Is) (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8)
More great drumming and a lovely summer vibe make this a winning track. Lovely sentiment behind the lyrics too.

12) Always On My Mind (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1)
One of the greatest cover versions of all time in my opinion.  I particularly like how this turns Elvis’ rather pathetic version (in terms of the characterization, NOT the song itself) on its head.  Elvis is sincere, if loathsome whereas Neil Tenant’s cad is altogether a lot more impish.

11) Love Etc. (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
Definitely my favourite single since the Very era, this saw them working with the geniuses at Xenomania to produce a cracker.  The call and response chorus is cool and it has the characteristically wry look at love from Mr. Tenant.  You don’t have to be beautiful, but it helps indeed.

10) It’s A Sin (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1) 
Bombastic, intelligent, tuneful, over-the-top pop.  You don’t get many like this.  The atmosphere simply oozes out of this one, from the irrelevant (in that it has nothing to do with the lyrical theme of the song) spaceship countdown opening to the Latin verse that Neil ends with this is a proper foot stomper.

9) Domino Dancing (UK Singles Chart Peak – 7)
Lovely Latino-tinged vibe here (my favourite Madonna song is La Isla Bonita, by the way).  The song is great and it really does speak to me. Of course, I’m not entirely sure what I get from the meaning of the lyrics is what was intended, but isn’t that the great thing about Pet Shop Boys.

8) Love Comes Quickly (UK Singles Chart Peak – 19)
Absolutely gorgeous song.  “It may be romantic, but that’s no defence” is a completely ambiguous line in many ways but it speaks volumes to me.  But lets face it, you didn’t start reading this to listen to me prattle on about my life so I’ll stop there.

7) West End Girls (UK Singles Chart Peak – 1) 
The song, as Chris (?) says, that is responsible for PSB being a “priority international act”  simply doesn’t age at all.  It’s as vital today as it was over 25 years ago.

6) Can You Forgive Her (UK Singles Chart Peak – 7) 
You’ll notice that I tend to gravitate towards the ambiguously sexual Pet Shop Boys songs.  I say ambiguously, but what I probably mean are the sneaky sexual tales.  Like this one, the tale of a woman taunting a man because she knows his first sexual experience was a homosexual one.  Of course all this intrigue passed me by at the time…

5) Rent (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8) 
I just think there there is an untold beauty in this song.  Ambiguous and intriguing lyrically this is just the sort of song you quite simply don't get by anyone else.

4) What Have I Done To Deserve This (UK Singles Chart Peak – 2) 
Dusty Springfield is a bona fide legend, and this is a bona fide classic.  It's got so many good bits in it that it's difficult to know where to begin in describing how great it is. But the call and response style verses, the spoken bits by Neil (I bought you drinks, I bought you flowers) and Dusty's main bit are all awesome.

3) So Hard (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4) 
I'm not sure where this stands in other fan's eyes but I, naturally, love it.  Again it's one of those sneaky ones with a sexually intriguing lyric and lots of wonderfully biting lines.  "We've both given up smoking, 'cause it's fatal.  So whose matches are those?" is quite simply brilliant.

2) Being Boring (UK Singles Chart Peak – 20) 
Ok, so it might be a cliche to pick this one so high given it's status as a much loved track by the fan-base but it is a really beautiful song that deserved far more attention at the time than it's barely sneaking into the top 20 warranted.

1) Left To My Own Devices (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4)
Swirling strings, booming beat and wonderfully catchy chorus.  It's little wonder that this came from their "imperial phase".  Right from the first time I really listened to it on Discography back on cassette in 1992 this has been a firm favourite of mine. There's a lot going on in this one but not one little bit of it is in any way extraneous.  (I prefer this single edit to the Introspective version, which does go on a bit!)

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Singles 30-16

30) Liberation (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
A disarmingly sweet little song and one of the more up-beat, in terms of lyrics, on the list.

29) Suburbia (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8) 
Perhaps a surprisingly low position for one of their “signature” tunes but I’ve never been THAT keen on it myself.  I don’t really know why.  It’s just one of those things.

28) I’m With Stupid (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8) 
When this was released I might well have stuck it higher.  It’s got a lovely “1980s” vibe and yet isn’t stuck in a bygone age at all.  Those not paying attention might have missed the Tony Blair/George Bush subtext, but it’s none the worse for that.

27) Panninaro ‘95 (UK Singles Chart Peak – 15) 
I couldn’t really understand the logic of releasing this at the time (why does a b-sides compilation need a single to promote it?) but I’m glad they did.  Chris deserves his moment in the spotlight after all doesn’t he?  The original is a classic and this is pretty close to matching it for my money.

26) Before (UK Singles Chart Peak – 7)
This could be a case made that this is a slight song where little much (musically) happens.  Even Chris himself has noted that you’ve pretty much “heard” everything in this less than a minute in.  But with the soulful backing singers and a some slightly ambiguous lyrics (I wouldn’t know half of what Neil’s going on about to be fair if I hadn’t read their thoughts on the song in the Bilingual Further Listening booklet) I have a real love for this song.

25) Jealousy  (UK Singles Chart Peak – 12)
The closest thing in their oeuvre to an out and out "classic ballad", there is a wonderful filmic quality about this one.  And I love the way that it’s this gorgeous and romantic sounding song musically but is very unromantic in its subject matter, or at least is about a romance that is going very, very wrong.

24) How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4)
Largely forgotten double-A side to Where The Streets… which isn’t that surprising as the U2 cover was conceived precisely because they “needed” a big hit and didn’t think this would deliver.  I think the single version of this is brilliant though.  I waited for years to have this on CD (an official release I mean) it quite literally took my breath away when I walked into a random music shop in New Orleans to see the CD single of it sitting there.

23) Did You See Me Coming (UK Singles Chart Peak – 21) 
One of many standout “Yes” tracks, this is one of my mother’s favourites (she’s seen the Pandemonium tour with me three times and this was one track she kept banging on about afterwards) which might influence it’s chart position here.

22) Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots Of Money) (UK Singles Chart Peak – 11)
Although I was a bit too young to be able to buy it when it was first released (the first PSB record my parents bought me was It’s A Sin – Discography was the first PSB album I bought with “my own money”) it was on one of the Now That’s What I Call Music compilations (or something similar) that I was bought and I was obsessed with it quite a lot. It’s perhaps the single from Please that has dated the least well but it’s still a cracker.

21) All Over The World (UK Singles Chart Peak – 40)
I think the single version of this (taken from the Christmas EP) adds a little too much superfluous trickery onto the album version but it’s still a firm favourite of mine.

20) Where The Streets Have No Name (I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You) (UK Singles Chart Peak – 4) 
Now this is how to do “camp”. Take a solemn U2 rock song, make it sound like a long lost disco-driven classic AND then add the famous riff from I Can’t Take My Eyes Off You…no wonder it ruffled so many feathers.

19) Flamboyant (UK Singles Chart Peak – 12) 
At the time I was hoping that this, the second new single on the Pop Art package, was going to be a portent to the sound on their next album (which turned out to be Fundamental), such was my delight with it.  Of course it didn’t (although this sounds very “Disco 3” if you ask me) but that doesn’t change how great this track is.

18) Go West (UK Singles Chart Peak – 2)
In some ways this is my “favourite” Pet Shop Boys single in the fact that it was the one time in my life of being a dedicated fan of the Boys that it seemed like they might get a number one hit.  (That’s not as daft as it sounds.  Although I had been bought some of their singles when I was young – It’s a Sin, Always On My Mind - it was only really in 1992 when I got Discography on cassette that I really began to get into PSB.  I bought all the albums up to that point and then Very was the first album I was “waiting” for being released).  Indeed I listened to the charts “live” hoping it would be number 1…but it didn’t quite make it.  In some ways I find it a bit sad that this was track 1 on the Pop Art compilation as I’d hate to think that this was the song most “representative” of their career…although I suspect for a lot of people it is. Still as daft a cover version it is, you can’t help singing and dancing along to it can you?

17) Minimal (UK Singles Chart Peak – 19) 
Some fans were a bit critical of the lack of lyrical depth in this one, and I can see their point to a certain degree.  Still, it’s a song called “Minimal” isn’t it.  This is definitely one of their “New Order” sounding ones.

16) I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Anymore (UK Singles Chart Peak – 15) 
Ah I love the PSB songs with a little bit of sexual intrigue kicking about.  I was quite upset at the time that this didn’t crash into the top 10 upon release.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Pet Shop Boys Singles 44-31

...or my "definitive" ranking of the Pet Shop Boys singles.

First, what’s missing.  I’m not including Hallo Spaceboy or She’s Madonna in this list as they were other people featuring the Pet Shop Boys.  I’m not including Integral or London because although they charted in the (VERY lower reaches of) UK singles charts I don’t consider that they were ever meant to be “official” singles (at least in the UK).  Similarly I’m not including Absolutely Fabulous because it’s never on any “hits” compilations and wasn’t released under their own name anyway! (The named artists were “Absolutely Fabulous”).  For reference I’m also only counting one version of Opportunities!

I have included How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously as that was a double-A side with Where The Streets… so the fact that it was left off Discography and/or Pop Art doesn’t matter to me.  As the Christmas EP was released as a single and charted as such I’ve taken All Over The World as the “single” because it was the one song on that they shot a video for, and the song was given to radio stations as the one to play (although It Doesn’t Often Snow at Christmas was also delivered for air play around the Christmas period I don’t count that and it’s my list so it’s my rules!).

So what we have here are the 44 (or, if you prefer 42 plus one double-A side) singles that the Pet Shop Boys have had in the UK, that I count as proper singles, ranked in reverse order of my preference. I know, as I’ve said above that there are arguments for including other songs but it’s my list .  (I did think about adding all those mentioned above and finding something to make it into a top 50, but I didn’t).  I’m also sure a few of you with any knowledge of Pet Shop Boys might well disagree with my listings, but that’s half the fun isn’t it?

44) Was It Worth It (UK Singles Chart Peak – 24) 
I’ve just never really liked this song as much as I think I should like a Pet Shop Boys single.  In a way it bridges the gap between the really rather serious and thoughtful Behaviour era and the out-and-out Pop of Very but doesn’t really capture me in either way.  As with every song on this list I would listen to it , but I rarely fire it up on my MP3 player and it NEVER makes it onto any PSB related CD I burn.

43) I Get Along (UK Singles Chart Peak – 18) 
Release is probably my least favourite PSB album/era.  I Get Along is one of the better songs on Release so it’s position here at number 43 in my singles list tells it’s own story.  The thinly-veiled New Labour fuelled lyrics are interesting initially but lose their sparkle over time.  Given it’s “political” nature this would probably have fitted better as a b-side. (Though really, other than the leading single from the album – which we’ll get to later – I can’t see what else could have made a better single from the album, other than perhaps “Here”).

42) Numb (UK Singles Chart Peak – 25) 
I didn’t think that the Boys doing a Diane Warren (numerous tear-jerking ballads on her résumé) number would work when I first heard about it and I don’t think it does in the execution either.  Another one that I think works fine as an album track (or would be a fine b-side) but that doesn’t really pack the requisite punch as a single.

41) Somewhere (UK Singles Chart Peak – 9) 
The lowest ranked Top 10 single in my list, this just seemed wrong on many different levels.  I can see the “point” of doing it (coming as it did when PSB were doing a limited West End run of concerts) and as a nod and a wink to the surroundings during the live show it would have been fine.  But let’s face it, it’s camp nonsense that brings nothing new to the song.

40) A Red Letter Day (UK Singles Chart Peak – 9) 
It’s not an offensive song by any means I just think it’s rather “bland” by the terms of reference of this list and it has one of the worst music video’s in the PSB canon. It hasn’t aged well at all either; it’s definitely a child of the mid 1990s.

39) It’s Alright (UK Singles Chart Peak – 5) 
Probably the most “famous” of the Pet Shop Boys singles that I “don’t like” all that much, It’s Alright is just one of those songs that I never find myself choosing to listen to when I’m in one of my (frequent) listen to PSB modes.  I know it’s a cover version but lyrically it just doesn’t work for me and it’s always struck me as slightly incongruous that Neil and Chris rail against the likes of Sting telling us what to do with the environment and stuff and then release this song about forests dying and all that.

38) New York City Boy (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
Apparently the BBC wouldn’t let them perform this track on the National Lottery show as it was “too gay”.  It’s certainly up there on the “camp” scale of things. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (see Go West), by any means, but I’ve never really been in love with this song at all.  It’s insanely popular at live shows I’ve been to though, so what do I know?

37) DJ Culture (UK Singles Chart Peak – 13) 
Ah the perils of writing “hits” that can be tagged onto Greatest Hits compilations.  They didn’t crack that particular conundrum with the Discography extra tracks as far as I’m concerned.  This is another one of those that I never really listen to by “choice” (only happening upon it from time to time thanks to the wonders of “shuffle” on the MP3 player).

36) Together (UK Singles Chart Peak – 58) 
See DJ Culture above! I’m not surprised this failed to even reach the top 40.  If, as the Boys say, there was no pressure on them from the record label to add a new song to the Ultimate release but that they were so excited by this that they wanted to release it I’m not entirely sure what they were talking about.  I do like it, but as a single in 2011 it was always doomed to fail.

35) Yesterday When I Was Mad (UK Singles Chart Peak – 13)
I actually prefer the album version of this (from Very) and I think the single remix loses a bit of oomph in comparison.  It’s delightfully funny though in either incarnation (especially if you’ve read their two “on tour” diaries, Literally and Pet Shop Boys Versus America).

34) You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk (UK Singles Chart Peak – 8)
A surprising top 10 hit the time (although it largely got there due to the tactic of releasing it in the quiet January weeks of the new year if I remember correctly), there’s an rather uplifting simplicity to this and although it could be seen as a lament against an inadequate lover I actually think of it as more of a sweet rebuke against someone.  I certainly imagine that the person singing it is in love with this person.  It’s kind of like a sitcom romance where the warring couple spend each episode arguing with each other but they’re still there next week, together.

33) Single Bilingual (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
One of the funniest music video’s the Boys have done accompanies this thumping track.  I absolutely love the She-Boom drumming on this and although it’s lyrical themes (European Businessman) have dated and lost a bit of relevance in some ways I still enjoy this track.

32) Home & Dry (UK Singles Chart Peak – 14) 
As said previously, the Release era would have to go down as my least favourite PSB time, but this is still a very strong track.  It’s a simple lyric of waiting to welcome home a travelling partner and is probably one of the most straightforward “sweet” lyrics in their collection.

31) Miracles (UK Singles Chart Peak – 10)
Ok so it is, despite what they might insist, pretty much Madonna’s “Frozen” musically but I do like it.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Born To Die - Lana Del Ray

There will be a lot of people who will have come to this album with preconceived ideas that will take a lot of shifting. Some will have swallowed the hype hook, line and sinker and will be afraid to declare this as anything less than genius. Others will have taken offence to the "manufactured" nature of proceedings and will immediately have labelled it as the work of the devil and only a minor step up from the Simon Cowell led "death of REAL music."

What were my preconceived ideas? Well I wasn't a fan of Video Games when I first heard it but slowly it lodged in my brains and I would concede it was one of the best songs of last year. The "marketing" behind it didn't phase me, largely because anyone who thinks that that is solely a 21st Century invention is kidding themselves (look up Elvis peddling "black music" to white Americans, or the fact that The Beatles were all given the same haircut). So basically I was willing to give it a chance.

How organic (or not) Video Games was it seems clear that it set in stone the Lana Del Ray template. If it was truly was the first step that got her noticed and led to her record deal and the subsequent hype then all the co-writers on the album soon caught up with exactly what that had to offer and tailored their work with her accordingly. If it was all done prior to that "breaking" then they've merely took the best song of the bunch and made that the focal point of the campaign.

Because Video Games is truly the stand-out moment on the album. It's a world away from anything else that was a truly mainstream phenomenon in 2011's pop charts (give me that over Adele's risible Someone Like You any-day - although Adele's album contains a handful of absolutely stunning tracks, to be fair) and deserves it's "classic" status. Nothing else comes quite close enough to matching that. Follow up-single Born To Die is good but can't escape the feeling that it's an inferior retread of it's predecessor and the likes of Dark Paradise echo those emotions too.

It's not all the "one" sound though but it's only really Diet Mountain Dew of the others that really takes off and comes close to matching the unique charms of Video Games.

My real problem with the album is that it seems to have taken one really good concept/idea/personae and stretched it out as far as it can possibly go over twelve (or fifteen if you've got the deluxe album) tracks without letting Del Ray loose with what she can REALLY do.

Unlike some reviewers on here who can't see how she can follow up this debut album (meaning that's it is so good how can she match it) I'm actually thinking that the follow up might be the time that Del Ray really nails it. She has the voice (if not the "rapping" abilities), the interesting lyrical personae's and, as much as it might upset some people to point it out given that the music is the "important" thing, the look to be a lasting star.

Of course, it could also be the time when I find out she really was just the product of hype after all. But I'd like to think that that won't be the case.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Lindi Ortega LIVE

Lindi Ortega's Little Red Boots was my album of 2011.  Admittedly her "Dolly Parton meets Johnny Cash" personae and music could almost have been genetically modified to appeal to my tastes (I've long been a sucker for a country and  western girl whose sound harks back to the days before Shania Twain became the country "benchmark") but that's hardly her fault and, furthermore, wouldn't matter a jot if the album wasn't so great anyway.

Of course it's not always the case that a great artist on record makes for a great artist on the stage but if I had been worried that Lindi Ortega would prove to be less on stage than she is on record those doubts wouldn't have lasted for long.

Because, quite simply, she was awesome.  It was just her and a guitar (and some charmingly amusing asides between songs) and it left you in little doubt as to just what a talent she is.  Songs from the album sounded just as good "stripped down" as they do with full backing on the record, new songs were sublime (the only title I can remember now is "Use Me" which was pegged as a "public service announcement") and her cover of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues was expertly pitched and got one of the reactions of the night from a quiet, but genuinely interested/entertained audience.

Ortega's songs of heartbreak, lost love and the like may sound like traditional country and western themes but they're presented here with a fresh, modern twist that deserves a huge audience.

And thanks again to the Big Man for doing his customary photo duties.  Three must be a record even for you!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bad Dream Hotline - Foe

If there was nothing else to Hannah Louise Clark's repertoire as Foe than the Christina Aguilera-baiting Genie In A Coke Can it would still be more than enough for me. It's biting lyrics along the lines of "millions in marketing of pop star trash" and it's catchy refrains of "I want to be a worldwide sensation, I want all men to salivate over me" might well be the most scathing and accurate attack on SOME parts of the modern pop world you'll be lucky to hear.

That it's wrapped in the kind of radio-friendly unit shifter melody that one of her musical hero's Kurt Cobain both sought for and hated just makes the skewering all the more delicious.

And it's far from the only highlight.

Ode To Janey Lou makes Grunge seem relevant for the first time in years (although the song is much more than juts that) whilst even when slowing things down a little, on the wonderfully titled A Handsome Stranger Called Death, there is a vitality that makes for great listening. In truth there's a lot more on Bad Dream Hotline that hits the spot than that that doesn't.

So if, like me, you were slightly put off by the press releases where tales of being suspected of being a witch by her schoolmates made it difficult to work out whether or not you should believe what you hear, then rectify that right now. Treading a line between willful eclecticism and straight up awesome pop melodies but giving you the best of those opposites to come up with something that, with any justice, should place Foe alongside some of those pop-stars backed with mega-million marketing before 2012 is out.

Perhaps the only criticism I can bring forward is that there could almost be said to be a little TOO much going on in the twelve songs as if the Foe "sound" has yet to settle on what it really wants to be. But hey, that can wait until the second album.