It’s time for what is likely to be the last Tuesday Ten of 2019 – although I might do one more just before Christmas, as I have A Plan – before I get started on wrapping up 2019 next week. As usual /Countdown/2019 will be posted over four Tuesdays, covering compilations/reissues, the best tracks, the best albums and then the best gigs.
So this week, I’m looking at a broadly light-hearted subject, as I spread my wings and fly with birds. As I found out when I opened this out to the proverbial floor, there are a lot of songs that are about or mention birds. And birds of all kinds, too, but certain species seem to be more common than others.
There were no less than 202 song suggestions this week, and just ten of them had been used before. 171 unique songs were suggested, by 79 different people, and as ever – thank you all. There were some really good songs, too, that I didn’t end up using (mainly as I had too many good ones, a nice problem to have).
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me, or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Fucking with the Altimeter
This post rather came about thanks to the jaw-dropping revelation in the recent Brainiac documentary Transmissions After Zero, that the bizarre voice samples in this track – one of the weirdest, and creepiest, songs they ever released – come from an old vinyl record about caring for your parakeet. The song itself shows the crazy lengths that Brainiac went to with their experimentation. The samples are pitch-shifted, while Tim Taylor’s vocal is delivered partly in a high register, and partly whispered right up against the microphone, which gives that odd feeling of him being there, right up close to you, if you listen to it on headphones. Parakeets, of course – in particular the Ring-Necked Parakeet – are now common to us in many cities, and there is a resident population in Finsbury Park, my local park.
/Bird on a Wire
/Songs From A Room
Back to Hydra again, then, with one of Cohen’s signature songs, inspired by both his then-girlfriend Marianne Ihlen and the sight of birds on the new telephone wires on the island (the island only really got modern communications of any kind in the sixties). When we were there, there were seabirds wheeling around everywhere, swallows nesting under the eaves (and under a shop canopy, just metres above the ground!), and curious sparrows waiting for every morsel under bar and restaurant tables. This song was one of, if not the first, Cohen songs I heard, but not in this version – my route into Cohen was thanks to Jennifer Warnes‘s taken on Cohen’s songs in 1987, and I can still hear her version in my head, even though I’ve not heard it in some years.
/Angels & Electricity
A lovely folk song from Scottish singer Eddi Reader that asks similar questions to those that I do in my head when I see them on various nature programmes. Hummingbirds are extraordinary birds that seem to defy any normal expectations of life – beating their wings at many times per second, rarely landing and with a calorific requirement and metabolism from their food (nectar) that beggars belief. Not only that, but they are beautiful, elegant (and often very small!) birds, in irredescent colours and generally striking plumage – and my one fleeting sighting of one (while on Honeymoon in the Dominican Republic) was too short, and I’d love to see one again some day.
/Have You Ever Held A Bird of Prey
/Highly Deadly Black Tarantula
I have, in fact. I’ve held quite a few. Particularly on a marvellous day a few years ago, that was a birthday gift from my wife at the Raptor Foundation (photos on my Flickr). I held quite a few birds, memorably including an enormous, regal (and surprisingly heavy) Bateleur, and their resident Great Grey Owl (named Buzz – the African Wood Owl that was rescued at the same time was called…Woody).
This curious track is one of the tracks from the 2016 Teeth of the Sea album that met something of a mixed reception, and mainly down to this track, whose first half is almost inaudible (unless you’re listening fairly loud). The second half, mind, appears to be composed of elements of a steel trap righting itself, and is an intense, grinding listen.
Apparently vocalist Jonathan Meiburg is a keen ornithologist, which perhaps explains the band name and their prediliction for songs with birds in them. This song references a corvid in the title, but then various other birds in the song, too, as it seems to be imagining the end of days. Like all of the Corvids, Rooks are very intelligent birds, but have long been seen as vermin by farmers. I’ve not personally seen a Rook in many years. I vaguely remember seeing them when I lived in the Cambridgeshire countryside for a while as a child, but they’re certainly not a bird I’d see now in London.
/Cry of the Black Birds
/With Oden on Our Side
Not surprisingly with their close association with human populations for centuries, members of the Corvid family pop up a lot in song – and there were a lot of suggestions of songs involving them, too. I had to include a song nodding to the Raven, though – the largest of the Corvids and one that has appeared all over the place in folklore and belief. The most relevant here, of course, are Odin’s Ravens Huginn and Muninn (Thought and Memory), who are the birds that bring the God information from across the world he surveys – his all-seeing-eyes, if you will, and here, as the battle-ready warriors charge through this Amon Amarth roar of a song, the Ravens are watching them fight. Aside from the hugely-popular Ravens at the Tower of London, I’ve only seen Ravens in the wild while in Iceland, and up close as wild birds they are extraordinary to watch, as you realise just how intelligent – and formidable – they are.
/The Firebird Suite
I never said the birds had to be real, of course, as there are a great number of mythical ones. One of the best-known is the Slavic folklore tale of the Firebird (the tale varies depending on the specific country/region of origin as these things frequently do), which is likely well-known outside of the area of origin mainly thanks to Stravinsky’s magical music. Created for Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes in 1910 and it made Stravinsky’s name in the Western World (the kerfuffle over The Rite of Spring was three years later). I’ve included the whole suite in the playlist, but the most dramatic part is the staggering Danse infernale de tous les sujets de Kachtcheï [Infernal Dance of All Koschei’s Subjects], which still inspires shock and awe 109 years after the premiere.
/The Order of the Reptile
Ego Likeness have long used interesting imagery – indeed they are an interesting sounding band full stop – in their lyrics, and this slower-paced track takes things to an intriguing place. At first glance, it could be a song of revenge, a succession of birds associated with death and malice coming to take their share – but I’ve seen other suggestions that bring to the table the idea that the birds represent the different types of people who cause you grief in your life (especially the vultures – we all know someone like that, right?), although the Firebird (yep, that again) doesn’t quite make sense in this explanation…
Oh god, I identify with this. A birdbrain is either a stupid person, or more commonly, a scatterbrain – someone who forgets, who is disorganised… oh yes, that’s all too often me. Stress rips my memory to bits (and six months on Setraline a few years back appears to have permanently altered my once excellent memory), which means I forget easy things, I repeat stuff I’ve forgotten I’ve said. My memory for music, though, remains undimmed, at least. Which means I can sing along with this glorious song even I’ve not heard it in some years. Buffalo Tom were one of those bands I listened to a lot when I was (much) younger, and have returned to in more recent years, older and wiser, and the meaning of their songs is so much clearer to me now.
/The Holy Bible
Finally, a song where the absence of birds is notable. Amid the horrors of humanity documented by Richey Edwards and Nicky Wire on The Holy Bible – and there was a lot of hatred to go around on this album that seethed from start to finish – some of the most notable songs were the pair that were inspired by their visits to Dachau and Bergen-Belsen while on tour, and they didn’t spare one iota of fury at what they saw. The chorus here is referring to the comment from the band at the time – and the oft-repeated claim that there were no birds to be heard on the sites of the concentration camps – even though the Auschwitz Memorial staff (and I suspect others) suggest it is a myth.
To those of you that read and/or suggest songs, thank you again. The /Tuesday Ten series will be back after I’m done wrapping up 2019, and we can get started on what 2020 might bring.