Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 2009

Its the start of the new year but before we consign 2009 to the dustbin of history, no year would be complete without the Nevstar's Top Ten Albums. As always, the list is necessarily limited by albums that I have actually heard. Still its an interesting list and may provide a pointer or two towards albums that you may have overlooked during the year.
Onto the countdown.

10. Marianne Faithfull - Easy Come Easy Go
The Christmas season sees the shops filled with efforts by ageing rock stars cranking out another a bunch of covers to fill someone's stocking. An astute friend of mine calls these 'lifestyle' albums - recordings to help the rock star sustain THEIR lifestyle. But an exception can be made in this case, because Marianne Faithfull released a stunning collection of tracks this year showcasing her wonderful voice and exquisite taste in music. A must for Faithfull fans. See full review in April 09 edition.

Best Track : The Crane Wife

Try this if you like : Marianne Faithfull, Dusty Springfield, Beth Orton

Listen to or purchase here

9. The XX - XX
One of the best websites to find new music is Metacritic which compiles music reviews from across the web. This proves a useful filter for determining what new albums might be worth checking out based on their opinion of multiple reviewers. And my Metacritic find of 2009 was The XX's who obviously spent a lot more time on their music than a name for this, their debut album. Packed full of lush, dreamy almost spacey pop music, this is an extraordinary album which manages to be quiet yet also have an awful lot to say.

Best track : Infinity

Try this if you like : Death Cab for Cutie, Arcade Fire

Listen to it or buy here

8. Airborne Toxic Event - The Airborne Toxic Event
This LA based rock band seemed to offer nothing new whatsoever. The same old riffs accompanied by the same old hooks interspersed with heroic guitar solos included to boost prospects of their inclusion in the next edition of GuitarHero. So how come I couldnt stop playing it? Maybe its simply that old time rock and roll sung with gusto and affection is always worth the time. The guilty pleasure of the year.

Best track : Papillion

Try this if you like : AC/DC, Guns & Roses

Listen to or purchase here

7. Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Now thats more like it. Kasabian have an interesting history. Their first album was full of brash enthusiasm. But, in attempting to generate ideas for a quick follow up to their mega-smash debut album, Kasabian reverted to raiding the back catalogs of Pavement and Primal Scream. So while their live act remains one to savour, the second album Empire was less than impressive. All is forgiven as the band this year produced a stunning album which harnesses their prodigous live efforts and condenses it into this action packed yet wildly inventive and interesting third album. Packed to the brim with ideas and overflowing with energy, WRPLA is a potpourri of loud guitars, synthesised rhythms and funky electronica. And not a band title either.

Best track : Vlad The Impaler

Try this if you like : Oasis, Primal Scream

Listen to it or purchase here

6. Manic Street Preachers - Journal For Plague Lovers
The Preachers are a band that in some respects have tried to avoid their past, latterly producing albums of glorious anthemic pop music. This emanated from the disappearance of lead singer, Richie Edwards in 1995, never to be seen again (rumours of presence in New Zealand continue to abound). That the disappearance might have been planned is given credence by this album where the remaining band members have written songs to accompany lyrics that Richey left with them. Its a mesmerising yet darkly voyeuristic listen in stark contrast to some of their more recent material. Its as if we are peering into someone's soul as they contemplate diving into the abyss. Its not an easy listen, but nor is it unrewarding. Few of us touch such chilling depths, even fewer could write about it.

Best track : Me and Stephen Hawking

Try this if you like : Sparklehorse, Elliot Smith, Nick Drake

Listen to or purchase here

5. The Doves - Kingdom of Rust
One of my favourite bands of the last ten years or so returned with another stunning album. Here the trademark atmospheric wall of sound is accompanied by nods towards progressive rock and Wall of Soundish stadium anthems. A welcome return to form after 2005's slightly underwhelming Lost Cities. Reviewed in full here.

Best Track : Jetstream

Try this if you like : Coldplay, Elbow

Listen to it or purchase here

4. Muse - The Resistance

Perhaps one of the most inventive rock band operating today, Muse returned in 2009 with The Resistance which is surely close to their "Piece de Resistance"! After dabbling in classical pieces in previous albums, Muse now seem intent on forging a new orchestral-rock synthesis. The Resistance has several pieces which would not sound out of place in a concert hall played by the London Philamornic. Who else would combine a full prog rock virtuoso with an exquisite section from Chopin's Nocturne in E Flat Major. Fulled with grandiose ambition and exceptional musicianship, Muse remain one of the absolutely delights in the world of music. The album finishes with a full three piece Symphony "Exogenesis". Run, dont walk, to the Big Day Out to catch them live where they are the headline act.

Best Track : Guiding Light

Try this if you like : Queen, ELO, The Moody Blues

Listen to or purchase here

3. Future Of The Left - Travels With Myself and Others
The second album from Future Of The Left after emerging from the remnants of the acerbic post-Britpop era band McClusky. FOTL are led by the engaging character Andy Falkous whose lyrics don't so much roll of the tongue, as somehow emerge from between a clenched jaw and a tongue-in-cheek. The songs are streams-of-consciousness poetic diatribes about any and everything. Sometimes his targets are clear, often not. The Hope That House Built perhaps purports to comment on the credit crisis, Drink Nike seems to comment on consumerism and That Damned Fly maybe launches a tirade against rapacious music agents. Gloriously fun yet thought provoking particularly the lengthy monologue opening the final track which asks what was the best prison break in film history!

Best track : You Need Satan More Than He Needs You

Try this if you like : The Pixies, Faith No More

Listen to or purchase here

2. The Horrors - Primary Colours
Not the number one album of the year but probably the number one surprise. Emerging from the all style-no substance of their debut album, The Horrors returned with a second album, the fantastic Primary Colours. Its an album drawing generously from the past but showcasing glimpses of the future. From the inventive Joy Divisionish opening track Mirror's Image to the hypnotic 8 minute closer Sea Within A Sea, its an album that got played a lot on the Nevstar's stereo this winter. With the assistance of regular Portishead producer Geoff Barrow, The Horrors have delivered a consistently brilliant album and its reward is placement in numerous Album of the Year lists including the most cherished of all, the Nevstar Music Guide!

Best Track : I Cant Control Myself

Try this if you like : Joy Division, My Bloody Valentine, Depeche Mode

Listen to or purchase here

And the number one album of the year is................

1. Black Joe Lewis - Tell Em What Your Name Is
It was a sad year for the retail music industry with many stores closing down and the writing seemingly on the wall for the business model of selling CDs to the general public from a High Street store. What I will miss most is the great recommendations from music store staff who know and listen to far more music than I do. The best example is this years number one album which was recommended to me by a staffer at JB Hi Fi in Queen Street. After figuring out what sort of music we liked, he unhesistantly handed me an album by Black Joe Lewis' called Tell Em What Your Name Is and told me I would like it. I'd never heard of the artist or the album but it proved to be an understatement. I dont like it, I absolutely adore it. Black Joe Lewis and the Honeybears have produced an album belonging to the genre which I have dubbed retro soul. Its funky, sassy and fun. Paying respective homage to the greats of yesteryear, it also blazes the path for others to follow. Soul music is dirty and sexy, but simultaneously music for all generations due to its danceability and singability. Black Joe Lewis has all of the above and its a worthy number one album for 2009.

Best Track : Please Pt 2

Try this if you like : James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave

Listen to or purchase here

As always, there were a lot of albums which were very good but not quite Top Ten quality. Here are the Next Ten which I also enjoyed (listed in alphabetical order).

The Antlers : Hospice
Jarvis Cocker : Further Complications
The Decemberists : Hazards of Love
Dirty Projectors : Bitte Orca
Franz Ferdinand : Tonight
Florence & The Machine : Lungs
Maps : Turning The Mind
White Lies : White Lies
Wilco : (the album)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs : Its Blitz

Previous Nevstar Albums Of The Year

This is the eighth year of compiling my Top Ten of the year. Here were the top albums from the last seven years according to the Nevstar.

2008 : Glasvegas : Glasvegas
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

Thats all for this month. Check back next month which will feature the Nevstar's Big Day Out Review. See you all there!


Saturday, October 3, 2009

November 2009

If the best day of the year musically is The Big Day Out, a close second has to be the first announcement of bands in late September. Months of rumour and web leaks are finally ended by the media release detailing the first tranche of bands that will grace the pre-eminent Australasian music festival in January. This year was no disappointment with perhaps the worlds best live band Muse selected to headline the show. They will be ably accompanied by the likes of Groove Armada, Dizzie Rascal and Kasabian. Even the prospect of once again having to endure another set by Powderfinger didn't dull this punter's sense of anticipation.

However, it was further down the list of bands that my attention often strays. A Big Day Out is a great opportunity to experience live performances by bands who often dont make it Downunder via their own concert tours. I was thus delighted to see little known The Decemberists make the show bill. It is to the organisers credit that they continually seek out the quality indie bands coming out of America and persuade them to come to New Zealand / Australia. The likes of acclaimed indie bands such as The Greenhornes, Wilco, Flaming Lips and My Morning Jacket have all graced our shores recently thanks to these diligent efforts.

So for those looking for something a little different at the Big Day Out, here is an introduction to some of the best work of The Decemberists. You have three months to fall in love with them; you will probably only need three minutes.

Album of the Month

The Decemberists : The Crane Wife

Can you be too nerdy for rock and roll? It seems great art in other disciplines is synonymous with stately acclaim. But rock and roll seems to delight in the low-brow whether its childish lyrics, antics or behaviour. Regrettably, rock artists are too often remembered for their wives than their witticisms.

The Decemberists dare to be different. This folk-rock band out of Portland, Oregon take immense pride and delight in delivering folk tales set to gentle indie rock soundtracks. It's stories set to music rather than words attached to a catchy tune. Rock writing at its best is indistinguishable from poetry. This is their fourth studio album, and perhaps their best. After three efforts on minor labels, The Crane Wife represented their first major label release, and they have lifted their game accordingly.

You need only listen to the first track of the album, The Crane Wife, to understand all you need to know about The Decemberists. It forms the opening gambit of the song cycle which permeates throughout the album. The story relates to the Crane Wife which is a Japanese folk tale about a poor man who takes in an crane with an injured wing. After tending to the crane, he sets it free only to shortly have a beautiful woman appear on his doorstep. He falls in love and marries the woman. To alleviate his poverty, she makes beautiful silk garments which she agrees to let him sell as long as he promises never to watch her make them. This he agrees to but temptation eventually gets the better of him. He sneaks a glance into her room one day only to discover a crane plucking feathers from her body to weave into wondrous garments. The crane sees him and flies away, never to return.

The album is thus not your standard rock and roll fare. Other songs explore themes such as the Siege of Stalingrand (When the War Came), the inhumanity of the IRA (Shankill Butchers) plus a musical reworking of Shakespeare's The Tempest in the three part mini-opera The Island. This is a band clearly not short of inspiration or ideas.

On previous albums, The Decemberists were firmly in the folk - folk/rock genre but they expand their reportoire a little on The Crane Wife. There are more guitars and some rock power chords, even perhaps hints of a dalliance with progressive rock in The Island. But ultimately its primarily a mellow listen almost camouflauging the serious intent and ideas of these talented wordsmiths.

Whether their understated charms will suit the Stadium Rock environment of the Big Day Out is certainly up for debate. Listening to the album again moved the Nevstar to wonder whether they would be better enjoyed by an audience of 14 people in a large living room than 45,000 at Mt Smart. But, given the right setting, a cleansing ale in one hand and a sun-drenched Auckland summers day, they just might fit perfectly into an afternoon slot as The Magic Numbers did a few years ago. Without quiet, there is no loud.

Listen to and purchase here :

Best Track : The Crane Wife

Try this if you like :

The Kinks : Arthur - Or The Decline And Fall Of The British Empire
The Beautiful South : Welcome to the Beautiful South

If you like this try :

Belle & Sebastian : Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Rilo Kiley : Under the Blacklight
The New Pornographers : Mass Romantic

Essential Classic Album

Suede : Suede (1993)

Music is the art of imitation. There are only so many instruments and only so many ways to play such instruments (not including a certain Mr Jimi Hendrix!). So, an original sound is pretty hard to come by. Except that is if your band's name is Suede. Suede's major achievement on their eponymous debut album was taking three guitars and making them sound fresh and innovative if not downright sexy.

The album is primarily notable for its sexuality but not in the traditional sense. Suede is sexual, bisexual and asexual all at the same time. From its flagrant androgynous cover art to the stinging opening chords of the baldy So Young, this album is replete with that 'sexual feeling'. It mirrored to a certain extent, the increasingly flamboyant and liberal arts flourishing in the United Kingdom at the time. By all rights, it shouldve been lead singer Brett Anderson on the cover of Vanity Fair and not Liam Gallagher. He belonged on the cover of FHM.

Regardless of the attitudes and studied air of nonchalance, the album has aged well in the main because its replete with fabulous songs. The dynamic Animal Nitrate follows the aforementioned So Young and its a cracker filled with raw emotion and fiery inquiry. What animal spirit lurks in the hearts of men when blood flows towards their little heads?

After some more reflective, sobering tracks through the middle, the album closes with a triumphant triple treat. There is the anthemic destruction of Metal Mickey preceding the hard driving guitar heroics of Animal Lover. Finally, we a treated to the musical equivalent of a wistful glance backward with a knowing smile in the piano-driven The Next Life. Following the rapid, rabid sexual exertions of the first half hour, The Next Life brings the romance to an end. Easily the most tender and affectionate track it subtly reminds us that touching a cheek is more erotic than groping a breast.

Suede famously played live at the Brit awards in 1993 after a campaign by the NME to include more relevant music rather than further appearances by rock dinosaurs such as Phil Collins and Annie Lennox. But the penguin suited music head honcho's didnt really 'get' the act. Once again the music establishment was out of touch with youthful consumers. It should have been easy; lest we forget, rock and roll has and always will be about sex.

Listen to or purchase Suede :

Best track : Animal Nitrate

If you like this try :

Suede : Dog Man Star
Roxy Music : Country Life
David Bowie : Diamond Dogs

Top Ten List

This months Top Ten list was the idea of a regular reader. The question, simply postulated, was what are the greatest rock instrumentals of all time. While much electronica music is without vocals, very few rock bands attempt to write music without vocal accompaniment. However, there were quite a few good ones to sort through. For this list, I have arbitrarily excluded movie and television themes which we have explored previously. So here are the Top Ten Rock Instrumentals of All Time.

10. Oasis : F*cking In the Bushes
While not a movie theme, this bruising instrumental track, is used to devasting effect in the climatic fight scene in Snatch. The first track off the album Standing On The Shoulder of Giants, its probably also the best track. Proof, if it were ever needed, that Oasis werent reliant on Liam's vocals to sustain your interest.

Watch the scene here.

Hat tip to Don.

9. Freddie King : Hideaway
There are three great 'Kings' of blues guitar. BB King, Albert King and the lesser known Freddie King. For those of you who havent heard of him, this is the place to start. A ground-breaking piece of music which came at the start of the electric guitar blues revolution. A massive hit at the time (as the video attests), it still sounds fantastic today.

Watch him play it live here.

8. Machine Gun : Commodores
What self-respecting instrumental list could possibly exclude this dynamic hit from The Commodores. Given its name by the punchy repetitive clarinet which sounded like gunfire to a music exec, Machine Gun became a mainstream funk hit crossing over into the pop charts on its release in 1974. Popular and likeable to this day.

And a fun fact about the song that only the web can provide. The song was a huge hit in Nigeria! It was actually played after the national anthem at the end of each days television broadcast.

Listen to it here.

7. Dick Dale & The Del Tones : Misirlou
This is unfortunately now more widely known and loved as the Pulp Fiction opening score but to exclude it on that basis seems churlish. It is the finest work of one of the greatest guitar innovators the world has ever seen, the King of Surf Guitar, Dick Dale. That it should be considered still edgy, intriguing and powerful enough to open a movie 30 years later is testament to its enduring legacy.

Listen to it here.

6. Booker T & The MG's : Green Onions
Booker T & The MG's had two personas. They made their living as the house band for Stax Records providing instrumentation for hits by such luminaries as Sam & Dave, Otis Redding, and Wilson Pickett. But they also recorded their own material including this from their most acclaimed album of the same name. Its a terrific track showcasing the dexterity and talent of Booker T on the organ, the impeccable timing and rhythm of Al Jackson on drums and the exemplary guitar section of Donald "Duck" Dunn and Steve "The Colonel" Cropper (of Blues Brothers fame).

Great footage of the band and song here.

5. Elton John : Funeral For A Friend
This possibly stretches the definition of an instrumental, but I have always loved the first part of Funeral For A Friend / Love Lies Bleeding. They are listed as two separate tracks on my CD version so thats good enough for me. Funeral For A Friend has an atmospheric opening which builds slowly, adding instruments while inexorably ramping up to a brilliant climatic moment in full symphonic traditions. Absolutely stunning live particularly as it usually opens a concert.

Watch it here.

4. The Shadows : Apache
Growing up, there was only one instrumental that anybody and everybody knew and that was Apache by The Shadows. The Shadows are possibly better known as Cliff Richard's backing band, but they were originally part of a deluge of instrumental guitar bands in the early 60s. Most faded away and virtually none of the songs left a lasting impression. Except this one. It has endured the test of time; a scintillating western themed instrumental track evoking images of desolate spaces and wagon trains, John Wayne and Rio Bravo.

Watch it here.

3. Fleetwood Mac : Albatross
From the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac when they were an Elmore James inspired blues band. I think I was about eight years old when I was first introduced to this track by my music teacher at the time (the dearly departed Mrs Godfrey). She asked the class to listen to it and imagine we were a bird floating on wind currents soaring above the ocean. I loved it the first time I heard it and Im still listening to it 30 years later.

Watch video here.

2. Van Halen : Eruption
If you are a rock guitar fan, this should need no introduction. Eddie Van Halen's mesmerising guitar solo warranted inclusion in its own right on Van Halen's eponymous debut album. Some guitar playing just defies belief. I could practice 18 hours a day for the rest of my life and never get close to being able to play this. Sublime finger picking skills, particularly the revolutionary (at the time) fretboard tapping. Ever the perfectionist, Eddie claims that he made a mistake in the studio version "at the top end" and to this day thinks he couldve played it better. You be the judge.

Listen to the studio version first here. But then watch a live performance (here), and if you are anything like me, you will be applauding by the end.

- and the number one instrumental of all time is.......

1. Link Wray & His Ray Men : Rumble
I think you could safely bet that 1 person in 100 knows this instrumental by looking at the title and artist. But 99% will recognise on hearing it. Its the brilliant piece of music chosen by Quentin Tarantino to accompany his famous Jack Rabbit Slims scene in Pulp Fiction. Link Wray was a guitar god who revolutionised the sound of the electric guitar virtually inventing the rock guitar staple known as the "power chord". He has been cited as an influence by no less a troupe as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Duff McKagan, Marc Bolan and Neil Young. Peter Townsend went further saying that if it wasnt for Link Wray, he never would have picked up a guitar! After losing a lung to tuberculosis, Link Wray concentrated on instrumentals with this one becoming the most powerful, enduring and famous. Wikipedia reports that the song was banned on the radio for a time because it incited juvenile deliquency. Not bad for a piece of music with no lyrics!

See here for incendiary live performance.

Others considered for the Top Ten include :

Led Zeppelin : Moby Dick - here
Jimi Hendrix : Star Spangled Banner
Edgar Winter Group : Frankenstein
Mike Oldfield : Tubular Bells
Metallica : Orion
Jeff Beck : Bolero - here

Thats all for another month. But, 'Before we go' (as Kermit used to say), I thought I would invite submissions for NEXT months top ten. As we draw to the end of 2009, it becomes relevant to ask what were the Top Albums of the year? In the December issue I will outline my top ten albums for the year that was. Any suggestions dear readers? Leave me a comment or send me an email. Would love to hear your thoughts on the best albums this year.

Thats all for now.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

September 2009

Album of the Month

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears : Tell Em What Your Name Is!

Where is all the retro soul? Does it even exist as a musical category? We are deluged with garage rock bands, retro 80s efforts or has-been crooners evoking the spirit if not the talent of the Ratpack. But where is the reinterpretation of the great brand of soul music practised by Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding and Sam Cooke. The closest anyone came to rediscovering the charms of James Brown and co was probably The Commitments where a bunch of Dubliners did a terrific job of saying (with a straight face), "Im Black and Im Proud". However voluminous radio waves encircling the world have been largely devoid of smart, sexy, sassy soul music from the next generation of musical talent. That is until now.

Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are an eight piece garage soul band out of Austin, Texas who shouldve all been born in Memphis. Soul music has two distinct branches. There is the slower, more vocally dominant sounds practised by such greats as Aretha Franklin and Etta James. And then there is the Memphis Stax sound where more sassy vocals are combined with sexy horns, dramatic drums and driving rhythm. Black Joe Lewis & The Honeybears are powerful adherents of the latter category. This is an album which bursts from the speakers; overpowering in its energy, verve and vibrancy.

From the first blast of trumpets in the electric opener "Gunpowder", we are hooked. Hooked on the vigour, the vitality, the sheer braziness of a band strutting confidently across a musical landscape that has been barren for so long. Too long. What follows is Soul Music for Dummies containing every single aspect of this great, great form of music. Funky beats, boogie guitars, sexy horns, and directive powerful vocals. Black Joe Lewis is a showman and his live shows are reportedly a treat. Too rarely do we see an artist display such panache and confidence in their debut albums.

My favourite track is probably Get Yo Sh*t which slices slow spoken dialogue recanting lifes troubles and tribulations (reminiscent of John Lee Hooker or Bo Diddley) with periods of passionate musical outbursts. Glorious stuff.

The album, most appropriately, finishes with a slow burning, edgy, yet respectively honorific version of James Brown's own Please Pt 2. Its a revelation; a touching ode to the greatness they seek to emulate bringing the 30 minute playing time to an end all too soon. Thank goodness for the wonders of digital sound where, with remote in hand, I can immediately press Play and experience it all again. New technology helps but you can beat the old sounds.

Listen to or purchase here

Try this if you like : James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett

If you like this try :
Eli "Paperboy" Reed : Roll with You

Essential Classic Album

Oasis - Definitely Maybe

In what could only loosely be described as 'news', it was announced in late August that Noel Gallagher was (once again) quitting Oasis following a fight with his brother Liam. This tired and increasingly tiresome squabble now takes up more column inches than any discussion of their works past or present.

And thats a shame. Because, for a brief moment in time, they were quite simply the most exciting rock and roll band on the planet. What is quickly forgotten amidst all the tabloid fodder is how absolutely thrilling they were. Angular jangly guitar dominated rock complete with sneering vocals, stirring melodies and a genuine "You fucking talkin to me" attitude.

In reality, you only need to own one Oasis album and that's Definitely Maybe. And its beyond essential. No question, no discussion. Whats the Story Morning Glory sold more copies but they had already started exhibiting some incidences of the bloated and aggrandizing attitudes which proved to be their downfall. But the debut album is pure genuis. Plug it in and be dazzled for the first time all over again.

The album starts with perhaps one of the great opening tracks of all time in Rock and Roll Star. A slowly picked jagged guitar line gives way to an explosion of uptempo rock and roll which are followed soon after by the first sneering leering lyrics.

"In my mind my dreams are real....
No one is concerned about the way I feel
Tonight, Im a Rock and Roll Star."

It rivals Holidays In The Sun off the Sex Pistols debut album as the most thrilling statement of intent from a debut artist. It's the sound of an entire disaffected working class collectively grabbing the microphone and daring to dream about a better existence.

The album spawned four monster singles in the headshaking Supersonic, the singalong Shakermaker, the anthemic Live Forever and the terrific Cigarettes and Alcohol. But every song sounds like a single. The album was, for a time, the fastest selling debut album in history (since overtaken by the Arctic Monkeys). Buts its legacy wont be overtaken any time soon. It is one of the greatest albums of all time.

The essence of rock and roll is an overused term. But in the absence of a new cliche (an oxymoron if there ever was one), thats what Oasis were. Attitude, sneer and talent. Such a rare combination. "Is it my imagination; or have I finally found something worth living for?"
Listen to or purchase here

If you like this try :

The Sex Pistols : Never Mind the Bollocks Here's the Sex Pistols
Blur : Parklife
The Boo Radleys : Wake Up!

Top Ten List
The Nevstar has been invited to a couple of wedding lately and my thoughts usually turn immediately to the music. Weddings are rather unique environments whereby there is exactly zero chance of all the people in the room being all together again. There are multiple generations and inevitably a huge disparity in musical taste. Faced with this fact, a wedding planner is faced with the unenviable task of somehow getting everyone from this diverse group up on the dance floor so that the party will be a success. Optimally this will occur right after the first song chosen by the happy couple as their first wedding dance.

So the key to a great wedding party is finding the best possible Second Song. This second song must literally make people jump out of their seats to join the happy couple on the dance floor. This second song thus has to be INSTANTLY recognisable by EVERYONE in the room. Both elements are essential but one or both are invariably overlooked. Some songs may be instantly recognisable to some but not others, some may be recognisable by everyone but only after a long intro or once the song gets to the chorus. But we have to have a song that everyone knows intimately from the very first bar as only that will prompt them to rise from their seats and start strutting their stuff.

Now, if thats not tough enough, we also have the added complexity of finding a song with nothing remotely controversial in the title or lyrics. Pop music is replete with tales of lost love, woe and desperation. These songs, while great art, have no place at a wedding celebrating the special love of the happy couple.
A tough task indeed. But who better to answer such a tough question, than the Nevstar himself. So here is the Nevstars effort at determining :

The Top Ten Best "Second" Songs At A Wedding

10. Grease Megamix
This is perhaps a bit of a cop-out but the medley track of all the hits from Grease is a winner and would generally do the trick of getting the congregation out of their seats. Perhaps a touch too slow to start, but its eminently danceable, prone to dance partner interaction, known to everyone plus its loved and adored by generations young and old.
Watch the video here.

9. I Will Survive : Gloria Gaynor
Oh yes. Dont know many who wouldnt dance to this song. You could perhaps argue that its lyrics and title arent appropriate for a wedding but it sure does get people dancing and thats the key consideration. May not be known by some of the older generations present.
Watch the video here.

8. Footloose - Kenny Loggins
A movie based around the theme of dancing concludes with this proven floor-filler by 80s movie specialist Kenny Loggins. An infectious track which would certainly do the trick.
Watch the video here.

Note, if you havent seen the movie recently, make the effort. It has aged extremely well certainly a lot better than similar 80s dance flicks, Fame and Flashdance. Features a very young Sarah Jessica Parker!

7. Love Shack : B52
I dont particularly like this song, but you cannot argue with its track record of getting people up dancing. More pertinently perhaps, it is appropriately titled reminding us that the dancing is the official start of the honeymoon!
Watch the video here.

6. Waterloo : Abba
Next on the list is Abba's monster hit Waterloo. Brilliant track. Noses out its more famous counterpart, Dancing Queen, mainly on its faster tempo and more immediate danceability.
Watch the video here.

5. Great Balls of Fire : Jerry Lee Lewis
Jerry Lee Lewis may not have sung this song at his own controversial wedding (to the child bride Myra Brown), but it's an oldie and a goodie. Dynamic energy, known by everyone and easy to sing and dance to.
Watch the video here.

4. Cant Buy Me Love : The Beatles
Prior to starting this list, I was pretty sure No. 1 would be a Beatles song. But then I realised that there are a lot fewer absolutely CANT MISS dance songs than I thought. And so really at a wedding, your choice probably should be not which song to start with, but which Beatles song to start with! The Fab Four wrote a number of extremely catchy, singable, danceable tracks which are known and loved by billions across the world. Cant Buy Me Love is but one of these but its sentiments are perfect for a wedding which is very important for this list.
Watch the video here (from the movie Hard Days Night).

3. It Wont Be Long : The Beatles
Again, a near perfect combination of immediacy, appropriate lyrics, toe tapping rhythm and singable chorus. These guys were pure genuis.
Watch the video here.

2. Beatles : She Loves You
For me personally, my first dance song would probably be She Loves You. Firstly, its got the perfect sentiment. Next it has lots of 'Yeah Yeah Yeahs' to sing to. Great singing songs have to have 'sha la's' or 'nah nah's'. Then it also starts immediately without any intro so after two bars you are right into it. It is also only two minutes long which means that you can schedule perhaps a more contemporary track for the younger ones now that you have hooked the oldies.
Watch the video here.

But the Number one second song at a wedding is...........

1. I Saw Her Standing There : The Beatles
Contrary to my thoughts, in the informal polling I conducted in researching this, it seems that this is the most popular Beatles song for weddings. I Saw Her Standing There, like the others, starts immediately, has a toe-tapping rhythm and is universally loved by young and old. A near perfect track to get that party started.
Watch a video here.

There are other Beatles tracks which would also be fine. Songs such as Hard Days Night, Twist and Shout, Eight Days A Week, All My Loving, and I Should Have Known Better would all be appropriate and popular selections.

What do you think? Would these songs work? Any alternative suggestions? Or does anyone have any stories of shockingly inappropriate second track selections at a wedding they have attended. Would love to hear about any such appalling choices.


I had a bit of feedback about last months Top Ten which asked for the best music moments in films. One egregious omission of mine I happily will admit to was Grease which has a number of unforgettable songs at key moments. I personally would have Born To Hand Jive as my favourite. Others suggested included:

Summer Loving in Grease
You're The One That I Want in Grease
My Sharona in Reality Bites
Saturday Night Fever
Car Wash

and then what about......

The Rainbow Connection in The Muppet Movie (brilliant!)

Thats all for this month. See you in October.


Friday, August 7, 2009

August 2009

Album of the Month

Future of the Left : Travels with Myself

Rock has lost its anger. An artform built on ranting about social injustices spends more time marketing than marching. It is all too readily apparent; the bands we purport to follow have either lost the capacity to rage or are too comfortable to care. Rarely are we treated to bands spitting and seething into the microphone seeking to wake us up to ideas and ideals. Are we all satisfied with our lot?

Welsh trio Future of the Left are apparently not and demonstrate it admirably in this months Album of the Month, Travels With Myself And Another. This is their second album after emerging from the remnants of the acerbic post-Britpop era band McClusky. They are led by the engaging character Andy Falkous whose lyrics don't so much roll of the tongue, as emerge somehow between a clenched jaw and a tongue-in-cheek.

The songs are streams-of-consciousness poetic diatribes about any and everything. Sometimes his targets are clear, often not. The Hope That House Built perhaps purports to comment on the credit crisis, Drink Nike seems to comment on consumerism and That Damned Fly maybe launches a tirade against rapacious music agents. Who knows, who cares? Do we know what Dylan meant on every line? Do we want to know. Art is about what you get out of it not what someone tells you its about. And there is enough material here, that despite the short 33 minute running time, you could spend days exploring its corridors and hallways.

Musically, its right on cue. Sharp, staccato guitar bursts, heavy drums, shouted vocals accompanied by fuzzy, dirty rhythms setting a scene of angst and anarchy. But yet there are hints of driving rhythms, and even some melodies breaking out here and there. The capacity to surprise is an artists biggest weapon.

The best track is probably the last, entitled Lapsed Catholics which starts with spoken musings on the best movie prison break, and finishes a frenetic 4 minutes later in a thunderous finale. Monumental.

So if you are sitting at your desk looking at your computer wondering what happened to your passions while you were busy growing up, go out and purchase Travels With Myself And Others. Then take it home, listen to it loud, and put your head out the window to scream "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!".

In fact you can purchase or listen to it here

Try this if you like:

Rage Against The Machine : Rage Against the Machine
Green Day : American Idiot
Beastie Boys : Paul's Boutique

If you like this try :
Les Savy Fav : Let's Stay Friends

Essential Classic

Bruce Springsteen : Born To Run (1975)

"I have seen rock and roll's future and its name is Bruce Springsteen". So goes the folklore of the encounter between Jon Landau and the aforementioned Bruce Springsteen after Landau saw The Boss in concert in 1974 and wrote about it in Rolling Stone. It was a timely endorsement for the man who would become the biggest star in the 1980s. After two albums which had received tepid reviews and mediocre sales, Columbia Records were getting impatient with an artist whose undoubted live prowess wasn't translating into bankable record sales.

With one last chance given, Springsteen entered the studio attempting to get that live sound down on tape and produce the masterpiece everyone said he was capable of. With Landau now producing, the result of the lengthy sessions was the album Born to Run, which became one of the greatest rock records of all time and is our Essential Classic album of the month.

Born to Run
is an incredible album. It captures the essence of the artist who establishes a dialogue with his listeners while simultaneously leading them to a higher plane. His dreams are our dreams, his travails our problems. Musically, its exciting, brash and bold. It strikes a nimble balance between bombastic anthems and intensely personal portraits, something his later albums do not. It almost consumed him during its recording, but the result is, by far, his best work.

The title track is justifiably famous and still thrills to this day. It has an urgency bubbling under its surface throughout; a gasoline soaked bonfire one spark away from exploding. It urges, cajoles, and inspires. It also contains one of rock and roll's great lyrics coming after the guitar solo;

"Highway jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive
Everybody's out on the run tonight but there's no place left to hide

Born to Run (the album) is also a singular reminder of the art of the album itself whereby great artists put effort into every single track as part of the overall thematic notion. Albums today have only a couple of decent tracks so its no wonder everyone downloads singles or waits for Greatest Hits. No doubt a Bruce Springsteen Greatest Hits collection would include the title track, and perhaps the redoubtable Thunder Road and move on. But dear readers, look at the tracks you would be missing:

Tenth Avenue Freeze Out - such a good track that he played it at the halftime show at last years Superbowl. A sax led, New Orleans influenced, boogie wonder.

- stomping drums, screeching sax and snappy piano lead this tale of night time pursuits

- starting with a gorgeous piano intro, this song builds into a thunderous crescendo. Probably my favourite track.

She's The One
- the most overtly romantic of the tracks but not really a ballad. More of an ode to unrequited love. Subtly titillating without being coarse.

Meeting Across The River
- shivers travel up your spine as a solo trumpet (in the distance) leads into this maudlin tale.

- a mini-opera in itself, justifiably famous. and closing the album with equal measures of grandeur and modesty. Mesmerising.

He is still a live phenomenon, still an icon of New Jersey, still reminding us of the vitality of rock and roll each and every time he goes on stage. But it matters not. He could've gone into recluse and with Born To Run we would still have enough material to continuing listening to the Boss for a lifetime.

Listen to or buy here

If you like this try:

Bruce Springsteen : Darkness on the Edge of Town
John Hiatt : Bring the Family
The Hold Steady : Boys and Girls in America

Top Ten List

Last month saw some very sad news come over the wires with the extremely untimely passing of the great John Hughes. Hughes was the director of such teen classics as The Breakfast Club, 16 Candles, Pretty in Pink and the indefatigable Ferris Buellers Day Off. I watched the latter the night I heard of his death and laughed all the way through despite having seen it at least a dozen times. Without doubt the best scene is the parade where Ferris gets up and sings 'Danke Schoen' followed by a rip-roaring lip-synched version of 'Twist and Shout'. Watching the latter got me thinking, what are the best uses of music in films? Movies are replete with background music and scenes accompanied by familiar tracks. But what are the absolute best uses of music in films? So this months top ten is:

The Top Ten Uses of Music in Film (with video evidence of course)

10. Bugsy Malone : We Could've Been Anything That We Wanted To Be
The kiddie gangster flick that marked, among other things, Jodie Foster's movie debut. The film is sensational but it is brought to a brilliant climax by the all time greatest food fight scene every recorded on film. The fight scene is brought to an abrupt and poignant end by this sensational track which highlights the film's themes of togetherness and camaraderie. Fantastic.
See the scene here.

9. Top Gun : You've Lost That Loving Feeling
In a movie memorable for a lot of things, this is perhaps the best scene. Showcasing all that is annoying and compulsive about every character Tom Cruise played in the 80s. Brimming with confidence and arrogance, Maverick and co woo 'Charlie' with this old time classic. I can also confirm from personal experience that it's deceptively easy to get a crowd singing along to this song!
See the scene here.

8. The Rocky Horror Picture Show : Time Warp
Nosing out the possibly superior track Sweet Transvestite, Time Warp is definitely the best musical moment in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Richard O'Brien (the kiwi born writer of the film), slowly and seductively starts the 'Horror' on the stroke of midnight introducing the audience to perverted and prurient worlds lurking behind locked doors. Look out also for appearance from Charles Gray as the narrator ('Its just a jump to the left'), better known as Blofeld in the James Bond series.
See the scene here.

7. Apocalypse Now : Ride of the Valkyries
A scene that would probably appear on a list of top ten movie scenes of all time is the helicopter attack in Apocalypse Now. It is memorably scored by the triumphant Ride of the Valkyries composed by Richard Wagner in 1851. Perhaps the inimical Colonel Kilgore is best placed to describe its effectiveness; 'We use Wagner. It scares the hell outta the slopes. My boys love it! '. A case could also be made for including The End by The Doors which plays over the opening credits and the compelling final scenes.
See the scene here.

NB: The same track is also used to good effect in The Blues Brothers during the Nazi chase scene as seen here.

6. The Full Monty : You Can Leave Your Hat On
Despite being a complete rip-off of the New Zealand play Ladies Night, The Full Monty was an international box-office smash success. The film finishes with the final striptease scene which left audiences, both ladies and gentlemen, in tears of laughter as the boys go 'all the way' to the sultry tones of Tom Jones.
See the scene here.

5. Wayne's World : Bohemian Rhapsody
Wayne: I'll think we'll go with a little Bohemian Rhapsody.
Garth : Good call.
And so we are introduced to the lovable Wayne and Garth, stars of the late night cable show Wayne's World. Heading into town, the lads and their friends sing-a-long to the beyond great Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Its always tricky to include such an iconic song in a movie but its inclusion in Waynes World even enhances its legendary status. It reminds us of its greatness during a cathartic six minutes. Now, whenever you listen to the song amongst others, its almost impossible NOT to nod your head vigorously at the climatic head-banging moment. Essential.
See the scene here.

4. Reservoir Dogs : Stuck In The Middle With You
Similarly to the great Martin Scorcese, Quentin Tarantino has a gift for choosing slightly off-beat but ultimately inspired songs to go with iconic scenes. Who can forget Son of a Preacher Man or Girl, You'll Be A Women Soon from Pulp Fiction. But surely the best has to be the bright and cheerful, Stuck In The Middle With You to accompany the sadistic Mr Blonde cutting off a cop's ear. The song is introduced by the laconic comedian, Steven Wright who sounds, as ever, incredibly excited by it all.
Check out the scene here. (WARNING: NOT FOR THE SQUEAMISH).

3. Rocky : Gonna Fly Now
Inarguably one of the most inspirational theme songs ever which perfectly captures the 100 - 1 longshot story of the film. I simply love the part where the camera tracks him jogging, then running, and finally sprinting down the pier. Great stuff. Makes me want to get up and go running hard right now!
Check out the scene here.

2. 2001 : Blue Danube
A ground-breaking film in a number of ways, 2001 also notably accompanied stunning visual sequences with elegant pieces of familiar classical music. The most brilliant is the use of the Johann Strauss II's Blue Danube during the shuttle docking scene. It seems a strange choice at first. Kubrick initially commissioned a composer to write a movie score before determining that audiences might find the visual images somewhat disconcerting and disorientating. He thus theorized that they might be more comforted if such images were accompanied by familiar music. The Blue Danube is an inspired choice, accompanying space ships dancing to a timeless waltz played out in the vacuum of space.
Check out the scene here.

and the No 1. top use of music in films is:

1. Tiny Dancer - Almost Famous
One of the finest movies of the Noughties, Almost Famous is the brilliant film outlining the semi-autobiographical tale of a young writer joining a band on a road trip. Along the way, it somehow manages to distil the story of rock's corporatisation, the travails of struggling bands and what it was like to grow up in the 70s. But, at its essence, it understands what we love most about music. And no scene demonstrates this better than the bus scene when Russell is brought back onto the bus after a night out on LSD. The bus moves away and the delicate piano arpeggio of Elton John's Tiny Dancer starts up. Slowly, the band starting singing along with the verses until everyone is loudly singing the chorus all together. Music, if nothing else, brings people together. No matter your age, colour, creed or credit history, we all have a love of music in common. So combine a great movie, a great scene and a great song, and you have the best movie musical moment of all time.
Check out the unforgettable scene here.

I think this Top 10 is bound to be controversial and there is no objective test for what is a great movie musical moment. But which ones have I missed (apart from Ferris himself who is almost certainly somewhere in Top 5!) Leave a comment or email me with your thoughts on the best musical moments in films.

Thats all for another month.