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REM Week – From the Vault

hindulovegodsThe latest in our series of unbelievably wonderful live events takes place Saturday 20th April at the 13th Note in Glasgow. The event is headlined by It Crawled From The South, a celebration of IRS-years era REM. We’re marking the occasion with a special REM week here on Extreme Listening Mode. Today, we look at a productive  partnership from back in that period.

For a band with such a delicious sense of mystery about them, REM weren’t slow to help out their fellow musos during the 80s. For a while, it seemed it was compulsory for at least one record in the Melody Maker to have featured a member of the band. By the decades close, their quality control was being called into question, with NME nailing it brilliantly by describing the raggle-taggle of acts they guested with as ‘the sad friends of REM.’

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You should own this: Excitable Boy by Warren Zevon

E-Streeter looks at an album whose cover could actually sit in the dictionary under ‘essential’ and do the word justice.

The most common reaction to mentioning Warren Zevon as a favourite artist is generally just plain bafflement. Most people have never heard of him  and, on reflection, why should a deceased Californian singer songwriter appear on Joe Public UK’s cultural radar? The answer, my friends, is that Zevon is a songsmith par excellence. Continue reading

Strange and beautiful – five words that only appear in one song

There are some words which popular music simply couldn’t do without. ‘Love’, obviously, would be much missed by any aspiring Hal David out there. A blanket ban on the word ‘baby’ would cause much wailing and gnashing of teeth for wordsmiths from any genre. These are the building blocks of the lyric, the sturdy foundations of so many lyrical conceits. And, for the most part, they work just fine, thank you very much. If your all time top 10 doesn’t have song featuring wither of those words, for example, you have no soul.

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Friday From the Vault – Warren Zevon

Life, as they say, isn’t fair. If it was, we’d all be rich. There would be no EastEnders. Only people I don’t like would get ill. Mars Bars wouldn’t have gotten smaller. A whole host of things.

But possibly the biggest difference would be that Warren Zevon would be revered by the masses as the genius he was. He was America’s wittiest, deadliest and most heartbreakingly truthful lyricist of the last fifty years. It’s annoying that people rave about Randy ‘One Song’ Newman while ignoring the far more rounded Zevon. Here’s a classic performance of ‘Mohammed’s Radio’ from the 70s. Listen to the words and marvel at the late and much missed wonderboy.

Sampling by Dummies – Kid Rock’s Latest

I was an unreconstructed tool about sampling when it first entered the mainstream. ‘It’s not music!’ I wailed, simply ripping off other peoples creativity and passing it off as your own. In my defence, I was 13 and didn’t know my arse from my elbow musically. I think two things turned me. One was Oasis. much as I enjoyed them, it was pretty apparent they were sampling of a sort. Just because they played the stuff themselves didn’t make it any different to someone taking a loop of a track from someone else. I decided I’d be pretty hypocritical to like them despite being musical magpies and dislike others for doing the same thing (and in a much more honest fashion, frankly.) The other was ‘Cop Killer’ by Ice-T, still one of the greatest rap songs ever and the best use of a John Bonham drum part, ever, and that includes Led Zepplin. As I grew up (well, as much as I ever will) I realised that, as was most things, there was no absolutes; it all came down to the fact that there was good sampling and bad sampling and a whole spectrum in-between.

So I’m open minded about it. And now we come to Kid Rock. Kid Rock’s new ‘song’ ‘Summer’ takes two of the greatest pieces of modern music and hogties them, pisses on their prone bodies and then anally violates them with a a faeces-flecked rusty pole. He has taken the piano from Warren Zevon’s ‘Werewolves of London’ and the guitar part from ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by the Skynrd and put them together. And I mean that literally. No cleverness, no strange loops, no new territory discovered. It is exactly like having two players going simultaneously, merely putting one song on as you put the other off, then repeating. ‘Bittersweet Symphony’ this is not. Over this, the somnambulant rapper does his usual Good Ol’ Southern Boy shit, which was scarcely believable when he started and  is now as ludicrous as Richard Madeley in his Ali G suit.

It is the worst musical sample since Vanilla Ice, who at least had the excuse of being a pioneer, of sort. It’s a cynical throw of the dice from a musically bankrupt fame-fiend with an ego proportionally inverse to his talent. And do you know why I really hate it? because every time it starts I think ‘yay! Werewolves of London!’ only to be cruelly disappointed, leaving my spirit ripped asunder. I feel akin to fat lad being told Gregg’s is out of pasties. It’s a shallow, empty feeling. Allied to that, using Warren Zevon in a song celebrating dumbass Southern mores is incredibly inappropriate choice. He infamously hated all that stuff, indeed wrote a blistering attack on it in a song called ‘Play It All Night Long’ (although it should be pointed out Zevon was proud of his Southern roots, he hated the Bud, belt buckle and boogie mentality he felt held it back.)

So damn you Kid Rock. I’m now firmly on Tommy Lee’s side and I hope he smacks your ratty scumbag face hard the next time he sees you.

Great Moody Bastards in Rock

People, as Depeche Mode once so sagely pointed out, are people. And some people are nice, and some people are nasty. The Beatles, unarguably the most influential pop band of all time, set the tone by being led by the relatively fluffy bunny who was Paul McCartney and the complete bastard who was John Lennon. Lennon’s music, so often beautiful and inspirational, seemed completely at odds with the man who made it. And, much as ladies love a bad boy, rock fans are intrigued by the music made by people for whom the epithet ‘difficult’ seemed ready-made. Here we look at a motley crew of artists who were not only tortured, but probably deserved to be.

Van Morrison – Van’s blend of Celtic soul, jazz and groove has the power to inspire and beguile. Which is odd, as he is a gruff little tool with an unreconstructed sense of self-worth and a contempt for, well, anyone who isn’t him, really. Almost poetically rude, it still can’t deflect from a body of work the equal of any of his contemporaries.

Warren Zevon – An alcoholic drug-addict with a taste for group sex with hookers, the term hellrasier doesn’t do the man justice. His various ex-wives tell tales of a charming man who would kiss them as he left for a show, then return with ladies on his arm, coke up his nose and no care as to how they felt about it. Top selfishness and yet album after album of twisted beauty.

Johnny Ramone – Right-wing bigot who stole Joey Ramone’s girlfriend and refused to apologise for it even though they remained in the same band for another 14 years. When asked if he felt like reconciling with Joey when he heard that the singer had terminal cancer he replied ‘No. Why would I want to do that? That would be for me rather than him.’ Famously wrong-footed the audience at the Ramones 2002 induction to the Rockn’Roll Hall of Fame by praising President Bush. But he was still a Ramone, dammit, and that’s good enough for me.

Ian Brown – Never knowingly smiled. Thinks he is acting as a mysterious shaman, instead resembles a gurning monkey attempting to read Próust. Still responsible for the best opening and closing lines on any album, ever.

Roger Waters – Christ, where do you begin with Waters? An absolute ball of loathing wrapped in a sweater. Hates his band, his band mates, war, famine, teachers, money, politics and Bono (so he’s not all bad, then.) Pre-Wenger, one could suggest his love of Arsenal was linked to this, but no excuses these days. Lives in New York and rides the subway sneering at commuters, probably. Some utterly knock-out music in his back catalogue, however.

Paul Weller – Possibly the man least likely to cover ‘Shiny Happy People’. Reeks of abrasiveness and so difficult he broke up the Jam at the peak of their success because he was bored. Respect. Refused to play in a supergroup covers band with Noel Gallagher because the Oasis man wanted to do a Bowie cover.

Barney Sumner – The New Order frontman is, even by Mancunian standards, a miserable bastard. Once did a photo-shoot for a magazine where they had agreed he would have veto over any pictures he didn’t like. Of the 220 they sent him, he red-penned 219, saying they were ‘ a bit Wet Wet Wet.’ Announced in the late 90’s he was taking Prozac. This did not come as a shock.

Peter Buck – Although he’s calmed down a bit in the last few years, the R.E.M. axesmith was a top rock curmudgeon in his day. Famously hating videos, he simply stood in them, body language reminiscent of a reluctant teenager on a family holiday. Was arrested in 2002 for running amok on a plane flying into Heathrow. He claimed the combination of taking a sleeping pill and drinking “small amounts” of wine had caused a reaction known as “non-insane automatism”, and he had not intended to commit an offence. (He was found not guilty.) In the 80’s was censured by his band-mates for conducting an interview hammered, announcing ‘I hate Americans, we are a nation of used car salesman’ and calling for someone to shoot then-President Reagan.

Rivers Cuomo – The Weezer frontman put the band on hold for five years after the success of their huge selling eponymous debut to go to college and complete his humanities degree. Later said that even his Mother was saying ‘honey, this is really the time you should be concentrating on your rock band.’

Pete Townshend – Always intrigued me that a man who could write something as beautiful as ‘Let My Love Open the Door’ could, in any interview, book or anecdote, come across as such a cunt. Never seems to be happy with anything. Doesn’t appear to enjoy anything. Despite being in The Who! Mental.

Well, that’s enough tough-lovers to be dealing with for one day. One thing all the above have in common is they have a songwriting ability most of us can only dream of. So, should the artist be tortured? Maybe!

10 Great Opening Lyrics

Does it hook you? Does it intrigue you? How does a lyric get a grip in your brain and start the descent to your heart? With it’s opening, of course! Here we salute some fine examples of opening lines;

Modest Mouse – Float On; “I drove my car into a cop car the other day, he just drove off, sometimes life’s okay”.

Isaac Brock is a loony, but even by his standards, that’s special. Starts weird, goes nowhere, ends positive. Dude.

Tom Petty – Free Fallin’; ‘She’s a good girl, loves her Momma, loves Jesus and America too’.

Highly underrated lyricist is Petty. Paints a scene so evocative it could come from an LA crime novel. (Note to British readers; it is wrong to spend the rest of the song hoping that the girl gets humped, dumped and dropped off on her ‘Momma’s’ lawn at 4am. It is not, however, difficult.)

Lloyd Cole and the Commotions – Lost Weekend; ‘I took a Lost Weekend at a motel in Amsterdam, Double pneumonia in a single room’.

Magnificent lucky white heather story from Derby’s finest Scotsman. Also a wonderful metaphor for those unfortunates afflicted by the Bad Luck Virus.

The Replacements – Here Comes A Regular; ‘Well a man can build up a mean, mean thirst doing nothing much at all’.

Singularly heartbreaking song from the greatest bar band of all time (and I include the Stones there.) Song made increasingly beautiful by Paul Westerberg’s refusal to judge and an empathy with the main character which says ‘I have been here too’.

Whiskeytown – Houses on the Hill; ‘Well I found a bunch of letters, they were written from the fellow who broke your Momma’s heart, and the envelope folds smelled of her ancient perfume’.

Ryan Adams was 22 when he wrote that. Imagine that. Rest of lyric so good he could have passed it off as a Mark Twain short story.

Bright Eyes – We Are Nowhere and It’s Now; ‘If you hate the taste of wine, why do you drink it til you’re blind? Why are you scared to dream of God when it’s salvation that you want?’

New Dylan tag is a heavy one on anybody but someone who can write lyrics like that – empathy and scorn both present and correct at the same time shouldn’t be worried about it. Props to Connor Oberst. Whatever that means.

Morrissey – November Spawned a Monster; ‘Sleep on and dream of love, because it’s the closest you will get to love’.

Another example of kindness and abuse broadcast simultaneously. Morrissey when he was unparalleled.

The Beach Boys – You Still Believe in Me; ‘I know perfectly well I’m not where I should be’.

If there is anybody who hasn’t felt this at one point in their life, then I think they are a member of the Royal Family.

Warren Zevon – Lawyers, Guns and Money; ‘Well, I went home with the waitress, the way I always do. How was I to know she was with the Russians too?’

You could pick anyone of about three dozen from Zevon’s back catalogue, but this one is just so perfect. Glamorous, funny and incorporating the ‘it wasn’t my fault!’ culture so beloved of us humans.

Lemonheads – Style; ‘Don’t wanna get stoned, but I don’t wanna not get stoned’.

Addiction summed up in 11 words. There was a lot more to Evan Dando than good looks and shagging Courtney Love (allegedly.)