Justification: It’s catchy as hell, that “bam chicka bam” intro is a glorious throwback to the gloriou nonsense of rock’n'roll’s more playful past, and it’s welded to one of the very, very, very few popularly-available protest songs during what we can laughably call the War on Terror.
And none of that is unconscious either: Emily Haines knows exactly what she’s talking about every step of the way, namechecking and paraphrasing Bobby Fuller’s ‘I Fought the Law’, repurposed here as “I fought the war, and the war won”. That being said, the video clip went out of its way to emphasise the “monster” bits of the title with zombies and bleeding walls and fairly ropey attempts to remake bits of Polanski’s Repulsion. The single sleeve, on the other hand, is a pretty pattern of falling knives. Point taken, you Canadian pinkos.
Oh, and Daddy Warbucks was the man who took in Little Orphan Annie, and who made his millions making weapons for the US army. That’s what’s called “nominative determinism”.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: One of the most gloriously melancholy songs ever written: The The’s still-amazing ‘This Is The Day’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Paul Simon and Chevy Chase yuck it up in ‘You Can Call Me Al’.
Justification: I never think of myself as a Jack White fan, and then I actually listen to his music and am reminded that he really knows how to write a chorus. Take this, for example: it’s less histrionic than most of the White Stripes‘ stuff (thanks, co-writer Brendan Benson!) and based on a chord progression which, to be generous, bears more than a passing resemblence to Joe Jackson‘s ‘Is She Really Going Out With Him?’, and yet that chorus always kicks me in the guts when they soar into it. And that bit in the last verse where White and Benson sing overlapping melody lines? Genius piece of arrangement.
Oh, Raconteurs, why always the fighting?
Apparently this was what inspired the formation of the band at all, with both chaps being so chuffed at having knocked it up so quickly in White’s attic they they immediately grabbed the Greenhornes’ rhythm section and became the Raconteurs. Except in Australia, where a QLD jazz band had the rights to the name and wanted more than White was willing to pay for it. So down here they are (or perhaps were, given that White and Benson are doing solo discs and the Greenhornes have reactivated as a touring unit) the Saboteurs. But does anyone much care any more about that short-lived indie-jazz vs international-rock stoush? No. No, they do not.
Fitz & the Tantrums did a spirited version of this when I saw them at Splendour in the Grass last year. It was an unexpected but inspired choice.
Still not sure why Benson’s rockin’ the top hat in the video, though. You’re not in the Spin Doctors, you realise.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Learn why you, too, should be obsessed with the much-missed Models via their magnificent ‘I Hear Motion’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Also learn why mclusky were the most incredible band on the planet during their too-brief tenure, as evidenced by ‘To Hell With Good Intentions’. Wow, those are two especially amazing songs, you know.
I didn’t love this album when I first heard it, but that was mainly because I’d loved their first one so damn much and couldn’t work out what the hell had happened. On their 2003 album Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre the Sydney three-piece sounded like heirs apparent to the Jam with concise nuggets of gloriously melodic pop, but the enture band disintegrated around singer/songwriter Beau Cassidy between writing quirky energetic singles like ‘Rock’n'Roll is the Devil’s Music’ and this heartbreaking piece of near-shoegaze, making this song a huge and at the time somewhat unpleasant surprise.
These days it’s a favourite, though, and has soundtracked some serious heartbreak along the way. For that reason I tend not to listen to it unless I need to – and when I need it, I need it like nothing else on Earth.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010:The Wannadies were completely contradicting the vibe of this tune with the jubilant ‘You and Me Song’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: Weekend, so let’s go with the May 13 entry: the Boo Radleys’ mighty ‘Lazarus’.
Justification: Is there any opening line more beautiful than “Like four million tonnes of hydrogen / Exploding on the sun”? It’s perfect for a country song about turning into a ghost, wouldn’t you say?
No? Well, fuck you then.
Sorry, that was harsh. I’m a bit under the weather, and I get defensive about the Handsome Family because they always seem to be underrated in the annals of alt.country (except for in UK music mag Uncut in the early 00s when they and Ryan Adams could do absolutely nothing wrong). But the husband and wife team of Brett and Rennie Sparks make something magical, and never more so than on their seventh album, The Last Days of Wonder (although all of them are good, to be honest). They also have an impressive division of labour: Rennie writes the band’s lyrics, which the music-writing Brett gives mighty authority via his rousing baritone.
I’m as committed a materialist as you’ll find, but I’m still charmed by Rennie’s lyrical suggestion that when one dies, one sticks around but the world forgets. Lift doors won’t open for you, and automatic taps won’t register your presence. You can’t find your car in the carpark and misplace your wallet – and while these things mount up, there’s the ominous fact that stray dogs start to gather in your yard, all of which prompt you to take off on your titular journey. It’s almost like the first song of a musical, or of a concept album, setting up a premise that is never expanded on – and that element of what-happens-next is is partially why I love it so much.
For a band that write so often about death – well, they’re a country band, after all – they are freakin’ hilarious interviewees. And their shows can be more akin to a comedy duo double-hander than a gig, depending on their mood.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: The Hoodoo Gurus were blasting out their first “proper” single (ie: with Brad Shepherd) with ‘Tojo’.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: I was waxing rhapsodic about the movie Stealth, thanks to We Are Scientists and ‘Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt’.
Justification: Last night I was on the radio (yes, radio: between that and my work in print it’s fair to say I’m a big deal in many of last-century’s premier media) and the subject under discussion on ABC 702′s airwaves was what would be the least romantic song to play on Valentine’s Day. And I, put on the spot, went to my standard go-to response for Least Appropriate Song for Anything – ‘Ghostbusters’ by Ray Parker Jr. Which was, obviously, hilarious and charming and it’s amazing that I don’t have my own show by now but, inexplicable broadcasting injustices aside, I was pondering the question for most of the journey home: what would really be the least romantic thing to play to one’s beloved on Feb 14th?
And then I remembered this.
It’s not hard to remember this, if you’re me: it’s one of my favourite songs of the last decade, it’s one of the most-played tracks on every gadget I own which counts the number of plays of things, and I spent a good deal of 2006 forcing it on everyone I knew after picking the album up purely on the strength of the artwork (a policy, as I have articulated previously, that always works. ALWAYS).
Another reason why you should always grab albums with great artwork, kids
Dan Michaelson, frontman of the band, has a rare knack of presenting disturbing lyrics in marvellously catchy ways (see also the jaunty ‘There’s a Body in a Car Somwhere’), but this is his masterpiece. “Oh darling,” he begins, in his sonorous baritone, “You’re no oil painting / And I’m no Michelangelo, no no” before presenting what amounts to a personal Idiocracy-flavoured argument in poetic-yet-ghastly detail. After all, what woman alive would be less than enamoured by her swain gallantly describing their sweet union as “…a tangled mess of limbs / Broken arms and toothless grins” before declaring that they “…must end / Before we get lazy / Or we start making a baby out of bits / That can’t be fixed”? John Donne, consider yourself served.
What makes this song perfect, though, is the fact that even as Michelson explains in no uncertain terms how creating a fresh human would be a terrible, terrible mistake, it’s juxtaposed in the chorus by a shouting choir of children bellowing “I WANT I WANT I WANT I WANT IT!” It’s almost operatic in design, pitting the rational frontal lobes versus the horny reptile brain with competing and overlapping melodies, set off by a glorious guitar break that’s clearly two solos laid one over the other (which is the exact same cheat I’d try to get away with when I was making songs on my little four-track recorder and wanted to appear to be a halfway competent player).
There’s perhaps another reason that it cuts me so deeply: the song neatly captures all of my own completely reasonable concerns about potential fatherhood (my age; my certainty that I’d be an impatient, moody, easily-distracted parent; genes that, if they were in a job interview, would receive a polite email thanking them for their interest but explaining that unfortunately they “are not what we’re looking for at this time”) versus the fierce me-want-kids urge rumbling in my brain stem every time I think of my perfect and much-beloved nephews, encounter my friends’ entertaining offspring, or see adorable childhood photos of my beautiful girlfriend. So maybe it’s actually the best Valentine’s Day song of all.
After ‘Ghostbusters’, obviously.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2011: I missed a bunch of dates in February, possibly because I wanted to avoid choosing a Valentine’s song. Or, more likely, I was ill. Anyway, let’s arbitrarily go back to Feb 10 and Throwing Muses’ ‘Counting Backwards’, shall we?
Justification: I alluded to this in my post for the Happy Mondays’ ‘Kinky Afro’, but it’s even more true in this case: every so often there’s a song by a band you are broadly indifferent toward – or worse still, actively dislike – that is just undeniably awesome. In my oh-so-indie youth I buried those songs deep and listened to them furtively in the privacy of my bedroom, as though enjoying Jimi Hendrix‘s Smash Hits was as shameful as the dog-eared copies of Men Only hidden in the space underneath my bottom drawer (yes, kids, that’s what teenagers did with our porn in those dark, pre-internet days), but these days I’m prepared to shrug and say “look, I really don’t like Kasabian as a rule, I think their songs are as vacuous and empty as the rest of their Razorlight/Kaiser Chiefs contemporaries and they seem like dicks in interviews – but this song kills.”
I get this even more with the Kaisers where I genuinely think they’re idiots and their albums are, by and large, half-baked crapfests – but their singles are almost always superb. It sometimes gives me pause, yes, but it means their festival sets are freakin’ amazing.
This is a great video too, courtesy of the directorial team Alex & Martin who did the White Stripes‘ ‘Seven Nation Army’.
I should add that there are very, very few songs with a loping floor-tom-heavy shuffle rhythm that I don’t like. Man, glam rock would have totally hit me where I lived.
Oh, and I’ve decided that the “I’m the king and she’s my queen – bitch!” line is a sly reference to Bowie, what with the glam stomp and all, and not just a stupid line by a stupid man. And no, I don’t wish to be corrected.
SONG YOU SHOULD HAVE REDISCOVERED THIS TIME IN 2010: Speaking of bands that it took me a long time to admit liking, it’s Pink Floyd with their debut single ‘Arnold Layne’.
Justification: I was going to take today off for SYSRTBIIA, because I’m a lot tired and a little hungover, but this song was circling through my head on an endless loop all night and I think this might be the only way to exorcise it. I’ve only seen ABO once (at the Factory Theatre around the time this was released) and only caught the end of their set, which fortunately included an absoutely barnstorming version of this. Amazing song.
Now, song, get the hell out of my head.
THIS TIME IN 2010: Kraftwerk were getting all icily Teutonic with ‘The Model’.
Justification: Because I’m still tired and a little bit stinky from a wonderful weekend surrounded by friends, nature and amazing music at the Golden Plains festival in Victoria, I’m just going to go with the song that I have circling around my head. See, the Hold Steady are important to men like me, as I have explained elsewhere, and although the last album really, really didn’t work for me at all (as I have also explained elsewhere) I was still determined to throw myself into a state of hold steadydom for their set on Saturday, which involved drinking a lot and then hugging my fellow Men Of A Certain Age. Which meant my friend Scotty, basically, since he was the only one I could find in time to drag into the fray.
The newer material was, as predicted, not dramatically improved live – but when then went into the back catalogue it all came flooding back, and never have I loved ‘Chips Ahoy!’ more. Oh, Craig, make the next album a powerful return to form, please. We middle-aged men need someone speaking for us.
THIS TIME IN 2010: We celebrated the beginning of the end of the Pixies with ‘Dig for Fire’.
Justification: Yeah, that whistling riff is now in your head. It’s not going anywhere, so you may as well get used to it. Everyone likes the damn thing: cred-heavy music site Pitchfork declared it the fifth best song of 2006, while at the other end of the spectrum it’s being covered by James Blunt. And it’s just so damned infectious.
Three things were clear when I saw them play this live when they were in Australia for Laneway a few years ago:
1. The whistling riff is pre-recorded, thereby removing the risk of having a whistle-killing giggling fit – which I’ve always thought must be a very real hazard with these sorts of songs.
2. Peter Bjorn & John are really, really good live (although one of them wasn’t on that tour for some reason – I think it was John), and
3. In the absence of Concretes frontperson Victoria Bergsman, Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell did the lady vocals and, for the only time during the festival, appeared to not be actively hating every second. Dear god, woman, if you hate playing with your band so damn much, why don’t you get a desk job?
Apparently Bebban from the Shout Out Louds has subbed for Bergsman too, which I would very much like to hear. Speaking of which, Shout Out Louds bassist Ted Malmros directed the video.
Hell of a song. And you’ll be so sick of it in about four days as it gets spun endlessly on your mental jukebox. Sorry, but it ain’t going anywhere.
Justification: Ah, would that all musical fuck-yous sounded this good. The (almost certainly apocryphal) story is that Hot Chip’s breakthrough single was initially written in response to a negative live review that claimed that they were too laid back live and that their music was relentlessly repetitive – hence the title and repeated refrain of “Laid back? We’ll give you laid back”. Then again, since the band have cited their fondness for the Danish pop band Laid Back, it’s possible that the story of the review was a complete fiction and the band were actually making a sly homage to an influence. Either way, it’s a hell of a song and was given a far more muscular arrangement when it brought down the house early on in their recent live sets – and the inventive and playful video clip helps a lot too. Not bad for a bunch of nerds, really.