Category — Guest Post
The first week I moved to London was one of the most fun seven days of my life. I met wonderful, fascinating people. Musicians, knitters, writers, comedians, poets. Tim Wells was one of the latter, a skinhead poet who tells lewd jokes and probably gets his RDA of laughter every day by lunch. His business card bears a mission statement refreshing untainted by the pretentiousness many associate with poetry. Tim Wells: ‘Tough on poetry, tough on the causes of poetry’. We talked him into a post on his favourite songs touched by the hand of Curtis Mayfield…
People Get Ready
I was a teenage suedehead and still have a love for reggae and soul music. Both are types of music that centre on singles. Whilst the tight trousered kids of today may opine about ‘indie’ that’s nothing new to reggae and soul fans. Both types of music were pressed on a myriad of small labels. In reggae people tend to talk about producers rather than singers or bands.
This particular list is focused on Curtis Mayfield. He was a top drawer singer in his own right but this list looks at him as a writer. He was one of the most influential people of the Chicago soul sound of the 60s. He was penning hits and making incredible music with The Impressions long before Superfly brought him a classic album in 1972. These are some of the records that have had me and my mates sprinkling talc onto the dancefloor over the years…
Nothing Can Stop Me – Gene Chandler (Constellation) What a choon! This punchy blast of hurt pride is a guaranteed singalong every time I drop it at a dance. From the opening flourish of horns this is classic Northern Soul, a definite dancer. This is from 1965, often considered the golden year of soul music. Gene Chandler was born Eugene Dixon in Chicago in 1937. He is best known for ‘Duke of Earl’ but this is a much loved soul record that belts it out for the lovelorn and lost, and isn’t that most of us? Constellation is one of the many great soul labels, Curtis Mayfield wrote many quality songs for them and Gene Chandler ‘the Woman Handler’ had success with songs such as ‘Just Be True’ and ‘You Can’t Hurt Me No More’ as well as cutting one of my favourites ‘Good Times’.
Mama Didn’t Lie – Jan Bradley (Chess) This was originally released on the Formal label in 1962 and was leased to Chess, the best known of the Chicago labels. Chess and Mayfield fell out over publishing rights but it didn’t stop this becoming a hit in ’63. It’s a record that’s on the cusp of R&B turning into Soul. It was Jan Bradley’s biggest hit. I’ve long thought that records don’t let you down the way that people always do, that’s why I love them and those ‘resigned to life’ soul songs have stayed with me long after the pretty faces and bickering are a memory. I’m sure that if ever I was going out with girl like Jan Bradley I’d have long ago fucked it up.
People Get Ready – The Impressions (ABC Paramount) Here is one of those records where pop music can actually mean something. Curtis Mayfield brought dignity to so many of his songs and this slow burner resonates. So much of soul music is about pain and hurt but also wrapped up in hope and overcoming. Soul was a big influence in Jamaica, these tight gospel harmonies can be found in many ska and rocksteady records. In particular Bob Marley was a Curtis Mayfield fan and many of the Wailers early Studio 1 recordings were Impressions covers. Their ska cut ‘One Love’ lifts from ‘People Get Ready’ and the later reggae cut even more so. I remember this being played as a late in the night choon in many clubs as the dancers started to feel the pace of the night.
The Monkey Time – Major Lance (Okeh) I’ve many happy memories of dancing to this from when I was a teenager to up until now. It’s one of the records that fist got me into soul music. This is one of those essential soul records, it encapsulates what the music is to many people. The lyrics tell of a place across town where people gather round… yes, plenty of us have travelled far and wide to a decent all-nighter. The other side is ‘Mama Didn’t Know’, an answer to the Jan Bradley song previously listed, but it’s ‘The Monkey Time’ that has really lasted. It has that classic smooth Chicago sound with a mid-pace beat, a pure dance record. Major Lance cut some of the best 60s soul records and was massively popular in Britain. The Okeh label was founded in 1918 and had been releasing black music since the ‘20s. It has an excellent list of soul releases and with singing talent like Major Lance, The Vibrations and Walter Jackson as well as writers such as Curtis Mayfield it’s no wonder.
Girls Are Out To Get You – The Fascinations (Mojo) This was originally released in the US on the Mayfield label in 1966. It was rereleased in the UK on the Polydor soul subsidary Mojo, home to much solid soul and funk in the early 70s. It was a much bigger hit in Blighty than in the US. British musical taste has always been diverse and embracing and records like this show that it’s with good reason. The pounding backbeat, typical to the Northern Soul scene, girl group vocals and singalong ‘ooh ooh ooh’s are familiar in clubs and pubs across the country; Curtis Mayfield at his poppy best. This is one that has always drawn drunk girls to the dancefloor… and that’s always a good thing.
(I’ve Got A Feeling) You’re Gonna Be Sorry – Billy Butler (Okeh) Billy Butler is the younger brother of The Impressions’ Jerry Butler and had a great run of Okeh singles between 1963-66. He is perhaps best loved for the top drawer record ‘Right Track’. These are considered to be some of the best soul records made, although they saw little chart action. Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance and Billy Butler all came from the same Chicago housing project, Cabrini-Green, although this particular track was recorded in New York City. Billy’s tenor is in full voice in this triumphant song backed up with stabbing horns and a solid drumbeat. It’s with the obscure singers and groups, such as Billy Butler, that the joy of 60s soul music is for me. Digging through crates of 7″s at markets and not being able to pass a second-hand shop in case there’s that rare record sat in there out of place and looking for a loving home. Sometimes I just find it too!
Tim Wells is a poet and long-standing editor of the independent poetry magazine Rising, which he founded in 1995. He’s released three volumes of his own work, including the magnificently titled A Man Can Be A Drunk Sometimes But A Drunk Can’t Be A Man.
October 5, 2010 1 Comment
I’ve noticed a trend with WWL’s foundling series of guest posts – so far every person to have featured has, at one point or an another, been my editor. Lynn continues to reign in my more enthusiastic ramblings at For Folk’s Sake, Marc once held a contrarily anarchic position of power over a school newspaper and today’s guest, Rob Chute, was for two years my editor on the University of Nottingham’s music magazine The Mic. His time at the magazine was strewn with successes (massive circulation growth, interviews with Arcade Fire, Franz Ferdinand and Gary Numan, amongst many others) and failings (a Michael Jackson Comeback Special that hit the shelves about a week before the singer died, for instance…), but The Mic was more about putting some sort of music writing out into a world surprisingly short on it, and to that extent, we did alright by ourselves. Here are Rob’s favourite tracks by Goldfrapp:
I recently found myself in one of those discussions you can only really have around six pints in. ‘The Musical Legacy’: who will have one, and who won’t? We all agreed that it was now-or-never for The Strokes. Then, I casually mentioned that I thought Goldfrapp would be regarded as one of the most important groups of our time, and I became the Dianne Abbott of the conversation: the incredulous faces, the laughter, the repeated cries of ‘no, seriously?’
Now, I wouldn’t say that I absolutely love them, but I think it’s profoundly important that Goldfrapp exist, and that a more historiographical approach to Pop is taken: credit should be given when it’s due. So I shan’t bother with most of the big, pop singles (‘Ooh La La’, ‘A&E’ etc): you will know by now whether you like them or not. Regardless, it’s not too late for you and Goldfrapp, and here are six reasons to try again…
Utopia – Hello, Opera! Alison’s pipes are on fine form on this grand-scale, weirdo soundscape, which lands somewhere between Bjork, Morricone and Pet Shop Boys. ‘Utopia’ was the first real indicator of a band who had the technical musical intelligence to match the ideas bursting out of their head. Seriously, name me a band this smart on their first album. Perhaps their age helped, but more on that later…
Train – ‘Train’ was commercially overshadowed by its struttier, sluttier cousin, ‘Strict Machine’, but its sound became the blueprint that would see Goldfrapp being ripped off into infinity (Madonna) and beyond (Rachel Stevens). Still, it’s a glittery, stomping and rather oozing little creature, which makes the list because it marked the kind of radical sonic departure that might not be up there with Dylan going electric, but is no less brave. More importantly, the video introduced a concern for odd, pagan imagery and imaginative aesthetics that began to marry the scale of their sound with a distinct look. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s easy to forget in the Year of the Gaga that not many people bothered even trying not so long ago.
Ride A White Horse – By 2005’s Supernature, Goldfrapp had found the ultimate balance between art and commerce. ‘Ooh La La’ was the hit, but ‘Ride A White Horse’ perhaps makes the album’s point most succinctly: Goldfrapp are original, but they are not innovators. Musical innovation is a crap concept anyway, ignoring – as it does – the idea that any creative process is the sum of borrowing, recycling, reflecting and refracting etc. ‘Horse’ makes this point openly and gloriously, with its purring vocals and dense, disco electronics taking Moroder and co cantering into the twenty first century.
Little Bird – Golfrapp’s fourth record, Seventh Tree, saw them pull out at the point of climax. Following the massive success of Supernature, they probably could have churned out another electro-pop odyssey and started selling out arenas. I wonder if they wish they had. Regardless, Seventh Tree is arguably their finest album to date, and ‘Little Bird’ is among the highlights: a mournful, low-lit, folk-pop lullaby that explodes into a psychedelic splash of colours, and is gone almost as soon as it arrives. Imagine Kate Bush getting high with Nick Drake and Lewis Carroll, and yes, it is that good.
Some People – The difficulty with character-led, chameleon-like pop is the empathy. It didn’t seem to bother anyone that we never really knew David Bowie, but women who are aloof and mysterious tend to get a harsher ride in the music industry. I know, “calm down, Germaine Greer.” Still, if Alison Goldfrapp perhaps didn’t help herself by revealing so little over the years, ‘Some People’ – also taken from Seventh Tree – was the sound of her guard slipping; a beautiful, piano-led moment that stripped down the kitchen-sink production and lyrical surreality, and just left her. Of all the band’s reinventions, this was the most surprising.
Rocket – And so we arrive bang up to date. Though there are far more ambitious songs across the Head First record – ‘Dreaming’ is a must-find – ‘Rocket’ makes the list because it’s sometimes fun to hear a straight-faced band letting loose. A timeless yet timely rehash of 80s, stadium-sized synths, with a chorus that feels so obvious/amazing that you’re stunned nobody has written it before, it felt like the song to take Goldfrapp back into the commercial arena. However, at the wrong side of 35, the powers-that-be seemed to decide that Goldfrapp had missed their moment. It could’ve been the biggest single of the year, but you sense that the band’s next move will be infinitely more interesting due to the fact that it wasn’t.
And so that is Goldfrapp, or some of Goldfrapp: six completely different songs, six completely different sounds. Indeed, it is a testament to their ambition and their talent that a visual and musical reinvention is now expected from them. Though perhaps it’s not the band that needs to change: rather, the industry may yet catch up with Goldfrapp.
Rob Chute is the former manager of the University of Nottingham’s dedicated music magazine, The Mic, and now works for Partisan PR. And good on him, we say.
September 29, 2010 No Comments
Growing up in our rural little corner of Sussex, Marc Vincent was a pioneer of misery. Like an evil hipster, he was into biting cynicism long before it was the done thing and, inflected with this magnificent morbidity, his work as a writer always fascinated me. Few people manage to cause controversy through their school newspapers, let alone enough to have the publication shut down. Marc Vincent is the quiet man in the corner of the pub, drinking darkly and staring at you intently as if he might be planning to kill you. The bad news is, he might well be. The good news is, you couldn’t hope to be murdered by a nicer sociopath. Here are his six favourite Eels songs.
So Stephen ‘W’ Thomas (and it is up to one’s imagination what the ‘W’ stands for) has asked me, of all people, to write a guest post for his blog – an online compendium of torturous lists that appears to be of a cider-swilling folksy bent. Of course, being the most superior person in the secure unit that I live in I’d normally turn such an offer down flat, but on that particular day I was far too tired from stabbing small animals with pins and lining their severed heads up in height order to possibly argue. As such, here is a list of nice songs by Eels. Enjoy!
Your Lucky Day in Hell – Beautiful Freak, 1996 Lounge music all the better for being bitter. Offers up the superb vision of “Winston Churchill in drag”. Very well known for being on a few movie soundtracks, apparently.
Fashion Awards – Shootenanny! 2003 Sweet and marvellously restrained. Never has the lyric “We’ll blow off our heads in despair” been delivered in such a pleasing fashion. A wonderful ode to a deranged segment of our beloved society that values absurd, entirely superficial things more than life and death. Everything’s so bloody unfair, don’t you think?
My Descent Into Madness – Electro-Shock Blues, 1998 “Voices tell me I’m the shit.” An eerie track that, with its sleigh bells and discomforting violins, reminds us all that the path to madness is so slightly graded that you’ll hardly know you’re walking it at all. And once you’re finally incarcerated, well, you might just grow to like it.
It’s a Motherfucker – Daisies of the Galaxy, 2000 Ah yes, a delicate dedication to a lost love – E’s good at those. Expert use of the word ‘motherfucker’ too, deployed at just the right moments to lend believability and gravitas.
Paradise Blues – End Times, 2010 I like a lot of End Times, but then I am a sad, Miss Havisham-esque bastard who spends most nights rocking back and forth in my attic, dressed in the same clothes as when my last girlfriend dumped me. Again. However, Paradise Blues is a fantastic track for the more emotionally stable, lampooning as it does suicide bombers and their unfortunate belief that they’ll end up in a heavenly sky-world (as opposed to the few kibbles left of them being chucked into a sandy hole and largely forgotten about).
I Like Birds – Daisies of the Galaxy, 2000 For sociopaths who are tired of humankind and take a shining to creatures of the avian variety. Did you know that they are the only group of dinosaurs to survive the extinction at the end of the Cretaceous period? They’re quite fascinating to watch too, with their glassy staring eyes and peculiar, twitching heads. Furthermore certain birds – chiefly among the corvids (crow family) – are reckoned to possess enough intelligence to use simple tools and recognise themselves in the mirror. And they make terrible pets. I like birds! Oh, and this song is a lot of fun.
Marc Vincent’s acerbic take on life has been oxymoronically brightening people’s lives for some years now, and as long as you like Muse and do not subscribe to the vision of the velociraptor presented by Jurassic Park you’ll get on just fine. He writes regularly for The Dinosaur Toy Blog, which is not, as it may sound, a Brooklyn-based indie rock outfit but, in fact, a blog about dinosaur toys.
September 14, 2010 1 Comment
In a new series of sorts, I’m inviting some of my favourite writers from the internet to list for WWL their favourite six songs by an artist they really admire. Our first entry in the series comes from Lynn Roberts, who founded the UK’s definitive folk music website, For Folk’s Sake. Lynn used to call me her friend until I challenged her to choose only six songs from the Beach Boys back-catalogue for this post. Now I consider myself lucky if she acknowledges my existence at all. Nah, not really. She’s lovely. You can listen while you read, with Lynn’s selections on Spotify here.
Choosing just six Beach Boys songs when they are probably your favourite band in the world ever — and one with 28 studio albums — is quite tricky. Nigh-on impossible in fact. But I’ve finally whittled it down, here I present you with six of the very best bits of music ever recorded.
I Can Hear Music (from the album 20/20, 1969)
‘I Can Hear Music’ was written by Jeff Barry, Ellie Greenwich and Phil Spektor, and first performed by the Ronnettes (of ‘Be My Baby’ fame). With the lyric “I can hear music/Sweet sweet music/Whenever you touch me baby/Whenever you’re near”, the Beach Boys version sounds like the music you would hear, should you be soppy enough to be moved to hearing lovely things by the presence of a swoonsome boy or girl. It’s sung by the middle Wilson brother, Carl. She & Him recently did a decent cover, released as a B-Side to ‘In The Sun’, but it’s nothing on this version.
Please Let Me Wonder (released as the B-Side of ‘Do You Wanna Dance’, 1965)
An earlier song that doesn’t get enough plays, ‘Please Let Me Wonder’ is a Brian Wilson/Mike Love collaboration, sung by Brian. Had Love, all twinkly eyes and jazz hands*, got lead vocal the song could have been cheesy, even throwaway, but Brian’s gloomy vocals make it heartbreaking.
Don’t Worry Baby (released as a single and on Shut Down Volume 2, 1964)
‘Don’t Worry Baby’ is a Brian Wilson composition sung in the falsetto that he adopted in the band’s early years. Brian said he wrote it to emulate the song ‘Be My Baby’ by the Ronettes, which was his favourite song. I think this is better.
Feel Flows (from the album Surf’s Up, 1971)
When Brian’s health deteriorated, Carl took over much of the songwriting and ‘Feel Flows’ is one of his earliest compositions. It features some rather spectacular jazz flute, and the softly psychedelic atmosphere seems like an accurate sonic portrayal of the sensitive — and drug-using — Wilson brothers at the time.
God Only Knows (from the album Pet Sounds, 1966)
A pretty obvious inclusion, this one, but as the most perfect love song ever written, I just couldn’t leave it out. Written by Brian and sung by Carl, its incredibly tender lyrics keep to the right side of the paper-thin line dividing “so lovely I want to cry” and “makes me want to vomit in my own shoe”.
Cuddle Up (from the album Carl & The Passions, 1972)
Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson and Mike Love are widely considered to be the Beach Boys’ songwriters, but youngest Wilson brother Dennis started penning songs in the group’s later years. The band’s rebel, Dennis’s rugged vocals contrast beautifully with the simple love songs he wrote. I had a terrible time deciding between this song and ‘Only With You’, from the album Holland, so please also listen to that. And check out his recently re-released solo album Pacific Ocean Blue.
Lynn Roberts is the founder and editor of For Folk’s Sake, where I moonlight as a regular columnist and resident film expert. She owns seventeen or so Beach Boys albums, and is regularly seen debating with Mike Love apologists.
*In the Beach Boys documentary Endless Harmony, a deluded Mike Love, who is the Wilsons’ cousin, explains that what people love about the band is that they were upbeat, and that the positivity all came from him. I hate Mike Love.
July 21, 2010 1 Comment
I’ve been patiently listening to The Boatman’s Call for six years, waiting for it to hit me, and it finally has. Last month I listened to it every day, exclusively. When someone came round, I’d joke about it and then say, “yeah no but actually let’s put it on right now.” I am listening to it as I type. Seriously, you are ruining my concentration. Go away.
She can do no wrong in my eyes. She is integrity incarnate. Recently I’ve been listening to Wave. I can’t let go of the final, spoken lyric in ‘Dancing Barefoot’. The whole album is incredibly witchy. Another one I like right now is The Coral Sea. It’s probably not something you do all in one go, but it’s worth hearing.
I’ve reached a point in Weezer worship where I can honestly say I like every single album equally, leading up to and including the Red Album. However, Pinkerton is the iconic moment. I’m deeply sorry that I couldn’t come around to Raditude, and the truth is, recently I’ve been considering unfollowing Rivers Cuomo on Twitter. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.
ITAOTS is obviously the album. I find it flawless. But On Avery Island is brilliant because of all its flaws. I see the title track of In the Aeroplane over the Sea as a religious anthem for any religion. When I am confused about the purpose of it all, I listen to that song.
I love the aesthetic of this album. I love folk jazz, kind of New York-y, Gershwin type thing, and I love an album that is so unashamedly about affluence. For no other reason than it’s surprising. And I like to hear people being honest about their lives, because I am curious about how other people live, and what they get from it. I love getting Rufus’s perspective. I love how much he loves beauty.
I will be honest and say that every time I break up with someone, I turn to this album. The break ups get harder, but the album keeps rising to the occasion.
May 13, 2010 No Comments
Over the last couple weeks we’ve had the pleasure of bringing you the first two entries in a series of musician and singer-songwriter Allison Crowe’s guest-posts for We Write Lists. We’d asked her to write about her six favourite albums, which was admittedly a cruel challenge to set. Instead, Allison chose six albums that held her heart, and influenced her significantly, during the formative years of her musical life. And, kindly, she sent us so much on each album that they warranted serialisation – the third excerpt of which you may enjoy now…
Until Boys for Pele, playing anything classical and singing anything rock-ish had never been joined in my mind. This album made me realize the two could be married and live in perfect harmony. This made me strive to learn and play more complicated piano arrangements along with singing in varied ranges and tones. Also, it made me feel like being a bit odd was okay, and that I REALLY REALLY wanted to have red hair.
I love Tori. One of my favourite Tori songs to play is ‘Doughnut Song’. To this day, I’ve not learned to play it without my Boys for Pele piano/vocal book – the book I used to intently work on doing crazy things with my hands and sing. (Not QUITE as crazy as I’ve seen Tori do live from time to time – mind you – but crazy-ish!) In the throes of some heartbroken breakdown I would shout out and play “happy for you and I am sure that I hate you” and cry and then feel a great release. I would play ‘Muhammad My Friend’ and feel as though I was in on some sort of secret, and follow it with ‘Mr. Zebra’ to lighten the whole mood.
There’s something so ethereal and sexy and so undeniably strange and enchanting about Tori and her music – I LOVED playing ‘Professional Widow’ and getting the demons out and swearing and playing piano in a riff that would traditionally be confined to an electric guitar, that almost echoed the sounds of 2Pac’s ‘California Love’. There was a freedom of artistry listening to and learning the songs of Tori Amos. A raw, emotional, sometimes confusing, wackiness. It’s okay to pound the notes out if you’re angry, so long as you remember to delicately fondle the notes later on. You can be strange and beautiful.
From the beginning single note strains of ‘Horses’ all the way through, this album could tell the story of a life that I’ve lived only in my head but have felt with a great sincerity, even if I didn’t understand the words most of the time. Sometimes, my hair goes black and blue, but at my happiest it’s shades of red – like it is today. Thanks Tori.
May 8, 2010 2 Comments
We’ve been fairly lucky recently over here at WWL – we’ve had some of our favourite musicians coming over to write guest posts on their favourite albums. Today we bring you another in this series of Guest Lists as Lucky Soul’s Andrew Laidlaw offers us his top six albums of all time! So, enjoy Andrew’s list below, and check out Lucky Soul’s fantastic new album A Coming Of Age, which is out now in all good record stores and, presumably, some of the shit ones too.
1. Louder Than Bombs – The Smiths
I wouldn’t be in a band without this record which I hired for 30p from my library when I was 16. ’16 clumsy and shy, that’s the story of my life’! It’s just great song after great song and it wasn’t even a proper album but an American singles and b-sides compilation. Their winning combination of darkness and humour is in full effect here, the lyrics are incredible and I could eulogise all day about Johnny’s guitars. It’s hard to pick a song as they’re all good but maybe you could start at ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’. To me it’s the sound of wanting to escape, of not fitting in and being hopelessly confused. These songs made sense of the confusion, for a while at least!
2. La Question – Françoise Hardy
This is my perfect going to sleep album, which could be seen as an insult, but for me it’s so dark, warm and otherworldly that I always drift away. I always imagine I’m on a desolate beach somewhere when I’m listening; not a Hawaii style dream beach, more like the rough seas of Scarborough. It’s all sung in French which adds to the mystery and romance of the arrangements.
3. Motortown Revue In Paris – Various Artists
I bought this in Greenwich Village, New York in 1995 and ended up mixing our new album on the same street last year which was a nice circle. Martha and The Vandellas, Little Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Earl Van Dyke. Can you imagine seeing that line up live? Amazing. This captures all those groups in the first joyous rush of success. Get this, then watch Standing in the Shadows of Motown, the film about the Motown band The Funk Brothers and I challenge you not to cry at the end of it.
4. Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
Yes, I know this isn’t a very original selection and gets on everyone’s lists but it’s just so perfect, so beautiful and so unique it has to go on. It’s astonishing that the record label didn’t bother to promote it when it came out and just rushed out a greatest hits instead. My favourite song on it is ‘I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times’ and the line ‘They say I got brains, but they ain’t doing me no good’ kills me every time.
5. Modern Life is Rubbish – Blur
This came out when Blur were probably the least popular they ever were since releasing their first single but I’d got ‘Popscene’ on 7″ and loved that, so I bought Modern Life… as soon as it came out and wrote the title over all my school books. It’s a lovely record and sounds so full of freedom. I think it’s a much better record than Parklife, even though that’s the one that made them. I’ve got very fond memories of listening to it as the sun came up on the coach on a college trip to Paris. It’s a good morning record and ‘Blue Jeans’ is so whistful it almost floats away.
6. Madonna – Madonna
It’s an early electro pop classic this, full of hope and wonder without the cynicism and meglomania we associate with her later work. It’s got ‘Holiday’ and ‘Borderline’ on it, but listen to ‘Physical Attraction’ and you’re transported to some New York subway in the early ’80s. It’s a really thoughtful record and she’d never be this intimate again.
May 4, 2010 1 Comment
Last week we had the pleasure of bringing you the first in a series of musician and singer-songwriter Allison Crowe’s guest-posts for We Write Lists. We’d asked her to write about her six favourite albums, which was admittedly a cruel challenge to set. Instead, Allison chose six albums that held her heart, and influenced her significantly, during the formative years of her musical life. And, kindly, she sent us so much on each album that they warranted serialisation – the second excerpt of which you may enjoy now…
Let me start this one off by making one thing perfectly clear. I LOVE Ten. It started me off on a Pearl Jam love affair that would and will withstand the test of time. For that reason, and because I am a Pearl Jam fan, that is exactly why I feel compelled NOT to choose Ten for this list. I shamelessly want to make myself seem cooler than that, and I want to make it known that I’m aware they made many amazing albums after 1991. (I also LOVED Live on Two Legs, and the Katowice 2 live album among the myriad of live albums – Katowice 2 simply because it’s the first one I found! I’m not even sure I fully remember it – I just, again, want to look cool.)
Anywho, on to Vitalogy.
As a teenager, I was pretty sure I was going to marry both Eddie Vedder and Adam Duritz, and likely end up in a harem where they played out different roles for me. I’m aware of the age difference. My favourite actor was Gary Oldman. This does not bother me.
Also, as a teenager, something felt decidedly bad-ass about loving Vitalogy. I would, in angst-ridden stupor, lay on the couch and listen with my face down from ‘Spin the Black Circle’ on through the rest… right when I was verging on sleep, I would ALWAYS snap to with a shudder at ‘Bugs’, or ‘Whipping’ – which I still find friggin creepy. There’s always something therapeutic about screaming “this is this is MY last exit”, “THIS IS NOT FOR YOU” or, in those times when my self-esteem has been less than abundant, singing along viciously to the words “model roll model roll some models in blood”. (I know, not nice – again, therapy!) And, of course, I have ALWAYS dreamed in colour and loved ‘Better Man’. ‘Nothingman’. There is nothing better, man. I would rather starve than eat your bread. ‘Spin the Black Circle’. Vinyl. Being a member of the Ten Club (PJ’s fan club), I’d get my Christmas Singles on Vinyl – sadly I no longer have a record player that works.
Along the vein of ‘Immortality’ – this album will always live on for me. Singing along to ‘Better Man’ with an entire Vancouver concert audience the first time I ever managed to experience Pearl Jam live in 2003, (I’ve seen them many times in as many places as possible since), is something I will never forget. We were freaking GOOD singers! I can’t wait to experience that again.
May 1, 2010 2 Comments
Over the past four years or so I have spoken a great deal of Allison Crowe, whether it be on blogs, to friends, to family members or anyone else stupid enough to tune into my opinions. So, in many ways, the posts that will appear every Saturday for the next six weeks are a real coup here at WWL. A few months back I was fortunate enough to have Franz Nicolay, formerly of The Hold Steady, to write up a guest post on his favourite six albums. Recently I asked the same of Allison Crowe and she kindly obliged. Now, as the result either of her (obvious) passion for music or her recently freed-up schedule (Thanks, Eyjafjallajöjull!) Allison has written us enough of her insightful takes on the music that inspired her to secure a spot as a regular contributor for the next six weeks, during which we’ll share her written offerings one album at a time! So, over to Allison:
At the outset of these writings, I was having a bit of a hard time condensing an entire life’s worth of inspirations into such a small number of albums. A few were obvious, but then the path was wide open. I decided to focus on a certain period of time, when my personality and life’s choices were truly being forged and molded – beyond childhood but not yet adult – with plenty of naïvety and an equal amount of life experience.
These were also the times that cemented in me what I wanted to do for the rest of my life – it wasn’t a matter of thinking about it so much – but the doing of it really started then. Plus, to age myself, popular music was a different thing, and it was something I could identify with far better. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur today, thinking about the “good old days”. It terrifies me to no end that Nirvana plays on ‘oldies’ stations.
Regardless, this is a snapshot of myself and my musical loves of this time – those which have proven to be the most absolutely enduring companions in my emotional life. What was true then still holds true now. I’ve changed, but at my very core, I’m still the dreamy insomniac who’s learned, through these albums, to take it all out on the piano.
From ‘Round Here’ to ‘A Murder of One’, this album is, without a doubt, my favourite album of all time. A bold statement? Yes. Allow me to explain. When I was roughly 12 years old, my older brother had a lot of CDs that I started to enjoy. I “adopted” a few of them, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, and, of course, Counting Crows.
Years went by, and I listened to August and Everything After roughly 1 trillion times. Through it, I experienced grief, joy, pain, healing, growing, and, most of all, music felt deeply from within the gut. I learned to sing from these crazy places through the wails and words of Adam Duritz, and thought that one day I’d be their backup singer. (lol ya I know, dream big!) I always had trouble sleeping and had some pretty crazy times as a youngun, and it was nice to have something to identify with – or at least pretend that I could. (A lot of the time I really think it was just my imagination.)
I learned how to really hone my desperate pining hopeless romantic skills to write words and melodies. I also learned how to play guitar by listening repeatedly to ‘Mr. Jones’ and teaching myself chords that I’d only ever known on piano. I played my first piano/vocal song in front of anybody in the form of ‘Raining in Baltimore’. Along to ‘A Murder of One’, at the top of my lungs, I wailed out my cry for independence in the time of an oppressive relationship, driving and singing in an almost meditative screaming chant “change change change”. And I sang along to ‘Omaha’ and truly believe to this day it is the “heart that matters more”. I sat up late and hopeless and empty thinking about ‘Perfect Blue Buildings’, and I took my way home back to ‘Sullivan Street’. I felt like I must have been tired of SOMETHING ‘Round Here’, and took the cannonball down on the ‘Ghost Train’, and danced around like I thought I must have been the ‘Rain King’. I tried to figure out who was Anna, and kind of wished I was her. (“Kind of” is an understatement – remember… hopeless, pining, romantic and a SUCKER for a well-turned word).
I am still waiting for Counting Crows to return to Canada a touch more often – 2 of the BEST concerts I have ever seen took place before the year 2000. I am one of the girls who wanted the songs of AAEA to be about me, and tried to decipher the lines scribbled on the CD cover.
I do what I do in large part due to this music and the honesty in its words and sounds.
April 24, 2010 5 Comments
When we caught up with Franz Nicolay recently, we asked him if he would be willing to write for our humble little site a guest post. I’m not particularly sure we ever expected he’d be willing to, let alone write one as insightful as the list that found its way into my inbox a short day ago. So here, for our lovely readers, is a We Write Lists Exclusive! Franz Nicolay’s top six favourite records:
1. Mercury – American Music Club
“Simply my biggest influence as a songwriter and on my sense of what a record should sound like. I learned to play guitar and sing with three things: Mercury, Mark Eitzel’s Songs Of Love Live and the Bob Dylan lyrics book; and got my sense of what interesting piano in a rock band was from Bruce Kaphan of AMC, and Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson of The Band (see below). Unpredicatable, noisy guitars, swelling strings, Danny Pearson’s melodic basslines and high-lonesome backing vocals; and Mitchell Froom’s dusty production: The conventional wisdom is that is was the wrong time to make their ‘arty’ record, but more likely, they were never going to be stars no matter what kind of album they made, and in the event they made their greatest.
2. Rock Of Ages – The Band
“The model of musicianship, taste, and skill in a rock band. Their authenticity and credibility remain unchallenged. The studio albums are great, but a live show with three-piece horn section and Marvin Gaye cover is The Band at their best.”
3 & 4. Symphony #4 – Charles Ives & Mingus Ah Um – Charles Mingus
“A lot of what interests me musically is the mixture of the familiar and the avant; people who work with or within established forms and make them seem strange and unfamiliar. Both Ives and Mingus took as their raw materials the canon of Western romantic classical music, American gospel and church hymns, the gestures of their spiritual fathers (Beethoven and Ellington, respectively) and the popular songs of their day and surrounded them in a fog of dissonance and improvisation. In the same vein, my favourite Cecil Taylor is his earlier records where he’s still close enough to bebop to sound even stranger; and my favourite Sun Ra and Monk is when they’re playing Tin Pan Alley.”
5. As Time Goes By – Jimmy Durante
“Speaking of Tin Pan Alley: I’ve said it before, but there was a great generation of entertainers trained on the vaudeville circuit who could turn on a buffalo nickel from slapstick schtick to heartbreaking sincerity. I have and love Durante’s patter songs, but it’s the ballads that are the cloest to my heart: simply delivered and deceptively agile.”
6. Rain Dogs – Tom Waits
“…Though is a stand-in for “the entire catalogue”.
January 23, 2010 No Comments