Friday, January 11, 2008


My dear ex-WUB has challenged (bit of a confrontational verb, I know, but that's me) us all to come up with our Desert Island Discs. I like her rules, because they allow me ten choices, rather than the eight that you get on Radio 4. Except of course I don't now, because I've just scribbled a list and it's far more than ten. And this is after me trying to be judicious and not just write down everything I like, but those that continue to interest, haunt and intrigue me after repeated listens. Damn you ex-WUB! Seriously, it has taken me HOURS to write this. Still, here is my stab. They're not ranked, merely numbered to keep track of how many I have left...

1) Get Back - The Beatles. Let It Be. I went through a period when I was about 14 when about 80% of what I listened to was the Beatles. I was obsessed with watching A Hard Day's Night (probably in my top ten all time movies, too). This is just before my Blur obsession kicked in - see below. However, this probably wouldn't have been one of my highest-rated Beatles songs, yet I now listen to it almost every day. It's the slow fade-in, the fact that it's probably the only Beatles record that could qualify as a dance track, and the gentle "ooooh" before he tells JoJo his mama's waiting for him. Both versions - the "naked" and original - are glorious. But I think I'd have the original.

2) This is a Low - Blur. Parklife. Very hard for me to pick one Blur track, and particularly to pick something that wasn't For Tomorrow, which has been my favourite since first hearing it. So I might change my mind. Particularly for the Primrose Hill extended version. Actually, that'll probably be it. This is a Low is such a beautiful, poignant elegy to Britain - the use of the shipping forecast regions, based on the handkerchief that Alex James gave to Damon Albarn when he was in hospital. The gentle droning of the organ, the soft lull of the engine coming to rest... it's glorious. But For Tomorrow has been my favourite for so long. I love the video, the concept behind it - we're all a jumble and mixture of the rubbish that's leftover from the past... I used to write "modern life is rubbish" on every exam desk - it was sort of my calling card / tag thing. Dammit, I can't choose, and I don't want to choose. But I'm going to... This is a Low. It used to end every Blur concert - until they released The Great Escape and that honour went to The Universal, which never seemed right. It was so beautiful but filled you with the right sense of sadness that the gig was over, slowly bringing you back to earth after the high spots.

3) Everybody Here Wants You - Jeff Buckley. Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk. Again, I wanted to choose just one of his songs, but it was extremely hard. Lover, You Should Have Come Over is so glorious, but it makes me cry. This is so gently gorgeous, the accompaniment sparse and elegant, showing off the wonders of his voice, and the sweet, unusual and unexpected poetry of his lyrics. And it also is incredibly poignant, filled with the loss of such talent, knowing that the rest of the album would have been full of songs as beautiful as this.

4) Tell It Like It Is - Aaron Neville. (no album). Aaron Neville has been a bit of a late discovery in my life. Mostly because of that horrendous duet he did with Linda Ronstadt which I absolutely loathed - it ranks in my least favourite top ten, as opposed to my favourites. But this is a masterpiece of yearning soul, of someone in love who doesn't know where he stands. The lyrics are wonderful - particularly the part where he implores "don't play with my heart, it makes me furious." The angry words - "I'm not your little boy," "go find yourself another toy" - are conveyed by such a sweet voice that the longing comes through. Apparently Heart did a cover version of this; I really cannot imagine anything worse, to be honest. I feel faintly sick. Still, Aaron's recording remains perfect and utterly beautiful.

5) '93 Till Infinity - Souls of Mischief. '93 Till Infinity. When I first heard this, I didn't get why it was so highly rated. And it is - consistently regarded as one of the greatest hiphop tracks ever made, from a consistently highly rated album. But slowly, it has dawned on me that it is incredibly good. It reminds me of going round Brazil, weirdly enough. Mark made me several tapes to listen to - yes, it was that long ago - and one of them was of a mix album* that I'd given him for his first ever birthday present from me (I was sooooooooooo proud of it). This was on it, and I can remember waking up on yet another coach journey, and putting this tape on to fall asleep again. So formed my association of this song with wide spaces of country, the possibility of exploration, excitement. And it's a bloody brilliant tune. So that helps, too.

6) Poems - Nearly God. Nearly God. I really, really wanted to have a PJ Harvey song, and I nearly chose Broken Homes, the duet she did with Tricky in order to get them both on the list. But this, featuring Tricky, Martina, and Terry Hall, won over that. Haunting, beautiful, I think it's still the best think that Tricky's done which, given the first two albums (Maxinquaye and Pre-Millennium Tension) and Broken Homes, is really saying something. Certainly, the weed clearly kicked in and brought on more than a little paranoia in the later albums, but those two stand up against any British dance & electronic music of the 1990s.

It's the juxtaposition of the three very different voices and styles that makes this song. Tricky does his traditional growling, confused and angry thing ("I don't understand you; I don't want your time of day); then next Terry Hall comes in, and I just love his first line - "I rue the day that I ever met you," and the bitterness continues - the way he can sound bitter lyrically but has that sweet, innocent-sounding voice. Yet the final part, with Martina's gentle voice with the "ringing in voices" being accompanied by feedback... salves gently the gruffness and misery of before. When she sings "You promised me poems" it is so different from Hall or Tricky's anger and disappointment; it's matter of fact, flat, yet hopeful.

7) The Magnificent Seven - The Clash. Sandinista! Growing up during Britpop, you're aware that the Clash are held in extremely high esteem. However, it's only the last couple of years where I've really listened to them in any seriousness. I don't feel constrained by whatever it is that makes a lot of critics and, particularly, male listeners, need to insist on The Clash being the best album. I love the mixture of non-guitar-based influences that the Clash absorbed and used in their later albums, something that is fundamentally missing from modern British "alternative" music (something that Sasha Frere-Jones recently bemoaned in the New Yorker). Just like two-tone, it had something else to it - a bit of soul, something that made you want to move to it. This song has that in abundance, yet is about being in a crap job that is pointless and how that makes you feel. The comparison of the drudgery of the day with the upbeat tempo and piano is a brilliant idea and somehow just works much better than a downbeat moan about it.

8) Poison - the Prodigy. Music for the Jilted Generation. I was really torn between this and other great electronic songs of my youth - No Good or Out of Space (Prodigy), Chime (Orbital), Pearl's Girl (Underworld), but this won out. I think what did it for me was the clear transition and break between this and future dance music - harder, thumpier, much more bass-heavy rather than the other things on the album; it certainly influenced and shaped my taste in electronic music. When I was 15 you could not go to a party without hearing this album - or so I thought. I loved it. This remains a song that makes me instantly want to get up and shake my arse: it is irresistible. I think it is the pinnacle of the Prodigy's career.

9) All My Friends - LCD Soundsystem. Sound of Silver. I've probably said enough about this already, but it's glorious. The lyrics are bonkers yet poignant about the feeling of getting old, of never really being caught up with your life and friends, how things suddenly pass you by without you noticing. It's not just me that reads greatness into this song. Try Slate (a lovely review); Pitchfork; The Guardian ("All My Friends is an epic, wistful tale of diminishing youth in which Murphy seems no longer prepared to rage against the dying of the light"). It's just gorgeous, and no other song will remind me of last year like this one.

10) Sorted for Es and Wizz - Pulp. Different Class. Jarvis Cocker is a genius, make no mistake. He wrote many of my favourite songs of the 1990s, although I appreciate him far more now that I'm older than I did as a teenager, I must admit. And this song... is just heavenly. Candida's keyboard starts us off, then it's into that slow beating, lulling, tune, which makes you want to stand, swaying to it with a beer as Jarvis reminisces over being utterly fubar in a field somewhere in Hampshire. The ending is also wonderful - none of this fading out, easy stuff, but a genuine, proper (albeit lowkey) finale, him croaking out that worry - or wish? - about never coming down. Brilliant.

Other notable mentions:
The Gay Messiah - Rufus Wainwright
Seesaw - Don Covay
The Ocean - Richard Hawley
I Can Hear Music - The Beach Boys.
When Will I Be Loved? - The Everly Brothers.
Pearls Girl - Underworld
Here Comes Your Man - Pixies
Chime Live - Orbital
Roxanne - The Police
And No More Shall We Part - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Because I Got It Like That (Ultimate Mix) - the Jungle Brothers

* Hip Hop Don't Stop, mixed by Prime Cuts of the Scratch Pervertz - absolutely classic


Anonymous said...

This is definitely awesome. We should trade mix cd's....

pumpkin said...

You're ON! Although yesterday I got very, very, very upset as I forgot I'm on Fire by Bruce Springsteen. I'm not sure I can forgive myself...