Sunday, 18 March 2018

Helen's favourite songs - part two

Last time out I rather optimistically said that they'd be a regular review or two between part one of this round up and the following installation. That was before I went away to Germany, came back and got lazy. However, a good session with the new Judas Priest album (Firepower, it's magnificent) helped me to regain my mojo and so here are five more of my friend Helen's favourite songs.

I Left My Heart In San Francisco - Tony Bennett

Going by the first five songs, and now this one, I feel Helen has a real affinity for the bittersweet side of life. Languid yet impassioned, '...San Francisco' is a perfect example of Tony Bennett's immaculate, effortless style. Starting off small and perhaps even intimate, the song crescendoes into a widescreen celebration of the city; you can almost picture the fireworks popping over the horizon as Bennett finishes up. This subgenre of jazz has never really been my thing at all, but this is enjoyable and eminently listenable.

Kiss Me - New Found Glory

Ah, now this is strange. As opposed to most of the picks that Helen and I swapped, this is one I remember contemporaneously. I must admit to having very ambivalent feelings around the whole latter day pop-punk scene. On the one hand, lots of my friends were big into it, and it was agreeably rackety. On the other, I didn't like its bland chugging efficiency, inclusive of instrumentation and singing. Nevertheless, this is a pretty fun rendition of the Sixpence None The Richer track, melodically faithful but with an alt-rock breakdown or two thrown in to placate the moshpit. Eh, not my favourite.

Pull Shapes - The Pipettes

The Pipettes - hitherto, my familiarity with them extended purely to their existence, which is to say, I don't recall ever hearing a note of their music. Coincidence is a funny thing, however, and it was only recently that I read an article in the Guardian about member Gwenno Saunders, who has been releasing music in the Welsh and Cornish languages. Colour me intrigued. What an odd song! It falls somewhere between the Ronettes and Steps! I'm rather smitten with how quirky and guileless it is, and in spirit it does seem to be recovering some of that bubblegum naivete of the best 1960s pop. I do find the modern production a bit stifling for what should be a riot of jubilance, but perhaps the marriage of the two period is the point? Maybe I should just shut my mouth, eh?

Don't Worry Baby - The Beach Boys

Now for an echt 1960s experience, the Beach Boys! This is glorious. As someone who has listened to a lot of this kind of music, I can tell you that absolutely nothing about this song comes as a surprise. You can almost anticipate the chord changes, and even the melody, before you've heard the song. It dips into plaintive longing when you expect it to, it soars with a kind of serene radiance when you expect it to. So what? When it's done this beautifully, so what? The different voices weave in and out of each other like spring butterflies. The Beach Boys were, for me, the epitome of post doo-wop, pre-Beatles pop-making, and aside from dorky numbers about being cool to your school, you can stick a pin in their catalogue from around this time and alight upon a gem. This song clouds the eyes and slows the heart, so why wouldn't it be on a 'best of' list somewhere? I kiss each fingertip in turn!

Stand By Me - Ben E King

I don't really feel any requirement to talk about this. It is perfection writ large, the gold standard of popular soul. It exists in the stratosphere, breathing the same thin air as 'I Heard It Through the Grapevine', 'Respect', 'My Girl' and others of that calibre. The bass riff that introduces the song is immediately recognisable, and instantly hummable. Instead of winding up throughout the track, King bites down on the first lyric, managing to tread a path that both manages to be imperious and yearning at the same time. Speaking of the lyrics, they are both simple and yet universal, underscored by strong images of a faintly apocalyptic nature. But the malt-shop eschatology doesn't sound hokey; it only serves to provide a backbone to the ardour professed by King. Three minutes that will leave you staggered.

That was fun! I would like to finish up with a few final thoughts. Ultimately, although we gave critical appraisals of each other's lists, there was a shared sense that the exercise went beyond merely talking about music. Indeed, I felt a little bit exposed, because whilst I'm happy talking about music, to say 'these are my ten favourite songs' can be quite an intimate thing to reveal. When I was younger, a mixtape was both a gift to someone who had feelings for but also both a shorthand way of demonstrating good taste and a discrete way of hinting that, perhaps, still waters run deep. As it so happened, we did indulge in a bit of cod-psychology; I found Helen's list to have a seam of melancholy running through much of it, whilst she identified a very off-brand sexiness to a few of my picks. Helen's feedback, incidentally, was both thoughtful and insightful; I should also add she has a great ear for music she's not necessarily familiar with. I'm glad we did this.

Anyway, back to talking about some overheated guitar crap next time out!

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