Thirty Days Of Music

The End.

That’s that then. It was a good exercise, and I enjoyed most of it. I think there could have been some better questions, certainly there were some I didn’t feel too excited to answer. If you’d like to suggest any questions to answer, I’ll have a go.

I have a massive amount of thanks for my dad for letting me pick and choose from his music collection as a kid and for not trying to force anything upon me. That’s given me the freedom and licence to try out different things.

To conclude, here are a couple of playlists that can work as an incomplete archive of sorts: Spotify / YouTube.

If you’d like a physical compilation of all the tracks, drop me a line below and I will sort it out for you.

Say hello on last.fm, add me on Spotify and follow on twitter.

My main blog is over here.

Thanks for reading, this has been fun.

30: Your Favourite Song At This Time Last Year.

No Rain, Blind Melon (Blind Melon, Capitol; 1992)

In my previous job, my co-workers and I collaborated on a lot of things; mostly Spotify compilations.

The playlists started as just songs that we wanted to hear, liked or whatever and ended up being pretty stupid themed playlists taking in weather, food, clothing, colour, etc. A mix of forgotten gems, new pearls and awful dross, as is the nature. There was also plenty of Chief Kooffreh.

Blind Melon’s No Rain featured on every single one. It started out as a lovely slice of teenage nostalgia, of sitting in fields with crappy portable stereos drinking cheap warm booze. By the end, it was the unofficial anthem bonding together the workforce. A sing-a-long for the post-Generation X (apart from one, who was Generation X) working the nine-to-five but dreaming of freedoms outside. Finger-clicking, brushed drums, sickly sweet guitar and a pretty fey vocal took us out of the office and into parks with friends, beer and maybe a frisbee.

It became a running in-joke (not a particularly brilliant one) that a playlist wasn’t a playlist without it.

I’m sticking to that tradition.

LISTEN: Album recording.

WATCH: Commercial video.

29: A Song From Your Childhood.

Reward, The Teardop Explodes (Single, Mercury; 1981)

Of the few CDs we had in the house, there were a couple that I was particularly drawn to: Staring At The Sea (The Cure singles compilation, 1986) and a Punk & Disorderly compilation of New Wave.

I loved the cover of The Cure compilation because I liked the man’s face. Faces are very important for kids. The Punk & Disorderly compilation had that classic punk design, all torn paper, safety pins and bodged together typography. As a child, I didn’t know anything about design and just liked how messy it was. I listened to both endlessly, along with my Madness cassette and a couple of mixtapes my dad made me.

The P&D compilation was/is amazing, all sorts of acts were on it: Bow Wow Wow, Blondie, Subway Sect, Department S, Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Tenpole Tudor. A real mix of some brilliant punk/post-punk songs. All I knew is that they were great songs. My favourite track on the compilation was Reward by The Teardrop Explodes.

It is superb. All driving drums, parping trumpets, simple keyboard line and Julian Cope. Ah, Julian Cope. Such a way with words and melodies. Then, as now, the opening line “bless my cotton socks, I’m in the news” tickles me. My dad got annoyed with me playing the one song over and over and over again, so put Floored Genius (Best Of) onto a cassette for me. I was the coolest eight-year old around, striding around listening to The Teardrop Explodes on my walkman.

LISTEN: Single recording.

WATCH: Commercial video.

28: A Song That Makes You Feel Guilty.

Down In It, Ning Inch Nails (Pretty Hate Machine, TVT/Island; 1989)

Do things. Always try to be good. Sometimes you can’t. Maybe you get too tired, maybe you’re not happy, maybe you just lose will-power. I was young and liked doing things, trying to be good. Sometimes failed.

Did things with someone I shouldn’t have. It was a naughty thing to do. It makes for good tales, really, but it’s not something I’m particularly proud of. I happened to be listening to this around that time. It’s associative, it soundtracked a period of not being the best person.

It’s still a great song, even if it is drenched in angst and youthful wrongs.

LISTEN: Album recording. [Soundcloud link]

WATCH: "Commercial video" / Live, Woodstock ‘94

27: A Song That You Wish You Could Play

Angel of Death, Slayer (Reign In Blood, American Recordings; 1986)

I’ve tried. I have. As mentioned yesterday, I’ve picked up instruments. I’ve put them down. In between, I tried to play them. It wasn’t successful. I have made some music, though. Mostly on synthesizer, as navel-gazing ambient drone music. It’s pretty bad.[1] I was also part of a pretty manly noise-jam trio that made ugly noise-jams. I’m quite proud of some of it.[2]

The thing that links the two outputs: there’s no songs, really. Just jams, free-form workouts and ideas being hashed out. I’ve never been comfortable writing lyrics in earnest. I think it’s the cheat’s way of writing poetry, and I don’t write poetry.

There’s plenty of music I wish I’d written — particularly the electro-acoustic pearl of C-Schulz & Hajsch, the incredible Pet Sounds, Rumours, or even just the simple concept of B Flat — but if it comes down to a song I wish I could play, it would always end up being a thrash song. It would always end up being Angel of Death.

As a boy growing up with an aggressive punk and metal streak, hearing Angel of Death was jaw-dropping. Genuinely, punch-in-the-stomach, slackjawed awe. It is fast, technical and hard as anything. The production is punchy where most ’80s thrash is thin on depth. There’s nothing I can say about Angel of Death that hasn’t been said a thousand times: the riffs, the scream, the solos, the drumming, the risqué lyrical content, the tempo-shifts & breakdowns — all perfect.

I’d love to be able to turn around to my twelve-year-old self and say: yes, I can play that. I’d blow my own mind. It’s better than gash ambient and jerk-off noise.

LISTEN: Album recording. / Live (Decade of Aggression)

WATCH: Live, 1986

[1] I dumped most of it on bandcamp just to purge it. Feel free to listen, and criticise. It’s all in mono (left) for some arsehole reason.

[2] There’s loads more, and this isn’t the best stuff. I need a twitter hashtag campaign to encourage uploading.

26: A Song That You Can Play On An Instrument.

4’33”, John Cage (1952)

None. That’s simple. I’ll dallied with trying to play instruments off and on over the course of my life. The list of instruments I have picked up and put down include piano, clarinet, guitar, bass, organ, synthesizer, Jew’s harp. I keep coming back to keyboard-based instruments because I understand playing that more than I do guitars.

I can play 4’33” because anyone can, on any instrument. When I play, I lift the lid on my Yamaha electric organ and turn the power on. The next four and a half minutes are a unique composition of dirty contacts inside the organ, creaking stool, breathing and cars going by outside.

It’s pretty good. You should give it a go.

WATCH: BBC Symphony Orchestra performance.

25: A Song That Makes You Laugh.

Have I The Right, The Honeycombs (Have I The Right, RGM Sound; 1964)

A real gem of the 1960s pop-scene, produced by Joe Meek. It came towards the end of maverick producer Joe Meek’s chart-topping reign (having scored hits with Telstar and Johnny Remember Me).

Meek pioneered production techniques that resulted in unique sound effects and recordings. His production methodology and recording style were the result of being tone deaf, his experience of working as a radio production engineer, and being a paranoid obsessive. Meek was so paranoid, he felt Phil Spector had stolen his sound for his own “Wall of Sound”.[1]

Towards the mid-sixties, the growing popularity of Merseybeat bands signalled a shift in the sound of the UK Top 40. Meek decided to beat them at their own game and record a song with the biggest beat. Have I The Right is that song.

It’s a pretty standard jangly Beat song, all drums, chiming chords and English accent in the verse. The chorus is what makes me laugh. Meek couldn’t get a huge beat sound no matter how he recorded the drums, or how he set the microphones up. He felt that to make the biggest beat, he would have to do it differently.

To achieve the sound he wanted, he hooked five microphones up to the wooden stairs of his studio and had The Honeycombs stamp their feet. He then hit a tambourine directly onto a microphone. The result is a multi-tracked stomp that hit the top of the charts and delivered one of the finest musical jokes of his era.

LISTEN: Single recording. [Spotify link]

WATCH: Live video, 1964.

[1] To the extent that when Phil Spector phoned Meek to praise him, he simply told him to fuck off and hung up.

24: A Song You Would To Have Played At Your Funeral.

Happy Trails, Jim O’Rourke (Bad Timing, Drag City; 1997)

Your exerience, and memory of an experience, is all about punctuation. Your funeral is the end of your statement, and a last chance to influence people’s memory of you. Jim O’Rourke understands punctuation more than most.

This song fulfils two parts of O’Rourke’s musical angles: drone and John Fahey. It opens with a simultaneous open stringed guitar strum and overdriven drone. Both are given equal weight, both share space and overlap.

The drone flares and retreats as the guitar is casually played. Nothing much happens for three and a half minutes. The drone disappears to be replaced with mid-period Fahey acoustic playing. Bottom-string notes resonate as chiming top strings are gently plucked. It’s sweet, charming, occasionally dissonant, warm.

A tune is gradually worked out, rhythm and momentum grows slowly. You can hear the strings on the neck as they’re played.

Then the punctuation. A brass section, drumming, lap-steel, synthesizer, buried melodies appear. It is joyful, incredulous and can’t fail to make you smile. It’s over as quickly as it began, a maudlin strum taking over for the final ninety seconds, with a gentle flute, trombone and synthesizer coda.

Ten minutes, and you’ll remember the burst of brass more than anything. That will make you smile. You’ll leave feeling sad, but you’ll remember feeling happy.

Far too few funerals allow the happiness, that punctuation of joy, to come through. Hopefully mine will.

LISTEN: Album recording. [Soundcloud link]

23: A Song You Want To Play At Your Wedding.

Give Him A Great Big Kiss, The Shangri-Las (Give Him A Great Big Kiss, Red Bird;1965)

When I say I’m in love, you best believe I’m in love — L.U.V.

One of the greatest opening lines to any song[1], and what better way to start a wedding reception?

Handclaps, tambourines, trombones, drums with background ooh and ahhs — there’s no flourishes. It’s a simple, perfect song. A song of swooning love with all the attitude that made The Shangri-Las the best girl group: finger-clicking cool, sexually aggressive and honey sweet.

It mixes brilliant, reverb-drenched melodies with the conversational asides they made popular on Leader Of The Pack.

What colour are his eyes? / I dunno, he’s always wearing shades.

Give Him A Great Big Kiss is one of The Shangri-Las’ few “successful love” songs[2]. It has all the swagger, verve and joy of freshly minted love. The kind of love that makes you skip, talk endlessly about the object of your desire, and kiss in public. The kind of blushing love that makes you insufferable to be around if you are displaying it. Apart from on your wedding day, when it is applauded with John Lewis appliances and book tokens.

I’d want to play this at my wedding so my wife would remember how awesome I am.

LISTEN: Album recording. [Spotify link]

WATCH: Live, 1965.

[1] So good Nation of Ullysses & New York Dolls both borrowed it.

[2] they wrote a lot of Teenage Tragedy songs (Leader Of The Pack, Give Us Your Blessings)

22: A Song That You Listen To When Sad.

To Be Of Use, Smog (Red Apple Falls, Drag City; 1997)

This sort of repeats on the ground covered over here. I would have put Great Ghosts by Mount Eerie as my answer if I hadn’t already. I’m not one, it turns out, to try to “turn that frown upside down” by listening to music anthithetical to my mood. I match it. Not wallow, or indulge, but ‘allow’ my mood.

I was re-introduced to Smog by a good friend several years ago, and marvelled particularly at Red Apple Falls. I was going through a Jim O’Rourke phase at the time, so absorbed anything he was involved in. His production of Red Apple Falls is flawless. Every guitar string, every horn, every snare and every word that Bill Callahan sings sounds immaculate.

There’s much to love on the album, so many songs to really lose yourself in: the upbeat Ex-Con, steel guitar-led I Was A Stranger and The Morning Paper with its dawn horns. Every song is perfect.

To Be Of Use nestles right in the middle of the album and is one of the sparser, more melancholic songs. A mournful guitar with the occasional flourish of lap-steel leaves Bill Callahan’s voice to fill the rest of the space. Forthright but gentle. The song easily mixes sexual selflessness with great feelings of (non-sexual) impotence, fantasies bleed with simple realities. It is of being, and not being.

That’s why I listen to it when sad. I am good at many many things, all valuable, yet I cannot pin down the one perfect product to be. I do not have the “hard, simple, undeniable use" that Callahan pines for in the song.

I think, ultimately, everyone pines for that. That’s sad.

LISTEN: Album recording. [Soundcloud link]

WATCH Live, 2003.