Top 100 singles of all time: from Bjork to the Beach Boys

367px-Björk_Rock_en_Seine_2007_by Bertrand

It’s an almost sad feeling as I wrap up this list – bundling in the top 40 in one final swoop – before tomorrow’s grand finale. I don’t even know what was going through my mind as I wrote the original list, beyond how far I agreed (or disagreed) with the traditional entries on such charts. Perhaps what surprised me was how orthodox my tastes are – perhaps simply because those songs are undeniably good – though I hope my more detailed individual postings have entertained, imparted a bit of trivia on your favourite songs, and maybe introduced you to something you hadn’t heard before.

With that in mind, I’m going to skip over the ones you already know well – Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir (which always sounds oddly weedy compared to the bowel-shreddingly heavy version in my head); River Deep, Mountain High; House of the Rising Sun, etc. (my top 40 is dominated by songs from the 60s). I’ll pause to mention Higher Than The Sun, because however many accolades have been awarded to Screamadelica, it still does not have the recognition such an otherworldly, transcendental song deserves.  Continue reading

#musicmonday : MC5 – Kick Out The Jams

Something vintage. I blame Bobby Gillespie for this one. The scene: an independent record shop very much like the one in High Fidelity, and I was a 14 year-old in training to be Jack Black’s character. This was the time when working in a record store was my Number Three Grand Ambition, behind being a music writer and a rock star. It seemed to me about as glamorous. Continue reading

Producers that make (or break) the band

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Band-members are like the ingredients of a cake: get it wrong, and the result is bland or sickly. It’s about getting people together who make each other feel comfortable, who can inspire the audience, and who can deflate the ego of an overindulgent songwriter. The producer is the mould. If you pour cake mix onto a baking tray, you’ll end up with a flat, sticky mess. Some producers are like old-fashioned round cake tins, providing a strong but subtle structure that simply allows the flavours to emerge. Others make fancy shapes, so vibrant and daring that its cakeness comes second to its art-form. Like the line-up, the right producer for your band is the one that fits your personal dynamic, and brings out the best in what you, uniquely, have to offer.

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10 Greatest Songs on Creation Records

Between 1983 and 1993, Creation Records released some of the best records ever made. They limped on for another six years after signing Oasis, but by that point the magic was gone. There was so much more to Creation than thuggish lad pop. This much more important history is remembered in a new film, Upside Down (named after a JAMC single), which does alas seem to spend too much time on those horrible, horrible Gallaghers.

Creation Records was indie music. It was everything that was right about it – and, later, everything that was wrong about it. I never much liked the Mary Chain or Teenage Fanclub, and later they had the weakest, most insipid excuses for Britpop – most of which came out after the label was bought out by Sony. Alan McGee had sobered up, which was important for him personally, but the death knell creatively because he could no longer keep pouring money into loss-making musical geniuses. My Bloody Valentine almost bankrupted him, but Loveless was unlike any record that had ever been made. Time was that you could pick up almost any band from the label and hear a great song. Time was that he’d sign bands on a whim with no concern about whether anyone would buy the records. Music needs people like this – not necessarily obliterated on drugs, but certainly insane and with capital. Most magically of all, some of these strange creative risks tapped into the soft spot of the record-buying public. Screamadelica reached number eight in the UK charts. Ride went top 10. Even Loveless sold 225,000 copies. I was not the only person to love these records with a passion.

Here are 10 of my favourite Creation songs, in no particular order.

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#trendingtopics – Music Shuffle

From Facebook:
Time for another one of these.
Write down the first 25 random songs that come up on your MP3 player, iPod etc. I used Last.fm set to My Library station.
No cheating!
No editing!

I thought I’d give it a go, using Last.fm, just to see what would happen. I found it interesting because it was forcing me to listen to things that I hadn’t heard in a while or given a particularly fair listen, and playing things out of the context of how I usually hear them. There’s some good songs here …

1. Foetus – Verklemmt

Bit of a no-brainer for me, considering how much I’ve been listening to this lately. I find the video hard-going (made by Alex Winter from Bill & Ted, it’s got literally thousands of cuts), but it’s a great song from the album GASH.

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2. The Kinks – Dead End Street

Ah, I never tire of this song. I used to play it a lot when I was unemployed and starving-broke, living in a miserable bedsit in one of the rougher parts of South London.

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Perfect 10

The “perfect 10” ratings given to Kanye West’s new album have given many pause for reflection on the inherent ridiculousness of numerical review scores. When Metacritic lists a score of 93 on an album, it does suggest that it must be uncommonly good. I mean, that many people giving it 10/10? Really? For something to be that good, it really has to be as good as albums ever get. What worried me in this case was how few people seemed willing to really mention the music – what made it such a “perfect” album?

No album will ever be perfect, but I would expect a “perfect ten” to be strong all the way through. It would have to be more innovative than Radiohead’s The Bends, and stronger than My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, which was certainly inventive but was ultimately forgettable as a collection of songs. There’s plenty of great albums I just never got round to buying. You might be surprised that I’ve never bought Sgt Pepper, and I don’t really know why I didn’t, but I can’t miss what I don’t know. Many more, I’ve not owned long enough to know I’ll still love them many years down the line, or they have too many weak moments among the strong.

Pitchfork gave The Stone Roses a perfect 10, and that’s the opposite of what I’d call an “ideal” album – they were really only good for one single, and the album was ultimately quite weak and patchy, didn’t break any new ground and was – at least by me – quickly forgotten. A perfect 10 needs to do better – much better, at least, than the brief snippets of Kanye’s new record, which didn’t entice me to hear more. If I’m thinking of a “perfect 10”, it has to be something like

Nine Inch Nails – The Downward Spiral

Primarily influenced by David Bowie’s Low with the thematic influence of The Wall, it’s not really surprising that I would love it this much. As a varied and consistent album, The Downward Spiral is stronger than anything NIN produced before or since. Over 15 years later, Trent Reznor’s breakdown album is still an absolute pleasure to hear.

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New Quest: Find the Next Rock and Roll Star

Chapter 34 in the story of my life. I think this one is going to take a while.

It’s not that I expect to find the next rock ‘n’ roll star in a dusty little pub somewhere and have some sort of hand in their future success. It’s more that, from my living room in a quaint English village, I hope to find footage on the internet of someone who I think belongs on the bedroom walls of the nation’s teenagers. Someone who’ll make them want to be a star themselves when they grow up. Several someones would be ideal.

My success, of course, would largely depend on my definition of “rock ‘n’ roll”. Lazily, I consult Wikipedia. There, in the definition, is Bobby Gillespie.

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It was about half past four on the 21st December 1990. Two decades ago. The first flakes of snow of the year were coming down. I shivered by the bus stop, idly humming Primal Scream’s Come Together. A tall, pale, skinny long-haired boy hurried past, humming Joanna by Scott Walker.

Bobby Gillespie didn’t have a biro on him that day, and neither did I, but it didn’t matter. He strode across North Street and into a newsagent, and bought a felt tipped pen with which he scrawled my name and a greeting across the magazine I’d purchased earlier. The page fell open onto Select‘s article on Creation Records. He signed his name across the part about his band.

A few minutes later I was grinning like an idiot, back by the bus stop, and bobbing up and down from cold and joy.

“I just met Bobby Gillespie,” I explained to the little old lady standing next to me.

“That’s nice dear,” she said. “Is he your boyfriend?”

Fast forward a bit. “You want to listen to this lot. He’s so sexy,” Bobby said matter-of-factly, indicating Scott Asheton on the sleeve of the Stooges record. He wasn’t wrong. It took Gillespie a minute or two to indicate through his thick Glaswegian accent that he was listening to Lou Reed. He figured I should listen to MC5. Again, he wasn’t wrong.

Over the months, I’d occasionally bump into Bobby in the street, or in that indie record store we both frequented. You couldn’t miss him: tight white jeans and a polo-necked sweater, hundred-dollar sunglasses and million-gigawatt charisma. Each time, the clothes would look more expensive, his back a little straighter, his bearing a little more self assured. The last time I saw him – maybe two years after we’d first met – he could have stopped traffic through sheer presence. This, ladies and gentlemen, was a rock and roll star.

Of course, rock and roll was always absolutely and unashamedly about sex. Not the act of sex, but its potential. In 1937, Chick Webb and Ella Fitzgerald recorded Rock It for Me, which included the lyric, “It’s true that once upon a time/The opera was the thing/But today the rage is rhythm and rhyme/So won’t you satisfy my soul with the rock and roll”. The “rock” was disturbance, incitement, rapture; the “roll” was sex. Rocking and rolling was secular black slang for either dancing or sex – there wasn’t much to distinguish one from the other – from as far back as Trixie Smith’s My Man Rocks Me With One Steady Roll in 1922. It was innuendo – nothing too direct or vulgar. A tango, not a lapdance.

Rock and roll wasn’t a sound, it was a spirit. Sure, in the strictest sense there are rules about the accentuated backbeat and use of guitars, but you don’t need guitars to be a rock and roll star. The music has long since faded, mutated and moved on, but up until very recently you could see Elvis and Chuck Berry and Jim Morrison reincarnated in a thousand different faces and a hundred different genres.

“Hail, hail, rock and roll, deliver me from the days of old”, Chuck Berry sang – and it’s the new I seek. The snake-hipped lizard kings I loved as a teenager are in their 40s and 50s by now, and I ask myself: who will replace them?

I learnt everything I needed to know from Bobby Gillespie – mostly from observation. It didn’t matter if you weren’t conventionally good-looking, you just had to project a certain self-assurance that told others they should pay attention. Back then, the rock journalists I unabashedly copied were themselves caricatures – exuberant show-offs with big personalities. They had to be in order not to be overwhelmed by the people they were interviewing. Most of these bands never, ever had any hits – they just had so much of that elusive star quality that they filled any room they were in, even if they were just playing the local dive bar.

Most people could recognise Gillespie, or James Dean Bradfield, or some of the other beautiful eccentrics I met along the way, so there’s little point discussing those. I’m going to take a minute to celebrate the less-sung heroes in my youth – the ones that never got to number one or even number 10 in the charts. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I’m looking for.

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