Nightman Listens To: The Beach Boys – Surfin Safari!

saf.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! Glutton for punishment as I am, it’s time to undertake another massive undertaking by listening to all thirty (count ’em) studio albums by The Beach Boys. Unless I become their biggest fan, this journey isn’t going to cover EPs, Live albums, or compilations. As alluded to in my announcement post, I’ve known The Beach Boys for as long as I can remember. Their songs are everywhere and eternal. I remember one of my last days in P7, my teacher decided to just let us mess about all day while he played Beach Boys songs, and he would occasionally quiz us on the band, presumably to mock us young’uns and our love for the Nirvana and the Rave. I knew quite a few of the songs, so he was impressed.

We start, in a shocking twist, with their first album from way back in 1962. When I first started listening to The Beatles, I never realised that The Beach Boys actually got their first records out before The Fab Four. I’ve no idea if any of these early albums are any good, but that’s what I’m here to find out. In terms of the band’s history and how they developed as a band, I don’t know all that much. I know they started out with the three Wilson brothers and two others, I know they started out as a surfer band and eventually experimented more though I don’t know how their sound changed. I know Pet Sounds is considered their best, I know Brian Wilson went a bit wrong for a while… but that’s about it. I know most of their singles and I’ve probably heard other album tracks. There’s a couple I recognise here, but lets just get on with it.

Surfin’ Safari‘ opens the album and pretty quickly gives away that familiar sound you think of when someone mentions the band – harmonies, warmth, guitar tone, clambering bass. I guess the first thing to say is that the production is a little flat – you can tell this was a first album, and you can tell it was made before the significant advances which would come over the next five years. The backing vocals are deeper than what I would expect – maybe the US wasn’t quite prepared for singers who weren’t big burly men in suites or cowboys with low down croons. The lyrics are mostly nonsense, various rhymes about surfing. Even here, the first song on their first album, the band have captured the ability to write a catchy melody – while the vocals leave something to be desired at times, and the playing is fine, it’s those melodies and harmonies which catch the attention.

County Fair’ opens with a similar rhythm and pace. The lead vocals are still a little off, but this one is quirkier due to the entertaining spoken word parts which come off as charming rather than corny. The lyrics are stronger here, actually telling a simple story with clear language instead of the random surf repetitions of the first song. Melodically, very similar to the first.

Ten Little Indians‘ seems misjudged to the modern listener. I guess we can forgive it because it was a less enlightened time. It’s based on the nursery rhyme – adding contemporary music to old poems and rhymes is something I don’t mind, but it rarely works. This song is as simple as they come, and again it’s almost the same rhythm and melodies as the others. Still enjoyable.

Chug A Lug‘ opens in a very similar fashion to I Get Around. It’s funny that the band are name-checking themselves and it’s not very serious. It’s still flat production wise but very catchy. It has a nifty organ and guitar solo piece, but then it’s hurt by a hand-clapping section – always a no for me.

Little Girl‘ has more of a 1950s vibe. That’s because this is a cover. I don’t think I’m familiar with any other version. It breaks up the familiar rhythm and melody style of the album, while retaining the Beach Boys sound. It goes without saying that all these songs are very short.

409‘ starts with some engine revving. I’m assuming a 409 is a car or a road or something. I wouldn’t go as far as comparing The Beach Boys with chavs, but liking cars is something both have in common. US Muscle Cars or Hot Rods or whatever they’re talking about are more interesting to me than what the British chav raves about. But yeah, I don’t care about cars. The giddy up giddy up stuff is funny enough, but it gets repetitive quickly. Luckily it’s short so doesn’t get annoying.

Surfin‘ starts with the deeper vocals again, before bringing in the lighter harmonies and leads. It’s another which has either nonsense or simple lyrics about surfing. All I know about surfing is from Big Wednesday and Baywatch. And that 80s Popeye spin off with his kids.

Head You Win-Tales I Lose‘ goes for a different direction – a percussive intro. The familiar stuff joins quickly and it’s the same uppy downy melodies as most of the other songs, with the same rhythm. With these songs alone you could write your own authentic Beach Boys song by this point and no-one would know any better. I like the chorus – the high vocal/deep vocal accompanied by the double guitar chords.

Summertime Blues‘ is another cover, obviously. It’s mostly similar to the original, though with added sweetness and harmonies. A bit too soft for my tastes compared to the original.

‘Cuckoo Clock‘ is another which reminds me of 50s rock, that swaying between minor and major. Good cuckoos, but the verse vocals aren’t great. More silly lyrics, but it is still pulled off with an innocence or charm or some nameless quality. Good that the style is slightly different from most of the other songs, again retaining the core song.

Moon Dawg‘ has a drum intro which reminded me, of all things, of Mastodon. I’ve no idea what a Moon Dawg is – Sixties slang or some such. I’m going to take it literally and imagine it is a dog made out of Moon chunks, its eyes as craters and its tongue a barren airless void. This is gonna be an instrumental, is it? Well, we have some ahhs and oohs and barks. I’ve said it before, but unless an instrumental is a masterpiece I probably won’t care for it. This isn’t a masterpiece.

The Shift‘ closes the album and returns to the standard rhythm and melody. It sounds a bit pervy, lyrically. Not much to say about it – there’s a solo in there which isn’t all that different from the others on the album, it moves swiftly, it’s not as catchy as others.

That’s kind of what I expected from a Beach Boys albums – short catchy songs with that trademark sound. It’s lacking in big hits, it doesn’t vary much, but it retains a summery feeling and is easy listening. Nothing challenging here, but good signs from a band just starting out and new to the musical world. I wouldn’t lift anything off this onto my personal playlist, but I wouldn’t be averse to hearing any of it again.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Surfin Safari!

Nightman’s Playlist Picks: N/A

Nightman Listens To – The Style Council – Our Favourite Shop (Top 1000 Series)!

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When I started writing this series of Listens To! posts, my idea was to:

A: Listen to the tonnes of albums I have acquired over the years that I hadn’t bothered to actually listen to yet and give my thoughts as I listened for the first time.

B: Catch up on those artists that I was aware of/liked certain songs by, but whose albums I had never listened to in their entirety.

C: Potentially get some new favourites based off what I heard or by recommendations from my billions of readers.

D: Because there are a tonne of albums which always appear on best of lists which I have never heard.

As a musician, music fan, and human with working ears, I feel that I should give these a go. To get some focus, I decided to go to 2000 Edition of ‘Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums’ because it looks fairly comprehensive (and there are a few extra sections listing top 100 albums by genre which cover selections left out of the main 1000 which I will also try to cover).

When

R-381487-1515884107-2912.jpeg.jpg

Greetings, Glancers! Once more it’s time for me to broaden my horizons by listening to one of the greatest albums of all time. It’s fair to say that I haven’t been overwhelmed in my journey thus far – while there have been good moments, great moments, most of what I have listened to hasn’t been my cup of tea. Add to that fact the other fact that I hate tea. And coffee. Someone needs to ban that shit.

What Do I Know About The Style Council: Absolutely nothing. Although, something way back in the darkest recesses of my mind a little voice is squeaking ‘aren’t they one of those ‘orrible ska bands’. And oh crap, yeah, that does sound familiar. I have a vision of a pack of douches in hats playing ‘orrible ska. I really hope I’m wrong about this, because if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s ska. I’ve definitely heard the name, but I can’t connect the dots.

What Do I Know About Our Favourite Shop: They say never judge a book by its cover. When it comes to people, in many cases that metaphor is apt. When it comes to books, in most cases the metaphor is shit – if you don’t like the cover, you probably won’t like the book. When it comes to music, I find that if a band has a name, or if an album has a name that rubs me the wrong way, then nine times out of ten I won’t like said band or album. Having said all of that, this is a terrible name, or at least it’s one which does rub me the wrong way. Couple that with my ska concern, and not one part of any of this sounds promising. Oh God.

Homebreakers: Well, the second I visited youtube to listen to this, the game was up as I recognised Paul Weller. So that’s where I know the name from, suddenly it all fits. For the most part I like Paul Weller, in my limited listening of his work with The Jam, though sometimes he does veer awfully close to some of the ska punk bands…. Anyway… this opens with some Tube Station stuff. It’s a decent intro which suddenly becomes worrying when the brass comes in – brass equals Ska. I’ve probably mentioned it before, but I can count on a very few fingers the songs where brass is added that I’ve enjoyed. This is all quite funky, though it does feel very 80s. It’s certainly jazz infused, what with the horns and backing vocals – not a huge fan of the main vocal work or the melodies, but I could get used to the melding of styles.

All Gone Away: This for some reason reminds me of The Beautiful South – another of my most hated things. On the flip side it also reminds me stylistically and lyrically of Joni Mitchell, which is a much better thing. This is very… cute? I won’t go so far as calling it twee, but it’s nice, less depth than the first song musically, but I prefer the vocals and melodies. It could be the satirical intro to some twisted sitcom.

Come To Milton Keynes: I’d rather not. More organ, again which screams ska. There’s something lazy and sunny about the songs so far which keeps making me think of cheesy sitcoms or Caribbean beaches. The rhythm of the songs so far is very similar to each other which makes the vocals feel samey. There’s a nice middle section here to break things up, but I already know if this rhythm doesn’t change up in future songs I’ll get irritated before long. Now an unnecessary, but thankfully brief spoken part.

Internationalists: Great drum bombast gives way to funky guitar and stupid horns. A more hectic pace. Nifty guitar work in the middle. This is marginally more to my tastes. Still very 80s.

A Stones Throw Away: This starts wonderfully – give strings a chance to shine and I’ll be in love. This sounds familiar, actually – both reminding me of The Smiths, The Beatles, and making me question if I’ve heard it before. I am noticing the subtle and less subtle political lyrics. Great vocals this time, and the melodies blend with the strings. This was bloody fantastic.

The Stand Up Comic’s Instructions: They’re not going to, are they? Is that Lenny Henry? Yes. Talking, near rapping over some funky jazzy wank. Mostly this reminds me of The Wall. More political stuff. I’m surprised a bunch of idiots haven’t commented here calling this lefty PC Commie cuck agendist leftist crap. Yeah, idiots.

Boy Who Cried Wolf: This feels unusually sexy. A more straightforward pop song, and while I haven’t paid attention to the lyrics this time it sounds more like a love song of sorts. I can see the influence of this in a lot of later R’n’B. Mostly very nice.

A Man Of Great Promise: Church bells always depress me or put me on edge. A bunch of these songs make me think of another 80s band, but I can’t quite place it. Musically this is lovely again, not quite enough to make me seek it out again, but good enough for me to recommend it and not mind hearing it more. Lyrically it sounds like a dedication… I assume Paul’s not singing about himself.

Down In The Seine: Come on, I know I’ve heard this somewhere. I have no clue where, but this is definitely familiar. I’m still getting vibes of all the aforementioned bands. Now French vocals, now accordion. Good stuff again, the album getting stronger after a stumbling start.

The Lodgers: Ah, nice vocal intro. Breaks away into more 80s Floyd funk. Good lyrics, great rhythm, I like the vocals, the melodies. I could do without the organ.I’m even getting a Michael Jackson vibe here. I’d like to say this is superb, but purely personal preference holds me back from saying it. But it is very good. Thank God it’s not what I thought.

Luck: I don’t feel this one as much, though admittedly I was reading something about some Instagram bin-lid going on a racist rant about Martin Luther King while listening. This is quite poppy, what with all the vocal waverings going on. It’s fine, summery. This time it reminds me of both Phil Collins and Cartoone.

With Everything To Lose: Another merging the male and female vocals. Reminds me of Spanish holidays. That rhythm is back. This one’s just okay for me, not as strong as the ones I’ve called out as enjoying.

Our Favourite Shop: That sounds like one of the instruments I used to select on my dad’s old keyboard – like the keyboard version of a bass guitar. Still, it’s funky, there’s some funky organ, some sort of cowbell, piano, and… is this all an instrumental? You probably know my feelings on instrumentals – they have to be truly exceptional or exceedingly hooky to get me listening more than a few times. This is neither, but it ain’t ‘alf bad, guv. Pretty ballsy to name your album after an instrumental track, I guess.

Walls Come Tumbling Down!: I feel like this would have worked better if it had properly merged with the song before. Bowie vocals. Lady vocals too. Full disclosure. It’s a few weeks between listening to this song and listening to the previous tracks and this feels very similar to one I’ve already heard. Nevertheless, I like it well enough and wouldn’t switch channel or song if it came on. Can’t say I’d go searching for it though.

What Did I Learn: That The Style Council is not a Ska band and features Paul Weller. That I liked it more than I thought I would. That judging a book by its cover, or a band by their name is perfectly acceptable – as long as you have a few other facts to help.

Does It Deserve To Be In The Top 1000 Albums Of All Time: I liked it more often than not, but that’s not nearly enough for me to say it deserves a spot. I can tell at a high level it had an influence on later groups, but those groups would tend to be ones I don’t like or listen to much. I can’t give any good reason why it shouldn’t be included, so I fall on a maybe for this one.

Colin Larkin’s Ranking: 706/1000

Let us know in the comments what you thought of The Style Council’s ‘Our Favourite Shop’ and if it’s in your list of favourites!

Nightman Listens To Bon Jovi – Have A Nice Day

Have_a_Nice_Day_Bon_Jovi_album

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!

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!

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time – A Case Of You – Joni Mitchell

Greetings, Glancers! You have been warned. But now it’s too late to turn back, and before you start whacking that back button and trying to get out let me tell you that if you do, there will be an unholy stain on your favourite rug next time you look. You’re stuck with me. Deal with it.

I came around to Joni Mitchell quite late. Late teens. I knew some of her songs when I was a cub – namely Big Yellow Taxi and The Circle Game. One of my best friends was a massive fan and he was living and working in a (basically) psych hospital/home and I would come and stay with him sometimes and get up to all sorts of shenanigans. He essentially had a personnel living quarters/ward to himself which reminded me of the army barracks I used to… well, that’s another story. It had the same feeling – long corridors, common rooms, dimly lit kitchen areas, hefty double doors and fire escapes, and bedrooms which seemed like minor improvements on prison cells. To have all this to yourself was like living in your own castle so naturally we would stay up till dawn watching DVDs, playing guitar, getting drunk, and messing around the halls on the various pieces of cleaning and physical training equipment. I have fond memories of walking around the building at 4.00 am while Fleetwood Mac was blaring through the speakers, before going outside as the sun was coming up and talking to some random ‘inmate’ who happened to be having a smoke (the whole complex was split into different areas from the violent criminally insane section which had its own guards and walls, to the more harmless dementia and addict patients, and many were free to roam as they pleased as far as I could tell).

Back to Joni – my friend would stick on Joni albums and they would be perfect for background chill music, but I’ve never been the sort of person who can ‘tolerate’ music as background sounds. What I mean by that is, if a song is on, I can’t help but listen to it. I focus on it, I zoom in on the instruments and the lyrics and the writing and end up engaging with it more than whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. Having a similar taste in music to me anyway, and frequently introducing each other to new bands, I latched on to Joni pretty quickly. With songs like A Case Of You – how can you not? It remains one of the most sweet, most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard.

My wife hates it – she doesn’t do high pitched voices and she can’t listen to anything by Joni without cringing. I get it, even in her most commercial songs, I understand why some people won’t like her voice. She hits some incredibly high notes and at times comes close to being shrill, but by contrast that’s what I love in a vocalist. I like a voice to be strained until breaking point – I don’t usually do smooth vocals, listening to someone like Michael Buble is like having an apple pushed into my ear. The thing that is easy to miss when you dislike her voice is just how perfectly controlled it is – remember this song is little more than her vocal and her Dulcimer, but she performs it like a duet, her voice as the lead instrument and the guitar as a backup. Fans will know that she does this on a lot of her albums, but I think she does it best on her first three or four albums. Those little ascending scale runs she does, the personality on certain inflections, the incredible resilient vibrato, it all lends a unique power and quality that I don’t think any other vocalist has ever matched. Joni has always had that power of commanding a song with a vocal performance meaning that her version of whatever song it is invariably sounds the best.

Which brings me to cover versions. According to Wikipedia, the song has had over 300 official cover recordings. I haven’t heard many of those, and the only one which jumps out at me is the one by Tori Amos – another artist who was frequently played during those debauched nights in the halls – but the likes of Prince, KD Lang, and Michelle Branch have covered it too, and a brief search in Youtube will yield hundreds of results by budding and wannabee singers, songwriters, pop stars all bringing their own voice and personality to it. The song has appeared in multiple movies and TV shows over the decades. It’s a song which has clearly spoken on a deeply personal level to millions of people since it’s debut in 1971 on Blue. What is it then which has made it so universally loved for so long? That’s one of the key questions of music, or art as a whole – how and why something endures. At its most simple, it is because the song resonates emotionally, and love and loss are human facets which have always been and will always be.

At a deeper level, that voice is at once haunting, sweet, reminds of what has been seen as a more ideal time, and somehow captures the listener in their own personal point in time. For whatever reason, people find this song exactly when they need to and years later upon hearing the song it transports you back to those days – as exemplified in my writing above. It’s the inherently catchy melody – a simple chorus switched up by the vocals each time, and it’s the timeless writing. You can mash up the song anyway you like, add a bunch of other instruments, soup it up in the studio, but you can’t really strip it down any further than how it is in its original, purest form. It’s like a newborn in its perfection – sure some people are going to be put off by it and not know what to do when handed it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s perfect. The lyrics are poetic without being obtuse, and universal without being cliche ridden – the truest sign of a great songwriter who can relate feelings we’ve all felt in ways and with words we all understand, but which are entirely personal to the person who wrote them.

Between Joni’s soaring highs and James Taylor’s heartbreaking acoustic, the sparse arrangement doesn’t require any embellishing. I love songs which throw everything at the wall and succeed, and I equally love songs which strut up to a stool on a stage, sit down, and just start playing with utmost confidence saying ‘here I am, you’re going to love me’ like A Case Of You does. There isn’t a single millisecond of bullshit in the entire thing, and it lays the performer and the listener bare. Even as simple and sparse as the song is, it still throws in surprises such as the Canadian National Anthem interlude and the interchange between childlike pain and fear and Godly falsetto. The song may not be the most instrumentally complex in the world, but its difficulty comes in playing it without breaking down – it’s a song you can’t restrain your feelings from, those feelings are transported into you fingers and your voice, and it’s very easy to collapse under the emotional weight of it all.

With all of this praise and with its enduring popularity, you would expect the song to have been a hit. The song was never released as a single, its popularity coming from the acclaim and success of the album Blue which went Platinum in the US and double Platinum in the UK. Each new generation of listeners and artists finds the album and finds this song among its many classics, and they share it far and wide, and so the song continues to connect and find new ears and hearts. Have you heard it? If not, there’s no better time like the present. Click any of the links I’ve popped in throughout this post – they all take you to the same album version video on Youtube and if you like what you hear, I highly recommend you buy Blue from wherever you can get it. It’s one of my favourite albums of all time and features a tonne of songs just as beautiful and powerful as A Case Of You. If you don’t like it… you are a very odd person.

Let us know in the comments what you think of A Case Of You!

Nightman’s Favourite Songs Of All Time

Greetings, Glancers! It’s that time once again when I drop trou’, squat, and squeeze out a fresh, steaming new category into a spreading puddle on the floor. I’ve done my favourite films by year, you’ve seen me listing my favourite songs by particular artists, you’ve been dismayed by my virgin adventures through the greatest albums of all time, and you’ve glimpsed briefly before disgustedly closing my personal blog posts where I talk about myself.

There’s a lot of negativity out there and this blog has its fair share of cynicism and annoyance – what can I say; that’s me. But this is going to act as a counter to all of that guff. These are going to be my purely positive, gushing posts about my favourite songs of all time. Unlike my list posts, and unlike my neverending Manic Street Preachers posts, I’m going to try to give a little of the factual information around the song, its commercial success, its culture significance, and why it means so much to me. I’m aware that there are a number of artists I regularly post about – my Madonna, Bowie, Bon Jovi posts etc, my Manics posts, along with any number of album reviews, but in these posts I’m going to try to hit a wider array of artists. In that vein, many of these songs may be little known, many will be one-hit wonders, many will come from artists you won’t expect me to comment on, and hopefully you’ll get a little more insight into me, and maybe find some new songs to love. I was going to go random – post whatever – then I was going to do it alphabetically by artist, before finally settling on alphabetically by song name.

Isn’t that exciting? Are you excited? You should be. All that’s left for me it to pull up my gunks, wash my hands, and get to work.

Nightman Listens To – Bryan Adams – Get Up

Greetings, Glancers! We’re here, we’ve finally made it. At the time of writing this is Bryan’s latest album and so you won’t be hearing my thoughts on him for a while after this post. Thank Jeebus you say… and yet, you keep coming back for more. Now, the album contains thirteen tracks but four of these are acoustic versions of other tracks on the album. That leaves a pretty pathetic nine songs – I’m not going to bother with the acoustic versions, unless someone tells me they are radically different. So, for potentially the last time, lets do this.

You Belong To Me‘: What is this country wank? Aside from the twang guitar riff the rest of the song is okay – it’s incredibly simple and feels exactly like the sort of song which took a shorter time to write than the song actually lasts. It’s brief, the vocals are fairly clean as opposed to his usual gravel style, and the drums, bass, and guitar do exactly what they need to do to complete the song. It’s quite hooky, but quite forgettable.

Go Down Rockin‘: This has a similar vibe to Place Your Hands by Reef. There are no risks here, it’s old fashioned rock, sounds like it could be on a car advert featuring some Coupe zipping along a beachfront. It has a hooky chorus too, the lyrics don’t have anything we need to discuss, and even at under three minutes there’s too much repetition – still, it’s fairly fun.

We Did It All‘: Has some unusual (for Bryan) chord changes and rhythms in the verse, the chorus being more traditional and stronger. I quite like the chorus, tending towards that old school soft rock ballad style. There are some swirling effects which feel disorienting, the piano merges nicely with the rhythm guitar tone, but the lead guitar lines in the chorus feel misjudged and could have taken the song to another level if reworked. It does peter out towards the end.

That’s Rock And Roll‘: This starts out like another relic from the 50s. Then I guess that’s the point once I hear the lyrics. This is way too tame to really be considered rock and roll, even those tracks from the fifty had a fiery energy, burning passion, while this is just a pop song with 50s rock guitars and rhythm. The lyrics get worse as the song goes on, to the point where he’s explaining how to write a simple song… there’s a reason we progressed. Fuck those claps too.

Don’t Even Try‘: Right, so the whole album is going for a fifties vibe. The album so far is just a vanity piece, something which feels like a collection of bonuses that he should have given away for free or kept as an extra disc on an honest new album. All musicians reach that point when they decide to just do a covers album or force the fans to hear the artist’s inspirations reinterpreted. Having said all that, I quite like this one, though it’s about 60 years late to the party.

Do What Ya Gotta Do‘: Honestly, these songs are almost direct rip-offs of songs you already know, it’s quite funny. This one has a bit of The Who in it too, I like the refrain, again it has its hooks, not enough, and it’s incredibly simple. This was the shortest yet, barely scarping past two minutes.

Thunderbolt‘: This one has a bit of experimentation, I guess. The riff and backing is quirky, the drums sound very distorted, but there’s almost nothing to distinguish the chorus and verse making the two or so minutes feel very repetitive and annoying.

Yesterday Was Just A Dream‘: Finally. This one feels like a genuine Adams song and not something he’s nicked from his favourite childhood records. It’s quite sweet, and I like the melodies all the way through. I’d happily listen to this song again, but the rest of the album has left a sour quality which may taint anything good.

Brand New Day‘: We finish with a song that sounds like it could be a single (no idea if it was or not) and another which feels like a genuine Adams song, though it does have the fifties beat. The vocals in the chorus and pre-chorus sound like they have some silly filter on. More unnecessary clapping in the middle.

Well, that was… something. A bad something. Compare anything here with something like Thought I’d Died And Gone To Heaven and…. well, there is no comparison. Fair enough he can do whatever he wants, as any artist should, but you have to ask yourself if anyone else is going to want it. It’s a bit of a crap ending if he doesn’t make another album. I’m sure he had fun making it and the songs aren’t really bad, they’re just retreads of stuff done better sixty years ago.

Let us know in the comments what you think of Get Up!

Nightman Listens To – Roxette – Joyride!

Greetings, Glancers! In 1990, the pressure was on Roxette to release a follow-up to their multi-million selling second album. Momentum was on their side with that previous album seeing a number of hit singles as well as the re-release of their biggest hit It Must Have Been Love being played around the world thanks to Pretty Woman. The band were at their creative and commercial peak and the new album would prove to be an even bigger success. Like I mentioned in my previous Roxette post, this album was on regular rotation during car trips. For some perspective, we would spend most holidays at a caravan park on a beach near to where my mother grew up and the car journey from my house to our destination was roughly 90 minutes. Sometimes at weekends I would come home for a day with my dad, before returning the following morning. So there was a lot of time listening to songs from this album, along with other favourites of my youth. I’m sure there are a few I’ve forgotten about here, but overall it’s an album I know well.

Joyride. A great intro to the album with one of their biggest singles. You’d be forgiven in thinking this was the lead in to a concept album what with the artwork and the spoken intro. It ain’t. Roxette have this habit of including multiple great hooks in certain songs – this one has a tonne – the whistling part, the pre-chorus ‘magic friends’, the chorus itself, certain guitar parts – each is addictive and will gnaw away at you. If you like some of the weirder stuff on this site you’ll be please to know I actually did one of my delightful remixes to this song years ago, but I never uploaded it. I must get around to that.

Hotblooded. This comes in heavy, a little cheesy but we can forgive that. Mostly. I’d mostly forgotten the verse but the chorus is another one with fangs. Lots of raunchy lyrics, a fast pace, a harmonica solo, guitar solo, it’s pretty simple but with a decent rock flavour. Good vocals from Marie.

Fading Like A Flower. This was always one of my favourites, but then you know how I love the ballads. This is a power ballad following the 80s template. We have a piano lead in, a lot of atmosphere and emotion, a surge into a crunching chorus. It’s actually heavier than I remember it, more emphasis on the power than the ballad with plenty of guitar to drive things. It also has a greater pace and shorter running time than I remember, but it’s still just as good and gives me nostalgic chills.

Knockin’ On Every Door. This starts with some dated drum sounds before pulling out a very funky verse – lots of riffs and weird sounds along with Per’s fast paced vocals. It’s not very exciting but the chorus is another decent one. Things get weirder in the second verse with stranger vocals and a few interesting musical choices. It could do with a little trimming.

Spending My Time. I feel the same about this one as I do about Fading Like A Flower. It’s another power ballad, but this time the focus is more on ballad than power. It opens with just Marie and an acoustic guitar, very lonesome and atmospheric – especially when the synth and twinkles come in. Then the chorus drops, terrific vocals, nostalgic synth, pure 80s stuff even though this was 1990/1991. Downer lyrics, defiant guitars, massive chorus. It’s perfect power pop.

I Remember You. This opens with some didgeridoo sound before stabilizing. Riffs, decent pace, rock infused pop. The chorus has that annoying Def Leppard feel. The verses aren’t that interesting and the chorus is merely okay, making this the weakest one so far. Still, there is enough here that it is still worth hearing.

Watercolours In The Rain. Another acoustic opening, reminds me a little of Led Zep’s Tangerine. It’s very soft and sweet. This one is unusual in that the chorus doesn’t live up to the verse. It feels like a song that strives for greatness but doesn’t quite reach it.

The Big L. I remember this one feeling heavy. There’s a little bit of guitar there and it’s quick, but it isn’t heavy. We have dual vocals and the melodies are fine throughout. It does have terrible hand claps though, you know I hate those. It’s catchy but it’s one I would have liked much more as a child. This one goes on a bit too long too.

Soul Deep. It’s a rip off of (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction but it’s still good. Marie yelps and howls, the drums are solid, and it’s upbeat. Not much else to say.

(Do You Get) Excited? A synth one which feels more in tune with the direction 90s pop was going. The synth also feels like any number of John Carpenter movies. It suddenly bursts into life for the second verse with a loud guitar riff, but the song doesn’t continue in that vein – the verses are still plain. The chorus is good but not as strong as the big ones here.

Church of Your Heart. This one is interesting – it’s another which tries to be a power ballad but just lacks that certain something. I think this one is too upbeat, for some reason I always treat power ballads as ones which come from a place of pain or sadness. This is just happy and though it has the same trademarks as those ballads it doesn’t strike the same chord with me. I still like it, just isn’t essential.

Small Talk. This is a weird song. It’s all drums and synth bass and strange spoken parts and little acoustic jingles. The chorus is okay. It feels very similar to Hotblooded but a less sexy version. A strange mixture, yet it mostly works.

Physical Fascination. Another weird one, or at least a weird intro. Lots of strange 80s sounds and funk stuff. It’s a bit all over the place but I do remember there were a bunch of songs like this – throw in as many instruments and sounds as possible and see if a song pops out the other end. A song usually does, but it’s almost always crap.

Things Will Never Be The Same Again. Ah yes, I always loved this one. I’m sure you can guess why. Somber intro. Sudden big synth and guitars. Atmosphere. Downbeat. You got it, it’s another power ballad. The verse melodies here aren’t as good as others but the pre-chorus and chorus are both great. It’s not as good as I remember, certainly not as good as the biggies, but still one of the better ones here.

Perfect Day. The closing song is another good one. Good verse, good chorus. This one doesn’t rely on silly sounds and production balls – just melody, vocals, idea. The album ends on a strong note.

It didn’t long before my brother started chopping songs from albums to make his own mix tapes fro car journeys, so quite a few of these didn’t make the grade. I also made my mix tapes and the only two songs I remember taking from this album were Fading Like A Flower and Spending My Time. My opinions haven’t really changed – those are the two clear best songs here, with three or four close behind. The rest of the album I can take or leave – there’s really only one crappy one and the rest are average album fare. What about you? Do you have any specific memories of this album or any of its songs? Let us know in the comments!

Nightman Listens To – Madonna – Music!

Greetings, Glancers! It’s Madonna time again and an album released back in 2000, a simpler, less stressful time some would say. Not me though – I was in the middle of my A-Level preparations, I was 17, drinkin’ and a druggin’ and a womenin’. As you’ll have read in my previous post, Ray Of Light had been a massive hit with me and some of my friends, but in the few years between these albums we had started to see Madonna in a less favourable light. She had a lot of stuff going on which made her a prime candidate for ridicule, not that she’d care, and her release of American Pie was met with general laughter. To many of us it seemed she had lost it. I don’t know how much, if any, this contributed to me not paying much attention to the album but Music is not one I know much about, outside of some vague memories of the singles.

The album seems like it could be short and brisk – only ten songs and the only one I can clearly recall is the title track, and that’s a song I wasn’t a fan of. William Orbit did an awesome job on Ray Of Light so presumably the same will be said for this, although I think this album has a more general dance music flavour with less focus on atmosphere and rock. There’s no point guessing, lets just get into it.

‘Music’ was the first single from the album, and I didn’t like it from the first moment I heard it – much too much focus on quirks and production than, you know, actual music. The video likely influenced me too, what with its apparent love of celeb culture and lifestyle. Lyrically of course the song is supposed to be about the power of music to bring people together and overcome… something, but when the music is mostly dire the message falls flat. I appreciate the creativity and the production, but the style is not for me, the vocals are too whiny, and the melodies grating.

‘Impressive Instant’ is… well, my instant impression is that I’ll never want to listen to this again. It seems to be like another irritating dance song, entirely manufactured in the studio with nothing tangible. The vocals are annoying, the music is repetitive, the lyrics are garbage… unless you’re into dance music there’s nothing good here.

Runaway Lover‘ is a more traditional dance track. As a general rule I’m not a fan of dance music in most of its guises, but there are exceptions. This, I don’t mind. It could be any style of song, they just happened to make it dance – take away the beats and replace them with guitars or generic pop stuff and you’ll have a decent rock or pop track. Some of the noises and drums stuff annoys me, but it moves swiftly with a tidy energy and some decent melodies.

I Deserve It’ seems familiar somehow. I’m almost certain I’ve never head it, but I’ve shared many a set of earphones with many a person, so possibly… This one rambles along never quite reaching any sort of point or peak, though based on the lyrics that in itself is possibly the point. There are moments of potential where I thought it was going to build into something more, but then it didn’t.

Amazing‘ starts with manufactured bird-like noises and bell type sounds. Before long a beat that’s unusually similar to Beautiful Stranger takes the song further along. The song has more of a rock vibe like some of the songs from Ray of Light, though in a completely different style.

Nobody’s Perfect’ begins with something that sounds like ‘I am wet when I am with you’ which seems a little inappropriate even for Madonna. This is annoying because I do like the melodies here, but they are largely ruined by the auto-tuning nonsense. The drum sounds feel too weak in places, but I do like all the robotic laser stuff going on. This would be great if it had a traditional vocal throughout, but even with the nonsense I can’t help but like it and I think it could become one of my favourites over time.

Don’t Tell Me‘ is one I’d forgotten about. I like the disjointed nature and I remember this one had fairly heavy rotation when I was in the University Student’s Union bar anytime Kerrang wasn’t being shown. It’s a decent single but clearly I’d forgotten it for a reason, gets annoying before long.

What It Feels Like For A Girl’ begins with experimental sounds, some annoying English accented speaking, lyrics about androgyny etc. I have a feeling I have heard this before. The good qualities here are buried under the production – the melodies and the backing sounds don’t go together at all, making the whole affair feel like two completed different songs which got mashed together accidentally.

Paradise (Not For Me)’ is a song that mostly goes nowhere until the second minute where a very John Carpenter piece emerges followed by a much stronger vocal (though still downgraded by auto-tune). It’s clearly an attempt at an epic and it doesn’t quite get there, though I appreciate the effort. I love the strings which join the mess near the third minute, but the opening two minutes are too uneventful – a better melody lifting towards that middle section would have improved things drastically. The final couple of minutes repeat variously the good and bad without offering a final distinct section – aimed for the stars and scraped the clouds or something.

Gone‘ begins as an unusually streamlined and simple song – only voice and acoustic guitar. I love the melodies, the vocals and lyrics are plaintive, and the chorus is great. Given what has come before I keep waiting for the big production to come blasting out of the speakers. It does come, kind of, but it’s not as intrusive or all encompassing as elsewhere on the album. This is good stuff, and a great ending – another song I wasn’t aware of that I already look forward to hearing again.

For me this was an ambitious yet disjointed album. As a sequel to Ray Of Light it tries a host of new ideas but it doesn’t have the impact, musically or emotionally, which that album had. Where one felt urgent and inventive, this one feels at times like a joke or more accurately that the people involved were just having fun without caring about the quality of the end product, while at other times it feels as if they are throwing as much sound and technique into the mix in the hope that some of it will come good. The best moments are those where the simple tune is allowed to speak for itself – some of the songs are bogged down by production to the point where the melody is drowned, while in others the production fails to disguise the dull core. There are still some great moments here, and a few songs that I’ll add to my regular rotation, but as a sequel to a great, it falls below expectation.

Nightman Listens To – The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys

Greetings, Glancers. As I near the end of my adventures with Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, David Bowie, and Madonna (I’ve only started with Roxette) I’m already looking forward to which artists I should cover next. Fair enough, Bowie will take some time to finish and the Roxette posts will go on for a while – I’m also looking at the Iron Maiden solo input and Disney Soundtracks, God help me.

Ideally I want to cover those artists that I’ve always kind of liked, but whose albums I’ve never heard. The Beach Boys are a band you just can’t avoid. You hear there songs at an early age – certain songs are simply part of Western or even World culture – you’ll hear them in movies, on TV shows, on adverts, or of course on the radio (or whatever passes for radio these days). I want to cover artists who have been around for a while – those who have had more than 5 albums – ideally more than 10. They should be people I know with a few songs I know, but who for whatever reason I have just never got into. I thought about Bob Dylan, but then I’ve never heard a Dylan song (performed by him) that I’ve really liked (I’ll admit to only hearing a tiny amount). I thought about Elvis, but Elvis is too much of a cover artist. I pondered over ABBA and The Bee Gees, but I’m not convinced on their credentials on having great albums – they’re always seen as Singles bands, right?

Anyway, I’ll probably get to those guys some day, and maybe some of their albums are covered in my Top 1000 Albums Quest. For now, I’ve picked two bands who have stood the test of time – emerging in the 1960s and still playing and recording today (sort of). It’s time to be honest – I’ve never listened to a single Beach Boys Album. I know a tonne of their songs, even ones that weren’t singles to my knowledge, but I’ve never stuck on an album and listened from start to finish. The Rolling Stones however, I have listened to many of their albums, around the same time I started properly listening to The Beatles. At that time, to my mind, there was no comparison – The Beatles were smart, funny, talented, innovative, while The Rolling Stones seemed to be playing the same old blues songs over and over with the odd exception. It’s time to go back and listen again.

Both bands have written some of my favourite songs ever, but still I’ve never been fully sucked in. It’ll be interesting to see if I find any new favourites or a new appreciation. Everyone else loves them, so it’s about time I gave them their due respect. Why not join me on my adventure and share your thoughts and memories of their albums and songs? Because you don’t like me or my musical taste? I suppose that’s fair enough….