Friday, 24 March 2017

My Top Ten Songs About Chuck Berry

After Tuesday's Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs, The Swede asked if there was any danger of a Volume 2. I'm sure this isn't quite what he meant, but hopefully it'll do...

It was inevitable Chuck would find his way into the lyrics of some of the musicians he influenced. Here are ten of the best Chuck references I could find...

10. Mott The Hoople - Honaloochie Boogie

Ian Hunter gets converted to rock 'n' roll...
Now my hair gets longer as the beat gets stronger
Wanna tell Chuck Berry my news
I get my kicks outta guitar licks
And I've sold my steel-toed shoes
9. Garland Jeffreys - Hail, Hail, Rock 'n' Roll

Jeffreys had been making music for over 20 years when a racist insult led him to record this track asking for a little acceptance, reminding the bigots that the black fathers of rock 'n' roll such as Chuck, Little Richard, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino paved the way for Elvis, Gene, Buddy and Jerry...

8. The Rainmakers - Downstream

Hey - remember the Rainmakers? Let My People Go-Go? Those guys. They didn't just have one record, you know.
Well, we're rounding St. Louis and heading for the coast
When we pick up Chuck Berry in a little rowboat
With one oar in the water and one in the air
A lightning rod for a white guitar
And lightning struck once, and lightning struck twice
And I said "If there's a God, He sure ain't nice"
And Chuck said "God is an Indian giver
I don't trust nothing but the Mississippi River"
7. Dar Williams - I Won't Be Your Yoko Ono

Obviously more a song about John Lennon than Chuck Berry ("I could sell your songs to Nike"), but Chuck does play a very important part...
When John called the wind an opera
Making love with every chakra
When he said her voice would carry
And when he whispered old Chuck Berry
Only then would Yoko set him free 
6. Tom Petty - My Life / Your World

Another top guitarist name-drops a tribute...
They came this mornin' with a dog on a chain
They came and took my little brother away
His generation never even got a name
My momma was a rocker way back in ´53
Buys them old records that they sell on T.V.
I know Chuck Berry wasn't singin' that to me
See also Christmas All Over Again, in which little Tom sends Santa his list...
Now let's see
I want a new Rickenbacker guitar
Two Fender Bassmans
A Chuck Berry song book
5. The Beach Boys - Do You Remember?

Brian Wilson remembers "the guys that gave us rock 'n' roll"... just a handful of years after it happened!
Chuck Berry's gotta be the greatest thing that's come along
He made the guitar beats and wrote the all-time greatest song...
I wonder which one he meant?

4. Amy Rigby - Don't Ever Change

Dar Williams and Amy Rigby in the same post... that's the power of Chuck Berry. Wreckless Eric fans, you'll find Mr. Rigby accompanying here too.
I saw my baby sitting there at the breakfast table
His hair a mess and he forgot to shave
And I wished that he would get up, make it all better
Stop drinking so much, learn how to behave
Then the radio was playing a Chuck Berry song
And he was looking at me asking what was wrong
I made a list of the things I could say
But he gave me a wink and it all went away, I told him
Hey I love you, you're perfect, don't ever change
Don't ever change
 First person to point out that Don't Ever Change was a Crickets song loses a point.

3. Richard Thompson - Guitar Heroes

The greatest guitarist I've ever seen play live is Richard Thompson. It was a solo show, but I swear it sounded like there were three of him. I've seen some amazing guitar players before and after, but nothing that quite matched RT.

Here he is showing his chops, playing tribute to some of his own guitar heroes... including Les Paul, Django Reinhardt, The Shadows and Chuck Berry. 

2. Jim Steinman - Love & Death & An American Guitar / Wasted Youth

Jim Steinman is, officially, as mad as ten lorries, so when I say to you that this spoken word story, first featured on his ill-fated solo album and then rechristened and reused many years later on Bat Out Of Hell II... when I say to you that this is Jim's greatest moment of pure insanity... that's saying something. Obviously inspired, in part, by Jim Morrison's lyrics to The End, this features Young Jim S. bashing the shit out of his guitar till it bleeds the colour of wild berries... yes, it's "Chuck Berry red"... before taking the poor guitar upstairs to his father's bedroom to bash the shit out of his old man.

The story doesn't end the way you expect.

1. ELO - Rockaria

Jeff falls for an opera singer....
She's sweet on WagnerI think she'd die for BeethovenShe loves the way Puccini lays down a tuneAnd Verdi's always creeping from her room
And she ain't gonna rock 'n' roll. How will he convert her?
Well we were reelin' and a rockin' all through the nightYeah, we were rockin' at the opera house until the break of lightAnd the orchestra were playin' all Chuck Berry's greatest tunes...
Roll over, Beethoven, indeed.

And that is why Chuck Berry will live forever.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

March #4: Sometimes It Snows In March

Some fool on the radio this morning was saying how people are shocked about the fact it's been snowing certain parts of the country over the last couple of days. "In March!" As though it's never snowed in March before. Personally, I can remember plenty of times on or around my birthday when the new sprouting daffodils have been smothered in a blanket of white. This is not unusual.

Anyway. It's not snowing here today. My commiserations if it is where you are. The only snow you'll see on Top Ten Towers today is this...

4. Phoebe Snow - Married Men

My 70s sojourn continues with another new discovery I feel I may have been vaguely familiar with in my early, Wogan-dominated, Radio 2 childhood. Phoebe Snow was a folky, jazzy, bluesy singer songwriter who scored a big mid-70s hit in the states with the song Poetry Man. I don't remember that at all, but I feel like I might have vague memories of her cover of Paul McCartney's Every Night, which was a Top 40 (just) hit in the UK in 1979. That song is the lead track on an album I've been listening to a fair bit lately, Against The Grain... on which, you'll also find today's offering, The Married Men. Lyrically, it's a knockout...

One of 'ems got a little boy
Other one he's got two
One of 'ems wife is one week overdue

I know these girls they don't like me
But I am just like them
Pickin' a crazy apple off a stem

Givin' it to the married men
The married men
All o' that time in hell to spend
For kissin' the married men

All of which brings us to one of the things I like most about writing this blog. I could just post this song and say "I like it", but I always like to do a little digging too. That's how I discovered The Married Men is also a cover, of a song by The Roches, a band I didn't know at all... but having checked out their version, I might even like it more than Phoebe's.

The Roches were a folky harmony group made up of three sisters, Magie, Suzzy & Terre. They worked with Paul Simon on his Rhymin' Simon album and Suzzy was even married to Loudon Wainwright III for a while (I do own some music by their daughter, Lucy Wainwright). Sadly, Maggie Roche died in January of this year, which turns this into an RIP post... but The Roches are definitely a group I'll be investigating in the future.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Kenny Wednesday #7: King Kenny

7. Kenny Anderson (a/k/a King Creosote)

I have to admit, when I started this Top Ten, I didn't immediately think of King Creosote. It took Charity Chic to give me a gentle reminder that his real name is Kenny Anderson. One of the reasons KC didn't immediately jump to mind is that he's been on my Get Round To Listening To Eventually pile for a while now. That pile's one step over from the Bottomless Wishlist Pile: it's for those artists I've actually got round to acquiring music by... just not got around to listening to yet. Am I the only one who does this? Acquire more music than it is humanly possible to consume? Is it a sickness? Why can't I set myself some ground rules: don't buy any new records until you've listened to all the ones you've not listened to yet? Would that be so hard?

The weird thing is, I actually own more songs by King Creosote than I do by Kenny Loggins, Kenny Wells and Gerard Kenny put together. Bloody hell - I better start listening to some of them.

Well, I've done just that. And they're pretty good. But as I've just discovered King Creosote has released over 40 records, it may take me a while to work my way through the rest. Thanks for that, CC.

I've chosen the following track because I have cats and first thing in the morning, when there's furballs on the kitchen table, urine on the floor and a very bad murder in the litter tray, I often want to jump on at them. Plus, it makes me smile. (The song, not the litter tray.)

Monday, 20 March 2017

My Top Ten Chuck Berry Songs

"Chuck? Chuck, it's Marvin. Your cousin, Marvin Berry. You know that new sound you're looking for? Well, listen to this!"

As well as the accusation that he stole his greatest riff from Michael J. Fox, certain commentators have been dwelling on other less salubrious areas of Chuck Berry's history over the last couple of days, and I don't just mean his ding-a-ling. But I'd rather pay tribute to one of the men who, without whom, there would be no Elvis, no Beatles, no Beach Boys, no Stones, no Who, no Springsteen... etc. etc.

Like most serious music fans (not musos: I am still irking those guys, even though I changed my masthead), I went through a defining rock 'n' roll phase in my youth and Chuck was central to that. Looking through his back catalogue, it was easy to pick out what, for me, are his most memorable tunes. There will be few surprises here. But in the end, if Chuck Berry had only recorded the ten songs below and nothing else... he would still have had a greater impact on popular culture than just about anyone else who lived throughout the 20th Century.

10. Come On

Chuck gave the Stones their first hit single. Another classic "bad day" song!

9. Maybellene

One of the first ever rock 'n' roll records. Sounds much more raw than his later recordings, but none the worse for that.

8. Sweet Little Sixteen

Much can be made of a 30 year old man singing this song, but it's hardly as though Chuck was on his own for writing creepy odes to 16 year olds in the 50s, and the fact is: that was the target audience. Still a great song.

7. You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)

Written while Chuck was in prison; revived (and, to all intents and purposes, rechristened) by Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction. Hard to hear without picturing John Travolta and Uma Thurman clearing the dancefloor.

6. Brown-Eyed Handsome Man

Saw the movie Get Out! at the weekend. Scary to think this record is now potentially even more relevant than when Chuck wrote it 60 years ago.

5. No Particular Place To Go

The tune of School Days was such a good one, Chuck decided to use it again... and create an even better song in the process.

Teen romance stymied by a faulty seatbelt. The tragedy!

4. Rock 'n' Roll Music

Pure adrenaline, which the Beatles then cranked up to heart attack levels... and the rest was history.

3. Roll Over, Beethoven

"Tell Tchiakovsky the news!"

Always loved ELO's version of this one too.

2. Memphis Tennessee

Lyrically my favourite Chuck song: I know you could accuse it of schmaltz, but there's a desperation to Chuck's vocal that lifts it twenty floors above Save Your Kisses For Me by The Brotherhood of Man, which told a similar tale 20 years later. (Musos: irked. ✓)

1. Johnny B. Goode

Of course, I knew Johnny B. Goode before Marty McFly played that "oldie" in 1955 / 1985, inventing rock 'n' roll in the process. But Back To The Future still helped cement its place as my favourite Chuck Berry song. I am prepared to entertain the argument that this is the greatest guitar riff ever recorded...

RIP, Chuck Berry. You had a hell of a life.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

My Top Ten 45 Songs

Today I am 45.

"It's only a number."

Yes. But it is a number I have both dreaded and looked forward to. Dreaded for all the obvious reasons (I am drowning in mid-life crisis angst, but you don't want to know about that); looked forward to because I knew it would give me the chance to write this post. And also because, obviously, it's cool to have revolved around the sun as many times as a 7 inch single spins in a minute. Not that I own any 7 inch singles any more, nor a turntable to spin them on. Sigh...

A few years back, JC, The Vinyl Villain, one of my blogging heroes, marked his own 45th birthday with an epic selection of his 45 favourites 45s. I knew I couldn't compete with that. As should have become painfully obvious by now, I can only count to ten. And so, here are ten songs that focus on the number 45. Special thanks to John Medd for posting about the sleeve of the first Generation X single from 1977 (above). I'd never seen it before, but it was just the image I needed for this post.

Oh, and just for JC: here's Orange Juice with Blokes On 45 to start us off... (Sorry it didn't make the ten, JC - I love Edwyn, but this isn't one of his strongest efforts, despite the cool title.)

10. Babybird - 45 & Fat

Well, that's a nice way to start, isn't it? Thanks for the kind words on my birthday, Babybird.

Still, as this song appears to be Stephen Jones' love song to C-O-C-A C-O-L-A, maybe if he didn't drink so much of that, he wouldn't have to worry about his weight. I mean, come on, Stephen - sugar is the hidden killer for men our age...*

(*Says the man who consumed a whole bag of Bitsa Wipsa with his coffee yesterday.)

9.  Dallas Wayne - Old 45s

A word of warning to all you vinyl junkies out there...

"Old 45s will kill you - like a bullet to the brain!"


"It's just a piece of plastic
In a paper sleeve
But in each groove
Lives me and you
And the love that now is

8. The Tall Boy - 45s & Books

Here's one that came from the blogosphere... I've no idea when or where, and google won't tell me anything else about the artist. Cool song though.

And while we're on the subject of 45s and books, I should drop a mention to Deacon Blue here... although they were only interested in paperbacks (with torn out pages). 

7. Readers' Wives - I Love You More Than 45s

Readers' Wives, on the other hand, are a band I do know something about. A few years back, at the height of my previous blog's popularity, the band sent me a copy of their album to review. I loved it and we got chatting. At the same time I was also writing a few comics so I sent them some copies of those. For a while, we talked about me writing a comic about their band. It never really got off the ground and the band have now split up, though lead singer Niall James Holohan is still recording and perfoming... I must check out what he's doing these days.

6. Todd Snider - Forty Five Miles

One of Americana's finest, this is from his 2000 album Happy To Be Here. Which seems like a pretty apt thought for today. I should take that on board.

And there's Another 45 Miles right here, from Golden Earring.

5. The All New Adventures Of Us - 45 Forever

Another one that was gifted to me by the blogosphere many moons ago... so I'm gifting it back. A lovely little tune by a band stuck on my wants list for far too long now. I must track down some more of their stuff.
I've got two boxes
Paved with rockets
Where all my best friends sit
When they smile, I take their jackets
And give them a spin...
4. The Gaslight Anthem - 45

"I'll see you on the flipside."

There's an expression you don't hear used very often these days.

3. Shrag - Forty Five 45s

Ah, Shrag. Whatever became of you?

Oh. You split up. Never mind. It was good while it lasted.
You want to hang out
Talk about music
You play that record
Over and over
Judging by my tastes
I would really like it
And you would lend it to me

Tell me you met them
Not in a fan way
Said they were nice guys
Not too pretentious
You knew them for ages
Before they were famous
And how they hadn't changed...

But I don't care what you say
I liked them first anyway...
2. Cornershop - Brimful Of Asha

Because everybody needs a bosom for a pillow.

1. Elvis Costello - 45

Written and recorded in 2001 when Elvis was going through the same terrible thing I'm going through now. It's his autobiography in 7". Brilliant.

I could quote the whole song, but here's a few selected highlights...
Every scratch, every click, every heartbeat
Every breath that I held for you
Forty five

Bass and treble heal every hurt
There's a rebel in a nylon shirt
But the words are a mystery, I've heard
'Til you turn it down to thirty three and a third
'Cause it helps with the elocution
Corporations turn revolutions
Forty five

Bells are chiming and tears are falling
It creeps up on you without a warning
Forty five

I heard something peculiar said:
"Perhaps he's got a shot and now he's dead"
Forty five

Sorry, can't stick around to chat. Have to go and "celebrate" encroaching middle age...

Friday, 17 March 2017

The Top Ten Songs I Hated When I Was A Kid... #3

No Top Ten today - I'm saving this week's till Sunday. You'll find out why then.

In the meantime, another one of these...

3. M/A/R/R/S - Pump Up The Volume

Can you pinpoint the moment when you fell out of love with the Top 40? If you want to say, "This week, with Ed Sheeran taking up 9 places on the Top 10", then good on you... you've stuck it out far longer than most. There is a point in everyone's life when the singles chart switches from being a treasure chest full of dazzling pearls to a bucket of clams you have to sift through to find an occasional oyster. When that happens varies - it might be in your late teens, it might be in your 20s. Chances are if you're still in love with the Top 40 in your 30s, your taste just ain't that discerning. But it comes to us all in the end.

For me, it was 1987. And I was only 15 years old. Ironic, really, considering that was the year I actually started buying singles...

Here's how you can tell the moment the charts stopped being perfect for you. A quick google search and you'll find a Top 100 best selling songs for any year of your choice. If I pick a random year from the late 70s up to the mid 80s, I could sing you virtually every song from that hundred. Even the ones I don't really dig, like Jennifer Rush - The Power Of Love; or Elaine Paige & Barbara Dickson - I Know Him So Well... the two best selling songs of 1985. They were both very annoying at the time, but now they fill me with nostalgia. (There was a brilliant version of I Know Him So Well on last week's episode of Inside Number 9 which made the memories come flooding back.)

But as soon as I hit 1987... the clams start gathering.

Stock Aitken & Waterman. Steve 'Silk' Hurley. Sinitta & Spagna. Man 2 Man Meets Man Parrish. Five Star. Taffy. House Master Boyz & The Rude Boy Of House.

Worse was yet to come, in '88, '89, '90... the years when music should have meant the most to me, and the charts kept kicking me in the balls. And I can trace it all back to one track, a novelty Number One by a group who never released another record (not under this name, anyway).

Thirty years later, I can listen to Pump Up The Volume without hating it. Certainly not in the way I still loathe Technotronic, S-Express, Bomb The Base, Krush, D Mob... and all the others that would slither through the doors M/A/R/R/S kicked open. They said nothing to me about my life.

But M/A/R/R/S... I can recognise its influential place in the history of pop... it's an audacious mish-mash of samples over an infectious beat with some cutting edge / extremely dated sfx sprinkled over the top. When I hear it, it can't help but take me back to 1987. Childhood's end...

That's not to say you can't fall back in love with the singles chart later in life, by the way... I did again in the mid-90s. But it didn't last, and ultimately I had my heart trampled all over once more. You'd think I'd have learned my lesson...

Thursday, 16 March 2017

March #5: Frankie & Joni

5. Sister Sledge - Frankie

As I said earlier, my memory's not what it used to be. A lot of songs, they don't remind me of a specific incident in my life, but they do remind me of a feeling. Frankie by Sister Sledge reminds me of the summer of '85, when I'd just become a teenager. It was the perfect pop hit: sunshiny, doo-wop flavoured, finger-clicking, synchronised dancing joy. It was about young love in the summertime and here was I, a teenager at last, desperate to experience a little of that myself.

Of course, that didn't happen. There is the grey reality of most people's teenage years, most aptly summed up by Smiths songs, Heart's Alone and Jilted John (if you're lucky!)... and there is the Hollywood version we all aspire to. Frankie was part of the soundtrack to my Hollywood adolescence. You'd have loved that. I was played by Matthew Broderick, or maybe Michael J. Fox. And the summers went on forever...

Rest in peace, Joni Sledge. Thanks for the unreliable memories.

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