Who Knows Where The Time Goes?

Fairport Convention

It's difficult to know what to say about this that has not, probably, already been said, and better than I can say it. But that's not going to stop me attempting it.

This sublime, elegiac, melancholic recording is an absolute classic. It was written by Sandy Denny when she was only 20, and has been recorded many times; the definitive version is that on Unhalfbricking, sung by Denny herself. It expresses a limpid, listless acceptance of the passage of time and a shrugging, world-weary acceptance of the impossibility of recapturing past times and lost youth.

Or not. The best art is a mirror. Maybe, at my advanced age, that's how I see it because it reflects my own sense of the futility of life.

But it really bears repeated listens. In the final verse, the mood shifts so subtly that you might miss it (well, I did, because I'm crap at listening to lyrics), to embrace the constant forward movement and encourages us, gently, lovingly, to make the most of what we have, here and now.

With a melody so beautifully formed and a voice so perfectly matched to it, the best that any accompaniment can really hope do is to keep out of the way, but the sensitivity of the rhythm section to the ebb and flow of the sentiments is marvellous, and Richard Thompson weaves a delicate, ornamental counterpoint throughout.

All in all, a transcendental experience. Mike Harding says that you could just listen to this track rather than read all of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu. Having somehow, and ironically, failed to find the time to read those seven volumes, I can't say. But I know what I'd rather do.


I Put A Spell On You

The Alan Price Set

This is something of a standard, having been recorded by artists as illustrious and disparate as Screamin' Jay Hawkins (who wrote it), Nina Simone, Nick Cave, Bryan Ferry and Marilyn Manson, but I particularly like this version. While Nina sounds resigned and Screamin' (to his friends) just sounds totally hatstand, Alan Price starts off with sinister control and slowly gets more unhinged. Which kinda suits, I think.

I mean, listen to what it's about. It's like Fatal Attraction in three minutes. He starts off with words of quiet warning, accompanied by a slow, ominous, circling organ.
I put a spell on you
Because you're mine,
You'd better stop the things that you do
I ain't lying - no, I ain't lying
I just can't stand it babe
The way you're always running round
I just can't stand it
The way you always put me down
Then he repeats himself with more insistence as the music quickens to double time, the horns stab and the organ swirls in the background, before it takes front stage for the solo (sadly the worst bit, being too reminiscent of that in The House of the Rising Sun). Then Alan comes back in, desperation in his voice as he howls
I said I love you, I love you
I love you, oh baby how
And I don't care if you don't want me
I'll say I'm yours, I'm yours right now
I put a spell on you
Because you're mine
Mmm ... scary.

I don't normally quote lyrics so extensively because often I don't care. The best music transcends mere verbiage so completely that it seems silly to worry about what the lyrics mean and doing so is often to miss the point (and don't get me started on Bob Dylan). A song can have rotten lyrics and still be a great song; but it can't have rotten music. I guess the best songs marry mood to message, and this does so perfectly.



My Bloody Valentine

So, everyone knows now that Loveless is classic, timeless and, like, totally (and tonally) awesome (although my friend Brian doesn't get it and bitterly resents the fiver I forced to him to fork out for his copy), but even out of such uniform greatness, moments stand out, and "Sometimes" does it for me.

I recall that my first impression of "Sometimes" was of a rather bland song that plodded nowhere, slowly. But as I listened more, I began to appreciate the gradual build of intensity and the way the subtlety of the melody contrasted with the brooding dissonance of the swarming guitars.

Now, when I listen to it, I hear swooning emotion, endless summer days, love's young dream, burning passion, yearning desire, satisfaction, release, end; a whole relationship in five minutes. Yes, really. It's that good. But, like any relationship, it takes time and you have to work at it.

If this song is new to you, I envy you. Good luck. Let me know how you get on.




There are some pieces of music so powerful that their mood completely imposes itself on your situation, regardless of whatever feelings preceded it.

Such a track is Portishead's "Roads". Whenever I listen to it, I instantly feel that I'm in some screen tragedy, a film noir where the streets are mean and glistening with rain, the skies are dark, and menace and doom stalk the unwary. This can happen even if I'm at home, the kids are quiet and the sun's shining.

Every element is perfectly judged - Beth Gibbons' lonely, fractured vocal, the delicate wah-wah guitar, and, running like a pulse throughout, the gorgeous, throbbing organ (stop sniggering there at the back).

The track cries out to be used in a soundtrack, which makes it slightly disappointing that it features on some rather duff films, notably Tank Girl (at least according to Wikipedia).

Portishead will of course continue to be lazily classed as trip hop (or trip-hop if you prefer), but "Roads" is a timeless, unclassifiable masterpiece.

(Oh, and if you even vaguely understand what I'm getting and love this song too, do yourself a favour and do not, under any circumstances, listen to the live at Roseland, NYC version. The sound of whooping morons utterly demolishes the mood.)


My Favourite Xmas Song ... Ever!

I'll come out and say it straight away.  My favourite Christmas song - ever! - is Mariah Carey's All I Want For Christmas Is You.

I wouldn't call myself a rock snob but plenty of other people would do, and Mariah Carey is probably the antithesis of all that a rock snob stands for. But I love this song.

Here's why: it's got a chrome-plated, copper-bottomed, solid gold, billion carat diamond of a melody, the kind that doesn't just stick in your head but lodges itself in the culture's collective unconscious. It's a force of nature, indelible, permanent. It's like one of those curses that, once raised, can never be escaped.

Imagine writing a tune like that. You could start shopping for yachts the next day. Considering which Caribbean island was nicest - to buy.  Certainly stop worrying about your pension.

It is a classic song, of course. It could have come off A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector, which was released in the early sixties. Possibly most people think it did. Maybe they think - if they consider the matter at all - that it's even older than that. It sounds so traditional, doesn't it? But astonishingly, it isn't. Do you want to know who wrote it? Do you? Really?

Only bloomin' Mariah Carey, that's who.

It's tough being a rock snob. There I was ready to dismiss this version as a carbuncle on the face of a classic Christmas song and it's only the bloody original (knowing the original version is very important to a rock snob). Maybe there are better versions, but they weren't first.

And, I have to be honest, I don't just love this song - I love this version. Sure, the production is a cheesey and cliché-laden pastiche of the Phil Spector sound, Mariah's voice is a blunt instrument, as indiscriminately powerful and impersonal as ever, and the melismatic introduction is lamentably ill-considered. But someone - her co-writer and co-producer Walter Afanasieff? Mariah herself? - has had the sense to realise that you can't fuck with that melody. Introduction despatched, the track is a steamroller, flattening all objections.

I don't care that being a fan of this song probably gives me less credibility as a music afficionado than being related to Andrew Ridgley. I'm listening to it right now and it's fucking great.

(And do you see what I did? I know Phil Spector's album, I know who wrote the song ... classic rock snob behaviour ... )

[Originally posted (by me) on last.fm, March 2007]


They Don't Know

Kirsty MacColl / Tracey Ullman
1979 / 1983

Now this is perfect pop. A girl is in love with someone she knows is unsuitable and defies her friends and family; but she realises they might be right. It has hope and sadness combined, a beautiful tune, and a cool guitar solo. And when the harmonies kick in behind the lines
No I don't listen to their wasted lines
Got my eyes wide open and I see the signs
I get teary every time, I don't mind admitting.

Kirsty MacColl wrote the song, but it wasn't a hit for her due to distribution problems at Stiff. So the Tracey Ullman version is probably better known.

The two versions are very similar and I just can't choose between them. Kirsty's trademark deadpan vocals add a sense of pathos lacking from the more emotive Tracey (comparatively, of course), but the Phil Spector-esque wall of sound production on the second version suit the song better. And in any case, I believe that Kirsty's doing all the harmonies (a MacColl trademark, of course) on the Tracey version too.


What Do You Want From Me?


The best song New Order never made?

While some have attributed the (limited) success of Monaco - and in particular this song - to its similarity with New Order and the fact that they weren't making music at the time, that ignores the sheer pop brilliance of this track. The chorus is fantastically catchy. The guitar in the bridge is great. And Peter Hook's bass strides through the mix with the kind of metronomic imperiousness only he seems capable of. Absolutely unstoppable.


In Your Car


The perils of addictive substances - they just distort your judgement. I was all hyped up on mint Aeros and Wotsits last week and guided you wrong. It's too embarrassing.

I'm sober now. I can now safely inform you that nothing, but nothing, can beat the adrenaline rush of "In Your Car", which encapsulates and embodies the heady, hormone-fuelled excitement of adolescent sex like no other sound. "Give me a lift - I get so tired of walking" - oh, baby ... if only.

I guess everyone knows what Lauren Laverne is up to now - anyone know what the others are doing?


Phonefreak Honey

Sweet Jesus

It sounds like a collision of My Bloody Valentine and T. Rex, all wall-of-sound guitars, introspective vocals and pretty tunes. "Na-na-na-na naa naa" indeed ... they don't write lyrics like that any more.

This was single of the week in Melody Maker or NME sometime in the early nineties - and in the remainder bins a few weeks later, probably. Which is where I found it. Best 50p I ever spent. The fact that almost nobody appears to have heard of Sweet Jesus, let alone actually heard this song just makes me love it more. Loads of anorak points, surely?