Monday, December 1, 2008

December 2008

Christmas Edition

Perhaps a coincidence or perhaps not, but the shameless consumerism of Christmas is perfectly timed to coincide with endless year end "Best of" lists. This enables all manner of media and distribution outlets to help holiday season sales by trying to convince consumers that they have missed buying some of their best offerings during the year.

The Nevstar Music Guide, of course, rises above such tasteless low class shameless consumerism. It exists as an unsullied beacon of pure appreciation of the art of music without catering to product pushing corporate types. Thus my annual Top Ten list merely seeks to introduce yet more albums to your arena of awareness. If you happen to think one might be a good purchase for your kid sister, then I take pleasure in helping solve your present buying unease.

So in this special edition, the December Nevstar Music Guide consists of a Top Ten list only, showcasing the absolute best albums of 2008.

Top Ten List

2007 was a fantastic year for music. As thus, last years Top Ten was packed with essential releases. Similarly this year, I had quite a bit of an effort to reduce it down to a mere ten. Any top ten list for the year is of course hugely subjective. Firstly everyone has different tastes, but more importantly, no two people are exposed to the exact same group of albums each year. You can only rate those you actually listened to. My net is usually pretty wide; but for example, I have only heard 24 of Q Magazine's Top 50 albums for 2008. Thus there are probably some very fine albums which I might have missed including great releases from, amongst others, The Verve, Jenny Lewis, Adele, Keane, Coldplay, and The Hold Steady. Some even have suggested the latest Oasis album is a welcome return to form!

Anyway, with these limitations in mind, and without further ado, here are :

Nevstar Top Ten Albums of 2008

10. The Golden Age : American Music Club

The album of the month way back in March has remained in my good graces throughout the year to make the Top Ten for 2008. American Music Club led by singer / songwriter Mark Eitzel have crafted a set of gorgeous, quiet, introspective songs each containing equal measures of heart and soul. Sort of album which warrants putting a reminder alert on your Outlook to prompt yourself to listen to this scintillating music at least once a month.
See March review in full here :

Best Track : Decibels and Little Pills

Try it if you like : Grant Lee Buffalo, Elliott Smith, Neil Young (in his quieter moments)

Listen or buy here

9. Seventh Tree : Goldfrapp

Interesting to note that the iTunes lists Goldfrapp's first two albums as electronica and this latest release as part of the pop genre. But its right on the mark. In a noticeable change of pace, this latest album from the former dance floor queen consists more of charming acoustic numbers accompanied by her plaintive, earnest vocals. However it remains challenging and rewarding. The album is like a long hot bath enticing the listener to delve into its depths and luxuriate in its warmth.

Best Track : Little Bird

Try this if you like : Beth Gibbons, Portishead, Beck

Listen to or buy here

8. Dear Science : TV On The Radio

Dear Science,
is the third album from TV On The Radio whose core is a talented duo, Tunde Adepimbe and Kyp Malone. Hailing from New York, these two provide the hypnotic vocals which dominate some of the songs, but are servants to the sound on others. The album is difficult to describe as it efficiently and effectively mixes a variety of styles into a stylish whole. Elements of atmospheric pop, punk, reggae and electronica wizardry make up the second effort of TV on The Radio. You could compare it to watching a bonfire filled with firecrackers. It initially lulls and mesmerises with continual movement, never repetitive or predictable before shocking and surprising with spectacular bursts of colours. One of the better tracks is Red Dress, which starts with a sexy reggae beat before branching out with horns and organ as the chorus sustains and amplifies the funky beat.

Best Track : Red Dress

Listen To It If You Like : Supergroove, Phoenix Foundation, Mercury Rev

Listen or buy here

7. Weezer : Weezer

This is the third eponymous album from Weezer, and shall forever be known as the Red Album following the debut Blue album and the Green album (their third). Whether deliberate or not (and one would think it is), the eponymous albums are generally sunnier slices of intelligent pop music whereas their other albums (Pinkerton, Maladroit and Make Believe) are darker in tone and feel. The Red Album is a welcome addition to the former collection replete with their razor sharp wit and fast moving melodies. They are fully aware that, as rockstars, they exist to be full of themselves. If you liked Weezers earlier recordings, you will definitely like this. Charming.

Best Track : Pork and Beans

Try this if if you like : Supergrass, Elvis Costello

Listen or buy here

6. You and I : Cut Off Your Hands

Hailing from kiwi-land, Cut Off Your Hands have been based in London working hard on the live circuit to establish themselves. This is their debut album which is a gem incorporating various elements of indie based alternative music. The songs have a freshness and vigour bouncing along enthusiastically before finishing after about three minutes. Their rather eclectic name is a result of a threatened lawsuit from a band called The Shaky Hands which was their original moniker. Never mind, they are a welcome addition to the burgeoning list of talented kiwi bands.

Best Track : Happy As Can Be

Try this if you like : The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand

Listen or buy here.

In The Future : Black Mountain

When compiling the Top Ten for 2008 I almost overlooked this effort which came out very early in the year. Probably a deliberate oversight as this album sounds like it should be in the Top Ten for 2014 ! In The Future is Black Mountain's ambitious attempt to combine soaring space age progressive rock with hardcore heavy metal rock. The outcome is glorious; generating intimidating moments of sheer power and majesty before charming the listener with baroque movements of discernment and disdain. Quiet a beguiling combination.
See April review in full here :

Best Track : Wucan

Try it if you like : Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Dandy Warhols

Listen or buy here

4. Rockferry : Duffy

With the very public implosion of Amy Winehouse, someone had to inherit the title of UK's soul queen. And Duffy is a more than adequate replacement. While the single Mercy was ubiquitous in 2008, the rest of the album is filled with other soulful brooding tracks giving full range to a talented band and her wonderful voice. My personal favourite is the title track, Rockferry, which opens the album. It has a wonderful relaxed feel as if the singer is contemplating the world with a weary tear stained eye. It reminded me of Marianne Faithfulls best work. Tremendous album which sustains multiple listens.

Best Track : Rockferry

Try this if you like : Aretha Franklin, Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone

Listen or buy here

3. Narrow Stairs : Death Cab For Cutie

The Nevstar album of the month in July, Narrow Stairs is the latest slice of accomplished art from the understated yet underrated Death Cab For Cutie. Following on from the quiet introspection of 2003's Transatlanticism and the morbidity of 2005's Plans, this years release Narrow Stairs incorporates elements of both, while also expanding into rockier territory particularly on No Sunlight and the 70s inspired Cath. But the strength of the band are the minimalist numbers with Ben Gibbards unique vocals complemented by one or two instruments quietly strumming a delicate melody. Examples include Grapevine Fires, Pity and Fear, and the highlight of the album, the eight minute long I Will Possess Your Heart, perhaps the single of the year.

Best Track : I Will Possess Your Heart

Try this if you like : Jeff Buckley, Arcade Fire

Listen or buy here

2. Only By Night : Kings of Leon

Simply put, this is the sound of a band simultaneously recording their best album while reaching the apogee of the fame. Some have derided it as too 'commercial', and others have uncharitably labelled it as nothing less than fully fledged 'stadium rock' which is a euphemism for bloated corporate rock. Whats amusing is that it is both commercial and suited to stadiums but thats not necessarily a bad thing. They have become far more than the one trick southern blues boogie boys from their first album. The songs are sharp and insightful, rewarding and fulfilling, amidst crunching guitars and fully developed vocals. The widely played single Sex on Fire is a brilliant track, and its ably accompanied by the sultry Closer, the hipster cool of I Want You and the atmospheric final track, Cold Desert.

Best Track : Closer

Try this if you like : Ryan Adams, REM

Listen or buy here

1. Glasvegas : Glasvegas

A very difficult choice for album of the year between Kings of Leon and Glasvegas for the year but the tiebreaker was decided in the favour of this likely band of Scots. Whats the tiebreaker? I simply asked myself, which album I played more. And I played Glasvegas a lot. An awful lot. Employing a wall of sound approach complemented with smart, streetwise lyrics, Glasvegas satisfy both sides of your brain, simultaneously stimulating and delighting. From the anthem sized Daddys Gone talking about absent fathers to the monotone delivery of Stabbed outlining a gang fight, this is simply a magnificent album and a deserved winner of the ultimate accolade; the Nevstar Music Guide Album of The Year.

Best Track : Daddys Gone

Try this if you like : Joy Division, Interpol

Listen or buy here

The next best ten albums in alphabetical order were:

The Black Keys : Attack & Release
British Sea Power : Do You Like Rock Music
Elbow : Seldom Seen Kid
MGMT : Oracular Spectacular
Nick Cave and Bad Seeds : Dig! Lazarus Dig!!!
Portishead : Third
Raconteurs : Consolers Of The Lonely
REM : Accelerate
Supergrass : Diamond Hoo Ha
Vampire Weekend : Vampire Weekend

Previous Nevstar Albums Of The Year :

This is the seventh year of compiling my Top Ten of the year. Email me if you would like the lists from previous years. In the meantime, here were the top albums from the last six years according to the Nevstar.

2007 : The Shins : Wincing The Night Away
2006 : The Beatles : Love
2005 : Kaiser Chiefs : Employment
2004 : Franz Ferdinand : Franz Ferdinand
2003 : British Sea Power : The Decline Of British Sea Power
2002 : The Doves : Last Broadcast

Hope you enjoyed this Christmas edition of the Nevstar Music Guide. May your stocking be filled with all the best releases from 2008.

Merry Christmas


Saturday, October 11, 2008

November 2008

The November issue of the Nevstar Music Guide is dedicated to our late friend Angela Wolley who was tragically killed in a car accident recently. Without her constant and enthusiastic encouragement, the Nevstar Music Guide would never have existed.

Album of the Month

Glasvegas : Glasvegas

Lester Bangs wrote in 1970: "Personally, I believe that real Rock n Roll may be on the way out.....what we will have instead is a small island of new free music surrounded by some good reworkings of past idioms and a vast sargasso sea of absolute garbage." Bangs wrote some great stuff, but THAT is brilliant. Regrettably, he was exactly right.

There is nothing new in rock and roll. It has all been done before. An art form that has now been around for over 50 years, is incapable of surprising. Any and all bands are instantly compared to a laundry list of 'influences'. Arguably grunge was the last innovation in rock and that is marginal (ask Neil Young). So until someone more talented than Jimi Hendrix comes along (long odds indeed), then people will continue to play guitars in the same way they always have. The only truly original music in the last 30 years is probably rap music. Rock and roll is an industry of nostalgia. The biggest grossing group last year was The Rolling Stones (debut album 1962).

So there is no 'future' of rock and roll. Only the past. But with such a glorious past, there is heaps of material to reinterpret, rework and weld to some relevant and topical lyrical poetry. The artists worthy of our attention today are those with confidence about their sound and whose lyrics accurately capture the age we live in for better or worse. Glasvegas are such a band.

They hail from Scotland and came to the attention of Alan McGee, the head of Creation records. In a story made for reviews like this, he spotted Glasvegas in the same club which he first saw Oasis and declared them to be "f**king brilliant". Their live act is strikingly confident and unadorned with baseless attention seeking (see example here). They feature massive drums, thrilling guitars and pounding rhythms. Somehow they have got this down on record and their debut album is similarly outstanding. It is gigantic yet tender. Magnificent yet intimate, loud yet quiet. On the requisite laundry list of influences, you can say they capture some of the best moments of space rock bands such as Mercury Rev and Flaming Lips, the moods, rhythm and timing of Joy Division and the psychedelic visions of Dandy Warhols.

Glasvegas seem to acknowledge that they must reinterpret the past. Yet they go further back than most. One of the album's most haunting yet inspired moments is Stabbed. The intimately simple and haunting backdrop is none other than the delightful Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven; yet it is accompanied by lyrics outlining the protagonists response to a situation where he is faced by the propsect of being stabbed by an unruly Glaswegian mob. It contrasts starkly with the stunning opener, Flowers and Football Tops which derives its story from the premediated killing of 15 year old Kris Donald who was dragged from his home and murdered by five men.

The topics imply that this is a dark album, but its not. Its hopeful and inspiring. You have to lie on your back in order to see the stars. As such, it seems appropriate that the last track truly sounds like the soundtrack to the colonisation of those very stars.

Listen or purchase here.

Best Track : Daddy's Gone

Try this if you like :

Joy Division
Jesus & The Mary Chain
The Clash

If you like this try :

Interpol................................Turn On The Bright Lights
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club.........BRMC

Essential Classic Album

The Beatles : Rubber Soul

The British Invasion was arguably the most important period in the history of recorded rock and roll. In a classic case of selling coals to Newcastle, a bunch of young bands from Britain repackaged American music and took it back to a downcast America struggling to cope with the death of their young president.

There were two strains which influenced the great British invasion and each was represented respectively by the two most successful bands. The Beatles modelled their sound (and looks) on the traditional rock and roll emerging out of the late 50s. Elvis Presley posturing, Buddy Holly structures, Chuck Berry rhythms, and girl group harmonies can be found in their early albums. A markedly different strain can be heard in the Rolling Stones who took their sound from the harder rhythm and blues scene featuring Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson.

Thus early Beatles albums featured a mixture of covers and original compositions all closely following the standard rock and roll template albeit with a verve and enthusiasm unparalled at the time. But on Rubber Soul, the band reached a crossroads and started the trend which would see their recorded output get progressively more sophisticated over time. Indeed they were one of the few bands who continued to broaden their musical horizons while maintaining their popularity.

Firstly, on Rubber Soul, The Beatles noticeably expanded their sound from traditional drums, bass and guitar using more complicated folk-rock arrangements. The album was released around the time they made the decision to stop touring which freed them from the constraining task of having to reproduce the songs on stage. Thus we hear The Beatles incorporating elements of other innovators of the time such as The Byrds, Bob Dylan and The Beach Boys. We have George Harrison playing a sitar on Norwegian Wood and the absolutely gorgeous piano instrumental break in In My Life. Furthermore, it was the first album featuring only original compositions from the band themselves, 12 from Lennon/McCartney and 2 from George Harrison If I Needed Someone and Think For Yourself.

The legend has it that it was Dylan who implored them to take their fresh sound and complement it with more intelligent lyrics. Allegedly drug use became a lot more prevalent amongst the band as well perhaps 'assisting' the creative output. What is certain is that the band has moved well beyond She Loves You. Rubber Soul is the first album to contain some songs which are NOT romantically themed (Nowhere Man, Drive My Car). Plus those with romantic themes are much more satisfying (Norwegian Wood, I'm Looking Through You, Girl). And we have the band recording an entire verse in French (Michelle); un accomplissement magnifique!

In keeping with their transition to an albums based band, Rubber Soul is also the first that should be listened to as an album rather than a collection of singles. No singles were released from the album which is unheard of both then and now. But the album is still unmistakably the Beatles, replete with lovely harmonies, toe-tapping rhythms and infectious enthusiasm.

The best song in this reviewers opinion is Norwegian Wood. Penned by Lennon, it apparently hints at an affair which is not successfully consummated. Its full of ambiguity and intrigue. Who was the girl? Why tell someone to sit when there is no chair? Why did he sleep in the bath? Complemented by the first use of a sitar on a rock record, its an incredible two minutes of your life.

The Beatles would go on to record two of the greatest albums of all time in Revolver and Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. But Rubber Soul is arguably a more important album as it marks the moment in time where they stopped making music and started producing art.

Best Track : Norwegian Wood.

Purchase here

If You Like This Try :

The Byrds.......................Mr Tambourine Man
Bob Dylan.......................Blonde on Blonde
Buffalo Springfield............Buffalo Springfield

Top Ten List

Writing about Rubber Soul made me review all over again why The Beatles were so brilliant. They had it all. Perfect chemistry, sublime writing, lovely harmonies, and some of the best songs ever recorded. I then had a dangerous thought; what were their 'BEST' songs? At once you recoil from the task. Its like asking a ten year old which was their favourite Christmas. But, as we have said, the Nevstar Music Guide is about answering the difficult questions. So, your intrepid correspondent will try and objectively determine :

The Top Ten Beatles Songs of All Time

10. While My Guitar Gently Weeps - off the album The Beatles (aka The White Album)
One notable point to make about The Beatles is that they featured not two but three great writers. George Harrison penned a couple of songs every album and his output stands up very well against probably the greatest song writing duo of all time. This is one of his best, a terrific song which was covered extremely well by The Jeff Healey Band.

See here for version of the song accompanied by montage of Beatles photos.

9. She Loves You - Past Masters Vol 1
Their fourth single and one of their most memorable. A nearly perfect rock and roll record. Catchy, fast and furious. Not released on their original albums but on virtually every Greatest Hits collection since.

See here for live performance accompanied by several thousand screaming girls.

NB The two Past Masters albums capture all the songs the Beatles released as singles but were not included on their 13 albums. If you own these two AND all the albums, you have every song the Beatles ever recorded and released.

8. Something - Abbey Road
An absolutely spell-binding release showcasing the otherworldliness of their songwriting towards the end of their career.

See video here.

7. I Should've Known Better - A Hard Days Night
Ive always had a soft spot for this song; its eminently catchy (hardly unique amongst their output), but there is that sensational mouth organ that opens the song that hooks you straight away. Superb stuff.

See clip from A Hard Days Night here.

6. Yesterday - Help!
Hardly very original including this amongst a Top Ten list as its widely regarded as one of their best moments. According to Guinness Book of Records it is the most covered song of all time so its just not just me that likes it. Paul awoke one night with the melody in his head and scrambled to get it on tape. Legend has it that the first two lines originally started as "Scrambled eggs, Oh, baby how I love your legs." One wonders whether it would have been as memorable had that survived.

See solo performance by Paul here (with only intermittent screams).

5. Across The Universe - Let It Be
Not as widely known, as some others, but Across The Universe is definitely in the Top 5. A haunting, beautiful, tear-inducing song, it showcases the considerable Indian influence on the Beatles later in their careers. A cover version by Fiona Apple is used to absolute perfection at the end of the very clever film "Pleasantville". "Nothings going to change my world."

Watch video set to song here.

4. Eleanor Rigby - Revolver
Historians debate the influence of drug taking on the Beatles recorded output. There is no doubt they were taking a lot of drugs, and certainly one wonders how you could produce this sort of material WITHOUT taking a lot of LSD. No matter, we are blessed with its presence for all eternity (and it will take as long to get sick of it). The delightful and appropriate use of strings is a highlight of their catalog.

Creative unoffical video here (after a 30 sec intro).

3. Twist and Shout - Please Please Me
Not an original composition, but the last song of their first album is definitely one of THE Beatles tracks. You could make a convincing case that this is the only song in the world that is guaranteed to get everyone to dance at a wedding. Interestingly, George Martin left the song to the end of the long 12 hour recording session to get the hoarseness he wanted in the vocals. Best use in a movie has to be the St Patricks Day Parade in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. A great movie moment.

Just as a treat; here is that Ferris Bueller segment here!

2. Norwegian Wood - Rubber Soul

As discussed above, Norwegian Wood is a brilliant track and the first sign that they were leaving their contemporaries far behind.

Some interesting Beatles images accompanying track here.

1. A Day In The Life - Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band
Few songs can be said to be entirely unlike any other. Bohemian Rhapsody is perhaps one, and A Day In The Life is certainly another. The product of two distinct half songs with the first and last verse penned by John and the middle eight bars by Paul. It easily highlights the distinct differences between the two; John is quiet, moody and deeper in thought, Paul bouncy, melodic and gregarious. The magic of the Beatles is the combination of the two as their post-Beatles work attests. Lennon's solo work is depressing often scary; McCartney's too insubstantial and fluffy, even bordering on inane at times. However together, tempering each others excesses, we have the thoughtfulness and intelligence of Lennon combined with the energy, melody and enthusiasm of McCartney. The distinct parts of A Day In The Life are joined by a 24 bar bridge written by George Martin featuring a rising crescendo from a full orchesta. A second such crescendo brings the song to a climax pausing for a moment before the final, striking, crashing E Minor chord which continues to resonate for over a minute. Its arguably the finest note in recorded music history.

An interesting video here

"What?" I hear folks exclaim. No room for Revolution, Eight Days A Week, A Hard Days Night, Let It Be, Love Me Do, Help!, Get Back, Long and Winding Road, Paperback Writer, Strawberry Field, Penny Lane, It Wont Be Long, Till There Was You, or Hey Jude! I know !!
You can tell a bands quality by what is left out of a list of its Greatest Songs.

Agree or disagree vehemently? What are your favourite Beatles songs of all time ? Leave a comment or email me here

Until next month. Remember to hug your loved ones often and not go long without listening to your favourite music. You never know the last time you will get to do either.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

October 2008

Album Of The Month

My Morning Jacket : It Still Moves

The recent announcement of the first group of bands scheduled for Big Day Out 2009 left the Nevstar panting in eagerness. Headline acts included a Godfather of Rock (Neil Young), one of the all-time great BDO acts (Prodigy), the sensational Arctic Monkeys and those likely lads from Cambridge in The Datsuns. However, nestled in obscurity amongst this list of high profile bands was the name My Morning Jacket, who few in New Zealand know much about. However, like Wilco at BDO 2003, these guys are deserving of much more fame and acclaim. So, in a slight departure from the standard template, I thought I would feature their best album, It Still Moves from 2003 in order to broaden awareness of the subtle and whimsical delights offered by these Kentucky natives.

My Morning Jacket formed in 1998 in Louisville, Kentucky a town notable for being at least the 'middle' of nowhere (it houses the worldwide central depot for UPS!). They began as an alternative country band releasing two albums (The Tennessee Fire and At Dawn) which featured warm and initimate tales which could easily be sung around the campfire in central United States.

However, with It Still Moves, they began expanding the repertoire noticeably reflecting a wide ranging array of influences from Neil Young to such experimenters as The Velvet Underground. They are constant innovators which ensures that each album is a progression albeit a pleasant diversion such that now they are more aptly described as a neo-psychedelic or dreamy pop band. Regardless of the arbitrary genre they are denominated with, what you need to know is that My Morning Jacket are an extremely talented band with an ear for a catchy melody, an eye for a haunting lyric, and a nose for the right instrumental accompanient.

Many of the songs contain lengthy instrumental sections ebbing and flowing like great orchestral pieces. My particular favourite is the title track It Still Moves which begins with a consistently elongated repeating guitar riff. Some vocals appear after a couple of minutes followed by another lengthy instrumental section featuring a range of different sounds until the song revisits the original guitar riff completing its encirclement. Its wonderful stuff.

My Morning Jacket have completed two more studio albums since It Still Moves. They released Z in 2005 which is a move back into roots/rockabilly type sound but still remains relevant. And they have just released Evil Urges which Im yet to hear, but has been reviewed very positively on both sides of the Atlantic combining a classic rock approach with alt-country tempo.

Albums which are immediately engaging whilst remaining stimulating over time are rare indeed. My Morning Jacket's It Still Moves is such an album. A great place to start familiaring yourself with them before they hit our shores in January next year.

Listen or purchase here.

Try this if you like:

Neil Young
Flaming Lips

If you like this try :

Band of Horses...............Everything All The Time
Mercury Rev..................Deserters Songs

Essential Classic Album

The Go-Betweens : 16 Lovers Lane (1988)

The Go-Betweens are an Australian indie band that laboured anonymously and ignominiously for years before managing to capture lightning in a bottle once with the absolutely wondrous album, 16 Lovers Lane. Recorded in 1988, (just before they split) the second verse from the first track “Love Goes On” clearly sets the scene for whats to come.

The people next door they got problems / They got things they can't name
I know about things about lovers / Lovers don't feel any shame
Late at night when the light's down low / The candle burns to the end/
I know a thing about darkness / Darkness ain't my friend

And so the album continues on this delightful tangent. It contains a breathtaking collection of perfect pop melodies and harmonies which are so achingly beautiful, they mask the angst, longing and desparation evinced by the dual songwriters. Indeed some of the longing and angst was internal within the band as several sources denote romantic trysts between band members during the albums recording. It seems seeking to sample forbidden love is fertile ground for these songsmiths.

The band has produced some other worthy albums, notably a 2001 release titled Oceans Apart, recorded after they reunited in the new millennium. But 16 Lovers Lane stands above all others like a volcanic cone on a wide open savannah. It belongs on a pedestal alongside Bob Dylan’sBlood on The Tracks’ and Fleetwood Mac’sRumours’ as the most intimate and heartbreaking invasions of the human heart set music.

Do yourself a favour and purchase this immediately. Play it when you are happy or when you are sad and it will paradoxically enhance either mood. But do yourself a favour and play it. A lot.

Best Track : Quiet Heart

Listen If You Like :

Stone Roses....................Stones Roses
Fleetwood Mac.................Rumours
The Smiths.....................The Queen Is Dead

Top Ten List

The new James Bond film, the awkwardly titled Quantum of Solace, premieres in London on October 29th. It will accompanied by another Bond theme song, this time a collaboration between the diversely talented Alicia Keys and Jack White. Bond theme songs have varied in quality over recent years (the last effort from Casino Royale was lamentable) but the best are absolutely cracking tracks existing as perfect accomplices to the respective film while enduring as great songs in their own right. But what are the BEST Bond theme songs. Never fear; your intrepid correspondent shirks no mighty challenge. Thus here are the :

The Top Ten James Bond Theme Songs

10. Thunderball - Tom Jones (listen here)

With its full blown orchestral accompaniement, this just SOUNDS like a Bond theme song should. Grand, spectacular and monumental describe both the song and the underground lairs of the evil master criminals. Interesting to note that the theme song was originally going to be a song called Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Shirley Bassey doing the honours. This was nixed by the producers who felt they needed a song with the same title as the movie (a tradition later scrapped). It was a busy year for Tom Jones, who also released his classic, Its Not Unusual, in 1965 as well as garnering a Best New Artist Grammy. He certainly put everything into the vocals for Thunderball. Legend has it that he fainted in the studio singing the elongated last note!

9. Licence To Kill - Gladys Knight (listen or buy here)

Often overlooked in appraisals of Bond theme songs probably because the movie is often forgotten as well. The second of Timothy Dalton's efforts, Licence to Kill is not widely remembered with fondness. That is a shame because the theme song is an absolute stonker. Featuring the sultry vocals of Gladys Knight, it starts slowly and builds into a crescendo of sound reprising the brilliant earlier efforts of Shirley Bassey. Great stuff.

Watch the video here.

8. From Russia With Love - Matt Munro (listen or buy here)

The best named of the Bond films, this is one of the great Bond movies, perhaps the best of Connery's efforts (although Goldfinger also very worthy). And it comes with a pretty strong theme song with Frank Sinatra clone Matt Munro doing the honours. The song is a laid back lounge act effort in keeping with the romantic title and scenes of sailing on the Bosphorous which make up part of the film.

Watch video of the opening sequence here.

7. All Time High (from Octopussy) - Rita Coolidge (listen or buy here
All Time High was notable for the fact that it was the first Bond theme song not to feature the name of the movie in either title or even the lyrics of the song. No matter, it is a stunning song with Rita Coolidge's beautiful vocals complementing a languid tempo and a dynamic catchy chorus. Great stuff.

6. Goldfinger - Shirley Bassey

Perhaps the most iconic and memorable Bond theme song, it set the template for all to follow (as indeed did the film). It was big, bombastic and brilliant. Shirley Bassey's incredible classically trained vocals are the standout feature somehow simultaneously assaulting and assuaging the listener. Bassey is the only repeat Bond artist providing the vocals for three Bond films in total. The other two were the passable Diamonds Are Forever and the forgettable Moonraker.

5. Nobody Does It Better (from The Spy Who Loved Me) - Carly Simon (listen or buy here

Certainly the most appropriate title song; this one line sums up the appeal of the Bond character in the first place. First theme song to not have the film name in the title although it does appear in the lyrics. Certainly right up there alongside Youre So Vain as Carly Simon's best (if not only) moments.

See the intro here.

4. For Your Eyes Only - Sheena Easton (listen here)

The first time is always the best. This was the first Bond film I saw in the movies, and it remains a personal favourite. This was in no small part due to the fantastic theme song sung by Sheena Easton (before she dated Prince and got weird!). A ghostly, hypnotic opening segues into a soaring climatic chorus as Sheena implores us to "see what no one else can see". The song was composed by the immortal Bill Conti who repetoire also includes the unforgettable Rocky theme "Gonna Fly Now", film scores for Thomas Crown Affair and The Right Stuff and the tune played during the tournament fight sequence in the Karate Kid! What a CV.

Watch film opening sequence with song here.

3. A View To A Kill - Duran Duran (listen or buy here)

The first and so far only Bond theme song to achieve #1 on US charts. Duran Duran were actually a slightly controversial choice at the time, but they do a great job and its one of their best songs. The video featuring the band cavorting as spies around the Eiffel Tower is also brilliant particularly when Nick Rhodes gets blown up at the end!

See the fantastic video here.

2. Dr No - Monty Norman (listen or buy here)

The theme to Dr No is better known as the James Bond theme featuring the unforgettable four note coda played throughout the film series, particularly when Bond is in imminent danger of a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Monty Norman is the credited composer but was ably assisted by John Barry who led the orchestra in playing the soon to be famous tune. Barry went on to compose another 11 Bond movie scores including the likes of Goldfinger, Moonraker and Thunderball.

And the number one Bond theme song of all time is........

1. Live and Let Die - Paul McCartney & Wings (listen or buy here)

In the end, Live and Let Die is the greatest Bond theme. It has all the elements, a quiet intro leading to a crashing chorus accompanied by a gigantic orchestral riff. Great stuff. The only Bond theme worthy of being covered by Guns and Roses. Apparently its not just me that likes this track. as it was also the first Bond theme song to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song. It also soared to #2 on the US single charts as well.

See film clip here.


Well, had a deluge of responses about iconic 80s songs. Seems its an era that has a lot of passionate enthusiasts. Thanks to everyone who took the time to respond.

Many suggested some of the best from the likes of Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen or Madonna should be considered for iconic 80s tunes. While not impugning the great recorded output of these stars, they all released important material either before the 80s or after it. Talking about Madonna today and many younger folks are more familiar with her dance efforts such as the compelling Confessions On A Dance Floor. We were looking for those songs from artists who were only of the 80s. Here are a few of the best alternative suggestions I received for iconic 80s songs with accompanying videos for your enjoyment. The last one in particular is a must see. What were they thinking!

Vienna : Ultravox - watch here
Respectable : Mel & Kim - watch here
Born To Be Alive : Patrick Hernandez - watch here
Funky Town : Pseudo Echo - watch here
What I Like About You : The Romantics -watch here
Ghostbusters : Ray Parker Jnr - watch here
Keep On Loving You : REO Speedwagon - watch here
Total Eclipse Of The Heart : Bonnie Tyler - watch here
We Built This City : Starship - watch here
We Close Our Eyes : Go West - watch here
Centrefold : J Geils Band - watch here
Shout : Tears For Fears - watch here
Jesses Girl : Rick Springfield - watch here
You Spin Me A Round : Dead Or Alive - watch here
Cmon Eileen - Dexys Midnight Runners - watch here
Safety Dance : Men Without Hats - watch here

Hope that brings back a few memories for all you children of the 80s.

Until next month.

The Nevstar

Monday, August 4, 2008

August 2008

The 80's Edition !!!

Lets face it. We all secretly love 80s music. It had a joyous childhood innocence and a complete lack of self-consciousness. Music was infectious and fun again. So what better than an entire edition of the Nevstar Music Guide dedicated to that particularly unique musical era.

Album of the Month

CSS : Donkey

Music is art. It can be very serious, introspective and discerning. But sometimes it can be fun. The aural equivalent of throwing paint at the wall and admiring the artisitic outcome. This was the 80s and it is surprising how much of the music has endured, mainly because the pop sensibilities of making songs people sing along to means those songs never really go out of fashion.

So our album of the month is an album which shares many hallmarks of the best of the 80s. CSS is an Brazilian pop band whose name derives from the Portugese phrase Cansei der Ser Sexy which roughly translates as "tired of being sexy". They formed in 2003 and their self-titled debut albumwas a worldwide hit as listeners around the world grooved to their derivative brand of energetic dance-pop. Tracks such as Off The Hook, Music Is My Hot Hot Sex and Lets Make Love And Listen To Death From Above walked a tight line between sexy and silly. The Nevstar was lucky enough to be at both their 2007 concerts at the Kings Arms in Auckland and was blown away by the incredible energy and verve with which they played their effervescent set.

They have returned in 2008 with their second effort Donkey which is straight out of 1982. There are the infectious danceable grooves, heavy use of synth rhythms and pop hooks big enough to land sharks. Its music to dance to while singing out loud, just like you did to Tainted Love

Two tracks midway through the album are the best examples. How I Became Paranoid is a slice of pop genuis with sardonic electronic synthesiser runs reminiscent of Talk Talk or ABC while Move is a long lost Talking Heads offcut with sharp lyrics and jaunty rhythm.

One commentator remarked that the band should be on perpetual rotation on Friday afternoons which eloquently captures the mood of the music. Donkey is a throwback album with the 80s in its genes. It really should only be available in cassette and vinyl.

Check it out here :

Best Track: Move

Listen To It If You Like:
80s era Blondie
ABC / Talk Talk / Soft Cell etc

If You Like This Try:
Hot Hot Heat..................Make Up The Breakdown
Scissor Sisters................Scissor Sisters
The Hoosiers..................The Trick To Life

Essential Classic Album From the 80's

Human League : Dare!

There were undoubtedly some great albums in the 80s. London Calling by The Clash; The Unforgettable Fire from U2; Purple Rain by Prince; Thriller by Michael Jackson; and Closer from Joy Division to name but a few. Yet the eighties are remembered more immediately for the repeated string of unforgettable pop songs, the majority of which were one-hit wonders. What we are looking for is an album which represented the dynamic pop singles of the 80s but also was strong enough as an entire album to warrant coveted Essential Classic status.

There were a few contenders. Soft Cell are known for their brilliant single Tainted Loveand 80s aficionados will find the album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaretis not without merit. Similarly, the album Talk Talk Talkfrom The Psychedelic Furs, featuring the gorgeous single Pretty In Pinkis well worth picking out of bargain bins at your local record store. But to my tin ear, the essential classic album from the 1980s is Dare! by The Human League.

The Human League were pioneers of the electronic synthesizer sound that came to epitomise singles throughout the 80s. Following on from the work of German pioneers Kraftwerk, they married this technological competence with a set of harmonic, melodic songs that were uplifting yet also maintained a sense of intrigue even eerieness. Those following on from their work included such 80s staples as A-ha, Pet Shop Boys, ABC and Duran Duran.

The album is bookended by two fabulous pop songs. The first is the lesser known but quite hypnotic The Things That Dreams Are Made Ofwhich is an appetising pop gem featuring a giant hook bounding up neatly a story of yearning for simple pleasures. The last track is the monster smash Don't You Want Me,the hit that made them pop stars around the world. Featuring dual male and female vocals singing both sides of a love song, the tension builds during a notable pre-chorus, to its spectacular, memorable anthemic chorus followed by the inevitable synthensizer instrumental bridge. It still sounds absolute great today. In fact, I heard it on the radio today!

Both songs, utilise this brilliant technique of a pre-chorus (lacking a better description) linking the story telling of the verse to the sing-along anthemic chorus. It serves to ramp up the energy of the song before the chorus explodes around the listener. It is a technique that Bon Jovi would later employ to devasting effect (listen to Livin' On A Prayer).

Amidst this sunny pop album though are sections of outright darkness and despair. Devotees of the nu-wave icons like Depeche Mode or Pet Shop Boys are encouraged to check out tracks like Darknessor Do Or Diewhich contain some quite morbid musings albeit to the same soundtrack of robotic electronic beats. Similarly, the track Love Actioncould've found a place easily in New Order's first few albums if they had been formed at this point. Its jumpy rhythms somehow complement the world-weary vocals. Brilliant stuff.

So there you have it. A beguiling and riveting album that was so much more than the brilliant single for which it is best known. In my view, a worthy candidate as an Essential Classic Album. But lets leave the final word to a more discerning voice. My favourite anecdote about this album features the legendary rock critic, Lester Bangs, editor of Creem magazine (profiled memorably by Phillip Seymour Hoffman in Almost Famous). Lester Bangs unfortunately died at an early age from a nasty drug interaction. Still on his turntable when his body was discovered was Human League's Dare! making it the last album he ever listened to. A more fitting epitaph is hard to write.

If you like this try :

Kraftwerk...................Computer World
Depeche Mode..............Violator
Gary Numan................Cars
ABC..........................The Look of Love

Top Ten List

This whole edition of the Nevstar Music Guide featuring the 80s came about as I compiled an 80's collection Mix CD for a friend. It made me ponder the peculiar qualities of that age in music. It was an era of one hit wonders, MTV, big hair, flashy videos and nu-wave synthesisers. It started me thinking about what song really immediately says The Eighties like no other. Not necessarily the best tracks of the 80's but the ones which most closely encapsulate the uniqueness of the era. So here is my attempt at :

The Top Ten Iconic Songs From The 80's

10) The Reflex - Duran Duran

Really, no band says the 80's more than Duran Duran. Scholars may one day hence argue their importance in music (although they probably wont), but there can be no argument that they changed the face of music videos. A band born for MTV, they produced a number of great pop songs, none better than The Reflex.
See video here.

9) Take On Me- A-ha

No other band had "The Look" like A-ha did. Hailing from Sweden, there were responsible for one huge hit, Take On Me, which is still instantly recognisable today as an essential part of 80s heritage. Its video would surely rank amongst the finest of all time.
See video here.

8) Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go - Wham!

What can you say about Wham! except nothing fills the dance floor quicker than the singular spoken line "Jitterbugs". A riotously infectious song from this dynamic duo who had the look and sound that could only be from one decade. Choose Life!
See video here.

PS: And Ive just made one regular reader very happy by mentioning Wham in this serious music column. You know who you are!

7) West End Girls- Pet Shop Boys

An immensely talented band, the Pet Shop Boys were inarguably 80s icons with a brand uniquely their own. This was their best track and came complete with a terrific video as per the requirements of the age.
See video here.

6) Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - Cyndi Lauper

Madonna may have had more hits but she had far too much staying power to be considered on this list. So its Cyndi who makes it, her gigantic smash hit being a regular on 80s playlists then, now and forever. Listen out for the brilliant keyboard run to start it. Sounds dynamic with speakers up loud.
See video here.

5) Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Astley

Unfortunately, the 80s will also be remembered for the disgusting trend of manufactured pop stars which culminated almost inevitably with Milli Vanilli. Just as the initial age of television gave rise to teen idols like Frankie Avalon and Ricky Nelson, MTV spawned the need for pop stars that looked the part. No one demonstrated this better than the likeably defective Rick Astley. A horrendous trend which somehow gave us this lasting song. Be sure to watch the video; its absolutely terrible. Further evidence (if needed) that white men really can't dance.
See video here.

4) Venus - Bananarama

Surely, an element of 80s iconocism is a complete lack of any other songs. Name me another Bananarama song please! But if you are going to have your 15 minutes of fame, make it memorable.
See video here.

3) The Final Countdown- Europe
What Eighties countdown would be complete without The Final Countdown! A massive one-hit wonder, The Final Countdown was emblematic of the deluge of pretty hair-metal acts which hit the airwaves in the late eighties. MTV again mainly responsible for the rise of these 'pretty' metallers. Its not metal. But its a lot of fun. Again the video is tremendous.
See video here.

2) Tainted Love - Soft Cell

The 80s were populated with numerous cover songs and so would be churlish not to have one in the top ten. Soft Cell do a terrific job with this 60s pop song and it remains one of the high points of 80s pop. Not number one only by virtue of fact that was actually off a half decent album, the aforementioned Non Stop Erotic Cabaret.
See video here.

And the No. 1 iconic song of the 80s is..............

1) I Ran (So Far Away) - A Flock Of Seagulls

As Austin Powers says, you didnt miss much in the 80's. "There was a Flock Of Seagulls and thats about it!" The perfect 80's song. It has the requisite cheesy 80's era video (see here) featuring horrible fashion, embarrasingly large sunglasses, promiment electric organ, questionable sexuality, and even more questionable hair. The song features a brilliant intro, bouncy rhythms, sensational electric organ and terrific song writing. Furthermore, the band didn't record anything else being anonymous immediately before and soon after it. But I Ran was a huge, huge hit and is still incredibly popular 30 years later. Just simply, I Ran by A Flock of Seagulls is THE quintessential 80's song.

And there you have it. Agree, disagree, or cant believe I missed your favourite 80s track. Leave a comment or send me an email. Love to hear your feedback on what song you consider the iconic song of the 80s.

Thats it for another month. Hope you liked this 80s edition of the Nevstar Music Guide. Until next month.