#581: They Might Be Giants – I Should Be Allowed to Think

Happy new year everybody! 21 days in…. I’m sorry, but I’m now officially a working man. I just haven’t had the time to get back into this. Well, there have been weekends obviously…. but I just haven’t had the inspiration and energy to write. 10am-6pm is a long day, I tell you! I’ll try and get back to the once a week thing on here. Emphasis on ‘try’. Though it will more than likely be a sporadic post here and there.

And so the first track of 2018 is one by They Might Be Giants, who coincidentally just released their 20th(!) album entitled I Like Fun on Friday. Haven’t heard the whole thing yet apart from its title track and ‘I Left My Body‘. I probably should. I leave you a link to its iTunes page where you can buy it for a reasonable price.

‘I Should Be Allowed to Think’ is on the band’s fifth album John Henry, released way back in 1994. Their longest album by a mile, almost an hour in length, it was the first where they performed as a full band with bass guitar and percussion backing John Linnell and John Flansburgh. Thinking on it, I personally see it as their way of showing that they were still able to provide their usual versatility and unique style of songwriting even without their drum machines and backing tapes of the past.

Like many other of the group’s songs, it’s told from a viewpoint which you can look at in two ways… You can listen to the narrator and take their points at face value… or they’re lying and something else is up. Knowing They Might Be Giants, it’s usually the latter. This narrator in particular feels injustice from seeing these rubbish bands advertised anywhere, and sees this as reason to say whatever they want and have their ideas heard by anybody – no matter how stupid they may be. They feel as if there’s this big conspiracy against them, when really they’re probably just thinking about it a bit too much.

This is a great song, another mainly penned by John Linnell though Flansburgh sings in the bridge. I do find myself humming along to its bass line when hearing it, particularly the second half of the chorus. Fair play to Tony Maimone, who plays the bass a fair few of the songs on John Henry. It’s a standard rock song I would say, although it’s not really because it’s They Might Be Giants. There’s always something a bit different when it comes to them. In a good way.

‘I Should Be Allowed’ was recorded on the band’s home equipment and could be listened to on the phone through their Dial-a-Song service before the song was officially released. Thanks to the Internet, that demo version can be heard all the time. It is below.


#574: The White Stripes – I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself

Gotta say I don’t have much on the brain about this one….. Nothing on the personal side of things anyway. I think the song’s great don’t get me wrong, The White Stripes achieve a fantastic cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s composition (originally made popular by Dusty Springfield in 1964), but I think I just saw the music video on MTV when I was about nine and thought it was cool. And because I was only nine and still thought girls were icky, I never got the appeal of Kate Moss pole dancing and writhing on a table. The song just simply sounded awesome. That is the official music video by the way for any new readers or listeners, not my doing.

The White Stripes were alright. They have great songs but I’m not a huuuge fan… It always was a big thing when they announced a new single or album though. I recall the video for ‘Icky Thump’ being shown almost every hour on MTV2 in 2007 when it was released. Good times being 12 and everything. Good tune too. Though you wouldn’t find me being the first in line to buy their albums. Was a shame when they split though. Probably still had so much to give.

So anyway ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself’ appears on the band’s 2003 album Elephant as its fourth track. This track’s tone is what pulls me in every time. There’s something very slinky, sneaky and sly in the way it’s performed. Jack White gets that ashy tone on his guitars and sounds like he’s wailing his vocals about in an empty corridor. Meg White gets all primal on the drums. The contrast between the quiet verses and the sudden release in the choruses. That triumphant ending where the song title’s repeated and everything fades out. Man. This is a great track. Whenever anyone attempts a cover of an old track, I feel they should always adapt it to their style whilst trying to capture the magic of what makes the original. The White Stripes did it here. This is one of those good covers.

My iPod #560: Wilco – I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

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.

My iPod #527: AC/DC – Highway to Hell

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.

My iPod #492: The Streets – Has It Come to This?

“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.

My iPod #488: The Used – Hard to Say

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.

My iPod #487: The Strokes – Hard to Explain

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.