Hello. Welcome to a special edition of DiS Does Singles, featuring no new songs or tracks to have been released in the last seven days. Nope. Not even that one when The Kooks went hip-hop and everyone felt embarrassed for them.
To countermand the deluge of SXSW hype, we’ve turned our gaze back towards the bands who should have made it but never did. That’s right, DiS’ illustrious writing team have delved through the dark corners of their iTunes libraries to uncover the ditties time had thought forgotten. Then we put a fancy headline on their suggestions.
Below you’ll find essential songs from the likes of ABBA, The Clean and William Shatner. Our hope is you’ll discover something worth cherishing with a back catalogue you can delve into for months to come. And if you've heard absolutely each and every of them, then congratulations - you’ve just won all the indie points.
The Day Before You Came (Polar Music International)
If you don’t already know almost everything ABBA touched was gold, but ‘The Day Before You Came’ is a different ABBA altogether; golden in quality, sombre and grey in outlook. Over six minutes a vocally restrained Agnetha dolefully recounts the banal daily grind leading up to the titular day. What happens that day is a mystery, but it’s life changing enough to wipe clean any substantial recollection of the day before, leaving only the presumption that the standard routine was followed (“I must have left my house at eight, because I always do”) and with the usual sense of ennui (“I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half-past two and at the time I never even noticed I was blue”).
Agnetha cuts a devastatingly lonely figure on vocals, Frida’s operatic wail appearing as a ghostly presence amongst the dense layers of synth which gradually envelope the metronomic beat. Whilst the Smörgåsbord of electronic sounds suffuse the song with a foreboding atmosphere, the two-note synthetic flute hook is typically catchy and other subtle melodic embellishments are the trademark of Bjorn and Benny. The instrumental outro is an eerily ambiguous ending and also a strange and moving conclusion to ABBA’s recording career. Neil Ashman
Sunshine Smile (Creation Records)
1992 was a vintage year for music. Generation Terrorists, Slanted & Enchanted, Automatic For The People... the list is endless. It also spawned three seemingly pivotal debut singles. Verve's 'All In The Mind' came out in March followed by Suede's 'The Drowners' two months ago.
Sandwiched in between them was the best of the lot. 'Sunshine Smile' by Coventry four-piece Adorable, released by Creation Records in April of that year. A heady concoction of luscious, reverb-heavy, melody flavoured guitars propelled by an anxious rhythm topped off with Piotr Fijalkowski's precisely delivered vocal. It should have propelled the band to stratospheric heights.
That it didn't probably had it more to do with the grunge explosion gathering pace across the Atlantic leaving Adorable buried under an avalanche of tousled hair and flannel shirts. However, this would be the epitaph to end them all. Dom Gourlay
Kitchen Person (Situation Two)
Simon Reynolds describes The Associates as the group that “combined pop’s flash with post-punk’s perplexity,” and perplexing ‘Kitchen Person’ certainly is. Speed was the drug of choice and speed is the outcome. Set to the hyper-tempo of a cheap drum machine, it’s a frenzy of buzzsaw guitar and vibraphones and xylophones played at a speed that isn’t so much beautifully intricate as brutally intricate. I imagine that if you take enough drugs this is what the chase scenes in Tom & Jerry cartoons sound like. In other words it’s utterly thrilling, but there’s beauty nestled within in the noise. An organ low in the mix adds pathos to Billy MacKenzie’s anguished howls before the chorus (of sorts).
It’s a physical experience in itself to hear MacKenzie bellowing sonorously, garbling guttural vowels and nasally taunting “I spat in your meal by mistake”. When you can discern other lyrics they’re just coherent enough to seem intriguingly meaningful; “Here I’m lisping words so careful, I eat Vienna’s drunk parade”. Here’s a technically gifted vocalist who doesn’t need to show off his range, instead he’s singing through a vacuum hose. The pop flash would come later. ‘Kitchen Person’ is where playful meets visceral. Neil Ashman
Thirteen (Ardent Records)
‘Be My Baby’. ‘Baby Love’. ‘The Loving Kind’. These songs adore me more than I ever could them. They tell me I’m perfect, irreplaceable and the the object of such unerring affection that it’s a little bit terrifying. And yet, who wouldn’t want to indulge in their three minute fantasy? To be certain that romance will win out if you’d just give it one more go. It’s what we’ve all yearned for since school.
Alas, real life doesn’t work like this. Especially when you’re fumbling between GCSE biology and newfound hormonal adventures. Your amorous infatuations will never seem more important than at this moment in time, and you’ll rarely be more ill-prepared to express them.
I think this is why ‘Thirteen’ remains undiscovered, except to fans of Teenage Fanclub’s fourth album or Paul Westerberg’s raucous eulogy to its author, Alex Chilton. Big Star’s tribute to teenage companionship isn’t bold and unsparing, as pop lore demands. It’s totally unsure of itself, but dares to leap into the unknown.
“Won’t you let me walk you home from school? Won’t you let me meet you at the pool?”
As the threadbare track continues, its acoustic guitar line trembles on and harmonies swell up in angelic unison. Really, there’s nothing more to be said. The grand gesture was in asking one simple question.
It takes some people a lifetime to figure this out. Most of them won’t have heard ‘Thirteen’. Rob Leedham
Point That Thing Somewhere Else (Flying Nun Records)
This was the first song that I heard by The Clean; it was also the first song to acquaint me with the whole 80s Flying Nun scene that I have come to know and revere. Apart from being specifically important to me (it also introduced me to bands like The Chills, Toy Love and The Bats who would have perhaps otherwise eluded me) they were and still are one of the most influential bands to come out of New Zealand and the endemic Dunedin scene that was also respected within the UK indie movement during their prime.
The Clean in general are responsible for a whole discography of great music, their debut Vehicle for one is indicative of a band with lengthy influence – it was evocative of the era as much as it was deeply rooted in 60s pop. That said, ‘Point That Thing Somewhere Else’ shows a more heightened punk sensibility with more notable rawness and urgency, it’s the driving, proliferating repetition that makes it sound so affective and immediately iconic. It features on the 1981 EP Boodle Boodle Boodle and has become a favourite staple of their live performances. The reason this song warrants such praise is because of its lasting indelibility: despite repeated listens, it never wears thin or sounds old-you’d fail to hear anything quite like it today. Hayley Scott
Mr Me Too (Arista Records)
'Mr Me Too' is braggadocio rap as art form. Widescreen excess to the beat of The Neptune's box fresh minimalism; primal bass punches, cooing “Uhh Huuh”’s and stark rat-a-tat hi-hats soundtracking a world of double decker yachts, Ferraris, hanging out with Donatella Versace and private jets to Aspen with Puffy. And that's before the end of the first verse.
But there's a twist, because it's not simply about who has the hottest mink or err...a bigger ring than Liberace.
By 2006 Clipse had spent three years lost in a record label lawsuit nightmare, leaving the finest rap album of the decade - Hell Hath No Fury - unreleased. So this is not simply a comeback single, but a slyly intelligent shot across the bow of the copycat acts - the “Me Too’s" - who aped their style while they were contractually relegated to rap's sidelines. A fact which gives the track’s coda "Tomorrow ain't promised so we live for the moment” a surprisingly positive slant amidst the materialistic nihilism and is a permanent reminder that - despite the fakers - no group was as original or audacious as Clipse. Tom Fenwick
Going Up (Threshold House)
It seems fitting that, by the time Coil vocalist John Balance died in 2004 at the terribly young age of 42, his partner in post-industrial musical experimentation, ex-Throbbing Gristle man Pete Christopherson, already had the perfect elegy prepared. A starkly minimalist, largely ambient cover of the Are You Being Served? theme tune (yes, you read that right), ‘Going Up’ is the closest music has ever got to communicating the passing of a soul from one world to the next.
It’s hard to separate ‘Going Up’ from it’s status as the closer of what was, prematurely, Coil’s final studio effort proper, the remarkable The Ape of Naples. There’s no doubt that Balance was taken from us too soon but, frankly, it’s hard to imagine that ‘Going Up’ wouldn’t be emotionally powerful even without the story surrounding its release. Scarcely has a song ever carried such a funereal atmosphere.
As the angelic guest vocals of François Testory fade towards the end of the studio version you can just make out Balance’s muttered final statement to the world… “It just is. It just is.”
Are you ready to go now? Benjamin Bland
Be Safe (Wichita Recordings)
If you were to pick a song to indoctrinate somebody into The Cribs fandom, ‘Be Safe’ would not be it.
Featuring a spoken word monologue from Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo and clocking in at nearly six minutes doing so, it’s far from accessible. For anybody who has given ‘Be Safe’ the time it deserves, it’s a monumental source of comfort, calming the listener through reciprocated anger.
Picking through the lyrics is a gargantuan task and that’s why it still offers so much seven years after it was released. The contrast between Ranaldo’s monologue and Ryan Jarman’s best ever chorus catapults the song into life-affirming territory. Whether it’s “your smile so loud, it still rings in my ears” or “I know a place we could go where you’ll fall in love so hard that you’ll wish you were dead”, the song has a message for anyone struggling with life in the 21st century.
At the end, Ryan Jarman mutters “It weren’t my best one, but who cares?” But it is their best one. Luke Beardsworth
Der Mussolini (Virgin Records)
Electronic Body Music, Industrial music and Techno all have a debt to pay the Neue Deutsche Welle (German New Wave) of the early 1980s. Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft (D.A.F), in turn, are owed more of that debt than most. When their album Alles Ist Gut hit the German charts for 46 weeks, D.A.F popularised a sound that was oppositional in every way.
Built from the most basic of drum and synth patterns, the latter from the now classic Korg MS-20, ‘Der Mussolini’ explicitly encourages you to ‘shake your ass’ to its pounding melody. Coupled with a chanted lyric about dancing ‘the Mussolini’, ‘the Adolf Hitler’ and ‘the Jesus Christ’ this is the point that popular electronic dance tracks stopped being party tunes and took a turn towards something darker.
This is the track that led me into a wonderful seam of German music from a period that is often forgotten about in favour of the earlier work by Can, Faust, Kraftwerk and Neu! With ‘Der Mussolini’ D.A.F. take the feel of those classic German motorik-beats in a whole new direction. Mike McDonald
Plays John Cassavetes (ii) (Staubgold)
What with all the vital work that goes into ensuring The Beatles remain Pop's Great Time Lords, poll-toppers long beyond print journalism's decline and sallying onward into cosmic eternity, one could easily forget that, behind the fusty nostalgia and sad monocultural hype, they really had their moments. Indeed, this endlessly inviting ten-minute loop of 'Good Night', Ringo's song from the end of The White Album, proves it's those little details that matter, in a masterpiece as flattering to George Martin's poignant orchestration as Ehlers and Stephan Mathieu's inspired appropriation. (I use inspired here in the etymological sense - "immediately influenced by God or a god" - because shit, man, doesn't each listen, each gut-pinching flourish of 'Plays John Cassavetes (ii)' draw you incrementally closer to that Holy Squadron in the clouds?) This decade of minutes delivers all the highs and lows, feeling and unfeeling, that a man of 22 can handle. At least 100 listens in, it is testament to the song's magnitude that, listening intently for the purposes of this blurb, I realised for the first time that, from eight minutes onwards, a sad warping effect gently whirlpools the loop into obscurity. That's its magic: a few minutes in, you've invariably teleported, away somewhere so far that even the music itself becomes incidental. Jazz Monroe
Lady Shave (Mute Records)
Boy George recently called him “the king of electro – the unsung hero”. Frank Tovey, who recorded as Fad Gadget and under his birth name from 1979 until the early 1990s, remains a relatively ‘unsung hero’, despite being a cult figure and an influence for many artists associated with post-punk, electro and industrial music. When he started out, his project was too rough to compete with the futurist charm of the Gary Numans. His interests lied elsewhere: a dark, minimal take on dance music; an ironical but scathing look on society; physical, over-the-top live performances.
'Lady Shave', originally a B-side, became one of his most iconic tracks. The mesmerizing synths, maneuvered by Daniel Miller, who signed him as the first artist on Mute, and metallic beats make it a smooth, party-hard hymn, but Tovey’s interpretation turns it inside out in unexpected ways. His vocals are suspiciously tranquil, until he writhes and shrieks, inviting a girl to put her razor down and keep her body hair. “Stupid magazines spread a social disease”, he warns. A perfect match for his theatrical performances, where he often covered himself in shaving cream and feathers, 'Lady Shave' should definitely feature in your next electro-goth playlist. Giuseppe Zevolli
Words of Expectation (Strange Fruit Records)
When it comes to a band like The Fall it’s quite difficult to identify the ‘lesser known’ tracks because chances are, if you are a typical Fall fan, you’ve probably heard most of if not everything the band have ever done despite their vast and varied discography. In terms of tracks that people seldom seem to mention when referencing The Fall, I’d be inclined to bring up the wrongly neglected ‘Words of Expectation’.
Originally a 1983 John Peel recording, this song eventually appeared as a B-side on the ‘Kimble’ single 10 years later year. This is the strange, unreleased counterpart to 1983's Perverted By Language; it’s as knotty, gnarled and intriguing a track as you could wish to find in the entirety of the LP. It’s not likely to substitute the frequently played ‘Totally Wired’ or ‘Hit The North’ at alternative music nights across the land - in part because of its comparatively languid pace, but it’s similarly, lyrically provocative, typically repetitive and notably bass-heavy. Put simply, it’s The Fall at their best. Hayley Scott
Charlie’s 18th Birthday (Bandcamp)
At the Edinburgh Fringe, 2009 I was basically attempting suicide through workload and sleep deprivation. I’d be performing stand up at 11.30am, which meant being out on the streets flyering for half nine, the show would finish at half twelve, at 1.30pm I’d start a job stage-managing and running sound for a venue until 2am, then go out drinking til 5am. Every day. For a month.
Gavin Osborn got me through it. At 4pm every day Gavin would perform an hour of beautiful, funny, warm songs that weren’t exactly comedy and weren’t exactly folk, and every day he’d open with ‘Charlie’s 18th Birthday’ from his Darren Hayman-produced Meeting Your Heroes album. By the second week of the Fringe it became my cue to duck down behind the sound desk and have a little cry at these brilliant, sweet stories and his wonderfully resonant voice.
Though it was ‘Hello, My Names Charlie’ that reduced me to a daily gibbering wreck of much needed, over-tired catharsis, its companion-piece ‘Charlie’s 18th Birthday’ serves as the best introduction to his work, originally written for a show he toured with tweecore comedy overlord Daniel Kitson. Warm, clever, funny, wonderfully emotive, genuinely one of my favourite pieces of music. Marc Burrows
If You Have To Go (Nude Records)
The record buying public were not so kind to Geneva’s second and final album, Weather Underground, and if the intervening 14 years are anything to go by, history has been even crueller, with their musical output being more or less wiped from people’s memories.
If there’s one song from the band that deserves to be rediscovered, it would be the final single they ever released, ‘If You Have To Go’. Whether it was the apathy towards the band that caused it to limp into the chart at Number 69, or due to it sounding somewhat out of place in the musical landscape at the start of the 21st century, I have no idea. Either way, the song’s aching and soaring fragility, underscored by the heart wrenching falsetto of Andrew Montgomery, deserves to be rediscovered.
And I feel that music fans in 2014 might be kinder to the band’s sound. A few years back, I thought I heard one of their B-sides on 6 Music, but it turns out I was mistaken - it was actually ‘Hooting and Howling’ by Wild Beasts. Christopher McBride
Close to Love (Fascination)
There are so many reasons why Girls Aloud were the finest pop band of their generation, but prominent amongst them that they released consistent, excellent albums as opposed to singles padded out by lazy filler fluff. In that regard, 'Close to Love' is one of their finest moments. Coming directly after the elegant, deliberately understated ‘Call the Shots’, it is the moment that any introspection stops dead – a monstrous, wicked juggernaut of wah-guitar, robotic bass and early-house piano: dipped in Sambuca, rolled in glitter and rocketed headfirst into your consciousness.
As per Xenomania’s best cuts, it hangs gloriously and drunkenly exhibitionist from the chandelier; skipping gleefully from section to section without giving a single, solitary fuck for convention or pop formulas (for Christ’s sake, it starts with the chorus!). And as always, it has the most brilliant pre-chorus that whips you up into such a froth that by the time the chorus itself arrives, you are giddy with adrenaline, sugar-rush and sheer dizzy joy. Pop music can be art, but great pop music combines art with a rush that makes each second it exists truly wonderful to experience. Whether on a bus, train, plane or simply whirling around at home, ‘Close to Love’ is an example of near-perfect pop songwriting – a neon window into a gloriously decadent world. David Edwards
Bachelor Kisses (Sire Records)
Usually when a band is compared to The Smiths, they can't stand up to the added scrutiny. Morrissey may be an arsehole of titanic proportions, but he didn’t half write some stonking songs with Johnny Marr. Since the 80s, generations of adolescents have defined themselves by a witty aside in 'This Charming Man' or an immaculate guitar lick on 'Bigmouth Strikes Again'. It's near on impossible to achieve that sort of significance.
Given the bar that was set before The Go-Betweens, you can hardly blame them for falling short. Emerging from Melbourne, Australia in a hail of downcast chords and razor-sharp witticisms, they're the even more morose cousins Manchester's finest. I struggle to think of a song by Robert Forster and Grant McLennan that isn't set in the midst of overwhelming misery. Still, that doesn't mean they couldn't write a catchy single.
'Bachelor Kisses' is the lead track on Spring Hill Fair, the third Go-Betweens album, and it's a thoroughly maudlin taste of what to expect from the four-piece. “Don’t believe what you’ve heard, faithful’s not a bad word,” coos Forster to the song’s female protagonist, who’s ceaselessly objectified by staid courtship rituals. It’s the whip smart punchline to a sorrowful joke, one that’s embellished by mournful chugs of despondent six-string and stuttering bass.
Sounds like a familiar formula? It should do. Get yourself acquainted with The Go-Betweens. Rob Leedham
Why Do You Come Here (Hal Records)
Hal might be the very definition of a really-should-be-bigger-than-they-are band. They seem to have everything any act could want; skill, passion, patience, restraint, and in 'Why Do You Come Here', they penned something of genuine beauty. For whatever reason, mainstream success continues to elude them.
While promoting latest album The Time, The Hour in 2012, singer David Allen shared a quite frankly ludicrous personal anecdote. At the heart of it, there was a girl. Of course. 'Why Do You Come Here', like so many of the greats, has love on its mind. Though it speaks plainly, it gives little up. That's a tough sell, but there's a warmth here, an inviting attack on the senses. You will hear the Bee Gees. You're meant to. You might hear something brand new, too. And you might well wonder why this perfect waltz has eluded you for so long.
As for that anecdote? Allen, somewhat sheepishly, recalled a long distance relationship and a gesture that only the most wistful of souls would think of. "I remember being on the telephone to her and I got her to go down to the sea as well, hundreds of miles away, and said, ‘I’m going to slap the sea and it’s going to ripple out to you, because we’re connected.'" You chuckled, right? I did too. Then again, you write a song like this, you're entitled to romantic flights of fancy. Dave Hanratty
The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington (Parlophone Records)
In terms of unheralded English musicians, Yorkshireman Jake Thackray should be somewhere near the top of the list. The appeal lies in his words; as much the way he delivers them as the words themselves. A distinctive voice also helps, and there can have been few as distinctive as the late Thackray.
‘The Hair of the Widow of Bridlington’ is a sublime showcase of the man’s talents. A rollicking, finger-picked, up-and-down tale of a widowed woman’s adventures and travails in North Yorkshire, it is a celebration of self-determination and, above all, blitheness. The imagery is nothing if not vivid and the theatrical way Thackray tells stories, particularly this one, is powerful. You are left hanging on every verse and word, wondering when the next chuckle or frown might happen. The song is also home to one of the finest musical verses ever written:
“She had a massive motorbike, she had, had the widow of Brid, And so she could, when so she wished, Ride back home early-morningish With her hair in the air and smelling of fish, She did, she did, she did, And every time of a different fish, She did, did the widow of Brid.” Luke Slater
Silver (Hydra Head Records)
I didn't really understand music until I was in my twenties. I think I'm still figuring it out. As a teenager, I'd tape chart songs off the radio, with no real sense or care for what was anyway decent. Then came nu metal and Kerrang! magazine. I can never fully slag off Limp Bizkit or Korn because they provided the first real knowledge of what an album was. I'd love to say that I stumbled upon a copy of The Downward Spiraland it all made sense but that came much later.
Point is, as a teenager who paid hard-earned cash for a fuckin' Staind album, I thought I knew music. I thought my taste in music was king. Skip forward to 2006 and all of the now-deeply-embarrassing loves were left behind. Except for Slipknot, Volume 3 is fucking amazing and deserves more respect than it gets). Enter blogs and links and aggregators and well-meaning strangers on forums who pointed in better directions. Enter Jesu. Enter 'Silver', a song I would play to death, privately and publicly.
It was a turning point, the moment when it all started to make sense. Old songs previously misunderstood became clear. New discoveries like Converge's 'Jane Doe' broke all the way through to the heart. Six minutes and forty-six seconds changed everything.
A note on the song itself: there's a tiny but absolutely stratospheric change towards the end. Do you see a brilliant white light when it hits? I did then, and I do now. Dave Hanratty
Wow, Just Wow (Best Before Records)
Johnny Foreigner are already much-cherished on DiS, it’s true. But how deep is yr love? Unless you’re the kind of person who owns so much ghost-themed merch that Lewes Herriot is essentially your favourite fashion designer, it’s likely that you haven’t heard ‘Wow, Just Wow’. This would be a shame, as like any band worth truly obsessing over, JoFo’s greatness spills over into the ‘B-sides and rarities’ category.
‘Wow, Just Wow’ is all million-miles-an-hour squall, scrappily-voiced observations, and fleetingly touched euphoria. So far, so JoFo then, but what makes the song is its last 45 seconds. These feature a particularly pointed guitar riff and the most vicious howl that will likely ever leave the throat of bassist Kelly Southern, all rage and indictment and frustration rolled into one - “You had your CHAAAAAAAANCE!”
It’s simultaneously thrilling and terrifying - the kind of thing you’d scream at someone you can no longer stand the sight of to signify that your relationship with them is irrefutably over. Johnny Foreigner have always been a band that conjure up these brilliantly relatable moments, and this is one of their best. Paul Faller
Chickenbone (Club Kerrang!)
“Daddy touched me down there again last night…”
As opening lines go it’s not exactly Disney. LK, a short-lived project from, of all people, EMF’s Derry Brownson made next to no impact on the world but that takes nothing away from the startling power of this song, which appeared on a Kerrang! covermount CD in 1997 sandwiched between Symposium and Ben Kweller’s teenage band, Radish.
At the time i’d not heard anything quite like it, a completely unambiguous tale of sexual abuse sang in a deadened, sing-song voice over bare-bones scrapey guitars, which made Korn’s ‘Daddy’ sound like One Direction. As it gradually builds in intensity the gut-punch line “and I’m standing in my nightgown, i’m thinking of my mother and how she’s going to hate me, when she finds I let him touch me the way he touches her”, signals a furious, pummeling two minutes of lo-fi metal that comes out of nowhere, a violent release of tension and anger that beats you to a blooded pulp. Incredible. Marc Burrows
Life Without Buildings
14 Days (Tugboat Records)
For a year or two I assumed Life Without Buildings were some some huge cult band like Pavement, Sonic Youth or Curve. Little did I know this record I'd been obsessively listening to (following a 10/10 review by Matt who built the DiS website) wasn't the work of an act headlining Brixton Academy.
In Sue Tompkins, they had a singer who was Bjork-gone-Beefheart (see also: marbles and screws spinning endlessly). Her yelp-to-a-whisper controlled chaos isn't for everyone, but I was enthralled, especially by the projectile vomit of the lyrics. The glorious mess of jagged textures and ill-fitting ideas had the same junkshop quality that I loved about Dylan, Waits, dEUS and the Longpigs (who I guess were kinda aping Bowie, come to think of it).
Everything about the low-slung art-punk Velvetsy racket they were making would become part of the hipster-approved mainstream once The Strokes came along. It's quite likely that their lone album, released by an imprint of Rough Trade, was a major influence on fellow Glaswegians, Franz Ferdinand (who I seem to remember mentioned the record in NME as they were breaking through). And those Idlewild chaps were fans too, but a household name, they were not.
The band split not long after Any Other City was released, just as it felt like people had started to be talk about them with the same hushed reverie as Arab Strap, Sleater-Kinney and The Fall. Heaven knows how a second album would have reshaped popular culture as we know it.. Sean Adams
Things Change (Burning Shed)
No-Man, the duo of Tim Bowness and Steven Wilson have flitted between styles as disparate as ambient, art rock, electronica, folk and jazz over the course of their time working together. Through it all, they have remained songwriters of the highest order and ‘Things Change’ is demonstrative of their immense finesse.
Saying goodbye to people, places, and indeed times in one’s life, is always a difficult thing. Being left behind oneself is the most difficult thing of all, however. Bowness communicates this simply - he’s not one given over to over complication in his lyrics - but with perfect poetic poise. Key to the song’s effectiveness is not just the sorrow of the narrator but also the air of acceptance, the air that inevitably we all reach a point at which we have to let go.
On top of Bowness’ lyrical outpouring of emotion is the song’s move towards its highly powerful climax, with Ben Coleman’s electric violin solo, often mistaken for Wilson’s guitar, a stunning way to round off an example of absolute top draw songwriting. Benjamin Bland
The Rolling Stones
Sister Morphine (Promotone)
No band symbolises the death of 60’s idealism, the time Hunter S. Thompson described as “riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave”, like The Rolling Stones. Altamont, and the untimely passing of Brian Jones, cast a long shadow of Jagger & Co, most of whom sank into their own drug-induced spirals of destruction as the 1970’s rolled on. Sticky Fingers, the band’s first album of the decade, foreshadowed much of this, even though most people point to the good time stomp of ‘Brown Sugar’ and the romance of ‘Wild Horses’ as being the record’s highlights.
But ignore them, and skip straight to unsettling, sinister ‘Sister Morphine’. Built around strummed minor chords and Ry Cooder’s slide guitar, it’s a vivid, horrifying picture of abuse and addiction, “Why does the doctor have no face?”
All of the Stones’ battles with heroin lay ahead, but despite surviving into old age, they’d never capture the mood and visceral physical impact of the drug that has shaped so many artists, so much culture, quite as brilliantly as they did in 1971. Derek Robertson
Shudder to Think
feat. Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk
Just Really Wanna See You (Sony Music)
I'm not sure if this album soundtrack ever had a proper UK release. I picked up my imported copy in a record exchange after the title caught my eye: First Love, Last Rites is the title of Ian McEwan's first short story collection and this album forms the 'music from the motion picture' of the same name.
I spent a few years listening to the album before I made the connection between this track and Low, the band, partly due to the already star-studded cast guesting on vocals here (Billy Corgan, Nina Persson) but also because Alan Sparhawk's voice is practically unrecognisable as he does his best Neil Diamond "like a rhinestone cowboy" impression. Mimi and Alan take it in turns to plays the parts of a lovelorn couple, apart but fantasising about being reunited. Perfect lyrical fodder for teenage ears: "I love you just the same as I did when we were together / And when I close my eyes I remember…"
The kitsch "dear diary" spoken word intro is enough to throw you off the Low scent until those familiar harmonies kick in on the refrain. The song harks back to the diner jukebox love duets of the 1950s and Nathan Larson's of-the-era arrangement is pitch perfect here. Other gems on the soundtrack include a gorgeous guest vocal from Jeff Buckley (also one of his last recorded performances) and Liz Phair singing the wonderfully titled 'Erecting a Movie Star'. Definitely a gem worth mining for. Cate Blanche
The Witch (Etiquette Records)
While The Sonics are better known for the standard ‘Have Love, Will Travel’, it is their original ‘The Witch’ that has to be heard by anyone who hasn’t yet immersed themselves in the loose and raw sounds that came out of the US in the mid-60s. Back then, when Iggy Pop was barely out of High School, The Sonics were tearing the soundproofing off their studio walls, recording the most monstrous drum sounds with a single microphone and howling ‘ahh-hoo’s at the moon. Taken from their debut album, Here Are the Sonics, ‘The Witch’ warns of the evil new ‘chick’ in town while burning the place down with tremolo-soaked surf guitar, power chords and THOSE DRUMS.
The pacing of this track is what makes it so particularly special, and it really is led by that incredible percussion. While the garage band ethos was always to play fast, The Sonics oscillate wildly; slowing down to a heavy heartbeat and then bursting faster and faster, each break twisting and pulling in a different direction. ‘The Witch’ proves that the seeds of punk are about more than double-time Chuck Berry riffs, for that alone it’s a classic. Mike McDonald
Swans / Michael Gira
God Damn The Sun
If you are familiar with Swans, it is no mystery that their 1989 album The Burning World is an anomaly in their otherwise untarnished canon. Produced by Bill Laswell and to this day their only major label release, it sounds like the attempt to subdue the band's primal force by throwing in world music instrumentation and overplaying the 'dark sentimentalism' card. Michael Gira, who repudiated the record on several occasions, described it “a complete marriage made in hell”. But the songwriting strengths of the closing track 'God Damn The Sun' outlived the perilous features of its original mix (the celestial strings, Gira's extremely low, almost fearful interpretation) and made it not only a fan favourite, but also the terrain for further exploration in Gira's solo career.
The lyrics are disarming, brutal. One brief line after the other, it unfolds as a devastating poem on adulthood, addiction and loss. A highlight of Gira's solo shows, 'God Damn The Sun' moves and petrifies the audience like no other. When he pauses, you get a second to decompress and appreciate the sincerity of the words even more. In overcoming its initial constraints, the song has become a classic. Giuseppe Zevolli
Flirted With You My Whole Life (Constellation)
Vic Chesnutt tried to kill himself a number of times, but “it didn’t take”. On Christmas day, 2009, it finally ‘took’ and the world lost a songwriter of singular brilliance. In all, he made around twenty records, and every one of them is worth your attention. This song ranks amongst his best, and, that, by my reckoning, means that it ranks amongst the best songs - full stop. Almost unlistenably poignant in the wake of his suicide, it is a clear-eyed, joyous, defiant, witty, and very very sad song about death.
I suppose the song takes the form of a joke, in some sense. For three of the four minutes, the song might pass as beautiful, but fairly unremarkable love song. Then comes the kicker, the song is not addressed to a lover, but to death itself. It is predicated on a plot-twist, a punch-line, a big-reveal, and by that measure, you’d be forgiven for thinking its appeal might be limited; after all, who wants to hear the same joke twice?
This joke never gets old. Profound, brave and unflinching … it is a song that teaches us that the essence of every KNOCK KNOCK joke is not in the pay off, but in the space it gives us to ask “who’s there?” Keiran Goddard
It Hasn’t Happened Yet (Shout Factory)
Ha ha! William Shatner!
Yer, I know, ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ Haha!
“Kirk….to….En’erprize, three….to...beam….up”, “Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!” etc etc. “Hey didn’t he do that version of ‘Common People’? HA HA!” Yes, very funny.
Now listen to ‘It Hasn’t Happened Yet.’ Not laughing now, are you? Because this is wonderful. This is beautiful. This is... heartbreaking.
Co-written with Ben Folds, Shatner delivers spoken word vocals over a jazzy shuffle, becoming nakedly insecure and completely vulnerable. Nothing is being sent up here, this is an old man admitting he has never become the person he wanted to be, admitting to his insecurities (”fear of falling, fear of failure, fear of losing my hair””), and Folds nails the tone perfectly. The whole Has Been album, from which this is taken, is worth getting, it ranges from duets with Lemon Jelly, stories about being a neglectful father and a terrifyingly stark description of his alcoholic wife’s death. Shatner’s musical career was worth little before or since, but ‘It Hasn’t Happened Yet’ and Has Been prove just what a shame that is. Marc Burrows
The Yummy Fur
St. John Of The Cross (Vesuvius Records)
Glasgow, so much to answer for. Orange Juice, Belle & Sebastian and Camera Obscura would have you believe it’s a city of fey art-school types, all of whom are competing to express their sexuality in the most erudite manner possible. The Yummy Fur didn’t give a fuck about such niceties. They existed to give jangly indie something to be ashamed of.
And, do you know what? The rotters were a dirty great success. So much so that no one ever gave them the time of day, until multi-instrumentalist Alex Kapranos and drummer Paul Thomson went on to form a new outfit. The svelte, sexy, “sticky hair, sticky hips, stubble on my sticky lips”, Franz Ferdinand.
Really, The Yummy Fur were Jackie McKeown’s band. A self-styled drug-addled Lothario, think Russell Brand without the faux-intellectual philosophising, his provocative lyrics and gangly guitar lines ensured the group were better than they had any right to be. Male Shadow At Three O’Clock is their most accessible moment, opening on the almost pleasant ‘St. John Of The Cross’. Not that McKeown can let the song pass without a pithy outburst of scorn, “Oh Lord preserve us from those Catholics. They’ve got the stupidest nuns and the most humourless saints bar none.”
Unfortunately, The Yummy Fur are nowhere to be seen on Spotify and remain completely absent from iTunes. This means the only way to listen to their albums is to, erm, acquire them. It’s exactly the destiny they deserved. Rob Leedham
The Best Songs You’ve Never Heard
DiS Does Singles will resume it’s usual service next week. In the meantime, why not follow our Spotify playlist of the Best Songs of 2014, so far?