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
I really didn’t know if this was my favourite ‘Gurge song, because I’m pretty partial to Superstraight and Happiness and (of course) Blubber Boy, but this has the best story, so in it goes. When I moved to London I was working at AIG, and there were four of us in the City Claims Unit running all the interesting European claims for the company: we sat in a square with brokers having to sit in the middle, knowing that they were really broking to all four.
The brokers hated it, of course, and we used to joke about making someone cry. And we probably weren’t joking. Of those 4, one is now the global head of property for AIG, another is the European head of claims for Chubb, another is European head of claims for Zurich, and one of them is not.
But anyway, big Martin was a 6’4” chunk of Essex beef, who used entertaining sayings to me like “I bet your nose would break a treat”, and who got a formal warning for farting too much in the office. I loved him, of course. And he must have picked up my Walkman or something one day, because all of a sudden he started singing this song over and over, which in itself is pretty ironic. And now, whenever I hear this song, I can’t help but think of the guy who introduced me to The Crocodile Hunter (“you’ve got to watch his show: he’s proper mental”) repeating I Like Repetitive Music on a loop, and smiling like a little boy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB2G2mM6OMM
I was talking to a 21 racing driver the other day, as I have a tendency to do, and we started talking about music, which happens far more rarely than I’d like. Racing drivers tend to be nerds, more or less – it’s an incredibly hard thing to do, because it takes over so much of your life if you want to be even vaguely competitive – and so they don’t tend to have any interests other than racing and training, which makes it notable when they have an interest in anything else.
And this guy had just finished a law degree, just to make him even more of a rarity: I’m always impressed when sportsman actually pick up a degree in anything, even someone like Romain Bardet getting a business degree, and to do all that and still have enough left over to be funny is unprecedented.
Anyway, he namechecked a few bands and I mentioned I’d seen some of them live, and he said he’d been to see the Stone Roses: not because he chose to, but because his friend had suggested it and, as he’s always racing these days, he has no time to see his friend and therefore acquiesced. And then he did what he always does, which is research.
“Have you heard of them?”
“Oh. I couldn’t find much of their music online.”
“They only had 2 albums, at least until now.”
“That makes sense. Were they famous?”
“You mean back when you were being born? Uh huh.”
“I felt really, really young there.”
“That’s because everyone else in the crowd probably has kids your age. Some of them because of the Stone Roses.”
“Do all their songs sound the same?”
“Pretty much, but it’s a good beat.”
“Why was everyone in the crowd wearing bucket hats?”
“Because they’re drummer used to wear them constantly.”
“Yeah, because he was the cool one in the band. And their guitarist is an actual artist.”
“I don’t really get it.”
“Don’t worry, there’s not much to get.”
“I wondered, because the crowd went properly insane when they came out.”
“It’s an English thing.”
“So you think it’s weird too.”
“Yeah, but I do like Fools Gold. And Adored.”
“Which one is that?”
“The big epic sounding one.”
“Which one is that?”
They were strangely popular in Australia, and I really don’t know why. I mean, beautiful songs and everything – who could find fault in something as gorgeous as This Must Be The Place, for example? – but Australian audiences aren’t generally known for their appreciation of something pretentious or arty, both terms of derision there.
And they’re not just one thing, which should be another mark against them – they were white NY hipsters before such a thing existed (at least by name), with that weird, angular guitar rock, but then they married it to a huge, black bottom end, which even more strangely was played by a prematurely middle aged white married couple.
And then there’s David Byrne: I mean, he could probably passive/aggressive himself into a knife fight. And even though nothing they did made sense (pun unintended), they seemed incapable of playing anything that was less than interesting. I have no idea why I’ve picked this song, other than I’ve just loved it for ages, and maybe you’ve heard the big hits but not this, which is maybe their best song, at least today, at least until I go to the next track and wonder if I shouldn’t just rewrite this whole thing. Because look, Sax and Violins, Nothing But Flowers, Blind.
If only Byrne would let them reform, but then he’d have to admit the others added something to the mix, rather than playing to ever diminishing audiences. But if the Hall of Fame couldn’t get them back together, I guess nothing will. Shame, really. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Zrkf65GmwE
How the hell do you explain This Is Serious Mum? A band so self-sabotaging that it almost seemed like their version of career planning: who became popular despite always wearing balaclavas of various flamboyance and singing songs about car accidents, local politicians and drug overdoses, who got interviewed on MTV via fax and somehow ended up on Hey Hey It’s Saturday (with Saturday Night Palsy, of course) and The Panel before trying again to destroy their career by releasing their catchiest song ever with a name that ensured it could never be played on TV or radio despite sampling the Flying Nun.
Maybe a list of their songs would help to explain them. I’m Interested in Apathy. A Hard Earned Thirst Needs A Big Cold Beer, But I Drink To Get Pissed. I’d Be Happier If I Was More Depressed. All Homeboys Are Dickheads. If You’re Not Famous At Fourteen, You’re Finished. Get Thee To A Nunnery.
Or maybe not.
Perhaps I should write about how my friend Linton (he of the wedding fame) went to see them play, they had a big screen up behind them and hand held cameras filming everything, and when they went off stage everyone assumed they’d be back for an encore until the screen showed them running out the back of the venue and onto a truck, with the camera sat down and the truck driving off with them all onboard: “guess they’re not coming back, then.” Or when I saw them play at the Horden Pavilion as part of the Big Day Out and they all wore balaclavas and fat suits, with a girl dressed as though holding the signs for the rounds at a boxing match, except that the signs were the titles of their songs. Or that Linton lived in a flat that used to be home for one of TISM, because he used to get royalty checks for them made out to Sean Kelly, which was the name of the singer from Models, and it’s (almost) certain that he didn’t play with them.
No, the best explanation I can find of them is to put up a clip of someone else pretending to be TISM, because it’s funny. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSjBMfXCnsM
Cockatoo Island. Never went, but listened to the whole damn thing on Triple J, back when they did that sort of thing. They were an immense band, but by the time I started going to shows they seemed to be playing around the world rather than at home, so I never got the chance. And then Peter went to parliament, the band was on an endless hiatus, and then I left to play around the world. That was that, I figured, there’s always stuff you miss out on as you move through the world.
And then, way later than I thought possible, they announced they were coming to play in London. But aren’t they old? Wouldn’t they suck? “Come on cobber, we’re going” said Michelle, or words of a similar sentiment, and then I had no excuse, we were going. I played them for a couple of days before going, and when I met her in the bar at Victoria I had a few questions to ask.
“1. Garrett can’t sing.”
“But that’s good, because neither can anyone else, so he makes it easier for us to sing along with them. 2. How the hell did they become popular anywhere outside of Australia? How would anyone else get them?”
“Yeah, I can’t understand that either.”
“3. What you drinking?” And then they did this, and everyone sang along, and I still couldn’t understand why (apart from there being a lot of Aussies in the room). But as for the song, which one to choose? Best of Both Worlds with that amazing freak out in the middle, or Kosciusko because of that driving bass and the memory of walking to the top of Australia all those years ago, or Truganini for the moment Peter turns into Bob Dylan? No, it’s probably got to be Power, even though I can't find the real clip shot under the Kings Cross railway that I used to commute to work on, for that amazing drum solo and the best horn section moment the Hunters never played for themselves. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYAH008TxfQ