Sunday, December 03, 2006

Number 25: The Wedding Present

3 Songs EP [Corduroy/Crawl/Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)] (RCA PB44029)

Chart debut:
29 Sep 1990

Writers: David Gedge; David Gedge; Steve Harley

Anyone who knows how I chose the title for this blog might not be surprised to see this band crop up. In fact, they seem almost tailor-made for this blog: plenty of Top 40 entries to choose from (19 to date) and yet few if any that are familiar to the casual listener, with the possible exception of 'Kennedy'. More people, it's fair to say, have heard of David Gedge and his ever-changing band of indie romantics than actually heard them.

This also has the honour of being our first EP entry, and as the title implies it contains the three songs listed above (a limited-edition 10" version added a live version of 'Take Me'). It was their second collaboration with Steve Albini, after the re-recorded single of Brassneck issued at the start of the same year - the union was ultimately consummated when Albini recorded the band's most acclaimed album, Seamonsters.

Corduroy was the nominal lead track, and the only song to be used on an album: it was re-recorded for Seamonsters. It finds Gedge in fairly typical lyrical territory, addressing a lover who has spurned him and returned - he coincidentally takes the part of the other man in this situation on their next single 'Dalliance'. The strength here is in the contained anger, noisy but taut guitars and Gedge's deadpan vocal; the effect is as though he's taken a deep breath and decided to say what he has to say to her, rather than just exploding in anger. The chorus contains some intriguing imagery - he wants to show her a photo, but "It's not from that day - I threw all those away." We can probably surmise as much as we need to from that line about what that day was. Like many of the best lyrics, what he doesn't say says as much as what he does.
The original EP recording is for my money the definitive reading of the song - as those familiar with Albini's work will expect, it's a very minimalist arrangement, but the band themselves play their hearts out - in particular, Simon Smith's drums really hit home. He's presumably also responsible for the very loud "CRACK!" sound at 2:43 that I almost regret mentioning here because it won't surprise anyone who reads this. Mind you, if you've got the song on vinyl, you can see it in the groove anyway.
By comparison, the album track (same line-up, same engineer, same studio) seems to lose something, although perhaps it fits the sound of the rest of the LP a little better.

Crawl is for me the real joy of the package, not only because it's the least familiar of the three songs here - although ironically enough it was the track that got the video made for it, issued on the old VHS tape *Punk and usually available at this helpful fansite. It makes something of a break from their other music of this era, opening with a deftly-strummed acoustic guitar, though the tension is soon racked up by the entry of the rhythm section. Gedge's lyrics are still more impressionistic here, to the extent that it's hard to paraphrase at all. I don't know where he is, but I'm glad I'm not there with him - even if "everyone here could be a millionaire" they don't sound like the sort you'd want to be around. It's not at all clear what the vantage point is, or even whether all the lines are coming from the same person but somehow the mystery helps draw the listener in. The last words before the instrumental outro are "'There were some things I had to do'/Say that again and I'll kill you." [my punctuation].

Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) is possibly the most familiar track here; it is of course a cover of Cockney Rebel's 1975 Number One, and perhaps at the record company's insistence it was the track chosen for their second Top Of The Pops performance. This might explain why this was one of the few Wedding Present single releases to peak in its second chart week (with thanks to Polyhex). The band thrash their way through the song effectively, and the electrified recasting of Jim Creegan's Spanish guitar solo is entertaining enough, but this isn't the best of their many cover versions. And does it really make sense for Gedge to complain that somebody's "Brought the Rebel to the floor"?

Seamonsters appeared in 1991 to critical acclaim and became the band's only Top 20 studio album. Founding guitarist Pete Solowka left soon afterwards, and 1992 saw the band make history with their twelve consecutive hit singles in as many months. After that, however, the band seemed to slip off the radar, with two and a half further albums selling mostly to fans before a temporary split in January 1997. Gedge revived the name in 2004, in time for one last Peel session, and released the excellent but largely overlooked Take Fountain album in 2005.

Official website:
YouTube if you want to: Crawl video.
Where to get it: The digitially remastered version of Seamonsters includes all the studio tracks from the EP, so you can decide for yourself which 'Corduroy' is better. The new Ye Ye: Best Of The RCA Years collection has 'Make Me Smile'. Sadly the live 'Take Me' appears only on the deleted US compilation Singles 1989-1991, available only from Scopitones at time of writing.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Metapost: Moving pictures

A new post in imminent but in the meantime I've added a few YouTube links to the existing entries. Ironically enough, I've had some difficulties with Blogger's editing software while trying to do this - hey Google, it's your product I'm plugging - and I have to extend my apologies to the Undertones, who I don't think ever made a video for the song I chose, McAlmont, who seems too obscure and Squeeze and the Supernaturals whose names produce too many false positives.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Number 26: Crowded House

Four Seasons In One Day (Capitol CL 655)

Chart debut: 20 Jun 1992

Writers: Neil Finn, Tim Finn.

I never said I was trying to be cool, did I? I make no apologies at all for liking this track, although it's one that might not qualify entirely under my self-imposed rule of picking relatively little-known tracks, since it appears on two big-selling albums (details below, as ever). But it was a relatively low-selling single and it's the sort of thing that I imagine some people might not think to listen to.
So, we know the basics. Neil Finn, ex-Split-Enz, formed Crowded House with Nick Seymour and Paul Hester (the latter also a member of the final Enz line-up) and enjoyed a massive international hit with 'Don't Dream It's Over'. After the slightly less impressive performance of the second Crowded House album, the songs written for a third were considered insufficient by their record company; enter the elder Finn brother, Tim (who had of course founded Split Enz) and a batch of songs the pair had written for an album they were working on with former Beach Boy/Rutle Ricky Fataar. After a slow start (thanks to the ill-advised choice of 'Chocolate Cake' as lead single) the resultant Woodface album proved to be a major breakthrough for the band in the UK, spawning their first Top 20 success with Neil Finn's 'Fall At Your Feet' and their only Top 10 hit 'Weather With You' - the latter coming from the Finn Brothers project though, ironically, by the time the 45 appeared Tim Finn had already left.

This then became the fourth single from an album that had been available for some time, possibly accounting for is less than stellar chart performance. Like its predecessor, it's a song about depression; and with hidsight it's impossible not to associate that with drummer Hester, whose own problems sadly led him to take his own life in 2005. The obvious difference is in the mood - whereas 'Weather With You' belies its dark subject matter with a big singalong, this burrows into it; I suppose you could argue that whilst this song describes the wide arcs of different emotions for the sufferer (ie, the four seasons), the depiction of them depends on the other song. What we hear is very much the ghostly side of Crowded House, with Neil Finn's lead vocal sounding curiously isolated at the top of an arrangement that's actually quite complex but uses dynamics cleverly to sound sparse. Peter Paphides' sleeve notes to the Recurring Dream compilation compare the high backing vocals to vultures surrounding a corpse, but perhaps they're also one of the first audible nods to the band's Antipodean origins (though this track was apparently recorded in Los Angeles). More conventional harmony appears only on the chorus (at least, the nearest equivalent this song has to one) bolstering the mysterious but haunting image "blood dries rain". Perhaps the most dramatic moment of all is the pause in the middle of the line "I will risk my neck... again".

It's instructive to compare the finished article with the Finn Brothers' 1989 demo, issued as a B-side in 1995 and later included on an obscure Centenary Edition of the album (it was EMI's centenary, of course, not theirs). The structure is already in place but this being a mere sketch it's played only on acoustic guitar and electric piano; it consequently loses some of its impact. Indeed, it sheds light on just how much went into the album version, and how carefully measured it all is. There's only a tentative version of the keyboard solo as well. The ending is as dramatic in either version, after less than three minutes. One other small point - both versions also include what I believe to be the only swear word in a Crowded House record, "Smiling as the shit comes down." A radio edit substitutes " the ship goes down" and is also used in some versions of the rather overdone video.

After this, the album was milked for a fifth single, 'It's Only Natural'. Only one further studio album was completed, Together Alone, arguably continuing in the same vein as this song.

Websites: No sign of an official site as such, hardly surprising for a band who split up in 1996. However, you'll find some info from their fanclub site at and seems the most up to date unofficial site.
YouTube if you want to: That video, uncensored.
Where to find it: If nothing else, the Recurring Dream collection is a must for anyone not interested in the full catalogue, especially since some of the new material thereon is actually quite decent. The original Woodface is slightly flawed, but still worth owning for its highlights. It's appeared in various forms, including a heavyweight vinyl LP, and a double-pack with Together Alone. The video is also available on a DVD compilation.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Number 27: The Beach Boys

When I Grow Up (To Be A Man) (Capitol CL 15361)

Chart debut: 29th Oct 1964

Writers: Brian Wilson/Mike Love

Yeah, I know. Only 27 - what were they thinking? In context, though, this was only the third Top 40 hit for the Beach Boys in the UK, although it followed the Top 10 hit 'I Get Around'. It was to be almost a year before they reached the album chart - real stardom didn't happen for them on these shores until 1966, ironically just before the point when their star began to wane in their homeland. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
As it happens, 'When I Grow Up' comes from a pretty pivotal juncture in their history. It got its US release in August 1964, already their third single of the year (there were two more 45s and an EP by December, not to mention two studio LPs, a live album and a Christmas one) but didn't make it onto an album until March 1965. By then, Brian Wilson had retired from the stage and begun working more-or-less full time on recordings while the band were away on tour (with Glen Campbell standing in). The UK single release was postponed until the eve of their first visit to these shores.

It's inevitably the lyrics that catch the attention first on here, all the more so in the knowledge that Brian Wilson was only 22 at the time. He also had yet to marry and had no children, so it's quite likely that he is really asking himself some of those questions: "Will I look back and say that I wish I hadn't done what I did?", and all. It's also very tempting to load in all kinds of retrospective significance to the lines about "Will my kids be proud or think their old man's really a square?" in the light of what we now know about the relationship between the Wilsons and their father, or to relate that cry of "Won't last forever!" in the fade to the fact that Dennis Wilson died before he was forty.
Nonetheless, these lyrics are (as a result of a 1995 court judgement) credited to Mike Love, who sings the first half of each verse. Love doesn't normally seem as introspective a character, and it may well be that he's writing simply in order to appeal to the concerns of a teen audience - you can compare this to the dozens of surf songs on their first three albums, written despite the fact that most of the band weren't really interested in the sport. And no bad thing, that. What really makes this song matter is the arrangement. Brian Wilson, not uniquely in that era, was constantly looking for new sounds to take advantage of the possibilities of the studio. This time around he settled on, of all things, the harpsichord, not a typical part of the rock sound at that time (and not something a rock band could play on stage) but it's the most striking instrumental part here, playing a distinctive melody and lending the song an atmosphere of classicism. Thr rhythm beneath it is complex enough that it took the band (who seem to have played the instruments themselves this time) 37 attempts to get a good enough backing track to dub the harpsichord onto. Well worth the effort, though, and this sort of combination of looking forward and back seems to me very much the essence of what the Beach Boys were about at this stage. Atop that is a very intricate vocal arrangement, most notable for the contrast between Mike Love's low voice and Brian Wilson's falsetto, but also full of clever little details like the group humming "Maa-aan" through the middle section. Indeed, if this record has a flaw it's that there's so much packed into two minutes that it can sound a little crowded in the mono mix. The 1993 box-set includes a remix with vocals and instruments pushed into opposite sides of the stereo spectrum, which wouldn't have been viable for mainstream release but is revelatory (and helpful for researching things like this).

Flipsides are usually outside the remit of the Hit Parade, but I think it's worth putting in a word for 'She Knows Me Too Well', one of my favourite non-single tracks by the band and another example of their growing sophistication.

Official website: Coming soon at apparently. In the meantime, there's and, let's be generous,
YouTube if you want to: Of course we're in the pre-video age here, but their UK television debut on Ready Steady Go includes live performances of this song and 'I Get Around', bisected by a classic slice of Sixties British interview technique. Also, look out for Mike Love emphasising the word "square".
Where To Get It: Both sides of the single ended up on the 1965 Beach Boys Today! album, which is one of the very best they ever put out; some have suggested that in hindsight, the sequence of five slow songs on Side Two resemble a dry run for Pet Sounds. It's currently coupled on CD with the follow-up Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) which is exceedingly patchy but does contain some classics. Has there ever been a really good album with two exclamation marks in the title?
If you prefer the compilation route, the latest to arrive on these shores is Sounds Of Summer, which was unfortunately based around their US chart hits and is consequently full of rubbish tracks from the Eighties, although you do get a bonus DVD. The 2001 Very Best Of offers a more UK-friendly selection of tracks, although the packaging is unimpressive. On the opposie side of the coin, the Good Vibrations box-set is a fascinating mix of hits and rarities. I also tip my hat to Keith Badman's diary of the band's activities from 1961-76, which was a helpful source for this piece.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Number 28: Idlewild

A Modern Way Of Letting Go (Parlophone CDR 6598)

Chart debut: 22 Feb 2003

Writers: Idlewild

So far these posts seem to be taking me about a month each, but I'm going to knock this one out pretty sharpish to suit the song. It was the fourth single from Idlewild's third "full-length" album, The Remote Part, but where the bulk of that set comes from the band's folky side, this track is a real throwback to the punkier sound of early chart entries like 'Everyone Says You're So Fragile'. Ironically, by the time this hit the shelves as a 45, bass player Bob Fairfoull had quit the band in protest at their move away from rock. Now, unlike a lot of people, I actually think the evolution of their sound was a good thing, and much prefer this album to the more one-dimesional thrash of their first releases. In fact, when I first heard the album the songs I liked best were the quiet ones, but there's a real energy here that's made it one of my all-time favourites for those headphones/air guitar moments (don't pretend you've never done it!).
Lyrically, it's not the band at their deepest but there's something charming about "Losing isn't learning to be lost, it's learning to know when you're lost," even if "You can only be yourself when you understand what you know" sounds like it belongs in the theme from Henry's Cat. What really makes this is a superb ensemble performance, with Roddy Woomble obviously a better and more confident singer than he was five years earlier but still capable of a good yell (eg: "The modern way of letting you... GO!!"). And in what's proving a bit of a recurrent theme on this blog, they get the ending right too, pummeling the riff until an abrupt end at 2:23. By far their most underrated track.

As it turned out, The Remote Part was easily (and I think deservedly) their most successful album. A new line up of the band, with Fairfoull replaced by Gavin Fox and keyboardist Allan Stewart, released the even less metallic Warnings/Promises album in 2005 to a fairly muted reaction, and their contract with EMI was not renewed. They remain a going concern, albeit with yet another bass player now (Gareth Russell, ex-Astrid) though Woomble's solo album seems likely to delay any further action.

Official website:
YouTube if you want to: The (slightly disappointing) video is not recommended for sufferers from motion sickness, who should probably try this TV performance with the later lineup instead.
Where to get it: The Remote Part is an excellent album, concise and well-balanced. But their career to date is summarised on Scottish Fiction, with or without bonus DVD.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Number 29: Stevie Wonder

Heaven Help Us All (Tamla Motown TMG 757)
Chart Debut: 21 November 1970

Writer: Ron Miller

Again, 29 wasn't the easiest number to work with, but it has gifted me an opportunity to further part of this blog's mission: Stevie Wonder has thrice peaked at 29, but I discarded 'Higher Ground' on the basis that it was too obvious a choice to need my assistance (meanwhile 'Another Star' fell victim to my self-imposed rule about owning the tracks on CD). This for me is a more interesting story, coming from the period just before Wonder's acknowledged purple patch of the 1970s. In fact, the album where this track first appeared, Signed Sealed & Delivered was the end of Wonder's original contract with Motown, signed when he was still a child star; it was also a pivotal release with Wonder taking his his first production credits (though not on this particular track) and also writing a lot of the material, though again this song is an exception, having been penned by hired gun Ron Miller - but it all appears in a tacky cover with Stevie climbing out of a cardboard box (because he's been "delivered" geddit!!!??).

As a matter of fact, I own this track in a different place - in an angered reaction to the re-recorded version of 'Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours' he did with Blue I rushed to obtain the original, and it happened that the first place I found it was on Greatest Hits Volume 2. As I liked Stevie Wonder already, I'd probably have bought these tracks eventually, but sometimes it's good to be impetuous. Anyway, back to the song. It's as gospel-tinged as the title implies, though of course we're used to hearing the phrase colloquially, almost as an expression of hopelessness. The first verse runs with this interpretation: "Heaven help the girl who walks the streets alone/ Heaven help the roses if the bombs begin to fall" but even in the second we're in subtly different territory - "Heaven help the black man if he struggles one more day" continues the same sense of the expression, but when Wonder sings "Heaven help the white man if he turns his back away/ Heaven help the man who kicks the man who has to crawl" it sounds more like a threat than exasperation; well, I suppose it's a threat driven by exasperation. The chorus covers the more traditionally hymnal "Lord hear our call" but the third verse reverts to more earthly concerns: "Heaven help the boy who won't reach twenty-one/ Heaven help the man who gave that boy a gun". There's a prayer in the final verse, eloquently asking the Lord to "Keep hatred from the mighty/ And the mighty from the small". And yet, for all his appeals to a higher power, Wonder doesn't come across (at least to these ears) as expecting God to fix everything overnight - for me the key word here is "help". Now, of course I'm forming that opinion on the basis of what I've heard in the subsequent Wonder catalogue and the philosophy he expresses in so much of his self-written material, but it seems to me that he's expecting us humans to get our hands dirty too and sort the world out with the benefit of divine guidance. Whether I'd have got the same impression from a lesser singer, I'm less sure, but this is a tour-de-force for his sometimes overlooked gifts as an interpreter (the same album also includes his version of 'We Can Work It Out' which takes on a similar meaning in Wonder's performance). You could probably even trace a thematic connection to the other two singles that peaked at 29 if you really wanted to. For a dissenting view, though, look at Gearchange.

In the context of his overall career, this is only a minor work, but the more I've listened to it in order to do this, the more it's impressed me. The next Stevie Wonder album was the transitional and oddly hard-to-get Where I'm Coming From, released before he'd agreed terms with Motown, before Music Of My Mind began his peerless run of classic albums in the 1970s.

Official website: While you're waiting for, we can enjoy the existing official site at, the less than spectacular UK site or the unofficial but flashy World of Wonder.
YouTube if you want to: Unsurprisingly, there's no official video, but somebody's played it over some footage of an Indian shanty town, which apparently came from a Boyz II Men video of all places. And speaking of things that might make you exclaim the title of this song, there's also Cher and the Osmonds doing a Stevie medley.
Where To Get It: The original Signed Sealed & Delivered album is still available, cover and all. I've also provided a link to the aforementioned Greatest Hits Volume 2, but be warned that it's only half an hour long. The UK edition of the Definitive Collection also includes this track, and it should go without saying that the version I've linked to below is the one that Blue do not appear on.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Number 30: Dodgy

So Let Me Go Far (Bostin/ A&M 5809032)
Chart debut: 7th January 1995

Writers: Nigel Clark/Andy Miller/Mathew Priest

I always thought this should have opened the album, you know. After the minute of pre-amble the song proper starts with the harmonised lyric "So in the morning I awoke/I turned my eyes towards the road." Isn't that exactly where you want to begin an album? And the harmonies around the title line in the chorus have real power. Better still, as the song continues, the sound builds to illustrate the protagonist's journey. In the second verse we get the line "Those pills you gave me for the pain/Made my mind never feel the same" although knowing Dodgy it's not entirely clear whether they consider that a good or a bad thing. There's a bit of a sting in the tail of the chorus too: "When I reach there let me know." It's a song about a curiosity and self-discovery, it would seem.
It would also be good for my storyline if this had been their first hit single too, but in fact that honour went to the song that really does open the Homegrown album, 'Staying Out For The Summer', which managed to sneak in at 38 in September 1994 (when the record company released a new version of that song in the actual summer it did better, but that's another story). The classic record company trick of releasing this single on the 28th of December when hardly anybody's buying singles more or less guaranteed this an advancement on that, but sadly also meant that nobody really noticed it when it was in the charts, or remembered it since. I'm not even sure whether I'd heard it before I borrowed the album from a fellow sixth-former, although I did eventually see a bit of the video, complete with their ubiquitous camper van. Apparently the single version is a remix (by Hugh Jones, who produced it in the first place anyway) although a second CD is fronted by a live recording.

With hindsight, perhaps Dodgy's whole premise got a bit tiresome after a while, but I still consider the album to be a minor classic of its type, and this song has the extra benefit of not being overexposed. Dodgy went on to greater commercial success with the dreadfully-titled 1996 album Free Peace Sweet and even scored a Top 10 single in the shape of 'Good Enough'. But they splintered soon afterwards, with frontman Nigel Clark jumping ship after a desultory single and compilation album. The remaining members soldiered on with a new line-up for a few more years but interest faded away.

Unofficial website: Mighty Dodgy Vibe - the old official site seems to be long gone.
See also Adrian Denning's album review and a discography.
YouTube if you want to: live on The Word. {Now deleted!}
Where to get it: The best of collection Ace A's And Killer B's wraps up most of the singles (including this one, in its album version) alongside selected flipsides and album tracks. However, it might well be argued that all the Dodgy you really need is Homegrown, undoubtedly the best of their albums and unsurprisingly the only one still in print.

Bonus:This isn't, you'll have noticed, an MP3 blog. But we reserve the right to include tracks from long-deleted compilation albums tied in with festivals that no longer take place as and when we feel like it. Hence 'So Let Me Go Far' live at the Phoenix Festival. Note: this file is provided for information purposes only. Any legitimate owners of this material who wish for it to be removed are advised to contact us.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Metapost - on the way to the Top 30

Hi everyone, to try and build up anticipation for the Top 30 in Mark Goodier style, we present The Hit Parade's first ever Metapost.

Anyone who checks this site regularly will have observed that we now have a new look. Also, check out our exciting new links - in particular, Joe Williams' How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way details his quest to collect every one of the first thousand chart-topping tracks, exactly the sort of idea this blog was inspired by, though thankfully the Hit Parade version doesn't involve spending any real money. Part of the advantage of this theme is that it has a defined endpoint, of course. Of course, the Hit Parade also offers us the choice about which records to write about, but Joe isn't really writing about the music so much as the quest. And the descriptions of his internal torment when he has to buy the Gary Glitter records are fascinating. Also on a Number One subject is the more familiar Popular which really does try to write about every chart-topping track in chronological order. Currently they're up to 'Silence Is Golden', with the Glitter issue still ten virtual years away.

Coming up at 30, it's... no, that'd be telling.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Number 31: XTC

Towers Of London (Virgin VS372)
Chart debut: 18th October 1980

Writer: Andy Partridge

Another instalment in our "they have other songs" series, although if I'm honest that was sort of the original intent of this whole project. I've frequently expressed the view that XTC would be far wealthier had they been paid on the basis of how many other acts were compared to them in reviews, although Andy Partridge would no doubt counter that being paid all they were due for the record sales would have been a start - it's no coincidence that on the Black Sea album this is segued into a song about money.
Anyway, we all know about XTC and what a droppable name they've become, currently because of the trendy influence of their early yelping material. We all remember the big hit singles even if the reliably contrary Partridge would sometimes rather you didn't - it's widely reported that he wanted to use a burning copy of 'Sgt. Rock (Is Going To Help Me)' as the cover of a singles compilation. Still, it only amounts to six actual Top 40 hits in what will soon be a (slightly intermittent) thirty-year career, which limited my options here rather - but I was only too happy to choose this track, an unprecedented second hit from Black Sea, and the track that was apparently slated as the first single until Colin Moulding came up with 'Generals And Majors' (which only got to 32). Interestingly, this is a London song by a defiant non-Londoner, but unlike many songs that fit that description it's not a rant or a love-letter but finds a unique perspective, attempting to remember the workers who actually built the city. The beauty of this approach is not only that it's not obvious, but that it's also somehow non-partisan: in a way, he could almost have written this song about Swindon. He didn't though, and somehow he's caught the spirit of the city remarkably well - that "anvil" sound (actually a tape cabinet being hit with a mic stand) dragging slightly behind the beat conjures up a sense of a drizzly grey city, and yet as a semi-Londoner myself, I find that an oddly welcoming image, be it Partridge's intent or not.

Aside from the aforementioned fake anvil, the musical end is kept up by ringing guitars (Dave Gregory claims two of them on his website) and the reliably solid drumming of Terry Chambers. Indeed, throughout the Black Sea album Chambers and Colin Moulding make a good case for themselves as one of rock's greatest rhythm sections. The original single edit drops the guitar solo and one iteration of the middle-eight, and is if anything the better version because it's just that little bit tighter. There's a very obvious echo of the Kinks here, especially with the London theme, but of course the Beatles are never far out of sight in this context. Indeed, the night after Lennon died, XTC segued this song into 'Rain' at a concert in Liverpool.

Official website: But don't miss the incredibly long-running and detailed Chalkhills (est 1991!).
YouTube if you want to: video and some footage from XTC At The Manor, with the band pretending to record this single: parts one, two, and three. But not necessarily in that order.
Where to get it: If Black Sea isn't the best XTC album (and it might well be) it's certainly the most accessible. It's a good starting point, as is the double-CD singles set Fossil Fuel, the place to go for the 7" version. There's also an interesting early version of the song on the Coat Of Many Cupboards box set. Meanwhile, Chris Twomey's authorised biography comes highly recommended.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Number 32: The Undertones

You've Got My Number (Why Don't You Use It!) (Sire SIR 4024)
Chart debut: 20 October 1979
Writer: John O'Neill

They had more than one song you know. Brilliant as 'Teenage Kicks' is, it's slightly unfortunate that in the last few years it seems to have obscured entirely the fact that the Undertones ever made any other records (except maybe 'My Perfect Cousin') Yet in a brief career they packed in a handful of pop gems, several others of which got them into the charts and onto Top Of The Pops and all. Right, that's that off my chest, now let's get on with the article.
My brother was kind enough to give me the remastered and expanded CD of their debut album a couple of birthdays ago and an impressive little thing it is too; but this non-album single is a hint of where they were heading. Simplistically put, the original career of the Undertones is a swift (four albums in five years) progression from low-budget punk-pop energy ('T*****e K***s') towards a sort of blue-eyed soul, which arguably laid the template for Feargal Sharkey's briefly popular solo career. We're still close to the start of that curve here, but bass player Mickey Bradley was right to describe it as a progression, and to suggest that they'd "left the Ramones thing behind". And, as he notes approvingly, "there was a slow middle bit." The lyrics are not exactly sophisticated: "I'll pick you up in my car/Take you home, it's not far" but they work ideally in context, capturing the sense of romatic desparation with enough vulnerability to seem more charming than threatening (unless it's just sparking off too many memories of my own youth of course). And at the risk of over-using the word "energy" in this post, the strength of the ensemble performance here gives it a pace (even in that slow section) that makes the pleading less annoying than it might otherwise have been. It doesn't seem as melodramatic as it would on the page because it's so convincingly done, and it sounds as if it really is that important to the protagonist, instead of being played up. At the same time they have enough spring in their step to make it sound cheery - perhaps the lesson we should draw is that only having girls to worry about is a fairly lucky state.
What makes this track really special (over and above the quality of the song) is the way it's topped and tailed. Three seconds of tuning-up seems just to increase the drama when a thump of Billy Doherty's kick-drum ushers in the guitar riff that is effectively the refrain here (the song title appears in something more akin to a verse). At the other end of the song, we come out of that middle section, a one-note piano vamp fades in from nowhere at about 2:24, the guitars start to punch harder until Sharkey finally yells "why don't you USE IT?" and the band stops a second or two later - it's easy to imagine them all falling on the floor afterwards as if they've put all they have into less than three minutes and couldn't play more if they wanted to. Of course that's very unlikely to be the case, but it doesn't really matter as long as they capture the feel. And that's possibly the real sign of progression here, the fact that they (with the help of producer Roger Bechirian) were learning how to make records as well as play songs, which was a direction they certainly followed on the second album Hypnotised.
It's interesting to note that the sleeve design seems to have picked up on the ending of the track too, with the phrase "use it!" underlined, as well as the neat joke of printing the catalogue number on the front. Whether the die-cut rear cover was as necessary is another question. This may not be the best Undertones single, and it certainly isn't the most famous, but in a way it's their quintessential work.

Official website: will even play you the intro to this track, though a redesign is promised.

Where to get it: As I mentioned earlier, this was never included on an album at the time, but of course things are different in the CD era, and having been included on some re-issues of Hypnotised it now finds a home on the value-for-money 26(!)-track edition of their debut album. For a single-disc retrospective, the current The Best Of The Undertones - Teenage Kicks looks hard to beat, though it's not to be confused with an earlier album of the same name. The double-set True Confessions - (Singles=A's+B's) was a good idea somewhat spoilt by the fact that not all the tracks are the actual single versions, though of course this song is unaffected.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Number 33: David Holmes

Don't Die Just Yet (Go! Beat GOLCD6)
Chart debut: 10th January 1998
Writer: Serge Gainsbourg

As some may have divined from the gap in postings here, the choice of a Number 33 single wasn't the easiest in the list: it may be worth explaining that I roughed out a list of possibles before I started, but reserve the right to chop and change until publication point. In fact, I've broken a self-imposed rule here by including a track I don't own in its single version.
David Holmes (born 14th Feb 1969 in Belfast) had already demonstrated some of his interest in fusing hip-hop sounds with the atmosphere of movie soundtracks (as well as his aversion to the apostrophe!) with debut album This Films Crap Lets Slash The Seats, but it was the follow-up set Lets Get Killed that made him a name to be reckoned with, and brought him a Top 40 hit with this surpising Serge Gainsbourg cover. This is, in fact an instrumental version of 'Melody', the opening track from Gainsbourg's Histoire De Melody Nelson (Holmes claimed that he'd hired someone to translate the lyrics but decided against recording them due to their "pervy" content). The choice of title (including, you may notice, the first ever David Holmes apostrophe) was presumably intended to suit the mood created here; the lack of vocals aside, the arrangement is close to Gainsbourg's version, but the atmosphere is slightly more ominous, though it retains the funk tinge thanks to guitar and bass work of former Warm Jets member Paul Noble.
The album is a fascinating work as a whole - there are no conventional vocals, but the basis is tapes Holmes made whilst walking the streets of New York at night in 1996. It's dark, yes, but in its way a more compelling and endearing portrait of NYC than any number of more conventional tributes (well, as far as I know anyway - I've never been there myself and there's too much swearing for me to play this to my Granny). There are tunes you'll know too: not only is 'Radio 7' another renamed cover version (of the James Bond theme), but 'Rodney Yates', 'Gritty Shaker' and the other hit 'My Mate Paul' have been almost ubiquitous in adverts, trailers and similar. Holmes also used some of this material on his soundtrack to Ocean's Eleven. For some reason, I'll always remember Mary-Anne Hobbs playing a track on her late-night show in the early days of September 1997 and not being allowed to announce the album title.

By the way, the single included a slightly shorter edit of this original version, a remix by Arab Strap (audible, at time of writing, here) and one by Mogwai which had to be withdrawn due to sample clearance issues.

Official website: - or see Gritty Shaker for slightly more info. His profile at Yahoo also has the video for this track.
YouTube if you want to: video
Where to get it: Lets Get Killed.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Number 34: The Supernaturals

Lazy Lover (Food CDFOOD 85)
Chart debut: 26th October 1996

Writers: James McColl/Ken McAlpine/Derek McManus/Alan Tilston/Mark Guthrie.

Lazy Lover CD singleDull autobiographical note: this is one of the first records I can remember waiting for, not counting follow-ups to records I owned. I wasn't much of a music radio listener back then, but I saw in the paper that there was going to be a Cast concert on, and these Glaswegians were the support band, with this being the song that instantly stood out, and was announced as their next single. I don't recall knowing the release date but as the sort of person who visits record shops at least once a week, that wasn't a problem. My only disappointment was that I'd settled for the CD single before I found a copy of the blue 7" single, although I am compensated by an additional track.

But enough about me - what about the tune? Well, it's certainly Britpop, and if that word fills you with dread, this record will fill you with even more. It's bouncy, it's silly, it's got a plinky-plink piano part (from Ken McAlpine) and a big singalong chorus. And the lyrics might be about, ahem, pleasuring yourself "I'd much rather do it in my head". Back when I was a student I couldn't get enough of that sort of thing (er, I mean the music - wash your minds out with soap and water). Whilst I can't honestly claim that it sounds as brilliant ten years on, it's still enjoyable, and dare I say it's worn better than some of the more acclaimed material of that time? It's certainly aged better than Cast.
After the possibly superior follow-up single 'The Day Before Yesterday's Man' and a re-issue of the debut single 'Smile' the band were lucky enough to enjoy a Top Ten debut album. It didn't quite last though, and after the trailer single for their second album wasn't the huge hit EMI had expected, the wind sort of went out of their sails. A depleted line-up put out a third album in 2002, before realising the game was up. Frontman and songwriter James McColl has since re-emerged with a new band, The Hussys.

James McColl's blog:
Fan Site:
Where to get it: The debut album It Doesn't Matter Anymore is probably all the Supernaturals you need, and seemingly all you can get anyway. Plus it's got a cute picture of a monkey on the front.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Number 35: Turin Brakes

Average Man (Source SOURCD 085)
Chart debut: 7th Jun 2003

Writers:Olly Knights/Gale Paridjanian

One of the great lost hits of recent years, I think. As the follow-up to their Top 5 smash 'Pain Killer' (inevitably revisited in acoustic form on the CD single here) and third single off the much-reissued Ether Song album, this track possibly suffered from unrealistic expectations. Nonetheless, it deserved to make more of an impact than it did. Indeed, it's one of the records that helped give me the germ of the idea for this blog.
Although the album as a whole is coloured by Tony Hoffer's glossy LA production and the keyboards of David Palmer (not to be confused with the former member of Jethro Tull, who is now a woman), this particular track is a little closer to the earlier Turin Brakes sound, played largely on acoustic guitars with a fine slide guitar riff and their trademark vocal harmonies.
The lyrics are in a way somewhat cynical and partially self-deprecating: "If I was a farmer instead of a faker/If I was realer and not just some raker", seems like a questioning of the artist's worth in society, but as the song deepens, the perspective shifts and widens. It's a song about the compromises people have to make, and the slyly ambiguous tone draws you into it - this isn't the normal "be yourself" cliche, despite having been recorded in LA, but neither is it a complete ode to conformity; it's about getting older and realising that not quite everything is possible after all. When they chime in the chorus "Have another drink my son, enjoy another cigarette 'cause it's time you realised you're just an average man" [NB The Hit Parade does not recommend the abuse of alcohol and tobacco] they're close enough to it themselves not to be loftily patronising. The middle eight thunders "And if this is darkness..." before slinking back to the comfort of the chorus, which is witty and deathly serious at the same time. In summation, this is all a bit dark and complex for overnight success, but it's got a catchy enough tune.

Official website:
YouTube if you want to: video
Where to get it: As I pointed out earlier, there are at least five permutations of the Ether Song album. Mine is the initial double-CD in the gatefold sleeve, but I've also selected for your pleasure the mid-price CD with the later single '5 Mile' added and the classy double LP.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Number 36: Squeeze

This Summer (A&M 5811912)
Chart debut: 9 September 1995

Writers: Christopher Henry Difford/Glenn Tilbrook

I reserve the right to make blatantly sentimental choices throughout this blog, and this just about qualifies as one of our many wedding songs. However, it wouldn't be here if I didn't think it deserved the recommendation, and for extra points it's not always remembered in the classic cannon of Squeeze singles, because it came so late in their career. At this point the lineup featured founders and songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook with Keith Wilkinson on bass and the late Kevin Wilkinson (no relation) on drums.
At this time the record company attempted to promote them as "Godfathers of Britpop" which the band understandably didn't seem too happy about, although ironically enough Difford's lyric tips its hat to one of the bigger acts of the time: "the summer that began to blur/Has put us on the calendar". And just to underline the point, there's a live acoustic version of 'End Of A Century' (one of only three covers they ever released) on my copy of the cassette single. Maybe while they were at it the record company should have tried releasing a single that refers to "This Summer" in the future tense at a more opportune time than late August (a remixed version did appear just over 11 months later and reach 32). At least the slightly late release date gave them time to film a cheery video (at time of writing you can see a clip here) in Eastbourne, with a cameo from no less than John Thomson.
But what about the record, you ask? It's a record I'd be tempted to call chirpy if I didn't know that some people would be permanently put off by that, although those people should be warned about some of the other tracks I've got coming. Certainly it's optimistic, and Squeeze's ability to convey happiness without lapsing into faux-bouncy cliche is one reason why I consider them a national treasure. Apart from the Blur gag, Difford's lyric is full of the joys of new love withjust the merest trace of naughtiness ("Nights we spent out of control/Like two flags wrapped around a pole"). Look out for the solo doubled on high and low guitars which perhaps unintentionally echoes the Difford/Tilbrook vocal interplay that marked many of their early hits.

Modest though it is, the chart position of this release was Squeeze's best showing since 1987 and served as a decent curtain-raiser for their last classic album, Ridiculous even if the openly middle-aged lyrical content failed to guarantee massive sales and the money they did make was swallowed up by a tax bill. The Difford/Tilbrook partnership staggered through a final ill-advised album before calling it a day. This remains an important part of their legacy.

Official websites:;;
Where to get it: Everyone who loves British pop should have a Squeeze singles collection, though, and The Big Squeeze is an excellent career summary, including the cream of the overlooked Nineties output and a bonus disc features the rather fine B-side of this single, 'Periscope'. It's also available with a DVD anthology of their videos up to 1989, and appears to have been released in mainland Europe as Squeeze Gold.
If you don't fancy that, though, there's no shortage of other collections - since I wrote the original post we've seen the release of The Squeeze Story and Essential Squeeze but perhaps more excitingly, the original Ridiculous album is back in print for the first time is years and with bonus tracks too.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Number 37: Athlete

You Got The Style (Parlophone CDATH002)
Chart debut: 29th June 2002

Writers: Athlete

Although my aim here is to concentrate on relatively less-known tracks (you don't need me to tell you about 'Good Vibrations') this one is a slight expection as it's arguably the most famous track from the Vehicles & Animals album, and certainly better known than its chart performance might suggest.
At the time when this originally appeared, though, I had no particular expectations for it, and I don't imagine many other people did either. The band had created a bit of a buzz with their debut EP on Parlophone's subsidiary label Regal, but that peaked no higher than 85 so even with a bit of radio play this wasn't an obvious chart hit. It was, however, a brilliant single for the summer, one of the few that really captures the spirit of a British summer - there's an obvious cheeriness about it, in the bouncy chorus especially, but there's also a reminder of the less pleasant side, the stuffiness of hot weather and a nod to the UK race riots in Summer 2001: "I've seen the tension on the high street growing/Seems that you have to be careful who you look at". Yet this social comment is subtle enough not to overshadow the song and this succeeds where a more finger-wagging approach might have failed: after all, it's not all that creative to tell people racism is wrong, but this evokes a wistfulness about how wasteful that sort of tension really is. And they were able to make a video with a cute dancing atom in it too. A masterful piece of writing which got them even more noticed; the name Squeeze was mentioned more than once, although the NME likened it to a Cockney version of Pulp.
The icing on the cake was the packaging - although I've bowed to convention and used the CD catalogue number above, my copy is the rather neat etched 10" vinyl, which more than makes up for the underwhelming B-sides.

Perhaps surprisingly, this breakthrough wasn't instantly followed up, as their next single charted slightly lower. Indeed, none of the singles from that first album breached the Top 30 and even a re-issue of this track in 2003 only got to 42. The album itself did good business though, and they finally had a proper hit with 'Wires' in January 2005. But that's another story.

Official website:
YouTube if you want to Live at T In The Park
Where to get it: On Vehicles & Animals, which is possibly better than the new album.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Number 38: The Charlatans

I Never Want An Easy Life If Me And He Were Ever To Get There (Beggar's Banquet BBQ31CD)
Chart debut: 19th March 1994

Writers: Martin Blunt/Jon Brooks/Tim Burgess/Mark Collins/Rob Collins

Let's get the survivors bit out of the way shall we? You know the drill by now, drug, depression, prison, death... anyone could be forgiven for forgetting that they ever made records. But they did, and indeed still do, which is possibly something you'd not have predicted fifteen years ago.
It's probably fair to say that Up To Our Hips is the most underrated Charlatans album, the only one until 2004 not to spawn a Top 20 single, and remembered mostly for coinciding with Rob Collins serving a brief prison sentence. But it's the album that explains why they didn't go the way of Northside and the Mock Turtles after their big hit, with a somewhat stripped-down sound (produced by Steve Hillage of all people) and a greater focus on the darker, psychedelic side they'd always had.
When I bought the album unheard, this track stood out with it its insistent riff, the intro that bursts out of the speakers (after the shuffling fade of 'Come In Number 21' on the album), the bubbling electric piano (R. Collins) the energy and the prominent backing vocals: "How does it feel?" Further listening has revealed the claustrophobic atmosphere of the whole record and the darker side of that very energy - they're up against the wall and they know it, they're both waving and drowning. That's where the defiance of the unwieldy title comes in; they disdain the easy path in the knowledge that it's no longer open to them. And "them" is certainly the word here, because the bond between them is so intensely important. The energy is manic; I have the (not entirely literal) mental image of them throwing themselves at the walls.
Looked at that way, it's pretty heavy stuff and I'm starting to see why even a limited one-week-only release in a special box with three postcards and a demo version of the previous hit couldn't take this any higher than 38. And although that's unfortunate really, it suits this blog very well - this track never gets played on the radio, and although I don't claim it as their best single it's one that deserves more posterity than it has.

Official website:
YouTube If You Want To: The promo video, which may have cost almost £20 to make.
Where to get it: I've talked up the Up To Our Hips album more than enough, I think, but those wishing merely to dip their toes in the water are advised to pick up the "best-of" collection Melting Pot. Meanwhile, the B-side 'Subterranean' crops up on Songs From The Other Side and the video (which I've now seen) features on their first DVD.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Number 39 - Roots Manuva

Too Cold (Big Dada BDCDS078)
Chart debut: 2nd April 2005

Writers: Rodney Smith/Ralph Lamb/ Andrew Ross

The only record I'm including from 2005 in this selection: which isn't to say that it's the only record I liked last year, it just fits. Rodney Smith (you can see why he needed a stage name!) became about as big a star as an underground UK rapper could with his second album Run Come Save Me, and by the start of 2005, after the Streets and Dizzee Rascal had made names for themselves he looked set for a big breakthrough.
It hasn't quite happened yet, but the year did bring him his first Top 40 singles chart action with 'Colossal Insight' and this slightly surprising track, built around what sounds remarkably like a sample of the Dance Of The Nights from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet although unlike Sia's 'Taken For Granted' the usage wasn't sufficient to require a credit. Over this, Manuva raps with his typical humour about the dangers of Mammon, though he can't resist the boast "I touch breasts with my money". And here's a line you don't often hear in a rap track "I ain't the best MC..." though he does claim "I got certification I'm the first MC" which I doubt would stand up in court. He even denies being the saviour of UK rap, which possibly reflects the pressure he felt in the previous years: the title track of the Awfully Deep album is a darkly joking account of his mental health problems.
The CD single itself is as decent a value-for-money package as can be expected: 'Too Cold' itself appears as a Radio Edit (like the album version but shorter and with less swearing) and remixed by Sa-Ra, Nightmares On Wax and the Go! Team. I'm not typically a fan of remix packages, but these get bonus points for sounding very different from each other, with the Go! Team one a particularly impressive lo-fi recasting, hitting the spot for me where their own records never have. There's an admittedly dispensible B-side, plus the video starring - ahem - Lord Manuval in an 18th century setting with comedian Jim Tavare as his butler, as well as a little game which allows the listener to create their own remix. And if that doesn't sate your appetite for different versions of the song, look out for the dub version on the 7" and the demo on the limited edition version of the album. Speaking of which, here's a little exclusive for you: the Hit Parade Mix of 'Too Cold'. For evaluation purposes only, of course.

YouTube if you want to: promo video
Where to get it: Although the album isn't quite the masterpiece that might have been hoped for, it's still well worth having for the singles and 'The Haunting' alone. Alternatively, grab the single if you still can. The remix companion release Alternately Deep offers the B-side 'No Love'.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Number 40 - David McAlmont

Look At Yourself (Hut Recordings HUTCD87)
Chart debut 9 Aug 1997.

Writers: David McAlmont/Guy Clark/Boo Hewerdine

A talent who's never quite found his place, David McAlmont (born 2nd May 1967) is probably best known for his collaborations with Bernard Butler in the imaginatively-named duo McAlmont & Butler. Despite the quality of the records, though, this pair were famously fractious and their initial partnership failed even to produce a studio album; prior to that, he had been in Thieves, who managed to record an LP but split without releasing it (those tracks were issued as McAlmont's 1994 debut).

This, then was his first intentional solo single, and it's lyrically connected to the most famous McAlmont/Butler song 'Yes', a triumphant stomper which it's tempting (but almost certainly wrong) to relate to Butler: "Don't look at me as if you wish me dead/ Why have a problem with my self-respect?" Perhaps surprisingly, though, the style is different, a frenetic pounding track that's closer to gospel (apart from the words!) than the softer soul with which his former duos were associated. Special mention is due to the wailing harmonica, although no player is credited.
At the time of release, I remember puzzling over which format to buy and wondering why the Radio Edit (3:21) was longer than the Album Version (3:12). As I discovered upon obtaining the latter version in the Rough Trade shop a couple of years later, "edit" was something of a misnomer with Dave Bascombe having retooled the song extensively, with an extended drum intro and a much more energetic effect, so that's the version to track down. Sadly, "album version" proved to be even more of a misnomer, as this track has never appeared on one - the rather good A Little Communication finally appeared in 1998, but omits this track in favour of a moodier and slightly more organic sound. Before that, his collaboration with David Arnold on a version of 'Diamonds Are Forever' did even better than this. It got to 39.

Official website:
Where to get it: as above, it's not on an album, it's on no compilation I'm aware and the single is long deleted, so all I can say is Good Luck! You can still browse
the available McAlmont catalogue at Amazon.