27/02/2021: “Everybody Hurts” by R.E.M

Mellow Magic. Red wine. Cosy Autumn evenings. The best Soft Rock ever to be ushered gently into the world.

“Everybody Hurts” is crushingly melancholic, dealing with the tough topic of suicide in a simple, raw way. The song was allegedly aimed at teenagers, so doesn’t go in for obscure lyrics.

Yet, there’s an uplifting edge to the track, especially as the strings kick in. And at the end, the song soars, and reveals itself as one of the most life affirming pieces of music ever written.

Released on the classic 1993 Automatic For The People, the song has been certified Gold in the UK.

21/02/2021: “The Beautiful Ones” by Prince

Nobody does it like Prince did. His signature sound, his trademark singing, his timeless compositions.

Purple Rain is a true product of the 80s, with its synths and drum machines. The eerie, artificial sounds blend with Prince’s guitar and vocals – true cyborg music, with a very human heart!

The end of the song sees Prince’s vocals shatter and twist with emotion, screaming harshly. It’s a bit of a shock after the more laidback bulk of the track, to be honest, but the jarring change of tone makes the songs more powerful.

“The Beautiful Ones” was released in 1984. You might be able to guess which album it comes from…

08/02/2021: “Ain’t She Sweet” by The Beatles

It’s hardly surprising that The Beatles’ very first professionally recorded song wasn’t a sophisticated and original masterpiece such as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Yesterday’.

They were a young rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool. And when this song was recorded in 1961, they didn’t even have Ringo on board.

But I like this a lot. Paul’s bass playing is creative and nimble, and Lennon’s singing is impassioned, adding a rock star growl to what was originally a very tame 20s pop song.

The list of acts which have covered the song is too long to include here, but it was originally penned in 1927 by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen. A famous version from that era is the mellow and pleasant Gene Austin version – but it was covered by rock acts in the 50s too.

The Beatles version came out in 1964, although they did a 2nd version in 1969 which showed just how far they had progressed in 10 years musically!

04/02/2021: “Handsome” by The Vaccines

Not every song needs to be a 7 minute long magnum opus. A short burst of power and vibrancy is ideal sometimes!

The Vaccines certainly deliver here. The drummer had his work cut out smashing his way through this – I imagine he gets quite sweaty when he plays the song live…

Otherwise, the song is a wall of light guitar skanks, nimble hooks and innocuous noises hovering just at the edge of hearing. It’s great fun!

The song was released as a single from 2015’s English Graffiti.

02/02/2021: “Age Of The Train” by International Teachers Of Pop

This is very much art school Synthpop. It’s classy, fairly tame, and tries hard to be groundbreaking. I don’t know how much it succeeds on that front, but it’s certainly interesting. In any case, it sits prettily within a wider tradition of British synth bands.

Instead of guitars, you get electro synths overlaid with dramatic strings. Credit where it’s due – the song is a zesty one. It punches hard.

Age Of The Train is the name of a documentary presented by Jimmy Savile, which has understandably aged badly, much to the obvious delight of the band. Tongue in cheek doesn’t fully describe it!

They are actually making a point though. British trains are a bit rubbish compared to the rest of Western Europe, especially up North, where the Sheffield-based band have doubtless got some experience of the train system.

This song saw the light of day in 2019 on International Teachers Of Pop.

01/02/2021: “Do The Strand” by Roxy Music

What an opening. The tension builds from the start, as the ominous piano vamp strains into the launch.

From that point, you’re treated to some arty singing from Bryan Ferry, a blast of sax goodness, and some brilliant guitar shredding.

It’s a wall of sound, from the punchy bassline to the squealing synths. But it’s all still marshalled together elegantly.

Released in 1973 as a single, the song appears on For Your Pleasure.

17/01/2021: “Capullito De Aleli” by Pepe Jaramillo

“Capullito De Aleli” was written in 1930 by Rafael Hernandez for Los Jardineros. It’s been covered many times since then, not least by Nat King Cole!

This is a solid version though, evocative of the Spanish speaking Americas even though it’s completely instrumental.

Pepe Jaramillo was a Mexican pianist, who rose to international fame after moving to London. He even gave a performance to the Royal Family…

This version of the song was released in 1960 on South Of The Border, and remastered in 2014 for a re-release as Al sur de la frontera.

15/01/2021: “Love Has Found Its Way” by Dennis Brown

Even Bob Marley regarded Dennis Brown as his favourite Reggae singer. And what a career…

Dennis Brown, mirroring the development of Reggae music as a whole, started off singing American R’n’B as a young kid. He started early, recording his first album in 1970 – age 12!

The early 80s saw him pursue a more pop sound, before the dancehall era truly kicked in. This song, released in 1982 as the title track of an album, reflects that. It’s lighter disco influenced reggae, lovers rock for the masses.

But, although it’s not hardcore roots, it’s still a great tune. There’s a place for the watered down stuff, as long as it has soul. And nobody could deny that this song has soul in spades!

02/01/2021: “Self Control” by Laura Branigan

Originally, this was a potent slice of Italo-Disco, released by Raf in 1984.

Laura Branigan had a previous working relationship with
Giancarlo Bigazzi, who helped write the song. So it made sense for her to Americanize this.

Although some of the original Mediterrean flavour of the song is lost, the production on Branigan’s version is sharper, more impactful, and ultimately, more enduring.

Interestingly, she covers the lyrics as they were written. That’s one element where perhaps, in places, some adjustments might not have been a bad thing.

It’s still a classic track, though – and those powerful ‘Oh oh oh!’ shouts, backed with an intense power chord, will never get old!

The song did well for Branigan, reaching number four on the US Hot Billboard 100 and charting in several other countries. It was also the title track of her successful 1984 album.

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!