16/10/2019: “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits

This song was banned at one point from receiving airplay on Canadian radio stations, due to its homophobic language.

However, the song was written based on comments that Mark Knopfler overheard from delivery men who were complaining that rock stars had it too easy and it was just “money for nothing”. So the song reflects the less than enlightened attitude that was prevalent at that time.

At the same time, the protagonist of the song claims: “that’s the way to do it”, admitting that its a good lifestyle.

The song itself is incredibly groovy, with a killer guitar riff. The way the riff is used to kick the song off is one of those matchless musical moments which is instantly recognisable.

The bassline is simple, but adds a lot to the song through its driving force.

“Money For Nothing” features Sting, right at the start, who says “I want my MTV”. Sting’s record label naturally made sure that he was included as a songwriter for the track, even if he didn’t want that himself!

The song was released in 1985, a single from Brothers In Arms, and became the band’s most famous song, staying at number one in the U.S. for 3 weeks.

15/10/2019: “Jackie Blue” by The Ozark Mountain Daredevils

The intense folk vibes coming off of this provide a counterpoint to the Electric Light Orchestra-esque catchiness. As the name suggests, the band are from the South, and that Southern Rock heritage shines through here.

The almost falsetto vocals are provided by Larry Lee, the drummer – the first time he had sung lead vocals for the band.

The slightly psychedelic feeling of the song is down in large part to the wah-ing electric piano, and the reverb heavy guitar. Both of these add a nice emphasis to the song, which remains relaxed even as the pace picks up.

The song was originally about a drug dealer, but was changed to be about a shy girl who never leaves her room. It would’ve been a very different song otherwise…

The song was released in 1975, a single from the album It’ll Shine When It Shines. 

07/10/2019: “Let It Burn” by Goat

This could easily have been made in the 60s. It has that familiar air of hazy crustiness, with a drum break and fuzzy guitar.

The whole song does have a distorted air to it, which works great, adding warmth and a bit of edge.

The musicianship on display is of a great standard, from the guitar noodling to the flute solo. The strings are unexpected, but work well.

The vocals are also impressive, and are strongly reminiscent of early Sabbath. This is a psychedelic tune alright, but avoids feeling too bloated like many similar tracks.

The drummer is given some freedom too, which they use.

Instead of the 60s, this was released last year, in 2018. It does sound fresh though, and not like a rehashed period throwback. The band are willing to experiment, and due to their talent, it pays off!

06/10/2019: “Hope” by Descendents

The Descendents aren’t exactly pop punk as such. This is still too fast and too aggressive for that. The sound is closer to what has been described as “melodic hardcore”, or in other words, hardcore punk that isn’t just angry noise!

Nonetheless, their music was very influential in the california punk scene, which went on to spawn the pop punk genre. For better or worse.

The elements are all here – the song has a simple, catchy guitar riff, boundless energy, lyrics about a girl.

It’s true though, that the lyrics of this song are somewhat darker than you would expect from pop punk. The subject is about a guy who sees the object of his affection with another guy and is railing angrily against it.

Plus, the song is still furiously fast. But for teenage angst and fury, you can’t beat it!

The track was released on Milo Goes To College, an album written as a cheeky reaction to Milo Aukerman, the singer, leaving the band to go to college. The album was their first proper album, and came out in 1982.

03/10/2019: “Lazarus” by David Bowie

David Bowie’s last album is one of the greatest and most poignant explorations of mortality in music, on a par with Freddie Mercury’s last songs.

Bowie actually found out that his illness was terminal during filming of the video, which is a slightly terrifying vision of a man on his death bed. Bowie is still energetic and enigmatic, even though he was seriously ill at that point.

“Lazarus” is the name of the name who Jesus resurrected. From even the name, you can tell the song deals with death. Not all of the album does, but there’s no mistaking this. It’s also the name of a musical Bowie wrote in 2015,

The song is quietly majestic, using slow and regal horns to great effect. The singing is impassioned, and seems to indicate Bowie’s acceptance of death as a natural part of life.

The song came out on the 17th December 2015, and was released again on Blackstar, Bowie’s final album – released on the 8th January 2016.

28/09/2019: “Human Fly” by The Cramps

The Cramps were easily one of the biggest pioneers to come out the punk scene. Not only within punk itself, but for the darker, morbid direction they took it. Eventually, this culminated in the wacky and creepy psychobilly scene.

The Cramps certainly have real punk pedigree. They were one of the bands playing at the CBGB bar in the mid-70s, which is pretty much as punk as you can get.

Naturally, their fashion and music styles are somewhat unorthodox. The thing which distinguishes the Cramps from other punk bands at the time, and the thing which resulted in their attaining cult status as the leaders of psychobilly.

“Human Fly” is a slower track than many contemporaneous punk tunes, but have more than enough grit. The twanging rockabilly guitar sets a sinister tone, playing a very simple riff with a delay and some other effect.

The low end is very muddy. I think it might by a bass guitar played with a lot of distortion, and maybe another guitar on top. It sounds great to me though!

The drums are splashy in sound, but add a relentless thump to the track.

Of course, the lyrics are as weird in content as they are in delivery – there’s a horror theme to proceedings.

The tune came out first in 1978, as a single. You can also find it on the 1979 E.P. Gravest Hits, although it was probably most famous because of the Off The Bone singles compilation album, released in 1983.

23/09/2019: “Blue Moon” by The Ventures

This is a great example of how cool instrumental surf rock can be. Those echoey, twanging guitars evoke exotic locales, the frenzied drums inject a potent dose of energy into the song, and the bass relaxes into the song like a mai tai cocktail on a warm tropical evening…

It isn’t the longest song, clocking in at around 2 minutes. But it packs a lot into that time, moving from theme to theme quickly without losing the overall feeling.

The Ventures were a very influential band, especially in terms of inspiring guitarists. The interplay of guitars on their songs makes for wonderfully engaging listening, from the wobbling rhythm guitar to the sharp lead guitar.

At the time this was recorded, fuzzy, distorted electric guitars and other effects were not widely used. This gives the track a real vintage quality.

“Blue Moon” was released in 1961, as a single. The B-side was “Lady Of Spain”.

14/09/2019: “Into The Valley” by The Skids

There’s something quite special about this. It feels like a timeless tune, propelled along by energy and youth rather than any particular virtuoso musicianship.

Scotland isn’t known for its punk. The country punches well above its weight musically, but punk rock tends to be associated with New York and London, not Fife!

The song isn’t too hardcore, anyway. After a quick but legendary intro with a gritty bass and reverberating guitar, the singing starts. The melody doesn’t even change.

It’s got to be said, the lyrics aren’t super inspiring. “La la la lala la lala la” makes multiple appearances. Apart from that, it isn’t that easy to tell what the words are…

The song is apparently about Scottish lads joining the army and going off to fight.

“Into The Valley” came out in 1979, and is now one of history’s most classic guitar riffs…

06/09/2019: “I Want To Hold Your Hand” by The Beatles

The official Beatles video of this demonstrates pretty well the kind of hysteria the Beatles caused among teenage girls at their height. In the video, the band is just calmly performing the song, as wholesome as you like, and the music is layered thickly with a wall of screams.

At some performances, the Beatles’ music could barely be heard over the screams. I can’t think of any artists today who inspire that level of fandom…

This song didn’t go to number one immediately in the U.K., because another one of the band’s songs was already there…

Rest assured, it did reach number 1 a couple of weeks later, and stayed there for 5 weeks. It was also the track that broke them into the American market, as it was their first number one hit in the U.S.A.

The song is a solid burst of happy energy, witnessing the Beatles at their most exuberant. The lyrics are very polite by modern standards, which stands the song in good stead, in my view.

“I Want To Hold Your Hand” was released in 1963.

02/09/2019: “Tangerine” by Teleman

Teleman are one of the bands that seems steeped in artiness. The melodies and structures they use on this are among their most conventional. For the most part, the instruments are standard enough too, bar the inclusion of a vaguely oriental keyboard tone.

Sometimes the simple ones are the most fun, and that’s very much the case here. Although I have no idea what the lyrics actually mean, they are quite feel-good and wholesome, especially coupled with the breezy singing…

The guitar playing might not be re-inventing the wheel, but it’s a pleasingly full sound, balancing grungy grit with light pop style.

As I mentioned, the most interesting addition is the Asian sounding keyboard. This kicks in for the chorus, lending the song a more euphoric lift.

The track came out on the band’s second album, Brilliant Sanity, in 2016.