FRANK’S COLUMN: In Search of Perfection

Frank offers up some 'perfect' tracks for your listening pleasure.

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I have a bit of a thing about ‘perfect moments’ in music (and also in film and TV to be honest). And what I mean by ‘perfect’ in music is things that make you want to listen again and then again, that encapsulate a genre of music, that so fittingly reflect an emotion or a situation, or that are just so beautiful that it hurts.

In this column I’m going to offer you some examples of songs and pieces of music that I consider to be ‘perfect’ (or as near as you can get). They are not restricted to any one type of music – I’m quite prepared to be open to ‘perfect’ in any sort of music- and I unashamedly include some that may come as quite a shock to ‘serious music lovers’.

I’m not going to include songs or music that are generally held to be ‘perfect’ like ‘Perfect Day’, ‘Perfect Skin’, ‘Nothing Compares 2U’ or ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ for example. Can we just take those as read.

Before we dive into the list, one of my perfect TV moments is the moment when at the end of Skins Series One the cast, for no apparent reason, burst into ‘Wild World’. It’s just so beautifully filmed and so wonderfully barmy. You can see it here on YouTube

One last thing, this isn’t a chart, there’s no particular order to these tracks.

OK so here we go, and in contrast to my last column when I wrote about music that isn’t available most of this is, and I’ve added a Spotify Playlist of the tracks at the end.

‘Dead Popstars’ Altered Images

Most people will think of Altered Images as purveyors of bright bubbly lightweight pop – ‘I Could Be Happy’ or ‘Happy Birthday’ for example. Others may think of them of as a sort of Siouxsie and the Banshees-lite for 10 year olds. I, for one, disagree. I could go on for hours about how the Altered Images’ sound bridged the gap between post-punk and Postcard bands like Orange Juice if you really wanted me to. But I suspect you don’t, so I won’t.

‘Dead Popstars’ is a perfect slice of post-punk pop that was stopped in its climb up the charts by a Radio One ban. It was banned because it came out in the same week as John Lennon was shot and the powers-that-be thought it would upset people. I’ve always thought the ‘dead’ in the song was about manufactured emotionally dead music, not actually deceased people. Perhaps this is because I listen to song lyrics.

If you hold a gun to my head I’ll admit that it does sound influenced by Siouxsie and the Banshees – although given that it was produced by Steve Severin of the Banshees this is not entirely surprising. However, Altered Images bring their own unique take to the track and Clare’s vocal is frankly quite scary:

Dead pop stars, dead pop stars
Dead pop stars, dead pop stars rotting in the studio
Hear them on the radio
Dead, dead, dead, dead, dead

Quite.

‘Spellbound’ Siouxsie and the Banshees

And talking of Siouxsie and the Banshees, I just have to include a track from their 1981 album, ‘Juju’. I love this album – mainly due to Budgie’s drumming – but this track is just so … well it just sums up the whole album in one song. My favourite moment is when Siouxsie sings:

And don’t forget
When your elders forget
To say their prayers
Take them by the legs
And throw them down the stairs

Her vocal on this is just spine tingling.

‘Shut Up’ Savages

This is my favourite track from this energetic punk girl band’s album. It’s just fabulous and it reminds me of seeing them play live. They played for around 45 minutes with no encores. At one stage all I could see was the singer’s red kitten heel kicking into the stage – perfect. What we have here is a slice of post-punk bought right up to date. Play loud.

‘Summertime’ Miles Davis

This track comes from ‘Porgy and Bess’ released in March 1959. Davis had become increasingly disillusioned with bebop in the late 50s and had began to experiment with other forms of improvisation. The ‘Porgy and Bess’ album reflects this change.

‘Summertime’ is just so achingly good, his trumpet playing so well conveys the emotional content of the lyrics, and the original melody. I’ve spoken to several people who don’t even realise that it’s a jazz arrangement. You can hear the influence of this arrangement in later versions of the song, including very strongly in Janis Joplin’s version with Big Brother and The Holding Company.

‘Whole World Window’ Cardiacs

I adore Cardiacs, I’ve adored them since I saw them circa 1983 supporting Here & Now. Frankly they blew my mind. This song always provided the finale to their sets back then and had some rather theatrical staging including confetti and people handing flowers out – do a YouTube search for Cardiacs Whole World Window and you’ll find some footage – or you could look at this YouTube Video which is a bit unclear in places but it’ll give you the idea.

It’s a ‘go to track’ – you know, the ones which you listen to when you need to hear something inspiring and emotional. It makes me feel happily sad or sadly happy depending on how I’m feeling at the time. It’s almost a ballad really. I’ve no idea really what this song is about (although the singer’s mother figures in it somehow), all I know is that whatever it is Tim – the singer – is really vocalising an emotion.

I know Cardiacs are a bit like the Marmite of music – people either really love them or hate them – but do give this one a try. After all it very nearly got into the top of the charts.

‘The Look of Love’ ABC

I could have chosen many of the songs from ‘Lexicon of Love’ but this was the first song I heard from it, and it’s stuck in my head ever since. The production, the arrangement are just too good really. Somebody I had a chat with about this song said ‘but the lyrics are so corny, and what is going on with:

If you judge a book by the cover
Then you’d judge the look by the lover
I hope you’ll soon recover
Me I go from one extreme to another

it’s sixth form poetry’. But I prefer to call it meta-pop.

If there’s one other thing that is just so perfect about this song it’s the line

When your girl has left you out on the pavement (Goodbye)

where the ‘Goodbye’ is spoken by a woman, rumoured to be the one who had left Martin Fry before he started to write the songs on ‘Lexicon of Love’. Perfect? Yes – I believe so.

‘Shooting Star’ Dollar

There – it’s out. I feel so much better now. ‘Shooting Star’ by Dollar is my guiltiest pleasure of guilty pleasures. It’s just a slice of perfect pop. Remember that Dollar were at one stage, how shall we say it, hip and trendy. Yes really they were. The voices, the arrangement and the production are just so… luscious. That’s the only word for it. I urge you to listen to this and just wallow in its utter loveliness.

‘Tangerine’ Led Zeppelin

When I am asked to name my favourite Led Zep track this is the one I say is my favourite. This usually results in the person asking looking at me in a strange way, or just going ‘Oh-Kaaay’ in that ‘you cannot be serious’ sort of way. It’s also possible they might point out that it doesn’t end properly. Actually it’s this ending that helps makes it ‘perfect’ for me – it’s a perfect imperfection.

I also love the lyrics, sparse as they are and that lilt in the line ‘Does she still remember times like these?’, and that guitar solo, and that pedal steel in the second half of the song.

So why is it perfect beyond all these things that I’ve mentioned, well it just perfectly reflects a mood, a situation, reminiscing about a past love.

‘Out of Reach’ Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts

‘Who?’ I hear you scream, or possibly, ‘how can anything by that crass bikers’ band be perfect, for ****’s sake!’, or possibly ‘oh come on, the original’s a classic’.

Just so we’re clear I am talking about the Peter Green track. And yes I bought a whole double live album mainly for this one track. The thing is that Dumpy is (or was) an extremely talented guitarist who did, on occasions, let this show. This is one of those moments and it is an once both a tribute and a track he makes his own. It does send shivers down my spine and that’s why I think it’s perfect.

Unfortunately Spotify doesn’t seem to have any DRN tracks at all available, nor is there any video available of this. You’re just going to have take my word on this one or search out a copy of ‘Somewhere In England’.

‘Faithless’ Scritti Politti

I guess many people would choose ‘The “Sweetest Girl”‘ but I think ‘Faithless’ is the more perfect track. Why – because it was written and produced to be perfect. Even the vocal effects are perfect. Personally if you wanted this to be even more perfect you’d go for the 12” version. I did.

In truth I introduced this track because I wanted to highlight something from Scritti’s early music and that is ‘Skank Bloc Bologna’ also perfect in a sort of shambling 1978 way. This is Scritti in pre-commercial political mode.

‘Next’ Sensational Alex Harvey Band

I first saw this cover of the Jacques Brel song on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1973. Given my age at the time (and no, I’m not going to tell you that), watching the OGWT involved sneaking downstairs after my parents had gone to bed and watching it at an incredibly low volume, and given that the song is an explicit description of the experience of a soldier in an army brothel, it’s probably best that I wasn’t discovered. I’m not entirely sure that the song’s lyrics meant that much to me back then, but the delivery and performance hit me right between the eyes.

It’s widely felt to be the definitive English language version of the song and I wouldn’t disagree.

Lyrically it’s pure poetry and Alex Harvey’s delivery is pure emotion – disgust, horror, the trauma of the experience. It’s all there.

‘Glorybox’ Portishead

I’ve been saving this, because ‘Glorybox’ for me is the height of perfect. It’s one of my all time favourite tracks and I’ve been known to put all the different versions I have into a playlist and let it run on repeat. For the record my favourite version is one on the live album – the one where Beth apologises for the ‘dodgy moments’ which are her fault – although I’ve listened to it lots of times and have failed to spot any ‘dodgy moments’.

So why is it perfect? Let’s start with Beth Gibbons’ vocals – world weary, yearning, pleading. The arrangement is just brilliant – that guitar solo that turns into a throb under Beth’s voice is musical genius, the short trip-hop break. Lyrically it’s great – it’s a story with a beginning, a middle but sadly no end.

And my heart always lurches on the chorus:

Give me a reason to love you
Give me a reason to be, a woman
I just wanna be a woman

It’s that raising inflection on the last line that gets me every time.

So that’s the list, although I’ve realised it’s really only scratching the surface of what I consider perfect. I could have included lots more. Maybe there’s a second column to come on this subject…

As I said at the beginning you may disagree with my choices, in fact I’d be surprised if anyone agreed with the whole list. I’m not going to be persuaded that any of these aren’t perfect, but I am open to suggestions of ‘perfect’ from other people.