20 EVERYTHING SONGS

These are my #20EverythingSongs , in chronological order more-or-less. It was quite an emotional trip down memory lane compiling this list.

Not sure if you’ll like ’em all – there’s some here that I hardly ever play nowadays – but they’re all important songs in terms of introducing me to new kinds of music

1. DARK CITY SISTERS “Langa More”

My parents used to play this first track after church and dinner on a Sunday as it reminded them of home.

South African vocal girl group. Listen to the harmonies!

And if that sounds like I grew up in the Deep South, I did. The Deep South of London.

Herne Hill, specifically.

2. HARRY BELAFONTE “Jamaica Farewell”

Dad used to love the next song – the sentiments were familiar as he emigrated to England (from South Africa not Jamaica (although unlike the chap in the song, Dad didn’t leave his little girl in Kingston Town (or Durban, more accurately), he brought Mum with him!

3. JULIE ANDREWS “Feed The Birds”

We played the “Mary Poppins” soundtrack to death years before ever seeing the movie.
The song where one character talks about having dreams of walking with giants, heard out of context, used to give me nightmares, but this one is beautiful. Check out the bit where the church bells come in.

4. THE IRISH ROVERS “Black Velvet Band”

I was brought up as a mixed-race (mainly Indian but part Scottish!) Catholic in South London, went to a Catholic school, social life was based round the Catholic church.

So – and I swear I am not making this up – until the age of about 11 I thought every “full white” person in Britain had some kind of Irish blood in them.

The music rubbed off too. My parents had a few LPs of Irish rebel songs. I THINK it was because they just liked the tunes …

5. DAVE AND ANSELL COLLINS “Double Barrel”

The years from 1968 to 1972 was reggae’s best sales period in the UK with this one of the best-sellers, and one of the best.

I AM THE MAGNIFICENT!

6. DON McLEAN “Vincent”

The best teacher I ever had was Mr Stevenson in top juniors (that’s Year Six in new money). Innovative, interesting, fun and approachable.

Mr Stevenson introduced us to the idea you could treat song lyrics like they were poetry, using this as an example, which kicked off my interest in Listening To The Words.

Thank you Sir!

7. CHICORY TIP “Son Of My Father”

I bought this with the money I got for my 10th birthday – my first electronica record (did I but know it at the time). It sounded like nothing on earth.

Written and produced (again, did I but know it at the time) by Giorgio Moroder.

Loved the weird Dr Who-ness of it

8. SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND “The Tale Of The Giant Stone Eater”

Music and Marvel Comics were my joint passions around this time. So obviously I loved this.

Alex Harvey was a huge comics fan. Even named a song after Sgt Fury.

(other “out” comics fans of the 70s included Marc Bolan and Joan Armatrading)

9. JOHNNY CASH “Sunday Morning Coming Down”

1976. Heatwave. We went on holiday to Cornwall from London by car (pre-M5). It took ten hours. We had 4 cassettes.

Pink Floyd’s “Relics”,Beach Boys,Carpenters “Singles 69-73” and some old country singer who Dad liked so we indulged him .

“Well I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt
And the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one more for dessert”

10. DONNA SUMMER “I Feel Love”

Ooh,its so good,its so good,its so good,its so good,its so good …

A great leap forward for dance music (or “disco” as it was contemptuously called by rock fans back then).

And Giorgio Moroder’s second appearance here. Bet he’s impressed.

11.THE STRANGLERS “Down In The Sewer”

An eight minute mini punk opera from the Stranglers’ “Rattus Norvegicus” album

“Gonna tell you what I’m gonna do. Gonna make love to a water-rat or two. FOR GOD’S SAKE HUGH USE A JOHNNY ”

They get compared to the Doors a lot, but Dave Greenfield’s keyboard lines are on a different planet from Ray Manzarek’s unresolved noodlings

The bit at the end from about 5:44 is magnificent, and so bloody therapeutic .

See how it resolves, Mr Doors keyboard player? THAT’S how to play organ in a rock and roll band .

12. THE B-52s “Rock Lobster”

Moving on to the other end of competence for keyboard players in bands, but it still sounds bloody great

I think it was the bright yellow cover that first attracted me to this record, that or the cartoony looking band.

13. FUNKADELIC “One Nation Under A Groove”

Around the mid to late seventies the mates I used to hang out with were all soul boys. It rubbed off.

Feets don’t fail me now!

14. T CONNECTION “On Fire”

You never hear T Connection mentioned at all these days, not ever, anywhere but they really rocked, for what was essentially a disco band.

Duran Duran owe them a massive debt.

15. THE HUMAN LEAGUE “Empire State Human”

“Tall tall tall, I wanna be tall, tall, tall, as big as a wall, wall, wall”

Moved to Sheffield in 1979 so it was compulsory to love this band.

I like the early funny stuff better.

16. DEXYS MIDNIGHT RUNNERS “I Couldn’t Help If I Tried”

I had never heard anything quite like this band before, and neither had anybody else.

“Searching For The Young Soul Rebels” is still my fave LP ever . If you’ve never heard it, stop reading this now and go and track it down. This blog isn’t going anywhere.

There – I told you it was good, didn’t I?

This is their best song, for me (although get ten Dexys fans in a room and you’ll probably get ten different suggestions, and none of them will be the Number One hits!)

This grabs you from the mournful, defiant first four-note rundown on the horns and never lets you go.

I’ll forever associate it with being in love for the first time – lending her this album with crucial lyrics underlined. I’ll leave you to work out which ones.

It didn’t last and … hang on, this is sounding like a Dexys song in itself now so I’ll stop.

17. TRICKY “Black Steel”

So, seventeen tunes from the first 19 years of my life, then nothing until middle-age comes knocking

There’s a reason for this, I think.

You have kids and raise them and that takes up most of your effort and all of your money – and in those pre-internet days, music took a back seat.

To be honest if I could pick ten years to go into a fallow period, music-wise, I don’t think 1984-1993 was a bad choice, although I stand to be corrected on this.

This is from Tricky’s masterpiece “Maxinquaye”, which I first heard of thanks to none other than the late great David Bowie mentioning it as the best thing he’d heard all year in 1995.

The man had the talent to identify what was crucial and important in each musical generation (see also his final album which is pretty much a Kendrick Lamar tribute record in places)

This is a cover of a Public Enemy tune. Who says the original is still the greatest?

18. THE BROKEN FAMILY BAND “Devil In The Details”

Who knew quiet music could be this nasty. And funny.

The only band to ever really rival Dexys in my affections, and the best lyricist around in Steven James Adams.

19. LADYTRON “Playgirl”

No synth band ever created a bigger or better wall of sound than Ladytron.

I was there when they blew the PA at the old Astoria in Charing Cross Road, around 2008.

This song is another one with memories. “Sleep you way out of your home town” indeed.

20. AL GREEN “To Sir With Love”

This list is mostly in chronological order but I thought I’d finish with a song and an artist I always go back to cos he always makes things better.

This is just incredible – he takes a song originally sung in a film by a schoolgirl (played by Lulu) to her teacher and takes it to a higher plane.

But when I listen to this I don’t really hear the words at all, its all about the feeling he invokes, and he could do this if he was singing the dictionary.

When I heard this I realised that soul is never about the words at all, not really

This has been my #20EverythingSongs. Check out the hashtag on Twitter.

Thanks to @girloon for inventing the hashtag.

I don’t mean she invented the concept of the hashtag. That would be an outrageous claim akin to this one.

I mean she thought up #20EverythingSongs.

Give her a follow in Twitter if you like music, she’s brilliant.

Airborne Toxic Event and me. A love story.

5th November 2011, Shepherds Bush Empire, London

“This band means everything to us, its pretty much all we’ve got”

Every time I’ve seen The Airborne Toxic Event, singer Mikkel Jollett has said this towards the end of the gig.

If you’ve never seen the band then you may well think “Yeah, that’s bullshit” and I can see where you’re coming from – and I guess it has probably become an integral part of the show, like when Bruce Springsteen asks Miami Steve what time it is.

But you get the feeling that he means it.

The Airborne Toxic Event first came to my attention in November 2008 when they did a UK tour covering 30 gigs in 30 nights, including the more well-travelled cities but also places like Yeovil, Derby, Fife, Aldershot, Barrow In Furness, Dundee.

I’d be hard pressed to even GO to 30 gigs in 30 nights, even if they were all round the corner and I didn’t have to work.

I saw the band three times on that tour at their London residency, at gigs promoted by the excellent Club Fandango. (check out the video diary with a slightly bemused looking Steven Chen (guitar and keyboards) coming to terms with the UK)

Their first album had gotten a grey market UK release, forty minutes and ten tracks of sheer rock’n’roll genius, not a superfluous note or a wasted word.

The buzz got louder as to what a great live band they were. The crowd was bigger for each gig, and what a show they put on! In the tiny back room of the Dublin Castle in Camden they pounded out their songs of doomed love and big hooks. It was the closest I will ever get to seeing Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at the Stone Pony, New Jersey.

And on the third night, when the singer jumped into the crowd for a bit of that old rock’n’roll down with the people stuff, he ignored all the adoring twenty-something girls, stuck his arm round my shoulders and the mike in my face, and I did the best I could to remember the words to “Gasoline”… Proud moment, although the cynical me did have room for the thought that he may have been trying to recreate the famous cover shot to “Born To Run”, and I was the only big fat brown man available.

Great band, great set of gigs.

So then through a series of personal mishaps on their part and having to leave the country for a while on my part (don’t ask), I went through 2009 and 2010 ATE-less. They cancelled a European tour in 2009 owing to ill-health and a couple of UK gigs too and I thought, well, that’s that. They’ve missed the boat now. Great band, fantastic album, at least we have the memories and they didn’t last long enough to get crap.

Early 2011. Back in the UK again, bit out of touch with music, scanning the TV listings and there on Sky Arts is a concert by The Airborne Toxic Event. At Disney Concert Hall (check name). Its lovely shot in B&W (check) with a choir and a marching band! There’s new songs! And a cover of the fabulous Magnetic Fields’ “The Book Of Love”!

Further investigation reveals a new album “All At Once” and, glory be, a UK tour ! They’re doing  a week of gigs in London, revisiting the smaller venues where they made their name locally. These gigs are sold out but I manage to get tickets for an intimate sit-down gig at the Drill Hall via Facebook.

And hearing them for the first time in stripped-down acoustic mode, its like listening to the songs again for the first time. They make so much sense sung quieter and less frenetically, and Mikkel’s extensive between-song yarns flesh out the story, which is, basically, that if a girl called Catherine hadn’t dumped him, all the great songs on the first album wouldn’t have been written.

Thank God for bad relationships. Happiness is overrated. At least when it comes to artists writing decent songs. But that’s a topic for another day…

So I seek out a ticket for any of the gigs in the rest of the week. I’m prepared to pay quite a lot.

Somebody on the fans forum has a spare for the Kings College gig and wants it to go to a fellow fan. I insist on payment, she refuses, so I end up buying her a drink in exchange for the ticket.

The gig is amazing, better than I have ever seen them play.

So up until April 2011 I had seen The Airborne Toxic Event five times for a grand total cost of £15.  Plus a pint of Guinness.

The ticket for Shepherds Bush Empire costs me more than the other five gigs combined – but the band is worth every penny, and then some.

A word about the songs. Lets be clear, there is nothing that original here. The Airborne Toxic Event are alchemists and mixers in the same way Blur and Oasis were. Mikkel knows exactly how to write a song, with the little pause before the whole song goes crazy – It is the utter conviction with which they play that makes the difference, its something that Springsteen has (obviously) and Dexys, and the Proclaimers, and the Hold Steady. None of those acts were particularly innovative, but they all bring a new freshness to the musical styles they plunder.

The stagecraft is superb – you do get that with American bands, they tend to be about putting on a show and less about being “too cool for school” than their British equivalents.

This is an excellent desktop backgroundmade by a far more dedicated fan than me and including some great shots of the gig, and a setlist also. Thanks Erfy. If that IS your real name… 8=)

No “Book Of Love” tonight which is a shame. They covered it before Peter Gabriel, and better than he did it. But check out the Magnetic Fields original , it’s the best version of the three.

And as for the encore… continuing the Brooce theme, they do an extended version of their chugging country rock anthem “Missy” incorporating snatches of “I’m On Fire”, ”I Fought The Law” and “Folsom Prison Blues”.

And its that triumvirate of Bruce, Clash and Cash that defines them, their influences and where they want to be.

There’s a genuine bond that exists between band and audience. I’ve never seen anybody else actually come down off the stage within five or ten minutes of the gig finishing for meet and greets, autographs and pictures. They do give the impression that they actually care about that stuff, and I’m still idealistic enough to think that’s important.

A quick word about the support band, Leeds’ The Chevin. Pretty standard anthemic indie but played well and vigorously and with enough in the songs to hold promise of things to come.

I reckon the best thing for them would be NOT to be hugely successful until the second album at least, lest they find themselves on the Big Pink path of premature expectation and end up writing a second album identical to the first.

In conclusion, as I type this I have by my side half a drumstick that drummer Daren Taylor tossed into the crowd at the end of the gig. Which I then got him to sign afterwards. I joke that it will be up on ebay tomorrow but we both know that I shall be treasuring it forever, along with the pick belonging to The War On Drugs and the setlists from The Broken Family Band. That’s right, setlists plural.

I should be way too old to get excited by that sort of thing – but there’s something about this band that turns me into a teenager again.

And ain’t that the whole function of rock music?