In case you missed it, last Sunday was Piano Day, an idea dreamed up by the supremely gifted Nils Frahm. It was a day for celebrating the grandest of all the instruments and also, it turned out, a chance for Nils to drop a surprise free album, Solo.
RRP does not have a free, surprise album to gift to the world, but we can instead humbly offer you a playlist that showcases the piano in its various guises from pop accompanist to bringer of magical melody to modernist prepared hammered thing. In the process, we hope to be the first site to successfully feature John Cage and Chas & Dave in the same playlist.
He is happy who lives in accordance with complete virtue and is sufficiently equipped with external goods, not for some chance period but throughout a complete life. Nicomachean Ethics, 1101a10
Last Friday was International Day of Happiness. In case you missed it while you were doing your best to stay ahead in the nasty, brutish, but never quite short enough rat race I’ve put together a playlist to act as a sort of seven-day delayed cure for the common chore. Anyway, how bad can work be? Everything is cool when you’re part of a team…
20 songs, then, from indie underachievers The Mock Turtles (proving they did have other songs besides “Can You Dig It?”), the matchlessly poppy Ian Broudie and The Lightning Seeds, The Animals, The Cure, The Wonder Stuff and more. Some you might not expect to find on a happiness playlist, and perhaps you’d have a point. Some of these songs are not all that upbeat, but hey, at least they’re not singing about you, right? And there’s another reason to be happy right there.
Anyway, you can but admire Guy Chadwick’s ability to write a song called “Happy” and then infest it with so much bitterness, and the way Ride sing a little ditty called Making Judy Smile with such splendid melancholy.
Let current RRP faves Seattle Yacht Club cheer you up with Feeling The Sunshine, let the Housemartins remind you it’s time to clock off, and if it’s cheesy happiness you’re after, Blood, Sweat & Tears have you covered.
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
he who can call today his own:
he who, secure within, can say,
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today.
Give up the ghost, but don’t give up your day job. Give out but don’t give up, give in, give over, give it away give it away give it away now. I’m a change giver, giving all my love to you – it’s a given. Shay Given.
It’s lent, and apparently I’ve stopped making sense during these fast times. Must be the come-down.
“I’m going to stop messing around” sings John Bramwell on I Am Kloot’s “Stop”, a pretty mild way to start the ball rolling. Or stop it. Luckily Sharon Jones is on hand to pose a more demanding question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point or another: “What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?”.
Nick Drake doesn’t necessarily propose giving up anything in “Been Smoking Too Long”, but he does just about manage hide his upper-middle class roots for long enough to concede some of the drawbacks of his habit:
Ive got opium in my chimney
No other life to choose
Nightmare made of hash dreams.
Got the devil in my shoes
The answer is in the title of a 1986 Talk Talk song, Nick: “Give It Up”. A lot of people have trouble giving up smoking, and many have found success through Allen Carr’s idiot book on the subject. Here’s a much better way that worked for me: rather than giving up smoking, simply take up not-smoking instead. Trust me, it works brilliantly. I’m happy to expand on how the system works for the right publishing deal, by the way.
The Stone Roses pretty much gave up being a band during their days of legal limbo, which explains Second Coming. Before that they were a madchester tour de force, so cocky they reversed one song and gave it a new name and lyrics.
You couldn’t fool your mother on the foolingest day of your life if you had an electrified fooling machine.
For tortuous reasons of logic that I won’t bore you with, I found myself searching Spotify for songs of foolishness and about fools. Suddenly sensing an opportunity for a playlist featuring one of my favourite songs of 2014, I pressed on until I had the requisite 20 songs and then some. A whittle later and I was bang on the arbitrary target.
Part of the fun of a non-musical theme like this is the drawing together of disparate artists – for some of whom it will be a first appearance on RRP – and the revisiting of forgotten acts and the discovering of new songs. So, sit back and enjoy the foolishness!
I have no choice but to describe this song in words already over-used by myself and others. It is stunning and beautiful. This live take loses some of the majestic power, but I’ll put that down to it being a shakycam bootleg rather than the performance. Check out the atudio version on Spotify for the full whack on the head.
I have to admit that I once reached that point where I couldn’t take any more Starsailor; I think it was Alcoholic that did it for me in the end. Listening to this, and remembering some of their other songs I start to think that maybe they weren’t so bad after all – perhaps suffered from over-exposure and from being not the only band of their kind around at the time.
What happens if you take the opening track from each of 20 albums and construct a playlist from them, then take the closing tracks from the same 20 albums, and create a playlist out of those, in reverse order from the original playlist?
I’m glad you asked…
Teenage Fanclub – “Speed of Light” (Songs From Northern Britain)
Elbow – “Puncture Repair” (Leaders of the Free World)
Joan as Police Woman – “We Don’t Own It” (Real Life)
The Strokes – “Take It Or Leave It” (Is This It)
Grandaddy – “So You’ll Aim Toward The Sky” (The Sophtware Slump)
Cornershop – “Norwegian Wood” (When I Was Born For The Seventh Time)
Arab Strap – “There is no Ending” (The Last Romance)
Belle & Sebastian – “The Rollercoaster Ride” (The Boy With The Arab Strap)
Music blog “It’s All Indie” tweeted yesterday about a list of great opening tracks that they put together in July. There are some gooduns on their list, but it inspired me to go one better. And then another three more so it would fit into my 20 songs series.
So without further ado, shall we get started?
Sparklehorse – “It’s a Wonderful Life” (It’s a Wonderful Life)
Because it’s my go-to mixtape opener. How else could I start a mix of opening tracks?
Pulp – “The Fear” (This is Hardcore)
Because this is how you follow your Britpop masterclass: with the sound of loneliness turned up to ten.
R.E.M. – “Harborcoat” (Reckoning)
Because it’s a perfect start to a practically perfect album.
Gene – “Haunted By You” (Olympian)
Because it’s a perfect start to a flawed debut album.
Supergrass – “Za” (Life on Other Planets)
Because it’s also a great way to open a live set.
Ride – “Leave Them All Behind” (Going Blank Again)
Because it’s simply the most epic.
John Grant – “Pale Green Ghosts” (Pale Green Ghosts)
Because it will worm its way inside your brain.
The Auteurs – “Lenny Valentino” (Now I’m a Cowboy)
Because it’s Lenny and Luke.
Wilco – “I am Trying to Break Your Heart” (Yankee Hotel Foxtrot)
The White Stripes – “Seven Nation Army” (Elephant)
When I was putting together the 20 songs // Every Second Counts playlist, I ended up with a longlist of 40 tracks. What a coincidence, I thought to myself. It’s remarkable that this should give me exactly the right number of tracks for not one, but two playlists…
With the sole exception of Nick Drake, none of the artists on this second playlist featured on “Every Second Counts”, and once again all the tracks can be found somewhere in my music library. (Just side-stepping any notion that I would use playlist-enhancing google searches). I’ve allowed a little more leeway when it comes to length, with three tracks pushing out to a rather excessive and drawn-out two minutes and twenty seconds, so you’ll need a full 38 minutes to see this playlist through to the end. Again, it’s worth every minute, however, as these highlights can testify:
Teenage Fanclub – Slow Fade
As part of its 25th anniversary shindig, Merge records have been re-releasing some fantastic albums from their catalogue. This month, it’s the turn of both the Teenage Fanclub albums Man-Made and Shadows to get a re-release (and you can order both together as a bundle from Merge). Appearing on Man-Made, Slow Fade is the sound of the history of Teenage Fanclub bottled up into 114 seconds of their distinctive harmonies and hooks.
Gingerlys – “Summer Cramps”
I know it’s too long, but it’s too good to leave out. From the utterly brilliant indie-pop-tastic Jumprope EP, out now on Shelf Life records.
Bob Mould – “Hey Mr. Grey”
One of umpteen standout tracks from Mould’s superb 2014 album Beauty & Ruin – an album very much in tune with the ethos of this playlist, rattling through its 12 tracks in little over half an hour – “Hey Mr. Grey” bounces off the walls, richocheting about with a broad grin that you know its protagonist would not approve of:
Hey Mr. Grey, that’s what the children say
Life used to be so hard, get off my yard
Butcher Boy – “A Better Ghost”
React or Die is a scandalously underloved album, combining folk sounds with indie-pop and wrapping the whole in beautiful lyrics, tenderly sung.
The 20 songs series has done long and dreamy, now it’s going to try its hand at short and spiky. All the tracks in this playlist are under two minutes long, give or take the occasional second here and there. In total, the playlist is barely half an hour long.
There’s a well-documented phenomenon whereby people sometimes feel they have an amazing psychic talent for predicting news headlines. One day they’re talking about a topic that’s not exactly hot, the next they’re reading about the very same subject in their daily paper of choice. What are the chances?
Surprisingly good, it turns out. Like when your Auntie Marjorie phones just when you’re thinking about her, and the two of you stagger under the weight of the co-incidence of it all, it’s actually the kind of thing that happens all the time. It’s just that all the millions of times when it doesn’t happen – when you’re thinking of old Marj but the landlord rings instead, say – tend not to stay in the memory very long.
Casting all this boring rationality aside for one moment, however, I couldn’t help but shake my fist at the sky when I spotted that The Guardian had started an open thread about short songs:
Admittedly, I hadn’t got very far through my own playlist at this point, but it was bubbling under, I was about to do it, I was coiled ready for rapid-fire action, fast beats and no let-up. Figuring I’d better get on with it, I set about finishing my playlist, and while there’s doubtless some cross-over between the two (I know “Allison” features in both) I’ve tried not to be influenced by Guardian readers’ choices, and all 20 of my picks have come from my music library.
Selected highlights follow, head to the media links for the full playlist. Enjoy the fun while it lasts!
Pixies – “Allison”
Generally the first track that comes to mind when I think of brief yet epic numbers, Allison somehow finds time in its barely one minute length for a verse, chorus, bridge, solo and a thousand drum fills. Only when I found the video on Youtube for this playlist did I learn that it’s not about a girl, but jazz and blues pianist Mose Allison.
Denzil – “Shame”
Sadly, no video for this exists on Youtube, or anywhere else I’ve looked. From Denzil’s great lost album Pub, “Shame” somehow crams in three verses in 74 seconds, each of them darkly comic:
and its a shame about Dennis,
such a shame about him.
All that work he did for homeless people now
they never mentioned it when they sent him down.
Thirteen people’s a lot to kill, you never hear but some of them were ill,
and no-one knew their names he only came to clean the drains
and now he’s in the hall of fame
Super Furry Animals – “God! Show Me Magic”
Their second single – after “Hometown Unicorn” – and their first Top 40 hit, “God! Show Me Magic” is early Super Furry Animals to a tee – a distinct and unique vision achieved through lyrics that make you “huh?” and a series of perfect hooks blurred by a fuzzy soup of guitars and effects.
The Rakes – “22 Grand Job”
Before The Rakes called it a day a few years ago, their career highlight was perhaps headlining the Benicassim festival in 2006. I say headlining, but only in the sense that they were the final band on the main stage on the festival’s final night. It’s just that Benicassim’s scheduling, which sees the festival eschew an early start for more tolerable evening temperatures before building up to the usual headline slots in the 11pm to 1am slots, means the true headliners are sandwiched between lesser lights either side. That said, at least I can say I’ve stood and watched a short-lived post-punk group close a festival at five in the morning before catching at least two hours sleep and then legging it for the station…
Snow Patrol – Monkey Mobe
Say what you like about Snow Patrol gradually drifting into ever safer waters, but it’s worth remembering that before “Chasing Cars” became the most played song in the UK for the first decade of this century, before “Run” gave them their breakthrough hit, it very nearly didn’t happen for Snow Patrol. Third album Final Straw did almost nothing on its original release in August 2003 (something that the band’s Wikipedia entry glosses over somewhat), its eventual success in reaching #3 in the album charts only came after a re-release and the success of “Run”.
The rest, as they say is history, but in the case of Snow Patrol the history that came before was the more interesting one. Both Songs for Polarbears and When It’s All Over We Still Have to Clear Up are interesting, eclectic albums, and occasional lapses can be forgiven when they’re surrounded by songs like “Starfighter Pilot”, “An Olive Grove Facing the Sea”, “Making Enemies” and “One Night is Not Enough”. On the flipside to the last of these was “Monkey Mobe”, which could be dismissed as a fluffy piece of incidental filler, but at the same time does all it needs to: it gives you a sweet hook and gets out before it gets old.
When you listen to a song in a language you understand, the words at least are familiar even if their precise sense can’t always be inferred. But what thoughts are expressed in the songs of other languages? What worlds are created in those words? It could be the romantic tale of star-crossed lovers, or it could be the weekly shopping list. It could be an invitation to dance; it could be an incitement to rebellion.
Even when you know and understand the lyrics, there’s a certain romance and fantasy in the sound of a song of another culture, another country.
20 tracks, then, from different times and places. There’s a bias towards French and Spanish speaking countries, but the playlist will take you from South America through Africa and into Europe.
Buena Vista Social Club – Chan Chan
Wim Wenders’ 1998 documentary account of the Cuban music of Ibrahim Ferrer and friends introduced a lost world to millions, and took some of its stars on a journey from forgotten musicians to a rapturous reception at Carnegie Hall. 16 years on its surviving members, joined by rising Cuban stars, are out on a farewell tour. All I will say is that it is worth catching for the remarkable Omara Portuondo, a mere 83 years old and still capable of captivating an audience of thousands.
Staff Benda Bilili – Osali Mabe
Four paraplegic singer/guitarists form the core of the band, assisted by a “hype man” on crutches who whips the crowd into a frenzy, and backed by an all-acoustic rhythm section pounding out tight grooves. Then, on top of everything, are those inimitable and infectious solos performed by a teenage prodigy on a one-string electric lute he designed and built himself out of a tin can.Crammed Discs
Raul Seixas – Metamorfose Ambulante
Taken from Seixas’ debut album Krig-ha, Bandolo!, named after a Tarzan war cry meaning “Watch out, the enemy is near!”. In 2002, “Metamorfose Ambulante” appeared on the soundtrack to City of God. In 2007 it was listed by Rolling Stone in Brazil as the 39th greatest Brazilian song of all time.
Jorge Ben – Mais Que Nada
Staying in Brazil, but shooting up into the Top 5 on that Rolling Stone list, with a song by Jorge Ben that was more famously covered by Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66, and then later nearly destroyed by Mendes and The Black Eyed Peas. This original is a late substitute into the list on account of it being peerlessly brilliant.
Tomas Andersson Wij – Mina Daliga Gener
-M- Ma Melodie
The character ‑M- is a superhero, noted for having a playful nature, and recognized for his flamboyant costumes (primarily monochrome suits with slim trousers and long jackets with upward pointed collars) and hair styled into the shape of an M.
Malajube – Etienne D’aout
Taken from the Canadian rock group’s 2006 album Trompe-l’Oeil.
Carla Bruni – Quelqu’un M’a Dit
Born into a musical family in Turin, Bruni is presumably the only person whose “Known for” section on Wikipedia reads: “Modelling and singing careers, marriage to French president”. “Quelqu’un M’a Dit” is the title track from her 2003 debut album.
Tindersticks – Plus De Liaisons
There is a small and not particularly grand tradition of English groups re-recording French versions of their songs. Blur’s “To The End (French Version)” could have got the nod here, but the fact that they couldn’t even be bothered to translate the title of the song means they’re given the hook in favour of Stuart Staples, whose personal count of languages he sounds sad in currently stands at 2.
Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun
Lazy old Blur could learn a lesson or two from the Icelandic band Sigur Ros, who invented a whole language – Vonlenska, or Hopelandic as it is sometimes prosaically known in English – for some of their songs. Not “Agaetis Byrjun”, though, which is sung in Icelandic, and means “A new beginning”. It is the title track of their second album, which gave the band their breakthrough, and is so beautiful and gentle I firmly believe I could listen to it non-stop for about three years without growing tired. I say that, but then the BBC tried a similar experiment with “Hoppipolla”, and look how that turned out.
We all want to get away from time to time, but in the age of austerity it’s not always as easy as we’d like. There’s a further problem: the places some of us would like to see are just out of reach using currently available transport technologies – the sun, the moon, the far reaches of our galaxy and beyond – and while Virgin Intergalactic may promise future possibilities, I’ve travelled on their trains a few times, and I’m not so sure I’d trust them to take me out among the stars. Other realities are available, but depending on your country of residence travelling to them may not be completely legal.
This collection of 20 physically and spiritually transporting and transforming tracks, however, is 100% acceptable by your local law enforcement friends.
Eaux – Head
Typically, these playlists are sparked by the discovery of a new track, or an old song rediscovered. So it is with New Lands; our journey begins with “Head” by Eaux, from their album of the same name, and which I was alerted to when Woman’s Hour tweeted about it. It’s a perfect introduction to the playlist – slowly evolving from the background hum of the universe to full-on electro-groove.
Mogwai – I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead
Second track “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m Dead” is taken from Scottish post-rock outfit Mogwai’s 2008 album The Hawk is Howling. It’s very Mogwai, if you know what I mean. If not, you will in just under seven minutes’ time. Be aware, though, that parallel worlds open up at this point, since you can opt for the live version from Special Moves instead by watching this video right here:
The only time I’ve seen Mogwai live was on a stream of their recent Glastonbury performance, when they were headlining the “Fucking get yoursel’ over here” stage. Playing at the same time as either Metallica or Kasabian (whichever – not important), and while they were representing the heavier or stupider side of music respectively, Mogwai were busy showcasing its more epic alternate reality.
Jon Hopkins – Candles
“Candles” appears on Jon Hopkins’ atmospheric soundtrack to the low-budget non-monstery film Monsters. Of the beautiful musical incidentals through the film, this sticks in the mind more than most, helped by the scene that accompanies it, but about which I will say no more, other than that there’s some interesting detail on the scene to be found in director Gareth Edwards’ commentary.
Ulrich Schnauss – Far Away Trains Passing By
Since the release of the first album under his own name, 2001’s Far Away Trains Passing By, German musician, producer and remixer Ulrich Schnauss has been a key figure in shoegazing’s rebirth – helping to take the genre into brave new worlds.
Nils Frahm – Says
Taken from Nils Frahm’s live and stitched together album Spaces, “Says” was one of the most touchingly beautiful pieces I heard in 2013. It has a sound that if you give yourself over to it completely – just relax and float down stream, let the music work your brain – rewards you in its closing minutes with a rare euphoria.
The War on Drugs – An Ocean In Between The Waves
Naturally, to get to a new land you have to transport yourself there. Sometimes your imagination is not enough; sometimes what you need is a road and a car in which to storm down it. And a soundtrack with which to storm down that road in that car. I suggest “An Ocean In Between The Waves” by War on Drugs. Again, explore new worlds with either the studio version, down below on Spotify, or this live version, recorded for KEXP.
Caribou – Sun
Sometimes you don’t need so many words at all. In the case of “Sun”, one is sufficient.
Hookworms – Since We Had Changed
Drowned in Sound loved Pearl Mystic, naming it album of the year. I was more reserved, but have to admit that for this playlist it has certainly risen to the occasion, providing the marvellously stoned “Since We Had Changed”.
Pantha Du Prince & The Bell Laboratory – Spectral Split
Appearing on the 2012 collaboration Elements of Light, Spectral Split combines the nuanced drift of German producer Hendrik Weber with Norwegian percussion collective The Bell Laboratory, whose instruments include a 50-bell 3-tonne carillon. Tell me you don’t think that sounds intriguing. Again, headphones are your friend here, but if you happen to know a vast and empty cathedral in your neighbourhood with a stunning sound system, you might like to give that a go.
The Boo Radleys – Sparrow
It’s one of my oh-so-funny and oft-repeated playlist jokes to follow a very long track with a very short one, or something to switch up the mood in a moment. That’s why Sparrow follows Spectral Split. And it’s place at the half-way point of the playlist is symoblic – a throwback to a time when this was my go-to track for filling small spaces at the end of the first side of a mix-tape.
The sun came out and I thought it would be a good time to kick off a new project…
The aim of “20 songs” is to compile a playlist of twenty songs on a particular theme, taking somewhere between 30 and 60 minutes to come up with the final selection. Like my best games of blitz chess, the hope is that this enforced deadline will boost instinctive creativity and stop me getting bogged down in analysis paralysis (like my worst games of chess).
Depending on where you are right now, the sun might have gone, gone away, but perhaps this summer playlist will help you get over that. Entirely co-incidentally, BBC6Music’s People’s Playlist earlier this week was all about the sun, but mine was compiled first and is clearly the superior collection
We kick off with The Cardigans, back in their sunniest days, long before they got all serious on Gran Turismo, and the almost impossibly bright and breezy “Rise and Shine”:
Belle & Sebastian – “Legal Man”
From there, we move to another occasionally twee artist, Belle & Sebastian, only here they’re dipping a toe into their Northern Soul crossover waters. On the face of it, “Legal Man” doesn’t seem like a summer anthem, other than in its sheer exuberance and fun, but wait until you get to those final lines before you cast judgement
Kurt Vile – “Wakin on a Pretty Day”
The disappointingly short-lived The Maybes? are up next with “Summertime” and their wise advice to “dance, dance, dance with the radio on”, advice roundly ignored by Jason Pierce on “Lay Back in The Sun”. The delicate and bewitching BC Camplight (real name Brian Christinzio) follows with “I Wouldn’t Mind The Sunshine” – Christinzio, fact fans might like to note, has played live with The War on Drugs, a band whose former members include one Kurt Vile, up next with “Wakin on a Pretty Day”.
The Style Council – “Long Hot Summer”
Taken By Trees (aka Victoria Bergsman of The Concretes) carry us off to distant shores, then that bloke from The Strokes‘ dad warns us of possibly metaphorical downpours in southern California. And then it’s time to get in a boat with Paul Weller and ask him why exactly it was he had to split The Jam up so soon and go all coffee-shop jazz on his fans:
The first half closes with Caribou’s one-word solar paean, “Sun”.