Saturday, 8 December 2012

Gonna change my way of thinkng

After books and albums, individual songs

1 I Feel Fine - The Beatles

I grew up with The Beatles.  Almost literally.  We had a radiogram, a vast plywood cabinet with a valve radio on the left, full of the sorts of dials that said Hilversum and Luxembourg, and a record player concealed by a sliding door on the right.  It was one of those record players that you could stack a bunch of singles on the spindle and sit back while they played in order, dropping with a dull thud onto the turntable.  It scared the hell out of me.

Dad got it about the same time he got me, so there were no records before the middle of 1963.  What we did have was a run of Beatles singles and EPs, She Loves You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, the Twist and Shout and All My Loving EPs, Can't Buy Me Love and We Can Work It Out.  We did have some other singles, including my all time favourite, Fuzzy Wuzzy Wuz A Bear (on orange vinyl, 78rpm) and other things like the theme from Fireball XL5 and the Flintstones (another on orange vinyl that met a sad end when I sat on it and cracked it).

I Feel Fine didn't enter my consciousness until the sixth form when the BBC showed a season of Beatles movies over Christmas 1979.  I watched the Shea Stadium film and heard I Feel Fine there and on Radio 1 a day or so later.  I couldn't get it out of my head (I'd had a similar reaction to Nowhere Man a few years before) and decided, in the way that you do, to hear some more Beatles.  It led to buying Magical Mystery Tour a few weeks later and the rest, as they say, is history.

2 Refugee - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Having listened to a whole range of stuff from 1980 up to 1985, I think I was ripe for discovering Tom Petty, so to speak.  I hadn't knowingly heard of any of his songs to this point, although I did see the video for Stop Dragging My Heart Around in about 1981 but didn't pay it much attention.  After the UK end of Live Aid had ground to a halt, the US end got in full swing and the first act post Wembley was Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

My first impression was of how weird he looked.  My second impression was how great the song was.  I haven't changed that opinion since.  Refugee is a great song and the Live Aid version was, and perhaps still is, my favourite version of it.  Having seen him live twice (once backing Dylan and once on his own tour), I can confirm he is a consummate performer and definitely one to go and see.  Oh, and he has a sense of humour, which is a good thing in the Sellar and Yeatman meaning of the phrase.

3 It Makes No Difference - The Band

The BBC used to have a themed night of rock music on BBC2 once a year.  One year they showed The Last Waltz.  I had already heard of The Band, and had a couple of albums by them, but I didn't listen to them much because they didn't quite connect with me.  I think I wanted something a bit more rocky at the time and this was quite old fashioned music played in an unassuming and modest way.  The Band did not shout look at me.  They whispered come inside and have a listen.

It wasn't until I saw the film of their 1976 farewell concert that I "got" The Band.  The interview sections certainly helped.  What perhaps helped even more was this song.  It is one of the rare love songs they recorded.  It's a tear jerker, sung in the plaintive voice of Rick Danko.  The Band were five times blessed: they had three of the greatest voices of rock music, they had five of the greatest musicians, one of the greatest songwriters, had one of the luckiest breaks when they were invited to back Bob Dylan and got Martin Scorcese to film their break up gig.  The Last Waltz is the best concert film bar none that I have ever seen.  And this song is, in my opinion, the best bit of the entire show.

4 As Cool As I Am - Dar Williams

Try as I might, I cannot fnd the original, more rocky version, of this song on YouTube.  So I've had to put an acoustic version on instead which slightly negates what it was that drew me to the song in the first place.  It is quite a bouncy little number, folky rather than country though I discovered it through the defunct music channel CMTEurope.  It's also rather ambiguous, deliberately so in places.  Make your own mind up.

Dar Williams is moderately successful in the US and little known in the UK.  No hits, no albums that have more than scraped into the bigger record stores, but she deserves better, I think, because she writes intelligent songs, songs that have a point other than to sell songs.  Therefore she has no chance of being successful, you'd think.  Well, I can't see her having a hit but you never know.  Stranger things have happened, but with the charts pretty much made up of forgettable pieces of fluff, and the odd bit of grit, it's unlikely. 

5 IDTTYWLM - Loudon Wainwright III

Even worse that the Dar Williams clip, the one I wanted wasn't on YuTube either, and nor is one of the great Loudo playing and singing this song available.  Instead, you have the album version, played on piano, rather than the fantastic guitar arrangement that I first heard on the Old Grey Whistle Test in 1983.  I include this song here because it just lit up my laughter neurons at a time when I wasn't finding too much to laugh about and I feel I can alwys go back to it and get that same warm and fuzzy feeling each and every time I hear it. 

Loudon Wainwright has been a very productive man: singer, songwriter, new Bob Dylan, actor (in MASH no less), wit, raconteur, husband to a famous folk singer, father to two more singers.  How does the man fit it all in a still have time to make jokes.  Find and listen to his Talking New Bob Dylan, then go and buy the album. 

I think humour is very important.  I'm glad there is someone who makes funny songs out of the grim reality of modern life.

Honorary mention

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