Donkeys

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

A true cult favourite for most hardened fans, this one has been adopted by fans as their own anthem and dedication, hardly surprising with lines like ‘put some lipstick on, at least your lies will be pretty’ speaking a thousand truths for us outcasts and misfits who find affinity with the band. Musically it’s okay, standing out mainly for a fantastic solo and of course Bradfield’s high pitched final screech. I do like how the solo sounds so skyscraping, only for it to be restrained and drawn back as the song comes to a softer, stuttering finish.

This B-Side to Roses In The Hospital is one of the most highly regarded by fans and the band alike and would later appear on Lipstick Traces – I like it okay and go between giving it a 2 or 3 score, but the solo tends to keep it in the higher group.

Donkeys: 3/Good

Misheard Lyrics: 1. Donkeys don’t have lots of tears. Actual Lyrics: Donkeys don’t allow their tears.

Misheard Lyrics: 2. And emotion never fear. Actual Lyrics: No emotion never feel.

Misheard Lyrics: 3. Donkeys wake up in a sty. Actual Lyrics: Donkeys weight cracking a spine.

Misheard Lyrics: 4. Lost with solace inside/loves the silence inside. Actual Lyrics: Those with silence inside.

Misheard Lyrics: 5. Donkeys are only left with dice/lice. Actual Lyrics: Donkeys are only left with lies .

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time: Dead Skin Mask – Slayer

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Raise those horns, shit is about to get loud. Oh yeah… that’s not a Slayer pic up there, but one I took of Opeth back in 2010 – thought I’d better add some pictures to these posts ‘cos the words sure as shit ain’t exciting. If you follow my blog, you’ll probably know a little of my musical preferences by now. I was a rock, metal, and grunge kid in the early 90s and most of my books and homework were covered in scrawls of guitars, band logos, skulls, and snakes. Metallica, Nirvana, Guns’n’Roses were the most common, but every so often I’d whip a Slayer out. The funny thing was, I didn’t actually know any Slayer songs. Give me a break, I was like 10 years old. As big as metal was at the time, you think that shit was getting played on the radio? Not only that, I didn’t have MTV. One of my friends and metal comrades did though, so it was during my sleepovers at his house that we would stay up to catch Headbanger’s Ball and Beavis And Butthead and late night music videos. I don’t remember ever catching a Slayer song though… and in truth I don’t recall when I really got into them. I wasn’t… then I was.

Slayer had been growing in power and influence throughout the 80s, and their fifth album Seasons In The Abyss came in 1990, right around the time the industry was about to drastically change. While still incredibly fast and brutal, the songwriting had matured significantly and the band were branching out into some slightly different directions, if not outright experimenting. While War Ensemble is the leading single from the album, it’s Dead Skin Mask which makes the most impact. A significantly slower song with a clearly defined riff, borrowed from South Of Heaven, it tells the story of Ed Gein complete with spoken male and female parts and screams. The song builds and builds in a way more akin to Metallica and Megadeth than the all out fury and shredding we are more used to from Slayer.

The verses are static and monotone as many Slayer songs are, but stripped back to just drums and sustained chords while the chorus hilariously is about as singalong and commercial as you’ll ever get from the band. It’s stupidly catchy and each repetition adds a pulsating mesmeric rhythm right up until the finish with the yelping woman screaming to be let out. Even the solo is more refined than the usual whammy stylings of Kerry, and the lyrics vary a little more than the Slayer trope of how many times can you say ‘Death’ in a minute.

Dead Skin Mask remains popular with fans and still pops up when the band (sadly not for much longer) play live. In terms of covers… you’re not going to get many non-metal renditions of a song like this, but the likes of Black Metal band Dark Funeral and experimental noise band Nadja have offered their own wildly different interpretations. The song was one of a small number of Slayer songs which got regular enough rotation at my local metal bar ‘The Venue’ in Belfast. It acted as both a breather between faster songs, and one for the blokes to shuffle about to and warm up their neck muscles while the ladies grabbed a beer and waited for some Nine Inch Nails. I’m sure once I started DJing, I played it too though it and the band were rarely requested. Still, it’s a safe enough introduction to Slayer for non-metal bands due to it’s slower pace and restrained brutality – be sure to check it out by clicking any of the links in this post.

What do you think of Dead Skin MaskLet us know in the comments!

Nightman Listens To Bon Jovi – Have A Nice Day

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Greetings, Glancers! We’re back with another slice of MOR tunes courtesy of those mulleted 80s minstrels Bon Jovi. Last time around we checked out Bounce, and since that album the band released two curios – This Left Feels Right which was basically updated versions of classics, and that one about millions of fans which was a boxset of some sort. Have A Nice Day was their ninth studio album, and their first of original music in three years. I’ve heard the title track on this one but beyond that I don’t recognise any of the other songs listed below. Maybe listening with refresh my memories.

Have A Nice Day: This has always been a straight-forwards, no nonsense rocker with an inspirational set of lyrics with just enough rebellion to bridge the gap between chart sensibility and those looking for something just a touch harder. It’s a step down from It’s My Life but for most people probably not noticeably so. You should know the score with their hits now – big chorus that forces you to shout along.

I Want To Be Loved: This opens like a very specific Bryan Adams song but soon transforms into what feels like an under the radar Bon Jovi hit. It’s very middle of the road and commercial but it continues the inspirational theme – not giving up, always fighting and all that. The verses aren’t the most adventurous but they do build nicely and allow the two part chorus to be the focal point. It’s another good chorus but the song as a whole never reaches that top gear to tip it into their upper echelon songs.

Welcome To Wherever You Are: A soft intro, so assuming we’re in ballad territory. This one has a video, so assuming it was a single. Nice enough verses, again with a focus on the self – don’t be hard on yourself, you’ll be okay, you’re in control, chin up etc. It’s another B grade Bon Jovi song – good, probably feels better to me than it actually is because it hasn’t been over-exposed, but not any chance of it being promoted to the A grade status.

Who Says You Can’t Go Home: Bon Jovi have always been a band about lifting your spirits up – musically, lyrically, and making you feel good, but this is four songs on the trot which are specifically about those very ideas. This one has a very nineties video which adds a nice touch of nostalgia for me. It sounds very much like a song I can’t quite put my finger on, but it’s so damn happy that I don’t care. I believe I have heard this one before and while it’s most likely a B Grade for them, it’s fresh enough, charming enough for me to allow it to sneak in to their A Grade. A nice surprise and good to see that they can still make music at this point in their careers that I would gladly hear again.

Last Man Standing: Faster, heavier, and with a different atmosphere that the previous tracks. I would have preferred the verses to have a little more of the oomph of the intro, but by and large the atmosphere and energy is continued. The chorus is a marginal let down for me – as a standalone chorus it is fine, but as a chorus to follow that intro and verse, it doesn’t feel as impactful. Still, this is five decent songs so far that I don’t have anything truly negative to bring up.

Bells Of Freedom: I realise that the album has had, not on the nose patriotism, but a definite sense of the spirit of the USA thanks to the inspirational sounds and themes. I haven’t clicked play on this yet, but I expect this one to be more up front with a name like that. It actually opens with a bell, then acoustics and vocals fade in. The verse is good but the chorus feels an awful lot like This Ain’t A Love Song. It isn’t exactly on the nose, but the lyrics do evoke all of the traditional apple pie USA stuff without explicitly calling them out. With a better chorus this could have squeezed into the upper tier Bon Jovi stuff, but it doesn’t quite get there and is more lower B tier for me and the fact that it is dragged out pushes it more towards average.

Wildflower: A brief intro suggests another softer ballad. Piano and drum led verses are a little different and the chorus doesn’t get much heavier. It adds some dynamics thanks to some strings and guitars and it all fits together coherently. I like the melodies throughout, Jon tries a little too hard to add unnecessary vocal tics, but on the whole it’s another decent song.

Last Cigarette: Five songs to go and I’m not sure they can maintain this momentum. Hopefully they can, but the album runs the risk of becoming too samey. This starts with single chords and vocals, followed up by an edgier drum and vocal piece, and then straight into an upbeat chorus – it all works. The rest of the song follows this format with some additional energy sprinkled on top. The guitars haven’t been at the forefront in this album, with only a couple of basic solos not really worth mentioning so far – there’s one here too. The band goes for a strange childlike choir section after the solo, unusual for them, but they pull it off before closing out with another chorus.

I Am: Instantly with the atmosphere. This is quite funny to me because it sounds very close to a British band you won’t have heard of but which I love, called Haven. Not the vocals, but that intro and some of the melodies are scarily close to a couple of their songs. This is more like the Bon Jovi stuff I enjoy – understated yet powerful at the same time. I’ve no idea how well known or popular this song is but it’s another one I wasn’t aware of which I think goes well with their best hits. The lyrics are once again concerned with the self, with positivity, encouragement.

Complicated: Gets straight down to business. The verse is quite similar to the opening track as well as It’s My Life and the verse feels too by the numbers. The band landed on the word ‘complicated’ and built a simple chorus around it, making sure it rhymed and scanned okay but with little imagination. As a radio rock song it does the job, but it lacks any of the adventure of their hits. When a band has been going for a while, you can tell the songs which didn’t take a lot of care in construction from those which did.

Novocaine: A breathless, wordy verse kicks things off, slowly builds to a decent drawling chorus. Standard drug/love metaphor lyrics. I like how there are very few breaks in the vocals between sections. I like this – not sure how many more times I’d want to hear it though. A strange whispering, talking section closes it out.

Story Of My Life: Closing with a ballad it seems. Piano intro. Are they going to go full piano or – no, there’s the explosion. It’s a booming end, with jubilant melodies and the same care-free energy which has symbolized their career. No complaints about this one, though I think the chorus could have been more emotive. A good end to a good album.

A very consistent album without a single weak link. There isn’t a standout track for me – a couple of quite good ones, a couple of weaker ones that it’s clear not a lot of effort or thought was put into, and the rest are better than average without quite hitting the heights. As I mentioned throughout, the whole thing is designed to be uplifting, comforting, and very easy to get along with – sing and dance easily. As much as I like to make fun of the band – I give them more credit than most – but to be this far into their career and still making worthwhile songs while retaining what made them popular in the first place, gives a warm sense of security. I have many favourite bands who burned out after a couple of albums, so for the big Bon Jovi fans out there it must be wonderful to hear the band still putting out stuff which they should love. I believe this will be the last album I’ve definitely heard tracks off, and while I’m not sure if it was their last big hit, every other album they’ve released since will be almost 100% unfamiliar to me.

Let us know what you think of Have A Nice Day in the comments!

Best Original Score – 1975

Official Nominations: Jaws. Birds Do It, Bees Do It. Bite The Bullet. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The Wind And The Lion. Barry Lyndon. Tommy. Funny Lady.

It’s another year where the category is needlessly divided into Best Original Score and Best Adaptation Score. Just have Best Score, okay? Jaws and Barry Lyndon won their respective categories and if you’re not already humming the Jaws theme as you read this then you probably need to contact your Doctor post haste. I’m surprised Lyndon won over Funny Lady – usually it’s the musicals which win here. Either way, I’d be picking Tommy in that category. It’s not my favourite Who album or film, but it’s the best out of those three.

Birds Do It, Bees Do It (what? Fuck? Ah right.) is actually a documentary about just that. Yep, if you have a thing for watching frogs, chimps, and everything in between humping, then draw the curtains and stick this on. Gerald Fried is one of the great unsung composers, having worked on a bunch of early Kubrick films and just about every TV show from the 1950s onwards. Surprisingly, this score is not entirely made up of grunting and moistness. Bite The Bullet is a forgotten but interesting film about a cross country horse race and stars Gene Hackman, Jan Michael Vincent, Ben Johnson, James Coburn, and the Alex North soundtrack it typically sentimental without becoming schmaltzy.

When talking about One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest the score is something which rarely comes up. It’s use of a saw to get those ghostly ‘woo’ noises makes the score seem like a Western, and while the music as a whole is poignant and fitting I do think it lacks that big movie score hook to draw people in. Finally, The Wind And The Lion is a wonderful, rousing John Milius film which again few people remember. Jerry Goldsmith’s score is big, bombastic, and has all the things I love in film music – huge string arrangements and memorable cues and melodies. Still though… Jaws. 

My Winner: Jaws

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My Nominations: Jaws. One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The Wind And The Lion. Tommy. Deep Red. Hard Times. The Man Who Would Be King. Monty Python And The Holy Grail. Nashville. Picnic At Hanging Rock. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The Yakuza.

Deep Red is one of Goblin’s best, and funkiest scores – just listen to that bass and those high pitched, torturous squeals. You can see where Carpenter and many others got their inspiration from with this one. Hard Times has some wistful and tender guitar and string pieces which both counteract and fit with the violence and plot, while The man Who Would Be King has a typically rousing and patriotic theme. The Holy Grail has an unexpectedly authentic and stirring central theme, while the rest of the score has militaristic moments, elevator ad music, and jovially epic pieces. Nashville is the obvious snub here, especially considering how well the film was received – maybe something to do with the score being mainly songs than instrumental pieces. As much as I can’t stand country music, the score and film are of course satirical which makes them a little more enjoyable.

Despite making me think about The Karate Kid, the score for Picnic At Hanging Rock feels more modern than maybe anything else on the list. The mournful organ, the disjointed notes which drop off almost by mistake, there’s something airy and not quite right about the pieces here – the original ones or those based off classic pieces. It’s a stunning piece and would be my winner if not for a certain shark. The other omission which most would call a serious snub is of course for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Now, I don’t love the film as much as many people do, but I recognize both the influence, lasting power, and quality of the score and its songs. Finally, The Yakuza is a film no-one remembers even though it’s Sydney Pollack and Robert Mitchum. I love Japanese traditional music and instruments, especially when merged with Western sensibility. The Yakuza soundtrack is one of the finest examples of this clash of styles – and it doesn’t make me think of The Karate Kid (which I love by the way).

My Winner: Jaws

Let us know in the comments which score gets your vote!

The Highest Rated Movies I Don’t Like – Rotten Tomatoes Edition

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Greetings, Glancers! If you follow any dedicated movie blog or fan page or podcast, forum, or website regularly, you’ve probably seen various posts and comments discussing the variance between what critics say is good (or bad) and what fans say is good (or bad). This is a time honoured disparity – critics and the general public have been disagreeing about what they should consume since time began – the general consensus being that critics are snobbish and elite and only like a film if it’s old/foreign/arty/low-budget, while the general public are a bunch of ignorant sheep who only enjoy whatever the largest corporations feed to them, generally new/Hollywood only/formulaic/high-budget films. It’s a load of balls of course, with a few pubes of truth pricking out. As I’ve pointed out before, each individual viewer can be broadly categorized, but we all have our own baggage of likes, dislikes, preferences which mean that – surprise surprise – movies, music, TV, books etc are subjective.

There are key differences between the critic and the general viewer, regardless of how voracious the general viewer is. Firstly, it is historically true that critics have had greater access to a wider array of films than anyone else. With the advent of the internet and streaming you would expect that distinction to disintegrate. I assumed it would have faded more by now, but it remains true that the general public is less adventurous than the critic and sticks to what they know, or what they like. Secondly, critics get paid to watch and critique movies – the general audience pays to watch and in most cases don’t get paid to talk about them. That relates to point 1 – the general public have to part with their hard earned cash to watch a movie, so why take the risk of forking over a handful of money if there’s a risky unknown quantity? We are more likely to spend our money on something there is a high likelihood we’ll enjoy.

Thirdly, film criticism is a discipline you are taught and learn. It isn’t the case that you can simply watch a bunch of movies and call yourself a critic – no, you’re a fan. A critic begins with watching movies, with the love of doing so, but takes it multiple steps further to learn about every aspect of film-making, but also film history, and criticism itself. You can’t be a critic without gaining the relevant knowledge and experience, whether that is through a University course or some other path of education. Even then, simply completing a BA in Film Studies may not be enough – you have to be good, you have to follow the rules, or be a master of the rules so that you know how and when to bend or break them. I admit I don’t know much about Rotten Tomatoes so I can’t say for sure how good, or how accurate the actual critics whose scores are used for the site are, but I can only assume they have the skills, knowledge, and experience which the general audience does not have.

I don’t consider myself a critic, in any way shape or form. I have a degree in English Literature, and within that degree I covered multiple film modules, multiple criticism modules, read endless texts on both subjects, but that doesn’t mean I’m anything more than a fan. A knowledgeable one, sure. Most of the movie blogs I follow, some of which are claimed to be run by critics, are not run by critics – they are fans like me. Some much more knowledgeable about films and about criticism than I am, others much less so. In each case the common denominator is that we all like what we like. That’s the way it should be. Don’t think that just because a film has a super high critical or audience score that you’ll automatically like it, or that there’s something wrong with you if you don’t. Likewise, we should never feel guilty about enjoying something which is critically and/or commercially panned – like what you like. Some of the highest rated movies of all time are musicals – generally speaking I can’t stand musicals. The critical part of me can detach personal preference and speak from a technical perspective, from a perspective of cultural significance, but that’s abandoning the most important part of consuming art and entertainment – how does it make you feel? How much do you enjoy it. It’s part of the reason I don’t do scores – scores are basically meaningless – and it’s part of the reason I came up with the Nightman Scoring System (c), as an attempt to replace personal bias with a more generic critical eye while not necessary having critical skills.

All of that leads to the purpose of this post – I’m going to look at some of the most popular websites and publications of the modern age, look at their mostly highly and lowly rated films, and select a few of the ones I disagree with. Namely, those in the top 100 which I didn’t enjoy, and those at the bottom which I did. As people we like to both bitch and moan when we encounter something we disagree with, and we like to indulge in confirmation bias by seeking our and finding those lists and people who pick the same movies we would pick. That proves you’re right, right!? No, it just proves that someone somewhere likes something you do. The purpose of these posts is neither to bitch and moan nor a search for affinity in this endless void we call home. It’s scratching an itch, it’s because I’m curious to see what others think and if I’m aligned to the zeitgeist. It’s allowing me to see that zeitgeist, because usually I don’t care about what is popular or what is not and I rarely if ever look at sites like Rotten Tomatoes. They are the subject of today’s post, and I’ll be looking at their Top 100 Highest Rated Movies – all Genres – as of April 8th 2019.

At first glance the list does seem a little silly – definitely catered towards the general public rather than the critic. In over 100 years of Cinema, 47 of ‘the most highly rated films of all time’ were released in the last nine years (seven of the top ten released in the last four years). Yes, 47 of the best 100 movies of all time came out since 2010. It’s objectively false and it says more about the people who use the site than the films themselves. If you’re a regular here, you likely know my viewing habits aren’t usual – I typically only catch up to most new movies when they’re 3, 4, 5 years old. What that means is that a large chunk of those 47 movies I haven’t seen – maybe they are some of the best movies of all time, as unlikely as that seems.

Remember, if I have my critical hat on then I am dividing up a film’s score into roughly 20 categories, ranging from commercial power to cultural influence to technical skill so it is difficult to gauge how ‘good’ a film is until a certain amount of time has passed. We’re not doing that today though, so lets just take the numbers and films as they are. There are movies here I enjoyed, or even loved, but I wouldn’t consider them to be the best or most highly rated movies of all time but lets start working my way through the list to find films I didn’t like. If I genuinely find none, then it’ll be films I found average.

At number 87, we have Finding Nemo. Did I like Finding Nemo? Sure – but I didn’t enjoy it any more than any number of straight to DVD animated fare. It looks fine, I imagine when it was first released the visuals had more of an impact, but the story, the characters, the voices – none of these things captured me in the same way as my favourite Disney movies. I understand I’m not the target audience for this film and by the time all of these CG animated movies were being made I had all but stepped away from watching any animation. Once my kids were of an age where they could actually watch a movie, I was excited as I had more than 10 years worth of apparently great animated movies to catch up on, from Disney, Dreamworks, Illumination, Pixar etc. Yet many of the most highly rated ones haven’t done anything for me, beyond being a simple, happy diversion. Finding Nemo is one of those – it’s little more than just okay. For me.

12 Years A Slave is a movie I did like, but wasn’t in any way wowed by. I think most of that is down to how much I love Roots and this seemed like Roots-lite. Strong performances, great direction, but again it didn’t knock me over like a film considered the 45th highest rated film of all time should. I’m mainly picking it because I’m over the halfway mark and haven’t found any others I don’t like – plenty I haven’t seen and assume I won’t like, but I can’t count those. Argo jumps in at number 44, and this one I really didn’t get. It’s not an overly interesting story, it’s embellished for dramatic purposes within an inch of its life without ever becoming dramatic or tense, and it feels like ‘one of those Oscar movies’ designed for no purpose beyond winning the Oscar. It’s not bad – it’s just boring, predictable, and hits every ‘seen it all before’ box I can think of.

Singin’ In The Rain. The first musical. One of the most famous and successful musicals of all time, from the Golden Age of Cinema. But it’s balls. It’s so iconic that no-one actually remembers what the film is about – just Gene Kelly splashing about in the gutter with an umbrella. It’s actually about the film business itself, and we know Hollywood loves movies about itself. But it’s a romantic comedy, it’s a musical, and those two things almost never work for me unless there’s something unique or personal to me. I understand why so many people love it of course, I’m not that obtuse, but there’s nothing here for me beyond saying I’ve seen it.

Casablanca is heralded as one of the best movies of all time. I’m the one idiot who goes against the grain. I just don’t like it very much. I like most of the cast, but I like their other films more. I don’t like the music, I don’t think much of the story, and I can’t stand the dialogue. ‘Here’s looking at you, kid?’ What the balls does that even mean? Why does Rick say it roughly four hundred times during the film? Shots fired, eh?

Dunkirk… I really should like it, right? I do, but it’s not as good as I hoped it would be. In the end it feels more like an experiment than a movie. I’ve seen it once, and unlike most of Nolan’s other work, it’s not one I feel the need to ever watch again. The performances, in most cases, don’t get room to breathe and while I understand that it’s an ensemble about soldiers and ordinary people being forced into extraordinary acts, it strangely didn’t move me. I liked it, but more as a critic than a fan, and I value fan preference more highly.

ET strangely endures over time. It’s the sentimentality and the music and the creature design all combined with that timeless 80s quality made at a time when Spielberg was at his best. Yet, I enjoy the pretty terrible Mac And Me more. Mac And Me is not a good film, ET is, but that doesn’t change how I feel. I don’t have anything bad to say about ET – it’s just one I feel was overrated at the time and has continued to be unnecessarily successful over time.

Get Out is the sixth most highly rated movie of all time. I liked Get Out, a lot actually, but not to this extent. That’s saying it’s better than The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween, Dawn Of The Dead, A Nightmare On Elm Street, and that’s just within the horror genre. It’s not better than any of those films, and it’s still too recent to truly gauge how good it is. Then, bizarrely at number 2, is Lady Bird. The second best movie of all time? For me it probably wasn’t even the second best movie released that month. It’s one of the few movies on the list I have reviewed on the blog and while I think it is a nice, sweet, modern coming of age story, I don’t think it comes close to films like Stand By Me or Lucas, or The Kings Of Summer. 

There we go, quite a few surprises I would assume, especially for regular visitors to my blog who may assume I love all the classics. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate any of these – life’s too short to hate movies, but neither is there any I strongly dislike. Singin In The Rain is probably the closest to a strong dislike, mainly because of my misgivings about musicals, but as I mentioned above I understand why it is so beloved, versus something like Lady Bird which I liked, but don’t understand why it has so much love. What does any of this mean? Not a lot really – it tells me that most users and reviewers on Rotten Tomatoes are overly invested in new movies, which I kind of knew anyway, while reinforcing my belief that you should stretch your viewing net as far and wide as possible – backwards in time and across the globe – to find movies to enjoy.

Next time up, I’ll take a look at some of the lowest rated movies and find out if I enjoy any of those. For now, let us know in the comments which highly rated movies (according to RT or otherwise) you disagree with or don’t like!

Love Letter To The Future

Generic Ratings: 1: Crap. 2: Okay. 3: Good. 4: Great

This is an interesting one, a B-Side from Your Love Alone Is Not Enough which seems like a straightforwards rocker, but has plenty of substance and an interesting and unusual structure, at least from this band’s perspective. It opens innocently enough with chugging chords fading into a big riff, which then gives way to thick, unsteady massive chords and superb Bradfield verse vocals. The chorus returns to the big riff with powerful enough melodies and lyrics sung over the top. We get Bradfield putting on his guitar God hat again for a brief solo before returning for another fun and furious chorus – it’s overall a fun song with a few decent ideas in its structure which raise it above being just another heavy B-side.

Love Letter To The Future: 3/Good

Misheard Lyrics: 1. Measuring our lives in coffee stains

Actual Lyrics: 1. Measuring out lives in coffee spoons

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time: California Dreamin’ – The Mamas And The Papas

California Dreamin‘ is a song that, up until recently, I wouldn’t have considered one of my favourite songs. Not because I never liked it, just because I never much thought about it. Typically when I talk about my favourite songs, they are the ones that have somehow shaped my life or my musical taste or are by one of my all time favourite artists. In this instance none of those statements fit. So why is it featured in this series? Like some song posts to come in the future, it’s simply because the some is so fucking good I can’t ignore it. I’ve been listening to it more and more in the last year and pining for someone to start a new pop movement where the songs are as strong as this. The song has always been there in my life, not because I purposefully put it on or had an album with it but more simply because it was released a good eighteen years before I was born and was so popular that it continued to be played on radio stations and in movies and shows as I was growing up.

That seems like a good place to start – the song was released in 1965 and over the next couple of years became one of the seminal counter-culture hits. It’s one of those songs which makes me yearn for the USA – as many problems as it has always had, sometimes something comes along which makes you want to be a US citizen living and breathing and existing in the same world that the song talks about. It was a hit single in the States and made the Top 40 in The UK, before a re-release in the late 90s saw it finally crack the Top 10. It’s one of those songs which is predominantly 60s but yet endures in each new generation both in its original form and thanks to copious cover versions. While The Mamas And The Papas version is the best, cover versions include Sia, The Beach Boys, America, and Nancy Sinatra have all had a turn yet it was some dodgy German techno thing which garnered the song its first Number 1 placement.

At barely over 150 seconds long, the song is a perfect example of how to do a pop single with no fluff. Perhaps more important, it’s a perfect example of how to do harmonies – in my mind it’s one of the two best examples of this type of harmony ever written, the other being Help! The song even has a lazy pace and a fake-out psychedelic intro in its short running time. That intro strikes me, quite clearly, as the band having no idea how to start the song and getting to the main melody in a smooth way, so instead they just said ‘fuck it’ and cobbled together a few seconds of bizarre psych guitar before blasting straight in. Those melodies? Forget about it. A few seconds in and I’m hooked forever.

Lyrically, it’s the writer yearning for the warmth of California while in a colder part of the country. I’ve never been to California, but the song paints such an idyllic vision of the place that it make it sound like paradise – coupled with the hundreds of movies and shows I watched growing up set in California, hell even the name California has a mythic quality to someone from the dreary, grey, bomb-drenched shores of Ulster. Hearing this song as a kid made me think of long sunny evenings, beaches which stretched as far as they eye could see, and carefree living – feeling which still pervades now even with the cynical mind of a grown-up.

I’ve probably mentioned it countless times on this blog, but the three main elements for me in any song are melody, lyrics, and emotion. This song ticks all three boxes – while I don’t think the band here showcase amazing technical skills or vocals, the lyrics are evocative, the melodies like glue, and it’s all wrapped up in an authentic package. Get those three right, and all of the other important components of music should follow naturally. Get those three right, and even if the other components don’t work, I’ll probably still love your song. Check out my Nightman Scoring System(c) posts for more information on how I break down songs into twenty different components. For now though, click on one of the links throughout this post and enjoy some nostalgic, sun-drenched, melancholic pop.

Let us know in the comments what you think of California Dreamin’ and if there are any other Mamas And Papas songs you think I’d enjoy!

Classic Rock Band Tier – Ranking Classic Rock Bands

Greetings, Glancers. It seems like this tier malarkey is all the rage these days, and every blogger, vlogger, and their embittered uncle is thrusting their own flaccid list into the unexpected orifices of subscribers. Not one to be out-thrust, this post will be my own grading of a list of bands. Before I get to that, I should point out that I only found out about this nonsense via my watching of Become The Night – a Youtube channel run by a musician and metal fan called Mike. If you’re into reaction videos, metal, prog, insightful and entertaining rants on the current state of popular music, then it’s one of the more eloquent and knowledgeable channels out there, while remaining fun to watch.

Mike seems to have used a site called tiermaker which allows you to create your own lists and categories, and drag and drop items into each, before sharing on Facebook or wherever. That link above takes you to the same list Mike uses in his video. In my post I’m going to go through the same artists, but give my ranking on each. It’s partly a response to Mike’s video, partly because I’m curious to see where I would rank each act, and partly because I couldn’t think of anything more interesting to write about today. I should talk a little at the outset about where Mike and I differ. Obviously, obviously, each person is different, with our own tastes, preferences, baggage and all of that will greatly determine how we rank anything, no matter how objective we try to be. If we’re being 100% objective, there would be no point in doing the list because one ranking would be the official ranking. Mike is big into production when it comes to music – listen to any of his song reaction videos, any of his videos really, and he’ll harp on about production quite a lot – the mix, the tone, the tools – he knows a hell of a lot more about it than I ever will and that’s mainly because I simply don’t weigh production as highly as he does in terms of making a song. I’m being slightly tongue in cheek, and admittedly naive because obviously Production is one of the most important aspects of recording music. It’s just that for me, it lies a hell of a long way behind talent, melody, emotion, and lyrics.

Lyrics and emotion are two points where I differ from Mike, and maybe from a lot of other fans. Where Production for me roughly falls into three large categories – crap, okay, and good, Mike has a highly trained ear for the slightest flaw (perceived or otherwise) in a recording and mix – I don’t. My ear is much more attuned to emotion – I can easily tell if something is false or disingenuous, much more so than your typical listener and (without getting too wanky) I have a finely tuned degree of empathy when hearing and feeling any song. In Mike’s own (near enough) words, he doesn’t give a shit about lyrics and considers music and the playing of instruments as the most important element in creating a song.

He’s wrong of course, and is not accurately defining the difference between music and song, at least as both have existed since the start of the 20th Century. Sure a song doesn’t have to have lyrics to be considered a song, but most do, while a song usually needs (but not always) music before being called a song. Ignoring lyrics is essentially ignoring half of a song. It’s one of the prime examples of how music and listeners and artists have been dumbed down over time, to the point that most people ignore lyrics unless they’re deliberately provocative or ridiculously inane. Otherwise intelligent people have been taught to ignore words in songs, because words in songs have lost all meaning. If music is to become intelligent again and move away from its current mass-market, junk food approach, then lyrics need to be part of that equation. As always, I’m writing this off the cuff and chucking generalizations around – I’m aware that lyrics have been silly for most 20th and 21st Century popular music, but even The Beatles grew from childish declarations of love to often near God tier poetry. In Epic Poetry, lyrics told the stories with a cast of hundreds, sung to music which has been lost over time while the words remains. Popular music began showcasing more intelligent lyrics in the mid-sixties, but since it there have been more troughs than peaks in the art form, with the best lyrics tending to come from either cult acts or those with a small following. Various sub-genres of rap obviously focus heavily on words, perhaps moreso than the music. From a Business perspective, lyrics don’t sell, music does. It’s a little frustrating then when he berates modern acts (correctly) for being vain, reductive, and repetitive in terms of music and lyrics, but then completely dismisses the lyrics of some of the best songwriters in history. It’s partly because his favourite acts are shitty lyricists anyway (Dream Theater anyone?) It’s fine though, he mainly defines songs in terms of music while I define songs in terms of the whole package which comprises a song – a piece of music usually designed to be sung.

Enough bullshit for now, lets look at how his tier looked at the end – if you’re curious it’s probably best to watch his video first (plus you’ll probably find it more entertaining than this).

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That’s not the easiest to see, so here’s a more clear list:

S: Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. Steely Dan. Queen. The Beatles

A: Cream. Creedence Clearwater Revival. David Bowie. Elton John. The Rolling Stones

B: ACDC. Aerosmith. Billy Joel. Deep Purple. Jimi Hendrix. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rush

C: The Who. Fleetwood Mac. Black Sabbath

D: The Eagles. Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan

F: The Doors

Naturally, posting a list like this to a large audience on the internet is going to lead to all manner of angry frothing and gesturing. How dare someone else have an opinion, especially one that is so different from mine! Mike has a much larger audience than I do, so I imagine he’s got a lot of hate over some of these choices. Because people are precious of the things they love, and because people are dicks. I disagree with some of his choices, as I will show in my own ranking, but I understand that he is who he is and I’m not here to change his mind. Or anyone else’s. As always, leave a comment here and share your own ranking and reasoning. But there’s no sense in arguing because this is almost entirely subjective and based on our own shit. If we try to be objective, then we have to fall back on tangible metrics such as sales, chart history, longevity, influence, followed up by less tangible stuff like musicianship, lyrics, originality. I’m not sure who even came up with this list of artists, or how they define each tier – I think there are too many tiers and I would replace a few of these acts with ones I deem much more suitable, but I’ll cover these ones anyway.

So lets follow Mike’s ranking from the bottom. The Doors – it was pretty obvious from the outset that Mike would stick The Doors here. He’s not a lyrics guy, and perhaps more than any other act on this list The Doors relied more on lyrics and atmosphere than music. Being a lyrics and atmosphere guy, I rank The Doors much higher. The band were also massively influential (maybe more in terms of redefining what a front man can be) in terms of lyricism and songwriting, they’re undoubtedly one of the most iconic acts of all time, and of course they sold and charted a bunch and are still spoken of highly today. I love a lot of The Doors songs and for a while they were one of my favourite bands. I fully admit that a lot of their catalogue is a little iffy – I credit that to the use of keyboards more than anything else. I agree that Morrison doesn’t have the greatest voice from any technical standpoint, but it continues to moisten panties in every generation which is more than I can say for most vocalists. As much as I like The Doors, there’s really only a handful of songs which I can say I both love and which had an impact on a wider scale. For example, Love Streets is probably my favourite song by The Doors, but it’s not one you ever hear people talking about it. Ray Manzarek was a beast on the keys, it’s just that the sound now feels dated and cheesy. Densmore – a decent enough drummer, nothing special. Krieger had some great riffs and solos and as a band they all experimented and stretched the boundaries of popular music – something Mike claims to pine for.

Next up, The Eagles. In what is going to be a recurring theme for this post, I’ll have to take a step back and state that I’m not American. In my part of the world and in the time that I grew up in, no-one gave a shit about The Eagles. They made Hotel California and… that’s it? I know they were a massively successful band but I think most of that success was internal to the USA. For whatever reason they never crossed the shores to me. They’re a band whose back catalogue I have wanted to get into, and I’ll probably get to them in the future on this blog, but for now they are looking like an F. The same will go for The Grateful Dead, except they don’t even have Hotel California. Bob Dylan, I’ve never been a huge fan of and in most cases the songs he’s written that I have liked, have been performed by other artists whose versions I much prefer. Again, he’s someone I know I need to listen to and will. Known for his lyrics, I’m hoping those will have something I can enjoy and distract me from his voice. Either way, I probably wouldn’t include Dylan on this list at all.

The Who haven’t been given enough credit by Mike, presumably because he hasn’t heard enough by them (admitting again that many of the bands I will rank low will be because I haven’t heard a lot of their stuff). The Who are arguably the most energetic rock band of all time – Mike mentions that ACDC are ranked higher for him because he appreciates their energy even if he doesn’t like many of their songs. The Who knock ACDC out of the park in terms of energy. Keith Moon is unquestionably one of the great drummers, Roger Daltry’s voice can strip paint and lull a heart-attack victim to sleep, while Pete Townsend is at the forefront of progressive music. Of course Townsend would class his stuff as Rock Operas rather than concept or progressive albums, but they fall under the same wider umbrella of telling a larger story with linking themes and songs. The band is rarely mentioned as pioneers, but I think they influenced both metal and punk as well as rock overall. Admittedly they don’t have as many hits as some bands here, but their sales and longevity speak for themselves. Great lyrics too.

Fleetwood Mac is a band I should love but I haven’t bothered going from album to album yet. I do love quite a lot of their songs so I can only assume there will be others I’d like, and they crossed more successfully than other bands that bridge between rock and pop. Black Sabbath, as Mike points out, are probably the first metal band. At least in terms of what we think of as Metal today. We all know Ozzy isn’t the most appealing of vocalists nowadays, but back then he could belt it out and that’s what it was all about – being loud, being aggressive, and being in your face. Tony Iommi is probably second only to Jimmy Page in creating memorable guitar riffs. While the band quickly ran out of steam, their first few albums remain essential parts of metal. They’re far from my favourite band, but I appreciate what they did, the ground they broke, the fans they awakened. I take them more as a greatest hits band – a few songs from each album would make one single great album, leaving the majority of stuff I pass over.

The B and A tiers are where I will change most stuff around. Starting with ACDC. I’ve never been a fan – I think they’re the prime example of pop music under the guise of rock. I feel the same way towards ACDC as I do towards hair metal – sure ACDC is more authentic, but it’s marginal. ACDC is just a better Status Quo. They’re the Nickleback of the 70s and 80s. I just can’t take them seriously, with their lyrics like a bad Carry On movie or a thirteen year old boy’s idea of sex. Sure they have some memorable riffs and the odd decent song, and they’ve sold more albums than is humanly possible… doesn’t mean they’re any good. I’ve never liked any of their singers either – ever skinned a fox? While it’s still alive? Neither have I, but that’s what I think Brian and Bon sound like. Only their sales keep them from being lower.

Aerosmith I used to like when I was a kid. They had a couple of decent albums in the late 70s, then again in the early 90s. I can’t say too many of their songs have really stayed with me over time – while I like them, they’ve fallen away while songs from other bands have kept afloat. Mostly a fringe band for me, I don’t have anything bad to say, but I don’t have any massive positives either, beyond liking (not loving) a lot of their songs. Billy Joel is an artist who, until a few years ago, I had no idea had sold so many records. This must come down to not being American again. As an outsider I knew Uptown Girl, and that one about not starting fires, and that was about it. Yet he is somehow one of the biggest selling artists of all time? How did I not know this? Is it like Garth Brooks syndrome and it’s only idiots buying multiple copies of his stuff? Actually, let me check Wikipedia to see if I know any of his other stuff – there must be songs I know that I wasn’t aware were by him. Nope. There are songs there which I have probably heard, but don’t recognise from name only. He’s another I’ll have to delve into on the blog. For the purposes of this post though, he’ll be going low.

Deep Purple was always a dad rock band to me, even when I was a kid. There was another kid on my street when I was growing up, and his dad loved Deep Purple. They were always playing when I was in his house. Incidentally, it was in that house that I first watched (most of) John Carpenter’s The Thing. Another example of a movie being put on and then us sneaking in unattended. Anyway, it took me a while to actually listen to Deep Purple for my own purposes, and in truth I still haven’t heard most of their stuff. I know their biggest songs, but little beyond that. Jimi Hendrix on the other hand I know fairly well. There’s no doubting Hendrix’s skill as a guitarist and there are quite a few songs I like. The problem is there are very few songs of his I truly love. He broke ground as a front man – ground which remains to this day largely, and sadly untouched in rock and metal. As a vocalist though he was quite limited, but I think it’s his style of singing which gets on my nerve more than his actual voice – a languid funk which never changes from song to song. Hendrix’s songs also come almost entirely from within the psychedelic period and are therefore of their time much more than many other artists here. If he’d been alive longer I have no doubt he would have branched into other territory and made stuff I liked more.

Lynyrd Skynrd. Another quintessential US band and therefore another band I don’t really give a shit about. Mike’s a Southern guy so I can understand him liking this lot. For me, there’s Free Bird and nothing else. Rush is a band people have been telling me to listen to for so long that I’ve given up caring. Maybe I’ll listen one day. The few songs I’ve heard have had elements I’ve liked. But they’ve also had Geddy Lee. I have little doubt I would like Rush if I took them time to listen to their stuff properly – I just haven’t done that, or been given the impetus to do so. Into A and Cream – nope. They didn’t last nearly long enough or sell nearly enough or chart highly enough to be in this tier. Sure, they were influential, but mainly in setting up acts a few months later who were much more influential and much better. Creedence Clearwater Revival – I used to think they were a made up band, like Spinal Tap. Then I found out they were real. I still didn’t care. Another band for Southern US guys trapped in time – a poor man’s, no, a destitute man’s Led Zep. Honestly, I only know a handful of their songs – their covers I don’t care for, Proud Mary annoys the nips off me, but I quite like Bad Moon Rising. 

Man, I should have made a video for this instead of typing. But that would take more effort. Bowie next – if you follow my blog you’ll have seen me going through the Bowie albums – I’m up to number 86 or something by now. I think it’s clear by now that Bowie is someone I appreciate and respect more than I actually like. He does have some songs I love, I have found some songs I’ve liked. I’m not a fan of his vocals or delivery, and too much of his stuff is in the glam genre which I like as much as I like Country music (not at all). But credit to changing the game, to always trying something new stylistically, and for pushing boundaries. Elton John I probably wouldn’t include on the list at all – he hasn’t been rock since the early 70s, and even then it was touch and go. I can’t think of a single Elton John song I love, and there are very few I like. I haven’t listened to a single album by him so there could be a treasure trove of stuff out there, but I’m very aware of all of his singles.

The Rolling Stones are wildly hit and miss for me. I can’t remember if I’ve posted it yet or not, but I am starting to go through their albums again. I’ve listened to all of their albums up until the mid 70s before, but they didn’t make an impact on me. 10 years later I’m doing it again to see if my opinion has changed. Just that short bluesy stuff doesn’t do a lot for me personally, and they had so many covers and almost covers in their early days that it’s a slog to get through. Jagger is a great front man without being a great singer, and the rest of the band are just okay. But they’ve sold so much and they’re still headlining, and some people genuinely prefer them to The Beatles. Led Zep – you know my feelings – I think they’re the greatest classic rock band of all time. Pink Floyd – immense in all the tangible categories, great lyrics and emotion too. I like patches of their early and later stuff, but it’s that run from Dark Side to The Wall which cements them – four flawless albums. Steely Dan – I haven’t posted it yet, but I have already listened to and written about one of their albums (A Royal Scam I believe) and as far as I know that’s the only stuff by them I’ve heard. I need to know more to adequately comment, but based on that single album they’re not top tier. Queen are as big as they’ve ever been and their songs have already proven to stand the test of time. The Beatles I probably wouldn’t have included here, but they were the turning point so it’s fine. Either way you cut it, they’re top tier anything. Lets take a look at my ranking:

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A little different then. And because it’s not very clear, and because I don’t like the categories, I’m going to rejig it a little below:

A: Led Zeppelin. Pink Floyd. The Beatles

B: Queen. The Who. The Rolling Stones. David Bowie. The Doors.

C: ACDC. Aerosmith. Deep Purple. Jimi Hendrix. Fleetwood Mac. Black Sabbath

D: Cream. Elton John. Lynyrd Skynyrd. Rush. Billy Joel.

E: The Eagles. Grateful Dead. Bob Dylan. Steely Dan. Creedence Clearwater Revival.

That looks better. Or worse. Who knows. If it was me, and because I am me it most likely is, I would have replaced Elton with Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles with Alice Cooper, Steely Dan with Thin Lizzy or Motorhead, Billy Joel with Santana, The Grateful Dead with The Kinks.

Right, I’m done with this. Think differently? Chuck in a comment. Want me to do more reaction type posts to Youtubers or lists or other nonsense? Tell me to. Want me to listen to any songs by any of the artists I’ve ranked low above? Let me know and I will. Adios for now!

 

Best Art Direction – 1975

Official Nominations: Barry Lyndon. The Hindenberg. The Man Who Would Be King. Shampoo. The Sunshine Boys.

I’ve said it before, but the best nominees and options for this award are always period pieces – whether that be in a dramatized fact or an imagined future, or something somewhere between. Most of the nominees this year tick that box, though there are as always a few snubs perhaps more deserving. Barry Lyndon is the runaway winner. The Hindenberg hasn’t aged as well as others thanks to its reliance on special effects, but the overall design is still strong, while The man Who Would Be King is an old style epic which John Huston wanted to make twenty years earlier – it’s most notable today for its cast and look. Shampoo is very much of its time, even though it was set a decade earlier than its release date, but it has always felt more 70s than 60s to me, while The Sunshine Boys I don’t recall looking particularly special.

My Winner: Barry Lyndon

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My Nominations: Barry Lyndon. The Hindenberg. The Man Who Would Be King. The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother. The Day Of The Locust. Tommy. Monty Python And The Holy Grail. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Rollerball.

Nothing this year is going to take the win away from Barry Lyndon, but we do have a nice range of extras, from the glossy yet violent future of Rollerball to the manic excess of The Rocky Horror Picture Show; from the trope choking Holy Grail and the madness of Tommy to the sharper detail of both Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother and The Day Of The Locust.

My Winner: Barry Lyndon

Let us know your winner in the comments!