Today I Are Be Mostly Listening To...


2. Nov. 2006, 16:23

And for contrast, here's a post about the ifteen songs I'm listening to almost obsessively right now. I don't know that these songs will be the ones that are my top fifteen for the week, but I'd be shocked if they weren't. I've listened to all of these multiple times today.

Cherry Picker is a track I've been listening to over and over. Most of the stuff by Candypants that I've heard before has been powerpop, guitar-based stuff, but this is soft-pop, sounding more like Paul Williams than anyone else. The lyrics are biting, reminiscent of Ray Davies - a portrait of an older man who spends his life chasing after young women. "How's that ticker, cherry picker?/Gee, you must work out a lot". Candypants are one of the very best pop bands out there, and I just love this track to bits - it's available from their myspace, but I'm getting their album the second I'm able (it's on emusic).

Acoustic - GF / DG - BD is a rare live performance by XTC, an acoustic medley of three songs. Two of these songs (Great Fire and Big Day) are among my favourites by the band, while the other (Dear God) is possibly the worst song they ever recorded. However, the performance is so strong that even that song sounds very listenable in this context. This makes me yearn for an XTC Unplugged album, just to hear more of these songs freed from the sometimes-dodgy 80s production values on the albums, as well as for the fact that the guitar playing on this is absolutely gorgeous.

Wagons West is a tricky song to write about - as many of you know, The National Pep are my band. I co-wrote it and played most of the instruments, so it could look like ego making me listen to this. In fact, I'm listening for reasons that are nothing to do with me. Laura and Tilt's vocal blend (an accident - the song wasn't written as a duet, and they both recorded separate solo lead vocals) is just gorgeous and lifts the song far beyond what I imagined for it.

Wax Minute is a song I'd overlooked for a long time, even though I've been listening to a lot of Michael Nesmith and The Monkees recently. When Tilt played it for me, though, I was reminded of a story Elvis Costello tells. He was playing the song Indoor Fireworks to Ricky Skaggs, who was enjoying it until it got to the line "you were the spice of life, the gin in my vermouth", at which point he switched off - country singers don't drink vermouth. In the same way, I'm sure a lot of the reason Nesmith is overlooked within country music is because lines like "those veneers and stately postures wax minute within your sigh/and the taxing way of adjusting to the thoughts which you reveal/only incites me to motion/well that's the crux of your appeal" sound far more like Van Dyke Parks than Kenny Rogers. Musically, this is more than a little reminiscent of In My Life, but it's still an extraordinary song in its own right.

Nows Eternity is the song that means more to me than any other. My wedding was as far from ideal as you could get in most respects. My wife's brother had died a few weeks earlier, and her whole family were still in shock. Add to that the fact that the wedding was in her family's hometown (in the US), while I live in the UK and was taking her back here, that I have a mild phobia of new people at the best of times, and that it was a traditional religious wedding to keep her mother (who I didn't meet til the week of the wedding) happy, which neither of us wanted, and you can begin to imagine how stressful and unhappy the wedding was.
Now, my wife Holly and I met online, and one of the first things I did when I started to get to know her was make her an MP3 compilation CD, including Stew and The Negro Problem, and they'd become as much favourites of hers as they are of mine, and so I decided to do at least one thing to make the wedding enjoyable for her. Stew occasionally takes comissions to write songs about people, for Xmas presents and so on, and so various friends (to whom I will always be grateful) and I chipped in to get him to write a song about Holly for our wedding. I didn't tell her about it until the end of our wedding vows, at which point I announced what the song was. I will always remember the look of utter shock and delight on her face as she realised what I was saying, and heard Stew and Heidi singing a song about her.
Even if it didn't have these associations, this song would still be a favourite - Stew really is the best songwriter working today - but as it is, I'll always remember this song as the first thing to make my wife smile in our marriage.

Rhapsody In Blue Part 1 and Paul Whiteman are great MP3s I found on The very first recording of the piece, with George Gershwin himself on piano, this is an acoustic recording, not even recorded with electrical mics, from a few days after the premiere. It's an edited version of the piece, so it would fit into the 9 minutes on a 78RPM disc, but this is still the closest we can ever come to hearing the piece as it was at the premiere. And it's astonishing. I've always loved the piece anyway, but this is just an astounding recording. This is the piece as it sounded when it wasn't a 'great classic' to be played reverently, but was a new work. This is the original arrangement, played by people from a jazz sensibility rather than classical players, so it's all clanking banjos, honking woodwinds, and screeching muted trumpets, rather than the lush, string-laden thing it is today. It sounds like nothing so much as Carl Stalling's music for the classic Warners cartoons, all dissonant squonks and tempo changes. The Whiteman band were generally thought of as very sedate by jazz fans of the day, but this music is alive in a way that almost nothing is. Download this version now - you'll thank me.

Evil is one of my very favourite tracks by Howlin' Wolf, my favourite electric bluesman. I tend to prefer acoustic blues to electric, preferring Mississippi John Hurt or Charley Patton or Blind Blake to Muddy Waters or B.B. King, but Wolf has one of the most amazing voices of any singer ever - even Captain Beefheart's cover version couldn't match the power of this one.

Dark Globe, on the other hand, is a cover version that is infinitely superior to Syd Barret's original. Stipe's vocal is gentle, fragile, and in tune, and the song sounds much more together, without sacrificing the strangeness of the song.

The town that lost its groove supply is a rockier version than the one that appears on Down With Wilco, sounding more like Scott McCaughey's other band The Young Fresh Fellows. While I prefer the slower album version, this still preserves the lyrics, about a town which literally has lost its groove supply - "The glory that was Maury's Sex Shop is down to its last X/Cardboard boxes line the streets all filled with old T Rex".

Number Nine - The Van Dyke Parks is, of course, a cunning pseudonym for Van Dyke Parks, and this is one of his earliest recordings. A version of Beethoven's Ode To Joy from the Ninth Symphony, rearranged as a jangle pop song, this is a pointer to the genre-mixing he would spend much of his career involved in.

Irk the Purists is Half Man Half Biscuit's finest hour. A song celebrating truly eclectic musical taste, and irritating anyone who dismisses music just because it doesn't fit their preconceptions, its highpoint comes during the breakdown, where, to the tune of Agadoo they sing "Husker Du, du, du, Captain Beefheart,ELO/Chris de Burgh,Sun Ra/Del Amitri,John Coltrane!"
While I can't say I love all those bands, I love the celebration of them all, and anyone who couldn't make a list like that - or even worse, who made a list like that but only included some of them ironically - doesn't really like music. Unless you can admit at least the theoretical possibility of enjoying Dr Hook, J S Bach and Public Enemy, for example, then you probably don't really like music.

Devil Got My Woman is the kind of blues I can listen to even when it's not so great - acoustic delta blues is one of those genres that just sits right with me no matter what. But even without that, I think I'd like this song - Skip James has one of those voices I could listen to all day.

Hello Hello is John Flansburgh from They Might Be Giants covering the Gary Glitter song. The interesting thing is that Flansburgh had never heard the song, and was working from the sheet music, and came to the conclusion that this was a horrible, creepy, evil song, and plays it that way - and this was before Glitter's convictions for child p0rn. This is a really creepy, dark track.

And speaking of creepy lyrics, Male Ego is one of the many Brian Wilson songs to have a frankly disturbing attitude to women, although some of this can no doubt be attributed to co-writer Mike Love. Despite the horrible lyrics, this is still a great track, having a synth-bass strut that could have come right out of The Beach Boys Love You. Brian Wilson would only write one further new song to be released by The Beach Boys - since this, he's concentrated almost exclusively on his solo career and the BBs' albums have been uniformly awful.


  • stealthmunchkin

    And of course has changed Captain Beefheart, ELO into Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, Electric Light Orchestra... Gah

    2. Nov. 2006, 19:10
  • purple_prince

    Wax Minute also has one of the most sublime slide solos on it that I know.

    3. Nov. 2006, 10:59
  • stealthmunchkin

    Yeah, I wrote a longer version of this, actually, which the computer ate, and I talked a lot more about the musical aspect of Nesmith's stuff. I'm planning a long post on the Monkees and solo Nesmith soon, inspired by a comment my friend Tilt made, the first time he heard early Captain Beefheart - he said it sounds like the Monkees. And he's right...

    3. Nov. 2006, 23:04
  • Slighthammer

    I'd be interested in reading anything you've got to write about Mike Nesmith, whose talent is so obvious yet whose pioneering efforts remain overshadowed by the critical obsession with feckless old Gram Parsons. I'm particularly intrigued by the notion that Captain Beefheart owes the Monkees a debt. That is a fascinating idea. Thanks for writing so thoughtfully and thought-provokingly.

    15. Dez. 2006, 15:45
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