I used to like using last.fm. It would record every song I played on iTunes, including on my iPod, and publish them in a rolling list online. I came to know people through that site. It was good to see what other people were listening to. But like it stopped working for me. So I lost track of what I had been listening to. Here I’ll try to keep track a bit. Most of these titles will be on physical formats: vinyl and CD! A sentimental character, I like to keep going with those. In most of the instances listed below, I play the records over and over to try to get the most out of them, before finally replacing them on the turntable.
But most of the time I’m actually listening to the radio.
Rod Stewart, Gasoline Alley and An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down on CD – back into the grain of the acoustic-electric past, along with:
Bob Dylan, The Cutting Edge: 6CDs. I finished this at last, having taken 9 months to listen properly. It stands as probably the greatest archival music release I have ever heard. The one relevant comparison would be the less extensive Beatles Anthology CDs (and maybe the Sgt Pepper rerelease coming in 2017).
Bob Dylan & the Band, The Basement Tapes Complete. Just before I finished The Cutting Edge, I went back and listened to these 6CDs again. I wanted to do it all justice.
R.E.M., Dead Letter Office: somehow this CD (£3 from Fopp many years after first getting to know the LP) was what I wanted after Dylan: very electric, more modern than Dylan, yet not too modern; an artefact of the garage and college rock age.
The Lemonheads, It’s A Shame About Ray: at once a step into the past (10.1993) and a response to the vivid cool morning of Autumn.
Taylor Swift, Red. Long CD: quite impressed by how long it holds up, the number of good tracks, after an opener that aims for U2 scale and a title track that manages to leave some mystery.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Days of Abandon, a couple of times.
As the US election arrives I naturally turn to Bruce Springsteen, including the whole of Live 1975-85. And the Wrecking Ball CD a few times.
U2, Achtung Baby on iPod: 25 years on November.
The Smiths, The Queen is Dead: I have this on vintage vinyl and CD so it’s incongruous that I play it now on iPod: but it sounds over the orange leaves wet on grey pavements. One of those records I rarely play now: returning to it, in order, an exception, on the way to Greenwich and the Betsey Trotwood and back.
Prefab Sprout, Steve McQueen acoustic CD: never disappoints.
Belle & Sebastian (or whoever), God Help The Girl: always seemed a let-down, but does a bit for me this time.
Flowers, Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do, and Everybody’s Dying To Meet You: I buy both from the independent record fair, am disappointed and trade them in at Greenwich.
From the Record & Tape Exchange, vinyl: Simple Minds, New Gold Dream: at last a copy that doesn’t stick; China Crisis, Flaunt the Imperfection; Paul McCartney, All The Best gatefold double LP: the one song I definitely didn’t already have is ‘we all stand together’, which Harvey Williams calls a masterpiece; and Give My Regards to Broad Street: a good case of discovering unknown things in a well-known career: rerecorded Beatle songs, Squeeze-like new material on side 2, as well as what Stevie T’s review calls the Stevie G thunderbolt of ‘no more lonely nights’. I keep these 4 LPs around the turntable, playing them over and over till Christmas. But also:
The Best of Christmas 3CDs, and Sufjan Stevens, Songs For Christmas. At the time I can be unsure if this music is having the right effect in setting mood: but looking back I can see how it does mark off the holiday season.
Bruce Springsteen, Chapter & Verse: CD gift along with his book: atmosphere of the 1960s recordings including ‘The Judge Song’.
David Bowie, Let’s Dance, Low: I buy them new and cheap around the anniversary of his death, play them repeatedly but go easy on the powerful Low instrumentals; but ‘shake it’ and ‘without you’ over and over. The Low box is broken so I trade it in for Station to Station and play that a ton.
The Associates, Sulk: CD I must have picked up about 1999, never entirely got to grips with it.
U2, ‘Where The Streets Have No Name’, ‘I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For’, vinyl.
The Darling Buds, Pop Said … vinyl.
Sunflower Bean, Human Ceremony CD: I keep playing this for months, trying to get to know it. ‘Easier Said’ remains the peak by a distance, the band’s great raison d’etre as far as I can tell.
CD16, compilation from Impermeable Records: really solid indiepop, takes me weeks to get through it properly.
Rod Stewart, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down: play it for Nigel.
Slowdive, Just For a Day, on iTunes, for once. They’re back.
Talking Heads, 77, vinyl that was old when I bought it c.1993 but is still in fine condition: I try again to get into this LP. Still can’t really do it. Go on to More Songs About Buildings and Food and a big Remain in Light revival. None of it does for me quite what it seems to do for others. The Talking Heads I really love is on other records.
New Order, Power, Corruption and Lies vinyl: over and over trying to work out what some of the song titles are and how many there are. ‘The village’ I have never really known; ‘age of consent’ I could never pin the title to the song, but I think it’s the one about the birds and the bees; and ‘your silent face’ is the gentle one that starts side 2. I come to think much of it’s great: must be among the best records in all their career.
Joe Jackson, Big World vinyl in Ringmer: distinguished in being a 3-sided LP and in being recorded live. Also a bit of a concept album about cosmopolitanism, and much stronger than its non-existent profile in cultural memory would suggest.
The House of Love: The House of Love; The German LP; The Fontana Years, 4 CDs.
Pinkshinyultrablast, Everything Else Matters CD: over and over.
Billy Bragg, ‘Shirley’: the alternative version thrilling me as I walk up Marlborough Lane from the Shooter’s Hill end, maybe for the last time.
Skypark, Summer Days Are Forever CD.
The Foxgloves, ‘Downbound Train’ as I walk the low road home from the market in the sun past the old council blocks: Stevie’s spoken-word voice as I climb the hill back to Lee Terrace.
The BV’s Speaking from a Distance LP, many times over on the turntable: cherishing a few songs in particular for their generic indiepop flavour amid the lo-fi smudge of sound.
Bob Dylan, Fallen Angels CD: revival of a birthday present from 2016.
China Crisis, Flaunt the Imperfection LP: still savouring the inquiry into the scouse chorus of first track ‘The Highest High’; and the cleanness of the whole record’s sound.
Morrissey, Your Arsenal CD for his birthday. It impresses me, I think: this is a really good Morrissey LP, surely one of the best, maybe underrated … then I realize this is basically where it’s always been, it was correctly rated, respectfully but not ecstatically, all along.
Jens Lekman, Night Falls Over Kortedala: reviving this CD bought by post late 2013 I’m impressed again by the casual wit, and find some tracks tremendous with life and verve: ‘I’m leaving you because I don’t love you’, ‘your arms around me’.
Christine Tobin, Pelt CD: another go at this adaptation of Paul Muldoon lyrics to jazz. I hear something in it on repeated listens, but it’s not as melodic as I would want: probably an occupational hazard of jazz.
David Bowie, Aladdin Sane, while reading Forever Stardust: David Bowie Across the Universe.
The Primitives, Echoes & Rhymes, and Spin-o-Rama mint green vinyl. This last LP remarkably good for a songwriting comeback after so long.
Simple Minds, New Gold Dream LP: never having plumbed the depths of this record, I keep going back to it for more.
Lou Reed: Sally Can’t Dance CD: maybe time for yet another cycle through the 5CD box set of 1970s Lou. This belongs to that supposedly classic period yet is not rated. It’s heavy rocking, said to be desultory on Lou’s part; but ‘Kill Your Sons’ stands out for swaggering abandoned tough drama.
Early Slowdive tracks, mp3, walking home down the hill from the market: immense swirling mood the morning after a terrorist attack at London Bridge.
The Clash, The Story of The Clash, double LP from June 1991. Always an odd, arty kind of best-of, with almost unreadable sleeve notes and an almost inaudible track that seems to be The Clash talking on a tube train. And an odd track order with side 1 representing late Clash, side 3 more punk, sides 2 and 4 hard to define … In the year or so after obtaining this LP I listened to The Clash as much as almost any artist, received taped copies of their B-sides and remixes. Later I didn’t. But this double LP works for me now. ‘Somebody Got Murdered’ the great understated, muttered surprise.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Days of Abandon CD. Summery. I’d always neglected opener ‘Art Smock’: now I rediscover the chorus, what a diamond.
The Shop Assistants, Shop Assistants, original LP from 1986, a fabulous birthday gift from 2016.
The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, new CD remaster / remix. I’m only four songs in, slowly savouring the quality of each song – so much just in ‘with a little help from my friends’ for instance; such fascination in the title track! On my hifi: I don’t think I’ve heard The Beatles sound better than this. They used to say this was the best LP ever. Why not? I eventually write about it here.
The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir. CD1 gives me the impression of a new default Merritt style: slow, centred around ukelele or similar, comic but lugubrious; lacking pop dash. The one exception is ‘Judy Garland’ which comes across with great verve and spirit.
Various, Sounds of the Sixties: Hits: 2CD from David Moore. I hear songs for the first time like ‘Surf City’; I own ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘Step Inside Love’ for the first time; Beatle covers; I hear how the start of ‘The Locomotion’ is a model for the start of ‘Born To Run’.
Carly Rae Jepsen, Emotion CD from RJG: a different sound: slick, shiny, heavy, the rhythm section thudding out in the base of the track and through the floor when it gets going. The airless sound that some chart-pop records can have so when the music stops and she sings something a capella to prime a chorus (this seems very recurrent in the genre), she doesn’t seem to be in real space but a plastic compressed space. I like several tunes: ‘Run Away With Me’, ‘I Really Like You’, ‘Let’s Get Lost’.
The Beatles, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: CD2, early takes, drafts. Raw room sound, opposite effect from what I mentioned in Carly Rae Jepsen. So raw it makes them seem like normal musicians struggling to bash out a song in time with each other. Aspects are exposed, like the Monkees / Bacharach piano groove of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. Verbally they suggest things like how to sing certain lines. George Martin is often audible, and plays a surprising amount of music himself. What’s oddest: how his busy schedule prevented him arranging ‘She’s Leaving Home’. I mean, looking back you’d think that producing Sgt Pepper’s could take precedence over other assignments.
The Magnetic Fields, 50 Song Memoir: CD2 changes the picture somewhat as it engages with New Romance and synthpop, but it’s still not so clear that great catchy songs are emerging. ‘How To Play The Synthesizer’ is a fun conceptual song with a pulse, possibly enough to be a highlight here, but it wouldn’t be major work on 69 Love Songs (where it would have to be called ‘Synthesizer Love’). CD3 seems to be improving the picture with ‘Why I Failed Ethics’ and ‘Ethan Frome’, about as close as the album has come to truly charming tunes. Other tracks like ‘Dreaming In Tetris’ have something also. Still an idea of ‘experimental music’ is involved, with the conceptual noises of ‘The Day I Finally …’ – but who is going to choose to listen to that song for fun, rather than play it as a chore as I naturally do? At least the LP has entered the Magnetic Fields period; I try to perceive or imagine traces of the 1990s, chickfactor-era Merritt that I somewhat know.
Talulah Gosh, Was It Just A Dream?, vinyl back on the turntable with sides 3 and 4 to explore again.
My Bloody Valentine, ep’s 1988-1991: over and over again through the second half of the month. One of the two discs is in the machine day after day. I thought this would all be familiar, but not all of it is, and some of what’s not familiar excites me most: ‘Slow’, ‘Thorn’, I can play them endlessly! And ‘Drive It All Over Me’ sounds better than ever and one of the great MBV songs of its time.
Glen Campbell dies and I play the lesser-known regions of my best-of CD: ‘True Grit’, ‘Where’s The Playground, Susie?’ and lesser songs.
Watch God Help the Girl twice on DVD and appreciate the songs more than ever before.
Psychedelic Furs, Forever Now CD. I like reviving the 3 CDs by this band that I bought in a box, maybe 5 years ago. It sounds loud, full, radio-glossed in its way but also a bit basic. ‘Love My Way’, ‘Run & Run’.
But less CD and vinyl action now (and iPod is broken, perhaps for ever) because the soccer season has started again, so the impulse is to turn on 5live.