366 Songs 070: Taxman

As my wife and I sat in front of the computer last night, realizing just how much money we’d have to pay in taxes this year, somewhere in the back of my mind was the idea that this song and the Billy Bragg album title Talking to The Taxman About Poetry were the only two good things to ever come from taxes, at least when it comes to pop culture.

(For what it’s worth: I know about all the wonderful things that I support that are funded by my taxes, and I’m happy to have my money go towards said things. I was just in a bad mood because of how the annual taxes calculations were going, really.)

But “Taxman” by the Beatles is one of those classic, perfect pop songs that changed everything. Whether it’s the bouncy, amazing bassline, the guitars that cut into the song instead of provide the kind of easier-on-the-ear melody of pop music before this, the tumbling-over-itself guitar solo or the wonderful, wonderful backing vocals (“Yea-eah, I’m the Tax-mah-ahn” indeed), this is one of those things that just sounds so correct and complete that you can’t really imagine it in any other stage – or, for that matter, by any other band. Sure, lots of people have covered this song, or outright stolen from it (Hi, the Jam!), but it’s never, ever sounded as right as it does in the original Beatles version. All pop music came from this, in so many ways, and I love that about it.

366 Songs 069: I Thought I Caught (David Holmes Remix)

I mentioned this one yesterday; a remix by David Holmes of a Delakota album track that was just… wonderful, and weirdly central to my shifting musical tastes of the time when it appeared. The original version of “I Thought I Caught” was a relatively straight-forward song, with some nice guitar and a truly bizarre, shrieky chorus, but… really? It’s nothing much to write home about.

The remix, though, is just… space-rock-tastic. It comes from that strange period when Primal Scream and David Holmes had apparently started swapping old jazz fusion records and thinking along similar lines for what to do with their remixes, as long as that meant taking things beyond the usual and more towards extreme de- and re-construction. This remix, along with Kevin Shields’ “If They Move, Kill ‘Em” remix for Primal Scream and David Holmes’ “If You Tolerate This, Then Your Children Will Be Next” remix for the Manic Street Preachers, all stick out in my head as being things that reprogrammed my head slightly, taking my listening from the jaunty, retro-jangle of Britpop or the modern psychedelia of Big Beat to stranger, more out there sounds.

If nothing else, what Holmes does to the bassline in “I Thought I Caught” is worthy of adoration and praise all by itself, I mean, come on.

366 Songs 068: The Rock

There’s possibly no song that sounds more like the summer to me than this one.

I can’t really explain why; there’s something about the sampled guitar riff, looping around and yet feeling so remarkably open and spacious despite that (I “see” music, if that doesn’t sound ridiculous; I listen to things and imagine them as images and visual ideas as much as I can deal with them as music, or as feelings, and I’ve been that way for years. The riff in this song is thin, and starts with two large loops, before falling into tighter formation as it reaches the point it starts to repeat) that just makes me think of warm weather and bright days and late, light nights, with the vocals sounding suitably lazy and discombobulated that I can imagine them being sung by someone half-asleep, happily out of it as the night draws to a close and people are going home in t-shirts and grins.

Delakota are one of my weird touchstone bands, a half-remembered (if that) act that are somehow at the center of my personal musical memory. They existed for an album and a handful of singles, before going on to bigger and better things (Unless I’m misremembering, most if not all went on to do something or other with the Gorillaz in some way, with the singer of the band, Cass Browne, writing a lot of the backstory/merchandise). They weren’t the most original band, or the most enjoyable, but there was an inspiring variety to their influences that I remember really appreciating at the time, a sense that they didn’t want to sound like a Britpop band but instead wanted to try their hands at everything else, instead (There are a couple of great remix b-sides, one by David Holmes, one by Royal Trux, that made other tracks of their album sound spectacular). This song, “The Rock,” was their second single, and there was something in the tension between the guitar loop and the piano in it that made me realize I wanted to hear more from them. That, and the happy confused melancholy of the lyrics (“But nothing came/It’s alright, I won’t be leaving”).

Even now, more than a decade after this song appeared – Hell, more than a decade after the band fell apart – there’s something comforting in this song for me, in its happy acceptance of failure and messiness.

366 Songs 067: Summer People

The version of “Summer People” that I first heard, by the Webb Brothers from their second album “Maroon,” turns out to be a cover of a song by a band called Hushdrops that is, somewhat surprisingly, very like the Webb Brothers version (If I could’ve found the Hushdrops version on YouTube, it’d be here so you could hear for yourself; as it is, you’ll just have to take my word for it). For some reason, that seems particularly surprising considering that the Webb Brothers were a band whose first album had received the small amount of attention it had because of the songwriting more than the performances; they sound very generic power pop, but there was a melancholy to their lyrics that felt appropriate for the sons of Jimmy “Someone Left A Cake Out In The Rain” Webb, Legendary Songwriter. But, knowing that it’s not an original makes a lot of sense, because “Summer People” is this weirdly bright, almost intentionally so, song with broken lyrics that make little sense (“Winter’s over again/Summer people”) and feel less… literate, perhaps, and more repetitive than everything they’d done before. This is a song about a vibe that only makes sense played loud on a sunny day, celebrating the heat and the warmth and the chance to open up your windows and let your sun shine in. A feeling as much as music, if that makes sense.

This Is Where I Belong

The life of a freelance writer is one that, the more I live it, I suspect I’m not really cut out for; the constant waiting to find out if projects are accepted/rejected/alive/suddenlydeadwithnoexplanation/andsoonandsoon, the rejections (Whatever ego I had dried up somewhere a couple weeks ago, I suspect) and the bizarre thrill from emails that are, essentially, “You made it to the second round, but it’s just going to get harder from here on!” just because, hey, it’s not a no, right…?

I write all of that with something resembling tongue in cheek – My ego is alive, just a little tender, and I know just how impatient I am when it comes to waiting for people to just write back and say “Your idea is awesome and we want to give you $$$,” thank you very much – but it’s struck me, over the last couple of months, how different my current incarnation of freelance writerdom is from the last few years of my life, where I was essentially on staff for a couple of websites and had something along the lines of a guaranteed income every month. That’s definitely an easier life, and a less stressful one from the “Not wondering where the money is coming from” point of view, but it’s also one that messes with your attention span and sense of time: A week suddenly becomes a really long time, and everything gets blown out of proportion in the rush to be first and have a constantly updating stream of content; you run the risk of losing all sense of perspective about what’s genuinely important and what’s just noise that people will click on. As much as I have been quietly freaking out/getting depressed about my future, there’s something to be said for stepping back and smelling the metaphorical coffee every now and again.

366 Songs 066: All Around The World

Although it’s from the, uh, “deeply flawed” third album Be Here Now, it’s tempting to point to “All Around The World” as the song that best sums up the first few years of Oasis. It has all the ingredients, from the meaningless-yet-trying-to-be-meaningful lyrics (“All around the world/You gotta spread the word/Tell ’em what you’ve heard/Gonna make a better day” goes the chorus, headnoddingly unaware of its own nonsense), the 1960s-referencing arrangement and production (Only a band so amazingly in love with the Beatles could’ve come up with this) and, perhaps most importantly for this period of the band in particular, a complete inability to know when to stop. The album version of this song is over nine minutes long, and there’s actually very little of that time that isn’t spent repeating an earlier part of the song (I dread to think how many times the chorus is sung, and even the fade out is around three minutes long, for no immediately explicable reason).

And yet… there’s a song here, despite all of that. The melody is easy enough to sing along with, and agreeable with, that it’s a song that can win you over despite everything that’s “wrong” with it, even if you find yourself thinking “Shouldn’t this song be over yet?” more than once while listening to it. It’s unoriginal, of course, but originality was never Oasis’ point; this is a song for people who think that the 1966-1968 output of Paul McCartney has been unfairly maligned but find themselves wishing that John Lennon had done the lead vocals for most of them anyway, as with so much of Oasis’ output. Being one of those people, I find myself listening to it and thinking “You know, there’s something to this. If only they’d learned how to self-edit back then.”

There was actually a single edit of this song, the third single off Be Here Now. As with most single edits, it exists to make the song shorter, punchier and more appealing to people hearing it for the first time sandwiched between DJ chatter, but such was the cocaine-fuelled arrogance of the band at the time, the single edit is still over five minutes long. That, right there, feels like a great way to sum up the problems with Oasis circa this period.

366 Songs 065: Bonehead’s Bank Holiday

I’ve been listening to a lot of Oasis lately, for reasons that may (hopefully) become both known and more profitable than most re-listens to Be Here Now are, but if nothing else, it’s reminded me about “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday.”

Back when Oasis were a relatively new band and hadn’t yet succumbed to their own egos/crushing waves of cocaine/the collapse of their credibility, their productivity was so impressive that the vinyl versions of their first two albums had extra songs that didn’t appear on any other format (They’re still not available for digital download, either, which surprised me when I went looking). The first of those extra tracks, “Sad Song,” was a signpost for where the band was going to with their b-sides and second album (What’s The Story) Morning Glory?, a nice (if somewhat forced) melancholy centered around a more acoustic, melodic sound than the brashness of Definitely Maybe. The extra song on the Morning Glory, though, was “Bonehead’s Bank Holiday,” and that was… well, not really a signpost for anything.

What it was, according to Oasis folklore, was an attempt to do for bassist Paul “Bonehead” Arthurs what the Beatles had done on early albums for Ringo Starr – Namely, give him a novelty song to sing and play up the lovable dolt appeal a bit. Only problem was, Bonehead was so nervous that his attempt at dutch courage ended up with him too drunk to sing, and so Noel Gallagher ended up doing it instead, with the drunk Bonehead and Liam providing the intro and outro vocals as well, apparently, the “La la la la la la la lala la laaaaaa”s throughout the song.

Taken on those terms, it’s actually surprisingly good. I’ve actually always thought it a bizarrely charming song, something that works because it’s so sloppy. It’s a song where the fun you imagine in the studio is infectious, even if it’s also likely fake; the finished instrumental, after all, is surprisingly tight and probably the result of numerous takes and overdubs, which kind of lessens the “Hey, they’re just having fun!” feeling of the vocal. And yet, and yet… it is fun. It’s not a classic song, but the throwaway quality of it is what makes it work in a way that… oh, almost every other Oasis song after this album doesn’t, because they tried to be timeless and classic rock. This is just fucking about in the studio, and it makes me smile, and sometimes that’s all I want from my pop music.

I am amused to see this strange new trend of spam email subject lines being meals:

366 Songs 064: Have You Heard The Word

Bizarre but true fact about “Have You Heard The Word” #1: That’s Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees singing, you know.

Bizarre but true fact about “Have You Heard The Word” #2: Yoko Ono once believed this song was a genuine John Lennon recording, and tried to copyright it as a result.

You can’t really blame her; sure, the vocal isn’t exactly 100% Lennon, but it’s pretty close, and between that and the song itself (with heavy, McCartney-esque bassline, and tempo change towards the end) really does sound convincingly like an unfinished sketch for a song from the latter days of the Beatles. Apparently, it’s actually the result of a drunken recording session by the Bee Gees’ Gibb and friends from 1969 that ended up being released without their permission a year later under the purposefully vague name “The Fut,” beginning the obsession of many a Beatle fan that it was, in fact, a leaked Beatles demo just as the band was splitting up.

I’ve never been the world’s biggest Bee Gees fan, but for this alone, Gibb will always be a-okay with me. I just wish that there had been a Fut album, way back when.

On Social Media and Narcissism

From the Guardian:

Researchers have established a direct link between the number of friends you have on Facebook and the degree to which you are a “socially disruptive” narcissist, confirming the conclusions of many social media sceptics…

The latest study, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, also found that narcissists responded more aggressively to derogatory comments made about them on the social networking site’s public walls and changed their profile pictures more often.

A number of previous studies have linked narcissism with Facebook use, but this is some of the first evidence of a direct relationship between Facebook friends and the most “toxic” elements of narcissistic personality disorder.

I have a love-hate relationship with social media: I am addicted to Twitter, but rarely on Facebook or Google+, despite having accounts on both. If I hadn’t been required as a writer for Gawker and Time to keep my Facebook account and make it public as part of the attempt to make writers more like peers than experts (There’s definitely a blog post at some point there about that, and the internal tension that though process has, considering the way that writers are required/pushed to position what they write, but that’s for another time), I strongly suspect that I’d have deleted or abandoned my Facebook account some time ago, and I’m only really making tentative steps into Google+ now, months after it was launched and when everyone is declaring the concept dead.

That said, I’m not sure that the right angle is being taken with this report; it sounds more like the conclusion is “Narcissists are very narcissistic about their social media profiles!” than “People who change their social media profiles a lot are narcissists!” if that makes sense. The “link” between the two may be there, but it feels like a jump in logic to go from A to B, in the same way that you wouldn’t look at common traits in serial killers and then announce “If you’re right handed, you may be a serial killer.”

That said, what do I know? I haven’t changed my Twitter avatar in something like two years.