SLEEVE NOTES: Songs in the Key of Repeat

These are the songs that bear repeating

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I like music. I mean, I like it a lot. I’d go as far as to say it’s one of my favourite things. Over my 34 years on this big old planet I have amassed a large number of CDs and tapes. There are over 4000 songs by hundreds of artists across hundreds of albums on my iPod. Spotify gives me access to millions of tracks that can be streamed directly through their app onto multiple devices. And just recently Apple launched a brand spanking new streaming service to compete with it, albeit slightly hampered by an attached 24 hour radio station featuring human foghorn Zane Lowe.

There is music from all sorts of different artists and from many different genres all there to be listened to and it’s all available at the touch of a button. Bearing that in mind, amidst all this choice and variety, I present to you the songs I’ve been hammering into the ground on a day to day basis, usually on the bus to and from work. These are the tracks I keep returning to when I switch on my iPod or load up Spotify. These are the songs that bear repeating.

First up, The Pogues. The legendary Tom Waits once described The Pogues as playing like “soldiers on leave” and that’s about the most on-the-nose description I’ve ever heard of a band. ‘If I Should Fall From Grace with God‘ by the London folk-punks is an evergreen regular on my iPod. Its manic bar-fight energy is highly infectious. And like, say, ‘Sweet Virginia’ by the Rolling Stones, it sounds like it must have been an absolute blast to record. Shane MacGowan is at his snarling best and the rest of the band thrash their instruments ragged, seemingly in a race to get to the end of the song first.

Electric Worry‘ by American rock stalwarts Clutch is probably my most played song of the moment. It’s a supercharged partial-cover of an old Mississippi Fred McDowell blues song with some extra lyrics and a whole additional barrel of kick-ass along for the journey. “Bang bang bang /Vamanos vamanos” hollers lead singer and personal beard hero Neil Fallon. It means nothing of course, but by god it’s exhilarating. This song is the musical equivalent of riding into town on a Harley to face your arch enemy with the entire Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club behind you. It sounds like Jason Statham fighting The Rock whilst driving a muscle car into the sun. It is sure to enliven any journey even, as in my case, the number 50 bus route into town.

As a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan (as a child I often dreamt of working in a blue collar factory somewhere on the outskirts of New Jersey) there was no way on earth I wasn’t going to love ‘Red Eyes‘ by The War On Drugs. Even though singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel sometimes sounds like the ghost of Ryan Adams trying to sing at you through a bee keeper’s mask, the general ‘Bruceness’ of the track is enough for me to overlook that. A constant driving drum-beat and rhythm guitar propel the song along like a freight train as the reverb-heavy lead guitar picks out a snaking melody. Big 80’s synths bring the Dire Straits/Springsteen feels. And if you don’t get goosebumps whenever Granduciel lets out a big whooping battle cry midway through the song and the drums suddenly kick in with extra gusto, then we probably wouldn’t get on socially. Ah now, that was harsh of me. You seem ok actually, I’m sure we’d get on. After all, you’ve read this far.

If I am left alone with access to Spotify for long enough at a social gathering, it is somewhat inevitable that I will attempt to play ‘Lawyers Guns & Money‘ by the late great Warren Zevon (Incidentally, Zevon’s ‘Werewolves Of London’ is one of my favourite songs ever, but that’s another article entirely). If I’ve had a few I will then go on about how much I love the last verse and the line “Send lawyers guns and money, the shit has hit the fan”. And if I’m really drunk I might even try to explain the slick opening sequence to the non-existent HBO crime drama that I often imagine this song appearing on in my head. I don’t get many invitations to social gatherings.

Alabama Shakes are having a tremendous year, so far with a storming new album and a very successful tour, which I can attest to, having had the pleasure of witnessing their live show in Manchester recently. They will also be very pleased to hear, no doubt, that the song ‘Dunes‘ from the new album has been a regular fixture on my playlists of late. This psych-soul stunner has a lovely faded retro production and features a full range of vocal delights from the wonder that is Brittany Howard. If that’s not enough it also has a great big descending guitar riff, soft soulful strings, and a blazing psychedelic drum break fade out at the end. What more could you ask for?

R’n’B genius D’Angelo also played an amazing gig this year in Manchester touring his very long awaited comeback album ‘Black Messiah’. His first in fourteen years no less, this was thankfully as good as we’d all hoped. This song is not from that album, it is a spot-on cover of Prince’s ‘She’s Always in My Hair’ that, bizarrely enough, I found on the soundtrack to the horror sequel ‘Scream 2’. The riffs and drums are clipped and tight with D’Angelo’s multiple layered vocals dancing all over the snapping rhythm, nailing those harmonies that only Prince can come up with. A combination of the genius tune-smithery of that funky wee man Prince with the top-notch musical skills of D’Angelo, this is a song which cannot fail.

The track ‘I’ll Be Creepin‘ by Free is big, stompy and sinister, like a creepy Godzilla in a denim jacket and leather trousers, strutting through 70’s Tokyo. If you can look past the slightly disturbing lyrics (yes he appears to be singing about stalking his ex), it’s a brilliant distillation of their sound. The ‘gargles with sandpaper and yet also silky smooth’ voice of Paul Rodgers, the impeccably restrained blues guitar of Paul Kossoff with signature vibrato present, the thumping muscular bass from the sadly recently departed Andy Fraser and the… eh .. the drums of Simon Kirke. The spine tingling chorus and my repeated Ill-advised attempts to sing along with it have led to many sore throats and probably sore ears for those unlucky enough to witness it. To be fair though, there are plenty of other seats on the bus, and you don’t HAVE to sit beside me.

My friend and LSF colleague, Olly, pointed me towards this James Brown song and I’m very glad he did. I mean, it’s called ‘People Get up and Drive That Funky Soul‘. With a title like that, for god’s sake, it’s already won. From the opening seconds where you can hear him singing out the brass riff for the band to follow, to the various shouts and screams keeping everyone on point, James is all over this epic track. A perfect example of the tight, stripped down efficiency of Funk, James Brown literally sings out the various star signs over a single 9 minute groove and is still funkier than a thousand Bruno Mars and Mark Ronsons, each having attended a 3 year BA ‘How to Be Funky’ Course at The Bootsy Collins Funky Fresh University. I mean James was probably just reading stuff off a newspaper but with that band backing him, it works a treat.

The track ‘Ta douleur’ by French singer Camille was first introduced to me by my girlfriend Rachel. I have no idea what Camille is actually singing but it’s an absolutely great tune and she has a fantastically slinky voice. I can often be found wandering around my house singing French-sounding gibberish along to this very catchy track. Apart from the bass and trumpets, the rest of the music is Camille herself using her voice. Which is pretty cool now isn’t it? You’ve got to love someone who builds a song from recordings of herself making really strange noises with her mouth. That’s why people like Bjork, right?

The multi-talented producer of the most recent Alabama Shakes album, Blake Mills, has himself released a belter of a record. This track, ‘Gold Coast Sinkin‘, from the ‘Heigh Ho’ album that came out last year is a beautiful weird beast of a song. Definitely one for the headphones this, the slowly building and growing mixture of voices, harmonies and shimmering guitars is absolutely intoxicating and that’s before the big swampy guitar stomps all over the place towards the end. Best heard whilst sitting out on a balcony on a warm night overlooking the glittering cityscape of Los Angeles or, you know, whilst sitting on a bus slowly trundling down the Kingsway in South Manchester on a unseasonably cold Wednesday evening.

As any idiot will tell you, no playlist is complete without a Danish instrumental track and ‘Building Snowmen‘ by the Vestbo Trio is mine. The song’s sweet melody is picked out on a jazzy electric guitar whilst the double bass and drums cheerfully bob along in the background. It sounds like a group of childhood friends going on a summer adventure in the countryside. It gives you that feeling of coming home to a roaring fire on a cold winter’s night. It will make you feel nice basically. And that seems like a good note to end on.