Listen to this track by game-changing rock quintet from Oxford, Radiohead. It’s “Paranoid Android”, their epic-scale and time and tempo shifting song as taken from 1997’s OK Computer.
The band had its work cut out for it after having put out their preceding record, The Bends. That album had them finally finding their voice after a debut that showed promise, if not polish. The trick with following up an identity-solidifying record is that there’s not a lot of room left to go, other than reproducing it for that difficult third album. But instead of playing it safe and making The Bends 2, Radiohead did one better with OK Computer. In addition to sounding as cohesive as its predecessor, it served asa post-Brit pop statement that stood as something of a challenge to their peers.
And “Paranoid Android” helped to lead the way into a sound that fit with that sound they’d established, and yet showed something of an evolution, too. This is something of an irony when you consider the sources of musical inspiration that helped to shape it. Read more
Listen to this track by groove-oriented post-post-punk indie-rock outfit from Glasgow, Franz Ferdinand. It’s “Jacqueline” the opening track to their 2004 Mercury Prize-winning debut record cleverly entitled Franz Ferdinand.
The band took their sound from various sources, particularly from the late-70s and early 80s new wave and disco, with a simple goal in mind; to make records girls can dance to. It’s a good goal when you’re looking to make pop music, sell records, and to bring things back home where pop music that speaks to an audience is concerned.
At the time, the band was a part of a retro movement that drew from this same era, perhaps with similar goals. But, what separated Franz Ferdinand from the crowd was this; they had the songs.
Beyond that, they had something else, too. Read more
Listen to this track by formerly monikered Soft Boys and ’80s neo-psychedeliaists Robyn Hitchcock & The Egyptians. It’s “Madonna Of The Wasps”, the lead track on their 1989 record Queen Elvis. In addition to former Soft Boys members Hitchcock, plus bassist Andy Metcalfe, and drummer Morris Windsor, this song features the distinctive lines of another key player worth mentioning; R.E.M’s Peter Buck.
Buck, and his band, were formed by following the example of what Hitchcock had laid down with the Soft Boys, particularly their Underwater Moonlightalbum. And here, Hitchcock reinforces that influence on one of his most enduring pop songs. A recurring theme in his work seems to revolve around insects, from cans of bees as forming the title of the first Soft Boys record, to references to Antwomen later on, and even with a documentary about him called Sex, Food, Death … And Insects, with all of those other things referenced being recurring themes in his work as well.
Hitchcock’s particular parallel is to draw a comparison between our six-legged friends and a form of idealized womanhood. And no song does this better than this one. And it shows something else too beyond Hitchcock’s affinity for writing songs about our winged, stingie-tailed pals.
Listen to this track by Swindon new wave representatives and documented America-admirers, XTC. It’s “Statue Of Liberty”, a single as taken from their 1978 debut album White Music.
The line-up to be heard here is the earliest incarnation of the band, with stalwarts Andy Partridge (vocals and guitar) and Colin Moulding (vocals and bass) being joined by drummer Terry Chambers and keyboardist Barry Andrews. Chambers would depart by the time the sessions for 1983’s Mummer were in process. Barry Andrews would leave soon after this record, and go on to form Shriekback.
Starting out, XTC was very much in the vein of their post-punk peers. And this was among their earliest singles, a tune about the iconic lady statue that adorns the New York City skyline, symbolizing the ideals of freedom and liberty for immigrants to a land of opportunity.
But, this song takes a bit more from that equation, with a more erotic attachment to the lady herself, so much so that the line about “sailing beneath your skirt” raised eyebrows at the BBC. But, I think this song says a lot more than just being provocative for its own sake. Read more
Listen to this track by bespectacled angry young man and original hipster singer-songwriter Elvis Costello. It’s “Miracle Man”, a deep cut as taken from his 1977 debut album, My Aim Is True.
This song is in very good company with those that Costello worked up while he was an early signee to the nascent Stiff Records label. This was after seven years of graft, taking the then twenty-two year old songwriter from his teenage years as a member of pub rockers Flip City to when he was christened with his Kingly moniker upon hooking up with Jake Riviera at Stiff.
And maybe it’s because Costello had spent so many years making demos, and having them sent back to him by record companies, that his debut is a compendium of tales of frustration and insecurity marked by a fierce intelligence and the swagger of youthful ambition. With this song, that theme carries through pretty well. And on the surface, it comes off as a guy who’s attached to someone who doesn’t really appreciate his efforts in the love department. But, that really is just on the surface of things.
Listen to this track by art rock doyen and former Genesis frontman turned re-invented solo artist Peter Gabriel. It’s “Humdrum”, a track as taken from his 1977 solo record, and the first to bear the title Peter Gabriel. In addition to appearing on that record, it would soon be a popular live track as well.
And on this first statement as a solo artist, he had the help of some pros. The record was produced by Bob Ezrin in Toronto, and with sessions at Olympic Studios in Barnes that included a number of musicians you’ve heard of, including Robert Fripp on guitar, and bassist/Chapman stick player Tony Levin.
It’s important to note that this record was fairly long-awaited. Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, and it was a highly publicized departure considering that Gabriel had defined the band’s tone, and presentation. So, how does this song reflect both his role in Genesis and as a singular solo artist, too? Read more
Listen to this track by cinematically-inclined electronic duo and shapeshifting musical stylists Goldfrapp. It’s “Human”, the third single from their debut record Felt Mountain.
The band take their name from Alison Goldfrapp; singer, keyboardist, and lyricist. This debut won them a shortlisting for the Mercury Prize in 2000, although they were outshined by Badly Drawn Boy’s The Hour of Bewilderbeast, as many other records were that year.
Together with keyboardist, programmer and arranger Will Gregory, the duo would evoke the sonic effects of the spacious grandeur of John Barry soundtracks of the 1960s, although with icily beautiful electronic textures to put the music squarely in the 21st century.
But, what of this song? What other elements besides those elements can be found here?
Listen to this track by million-selling piano man and singular ’70s rock clothes horse Elton John. It’s “Rocket Man (I think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)”, a hit single in the spring of 1972, and a key track as taken from his Honky Chateau album that year.
In line with the times when space missions were more common perhaps than they are today, or simply more celebrated, this song stormed the charts with top ten showings all over the world. It also marked a change in approach for Elton John who used his road band on the entirety of the recording instead of sessioners; Dee Murray on bass, Davey Johnstone on guitars and other assorted stringed instruments, and Nigel Olssen behind the kit.
Addtionally on this track, he worked with studio whiz, composer, and keyboardist David Hentschel who added the distinctive ARP synthesizer lines to this track, which gave it an appropriately futurist feel. This is not to minimize John’s own contribution, in particular his singing which is some of the finest of his career, completely selling this tale of space travel and emotional disconnectedness.
The result of all these elements would be one of Elton John’s best known and best loved songs. But, how does it perhaps apply to the touring rock star as much as it does to the story of the Rocket Man? Read more
Listen to this track by Scottish pop sophisticate musical outfit Aztec Camera. It’s “Walk Out To Winter” as taken from the landmark 1983 debut record High Land Hard Rain. The song was a single, scoring a top ten showing on the UK indie chart, with the album scoring top thirty on the UK album chart.
In the 1980s, this act would become grouped in with several musical outfits that would take the template of new wave and post punk, and mix it with more traditional pop threads; soft rock, latin music, light jazz, and R&B. But, that’s not to say that Aztec Camera was just another act in this vein.
Under principle songwriter and sole constant member Roddy Frame’s creative guidance, the results would be something that not many were able to achieve; a classic record, and with a single (this one) and other singles that would make for both an album band, and a singles band, too.
And what of this song? What does it mean to “walk out to winter” anyway? Read more
Listen to this track by Scottish dance rock proponents and musical genre crossover adventurers Primal Scream. It’s “Loaded”, a hit song as taken from their seminal 1991record Screamadelica. The single was released in February 1990, over a year before the full album came out.
The song would be something of an anthem to the dance scenes all over Britain on its release, with a dash of ’60s iconoclast ingredients worked into its fabric. There are certainly musical ingredients to be found in what was once a humble remix that most assuredly helped to turn it into a hit single.
One of the defining elements to the song of course is the use of audio clips from the 1966 film The Wild Angels, starring Peter Fonda as a hard-riding member of a motorcycle gang, and a guy who knows what he wants to do; to be free, to get loaded, have a good time, to have a party.
Some themes never get old.
And beyond that, it certainly spoke to the burgeoning acid house scene at the same time. Read more