25/09/2019: “Village Ghetto Land” by Stevie Wonder

How could you listen to this song, knowing that Stevie Wonder played it all himself, and not recognise him as a musical genius?

In fairness, he wrote the song in conjunction with Gary Byrd. That shouldn’t detract from the magic he wrings from just him and his synthesiser…

It’s an intensely powerful ballad, documenting the darkest sides of America’s poorest neighbourhoods – and the way rich people sometimes shrug off the deprivation in their society. The lyrics really don’t hold back at all.

There’s no drum or bass. There’s only a densely layered orchestra of synth strings, played on Stevie’s keyboard. Stevie Wonder’s singing rings out clear over the top, relaying the tragic fate of his community.

“Village Ghetto Land” came out on the legendary Songs In The Key Of Life album in 1976, which is widely recognised as one of the greatest albums ever made.

24/09/2019: “Lay All Your Love On Me” by ABBA

I’d find it hard to choose my favourite ABBA song. However, I could safely place this in the top five, and would be quite confident of putting it in the top three!

The song just has a transcendent quality to it, particularly on the choruses. Interestingly, the chorus reminded Bjorn and Benny of a church hymn – so they added a discordant chorus effect to amplify that feeling!

The song has a natural groove to it; although the vibe is different from the verse to the pre-chorus, there’s a fundamental funkiness. I particularly like the drums, which are a masterclass in understated disco tightness.

The keyboard strings are luscious, adding a charming grandeur to the song.

The main hook from the backing track is the deftly plucked guitar, which both echoes and embellishes the bassline.

“Lay All Your Love On Me” was released in 1980 on Super Trouper. It was also a hugely successful single!

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.

29/07/2019: “April Skies” by The Jesus And Mary Chain

The Jesus And Mary Chain are a very influential band, doing indie style music before it was big. It is the creation of two Scottish brothers called William and Jim Reid.

A lot of their output is quite noisy to say the least, with a lot of distortion and feedback.

That makes this pop tune something of an anomaly in terms of its accessibility. It uses clean and light guitar riffs and contains brooding lyrics about love.

The Jesus & Mary Chain fanbase is generally quite “into music”; they’re one of those bands with a real cult following. But “April Skies” was popular beyond that little niche, reaching number 8 in the U.K. Singles chart.

It helps that the Reid brothers are gifted with a fair amount of “cool”…

The song was released in 1987, the first single from Darklands.

20/07/2019: “DARE” by Gorillaz

It’s surprising that I haven’t done any songs by Gorillaz before, because they are undoubtedly a massive name.

Led by Damon Albarn, the band are notable for their self-presentation as animated characters.

Musically, they’re quite diverse in their offerings, but tend towards dark electronic pop.

That would just about sum up “DARE”, which is a song with more than enough bright and catchy melodies to counterbalance its otherwise quite murky countenance.

For me, the song is pinned onto the bassline, a very simple affair with 3 or four notes altogether played with a coarse and abrasive synth.

The vocals are provided by the sweet and melodic Rosie Wilson, playing the character Noodles, Damon Albarn in the role of 2D, and the decidedly less sweet and melodic Shaun Ryder.

The track was the band’s only U.K. number 1; “Feel Good Inc.”, the biggest song, only reached number 2. “DARE” was released in 2005 as a single from the album Demon Days.

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.