14/07/2019: “Love Really Hurts Without You” by Billy Ocean

Billy Ocean is one of the most successful British R’n’B acts, with a decades long career.

This song is the one which enabled him to quit his job at the Ford factory, and focus on music.

It’s very much a pop song, with a bright and cheerful vibe offset by a slight tinge of regretfulness. The lyrics tell a story of unrequited love, spurned by some girl who gives her affection to myriad other guys…

The instrumental sounds more like a 60s track to me, with jingly drums, bouncy piano, sultry backing singers, lowkey brass and lush strings. The strings in particular are very tastefully done in the verses.

The song is damningly similar to “I Can’t Help Myself” by The Four Tops, released a year earlier, but in fairness that song lacks something in comparison to this.

“Love Really Hurts Without You” was released in 1976, and reached number 2 in the U.K. singles chart.

Very sweet stuff!

09/07/2019: “The Less I Know The Better” by Tame Impala

Tame Impala are one of the biggest things to happen to the world of trippy indie rock recently. They’re the new flavour drifting through the hazy airwaves. They’re psychedelic and popular at the same time.

You only need to watch the video for this to realise what it mean. They’ve paired a pop track with some opaque lyrics to a completely insane video!

The song itself is just undeniably a crowdpleaser. Catchy basslines have been a theme with my posts recently, but this one really is a doozy. The world is a considerably better place because of the invention of this bassline!

Lyrically, the song deals with a love triangle between a girl, boy, and sports team mascot. However, you can extrapolate the feeling to normal situations. It’s a song of yearning.

The vocals are washed out and dreamlike, mingling with the various rhodes hits and synth swells, creating an airy soundscape full of regret.

“The Less I Know The Better” was released in 2015 on Currents, and is now certified Gold in the U.S., Silver in the U.K., and Gold in the band’s native Australia.

06/07/2019: “I’m Still Standing” by Elton John

Elton John is a massive star, with enduring power. He has been popular for decades, and his inimitable style shines through whatever he does. His fashion sense has calmed down since the 80s, but he’s still as flamboyant as ever.

“I’m Still Standing” can have a few meanings. Part of the reason for this is because a lot of Elton’s lyrics were written by Bernie Taupin, his longtime collaborator.

So for Elton John, the song is about how he remained popular even as tastes changed in the 80s. For Taupin, it’s about proving to an ex that he doesn’t need them. I thought it was just a general motivational song about overcoming adversity.

The song itself is a very triumphant one, with an unabashedly “Elton” video to go with it. It’s fast, with big, bold keys and a furiously twanging bassline.

The vocal performance is very strong, and I do think that the “yeah yeah yeah” part works great!

“I’m Still Standing” was released on Too Low For Zero, Elton John’s 1983 album. It was a reasonably strong hit, and got to number 4 on the U.K. Singles chart.

03/07/2019: “Nightclubbing” by Grace Jones

“Nightclubbing” started life as a song written by Iggy Pop in collaboration with David Bowie. It’s a very cool song, with a distinctive drum machine beat, a general feeling of unease, and Bowie on the piano. That version was released in 1977.

Grace Jone’s version is very cool though! She brings a Jamaican influence to it, most notably through the use of space. There’s the odd dubbed out guitar chord too. The album this is from is entitled Nightclubbing, and was released in 1981. It drew from an eclectic range of influences and is one of pop musics unique moments, for sure.

Using legendary Jamaican musicians Sly & Robbie certainly helps!

The song is much slower than the original, with a bass heavy riff hitting between the sparse drum beats. The song feels quite minimal, and is all the better for it. Everything on the song feels like it has earned its place.

It’s so wonderfully spaced out, and Grace Jones has such powerful vocals that they imprint themselves on your mind immediately.

So chilled.

18/06/2019: “Angoisse” by Serge Gainsbourg

“Angoisse” is from the soundtrack to the film “L’eau A La Bouche”, translated as “Mouth Watering”. The song and film were released in 1960, the former on an album entitled Bande Originale Du Film “L’eau À La Bouche”. 

It’s a nice little Jazz track, perfected suited as an intro. The song starts with delicate cymbals, a guitar played in a very Latin way, and the bass. Then the trumpet kicks in and the pace of the song increases. Midway through, the song slows back down, before speeding back up with a saxophone added to the mix.

There’s a lot squeezed into the short time, and much of what is there is very memorable. As one of France’s most incredibly eclectic and popular pop stars, Serge Gainsbourg had an impressive sense of winning melodies, and his creativity was expressed in myriad of ways.

This kind of instrumental jazz was the beginning of Gainbourg’s long career, and is pleasingly straightforward.


07/06/2019: “I Dub U” by Freeez

Freeez scored a big hit with their juicy synthpop hit “I.O.U.”, but the song is revealed in its full splendour in the dub version.

The sharp, punchy bassline keeps things rolling throughout, because this track is first and foremost a dance track. The drum machine sets out a snappy combination of snares and kicks alongside this, resulting in a sturdy rhythm section.

Some other lovely touches include the short, rising string melody and the sweet bell synths.

Although the song sounds like it could be from Detroit, Freeez were a British outfit, known for Jazz-Funk music rather than synthpop like this. However, the track was mixed by prolific NYC producer John “Jellybean” Benitez.

The song was released in 1983; the vocalled “I.O.U.” version reached number 2 on the U.K. singles chart.

04/06/2019: “So Tough” by The Slits

The Slits are one of the most influential and uncompromising feminist rock bands.

The members of the band tended to use creative stage names, such as Palmolive and Ari Up. The line-up included punk rock legend Viv Albertine.

Their sound spans a range from raucous no holds barred punk to reggae tinged post-punk experiments. That vibe has particular weight here because the album this is from was produced by Dennis Bovell, a dub producer with genuine credentials in the scene.

“So Tough” is a funky piece which displays the unique style of the band at this point with great effect. It’s breathless, off-kilter, and slightly manic, taking the listener on a carnivalesque journey.

The lyrics are about being used by men and living a fast and easy life to eventually come up short. At least, that’s how I read it. The song is a bit cryptic in my opinion…

“So Tough” was released in 1979 on the critically acclaimed album Cut, which reached number 30 in the U.K. album charts at the the time and has since become a cornerstone of the post-punk canon.

28/05/2019: “Raspberry Beret” by Prince

Prince could often be quite dirty minded, but “Raspberry Beret” is not too provocative by his standards.

It tells the tale of a shop worker startled out of his bored stupor by a beautiful woman, who brings a bit of interest to the dull drudgery of his working day.

They then go to barn together, and he has a much more exciting time!

The sound is classic Prince, bolstered by the influence of his backing band, the Revolution. The distinctive lo-fi drums contrast with the refinement of the strings, and fit well with the funky electric bass.

The vocals are instantly recognisable as Prince, switching between a more rhythmic chat for the verses and normal singing for the soaring choruses.

The song was originally recorded in 1982, but the form of the song that is most well known is from 1985. Released as a single from Around The World In A Day, the song climbed to number 2 on the U.S. Billboard Top 100.

22/05/2019: “Modjadji” by Chicco

Film soundtracks are very often carefully curated and interesting collections of music, containing songs selected for a variety of moods.

Even the most unlikely of films can serve to popularise otherwise obscure songs, or introduce the songs to wider audiences.

Here, the tacky 2016 Sacha Baron Cohen comedy “The Brothers Grimsby” finished with a classy piece of South African disco, and I’m glad that it did because I might not have discovered the song otherwise.

The song is joyous and catchy, led by a chorus of vocals which mingle with the relaxed Afropop beat. More instrumentation follows, a rich smorgasbord of African percussion and westernised dance patterns.

Although the song is very much driven by the vocals, the marimba part could probably sustain the song by itself.

Chicco is the stage name of Sello Twala, a producer from Soweto who was very popular in the 80s.

“Modjadji” was released in 1995 on an album of the same name.

A true gem!