It’s hard to even know how I came to this song, with it’s blend of high camp (they were pals of Jean-Paul Gaultier, obviously), arch vocals and keen riffs, being as it’s French and all. I have to assume it was Rage, but how they found it is beyond me. But I do remember being entranced and waiting until the end for the credits, and then hassling someone at Bracks Records (“yeah, Lay Reeta Mitsooko. No, is spelled Les, like my uncle…”) in the city until they got a copy of the CD in for me.
They were the band that should have played in The Fifth Element, basically, and how crappy that the guitarist died and brought the band to an early end. But it was one of those songs I have tucked away in my head, spurting forth every so often to entertain me and send me rushing off to YouTube, but I never really thought they were, you know, real.
Until earlier this year, that is, at some race or other when it came on and Alexa started singing along with the lyrics, as though it was a real song that existed in the real world, rather than an obviously imagined song, misheard and half-remembered when I was drunk and falling asleep on the lounge. But it turns out they were real, they were huge in France, and they are singing an actual language instead of just making really cool noises.
Sometimes I forget that Alexa is French. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but it is surprising. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYYotVPXcFE
I guess there was no way The Church wouldn’t have existed in 80s Australia: every memory of them is VHS faded, black and white film green with age of some young, long-haired, paisley-shirted, sunglassed men taking themselves seriously as history Iiterally passed while they filmed, making them an memory live to tape, a band who thought it was a great idea to put out a record sleeve where they’re blending into the carpet before the camera for their biggest album.
And it pains me to leave out Tantalized from this list, possibly their best song among many, but we can’t deny that Donnie Darko happened, and made this their biggest song instead. And what a glorious thing it is too, especially when that solo comes (which I have always thought it was a bagpipe solo, and I bet I’m not alone in this, but it turns out to be an eBow. Which is so disappointing, as I’ve spent more time than I should wondering how they perform it live, and how much they regretted the bagpipes when they were on tour in the Midwest, with all those people really only coming for this one song and they didn’t have a bagpipe player, and thinking about how it’s in the top 3 rock songs with bagpipe solos, along with It’s a Long Way to the Top by AC/DC and You’re the Voice by Johnny Farnham. And there’s another thing I didn’t think I’d type today).
However they came to it, it was a moment of genius, of transcendence, and they don’t come round often. Sublime. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pWxJEIz7sSA
From the opposite coast to TMBG, WoV were similar in so far as they seemed to be living a SoCal noir-ish that also didn’t exist in reality. Drive She Said is a perfect example of that seedy, late night LA view, reminding me of driving endless around the city looking for something to do, something that could never be worth all that driving but drawing you onto the highway anyway, telling a fully-formed story in a few minutes that James Ellroy would need 500 pages to describe.
But as great as that song is, it’s Mexican Radio that stayed with me for longer: the relentless drive and sheer weirdness, the ‘wait, let’s throw this in too’ build-up and radio voice pay off making me chuckle every time I hear it. Somehow this got released in Australia, and there’s a huge section of aging people there who would laugh at the opening notes and stay to hear it through, flashing back to the barbecues or pubs or clubs where they heard this first, and smiling at the memories. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eyCEexG9xjw
If you were ever going to mix extreme noise with meditation, I suspect this would be your soundtrack. Ride were the first band to pick up the Shoegaze tag, and it probably did them in eventually: scenes die, fans get older, everyone tries to pretend it didn’t happen, it didn’t mean what it meant to them, it was just a phase they were going through, they’re over it now.
But this beast of a song will carry you over the roofs and into the sky, if you let it.
They had to do a cut down version – record labels are like that – but there’s no point to it, as it doesn’t have the journey of the real version, found here. If it means no video clip then so be it: you don’t meditate with your eyes open, after all. Stick the headphones on, turn the volume up, and fly with them. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcyfPXF770U
Blur vs Oasis: how was that a thing? Wall to wall national coverage of the relative chart positions of the records of a couple of bands, for a couple of weeks, culminating in the great reveal of who would take the top spot. I mean, record charts? That right kids: bands used to sell enough records each week to be worth noting down and comparing figures. Seems weird now.
Plus, it was a ludicrous comparison: one of them is a bunch of scruffy oiks who made a career off the back of 2 songs, and the other is Blur. It’s incredible to look at their body of work now, from the hilltop of time, and see just how varied their music was: it’s hard to believe that the same band created Girls and Boys, Coffee and TV, Parklife, Out of Time, Bettlebum, Tender and Trimm Trabb.
I have friends, people I actually generally respect until they make me reconsider everything about them when they suggest Oasis is a better band, even though I realise they’re just doing it to annoy me. They’re all English, of course.
But the problem with Blur is that they’re so varied as to make it impossible to pick one track of theirs over the others, so I won’t bother: here’s the big one instead, the one you wish would go on for ever, the one that is their shortest song ever, just to spite us. Love it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSbBvKaM6sk
There’s a certain East Coast aesthetic that has always drawn me close: I don’t know if it was ever real, and it wasn’t anything I experienced personally if I’m honest, but I saw it second hand from Stinky and his endless stories, in the films of Whit Stillman, and in particular in the music and clips of They Might Be Giants.
It’s hard to believe they actually existed now: a band that made a living primarily from a phone line, where they put up a new song every day and their fans would dial up to hear it, which meant they had hundreds of songs to choose from when it was time for them to put out an album, which was seemingly every 6 months or so. They lived in a New York from the movies, where everything was clean but endearingly goofy, and they lived in their world of roll neck sweaters, ties and cardigans and pipes, where even though I doubt they ever sold any records outside of the north east they could film their videos in Grand Central Station (the immortal Birdhouse in Your Soul, with it’s own dance line) or with animated vegetables (You’re On Fire).
The phone line was actually a little moment of genius, forcing them to just put a track down and not think about it too much, which left room for the listener to fill in the gaps. And none of their moments were quite as good, perhaps, as Ana Ng, the home of one of the best lyrics in music (“when I was driving once I saw this written on a bridge: ‘I don’t want the world, I just want your half’”). In truth TMBG are the band that would have inevitably happened if John and I had gone to college together: the world has dodged a bullet, but on the other hand it dodged a bullet.
And it might have meant I was forced to be a Red Sox fan, and nothing is worth that. I’ve never liked being a fan of the big teams: it’s too easy. Far better to be a Yankees fan, and dream. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxxL640CRZY
For years there were 2 places I wanted to see above all others: Istanbul and Iceland. The former was probably based in those Koyaanasqatsi films, one of which had a great scene in Istanbul (I think in the Blue Mosque) with the camera gliding across some twinkling, sparking roof tiles, but Iceland? Who knows, but it probably had something to do with the Sugarcubes (whose Birthday clip is almost exactly what Reykjavik was like when I finally got there, for a long weekend with Sheila, apart from the lack of a group of naked people standing in a shop window pouring Cheerios over each other: well, it was a festival weekend).
That anyone from that band went on to become known and loved worldwide is a bit of a surprise (less so that it wasn’t mad Einar, the ranty trumpet playing ‘rapper’), but looking back at their clips it’s easy to see the basis of Bjork’s appeal: when she went solo she just had a bit more camera time in the videos. Joining ranks with Nellee Hooper, the superstar producer of the 90s, was the turning point, making the music sound huge despite coming from tiny Kaosilators and so on, and none more so than this epic track, the sweet spot between Michel Gondry’s warped visuals (before going on to make Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind) and a fleet of demented teddy bears, Hooper’s Just One More Noise mix and Bjork’s best Mad Pixie performance. It combines to make what I sometimes think is the inside of Polly’s head.
What fun it must be in there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDbPYoaAiyc
This song came onto the radio the other day as I was driving my son to rugby practice, and by the time the chorus rolled around he already knew it, and was happily singing along: he was caught out by the stutter at the end, but otherwise he’d nailed it. A 6 year old owning a song within the first play could be seen as an insult, but it could alternately be the biggest compliment to a song there can be.
When this came out Justine was already pretty well known to readers of Melody Maker (I used to buy a copy every week and, although it was 8 weeks late by the time it made it to Australia, it was still way ahead of radio or the local mags, who presumably also had a subscription so as to look authoritative to their own readers) as the former guitarist of Suede (and girlfriend of Brett Anderson) and then girlfriend of Damon Albarn of Blur: it was rumoured to be a slight on Anderson, but once that itchy, wirey intro kicked in all anyone wanted was the boom that followed.
This was also the theme song from Trigger Happy TV, which I’d forgotten, the top track on an indie extravaganza of comedy and downbeat music. She was also (at least partially) responsible for some Blur’s finest moments, including Bettlebum and much of their beautiful album 13, my favourite of theirs despite being weary beyond its years.
The common perception is Elastica’s first album was great, their second one reflected that they had become lost in the hype, and if they were never to make a song as great as this again, well, at least they made a connection. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bte0AAfDXIE
Wait, you’ve got to look at this first. The JAMC on Dave Letterman! Playing with the house band! Dave’s got one of those long CD covers they used to do in the US, which I couldn’t wait to buy when I went to Tower Records in LA! And he calls them kids! That bass player, and his white trousers! Jim’s wearing a pair of sunglasses I used to have! They finish with the big drums! Paul says “they are very nice and well behaved kids”!
I know, everyone has to believe that Psychocandy is the first and last word on the Mary Chain, but it was never going to be anything other than of underground cult appeal, which is probably what they wanted at the time. But later they declared themselves classicists, and were working on a new album that would prove it: I heard this in the US and though ‘damn, they’ve actually nailed it’.
The video really should have been made in an open top car haring across the Nevada desert, rather than for £100 in a warehouse in half an hour, but it doesn’t matter: when I have this in my headphones my ears fill to bursting, I can feel the heat of the endless sun on my skin, and a smile crosses my face as I hear the Beach Boys bathed in feedback. At last. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7v4AAd00dSQ
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