Going For A Song: ‘The River’

Bruce Springsteen – The River

I read something a few weeks ago, that if it hadn’t been for his manager Jon Landau, Bruce Springsteen would have given the song ‘Hungry Heart’ to The Ramones to record. Aside from being a nice piece of rock trivia this has got to be one of the great missed opportunities in music, hasn’t it?

I like Springsteen, have a few albums, but haven’t heard The River, the album ‘Hungry Heart’ is off. But one of my favourite Springsteen songs is ‘The River’, which is on the album as well. It’s a song that shows just how adept Springsteen became at writing those first-person narrative songs*. He was so good, that the craft necessary to do it could be taken for granted, resulting in some maybe assuming these type of songs are easy to write. I don’t think they are.

It’s important that here Springsteen was – as the article says – drawing on family he knew for the source material. The tact necessary to do this is maybe a clue to the sensitivity in the writing, that is as much part of Springsteen as is the type of masculinity which may be seen best to manifest itself in his album artwork. In any case it is this sensitivity that feeds into the ‘The River’, and is that which doesn’t allow it – or any of his other songs which have this perspective – to fall into machismo.


* I don’t want to suggest he is no longer adept, but I’ve not listened to enough Springsteen to not use the past tense here.

Going For A Song: ‘Caught In A Dream’

Napalm Death – Caught In A Dream

My friend, Sarah, asked me this week what is death metal. “I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “Neither do I,” I replied. This hadn’t stopped me dredging up, from half remembered issues of Kerrang!, and columns by Neil Kulkarni, references to the Norwegian metalers Mayhem and Burzum (“They killed each other,” I said. “Onstage?” “No, in real life.”) and alighting somehow on Napalm Death as an example.* I have always know something about Napalm Death. I could always reel off a few vague facts about them (very short songs, vocalist Barney Greenway, from Birmingham.^) but I have never actually listened to them properly. So, what’s death metal? Really I don’t know. This though is Napalm Death.


* As I’ve tried to make implicit, I understand I was on shaky ground with all my examples.

^ Yes, after checking, I realised I’ve been labouring under a misapprehension.

Going For A Song: ‘When I Go Deaf’

Low – When I Go Deaf

I was discussing with my friend Eddie, what song would we play to someone who had never heard Low. In turned out both of us had ‘When I Go Deaf’ in mind. Eddie was nicely matter of fact about why: it has “some quite bits, some really loud bits, easily accessible lyrics, just a decent song all round”. I can’t disagree with any of that. (Though I think easily accessible here doesn’t necessarily mean simple). I’d asked him because, after hearing Low’s new album, I’d been listening to a bit more of them than I had done for a while. Their last couple of records hadn’t really captured my attention, but I thought this new one, on the strength of a couple of listens, seemed as good as anything they had done before.

This has happened to me a couple of times. A band I’ve followed for a long time release a couple of albums I like, but don’t really do anything more for me than that. Then they go and release an album that makes me get into them all over again. Without a doubt, since my discussion with Eddie, ‘When I go Deaf’ has been the song I’ve listened to most this week, including a couple of plays of it yesterday. I guess in part it’s because of those “really loud bits” at the end. The guitars make a noise that allows you, despite whatever might be going on to make you feel to the contrary (in and outside of the song), to experience a sense of calm for a bit.

Going For A Song: ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’

X-Ray Spex – ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’

Could have been the saxophone was anathema to a punk in 76; it doesn’t present itself as an instrument you can just pick up and play. But anyone introduced to punk through ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ by X-ray Spex wouldn’t be too foolish to think it had been an integral element of the genre. Lara Logic’s playing dismisses any preconceived notions anyone might have of the saxophone as anything like smooth. The sound and tone she achieves is reminiscent of how the saxophone was used on those Little Richard records in the 1950s (‘Tutti Fruitt’, ‘Jenny Jenny’), when it was the solo instrument of choice, before the guitar supplanted it.

Throughout ‘Oh Bondage’ the saxophone is used as a parallel to Poly Styrene’s vocal, just able, by accident or design, to sit alongside, competing at times (I mean, it actually jumps the main vocal by coming in before – the audacity), but always complementing. Logic left, or was sacked (depending on what you read), shortly after recording ‘Oh Bondage’, to be replaced by another sax player, Rudi Thompson. Maybe the mix they found here was too hard to sustain and conceive of again. Indeed, on their album Germfree Adolescents, ‘Oh Bondage’ (the preceding single) was left off. But it is on ‘Oh Bondage, Up Yours!’ they used the saxophone to pursue their own particular goal. And this maybe was something that many hadn’t thought anyone able to do with the saxophone for a long time.

Going For A Song: ‘Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues’

Mclusky – Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues

Despite everything, I made friends that outlasted Mclusky. So when it was announced they were reforming for a couple of shows, Rob J texted, 12.47pm, Mclusky are playing the garage in December; then Andy texted, 16:49, Mclusky are playing a London gig, fancy it? And it was a review I wrote of a Mclusky gig in 2005 (“I have Mclusky so I can stand on the edge of everything and shake; shake so I can finally feel something”) which allowed me the chance, for a short while, to write for a music magazine I liked. So you could say Mclusky gave me a few things.

I’m not going to the gig though – can’t make it. A shame because despite my reservations about bands reforming, after reading this* by Falco (I too, Falco, put songs in quotation marks, but italics for albums), Mclusky would have been the band I took the risk for (“If you/we/us/it must venerate the past then I suppose that we should at least venerate it for a good cause” – Falco). So I’m hoping these 200 odd words go in my stead; and let me echo, in 2015, my 2005 self signing off that live review, in all its calling upon the divine glory: God bless Mclusky and God bless their cocksucking blues.

* It’s great. Do read it.

Going For A Song: ‘Four Saints’

Boo Radleys – Four Saints

The eagle eared of you will have picked up on the allusion to The Boo Radleys at the end of my last post on Kevin Morby (‘I hang suspended’, anyone?). The Boo Radleys are maybe now best known, if they are known at all, for their song ‘Wake up Boo!’. A song so ubiquitous on morning radio shows in the mid-nineties, that Capital FM would probably balk at playing it now for the worry of seeming too obvious.

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Going For A Song : ‘Harlem River’

Kevin Morby – Harlem River

My ways of finding out about music have significantly changed over the years. Throughout my teens into my mid-twenties it was predominantly done through the UK music press (Melody Maker, NME, Kerrang, Select); late twenties it refined (narrowed?) into such publications as Uncut, Plan B, Careless Talk Cost Lives; today, for better or for worse, it is through radio (well, 6music mainly, with the odd foray) and Spotify. (One constant, however, has been recommendations by friends). My thoughts on Spotify are far too untidy to work through in this short post, but I would like to mention Spotify’s Discover Weekly. This is the service by which an algorithm, and for all I know a system of winches and pulleys, presents you with a playlist each week. It’s how I first heard ‘Harlem River’ by Kevin Morby.

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