30 Days of Music: 30 – My favourite song this time last year

So, it’s the end of 30 days of music. I’m not entirely sure what to make of “my favourite song this time last year”, since if you mean “all-time favourite” then it was still the same as my choice for day 1. So I presume I’m supposed to pick the song that was my then-current favourite a year ago, if that makes sense.

So, what was I listening to this time last year? Being back in an office where we listen to music communally, on the radio, rather than sitting is silence or with headphones on, meant that this time last year I was hearing plenty of new stuff. Some I liked, some I didn’t, and some I really loved. This song fell into the final category.

I could leave it there and just play the song, but as it happens I’d never seen the video to it until I looked it up for the sake of this article. And, oh gosh, what a load of pretentious nonsense! OK, so the song itself is a bit pretentious as far as the words are concerned – I presume the main lyrical question is supposed to be rhetorical, but I still have no idea what it means. But the video takes pretentious guff to an entirely new level – it’s almost as if it’s a deliberate parody of the kind of “meaningful” videos that were popular in the 80s. Then again, maybe that really is the intention. Who knows? And what is Brandon Flowers wearing on his shoulders? Are we human, or are we dancer?

The Killers – Human

Incidentally, for a wonderfully subversive version of this song, Robbie Williams’ Live Lounge cover is worth a look!

30 Days of Music: 29 – A song from my childhood

For all that music means to me now, I don’t have much memory of it from my childhood. Partly, that’s because we weren’t a particularly musical family – we had an ancient gramophone with some old 78s (I kid you not!), but they didn’t get a lot of needle time and for most of my childhood music was just something that happened in the background – the radio playing in shops, or on the school bus, and once a week Top of the Pops on TV, but only the occasional song piqued my interest. It wasn’t until my teens, when I got a radio of my own and discovered Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline, that I realised there was plenty of stuff out there that I actually liked listening to. Effectively, my musical knowledge began in 1978, which for me was rather late.

Having said that, I do have one very vivid musical memory from my early childhood. In fact, it’s the earliest memory that I can put a precise date on. My mum used to listen to the radio in the kitchen while she did the housework and, though I don’t remember much of it, this song somehow managed to implant itself in my memory. Actually, my memory is playing tricks with me a bit, since I was convinced before starting to write this article that I heard it announced on air by Jimmy Young – he seemed to be ubiquitous on the radio when I was a child. But, in fact, that’s not possible, at least not if my other memory is correct, and I’m more certain of that side of it.

What I actually remember hearing is the announcer (not the DJ – this would have been pre-Radio 1) telling us that he was going to play the new record by The Beatles. And this is the song he played:

Yellow Submarine

Footnote: This is a story that I’ve told several times, since “what’s your earliest memory?” is a fairly common question and hence I’ve had plenty of opportunities to give the answer. And when I do, people younger than me always seem to respond with “oooh, you remember The Beatles!” as if being old enough to hear their music while they were still making it is some kind of badge of musical honour. But the truth is, I barely remember any of it. In fact, other than this song, the only other Beatles track that I can definitely recall from my childhood is Octopus’s Garden, which is hardly one to be proud of remembering. I certainly had no idea, at the time, that they were the biggest band in the world. And, if I’m perfectly honest, I don’t really think I missed all that much.

30 Days of Music: 27 – A song I wish I could play

After yesterday’s songs that I can play on the keyboards, it doesn’t take much observation to guess that today’s song is going to feature an instrument that I can’t play. Or, at least, can’t play very well. I can manage about three and a half chords on the guitar, which, while it may be more than adequate for the truth, isn’t enough for most of the guitar-based music that I like listening to.

In particular, I’d love to be able to play this song. I’d love to be able to sing this song. Although it’s a classic stadium-rock anthem with some great guitar chops, the lyrics carry a darker side about love lost, ambition failed and nostalgia for a time that’s better seen through the eyes of hindsight than it probably was when it happened. While it doesn’t have the same heartbreaking intensity as the song I chose for day 4, there’s still a bittersweet taste here which means this isn’t an undiluted celebration song. And it’s all the better for it.

Bryan Adams – Summer of 69

30 Days of Music: 26 – A song I can play on an instrument

Speaking as a musician, there are obviously plenty of songs which could fit this category. In fact, it would be harder to find a song which doesn’t fit this category, in one sense.

But there’s a difference between playing a song and playing on a song, if you get what I mean. I’m a keyboard player, and, contrary to what a fair number of non-musicians think, that’s not the same as either a pianist or an organist. Other than when I’m at home on my own, I rarely play solo – 99% of my “performance” music is as a member of a band. In a band, I can play pretty much any song, because all I have to do is provide the keyboard part – which, for the stuff I generally play, just means the bog-standard chords, phrases, pads and stabs. Occasionally I find myself called on to provide more of a piano-style lead, but that’s not really my scene (although if I get the chance to indulge in a bit of Hammond-organ style improvisation, I’ll take it!).

What that means, though, is that although in a band I can play almost any song, as a solo musician there aren’t all that many songs I can play in a way that would be instantly recognisable as the song in question! It doesn’t help that I find it quite difficult to play and sing at the same time – I can manage backing vocals when necessary, at least on songs I know well, but you won’t find me giving an impromptu performance on a pub piano, for example.

However, there are a few songs that I’d say I can play. Mostly, they’re the songs that inspired me to take up keyboards in the first place, rather than any other instrument. I’ve mentioned before in this series that I was very much into 80s electronica and synth-pop, so as soon as I could afford it I bought myself an analogue synth and taught myself to play it. This was one of the first songs I managed to pick apart:

Depeche Mode – Just Can’t Get Enough

30 Days of Music: 25 – A song that makes me laugh

I’m not quite sure what to make of this one. I don’t generally laugh at songs, unless they’re deliberately intended to be comedy songs (and, in those cases, they’re often not very good). But I can’t think of any other songs that make me laugh. But, then again, there are comedy songs and comedy songs. This isn’t a comedy song as such, but I have to confess that I laughed out loud when I first heard this cover version on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny…

Smells Like Teen Spirit

The really funny thing about this is that now, when I hear the Nirvana version, I can’t help thinking of this.

30 Days of Music: 24 – A song that I want to have played at my funeral

Unlike yesterday’s topic, this is definitely still in the future – and hopefully quite a long way in the future, too! But I’m sticking with the same kind of theme as yesterday. Short of something deliberately ironic, such as My Way, I don’t really want to inflict my choice of music on my friends and family, so I’m deliberately not going to leave any instructions for what I want at my funeral – it’s up to them how they remember me. But I won’t complain if they choose this one…

Tim Hughes – Happy Day

30 Days of Music: 22 – A song that I listen to when I’m sad

Happy songs are all alike, every sad song is sad in its own way. So Leo Tolstoy might have written if he’d been into music instead of literature. As with anger, a couple of days ago, there are different reasons why I’m sad, and different types of sadness seem to demand different types of music. Sometimes, sadness can require catharsis, at others, it requires sympathy, and at yet others it needs washing away. There’s a whole genre of nobody-loves-me songs which have their raison d’etre in the need to cry your heart out, Bridget Jones style, and take solace in the fact that you’re not the first to be lonely or suffer a broken relationship. We all have an inbuilt urge, it seems, to hear some sounds that recognise the pain we feel.

So there are far too many candidates for today’s topic for it to be an obvious or simple choice. But sometimes, sadness isn’t just about me and what I need, it’s about what those I love need. This song exemplifies that, to me. This is Coldplay, with Fix You.

We’re at Dailymotion again for the video (Youtube seems to get suckier by the minute). And, in this case, the DM version seems to be better quality as well, so here’s the link: http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x1g0tu_fix-you-coldplay_music

30 Days of Music: 21 – A song that I listen to when I’m happy

This song is a staple on my “driving songs” iPhone playlist, which primarily comprises upbeat, happy songs that sound good on the way home from work – particularly on a summer Friday afternoon when the sun is shining and the weekend has just started. So, for the purposes of this list, it’s a pity that today is a Monday. But then again, I don’t care if Monday’s blue…

Direct link is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGgMZpGYiy