The story goes that Wilco were going through some inner turmoil during the making of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, particularly between lead singer and guitarist Jeff Tweedy and fellow guitarist and composer Jay Bennett. Their original record label weren’t so impressed with the final result of their work, rejected it and told the band to get out of their faces, leaving them with an album to provide but no label to release it. Eventually things all fell into place. Wilco got signed again. The album, originally slated for September 2001, was physically released to the masses months later in May 2002. Critics ate it up, fans loved it. Still do to this day. It has gone down as one of the best albums of the opening decade of this century.
‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ is the album’s opener. It’s seven minutes long. It takes about a minute of that time for the song’s main chord progression to make itself known after a sort of instrumental prelude of pianos, percussion and organs. Tweedy’s mellow voice comes in with the album’s first (and possibly most quoted) lines “I am an American aquarium drinker/I assassin down the avenue/I’m hiding out in the big city blinking/What was I thinking when I let go of you?”, and it all goes on from there really. You have to listen to it for that full experience.
Tweedy doesn’t have the greatest singing voice. Not soulful, or belting from the stomach or whatever. But it’s just perfect for the whole mood of the track. And the album in general. The vocal melody is the most simple thing. But it’s great. It will get in your head. And accompanied by the very full mix provided by Jim O’Rourke, it’s an enrapturing listen. It’s hard to not find yourself in a bit of a trance when hearing this. You probably won’t feel it on your first listen. It’ll sink in.
Above is the supposed demo of the tune, as recorded by Jay Bennett before it went through remixing for the album. Some prominent smooth Rhodes(?) piano in there, but not quite the same.
However tired out they were by life on the road over the years, guitarists Angus and Malcolm Young along with lead singer Bon Scott were inspired enough to write a song about the bane of endless touring that would become one of their most popular for years to come. “Highway to Hell” was the result, and was placed as the opener to the album of the same name in 1979.
Admittedly I’m not the greatest AC/DC fan; I think the first time I ever heard the song was when it was used on the credits of a Simpsons Treehouse of Horror episode years ago. But listening to it over the years has made me appreciate it more immensely. The riff, the chugging rhythm, the rousing chorus…. just musically the thing is fantastic. What I enjoy the most about it is Bon Scott’s vocal performance. I can’t help but try and match his raspy voice and ad-libbed yelps and screams when singing along and I can end up going over the top a bit while doing so. It is the great karaoke song if ever there was one.
Sadly the album would be the band’s last to feature Scott before he died a few months later in 1980, but his charismatic presence and voice are still emulated by many to this day.
“Has It Come to This?” was the first single from Original Pirate Material, the debut album from 2002 by English rapper Mike Skinner under the alias The Streets. Emerging from the UK garage scene that occurred during the late 90s, the tracks on the album deal with everyday occurrences and relatable issues such as love, getting drunk, and going out and manage to capture those little moments that many young people go through. The album was, and still is loved, to this day thanks to Skinner’s delivery, humour, observational lyricism and good beats.
“Has It Come to This” is the second track on the album after Skinner starts things off with brutal confidence on “Turn the Page”, and it is on it that the observational lyricism that runs throughout the entire album really begins. With calming vibes and a chilled piano sample, the song is Skinner’s invitation to the listener to sit back, relax and enjoy the album whilst also giving us a wealth of information about himself and what he sees around him on a daily basis.
Constantly reminding us of his name and album title in the choruses Mike Skinner demands us to get acquainted with what you are about to experience. This was only the beginning.
Can’t remember how it happened, but I stumbled upon The Used’s album In Love and Death and listened to it for the first time in 2009 or so. And I really liked it. I don’t listen to the band that much, I wouldn’t call myself a massive fan of them. I can guarantee that it is their probably their best album though. Written at a time when the good times were not on for singer Bert McCracken – his pregnant girlfriend had died as did his dog during the making of the album – In Love and Death is an album filled to the brim with emotion with lyrics detailing self-hatred and anger as well as joy and wonderment.
“Hard to Say” is one of the reflective and sombre tracks from the album, providing a laid-back and calmer atmosphere directly after three and a half minutes of shouting and straight-up loudness. On the song, McCracken sings about the sadness brought onto him when he remembers the moments he had with someone who has passed away and has trouble coming to terms with the fact they are no longer living. He does so with a great vocal take amidst a sound-scape soothing strings, organs, relaxing percussion and a ‘wooshing’ wind sound effect which plays throughout.
Have a listen. Quite sad.
So I may not have been the right age to realise the importance The Strokes’ debut album Is This It had for rock music when it was released in 2001. I was six. But from what I’ve read since listening to the band and just doing my research, it came out at a time when indie rock seemed to be dying. The music industry was dominated by boy-bands, pop-princesses, nu-metal and other dated musical movements. The Strokes came out with the album and showed that everything was going to be okay. It wowed everyone. And not just because they were so different, but because all the songs on there were to good to be passed on.
“Hard to Explain” was the band’s first ever single, and is a track that has remained in the hearts of many a Strokes fan for all these years. An exhilarating listen from the moment the drum-machine sounding kit provided by Fab Moretti begins pounding, the track always keeps you moving and entranced whether it be through the constant rhythm, the enjoyable interchanging guitar lines provided by Albert Hammond Jr and Nick Valensi or simply the vocal performance of Julian Casablancas. And even when the track stops for those few brief seconds, the anticipation of when it will start up again never leaves. It is one of the band’s greatest tracks.
I’ve always tried to think about what this song may be about; I never been able to really come to a full conclusion on it. I see it as something from the perspective of someone who doesn’t know how to react in some situations, or generally feels indifferent to what goes on around them. I’m not sure. It’s hard to explain. Ha.
“Got to Get You into My Life” is the jubilant, horn-heavy, Motown influenced ode to marijuana written by Paul McCartney, appearing as the penultimate track on the Revolver album. Why do I say it’s an ‘ode to marijuana’, you may be thinking. Well because that’s what it is. McCartney said it himself; the statement can be read in this authorised biography. Sorry to all those who’ve thought it was a typical song about yearning for love. But the real influence behind it makes the track all the more clever, slick and a bit humourous.
But when the first note plays and the blaring horns play the memorable introductory phrase it doesn’t matter what it’s about, you just know that the song is gonna be a good one. It doesn’t disappoint. Paul pulls off yet another stunningly smooth vocal take amongst the aforementioned brass instruments, leaping from the tamest of notes to the other end of the spectrum in a matter of milliseconds. It’s may be a bit worthy to note that Paul is the sole Beatle to sing on here with no harmonies from John and George, something that’s eventually mirrored by the former’s sole vocal presence on the next track. Still the two are make their presence known in the music, particularly George who from out of nowhere brings out a stellar lead guitar solo at the song’s climax, cueing the celebratory coda.
A brilliant track. It’s the last song on the album that you can get up and sing your heart out to before things get a bit philosophical and spaced out for “Tomorrow Never Knows”. Really dig it.
“Going to Your Funeral Part I” is the second track on Electro-Shock Blues, the second album by the alternative band Eels. Recorded during a period in which several friends and members of frontman E’s family passed away, the album is regarded to be the band’s best work because of the brutal honesty and sincerity within each of the sixteen tracks on it.
Preceding this song is “Elizabeth on the Bathroom Floor“, a lullaby-like track with lyrics taken from E’s sister’s personal journal before she unfortunately ended her own life some time after. “Going to Your Funeral Part I” depicts the scene bluntly stated in the title after the tragic event. You’d think that coming right after it, it would only concern the funeral of his sister and that’s what we’re made to believe for the first and second verses, but it is only until the final verse which has E almost screaming into a megaphone about remembering an old friend he used to hang out with behind their old school.
Beginning with an ominous drone that pans from left to right and quickly fades out, the track then gets to a crawling start carried by an unsettling groove led by an intense but very slack bass line that oozes from one note to the other. E comes in with a light falsetto vocal after, but over the dark bass line and overall atmosphere still isn’t able to to make the track less dissonant than it already is. The style changes during the choruses where cute xylophones and backwards slide guitars enter the mix; those only appear for a short time before returning to the grungy sound again.
Only five minutes into the album, the listener is already provided with two tracks that sound the complete opposite to one another. Though the first hints at the unsettling feel with light music and heavy lyrics, “Going to Your Funeral Part I” really hits it home.
If you want to know why it’s specifically labelled as “Part I”, here is “Part II”.