1. The Embers | I Walked All Night
A perfect example of the power of the mix-tape: my first real job was working in a shop which involved long hours stuck in a back room opening boxes on my own with only a small radio/cassette player for company. It goes without saying that I wasn’t going to listen to the radio, so I spent every lunch-break I got trawling through charity shops looking for cassettes. I got some good hauls… Beatles At The Hollywood Bowl, Best Of Little Richard, Transformer and The Best Of The Walker Brothers spring to mind as back-room classics, but one cassette was played far more than any other. It was a mix tape that had come free with an issue of Vox Magazine, and it was called Abattoir Dogs. The theme was supposedly that it was all the kind of music that belonged in Tarantino films (which to a point was about right), but as far as I can remember, everything on there was on Ace Records, so I guess it was more just an advert for Ace dressed up as something that was popular at the time. Anyway, when you hear a compilation like that, all soaked together on a little string of tape, it’s impossible to think of the tracks on their own. The songs have a new home, and I can never listen to Johnny Allen’s Promised Land without thinking of John Lee Hooker’s Hoogie Boogie, or Sparkle Moore’s Flower Of My Heart without The Gladiolas’ Little Darlin', or Margaret Lewis’ Reconsider Me without Tommy McLain’s Sweet Dreams. These tracks have at various times been my favourite from the album, but the first one, the one which on my first listen made me stop what I was doing and constantly rewind the tape to hear it over and over, was I Walked All Night by The Embers. I couldn’t believe it when I heard it. They seem to be messing about while they record the vocals, it’s full of MAGIC CHORDS… And that ending is incredible! It’s recorded so perfectly that even if it were an instrumental with a different title, you’d still be able to tell that it takes place at night. But, anyway, my point is; if I had heard this song on it’s own, isolated from any memory, it might have passed without much more than a oh yeah, that’s a cool song, but being part of an experience (and a good mix-tape IS an experience) gives you a post to tie it to in your head so it doesn’t just float away into a void of vague memories. A good mix-tape can be better than an album.
2. The Savages | Roses Are Red My Love
When I lived in Manchester I ran a DJ night at a bar called Big Hands with a friend of mine. We were good at it, we got people dancing to songs they’d never heard (and there wasn’t even a dance floor). Without a doubt, the best thing about DJing (aside from the ACTUAL best thing about DJing) was introducing each other to new songs. Before we started, we usually got together to show each other the tracks we’d found in the past week, sometimes we’d wait until everything was in full swing to show each other certain tracks, because they would work better in the right atmosphere. This is a perfect example of that. People dance to this song even if they’ve never heard it. That drum fill which bridges the first and second verses... I love that bit. The first time I was shown this song, I remember thinking it was so perfect, thinking, it’s very rare that a song is so good that it doesn’t even need a chorus to feel like a perfect pop song, and then the chorus actually comes in and it takes it to another level entirely. It’s so infectious that you sing along the first time you hear it, and you and your friend sing in harmony, and you make up a harmony to sing in the verse… And you always play Nobody But Me by The Human Beinz next to even out the yeah, yeah yeahs with some no-no, no, no, no, n-no-no-nos. And you NEVER play Older Guys until after 1. The best thing about DJing is that it’s the perfect excuse for your friends to show you songs like this.
3. The Coasters | Three Cool Cats
Every time I hear this song I am reminded of the first time I heard it. It was the day I inherited my parents 45 collection. I must have been about 12 and had displayed enough of an interest in collecting CD’s that they thought I would appreciate their records. We spent hours in my bedroom going through them all on a little suitcase turntable, my mum and dad suggesting songs I might like. The main ones I remember from that night are The Coasters - Three Cool Cats (which was the flip to Charlie Brown on London Records), Fats Waller’s When Somebody Thinks You’re Wonderful (from an EP on the HMV label), and oddly enough, Jilted John. Three Cool Cats was the real stand out though, great harmonies, a powerful drum beat, wild sax solo and that comedic story-style that the Coasters did so well. I still have every one of those records my parents gave me, and treat them with the kind of care usually reserved for holy artifacts. Record collecting has since become a healthy habit and an unhealthy addiction since then, and between that and my obsession with trashy 60’s guitars, has drained every penny I’ve ever made. I’m perfectly happy though.
4. Alan Hawkshaw | Girl In A Sportscar
This is the song that started my obsession with Library music. I just happened to hear it one night and barely got any sleep, because I kept playing it over and over again. I had always had an idea of this kind of music in my head, full of bongos, flutes and Hammonds. I knew I had heard these kinds of songs before but I had no idea where or how to find them. This is most likely because Library music was recorded for use in film and television and never commercially released, which means that in England at least, plenty of people have heard plenty of these songs but few know what they are. Most people would recognise tracks like James Clarke’s Wild Elephants, The Graham Walker Sound’s Young Scene or Jimmy McGriff’s All About My Girl. Even more would know Hawkshaw’s themes for Dave Allen At Large, Grange Hill and Countdown, but the vast majority of people have no idea who he is. I tend to think of Alan Hawkshaw as England’s answer to Henry Mancini, less successful and well-known, but no less talented. I have done my best to track down as many of the green KPM records as possible, and Friendly Faces is still my favourite, largely due to the inclusion of this track (along with James Clarke’s Chatterbox, which would undoubtedly serve as my theme tune if I ever had my own chat-show). See also Alan’s mid-60’s stuff like Beat Me ‘Til I’m Blue for examples of his unmatched Hammond playing.
5. The Beatles | Carnival Of Light
I had to have The Beatles on here, what with them being by far the most important band that will ever exist, but I didn’t want to put something that everyone had already heard. So with this being an imaginary mix-tape, I figured it would be okay to include a track which pretty much no-one outside of Apple has heard, obviously including myself. My other reason for choosing this track is in defence of my ALL-TIME, UNASHAMED, 100% hero, Paul McCartney; Carnival Of Light is a 14-minute free-form Avant Garde sound experiment, recorded a year before John’s Revolution 9 (even George recorded a musique concrete piece for his debut solo album, Wonderwall Music, making John only the third Beatle to engage in Avant-Garde music, rather than the first as most people assume) for a happening at the Roundhouse in ’67. Various fakes have surfaced over the years, and there are many times I’ve considered recording one myself. After all, The Beatles are the reason I make music, and as far as I’m concerned, they are the reason that anyone is making the music they are, whether they know it or not.
6. The Tammys | Egyptian Shumba
This is the kind of song that if it were more well known, it would be the greatest DJing song ever. It is absolutely the wildest, loudest pop record I have ever heard. It was released in 1963, when America hadn’t even heard The Beatles… It starts loud, with an odd melody on some strange organ, thundering tribal drums which sound like Moe Tucker shot full of adrenaline, and piercing female harmonies singing nonsense. The chorus consists mainly of the girls screaming in absolute insanity. The bridge has them sreaming that they wanna dance, faster and faster, faster and faster, and the tension builds, and the drums get so heavy and loud and fast that they go out of time and the whole thing nearly derails, and right at that moment the girls scream even LOUDER and the strange organ hits a soaring high-note and we’re back on track, only LOUDER and more cacophonous and insane, and the lyrics are back but they’re still SCREAMING like monkeys in the background, and you can’t help but smile at this beautiful mess, this absolutely perfect destruction. 1963. 1 year before The Beatles arrived in America, 2 years before the first Sonics album, 3 years before Garage, 4 years before the first Velvets album… The song fades out with the girls screaming into the abyss, having not necessarily started anything (loud music had existed before them), or influenced anything (no one bought it), but just having done something completely insane, unique, repulsive and beautiful. Thanks, Lou.
7. Cannonball Adderley | Autumn Leaves (feat. Miles Davis)
The other thing in Manchester was I worked in a book shop. It was a pokey little place, and my favourite thing about working there was that we were aloud to put on whatever music we liked. I had a massive pile of CDs behind the counter, and every now and then I would take them all home and find replacements. But of all the music I listened to there, the one that really stands out above all else is Somethin’ Else by Cannonball Adderley. My boss always brought this one out at winter, especially over Christmas… Christmas was perfect for Jazz, because we tended to have people come in just to shelter from the cold darkness outside, and what on Earth could be better than ducking into a little bookshop on a cold night and hearing a record like this? Also, actual Christmas music was, for the most part, banned. The opening bars of this song, of this album, always make me think of those times. Another point to make about this record, aside from my own personal memories, is that this perfectly illustrates my argument for certain recording techniques; an album of Electronic music, or even real music recorded digitally, will never ever sound anywhere near as good as this. The sound of people, in a room, playing together, through a few ribbon mics, onto tape… I absolutely believe that this is how music should always be recorded (and preferably in Mono, too, but that’s a whole other discussion). I do not have the resources to be able to do exactly that, but I do what I can to get as close as possible to capturing a little of that magic and art that records like this are full of. I don’t think I’m anywhere near there yet, but, you know…
8. Scott Walker | Montague Terrace (In Blue)
I got into Scott Walker about 7 years ago. I got one of those Collection albums and immediately fell in love with every song on it. From there I went through the 4 Scott albums, skipped ahead to Tilt and The Drift, went back to Climate Of Hunter and then tried to fill in the gaps with whatever I could get my hands on. While Scott 4 is his undisputed masterpiece, my favourite track has to be Montague Terrace. The imposing string arrangement, the bar chimes which sound like a shiver down your spine, the snare which kicks the chorus in, the absolute enormity of the chorus itself… And some of the most visually stimulating lyrics ever written. Don’t even get me started on his voice. One of the closest things to perfection.
9. Captain Beefheart And The Magic Band | Apes-Ma
Don Van Vliet’s death hit me far harder than any death I’ve experienced so far. While he is listed third in my Top 5 Heroes list (below McCartney and Brian Wilson, above Scott Walker and Gram Parsons), he is an entirely different kind of genius. While the others have/had an incredible understanding of music and emotion, I can understand how they got there. I can see that talent x knowledge x love equals greatness. But Vliet didn't operate like that. He never experimented, he never had to; he knew exactly what he was doing. I can’t imagine any other person even conceiving the kind of art he made, let alone actually create it, and so perfectly and instantly. It is completely unfathomable to me that he could have been from this planet, which I suppose is why his death (from multiple sclerosis) was such a shock to me. Before, no matter what, I knew that somewhere in the World, while everything else was going on, Don Van Vliet was out there somewhere, still thinking, still creating. And now he doesn't exist anymore, and he almost feels like a fictional character, someone far too incredible to have ever existed. Well. I could have chosen any of his music, but I chose this because it says more in a minute of spoken word than most people ever do in an entire discography. It was only after he died that I realized this song was autobiographical.
10. The Beach Boys | I Just Wasn't Made For These Times
This is the greatest song ever recorded. I absolutely mean that. As far as I’m concerned, nothing could ever be better than this. You know, some people cry at films, or at books, things like that. I’ve never done that. But every time I listen to this song, I cry. I mean, you know, if I prepare myself, put my headphones on, put the needle down, sit down and close my eyes, I’m completely immersed. I could be anywhere in the World. Even the version on the Pet Sounds Sessions box set, where you hear the harpsichord playing around with the chords in the song, the sound of the room, there is something completely otherworldly about it. I really don’t know what to say about this song. Nothing I could say could come close to describing it, I could never be over-flattering about it… I think that Sometimes I feel very sad is the greatest pop lyric ever written. Every chord change is magical… I am certain of 3 things; 1: The Beatles are the greatest band that has ever or will ever exist. 2: Pet Sounds is the greatest album that has ever or will ever exist, and 3: I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times is the greatest song that has ever or will ever exist. The Beatles were constantly brilliant, but Brian Wilson (with Tony Asher, later with Van Dyke Parks), for a short time, understood emotion better than anyone else on the planet, and was able to communicate it better than even McCartney. I see this song as the summit of his achievements. Actually, wait, no; I see this song as the summit of Music’s achievements. As I said… I don’t really know what to say about this song. It’s late. I guess, just… Well, we can all give up trying now, Brian Wilson beat us to it.