As I turned sixty on 25th April, I thought I'd do a bit of a John Peel, and have thirty days of Cromford's Countdown... sixty of my favourite musical memories, which were posted to Facebook in the run-up to my birthday, twice daily. Now that all the birthday dust has settled here's the full list, with YouTube or Vimeo links for you to follow, and maybe enjoy.
Please notify me of any broken links (via my 'Contact' page).
60) Bernard Herrmann -- 'North By Northwest' suite
First up, to mark my birth-year of 1959, here's Bernard Herrmann's score for Alfred Hitchcock's movie 'North By Northwest' -- in which poor old Cary Grant has more WTF moments than a man of his years should have to handle. Crop-duster strafing, anyone?
59) Diesel Park West -- The Girl With The Name
From 1989, here are Diesel Park West with some lovely treble-y jangly guitars and a nifty little melody. This is another band that is well-respected and does all right for itself, but should've been HUGE. In my opinion, which isn't humble.
58) del Amitri -- Start With Me
Here's some energy! At most open mics, someone will get up and announce they're doing a del Amitri song... and it'll be 'Nothing Ever Happens'. Again. It certainly won't be this frantic bopper from the excellent 1995 album 'Twisted'. Look, I'm dancing. Oh. Oh no, I'm not. So not.
57) Fairport Convention -- Book Song
From their second album 'What We Did On Our Holidays' (1969) here are Fairport Convention before they fell headlong into British folk music and were lost to us rock-lovers! Dig those harmonies from Sandy Denny & Iain Matthews; they sound like...like... like delicate marmalade spreading on a fresh piece of B'n'B toast. Well, don't they?
56) The Doobie Brothers -- Take Me In Your Arms (Rock Me A Little While)
Ahh, 1975. That's me, in my slim-fit cheesecloth shirt and with a big bell of a hairdo; I was 16, sitting O-levels and feeling, well, groovy -- since you ask. And I still prefer this Doobies cover to the Kim Weston original.
55) Cocteau Twins -- Suckling The Mender
This one takes me back to a blissed out moment: wandering alone around central Stockholm on a summer's evening during the city's Water Festival; sky full of hot-air balloons, streets full of weirdness and shiny happy people, barbecue fumes in the air, and this Cocteaus tune lodged in my head.
Aahh, you should have been there!
54) The 5th Dimension -- Carpet Man
This is 1967-era Jimmy Webb; he hadn't written 'Wichita Lineman' yet. It's fast, flamboyant and quite a bit nuts! The Fifth Dimension were of course brilliant singers (when the harmonies build through those choruses, I almost want to hoot with delight); listen for the really soprano notes towards the end. The caffeine-fuelled sitar is a juicy Summer of Love bonus.
'Carpet Man' wasn't a hit in Britain, but I used to hear it a lot on radio and TV, as continuity music....of all things.
53) Colin Vearncombe -- Yves Klein Blue
Now that Scott Walker (owner of one of the five best male voices in pop history) has left us -- and if there's a Hereafter -- I'd like to think he's planning duets with this man (owner of another of the five best etc.): Colin Vearncombe, AKA Black. The song is a track from Vearncombe's 1999 album 'The Accused', and it's all you would expect from a man with his musical pedigree. M'Lud, I rest my case.
52) Hothouse Flowers -- Used To Call It Love
Nobody stirs up a mystical maelstrom of sound like Hothouse Flowers (Did you like that? "Mystical maelstrom"?). And this little corker from 1998 has a secret weapon: those deep overdriven guitar notes reverberating in the choruses.
I'm doing the Watusi to this song right now....probably.
51) Crosby & Nash -- Where Will I Be?
In 1969 David Crosby's girlfriend was killed in a particularly senseless traffic accident. By 1972 -- as you can hear in this song -- he hadn't got past the first stages of grief. There's great spacious beauty in this recording, and a heartache that is almost unbearable. We're eavesdropping on Mr Crosby's bared soul.
DO NOT listen to this if you're feeling emotionally fragile right now.
50) Burt Bacharach -- Pacific Coast Highway
Here's a slice of mellow sophisti-pop from 1969: Burt Bacharach (who's never returned my calls, but I forgive him). Those ocarinas sound just like penny whistles to me.... and I have a penny whistle. Is this a sign that I should learn the melody?
49) The Lighthouse Family -- Ocean Drive
Here's the Lighthouse Family from 1995. Just makes you want to get out in the middle of the road and pirouette, doesn't it? Wheeee! Wheeee! Wheeheeee!
'Feeling a bit sick now...
48) Ruby & the Romantics -- Our Day Will Come
Call me precocious, but even at four years old I was very taken with the sound of this record: Ruby & The Romantics, from 1963. Listen to that singing-voice: probably not trained, doesn't reek of 'technique', quite precarious at times, but it's captivating; these days they would Autotune the life out of it.... ah, enough said.
47) Neil Young -- I Believe In You
A suitably lethargic little offering from Neil Young, back in 1970. I like this song a lot (obviously!), but I do wish those drums were a bit more interesting. Come on, even Pete Best's work with the Beatles had more life than this. Oh well.
46) The Byrds -- Renaissance Fair
This gem from the Byrds is a minute and fifty-odd seconds, but it feels even shorter. Some mornings, it's taken me longer than this song to find the head-hole of my sweater.
What about that gorgeous little guitar/brass riff at the end of each chorus, eh? Sheer 1967 heaven.
45) The Electric Light Orchestra -- Above The Clouds
From 1976 and the album 'A New World Record', here's Brummie Jeff Lynne's bunch with an unjustly-neglected mood piece. Okay, the choice of synth noises might be in dubious taste, but the song itself is one of the best Mr Lynne ever concocted. And I'm talking about the man who gave us 'Shine A Little Love'.....!
Ha, just kidding.
44) Nazz -- Open My Eyes
Crank up your volume before you play this one: oh my giddy aunt, it's such a thrilling record! This is Nazz, the band that Todd Rundgren was in before he became a phenomenon. He's not singing this, but he wrote it, in 1968.
I don't believe in using the word 'genius' to describe any musician, but I'm sorely tempted here. Sorely tempted.
43) Thomas Dolby -- One Of Our Submarines
We've sampled some of Todd Rundgren's wares, and now it's the turn of another misunderstood talent: Thomas Dolby. This was a B-side back in 1982, and the lyric is semi-biographical (it recounts the fate of Dolby's uncle in the Second World War). Also the title of Edward Young's 1974 memoir, 'One Of Our Submarines' is such an evocative phrase isn't it? "One of our submarines is missing...tonight..."
42) Tears For Fears -- Sowing The Seeds Of Love
This one's from 1989, and I was just starting my degree course -- mature student, obviously, and the associated memories are also obvious: plastic tumblers of cider in the Union bar, cold sausage butties from the snack kiosk, bleary late evenings in a basement computer-room, even blearier and later evenings in other students' digs, and loads of, ahem, romantic frustration. Sowing the seeds, indeed; ha!
41) Camel -- The Snow Goose
Not a short one, this: have you got most of the evening free, and Camel's 1975 vinyl masterpiece? There was a link to this album on Vimeo until fairly recently, but it seems to have been deleted, so I can't point you in any online direction to hear the whole thing.
I was given this album on cassette for my 17th birthday, and must've played it every single day for about three months. Yes, I was impressed.
Funny thing, I still haven't read the book.
40) The Beatles -- If I Needed Someone
No officially-named music act has more than one entry in this 60-track countdown, and I'm sure my fellow Beatles admirers might start wondering what I've picked from the Fabs. Wonder no longer! Here's George Harrison, "Scouser of Distinction" (A Hard Day's Night, dir. Richard Lester, 1964) leading his mates through the song I used to wait patiently through most of 'Rubber Soul' to hear.
39) Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young -- Country Girl
This is a great sweeping thing of beauty from the 'Deja Vu' album (1970). "Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Dallas Taylor & Greg Reeves": they might not need an introduction but they surely needed a ruddy big piece of paper for the concert flyers.
38) The Left Banke -- Walk Away Renee
If you're only familiar with this song because of the Four Tops, have a listen to the poignant original version, recorded by its composers in 1966. The Left Banke were among several bands that took the Beatles' 'Yesterday' and the Stones' 'As Tears Go By' as starting-points and invented Baroque-Pop. Lots of harpsichords and orchestral instruments, more complicated song-structures: a lot of Progressive Rock began here; YEAH!
37) Ennio Morricone -- 'Giu la Testa' soundtrack
Probably my favourite film soundtrack of all is this one, Ennio Morricone's score for the 1971 western "Giù la Testa" (AKA 'Duck, You Sucker!' AKA 'A Fistful Of Dynamite'): Rod Steiger as Juan and James Coburn as Sean (an IRA fugitive), getting caught up in the Mexican Revolution. Doesn't sound as if it would be a lyrical, beautiful film does it? And maybe without Morricone it wouldn't be. That man could write a theme for the spreading of pig slurry and make it compulsive viewing.
36) The Roches -- Losing True
We're in mellow territory again. Here are the Roches, harmonising like crazy on a track from their 1982 album 'Keep On Doing' (produced by Robert Fripp, no less). Incredibly, these sisters never had a big hit on either side of the Atlantic. What was wrong with people?
35) Anthony Phillips -- God If I Saw Her Now
Unless you're an admirer of Genesis, the name Anthony Phillips might not mean anything to you. He was their guiding light and main songwriter from 1967 to 1970, when they were developing their own brand of progressive rock; then he quit the band to study music; then he kicked off a solo career with an album, 'The Geese And The Ghost' (1977) from which this track comes. It's a lovely piece of gentleness, sung by guest vocalists Vivienne McAuliffe and a chap called Phil Collins (he'd never make it big with a name like that, would he?).
34) Fleet Foxes -- He Doesn't Know Why
Here's my only concession to the 21st century in this countdown: Fleet Foxes, from their 2008 album (the one with the Bruegel painting on the cover). The fact that they sound so retro is probably a factor in my choice. Mind, I'm not saying that nobody else has made music to move me in the old-fashioned way during the last two decades; I'm just saying I haven't heard any yet.
I hope those goats weren't traumatised by that video shoot.
33) Martin Newell -- Straight To You, Boy
Martin Newell, anyone? Former cassette-underground guerrilla? The man who's also The Cleaners From Venus? Also a poet for the Sunday Express?
This is from his 1993 album 'The Greatest Living Englishman', produced by Andy Partridge. I bought this album from a branch of Borders (remember them?) in San Francisco --- a hell of a way to travel just for a CD.
32) The Four Tops -- Without The One You Love (Life Is Not Worthwhile)
From 1964, a gem from the Four Tops that I only discovered a few years ago, by idly surfing YouTube early one morning. Okay, the message is bleedin' obvious -- without the one you love, life is not worthwhile -- but it's wrapped up in such stonking good music, you wouldn't care if they were singing an order at the local chippy: "one chicken and mushroom pie, chips and a gherkin pleee-ease..."
31) Steve Hackett -- Spectral Mornings
Here's another bod from the Genesis stable: Steve Hackett, with the title track of his 1979 solo album. Goodness me, but I've loved this track in my time. Even now, when the main tune kicks off (at about 56 seconds) I get a cold jolt up the spine and I'm just about anybody's! See what you make of him and his spooky guitar sound.
30) Raymond Lefevre -- Âme Câline
Mid-1968: a holiday caravan in the dunes of Abersoch; slap-up dinners at the King March café nearby; a persistent smell of strawberry-flavoured Nesquik, and this tune, 'Âme Câline' (known to the English-speaking world as 'Soul Coaxing') seemingly never off the transistor radio. I was 9 years old...
... pardon me, I just drifted off on a little cloud of nostalgia!
29) CPR -- Morrison
David Crosby's a sly old dog isn't he? So far, he's managed to wangle his way onto this countdown under three names (Byrds, Crosby & Nash, CSNY)... and I'm danged if he isn't here again.
This time it's CPR, he's with his son James Raymond (keyboards) & guitarist Jeff Pevar, and this song was a poem that Crosby wrote about Jim Morrison after seeing the Oliver Stone film 'The Doors'; Raymond set it to music, and here it is, a Steely Dan song in all but name!
28) Manassas -- Pensamiento
Stephen Stills is another sly one in this countdown: CSNY, and now Manassas, the band he co-fronted (with Chris Hillman) in the early 1970s.
Yo no hablo español, so I haven't the foggiest idea what he's singing on this track, but it encapsulates everything I love about Stills in his prime: the marriage of Latin & blue-eyed soul, and that yearning voice of his; smashing stuff.
27) King Crimson -- Matte Kudasai
We've had Latin American Spanish, so obviously it's time for some Japanese right now. This is King Crimson being a bit more commercial than their wont, with a track (translated title: 'Please Wait') from their 1981 album 'Discipline'.
Stone me, was this a hit single? Well, no it wasn't. 'Shame really.
26) Roachford -- Only To Be With You
As a matter of 'interest', this Roachford track from 1994 is one of an odd little handful: songs that I had a go at covering about 19 years ago, performed once, and never picked up again. 'Haven't a clue why... unless it was because I sounded about as soulful as Keith Harris singing about Orville.
25) Traffic -- Empty Pages
This Traffic number sounds almost as though it could've been in the track-listing for Paul Weller's 'Wild Wood' album --- and goodness me, wouldn't he have killed for such a song!
This is how a certain class of rock fan grooved in the summer of 1970. Look at that. That's really funky grooving isn't it? Well, I think so.
24) Deacon Blue -- Only Tender Love
There's a lot of Deacon Blue that I love, but am I alone in thinking Ricky Ross always sounds as if he's having his first sing after four solid months of laryngitis?
Anyway, here he is, keeping the yelp-count nicely low on a crunchy little number from 1993.
23) Family -- My Friend The Sun
The things I know about Family:
- they were from Leicester;
- they played at an early Glastonbury Festival in 1971;
- Roger Chapman could sing like a child doing machine-gun noises;
- some of their songs were hauntingly lovely.... like this one from 'Bandstand' (1972).
Listen for the slow build of wordless vocal harmonies in the instrumental section; they sound like our friend the sun breaking through a thin overcast. NOBODY writes or records like this any more; nobody remembers how. We're in the flippin' Dark Ages again...
22) Swing Out Sister -- You On My Mind
What were you doing in the spring of 1989?
I was working furiously to get the top marks I needed to transfer from my HND course to an honours degree course, spilling a lot of cider on my shoes, and hearing this sort of thing in the background: Swing Out Sister. Their brand of sophisti-pop never sounds dated because it was already dated when it came out; I suppose that was the point.
Pity about my old shoes: "cider on shoes, bad bad news..."
21) Sandy Denny -- Next Time Around
The danger with orchestral arranging of songs, is that the arrangement might end up dominant. For me, this track is a case in point. Sandy Denny wrote another of her beauties with 'Next Time Around' on her 1971 album, but (oh, the sacrilege) all I focus on is Harry Robinson's gorgeous strings part. So, I go somewhere in this song, but it's probably nowhere near where Sandy wanted me to go! Sorry, gal.
20) Free -- My Brother Jake
Woohoo, this is such a delightful bounce of a song! 'My Brother Jake' by Free. At 12 years old, I used to bounce my way to school with this gem as my ear-worm. Oh, do stop laughing please; at least I wasn't playing an air instrument as well. Ha, that came later....
Anyway, savour Paul Rodgers' voice here. Did he ever turn in a bad vocal? Where, oh where is its like today?
19) Seal -- Prayer For The Dying
This is a memento of my international-business-travel, swanning-through-airport-arrivals period (most of the 90s): Seal's 'Prayer For The Dying'. Now here's another Voice, with a capital 'Vuh'. If he was singing 'Ten Green Bottles' you'd care about the fate of those falling bits of glassware wouldn't you?
Funny, I called this a memento, and I can't actually remember much about the period at all: 'probably off my face for most of it.
18) Danny Wilson -- I Won't Be Here When You Get Home
We're in sophisti-pop territory again, and this time it's Danny Wilson. The only problem with selecting a track from their 1987 debut album is that it's nearly all high-quality; I don't believe Gary Clark has ever managed to write a duff song. Anyway, I've plumped for this one, the album's final track, with those telling last words about the only sins being "ignorance, and missing your chance."
So don't miss your chance! Right?
17) Dusty Springfield -- I've Been Wrong Before
Call me opinionated (and you should, 'cause I have opinions that I'm not afraid of sharing!), but there's been a lot of tosh written, and praises heaped, on the pop 'divas' foisted upon us over the last thirty-odd years. None of them, NONE of 'em, can hold a candle (or a meticulous melisma or a carefully-placed vocal fry) to this lady. Dusty Springfield, God bless her. Every time I hear her voice I glaze over and look idiotic!
Listen to her delivery of this aching Randy Newman ballad in 1965. You might say that she was a true diva, but Dusty had more class than that. D'you get the impression that I'm a fan?
16) Buffalo Springfield -- Rock And Roll Woman
Ahem, it's Mr Stephen Stills again --- with Neil Young and the rest of Buffalo Springfield --- foreshadowing CSN on this corker from 'Buffalo Springfield Again' (1967). Sounds as if Stills had a specific woman in mind; I wonder who it was?
"And tomorrow, she's a friend of mine
And the sorrow, I see her face is lined
She's no longer blind, she's just hard to find..." (© Warner/Chappell Music, Inc)
15) Sting -- Fortress Around Your Heart
I tell you, if Sting's songs & recordings were anything less than excellent I wouldn't give him the time of day! Something about his public persona just makes me want to whop him about the head with a stuffed weasel. Several times.
Anyway, here's one of his many redeeming achievements, from 1985.
14) Judie Tzuke -- Living On The Coast
Okay, I'm not arguing: 'Stay With Me Till Dawn' is great, one of my favourite anthemic ballads.... but there's a load of great stuff on Judie Tzuke's first two albums, and this little cracker is from her second, 'Sportscar' (1980). Get your luvverly roasted jazz polychords 'ere!
13) The Blue Nile -- The Downtown Lights
These blokes -- The Blue Nile -- really knew how to get the best out of synths, and that bod doing the singing -- Paul Buchanan -- has a voice I wish I'd been born with. The track is from 1989 but it sounds pretty damn' timeless to me. It's the music of a heart, and the heart might even be mine. Or yours.
12) Prefab Sprout -- Looking For Atlantis
If a bloke fell in love with a pre-Raphaelite nymph of loveliness, then found out her name was, say, Ermintrude Bugfuddler, he wouldn't fancy her any the less would he?
So it is with Prefab Sprout: silly name, sublime music. Here's one of Paddy McAloon's more sprightly numbers, from 1990. As usual its daft bits manage to sound sincere & compelling.....but hey, don't take my word for it!
11) Everything But The Girl -- I Didn't Know I Was Looking For Love
I didn't take much notice of EBTG when they were 'current', -- to my shame, the first version of this song that I heard was the godawful Karen Ramirez thing in '98 -- but I've discovered their back-catalogue is full of marvellous tunes and spot-on lyrics.
This track appeals to my soppy, fluffy side, and I hope it calls to yours, too.
10) Crosby Stills & Nash -- Guinevere
This is positively, absolutely the last time David Crosby turns up in my list. Fifth time around, the flag is 'Crosby Stllls & Nash', and he's at his ethereal best with Graham Nash on 'Guinevere' (spelled with two Ns for most of the album packages); if Stills is on this 1969 recording, I can't hear him.
Favourite line: "Guinevere drew pentagrams like yours, my lady, like yours".
09) Mike Oldfield -- Ommadawn [Part 1]
I heard this album for the first time in the week of its release (late October 1975), when 'Fluff' Freeman played the whole thing on his Saturday afternoon rock show for Radio 1. DJs used to do a lot of that sort of thing in those days. Already an Oldfield admirer, I was transfixed, riveted, generally sent! 'Bought the tape-cassette version two days later, and played it every day for, oh, the rest of the year at least.
I never cared much for Oldfield's work after he got all that therapy, so 'Ommadawn' is (for me) his masterpiece.
08) Steely Dan -- Pretzel Logic
I first heard this Steely Dan song at the Onslow Hotel (as was) in Southampton in 1991, courtesy of a keyboard-led blues quartet --- the Onslow was the venue for live blues in that city back then.
'Pretzel Logic' still doesn't sound much like the blues to me, but I've loved it ever since that distant drunken Saturday night. And no, I have no idea what Fagen is singing about.
07) The Waterboys -- The Big Music
This anthem from 1984 is a souvenir of one of my favourite periods (1990/91), when I was working my sandwich year. A colleague introduced me to The Waterboys by giving me recordings of 'A Pagan Place' & 'This Is The Sea' back-to-back on a cassette. What a nice bloke.
And have you heard the 'big music'? I believe I did -- once, at the start of the 90s -- but then I woke up one morning and couldn't remember how it sounded any more. I'm waiting to catch it again....
06) Todd Rundgren -- Change Myself
Here, for the second and last time in my Countdown, is Todd Rundgren (not Liv Tyler's real dad at all !), with the ultimate self-help song from 1991. It's difficult to pick any one Rundgren track, when you consider that his body of work is so awe-inspiring. In the end I plumped for one that I don't physically own and haven't heard more than 7 times so far. Lawks, it's a goodie isn't it?
05) The Beach Boys -- Don't Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder)
If there's one American musician who might rival Bacharach and Rundgren for the much-misused label of 'genius' it'll be Mr Brian Douglas Wilson, of Hawthorne, California. Here's one of his best love-ballads, from 'Pet Sounds' (an album that I find surprisingly uneven -- [GASP!] -- considering its iconic status, and I bet I'm not the only one).
Dig that elaborate melody and the unintuitive harmonic structure; this is 'modern classical' music, this is.
04) Yes -- Roundabout
Oh my good God; yes, yes, Yes! Can anyone hear this funky prog classic from 1971 and not feel a massive thrill in every fibre of their being? That's Bill Bruford, one of the best drummers EVER; there's Rick Wakeman, flashy, cheeky & BRILLIANT; Steve Howe plays guitar like fast water SPARKLING in the sunlight; Jon Anderson's voice is part of the reason Yes always seemed to SOAR when they played; but the real joy for me, is Chris Squire on bass.
Let me emphasise that: -> CHRIS SQUIRE <- (Heaven love 'im) on BASS. Did ever a bass guitar sound so crunchy and uplifting?
This track is the sound of five people being elated by their own musical abilities, and that's why it makes us feel euphoric too.
03) Genesis -- Entangled
Genesis have been part of me since a friend introduced me to their back catalogue in the late 70s. True, I didn't stay with them after the rude shock of 'Abacab' in 1981, but I adore everything they created between 1967 and 1979. This track, from 'A Trick Of The Tail' (1976) has always been a particular favourite. Listen to that gorgeous interplay of guitars, and Phil Collins' sweet ear for vocal harmonies (before he wrecked his voice by being a Solo Artist). It's rock-ballad perfection.
02) Focus -- Round Goes The Gossip...
Ladieeez and gentlemen, I present: Focus! That bunch of dotty Dutchmen who gave us 'House Of The King' (folk-prog) and 'Hocus Pocus' (yodel-rock). They kicked off their 1972 double-album with this one, 'Round Goes The Gossip...' (serious Focus admirers always insert the row of dots in the title, 'cause that's how it is on the sleeve).
From the manic drum-tattoo intro, through the adrenaline-surge of the first chords, to the dreamy organ interlude that sets some of Virgil's Aeneid to a fruity vocal --- this music is seriously OFF ITS CHUMP! And wonderful! I've never tired of Focus in more than 46 years of listening, and tracks like this one explain why.
01) Peter Gabriel -- Secret World
How on earth can you summarise Peter Gabriel's artistry? Eight years spent with Genesis (from demo obscurity to the brink of superstardom); an idiosyncratic solo career of long waits between albums, and the astonishing sound of them when they appeared; decades of committed, campaigning humanitarianism; being the catalyst for the advancement of 'World Music'; rock-concert showman par excellence since the early 1970s; role-model for hoarse-voiced singers everywhere; good God, where d'you stop?
Here's the closing track from Gabriel's 1992 album 'Us'. He came a long way from 'Sammy The Slug' (apparently his first composition) didn't he?