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…

14/02/2021: “Sketch For Summer” by The Durutti Column

Some tracks are just light years ahead of their time. This could have been recorded by some indie group from LA in 2018. But it’s over 40 years old!

It was released in 1980 on The Return Of The Durutti Column. The Durruti Column was an anarchist militia in the Spanish Civil war, led by the legendary Buenaventura Durruti. This band got the name from a French pamphlet from the sixties.

Taking their lead from said French pamphlet, the record sleeve was sandpaper – you don’t want to store this one alongside your prized collection without a hefty cover!

The original sandpaper sleeve!

The music itself, fortunately, is far less abrasive. A gentle, heartbeat drum pulse, with crunchy snare and ambient jungle noise, set the scene for a dreamy guitar duet. The notes echo and blend, creating an ethereal, calming lullaby.

It exemplifies the best of the post-punk experimental sound of the late 70s. Just magnificent…

08/02/2021: “Ain’t She Sweet” by The Beatles

It’s hardly surprising that The Beatles’ very first professionally recorded song wasn’t a sophisticated and original masterpiece such as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ or ‘Yesterday’.

They were a young rock ‘n’ roll band from Liverpool. And when this song was recorded in 1961, they didn’t even have Ringo on board.

But I like this a lot. Paul’s bass playing is creative and nimble, and Lennon’s singing is impassioned, adding a rock star growl to what was originally a very tame 20s pop song.

The list of acts which have covered the song is too long to include here, but it was originally penned in 1927 by Milton Ager and Jack Yellen. A famous version from that era is the mellow and pleasant Gene Austin version – but it was covered by rock acts in the 50s too.

The Beatles version came out in 1964, although they did a 2nd version in 1969 which showed just how far they had progressed in 10 years musically!

04/02/2021: “Handsome” by The Vaccines

Not every song needs to be a 7 minute long magnum opus. A short burst of power and vibrancy is ideal sometimes!

The Vaccines certainly deliver here. The drummer had his work cut out smashing his way through this – I imagine he gets quite sweaty when he plays the song live…

Otherwise, the song is a wall of light guitar skanks, nimble hooks and innocuous noises hovering just at the edge of hearing. It’s great fun!

The song was released as a single from 2015’s English Graffiti.

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.

30/01/2021: “Party Of Special Things To Do” by Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band

Captain Beefheart is weird. Maybe that’s why he often created music which nobody else had thought of before.

His distinctive gravelly voice spells out a psychedelic vision of a party, half Alice in Wonderland, half Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I’ve got no clue what he’s on about, to be honest. However, when accompanied by the intensely bluesy backdrop on this track, it all becomes strangely pleasant.

A lazy drum groove sets the languid pace, as the funky bass cavorts happily with the guitar. It’s a masterclass in syncopated cool…

Released in 1974 on Bluejeans & Moonbeams, the song is one of the better tracks on an album largely considered to be directionless. Although it still inspired Kate Bush. Not a bad achievement!

The White Stripes released a suitably abrasive cover of the song in 2000, all distorted guitar and face slapping snare hits. In classic Stripes style, it is brilliant.

19/01/2021: “Slow Death” by The Flamin’ Groovies

Does it get more classic than this? Everything about this song is pure rock gold.

The hyperactive bassline, splashing drums and ‘rockstar’ vocals are all great, sure.

But they’re all window dressing to that smashing guitar riff!

The song was released in 1972 as a single, then re-recorded for the 1986 album One Night Stand. The Dictators covered the tune in 1978, adding an edge, but I much prefer the original.

14/01/2021: “Born To Lose” by Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers

American Punk Rock icon Johnny Thunders rose to fame with the New York Dolls.

It’s a shame that his major project after that, The Heartbreakers, was beset with difficulties and fizzled out. Not least their album, L.A.M.F., released in 1977. Malcolm McClaren, naturally, was involved…

The sound, even by the standards of Punk, was roundly slammed for being badly mixed and muddy.

To be honest though, this one is still a raucous, foot stomping punk rock classic.

The furious guitar work, ranging from rock ‘n’ roll riffing to punk shredding, elevates the piece, while the vocals add extra energy and passion.

10/01/2021: “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” by The Byrds

Bob Dylan actually wrote this in 1967. But he didn’t get around to releasing his (stereotypically Bob Dylan, with harmonica and country guitar) until 1971.

It’s a great song, of course. In many ways, though, I prefer this laidback 1968 cover by The Byrds.

The song has even more country character, with a walking bass and steel guitar. Makes sense really, because it was released on an album called Sweetheart Of The Rodeo. 

It’s a pleasant, easygoing song. The vocal harmonies on the chorus are very 60s, and I don’t miss Dylan’s harsh harmonica on this!

The Byrds obviously loved working with Bob Dylan, having had success previously with “Mr Tambourine Man”.

Still, there was a bit of controversy when The Byrds’ version of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” fluffed the lyrics, singing ‘pack up your money, pick up your tent’ instead of the original ‘pick up your money, pack up your tent’.

Then Bob Dylan, in his version, sang ‘pack up your money, put up your tent, McGuinn’!

30/12/2020: “Marquee Moon” by Television

In the 70s, the golden age of classic rock, you could do a 10 minute song and not raise too many eyebrows.

If the Arctic Monkeys or another modern rock band made a habit of releasing 10 minute tracks, they’d probably be panned as grandiose and prententious – times have changed.

But, key in the 70s as now, is having enough coherent material to fill the time convincingly. That’s what sets the epics from the slogs.

Funnily enough, the wider album, Marquee Moon, released 1977, is often cited as a seminal post-punk work. But to me, this song is more like prog rock. Certainly, the band were musically trained to degrees the average punk outfit would spit at!

Lyrically, I can’t understand what he’s saying. Don’t care really, as the guitar is what gives the song its flavour.

There’s catchy pop riffs, sprawling solos, sly hooks. The particular ‘step’ of the bassline makes the song almost danceable, rare for an undertaking of this kind…

The band sparked reams of florid critical praise for the album, but for me, this is the standout track.