I probably admired the Banshees more than loved them for a long time – I knew they were feted, I liked a few songs, but they didn’t worm their way into my head – until this came along, a combination of all that made them great, and my head just exploded. I bought the single the day I heard it, and I would play it over and over again, hearing something new in it every time I did, and I knew I was in love with them at last.
Siouxsie looks amazing in the video – she never looked less than amazing, ever – leaving the goth look behind and appearing now as a classic film star, effortlessly filling every frame while the boys in the band stood around the back doing their best Vince Clark-era Depeche Mode look, and mentally waiting for the pub to open, probably. The song itself was a paean to Jayne Mansfield, which fits, and her gory death is foundation of a song of devotion to her, but also to Siouxsie.
I can’t help but think of her whenever I’m in Chislehurst ever since I read that Hong Kong Garden was a song about racist skinheads at the local Chinese takeaway: hearing it all those years ago in Sydney it just seemed so exotic. And she’s overdue for a comeback – it’s been way too long since Basement Jaxx’s Cish Cash – the world needs Siouxsie, and we can only hope that she still needs the rest of us. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HpcNaqkrPm8
They can’t be blamed for their fans: Soundgarden would never abide the treatment handed out to Bjork at the Big Day Out, having gone through enough tough times of their own, and Cornell just had something eminently polite about his demeanour, regardless of the state of loucheness he inflicted upon himself and the world.
Even Cobain had nothing bad to say about them, despite the success (which paved the way for his own, in a lot of ways), probably because, beneath the noise, there was something classic, almost beatlesque about their songs. Don’t believe me? Here’s the original, and it’s highly recommended for clearing the dust from your head, but I’ll end with Cornell’s solo version, just because.
I have to admit to being more than a little shaken when he killed himself – you just think there must be an age cut off for that sort of thing, even though mental illness can strike at any stage – and for a little while it put me back in that horrible period in the nineties when they were dropping like flies and we were all left wondering why, and sadly knowing the answer, more often than not. I just figured he was part of the firmament eventually, solid and impervious to everything, and then he was gone, leaving so much sadness behind him.
But let’s remember him like this instead: no one sings like you anymore. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltc5EsuyBh4
Okay, maybe I was hasty before, maybe Kim Gordon is actually the coolest bass player rather than Kim Deal: it’s got to at least be a tie.
There’s a lot to love about Sonic Youth, the benchmark of effortless NYC cool who could have been huge but didn’t want it (they were going to change their name to Washing Machine after Goo sold too well, just to put people off the scent, until Michael Stipe of REM talked them out of it: they named an album after it instead): the Lee Ranaldo noise machine, a bloke who looked like my big brother (before Tom took over the job a bit later) dicking about with his guitar and singing, a bloke they nicked from some preppy liberal arts college and stuck behind the drums, and Kim. You can see why Kurt Cobain was in love with them in a hot second: I’m slightly amazed he didn’t take up the bass, but he certainly styled himself after her.
They were untouchable for years until Thurston messed it all up, the lanky idiot, but this song shows what they were in their prime. And it’s always amusing to me that they roped Chuck D, probably the biggest name in rap at the time, and got him to play Flava Flav behind Kim.
Fear of a Female Planet, indeed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDTSUwIZdMk
So it was John who introduced me to the concept of Slanking, and as soon as he did it was as though it had been with me my whole life. And, in a way, it had. This is such a classic slanking song, just rolling and rolling and going nowhere, which is just fine by me: you can just slank around the room, nab a bit of air guitar if you’re feeling frisky, and always remember to shout “NO BIG HAIR!” in time. Or just sit on the sofa and nod a bit: the choice is, you know, yours.
Reminds me of Paris despite the fact that I’ve never knowingly heard it played there. Slanking tunes are like that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QTTgpTeb0Z8
The most beautiful song ever. Fact. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnHoqHscTKE
They were so dramatic, once upon a time. All that bombast, those angular guitars and drums like bombs - Up On The Catwalk, Speed Your Love To Me, Love Song, the immortal Theme For Great Cities – all that eyeliner and hair product, with Skinny Jim prowling round out front, the perpetual motion machine, trying to hold a grand rock star pose but unable to stop moving for long enough.
They became cuddly and American thanks to John Hughes and Don’t You, the song that made their fortune but wasn’t their own, but I loved them back in the monochromatic 80s, in their pomp, when they looked at bands like U2 and said “I don’t think so.”
And the best of them all was Waterfront, their paean to Glasgow and Marlon Brando and everything they left behind and everything they carried along with them, propelled by that immense bass synth riff and Jim’s best vocal ever. I bought the 12” of this back in the day, back when 12” were basically the same song looped over and over, so it was the same song but even more so. Most of those ‘mixes’ were just an excuse to make a bit more money ($4.99 for a single, are you kidding?), but I could listen to this looped all day long. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vxXfu-Kbtbc
That noise at the beginning (and what is it? I don’t buy that it’s a glockenspiel, but I’ve never worked out what it is) has haunted me for years: as soon as I hear it I just stop whatever I’m doing and listen. I had it as a ringtone a while ago, and freaked out more than a few people: it seems to be one of those songs that people just secretly adore. But it has to be the mix with the Jools Holland piano at the end (I know I’ve linked to the 12”, but it’s the only one loud enough to play properly).
I looked for that version for years too, all over the world: I found it, eventually, in Yangshuo, deep in the heart of China, of all places. I bought it and ran out of the shop holding the CD aloft until I found Will, proclaiming “I’ve finally found it!” only for him to look at me strangely before replying “I think I’ve found somewhere for lunch: did you bring the silver chopsticks?”
Because that was how we rolled, back then. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ynPadWk-1PI
Too many songs, too many of them classics. What a hardship. Where Is My Mind is an obvious choice, and the tie to Fight Club can only help (what a genius book that was, and a brilliant movie version, albeit with a completely different ending). Monkey for the string offsets and “rock me Joe”. Gouge Away, just because.
All live classics, and I could throw out a few paragraphs about finally seeing them at Troxy with Stinky when they reformed, just to say I had, but being secretly afraid they would be rubbish before floating out on a cloud of delight at the end of the night, or seeing them in Brixton with Will and watching his happy face all night long as they played hit after hit after hit.
But instead I’ll go for Tame: I had put it onto my latest compilation on my iPod and was at a race one weekend when Paolo, an Italian team owner, came over and asked me what I was listening to, so I handed over the earbuds and told him to listen. His eyes flew wide open and he demanded “can I get a copy of this?”: I copied the compilation and handed it over, and we walked straight to his truck where he put it on his iPod and put it straight on, doing the hyperventilation vocals out loud as the rest of his team worried that something had happened to him.
Poor Paolo, his luck did eventually run out on the health front but I miss him still, and I often remember his smiling face as he sang along badly to this at some race track or other, somewhere in Europe. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aET6tgYz3Os
Anyone who hasn’t sung this while drunk in a bar in the 90s hasn’t been drunk in a bar in the 90s. Come on everyone: “Peaches come / in a can / they were put there / by a man / in a factory down toooooown…” Just perfectly stupid, as is their video: why are they using a box of peaches as an amp? Why does it become a ninja film? Because it can: tell you wouldn’t, if you could?
I was going to relate a Stinky story about this song but I couldn’t remember the venue, so instead I was reminded of the Elephant’s Foot, a pub we used to go to every week in Surry Hills, by virtue of which it was a bar for all the cool kids. I’m pretty sure I would have sung this song there, and I’m equally sure Steve would not have because it would have been too uncool for him. For a while there it was rammed every weekend, such that the owner decided to risk making it a non-smoking pub. We turned up one day to find the signs advertising the new regime, and left. A few weeks later we drove past and there was a big sign out front saying “we are a smoking pub again” to try to get everyone to come back. Remember smoking? Weirdly, some people still do it in Europe.
Look out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zw5NOYjvlSQ
They were a cartoon band really, but just crazy fun with it. Eyman and I were skiing one weekend, as per usual, and the local pub in Jindabyne had a sign up for them that night, so there was no choice but to go. I think he was already a bit of a fan while I didn’t have much of a view on them, but within 2 songs we were up the front, and by the end of the show we were smitten.
Any band that can play in the Snowy Mountains and survive is tough enough, but a cartoon band fronted by a pixie not only surviving but thriving in country Australia can handle themselves anywhere. 2 albums and they were gone, but not forgotten: she went off to play with Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan, but never hit anything approaching her time with the Vamp. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sy5mm63nIbs
I love these guys unreservedly, unapologetically, unendingly. They probably haven’t written a truly great song in over a decade, but I really don’t care when they still play as sound as ever, and the songs they play are as good as this.
I still can’t pick between this and Jewels and Bullets, mostly because Adalita’s version (halfway through) of that is unbelievable, and … nah, who am I kidding, of course Berlin Chair is the greatest thing they ever did, but at least it’s got plenty of company. Because Purple Sneakers. Cathy’s Clown. Tuesday. Soldiers. Rumble. I could go on, and on.
I’ve seen them so many times: I remember seeing them at the Camden Barfly with Melissa (before she so rudely deserted to go back to Australia for some guy, or whatever) when they walked through the crowd, dropped Good Mornin’ like it was nothing special, and then Tim said “yeah, I know what you’re thinking: they were better at The Annondale…” I remember making Stinky go to see The Replacements (okay, they’re his favourite band, but whatever) purely because You Am I were supporting, having flown across the world just to play ahead of them for 2 nights at the Roundhouse before going back, with Tim sticking his head through the curtain where he thought no one could see him and singing along. Or standing up the front at Dingwalls, right smack in front of Timmy, and thinking ‘how the hell does he stay that skinny?’ Or being incredibly jealous when Becky sent me a photo of her with Tim, because he’d come into Porteno when she happened to be there, and she knew I’d want to see the photo.
I’m gonna have to stop now: I need to play some more of their songs. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nwsyr5gAEuM
That first album of his, Maxinquaye, was so incredible, wasn’t it? I remember hearing it the first time and thinking ‘oh, so he’s the talent in Massive Attack’.
And for a period of time, he was untouchable. I mean, turning a Public Enemy track into a trip hop jam beefed up by a thrash band with the sublime Martina Topley-Bird singing over it: who else would come up with that? I remember wanting to see Public Enemy in Sydney actually, and Eyman was interested until just before the tickets came out, when he thought it would be too dangerous to go to. I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t go anyway.
I did see Tricky though, probably after he’d smoked too much to be of much use, at the Hackney Empire: I’d never been to that part of London, as I hadn’t lived there for long at that stage, and I remember taking my pocket A to Z with me to make sure I didn’t get lost. We didn’t have phones back then, young ‘uns. And he was awful, just too stoned to last a song: I got to talking to the guy next to me who suggested a beer, which turned into 2, which became why don’t we go out and see what we can find, which became a night from which I have no idea how I extricated myself.
But in my head, Tricky was still a god, despite all evidence to the contrary. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ZJTM03UByU
There seemed to be a lot of cool rock chicks back in the 90s: Hole, L7, The Breeders, this lot. Must have been something in the water. I remember being told this song was about special lady time *wiggles eyebrows suggestively* but apparently it’s about having an uncontrollable temper, which is less fun. But it was a hell of a rocker, all the way through. I’m sure I saw VS live somewhere, but I can’t remember where: I’ll just assume it was the Big Day Out, just because. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jC9AUR-iTo0
It could be any of his songs really, depending on the day, but today it’s Could You, just for the insistent guitar riff and the ooh ooh oohs peppered throughout.
Everyone goes through a reggae phase, don’t they? I’ve had more than a few: I remember back in the day I used to go to reggae shows with Marie Johns, a friend of my sister, as she was really into reggae and needed someone to go there with. We saw UB40 (don’t give me that: One in Ten and Food For Thought were great) and Ziggy Marley, because Bob was already gone and we figured it was the nearest we were going to get (and sadly Tomorrow People really wasn’t that near to the immortal Bob). Even though we knew it probably wasn’t the greatest show, we (and all of the crowd) were determined to have fun: no one even blinked at a tiny little white girl and a skinny ginger kid pretending to skank and sing along to everything.
But the best moment was when he played his dad’s songs, of course, with that huge, beatific face smiling down on us all from the backdrop. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL_BcaI0i0w
I don’t really have a story for this song: it just always reminded me of walking around Newtown, wishing I was cool enough to live there. No one ever sees themselves until it’s too late. What a gorgeous song this is, and probably the best thing to come out of that who Flying Nun/Dunedin scene. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZlVQyJHBKzY
Come on, Kim Deal was always the coolest person in the Pixies, even when she was Mrs John Murphy. Monkey Gone To Heaven. Gigantic. You see? So what could be better than another Deal in the band? As the father of twins I can vouch for how little they can get along at times, so I can understand why it all fell apart (even without the heroin), but what a divine thing they left behind for us all.
They played at the Big Day Out too, just before the Pumpkins, and even though Last Splash was good everyone was waiting for this. We all knew the story about the bass line at the start being a mistake (because who wouldn’t make a mistake when you’re playing bass in Kim Deal’s band, and she’s right there watching you) when Kim said that sounds cool, let’s leave it in. So when they finally started and the bass player got the wrong bit a different shade of wrong, we all laughed. And then Kim said “shush”, and we did.
And then they nailed it, and we went crazy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxvkI9MTQw4
Another band I will forever associate with the Big Day Out because I saw them on the main stage at the Showground, back in the days when they had 2 stages side by side so they could alternate bands faster. I really liked Gish, I loved Siamese Dream, and I couldn’t wait to see them: when little Billy walked on in his pink Superman t shirt he had the crowd in the palm of his hand before he played a note.
Unfortunately the running order was Pumpkins >> Bjork >> Soundgarden: I love all 3, but that was so unfair to Bjork, as a bunch of drunk tossers tolerated the Pumpkins (even though, as they said repeatedly, they’re a bit of a girl’s band. And I don’t think they meant it as a positive), shouted “fuck off Bjork!” all through her set before moshing to Soundgarden, even though Superunknown wasn’t due for release until the week after, so no one had ever heard any of the songs. But little Billy didn’t care: little Billy rocked.
And I love that they mess with the song about at the start of the video – that little bit of riff does sound like an ice cream truck. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmUZ6nCFNoU
What an incredibly varied band The B-52’s were for a supposed one hit novelty band. Sure, it’s impossible to roll past Rock Lobster, because who didn’t dance like a maniac to that one every time they ever heard it, regardless of venue, but so many of their songs are just perfectly constructed, inhabiting itself for the duration and then moving on to new pastures. Look at Private Idaho, which just nails that incredible 60’s pastiche sky/surf area (and wow, Fred’s moustache) and never lets go, driving forward all the way to the end. And then flip to Roam, a call to arms for travellers worldwide, and be amazed at how the same ingredients mix together to form something so different.
But for the sheer joy of it, it has to be Love Shack. I remember when it came out reading an interview with Fred, who was talking about how they nearly fell apart when their guitarist died but they had a bunch of shows to play so the drummer learned the chords and off they went: they nearly went broke when nothing more sold and they tapped into their pension plan to pay for this album, but with it being such a hit the band were now able to top it back up. Rock and roll.
I saw them play at the Hordern in Sydney, and it was one of the most joyous, entertaining shows I’ve ever seen. And every time I hear the “Tin Roof! Busted” line I remember how, when they were playing it in the studio Cindy got so into the song she didn’t realise they’d stopped: they just looked at each other and kept going, and a hit was born. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SOryJvTAGs#t=260.249687
Australian bands have stupid names: it’s some immutable law that must be obeyed. Spiderbait. Regurgitator. Grinspoon. Jebediah. You Am I. The list is endless, and no one overseas believes me until I get down the list, and they reply “yeah, they are pretty stupid.” I mean, most bands have stupid names, but Australian bands just go the extra mile.
But I love Spiderbait, because they can go from beautiful to ear bleeding in seconds, and it’s amazing to hear them do it. Don’t believe me? Here’s Calypso. And if you don’t like one of their songs? Don’t worry, there’ll be another one along in 2 minutes, and it might even be this one.
I love that a whinge about their record company turned into something as great as this, and the writer in me is impressed at how they got a whole story out in 1.41. Plus, bonus points for the Big Day Out / daggy suburbs shots in the video. This should have been in the movie Idiot Box, and there’s not much higher praise than that. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmWkgZ-b6sk or this one to hear it properly loudly https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIkM0eojl6w
Sometimes music is functional, it has a physical effect on you that changes you somehow, that leaves you different to the way it found you. Go for a run listening to a podcast, as I sometimes do, and it’s an efficient use of time, but go for a run listening to music and it will be different, faster, better maybe. Whenever I hear this song it perks me up, makes me pay attention to what’s about to happen, because I’ve been listening to it for so many years, for 3 weeks at a time and then nothing more for a year, so when I hear it I know I’m going to be interested in what comes next.
I could have gone with the old Channel 4 theme (which I love is now used as the theme for Mitch Docker’s podcast *cycling geek alert*) and pulled out my old La Vie Claire shirt, or gone with Kraftwerk for some hipster cred, but frankly neither of them affect me as much as the ITV4 theme does. Even now, just playing the 30 seconds of it made me want to see Gary Imlach open the show with some sarcastic comment before seeing the gorgeous landscape of France roll past in HD while almost 200 men go through complete agony for my entertainment.
Don’t look at me like that: it’s what they want to do. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t5Bl8ViWp6k