My Favourite Albums of 2015

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Well, finally… This post has been 3 months in the making, haha. Alas, here it is…

I was really disappointed with this year’s triple j Hottest 100. For a supposedly-prestigious countdown of the year’s best alternative tracks, this year’s edition consisted almost entirely of EDM. I find it saddening that this is what triple j (previously huge supporters of our local alternative scene) has come to – a stream of soulless, forgettable club music, that, in the end, is really ‘pop’. To quote The Church’s Steve Kilbey’s article on the 100 for The Guardian, “I thought triple j would have a lot more edge than this smooth, manufactured fare.”

I don’t, however, feel that this accurately represents the year that was. For in my opinion, 2015 was the greatest year for music since at least the mid-’90s. Though my thoughts that the EDM trend had faded were obviously incorrect, there were plenty of inventive, affecting releases to make up. The keyboards and synths of 2014 faded a little – guitars making a triumphant return to the alternative arena in their place; the ‘album’ made a huge comeback, so many of the following carefully sequenced as only the greatest pieces of musical art are; many now-“retro” genres (psychedelia, grunge, old-school punk and folk) experienced perhaps their greatest rebirths in recent years, creating work easily as good as those of their predecessors. And while my faith in the current music scene was thrown into jeopardy a good number of times, the following 10 albums (and so many more, too!) more than reassured me. Perhaps 2015 will go down in history as my generation’s ‘1967’ – for I know that so many of these albums will be seen as classics and will change lives in years to come. So here goes…

(I should also mention that this list is by no means complete. There’s still a lot of albums from last year that I haven’t yet been able to listen to! Perhaps there will be a follow-up to this post at some point…)

10. Currents (Tame Impala)

currents tame impala

Currents was easily the album I anticipated most on this list. However, I was a little disappointed. Though I remain a fan of Kevin P. & Co’s work, the swirly guitars that had drawn me to their discography had been replaced by club-worthy synths and drum machines. Their fascinatingly-weird brand of psychedelic rock was now pop.

Despite this, I still loved Tame Impala’s latest effort. Kevin Parker far from neglects the idiosyncratic, kaleidoscopic edges of Lonerism and Innerspeaker, each track still sounding as hypnotically psychedelic and, well, a little out of place as the work that preceded it. Each track swirls through your mind, a showcase for Parker’s incredible musicality, his voice sounding like John Lennon on Revolver, the synths a suprisingly-earcatching hybrid of Spiritualized and pop music. It is just so much more inventive and weird than so much of the stuff it is lined up against! Currents proves Parker’s status as music’s residential genius right now is more than deserved. His work truly is among the greatest of our time.

START WITH: ‘Cause I’m A Man’

[BUY]

SEE ALSO: I Went To See Tame Impala!

9. Depression Cherry (Beach House) 

depression cherry beach house

After a 3-year break, Beach House were famously prolific in 2015 – following up August’s Depression Cherry with October’s Thank Your Lucky Stars. And perhaps it was just the anticipation (and the velvet cover…), but the former wins out for me.

Depression Cherry is exquisitely delicate and positively other-wordly from its first chord. Listening to it is like being caught in the most beautiful dream – the instrumentation subtle yet lush, spellbinding, ethereal. The synths, like sonic gossamer, flicker and swirl around your mind, embellished with jangly lead guitar, sheer bells and dreamy vocals. It is so calm, so gentle, so warm, and will undoubtedly leave you spellbound after the first listen…

START WITH: ‘Beyond Love’

[LISTEN/BUY]

8. Slow Gum (Fraser A. Gorman)

slow gum fraser a gorman

Good news – there’s more where Courtney Barnett came from! Fraser A. Gorman is an artist signed to Milk! Records (the record label Barnett and her partner Jen Cloher began in 2012), and his 2015 debut – though not receiving the same incredible success of hers – is just the best, too!

Slow Gum is steeped in old-school folk and Americana (the cover even evoking The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan!), also taking cues from – as his bio notes – artists like Transformer-era Lou Reed and Big Star; yet it doesn’t rehash the past. In true Milk! Records style, his lyrics are charming and quirky, telling stories reflecting love, life and what it’s like to be a young Australian right now. The music is equally charming and quirky – it’s laidback, slightly sleepy, nostalgic yet anticipates what’s to come. It’s driven by the greatest acoustic guitar, a fiddle (!), surprisingly rock’n’roll drums, glowing electric organ, lead guitar that goes from Neil Young to Courtney Barnett in the space of a song, pretty harmonies, and his vocals are like a sweeter, Australian Bob Dylan. It’s just so great – the kind of thing you’d listen to as Summer comes to its end, that you’d sit in the sun on Sunday morning and sing along to over coffee and toast. A painfully-underrated cut from last year that deserves your attention!

START WITH: ‘Shiny Gun’

[LISTEN/BUY]

7. b’lieve i’m goin down… (Kurt Vile)

blieve im goin down kurt vile

I’ve never previously counted myself as a fan of Americana music, but as soon as I heard the beginnings of b’lieve i’m goin down…‘s ‘Pretty Pimpin’, this was completely irrelevant. Maybe it’s the song’s guitary stomp, which makes you want to immediately get up and dance, or Vile’s idiosyncratic vocals and rambling lyrics, or something else entirely – but I found it deliciously addictive, and have barely stopped listening since.

This brand of quirky, introspective folk rock is just as great throughout the remainder of b’lieve i’m goin down. The music is raw, welcoming and hooking – boasting some incredible fingerpicking, a lead guitar that sometimes lays in its country roots but more often finds itself in territory dominated by tougher rock’n’roll – that goes from wailing to stabbing between tracks, subtle keys, a banjo. Vile’s voice is delightfully unusual and slightly deadpan in its stylings, yet the melodies he sings are the kind you’ll be humming for days to come. The lyrics he writes are wonderfully rambling and contemplative, recounting an inner monologue in his fascinating manner. Another record that you’ll fall in love with on the first listen, and one that won’t leave your turntable/MP3 player for weeks to come!

START WITH: ‘Pretty Pimpin’

[BUY]

6. Quarters! (King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard)

quarters king gizzard and the lizard wizard

Beach House weren’t the only overly-prolific band of 2015. In fact, last year’s release schedule for infamously-prolific psych rockers King G & Co. was fairly normal! True to form, the band released two albums last year: Quarters! in May, and Paper Mache Dream Balloon in November… Unlike the latter album (which was announced to much fanfare and met with great anticipation), Quarters! came out quietly in late Autumn, not even released on CD. The album only contains four tracks – each of them precisely 10 minutes and 10 seconds long! – and is a lot simpler than the Tame Impala/POND cuts to which they’re compared. But this does nothing to diminish its undeniable greatness.

Quarters! consists of some kind of dreamy, psychedelic magic, the kind that will leave you spellbound with its incredible beauty. It’s not overpowered by outlandish busy-ness, like POND and Tame Impala, instead celebrating its weirdness in a starker – yet just as satisfying! – manner. Jangly jazz chords play softly throughout each of the four cuts, paired with soulful vocals, hazy guitar arpeggios, gentle reverb, shimmering keys – making for space-agey doo-wop tunes and giddy, experimental freak-outs and foggy folk tracks, the kind of things fit for the fading warmth of Australian Autumns… And while it’s still heaps of fun (KG&TLW have always been unapologetic about the fact that they’re among the silliest bands around), the album is perhaps more affecting than its successor – the kind of music that digs deep into your mind, that becomes a favourite that you’ll play until it wears out, that makes you want do stuff yourself. It quietly accepts its freakishness, and celebrates this – and that’s why it’s so good. The album is so brilliant, so strange, so fascinating – you’ll never get tired of it!

START WITH: ‘God Is In The Rhythm’

[LISTEN/BUY]

5. Man It Feels Like Space Again (POND)

man it feels like space again pond

POND have always garnered a number of comparisons to Tame Impala, not least because 3/5ths of its current lineup have been touring members of the latter act. But although POND’s 2015 effort did not receive the accolade of Tame Impala’s, I have to say that I prefered it – considerably.

Man It Feels Like Space Again is a delightfully spacey, exciting affair, stumbling from track to track in a hazy, psychedelic dream. Each is drenched in effect – dreamy reverb, unsettling synthy strings, chugging phasers, erratic fuzz -, driven by brilliantly eccentric drums, layered with floaty vocals (mixed lower than usual – sometimes practically inaudible – but to great effect!), embellished with the prettiest, spaciest guitar, echoing – and even rivalling – the madly psychedelic moods created by many artists in the late-’60s. It’s unpredictable – ranging from glammy disco cuts to foggy waltzes – and so weird, so much more experimental than many of its contemporaries. Dominated by a ‘more is more’ philosophy, it swirls from the speaker, bursting at its sonic seams with with its bizarreness. With each listen, you’ll notice something new – it really never gets old. Man It Feels…, despite its relative obscurity in comparison to Currents, is just so much more weird, more interesting, more unpredictable, more fun. And that is why I’m still listening to it so much, over a year since its release…

START WITH: ‘Elvis’ Flaming Star’

[BUY]

4. Feels Like (Bully)

feels like bully

Listening to Feels Like is a little like running back to the ’90s, when the majority of alternative bands employed guitars to play their brands of punk and grunge instead of poppy synths, and when the most acclaimed female musicians were more Kim Gordon than Beyonce. But that’s kind of simplistic – for Tennessee punk band Bully’s debut LP sounds too fresh, too great to be but a mere throwback.

Feels Like begins with the visceral, thrilling ‘I Remember’, which rips through your speakers with its ferociously loud guitars, whirlwind drums and singer Alicia Bognanno’s howls and screams. The rest of the album is the same – a collection of impassioned punk anthems, ready-made for playing on constant repeat. The music is fierce and relentless, thrashing itself through each song, reminiscent of Sonic Youth, Pixies, early Sleater-Kinney. It is inaccessible, yet kind of anthemic, and it’s punk – refreshingly hard and edgy, and just as good as the bands that inspired it. Alicia Bognanno’s voice is just the best, too…  And Bognanno’s lyrics are undeniably brilliant – like the Slits before her, she writes relatable lyrics that effortlessly capture the thoughts and anxieties of so many girls, the kind an introverted, teenage music-geek would scribble all over their schoolbooks and quietly quote to themselves in their bedrooms. And Feels Like is the kind of record that celebrates what it’s really like to be a teenager in this world, painfully relatable, and why I, for one, love it so. It is one for playing on constant repeat until you wear it out, and one for quietly sneaking onto a party playlist to prove that you’re cooler than everyone else. And one that once you start, you won’t be able to get enough of…

START WITH: ‘Trying’

[LISTEN/BUY]

3. Ivy Tripp (Waxahatchee)

ivy tripp waxahatchee

Listening to Waxahatchee’s Ivy Tripp is like crowding around a fire on a particularly cold Winter’s day. It is warm and inviting, quirky and impossibly pretty. Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) compiles each instrument – the guitars, keys, synths, drums – in a delightfully “DIY” manner, the kind of thing you’d record with your newly-formed indie band in your bedroom (but in the greatest way possible). It seems so delicate, fragile, yet leaks with passion and independence. And her vocals – so strong, yet so flowing – must be among the most beautiful I’ve heard. The kind of record you’ll fall in love with as soon as the first chord begins, and that demands to be played on repeat for years to come.

START WITH: ‘La Loose’

[LISTEN/BUY]

2. No Cities To Love (Sleater-Kinney)

no cities to love

2015 marked the return of the incredible Sleater-Kinney, a band of three immensely talented women whose mix of scuzzy guitars, powerful vocals, catchy melodies and confident lyrical matter have continually inspired and reassured many a girls’ (myself included) love of rock’n’roll, as well as establishing themselves as among the greatest rock bands of our time. No Cities To Love not only reiterates these statements, but establishes itself as among the band’s best records yet.

Cities flings itself from track to track with an incredible excitement and energy, almost never matched by newer bands. Carrie Brownstein’s and Corin Tucker’s guitars thrash at each song with a fuzzy, murky dissonance that barely anyone else bothers to create these days, and Tucker screams her vocal lines with a phenomenally ferocious passion (think X-Ray Spex’s Poly Styrene). Each song is raw and raging, possessing an energy – a fire – reminiscent of the ’70s greatest punk albums; yet each is anthemic, too, prime for party playlists and bedroom sing-alongs. Cities is an incredible rock record: a piece of raucous, fast-paced rock’n’roll that never fails to satisfy, that raises your adrenaline as soon as the first chord lifts off. A set-to-be classic.

START WITH: ‘Price Tag’

[LISTEN/BUY]

1. Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (Courtney Barnett)

sometimes i sit

It would easy to suggest that my love of Courtney Barnett’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Somtimes I Just Sit lies mainly within its obvious homage to ‘retro’, guitar-driven rock, but this would be lazy – for it is so great on so many levels. Barnett slays her debut LP, laden with the wittiest lyrics, a voice among the uniquest in music today and tight, tough instrumentation, creating what is undeniably now a modern classic.

Barnett’s music is so incredibly refreshing in a world where Justin Bieber and gone-solo boyband members top the charts. Her lyrics are astute and entertaining, ramblingly poetic, simple and humble yet funny and smart. She manages to turn the most mundane of human experiences into interesting and often hilarious stories, penning lyrics you’ll sing until you can quote them at a second’s notice. She sums up what it means to be a young Australian in an almost disturbingly-accurate manner, recounting scenarios we know all too well with her proudly-displayed accent – so while Barnett has achieved international success, her work perhaps means most to all the young Australians who identify best with it. It is nice to hear your own accent, to hear slang you use every day in music you love, rare in a world ruled by America and Britain. She has easily become among the most important voices in music today.

To boot, Sometimes‘ incredible lyrics are backed by an equally-great band. The music crackles with such a rich exuberance, bursting with fun and fuzz-pedals. Barnett plays a mean guitar, thrashing it just like her grungy heroes. And paired with the help of drummer Dave Mudie and bassist ‘Bones’ Sloane, she creates a brand of indie rock so much rawer than that of those around her, echoing Australia’s longstanding love of garagy guitars, yet creating her very own sound at the same time. Think Nirvana, but funnier. But Sometimes isn’t retro, outdated – it’s fresh, made for the 21st century, and unlike most music out now, inventive and original. It is this – Barnett’s originality, her quirks, her (as SPIN put it) “low-key brilliance” – that has already cemented her debut as a classic, alongside Horses and Violent Femmes. And it is this that will ensure that it remains so, for years to come…

START WITH: ‘Pedestrian at Best’

[LISTEN/BUY]

SEE ALSO: I Went To See Courtney Barnett!

Albums I’m particularly anticipating this year include Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, The Drones’ Feelin Kinda Free, Sunflower Bean’s Human Ceremony, Glitterbust’s (Kim Gordon’s new band) debut, Adelaide noise-rockers Horror My Friends’ Stay In, Do Nothing – but I feel that Bowie’s Blackstar may have already taken out #1… (I guess we’ll have to wait and see!)

Did you listen to any new music in 2015? What were your favourites? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

(Also, if you’re viewing this on the site, you may notice that I’ve made a few cosmetic changes! Hope you all like them! The drawings in the header are ones I’ve done myself over the past year…)

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Vale George Martin

 

Rest in peace.

 
So saddened to hear that the great Sir George Martin has passed away. He was such a huge part of what made The Beatles so great – his production on each of their tracks is incredible to listen to, and everything he added to their music enhanced so much of their work, often lifting it from ‘great’ to bonafide masterpiece status. I’ll never forget the first time I heard his mono mix of Revolver; ‘A Day In The Life’s apocalyptic orchestra; ‘In My Life’s beautiful (sped-up) piano; ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’; ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’; ‘Eleanor Rigby’ – all greatly affected by his work. He always seemed a true gentleman, too. 

May he rest in peace.

Happy birthday George Harrison!

image

I’ve posted this picture a few times before, but anyway…

As I’m sure most people reading this blog are aware, yesterday* would’ve been George Harrison’s 73rd birthday!

I’m not going to write much, today (I’ve written plenty before) – but here are a few words, nonetheless.

George’s musicality was, hands down, among the greatest in rock: the subtle yet great suggestions he made to various Beatles songs (see the bridge of ‘We Can Work It Out’, for example), often transforming them; his guitar skills, perhaps the greatest example of the ‘keep it simple’ rule – so understated, yet often among the highlights of whatever song happened to be gifted with them, so expressive and practically ethereal; and, of course, his songwriting – musically, beautiful, strong & emotive, and lyrically, poetic and criminally underrated. He seemed like such a incredible person, too – selfless, kind, intelligent, funny. I feel like our world needs more people like him, today. It’s frustrating that he remains, by far, the most underrated Beatle, that the public are generally unaware of his amazing contributions to the band and music in general – but as I wrote in a previous post, those that know of his greatness are aware that this is such wonderful knowledge to have!

But now, I’m going to let his music speak. So happy birthday, George! Hope you had a great day, wherever you may be…

(Please excuse the lack of Beatles – annoyingly, they’ve been taken off YouTube, and seemingly off Vimeo and other sites, too…)

*You probably also know that there’s a bit of confusion surrounding George’s actual birthdate – a few sources have claimed that he was, in fact, born in the late hours of the 24th, but a bit of Googling seems to suggest that the true date is the 25th.

Vale David Bowie.

The stars look very different today.

“And the stars look very different today.”

I will forever remember what I was doing when I heard that David Bowie was dead, as what had been occupying my time that afternoon is now horribly ironic. I’d been listening to Hunky Dory and a stack of his outtakes; I’d been loading reviews of Blackstar, ready for after I’d listened to it (I’m still waiting on its delivery); I’d been learning how to play a few of his songs on guitar. Then mere minutes later, I discovered that he was gone. He is a true Starman, now, I guess.

What can I say? David is one of my greatest heroes. Over this past year, he has influenced me so much, and I in turn admire him more than words can convey. His work, lately, has been so unpredictable, and his death is no exception.

David fell into my life 3 years ago, but it was only last year (when I visited the ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition, then in Melbourne) that I became the intense follower of his work that I am today. This can be put down to the exhibition: I entered it an excited yet casual fan, but I left it forever changed by the magic of his art. I’ve barely let a day go by without listening to his music since.

David’s influence and inspiration on me is a gift beyond words. He showed me so much: his sartorial prowess gave me the confidence to dress androgynously and to create my own style; he taught me to stop caring about what other people think, to not force myself to conform, to be truly comfortable in my own skin; he even inspired me to dye my hair bright Ziggy-orange! His music is filled with his incredible passion, emotion and intensity, making it feel so real and infinitely amazing, giving it the ability to make you both grin at its euphoria and cry at its beauty; his lyrics are articulate, intelligent and beautiful, just like the man himself; many of his films are spine-chilling in their brilliance (The Man Who Fell To Earth comes to mind); his ch-ch-ch-ch-changes gave his work such an unpredictable mystery, setting him apart from virtually every other artist in the world; he was a true icon, not only to the “outsiders” that identified with his art but to the entire world, whether they know it or not; his work remains almost as radical as when it was first released; and as recounted in my now-hauntingly-appropriate post from the other week, he knew how to merge sound and vision like no other. He was orignal; creative; intelligent; iconic; heroic; funny; thought-provoking; beautiful; incredible. There is little in this world that has affected me as much as his work.

It’s hard to believe, now, that it was only a few days beforehand that the music world was celebrating both his birthday and the release of his newest album, Blackstar. We’ve had the news for a day, now, but it still hasn’t quite sunk in yet. While, deep down, we all knew that Bowie was both human and mortal, I don’t think anyone expected this to happen so soon. Recently, a number of important musicians have also died, but I wasn’t prepared for the fact that one of my favourites would be next. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it to be Bowie. He was like a friend I never knew. Like much of the world, I was utterly heartbroken by the news. I rarely cry over celebrity deaths, but Bowie was this rule’s exception.

But David and his work have given me so many amazing memories, so today has not been exclusively saddening. It is hard to forget the times I spent jumping around to ‘Suffragette City’, ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’, ‘Queen Bitch’, laughing, screaming the lyrics at the top of my lungs; the first times I listened to his albums, falling in love with them immediately;  the times I sat and listened to ‘Rock’n’Roll Suicide’, ‘”Heroes”‘, ‘Quicksand’, my spine tingling, in tears at their beauty; the joy of discovering the mountains of his almost-unknown B-sides and outtakes (‘Holy Holy’, ‘Velvet Goldmine’, the Arnold Corns versions of ‘Moonage Daydream’ and ‘Hang Onto Yourself’). These memories, undoubtedly, will be continued, and I’m certain that many more will be created over the course of my life. While listening to his work won’t be the same again, it will continue to incite such a passion and joy in both me and millions of other fans around the world. Because Bowie means so much to so many people – and his death won’t change that.

Rest in the greatest of peaces, Mr Jones. You were so many things over the years, but your genius was a constant. Planet Earth is blue right now, but we will forever remember the impact you had on both the world and so many of our lives. You little wonder you. xx

david bowie

“I love you so.”

Ziggy played guitar…

EDIT – 14/1/2016: This post will forever be rendered horribly ironic, for just over a week after its publication, David Bowie was dead. I thought a lot about what I’d do with it – whether I’d delete it, change the tense – but I’ve decided I’ll leave it as is, to show how much I loved his work before this tragedy. Rest in the greatest of peaces, Starman – I have always admired and loved your art like little else, and I always will, too.

(credit: Brian Duffy)

(credit: Brian Duffy)

Between last August and October, I visited the ‘David Bowie Is…’ exhibition (recently in Melbourne) twice. Curated with unlimited access to Bowie’s archives, the exhibition was truly amazing. Featuring everything from handwritten lyric drafts, to a huge number of his famous costumes, to the guitar he recorded ‘Space Oddity’ on, the exhibition renewed my love for a near-original protagonist in my fixation with rock music.

Bowie first entered my consciousness nearly three years ago. At the beginning of 2013, a friend introduced me to The Beatles, a discovery that changed almost every aspect of my life. However, as my love of their music grew into an deep passion that is still strong, she began to get tired and moved onto other artists who she also introduced me to. One of these was David Bowie. In the September of 2013, we briefly formed a duo together, and she had started to learn ‘Space Oddity’ on ukulele. She taught me the lyrics, and told me of him. But at the time, I felt that by listening to other artists, I would be betraying my love of The Beatles. He soon faded from my interest.

Bowie reappeared in my life at the end of 2013. One night, a recent documentary named David Bowie: Five Years in the Making of an Icon was screened on TV, and my parents encouraged me to watch it with them. It was through this that I learnt of the worlds of Ziggy Stardust, Major Tom and the Thin White Duke; of Hunky Dory and “Heroes”. I was especially pleased to hear about John Lennon’s songwriting credit on ‘Fame’, though it would be a year before I listened to the song. It wouldn’t be until I began using iTunes Radio in September 2014, however, that I truly became a Bowie fan. Songs such as ‘Suffragette City’, ‘Life on Mars’, ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ would frequently play, and I soon grew to love them. It’s been that way ever since.

There is something fascinating about Bowie. Something that allows his work to remain almost as radical and dangerously thrilling as when it was first released. Something that allows him to be an omnipresent component of pop culture, yet remain an icon of the underground. Something that allows him to be among the few “classic rock” artists that makes even the current-day listener feel rebellious and ‘different’, in a time where rock’n’roll has been largely accepted by the establishment. Something which makes his mastery of ‘sound and vision’ among the greatest rock legends of all time. This “something” – his genius – is what I aim to explore today.


Part 1: Vision.

Unlike many musicians, Bowie’s work is not solely musical. Among the great things about it is that he understood the importance of visual mediums, too – like film, fashion and photography. It is this that makes consuming his work a fascinating, multi-faceted experience, and is part of what establishes him as a true artist.

Oh! You Pretty Things

tassels 73 ziggy(1)ziggy

Asides from the music, Bowie’s image was integral in making me a fan of his work. Even more than 40 years after the “death” of Ziggy Stardust, there is still little that looks as transfixing or as outlandishly unique as Bowie did in the early ’70s. Dressing in flamboyant bodysuits and shining platform shoes, cutting his newly-bright-red hair into the famous “Ziggy” cut and applying eye-catching make-up (normally synonymous with femininity), the brand of fearlessly-decadent androgyny that Bowie created with the costumes from the Ziggy & Aladdin Sane periods is so unconventional that it cannot be defined by “male” or “female”, or even by the regular expectations of humans in general. There isn’t much in pop culture today that is as unafraid to push gender (and general) expectations – or looks as plain weird – as Bowie during that time, ensuring that his then-image remains almost as shocking and revolutionary now.

mod david bowiespace oddity hunky dory sesh

Of course, Bowie’s glam costumes are far from his only iconic fashion statement. Almost each era of his career can be associated with various outfits – his mod fashions of the mid-’60s; his hippy-inspired look – accompanied with permed hair – of Space Oddity; the long hair and dresses (and, later, frilly shirts and high-waisted trousers) of The Man Who Sold The World and Hunky Dory; the stylish, minimalist suits of the Thin White Duke and The Man Who Fell To Earth‘s Thomas Jerome Newton; the leather jackets and coiffured hair of the Berlin Triptych; the silvery Pierrot costume of Scary Monsters…and Super Creeps; the distressed frock coats of Earthling. Working closely with talented designers (Kansai Yamamoto, Alexander McQueen), Bowie merged sound with vision (pun intended!), using fashion and makeup to complement and enhance whatever themes, personas and styles he had been toying with at the time. It is his relationship with style that adds a new level to his work, helping give it its glamorous and idiosyncratic edge.

Thin-White-Duke-1975pierrotearthling

Hooked to the silver screen

Another visual medium that Bowie has also made great use of is film; this is appropriate, as he has really always been an actor. He studied mime in the earliest days of his career, and of course, his music (though often autobiographical, as well) is played from the perspective of whichever of his myriad of personas he is portraying at the time. So it is unsurprising that Bowie lends himself well to silver-screen acting, too.

the man who fell to earth 1

I’ve only seen a few Bowie films, so I’ll focus on my current favourite: The Man Who Fell To Earth. Following the story of Thomas Jerome Newton (an alien who has come to Earth, attempting to collect water for his dying planet), the film follows his painful downfall; over the film, Newton becomes increasingly corrupted by human vices and is jailed by the government whom he wrongly trusted, ending with him – spoiler alert – eternally stuck in the world he has been forced to accustom to, depressed and an alcoholic. Bowie’s feature-film debut, the film is bleak and heartbreakingly sad throughout, and almost confusingly ambiguous in parts, leading to its divisive status. However, I happen to love it.

The-Man-Who-Fell-to-Earth1

In my opinion, TMWFTE is a spine-chillingly beautiful film, and this is partly due to Bowie’s incredible performance: the Newton he portrays is always on edge of “human-ness”, though never progresses past this point; too fascinated by human phenomena, too aloof, too strange to entirely conform. Newton feels astonishingly real throughout, and perhaps this is because he is a character that Bowie had, for all intents and purposes, played before; much like Newton, Ziggy Stardust falls to Earth with a mission, and winds up failing, his story also ending in symbolic death. “Otherness” is seemingly a recurring theme of Bowie’s personas. (However, they differ and change often enough to ensure that he remains one of the most mysterious musicians around – the enigmatic and unpredictable nature of his work adding to the experience that is consuming his art. I doubt he would be held in the esteem he is if he was still strutting around a stage in multi-coloured leotards singing glam songs, for one…)

It should also be mentioned that the film owes much of its beauty to its visuals, too – I would write about this, but I feel these stills do a much better job than words.

man who fell to earth final scene

TMTWFTE is thematically as relevant today as it was in ’76. The wall of TV screens that Newton becomes addicted to foretell the arrival of the Internet & smart-devices, and the societal reactions that followed; perhaps Newton is really a human, whose differences have ostracised him from society, making the film powerful commentary on the way we treat what we don’t understand; it provokes questions about what we’d do if we ever discover alien life. It is a beautiful film, and I highly recommend seeing it if you haven’t already.

Like the video films we saw

However, Bowie’s acting talents are just as evident within his music clips and concert footage. He acts whatever part – a persona, himself? – he may be playing at the time with charisma, beauty and the same feeling of “otherness” that recurs throughout his work, making the visuals almost as affecting as the music they support. It is with these clips that his merging of sound and vision is at its peak.


Part 2: Sound.

It is no secret that David Bowie’s music is special. But as I listened to his albums while writing this post, I thought a lot about just how special it is. While his visuals are incredible and groundbreaking in their own right, his music is probably his greatest art. There is little in this world that is as magical and exciting as his best records.

Words of truthful vengeance

ziggy lyrics

I’ve felt – for a very long time – that Bowie is an incredibly underrated lyricist. Take, for example, this verse from ‘Quicksand’:

I’m the twisted name on Garbo’s eyes /
Living proof of Churchill’s lies /
I’m destiny /
I’m torn between the light and dark /
Where others see their targets.
Divine symmetry /
Should I kiss the viper’s fang /
Or herald loud the death of Man?
I’m sinking in the quicksand of my thought /
And I ain’t got the power anymore.

Or these lines from ‘We Are The Dead’:

But now we’re today’s scrambled creatures, locked in tomorrow’s double feature /
Heaven’s on the pillow, its silence competes with hell /
It’s a twenty-four hour service, guaranteed to make you tell.

Or ‘”Heroes”‘, simple yet beautiful:

I can remember /
Standing, by the wall.
And the guns shot above our heads /
And we kissed /
As though nothing could fall.
And the shame was on the other side /
Oh, we can beat them, for ever and ever /
Then we could be heroes /
Just for one day.

These lines from ‘Changes’ (or any from Hunky Dory, really):

I watch the ripples change their size /
But never leave the stream of warm impermanence.
And so the days float through my eyes /
But still the days seem the same.
And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds /
Are immune to your consultations /
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through.

The final verse of ‘Ziggy Stardust’, illustrating the consequences of fame and arrogance:

Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind /
Like a leper messiah.
When the kids had killed the man /
I had to break up the band.

Ziggy played guitar.

Bowie’s lyrics are a huge part of what makes his songs great. Often, they are pure poetry. He writes with a rarely-found intelligence and eloquence; of fascinatingly thought-provoking subjects. His words are abstract, yet full of meaning; intellectual and metaphorical, yet concise; bleakly realist, yet weirdly uplifting; and for a man notoriously ‘non-political’ in public, the social and governmental commentary he writes is bitingly accurate. His lyrics are surprisingly relatable, too; while rockstars from Mars don’t exactly exist in real life, the themes – love, rebellion, our changing society, general commentary on humanity – that he alludes to are ones that most listeners will easily identify with. There are few artists that write as well as he does, and it’s a pity that he doesn’t receive the accolades he deserves.

I heard telephones, opera house, favourite melodies…

I could discuss the technical merits of the music that Bowie and his bands created. But why? Intervals and chord progressions aren’t usually the reason that a fan falls in love with an artist’s music. Take ‘”Heroes”‘; technically, it’s a simple song, consisting of only a few chords and a basic melody – but when layers of intricate instrumentation and its incredible passion and emotion is added, the song becomes among the most moving and poignant ever written.

It was four songs that drew me to Bowie’s work; ‘Space Oddity’, ‘Life on Mars?’, ‘Starman’ and (the aforementioned) ‘”Heroes”‘. Though, in hindsight, all of these songs are actually quite bleak, there is a beauty to them that makes them so irresistible. They are filled with a catchy, passionate ecstasy that forces you – the listener – to smile and laugh and sing along at the top of your lungs, yet are filled with an intense emotion that has the ability to draw you to tears. They are filled with an infectious, affecting excitement that draws you in and rarely lets go. It’s magical.

This ‘magic’ is found throughout most of Bowie’s work, and this was something I quickly discovered as I devoured his albums and songs. ‘The Width of a Circle’ is hypnotic in its heaviness and relent; ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ is catchy and fun on first inspection, yet darkly thought-provoking on second; ‘Suffragette City’ is edgy and thrilling, enough to make you want to dye your hair Ziggy-red and invest in a sparkly jumpsuit; ‘Rock’N’Roll Suicide’ is overflowing with emotion and sadness, yet its inclusiveness (“You’re not alone!”; “Gimme your hands!”) makes you feel as if you are a member of the coolest club in the universe; ‘Lady Grinning Soul’ is lush and theatrical, yet always glamorous – never camp; even his cover of The Stones’ ‘Let’s Spend The Night Together’ is filled with a tightly-wound fieriness, making it as good as the original.

Once I’d listened to his early albums, I progressed to his later work, which was easily as affecting and overwhelming as its predecessors. The tense, apocalyptic build up of Diamond Dogs medley ‘Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (reprise)’ is spine-chilling in its menacing impressiveness; ‘Fame’ is irresistibly funky, making it impossible to keep your feet still (plus, John Lennon!); ‘Station to Station’ is freaky and erratic, its next move unpredictable, exploring countless styles within its 10 minutes; tracks like ‘Sound and Vision’ and ‘Ashes to Ashes’ are spellbinding in their synthy beauty, distracting you from their bleakness; and his latest work – The Next Day and the Blackstar singles – is still experimental, well-crafted and fresh, easily a match for the current music it is now compared against.

Bowie’s music is undeniably amazing – still as innovative, irresistible and weird as when it was first released. He sings and plays with incredible passion and emotion, making it feel more meaningful, beautiful and real than it could’ve been without – because in the end, it is passion that makes great rock’n’roll; it’s arty and intellectual, yet not painfully pretentious; it’s thrilling, fascinating, radical and stunning; it’s art. It is great enough that it still sends shivers down my spine, even after dozens of listens. The greatness of his music has affected so many people so much. And that is a beyond-incredible legacy to own.


More than 50 years after the release of his debut single, Bowie remains as relevant and active as ever. His newest album, Blackstar, is set for release in a week (on his 69th birthday), and has been hailed by critics as among his greatest work yet; his musical, Lazarus, is being shown to consistently sold-out audiences in New York; he continues to serve as an icon for many current teenagers. He remains as mysterious as ever, too; it is now almost impossible to predict what will come next, and the few media announcements he gives are never quite certain. Nothing is ever quite sure in his world, except for maybe one thing. He is among pop culture’s greatest heroes. (And not just for one day, either.)

blackstar

And so this is Christmas…

Merry Christmas! (via pinterest.com)

Merry Christmas!
(via pinterest.com)

I have an admission to make: I haven’t been in the Christmassy mood this year. Blame this on the fact that I’m Australian. Aussie Christmasses basically consist of hot weather  (this year in Adelaide, it’s set to be just below 40 degrees Celsius) and following traditions started in England and America that are probably more suited to weather around the 40 degree-Fahrenheit mark. Blame this also on the world’s mad rush that begins with the festive season, and the stress of leaving one’s house that ensues. Oh, how I’d love a cold, calm Christmas…

But considering today is Christmas Eve, my Christmassy apathy is something I am going to change. And I’m going to go about this one of the few ways a music blogger knows how: with some Christmas tunes! So here are some of my favourite festive-themed tracks… Enjoy!

‘Christmas Time Is Here Again’: The Beatles

‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’: John Lennon, Yoko Ono, The Plastic Ono Band and the Harlem Community Choir

‘Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy’: David Bowie & Bing Crosby

‘Father Christmas’: The Kinks

‘Christmas’: The Who

‘Merry Xmas Everybody’: Slade

‘Jesus Christ’: Big Star

‘Ghost of Christmas’: The Manic Street Preachers

‘Winter Wonderland’: Cocteau Twins

‘Christmas Wrapping’: The Waitresses

‘Santa Claus’: Throwing Muses

‘Got Something For You’: Best Coast and Wavves

If you’d like to listen to the playlist in its entirety, here it is!

So, what are your favourite Christmas songs? Be sure to tell me in the comments!

Hope you all have a very merry Christmas, and a great final week of 2015! 🙂

For George, John and Jim

The ten-or-so days from November 29th to December 8th is an odd time to be a music fan – or for me, anyway. Between these two dates are anniversaries of the deaths of two icons of rock, and what would have been the birthday of another. Each of these people have played important roles in my musical adventures, so today I will pay tribute to them.

November 29th marked the 14th anniversary of George Harrison’s death.

image

Recently, I acquired a copy of All Things Must Pass on vinyl. I had not listened to to the album in a while, as it had been pulled from YouTube and I had been previously unable to find a physical copy. I soon got around to playing it, and as the opening slide guitar hooks of ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ began, I remembered just how amazing it is. The album is perhaps the greatest showcase of George’s incredible musicality; his songwriting (catchy, yet not poppy ), his lyrics (perhaps the most underrated aspect of his already-undervalued work – often poetic, yet not too wordy), his guitar skills (expressive, ethereal in its adeptness). The album is a body of incredibly well-written and well-played work; passionate & beautiful, and ‘technically’ good, too. This greatness is translated to much of his other work, as well, both solo and with The Beatles: listen to ‘Something’ or ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ (or any of his Beatles tracks from Rubber Soul onwards), or solo hits like ‘Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)’. (Many of these songs also display George’s extremely underrated lead guitar skills – his work was always simple, but sounded incredible. It is a pity he is not given more recognition for this.) Still, his work is still very underrated by the public, limited to knowledge of perhaps ‘Here Comes The Sun’ (and the assumption that his cuts were written by Lennon/McCartney) – but those that know of his songs know of their greatness, too. And what knowledge that is!

It should also be mentioned that Monty Python’s Life Of Brian wouldn’t exist without George. Ever since I first watched it as a kid, Brian has been an endless supply of laughs and bad puns, so thank you, George!

SEE ALSO: ‘All Things Must Pass’; ‘Happy Birthday George Harrison!’

December 8th marked the 35th anniversary of John Lennon’s death.

john

Regular readers of this blog will know that I consider John to be both my favourite Beatle and one of my heroes in general. I have said a lot about him before, but I will say it again: John is someone I admire for his incredible body of work, his humour and intelligence, his outspokenness and fearlessness and for the way he changed the world. His lyrics and music were the first thing that piqued my interest in rock, which has since become my greatest passion. He inspired me to begin playing guitar, and he was the first musician that made me want to be one, as well. His eagerness to speak up about inequality, war and other political problems – the fact that he and Yoko were not pleased to sit idly and watch world issues breed – is also something that I hugely respect to this day, and whilst I was politically aware long before I became a Beatles fan, it was his activism that made me think more deeply about my beliefs, too. He has greatly affected my life.

The tragic way that John died does not warrant mentioning. It is both especially saddening and ironic, considering that his mainstream reputation is that of a peace activist. However, John has left an amazing body of work and an incredible influence and legacy, and I feel that this is what is worth remembering. So thank you, John!

SEE ALSO: ‘Happy Birthday John!’ (2014)‘I Think I’m Gonna Be Sad – I Think It’s Today’‘Happy Birthday John Lennon’ (2015)

December 8th would have also been Jim Morrison’s birthday. He would have been 71.

(via wikipedia.org)

(via wikipedia.org)

I can barely remember a time when I didn’t know about The Doors. I listened to their music as a young kid – especially LA Woman – and when I acquired my first iPod, I can also remember being shocked that the title track of said album’s lyrics involved the word ‘damn’, and was adamant that a “song with swearing” wouldn’t enter my music library! As I grew a little older, though, The Doors’ dark psychedelia fascinated me, and they’ve been one of my favourite bands ever since.

Perhaps the greatest case for why I like The Doors is Morrison’s lyrics and poetry. He wrote beautifully eloquent words of thought-provoking subjects, which often still resonate today. It is his way with words that gives a song like ‘The End’ its broodingly dramatic mood, making it arguably among the greatest of all time. His lyrics are part of why The Doors’ music is so different to their contemporaries, and of what makes them so interesting. He was clearly an incredibly intelligent and creative guy, and though troubled around the time of his death, who knows what things he would have done had he lived? I also feel that he is underrated as a vocalist. His voice was incredible and was so different from those around him – it suited the musical atmospheres created by Manzarek, Krieger and Densmore perfectly. It is amazing that a band who released their classic discography within four years – and whose frontman didn’t make it to 30 – managed to change the world as much as they did…

Also, apologies for my sporadic posting of late – I’ll definitely post more over the coming weeks! 🙂

I went to see Tame Impala!

tame impala 3

Tame Impala.

On Thursday the 19th, I had the pleasure of seeing one of my favourite bands live: Tame Impala! The Western Australian psychedelic rock band have been touring their home country in support of their latest album, Currents, and I managed to catch the second gig they played in my city, Adelaide, at one of my favourite venues, the Thebarton Theatre. In short, it was an absolutely amazing night!

Tame Impala are an anomaly in the current music industry: their albums are created by just one member (Kevin Parker), the rest of the band only joining for the tours; they play a unique brand of psychedelia that sounds somewhere between an early Pink Floyd album and a modern dance record; their popularity appears only to continue to rise, despite their alternative credentials. They’ve been a staple on the Australian music scene since their debut EP was released in 2008, and each of their three albums – 2010’s Innerspeaker, 2012’s Lonerism, July’s Currents – have garnered mass acclaim, from fans and critics alike. They’ve been one of my favourite bands for about a year, and I’ve wanted to see them almost since then, after reading a number of rave reviews of their live shows.

tame impala 2

More Tame Impala.

I arrived at the theatre about an hour before the show began, and bought a poster beforehand, but it didn’t seem take long for the support act to take the stage for their half-hour set. The support band were named Mini Mansions, and are perhaps most famous for being the side-project of Queens of the Stone Age bassist Michael Shuman. Their music was similarly psychedelic to that of Tame Impala’s, but bass-ier and more catchy – I really enjoyed it! I had not heard of the band before the gig, but I have since enjoyed listening to some of their stuff.

A little while later, the sold-out theatre finally filled up  and Tame Impala took to the stage! Parker and his band played most of Currents, plus many tracks from Lonerism and a couple from Innerspeaker. I found it mesmerising to see a band I admire so much playing their music live, and it was amazing to hear songs I have listened to dozens of times over played in person!

tame impala 1

As mentioned before, I had read masses of reviews lauding Tame Impala’s live show – not only for their musical chops, but also for their impressive lighting – so I had particularly high expectations. These were well exceeded – certainly, in part, due to their light show! Throughout the gig, lights in shades of every bright colour imaginable flew, throbbed and flashed across the stage and over the crowd, illuminating suitably psychedelic backgrounds projected onto a screen behind the band. The pictures throughout this post are among my attempts to capture their beauty, but I feel they are something that needs to be seen in person to experience their true impressiveness.

Musically, among the highlights of Tame Impala’s show was a version of one of their better-known songs, ‘Elephant’. A stomping, fuzzed-up blues track, the song’s electrifying atmosphere seemed to project onto the audience, the entire moshpit seemingly swaying to the beat. But I felt every song was played well – it is clear that the band consists of incredibly good musicians, and this was perhaps even more obvious live than on their records. One thing I noticed was how close each song sounded to its studio counterpart, a feat all the more impressive due to the lack of 4/5ths of the touring band on each cut’s official version… Both musically and visually, the band were amazing.

It was wonderful to see Tame Impala live – their shows are definitely more than worthy of the accolade they receive! You can visit their website here.

tame impala 4

HAPPY (belated) BIRTHDAY JOHN LENNON!

john david bailey

(Image by David Bailey)

Author’s Note: I began this post a little over three weeks ago, on John’s actual birthday, but due to schoolwork, interstate trips and mild writers’ block, have taken the better part of a month to finish it. Oh well – at least I published it before November!

Quite a number of musicians I admire had their birthday, on October 9th – John Entwistle; PJ Harvey; Sean Ono Lennon. But most importantly, it would have been the 75th birthday of my favourite Beatle, John Lennon. Wishing John a very, very happy birthday, wherever he may be! I’ve written about John a lot on my blog, and I shall add to what I have already said, today.

For as long as I’ve been a Beatles fan, John has been my favourite Beatle. I cannot remember why I chose him, at first. During this time, I could barely tell each band member apart in the few images I had seen of them – let alone know much about John. Perhaps it was something to do with him being referenced in a novel I was reading at the time, and the fact that I liked ‘Imagine’.

However, it was him I chose, and it quickly became clear – as my knowledge of John and The Beatles quickly expanded – that he would have become my favourite Beatle, regardless of who I had picked first. As I sifted through interviews, read numerous biographies and watched just as many documentaries, John was the Beatle who interested me the most. Of course, I liked the other Beatles, too – George, in particular, has always interested me as well – but it was John who stood out.

At that point in time (the first half of 2013), my knowledge of rock music was limited to its successor in the popularity race: the current incarnation of pop. Rockstars were no longer figureheads of pop culture, instead replaced by boybands and other assorted popstars. So as I gradually became more knowledgeable about both John and The Beatles, perhaps one of the reasons he fascinated me so was that he was so different to the celebrities I had become accustomed to. Instead of singing formulaic songs written by a team of songwriters, John (like Paul and George) mainly wrote his own – accompanied by interesting, meaningful lyrics, and some of the most unconventionally inventive and memorable chord progressions and melodies to ever come out of rock. (At this point in time, I was yet to learn that writing your own songs was commonplace in rock music, so I was especially surprised. However, at the time of ‘Love Me Do’ and Please Please Me, a band penning their own hits would have been somewhat rare, as well – only a handful of rock and pop artists before The Beatles wrote their own songs.) Through reading interview transcripts, and watching both documentaries and Beatles films, I saw that he was both funny and intelligent, qualities that seemingly lacked the personalities of the pop stars that my world was saturated with. His political awareness, too, captivated me – I don’t think I’d ever heard of a politically-aware celebrity before John.

The music, unsurprisingly, was what drew me in first. I had been having music lessons – on both violin and flute – for a number of years beforehand, but my technical knowledge was exclusively limited to the classical concepts I had been taught; and despite being raised on my parents’ wonderful music taste – ranging from Mick Taylor-era Stones and The Doors’ LA Woman, to Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield (both of whom I loved as a small child) – I never showed much interest in rock. The Beatles’ and John’s music was the first that caught my attention, and the first music that I was passionate about. To my classically-trained ears, it all sounded incredibly different to what I knew – even now, with considerably more knowledge of rock and jazz theory, it still sounds “different”. They used chord progressions and fingerings that deviate almost completely from the accepted standards. Sometimes, on John’s songs, there would barely be a melody at all – John’s tunes were traditionally more rhythmic than melodic – but they still managed to be incredibly catchy, and among the best-written songs of all time. Inside their catalogue, which I had only just begun to devour, I discovered everything from tender ballads to psychedelic freak-outs, perfect pop tunes to ear-splitting hard rock, beautiful folk songs to searing garage cuts – sometimes incorporating the values of a number of genres into one. Their musical accomplishments on their respective instruments, whilst not of the classical technicality I knew, were undeniably great – John’s guitar inspired me so much that I began to learn guitar a few months later, something which has now become one of my favourite things in the world. They incorporated elements from classical, jazz and, of course, traditional Indian music into their songs, a concept that I thought genius; and I found their love of experimentalism in the studio – i.e. backmasking, tape loops, etc. – endlessly fascinating. It is this that shows their incredible creativity and inventiveness as a band; it is this that makes them so great. And even then, when I barely knew what a chord was – let alone anything concerning the technicalities of rock music – it was this that I first liked about the music of John and The Beatles. It was this inventiveness that has ensured that they have stayed the kings of rock music for over 50 years, and likely will for many to come.

And through John and The Beatles, I began to receive my education in rock music. As I skimmed through Wikipedia pages for each Beatles song, I discovered the differences between ‘solos’ and ‘instrumentals’; why you don’t have to be technically good to play quality rock’n’roll – just passionate; that lyrics shouldn’t have to rhyme to be among the best ever written (see ‘Across The Universe’). I soon learnt what a chord actually was, and the rules for piecing them together – which, with enough knowledge, are prime for being broken. I learnt how melodies lock together with the rhythm guitar, and drums, and bass; in fact, I learnt about what functions basses and drums serve, full stop. I learnt that there is more than one kind of guitar, and what purpose each kind – rhythm & lead, acoustic & electric – carries out. I soon discovered that John played rhythm guitar incredibly well (see here), so I wanted to pick it up as well – I began learning guitar in the January of 2014, among the best things I ever did, again widening my understanding my understanding (and knowledge) of “contemporary” music. I haven’t prepared for a classical violin exam for over a year, and don’t plan on doing so again, instead replacing the traditional methods with blues fiddle. I began to widen my music tastes and listen to artists other than The Beatles and their solo careers: beginning with The Velvet Underground, The Violent Femmes and the early Stones, and ending up today with tastes in everything from punk to noise rock to psychedelia to blues to folk, and just about everything in between. I dropped my somewhat snobbish opinion that no good music was created after 1980, and discovered a number of favourite artists from each decade, from the ’50s to this year. I began writing songs; I became an aspiring musician; I became a rock music fanatic. And whilst John and The Beatles no longer remain my sole influence – rather a part of an influential melting pot, consisting of everyone from Kim Gordon to the Violent Femmes to David Bowie to Tame Impala – they will always be my first. Rock music has influenced and inspired most of my life for nearly three years, and I can’t even imagine how different it would be if I hadn’t (somewhat accidentally) been introduced to The Beatles, one morning in early 2013.

John’s lyrics, too, had a similar impact. I had never listened to a song’s lyrics seriously before – because, I thought, what was to be taken seriously about them? During a time when the famously eloquent tune ‘Blurred Lines’ (sarcasm intended) was topping the charts, and we had all been subjected to the equally-articulate ‘Gangnam Style’ and ‘Call Me Maybe’ for the previous year, quality lyrics weren’t exactly a requirement for pop hits. They never had been, I guess, but I liked lyrics – I wrote poetry as a hobby, and I wanted to hear words that actually made sense, and were written about something other than a bad dance that would go viral on YouTube. Again, as I ploughed my way through The Beatles’ back catalogue, I discovered another of John’s talents – his writing. He wrote about love, but it wasn’t his sole subject; he wrote about everything from his politics to friendship, loneliness to happiness. He wrote about his life and experiences, and this added an emotion and passion that couldn’t be there otherwise. He managed to use as few words as possible, and yet convey the point of his song more beautifully than more could have. The fact that same man wrote ‘Across The Universe’, its beautiful lyrics a strong factor of the song’s dreamy atmosphere; ‘Revolution’, somewhat cynical yet still wonderfully idealistic at its core; the melancholia of ‘You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away’; the joyousness of ‘All You Need Is Love’ – this amazed me.  His writing revealed an eloquence, an intelligence and the right balance between seriousness and humour that represented what I had been looking for, lyrically.

Of course, John’s writing skills also shine through on his books, In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works. (Despite having been a hardcore fan for nearly three years, I have not gotten around to reading Skywriting By Word Of Mouth – yet…) I read the two of them a little over a year afterwards, and adored them instantly. They are absolutely hilarious, consisting of clever wordplay and punnery, satirising everything from politics and religion to life in general – and, of course, accompanied by cute illustrations to match each short story or poem! They showcase John’s incredibly unique (and funny) sense of humour, and I don’t think I have read anything like them before – or since.

(By John himself!)

(By John himself!)

Another thing about John that I liked was his political activism. I grew up in a house where we frequently discussed political issues, so I had always been surrounded by a political awareness, and just as I was getting into The Beatles, I had simultaneously begun to develop beliefs of my own. As I listened to more of John’s music, and discovered more about him, I discovered more about his political efforts as well: ‘Imagine’; the catchy and effective ‘Give Peace A Chance’, recorded at his and Yoko’s famous Bed In; the ever-controversial ‘Woman Is The Nigger Of The World’, which – when paired with the definition of the ‘n-word’ that John used whilst defending the song on the Dick Cavett Show – deserves more respect than it gets; the word-ninja criticism of politicians in ‘Gimme Some Truth’; John’s appearance at the John Sinclair Freedom Rally, soon after which Sinclair was released; the fact that the Nixon government felt so threatened by John as to attempt to deport him. His outspokenness and passion for political issues appealed to me – not only the fact that, like a lot of young people during his time, he was not afraid to rebel against the mainstream beliefs of the system, but that he spoke up about what he believed in, too. Instead of seeing John’s politics as naive, as many have done in recent years, I see them as incredibly interesting and thought-provoking, regardless of whether I agree. If anything, they encouraged a number of people to think about their views, which is always a good thing. And it was John’s fearless outspokenness on issues he cared about that aided this – the fact that he and Yoko weren’t afraid to publicly disapprove of everything from war to the patriarchy on prime-time chat shows is inspiring. I sometimes wonder what he would think of the world today: where terrorism threats frighten our governments into fighting back with yet more war, where Australia hasn’t seen a prime minister hold a full term since before the invention of the iPhone, where numerous civil wars rage across the world, where 1 in 5 Australian women don’t have anywhere near enough superannuation due to the gender pay gap. It is sad that we don’t have more celebrities like him today, who are willing to put aside their carefully-cultivated images to be loud about issues that affect our world.

(popmatters.com)

(popmatters.com)

Today, a small but vocal number of people have taken it upon themselves to attempt to destroy John’s legacy by creating serious and inexcusable allegations about him, using various ill-informed online sources. This saddens me, and not only because many of these claims can easily be debunked with a little research. I disagree with referring to John (or anyone, for the record), as a saint – John certainly was not one. (He was an incredibly complex man, by many accounts, and to reduce him to a caricature of a perfect “angel” who served solely to protest for peace is erasing all the other interesting things about him.) Seeing one’s role-model as a divine figure and worshipping them blindly is not particularly healthy. But barely anyone is a saint. No-one is perfect, and this is something humanity knows well – so why should we expect the impossible from our heroes and leaders? Whilst some of John’s behaviour shouldn’t be condoned, people need to remember the myriad of good things he did, as well – these outweigh the (truthful) bad. He made beautiful music; he wrote great lyrics, and hilarious books; he was a wonderfully positive political influence, even if just for getting young people to think about the subject; he’s been described as intelligent, witty and a genuinely nice guy by many people who knew him; he was in the greatest band that ever was, and probably ever will be. Our world would be a lesser place if it wasn’t for his contributions.

And so, a very happy – and very, very belated! – birthday to my favourite Beatle, John Lennon. Thank you for inspiring me, and for your wonderful influence on our world. 🙂

image

image

10 Of The Beatles’ Best Vocal Performances

(via paulontheruntour.blogspot.com)

(via paulontheruntour.blogspot.com)

One of my favourite things about The Beatles is how they never had a lead singer. Each member had opportunities to sing, and with this, they brought their four contrasting perspectives to the band’s music. And of course, they had two of the greatest rock singers of all time: Paul, his voice one of the few with technical merits in rock music, and John, traditionally rougher, yet arguably more passionate and raw. So with all this, it is hardly surprising that there are plenty of stunning moments in The Beatles’ discography when it comes to vocals. So today, I’m naming a few of my favourites! So, in no particular order:

‘This Boy’ (B-side to ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’, 1963)

SUNG BY: John, Paul & George

‘This Boy’ was the public’s introduction to the three-part harmonies that John, Paul and George would practise together, and what an introduction it is! The three sing absolutely beautifully together, their contrasting voices fitting perfectly. John’s lead, too, during the bridge is wonderfully passionate and raw. Although ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’s cultural impact was obviously considerably larger, it is these vocals that make the B-side musically superior, in my opinion.

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: John

‘Happiness Is A Warm Gun’ is perhaps the best example of John’s vocal abilities. Each section of the song – spanning from surreal psychedelia, to hard rock, to (somewhat satirical) doo-wop – demands a different kind of singing, and John handles this task with ease. Changing swiftly from low to high, and switching styles – from heavier, rockier vocals in the middle, to a lighter falsetto tone in the end – to suit each section’s respective genre, his vocals are especially wide-ranging and impressive here.

‘Helter Skelter’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: Paul

‘Helter Skelter’ is among The Beatles’ heaviest songs – of which there are many, of course, but few as influential as this. Often regarded as one of the first metal songs, it is easy to see why. Alongside the relentless instrumentation is Paul’s vocal. Much like his Little Richard impersonation from earlier in the band’s career, but with more bite, Paul screams the lyrics like a true metal singer. Dirty, menacing and raw, they are arguably the best part of a song that foreshadowed Zeppelin’s debut album by several months…

‘Because’ (Abbey Road, 1969)

SUNG BY: John, Paul & George

‘Because’ is the last Beatles song to feature John, Paul & George’s famously magnificent three-part harmonies. Each Beatle’s voices were overdubbed twice, creating a chorus of nine voices in total, adding to the overwhelming beauty of arguably the prettiest ballad on Abbey Road. The kind of vocals that send tingles down the listener’s spine, the song shows that even when the band was rife with infighting, they still possessed a musical chemistry that most bands can only dream of.

‘Girl’ (Rubber Soul, 1965)

SUNG BY: John

John’s vocals on ‘Girl’ are almost hypnotic. Like with ‘Oh! Darling’ for Paul (see below), the song contains one of John’s most passionate performances. He doesn’t just sing the lyrics; he conveys them – acts them, almost – with such an emotion, a sadness and yearning for the girl that the narrator will never have. They highlight the complexity and beauty of the song, adding to the magnificence of one of John’s best ballads.

‘Here, There and Everywhere’ (Revolver, 1966)

SUNG BY: Paul

One of my Beatles songs – and probably my favourite Paul-penned one – ‘Here, There and Everywhere’s vocals are delicately beautiful in style, much like the song itself. Paul’s dreamy lead highlights the song’s exquisiteness; however, his vocals are not the only stand-out, in my opinion. John and George’s Beach Boys-inspired backing vocals are stunning, too, and aid in bringing a beautiful song, regardless of its arrangement, to a truly ethereal level.

‘Long, Long, Long’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: George

‘Long, Long, Long’, in my opinion, has George’s best Beatles vocals. A soft, “floating” folk song, George’s singing is understated and gentle, suiting the track excellently. However, during the middle eight, the vocals become more intense and stirring, in a way that his singing had never been before. The vocals are perhaps the best part of a song that has long (no pun intended!) been among my Beatley favourites…

‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except For Me And My Monkey’ (The White Album, 1968)

SUNG BY: John

‘Everybody’s…’ is another of my favourite Beatles hard rock songs – it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it’s incredibly fun to listen to. John’s vocals are essential to this quality. Whilst not as rousing as, say, ‘Girl’, they are perfect for the song; quite high, and slightly rough (in a good way), they are just as fun as the music itself. Together with the great guitars, they help make one of my favourite songs on the White Album!

‘Oh! Darling’ (Abbey Road, 1969)

SUNG BY: Paul

Each day for a week before recording ‘Oh! Darling’, Paul would go to Abbey Road each morning and practise the song to roughen his voice, as he felt it was too clear beforehand. And boy, was it worth it! Paul’s vocals on ‘Darling’, to me, are his most passionate and are perhaps his best. Like with ‘Helter Skelter’, he screams the words, but with an emotion that was missing a little from the former. They give the song a feeling that makes it among the best on Abbey Road.

‘I’m Only Sleeping’ (Revolver, 1966)

SUNG BY: John

John’s vocals sound fittingly lazy on ‘I’m Only Sleeping’. Of course, ‘lazy’ in the best possible sense – he sighs the lyrics tiredly, yet passionately, like someone who has recently been woken, and is pleading to be left alone. However, he adds the right amount of effort to his performance, making it particularly good. As with ‘Here, There and Everywhere’, the backing vocals are also a highlight – delightfully whimsical, they, too, suit the lazily psychedelic vibe of the song.

 

What are your favourite Beatles vocal performances? Be sure to tell me in the comments!