New Spotify Playlist – Pure Pop For Never People!

Sorry I’ve been a bit crap at updating recently. Between computer problems at home, pressure at work, and the general blandness of most of the comics recently, I’ve not really had any momentum for posting. Hopefully that’ll be back again soon and I’ll be back to the level of productivity from last month within a few days.

Anyway, the nights are drawing in, so we all need some cheerful pop music to pick us all up, and here is a playlist of just that.

Come On In by The Association is as good an opener for anything as you could hope for. The one time I DJ’d I started this up as soon as the doors opened (unfortunately, of course, no-one heard it as they hadn’t arrived yet. This is the kind of thing you don’t think of if you’ve never DJ’d before).

Mayor Of Simpleton by XTC is one of those list songs like What A Wonderful World, to which it bears a huge lyrical resemblance – “Never been near a university/Never took a paper or a learned degree… And I may be the mayor of Simpleton, but I know one thing and that’s I love you”. The music is insanely catchy, though, and I’m amazed this was never a hit. Everything here’s perfect and thought through – listen to that bassline from Colin Moulding, going all over the place, commenting on the main melody – but at the same time it’s *immediate* in a way much of XTC’s stuff isn’t… I actually considered just doing an XTC playlist today, they’re so great.

Broadway by Stew is one of his few cover versions, a radical reworking of the Clash song, turning it into a disco track backed by drum machine, analogue synth sounds and fast-picked banjo (presumably played by Probyn Gregory?), this gives some idea of what the Negro Problem’s side project The Covers Problem sounded like (at some point I must post an MP3 of their live cover of the full Thriller album).

I’ve posted Nerdy Boys by Candypants in more than one playlist before, but who cares? It’s the best pop single of the last decade.

7 And 7 Is by Love is the song that invented punk, back in 1966 when the rest of California was busy inventing hippysim, and it’s still one of the most ferocious records ever (fantastic song to play live, too, especially since the rhythm section has to do all the work while the guitarists just have to slash out chords). Drumming by the great Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer (I’ve told Holly that if we ever have a kid I’m going to name it Alban “Snoopy” Pfisterer in tribute, which has ensured we shall remain child-free).

September Gurls by Big Star is the track that invented powerpop. Unfortunately, Spotify removed the three proper Big Star albums recently, so this is what sounds like a full-band demo – every element of the track is there, but not *quite* as tight as the finished version. For those who don’t know the original, though, it’ll more than suffice.

More Important Things by The Mockers is another catchy-as-hell harmony-based spiky jangly guitar song. Sometimes I like those.

Baby It’s Real by The Millennium is a track I’ve adored for ten years even though it breaks the cardinal rule of lyric-writing , Harry Nilsson’s “Never use the word baby unless you’re talking about a little person”.

Friends Of Mine by The Zombies is almost unique in that it’s a song about being happy about other people being in love, although rather sadly almost all the (real) people named in the backing vocals have either split up or died (Jean and Jim are still together forty-one years later though, if that’s any consolation).

This Whole World by The Beach Boys is an astonishing tour de force. Stupid lyrics, but in one minute fifty-seven this manages to cycle through something like five different keys, never settling on one for more than a couple of bars, in a completely unusual structure.

Thankful/It’s Over Now by Linus Of Hollywood is another example of LoH’s rather odd attitude to women (which I can only hope is a Randy Newman-esque ‘writing in character’ thing) – “If you would just leave and take all of your things I’d be grateful… don’t forget to take your mood swings/don’t forget to take your nasty attitude” over one of the most upbeat, bouncy pop tunes I’ve ever heard. Again, a cleverly-structured, complex piece.

And Jaded by The National Pep is my attempt at doing a pop song as clever and complex as the last couple, or even more so. And if you listen to it through spotify, I’ll get a whole shiny penny to share with my collaborators…

This Week’s Spotify Playlist… And Thank You For The #welovethenhs Response

That last post of mine threw me off my posting stride a bit, because of the sheer weight of response, by email, on Twitter, in the comments here and in the comments to Debi’s repost of it (where our one troll went to hang out – I apologise, Debi, for getting a bit too angry there with someone who is, after all, a fellow human being, albeit one who wants to condemn millions of other fellow human beings to death because she doesn’t like them…).

The response has been, frankly, ludicrous – I was even interviewed by the Wall Street Journal today in my lunch break (I are big media pundit! I am the new Iain Dale or something), which is frankly surreal, given the content of that last post – I would have thought “The NHS isn’t designed to deliberately kill old people” was as uncontroversial a statement as one could make. I wonder what other misconceptions about cherished national institutions I’ll have to try to dispel in international media. Maybe next week I’ll be telling Le Monde that Last Of The Summer Wine isn’t a paedophile ring but a whimsical Yorkshire comedy show…

Anyway, thank you to everyone who retweeted, commented or linked that post of mine, and now I’ll get back to the stuff I *meant* to be posting this week. Tomorrow there’ll be a post on comics and the day after the continuation of my guide to my blogroll, but for now here’s a playlist.

My Mom Is Tor Johnson’s Mom by The Native Shrubs Of The Santa Monica Mountains is a fantastic song that my friend Tilt linked me to last week. For those who don’t know, Tor Johnson was the bald wrestler who appeared in many Ed Wood films, most notably Plan 9 From Outer Space. This song reminds me of my friend Blake Jones, but for a reference other people might get, the closest I can imagine is if The Dukes Of Stratosphear had done a Frank Zappa pastiche…

Think Carefully For Victory by The National Pep is one of two songs by my own band I’m including here (yes, Spotify even has *us* on it now) because I think they genuinely fit. It’s a jangly pop song for which I wrote the music and Tilt the words. The lineup on this one (TNP has a *very* fluid membership) is me on guitars and keyboards, Tilt on vocals and drums, Gavin Robinson on mandolin (which we mixed too low, I think), Laura Denison on one line of vocal and Albert Freeman (of Wilful Missing) on some African instrument I forget the name of Đàn Bầu.

Save The Last Dance For Me by “Ike And” Tina Turner is a Phil Spector-produced, Jack Nitzsche arranged version of the Doc Pomus/Mort Shuman classic. Brian Wilson very obviously ripped off the backing track for this for Heroes & Villains.

Bicarbonate Of Chicken by Ivor Cutler is about ordering bicarbonate of chicken in a restaurant.

Just One Look by Doris Troy is better known, in Britain at least, for a vastly inferior version by the Hollies, but this is the original. This was actually originally a demo, but it was released unchanged and made the US top ten. In the intro, you can definitely hear the influence this record and others like it had on early reggae…

Through The Net by Glenn Tilbrook & The Fluffers is from Pandemonium Ensues, probably Tilbrook’s strongest album since East Side Story. This one’s very Kinksy.

Common People – Live by Pulp is a recording which always brings back memories for me, as I was at the Glastonbury where this was recorded, and saw Pulp quite by chance, having no intention to see them perform (I’d seen them on some late-night Channel 4 thing and dismissed them as crappy electropop based on a couple of minutes, and hadn’t heard this, which was a huge hit single at the time). But it was the most astonishing experience of my life. I’ve seen Pulp and Cocker solo live quite a few times since, and they’ve always been good, but at that gig Cocker was simply the most astonishingly charismatic performer I’ve ever seen, and every moment is etched in my brain fourteen years later. (Christ, fourteen years? That can’t be right, surely? 1995 was only a little while ago…). This recording was originally a b-side to the Mis-Shapes/Sorted For Es & Whizz CD single, but is now a bonus track on the reissued Different Class.

Baby Please Don’t Go by Big Joe Williams is another song that’s usually much better known in a beat-group cover version (the version by Them), but I prefer (just) the original, just vocal, sparse guitar and harmonica.

Beat Head by Candypants is included in this as part of my ongoing campaign to get Lisa Jenio recognised as one of the real greats in rock/pop music. I think this one might be about something naughty…

Hominy Grove by Van Dyke Parks is one of many great songs from Jump!, his album loosely based around the Uncle Remus stories.

Nasty Dan by Johnny Cash is another one from The Johnny Cash Children’s Album. I always liked Cash doing this sort of material at least as much as the dark ‘man in black’ stuff for which he’s better known.

Time Will Carry On by The Wackers is a nice bit of 70s harmony pop that, to me at least, stays just the right side of Bread or America.

I Got You Babe by Tiny Tim is Tiny Tim being both Sonny and Cher, accompanied by his ukulele.

Don’t Smoke In Bed by Peggy Lee is a song that, I’m ashamed to say, I first got to know from k.d. lang’s vastly inferior cover version. I could listen to Peggy Lee sing anything…

And Jaded by The National Pep is another of my collaborations with Tilt (I’d say the writing here is about 55/45 in his favour), and the closest I’ve ever come to realising the sound I hear in my head in a recording studio. It’s a shame that Tilt didn’t find our musical collaboration a particularly happy one, as I think the results were superb, if I do say so myself. On this, Tilt and Laura share the vocals, Tilt does drums, Blake Jones does the theremin and melodica on the tag, my wife Holly adds woodwinds, and I played guitar, all the keyboard parts, and ukulele (and mandolin? I know I had a mandolin in the studio but don’t remember recording a mandolin part, but I *think* I can hear one on one of the choruses). I’m very proud of this one, and I don’t think you’ll hear music like it anywhere else.

(As Tilt says in the comments “Blake Jones is just the BEST – Buy his music, make him rich: and “)

Tomorrow, comics.

New Spotify Playlist – All This Is That

This week’s playlist (a day or two early) started out as a ‘what I’ve listened to this week’ one, then mutated slightly. Now it’s *mostly* soft-psychedelia, with a little raw bluesy stuff thrown in. I think it works…

All This Is That by The Beach Boys is from the criminally underrated Carl & The Passions: So Tough, an album I’d put in their top five. This one’s written by Mike Love, Al Jardine and Carl Wilson, and lyrically is gibberish about Transcendental Meditation, but works just for Love and Wilson’s wonderful vocals (especially Wilson’s soaring ‘jai guru dev’ falsetto at the end). The current touring ‘Beach Boys’ often perform this live, and it’s usually the best thing in the show.

Cross-Hatched World by Chewy Marble is a great piece of 60s-esque pop from Modulations, one of my favourite albums of last year. For those who don’t know, Chewy Marble are led by Brian Kassan, the former bass player for the Wondermints, and are very much the same kind of band.

When The World Is At Rest by Janet Klein And Her Parlor Boys is in here for the delightful tuned percussion. Janet Klein, for those who don’t know, does “Lovely, Naughty and Obscure Music of the 1910’s, 20s and 30’s”, and very well, with a wonderful sense of humour but a respect and love for the material.

Wavestrumental by Tripsitter is from California Son – a very strong album let down somewhat by attempts to sound too much like the Beach Boys (down to quoting Friends and When I Grow Up for no real reason). This track, on the other hand, sounds just like the High Llamas, albeit the High Llamas at their most Beach Boysy, and is all the better for it. A gorgeous little mostly-instrumental, with a lovely vibraphone part.

Where Have You Been All My Life by The Stool Pigeons is a cover of the Mann/Weill song best known as a Gerry And The Pacemakers track. The Stool Pigeons are a band led by Lisa Jenio (also of Candypants and The Negro Problem) who do covers of Merseybeat songs with a punk aesthetic. This one’s one of their few ballads, done as a torch song with loud guitars. Great stuff.

Come And Get It by The Knickerbockers is not, as one might expect from a band best known as Beatles soundalikes, a cover of the Paul McCartney song that was a hit for Badfinger. Rather, it’s a remarkably good bit of blue-eyed soul, sounding very like the Spencer Davis Group or the Small Faces at their most bluesy. This really deserved to be a hit.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Don Preston is not the similarly-named Bonzo Dog Band song, but a really gorgeous Stravinsky-esque piece by the former Mother Of Invention turned jazzman (and, latterly, nostaligia circuit performer). It’s a shame Preston’s so overshadowed by his ex-boss, as he’s very, very talented himself.

No More Hot Dogs by Hasil Adkins is the greatest track by the mad rockabilly one-man band, one of many revolving around his favourite themes of murder and meat. This one’s an invitation to (presumably) his girlfriend to have her head cut off and hung on his wall, so she ‘won’t eat no more hot dogs’.

Electricity by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band is from what I still consider one of Beefheart’s best albums, his first, when there seemed a slight possibility that by compromising just *slightly* he could have commercial success. My friend Tilt once said that another song on this album sounded just like the Monkees, and indeed the ‘sung’ vocals here sound very Mike Nesmith. That said, the spoken vocals and theremin part leave no doubt who this is – Beefheart was trying to put his ideas in commercial form, but still using *his* ideas, rather than the pandering of Unconditionally Guaranteed.

Bubblegum by Kim Fowley is one of several attempts that Fowley, whose metier was novelty records, made to be psychedelic. One imagines it might not be wholly serious.

Kyrie Eleison by The Electric Prunes was, until my friend Blake Jones used it as the theme for one of his albums, the best pop-music Kyrie ever. This is from a time when the Electric Prunes had actually split, and David Axelrod was putting out albums of religious-based psychedelic music under their name, involving one or two original members. The band disown the albums now, but I think they’re rather good.

Cherry Picker by Candypants is a typically funny, observant lyric from Lisa Jenio, but what really makes this for me is the bass part, and the chord progression in the bridge, which sounds very Roger Nichols to me.

And Checkin’ In, Checkin’ Out by The High Llamas is unfortunately one of only three of their songs on Spotify, and not at all typical of them. However, it is a great little pop song, in a sort of middle-of-the-road acousticy way.

Playlist for Easter Monday

Since summer appears to have started, alas, this week’s spotify playlist is a little more upbeat and summery than previous ones, though I’ve still included a couple of blues tracks, just because. You can play this one from here . It’s fifteen tracks.

Oh My Love The Wackers is a cover of the Lennon solo track by the classic Canadian pop band. As you might expect from their name, the Wackers were very Beatles-influenced, and this track was a deliberate attempt to do the song as it would have sounded had the Abbey Road-era Beatles recorded it. Gorgeous little track.

Product by Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers is from the new album Pandemonium Ensues, which is musically the strongest thing Tilbrook has ever done, drawing from a far broader palette than he ever did in Squeeze (though lyrically he still misses Difford enormously). This one actually worked better live, where it sounded very Jobim-esque – here the John Barryisms in the chorus sound a little cliched. But there’s still some very interesting stuff going on here, and bassist Lucy Shaw’s vocals are great.

Riot In Cell Block #9 by The Robins (the band who later became the Coasters) was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, and is an obvious precursor to their later Jailhouse Rock, but this is by far the better song.

As it’s Easter Monday, I thought I’d add in the best religious song ever written, the lovely Country Boy by Jake Thackray. Over a melody which is strongly reminiscent of Heroes & Villains, Thackray sings about Jesus’ ministry in the down-to-earth Yorkshire Catholic way he had – referring to a prostitute as “living her life between the scandalised fist and the beckoning finger” and a thief being crucified as “clinging to life with hands that had always been empty”. It’s an expression of a very humanistic Christianity, and is in its own way as great a religious artwork as Bach’s St Mathew Passion or the Sistine Chapel – that sounds an exaggeration, but I truly think it’s the case.

Give Me A Pig’s Foot And A Bottle Of Beer by Bessie Smith is there for pillock, who asked about this one last week, but also because it’s a great early blues track.

Surf’s Up by The Beach Boys is one of the two greatest songs ever written. Both, according to most sources, were written by the same two men, Brian WIlson and Van Dyke Parks, on the same night (the other is Wonderful, Rufus Wainwright’s version of which I linked the other week). If this had been released in 1966, as part of Smile, as intended, rather than five years later, it would have been as important a record as A Day In The Life. But it’s still a better one.

You’re No Good by The Swinging Blue Jeans is one of the best Merseybeat singles ever. I always think it a shame that the Swinging Blue Jeans are ignored while even The Searchers get some respect now – You’re No Good and their version of Don’t Make Me Over are classic pop singles I could listen to all day.

Directly From My Heart To You by Little Richard is a song I first learned from Frank Zappa’s cover version. In both versions it’s a wonderful piece of greasy blues. Why Little Richard isn’t absolutely worshipped, I don’t know – the man was one of the greatest vocalists who ever lived.

Someday Man by Paul Williams is a version by Williams of a song he wrote with composer Roger Nichols for the Monkees. Williams and Nichols are possibly the least cool songwriting team ever, having written Rainy Days and Mondays and Rainbow Connection, but this song, Trust and To Put Up With You are as good as soft pop gets. This one reminds me of Neil Diamond, but less smug.

Candombe by Los Shakers is what you get when an Argentinian band that started out as a clone of moptop-era Beatles goes psychedelic.

Sport (The Odd Boy) by The Bonzo Dog Band is a rare full collaboration between Neil Innes and Viv Stanshall, and manages to be hilarious, an accurate attack on British schooling *and* parenting, and musically unusual, combining cod-Elizabethan woodwind, waltz-time harpsichord and mass chanting.

Three Hours Past Midnight by Johnny Guitar Watson is one of the greatest electric blues records ever made. In particular, the guitar playing on here is pretty much the template for all Frank Zappa’s playing throughout his career.

I Want A Pony by Candypants is my favourite stompy pop song of all time. “Mom, I wanna be the king of pop/buy me fans, hurry up/I just wanna be a millionaire/You’d die and leave me money if you really cared/…I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony, I want a pony now!” Lisa Jenio is my favourite songwriter of the last few years, and I wish she’d release some more albums of her own material.

Say You Don’t Mind is not, as Spotify thinks, by The Zombies, but is actually a solo single by lead singer Colin Blunstone, a cover of a Denny Laine song. Blunstone is a great vocalist (and I’m looking forward an unreasonable amount to the Zombies’ Manchester gig next week) but what really makes this for me is the fact that they’ve chosen to back him with *only* a small string section, playing in a chamber music style. It turns what would otherwise have been an average 70s pop-rock singer-songwriter track into something very different. And that last note just blows me away every time.

And finally, Cups And Cakes by Spinal Tap is a wonderful gentle pisstake of English pastoral psychedelia, while fitting the genre perfectly.

Albums You Should Own – Xmas Present Edition

As we are now at the start of Advent I thought I’d supply a set of Christmas music that’s a little out of the ordinary. This is partly in memory of my friend Pete Fenelon, who died a month or so ago and did this last year – some of the tracks here were on his compilation.

I’m not a very Christmassey person, generally, but nor do I ever want to be a killjoy, and so there’s a tension in these songs between the traditional “Isn’t Christmas great?” and the non-traditional “Bah, humbug” – sometimes even in the individual song. I’ve tried where possible to choose songs that people won’t be familiar with – the whole point of this list is that much as I love Wizzard and Slade and the Ronettes and Bing Crosby, I expect to wish to massacre everyone in sight if I hear them from about a week from now. However, some of the songs will undoubtedly be familiar to some of you, if only because there’s a difference between what was a hit in the US and what in the UK.

Our Prayer by Dave Gregory, the former XTC guitarist, is a cover of (part of) a wordless a capella track by the Beach Boys, from Remoulds, an album he made of note-for-note cover versions of 60s pop songs. I’ve included it even though it’s not strictly a Christmas song because it’s got the right kind of feel for this, and also because it leads beautifully into…

It’s Cliched To Be Cynical At Christmas by Half Man Half Biscuit. While, as I said before, I’m not the most festive of people, I find this song a valuable reminder not to inflict my curmudgeonly misanthropy on everyone else, and at least try to get into ‘the festive spirit’. I also have it on good authority (from my friend Tilt, who interviewed him for his radio show) that this is in fact Father Christmas’ favourite Christmas record of all time.

Fairytale Of New York by The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl is a Christmas perennial over here, but I’ve been told it’s barely heard in the US, hence its inclusion here. This is a shame, as nothing is quite as cheery as the cognitive dissonance of walking round Tesco or Woolworths (RIP) and hearing “You’re a bum, you’re a punk, you’re an old slut on junk, lying there almost dead on that drip in that bed/You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot, happy Christmas me arse I pray God it’s our last” over the tannoy. There is a certain breed of tedious poseur who refers to this as ‘the only good Christmas song ever’ – while this is absolute nonsense, the song itself is quite beautiful, and far more romantic and life-affirming than the lyric I quoted suggests. Just a beautiful, gorgeous song.

Sugar Wassail is by Waterson:Carthy. The Waterson/Carthy clan have for nearly 50 years been at the forefront of traditional English folk music – pushing the music forward and incorporating new influences while stlll ensuring that the music they play is an honest representation of the traditions that inspire them, and also while being genuinely enjoyable music. This is from their album Holy Heathens and the Green Man, a collection of mostly winter/Christmas themed traditional music which can be downloaded from eMusic.

Joy To The World by Brian Wilson is a recording from his ‘second comeback’ ten years ago that was made available as a free download from his website, and more recently was included as a bonus track on his 2005 album What I Really Want For Christmas. You can tell that he hadn’t sung much for a few years – he’s neither got the purity of his youthful voice nor the assured but limited range of today – but this still sends shivers down my spine.

Remember Bethlehem by Jake Thackray is one of the first songs Thackray ever wrote – he actually wrote it as a carol for the school where he was teaching, and the finished studio version included a school choir. One of the things I love about Thackray’s music is his Yorkshire bluntness – even his religious music (and Thackray was a deeply religious man) has the same real world love of humanity with all its smells and warts as Chaucer or the York mystery plays. This is a demo version, from disc four of the wonderful Jake In A Box box set, which I reviewed here (still one of my favourite pieces of my own writing) if you want to know more about Jake…

I Want A Girl For Christmas by The Knickerbockers is just a fun bit of pop music from the band who did Lies, possibly the best Beatles soundalike record ever. Here, the lead singer is clearly still trying to be John Lennon, but the rest of the band can’t decide if they’re the Beach Boys or the Four Seasons. There’s a couple of wonderful little a capella breaks here. It’s not a great lost classic or anything, but it’s a nice song (it’s available on eMusic).

Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis by Tom Waits is one of the most depressing songs to feature Christmas as a subject, and very far from festive. On the other hand, it’s a great song, and also I include it because I’ll be spending at least part of the Christmas period in Minneapolis, en route to the tiny Minnesota town where my in-laws live… This is from Blue Valentines, one of the best of Waits’ early beatnik period, just before he went into his Beefheart-by-way-of-Kurt-Weill mode.

What Child Is This by Mahalia Jackson is just a stunning performance. I’m sure you’ve all heard it, but it’s wonderful anyway…

The Happiest Time Of The Year by Candypants is a Christmas single produced by Darian Sahanaja of the Wondermints, which has been available for download most years from Candypants’ MySpace page. Candypants are one of my very favourite bands of the moment, and I can’t wait for the new material Lisa is apparently working on.

Morning Christmas by Dennis Wilson is a typical piece of late Dennis Wilson, all bass harmonica, gruff vocals and ARP string synthesiser. Recorded for an aborted Beach Boys Christmas album in the late 70s, it was eventually released on the Beach Boys’ Ultimate Christmas CD in 1999. It’s very much of a piece with his brother’s Joy To The World, actually.

A Christmas Carol by Tom Lehrer is on because everyone needs a bit of Tom Lehrer. I was going to include I’m Spending Hanukkah In Santa Monica, but this is far better. It’s from the box set The Remains Of Tom Lehrer

Christmas Day by Squeeze is an interesting attempt at something that doesn’t quite come off, but is still worth a listen.

Tinsel and String by Neil Innes is a lovely, tongue-in-cheek take on the normal sort of Christmas music by one of the finest songwriters alive today. For those who don’t know, Innes was the principal songwriter with the Bonzo Dog Band, co-wrote several songs with the Monty Python team and appeared with them on stage and in their films, and was the songwriter for The Rutles, in which he played Ron Nasty. When he’s on form, he’s as good a songwriter as anyone, and if he’d stuck to ‘serious’ music and not indulged his tremendous comic talent he’d probably be regarded as another Paul McCartney or Ray Davies. This was downloaded from his website, which has tons of MP3s and RealAudio files of his work.

Christmas In Suburbia by Martin Newell is from the album The Greatest Living Englishman (which is available from eMusic), which was produced by Andy Partridge of XTC, who also played many of the instruments. As a result the album bears at least as much resemblance to Skylarking or the Dukes Of Stratosphear album (the instrumental figure here seems distantly related to the melody of Vanishing Girl) as it does to Newell’s work with the Cleaners From Venus – but that is, of course, no bad thing. I just wish Newell didn’t pronounce the ‘t’ in Christmas…

Jesus Christ by Big Star is one of those songs you should already own. But just in case, here it is… from the classic Sister Lovers.

Baby It’s Cold Outside by Ray Charles and Betty Carter (from the Ray Charles and Betty Carter album) is the only version of this song – don’t give me your Bing Crosbys or Dean Martins or Tom Joneses, this is the *only* version worth owning. Until recently, I never understood why this was a ‘Christmas’ song, but Brad Hicks put forward a good case in a two-part blog post that this was a ‘date rape Christmas carol’. Which it is, at least in some versions, but Betty Carter sounds far from unwilling here…

Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming by Pete Seeger (from the album Traditional Christmas Carols, another one available from eMusic) is a lovely banjo-and-vocal version of the hymn.

In The Bleak Midwinter by Bert Jansch is included mostly because it follows very well from the previous track. I’m a big fan of Jansch, but the production on here is too wet, and the song doesn’t sound bleak enough. But it’s a nice version, and a good closer to the collection proper.

However, as you can fit a *little* more onto a CD, I’ve included two more tracks…

Santa Claus Has Got The AIDS This Year by Tiny Tim may be the most offensive track ever recorded – “He won’t be singing out ‘ho ho ho ho’/But he’ll be crying out ‘no, no, no, no!'” . When Tim realised how badly everyone had taken the song, he tried to claim it was about the slimming bar Ayds, but the lyrics (and the fact that the B-side of the single was called She Left Me WIth The Herpes) tell a different story.

And there’s a final little message from Andy Partridge, wishing everyone a psychedelic Christmas…

Albums You Should Own: Candypants by Candypants

Before I begin, to those who’ve come here looking for comics content, I’m currently in the middle of a big post about Batman, RIP, and another one on The Kingdom, but I’m afraid the probably won’t get finished for a day or two. It’s been a more-than-usually busy week for me, but I’ve got a long weekend off and I’m hoping to get a lot posted. In the meantime, here’s a music post.

I generally loathe ‘social networking’ sites, being as I am a grumpy curmudgeon who prizes content over form and has few real friends. But my band, The National Pep (currently on an extended hiatus, but you really should listen to our music – or, preferably, buy it) did set up a MySpace account a few years ago, and that had one unanticipated benefit – I discovered tons of new music through one single page on MySpace (which appears now to be defunct), the “Brian Wilson’s Band’s Colleagues” page.

Some of my favourite music of the late 90s/early 2000s came from a very small, interconnected, group of bands all based in LA. The Wondermints made wonderful powerpop records that sound like an imaginary Elvis Costello/Burt Bacharach collaboration (rather than like the rather underwhelming actual collaboration that those two had when they were both significantly past their prime). The Negro Problem (and, solo, their lead singer Stew) recorded baroque pop masterpieces with hilarious and touching lyrics, while Baby Lemonade made Cheap Trick/Queen style guitar pop.

However, that musical scene seems to have peaked around 2002, partly because they came to the attention of their musical heroes – the Wondermints have been the core of Brian Wilson’s band for ten years now, and consequently haven’t made much music of their own, while Baby Lemonade toured as Arthur Lee’s backing band until Lee’s death, and now rather sadly tour as a tribute band. (Stew, on the other hand, who was/is the strongest songwriter of the bunch by a long way, has gone on to write and perform in the Tony award winning musical Passing Strange).

But those three bands were just the most prominent members of a huge, thriving scene around the same time. There must have been something in the water in LA about ten years ago, because there were/are a *huge* number of good bands, often featuring many of the same people (multi-instrumentalist Probyn Gregory and percussionist Nelson Bragg must be in thirty bands between them). The Now People, The Mello Cads, Cosmo Topper, Chewy Marble… I’d heard *of* many of these bands, but until they were linked on one MySpace page with easily accessible sound files, I had no idea how good they were. I also subscribed to eMusic at that time, so I was able to actually get hold of many of the albums. At least three of the best albums I’ve listened to in the last year (Kristian Hoffman’s &, the Now People’s Last Great Twentieth Century Love Affair and Candypants by Candypants) were ones I discovered through that site, along with a lot of merely ‘very good’ music. Of those three, & is probably the best, but Candypants is my favourite.

The first track I heard by Candypants is a non-album single, Nerdy Boys, which is still one of my very favourite singles of all time. Over a sixties-sounding hammond riff, the lead singer, Lisa Jenio (also the flautist in The Negro Problem and lead singer of The Stool Pigeons, who made two excellent albums of punked-up Merseybeat covers), sings the chorus:

Just four little eyes and I’m weak in the knees
I wanna live his junior high fantasies
Just one giant brain, I’m his collectible toy
I’m just a sucker for a nerdy boy

The funniest thing on the record is the ‘sexy’ spoken outro, with lines like “No, I don’t think your butt is pasty… it reminds me of the sands of … Tattooine”; but what made me fall in love with the record was one verse:

He thinks DNA is pretty
CGI makes him giddy
He’ll only listen to the mono version of Surf City

Which is not only a rather acutely observed line (rather than just using lazy ‘nerd’ cliches) but also contains a reference that practically nobody would get (the chorus to Proto-Pretty, the Wondermints’ debut single, starts “The DNA is pretty”) but that works well in context. That alone was enough to make me download (legally, it’s on eMusic) the band’s eponymous album (which I just noticed clicking through was released eight years ago today).

Musically, the album is mostly bubblegum pop by way of punk – there’s a lot of guitar stompers and hammond organ – but there’s quite a lot of variation, with songs like Cherry Picker sounding more like Roger Nichols style soft pop. Most of it’s insanely catchy, equal parts Blondie, the Zombies and the Monkees, but the real attraction is Jenio’s lyrics and vocals.

A lot of the songs are, in one way or another, about sex (as one might imagine from someone who is, or claims to be, an ex-editor of Barely Legal (not a periodical with which I am familiar – I imagine it is to do with interesting loopholes that have arisen in recent litigation? )) but Jenio is one of the very few female singer/songwriters who sing about sex as something fun, rather than as a means of titillating male listeners. Songs like Beat Head, Mandelay and Dishy are far sexier than almost any other music I’ve heard, because they’re clearly sung by someone who is ‘sex-positive’ (horrible term but I can’t think of a better one), but intelligent, in control, and witty as hell.

Jenio’s lyrics cover a lot of different styles, from fairly typical love songs (Fake It and Slayer, actually probably the two strongest songs on the album) to pure fun like the guitar stomper I Want A Pony:

Mom I wanna be an astronaut, buy me a rocket ship so I can sail to Mars
I don’t wanna fly an Apollo, buy me the Enterprise or I don’t wanna go
Mom I wanna be the president, buy me votes, pay my rent
Or maybe writing novels would be fun, mommy hire a novelist to write me one

Mom I wanna be a movie queen, buy me the cover of Premiere magazine
I’m way funnier than Jay Leno, buy me a motorcycle and a TV show
Can a model win a Nobel Prize? Buy me brains, liposuck my thighs
Hurry hurry I don’t have all day, if you love me mommy you’ll do what I say
Pony up!

I want a pony
I want a pony
I want a pony
I want a pony

Other than this one album, Candypants have only released two singles, the aforementioned Nerdy Boys (on a compilation called All Right, Let’s Hear It For The Girls which is also on eMusic) and a Christmas single The Happiest Time Of The Year produced by the Wondermints’ Darian Sahanaja (which they usually put up for download from their myspace page around Xmas every year). But this small output (so far – the band are still active and I’ve had some brief email conversations with Lisa which suggest she’s planning to record more soon) doesn’t have a single duff track in the lot.

(Quick warning if you plan to download the album from eMusic though – the CD had 14 very short silent tracks before the last hidden track. All 14 of those are on the version on eMusic, which means unless you download the tracks separately you’ll be paying a lot for silence…)