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!

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.

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.

28/08/2019: “Music For Chameleons” by Gary Numan

Gary Numan has spent decades cultivating a unique sound and persona. I could possibly compare him to David Bowie, but Numan’s music is special because it was elaborately electronic and popular at a time where it was hard to make elaborate electronic music, harder still to make it popular!

It isn’t that the New Wave movement that brought him to fame was short on popular electronic songs. But he deserves some recognition for being something of a pioneer.

1982’s I, Assassin adds a funkier edge to the sound he was known for. Accordingly, although “Music For Chameleons” still has the trademark retro-futuristic synth sounds and ‘android’ singing, there’s an incredibly danceable rhythm section.

The drums canter along with a distinctive 3-step pattern, switching down for the chorus.

The song has lengthy breakdown sections dominated by the classic neo-noir Numan synths, building up to the next space age groove. The sound is very 80s, but still seems ahead of its time in its sheer coolness!

22/08/2019: “Wave Of Mutilation” by Pixies

Particularly astute people might guess that “Wave Of Mutilation” is not a happy, upbeat song about the beauty of human nature.

It’s a song about a trend of Japanese businessmen driving their cars off cliffs into the sea. Japan has a very pressured society, and a high suicide rate.

When you listen more closely to the lyrics, the nautical theme becomes more apparent, as the song drops references to the Mariana Trench (“Find my way to Mariana”), and crustaceans.

The Pixies are not at all unfamiliar with this sort of macabre topic, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that they turn it into such an anthem. The chorus is catchy and energetic, the verses stately yet no less engaging.

The crunchy, grungy sound of the guitars lays a foundation for the hordes of similar sounding bands to follow, but it is important to note that the Pixies were doing this before it was cool. Not many Pixies songs sound exactly like this though…

This track has a detached, surreal quality to it, but as if this wasn’t enough, there’s a trippy “surf” version, which apes the surf rock trend and adds a unique Pixies quality to it!

The song came out in 1989 on Doolittle, the band’s second album.

14/08/2019: “I’m Going Slightly Mad” by Queen

Freddie Mercury tragically died of AIDS in November 1991. This song was released in March 1991. It is a poignant song that expresses Mercury’s feeling of mental deterioration because of his condition.

There’s more than a touch of darkness to the song, but the atmosphere is more the musing of a twisted jester than a bitter soliloquy on death.

The very start of the tune is an eerie keyboard riff, setting the tone for the full parade of bass, drums and keys to follow.

Mercury performs stunningly on vocal duty, clearly pronouncing his words with his trademark power and passion.

Brian May’s slide guitar solo is really cool too. Mixed in with a normal guitar, the slide guitar’s eldritch sound fits the song more than you might think.

“I’m Going Slightly Mad” was released on Queen’s last album, Innuendo.

08/08/2019: “Atlantic City” by Bruce Springsteen

Atlantic City is a place mainly known for its casinos. In many places, gambling is associated with organised crime, destitution and desperation.

The tale told here is one of a man who has moved to Atlantic City and is slowly drawn into crime to support himself and his girlfriend, losing a part of his identity in the process. The “Chicken Man” referenced in the song is Philadelphia Mafia boss Philip Testa.

The song is a classic Springsteen formula of guitar and harmonica. But what makes Atlantic City so special is that everything is played by Springsteen and recorded in his bedroom. It’s a recording which is all the more powerful for its simplicity, and in classic folk rock fashion, Springsteen’s voice and his guitar are the key elements.

“Atlantic City” appears on Springsteen’s 1982 album, Nebraska.

06/08/2019: “Smash It Up Parts 1 & 2” by The Damned

As the name would seem to suggest, “Smash It Up” is composed of two very different songs. The first part is a slow and thoughtful ballad, written in tribute to Marc Bolan. A fingerpicked guitar lightly darts over a warm bass part, with only a smattering of drums.

After about 1 and a half minutes, the song picks up considerably. The drums make more of a showing, certainly.

But after the 2nd minute of the song, the 2nd part takes over. Suddenly, it’s a punk song, with a simple guitar chord progression, pacey drums, an organ vamp, and some particularly incendiary lyrics which got the song banned by BBC Radio 1 for their riotous content. Times were different…

After a short pause, the latter third of the song gives over a section to an ecstatic electric guitar solo.

Lyrically, the song is an attack on hippies, specifically their long hair and frothy lager. In fairness, both of those things were probably abundant back then!

“Smash It Up” is a single from Machine Gun Etiquette, which came out in 1979.