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…

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!

25/12/2020: “Jingle Bell Rock” by Bobby Helms

It’s Christmas, and that means Christmas songs, on repeat, everywhere. It actually hasn’t been quite so all pervasive this year since everything is shut.

So maybe that’s why I feel a lot more charitable to the old classics right now. They’re an integral part of the Christmas experience, well worn yet fondly remembered, like an old Christmas tree decoration.

And it doesn’t get much more classic than this. Although this song isn’t quite as venerable as ‘Silent Night’ or ‘First Noel’, or even as the original Jingle Bells (1857, if you’re interested), it has still been warming hearts and annoying retail workers for a good stretch.

Released in 1957, the song was allegedly written first by a couple of advertising guys – but Helms maintains that their version was pretty dire and that he should’ve got the writing credits. Christmas cheer all round!

07/12/2020: “Love And Hate” by Michael Kiwanuka

This song is very lush. It radiates dusky vocals. It drips with rich strings. No guitar hook is spared.

It’s great.

There’s plenty of fantastic live versions of this. It’s the kind of song which lends itself well to a radio performance.

Michael’s from London, but the sound here is very 70s US. The production, though, is resolutely modern.

But ultimately, it’s Michael’s singing which is important. The rest is undoubtedly nice, but it’s window dressing, really. That’s why I’ve posted two versions below. One with the icing on the cake – one unadorned!

The song was released in 2016 on the critically acclaimed album of the same name.

24/11/2020: “Here Comes Your Man” by The Pixies

Released in 1989, on Doolittle, this track was actually written quite a few years later, when frontman Black Francis was 14.

It’s a very sweet, pop-py song by Pixies standards. So much so, that the band didn’t want to record it. But due to a producer who liked it, the song did see the light of day.

It’s a fairly simple song in terms of the chords and structure. The lyrics are about earthquakes – particularly the negative effects which they have on homeless people travelling on trains.

The video is a clear attempt by The Pixies to nod to the more upbeat nature of the song, with a mockery of Top of The Pops style miming.

It’s a great, happy song thought!

21/11/2020: “Fashion” by David Bowie

This is typical trailblazing David Bowie. It’s simultaneously entrenched in its time, and beyond it.

There’s just enough weirdness to mark it indelibly as a Bowie track. Particular love goes to the savage guitar riff, which slices through the mix like torn metal.

Then there’s that lowkey ‘beep beep’ breakdown section. It’s not a song which ever gets out of breath. It never gets flustered.

The lyrics are ostensibly about the relentlessness of fashion, although with Bowie you can never be sure…

The track came out on the 1980 classic album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps).