Welcome to Tuesday Ten 300, and this week I’m talking about songs that are about music.
I’ve spent just over ten years on this series – with more frequent posting at some points than others – with the core posts being monthly run-downs of the best new music within the realms of my interests. This was always the idea – to champion great music, to highlight music that readers might otherwise not hear. The rest of the posts have various subjects at their core, that I then find songs to match said subject, and I can thank my readership (particularly on Facebook) that often help out with many (many!) suggestions, far more than I can ever include.
What I’ve never done, though, is one about the simple joys of listening to music. So that’s what this week is looking at. Bands that write songs that relate to the listener in being a fan of music, either loving specific music, or just listening to any music.
This week, by the way, had well beyond one hundred songs suggested, so getting it down to just those included took some time.
This week’s post was initially inspired a few months ago by seeing the (now horrendously dated) video for Cliff Richard’s Wired For Sound, a song that capitalised on the then-new fad for Sony Walkmans – only just available in the UK in 1981. Among the other suggestions that came through was this song, which came from Dire Straits’ 1980 album Making Movies, and was dealing with a similar subject nearly a year before Cliff did his, and indeed is rather more evocative around what the Walkman could do.
There is no other way to say this – the Walkman revolutionised the way music was consumed. No longer did you have to worry about what others might want to listen to – you could have your own soundtrack wherever you were – as long as you had fresh batteries, and the relevant tapes, of course! I had my own Walkman by the time I was ten (maybe a little younger), and I quickly built up a large stash of tapes that had all kinds of things recorded on them. There were entire albums copied from CD, there were albums passed on by friends, and best of all there were the compilations friends made for each other. And I’ll bet other readers of a similar age to me got a real buzz from creating a compilation for someone they liked. There was an art to it, too – you had to ensure that the last song wouldn’t cut off, so some careful organisation would be needed to ensure that didn’t happen.
Things are of course rather different now, and having progressed through a trusty Discman and various iPods (I was a late convert to the iPod, not moving across to one until the end of 2007, when I finally got a 3rd Gen Nano – Daisy had one the year before), I only use my iPod in car journeys now, as my entire music collection is on Google Play Music. In other words, I can access pretty much anything I want to hear, without having to make sure I have the physical copy on me (which I do invariably have, as I still buy a lot of CDs). Funny how things change.
The Modern Lovers
Before the Walkman, though, it was the car radio that was king. They have a surprisingly long history, and cassette players in cars came in before Walkmans in the seventies, and like personal audio, it is becoming more common first for CD players and then USB/iPod connectors to be in cars (although we have a radio/iTrip adaptor to use in hire cars to ensure we can connect our iPods). My wife and I have fairly strict rules regarding music if we’re travelling a long distance (such as to Whitby from London) in the car – whoever is driving has their iPod on, but the passenger then can skip songs. Which usually means that my wife skips more of my songs than I do of hers!
There are a good many songs about the joy of driving while listening to the radio on, but Roadrunner is probably the greatest. With more than a bit of a nod to The Velvet Underground musically, despite that it is a gloriously sunny, upbeat song about simple pleasures, in this case, driving around the edge of Boston on Route 128 with the radio on loud. I couldn’t imagine the M25 – which avoids central London in the way that Route 128 skips round Boston – inspiring such a glorious song, though. Also worth reading is this from Laura Barton about the song, from almost exactly ten years ago.
This is Pop?
The late seventies saw punk shatter many of the norms for teenagers once again, and while it quickly splintered into god knows how many subgenres (I can’t recommend England’s Dreaming by Jon Savage enough to get an insight into the time), importantly it also inspired so many people to form bands and write music.
XTC, what would now be termed a post-punk band, I guess, were one of those bands, but came to it with an intelligence and wit that many of their peers lacked, and had quite the line with catchy tunes. The chorus hook says it all: “What do you call that noise…that you put on?”
It could be seen as the generation gap writ large in musical form, as the older generations struggle to understand what the “kids” are into (and not for the first time). But, interestingly, Andy Partridge has been on record explaining the song:
In 1976 I read a tiny review of a group called The Sex Pistols and the journalist was looking for words to describe them and their music. I thought how stupid a lot of writers are, trying to find categories and names for things when surely if you’re in a group to be popular and your music becomes popular then you are a pop group, making pop music. Despite what haughty, clever or elitist tags you are given or claim for yourself. If you don’t want to get wet stay out of the pool.
Also of note is a fascinating, and self-deprecating interview with Andy Partridge on R4 recently, that is well-worth listening to if it is still available when you read this.
Out of Time
The opening song to the band’s monstrous mainstream breakthrough album – an album that sold eighteen million copies – was perhaps the biggest shock on the album, even more so than the sunburst of Shiny Happy People that would hang like a millstone around the neck of the band. That shock was, in the main, the guest appearance of rapper KRS-ONE, something that would never have been expected prior to this.
The song itself deals with the homogenisation of mainstream radio, as things began to consolidate in the late eighties (a process that has only accelerated since, with iHeartMedia (once known as Clear Channel) being by far the biggest radio station owner in the US, and Capital having done similarly in the UK), playlists become stagnated, and an ever smaller pool of music is “acceptable” for the “mainstream”. More on this later…
Video Killed The Radio Star
The Age of Plastic
Trevor Horn, the producer whose striking style dominated the eighties pop landscape in the UK (seriously, look at his production discography), first came to prominence with one extraordinary new wave single, the first single by his band The Buggles. An insanely catchy pop hit, the lyrical themes had rather more depth than any monster pop song ever had any right to. Mainly, it is about how technology advances and what we do with it, particularly the fading into the background of radio voices as visual media took hold, something that would only accelerate in the musical sense just a couple of years after this song was a hit, as MTV launched and changed the presentation of music for good. But you don’t need to worry too much about the details of the song to enjoy it, as by the time the first “Oh-wah-oh” hits, you’re already singing along. You’re probably already doing so without having hit play yet, such is the ubiquity of this wonderful song.
29x The Pain
Fishing for Luckies
Heading far further north from London, we reach Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and tune into a unabashed rock band ready to doff their cap to their influences. This is Ginger going back to his teenage years, sat in his bedroom and listening to his favourite music, and managing to get across the personal connection that your favourite music can invoke, be it old music, be it new music – and here, he does so in part by integrating as many bands, albums and song titles into the lyrics as he can (and there is a lot here!).
We all have our own lists of inspirations, bands that made us pick up a guitar or other instruments, decks to DJ with, a pen to write about music with, and whether we consequently write about them or not, this song is the perfect distillation of how music has the ability to get under your skin and change your life in so many ways.
Unsurprisingly the last track Motörhead played live (as I recall it ended pretty much every gig they played, and it certainly did when I saw them nearly twenty years ago), this long-time band favourite is, like most Motörhead material, really quite simple in construction. It is very fast, very loud, has an ass-kicking bass riff, and the lyrics celebrate nothing more complex than playing gigs really fast and really fucking loud. To their credit, Lemmy’s band never professed to be anything else, and one of the reasons the band remained so popular was because they stuck to their guns, and this song is the ultimate Motörhead statement – as a later live album put it, Everything Louder than Everyone Else.
Incidentally, I finally watched Lemmy last week – a great film and a touching tribute, too, now he’s gone.
Bring The Noise
It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
Chuck D and Flavor Flav at their best, opening the greatest rap album, period. And among other things, saying that rap should be afforded the same status of rock music (arguably, thirty years on, it now is), and shouting out to their friends and influences, and even re-recording this track to thrilling effect with Anthrax in one of the first metal/hip-hop crossovers. But those shout outs to others, and Chuck D’s amazingly positive lyrics – despite the setbacks he sees, the power of music and lyrics will prevail and make the difference – are why this song is here: music as a force for good and a force for change.
Right now, too, they are keeping up the fight. In addition to a new PE album (Nothing Is Quick In The Desert, which was available for free for a short time), Chuck D is involved with the new Prophets of Rage project – basically Rage Against The Machine without Zach, but with Chuck D and B-Real (of Cypress Hill) on vocals. And yes, it sounds like you think it will, which is no bad thing…
Music Is My Hot Hot Sex
Cansei de Ser Sexy
The song in the advert was the slinky, sunny thrills of Brazilian indie band CSS, a song celebrating the joy of listening to music solo, with friends, in any way possible. Ironically, too, Apple picked up an independently created advert for their iPod, that used this same song. And, of course, everyone now remembers the use of it in an iPod advert…
Long my favourite Joy Division song, this has an energy like the rhythm has been plugged into the mains. Joy Division’s first single (as opposed to EP), there are many stories about it’s conception and early plays – where the band realised quickly just how powerful a song they had – but the primal roar of it is something else. It opens with a bassline that immediately ratchets up the tension, and over three minutes it builds to an almost impossibly tense explosion of rage, led by Ian Curtis losing himself entirely in the music. Keep dancing, keep ignoring what is outside, listen to the radio, do as we tell you. It’s not exactly a celebration of music, but is absolutely a song about the power of it.
I’ve actually got back into listening to the radio during the day again – I prefer background music on my headphones while I’m doing my day job (data analysis), and 6Music has become a hugely enjoyable way of doing so.
The Majesty of Rock
Break Like The Wind
Finally, I’m taking things to eleven (for the second time), and there is only one band that can be the eleventh entry in a list of ten.
The film This Is Spinal Tap was a loving look at rock excess, hugely funny and absurd because, as the story goes, much of it was reputedly based on things that actually happened. So the bumbling band that fail in every way in the film are the reality for so many bands, where live music never quite works out as planned. And even Spinal Tap have a song that – in it’s own, ridiculously over-the-top way – celebrates the greatness of rock music.
Three-hundred Tuesday Tens down, and I’ll be continuing to celebrate music on amodelofcontrol.com for as long as I can. Here’s to the next three-hundred. Thanks for reading, and listening.