April 14, 2013 § 6 Comments
So, those who despise Margaret Thatcher for her vindictiveness and spitefulness want to celebrate her death by propelling into the charts a song about the death of a witch. Those who laud Thatcher for her supposed love of freedom want to ban that song. And the BBC settles on a cackhanded ‘compromise’ by censorsing the song while pretending it is doing no such thing. Nothing, perhaps, could better express the inanity of contemporary politics than the crass, puerile controversy around Ding Dong the Wicked Witch is Dead. Once, protest songs provided the soundtrack to political struggle. Now political struggle is reduced to getting old songs into the charts.
But what of the actual protest songs of the Thatcher years? These were the years of mass unemployment and inner city riots, of the miner’s strike and the hunger strikes, of the poll tax protests and the Falklands War. Yet, even in the 80s anti-Thatcher protests were all too often overwhelmed by personal loathing and descended into little more than an outpouring of vindictive venom. And so did the protest songs – from Morrissey’s Margaret on the Guillotine (And people like you/ Make me feel so old inside/ Please die) to Elvis Costello’s Tramping Down the Dirt (I’d like to live/ Long enough to savour/ That’s when they finally put you in the ground/ I’ll stand on your grave and tramp the dirt down). I have excluded from my list all these personal hate pieces (though I was tempted to include Elvis). I have also left out all the protest songs that don’t relate directly to the policies and events and experiences of the Thatcher years. So, for instance, I have included the Gang of Four’s Ether (which is about the H-Blocks) but not their far superior classic tracks such as Damaged Goods, Anthrax and Natural’s Not in It. (It is worth remembering also, in the context of musical censorship, that the band was thrown off Top of the Pops after it refused to change the lyrics of its first hit single, At Home He’s a Tourist. The BBC objected to the line ‘And the rubbers you hide in your top left pocket’, finding it highly offensive, and demanding that ‘rubbers’ be changed to ‘rubbish’. The band refused) « Read the rest of this entry »
January 27, 2013 § 7 Comments
Last month, in The Weary Blues, I set out my 20 favourite blues tracks, mainly from the Mississippi Delta and Chicago, the two traditional homes of the blues. Over the past half century the blues have travelled well beyond their origins and become anything but traditional. So here is a brief attempt to trace that journey. As ever, this is a personal, eclectic, even eccentric collection. There are 20 tracks split into three groups. The first group comprise singers whose work reveals the early influence of the blues on jazz, soul and country: Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Johnny Cash and Dr john. Then we move to blues-flavoured rock, from Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin, through the Sixties British blues boom to contemporary reworkings as different Ian Siegal and The Black Keys. Finally, a set of tracks that show the influence of blues on ‘world music’ (a phrase I hate, but that seemingly has become indispensible today).
It is perhaps both fitting and poignant to end with three tracks from Malian artists. It was out of the slave trade and the transportation of millions from West Africa and the Sahel to the Americas that the blues emerged, formed out of the traditional songs that the slaves brought with them. Over the past few decades the influence has flowed in the opposite direction as American blues has travelled back across the Atlantic to shape the contemporary music of West Africa and the Sahel. And nowhere more so than in Mali, a nation that has in recent years produced an astonishing line-up of outstanding musicians. The Islamist takeover of the north has silenced that music and driven many into exile. I might pull together my favourite Malian music in a post soon. In the meantime, enjoy the weary blues going forth.
December 27, 2012 § 2 Comments
October 19, 2012 § 1 Comment
Last month I posted my collection of favourite songs about New York. Now it’s London’s turn. Like the previous list, this one is personal, eclectic, even eccentric. Some great tracks (from Madness, Bowie, T Rex, the Jam, Blur, Ian Dury, etc) are missing – I had room only for 20. Despite the title of the post (and the image) London Calling is not on the list. I don’t much like it. (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais is, on the other hand, possibly my favourite Clash track. Police and Thieves, I know, is not a song about London. But it is so associated with the Notting Hill Carnival that I’ve adopted it as an honorary London song. Had it actually been about London, it would have got in at No 1 on the list.
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September 11, 2012 § 4 Comments
On the anniversary of 9/11, here is a playlist of my 20 favourite songs about New York. Given that no city can boast as great a back catalogue, there are many tracks that I have been forced to leave out – Public Enemy’s ‘A Letter to the New York Post‘, for instance, the Ramones’ ’53rd and 3rd’, Ben E King’s ‘Spanish Harlem’, Billie Holiday’s ‘Autumn in New York City’, to mention but four – and there will be many more that I have forgotten or simply missed. And no, ‘New York New York’ is not here. Sinatra can be sublime, but that song is the easy-listening version of the stadium anthem.
The 21st track in the list of 20 is Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Rising’. I much prefer ‘New York City Serenade’ as his love song to the city. But, written as it was in tribute to the resilience of the human spirit – and of the Big Apple itself – in the wake of 9/11, I could not simply ignore ‘The Rising’, so it comes in as an extra.
August 19, 2012 Comments Off
In the week in which three members of Pussy Riot were imprisoned at the end of what was effectively a show trial in Moscow, it is worth flagging up this album of music by artists who have been banned, censored or imprisoned in their homeland. It is produced by the Norwegian artist Deeyah and Freemuse, an organization campaigning for freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide.
July 1, 2012 Comments Off
New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik presented this week a wonderful, sideways look at New York in his BBC Radio 4 documentary ‘Take the A-train’, a history of the A-train and of its importance to New York, to new Yorkers and to jazz. There is also a short video cut of Gopnik’s documentary (with some superb photographs).
Take the A Train was, of course, one of Duke Ellington’s great standards, and so here, for no reason other than it is a good opportunity, are six different versions of the piece from, respectively, Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, Anita O’Day, Sarah Vaughan and the Duke himself. The Ella Fitzgerald version, in particular, like the Gopnik documentary, is a treat.