Tag Archives: elvis costello

1001 Songs – 1979: Part One

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Hammond Song – The Roches

It’s nice to be back in the 1001 songs list. Weird how with the coronavirus lock-down we have somehow not been having time to do these – then again this is only the second weekend of what might be a long time. Anyway, let’s go back to 1979 as a bit of a temporary escape and wrap ourselves in the stunning harmonies of the Roche sisters. Not since doing the Mamas and the Papas have I heard such incredible harmonies in a folk song in this songs list.

Hammond is a place and not, as I thought, a reference to a Hammond organ. The production is minimal with the volume of the harmonies occasionally overwhelming my speakers and, probably, the causing the recording equipment to peak. With them, a guitar and another backing instrument I am not sure of, the voices of the sisters truly shine. It’s a stunning piece of folk that has a beautiful simplicity that you just don’t see nowadays.

Heaven – Talking Heads

I liked Remain in Light and have liked a number of other things that David Byrne has done before or since this song. However, I am at odds as to why this song would be included. It makes sense if you are making a list of David Byrne songs you must hear in order to hear his different facets, but there are any number of produced secular visions out there so I am not sure why this was chosen for the list. It’s fine and might make more sense in the context of the parent album, but not so much as a standalone.

The Eton Rifles – The Jam

I didn’t know this song by name, but the moment the chant of ‘Eton Rifles’ came in I had this big moment of recognition. As a genre work, ‘The Eton Rifles’ has definite punk leanings but feels very sixties. Guess that this is the sort of music that was another off-shoot of the punk implosion and a song that, given the lack of testing for coronavirus for those unable to pay for it, feels relevant once again as a poke at the upper classes playing pretend. I can see how Paul Weller would be apoplectic that an Etonian like David Cameron would love the song he wrote – but then again it’s a good shout song no matter your politics.

London Calling – The Clash

Man, it’s been years since I wrote up the parent album as part of my Acclaimed Albums list. This is an actual apocalyptic song and I am listening to it at a time when people are using that word rather cavalierly. Good grief, so many of these songs are making me think of the coronavirus pandemic happening in the world outside the apartment. The apocalypse in here is more about nuclear apocalypse because of this being written during the Cold War – not being devastated by some sort of awful virus.

Like ‘The Eton Rifles’, ‘London Calling’ is another song whose genre is a concoction made in the wake of punk. This time, it’s a punk feeling with a reggae beat in the back – which I guess as a genre would soon start to crystalise into ska. I would hope that the next song would help take me away from coronavirus, but it’s Joy Division.

Transmission – Joy Division

Ah yes transmission, like the transmission of coronavirus. Sorry, I’ll be good. This has absolutely nothing that can make me think of the pandemic other than the need to sometimes just accept and dance like no one’s watching until we all fall down.

‘Transmission’ is amazing. Like a proper amazing post-punk song that is so cavernous in it’s sound that it makes me think of the xx if they ever decided to go punk. There is a truth in this song that sometimes ignorance is bliss, so just dance to the radio and what you are being fed. In modern times, where we are more and more inundated with all the information available on the internet, a song like this can still apply to the echo chambers we create online that have helped create flat-earth and anti-vaxx movements. For me, it might become a good song to make me stop checking news constantly through the lock-down and just dance.

Voulez-Vous – ABBA

Okay, I am always happy to see ABBA on a list like this. I adore them as a band to the point of having gone to the ABBA museum in Stockholm and will play their albums every now and then. Maybe it’s because I love them that I am interested as to why ‘Voulez-Vous’ is one of the three songs to end up on the 1001 list. Like, I really get ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘The Winner Takes It All’, but this feels like a more normal song of theirs.

Then again, this is a song that marks the end of disco. It’s the only song of theirs that I can think of that has a prolonged dance break – let alone a disco dance break. And, unlike the disco breaks elsewhere, ABBA knew how to pitch the timing perfectly so you didn’t get too bored or too tired. Sure, there is a mix out there with a longer break for the clubs but thank you ABBA for making a good at home version.

Beat the Clock – Sparks

Right, so I adored ‘This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us’ because of the glam and gun shot ridiculousness. I don’t know why, but I never went outside of that song to explore more of their discography. With ‘Beat the Clock’ that is going to change. Listening to this I had two main thoughts – firstly how amazing is it that synthpop is finally here in the 1001 list. Also, holy hell this is exactly what you consider 1980s music and the Sparks managed to pre-date thanks to this collaboration with Giorgio Moroder. It never ceases to amaze me when this list throws up a song like this which pre-dates what you expect, but this one in particular has given me so much joy.

Oliver’s Army – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

A new wave song with ABBA keyboards and a catchy chorus that is in fact a comment on The Troubles in Northern Ireland – the titular Oliver being a reference to Oliver Cromwell and his army who invaded Ireland in the 1600s. I am always a fan of a song that sounds cheerful but, under the surface, is a darker side – so ‘Oliver’s Army’ is right up my street. The melody is upbeat and so well written as a counter-point to the lyrics which reference The Troubles as well as the Berlin Wall and acts of British imperialism. It’s radio-friendly almost pop, that slam you when you read the lyrics – plus the cover of the parent album is glorious to look at.

Tusk – Fleetwood Mac

Ending the first third of 1979 with the first single released by Fleetwood Mac after the cultural juggernaut of Rumours. This is something that is utterly different and you have to appreciate the risk that a song like this would have been for a band who were having to make a follow-up to one of the biggest albums of all times.

It’s pretty much all drums and the occasional brass interruption. Sure there are some lyrics in here, but they’re secondary to the relentless drumbeat – based on the music that was used when they would come out on stage when on tour. The change in direction is interesting and I would like to see where this more avant-pop leads them on an album, as a standalone song I am yet to be convinced.

Progress: 509/1021

1001 Songs – 1978: Part Two

List Item:  Listen to the 1001 Songs You Must Hear Before You Die

Human Fly – The Cramps

With a traditionally country chord progression in the background (I know, I was surprised at myself for noticing that too) played on more distorted instruments with a punk feel to it – ‘Human Fly’ is not quite the genre mash-up I was expecting today. It’s called psychobilly and like nothing I have heard on this list so far.

What’s interesting about taking something so quintessentially country (or rockabilly) and making it punk is how it makes the whole thing just that bit more unsettling than if it was a straight punk song. Very niche though, so can see how it never really took off.

Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground) – The Jacksons

It’s amazing how you get these songs how you primarily know for the chorus. From the title and the first verse, I had absolutely no clue which song this was. I’m assuming I’ve heard a sample of it in a film or this has been remixed at some point down the line.

Like with all disco, I am glad that Spotify has a radio version – as at nearly 4 minutes it was already getting overly repetitive. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great chorus, but it needs more than that.

(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea – Elvis Costello & The Attractions

I know that I have listened to this for the albums list. Over four years ago, and I haven’t listened to the albums since. I wonder if my taste has already mutated enough since then to give them more of a go, because this is already sounding a lot better than I remembered. I also finally twigged that the Stefy song ‘Chelsea’ took inspiration from this, so basically I’m only properly listening to this now.

I really enjoy the new wave aspect to this track, which is what I said I liked about the parent album This Year’s Model, and I really need to follow up on this in the new year before I get bogged under by 2020 albums.

One Nation Under a Groove – Funkadelic

Inadvertently ended up with the album version of this song rather than the shortened 7-inch single version. This didn’t mean the slow death that I had expected, sure it’s still too long at over 7 minutes, but there’s enough variation to actually keep it going.

This is one of the major funk songs of the era and one that actually borrows a lot from rock music rather than feeding from the disco well. I might prefer the shorter version, but this pretty good.

Das Model – Kraftwerk

Six months ago I was listening to The Man-Machine as I had a big coding breakthrough at work and was celebrating that in tandem with my being able to stay in the job that I love. Listening to this song now, in the context of other songs at the time, ‘Das Model’ is such an anomaly and an incredible triumph.

So much of what I listen to now only exists because of bands like Kraftwerk giving birth to electronic music like this. As a kid I knew this and didn’t think much of this song, but now I absolutely love it.

Shot by Both Sides – Magazine

Somehow I managed to recognise a Buzzcocks riff in this song (which makes sense as Magazine was founded by a member of that band) which makes three so far in this batch, so I guess my ears have been properly screwed on today.

This is another example of, although the first in this batch, of post-punk. It’s also a song by someone who left a punk band because he wanted to make prog rock. So I guess this is where prog rock and post-punk meet? Maybe something like that. Still though, we are early days for post-punk and this is one of those songs that I can see influencing those yet to come.

Public Image – Public Image Ltd

I can hear The Cure in this. There is something in this song that immediately made me thing of Robert Smith, which I guess is the specific line of post-punk that ‘Public Image’ helped to progress.

It’s difficult to listen to this song and look at the album cover without thinking of an older Jon Lydon making stupid adverts for butter and being a dick on I’m A Celebrity…. If anything, hearing him do this rather then The Sex Pistols is actually helping me to understand why he is such an interesting figure in this area of music. I have to listen to Public Image’s second album for the album list, and this is making that look like an attractive one to listen to soon.

Alternative Ulster – Stiff Little Fingers

So many punk (or punk-leaning) acts that I have listened to for this list were rebelling against something for the sake of it. Then you come across a track like ‘Alternative Ulster’ where there’s actually some substance to the subject matter – specifically here the ‘Troubles’ period of Northern Irish history. There’s a rallying cry here against an actual oppressive an unfair system for a specific period in history, which makes ‘Alternative Ulster’ a proper musical time capsule.

(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais – The Clash 

The year after this, The Clash would go on to release London Calling – one of most acclaimed albums of all time. Before this, they released another self-named hugely acclaimed album. Both were punk or post-punk – so this song with some punk vocals infused with reggae is a bit out of left-field, and I kinda wish it had stayed there. I know that this is a very popular track, but it didn’t work for me.

Progress: 492/1021

Acclaimed Albums – My Aim Is True & This Year’s Model by Elvis Costello

List item: Listen to the 250 greatest albums
Progress: 91/250

MyAim_isTrue Elvis-Costello-This-Years-Model
Title: My Aim Is True
Artist: Elvis Costello
Year: 1977
Position:
#116
Title: This Year’s Model
Artist: Elvis Costello
Year: 1978
Position: #82

Continuing on with my attempt to get through these albums quicker today’s look is at the two Elvis Costello within the Top 250 – which are, probably unsurprisingly, his first two. It’s a bit of a difference compared to the last albums post where I finished off the Björk albums.

Prior to these albums, the only exposure that I am aware of having of Elvis Costello was in the second Austin Powers movie. That duet he did with Burt Bacharach coloured my image somewhat. I looked at the covers of My Aim Is True and This Year’s Model and I thought he looked like a bit of a twit. Quite cute, but a bit of a twit.

I am not ashamed to admit that I was completely wrong in this. Yes, he may have gone into luvvie territory, but he is not the Cliff Richard type that I expected him to be (although I got worried at the beginning of ‘The Beat’ from This Year’s Model).

He’s punky, he’s new wave, he’s pretty much in the same general area as Blondie in Parallel Lines and the music goes obscenely well with cat gifs.

Of the two albums, I have to say that I do have a preference to This Year’s Model compared to My Aim Is True. Thinking about it, this is one of the few times where I actually have agreed with the comparison of two albums within the list. Why? Maybe it’s because it features the lesser number of slow songs and just feels more confident. Both are very good albums though.