31/12/2020: “An Idea For A Movie” by The Vandals

A lot of pop-punk is fairly vacuous stuff. The Vandals, mostly, don’t buck the trend.

Still, I prefer them to wishy washy 00s stuff for their harder, faster, more edgy presentation. It’s more punk than pop, rooted in the ‘melodic hardcore’ of the 80s – but still catchy as a Blink-182 or Green Day hit.

Lyrically, “An Idea For A Movie” is sort of nonsense, but good harmless stuff. They do their job well, giving the song a sing-along quality. It’s knowingly cynical, but in a vaguely feel good way.

The guitar is a different story. It hits powerfully and sharply from the get-go, blazing a technicolour trail throughout the track’s two minute runtime.

Released on Hitler Bad, Vandals Good in 1996 and blasted out of suburban Californian teenagers bedrooms ever since…

30/12/2020: “Marquee Moon” by Television

In the 70s, the golden age of classic rock, you could do a 10 minute song and not raise too many eyebrows.

If the Arctic Monkeys or another modern rock band made a habit of releasing 10 minute tracks, they’d probably be panned as grandiose and prententious – times have changed.

But, key in the 70s as now, is having enough coherent material to fill the time convincingly. That’s what sets the epics from the slogs.

Funnily enough, the wider album, Marquee Moon, released 1977, is often cited as a seminal post-punk work. But to me, this song is more like prog rock. Certainly, the band were musically trained to degrees the average punk outfit would spit at!

Lyrically, I can’t understand what he’s saying. Don’t care really, as the guitar is what gives the song its flavour.

There’s catchy pop riffs, sprawling solos, sly hooks. The particular ‘step’ of the bassline makes the song almost danceable, rare for an undertaking of this kind…

The band sparked reams of florid critical praise for the album, but for me, this is the standout track.

29/12/2020: “I Need Someone” by Kris Okotie

The lightning fast guitar fluttering in the background of this marks it out as a distinctively African disco track.

Released in Nigeria in 1980, the title track of Okotie’s debut album, the song is designed for the dancefloor.

The lyrics aren’t complicated, and are delivered almost slurred, but without sacrificing the energy and exuberance needed to make the track work.

The song almost feels dubby at points, with electronic pops and excitable piano chords fizzling left right and centre. A true classic!

28/12/2020: “Strandbar (Samba)” by Todd Terje

A four minute radio version of Strandbar appears on Todd Terje’s classic 2014 album, It’s Album Time.

You can find this extended Samba mix on the Strandbar EP released in 2013, complete with added Latin percussion and improved funkiness.

Like many Todd Terje bangers, the song slowly builds. About halfway, you’ll start to think ‘Crikey, this really slaps’. I did, anyway…

That piano riff is golden, but still sits as part of a richly constructed masterpiece, rhythmically brilliant and melodically stunning.

27/12/2020: “Country Air” by The Beach Boys

Wild Honey, the 1967 album which “Country Air” appears, was initially panned by music critics, which tells you all you need to know about the sheer pretentiousness and groupthink of much of that cohort…

But it’s one of the bands most powerful albums. It departs from much of their earlier material, featuring a more stripped back sound – less of their harmony singing, more piano/singer combos.

It really proves the ability of the band to conjure up enduring melodies. I like the song’s simple lyrics, too.

Two minutes of good vibes!

26/12/2020: “Rude Boy” by Johnny Osbourne

Johnny Osbourne made the transition from old school roots to 90s dancehall very smoothly.

Listen to this 1987 banger and you can see why. He’s got the lyrics, the flow, the voice- the whole shebang!

The riddim is a real corker too, not intrusive but still engaging, using the classic mix of late 80s piano skanks and racing bassline with aplomb.

25/12/2020: “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms

It’s Christmas, and that means Christmas songs, on repeat, everywhere. It actually hasn’t been quite so all pervasive this year since everything is shut.

So maybe that’s why I feel a lot more charitable to the old classics right now. They’re an integral part of the Christmas experience, well worn yet fondly remembered, like an old Christmas tree decoration.

And it doesn’t get much more classic than this. Although this song isn’t quite as venerable as ‘Silent Night’ or ‘First Noel’, or even as the original Jingle Bells (1857, if you’re interested), it has still been warming hearts and annoying retail workers for a good stretch.

Released in 1957, the song was allegedly written first by a couple of advertising guys – but Helms maintains that their version was pretty dire and that he should’ve got the writing credits. Christmas cheer all round!

24/12/2020: “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out On Dope” by Sonic Youth

When Geffen Records released Just Say Noel in 1996, they probably didn’t have the Christmas number one in mind. Not with a track like this on, at any rate!

Based on a more palatable but still cynical song by Martin Mull from 1972, Sonic Youth take us on a tense, messy 3 minute Christmas romp. It’s like if Santa’s Grotto was on fire and full of used needles.

I’m not actually sure if this is a pro- or anti- drugs message, to be honest.

Many people will find the track below to be disgusting noise – but if you’re sick of hearing “Last Christmas”, it might be the poisonous antidote you need!

23/12/2020: “Scenario” by A Tribe Called Quest featuring Leaders Of The New School

Rappers these days just don’t seem to revel in words and rhythms like the old school guys did. Everybody on this track just flows!

The beat is cracking too, blending a rolling drum beat sampled from Jimi Hendrix’ 1967 “Little Miss Lover” with an ominous organ/bass combo snatched from “Oblighetto” by Brother Jack McDuff, released 1970.

My favourite verse is Phife Dawg’s, the first one. But Busta Rhymes closes the track out brilliantly. He was at the beginning of his career here, and you can tell he was on a path to greatness!

The song came out in 1991 on The Low End Theory, and was released as a single in 1992.

22/12/2020: “Wild Dog” by Stanley Clarke and George Duke

A collaboration between Stanley Clarke and George Duke was always going be obscenely funky. With Clarke on guitar and Duke on keys, this track blisters with intense groovy heat.

The guitar riffing is just captivating – who needs vocals when you can make an instrument sing like this?!

“Wild Dog” was released in 1981 on The Clarke/Duke Project, a nifty piece of work which, in fairness, contains plenty of great vocal tracks too!