Singles of the year: #88

88. Love Is War – Ignition

As Bloc Party’s She’s Hearing Voices is to c.1981 post-punk, so Love Is War is to c.1983 electrophonic phunk. (Only more so; if you’d told me this was a newly unearthed obscurity from that era, I would have believed you.) Meaning, once again, that I cannot help but be favourably disposed. This is all it takes to please me, you know: give me a painstakingly accurate reconstruction of a genre I understand in detail, tell me it’s The Sound Of Now, and I’ll feel all pleased with myself for being au courant and hip to the beat of the street and shit. Been happening on a regular basis ever since electroclash.

Singles of the year: #89

89. Everybody’s Changing – Keane

Look: I did my best to loathe Keane, I really did. Because you know how much I hate all that corporate-indie misery-lite dirgey droning – the musical equivalent of beige – as espoused by Coldplay, Snow Patrol, Starsailor and the like. Indeed, my prejudice against Keane ran so deep that I successfully avoided even listening to Everybody’s Changing until a week ago, when curiosity finally got the better of me. And guess what: it’s lovely, and really rather moving actually. Nevertheless, by my standards of cool, which I do realise are rather different from most people’s – this is possibly the most uncool single on the entire list.

(Cool, uncool – bah. Ghastly paradigm.)

Singles of the year: #90

90. She’s Hearing Voices – Bloc Party

So pleased that I remembered this at the last minute, as it knocks U2’s Vertigo out of the all-important Top 90. (A good tune, but I have historically had Issues with U2, meaning that rating it would have felt like too much of a climbdown. Besides, there would have been that awful iPod commercial of a video to contend with.)

Yes, it’s a Top 90. Because the gap between Stuff That’s Good and Stuff That’s Really Good fell at around the 90 mark this year – whereas in 2003, it fell at around the 60 mark. So does that make 2004 a significantly better year for music than 2003? I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Anyway, the inclusion of She’s Hearing Voices in a Best Singles list, when it was actually track #3 on an EP, warrants some explanation. This year, I’ve widened the scope of the list to include any track which somehow took on a life of its own, independently from any parent album. This still stops the list from simply turning into a list of favourite songs. And in any case, only a tiny handful of the tracks listed fall into this category; the vast majority did see the light of day as A-sides during 2004.

Bloc Party are being very much talked up as a band to watch in 2005; I am already kicking myself for missing the opportunity to see them at the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham a couple of months ago, as I could then have basked in Scissor Sisters-esque “I saw them first” smugness for, ooh, months. She’s Hearing Voices owes a heavy debt to early 1980s post-punk (which is more than fine by me), with echoes of the Gang Of Four, Bauhaus, and some very specific song whose identity continues to elude me.

Pre-festive ramble.

(Think I’ll just switch this thing on and see what comes out…)

K has been sick this week. Horribly, incapacitatingly sick. So sick that he had to go to bed for two days… and K never spends the day in bed; he’s one of life’s Brave Strugglers On.

(How very different from my own attitude to viral infections, which I view as a God-given chance to do f*** all and not get stressed about it. This makes me a thoroughly good-natured invalid – indeed, I’ve been complimented in the past about my Positive Mental Attitude – when all I’m really doing is gratefully yielding to my default factory settings of extreme indolence. K, on the other hand, tends towards vocally expressive martyrdom, with regular five-minute bulletins on the precise state of his health, linked together with a non-stop mantra of groans, wheezes and theatrical exhalations. But that’s because he’s fighting against his condition, instead of graciously accepting it and working with it.)

Returning home from work yesterday, and fully expecting to find him draped over the sofa in his jim-jams, hand poised over brow, in an artfully assembled tableau of suffering, I discover him cheerfully bounding round the kitchen, voice restored, eyes aglow, busily preparing anchovy and pancetta palmiers for Boxing Day. In other words, he has been miraculously reborn as Martha Stewart. Hosanna in the highest!

Ah bless, the things they say, etc.

Me: So, have you seen Shrek 2?

L, aged 8, curled up contentedly in her father’s lap: Yes, Daddy got it on DVD.

L’s father: You enjoyed it, didn’t you?

L, beaming: Yes… but now I’d like to have the non-illegal version.

L’s father: Shhhh. You’re not supposed to say things like that…

God, we’re good at buying presents. That’s going to be one happy little girl tomorrow morning. Gloria in excelsis deo!

Boxing Day aside, we’re having a quiet one. No tree, no turkey, no house guests tomorrow at all; instead, we’re going out for a walk with friends in the village, followed by a beef supper round at their place. We’ve took our holiday three weeks ago, so the pressure is off Christmas to deliver what it singularly fails to do each year. (You know: peace, quiet, tranquility, healthy pursuits, a chance to catch up on some reading, that sort of thing. Whereas the reality is days on end of waking up late, blobbing around in a bloated haze, and never actually getting anything done with the day.) In fact, we’ve de-prioritised the festive season to such an extent that, for the first time ever in my (hem hem) “professional career”, I’ll be going back to work for a couple of days between Christmas and New Year. Because I’ll be saving two perfectly good days which could be spent going somewhere nice, later in the year. Yes, the penny has dropped at last. Four days off; two days on; four days off again. Good enough for me. Right, I’m off down the pub with my co-workers. Christmas Eve’s a doss day at work, innit? Deo gracias!

The Troubled Diva Old Curiosity Box… has got… so much… GOING for it. UHHH! OOOH! YEAHHH!

Cristina – Disco Clone (Disco Mix) (1978)

Whip crack-away! Now that you’ve had time to get used to the “proper” song-based version, I think perhaps you might be ready for the full-on perv-fest of the Disco Mix, in which Cristina (and Kevin Kline) get low down and dirrrtay (and in the process, showing up latter day pop strumpets like Ms. Aguilera for the lightweights that they are). Warning: do NOT listen to this on headphones in crowded lifts. Yes, I speak from experience.

Katina – Don’t Stick Stickers On My Paper Knickers (1973)

Ooooh, cheeky! There were at least two, if not three, versions of this whimsically jaunty little pop-reggae confection knocking around in 1973 – none of which charted, probably having been deemed far too risqué for radio play (if not quite risqué enough to build up a Judge Dread-style cult following).

A period piece, this one; a social historian could have a field day with it. I particularly like the way the second verse fails to scan properly, and the Carry On-style banter towards the end.

The ALL NEW Troubled Diva Curiosity Box remembers the 1984-85 Miners’ Strike.


The Enemy Within – Strike (1984)

Lest anyone should think otherwise, Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas wasn’t the only topical, “issue-based” single of December 1984. With the UK miners’ strike moving into its tenth month, three singles appeared at much the same time, each offering its own commentary on the longest – and (give or take the odd scuffle down Wapping way) the last – of this country’s major industrial disputes.

Listening to them again twenty years later, Strike by The Enemy Within – the least commercially successful of the three – emerges as the strongest piece of music by some distance. Put together by the same team (Adrian Sherwood/Keith LeBlanc/Tackhead) that had been responsible for No Sell Out, 1983’s pioneering Malcolm X cut-up, Strike does the same job for Arthur Scargill (“The most gorgeous redhead since Rita Hayworth” – Julie Burchill, The Face), setting excerpts from his speeches against stark, stuttering electro. Surprisingly for such a time-specific piece, it retains a good deal of its resonance to this day.


Keep On Keepin’ On! – The Redskins (1984)

But can we say the same for The Redskins? Led by a former NME journalist, this deeply politicised punk-soul trio were effectively the house band for the Socialist Workers Party, with singles such as Kick Over The Statues, Bring It Down! (This Insane Thing), The Power Is Yours and It Can Be Done! Impeccable left-wing credentials aside, there’s something tinny and strained about the would-be clarion call of Keep On Keepin’ On!, with its Motown-pastiche bassline sounding as if it had been lifted from A Town Called Malice rather than Holland/Dozier/Holland. It’s also now impossible to listen to its earnest exhortions (“If it takes a year, we’ve gotta take it…“) in isolation from the knowledge that the strike collapsed just three months later, the miners’ defeat also signalling the inexorable decline of both the trade union movement and the British coal industry.

A heroically principled and uncompromising stance – or naive, shallow, manipulative posturing which barely disguised its hidden agenda? Oh, but you had to decide. For this was an age of binary choices and clear-cut ideological certainties, where fence-sitting was derided from both sides.


The Council Collective – Soul Deep (12 inch version) (1984)

However, listening to Paul Weller & the Style Council, Jimmy Ruffin, Junior Giscombe and a cast of thousands trying to imbue clunkingly prosaic lines (“Just where is the backing from the TUC?“) with some approximation of gritty “authenticity”, on this borderline-embarrassing stab at re-creating the “hard times” funk of US outfits such as Brother D & Collective Effort, Defunkt and the Valentine Brothers, you might find it increasingly hard to suppress a smirk. To say nothing of the cringingly misplaced “solidarity” of a bunch of pop stars deploying the first person plural so readily – because, like, this is our struggle too, yeah? You know those two adjectives that the right have always delighted in bashing the left with: “sanctimonious” and “self-righteous”? Well, it is difficult to argue convincingly against their presence on this effort (which nevertheless crawled as high as #24 on the UK singles chart, giving Paul Weller his smallest hit in over six years).

On the other hand, it does put Weller’s curmudgeonly scowling on the first Band Aid single into context. Don’t they know there’s a war on?

Coming up later (after a six-hour round trip to an industrial estate outside Rickmansworth chiz chiz) … one more MP3, which might put a somewhat different complexion on things.

However… flipping over to the B-side of the Soul Deep 12-inch, for its first playing in 20 years, I find this…

The Council Collective – A Miner’s Point (1984)

…which is a lengthy interview with a couple of striking Nottinghamshire miners called Bob and Chris (complete with a baffling writing credit for “Weller/Talbot”, but I’m sure there’s a VERY SOUND EXPLANATION for that). Instantly, the cynical smirk that had been spreading during the previous two tracks was wiped straight off my face.

In December 1984, in the rather less than glamorous surroundings of the John Carroll Leisure Centre in Radford, Dymbel and I DJ-ed a benefit night in aid of the miners’ strike, as organised by the local branch of the Labour Party. (My first DJ gig ever, in fact.) This turned out to be a decidedly disillusioning experience.

For – as PJ O’Rourke infers in this month’s Word magazine – in those almost unimaginably far off days, one of the great things about lining yourself up with the left was that you were simultaneously lining yourself up with all the cool kids. All the sharp, aware, sexy people, with the just-so flat-tops and the button-fly shrink-to-fit 501s, were sporting “Coal Not Dole” stickers on their donkey jackets and rattling collecting tins outside the refectory in the Portland building on campus. And, wa-hey, I was going to be DJ-ing for them!

Except, well, perhaps there were better things to do that night than shuffle on down to the John Carroll Leisure Centre. Which just left a couple of dozen morose old hippies – lank, centre-parted hair and shit-brown sweaters – skinning up in the corner and displaying absolutely no interest whatsoever in the contents of the singles boxes which Dymbel and I had spent all afternoon putting together. (Except for one solitary over-enthusiastic punkette from Tyneside who kept fruitlessly pestering us for “Nellie The Elephant” by the Toy Dolls – but to be frank, she was neither here nor there.)

With less than an hour left to go, Dymbel and I decided that it was only right and proper to play something that was directly related to the strike. Out came the just-released Soul Deep… and over to the decks wandered a solidly built man in his twenties, incongruous in sober suit and tie, who politely asked if he could take a look at the record sleeve.

“I’m on the B-side of this, you know. Have you listened to it?”

It was Chris, the younger of the two men interviewed. Decent, dignified chap – as you’ll hear if you play the MP3 (encoded at 96 kbps, to save space). I’d forgotten this until now, but I think we stopped the music and let him make a brief speech. Actually, we must have done – because then Dymbel introduced the Redskins record as being about the strike, in the hope that this would finally get the hippies off their arses.

It didn’t. At which point we just went “oh sod it”, and – all lingering aspirations of credibility finally cast aside – slapped on Jumpin’ Jack Flash. It filled the floor. As did Free’s All Right Now, and all the other dinosaur rock classics we followed it with. (I can still remember shaking my head in scornful disbelief: imagine only being able to dance to records which were at least 12 years old! I had a lot to learn.)

I wonder what happened to Chris and Bob – whose voices on this interview (and is that Gary Crowley talking to them?) sound like echoes from a world that has all but vanished. Impossible – utterly impossible – to imagine these sentiments, or anything like them, being expressed in the Britain of 2004. For of the wide range of emotions I experienced in the course of listening to this, the one that ultimately lingered was one of a great, ineffable sadness: at all which has been lost, and replaced with… what, precisely?

Coming soon: that filthy version of Cristina’s Disco Clone. Best stock up on the Kleenex, lads!

Balancing me Chakras, like.

I dunno: CBT one day (see post below) and Reiki the next… all of a sudden, it’s Self Help City round these parts. (If you ever spot me reading a copy of The Little Book Of Sodding Calm, then you have permission to shoot me. There are limits.)

So, yes: Reiki session #2 two took place just after lunch in the empty meeting room upstairs, and once again I am feeling cleansed and re-centred and all that scary guff. Perhaps more so than last time, as I was more familiar with the routine, and hence more relaxed about it.

Just before the session starts, you’re asked to visualise a “safe place”, to which you can “return” if you feel uncomfortable at any stage. Last time, I picked the morning room in the cottage, where we sit with the papers after breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. This worked fine at first, but after a while I begun to feel a bit stuck in the chair; a sort of spiritual numb bum, I suppose. This time, the choice was immediate: our lovely villa at the Banyan Tree from two weeks ago, which had been a source of such utter peace, tranquility and superior interior design. This had the added advantage of letting me wander about the place in my mind’s eye, from pool to sunbed to Sala Thai to sunken bath and so on.

Aided by the noodly New Age music in the background, which the Banyan Tree were also rather keen on, the whole session felt like I was being transported back to Phuket. Indeed, I actually started to smell the place, with all its incense sticks and aromatic oil burners (as lit in your room every evening at turn-down time) – to the point where I became convinced that incense was burning in the room.

(Which was bizarre, as during the de-brief session afterwards, my somewhat amazed Reiki Master – I know, I know – admitted to using nothing more than lavender-scented handwash. Wow, have I started channelling olfactory hallucinations, he muttered.)

A further word about the noodly New Age music, which I would never normally listen to by choice. Too bland by half. Too gift shop. Too emotionally thin. Embarrassing, even snigger-inducing. Well, within the context of the Reiki session, it actually came into its own – forming a kind of backwash, blocking out the distracting noises of the building, and of the traffic on Maid Marian Way twelve stories below. Of course, you couldn’t possibly listen to it, but then it was specifically designed not to be listened to. With no specific points of interest to latch onto, its purpose was to aid mental de-cluttering – a purpose which would have been defeated if I had started actively concentrating on it, and emotionally responding to it. A sort of musical beige, then… and there has always been space in my life for beige.

The best bit of the whole session comes at the start, as the Master wafts his hands across the face and head, sending repeated surges of blissful warmth fluttering over and through you, while amorphous blocks of colour swirl and coalesce in front of your eyelids. Yes, it is a bit trippy. Then, as the initial rush wears off, you settle back and relax for the next hour or so, as the hands move between each energy centre, or “chakra”, channelling and balancing the…

Yeah, yeah, okay, okay. I know that this sounds like the most ghastly, self-deluding mumbo-jumbo. And maybe it is, but it’s something that makes me happy – which I read in The Four Agreements is the key to a content life. A large part of me – probably the most part, and almost certainly the best part – still thinks it is. But the point is this: if you choose to imbue a ritual with meaning, then it has meaning – even if the ritual is arbitrary in the first place. And the other point is this: any prolonged relaxation/meditation session is going to do you good. Especially when that session is structured, guided and witnessed by a second party. For the Master’s involvement keeps you focused in a way that would be far more difficult to achieve on your own, when both mind and body would be significantly more likely to fidget and stray.

Besides, I was always the little boy who liked to believe in Santa. “Harnessing the power of your delusions” – come on, that has to be a self-help book in the making.

Of course, K – being the hard-headed scientific rationalist that he is – has nothing but scorn to pour on the proceedings. Witness the following exchange, which took place after I returned from my first Reiki session:

K: So, you say felt all these warm sensations?

M (eagerly): Yes, that’s right – I don’t know how it happened, because his hands never touched me.

K: And he told you to keep your eyes shut at all times?

M: Oh absolutely, that’s very…

K: (picking up electric fan heater and wafting it over me) “Yes Mike, that’s right… keep your eyes shut… woooh… can you feel the heat?”

M (indignantly): That’s… that’s… you cynical bastard!

K (triumphantly): You know what you were, don’t you darling? You were ironed!

(collapse of both parties)

Today’s stress-engines.

1. Pre-best-of-year-list angst is mounting, and I’m not sure whether iTunes and the iPod are a help or a hindrance. iTunes tells me that I have 1304 songs on my hard drive with a 2004 date stamp – which is a hell of a lot to wade through and evaluate.

But most crucially of all (crucially, I tell you!), what I am I going to do about this year’s “Best Singles” list? Because for the first time, I really have no idea whether half of my favourite tracks came out as singles or not; I certainly didn’t consume them as singles, but rather as stand-alone MP3s or favourite album tracks. Can I really be arsed to sift and Google, in order to determine whether each track should be included? Or should I do what the NME has done this year, and opt for a “Best Tracks” list instead? But then, should I allow favourite album tracks, or should I confine myself to tracks which, in some sense or other, had taken on a life of their own this year, removed from the context of any album? Or should I go the other way and keep it mostly to hit singles?

Oh, stop rolling your eyes like that. You love me for it really.

2. Regarding this evening’s programme of activities: a rather complex etiquette problem, as I have managed to double-book myself a) for an Indian meal with the Posh Crowd, following on from an awfully smart drinks reception for the city’s Great and Good (K’s patch, not mine, as if that needed spelling out!) and b) for drinks at George’s, over on the other side of town, with Miss Mish and the divinely decadent Bohemian set.

(Note: I am aware that “divinely decadent” is something of a played-out epithet these days, being mostly used by copy-writers for confectionery companies, but in this case it is a perfectly accurate epithet, which I shall deploy without shame.)

In the end, I have opted for an early exit from the meal, and a late rendez-vous with Mish. Which raises the possibility of the Posh Crowd deciding that it would be rather fun to come along to George’s, which they’ve heard so much about, and wouldn’t it be jolly?

I am therefore currently feasting my imagination on the delicious prospect of a slightly sloshed county court judge tangoing with the trannies to the strains of Ethel Merman’s Disco Album. When worlds collide, and all that. Oh, say it will happen!

(Note: I am historically not awfully good at managing these When Worlds Collide scenarios, as I always feel it incumbent upon myself to be all things to all people, and cannot cope with the personality split which ensues. However, having stressed about this during the morning, I now find myself feeling unexpectedly relaxed, even to the point of actual anticipation. In this respect, I cannot help but wonder whether Episodes Six and Seven of Joe My God’s “Terrence” series have been of use. Of all Joe’s stories to date, this series has been particularly dear to my heart, and these two new episodes are among his very best. Mandatory reading, I’d say. Start here, then go here.)

3. After a wait of around three months – during which time my wobbles have thankfully subsided to a broadly manageable degree – my first CBT appointment was scheduled for today. My attitude to this, while essentially neutral, was still coloured by various worries.

What if my recovery was so pronounced that CBT would no longer be deemed necessary? (Because, having read up on its guiding principles, I was very much in a mind to proceed.) Would I end up feeling like a time-waster?

Was I really justified in doing this through the NHS, when a course of private treatment was well within my means? Would opting for NHS treatment mean opting for an inferior service?

Would I like my therapist? Would we connect? Would the appointment be unduly distressing? Or would it feel like an anti-climax, which hadn’t even begun to address my needs? Would there be another three month wait before the next appointment?

None of this was helped by an unusually vivid and realistic dream this morning, in which my therapist appeared as a scatty professor type, bumbling around vaguely in a tatty old tweed jacket and loose crumpled chinos, with a shock of wispy, thinning ginger curls and funny little specs on the end of his nose. In the “interview” which followed, he simply handed me a lengthy questionnaire to fill in, and disappeared into the next room. This turned out to be mostly comprised of pop trivia questions: enjoyable, but manifestly irrelevant.

Having taken receipt of questionnaire without so much as glancing through it, my therapist then took me for lunch at County Hall (where I had worked for 13 long, under-achieving, soul-dampening years), where he made cheerful small-talk over the sandwiches and continued to avoid asking me any personal questions. After lunch, he made to excuse himself, explaining that he was running late for his next appointment, and could I come back in six months?

At which point I flipped my lid, and launched into a furious, tearful tirade. How dare he play with my expectations in such a cavalier manner? Had he no interest in me at all? Couldn’t he have posted me his stupid questionnaire before the meeting? How could he possibly expect me to wait another six months? And how could he ride so roughshod over my emotions as to take me back to a place of employment which had caused me so much unhappiness in the past, because if he had troubled himself to discover even the slightest thing about me, then he would never, never…

I woke up still ranting. Not a good way of preparing myself for the matter in hand.

Anyway. It turned out that my appointment wasn’t with a therapist after all, but with an another doctor, whose remit was to assess my suitability for further treatment. This made for a rather weird situation, in which I was invited to talk about all my deepest, darkest, murkiest Stuff, but in the professionally detached manner of a job interview. Weird, but actually quite manageable, as I found it quite easy to give a reasonably eloquent, thorough but at all times relevant account of myself. In fact, it was made all the more easier by her politely interested yet dispassionate manner; being spared any overt displays of head-nodding, eye-contact-retaining empathy, I felt all the more comfortable.

I got the referral, and left the building feeling no more than a little shaky, and pleased that I had been able to give a good account of myself. Another long-ish wait will now ensue, but I’m cool with that.

Ooh, and now a fourth one! All this burbling and I’m running late for dinner! Make haste for the shower, and bollocks to the grammar checking!

“Love your work!” (3)

Look, is nobody going to write a proper report of Saturday’s London blogmeet?

Nobody at all?

What, no great long lists of linky-love anywhere? No incomprehensible “you had to be there” in-jokes? No photos, even? (OK, apart from these four.)

My, we have matured as a community.

So, in the spirit of keeping it Old School, I’d just like to say that it was lovely to catch up with familiar faces, super to meet so many new faces, and look, I didn’t know he was there until it was all over, OK?

(There, that’s more like it. These traditions define us as a community, you know.)

Particular thanks to Sasha for a) putting me up in her spare room, b) feeding and watering me, and c) finally convincing me that yes, both Firefox (1) and (2) really ARE the dog’s bollocks and well worth getting into. (I can be awfully slow on the uptake sometimes.)

And no: despite a kind offer to join Eric and his mates at Heaven, I decided to leave my middle-aged bits resolutely un-shaken. This had quite a lot to do with the excesses of Friday night’s office party – which had me out boozing, noshing and bopping (1980s retro night at The Cookie Club) for seven and a half hours solid. To have attempted a second consecutive marathon of debauchery would have been to tempt providence just a little too far.

(Indeed, never have I been so grateful for an expensive Thai suntan, which covered the evidence of the previous night’s ravages remarkably effectively. You look so well, they all cooed, gratifyingly unaware of just how dog-rough I was feeling on the inside.)

On leaving the pub, I was pleased to see that someone had corrected the sign which the management had put up: UK Weblogger’s Webloggers’ Party downstairs. For if our movement stands for nothing else, let it at least stand for proper punctuation.

To those who were there: please feel free to deposit gossip and in-jokes in the comments box below.

To those who weren’t: may we crave your indulgence in this matter.

(1) Faster? Safer? Tabbed browsing? Google search box? Nifty features which you never knew you needed until you saw them? Well, why didn’t you say?

Although it’s far from perfect. No support for lengthy link titles in the “we listen” section. The dashed border lines around my “see also/trackback” boxes vanishes. Can’t search for text strings in my Blogger template window (particularly annoying). Can’t log in to view my comments in YACCS. Can’t look up domain rankings in PubSub (not that I particularlywant to, mind). And that’s just what I’ve found after a few hours of use. So I won’t be ditching Internet Explorer just yet.

(2) As you might already have noticed, I have exported the whole of my Linkrack to Although it has the disadvantage of being one extra click away from the main site, and although I’m stuck with a bog-standard generic template, the amount of coding effort this will save is considerable. It should hopefully also result in my posting a good deal more links than I have been doing of late.

(3) Catchphrase of the night. You had to be there.

Silent Words Speak Loudest: We’ll meet again…
McFilter: UK Webloggers End Of Year Party

A visual clue.

For those of you who will be attending Saturday’s London blogmeet, this is what I look like these days. Or last week in Thailand, at least.

Update: Photo now touched-up, de-red-eyed, and generally de-scarified by Mister Chig. Thanks, pet!


Note 1: I am IN THE NUDE on this photo. Yes! Contain yourselves!

Note 2: Although on Saturday, my shoulders will be modestly draped in the customary Nice Shirt. (I’m currently thinking stripes.)

Note 3: No, it’s not a toupee. But I can see where you’re coming from.

Note 4: They follow you round the room, don’t they?

Battle of the Band Aids.

With the 1984 version, there’s a sense that everyone involved – Geldof and Ure included – is more or less openly aware that, as a song, “Do They Know It’s Christmas” ain’t all that. Knocked up in a day; a means to an end; so let’s not pretend we’re working on some sort of future classic here. You can hear it in the vocal delivery, and see it in the performance, both of which retain a faintly desultory, singing-it-off-the-school-hymn-sheet quality.

Whereas with the 2004 version there’s a certain reverence at work; a feeling amongst the participants that they are honoured to lend their interpretations to such a hallowed item in the pop canon. This time round, the lyric is treated not as greetings-card doggerel, but as something approaching a sacred text.

One point to 1984 for honesty (even if it’s cynical).
One point to 2004 for sincerity (even if it’s naive).





As a piece of music, Nigel Godrich’s 2004 production is more considered, layered, fleshed out, fully worked. Compare and contrast with the thin, synthetic rush-job of Trevor Horn’s original; in particular that lumpen, monotonous synth-disco/Hi-NRG-lite chuggity-chug bassline that runs all the way through, bashing out the block chords, sounding for all the world like a preset which came with the machine.

One point to 2004 for production values.





On the other hand: the 1984 drumming is just great, driving the song along at a thumping old pace. But then, if I may be so bold as to point it out, Phil Collins was always capable of being a bloody good drummer when he wanted to be.

(This may not be generally admitted in polite society, but IT’S TRUE.)

One point to 1984 for The Collins Thump.





1984 stays much on the same level all the way through. 2004’s episodic nature holds your interest throughout, in the fine old Bohemian Rhapsody tradition.

One point to 2004 for skilful deployment of the episodic tradition.





1984 kicks more or less straight in with Paul Young. No fuss, please; I just happened to draw the first straw. I’ll do my bit, then move swiftly along. Whereas the solemnly strummed opening moments of 2004 are essentially one long build-up to The Entrance Of The Saintly Chris Martin (For It Is He) – who, being far too important to grace us mere mortals with His physical presence, phones in His part down the holy ISDN hot-line from Hollywood. (Chris Martin breathing the same air as Rachel Stevens and The Sugababes? Unthinkable!)

On the video it’s even worse, as Saint Chris (peace be upon him) fixes us with His angelic, oh-so-meaningful blue eyes, looking for all the world like the head chorister who always bags the unaccompanied solo on the first verse of Once In Royal David’s City.

By the time that Chris Martin’s piece is over, we’re already 30 seconds into the song. Get off the stage already!

One point to 1984 for unassuming democracy, and for not being burdened with the sheer weight of The Blessed Chris.





And it wasn’t just Chris Martin; all of the first three 2004 performers of 2004 phoned their parts in. At least everybody involved in 1984 actually made it to the studio in person. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this does make a material difference to the way we perceive the output. 1984 felt organic and live. 2004 feels stitched together like Frankenstein’s monster.

One point to 1984 for Keeping It Real.





“And in our world of plenty…” Boy George’s time at the top of the tree may have been drawing to an end (sandwiched in between the embarrassing disaster of The War Song and the total flop of The Medal Song, mere days before everyone unwrapped their copies of Waking Up With The House On Fire and realised what a big fat dud it was), but here, for what was to be the last time, he delivers the assured performance of a huge global star.

Compare and contrast with the godawful Dido, diffidently swallowing her words before she has even finished singing them properly. No-one’s forcing you to do this, love! If you didn’t want to, you should have said so!

In the George/Dido play-off, 1984 grabs the point.





Oh, just look at that sulky old misfit Paul Weller, trying his best to distance himself from his surroundings even as he performs. No such tainted-by-association qualms for Thom Yorke, merrily mucking in and mugging to camera as he tinkles the ivories.

(Note: in 2004, Paul Weller is knocking out easy-listening cover versions for the Radio 2 crowd. You are free to ponder this irony at your leisure.)

One point to 2004, for dropping the attitude and getting properly stuck in.





Oh look, that’s really clever! They’ve got Sting to sing “bitter STING of tears”!

One point to 2004, for its lack of buttock-clenchingly inappropriate Sting-related word-play.





Bono in 1984: an insufferably earnest, self-important, grandstanding, big-flag-waving bellow.(Ooh, and he’s a Christian too! Isn’t it clever how they’ve given the best lines to the best people!)

Bono in 2004: imbues That Line with an unexpected power, pathos and dignity.

One point to 2004, as an older and wiser Bono swings Band Aid 20 into the lead.





A minority view this might be, but dammit, I like Dizzee Rascal’s rap. I like its spikiness, its awkwardness, the way it suspends and disrupts the flow, stopping you short, forcing you to tune in. Anyway, he’s “grime”, and therefore unimpeachable. So there.

One more to 2004, for Contemporary Urban Relevance. Oh yes.





Then, there’s that sombre pause – that wee lacuna, as some would have it – whose poignant eloquence stems from what it implies, rather than states. (Which, in a song as baldly literal as this one, comes as a welcome raising of the artistic tone.) As such, it’s the fulcrum of the whole record. You know, as Darkness yields to Light, and all that.

Another to 2004. They didn’t have fulcrums twenty years ago.





And, lo! Hark! Whose cherubic tones are these? Why, it’s rosy-cheeked Tiny Tom Chaplin out of Keane, all wrapped up snugly in his little winter muffler! Gawd bless us one and all!

The 2004 points are falling like snowflakes.





As the cameras pan round the room in readiness for the big choral coda, let’s examine the state of our stars. 1984’s lot look like they’ve just crawled out of bed, presumably roused from their slumbers by a hectoring Geldof on the other end of the line. Bad hair days all round: just look at the state of Sting! And Boy George! If Rossi and Parfitt from Status Quo hadn’t been public-spiritedly doling out the charlie in the bogs, Lord knows how they would all have managed.

In stark contrast, the class of 2004 have all been styled to buggery. Minders, PR’s, caterers – the whole circus is in town. Not very rock and roll, is it?

A much-needed point to 84, for daring to be dog-rough.





“Feed the world…” Come on, 84: look lively! Put a bit of oomph into it! And stop staring at your hymn sheets; you should know the words off by heart by now. Weller, I’m talking to YOU. Chins up, Bananarama! And Marilyn, do stop pouting like that.

“Let them know it’s Christmas time…” Good, 2004: that’s much better. Because you actually sound like you mean it. A spirited performance all round. Give yourselves a round of… oh, you already have.

A point to 04 for sheer enthusiasm and energy – and WITHOUT the aid of Certain Substances which I could mention. So far as we know. (No, honestly. Take a good look around. Cleaner than the average Olympic squad, this lot.)





However, we are obliged to deduct a point from 04 for the frightful ad-libbed “soulful” caterwauling of young Miss Joss Stone towards the end. Because nobody likes a show-off. And another point deducted for all that unseemly self-congratulatory clapping and whooping. Hooray for us! We fed the world!

Final score:





Time to face facts, then. Once you get over the shock of the new, and the absurdly misplaced cries of “sacrilege” (I mean, COME ON! Get a GRIP!), Band Aid 20 clearly emerges as the better record.

Oh yes it does.

No, I think you’ll find it does, actually.

Gordon McLean: Originality
Prolific: Don’t they know they are the world’s worst single ever?
A Blog’s Life: Band Aid 20

See also:
Popjustice: Monday Singles Sweep · Shirley you can’t be serious · Chav Aid
World Of Chig: Band Aid 20 facts
World Development Movement: Alternative Band Aid lyrics. (via)

My Mummy the Movie Star.

As part of his ongoing “Dirk Fest”, Moviebuff (Nottingham blogger and fellow denizen of George’s bar on Broad Street) writes about The Blue Lamp – that fine old crim-flick from 1950 starring Dirk Bogarde (as the baddie), Jimmy Hanley (as the goodie), Jack Warner (as PC George “Evening all” Dixon), and… well… my dear old mother actually, then aged 9.

It happened thus. The awfully pukka Young Ladies’ Academy in central London which Mummy attended (a rather artsy establishment for its day) regularly lent its Gels out for photographic work, including catalogue modelling (catalogues had rather more cachet back then, one hastens to add) and children’s fashion shoots. She even got to model for Vogue on one occasion, and still has the clipping to prove it.

On this occasion, a group of Gels was needed to play a bunch of East End Street Urchins who, while playing on a bomb site, would stumble across the pistol which had earlier killed Jack Warner.

(Not that this would impede his character’s subsequent miraculous resurrection for the long-running TV series Dixon Of Dock Green, but no matter. Stranger things have happened on Dallas, after all.)

Since – naturally! – it Simply Wouldn’t Do to go hiring genuine East End Street Urchins (presumably because this would give them Dangerous Ideas Above Their Station), my mother’s troupe of Nice Gels from Good Homes were required to scruff up and act Common. Particularly the lucky Gel who would be given The Line, to be hollered across the bomb site to the other children:

‘Ere! Look what Queenie’s faahnd! (click to listen)

And who was that lucky Gel to be? Well, who do you think?

The day of the shoot arrived. The Gels arrived on set: smudged, tousled and raggamuffined (*) to perfection.

(*) Traditional English, not Kingston Dancehall. Pigtails and pinafore dresses, not braids and thongs.

And… action.

Mummy (in her best “recital” voice):
‘Ere! Look what Queenie’s found! (click to listen)

Cut! Listen, dear: can we have you a little louder please? And do remember you’re supposed to be a Cockney Street Urchin – so could we have you a little more common?

Mummy (with all her might and main):
‘ERE! LOOK WHAT QUEENIE’S FOUND! (click to listen)

Cut! No, no, no. This timid little thing won’t do at all. Who else can we use?

And as if it wasn’t cruel enough to have it summarily snatched away at the eleventh hour, Mummy’s big role was then promptly handed over to her arch-rival in class – a competitive little madam with lung power to spare – whom she never found it in herself to forgive.

Thus it was that every so often throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, mostly on mid-week afternoons in the school holidays, we would gather round the TV set, eagerly awaiting Mummy’s mute two-second appearance in the right hand corner of the screen.

Any minute … any minute … OHLOOKTHEREYOUARETHEREYOUARE! … oh, that’s it.

Ah well, my mother would always say; cheerfully dismissive, already turning back towards the kitchen to put supper on. It’s bound to be on again in a couple of years’ time. Which it always was.

Of course, she’s got it on video now, stuffed at the back of a drawer somewhere, unplayed since the early 1990s. It’s just not the same when you can watch it whenever you want, using slow-mo and freeze-frame at will. What you gain in easy availability, you lose in the thrill of expectation, and in the fond idealisations of memory.

My Mummy the Movie Star. Although she never met him in person (at the premiere? don’t be silly: Nice Gels didn’t go to premieres), my mother maintained a lifelong interest in Dirk Bogarde’s career from that point onwards. Her leading man, if you will.

In any case, The Blue Lamp will always be her film to me.

They could have *framed* our Customer Satisfaction Survey.

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Having read through the playlist below, The Long Lost Lonely One asked, with some justification: “Am I wrong, or did you go on holiday and just listen to music?

No, no: we didn’t just listen to music, although that did form a large part of each day’s schedule of activities. I also spent an inordinate amount of time staring into space, with a soppy grin on my face, thinking about very little. Or at least comparatively little, given the usual Speed Freak From Hell pace of my internal dialogue.


Particularly when padding around in our pool, which slowed down the mental processes no end. Which came as some surprise, given my inability to swim and general phobia of water.

(Being on it: a positive delight. Being in it: OK, so long as either my feet are touching the bottom, or my hands are gripping the sides. Any other arrangement: absolutely out of the question. Being under it: sheer terror.)

But then, this was a private pool, overlooked by no-one; why, you could even skinny-dip with impunity. Thus with no curious, amused or (worst of all) “helpful” onlookers, the customary feelings of inadequacy, humiliation and slowly simmering anger were completely lifted. What’s more, this was a pool without a deep end, the water level remaining comfortably between nipple and neck throughout. Meaning no Fear Zone, no invisible Out Of Bounds markers, no Ooh Dear I Think I’ve Gone Far Enough. All of which induced the most deliciously unprecedented sense of freedom in the water; which in turn engendered a wholly new relationship with it.


So I became quite the Water Baby. You couldn’t keep me away from it. First thing in the morning, I could leap out of bed, open the double doors directly in front of me, and step straight into the water; a fantastically invigorating way to wake up. To say nothing of those languid candle-lit early evening soaks in our sunken bath, gazing up at the stars.


There was also a certain amount of reading, but less than anticipated, as Michael Bywater’s estimable little tome Lost Worlds served to keep me company all week. With its short, alphabetised, essays on subjects ranging from Chilbains to Chivalry, Dungeons & Dragons to Dunn & Co, Maturity to Meccano to Microsoft, it served as less of a Holiday Read, and more as a springboard to amiable extended contemplations. Usually while staring into space with a soppy grin on my face.

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Other than that, the days were mainly taken up with: eating lovely meals; shopping for bijou objets (we did all our Christmas shopping in less than two hours, in the calm surroundings of the Banyan Tree Gallery Shop); being transported around the hotel complex in electric buggies; matching the staff’s broad smiles and warm greetings pound for pound; studiously pretending to ignore the other guests (whilst weaving pleasingly, plausibly slanderous Jackie Collins-esque narratives around them, generally involving sex, power, money and betrayal); applying vast arrays of fragranced products to our sunkissed bodies; having more of the same rubbed into us by trained professionals at the spa (the first time that a female hand has had direct contact with my bare buttocks since I was in nappies); taking two hours to dress for dinner (The Issey shirt with the Boss trousers, or the Yohji with the linen, do we think?); sipping gin; burning incense sticks; flirting with our favourite waiter (while simultaneously trying not to come on like Orton & Halliwell at the Long Yang Club); and filling in any gaps in the day with general swooning sighs and complacent purrs.

Honestly, you wouldn’t have wanted to be around us. Insufferable, we were.


Trackback: Naked Blog: Death From The Deep

That Banyan Tree playlist in full.

Just before I disappeared off to Thailand for a week, Gordon said:

Have a gloriously decadent time. I ask only one thing, on your return we get details of this mythical “Banyan Tree” playlist.

An easy lob for the first day back, and my first chance to make profitable use of the iTunes “export playlist” facility. What follows is a list of everything that we listened to via the iPod over the past seven days, in our consummately beautiful and luxurious slice of Phuket paradise. (For the full experience, you should also add CDs by Chungking, Youssou N’Dour and Oi Va Voi.)

A Meeting by the River – Ry Cooder & V.M. Bhatt
Be Thankful For What You’ve Got – One Blood
You’re My Thrill – Joni Mitchell
Del’ouna On The Return – Gilad Atzmon
Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow – Joni Mitchell
Full On – Chungking
Kovin Lentaen Kotin Kaipllan – Kuusumum Profeeta
Why Do They Leave? – Ryan Adams
I T T (Part 2) – Fela Kuti
Estranha Forma De Vida (live at WOMAD) – Mariza
Overture (original version) – Flora Purim
Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams
My Old School – Steely Dan
Misty Roses – Tim Hardin
Reuziou Ar Brezel 2e Partie – Erik Marchand & Les Balkanik
Budapestation – Gaby Kerpel
Deep Red Bells – Neko Case
Voodoo – Chungking
Fly, Fly My Sadness – Huun-Huur-Tu and the Bulgarian Women’s Choir
Mississauga Goddam – The Hidden Cameras
Losalamitos – latinfunklovesong (original version) – Gene Harris
He Knows My Name – Ryan Adams (Y Theatre Leicester, May 9 2001)
The Rumproller – Lee Morgan
Superman Lover – Johnny “Guitar” Watson
Marry Me – Dolly Parton
Blackbird – Martyn Bennett
Cherry Blossom Girl – Air
La Sitiera – Omara Portuondo
Coffin For Head Of State (Part 2) – Fela Kuti
I Didn’t Know – Al Green
Pic nic na salamansa – Cesaria Evora
Lady With the Braid – Dory Previn
Nar-I Ney (edit) – Mercean Dede Secret Tribe
Starfish And Coffee – Prince
The Girl From Ipanema (Live) – Lou Rawls
Raven Dove – Dolly Parton
Strawberry Letter 23 – Shuggie Otis
Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) – Marvin Gaye
Just To Keep You Satisfied – Marvin Gaye
Loucura (live at WOMAD) – Mariza
You Caught Me Smiling – Sly Stone
Yaay – Pape & Cheikh
Mike Mills – Air
Yala – Oumou Sangare
The Jungle Line – Joni Mitchell
Harry’s House / Centerpiece – Joni Mitchell
Se Que No Vas A Volver – Gaby Kerpel
You’ve Been Gone Too Long – Ann Sexton
Wake Up Everybody – Harold Melvin & The Bluenotes
Please Pardon me (You Remind Me Of A Friend) – Rufus with Chaka Khan
Valley Of The Dolls – Mylo
Touched My Soul – Osunlade Presents Nadirah Shakoor
Há festa na Mouraria – Amália Rodrigues
Listen Love – Jon Lucien
Milca ti Lidia – Cesaria Evora
Baba – Salif Keita
The Big Heist – Henry Mancini
Milk and Honey – Bonnie Dobson
Rocksteady – Remy Shand
In My Hour of Darkness – Gram Parsons
Smile – Nat “King” Cole
September 13th – Deodato
Haitian Divorce – Steely Dan
Wishin’ And Hopin’ – Dusty Springfield
Sunshower – Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band
Give it up – Curtis Mayfield
In The Land Of Make Believe – Dusty Springfield
El Rincon Caliente – Manuel Guajiro Mirabal
Mira – Andrew Hill
Songs To Aging Children Come – Joni Mitchell
Do Your Thing – Chosen Few
Going Down Slowly – The Pointer Sisters
My Love For You Is Real – Ryan Adams (Y Theatre Leicester, May 9 2001)
Maria Elena – Cesaria Evora
Rhoda – Sergio Mendes
This Masquerade – Carpenters
Comin’ home baby – Mel Torme
Soul Street – Tony Osborne’s Three Brass Buttons
Annie Mae – Natalie Cole
Ding Dong – Nellie McKay
Breakfast In Bed – Dusty Springfield
If You Go Away – Dusty Springfield
Both Sides, Now – Joni Mitchell
El bab – Khaled
Rojo y Negro – Omar Sosa
Kiss the Children – Gram Parsons
Africa, Dream Again – Youssou N’Dour
You’re The Best Thing – The Style Council
Tidal Wave – Ronnie Laws
The Look of Love – Isaac Hayes
Sometimes I’m Happy – Joni Mitchell
Dress Rehearsal Rag – Leonard Cohen
Midnight Cowboy – John Barry
My Winding Wheel – Ryan Adams
My Blue Tears – Dolly Parton
Foreign Bodies – Herbert
Diaraby – Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder
What’s The Hurry? – Marianne Faithfull
Elephant Ride – State Of Bengal
Way Down in the Hole – Blind Boys of Alabama
Still Feeling Blue – Gram Parsons
Bolo Bolo – Susheela Raman
Sweet Child – Micatone
Ponta de fi – Cesaria Evora
Stars And Rockets – Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra
Nobody’s Fault – Blind Boys of Alabama
I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore – Dusty Springfield
To Each His Own – Patrice Rushen
Love’s Too Hot To Hide – Clifford Coulter
Soldier – Blind Boys of Alabama
Los Sitio’ Asere – Afro-Cuban All Stars
Lua De Sao Jorge – Caetano Veloso
Ai Du – Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder
Blumenwiese Neben Autobahn – Ulrich Schnauss
Everyone – Van Morrison
Kôté Don – Rokia Traoré
Soul Insurance – Angie Stone
It’s A Trip – The Last Poets
Stay Awhile – Dusty Springfield
Zanzibar – Duoud
Millionaire (featuring Andre 3000) – Kelis
Tropicalia – Caetano Veloso
You Don’t Know My Name (Reggae Remix) – Alicia Keys
Chanchullo – Rubén González
Reelin’ In The Years – Steely Dan
Goin’ Back – Dusty Springfield
Give Me Your Love – Sisters Love
Creepin’ – Stevie Wonder
Trouble Man – Grover Washington Jr
Twilight – Maze
It Had To Be You – Vic Damone
We have all the time in the world – Louis Armstrong
Dance Away – Roxy Music
Quizás, Quizás – Rubén González
…Passing By – Ulrich Schnauss
I Met Your Mercy – Remy Shand
Dance Dance Dance – The Crusaders
Shakara – Fela Kuti
Night Shift – Bob Marley & The Wailers
Interluth – Duoud
Tanguillo De María – Ojos De Brujo
You Sure Love To Ball – Marvin Gaye
Saddic Gladdic – Wagon Christ
Nobody’s Home – Ulrich Schnauss
Let the Love In – Chungking
No Easy Way Down – Dusty Springfield
The Second One – Remy Shand
Mr. Yunioshi – Henry Mancini
Also Sprach Zarathustra – Meirelles
(The Long To Be) Close To You – Carpenters
Cape Verde Greets You – Cesaria Evora
You Goin’ Miss Your Candy Man – Terry Callier
Do Your Thing – Isaac Hayes
Hip To Your Ways – Ujima
Help Me – Joni Mitchell
Poetas (live at WOMAD) – Mariza
Nubian Lady – Yusef Lateef
Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye
God Made Me Funky – Headhunters
Ley De Gravedad – Ojos De Brujo
Love And Happiness – Al Green
When I See Love (ty mix) – Lizzie Fields
Habanera ven – Omara Portuondo
Smackwater Jack – Carole King
Grandma’s Hands – Gil Scott-Heron
Too High – Stevie Wonder
I Like What You’re Doing To Me – Young & Company
FM – Steely Dan
There She Goes – Kevin Coyne
Lady – Fela Kuti
Tièbaw – Oumou Sangare
Chelsea Morning – Joni Mitchell
Thinking About Your Love – Skipworth And Turner
Loose Caboose – Henry Mancini
Wade in the Water – Blind Boys of Alabama
Little Green – Joni Mitchell
Abdullah and Abraham – Chico Hamilton
Angie – The Rolling Stones
These Dreams of You – Van Morrison
Four Play – Fred Wesley & The Horny Horns
Cul De Sac – Van Morrison
Back Together Again – Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway
Soukora – Ali Farka Toure with Ry Cooder
It Looks Like I’ll Never Fall In Love Again – Tom Jones
Luiza – Cesaria Evora
Carry The Sun Inside – Enzo Avitabile & Bottari
Nao Enche – Caetano Veloso
I Wish I Was The Moon – Neko Case
How Can I Be Sure? – Dusty Springfield
Monday Paracetamol – Ulrich Schnauss
One Wish For Me – Miguel Migs
Yamore – Salif Keita
Mele h’bibti – Khaled
You Haven’t Done Nothin’ – Stevie Wonder
The more I see you – Chris Montez
Brass Buttons – Gram Parsons
Oye el consejo – Ibrahim Ferrer
Sorrow Tears & Blood – Fela Kuti
Carry On – Jean Knight
Word Love – Rhianna Geton
Keep Gettin’ It On – Marvin Gaye
Mahdiyu Laye – Youssou N’Dour
Back In The Day – Ahmad Lewis
Lonely Town, Lonely Street – Bill Withers
Know-How – Kings Of Convenience
Windy – Billy Paul
Blue Bossa – Joe Henderson
Pa’ Gozar – Rubén González
Shining Escalade – Hot Chip
What Is Wrong With Groovin’? – Letta Mbula
Moner Manush – State Of Bengal V Paban Das Baul
Not Available – Shuggie Otis
Looking Back On Vanity – Remy Shand
All About The Papers – The Dells
Jardim Prometido – Cesaria Evora
Tudo tem se limite – Cesaria Evora
Nem às paredes confesso – Amália Rodrigues
No Me Vayas A Engañar – Omara Portuondo
Tijaniyya – Youssou N’Dour
In Every Dream Home a Heartache (en duo avec Bryan Ferry) – Jane Birkin
Stay Out Of trouble – Kings Of Convenience
No Trophy – The Bees
Night Rider’s Lament – Nanci Griffith
Refugee – Oi Va Voi
The Long Wait – Morton Stevens
Stone For Bessie Smith – Dory Previn
El Hombre Que Yo Amé (The Man I Love) – Omara Portuondo
Going Home (Mythical Kings And Iguanas) – Dory Previn
This Flight Tonight – Joni Mitchell
María Caracoles – Afro-Cuban All Stars
Kid Charlemagne – Steely Dan
Ogente Da Minha Terra (live at WOMAD) – Mariza
Inside My love – Minnie Riperton
Jesus Children Of America – Stevie Wonder
Won’t U Please B Nice – Nellie McKay
Keep The Customer Satisfied – Simon & Garfunkel
I Really Love You – Heaven And Earth
Revolution – Bob Marley & The Wailers
Aâlach tloumouni – Khaled
Theme from Cleopatra Jones – Joe Simon featuring The Mainstreeters
On My Own – Ulrich Schnauss
Miles – Miles Davis
Wholy Holy – Marvin Gaye
Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye

16 things which piss me off about my beautiful, bouncing new iPod.

1. Come on, admit it: the sound quality on a CD is still appreciatively better. Listening to MP3s works fine on headphones, but on a decent set of hi-fi speakers, their weaknesses become cruelly exposed. OK, so you could encode at a higher bitrate, but then you’d lose storage capacity – and as someone with an abnormally high appetite for music, capacity is something I’m not too happy to lose. So I compromise on 160, and put up with the consequences. (This also means that I won’t be giving up on CD purchases any time soon.)

2. Those crappy little “please mug me now” white headphones. Don’t use ’em. Instead, I’ve plugged in the super-comfy, hi-fi quality Sennheiser headphones which K’s sister gave me for my 40th birthday.

3. Damn, but these things scratch easily! After less than a week’s use, my machine already looked like a beaten-up piece of ancient old kit. Hence the need to purchase a matinee jacket (see #16 in the post below) for a whopping extra nineteen quid.

4. But then the iPod won’t fit onto its cradle, or onto the docking port on the external speakers, with its matinee jacket still on. Meaning a whole lot of squeezing and shoving on a daily basis, meaning still more scratches in the process.

5. That bloody AAC format. By default, iTunes encodes your CDs not as MP3s, but as AAC files with an M4U suffix. Which wouldn’t bother me unduly, except that I use something called Mixmeister to make proper DJ-mixed compilations, and Mixmeister doesn’t recognise the format. OK, so you can change the default setting in iTunes, and you can convert your existing AAC files into MP3s. But the file conversion process takes a fair amount of time, and I’m spending long enough mucking around with iTunes as it is.

6. That bloody “Alternative/Punk” genre. If it’s got electric guitars on it, and if it’s anything more leftfield than, I dunno, Bon Bloody Jovi or something, then iTunes decides that it’s “Alternative/Punk”. Even Keane! (Yes, OK, OK, I know what I said about them. But Somewhere Only We Know is still a good song in anyone’s book. Except maybe this person’s.)

7. I don’t see why the backlight shouldn’t stay switched on by default, whenever the iPod is connected to the mains. Because I’m rapidly tiring of wandering over to squnt at the thing. At my time of life!
Update: Aha, so there’s a setting which you can change, is there? Good. Fixed it. Take it all back.

8. When a song title is too long for the display screen, the iPod will scroll it across the screen in “marquee” mode. Except that by doing so, it renders the song title almost illegible. And it doesn’t even attempt to do the same thing for artist and album titles, which remain stubbornly truncated.

9. What to do about “standalone” MP3s, which don’t belong with any album? If you leave the original album title on the track information, then your album list becomes cluttered up with “phantom” albums which you don’t actually own. But if you go to all the trouble of replacing the album titles with something like “Misc 2004”, then you lose the information entirely. (I’ve ended up cutting and pasting album titles into the comments.)

10. Click-wheel fatigue. Ooh, I’m just in the mood for some Yo La Tengo. Well, don’t give yourself RSI of the thumb in the process. And are you quite sure you wouldn’t rather listen to Air instead?

11. When selecting an album (or playlist) on Shuffle, the iPod still starts by playing Track 1. Which really is something of a fundamental design flaw, wouldn’t you say?

12. When playing a mix album, the iPod inserts a short but all-too-noticeable gap between the tracks, thus fatally disrupting the flow…

13. …whereas iTunes fades tracks into each other just before they’ve finished, causing similar disruption in the opposite direction.

14. The iTrip needs a strong signal, and full battery power, in order to transmit the iPod’s signal to your radio. Anything less, and the background hiss becomes too great. Which means that it’s a complete dud in the car after the first 10 minutes or so. Which means that I’m looking at purchasing yet another accessory to connect the iPod to the car’s power supply.

15. Using the iTrip to connect with the hi-fi system in our holiday villa over the past week, we found that it worked absolutely fine for about 90% of the tracks. However, the other 10% contained some particular bass frequency which distorted the sound horribly. Which you don’t want when you’re trying to relax with a gin and tonic of an early evening.

16. You find yourself drawn, quite against your will, into the scary world of MP3 Player Politics. Darlings, have you seen the comments box attached to my previous, rather more enthusiastic post? There are detailed, point-by-point refutations in there, in amongst all manner of disproportionately abrupt surliness and point-scoring superiority. (Apparently, I’m a gullible dupe of the corporate capitalist conspiracy, or something. Well, aren’t we all.)

Smelling something of a rat (just who were all these strange new names?), I checked my stats, only to discover something of a traffic spike in my absence. It turns out that I have been comprehensively rubbished on a message board which is hosted by the makers of a rival product – complete with personal abuse, amateur psychoanalysis, and sniggering references to my sexuality. And all this over an MP3 player which, whatever choice is made, will doubtless be considered hopelessly obsolete in a couple of years’ time?

As Michael Bywater says in his admirable little tome Lost Worlds (my constant pool-side companion over the past week):

Choice perplexes us. It puts the burden on us, so instead of shrugging and making the best of it, we traduce ourselves for our failure to make the right choice. A European, a Japanese or an American wanting to buy a camera faces an appalling task of discernment, in an area which he or she is probably no expert (the difference being that he thinks he is), being thrown to the mercy of salespeople who are working to an unknown agenda, and one may be sure that, whatever they eventually come out with, there will be plenty of evidence to suggest that they made the wrong choice.

Well, quite.

See also:
Letters #2 to #4 in The Guardian’s Online section: iRiver posse kicks ass.

Escape From Blogland: They need our help
Santiago Dreaming: To iPOD Or Not To iPOD