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.

366 Songs 063: Fire In My Heart

There’s no getting around it: Super Furry Animals’ “Fire In My Heart” is a wonderfully, shamelessly soppy song. For a band that seems to live to subvert expectation, play around with sounds and detourn pop history, it’s amazingly straightforward, with little wordplay or sarcasm in the lyrics (Okay, maybe “the watchdogs of the profane” isn’t a phrase you’d expect to hear in every love song, but give them some slack), and the arrangement of the song – constantly building, adding new sounds and layers with every new verse – seems similarly traditional. There isn’t any heavy hidden meaning to “Fire In My Heart,” it’s the band being sincere – or, as sincere as they can be (I still think the “Ba Ba Ba” backing vocals is over-egging the pudding for comic effect, so to speak, as is the “Ooh-oooh-oooh” ending, but both are easily forgiven) – and enjoyably saccharine sweet. More bands should just try and write love songs this simple, I think.

366 Songs 062: Porpoise Song

For a song that is, ultimately, a rip-off/cash-in of something that I’m not sure whether its creators completely understood (Psychedelia, with “porpoise” a stand-in for the Beatles’ Walrus), the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song” is surprisingly transcendent of its origins. Maybe it’s the wonderful arrangement (The organ holding everything down, the strings – very heavily influenced by “I Am The Walrus” – looming in the background and the guitar clanging on the left channel… And then that wonderful, almost orchestral swell at 2:56, with the bells chiming and tapes unwinding and and and… Oh, how I love the way this song is laid out, even if it is just “I Am The Walrus”‘ ending done slightly differently), maybe it’s the vocals (or, more importantly, the backing vocals – I don’t know why, but there’s something about the slight dischordance there that really works for me), or maybe it’s the lyrics that, when freed of the “porpoise” conceit, have an epic melancholy that I prefer to John Lennon’s freeform weirdness in the inspiratory song, but I find myself preferring this to “I Am The Walrus” for some inexplicable reason. Whereas the Beatles were angry and snide in their psychedelic masterpiece, the Monkees seem sad, confused and resigned (“Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…”) in theirs, and that’s the kind of thing that’ll always win my attention, I shamefully admit.

366 Songs 061: Black Book

There’s definitely an argument to be made for “Black Book” being the sound of a band who’ve collectively listened to Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space having a jam session and forgetting to edit it afterwards, but fuck it, I love this song, all almost-nine-minutes of it, even the almost unlistenable middle section where the jam and Damon Albarn’s “Give you my soul, give you my soul” threaten to overwhelm everything around it like a muso black hole. Maybe it’s the way that the organ grounds all of the guitar wankery, perhaps it’s because the memory of Damon’s vocal performance at the start of the song is so strong that his (surprisingly) deep vocals are enough to sustain you until you get to the coda, or it could be the coda itself, Damon and the gospel choir (The London Community Gospel Choir, I think? I may be misremembering) echoing the “give you my soul” chant but transforming it into something far more peaceful, more beautiful – Literally the calm after the storm. After all, think of how the jam section ends, with the guitar looping, fading out, and the organ reasserting control while an acoustic guitar strums quietly in the background.

The song builds, and subsides, which could be part of its charm. It’s a weather system in itself, the rains coming and then leaving, and everything refreshed afterwards. “Black Book” is a wonderfully cathartic song, if you’re willing to let it be so.

366 Songs 060: Far Out

There’s something charmingly whimsical about “Far Out,” as it appears on Parklife, Blur’s 1994 album that changed everything for the band and British music at the time. Unlike the singles from the album – “Girls and Boys,” say, or “End of A Century” – it’s much less self-assured, starting with the echoey fingerpicked acoustic guitar, before the organ comes in and settles into a fairground ride waltz and the song begins properly. It’s very tentative, very awkward in a winning way, weirdly in tune with the nerdiness of the lyrics, which basically consists of tracing the stars in the sky above us, before reaching the sun and… well, kind of burning out, in its own way.

What’s interesting, though, is hearing the original version of the song (Finally released, in only slightly altered form, as a DVD-extra track on a 1999 single, “No Distance Left To Run”) and discovering that the song was originally something faster, noisier and much longer. As much as I love the version on Parklife, I prefer the “original,” which is much more excitable, eager and – and this may be my own personal prejudices coming out here – confident in its nerdiness. It’s not tentative at all; it owns its nerdiness, as the saying goes, and it’s all the more fun for that.

The Death of Print (And What It Means to Journalists’ Dreams)

As someone who writes online for a living, the news that Google is now larger (financially) than the entire US newspaper industry (advertising and sales) is depressing in a way that’s hard to explain. I love the internet and I love what I do, don’t get me wrong, but I have always secretly wanted to have things in print. It’s an old-fashioned thing, perhaps, or a subconscious rejection of the transience of online writing, but I saw Abraham Reisman say this in a Warren Ellis blog post and it rang true:

Writing a cover feature for a magazine remains one of the — if not the — brass rings for a freelancer or young staff writer. Like, for real.

The blue-chip publications are, of course, ideal — your New Yorkers and New York Times Magazines and Wireds. And I don’t suppose anyone has little fantasies about writing for the official Amtrak magazine (although, y’know what, I really shouldn’t say such things in this economy). But even a spot in a smaller-market title is an insane boon to one’s career/prestige/wallet, when one is starting out.

I dream of the day that I can write a cover story — or even just an internal feature. I want to go glossy. I’d literally do it for zero money, because it brings with it a hope that dollar-signs will be in my corneas in the not-so-distant future.

There’s something about writing for print that feels more… successful? established? both? that writing for the internet, and I say that as someone who’s written for Time Magazine and Gawker Media online, two big, somewhat prestigious media empires. In time, that sense of self-success will shift for writers, I’m sure, but for now… print is still where it’s at, despite the size of Google and the weight of reality. And because of that, I think the “death of print” is still a little bit off… or, at least, I hope it is.