The Song In My Head Today: ‘Driving With Bert’ by Neil Halstead

Neil Halstead Sleeping On RoadsNeil Halstead’s song “Driving With Bert” is my favourite track on his Sleeping on Roads album released in 2002, with a sort of Nick Drake meets Ennio Morricone spaghetti western vibe to it.

Neil Halstead has been the prolific songwriter and frontman for shoegaze heroes Slowdive, and is currently fulfilling the same role with Mojave 3. As frontman, his solo album was somewhat of an unexpected move for many. Yet, it seems that Mojave 3 is a democracy, so maybe a solo record shouldn’t have been unexpected. Part of what drove the melancholy mood on the record was a break-up, a period of being in between places to stay, and a move, all being very tumultuous events in anyone’s life. To my ears, Halstead was gripped with a chronic case of Bryter Layter , since the same kind of gentle bittersweetness tends to hold the album together in terms of its atmosphere and emotional landscape.

Lyrically as well as musically, this is an autumnally-hued reflection on the efforts it takes to reach for happiness, and mismatching needs and solutions (‘love is for your pain/’drugs for when you’re lonely…’). In this tune, the narrator knows that the hope for such happiness is hanging by the thread of pure circumstance (‘So fine for a while/Soon I know you’ll have to leave again’). Yet in some ways, it’s a pretty life-affirming song, despite of how it could also be viewed as a study in transience – “Laughter in the morning/your time for love, your time for life”. In some ways, this is a celebration of the moment, if not for the future.

I wish I could find a full-length version of this tune somewhere on the Interwebby-thing, but otherwise you can preview a clip and download ‘Driving With Bert’ by Neil Halstead on eMusic, along with some of the other tracks from the album.

I always assumed that the Bert in question is Bert Janch, the British folk guitar pioneer. Here’s an interview with Neil Halstead, who addresses that assumption among others. For instance, he also denies the Nick Drake influence. You be the judge when you hear the tune.

Also, check out the Neil Halstead MySpace page . Here, you’ll be allowed to preview a few tracks from the Sleeping on Roads album in full, although not this one specifically (to date at least).



[UPDATE: August 26, 2016: You can listen to this song, which I still absolutely love, right here! Also, for more on Neil Halstead, consult]

The Song In My Head Today: ‘Saint Simon’ by the Shins

The Shins Chutes Too NarrowHere’s a clip of the Shins performing their song “Saint Simon”, as taken from their celebrated 2003 Chutes Too Narrow album.

These guys gained some exposure from the film Garden State, which contained the line “the Shins will change your life”. And where they don’t necessarily create a revolutionary sound as that line might suggest, they certainly do what has been done before extremely well.

To my ears, they’re pulling from some of the touchstones of classic guitar pop as forged in the 60s – a bit of the Beatles, the Kinks, and the pre-Beggar’s Banquet Stones. Yet they’ve cast it in such a way that it doesn’t sound as if they’re trying to sound like anyone. This might have something to do with the fact that writer and vocalist James Mercer seems to work hardest in the area of lyrics, with words dodging and diving here and there between the lines of melody like Olympic figure skaters across freshly Zambonied ice. The touches of harmony and almost baroque textures on this song in particular made the album a big favourite with critics, and with fans like myself.


The Song In My Head Today: ‘Everywhere With Helicopter’ by Guided By Voices

Jungian radio has been hard at work!

Here’s a clip of Guided By Voices and their tune ‘Everywhere With Helicopter’, which has taken up residence in my head today. The song is featured on the band’s 2002 album Universal Truths & Cycles album.

Guided By Voices Universal Truths & CyclesGuided By Voices of course is captained by Robert Pollard who used the name as a vehicle for his prolific songwriting output. This is my favourite by GBV as it passes the rip-up-the-seats litmus test for rock songs. I love the uncoiling guitar solo, the superb bassline, the punishing drums. The Pollard approach seems to be about throwing ideas up against the wall to see if they stick. Sometimes, it’s a bit hit-and-miss. But the attempt sometimes pays off. And sometimes, this is what you need in your life – to hear the attempt. And this time, GBV hits it square in the nuts!


The Song In My Head Today: ‘Catch the Sun’ by Doves

Doves Lost SoulsIn 2000, I worried about the state of guitar music until I heard Doves’ “Catch the Sun” on the radio one morning that year. It was perhaps the last time for a while that I’d heard anything new on the radio that really made my ears perk up, and would pretty much stay that way until I heard Johnny Cash’s take on Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” a number of years later. But, that’s another story.

Doves is a trio from Manchester, a group which evolved out of another band Sub-Sub, a proponent of the dance scene in that city earlier in the decade. “Catch the Sun” appears on their debut album under the Doves name, Lost Souls, which is a highlight record of that year. The song is a soaring, celebratory guitar-bass-drums interplay, the anthemic quality of which perhaps belying the morose lyrical content; “Catch the sun/before it’s gone/Here it comes/Up in smoke and gone…”

The song, and the rest of the album, proved that mood and texture can be achieved using traditional rock instruments. The group would go on from here to create atmospheric sounds in follow-up releases like The Last Broadcast, and Some Cities. But for me this song, which was later covered by British pianist/singer Jamie Callum, is one of my favourite songs by anyone.

Take a listen to the track, and tell me what you think.

The Song in My Head Today: ‘Not Dark Yet’ by Bob Dylan

Bob DylanJungian Radio (my inner playlist) has delivered another gem; ‘Not Dark Yet’, one of the jewels in the crown of Bob Dylan’s brilliant 1997 album Time Out of Mind.

I was thinking of including this one in an upcoming article called 10 Songs About Aging, but the song has been pretty insistent in my head today, so it gets its own article. I may write about it again anyway, given that it is one of my favourite songs by Bob Dylan.

This is a tune about finding oneself at the latter half of one’s life, expecting the wisdom which is meant to come with advancing years, and finding it absent. In the past, Dylan’s lyrics have often been a series of red herrings, pointing a listener in one direction, and then throwing in lines which make one doubt the veracity of an initial interpretation. But this song is pointed, acknowledging that time has passed with very little to show for it except for past hurts; scars that the sun didn’t heal. There is no hiding behind imagery here. This is confession from the basement, the voice at rock bottom.

In this song we see the portrait of the well-traveled man, weighted down by years rather than nurtured or informed by them. It is a snapshot of a person who has seen a lot, but gives no indication that there remains any insight to make his life better. The exact nature of this existential quandary is not specified, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much. This is a man who is trapped, perhaps by his own expectations.

I love this song, this beautifully sad treatise on what it feels like to age, and to be disappointed with how life has turned out when you expected so much more. Who knows whether or not Dylan is revealing himself in this song. This doesn’t matter either. The point is that there is a universal sentiment described here; the fear of age and the fear of death. This is not just about the worry that life will end, but it’s about the downward journey toward that end, and the fear that the search for beauty is also about the embrace of something which is ultimately about pain. This is a sobering set of thoughts, yet beautiful in their honesty.

Check out the clip to hear this superlative song by Bob Dylan, and tell me what you think.

The Song In My Head Today: ‘Time Passages’ by Al Stewart

Al Stewart Time PassagesListen to “Time Passages” by Al Stewart.

Taken from his 1978 album of the same name, Al Stewart’s ‘Time Passages’ is all about the power of memory, and the fact that memories sometimes appear out of nowhere and surprise you – either happily, or not.

Stewart started his career in the 60s, and built somewhat of a reputation for period pieces – neo-folk songs which were set during the course of historical events (‘Roads to Moscow’) or centred around figures in history (‘Nostradamus‘). But by the mid-70s, he began to get a lot of radio play around a slick soft rock approach, one of the biggest being the title track off of his 1976 LP Year of the Cat, which was a travelogue tale of romance.

But, ‘Time Passages’ for me has always been a favourite, because it ironically transports me back to my childhood, and the sounds of late 70s- early 80s radio. But another big reason is that the song resonates with me – that I believe that when memories of places and people in the past rise up in one’s mind, it can make time itself seem like an illusion. This isn’t an entirely new idea. The English Romantic poet William Wordsworth who wrote in the 1700-early 1800s thought it to be pretty compelling too.

There is something comforting in that idea, although I’m not sure what it might be. Maybe it’s the idea that the events in a life are connected to something greater, that they are as important as events to come because they help to define our points of view, our very personalities. Where it is not helpful to be stuck in the past, neither is it helpful to discard it. Our past is part of what makes us what we are, after all.


At this point in time, everyone must think that I’ve got my head stuck in the late 70s to mid-80s when it comes to this whole ‘songs in my head’ thing. What can I say; Jungian radio (AKA – the song that pops up in your head for no reason…) has a will of its own.

Fun fact: Al Stewart is credited for having been the first songwriter to drop the dreaded ‘F’ bomb in a pop song, although he himself doesn’t agree.

The Song In My Head Today: ‘That’s Entertainment’ by the Jam

Sound Affects by the JamThe 1980 song by the Jam from their album Sound Affects has always struck me as one of the most English songs ever written. I play a smattering of guitar, and I really love the chord progression in this one, and I love the words. But I feel funny trying to sing it in my own accent – and funnier still in even thinking about trying to put on an unconvincing Woking accent. But one thing about this tune that I can identify with outside of how English it is, is that suburbs are the same in England as they are anywhere else, including here in Canadialand. And ‘That’s Entertainment’ is ultimately about how it feels to be there, and perhaps to be stuck there.

I love how cinematic it is, almost like one of those late 60s gritty British dramas by Ken Loach, like Poor Cow, or Kes. The lyrics evoke bleak landscapes of underdeveloped council estates, the mundanities of street sounds and background noise, and of feelings of ‘wishing you were far away’. As you listen, you mind sort of fills in the gaps, and populates the landscape with characters moving through it, the ones who live with the boredom, the violence, and the underlying need to experience something new. I suppose this is a very rock n roll song, in that pretty much every major rock n roll musican came out of places like this, and looked to the music as a means of getting out of that world and into a wider, less predictable one.

Here’s a clip of the Jam performing their (arguably) best single, ‘That’s Entertainment’.

To view the clip, hover over the image and click the ‘play’ icon. To enlarge the viewing screen, click the magnifying glass icon. Alternatively, click on the image and view the clip in a new browser window. Enjoy!

The Jam

And just as a footnote, people, Rick Buckler and Bruce Foxton of the aforementioned Jam are touring. Check out this release for details. Hugh Cornwall, formerly of The Stranglers is opening!

The Song In My Head Today: ‘Jolie Louise’ by Daniel Lanois

Daniel Lanois AcadieYesterday, I was once again aware of a phenomenon that a friend of mine once described as “Jungian Radio”, an avenue to the collective unconscious. This is a fancy name for a song that pops into your head for no apparent reason and stays there for a long enough period of time to make it notable. Sometimes, it’s welcome and sometimes it’s not. But, I thought I’d write about a few of the welcome ones. And this is the first in a possible series.

‘Jolie Louise’ by Daniel Lanios, from the album Acadie.

I always liked this one, for a number of reasons. First, its another story-song, which is a weakness of mine. Second, it sounds like a Acadian folk song and it isn’t; Lanois wrote it, and he’s from Hamilton, Ontario. Third, it’s not of its time in that there’s nothing late 80s about it. I like songs that are written without a date stamp on them. Fourth, this tune is about as far from Lanois’ style as a producer as you can get, the flavours of which are on Lanois-produced albums like Peter Gabriel’s So, U2’s The Joshua Tree, Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy, and Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking ball, among others.

His production style is distinctive – lots of echo, tremolo, and ambient tones. This atmosphere is evident on Acadie as a whole, but not on this little song, which is like a little oasis of simplicity in the middle of some very slick production on the rest of the record. There are light touches of gentle electric guitar, brushes on snare, and Cajun/Acadian accordion. Lanois was based in New Orleans for a long time, which may have inspired the sound. The song is basically folk tune about a working class guy who loses everything when he takes to the drink. The tale is told to a gentle, jaunty singalong melody, yet is infused with pathos too. It’s one of the happiest sad songs I can think of.

Watch and Hear Daniel Lanois’ ‘Jolie Louise

To view the clip, hover over the image and click the ‘play’ icon. To enlarge the viewing window, click the magnifying glass icon in the top right hand corner. Enjoy!

Daniel Lanois