#876: The Kinks – Mr. Songbird

In a parallel universe, ‘Mr. Songbird’ made it onto the final tracklist of The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society. It would have been the seventh song on there out of 12, and it would have been loved and appreciated by all as the album was commercially successful and went straight to number one in many countries. It didn’t happen that way over here though. In fact, the complete opposite happened. The track was actually to be on a 12-track version of the album that planned for release in Europe, but main songwriter Ray Davies persisted that more work had to be done. In the end, the album came out on the same day as The Beatles’ White Album, with 15 tracks and no sign of ‘Songbird’ on there. It didn’t do very well commercially too.

So ‘Songbird’ was something of a rarity for years before it was released as a bonus track on a release of Village Green in 2004. Bit of a shame as, like the 15 tracks that made it on the original release, it contains just as great a melody in the vocals and instrumental elements. Its subject matter also aligns with the overall theme of the album. Nature and nostalgia. Ray Davies tells the listener about a bird that provides him the comfort and enthusiasm to wake up and start a new day with its singing. The mellotron plays the role of the bird here, answering Davies’ “Sing Mr. Songbird” plea with a little trill.

Apart from the mellotron and Davies’ vocals which are clearly meant to be the main focus in the track judging by how predominant in the mix, Pete Quaife also plays his role on the melodic side of it all with his bass. I particularly like that walk down he performs about a minute and a half in. Vilagge Green was the last album he played on as a member of The Kinks, and Davies himself admits that things weren’t the same once he departed. The overall swing feel to the track is another plus in my eyes. And I swear there are these female ‘ooh’ backing vocals at some points too, but they’re really really quiet in the mix. There’s quite a bit to look out for when listening to this one, so I’ll leave it in your hands. Or ears. Whichever one makes more sense.

#875: Mos Def ft. Q-Tip – Mr. Nigga

‘Mr. Nigga’ can be found on Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def’s) first solo studio album Black on Both Sides. I heard this track for the first time when I was 18 or so. At that age, you think you’re an adult ’cause that’s how it is in the UK. You really aren’t. I still had a lot of growing up to do. So when it came to this one, I didn’t really pay attention to what Mos Def what saying, but more how many times the N word was said in the track. Why’s that, you might ask. I’m not too sure myself. I guess an over-use of swear words in music was still amusing to me at the time. But then I got older, properly listened, and realised ‘Mr. Nigga’ is one of the realest hip-hop songs ever made. In three verses and its three choruses, the track deals with a topic that is very much relevant today – that being the subtle and not-so-subtle racism in society. Though coming from the perspective of a wealthy Black rapper, the situations are still the same.

The track tells a story of a wealthy Black man who still has to endure the stares, the comments, injustice from the law, mistreatment in America and abroad, all because of the colour of his skin. The instrumental’s great. Led by this flowing groove with some slapping bass and a somewhat cheery piano riff, it skips and hops and sometimes drops out to accentuate what Mos says in some places. But what really sells the song’s message, apart from the lyrics (obviously), is his delivery. The way he portrays the characters he describes by changing his voice, like the annoying flight attendant in the second verse, or when he expresses his loss for words when that same flight attendant asks for a photograph a few moments later. Just all throughout, Mos’ vocal delivery is so engaging and expressive, you can’t help but just nod your head to it, but you really have to take note that he is telling you some very serious stuff here. His admission that he’ll probably be treated the same way, even after having provided for his children or bought his mother a nice new house, doesn’t give much hope for the future either. There’s no happy ending to this track. And as you can see today, 22 years on, not much has changed really.

I like that Q-Tip is included in the track. He doesn’t have a verse. He more backs up Mos with ad-libs and joins him the chorus. I believe that’s due to the fact that the chorus itself is an interpolation of ‘Sucka Nigga’, a track that Q-Tip was on in his A Tribe Called Quest days. That’s all a side note though, needed a way to end this post on a positive. Both tracks are well worth the time.

#874: They Might Be Giants – Mr. Me

‘Mr. Me’ from TMBG’s Lincoln is a whole ball of fun. It has quite a cartoon-ey feel about it in its delivery. I read a comment somewhere that likened it to the music you’ll hear in a Mario Kart game; just from the knowledge I’ve gained from playing Mario Kart DS, the comparison isn’t too far off. Those high whistle-like noises and trumpet sounds are very reminiscent of the sounds from those games. And in general, the track is just propelled onwards by these crazy drum-machine rhythms which give an odd, but strangely addictive bounce to everything that’s going on.

But then you see the lyrics, and it’s clear that it’s about the titular character who may just be suffering from severe depression. Mr. Me’s been feeling this way for a while, depression is the track is symbolised as a ‘misty sea’ that ‘Me’ has been lost in for some time, and the track is something like a cry or a call for someone to help ‘Me’, but to also be careful that they don’t become depressed as well. So, you know… very polarising elements of a song are present here. Have to say though, a song about a really sad man never sounded so upbeat and cheerful before. It wouldn’t be the last time the band did something to this effect too. They always seem to do it so well.

To sum up, I enjoy it. This is a track that is over in under two minutes, so there’s not much else that I can think of to say. John Linnell sings it, he does a good job, John Flansburgh provides the catchy ‘yo yo-yo’ backing vocals which are very hard to forget. Just a short sweet burst of happy/sad music. And to close out, here’s a live performance of the song from 1987.

#873: King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Mr. Beat

After furiously headbanging at a continuous tempo for the first four tracks of King Gizzard’s Nonagon Infinity, ‘Mr. Beat’ brings a much needed cool-down to the proceedings. Not that I don’t enjoy those four songs. When I heard the album for the first time, I was sure that I hadn’t heard music that propulsive and driving before. My face was constantly screwed up just from how nasty everything sounded. ‘Gamma Knife’ is fantastic, it’s 6/8 on top of 4/4 drumming – can’t get better. ‘People-Vultures’ is the same. But while those are more the soundtrack for a high-speed drive, ‘Mr. Beat’ is more the song for a casual stroll down the street.

‘Mr. Beat’ relies on the whole play on words in its title. You see, the track is 7/4 time, so in a way the band ‘missed a beat’ when performing the track. Pretty clever. I do really like the song for just how it sounds though. A lot of delicate chords played, the bass is really upfront but playing some really nice melodies that mirror the vocals. Those organ breaks that come in are quite nice too. Funnily, those organ breaks are replaced by Stu Mackenzie playing the flute when they play this one live. But overall, the song has a very light feel to it – like I’m gently ascending into a sunny sky on a cloud. That’s just what I imagine, okay? The lyrics I haven’t put that much thought about because I think the music sounds so great already, though I think it’s just another case where the words are meant to fit around the music rather than having any significant purpose. That doesn’t stop it from being worthy of your time.

I should probably catch up with King Gizzard’s discography. Completely went head over heels for Nonagon in 2017, but I could never keep up with the rest of their stuff because they release one album after the other so quickly. I believe the last one I listened to in full was Infest the Rats’ Nest from 2019. Since then, they’ve released three more albums. It never ends with those guys.

#872: The Wombats – Moving to New York

The music video for this song isn’t that great. I thought that in 2007/8, and I still hold that opinion today. A lot of awkward staring and just a very low-budget tone to it. Song’s good though, always enjoy hearing it whenever it comes up on shuffle or something. ‘Moving to New York’ was a single from The Wombats’ first album, and its various appearances on MTV2 was how I came to know of its existence. It was also another reason for me to request that album as a present, birthday or Christmas, either/or, I can’t remember that well.

The track carries on a theme of self-deprecation and doubt that goes on throughout Love, Loss and Desperation. On here, the narrator generally seems to be down on their luck. They’ve had a bad week, they don’t know whether they’re coming or going, so they decide to move to New York in order to get some good sleep. Ah, but you see the joke here is that New York is known as the city that never sleeps, so it’s safe to assume that this person won’t have the greatest success with the decision they’ve made. It’s all a very sarcastic, ironic affair going on lyrically.

Despite the dismissive tone in its lyrics, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable track. Matthew Murphy sings it really well, and the thing to look out for the most is the bass guitar which really carries the melodic backbone. My favourite part is probably the outro, not because it means that the song is ending, but the chord progression during that part seems to come out of nowhere. Overall, the track’s pretty harmless. I think it’s one that reminds a lot people of the mid-00s where there were so many bands in the UK making music like this. Some of them were terrible, but I’ll always have a bit of a soft spot for the Wombats. Especially that first record.