Major League Music – #15 Oakland Athletics

Oakland Stroke – Tower of Power (1974, Warner Brothers Records)

You should perhaps all consider yourselves lucky, because this week, we get to Oakland, which is just a short hop over the Bay Bridge from last week’s destination San Francisco.  Oakland is the home of the Athletics, more commonly known as A’s.  They also have one of the best logos in the Major League.  But as good as the logo is, that is not the reason we can consider ourselves lucky.  Before I tell you that, I should perhaps discuss briefly the A’s pedigree in baseball.

Like their neighbours over in San Francisco, the Athletics have not always been in California.  They started off life in Philadelphia and they won five World Series’ before 1930.  In the 50’s the franchise moved to Kansas City before finally relocating in the Bay area in the late sixties.   Between 1972 and 1974, Oakland were pretty much unbeatable, strolling to three consecutive World Series in that time.  Three in a row is pretty unheard of in baseball and I don’t think its happened since then.

Their last World Series Championship was back in 1989, when they steamrolled their neighbour the Giants and saw someone hang a massive banner on a bridge leading into San Francisco (not that one) which read “Welcome to Loserville”.  That is quality sledging.

So why are we lucky?  Because folks, the lord of hip hop, the don of the rap game, the head honcho of phat beats and blunted joints, Mr Stanley Burrell was born and raised in Oakland.  In fact, bringing it back to baseball, Burrell’s first job was at the Athletics Stadium where he would sell stray baseballs for cash.  Who is Stanley Burrell you ask…?

MC Hammer, fools, MC Hammer and don’t pretend you don’t love this record.

U Can’t Touch This – MC Hammer (1990, Capitol Records)

But we can’t stop there, because it’s not just Hammer who originates from Oakland (although that would be enough).  A good few years before Hammer rose to fame, probably whilst he was still ‘dancing’ in the car park for nickels, a bunch of sisters were hitting the mainstream.

Fairytale – The Pointer Sisters (1974, Blue Thumb Records) – which is yet another record that I missed off the One Word Title Countdown.

Another act from Oakland who probably didn’t get anywhere near the praise that they deserved was Diigital Underground, an act who I first heard courtesy of a free cassette with Select Magazine.  They didn’t have a great deal of success in the UK, with ‘Same Song’ being their biggest hit, although I suspect that was more to do with it featuring Tupac Shakur than any redeeming musical brilliance.

Same Song – Digital Underground featuring Tupac Shakur (1990, Tommy Boy Records)

Which brings us to this weeks new band, who have been rescued from the wobbly table in the corner of obscurity and catapulted onto the sturdy table of success in the middle of the room with a rosette and certificate attached to them for good measure.  This week I have selected Art Moore, a band who have had the excellent Line of Best Fit foaming at the mouth recently.  Art Moore are a three piece who use subtle electronic elements and strong creative narratives in their music.  There is something very Concrete-ish about their sound and they are pretty good as it happens.

A Different Life – Art Moore (2022, ANTI Records)

Next week we are in the creativity free hellhole that is Los Angeles.

Nearly Perfect Albums ‘ #35

There is one thing about ‘Is This It?’ that I don’t like.  The hype.  The fact that this album was hailed as a classic about three days after it was released.  It was greeted with reviews saying that it was the album that “Velvet Underground wanted to make in 1969” and other equally nonsense statements and it almost ruined it.  It isn’t of course the album that the Velvet Underground wanted to make in 1969, but it is a great indie rock record that can justifiably be seen as a classic.

I was sitting on Ealing Common when I first heard The Strokes.  I’d been deliberately avoiding them because of the hype.  It was a weird experience.  It was almost like I been transported back in time.  Firstly, I was sitting in a 1975 Triumph Dolomite, secondly the mist had rolled in across the common like something from a 70s horror film and thirdly, the radio went all crackly and ‘Last Nite’ suddenly blurted into life. 

Last Nite – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)

My first thought, genuinely, “Meh” but I might have been more concerned about a werewolf attacking me.  The second time I heard The Strokes I was in HMV in Exeter and ‘The Modern Age’ was blaring out of the stereo, the drums stomping across the store like an angry elephant.

The Modern Age – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)

The third time I heard The Strokes was in my lounge and it was about thirty minutes after the second time.   By the end of my first full listen of ‘Is This It?’ I’d decided that The Strokes were a breath of (admittedly much hyped) fresh air who had arrived at exactly the right time to kick indie rock in exactly the right place.

I’ve often tried to explain what The Strokes sound like.  I’ve used words like frantic (eleven songs, 32 minutes), and incessant (especially where Nikolai Fraiture is concerned) to describe their overall sound.  I’ve described the guitars as choppy and spiky and punky especially on ‘Someday’.  I think I said that the hook on ‘Hard to Explain’ was unforgettable, because, you know, it is.

I’ve described Julian Casablancas as the greatest vocalist of the last twenty years (which he isn’t).  I also proudly declared that Nick Valensi had the greatest hair in rock music (which was at least true in 2005).

Someday – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)

Hard to Explain – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)

Whatever, I wrote it never seemed quite right.  I can’t tell you what it is that makes ‘Is This It?’ so good.  It might be how they make it sound effortlessly easy, it might be the way that Julian Casablancas vocals sound like they have been recorded down a telephone and still sound amazing.  It might just be the fact that ‘New York City Cops’ is one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

New York City Cops – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records)

So on this occasion the hype machine got it right.  A rare thing to be honest.  They didn’t get it right again until the Arctic Monkeys shuffled out of Rotherham with their songs about freezing cold prostitutes.

The One Word Countdown – #41

You Can Always Go….

Downtown – Petula Clark (1964, Pye Records)

Points 103

A good fifteen years ago I DJ’ed at a university friends wedding.  She was Greek and she married a German.  They got married in a round castle on the edge of a small German town and everyone went back to the grooms parents for coffee and cake afterwards.  The reception took place in a bar on the edge of lake and my booth for the night was a CD player lodged in the wall in a small cupboard behind the kitchen.   I did at least have access to some free bottles of Pils that the chef clumsily left behind.

I’d came armed with ten compilation CD’s made up of songs that I thought would go down well at a Greek German Wedding (“Dennis Roussos, I like, Dennis Roussos…”) and set to work after the plate smashing song had warmed the crowd up (although I put that on at the wrong time and got a severe lecture in Greek from the wedding planner).  About an hour into the disco, not many people were dancing so I called out the big guns.  The Stones, The Beatles had relative success but the song that brought the crowds together into one big multi national throng was ‘Downtown’ by Petula Clark.

I can still see it now, a drunk Welsh guy in a frankly terrible waistcoat, with his arms around a drunk German lady who has her arms around a Greek Man, with a prize winning moustache all of them singing at the top of their voices with various degrees of tunelessness,

Just listen to the music of the traffic in the city/ Linger on the sidewalk where the neon signs are pretty”

‘Downtown’ is just magical.  It’s a song that means so much to me, and not just for the memory above, I’ve lost count of the amount of people who tell me that ‘Downtown’ was the first song that they can remember their mothers sing to them or in my case, their fathers, not that the grizzled old bugger could hold a note but as the Greek German contingent will affirm, that is the point, it is a song that you don’t have to sing in tune.

Downtown (1988 Mix) – Petula Clark

Whilst we are here, in her biography, Petula Clark tells a riotous story about her and Karen Carpenter and the time when they were left alone inside Elvis Presley’s dressing room with him.  She concludes “He didn’t exactly have us….but he had a real good try….” It’s always the quiet ones.

Superstar – The Carpenters (1971, A&M Records)

The One Word Countdown – #42

This Keeps Happening….

Someday – The Strokes (2001, Rough Trade Records, Taken from ‘Is This it?’)

Points 101

By strange quirk of fate, ‘Is This It?’ is getting the Nearly Perfect Album treatment at the weekend (sorry spoiler!) so apologies for the Strokes overload over the next couple of days.  So you can read all about why that record – and this track for that matter is so good then. 

‘Someday’ was the last song to reach the magical 100 points figure because up until the last vote came in, the Strokes sat just outside the Top 50 but then it received its highest placing of all and that bumped it up the chart a bit.  It is about where it should be if you ask me.  High enough to recognise the importance and the impact of The Strokes over the last 20 years, but low enough so it doesn’t look silly – besides there are plenty of other songs higher than this which will do that.

‘Someday’ is I think one of the more poppier tracks on ‘Is This It?’, and it is perhaps kind of obvious why the band decided to release it as a single some eighteen months after the band had dropped the first album.  It is a very friendly record, and if you ask me it has a hint of the ‘It’s Not Unusual’ about it, although I can’t quite see Julian Casablancas swivelling his hips as the crazy ass drums kick in.  For a starter Julian Casablancas, at the time, at least, wore jeans that were at least two sizes too skinny for him and swivelling anything in those would have probably meant a double hernia operation and six months off touring.

There were at least two other Strokes tracks that were in running for selection the first one, was on the list for some time until I shelved it quite late on.

Reptilla – The Strokes (2003, Rough Trade Records, Taken from ‘Room on Fire’).  ‘Reptilla was the second single to be released from the second Strokes album ‘Room on Fire’ and is one of their finest moments.

Juicebox – The Strokes (2003, Rough Trade Records, Taken from ‘First Impressions of Earth’) which caused a little bit of controversy when it first reached the shelves because MTV (or whichever equivalent it was back then) refused to play the video due to some perceived sexual content (it features a DJ getting off by being urinated on, if I remember rightly).  It also remains to this day The Strokes biggest hit in the UK.   It was also the first Strokes song to enter the American Top 100.  It is remarkable how much more successful The Strokes were in the UK when compared to their homeland.

There are an awful lot of awful records that are called ‘Someday’.  Nickelback, M People and OneRepublic have all recorded songs with that title, but we don’t want to go there.  Instead, here are two songs called ‘Someday’ by two acts that have already featured in the lower echelons of the countdown.

Someday – Ash (2001, Infectious Records, Taken from ‘Free All Angels’) – Ash of course received ‘No Votes’ with ‘Goldfinger’.

Someday – Kylie Minogue (2003, Parlophone Records, Taken from ‘Body Language’) – Kylie finished 58th with ‘Slow’.

The One Word Countdown – #43

Oh, new shoes, how super…

Number 43

Weekender – Flowered Up (1992, Heavenly Records, Taken from ‘Annie On One’)

Points 100

I’ve read in more than one place that ‘Weekender’ is the nineties version of ‘Quadophrenia’, but it can’t be.  It is so much better than that.  It much more real, much less polished, and far more complex.  Musically, it is all over the place, is doesn’t quite know what it is supposed to be – is it an acid house record? Indie dance, progressive rock (there is an after all a woodwind solo), a mixture of all three? Who knows, certainly not me.  Lyrically, it’s more narration than actual singing and the delivery is more urban street poet than anything else.  Pushing all that aside, its still absolutely essential listening and not one second of the thirteen minutes is wasted

It had strange life ‘Weekender’ the band wrote it after the reviews and sales of their debut album ‘A Life With Brian’ were disappointing (and it’s fair to say, it is not a great record) and after hearing it, London Records, immediately refused to release it, saying that it was too long, too difficult to edit, too druggy and way to radio unfriendly.  Not only did the label refuse to release it, they also dropped the band.  Their lose was Heavenly records gain, who said the record was ‘perfect’ and the rest was history.

Since then ‘Weekender’ has been cited as a major influence on everything from Britpop to the film ’Trainspotting’ and pretty much everything in between, its an astonishing record, the sort of thing that really only comes along, every now and again and when it does it leaves us all breathless.

‘Weekender’ was obviously the only record by Flowered Up that I was going to consider for this rundown, its their best song by some distance, a song that became something of an albatross for the band.  A song that they could never shake off. 

A little while after the release of ‘Weekender’ a remix twelve inch appeared, with two versions of the song courtesy of one Andrew Weatherall, which stretches the song out to somewhere in the region of the 17 minute mark and takes the song in a totally new direction, driven by a throbbing bass and the sort of vibe that I suspect is best described as Balearic.

Weatherall’s Weekender – Flowered Up (1992, Heavenly Records)

The One Word Countdown – #44

Nicolas Sarkozy’s favourite song….

Number 44

Kids – MGMT (2008, Columbia Records, Taken from ‘Oracular Spectacular’)

Points 99

If you made a list of all the people to end up in a legal dispute with, it is more probable than not that the former French President Nicolas Sarkozy would not normally be high up on that list.  However, MGMT managed just that, the reason for it – Sarkozy (or more likely, his party, the centre right Union for a Popular Movement) continued to use the music from ‘Kids’ to advertise and promote himself.  He offered the band the princely sum of 1 Euro in exchange for using it and they rightly told him to bugger off. MGMT eventually won over 30,000 Euros in court. 

Sarkozy wasn’t the first to use ‘Kids’, it’s been used in nearly every television programme or film that has been made since it was released in 2008. Its fair to say that ‘Kids’ has earnt them a good few quid and what’s more it helped turn MGMT into unlikely megastars.  Or at least it should have. 

Because no matter how many TV programmes or video games it appears on, or no matter how long after a performance at Glastonbury, the crowd sing the chorus back at the band for (in 2008, this was a good 10 minutes) and sing the twiddly keyboards as well (yup you read that right, the audience sang the keyboard bits).  MGMT remain very reluctant stars, despite what they say in ‘Time to Pretend’.

‘Kids’ is tremendous, one of the best singles of the last fifteen years I would say.  It started very badly on this rundown and was nowhere in this chart until a flurry of late votes propelled it comfortably into the Top 50.

There were two other songs called ‘Kids’ that were considered for the rundown, neither actually making the list in the end, I’m rather surprised by the first one, not so the second one as they have better one word songs.

Kids – Plan B (2006, Sony Records, Taken from ‘Who Needs Actions When You Have Words’)

Kids – Sleigh Bells (2010, Mom + Pop Records, Taken from ‘Treats’)

There is also a rather fine new band from (I think) New York who have been getting a fair bit of radio play – well on the radio stations that I listen to that is, with their new single, which is called ‘Kids 1995’ and its definitely worth five minutes of your day.

Kids 1995 – Been Stellar (2022, Communion Records)

The One Word Countdown – #45

Oh it’s Richard Osman’s brothers band….

Number 45

Trash – Suede (1996, Nude Records, Taken from ‘Coming Up’)

Points 94

When Bernard Butler left Suede just after the release of ‘Dog Man Star’, the future looked kind of bleak for Suede.  Butler, was musically the bands inspiration and Suede sort of thrived on the fact that Butler and Brett Anderson clearly didn’t get on that well. But strangely, the evidence points to the fact that Bernard Butler leaving Suede was the best thing that could have happened to them.

The reason for this lay in a tape sent to Simon Gilbert, the bands drummer, by his cousin, one Richard Oakes, a 17 year old Suede fanboy.  The tape featured Oakes playing the guitar bits from the first Suede album.  It was so good that Anderson at first thought that Gilbert was listening to some early demos that Butler had left lying around.  Within a month Oakes had been recruited and within eighteen months, ‘Trash’ had been written, recorded and a new pop direction had been outlined by Suede.  Well, ok, glam rock pop aimed directly at the ‘social misfit market’ and never had been a bit weird or a bit left out felt so brilliant. Suede returned triumphant and left Bernard Butler kicking his heels and making very similar (but not all together that great) pop songs with David McAlmont.

‘Trash’ worked for reasons, firstly it was just so ridiculously catchy.  The other week I was in a pub and ‘Trash’ came on in the background and one hour later I was still humming it as I waited at the bar.  Secondly, it worked because it wasn’t the dark and complex (but brilliant) music that ‘Dog Man Star’ contained, this was something altogether different and with the obvious exception of the ‘The Living Dead’, it’s easily Suede’s finest four minutes of music, still.

There were two other songs by Suede that were considered but ultimately rejected as neither of them are as good as ‘Trash’.  They were

Heroine – Suede (1994, Nude Records, Taken from ‘Dog Man Star’) – which has a kind of feel to it that makes me want to listen to it in a really seedy bar in downtown London at a ridiculous time of the morning as I sip a strong Hurricane cocktail and wait for the greasy spoon across the road to open.   The second one was, of course,

Lazy – Suede (1996, Nude Records, Taken from ‘Coming Up’) which was the third single from ‘Coming Up’ and the third consecutive Top Ten hit for the band, which sort of backs up my early paragraph about Butler leaving being the best thing that ever happened to the band.

Here is Butler’s finest hour as a solo artist, conveniently, it has a one word title.

Stay – Bernard Butler (1998, Virgin Records, Taken from ‘People Move On’) – which climbed all the way into the Top 20, but very few people would I think recognise it if it came on the radio now.

Major League Music – #14 San Francisco Giants

San Francisco – Kristin Hersh (1999, 4AD Records)

The San Francisco Giants must not be confused with that other giant who uses the name Francisco.  I am of course talking about the South African snooker giant Silvino Francisco who won the British Open in 1985 and then turned to cannabis smuggling after his retirement from the game, which brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “a nice green into the pocket”.

Another thing that the San Francisco Giants must not be confused with is the New York Giants, who are an American Football Team, but up until 1958, the San Francisco Giants were the New York Giants.  In 1954, the Giants won the World Series (when they were based in New York), and then it took them 56 years, several high profile players (including Barry Bonds, still the greatest sportsman named Barry ever – face facts Sheene, Venison and McGuigan) and a move across the entire width of the USA before they won it again.  In 2010 the Giants beat the Texan Rangers in the final, which kick started a period of success for them, with further World Series Championships coming in 2012, and 2014.  Since then though success has been hard to come by.  They currently sit third in their division, which has been dominated by the Dodgers (the Giants greatest rivals) and Padres of San Diego.

Musically, San Francisco has quite a legacy.  In the sixties, it spawned its own scene, which journalists at the time called imaginatively ‘The San Francisco Sound’ and the biggest exponents of that Sound was a band called Jefferson Airplane.  Now, I once had a major row with a bloke who I had never met before at a friends barbecue because I have the temerity to say that ‘We Built This City” by Jefferson Starship, was “A Bit Shit”.  The argument ended with him apparently banning me from listening to them, Jefferson Airplane and any other bands connected to them “Ever Again”.  He was serious and being a decent chap – I’ve kept my side of the deal. So here is another band from the San Francisco sound, who are definitely not a bit shit.

Family Affair – Sly and the Family Stone (1971, Epic Records)

However if ‘bohemian flower power tunes’ are not you bag, fear not, because San Francisco was also home to the Dead Kennedys, who were probably as far away from the San Francisco Sound as you can get.

Holiday in Cambodia – Dead Kennedys (1980, Cherry Red Records)

More recently, San Francisco has given us the anti Strokes, the marvellously under rated Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, who technically are one third Devonian, but I’ll allow it under the now lawfully binding Earth Wind and Fire rule.

Promise – Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (2005, Echo Records)

Which brings us to this weeks previously unheard of band, Sour Widows, who have been plucked from the discarded pile of rejected application forms of obscurity and placed somewhere in the middle of the ‘Selected for Interview’ pile of relative musical security.  Sour Widows play, according to them, a type of Americana Folk merged with shoegaze and math rock, but we will be the judge of that – folks they sound like Throwing Muses – which is no bad thing.

Would anyone be interested in a playlist of all the ‘Unheard of Bands’ from this section?

Look The Other Way – Sour Widows (2021, Exploding In Sound Records)

Next week; The Athletics of Oakland.

Nearly Perfect Albums – #34

Bedroom – Bdrmm

Some of you will know that shoegaze is covered in The Big Book of Music Journalism in chapter 327 and 328.  It states, crucially, two things at the bottom of page 6925, firstly that you cannot write a single piece about shoegaze with mentioning the smashing of several windows in the sonic cathedral.  The second thing it states is that you have to make at least one reference to how the music channels the bands ‘inner My Bloody Valentine’.  On page 6928, it states that you must also only in passing state how Richey Edwards from the Manics once said that he hated shoegaze more than he hated Hitler.

With that in mind, this weeks Nearly Perfect Album is ‘Bedroom’ the excellent debut record by Hull’s vowel hating bdrmm.  A record that does indeed smash several windows in the sonic cathedral and at times sees the band channelling their inner My Bloody Valentine to rain a canyon of dreamy feedback adled guitars and frantic percussion upon our floppy fringes.  It is a record that despite being less than two years old is already a modern day shoegaze classic and one that I suspect that dear old Richey, wherever he maybe, absolutely hates.

A Reason to Celebrate – Bdrmm (2020, Sonic Cathedral Recordings)

The more astute amongst you will see that they are signed to Sonic Cathedral Records, a label set up by a former music journalist if there ever was one.  If their label imagery doesn’t feature a cathedral with loads of smashed windows then they are definitely missing a decent marketing manager (I’ve just checked it doesn’t)

‘Bedroom’ really comes to life about 40 seconds into track two ‘Push/Pull’, which is a real jumble sale of sounds, with churning guitars rattling away alongside some frantic drumming and bittersweet lyrics and love and reflection. 

Push/Pull – Bdrmm (2020, Sonic Cathedral Recordings)

There are two tracks that standout on an album of standout tracks, these are ‘Gush’ which kind of hints at bdrmm’s future as it marries that distinct shoegaze fuzz with an edgy post punk sound.  I know that they are banned from these pages for ever, but the guitars on ‘Gush’ sound a lot like some of the early guitar sounds that you might have heard a young Johnny Marr trying out when that lot were first starting out.

The second track is ‘Happy’ which does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s the most upbeat and melodic track on an album that sounds at times frail and vulnerable, despite its excellent.

Gush – Bdrmm (2020, Sonic Cathedral Recordings)

Happy – Bdrmm (2020, Sonic Cathedral Recordings)

The One Word Countdown – #46

Filling you full of junk….

Number 46

Hallelujah (Club Mix) – Happy Mondays (1990, Factory Records, Taken from ‘Hallelujah EP’)

Points 92

Shaun Ryder is one of nine people (I think) who appears in this countdown on more than one song.  That is a massive achievement from Mr Ryder.  Then again, considering what he looks and sounds like nowadays, the very fact that he is here at all, is probably a greater achievement.  The highest individual count without giving too much away goes unsurprisingly to Mr Andrew Weatherall, who features, technically at least, on five of the songs in the countdown, including this one, as he helped remix it with Paul Oakenfold.  

‘Hallelujah’ is of course incredible, it’s held together by this house-y piano rhythm, which sounds kind of like it was lifted straight out of ‘Now That’s What I Call Italian House’ but regardless, its amazing.  Then you get a big load of high pitched vocals, which are probably nicked from somewhere and then Ryder kicks in with the vocals.

I happen to think that vocally Shaun Ryder was probably at his peak around the time ‘Hallelujah’ came out – yes, with Black Grape and with Gorillaz, he made better records, but in terms of delivery, this is where it’s at for Ryder.

I did consider one other one word titled track by the Mondays and that’s only really because it came on the stereo the other day when I was washing up the grill.  It wasn’t seriously considered, but more a backward sort of glance.

Donovan – Happy Mondays (1991, Factory Records, Taken from ‘Pills ‘n’ Thrills ‘n’ Bellyaches’)

Naturally we can’t talk about ‘Hallelujah’ without stepping over the massive elephant in the room.  There is another decent song called ‘Hallelujah’ that perhaps I should have considered and possibly should have made the countdown, certainly its absence was noted by at least two of the Jury. 

There are two versions of it as well, which could have made it.  Firstly Alexandra Burke’s Jeff Buckley’s version, which was the first version I heard and still to the day is the version I much prefer.

Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley

Or if we listen to the guy from The Teenagers and insist of “No fucking Jeff Buckley” then we ought to have the original from old happy pants Leonard Cohen.

Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen.