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Saturday, 31 March 2012

Top 10 Children's TV Themes

After completing one arduous and self indulgent chart on 'Into the Valley..' I had sworn never to attempt anything similar for at least a decade. But then I read Chris's excellent post on his favourite children's TV themes on moviesandsongs365 and decided I just had to produce my own from that distinctive 'obscure' angle. It's often difficult to differentiate between actually loving the theme or whether you merely loved the programme itself, but with these selections I've done my best to stick with the quality of the music.

10. Casey Jones

A top sing-a-long number for kids in a bygone age. I watched the 70's repeats and unfortunately the programme itself never quite lived up to the theme tune. It was a programme about the exploits of an engineer though, so I guess it's tough to make it that gripping.

9. Welcome Back Kotter

A classic show and a memorable smooth soul theme tune which instantly transports me back to Summer holidays in the 1980's and Heinz tomato soup with cheese for dinner. The song itself reminds me a lot of the later work of Terry Callier; check out 'Ordinary Joe' if you're interested.

8. Rentaghost

I loved the show and still find myself singing the theme tune to this day, usually at inappropriate times. The video brings it all flooding back, but the alleged Ben Stiller inspired Hollywood remake should not be allowed to happen.

7. Marine Boy

There was a time when I fancied myself as a bit of a marine boy; living underwater, impressing mermaids and chucking that boomerang thing at baddies. Come to think of it, it still has a lot of appeal now. The tune is a bonkers mix of vocal harmonies, country & western, and dolphin noises. What more could you want?

6. Battle of the Planets

Possibly the best cartoon series of all time and definitely ahead of its time, with my favourite voice-over/narration style opening sequence. The theme sounds like the tacky music from 'Superstars' with a brilliantly over acted voice-over; 'Dedicated, inseparable, invincible!'

5. Big John Little John

You don't need to know anything else about the show, just listen to the theme tune and you basically know the plot, the back-story and the hilarious hi-jinks that will follow. The world was a simpler place in those days.

4. The Banana Splits

No piece of music fills me with as much optimism and sense of anticipation as the Banana Splits theme. It meant Saturday morning, weird animal costume antics and two cracking cartoons; 'Size of a Grizzly!' Whoever came up with the concept of the Banana Splits was a seriously deranged fellow and I never entirely understood what was going on, but that made it all the more engaging.

3. Help! It's The Hair Bear Bunch

An absolute classic and proof if ever it was needed that the 70's was the coolest decade in all of history. One of the best cartoons ever, but the theme tune is an unforgettable mix of Motown, psychedelia and goofy voices. Nothing even comes close to this standard nowadays.

2. Follyfoot

One of the only shows where I'd listen to the opening theme music and then give it the flick. It's such odd and scary music that never really fitted in with a show about farming and show jumping. For me Follyfoot should have been a children's version of the Wicker Man, but sadly they went for the equestrian angle instead.

1. The Flashing Blade

Undoubtedly the finest theme tune ever. The Flashing Blade was an early Saturday morning experience in the seventies and was a badly dubbed swashbuckling French drama made in the sixties. At one point I would have happily adopted the theme as my own personal anthem, but sadly my swinging from chandelier days are over and now I do blogging, and it somehow doesn't seem that appropriate. I had this vision that one day I'd win an Olympic gold and they'd play the 'Flashing Blade' theme while I stood blubbing on the podium rather than the national anthem. Maybe it could still happen, but perhaps I've left it a little late to start training for this Olympic games.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Folke Larm - Songlines Compilation 2011

One of the most enjoyable CD's I've listened to over the last few months is the excellent Folke Larm compilation presented with Songlines Magazine. This is described on the cover as 'Traditional music from Norway' and features artists from the Nordic Showcase Festival Folkelarm. It all sounds a bit on the dull side but fear not, this is an atmospheric and joyous collection of the best that Scandinavian music has to offer.

The whole thing has a distinct atmosphere and instantly transports you to some bitterly cold forest on the banks of a fjord, possibly in a cabin with a roof made out of turf, with only an open fire to keep you warm and some strips of dried reindeer meat to eat. The soundtrack the compilation provides is part peaceful solitude and part eerie timeless fiddling folk; Folkelarm must be a cracking if slightly unnerving festival to attend.

The songs basically fall into three broad categories. First there's the hardanger fiddle fuelled instrumental tracks that evoke a sense of ancient Viking tradition and dancing around the campfire, an effective example being 'Systerslatt' by Per Anders Buen Garnas. Secondly, there's a range of quirky generic Norwegian folk tunes with a touch of fusion thrown in for a little variety such as 'Koloyni' by Kouame Sereba. However thirdly, and best of all, are the tracks that combine the fiddling atmospheric folk with a stark female vocal. Tracks by Sudan Dudan, Valkyrien Allstars, Hekla Stalstrenga and Tindra are all stunning and sound like a cross between the Wicker Man soundtrack and the music you'd hear in a hobbit bar in the Shire, sung by a sexy, ginger, celtic witch. Ginger is good in any context, but in an attractive, Scandinavian witch it is even better.

The package is fantastically entertaining and good value when you consider it's a freebie. It's definitely achieved it's objective with me as I've already purchased a couple more Scandinavian compilations and 'November' by Annalaug, which I'm looking forward to listening to in the next couple of months. Watch out for the reviews later in the year.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Dillinger Escape Plan - Ire Works 2007

Initially, I can't say that I was that impressed with this. It sounded vaguely like every other Converge type band. Shouty and fairly slow. As with all good music, it has hidden depths.

For starters, other instruments creep into the songs rather than your standard distorted guitar, drums and bass. You get orchestras and even piccolos (possibly). Greg Puciato's vocals aren't just mere shouting either. At times, he sounds strangely similar to Josh Homme in his mellower moments. There's even a bit that's a dead ringer (can you have a dead ringer musically?) for supergroup 'The Sound of Animals Fighting'. Puciato also does a fine line in falsetto 'kick in the chicken nuggets' singing too.

When I watched one of their videos, I was expecting some tattooed grizzled Karrang-a-likes. What you get is a little fella in a suit. Someone who your gran would think was a 'nice young man'.

The best track on there is 'Black Bubblegum' with its mixture of all of the above styles of singing, even though it is not typical of the album. Fairly standard in structure and, dare I say it, catchy. That probably means that I'll hate it in not very long and learn to love some of the other delights on the album. Next best is 'Milk Lizard'. I'll include the video for that, where you can see that the little tinkers had actually hidden their body inkage. Altogtether, it's a great album that will last me for a fair while. (Can't say anyone's that keen when I play it at work though. Quel surprise.)


Saturday, 24 March 2012

Songlines Sampler CD: Bahia

This is a fourteen track free CD sampler presented with Songlines Magazine and it's an absolute godsend for those of us not familiar with the music of the Brazilian region of Bahia. This is one of the largest regions in Brazil and is a cultural melting pot of European, Amerindian and African influences, producing a diverse range of rhythms and musical styles. It has a tropical climate, gold mines and a wealth of artistic and musical treasures.

The CD successfully captures this diversity in the range and vibrancy of the tracks included. Most of the songs sound like they're based on the standard pre-set rhythms from your old Bontempi keyboard, possibly Samba or Bossa Nova, but from that starting point each song is unique and it's own entity. There's quirky female vocals, horns, clapping, smooth male vocals, twangy strings, ethnic drumming and possibly some Guitarra Baiana and maybe a little Surdo Virado (look them up, Brazilian instrument fans).

My favourites are the horn fuelled mayhem of Radiola, the laid back smoothness of Mateus Aleluia and the quirky fun of Marcella Bellas. Basically every track is a winner though.

Yet another endorsement for Songlines. Check them out at

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

All Time Fifty Analysis

And just to complete the All Time 50, it's statistical analysis time! After trawling through the entries it's possibly interesting to no-one but me, however there is a wealth of information about my musical tastes over the years.

The top genres out of the fifty break down as follows; Indie (42%), Techno/Dance (16%), Rock (14%), Pop (10%) and Soul (6%).

The most popular year was surprisingly 2003 with five entries (Metric, Grandaddy, Postal Service, Infected Mushroom and Layo & Bushwacker). The next most popular years were 2001 and 1988 with three entries.

Of all the years since 1980, there were no entries later than 2006. The only other years with no entries were 2002, 1999 and 1981.

Worrying trends however emerged from the top ten with evidence as follows;

And that's not including most of Neutral Milk Hotel at number 2!

I now have to consider the unpleasant truth that I may have a beard fixation. Basically, half of my all time favourite pieces of music were made by middle aged men with (often) bushy beards. The highest placed woman is Isobel Cambell at number 7 and Emily Haines at 13, maybe they should grow beards. It's a sad reflection of myself and possibly society that all minority groups are under-represented, with white boys strumming guitars in the ascendancy. But if I compiled my favourite tracks from the last ten years, I'm sure it would be a much richer, more colourful and diverse collection than this little lot. Don't worry I'm not going to compile any similar charts for at least a decade.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

1. Serious Drinking - Love on the Terraces

If there's one song that sums it all up for me it's 'Love on the Terraces'. It's simple, straightforward, honest and reflects a time before everything became so serious. It's like a lower league version of 'Teenage Kicks', but with football related philosophical undertones, and the trademark 'talky bit' near the end.

Serious Drinking were the self-styled 'third best band in Norwich' in the early eighties, combining punk, ska and indie influences with a cheeky and often humorous lyricism. They were in no way overtly political, but what they had to say really resonated with me and songs like 'World Service', 'Winter's Over' and 'Country Girl' all contained a serious message masked behind the comedy.

I can't put it any better than James Brown on the original sleeve notes to 'Stranger than Tannadice';

"If you now spend Sunday mornings with your head in the papers when you used to spend them with it in a bucket, these notes and songs should remind you of life before maturity gripped. Of an attitude the Drinkers loved to highlight. That alcohol, dancing, football, humour and kissing have always been more pleasurable than career lessons and body building, and you'd do well to remember that."

And so there it is; fifty songs in fifty days and an awful lot of writing and photo-shopping. Here's hoping you enjoyed one or two and now let's get back to what I've been listening to for the last month and a half.

Monday, 19 March 2012

2. Neutral Milk Hotel - In the Aeroplane over the Sea

Only two songs can even bring me anywhere close to tears. The first in 'Electrolite' by REM and the second is 'In the Aeroplane over the Sea'. It's the most exceptional piece of songwriting I've ever heard, but springs from the most unlikely of sources. I really hated 'On Avery Island' and found it virtually unlistenable and to be honest I felt the same about 'In the Aeroplane...' for the first few listens. But then everything clicked into place, and I realised they'd produced an album right on the cusp of genius and disaster. And more by luck and desire than any grand design, it's probably the greatest album ever made.

It's got to be said however, that Jeff Mangum possesses a voice that can shatter glasses, turn milk sour and scare the chickens all at the same time. The music is hardly sparkling and the production is fuzzy, but somehow the will or need for this to be a great album ended in success. It is one of the ultimate triumphs of ambition over lack of ability and I never grow tired of hearing the victory it produced. Apparently it's also a concept album about Anne Frank, but I've never quite understood why this is the case, but if that's where the inspiration came from, then who can knock it?

There are five or six stunning tracks on the album, but the title track says everything you need to know about the record, as well as life, the universe and everything. It was so nearly number one, but there's just one song that resonates more with me. 'When we meet on a cloud, I'll be laughing out loud...'

Sunday, 18 March 2012

3. Eels - Souljacker (Part 1)

When you read Mark Oliver Everett's book 'Things the Grandchildren Should Know', everything becomes so much clearer. In short, he's had a tough life. He goes down into his cellar and produces music as an antidote to the depression caused by the various deaths of his parents and sister that have shaped his very existence. The Eels music come straight from the heart and in the tradition of all the best music, it 'needs' to be made, rather than needs to be made to pay the bills.

And yet nobody likes Eels. The foremost musical genius of the 21st Century and nobody outside my immediate family could care less. Even Evlkeith can't stand him. Reviews state that Everett has been overtaken by bands like The Flaming Lips or Bright Eyes because they compromise and throw in the odd commercial single with their self indulgent musing, but why is this a thing to aspire to? I would go as far as saying that virtually all of Eels output is worthy of being released as a single apart from some of the instrumental tracks on the Levity Soundtrack, and that includes the solo 'E' album, MC Honky and 'Useless Trinkets'. Every Everett song is a polished little parcel of goodness and in a bizarre congruence of views, this is virtually the only thing that myself, wife and daughter of Doccortex actually agree on.

Like a mature Johnny Cash, Dylan in his prime or American Pie with Don Mclean, Mark Oliver Everett is the current voice of American Folk. His albums are always unquestionably Eels albums, but each has its own distinct and wonderful flavour, with the only certainty that his voice will grow gruffer with each release. They record his geeky beginnings (Beautiful Freak), explore his grief (Electro Shock Blues), rock out (Souljacker), produce his magnum opus (Blinking Lights), analyse his passion (Hombre Lobo) and contemplate the end (End Times). The journey has been arduous, but it has taught me so much and I've loved every minute.

So what do you choose as your favourite Eels track when there are so few duffers? 'Guest List' for the Summer holiday memories? The anguish of 'Dead of Winter'? The soundtrack to the Stoke play off victory 'Mr. E's Beautiful Blues'? Or the spooky future predictions of 'End Times'? No it has to be the joyous offbeat, beardy rock classic that is 'Souljacker'. Mark Oliver Everett we salute you.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

4. Leatherface - Razorblades and Asprin

Leatherface sound like no other band and even though they're lumped in with, or are accused of influencing so many other groups, they remain completely unique and genre-less to me. Frankie's voice sounds like he's been gargling with granite all his life and for the uninitiated can be off-putting; whatever gave him the idea that he could be a singer in the first place is beyond me, but thank goodness he gave it a go. Leatherface are essentially the North East of England in sonic form. They are Middlesbrough, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Newcastle all rolled into one and will simultaneously give you a good kicking, slap you on the back and push a meat pie into your face.

To write Leatherface off as simply a racket with distinctive vocals is missing the point however. The quality of the songwriting is up there with the Beatles. Lyrically they are as profound and representative of their time as Bob Dylan, melodically they can rival Enya and for pure fist punching passion they're like an alternative Sunderland version of Bon Jovi. Frankie and the boys are undoubtedly head and shoulders above any other British rock band although they receive little coverage or acclaim.

'Razorblades and Asprin' is a quality if unoriginal choice and is to Leatherface what 'Smells like Teen Spirit' is to Nirvana, but so much better. The world would have been a different place if 'Cherry Knowle' had gone global rather than 'Nevermind'.

Friday, 16 March 2012

5. REM - Electrolite

I've never been one for buying a band's albums as they are released and tend to enjoy jumping about and jumbling the order a little. In the case of REM however, I have tended to buy the albums in sequence and as such they have provided a rich soundtrack for the entirity of my adult life. As a teenager listening to 'Murmur', as a student listening to 'Document', looking for a job to 'Out of Time', getting married to 'Automatic for the People', becoming a dad to 'New Adventures in Hi-fi' and ultimately growing into middle age with 'Around the Sun'. I'm not sure what will happen now they've split up; I was hoping they'd go on forever like the Rolling Stones.

Considering REM have sold millions of albums and are guaranteed stadium fillers, it's surprising that I have never met anyone else who actually likes them. Maybe they just don't admit to it. REM always seem to have existed in their own bubble and have never been part of any scene or movement. For me they are the greatest folk-rock band and Michael Stipe has a voice I never get tired of listening to. They were influential, relevant and apart from 'Accelerate' never produced a duff album.

It's almost an impossible task to pick a single selection to sum up twenty-five years of REM, but in the end I've opted for 'Electrolite' from the chronically under-rated album, 'New Adventures in Hi-Fi'. I'll always remember Daughter of Doccortex being born and coming home and listening to this.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

6. Husker Du - Bed of Nails

I only really listen to the Bob Mould songs on Husker Du albums. I instantly flick all the Grant Hart numbers which I suppose is unfair, but next to Bob's efforts his songs are just not in the same league. There just had to be a Husker Du song in the top ten and I've had real problems selecting my favourite from the countless Mould penned tracks that deserve attention.

In the end I've gone for the song I always come back to from 'Warehouse - Songs and Stories'. 'Bed of Nails' is possibly one of his more depressing outings from the Husker Du years, but nowhere near the all out despondency of 'Black Sheets of Rain'. I love the atmosphere and the lyrics of the song and it coincidentally happened to be the music I was listening to when I heard that an old, unpopular boss had announced his retirement.

I see that Bob has produced several new albums in the last few years - I wonder if they're worth a listen? I love the beard by the way!

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

7. Belle and Sebastian - There's too much love

I missed Belle and Sebastian when they first burst onto the scene. I never really fancied them just because of the name 'Belle and Sebastian' and I'd got it into my head that they were sampling dance producers in a similar vein to Basement Jaxx. It seems odd that I'd never heard anything by them for years, but then someone convinced me I should give them a try because they were just like Arab Strap. With hindsight, I can see where the confusion came from, but it was one of my better decisions when I eventually purchased 'Fold Your Hands Child...' and discovered with some initial disappointment, it was actually nothing like Arab Strab.

Belle and Sebastian have since gone on to a position of unassailable global dominance in the somewhat specialist genre of Scottish-twee-camp-pop. I'd go as far as saying they've produced some of the greatest musical moments of this century and despite the law of diminishing returns kicking in recently, continue in their own little niche world of cardigans, horlicks and literary verse.

The five best things about Belle and Sebastian are:

1. They stick to the plan! No matter what happens they will produce twee-camp-pop tunes. They will never experiment with rappers, samples or mandolins. Sticking to the plan is always a good thing.

2. The fact that Stuart Murdoch always has to sing. And not just backing vocals. Even in the songs that are perfectly suited to the voice of Isobel Cambell for example, where she's doing a cracking job, he invariably has to chip in somewhere.

3. The Storytelling Soundtrack. Apparently they were too late finishing the recording, so they didn't actually put the soundtrack on the film, but the album is a gloriously ramshackle collection of cinematic misfits.

4. The secure knowledge that they will always retain a mid-table birth in Division two of the League Championships of Pop Music.

5. 'There's Too much Love'. My favourite Belle and Sebastian track is a blissful combination of Murdoch's vocals, tinkling piano and orchestral strings. If Isobel Campbell had been allowed to sing on it as well, it could have been even higher in the chart.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

8. Mega City Four - Twenty One Again

In the early nineties I was trudging around Hull pretending to be an accountant, which has got to be one of the most depressing career/location combinations in the known universe. One of the few things that kept me going to the office was a C90 tape with The Fastbacks on one side and 'Tranzophobia' by Mega City Four on the other. I'd listen to it on an old Phillips Walkman usually in the rain, sometimes on the bus and occasionally on the way to Cooplands to buy my dinner.

The Mega City Four produced a blueprint for so many modern day bands, but hardly receive a mention, let alone any credit. Admittedly most of their current imitators are rubbish, and they may even have to claim some responsibility for Blink 182, but that's missing the point. MC4 took the Husker Du template and turned it into something undeniably British, something a little rough around the edges, but ultimately a thing of beauty that didn't exist before they existed.

Although slightly dated now, 'Tranzophobia' is one of the greatest albums ever made. There are no boring slow numbers, they included some great samples and virtually every song starts with a '1,2,3,4'. 'Twenty One Again' is a rip-roaring tale of loneliness and lost love that instantly bathed Hull in beams of imaginary sunshine and positively, and for that reason alone it deserves to be in the top ten.

The Fastbacks were brilliant too now I come to think about it.

Monday, 12 March 2012

9. New Model Army - Poison Street

Proof if ever it was needed that music can bring back memories of sad and stressful times as well as happy ones. Just as Grandaddy evokes memories of happiness, unfortunately New Model Army will always be associated with tough times and illness. The song itself is almost a rallying call for strength and resilience and although tinged with melancholy, hearing it again is strangely still a positive experience.

'Poison Street' is typical New Model Army; uncompromising, intelligent and political. Clogs, long black coats and Joolz. I read recently on a forum that a guy was gutted that he would have to stop attending their gigs as they were too dangerous for him, now he was 65! I guess that's the kind of devotion you can expect if you stick to your principles.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

10. Morrissey - You Have Killed Me

What can you write about Morrissey that hasn't already been said? And let's be honest, whatever I say is not going to change your mind one way or the other from its disposition of love/hate. The man is a peculiar modern day icon and possibly the most interesting middle aged man in Britain at the moment, but he definitely divides opinion as soon as his name is mentioned.

I used to like the Smiths, and to an extent I still do, but over the last few years I've started to enjoy Morrissey's solo output much more than his legendary collaboration with Johnny Marr. I honestly never thought I'd see the day when I'd say this, but it's true. Maybe it's because I can empathise with his mid-life paranoia, but I love the bitter, twisted and angry Morrissey far more than the poetic, lovelorn wordsmith he once was. I think the seeds of bitterness were first sewn in 'Your Arsenal' and rose to the giddy heights of 'You are the Quarry' and most recently 'Years of Refusal.' The mature Morrissey tells it how it is and is more relevant because of that attitude.

What do you pick as your favourite Morrissey track though? I could easily produce a list of thirty to forty of his songs that I'd consider worthy of entry into my all time chart, but in the end I've gone for 'You have Killed Me' from 'Ringleader of the Tormentors'. Ironically this is possibly is 'happiest' album, but I just love the unashamed passion and emotion of the song. A work of genius.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

11. The Redskins - Lean on Me

The Redskins famously once said that they wanted to walk like the Clash but sing like the Supremes. I'm not sure they ever really achieved either, but thank god they didn't want to sing like the Clash, (or walk like the Supremes). On the plus side Chris Dean's soul-stomp combo have not dated in the least since the heady days of the early eighties and retain that unique combination of sweet soul and harder packaging that they aspired to.

I taped the first Redskins Peel session and instantly fell for the commitment and power of the band. The soul element was underplayed in those initial songs, but when I later borrowed the album from a friend down our street, all the pieces came together in a tight package of left wing northern soul punkiness. Is it my memory or was the album originally called 'Neither Washington Nor Moscow...but International Socialism'? The International Socialism bit seems to have been erased from history for some reason. Needless to say, whatever it's called, this was one of the greatest albums of all time for me. Chris Dean apparently now lives a reclusive life in Paris, which is basically what all former pop stars should do in my opinion.

'Lean on Me' is a minor miracle of horns, guitars, harsh drums and gritty vocals. There's something about the song which makes you slightly disappointed when it's over, even with the false ending, and I'd be happy if they'd produced a twenty-five minute version to save me flicking back to the start of the track. A song that will live with me until the day I die.

Friday, 9 March 2012

12. Erasure - Breath of Life

This section of the chart from twenty down to eleven seems to have become very camp very quickly with first Eurovision, then the B52's and now Erasure, and it's another admittedly odd choice. I've got to say I'm a tad embarrassed to put Erasure so high in the chart, but how can you not love Vince Clarke in camp synth-pop mode with Andy Bell on vocals?

Vince Clarke finally settled down in Erasure after all his previous incarnations. I saw them twice in the period before they were popular and I was never in any doubts they would go on to become superstars. I'm not sure they ever reached the giddy heights of super-stardom, but at least they were popular and made a good living. Although they're still going strong, Erasure have dated badly since the heady days of the late eighties, but at the time this unlikely duo were at the cutting edge; sitting somewhere between Bronski Beat and New Order.

'Breath of Life' is the best song from the seriously under-rated Chorus LP and shows Vince at his euro-synth-pop best with Andy crooning with a passion rarely seen outside Soul music (or Eurovision). I remember listening to it on various long and boring trips down to Kent and it just about kept me going; surely Vince Clarke is headed for the 'Into the Valley' Hall of Fame sometime soon?

Thursday, 8 March 2012

13. Metric - IOU

It's a sad reflection of the modern day music business that there are so few 'current' artists in my all time fifty, so it's a treat for me to present Metric as high in the chart as number 13. It's the voice that does it for me. Emily Haines has an individual singing style and gorgeous accent that combine to make even the most random lyrics sound profound and beautiful.

She's equally at home singing the Metric brand of indie rock or the more laid back and introspective numbers in her solo incarnation with the Soft Skeleton. I was in two minds which way to go with the selection, but in the end I had to go for a Metric song as they have provided my with so much pleasure over the last few years. Having said that I have certain reservations about the lyrical content of their records as I have no idea whatsoever what they are talking about. Needless to say Emily always pulls it round with her vocal chords and for the duration of each song it all seems to make perfect sense.

'IOU' is the perfect example, with a seemingly ramshackle and random collection of words, ideas and phrases converted into a masterpiece with the mere flexing of the Haines tonsils and an injection of that accent. She's up there with Eliza Carthy for me as the best folk/rock singer of this generation and with a new album out this year I'm already starting to hyperventilate with anticipation.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

14. System of a Down - Deer Dance

When I'm in the mood there's nothing better than a blast of System of a Down. At their best they are a ferocious, rocking beast with a strong sense of political awareness and topped off with the breathtaking voice of Serj Tankian. Unlike most 'traditional' rock bands, SOAD don't bore me to tears after about thirty seconds and manage to bring something different to the table. Maybe it's the naive joy that seems to exude from their music, perhaps it's the Eastern European slant on the rock template, or maybe it's the overtly political content of the lyrics. But System of a Down definitely break the mould.

There is one small downside however, they either seem to make cracking songs or rubbish songs and very little in between. I'm a bit 'all or nothing' myself and I kind of like the element of 'gamble' in listening to one of their tracks. Having said this, 'Toxicity' is possibly one of the most consistent albums ever made, and gave birth to my favourite System of a Down number; 'Deer Dance' is a political tour de force with plenty of shouting and vocal noodle-doodling from Serj. The guitarist also manages not to sing, which is always a bonus.

15. Johnny Cash - Big River

Growing up in the Cortex household we had a limited choice of vinyl listening matter to choose from. Most people can state that their parents' record collection got them hooked on some critically acclaimed musical genre or artist, for instance Motown, Phillip Glass, Iggy Pop or Jimi Hendrix. Sadly for myself and Evlkeith Cortex, we had little more to choose from than The Tremeloes, The Baron Knights, Apache by the Shadows, A Girl called Dusty and variety of K-Tel bargain bin compilations from the seventies. In short Father Cortex put more importance on the price of a record than it's actual quality.

However, in this nightmarish collection was one saving grace; a scratched and battered copy of 'Live a Folsom Prison' by Johnny Cash which had somehow managed to inveigle its way into the collection. To be honest, I was never that keen at the time, but with so few options it was a massive improvement on listening to Hank Marvin strum his way through 'Apache' again. And at some point between then and now I actually started to like Johnny Cash.

Johnny sounded mean and tough for a Country singer. He played to prisons, sang about shooting people and used bad language in-between songs; what's not to like? Johnny wasn't the kind of Country singer that did line dancing, yodelling or wore a pantomime cowboy outfit; in the context of my Dad's record collection he was Johnny Rotten, Marilyn Manson or Ice Cube.

It's ironic that none of my favourite Cash tracks come from Folsom. I really love some of the darker songs on his later albums, but my all-time favourite has to be 'Big River' from 'Live at San Quentin. From the rumble of applause, "Hello I'm Johnny Cash, alright!" into the hell for leather tale river travel to its concluding guitar strums, the whole thing takes less than two minutes. But it's a better two minutes than most artists have even dreamt of creating and way better than anything the Baron Knights ever made.

Monday, 5 March 2012

16. The B52's - Private Idaho

The B52's were my gateway into alternative music and but for a cricket obsessed father and draconian licensing laws, I would never have heard them in the first place. In the 1970's and early eighties I would regularly watch my dad play cricket for our village team and after the game he would go to the pub with his team mates for a couple of pints. Parents today do not generally leave unaccompanied children in cars outside pubs in less than salubrious parts of South Yorkshire, but what the hell this was the seventies, so I'd be sat in the car on my own for a couple of hours while my dad went boozing. If I was lucky I got a bag of crisps. If I was really lucky I got a shandy. I never got both.

So I sat and listened to the radio. I'm not sure what the show was, but it played a different kind of music to the stuff I'd seen on Multi-coloured Swap Shop. It was vaguely alternative and showcased the likes of Nick Lowe, Kraftwerk, Dave Edmonds, Stiff Little Fingers and the B52's, and I began to really enjoy this weird new world of music I'd discovered.

The B52's became an instant favourite and although my school mates thought I was mad, I just couldn't get enough of the kitsch, beehive toting band from Athens, Georgia. There are so many tracks I could have selected, but ultimately I've gone for 'Private Idaho' from the Wild Planet LP. It's got the trademark twangy guitar, the kooky keyboard, the wailing girls and Fred's snarling vocals. In this original video make sure you check out his yellow trousers, admire the big bouffant hair-does and Cindy is one hell of a mover too!

Sunday, 4 March 2012

17. Tina Karol - Show Me Your Love

It seems appropriate that I'm writing this piece on the day that the UK announced Engelbert Humperdinck as the 2012 entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. I am an unashamed fan of the whole Eurovision circus and start to get a little giddy at this time of year for the forthcoming festivities. That's not to say that I spend all my time listening to cheesy Euro-pop numbers, rather that I enjoy an intensive couple of weeks listening to all the entries with the added incentive that I may make some money by backing the winner.

Eurovision is a fun filled festival of frothy Euro frivolity, but the UK media seem to have taken against it, basically because we don't win every year. The reason we don't win is because we enter useless songs and other countries actually put some time and effort into their selections. All the talk of political and block voting is a myth and a result of our xenophobia. Sadly, our nation's inadequacies mean that we see it as a chance to put one over 'Johnny Foreigner' and we end up missing the whole point; that it's just a bit of fun!

In every Eurovision there is a track where an attractive young woman, usually from Eastern Europe, wears an enticing costume and is backed by some traditional dancers for a right old thigh slapping, boot stomping knees up. 'Show me your Love' is the archetypal Eurovision entry of this kind and easily the best Eurovision song of the last twenty years. Tina Karol has a sexy accent as thick as condensed treacle, the obligatory short skirt and boots ensemble, a group of skipping Kosak style dancers and one hell of a fine pair of lungs on her, (just listen to the stadium busting long note near the end for proof.) Thighs are slapped, boots are stomped and there's even an excruciating little wink and thumbs up to camera towards the end of the performance. If this doesn't convince you that Eurovision is a good thing then I'm not sure if anything will.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

18. The Soup Dragons - Whole Wide World

The early Soup Dragons singles were a blissful combination of C86 style jangle-pop and Buzzcocks vocals with a Scottish twang. At the time I couldn't imagine anything better and bought all the singles and EP's religiously in their vinyl form. It would all end in tears a few years later when the band got all 'baggied up' for their big commercial hit 'I'm Free', but for the briefest period of time in the late eighties the Soup Dragons were the coolest group in the world.

For this reason I decided I had to go and see them live, so I fixed up to stay with a friend and travelled the short distance from Middlesbrough to Sheffield to see them in action. It was probably the best concert I've ever attended, but to call it a 'concert' is possibly over-egging the pudding. Sheffiled Poly provided a dark, sweaty medium sized room and Sean and the boys did their stuff with hardly a pause for breath. It was a near spiritual experience for me at the time and even though the whole venture ended up costing me a substantial chunk of my grant money I was on cloud nine for a couple of weeks. I even bought a t-shirt, which subsequently shrank in the wash, but you can't have everything.

It was a bit of a three way toss up between 'Hang Ten', 'Girl in the World' and 'Whole Wide World', but ultimately I was won over by the latter's campest of the camp vocals, wall of sound style production values and classic ending. It doesn't outstay its welcome either. Forget their later work and 'This is our Art' and remember them fondly for the first few records.

Friday, 2 March 2012

19. Grandaddy - El Caminos in the West

I love Grandaddy's quirky take on American Lo-Fi, but this song is included for different reasons altogether. If I was picking one of their songs on merit it would have come from the science fiction meanderings of the Sophtware Slump like 'Miner at the Dial-a-view' or the eerily beautiful tale of office based team building exercises that is 'The Group Who Couldn't Say' from Sumday. But ultimately the selection is 'El Caminos in the West' and here's why...

There are very few times in your life when you are truly happy and you actually recognise the feeling at the time, but in about 2003 I experienced that brief sense of euphoria and Grandaddy was the soundtrack. It was the school holidays and I'd taken Daughter of Doccortex to Roundhay Park in Leeds for the day to visit Tropical World. On the way back we got lost somewhere on the outskirts of Leeds. My usual reaction in these situations is not pleasant, but at that very moment Mark and Lard played 'El Caminos in the West' on the radio, (the tape player was broken.)

And in the sunshine, after a lovely day, accompanied by a beautiful daughter, lost in a northern town and listening to sub-standard hi-fi equipment, I experienced the heady sensation of happiness. I'm not sure why, but I could almost reach out an touch it. I can relive the moment whenever I hear this song and that's reason enough to launch Grandaddy into the top 20.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

20. Done Lying Down - Just a Misdemeanour

Into the top twenty and the first of the big guns is Done Lying Down. This came from the album John Austin Rutledge and I was always surprised at how slightly odd and out of tune all the other songs on the record sounded. In the case of 'Just a Misdemeanour' the band hit the bullseye, with a raw, energy packed epic reminiscent of an early Nirvana, but with leanings more towards the indie end of the spectrum.

Done Lying Down prove the theory that it's better to be famous for one piece of pure quality than hundreds of bits of mediocrity. Take note U2, Coldplay, etc!