Today’s blog is partially inspired by the fact that I’m now being followed on Twitter by Neil Finn, singer, songwriter and leader of the well known, and loved, band Crowded House- No, where are you going? Come back! I’m not going to spend the next 1000 words shamelessly name dropping. Point being that, on realising that I was being followed by a man whose music has provided the soundtrack to many happy, and sad, moments in my life, I felt moved to tell him how Private Universe (it’s on 1994’s Together Alone album, if you’re interested) was one of my favourite songs ever.
Which sounds a bit bumlicky, but also happens to be true. Had Twitter been invented, say, fifteen years ago and I had the means to send Mr Finn such a message, I would probably have told him how Private Universe had supplanted Seal’s Crazy as my favourite song of all time. Yes, I did just write that sentence. I didn’t know very much then. I know marginally more now. Anyway, Private Universe, the song with which Crowded House opened the only show I’ve ever seen them perform is a song that I’ve heard Neil interpret in various ways with one common denominator- it sounds beautiful every single time. The first version to catch my attention was on the bonus live disc that came with Recurring Dream. How can you resist a song that begins with the lines,
“No time no place to talk about the weather/ Promise of love was hard to endure”
and ends either with some amazing sounding drums or in a frenzy of guitars and lap steel- depending on which version you’re listening to? Exactly, you can’t. And that’s without mentioning the lines that run,
“It’s a tight squeeze but I won’t let go/ Time is on the table and the dinner’s cold”
I have to confess I’ve never been quite sure exactly what that means, but there’s a desperation in the way Neil sings this, as the music builds around him, that gets me right in the gut.
So, Private Universe takes number one spot in this list.
Number two? A song I heard a few months after Private Universe helped me realise how brilliant Crowded House actually were. In the autumn of 1996, my uncle send me a (pre release) copy of Christiansands. Christiansands, with its killer bass line and murmuring vocals,
“I’ll master your language/ And in the meantime I’ll create my own”
it gripped me. It still does. I’ve never thought of it till now, but I wonder whether that line was meant as a parting shot to the collective he had once rapped with, Massive Attack. One of whom once told him he wouldn’t amount to anything as he couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed. To borrow a line from Depeche Mode- wrong! Anyway, between them, Tricky and Martina weave a haunting tale about meeting a “christian in Christiansands/ the devil in Helsinki”. I stick up for Tricky a lot and it’s mainly because of this one song.
A year later I went to see a film called Grosse Pointe Blank. And, as you know, that film introduced me to the magnificent version of Armagideon Time produced by The Clash. And whilst it may seem peverse to the dedicated that, amongst so many magnificent Strummer/Jones compositions, I can say a cover version is my favourite Clash song, there’s just something about this one. There’s something about Joe’s voice, there’s something about the triangle and there’s something about the magic moment at 2.59 when you hear Kosmo Vinyl’s voice cut over the band’s grooving, “Alright, time’s up let’s have you outta there!” to which Strummer cries in response, “Okay, okay, don’t push us when we’re hot!” Now, Kosmo says that he had a theory that the perfect pop single being 3 minutes and 3 minutes only in length and that what happened here was rooted in that theory. Or, it could have been totally contrived. Whatever, it gives me goosebumps just talking about it. And that, I think you’ll agree, can only be a good thing.
All of the songs that I’ve talked about so far have come from a certain period of time in my life, a two year period where I was buying cds as if it was the last days of HMV (ha!imagine!) but the song I’m going to talk about next is a relatively recent song in my musical story. Albeit one that I came to about 20 years late. I’m talking about The Carny, by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Perhaps it’s a strange choice as a favourite Cave composition- there I go again, talking myself up as some kind of oddball when I’m not- but for me this song is so effective in the way the music of the Bad Seeds completely bring to life the images suggested in Cave’s songwriting. I suppose that Cave devotees will tell you his songwriting is so rich in imagery, which it is, that it doesn’t really need any help- John Finn’s Wife is a great example by the way. But as Cave spins the tale of a battered old horse called Sorrow, left behind by the titular Carny, which then dies and is then buried by dwarves named Moses and Noah, something weird happens. You can see the dwarves standing in the rain over their shovels, rain lashing down upon them. You can hear the rain. You feel sympathy for the poor old horse as the rain again exposes it to the elements,
“Moses says to Noah ‘Should have dug a deeper one'”.
And did I mention that the Bad Seeds backing helps to create the sound of the scariest fairground in the world? Cave may have written songs with more feeling, more emotion, than this. But neither has he written anything that sounds quite like this. And so it gets in. Check it out.
Fuck it, check em all out!