Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Exit Music (for a blog) - PLUS - 50 FAVOURITE SONGS OF ALL TIME!

So I've decided to concentrate on my music. This blog isn't going anywhere, but alas, I will not be updating weekly (like I ever did, but I always intended to). I fear the end of month lists will bow out gracefully. I won't rule out an end of year, but I think one last, one MOTHER of a list, is needed.

I'm going to do something the loser in me, which is basically just me, has wanted to do for a while: compile a list of songs that have inspired and touched me the most in my lifetime. I won't claim this to be "THE TOP 50 SONGS OF ALL TIME!!!" because it's not. My taste is varied, often quite shameful, and this is purely and unashamadly, my favourite music. Period.

50 - Placebo - "Without You I'm Nothing" (from Without You I'm Nothing, 1998)
With album number 2, the angsty and emo Placebo became poignant and melancholy, with melodrama at an all time high. The title track is the sound of someone hitting rock bottom, but musically it soars to heights they haven't met since.

49 - Deinonychus - "A Misleading Scenario" (from Mournument, 2002)
Suicidal black/doom metal - even that morbid and slightly humorous genre classification cannot prepare you for the self-loathing Deinonychus. Why "A Misleading Scenario"? It manages to incorporate Vangelis sized strings over the din. I used to listen to this under my bed when I was 15.

48 - Swimming With Dolphins - "Up in the Stars" (from Ambient Blue EP, 2008)
Owl City side project - quite possibly the most beautiful piece of nintendopop ever. It ticks so many guilty pleasure boxes that it's almost credible as a result.

47 - Type O Negative - "Everything Dies" (from World Coming Down, 1999)
With "World Coming Down", Goth legends Type O Negative's trademark dark humour was so black you begin to wonder at what points front-man Pete Steele was being serious. "Everything Dies" is actually quite upsetting in its bluntness. Reading the lyrics on page is nothing like hearing them through the deadpan sneer on record. "Now I hate myself, wish I'd die" - be careful what you wish for Pete. Sorely missed, RIP.

46 - The Radio Dept. - "Heaven's on Fire" (from Clinging to a Scheme, 2010)
The most blissfully melodic and innocent political song of all time. It may not even be intentionally political (although the opening interview clip suggests otherwise) but reading the lyrics that accompany this perfect pop song can be interpreted in many ways. "It seems like everyone is on your side, we're outnumbered by those who take no pride" - truer words were never spoken about the music industry.

45 - MOPP. - "Dream About You" (from Dream About You CDS, 2010)
The 3 most gorgeous opening chords of all time, and proof that scottish indie boys can write euphoric anthems just as well as the headlining DJs in Ibiza.

44 - Genesis - "Hold on My Heart" (from We Can't Dance, 1991)
Say what you like about Phil Collins, he knows how to write a cheesy ballad. But "Hold on My Heart" is actually beautiful, ACTUALLY beautiful. I don't care what you think.

43 - Oceanlab - "If I Could Fly" (from Sirens of the Sea, 2008)
The ultimate escapist anthem. Those opening bouncy beats and the ethereal vocals drifting away on the chorus... the perfect song for listening to on a "crowded train to take me home", as the song says.

42 - Massive Attack - "Teardrop" (from Mezzanine, 1998)
Heartbreaking, fragile, and with delicious dark undertones, this is quite simply Trip Hop's crowning glory.

41 - 4 Strings - "Let it Rain" (from Believe, 2003)
They just don't write uplifting trance like this anymore. This kind of music is what summer is about.

40 - Lycia - "Nine Hours Later" (from The Burning Circle and then Dust, 1993)
If hell had a DJ, they would play this as you sunk into the flames. And those rolling tom drums ensure you're dancing all the way down.

39 - Madonna - "Justify My Love" (from The Immaculate Collection, 1990)
The sexiest song of all time. The obvious "Erotica" is more about control and de-sexing sex as much as possible, but "Justify My Love" sounds like falling in lust for the first time, and maybe even love.

38 - Sade - "No Ordinary Love" (from Love Deluxe, 1992)
...but no one can sing about love quite like Sade. 7 minutes and 20 seconds to soundtrack making love. And I don't cringe saying that one bit, just listen to Sade breathlessly sigh "didn't I give you? All that I got to give baby?" - irresistable.

37 - Air France - "No Excuses" (from No Way Down EP, 2008)
Where Air France came from, or what you'd call their fuzzy world-disco-indie-hybrid, couldn't matter less as this one lyric track loops its sunshine hooks round and round. The best moment? When you think its ended prematurely and the drums give you a cheeky wink before kicking straight back in.

36 - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - "Higher Than the Stars" (from Higher Than the Stars EP, 2009)
The band have rarely lived up to their very apt name more than on this new wave anthem of forbidden teen love. And of course, that wonderfully ambiguous line "you can't think straight, because you're not straight..."

35 - Cut Copy - "Hearts on Fire" (from In Ghost Colours, 2008)
Cut Copy know exactly when to drop their best hooks, and the moment when those massive chords drop a mere 30 seconds into "Hearts on Fire" is definitely the most exhilarating moment of their impressive back catalogue - as is that gleefully cheesy female vocal sample. You'll know what I mean if you hear it.

34 - Katatonia - "Brave" (from Brave Murder Day, 1996)
The opening track of one of THE best metal records of all time, from ANY sub-genre, "Brave" is Katatonia's crowning achievement; a 10 minute ode to misery, suicide and monotony, carried on the shoulders of the record's trademark robotic rhythm guitars, and a disarmingly desperate performance from Opeth's Mikael Akerfeldt. Dare I say, the performance of his career.

33 - Deadmau5 & Kaskade -"I Remember" (from Deadmaus' Random Album Title, 2008 and Kaskade's Strobelight Seduction, 2008)
Two of progressive dance's most melancholy DJs came together to create what is probably one of the most eerie yet stunningly beautiful house tracks of all time. Not to mention the most depressing.

32 - Anathema - "Dreaming Light" (from We're Here Because We're Here, 2010)
"Suddenly, life has new meaning" - suddenly, the once forelorn kings of 'alone' Anathema are reborn a force of hope rather than an enemy of it.

31 - Slowdive - "Machine Gun" (from Souvlaki, 1993)
There's only so much I can say about this one - sheer shoegazing bliss.

30 - Riverside - "In Two Minds" (from Out of Myself, 2004)
A moment of reflection and simplicity from prog rockers Riverside turns out to be something tear jerking and heart warming in a way that prog never intended. "If you lose your faith, know that I am still your friend" - the falsetto that drives this phrase is difficult to listen to without welling up.

29 - Stardust - "Music Sounds Better With You" (from Music Sounds Better With You CDS, 1998)
Instantly recognisable, and instantly loveable. The perfect midday dance-in-the-sun track.

28 - Max Linen - "Flashback" (from Flashback CDS, 2004)
Quite possibly the most ambitious house track of all time. Telling a story of drugs, confusion and delusion, a gravely-voiced protagonist fails speaks over an illegally commanding baseline and violent beat. Thrilling in ways you never knew dance music could be, doing things you never thought one could do... "everything you can imagine... all going on... I OPENED THE DOOR..." BANG! Fucking genius.

27 - Madonna - "Express Yourself" (from Like a Prayer, 1989)
Has there ever been a camper song in the history of pop music? But if Madonna knows one thing, she knows empowerment. If only she'd stick to empowering girls and gays, rather than forcing herself upon third world countries and making sweeping political statements. Sigh. Bring back this Madonna PLEASE!

26 - Coldplay - "Talk" (from X&Y, 2005)
"You've Got A Friend" for the noughties indie generation, Coldplay manage to finally overtake their predecessors U2 here, by managing to sound like God AND your best friend at the same time. And that's a thing, honestly.

25 - Chicane - "Saltwater" (from Behind the Sun, 2000)
That Clannad sample was always meant to soundtrack a 41 degree afternoon on a beach on a Mediterranean island, I think it just got lost via some film called "Harry's Game".

24 - Above & Beyond - "Alone Tonight" (from Tri-State, 2006)
Featuring the quintessential male euphoria vocal courtesy of Richard Bedford, "Alone Tonight" sounds like Kings of Leon collaborating with Armin Van Buuren, and it sounds even more powerful than its description... "WAAAAAAOOOOOOOOOOO...." etc.

23 - Placebo - "Hang on to Your IQ" (from Placebo, 1996)
The most adorable song about drug addiction of all time, no question. And SUCH a lovely guitar riff.

22 - Radiohead - "No Surprises" (from Ok Computer, 1997)
Similarly, the most adorable song about suicide of all time. Noticing a pattern here?

21 - Sigur Ros - "Glosoli" (from Takk..., 2005)
After the mournful, thoroughly sorry-for-itself "( )", this opening song proper from 2005's "Takk" is quite simply the most life affirming track of Sigur Ros's pretty damn life affirming career. Starting with a whisper and ending in a cacophony of guitars and drums, all the way, the band sound as if they are glowing with contentment and, indeed, self-worth.

...TOP 20!

20 - Passion Pit - "Smile Upon Me" (from Chunk of Change EP, 2008)
How Passion Pit manage to make a song sound endearingly "bedroom" and yet stadium worthy at the same time is a feat to be admired, but "Smile Upon Me" makes just as much sense bouncing around your bedroom alone as it does with your arms around your friends at a gig. It's a love song, a very silly worded love song, but that's what make you fall all the more for it. It smiles upon you, and you smile upon it too.

19 - Robyn - "Dancing on my Own" (from Body Talk, 2010)
I've talked about this enough... but oh look....
 Dancing on My Own (Cover) by JoeCopplestone

18 - Evanescence - "My Immortal" (from Fallen, 2003)
YES? AND? To me, this is one of the most emotional songs of all time. You can all shove your cynicism up your arses.

17 - Gianluca Motta - "Not Alone (feat. Molly) (Deadmau5 Remix)" (2008)
Deadmau5 works his magic on an unknown Italian DJ's work and you don't know what's hit you. The emotionally intensity is almost too much. And lyrically, this story of forbidden love is relevant to a certain Gaga-friendly community in a way that house music rarely addresses.

16 - Late Night Alumni - "Empty Streets" (from Empty Streets, 2005)
The perfect post-club walk home soundtrack. Out there, the world is very real, and problems cannot be danced away or drowned out beneath a Black Eyed Peas track. But there's a beauty in solitude that this track addresses and makes you feel over and over.

15 - Royworld - "Brakes" (from Man in the Machine, 2008)
How the fantastic anthems of Royworld were dumped in favour of the crooning Script frustrates but doesn't surprise me. "Brakes" isn't a love song, it's a song that you hear from friends and family during the hard times: one that says "slow the hell down, you're going nowhere at that speed". Of course "Yeah, this is your life, don't you cry, cos it's alright", is hardly going to win an originality award for lyrical creativity, but it's a sincere band who can make it sound genuine. I guess writing songs from the heart wasn't enough to save them from getting dropped. Miss these guys.

14 - The 3rd and the Mortal - "Horizons" (from Painting on Glass, 1996)
As the band were gradually drifting from melancholic, atmospheric metal into self-indulgence and experimentation with ambient music and electronics, they reached a rather perfect halfway point with 1996's "Painting on Glass", and "Horizons" is the perfect collaboration between warm, ethereal pads and maudlin acoustic guitars. Voices come and go, and nothing changes much in 7 minutes, but when 3 notes from a guitar are enough to send chills down your spine, the last thing you want is progression.

13 - Low vs Diamond - "Life After Love" (from Life After Love EP, 2004)
Another band who drifted off the horizon, but leaving a truly wonderful song in the form of "Life After Love" with us. The earliest demo version is by far the best, not trying to be anthemic, just letting the ponderous melody sail amongst waves of thoughtful guitars and shuffling rhythms... and somewhere along the way, probably with the line "before they catch me, i'm gonna give myself away", they became more anthemic than they could ever have intended.

12 - Daft Punk - "One More Time" (from Discovery, 2001)
Probably the last song to be ever played as the end of the world arrives. And nothing would be more fitting.

11 - Eva Cassidy - "Over the Rainbow" (from Songbird, 1998)
The most beautiful voice I've ever heard, making the most beautiful song ever written even more beautiful. I'll say it again, BEAUTIFUL. Fun to sing along to as well.

...TOP 10!

10 - Anathema - "One Last Goodbye" (from Judgement, 1999)
Probably the centrepiece of Anathema's career, although not QUITE my favourite, this ode to the Cavanagh's mother's death is comforting and heartbreaking all at once. "Somehow I knew you could never ever stay" laments Vinny, and whilst the song soars, the heart sinks. Until the incredible guitar solo... then the heart can't help but leap.

9 - Madonna - "Like a Prayer" (from Like a Prayer, 1989)
The beginning of Madonna's finest period (DON'T), "Like A Prayer" is everything Madonna shouldn't still be: provocative, controversial and above all, racy. And that's just the video, it would all mean nothing if the song weren't a heart stoppingly perfect example of the sheer heights that pop music can reach. Iconic.

8 - William Orbit - "Adagio for Strings" (from Pieces in a Modern Style, 1999)
Not the ravey techno of the Tiesto version, or even the earth shattering hope-deprived stringscape of Samuel Barber piece, this version is my favourite because it manages to emulate the exact same emotions of Samuel Barber's piece, and yet give it a sense of determination rather than defeat. And it's the biggest euphoric wall of sound I've ever heard.

7 - Aphex Twin - "Rhubarb" (from Selected Ambient Works II, 1994)
I could happily listen to those 5 chords loop round for the rest of my life and die happy. Indescribable.

6 - Madonna - "Vogue" (from The Immaculate Collection, 1990)
To think this was almost a B-side. Forget your "Born This Way"s and "Fucking Perfect"s and "Who You Are"s... none of them are any fun on the dancefloor (sorry Gaga, the track's a "drag"). And isn't that where you really express who you are? "Vogue" may namedrop a specific early 90s dance craze, but really, to vogue is to invent your own dance, to revel in being yourself, being different. It may be frighteningly camp, but the message in this song is one that no other pop song will ever be able to top. "It doesn't matter if you're black or white, if you're a boy or a girl - if the music's pumping it will give you new light, you're a superstar, yes, that's what you are". There's no need for any pop singer to ever give this message again, Madonna's said it right there.

5 - Radiohead - "Everything in its Right Place" (from Kid A, 2000)
The first track of the first Radiohead album of the new millenium. And what a rebirth. Quite literally, "EIIRP" sounds like being in the womb. A muffled kick drum and an all encompassing rhodes keyboard loop as little vocal blips and bloops fly around, like a brain making its first baby steps into forming cohesive thoughts. And somehow, this messy, confusing track is comforting and even regressive. One listen, and for 4 minutes, you yourself are back in the womb. Best listened to in foetal position as you settle your heartbeat after a long day.

4 - Soul Whirling Somewhere - "Piece of Wick Alight in a Pine" (from Pyewackit EP, 1997)
One man's quest to make the most depressing music on earth, succeeds with this anthem to being walked out on. Self-pitying the extreme, the line "the things you bury yourself in will burn, they won't last like I would have" is the icing on the cake. It might sound joyless, but that's putting it VERY mildly. This song is depressing because it accepts that its problems will never resolve, and things will never be the way they were. And for those moments when we feel this way, it's perfect.

3 - Radiohead - "Street Spirit (fade out)" (from The Bends, 1995)
My favourite song of all time for a good few years after I heard it, until the following two took its place. I previously mentioned that Daft Punk's "One More Time" would soundtrack the end of the world, but this is only if you were partying the way out with the rest of the world. On the other hand, if you opted to lock yourself in the room and greet the end alone, "Street Spirit", over a resolutely minor guitar arpeggio and humbly shuffling rhythm section, would tell you how we have brought this all on ourselves and if all we can do now is repent, "immerse ourselves in love" as it were. Thom starts with a mumble and builds his voice up to an almighty final cry before uttering his last "immerse your soul in love" with a subdued and resigned sense of acceptance. 4 minutes and 7 seconds have passed; this is it. That final 'A' on the guitar. SILENCE.

2 - Explosions in the Sky - "Your Hand in Mine" (from The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place, 2001)
Sometimes the best stories are told by a musical instrument. Or in this case, the relationship between four. EITS are not just another post-rock band. They are one that don't just try to create a mood, they try to tell you a tale, each tumbling guitar melody and skittering snare a different statement. But no matter how many ways the band say it, "Your Hand in Mine" only has one thing to say. And it's something that cannot be described, and something that needn't be described, because knowing it is there is enough to speak for itself. And I think we all know what it is. At 2.27, you can feel the band take your hand, and no matter how alone you feel, it gives you hope that one day another person will make you feel this way.



1 - Anathema - "Are You There?"
This is my favourite song of all time, but strangely enough, I do not relate to it lyrically. And in fact, some of the lyrics I do not even understand. And I'm not even saying it's the music that does the talking. I'm not being very clear, let me try to explain.

"Are You There?" is about believing in life after death. About being able to contact a loved one after they are gone. Danny Cavanagh wrote this 4 years after the death of his mother, for the very, very dark "A Natural Disaster" album, full of anthems of regret, anger and confusion, but above all sadness to the point of numbness. "Are You There?" is a single bright light in the far corner of this dark room of an album, and one that would be finally reached 7 years later with the stunning "We're Here Because We're Here" record. It is what this song represents that makes it truly magical, even more so as Anathema progress as a band.

I have said this so many times before, Anathema were once a band who refused to cheer up, a band who related to the unrelentingly negative Doom Metal genre because they saw no other way to express themselves. However, it took a real tragedy, the death of the Cavanagh's mother in '98, to make this sadness, regret and depression suddenly achingly relevant. That is why 1999's "Judgement" remains their best album: it's the sound of the band who cried wolf. All those years singing about sadness, and all of a sudden they have something to be sad, and very sad, about.

See, for a talented musician, it's easy to write a sad song, and make people cry. It's easy to write a love song and do the same. However, it's hard to write a sad song when you don't want to admit how sad you really are. That involves serious self analysis and exploration, something that most bands would rather shy away from. But from that moment on, songwriter Danny seemingly found a release in explaining these emotions, and suddenly Anathema had found their purpose.

"Are You There?" is the sound of Danny believing he can write a song about hope. Of course, this is far from a happy song, it's troubled and confused ("Since you've been gone I've been lost inside", "All the ghosts freak my selfish out", "Where are you when I need you?"), but the glorious break into full band mode, on a resolutely major chord at 1:44, sounds like the first step into reaching peace, the first of a long road, but the first is always the hardest.

Now, this is where it inspires me to love "Are You There?" that bit more than all other songs, at least at this point in my life. If one glimmer of hope is all that is needed to believe things will get better, this is a message that stems to all aspects of life. And if Danny and Anathema can reach peace within themselves and express it through music, I can damn well do the same with my music. "Are You There?" Danny asks the ghost of his mother... it doesn't matter whether she really answers or not. He believes that she does, and really, isn't that enough?


Wish me luck everyone.




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