31/10/2020: “Fu Man Chu” by Desmond Dekker

This is surprising weighty for a song of its time. The tone is a lot darker than much of Desmond Dekker’s work.

Released in 1968, the song exhibits from rocksteady and reggae.

Dekker’s singing is infectious and powerful, from the ‘it mek… no sense at all’ part to the serious dread ‘face of fu man chu’ chorus.

“The Face Of Fu Manchu” is a 1965 film, a bit dated in some of its attitudes now, about a Chinese villain. I’ve not seen it, but evidently it was on Desmond’s mind at the time!

There’s even some jazz style scatting!

Absolutely timeless.

30/10/2020: “Cuando Ya No Estes” by Danitse

I first found out about Danitse through one of my favourite artists, Mala. He used her vocals for “Cunumicita”.

Her voice is like a beautifully carved wooden mantelpiece – majestic, homely, and comforting.

“Cuando Ya No Estes” was released on Viaje, in 2012.

It’s a wonderful song. The melody, outside of that fantastic voice, is provided by guitars. The soft bass plucks add that warm depth, and then halfway through, the song intensifies. The tempo increases, a trumpet kicks in, the bass speeds up, she’s louder, the drums pick up, it’s fast!

Then, right at the end… it relaxes. Peace, tranquility, quiet.

Love it.

29/10/2020: “A New England” by Kirsty MacColl

Billy Bragg released “A New England” in 1983. It’s a stark social commentary on early 80s Britain. He sings it rather plainly, with just his own gritty voice and some loose guitar strumming.

He did a great job coming up with the melody and lyrics, but I do prefer this rather more slick version from Kirsty MacColl, released the year after in 1984.

It’s produced by Steve Lillywhite, her then husband. A classic, hi-energy piece of new wave goodness.

Truly an enduring classic.

28/10/2020: “Rock To The Beat (Hitman Mix)” by Reese

It’s crazy. This song is now more than 30 years old and it still slams!

It’s like a classic sports car. Fast. Loud. Maybe slightly dated. But, ultimately, always cool, and always fun.

Released in 1989 on Kevin Saunderson’s legendary Detroit Techno label KMS, the song boasts impressive production values.

The original mix was wildly popular, but this version has that brilliant 4 to the floor thump, blended with a fantastically infectious synth hook and some surprisingly uncheesy vocals.

Mike “Hitman” Wilson, in contrast to Reese (an alias of Saunderson), is a Chicago House stalwart. So he brings in more melody, more flavour.

Considering that computers were embryonic back then, you have to hand it to these guys for doing such a sterling job producing electronic music!

27/10/2020: “Everything She Wants” by Wham!

For many people, Wham! represent everything that’s wrong with the 80s. Campy, over commercialised, cliched.

And of course, for many people, it’s songs like this which make the 80s such an iconic decade!

You can’t please everyone…

Where do I stand?

I think it’s a banger! That round electronic bassline, the tropical and slightly star-struck synths, the chilled out drums. The production here is superb. You still get surprised by little twists.

And let’s face it, George Michael is a decent enough singer. So relax, maybe make a Pina Colada or something bright and fruity, and get into the groove!

“Everything She Wants” came out in 1984, on the album Make It Big, and as a single paired with “Last Christmas”.

26/10/2020: “Pick Up The Phone Remix” by Belly Squad and Abra Cadabra

There is an American version of this. Strictly speaking, the US song is the original, but I prefer this – by miles!

Undoubtedly the beat is a big part of the appeal of this song, and the Travis Scott/Young Thug version swept the world a couple of years ago.

Belly Squad were at their best at this time too – as was Abra Cadabra. So perhaps in 10 years, this kind of track will be looked at as part of a UK hip hop golden age!

This ‘came out’ in 2016. Since it’s a bit of a bootleg, you won’t find it on Spotify…

25/10/2020: “Time Bomb” by Rancid

Rancid stem from the earlier ska-punk outfit Operation Ivy. There probably aren’t many bands who had the same influence on the trajectory of punk rock music in the United States in the 90s.

They formed part of a wave of Californian bands who took punk in a lighter direction, although in their case, the political, ‘punk’ character was never fully expelled.

“Time Bomb” makes its ska influence very clear, bouncing along to reggae guitar skanks. The vocals are more ska than punk too, especially that infectious chorus!

It was released in 1995 on …And Out Come The Wolves, which remains the band’s greatest success.

24/10/2020: “A Love Supreme Part 2 (Resolution)” by John Coltrane

Is A Love Supreme the best Jazz album ever recorded?

It depends what your personal preferences are, of course, but I think there’s a lot in its favour.

The musicianship on display is simply out of this world. In particular, I love the drumming, which is slightly inhuman in its dexterity. This display along ought to rank Elvin Jones as one of the all time greats.

It’s hard to pick between the constituent songs which make up A Love Supreme, and perhaps it’s better to consider the album as one cohesive work. It’s a deeply spiritual undertaking, something that comes across best on the first and last songs. The first piece in particular has a messianic quality due to the repetitive vocal.

But I like this one because it showcases the brilliant piano, bass and sax, on top of those golden drums.

This one came out in 1965 – at this stage I probably don’t need to tell you which album it appears on…

23/10/2020: “Mademoiselle De Paris” by Michel Legrand

In the 50s, a style of classical music called “Easy Listening” became popular. Instead of multi-part epics of the traditional vein with complex musical motifs, you had short, light pieces with easy melodies.

It’s just kind of, well, easy to listen to. In this piece, from 1954’s I Love Paris, we are treated to a breezy selection of light strings and floating flutes. It’s like a sonic mojito – resplendent with summery goodness.

Legrand was only 22 when he wrote this album, kicking off a fruitful career spanning most of the 20th century, over which he created over 200 soundtracks and albums. He won three Oscars and five Grammys, plenty enough for anyone!

At the heart of this success, I think, is a natural understanding of how to create music that’s truly and utterly nice!

22/10/2020: “Funeral March Of Queen Mary” by Wendy Carlos

Credit where credit’s due – “Funeral March Of Queen Mary” was originally composed by Henry Purcell in 1695. It’s a somber, dignified and timeless piece.

However, even if you aren’t a Stanley Kubrick fan, Wendy Carlos’ interpretation is still amazing.

Written in 1971 for A Clockwork Orange, Carlos’ version perfectly captures that theme of dystopian dread, of moral decay.

Instead of an orchestra, she marshals a raft of synthesisers into a barrage of dark, twisted – yet strangely beautiful – harmonies.