Thursday, 30 January 2014

'Old Man' - Neil Young (1972)

“Old man, take a look at my life,
I’m a lot like you.
I need someone to love me the whole day through.
Ah, one look in my eyes and you can tell that’s true.”

Never grow old. That’s what my Grandad used to tell me. Usually while he was contorting his aching limbs in to the cupboard under the stairs to find some fuse wire or an old tobacco box full of screws. Yes, I offered to help. But as I’m sure you know, grandparents keep everything in special places that only they can find and are impossible to describe, so there’s no point trying to look for them.

Growing old though is something I’ve always relished. I felt like an octogenarian when I was just fifteen. Possibly as I was keen to escape my teenage years. But mostly because living with my grandparents was so enjoyable. I was eager to get to their age.

This was foolish, of course. Never wish your time away. My Grandad told me that too. But following his advice to never grow old will require inventing some kind of Marvel-style super serum that may well be beyond me. I need to hang out in more labs with evil geniuses. In the meantime, I’ll stay young the best way I know how... by being open to new ideas, experiences and adventures. And keeping limber by climbing in and out of hall cupboards.

Footnote: This was one of my Grandad’s favourite songs. He would have been 93 today. Written by Neil Young for the caretaker of his Californian ranch, Louis Avila. Neil will tell you more (in a wonderful early performance, from the BBC archives)...

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

'Stay' - Low (2013)

“I threw my hands in the air,
And said, ‘Show me something.’”

Just can’t listen to cover versions of songs I love. Have I mentioned this before? It’s usually easily avoided. There’s not many bands looking to do covers of Fields Of The Nephilim after all. But every so often I’ll be taken unawares and trapped. Watching a film perhaps. All going well. Yes, it looks like she remembers him from when they last met in that book shop in Paris seven years ago. When suddenly there’s a harpsichord version of The Cure’s ‘Just Like Heaven’. No. Please. No. 

But if it’s a band I love doing a cover of a song I don’t know, then I’m most usually always smitten. As is the case here with Duluth slowcore favourites Low. They could cover any song and I’d swoon. For this special split single they’ve chosen Rihanna’s ‘Stay’. I’ve haven’t heard the original. (Yes, I’m sure it was a huge hit and what planet have I been living on?) Is it good? No, I’m not going to listen to it. Am sure it will pop up in my life at some point. For today, it’s Low's glorious version that is playing on repeat.

Have popped it below for you - though I’d encourage you to track it down at all good local independent retailers (and global online stores) if you like the sound of it (proceeds go to charity and all that). “But, Michael, we can’t listen to cover versions of Rihanna songs we already love.” Oh, now you’re just being difficult.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

'Down Under' - Men At Work (1982)

“He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.”

Late Sunday afternoons at the turn of the ‘80s. 5 to 7pm. Fingers poised over the Play and Record buttons of my tape recorder. Which is pressed up against the single speaker of my AM radio. (We’re still a few years away from built-in stereo systems in my house.) All set for ‘the nation’s favourite countdown’ with Tony Blackburn on Radio One. 

There I would be week in, week out. Systematically killing music by home taping all my favourite Top 40 songs. In mono. Over a distorted speaker. With Tony Blackburn speaking over all the intros and outros. And my Mum calling me down for dinner half-way through whatever was number one that week.  

By my side would be my trusty Star Wars A4 notebook. Where I would jot down each chart act, song and position. Highlighting new entries. And indicating what was going up and what was going down. And by how many places. In different inks. All ready to be cross-referenced across weeks and months and years. An invaluable activity, I think you’d agree - and not at all related to my OCD.

As my musical tastes transformed in my teens (see every other post on this blog), I outgrew this weekly chart show ritual. And I went from the constant childhood excitement you get from liking almost every song in the chart, to the rare gothic thrill you’d get from hearing any of your bands getting played on the radio at all. And then I discovered the John Peel Show. But that’s for another post on another day. (Ooh, it’s like a cliffhanger. Except not quite.)   

Saturday, 25 January 2014

'Temptation' - New Order (1982)

“Up, down, turn around,
Please don’t let me hit the ground. 
Tonight I think I’ll walk alone,
I’ll find my soul as I go home.”

Songs about walking home alone. Those are my favourite songs. (He says, with the right to change his mind at any time, so don’t hold me to it.) See also The Smiths’ ‘Rusholme Ruffians’ (“Though I walk home alone, my faith in love is still devout”) and The Wedding Present’s ‘My Favourite Dress’ (“A long walk home in the pouring rain, I fell asleep when you never came”).

Can’t get enough of them. 'Now That’s What I Call Some Good Songs About Walking Home Alone.’ I’d buy that album. (Are you listening record companies?)  

Of course, this is because I’ve spent far too much time traipsing around on my lonesome. Let’s just say it’s through choice and there’s a certain romanticism to it. (Except it’s not always. And for ‘romanticism’ read ‘bitter sting of rejection’.)

New Order’s ‘Temptation’ remains one of the most perfect songs to me. And marries my favourite theme of long walks home alone, with my second favourite theme of not being able to remember the colour of people’s eyes (“Oh, you’ve got green eyes; oh, you’ve got blue eyes; oh, you’ve got grey eyes”). It’s another of those songs that seems to capture one Saturday evening in March 1989 quite perfectly. The answer was she had grey eyes. Well, kind of more silver, but let’s not ruin my memory of the song.

Classic enigmatic Peter Saville cover.
With the band's name nowhere to be found. 

P.S. If you like your indie frontmen in white shorts, you'll love this performance from the archives...

Friday, 24 January 2014

'Inside Llewyn Davis' - Soundtrack (2013)

"Sure as a bird flying high above,
Life ain't worth living without the one you love.
Fare thee well, my honey,
Fare thee well."

“Michael, we’ve done an audit of your blog and found it significantly lacking in ‘of the moment’ content. That’s where the clicks are these days. So let’s not write about another obscure imported Clan of Xymox b-side and focus on something a bit more current, please.”

Don’t worry - I’m right on it. Look, it’s the 'Inside Llewyn Davis’ soundtrack. In all good cinemas today. If you live in the UK. Other folk got it earlier. And the soundtrack actually came out about two months ago. And most all the songs on it are ‘60s folk covers. Arrrgh! This isn’t ‘of the moment’ at all. Still, it’s all you’re getting today. And it is the most wonderful soundtrack - my favourite from last year.

There’s a glorious ebb and flow to this set of songs (curated by T Bone Burnett) - from the plaintive pleas of ‘Hang Me, Oh Hang Me’ to the playful passion of ‘Please Mr. Kennedy’. (I can see you’re enjoying the alliteration there.) It made me pick up my guitar and want to learn them all. Except I’m not that good at finger-picking. It’s such a powerful soundtrack in fact, that it will knock down all your belief systems. “Er, really?” Oh, yes. I believed I would never (ever) buy a Justin Timberlake song. It proved me wrong.

If you're heading out to see the film this weekend (which is another Coen brothers gem, so please do), I’d pick the soundtrack up first so you can harmonise along with Carey Mulligan on ‘Five Hundred Miles’. Don’t worry about the startled looks of anyone around you in the cinema. In fact, they should do sing-along screenings. What a great idea. You heard it here first. Possibly. Can’t be sure - I don’t know everything else you’ve been reading. Let’s say that the majority of you heard it here first. Yes? 

Monday, 20 January 2014

'Happy When It Rains' - The Jesus & Mary Chain (1987)

Oh, you’re still here. Good, good. I was hoping you would be. What’s that? Oh, let’s not stop for questions. Let's call it the lost year. Here we go…  

"And we lived our lives in black."

Hmm… why can’t I see Chewbacca’s face clearly? I’ve seen this film 56 times and I’m sure everyone’s favourite walking carpet was never such a fuzzy blur as this. Fuzzy, yes - he’s a Wookie after all. But never a blur. 

This was the moment I realised I’d be needing glasses. Which as a child in the early '80s meant big, thick, plastic, tortoise shell NHS specs. The humiliation! I mean, they hardly complemented my fixed brace and Paddington Bear-style duffle coat. But it meant I could watch Star Wars again in all its low-res, slightly chewed, VHS glory - which was the most important thing in my life at that time (oh, how nothing changes). And in about a year’s time a certain Steven Patrick Morrissey was about to make my glasses very fashionable indeed - though not really in my corner of the playground where the Kids from Fame were the prime role models.

Despite the nascent thrills of actually being able to see things again, my 20/20 vision was pretty short-lived. Bewitched by the screeching Siren call of the Mary Chain, my de rigueur floppy indie fridge was to quickly obscure all before it and Chewbacca once again became a fuzzy blur in my life for the next decade. As did most of my classmates - which explains why I never recognise any of them at reunions (the comic effect of this would work better if you believe for a fleeting moment that I’m the sort of person that actually goes to class reunions). And road signs - which most probably contributed to my failed driving test.    

Me. And fringe. Circa 1988.

Of course, no such fringe issues exist today. Ah, the dangers of backcombing.