Monday 30 May 2011

My favourite albums: Dave

This list was contributed by Dave. I do not know Dave personally but it is clear that we are kindred spirits, judging by his excellent blog made up of top-5 lists, Chop's Top Fives. Us listos have to stick together. And make lists. Dave's listing helps him wile away the hours which would, horrifyingly, otherwise be filled with "the important stuff a husband and father of two probably should be doing; DIY, mowing the lawn and catching spiders."

Dave has gone the extra mile with this list, and provided TEN albums, a 200% increase on his usual output.

1. Pixies “Surfer Rosa” (1988) - The Pixies are my favourite band, any of their first 3 or 4 releases would be contenders but Surfer Rosa has a raw edge to it I love.

2. The Sonics “Here Are The Sonics” (1965) - Pioneers of punk, this is sixties rock'n'roll but wilder than anyone else of their time. If you like Iggy & The Stooges, The Jim Jones Revue or Japandroids you should check them out.

3. Johnny Cash “Live at Folsom Prison” (1968) - Cash's best album in my opinion, might be cheating slightly by combining many of his hits in one place but the atmosphere is tangible and Johnny's personality shines through.

4. The Specials “The Specials” (1979) - An album I first tried to buy when I was 11 at my best mates Blue Peter "bring and buy" sale. I couldn't muster the requisite £1.99 though and it sold before I had time to run home and raid the piggy bank.

5. Aretha Franklin “I Never Loved a Man ...” (1967) - An amazing soul vocal from Aretha who is up there with my very favourite singers. Respect is the treat that will draw you in but the consistency throughout the rest of the album will keep you coming back.

6. Nirvana “Nevermind” (1991) - Thought about attempting to be cool and going with "Bleach" but this was the first Nirvana album I heard and marked a sea change in my musical taste.

7. Stiff Little Fingers “Inflammable Material” (1979) - Other than a brief mention in the film of "High Fidelity", Stiff Little Fingers remain a largely under appreciated punk band. I think they were one of the best original UK punk bands, great live and with a song craft that many others of their era lacked.

8. Jethro Tull “Stand Up” (1968) - Not quite prog rock, not quite blues. Tull mined an unique vein the set them apart from everyone else.

9. Ramones “Ramones” (1976) - It's a perfect album, fourteen tracks every single one as good as the last. Their sound obviously didn't change a great deal after this but if you own only one Ramones album this is the one to have.

10. Metallica “Ride The Lightning” (1983) - Taking Metal to the next level. They became a bit of a monster but this was when they seemed genuinely alternative.

Thanks to Dave. If you'd like to contribute, clickums.

My favourite albums: Vici

I have two excellent lists to share today. The first one comes from Vici, who lives in London and I know from her always-entertaining Twitter stream @kikilookeylikey. Vici's list is in no particular order, but she adds that in fact her all-time favourite album is the "perfect" Now 39. An exciting choice!

Hanson - Middle of Nowhere
I have given up being embarrassed about this. There is something absolutely joyous about feeling 11 again, and this does it every time.

Regina Spektor - Begin to Hope
I first listened to this album on a long and depressing coach trip from London to Darlington, following an odd, 5 hour trip to the capital. It fit my mood exactly.

Alanis Morisette - Jagged Little Pill
This was pretty much the only album I listened to for three solid months when I was 16 and had just broken up with the then-love-of-my-life. First heartbreak has a peculiar intensity that even first love cannot match.

Blur - Parklife
I was that bit too young for Britpop, but idolised my sister just as much then as I do now. I grew into this album, I think.

Sheri Renee Scott & Norbert Leo Butz - The Last 5 Years
This is the most beautiful musical, charting the breakdown of a relationship; the male character tells the story from beginning to end, while the female character starts at the end and works backwards. It is haunting.

Robbie Williams - I've Been Expecting You
See: Hanson.

Blink 182 - Enema of the State
See: Robbie Williams (it was a good time in my life)

They Might Be Giants - Flood

Various - Moulin Rouge! Soundtrack
Yes, partly because of my overwhelming, decade-long crush on Ewan McGregor. But also splendid in its own right.

Paul Simon - Graceland
When I was about 6, I decided that this was the Best Album Ever. I still feel the same way now.

Sheona White - The Voice of the Tenor Horn
The tenor horn is a lovely and under appreciated instrument. Sheona White is its mistress. (Interesting (to me) fact: Sheona White is featured in the BBC version of Perfect Day. Listen to it with me sometime, and I will point it out to you.)

Yann Tiersen - Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain
You know that weird mood that cats get in when it's windy? This is the musical version of that.

Athlete - Vehicles and Animals
I just really, really like this.

Eva Cassidy - Songbird
It was compulsory for all girls I knew to like this album when I was 15. Rightly so.

Red Hot Chili Peppers - Californication
I realise it's much cooler to love Blood Sugar Sex Magik. But this is what I knew first, so this is what I love best.

Thanks to Vici. To contribute your list to my pointless though entertaining collection, click here.

Friday 27 May 2011

My Back Pages, day 5

My final choice in Bob Dylan week is Highlands, the closing song from my favourite Bob Dylan album, Time Out Of Mind, released in 1997.

It's a typical Dylan album closer, epic of length and sprawling and meandering in terms of content. What makes this one special for me is all the different moods and emotions that it encompasses. It is by turns funny, sad, reflective and wistful. All of human and animal life is there for all to see.

It's why I love Dylan.

Read more here.

Thursday 26 May 2011

My favourite albums: Garry

This list was provided by Garry, who is 23 years of age and a chef in South London. Will any of these facts have a bearing on his choices? Honestly, I have no idea, but it's still a good list. And THAT IS WHAT COUNTS.

Garry's top 15 favourite albums are as follows.

1. Nevermind - Nirvana
2. Screamadelica - Primal Scream
3. Racecar is racecar backwards - Reuben
4. Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
5. Sgt. Peppers Lonely Heart Club Band - The Beatles
6. Kids Aflame - Arms
7. Yours To Keep - Albert Hammond. Jr.
8. Wolfmother - Wolfmother
9. No More Idols - Chase and Status
10. The Three EPs - The Beta Band
11. Glasvegas - Glasvegas
12. Just Enough Education To Perform - Stereophonics
13. Heart Tuned To D.E.A.D - Switches
14. Fat Of The Land - The Prodigy
15. Ocean Rain - Echo & The Bunnymen

Thanks to Garry. If you want to add to my ultimately pointless collection, please click here.

My favourite albums: Adam S.

This list comes from a UK-domiciled Canadian called Adam who is the first person to have the same name as a previous list maker. Hence the sharky initial in the title there. Neat, huh? This is a carefully considered and neatly trimmed top ten list, with apologies to David Bowie, Stevie Wonder and Eric Clapton. I am sure they forgive you.

In no particular order except for the first pick:

1. Pink Floyd – The Wall (apparently I listened to this about three times a day when I was at school)
2. Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
3. Frente! – Marvin The Album
4. Red Hot Chili Peppers - Blood Sugar Sex Magik
5. World Party – Bang!
6. The Clash – Combat Rock
7. Spin Doctors - Pocket Full Of Kryptonite
8. Blur – Parklife
9. Counting Crows - August & Everything After
10. Crash Test Dummies - God Shuffled His Feet

Thanks to Adam. Join in by clicking this doobery.

My favourite albums: 5olly

This list is provided by my good friend and internet celebrity 5olly. 5olly also has his own blog where you can read about his efforts to watch Channel 4's list of the 100 greatest war films and the decline of his sanity as a result. You should read it. I do. Don't make me come up there.

It also includes a greatest hits album which, again, I'm allowing. Again, this is due to favouritism. Bad luck, everyone else.

He describes this list as being one that "any gay biker might own". Only if they're COOL, though, say the rest of us.

Faith No More – Angel Dust
Green Day – Dookie
The Streets – A Grand Don’t Come For Free
The The – Infected
The La’s – The La’s
The Sisters of Mercy – A Slight Case Of Overbombing
Scissor Sisters – Scissor Sisters
Alien Ant Farm – ANThology
U2 – Achtung Baby
Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
Foo Fighters – Greatest Hits (It’s the only album I ever bought of them)
Iron Maiden – The Number Of The Beast

Thanks to 5olly. If you want in, please follow these simple if garbled instructions

My favourite albums: Cam

This is turning into quite a weighty project already. This list is by the muscular, wise, Cam who I once saw drink a horse under the table and then beat the horse at arm wrestling (best of five).

Cam's list was truncated by time constraints, so feel free to imagine what his other selections would have been. I'm guessing it probably wouldn't be anything by The Saturdays.

Wish you were here – Pink Floyd
OK Computer – Radiohead
Led Zepplin 2 – Led Zepplin
Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
Max Bruch – Violinkonzert No 1
Nirvana Unplugged – Nirvana
Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Dave Brubeck – Take 5

Thanks to Cam. Join in with us, by following these simple instructions.

My favourite albums: Sarah and Jude

This pair of lists were our first to be provided by a married couple: lovely, lovely Sarah and her wife lovely, lovely Jude. There's lovely. I'm sure these records will be lovely. Let's have a look.

Sarah's list:

Rumours – Fleetwood Mac
Rubber Soul – The Beatles
So – Peter Gabriel
Automatic for the people – REM
Parklife – Blur
Tracy Chapman – Tracy Chapman
The Bends – Radiohead
Dummy – Portishead
Urban Hymns – The Verve
Like a Prayer – Madonna
Jagged little pill – Alanis Morrisette
Blue – Joni Mitchel
This is my truth, tell me yours – Manic Street Preachers
Stories of the city, stories of the sea – PJ Harvey
The Stranger – Billy Joel

Jude's list:

101 Damnations – Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine
Blood Sugar Sex Magic – Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Out of the Blue – ELO
Dummy – Portishead
Reverence – Faithless
Parklife – Blur
The Trainspotting soundtrack
Tragic Kingdom – No Doubt
White album – The Beatles
White ladder – David Gray
Hormonally Yours – Shakespeare’s Sister
The Wall – Pink Floyd
Carmina Burana – Carl Orff
Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots – The Flaming Lips

Thanks to Sarah and Jude. If you want to play, please do so here.

My favourite albums: My favourite albums

It had to be done. I'm now going to lay my cards on the table so that you can all judge me. Not that you will be able to, of course, because as you are about to discover I have impeccable taste.

Presented strictly in the order I thought of them.

Air - Moon Safari
Moon Safari is the most perfectly named record you could hope to find, redolent with images of the future as seen from the past. It also gives a good indication of the contents of the music. Analogue electronica, completely swoonsome and lovely.

Bob Dylan & The Band - The Basement Tapes
Originally one of rock's most famous bootleg recordings, finally released 9 years after it was recorded. 24 completely timeless, ageless songs which manage to sound both ancient and modern.

Bob Dylan - Time Out Of Mind
I could easily have populated this list with Dylan records alone. This one is very special to me. Clever, funny, sad, poignant and brave.

The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground & Nico
I think The Velvet Underground are my all-time favourite group. The audacity! The noise! Beyond the clatter, though, Lou Reed is responsible for some really beautiful lyrics. This album would have made the list for I'll Be Your Mirror or the trilling piano of I'm Waiting For The Man alone.

Dusty Springfield - Dusty In Memphis
Maybe the loveliest record ever made. I can't imagine anyone not liking it.

Isaac Hayes - Hot Buttered Soul
Along with Time Out Of Mind and Dusty In Memphis, my favourite album of them all. Powerful, delicate, funky, soulful and immaculately played. A masterpiece.

The Beatles - Rubber Soul
I could easily have picked almost all of the Beatles albums. But I always come back to Rubber Soul because it is the only record they ever made which I consider to be completely flawless. By extension, it's surely one of the greatest albums ever made.

Primal Scream - Screamadelica
A unique, sprawling and extraordinary piece of work. Nothing has ever sounded quite like it before or since, a very rare quality.

Elvis Costello and The Attractions - Get Happy!
This is Elvis Costello's self-appointed soul album. Aside from the few covers of classic soul songs, I've never really heard it as such. What I do hear is a magnificent collection of memorable songs. I could literally listen to this record at any time on any day and still enjoy it.

The Beach Boys - Wild Honey
The first record they released after the breakdown of Smile and its limp cousin Smiley Smile, Wild Honey was wilfully pared down and under-produced. A simple, straightforward collection of wonderful songs. What more could you want?

The Clash - Sandinista!
The Clash's eponymous first album is as pulsating and thrilling as anything ever recorded, and London Calling deserves its place in the rock 'n' roll pantheon of the greats. However, nothing that they - or anyone else for that matter - ever made can match the sheer ambition of the brilliant, sprawling, epic Sandinista!. A masterstroke and a masterpiece.

My favourite albums: Merry Mary

This list of favourite albums is by my dear friend Merry Mary, who lives in Brighton like all clean-living people do. Merry is the founder of the Pubes For Animals Campaign, a very worthy cause which you should all consider donating to if you can find it in your hearts or your plugholes. Merry also serves as Chief Winky Inspector.

Merry's list includes a greatest hits album which is strictly prohibited by the rules, but I'm going to allow it. This is because of pure and simple favouritism. I'm afraid you may well have to get used to such acts of capriciousness and personal bias.

It is also the first list to include some little reasons for the selections, which is another bonus. I commend it to the house.

1. Primal Scream, Screamadelica. (Most awesome album eva.)
2. Paul Simon, Graceland (full of memories this one, watch the concert in South Africa)
3. REM, Out of Time. (Saved me from NKOTB. Had to limit myself to one REM album)
4. Joni Mitchell, Blue (Not for every day, but always beautiful)
5. Tricky, Maxinquaye
6. David Bowie, Hunky Dory
7. Michelle Shocked, The Texas Campfire Tapes (which I just found out she never liked, but then listened to the original recordings and released the whole thing, I'm going to have to buy the new version)
8. Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine (blame Chuck Berry for this)
9. George Michael, Ladies & Gentlemen, The Best of George Michael (yeah, yeah, I know, but it means more to me than his actual albums)
10. Belly, King

Thanks to Merry. If you want to see your list up here, all you got to do is call.

My Back Pages, day 4

My list of my favourite Bob Dylan songs has been rather buried by all the other lists of favourite albums, but it continues all the same. You know, in all the lists so far, nary a Dylan album has been seen? What the hell is up with that?

Today's choice is Meet Me In The Morning, which is from one of Dylan's most celebrated albums, Blood on the Tracks from 1975. Blood on the Tracks is a record of sufficient fame that I probably don't have to go to any great lengths to outline its general theme. But to people who really don't know, it's about the break up of relationships, and the pain, and the yearning and the longing and the yearning and all that.

Meet Me In The Morning is my favourite song from that collection of ten outstanding songs. Unlike many of Dylan's great works, the key to its effectiveness stems from its lyrical simplicity and straightforwardness. Coupled with the heartfelt delivery and the album's famous musicianship, it is an outstanding piece of work.

You can read more here. Or divorce your spouse and write your own songs about it.

My favourite albums: Betsy

This list is provided by my friend Betsy. Everyone loves Betsy, it's as simple as that. Betsy is originally from Scotland, which makes this list the most exotic and far-flung list so far.

In an order described as no particular order:

Rolling Stones: Through The Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol.2)
Radiohead: OK Computer
Dave Matthews Band: Crash
The Streets: Original Pirate Material
Alanis Morissette: Jagged Little Pill
Lily Allen: Alright, Still
Bjork: Debut
Rolling Stones: Stripped
Nirvana: Nevermind
Rolling Stones: Aftermath

Thanks to Betsy. To contribute yourself, click this.

My favourite albums: Thomas

My collection of favourite albums lists continues on its swelteringly pointless way, pleasing me enormously. Here's the top 11 albums of Thomas, who you can find on Twitter as @thomassays. Thomas is the first person to contribute a list whom I don't really know, making me realise that this could grow into a huge collection.

Graceland - Paul Simon
American Water - Silver Jews
No Gods No Managers - Choking Victim
Das Oath - Das Oath
Double Nickels On The Dime - Minutemen
In An Airplane Over The Sea - Neutral Milk Hotel
Relationship Of Command - At the Drive-In
Daydream Nation - Sonic Youth - MF Doom
Start Today - Gorilla Biscuits
Madonna - ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead

Thanks to Thomas. If you'd like to contribute, you can do so here.

Wednesday 25 May 2011

My favourite albums: Alistair

With five lists already, this feature is already five times more successful than I'd anticipated and I've not even done my own yet. Our latest contributor is hardened blogger Alistair, of Scaryduck fame. He says this list marks him down as two things: "old, and a sucker for elfin Aussie singer-songwriters".

1 The Boo Radleys - Giant Steps (1993)
2 Win - Uh! Tears Baby (A Trash Icon) (1987)
3 Megan Washington - I Believe You, Liar (2010)
4 David Bowie - The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972)
5 Kate Bush - Hounds of Love (1985)
6 Radiohead - The Bends (1995)
7 Joy Division - Unknown Pleasures (1979)
8 Ultravox! - Ha!Ha!Ha! (1977)
9 The Stone Roses - The Stone Roses (1989)
10 Human League - Travelogue (1980)

Thanks to Alistair. If you'd like to contribute yours, the details are here.

My favourite albums: Tom

Our fourth (FOUR!) list of the night is Tom's. Tom lives in the grim north, where music is definitely the only respite from the coal, the rain and the continual howling of whippets. He describes himself as a "massive dork" for listing his choices in the order in which he discovered them. In fact, it is an act of heroism.

1. Leftism by Leftfield
2. The Second Tindersticks Album by Tindersticks
3. To Bring You My Love by P J Harvey
4. The Holy Bible by Manic Street Preachers
5. Phantom Power by Super Furry Animals
6. Clear Spot by Captain Beefheart
7. In The Aeroplane Over The Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel
8. The Milk Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsome
9. Kurr by Amiina
10.Days To Come by Bonobo

Thanks to Tom. If you'd like to get involved, all the details are here.

My favourite albums: Adam

A third selection. This time from my friend and noted booze astronaut Adam. He is 33 years old and lives in Lincoln. He describes the sequence in which he has placed these albums in as, "very approximate order of Absolute Works of Genius to Would Consider Running Into A Burning Building to Save The Last Existing Copy".

Adam is also fretting about whether or not he should have included several other albums. Sadly, it's now far too late for that.

Kate Bush - The Kick Inside
Philip Glass - 3rd and 2nd symphonies
X-ray Spex - Germ Free Adolescents
The Smiths - The Queen is Dead
Pavement - Brighten the Corners
Belle and Sebastian - The Boy with the Arab Strap
Kraftwerk - Tour de France Soundtracks
Boards of Canada - Music has the Right to Children
Chemical Brothers - Exit Planet Dust
Midlake - The Trials Of Van Occupanther

Thanks to Adam. If you'd like to contribute, please click here.

My favourite albums: Ian

Another list of favourite albums is in. This one is sent by my good friend Ian. He is 38 years old and lives in Brighton. Ian runs the celebrated football website Twohundredpercent. We also probably know each other well enough to be able to try and have a very decent attempt at getting the other sectioned.

This list is in no particular order. It's also distinct from Alice's in that the name of the album precedes the name of the artist, because Ian is a rebel.

Who's Next - The Who
Back In The USA - MC5
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back - Public Enemy
Welcome Interstate Managers - Fountains of Wayne
Doolittle - Pixies
Ragin, Full On - fIREHOSE
Where You Been? - Dinosaur Jr
Boomania - Betty Boo
Grand Prix - Teenage Fanclub
Cheap Thrills - Janis Joplin, Big Brother & The Holding Company
Innervisions - Stevie Wonder
Rumours - Fleetwood Mac
IV - Led Zeppelin
Rubber Soul - The Beatles
Radio City - Big Star
Yoshimi Fights The Pink Robots - The Flaming Lips
Sin City - The Flying Burrito Brothers
Extra Width - The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Strange Girls - The Gore Gore Girls
The Message - Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five
Homework - Daft Punk
Bryter Later - Nick Drake
Made In USA - Pizzicato 5

Thanks to Ian. If you'd like to contribute, please do so here.

My favourite albums: Alice

The first contributor to my collection of favourite album lists is in already! Ah ha ha! The sender is Alice who is 28 and lives in Brighton. I know Alice from Twitter. I imagine one day we will also meet in real life in Brighton, quite by accident, and form a political party.

Here is Alice's list, which is in no particular order.

Bruce Springsteen - Born in the U.S.A.
Tom Waits - Closing Time
Tom Waits - Glitter and Doom Live
Tom Waits - Alice
Whiskeytown - Pneumonia
Pulp - Different Class
Pearl Jam - Ten
Minus The Bear - Menos El Oso
Minus The Bear - Highly Refined Pirates
Jimmy Eat World - Jimmy Eat World
The Beatles - Abbey Road
Grease 2 Official Soundtrack
Ray LaMontagne - Trouble
Midlake - The Trials of Van Occupanther
DJ Shadow - Endtroducing
Portishead - Dummy
Leftfield - Leftism
Isis - Oceanic
Bjork - Debut
Bjork - Vespertine
Fiona Apple - Extraordinary Machine
Fiona Apple - Tidal
Radiohead - The Bends
Radiohead - OK Computer
The Gaslight Anthem - The '59 Sound
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - The Boatman's Call
Ane Brun - Changing of the Seasons
Blind Melon - Nico
Paul Simon - Graceland
City and Colour - Bring Me Your Love
Jimmy Eat World - Futures
Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
Baroness - The Red Album
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Abattoir Blues/The Lyre of Orpheus
Cake - Fashion Nugget
Fleetwood Mac - Tango in the Night
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours

Thanks to Alice! If you'd like to contribute to my insane collection, please do so. Instructions - such as they are - may be found here.

Your favourite albums, my favourite albums

This evening I was reading The Quietus when it occurred to me just how much I love reading people's lists of their all-time favourite albums. Be the person famous or not, there's always something fascinating about it to me. Making lists and reading lists already give me a huge amount of pleasure, but lists of favourite music and favourite records always seem the most personal and special of them all.

So, I thought I should collect them. Nothing formal, beyond people sending me their lists and my putting them up here. Perhaps collating it into one overall master list of THE BEST ALBUM IN THE WORLD. Perhaps not. Anyway, if you are interested, please do join in. You can contact me in myriad ways, but the easiest is probably going to be to email me.

All I ask is for a list of your top ten* all time favourite records†, in any order you wish. If you want to supply reasons, please do so. If you don't want to, don't. And some basic biographical details would be nice (first name, age, nationality, that sort of thing) but again, that can be as detailed, minimal or absent as you like.

* It doesn't have to be ten, but if it's a flamboyantly high amount I'll probably think you're mocking me. The nearer to ten (or under) you are, the more heroic you will appear to your fellow man.

†Any officially released recording (i.e. someone could read your list and go and try to find it) is eligible, regardless of genre. Even spoken word counts. I'm being a total hippy about this. Except for Greatest Hit albums. They will not be allowed.

My Back Pages, day 3

Today's choice is You Ain't Going Nowhere, recorded with The Band during Dylan's post-accident recuperation and finally released (officially, at least) on The Basement Tapes in 1975.

The Basement Tapes is one of my very favourite Bob Dylan albums. It marked a return to more traditional American music for Dylan who, up to the point he broke his neck falling from his motorcycle in Woodstock in 1966, had been blazing a trail of Byronic poetry set to a clattering, quicksilver blues backing.

The rate of technological progress that society has undergone since 1966 - or even since 1975, or 1998 when I first heard The Basement Tapes - has been remarkable. So remarkable, indeed, that it actually renders any number of popular song lyrics rather anachronistic. For people of my generation, who remember a time when telephones weren't something you carried in your pocket and the postman wasn't just an inconvenience, it's not so pronounced. But the day is already here when the entire grammar and lexicon of popular music has changed.

My love for The Basement Tapes stems very much from the genuinely timeless and evocative themes that its songs contain. You Ain't Going Nowhere just pips Please Mrs. Henry as my favourite of the bunch. Play it to a teenager now, or a teenager in a thousand years, and they'll still know what it's about. I think this is going to prove a rarer and rarer quality for the songs I grew up listening to and as such should be treasured.

Lyrics here.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

My Back Pages, day 2

Day 2 of my Bob Dylan love-in falls on the man himself's 70th birthday. Happy birthday, Bob Dylan. Today's song choice is Spanish Harlem Incident, a song from 1964 which appears on his fourth album, Another Side of Bob Dylan.

I'm regretting using my standard pro-Dylan's singing rant yesterday when I didn't really need to, because the magic of Spanish Harlem Incident is as much to do with the delivery as it is anything else. The lyric, which concerns a fleeting encounter with a beguiling woman, is one of Dylan's first recorded forays into the kind of poetic approach to songs which would ultimately lead him into conflict with the folk crowd.

The lyric is wonderful, but his delivery of it is completely magnificent - as beguiling as the song's subject. Serpentine and flowing yet still concise and focussed. Dylan hits every beat like a metronome without ever sounding robotic. The overall effect is enormously evocative.

You can read more here.

Monday 23 May 2011

My Back Pages, day 1

Recently I've been using this blog to try and work out my crazy. In a way it worked, because I'm now feeling significantly less crazy. I'm not going to dwell any more on why this is, but you know. Thank you.

Instead, I thought it might be a nice project to try and restore this blog to some sort of normalcy, where creativity is given more of a free rein and my personal insecurities are pushed deep, deep down inside. My chosen topic for a week of posts is one I've touched on once or twice but never really expanded. Indeed, I have probably promised to expand on it on several occasions but I never have. Luckily, I am not a liar because I now am.

I don't think you should never meet your heroes. I think people will always appear all the more heroic for you knowing them better, finding out what makes them tick, their story. All of my heroes except one are people I know and, therefore, have met. I'm not going to name them here. Bad luck, nosey parkers. I will, however, say who the exception to the rule is, and that's Bob Dylan.

It's Bob Dylan's 70th birthday this week, so no doubt the internet will be inundated with all sorts of retrospectives and thoughtful essays about his contributions to music and to modern culture. These are all likely to be a lot more informative than this. But I'm not really aiming for any purpose greater than to talk about five of my very favourite Dylan songs. If you learn anything or are inspired by it at all, it will be a bonus. But one for which I'd never dream of taking any credit.

Today's choice is Let Me Die In My Footsteps. It will probably be the shortest write up, but what more do you want? I've already given you introductory paragraphs. You're judging me on WORD COUNT now?

A quick aside. I'm hoping, where possible, to provide a YouTube clip of the song in these posts. However, none are available of the original recording for this first selection, and cover versions of Dylan songs almost always miss the point. Yes, he's not a singer. But no-one else comes near in terms of intonation, conviction or rhythm. This is never more evident than for songs like Let Me Die In My Footsteps, part of his early output of "protest songs" (a nomenclature Dylan himself has always disputed). Show me a "good" singer tackling a song like Blowin' In The Wind and it will put me to sleep. When sung by Dylan, these words in these songs are like nails being relentlessly hammered down, one after another after another. It's what they're meant to sound like.

Anyway. To Let Me Die In My Footsteps. It's one of the very first songs Dylan ever wrote, and for me still one of the very best. It comes from early in 1962 and didn't appear on any official release until The Bootleg Series vol. 1-3 emerged in 1991.

It's a song about human dignity in the face of technological might, inspired by Dylan watching sharky businessmen hawking nuclear fallout shelters door-to-door and their adverts appearing all over the press. Other songs from later in that same year, pre- and post-Cuban Missile Crisis such as Masters of War find Dylan in a far more combative mood. In Footsteps, however, he is restrained and resignedly dignified. It is a monumental achievement by a man barely out of his teens.

To try and examine it further would be to negate its eloquence, so I will instead just point you to the lyrics of the song here.

Friday 20 May 2011

They're playing my song

As keener-eyed readers of this blog may probably have noticed, I've recently been going through one of my "episodes". Or "the unpleasantness". Call it what you will, it's not very nice.

Luckily, my friends are very nice. A dear friend of mine, who could easily have a successful career talking people down from window ledges should they wish to pursue one, was really very patient and understanding and one thing they said is really sticking in my mind: be kind to yourself. This may sound very simple for you normies out there, but for ranting, drooling maniacs like me it's often the first thing that gets tossed to one side.

So in the spirit of being kind to myself (and also doing things I like doing), I have made a list of all the songs currently on my iPod that are entirely about me, no arguments. And here it is.
  1. Air - Sexy Boy
  2. The Beach Boys - Fun Fun Fun
  3. The Beatles - Hey Bulldog*
  4. Bob Dylan - Forever Young
  5. Carly Simon - Nobody Does It Better
  6. The Clash - White Riot
  7. Dusty Springfield - Son of a Preacher Man*
  8. Gene Vincent - Wild Cat
  9. Giorgio Moroder - Too Hot to Handle
  10. Girls Aloud - Love Machine
  11. Ice T - Pimp Anthem*
  12. John Lennon - Working Class Hero
  13. Marvin Gaye - You're A Wonderful One*
  14. R.E.M. - Superman
* OK, so these songs are actually about me

Wednesday 18 May 2011

On Eschatology

It was 1987 when someone I was at school with - I won't name him, but it's probably safe to say I remember his name with a greater certainty than he remembers mine - first told me about Nostradamus. Cue 13 years of grinding panic, naggingly always in the background of my thoughts even when it wasn't dominating the forefront. My first encounter with Millennial prophesies of doom had an indelible effect on my 7-year old mind.

I'd like to say it was the beginning of a lifelong fascination, but it'd be only half the story. It was actually the beginning of a life of dread, lived under some kind of unseeable Sword of Damocles. Because, for the best will in the world, for all my (decent) education and for all my (probably slightly above average) intelligence I am, at my most fundamental level, a credulous buffoon.

For me, endtime thinking is transformed into a series of new calculations. When a Russian woman (erroneously, it turned out) predicted the end of the world would occur on December 13th 1996, I became powerfully aware of the fact that I would never be able to be a truly happy human being until December 14th 1996. Then came after the solar eclipse in 1999, another hotspot. Then 1st January 2001. Then every single other one which has happened between then and now.

If you'd told the 7-year old idiot who was me in 1987 that, in 2011, there'd still be a world and there'd still be a 31-year old idiot me in it, it would have been a great weight off of my mind. I suppose it's this fundamental fear of the unknown which has coloured much of my life, which is not an uncommon human emotional response.

What the 7-year old me would not believe, however, is just how many more prophesies of doom, how many more target dates when I could then "relax and be happy" there'd have been between the Dreaded Year 2000 and today. Nor, having managed to make it past that crucial date, would 7-year old me believe how badly I could still be affected by every new prediction of doom. Here I am, a 31-year old with a degree in philosophy and 24 more years experience of all kinds of joy and pain behind me, still set into a frantic tailspin by whatever new shit maniacs can conjure up.

So, the latest line in the sand is The Rapture, due this Saturday and established by some phenomenally convoluted mathematics by a man who believes in the literal truth of The Bible -the world's most consistently self-contradictory book - and who has already wrongly predicted The End once before. Every cell of my rational being screams at me to leave it all to once side. And yet the animal instinct part of my brain which tells me to fear the dark won't ever be content until May 22nd. Then October 22nd, then December 22nd 2012, then the day after whatever other date anyone manages to "calculate" after that. Of course, I won't actually be happy after that, but at least I'll be able to realise I can't look to outside factors to explain why this might be.

I'm sure that people who consistently predict the end of it all find deep meaning in what they say, a tangible finishing line in a world that they perceive as being wicked, venal and out of control. All I would say to them is that life is already short enough. So on behalf of the innocent 7-year old children and credulous 31-year old idiots everywhere, just keep it under your fucking hat, eh?

Wednesday 11 May 2011

Making a Mungo

Today marks the last Mungo of the 2010/11 football season, and for various reasons which are probably obvious from reading the strip, the last in its current format. So I decided to document the process thus demonstrating my astonishing lack of any conventional ability or artistic training.

Every Mungo starts pretty much this way. The size of the strip has been 18 by 22cm for all of this season's episodes. Next to it is a vague outline for what is going to happen. I don't storyboard, which is what a proper comic book artist would do. This is why each Mungo looks so shoddy. Sometimes I draw the frames before I even know what I'm going to put in them, which is a preposterous thing to do.

The necessary tools. A pencil, eraser and stuff for inking with, plus piece of kitchen paper because dip pens are cruel mistresses and block a lot. The red one is thicker, for lettering and outlines, the blue one thin for fine detail. The brush is for larger areas. You'd probably already worked that out.

This episode of Mungo requires the name of a rival football team, so I pull up the file with all the Mungo information. As you may notice, it is called The Mungobase. I wrote the majority of it, but it was bounced back and forth between me and Ian, the bloke who runs Twohundredpercent, so there's stuff of his in there too.

I am stalling now, and decided to take a picture of the dog that sits on my desk. Later, in a secondary fit of stalling, I realise he does not have a name so I ask Twitter what it should be. His name is now Hamish McSweeney.

I can avoid drawing no longer by about 9 a.m. Here's the first frame in pencil. Notice how it's barely any different from the finished product. There are different schools of thought regarding pencil sketching and how much or little you should do. For me, a black and white picture will be at least 75% working things out in pencil first.

I'm obviously in the zone by this point with the pencil, and I flesh out panel two. I like to do the text first. That's what normally carries the story, so making sure there's enough room to tell it is the most important thing.

Further evidence of that last fact, inked over. I ink directly onto the original pencils because I am brave and foolhardy.

Shit's starting to get real now. I find drawing to the accompaniment of familiar music, TV or films very constructive. Today Sherlock Holmes comes out. I will watch two films before the morning is over, although really I'm only listening to them.

Next I inked over the first panel. The top image is fine-line (blue) pen only, the bottom is the finished one with added thicker lines for definition and black areas.

With the first two panels finished, I moved on to number 3... although I don't always work in strict progression. Up to this point, however, I had. Here's Mungo's first appearance.

With frame 3 inked, I moved on to number five, the big action panel. Just text for now.

And here it is with the drawing added. I realise now I should have taken some interim shots during the inking, but I was in the zone. Besides, if you can't imagine how one goes about inking something over you're probably way beyond my help.

Three hours in and time for lunch. Sometimes it's quicker than this, sometimes it's much much slower. On those days I swear I'm giving it up.

Here's a close-up of panels four and six. Hopefully this should give you some indication as to the relationship between the pencil sketch and the finished product.

I sneak the final frame on later on, whilst watching CSI. I like CSI more than I like Mungo.

Shading time. You will need QUINK, water, brush, something to mix aforementioned things in.

Here I started with panel three. The general idea is to use the shading just to act purely as a contrast, to make the drawing make more sense. Once that is done, I might do a few stupid fiddly bits because I am an arse.

And we're all finished. The only things to do now are a few touch-ups in photoshop (this one didn't need any, bar for adding lettering to the road sign) and then reducing it to standard Mungo size. You can see the finished result at Twohundredpercent by clicking here.

This, and the huge majority of the other 96 editions of Mungo's original artwork are all available to buy. You can email me using the link in the sidebar for more details.

Monday 9 May 2011


Normally I successfully manage to be the exception that proves the rule, as far as "no man being an island" is concerned. But not any more. This year I have become aware that I feel desperately alone.

I think a lot of it is to do with the fact that when I sat down to consider things, I realised that I literally have nothing in my life to look forward to, perhaps for the first time ever. And it scares me to death. Everything around me seems to be getting away and all I can anticipate the future bringing me is pain, loss and heartache.

I can physically feel it pressing down all around me. There's not been a single waking moment of my life for months when I've not been aware of it. All I've been able to truthfully hope for is to be able to suppress it to try and enjoy any more positive moments that come along.

And there have been plenty. My life is not so bad. I love my family and my friends. I'm as sure as I can be that they feel the same way. But even that and all the good it brings can't shake the void away at the moment.

I don't really know why I'm writing this. Maybe it's in the hope getting it out of me will help. Optimistically, it could even be something that I'll be able to look back on with a wry smile in the months or years to come. Maybe it's just something to distract me from thinking.

I'm so lonely that I honestly don't know what to do except try to keep on bio-mechanically chugging on and hope that somehow my soul will catch up with me when it's ready.


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