Justification: I said more or less everything I wanted to say about the Chickens in the entry for their still-incredible ‘Gaskrankinstation’ almost two years ago – oh, how time flies on this blog! – and I’m feeling a bit ill this morning so plan to be quick in any case. But it’s worth noting that:
Seriously, where ARE the chickens?
1. I’ve been listening to Body Blow for over 20 years now and it’s lost very little of its power (and my favourite moment is still the end of the first verse of ‘Million $ Dream’ when Chris Matthews spits “It loves you like a razor, see it really does get in / But we don’t have a prize for you, because you didn’t win / Sorry“).
2. This single wasn’t the triumphant chart success that it should have been in the Spanish speaking world at least partially because the title was purported to be a translation of “where are the chickens?” and, well, it’s not. The correct phrase should be, if Google translate is to be trusted, “Dónde están los pollos”. See? I edutain as well as informicate
3. It killed at both the Chickens gigs I saw, separated as they were by 19 years or something. When their computers weren’t crapping out, they were incredibly good live.
4. If it had been a single with a video, this would have been ‘Railway Surfing’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Pop Will Eat Itself’s ‘Wise Up, Sucker’. Which would have been really appropriate, and I totally haven’t written up yet. Sorry, there are still a few early ones yet to be addressed.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Another appropriate one! It’s the brilliant Aesop Rock and ‘Coffee’, which features an amazing guest spot by John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats.
Justification: You know how there are some bands that you get into purely because you’re into the person who’s into them?
Just looking at this I can hear your mum’s car in the driveway. Put your shirt back on!
The woman who was to become my wife, and then ex-wife, had a cassette of Bandwagonesque in her bedroom when we started going out and that lurid pink cover burned itself onto my brain. To this day I can’t see it without listening out for the sound of her mother getting home from work – which does give the experience of listening to the Fanclub a certain frisson, and also provides me a strong incentive not to refer to them by their accepted nickname of “the Fannies”.
That being said, we didn’t actually listen to it as far as I can remember (our make-out-covering music of choice was Bjork’s Debut, as it happens) and that was kind of a relief because the moments of chugging boogie reminded me too much of the very same Status Quo they referenced in the album’s opener, ‘The Concept’. It wasn’t until many years later, after I’d warmed to them somewhat, that I saw them live at the Governor Hindmarsh and realised a) they were amazing and b) that ‘Sparky’s Dream’ is one of the best songs ever written by humans. That fucking killed live. But that’s a different story – specifically, this one.
I once realised that someone carried something of a torch for me upon discovering that they had been listening to Devo – a band not simply of an uncharacteristic genre but a good four centuries more contemporary than most of her listening habits – for whose upcoming Hordern show I had been enthusiastically counting down the days. In this vein, any women attempting to catch my eye going forward should be sure to express a fondness for either Future of the Left or the Hold Steady. It’d be a dead giveaway. Have you seen the gender split at their gigs? It’d be more subtle just to show up at my apartment naked.
Justification: Wow, it’s been all about 1991 lately. This blog plays by its own rules, man.
Just seeing this cover again reminds me that wow, Bragg was using a lot of football metaphors at this point.
In 2012 this song seems like a well-meaning but awkward uncle trying to tell its nephew that he still loves them even if he is, well, you know – especially since he is, of course, totally straight, can’t get enough of the ladies, why before I met your auntie etc etc etc. But back then, when the UK still outlawed discussion of homosexuality in schools under the notorious Clause 28 and “poof” was a perfectly acceptable insult for a headline in a national UK paper, this was an amazingly strong statement.
It was no surprise, of course: Billy Bragg was and is a master of finding the political in the personal and vice versa, so a very personal subject with strong political implications was right in his wheelhouse. And if the fact that the first two lines are all about shoring up his credentials as a red-blooded heterosexual suggests that there may have still been a bit of discomfort there, more power to him for making the statement in the first place.
It was one of Bragg’s biggest hits, yet hasn’t really become part of the canon of his work the way things like ‘Levi Stubbs’ Tears’ or ‘A New England’ have. Maybe it’s because saying “gay people are not terrifying freaks” is pretty much taken as read these days, even by bigots*. We’ve got a ways to go, obviously, but it’s nice to see how far we’ve come in a generation.
While he doesn’t appear in the video, the song was co-written by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr (who plays on the track), and that’s the late great Kirsty MacColl providing backing vocals and being hilarious. Oh, and the reason comic Phil Jupitus is in there is that he directed the clip.
I remember seeing him play this live and, as he so often did, changing up the lyrics – one being “a nuclear submarine sinks off the coast of Queensland”, which immediately brought that line home for me. It might have been the same show where he pointed out that those who don’t actively challenge racism tacitly support it (all of his shows, in other words). And that is why myself, my siblings, my ex-wife and many of our contemporaneous friends have had many occasions during the last 20-odd years in which we have sighed, quietly cursed Bragg’s name, started a sentence with “Um, as a matter of fact…” and then had the rest of our taxi journey become impossibly awkward.
*That being said: any time I find myself thinking “well, this insane prejudice is a settled issue, we can move on” I remind myself of how my middle-class, 17-year-old know-it-all self blithely chuckled in 1990 when I first walked onto the campus of Flinders Uni, saw a stall by the Anti-Racist Alliance and thought “oh look, how quaint, they’re still doing that despite society having already agreed that racism is unacceptable – how adorable!” About six months later, One Nation appeared. Lesson learned.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Nothing for 2011, but 2010 had Pop Will Eat Itself’s mighty ‘Def. Con. One’.
Justification: Here’s the thing about this jokey novelty single by UK comedian Vic Reeves: it wasn’t really a joke.
"No, that's the joke - that I'm doing a serious cover of a Tommy Roe song. Don't you get it?"
Yes, the album was mainly comedic in intent – ‘Sing Hi! To The New Romantic’ remains one of my favourite song titles of a song I’d never actually heard until this entry made me wonder if the album was on Spotify (spoiler alert: totally is) – but this straightfaced cover of Tommy Roe’s key-change-heavy 1969 hit was perfectly legitimate. And given that Reeves – or, more specifically, Jim Moir – had started out as a wannabe pop star, that’s not that big a surprise. He even got some impressively-legit folks on the album: aside from the Wonder Stuff, who backed him on this #1 single, the album was produced by Andy Metcalfe (of the Soft Boys and, later, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians), Phil Oakey (of the Human League) and British jazzbo Steve Beresford.
And let’s face it, it’s a heck of a song – and with a grand total of twelve (count ‘em!) key changes, would probably have swept Eurovision.
My friend Adam R Wigg had this single before I did and I remember thinking that this was OK but the b-side ‘Oh! Mr Hairdresser’ was far superior, mainly for the exhortation to Mr Keyboard Wizard to “go tweedly-deedly-dee on your Korg”. I was all about brands of synthesiser in those days.
It was the biggest hit that the Wonder Stuff ever enjoyed too, which was somewhat unfortunate.
I really, really wish I’d copied the DVDs of The Smell of Reeves & Mortimer I bought my then-wife. It would have made explaining why I was drunkenly singing about my lucky, lucky carpet that time rather more straightforward.
When this first came out I remember thinking “really? Siouxsie? Using THAT drum loop?” See, the Banshees were a more diverse band than they were given credit for but they were very firmly in a the same gosh/alt.rock milieu that contained, obviously, the Cure – but then in 1991 they discovered sampling and electronics and the result was their most accessible and upbeat album, which broke them in the US and gave their career a massive shot in the arm. And all it took was a Schooly D drumbeat, production from Stephen Hague and some mad tabla playing from one Talvin Singh.
The Siouxsie candles were an interesting but flawed marketing concept.
And I loathed it.
That drum loop and the oh-so-of-the-moment bhangra rhythms dated it horribly, or so I thought, and for the first time it seemed like Ms Sioux was paying attention to what other people were doing rather than ploughing her own idiosyncratic furrow. Now, of course, I realise that it’s an amazing song that transcends its period, even though the production means you could still date this pretty much to the month.
Apparently the song is about the life and death of Jayne Mansfield. No, I never realised that either. Thanks, Wikipedia!
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Nothing for the 4th, but the 3rd was the mighty ‘There She Goes’ by the La’s. You like that one, right?
Justification: It’s Australia Day tomorrow, and I won’t be doing a SYSRBIIA for it – sorry, rest of the world, but we gots to have our patriotic sleep in – so let’s pay tribute to one of Australia’s greatest songwriters, whose death by a sudden heart attack at age 48 in 2006 (and dear god, it seems so much more recent than that) ended the Go-Betweens and one of the greatest songwriting partnerships on the planet. But his solo stuff was still pretty great, especially this: his first solo album, which was pretty much all about Amanda Brown (who plays on it). And this song still breaks my heart a little bit when I hear it.
It was also one of the first things that I remember my beloved little brother falling in love with when he was a child – a double-pack cassingle of this and an acoustic set, if I recall correctly – as I was desperately trying to drag him down the same music-obsessive cul de sac that I’ve been stuck. At least he’s stuck there with me. Isn’t that right, Ross?
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Another incredible song: the pretty-much-perfect ‘All My Friends’ by LCD Soundsystem.
Justification: It took me a long time to come back to this for one very good reason: everyone else’s answering machines.
See, back in 1991 I was still living at home while I was at university but many of my friends were moving into their first share houses. In those pre-mobile phone times – indeed, those pre-voicemail times – everyone had answering machines, and of course people sharing houses had to make sure their message was suitably personalised lest callers mistakenly think they’d accidentally called a bank or the Moon or something. Also, there was a direct correlation between the number of people of the same gender living in the house and the zaniness of their answering machine message. For example: couples tended to have messages that said things like “Steve and Kathy can’t come to the phone right now, please leave a message,” while places with five dudes living in them tended to go for “You’ve called Castle Bongsalot, we can’t come to the phone – because we’re out getting some sweet POONTANG! Leave a message, if you’re a hot babe! Whooo! Boobs!”
When De La Soul followed up the groundbreaking 3 Feet High and Rising with the far less joyful De La Soul is Dead this single was utterly ubiquitous: not so much on radio, but on the answering machines of idiots who realised that a) this song was about leaving a message on an answering machine, and b) that they were the only person on the planet who’d made this remarkable discovery. Maybe everyone was being super-ironic, but I can’t count the number of times I hung up as soon as the “hey, how you’re doin’” refrain hit my eardrum. What was even more amazing/embarrassing/awesome was when the person would perform the rap themselves, as one friend of my sister Alison’s memorably did. I’m pretty sure one household did it as a group effort with one housemate providing some impressively rhythm-free beatboxing, but maybe my brain just thinks it too funny not to have a possibly-entirely-false memory of. And brain? You’re totally right.
I assiduously avoided this song for the next 20-odd years, until it came up on a hip hop compilation that passed across my desk in 2011 and hit me in the face with its catchiness, its wit, its refreshingly unvarnished hatred for for new artists and, for the first time in decades, the following thought: “hold on, isn’t that the hotly-tipped, little-loved and short-lived 80s hopefuls Curiosity Killed the Cat?” And yes, it is: specifically, their 1989 single ‘Name and Number’ which is sampled in the chorus. I didn’t read Smash Hits for all those years for nothing, you know.
Justification: Carter USM‘s wordy ode to late-night television programming, child abuse and well-meaning wowserism was the first time I’d ever heard of David Icke – a man whose increasingly hilarious fixation on the planet being secretly run by a cabal of shape-shifting alien lizards was to be one of my favourite chapters in Jon Ronson’s book Them. It was also the first time I’d realised how ridiculous the legal fraternity was on the subject of copyright in songs, as the Rolling Stones’ publishers ABKCO – aka Alan Klein, the man who destroyed the Beatles – heard the “goodbye Ruby Tuesday” lyric and went “well, we’ll be taking the royalties to that, then.”
It would never have stood up in a court of law, but Chrysalis weighed up spending a year or so and hundreds of thousands of pounds protecting the rights of one of their acts versus fucking said artists over at no cost to themselves, and went with option B. Even when Jimbob and Fruitbat offered to fight the battle themselves, they were told that the deal was done, the song was now credited to Jagger/Richards, and perhaps they shouldn’t let the door hit their arses on the way out.
As a result the single died an injunction-lead death and the band didn’t even bother sticking it on an album until the record-deal-ending compilation Straw Donkey in 1995. Still, it’s one of my favourite Carter songs – possibly because it was so hard to hunt down.
Justification:Trompe le Monde is nobody’s favourite Pixies album, partially because Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are damn close to perfect and partially because there are so many barely-there songs on it (which did make for a great Abbey Road-style medley, if you ask me, although I’ve never been clear as to whether that was the deliberate intent). In fact, the release of the legendary “purple tape” demo on CD as Pixies, minus the tracks that made up the Come On Pilgrim mini-album, showed how much of the album was culled from old ideas and long-dismissed songs.
However, there are a couple of just plain amazing tracks in there and this is the great uncelebrated Pixies single, with everything that made the band so good – a baffling subject, a rock solid rhythm, a squibbly-squee Joey Santiago guitar solo and Eric Drew Feldman on keyboards (later to produce the first Frank Black album, incidentally, but that’s another story).
Career Girls played it for a charity all-power-pop covers gig in Adelaide, along with Weezer‘s ‘Buddy Holly’, the Posies’ ‘Solar Sister’ and ‘Check Out The Sell Out’ by fellow Adelaide band Flat Stanley. We didn’t do covers that often, but ‘Alex Eiffel’ popped into the set every so often for a while afterwards.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Everything looked great for Suede with ‘Trash’. Oh, how things were to change.
Justification: Maybe it’s because they appeared within a year of each other, but I’ve always thought of this album and 1992′s Black Ticket Day as being one long piece. There’s a unity to them that is rare in Kuepper’s career, given how often he changes styles, and they’re easily my two favourite of his solo discs (since we’ve already established that I love him in the Saints and Laughing Clowns). This was probably his best known solo song, was much loved by Triple J and community radio, and helped garner the album an ARIA nomination. What I love about it is the details – the phone ringing in the hall, the cafe – and the build up of variations on “I hadn’t seen such mass destruction ’til I saw you”.
Still, you know what’s an amazing song? ‘Blind Girl Stripper’. I think that was the first song over six minutes that I could genuinely say I wasn’t bored by.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME LAST YEAR: The Beautiful South’s perfect deconstruction of a relationship gone toxic in ‘A Little Time’.