Posted by: Splosher | 23/09/2010

New MP3 player, new Top 10

My newly purchased 4GB MP3 player arrived this weekend to replace the old and knackered 512mb one I’ve been stuck with – yep, there are still some people who aren’t even up into the gigabyte arena in the year 2010 – and though my current player had a smashed LCD and had lost of its equaliser function, the poor neglected thing had served me well for the last two years. Through all weather, the miniature jukebox has played its little silicon heart out each day during my ten mile cycle to work and once I realised using rechargeable AAA batteries would save me a small fortune, its running costs have been virtually unnoticeable, much like its dangled weight around my neck.

However, there’s only a handful of MP3s you can fit on half a gigabyte of data so I’ve spent the last couple of days getting reacquainted with long-forgotten songs and synapses-tickling tunes as I’ve attempted to fill the additional virtual space to its capacity. Unsurprisingly, I’ve learnt that when you’ve been used to just a thimble-full of memory space, 4GB resembles something along the lines of a ravenous, gaping chasm eager to swallow up the trickle of your digital noughts and ones; no matter what I threw at it, the small black rod just bellowed for more, even after I’d emptied a lifetime’s music collection from my hard drives down its cabled gullet.

This new MP3 is a Philips Go Gear and although not i-Pod cutting edge, it appears to be well made: with a colour screen, it has good, solid sound and looks just like a USB stick in size, so can be worn around the neck and forgotten about while cycling. Also, the player has a built-in rechargeable battery, so this means I can reallocate my AAAs back into remote controls within my flat, which is good news as I’m sick of flicking off covers and spinning dying batteries in the hope of getting enough juice just to change TV channels. To top things off, the headphones send a decent burst of sound into your aural canals and as such, the volume can be a good couple of notches lower than the usual “bleeding eardrums” setting I’m used to with my old headphones; indeed, my previous sound quality now appears to have been that bad in comparison, I believe I may have developed tinnitus because of the earpieces’ magnetic half-life zapping my inner malleus!

The most interesting aspect from trawling through a load of old songs, which you’ve replayed in the hope of garnering merit for inclusion within the new MP3 abode, is that a particular guitar riff or lyrical chorus will bring back a flood of memories from your past (a distant and rapidly disappearing past, in my case). These memory recalls could be something good, such as a flash from the first-fleeting weeks of falling in love or a wasted summer of youthful exuberance, but then again you may remember something testing like the final soul-crushing seconds of a failed relationship or a heart-rending reminiscence of a bereaved loss. It doesn’t matter whatever auditory ditty fires whichever neural pathways because it’s all pertinent to your journey through this so-called life: just crank up the songs, tune into their vibrations and recollect times gone by with a flood of emotions only certain songs can bring to the fore.

This is exactly what happened the other day as I perused my neglected music collection and as I was awash in remembrances’ gone, I began to notice there were certain songs that appeared to be integral parts of my past’s psyche; indeed, a few lost gems genuinely brought about passionate reminiscences for times gone and mislaid memoirs. This got me to thinking about the many compilation tapes I used to make when I was younger – as most of us used to do in the Dark Ages before digital media – and the handing out to close friends and potential girlfriends of the ones you were most proud of, regardless of cost. So, here are my top-ten essential songs that have contributed to, helped form and ultimately corrupted this once-young boy’s innocent soul into the now-old, fury-filled blogger who’s tapping this barely-eligible tripe. Yes, the song’s are in order of merit and what they mean to me but if any song has made it in this “tapeless” top ten, then it must be acoustic nectar in my selfish opinion.

Without further to do, here are the names of the artists, the song name and the title of album, all in descending order: if you’ve not heard all of these, then may I suggest a swift lesson in self-flagellation and a quick spending spree at an internet music retailer in the hope of rectifying your sad and sorry existence? You’re welcome and enjoy…  

10) The Beatles – In my Life. (Rubber Soul, 1965) 

Without doubt one of the most beautifully poetic and poignant songs The Beatle’s ever created and it revealed an unknown maturity in the writing of John Lennon which had not been recognised prior to Rubber Soul. An ode to the passing of time, getting older and accepting loss, In my Life is accompanied with just a hi-hat shake and harpsichord instrumental, then all rolled into less than two and half minutes; the perfect pop song, edged with sadness. For this reason alone, whenever I catch its melodious rhythm I can feel my eyes begin to well up and I’m overwhelmed with memories of my own life’s struggles, bereavements and the choices I’ve ultimately made.   

9) Mazzy Star – Fade into you. (So Tonight that I might See, 1993)

This particular song represents a crossroads in my life; I left behind my old life of menial jobs, small town mentality and poverty to embark upon an adventure that saw me move away from home for the first time as a residential mature student in Harlech, North Wales. Once there, I was introduced to a multitude of different experiences that up until then my sheltered life could only have dreamt existed. One of these outstanding memories involves a night-time beach party down on Harlech’s beach and dunes: in the early morning, as the smashed and stoned hardcore lay around the flickering embers of a fire, staring up into the glitter-strewn night sky of the heavens, Mazzy Star’s Fade into You was being played low on a bulky ghetto blaster. Surrounded by the warmth of the late spring air, the distant rolling of the incoming surf and the friendships found in this wonderful place, there could be no other song in the world to complement such an unforgettable moment.

8) Nirvana – Lithium. (Nevermind, 1991)

Nevermind came along at a time when musical tastes were in limbo across the UK; you were either into acid house and dance music, 60s acid rock and indie music or the top 40 chart scrapings of shit that were polluting the radio airwaves. Then all of a sudden, ‘Grunge’ began filtering across to these shores from Seattle and its leading exponent was Nirvana, ready to force their pure, three-riff shots of adrenaline down our wanton gullets. A few years later, during a party at college to celebrate the end of term, I can remember doing a paralytic striptease whilst holding a camcorder at arm’s length and singing along to Lithium as a roomful of oiled friends hollered me on to a starker’s finale. I find I pray virtually every day that some bright spark from back then doesn’t rediscover the tape and decide to upload this cretinous performance to Facebook or YouTube 16 years after the fact!

7) The Stone Roses – Sugar Spun Sister. (The Stone Roses, 1989)

Listening to the self-titled album as a whole had a life-changing effect – it was directly responsible for me making a band and trying to be a singer – but its legacy to my life went further than the failure of me being a warbling tool standing behind a microphone. I was enrolled at Art College, obsessed with the up and coming indie music of the time and had adopted the ‘Baggy’ ethos to the full: flowered shirts, massive flares and a mop of unkempt hair signalled I’d converted to all things “Madchester”. However, what Sugar Spun Sister reminds me of is one the most monumentally bad decisions in my life, something that cannot be rectified nor corrected as the moment in history’s gone and passed: I sold my ticket to watch The Stone Roses at Spike Island on the morning of the concert, at the back doors of a hired Transit van we were all travelling in to the gig to somebody for £20. As I passed the ticket over and received two crumpled ten pound notes back, the van’s stereo was playing Sugar Spun Sister; I stood and watched as it reversed and drove off into the distance, all alone in the falling drizzle and regretting the decision almost immediately. The less said about this the better…

6) The Doors – The End. (The Doors, 1967) 

I’d watched Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent Vietnam anti-war film Apocalypse Now many times growing up as it was available at my local video rental store at the turn of the 1980s, where even though I was only around 12 years old, my Aunt served and she would let us sneak the films out. It had become a firm favourite by the time I was developing a taste in music and I had always been mesmerised by the instrumental music played during the killing of Colonel Kurtz, which was of course The Doors The End. So by the time I began to develop my own musical tastes, the band became a firm favourite, although that was a little way in the future. I was hung by my own petard one day when I mentioned The Doors to my Mum’s friend, before I had actually listened to the band in question.

“Oh well, you’ll know Jim Morrison’s band from Apocalypse Now then, won’t you?” came her response.

I tried to bluff my way out of this confusing situation, “Er, yeah… right, from the film” I nervously tried to show my musical knowledge was immense. “The Doors are really good in the film, but what’s the name of the band that plays the instrumental music when Martin Sheen kills Marlon Brando? I’ve always liked that, sounds Indian or something.”

A look of slight embarrassment passed across her face as she spoke, “Er, that is The Doors… it’s called ‘The End’…”

Needless to say, I flustered my way out as best I could and immediately got hold of a copy of The Doors The Doors album and anything else I could find to rectify my adolescence error, thus beginning a lifetime’s reverence pretty much unmatched by any other band.

5) The Smiths – Last night I dreamt somebody loved me. (Strangeways here we come, 1987)

An achingly beautiful song regarding the torture of loneliness and rejection – indeed some say it mirrors the break-up of Morrissey’s and Marr’s relationship – played out on their final ever studio album at a little over five minutes, but the shorter radio edit is the better version in my opinion: straight into the opening words without the flotsam of the instrumental intro, the single has a more immediate effect on the listener. Either way, the impact of hearing Last night I dreamt… for the first time, having just broke up with my first proper girlfriend after six months meant that Strangeways here we come became a permanent vinyl fixture on my record player for many months. People not in the know always used to class The Smiths as a depressing band with even more depressing songs but this was completely missing the point of their brilliance: they eased teenage angst better than anything else available at the time and still I’d rather have an aural dose of The Smiths than their modern day equivalent – Prozac – when I’m feeling downhearted.    

4) Happy Mondays – Wrote for Luck. (Bummed, 1988)

Epitomises everything you need to know living in poverty up in north Manchester during the late 1980s, where your time and money were taken up by listening to music and taking drugs of any kind just to try and cope with everyday life. I had just turned 18, without a care in the world and was already starting to go to the illegal warehouse parties that were springing up every weekend over in Yorkshire due to the closure of companies because of the Tories’ decimation. Happy Mondays always seemed to be playing on the car stereo as we sat waiting at the designated meeting place up on the moors somewhere, along with scores and scores of other people until the final destination was passed along from car to car. Each time I now hear Wrote for Luck, I’m reminded of being in a vast convoy of slow-moving vehicles with each following the one in front’s neon-red, night-smudged tail lights and beginning to get the feeling of coming up on whatever happened to circulating through my bloodstream at that particular moment in time. Ah, great times!

3) The The – The Mercy Beat. (Infected, 1986)

I can still remember witnessing the video opus Infected late one night in 1986 on Channel 4 and being completely transfixed by its music video construction, unable to pull my gaze away for its entire 60 minute duration and it was this experience that heralded the genius of Matt Johnson into my life. The Mercy Beat is the final track on the album and encompasses a time in my life that seemed futile and completely depressing: I’d just left school without sitting any exams, I didn’t have a job and was skint, just sat lounging around at my Mum’s at the height of Thatcher’s fractured Britain. With the final electronic bars fading out and disappearing into the titles, I was hooked on The The, amazed I had never heard of them and come the next day, I began to track down as much of their stuff as possible. Matt Johnson may have released albums before and after Infected but each time I listen to this sublime work of art, I’m transported back to a time when youth was on my side, I was carefree in the face of having nothing and didn’t worry about throwing away time: the perfect memory for middle-age. 

2) Oasis – Live Forever. (Definitely Maybe, 1994)

Every time I hear this magnificent anthem from Oasis’ first album, I’m reminded of the summer of 1994: I’d just finished my studying at Coleg Harlech and buoyed with a new confidence and a kick-started intellect, I returned back home to north Manchester a completely changed man. In time, I caught up with a good mate called Dean and his girlfriend Sophie, who I hadn’t seen for a couple of years and one particular day we were all in my car heading somewhere or other, when I played Live Forever on the car’s stereo. Now, I thought I was bringing new sounds from afar and although Oasis we were from Manchester, the song hadn’t been released officially and I’d had to tape it off the radio, so I was pretty sure my mate wouldn’t know them.

A few seconds into the song Dean said, “This is alright, who is it?”

I replied, “Oh, it’s a band called Oasis from Manchester,” thinking I was at the forefront of musical inception.

At this, Sophie chipped in. “Right, is this their new one? I’ve not heard this one yet…” and with this, Dean nodded his head, “Is it Oasis? Yeah, you can tell now he’s singing…”

“Er, have you heard of them, then?” was my confused statement, convinced they must be mixing them up with another band.

Sophie answered nonplussed, “Yeah, my sister is engaged to the band’s singer, Liam…”

And then Dean added, “Yeah and the other week we all went out for Liam’s birthday up Oldham…”

Needless to say I was flabbergasted, not only at the lack of pretence my friends showed towards personally knowing what would turn out to be the biggest band in world only a couple of years later but also at my decision to leave my home town in the first place: I had inadvertently took myself out of the loop to better myself – which I did and to great effect – but it showed that Fate always has another trick up its sleeve to spice up the paths you leave behind, just to cause you consternation.

1) Proud Mary – Same Old Blues. (Same Old Blues, 2001) 

And here is my number one song of all time. I’m betting it’s one that may have slipped by most people, although if all was fair in love and war, Proud Mary’s first album Same Old Blues would be being lauded as one of the top albums of the Noughties. Instead, it’s been relegated to the great heap of the forgotten partly due to being the first band produced by Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label; this gave all press hacks who had an axe to grind with Oasis but were too scared to do so an opportunity to step up and crap all over his new side-project, thus denigrating a work of pure, unbridled brilliance.

Proud Mary’s original line-up in 2001 when their first album was recorded were four lads from Royton, north Manchester: Matthew “Nev” Cottee (Bass), Adam “Chink” Gray (Rhythm Guitar), Paul “Spot” Newsome (Lead Guitar) and Greg Griffin (Vocals), although their musical style and the singer’s drawl conjures up images of a band from a US Southern state. There does appear to have been some musical input from Noel Gallagher himself while producing the record, not unsurprisingly considering his belief in their talent: this is evident to the listener on the track Somewhere down the Line, as you hear Noel count the song in for the rest of the band! As such, Same Old Blues is a musically taut but time concise album – indeed, its nine songs have a combined length of just less than thirty minutes – although it becomes apparent that the short structure is perfectly balanced and is the ideal length for repeated listening, something which becomes essential once the record is played through its entirety.     

The title song, Same Old Blues, is the final one on the album and runs for exactly two minutes and thirty seconds: it encompasses the perfection of an acoustic guitar, a tambourine shake and the singer’s resonant voice to create a work of such virtuosity that as its dying chords are finally strummed, the most world-weary soul will feel their spirit soar in its aftermath. It’s a stunning piece of musical vividness, helped in no short order by Greg Griffin’s Embassy No.1-smouldered larynx and on this track – as with the rest of the album – he seems to be dragging the words from deep within his core, rendering an almost primordial edge to a voice hewn from the greatest white Blues-rock singers of the past, such as Jagger, Plant and Morrison to name but a few.

Now, I could reveal my utter bias for Proud Mary by waxing lyrically about how Nev’s brother, Adam was my best mate 25 years ago; that Chink has read a couple of my attempts at scripts in the past and been kind about them; how I introduced somebody called Eddie to Spot when he was in his first band, The Ya-Yas many years ago and that meeting solved their missing drummer problem. Lastly, I could go on about knowing Greg most of my life – from the Shiloh cotton mill nurseries we were dumped in each day as our Mums’ worked 12 hour shifts; through the multitude of times we spent having mammoth drinking sessions that originated in the Duke’s tap room; onto when he broke his singing cherry at Chadderton’s British Legion club in 1996 while singing with Stone Fly(?); and finally through to hearing Proud Mary’s rough demo at his house and being asked my humble opinion on what his next step should be. These personal tales are of no real relevance to anyone else but what is of significance is the raw, burgeoning talent which lies within their music on the Same Old Blues and it’s this music that speaks volumes for their barely-contained fervour to escape a small-town-life, not the ramblings of an old friend from yesteryear.

If you have never heard of this band, then do yourself a favour and check them out through Google or iTunes as I believe it’s a travesty of the highest order that they have never attained the success they obviously deserve. With a second album released a couple of years later called Love and Light (Redemption Records, 2004) and a third one released just this month entitled Ocean Park (2010), Proud Mary are still going strong and continuing to gig all across the UK, albeit with a slightly adjusted line-up. In a world of watered-down, chart-topping kiddie slop and instantaneous, X-Factor style fame being handed out each week to utter dross, there doesn’t seem to be room for genuine talent anymore in our culture. And it’s because of this money-making musical farce that Proud Mary are still out there in a limbo, ready for real music fans to rediscover their unique sound and claim it for themselves, whether that be live, on CD or digital download.

So, what are you waiting for…?


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    • Hi

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