Michael Jackson

Michael Jackson’s death was both completely unexpected and weirdly unsurprising. I know he was only 50, but his life had been such a train wreck for such a long time that it was hard to conceive of him somehow carrying on for another 30 or 40 years.

I’m grateful for the music. But it can rarely have been more fitting to say: rest in peace.


Sir Lattimore Brown

If you haven’t been following the superb series of posts about the soul singer Lattimore Brown at music blog the B side, now would be a good chance to catch up. It starts with the chance discovery that Brown is not as dead as had been thought, and takes a road trip with him while telling the story of his career, and providing some fine music along the way.

The posts in order: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

As you’ll read, Brown, who was living in New Orleans when Katrina hit and had a pretty awful time of it, has been screwed over again by Hurricane Gustav, so if you enjoy the music you might want to show your appreciation with actual money (via link 7 above).


  • 'One singer referred him to another. He'd meet with these men and women and discuss lives and careers some forty years past and mostly forgotten; they appreciated his respect and inquisitiveness. Conversations would lead to questions that would lead to new singers and new conversations. My father filled hundreds of tapes, transcribed many of them… Recently, my father has approached me about helping with a project relating to these tapes… He asked if I'd be willing to help him "publish" some of these audio interviews on The Tofu Hut.'
    (del.icio.us tags: music America )

Napowrimo #17: Music hath charms

Music soothes the savage beast —
or so the Romans said, at least —
but you still need to identify
what kind of beast you’re threatened by.
Gators loathe Puccini but are calmed by Johann Strauss;
crocodiles hate everything that isn’t acid house.

» Actually, the main source of that quote in English seems to be William Congreve, who really said ‘music hath charms to soothe the savage breast‘; but by the time I checked it, it was too late to start writing something new. So there.

New iTunes icon for Leopard: Aphex Twin

Some time ago I made a whole set of icons for iTunes based on old 45s because I think that the Apple one just looks a bit cheap and tacky. I’m now using Leopard, the latest version of Apple’s OS, and Leopard uses super-large icons so that they look good in coverflow mode. So I felt the need to make a new version for myself.

Aphex Twin iTunes icon

This time, instead of old soul and reggae labels, I thought I’d make an homage to one of my favourite albums of all time: Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92. I don’t listen to this kind of bleepy music as much as I used to, but this album is about as good as it gets. It was released as a double LP, and I’ve used side C for the icon because that’s the side with a track called Ageispolis on it. You can get it as an .icns file here.

James Brown and Pavarotti

via Coudal. I can’t decide if this is brilliant or just peculiar. Is Pavarotti just singing the normal lyrics in Italian, or something else?

This one, on the other hand, is definitely just peculiar.

New stuff coming soon

I’m being an absolute dynamo of behind the scenes activity, wrestling with HTML, php and CSS for your reading pleasure. Sort of. Anyway, in the absence of any other new posts, have a video of Seu Jorge:

If you haven’t seen The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, you should. It’s a very good film.

Pop Princess

I caught a bit of the build-up for the Concert for Diana earlier and it was a weird experience, seeing them try to present Diana’s taste for anodyne mainstream 80s pop music (Elton John, Queen, Duran Duran, Wham, ABBA, Chris de Burgh) as though it was a revealing personality trait.


I’m not knocking her taste (except for Chris de Burgh, obviously); as a child of the 80s I have a soft spot for Duran Duran and Wham myself. But it’s not actually very interesting, is it? I suppose a senior member of the Royal Family listening to Wham on her Walkman around the palace was symbolic of a culture clash of a kind, but that says more about the Royal Family than about Diana. And the fact that she enjoyed meeting pop stars doesn’t exactly represent a deep engagement with music.

I don’t know. It just seems odd to project such significance on to one of the least interesting things you could say about anyone: she listened to Radio 1, you know. I suppose having a charity concert in her memory with music she liked is reasonable enough; it’s the soft-focus halo of what, sanctity? reverence? earnestness? forelock-tugging? that weirds it. But then the whole idea of a ‘people’s princess’ was always kind of creepy and parasitic.

Train songs

Larry has posted a whole compilation of train-themed soul music over at Funky16Corners, which seemed like as good a reason as any to post this video:

Trains are a big presence in American music, of course: blues, jazz, rock and roll all have their great train songs. I don’t think they’ve ever had quite the same associations in Europe, perhaps because our countries are just physically too small. There’s never been a great British road movie, either.

Still, there’s a different kind of romance to European train travel; the idea of buying a ticket in Paris and waking up the next morning in Vienna, or Milan, or Barcelona. Between school and university I went travelling around Europe by train with friends. That was before the Channel Tunnel, so it was a long first day: London-Dover, then the ferry, then a train to Paris, then walking across Paris from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de Lyon to get a train heading south. But the next morning, I took one look out of the window and could see we were in Italy; the buildings, the whole look of the landscape, had changed.

Going by easyJet just isn’t the same.

that George Szirtes music thing

George Szirtes has invited examples of “those occasions when I had only to hear a bar of music to know that something had radically changed.”

This will do, for me:

I’m cheating, really, though, because it’s not just that piece of music, though I think it holds up pretty well and it does have a brilliant opening with that sample of Rickie Lee Jones talking about sunsets. It’s standing in for all that late 80s, early 90s bleepy stuff from the ambient to no-nonsense thumping rave music.

I’ve never actually been that keen on clubbing—too loud, too boring—and the rave scene happened without me, but I’ve always loved the aesthetic. Instead of electronic instruments being used as a simple replacement for physical intruments, the music starts embracing the ways in which they are different from physical instruments. The artificiality of the sound becomes part of the point. I still like that sound; I still like rather electronic-y pop music.

Looking back at the early stuff now, part of what appeals is the simplicity of it. Even though it’s obviously been made with electronics rather than bits of wood and catgut, it has a rough-hewn quality that’s sort of charming.

smoke-filled rooms

I do think it’s funny that the British, so temperamentally disinclined towards conspiracy theories that they even assume that referees are incompetent rather than corrupt, seem ready to believe in a shadowy international conspiracy to fix the result of the Eurovision Song Contest.

EDIT: and after posting that I read that Richard Younger-Ross, the Lib Dem MP for Teignbridge, has tabled an early day motion calling for the voting system to be changed, with the support of three other MPs. Thus proving there’s no subject so trivial that a pathetic, desperate MP won’t wrap it around himself if he thinks it’ll get him ten seconds of media attention.

New section: Music & Books

If you’re very observant, you may noticed a new link in the sidebar: Music and Books. I’ve been gradually tweaking it to my satisfaction, and you can now not only see a list of the ten most recent songs I’ve listened to and the ten most recent books I’ve read, but click through to see my profile on last.fm, reviews of the books, and a sort of bookshelf of all the books I’ve read since installing it. Since I’ve only read four books so far, the ‘bookshelf’ hasn’t really come into its own yet.

I have to admit that if I was criticising this particular design work done by someone else, I’d suggest that the navigation possibilities were a bit opaque, but it’s my party and I’ll make the links difficult to find if I want to.

None of this is currently working unless you’re using the Scallop theme. I’ll probably edit the other themes accordingly in due course. Or just turn the theme switcher off, to save myself these kind of compatibility headaches.

War—hunh—Good God, y’all

We’ll soon know whether the ‘Ugly Rumours‘ version of War has made it into the UK charts. I’d be more sympathetic to the project if it wasn’t so closely linked with the all-conquering ego of greasy, self-serving media strumpet George Galloway. Anyway, here’s Edwin Starr:

EDIT: the new version went in at #21, which isn’t bad going, but not really high enough to make a big political point.

FURTHER EDIT: I decided not to clutter up the place by putting this in its own post. There’s no particular connection except it’s music on YouTube. This is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who I just learned about today via this post over at Soul Sides.

last.fm, again

I’ve joined last.fm, again, under a different name. The intention, again, is to post a ‘recently listened music’ widget somewhere on the site, but I’m still thinking about how best to rearrange various things. In the meantime, I was slightly startled by this. The ten most listened to artists for this week are:

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers
  2. The Beatles
  3. Radiohead
  4. Coldplay
  5. Muse
  6. The Killers
  7. Nirvana
  8. Metallica
  9. Bloc Party
  10. Death Cab For Cutie

I’m not going to type out any more, but the trend continues.

I’m not generally comfortable using the term ‘white’ as a term of mild derision, because I’m not given to self-loathing (about my race, at least), and I’m well aware that, on so many levels beyond mere skin tone, I tick all the boxes. This isn’t a misguided bid for some kind of urban cred, but: that is just the whitest list I’ve ever seen in my life.

Really, of course, ‘white’ has nothing to do with it; I just don’t get guitar rock. It always seems like the basic principle is that ‘if we make enough messy noise, people won’t notice that we’ve got rubbish voices and no rhythm’.

Having exposed my own musical prejudices, it’s only fair to point out that you can see what I’ve been listening to recently on my last.fm profile page. Feel free to mock accordingly.

Bessie Smith

I promise not to spend too much time posting stuff from YouTube, but I thought this was amazing: