31/10/2018: “Walking Contradiction” by Green Day

There probably aren’t any American pop punk bands more successful than Green Day. Perhaps Blink 182 could be considered more genre defining, but Green Day are enduring international stars with a string of massive hits.

“Walking Contradiction” is Green Day doing what they do best. The melodies are simple but effective, the tune is upbeat yet angst-y, and the song is driven by a distorted guitar riff and Billie Joe Armstrong’s inimitable singing.

The song is about a loser who just sort of plows through life, and tries to capture the feeling of being a rock star who still gets mad and has bad days even at the height of his fame.

It’s not hard to song to play or anything, but it’s great at what it does: exuberant energy.

The song was released in 1996 as the fourth single off Insomniac, and reached number 25 on the U.S. rock chart.

The video is quite funny and actually won a Grammy in 1997!

An anthem for teenagers everywhere!

30/10/2018: “Fantastic Man” by William Onyeabor

William Onyeabor is one of those figures in music that both mystify and amaze with their talent and enigmatic nature.

Most attempts to piece together any notable biography or history about the man have failed, due to his refusal to speak to the media. One thing that’s known is that he was a big businessman, winning “West African Industrialist of the Year” in ’87!

On top of that he has never played live, so the international cult following he has attained is due to the strength of his studio work.

The music itself is pretty distinctive as well. Although it fits into the early Nigerian electronic music scene to an extent, he was doing some unusual things.

Like a lot of songs by him, “Fantastic Man” is a funky electronic odyssey, with sparse lyrics and an array of rich synthesizer jamming.

The squelches and buzzes of his equipment play over a solid foundation of disco-ey drums and a nice rhythmic bassline. There’s a range of guitar riffs interplaying with the synths that create an impressive sonic painting, with more than enough action to sustain and justify the 7 minute length.

The song was released on the 1979 LP Tomorrow in Nigeria, but has since been included on various compilations. The original LP has been released as well.

What a guy!

29/10/2018: “Mystic Brew” by Ronnie Foster

The vibes coming of this one are very strong. The blend of Foster’s organ noodling with the funk sensibilities of the rest of the players is enticing.

The vibraphones create a backdrop of dreamy melodic floating, which the rest of the elements build up on top of, leading up to a fully realised funk jam. It must be said, the organ is the star, taking the place of any vocals or sax parts that a jazz song might otherwise place front and centre.

The way the drums gradually increase in intensity is very clever, and pays off greatly, allowing the track to slide into a higher level of energy without sacrificing the nuances of the instruments.

The guitar plays a supporting role here, but it’s definitely there, and adds to the complexity of the track without things getting overcrowded.

In many ways the song is quite poppy for a jazz song; it’s hardly a 15 minute display of virtuosity. Nevertheless, the musicianship on display is undeniably impressive, and the song fits in a lot of progression and themes into the 4 minute runtime.

“Mystic Brew” is off Two Headed Freap, released in 1972. It has been sampled numerous times, most notably by a Tribe Called Quest in ’93, and Madlib in ’03.

I have no idea what a Freap is but the song is great all the same.

28/10/2018: “Legs (Single Version)” by ZZ Top

The single version of this tune is bit less congested, in my opinion than the admittedly very fine album version. In parts, you do miss the guitar riff, but the fat synth is front and centre, giving the song a driving, electronic vibe.

The music video would seem to suggest that the song is about women taking ownership of themselves and dismantling the patriarchy, which is strange because the lyrics seem to have absolutely nothing to do with empowering women. The reality is, it’s a song about a girl with nice legs…

The song is a great fusion of traditional rock and newer 80s electronic dance music, with a bouncing, energetic feeling augmented by some bluesy guitar licks and some slightly crusty yet heartfelt vocals.

A lot of the song was actually just recorded by the studio engineer Terry Manning, who is evidently a very talented man. The lead singer and guitarist Billy Gibbons did his own parts, but the drummer and rhythm guitarist weren’t there that day, for some unknown reason…

The song was released in 1983, from the album “Eliminator”, and was released as a single in 1984, climbing to 8th place on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Still absolutely rocks!

27/10/2018: “Blind Faith” by Chase & Status featuring Liam Bailey

Chase & Status started off making drum & bass. They’ve since come full circle, with their last album containing a number of songs that got played in proper drum and bass clubs, such as “Tribes”.

The newest singles from their upcoming album are even more rooted in the old school drum & bass scene, with some strong jungle vibes.

In between this however, Chase & Status released a lot of songs that filled the spectrum in between pop music and dubstep. Some songs like “Saxon”, were plausibly dubstep, whereas some like “End Credits” are pretty much pop music.

“Blind Faith” is somewhere in between. The song has enough vocal hooks and poppy melodies to sustain itself on the radio, but there’s an undeniable influx of dubstep D.N.A that all but the most strict of purists couldn’t deny it.

The track has a lot of euphoric moments, but it’s about a man wrestling with his inner demons and seeking solace in music. The strings of the chorus, along with the uplifting vocals, are about as buoyant as this kind of music gets. It’s truly  blissful.

The song was the third single from No More Idols (2010), reaching number 5 in the U.K. singles chart, and number on the U.K Dance chart!

Powerful as ever…

26/10/2018: “Jam Pie” by Wiley

Wiley near enough invented grime. Sure, there were plenty of other foundational producers and MCs, and pirate radio figureheads like DJ Slimzee. There was obviously the garage crews like Pay As U Go and Heartless.

But the original Sublow/Eski-Sound, the freezing cold bleeps and rough basslines, the snappy, computerised beats?

That was down to Eskiboy, aka Wiley Kat, aka Wiley.

The smash hit of a couple of years ago, Skepta’s “That’s Not Me”, samples “Ice Rink” and “Jam Pie”, which along with “Morgue” and “Igloo” are some of the most definitive early grime productions under that Eski sound name.

“Jam Pie” was actually a Ruff Squad song produced by another grime pioneer Jammer, but the most famous version of the instrumental was a Wiley beat.

The distinctive Eski ringtone bleeps make up the cornerstone of the song in terms of melody; the rest of the song is composed of the thick, distorted bass, and the halftime, clipped drum pattern. It’s quite a minimal, stripped back production, which makes sense considering most of these tunes were composed on a select few pieces of studio equipment and the rather basic computer programs available at the time. It’s a very East London sound.

The song was released in 2005 in its original form, but the Wiley version was released in 2010 with a load of other classic instrumentals on Avalanche Music 1.

Cold as ice!

25/10/2018: “Mad Skillz” by The Lords Of The Underground

Hip Hop groups can sometimes be a bit cringey, or maybe there will be a couple of members that aren’t up on the level of the rest.

With The Lords Of The Underground, a great synergy comes into play, the way it’s supposed to. They shout, rap, and flow, and it all sounds so natural.

“Mad Skillz” is off their classic 1993 album, Here Come The Lords. I thought about choosing “Chief Rocka”, which is by far their most famous, and to be honest probably their best song, but that would neglect some of the great tracks on that album. So I’ve gone for one which wasn’t a single.

The lyrics are basically bigging themselves up, but there’s no shortage of wordplay and putdowns. The flow is very early 90s, which is certainly distinctive. In many ways it’s a shame that the old school style has disappeared, but of course it’s important that things keep moving forward.

The production is by K-Def & Marley Marl, who aren’t part of the group. Lord Jazz is the main DJ and producer for the group, but shared production on the album with these two. It’s a slightly spaced out jam, with a slow but determined funkiness.

Of course, the golden era of hip hop, as it’s known, relied heavily on samples, and the hook here is sampled from the Jazz song “Smile, Stacey” by Stanley Turrentine. Such a nice sax riff!

They just don’t make them like this anymore…

24/10/2018: “305 Spanish Town Road Dub” by Scientist

If King Tubby pretty much invented dub, it was Scientist who really elevated it as an art form.

Pushing the more modern studio equipment to its limits, he helped to redefine what was possible in terms of sound quality and mixing. A song like “305 Spanish Town Road Dub” really shows this.

The guitar sections are pretty amazing by any standards, but it doesn’t feel like a mechanical thing at all. The parts are wonderfully integrated, and there’s a real warmness to the sound.

More than that, the song is full of other amazing riffs. The central piano riff is almost tentative, but adds some urgency to the track, as well as slotting well into the skank. The percussion is masterfully done, with a chugging, metallic drum courtesy of Sly Dunbar overlaid with clattering and reverb heavy congas.

The bassline is a classic, laid down by Robbie Shakespeare. The organ playing is by Ansel Williams. Clearly, there was a heavyweight line up in Channel One studios when this was recorded.

The song is from Scientist In The Kingdom Of Dub, which is full of pretty stellar dub tracks. The album was released in 1981.

Dub music excellence!

23/10/2018: “It’s Raining Today” by Scott Walker

Scott Walker’s career is impressive. He’s been at it for decades, and gone though a range of increasing experimental styles; and what’s more, he’s done pretty well at it too.

At one point before the release of Scott 3 in 1969, he even went to live in a monastery to learn about the art of Gregorian chanting, in order to increase the Baroque quality of his music.

It is pretty intense stuff, with his deep voice cutting through some quite unusual sounds. This does not sound like a record made in 1969, and I was quite stunned to find that it was…

“It’s Raining Today” starts off with a terrifying array of dissonance reminiscent of Xenakis, before a slow and sweet guitar riff starts. Walker’s jazzy voice adds a real touch of class to everything, and here is no exception.

About halfway through, some rich strings hit, and the song has a brief moment of conventionality before sinking back into its weird surreal edginess.

I’m not sure whether I’ve sold the song well here, but it really is a nice song, albeit one that could very easily soundtrack a particularly creepy episode of Black Mirror.

The lyrics are deep and dark, which is about right for the overall feel of the song. It does make his soothing baritone quite a contradiction though…

This wasn’t just ahead of his time; it’s ahead of ours too!

22/10/2018: “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers

This sort of track is so unbelievably wholesome. The Everly Brothers really do excel at heartthrob harmony singing, and with the legendary Chet Atkins on the guitar, this has some serious quality.

There are other elements to this song, for sure. The drums keep time with more than a little verve, and the bass adds a depth and warmness which is perfect for such a song. The sound on display here is considered to have helped lay the foundations of the jangle pop subgenre, most famously used by The Beatles.

The undeniable stars of the song are the Everly Brothers, who bring their soulful 50s crooning to bear with devastating effect. Their voices are so well matched, with a fantastic richness.

The lyrics are a bit melodramatic for some, maybe, but the melody is so strong that you can’t help but be swept away by the current of loveliness!

The song was incredibly popular when it was released in 1958, reaching number 1 on all the main Singles charts in the U.S.A., and then the U.K as well. With time, it has garnered a host of critical accolades as well, such as being number 141 on Rolling Stones Greatest Songs of All Time.

It might be a bit cheesy, but it’s just an amazing song…