I can’t even imagine what Beatlemania was like at its height, or if it has an equivalent today. But there’s no doubt that The Beatles are one of the most popular bands that have ever existed. After their more raucous rock n roll and before their later psychedelic explorations, their sound was a classic pop one, but also with a certain thoughtful artistry.
“Yesterday” is from the 1965 album Help!, and was also included on an 1966 EP as the title track. It is a hauntingly sad song, with McCartney wistfully recounting a break up and how hopeless he feels. The string section add to the sombre tone very well indeed. The only other instrument is a single acoustic guitar. The lack of a drum section or bass help the song to retain its tragic feeling and make McCartney’s singing even more poignant.
For me, it serves as a reminder that the best and most enduring songs are often the most simple ones. “Yesterday” is a very beautiful song, that will probably affect people the same in a 100 years as it did when it was written.
“War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Edwin Starr’s version of “War” (originally sung by The Temptations), was released in 1970, in the shadow of the Vietnam war. It was undoubtedly controversial, with the label only releasing the song as a single if The Temptations didn’t have to do it, in order to preserve their image.
It’s a real call to action; with strident brass in a very striking rhythm, a gospel like chorus, and a very lively percussion section during the verses, the song makes it’s message very clear.
The song was number one for three weeks in America, a sign of the disillusionment many felt with the ongoing war in Vietnam.
Getting only this far without posting multiple Bob Marley songs has been something of a challenge for me. I am a big fan, as it goes…
You can expect Bob Marley to make a number of appearances on this blog; but I can’t apologise for that. He deserves multiple appearances in my book.
“Zimbabwe” channels the more militant side of Bob Marley, the Bob Marley concerned with global injustice, poverty, and black liberation. The song came out in 1979 on the album “Survival”, which was a decidedly militant album.
The album cover has many different African flags on, to show unity. It was a time of upheaval on the continent, with various countries fighting civil wars in the wake of independence struggles from the West.
The history is Zimbabwe is a tragic one all through, but Bob Marley’s song symbolises the hope many felt when Zimbabweans created their new country from the white supremacist Rhodesia. African liberation was a theme that, as a Rastafarian, Marley would have been deeply supportive of.
“No more internal power struggle
We come together to overcome the little trouble”
Most people would be more familiar with the original 1967 Louis Armstrong version of this one, for good reason; it’s one of the most uplifting, life affirming and beautiful songs ever written. It’s a lovely, jazzy homage to the profound niceness that nature and humanity can have at their best. A real antidote to the constant stream of war and destruction on the news. There are loads and loads of covers of the song, of variable quality, but that means there’s a few gems too.
I have to admit that, as much as I love Armstrong’s refreshingly gravelly tones, the Joey Ramone cover really hits the spot. It’s so full of energy and life, with the ferocious guitar strumming and pacy drums sweeping Joey’s vocals ahead. It’s not a complicated song by any means, but I think the simplicity increases the power of the song, and adds to the feel good factor.
Joey Ramone was unfortunately dead by the time the album (Don’t Worry About Me) was released in 2002, having died the year before of cancer. A great parting gift to us all.
Aswad are one of the more famous British reggae bands. Originating from London, their members had Jamaican heritage but grew up in England.
Released on 1982’s A New Chapter of Dub, “Dub Fire” is a dub version of Aswad’s Love Fire. It isn’t that the lyrics are bad or anything like that; the dub version is just better. There’s more going on and the greatness of the track really shines through. A better vocal version is Dennis Brown’s “Promised Land”, which came out the year after in 1983.
I couldn’t even say what my favourite part of the song is. The bassline is phenomenal, and unusual for a dub song. It has a warp to it almost reminiscent of dubstep. The piano that kicks in halfway has a powerful impact. The brass section is timeless, in both its forms. Listen to the song and you’ll see what I mean, as the song has two versions of the main melody on display.
The 80s gets a bad rep sometimes, in terms of fashion and music. But there’s a whole load of songs from the 80s that will still rock in 100 years!
Funkytown came out first on 1979’s Mouth to Mouth, but was released as a single in 1980. So tentatively, I’m going to class it as a 80s jam. It just seems so 80s!
As a single, it was number one all over the Western world. Listening to it, you can see why: the beeping synth hook is just phenomenal. The rhythm just drives forward, with the more restrained verses chugging along under the arm of the bassline, until the vocal chorus, “Talk about, talk about, talk about movin'”, then the song breaks down into a strings and guitar riff that completely switches the song up.
I will generally try to keep politics out of this blog. It can be incendiary, alienating people needlessly when all I’m trying to do is promote my favourite music. However, it must be said, music and politics, as with all culture, can interact and overlap in various ways, to varying degrees. At its best, music can inspire people and bring them together.
Perhaps not many genres are more overtly political than punk rock, and The Clash were undoubtedly a politically aware band. “Rock The Casbah” is about an Arab dictator trying to ban rock music, with his people revolting and listening anyway.
“By order of the prophet
We ban that boogie sound”
The none-too-subtle video satirises countries like Saudi Arabia, and was inspired partly by the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979, which resulted in very socially conservative values being imposed in Iran. I do think that any attempt to ban music is just very uncool. The band even perform in front of an oil well to hammer home their point.
The video seems to suggest that the Israel-Palestine conflict could be solved through a shared love of fast food and funky music, which at this point has got to be worth a try…
The song was released in 1982 as the third single from their album, Combat Rock. It was basically written just by their drummer, with the lyrics added by the singer. I can only say that, really, The Clash had a very talented set of musicians.
The bass part is very lively on this one, with a crazily catchy riff played on the guitar and piano. The chorus is very catchy as well, giving the whole thing a real riotous joy.
Illmatic, along with other albums such as Dr. Dre’s The Chronic and the Wu-Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers, helped to redefine hip hop in the 90s. It came out in 1994, and has been credited for its part in bringing East Coast hip hop back to prominence.
Illmatic has slick production throughout, but for me, “Memory Lane” really stands out. Produced by DJ Premier and built around a sample from “We’re In Love” by Reuben Wilson, a jazz track from 1977, it’s a wistful organ groove, perfect for a song so reflective. The track has an easygoing swing to it that contradicts the darker lyrics over the top.
Nas raps about the experience of growing up and living in Queensbridge NY in a measured and thoughtful way, talking about the trouble and deaths over the years. It’s the quintessential “hood life” song and is delivered with an effortless flow.
He seriously makes rapping look easy; his bars are like water flowing down a slope, relentless and forceful, yet smooth and hard to pin down.
A lot of Alice Coltrane’s music can probably best be described as being “cosmic”. She often viewed her music as a spiritual expression; she was deeply influenced by mysticism, to the point of setting up her own ashram (spiritual retreat) in the early 80s. This song, the title track of the album, was released in 1971, with the spiritual nature of her work already clear. The song’s rather difficult to spell name was the name of her guru, who she was very close to.
The transcendental feel of this particular song owes a lot to the inclusion of the tanbura, which, along with the contemplative, plodding bass, rises and falls gently with a calming melody.
Coltrane’s harp playing is masterful, and the flurry of notes so typical of experimental forms of jazz lends the song a very mystical vibe, complemented by a chorus of tambourines and bells. Pharoah Sanders excels himself with his saxophone playing, slotting his notes very nicely over the top of the dense texture of sound below.
The track is such a far out experience, and a worthy display of the formidable talents of both Coltrane and Sanders.
King Tubby tends to turn everything he touches into gold. This is no exception. To those who are unfamiliar with the dub tradition in reggae music, it essentially means instrumental reggae tracks mixed so that the bass and drums stand out, with other elements of the song dropping in and out of the mix, with lots of reverb applied to give the whole thing an airy, spaced out feel. King Tubby is widely regarded as the originator of this style, and his studio’s work remains some of the best dub even to this day.
Augustus Pablo is perhaps best known for his playing of the melodica, which he does incredibly well. The melodica is perhaps best described as a harmonica with a keyboard, and is quite popular in reggae more generally, in large part due to Pablo.
“King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown” is a dub version of “Baby I Love You So” by Jacob Miller, and was released first in 1974, and also on the 1976 album of the same name, which is probably one of the best albums ever made!
As with many great dub songs, the bassline is effortlessly catchy and drives the song forward, as the guitar parts dart in and out, the drums clatter and echo, the melodica stabbing and sliding intermittently. You can hear Jacob Miller’s voice at times as well, adding to the mix. The parts of the song mesh together wonderfully, creating a true dub masterpiece. Brilliant stuff!