The Pitchfork 500 Goes RAWK! – Blue Oyster Cult to ELO

Blue Oyster Cult – (Don’t Fear) The Reaper
AC/DC – Highway to Hell
Van Halen – Runnin’ with the Devil
Fleetwood Mac – The Chain
Steely Dan – Deacon Blues
Electric Light Orchestra – Mr. Blue Sky

This section of the Pitchfork 500 is a blessed relief. I’ve rather had my fill of hedonistic Disco and miserable post-punk, clanging punk-funk and Italian prog-rock film soundtracks. This is pure drive-time music, for winding down the window of your ’66 Chevy and driving fast along a highway in, er, Milton Keynes.¹

So first off, Blue Öyster Cult. You have to respect a band who saddled themselves with such a bonkers name, to then add an umlaut, sparking off a great little chain of heavy metal umlauts from Motörhead through Mötley Crüe to Hüsker Dü. “Don’t Fear The Reaper” was one of those songs that, when it came on the tedious late-night radio we were forced to listen to whilst doing nightshifts in a warehouse some years ago, was universally loved by everyone – from the housewives, the old guys to the young students. It’s just one of those songs. The warm, comforting blanket of sound is pierced by the insistent riff, restless drumming and the suicide pact lyrics, simultaneously romantic and deadly. The repeated rising motif keeps nagging at you until it’s finally resolved with the downward “Da da da”‘s.  The bonkers instrumental bit in the middle.

Until I listened to it for this I’d forgotten how great it is. I’ve listened to it three times already today. This is the sort of song that gives MOR a good name. Mind you, I never knew this was released in 1978; it has such a feel of early ’70’s paranoia that I thought it was from then.

As for AC/DC, there really is none more rock. Not even Van Halen, with Eddie Van Halen’s astonishing guitar playing can beat them in the RAWK stakes. AC/DC and Van Halen, though both heavy rockers, are really the opposite ends of the spectrum. AC/DC were dumb, basic fists-in-the-air RAWK! and frankly none the worse for it. Still are, I suppose. There’s little on “Highway To Hell” that can’t be played by your averagely talented pub-rock band, but that’s what makes them such an enduring band; Angus Young’s guitar playing is simplicity itself (at least on this song), and the band as a whole know exactly what needs to be done. There’s not an ounce of flab; the entire band concentrates on just rocking, rather than flashing technique. With a bloke screaming over the top.

Van Halen, however, were revolutionary. Or rather Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing was. For those of you not versed in the intricacies of playing guitar, he popularised a technique called tapping (or fret-tapping). This involves tapping the string instead of strumming or picking it, and allows for very fast rhythmic note-changes. Whilst other guitarists had occasionally used the technique, EVH made it his own, and whilst the track on offer here doesn’t show masses of it, it’s still clear that the playing is extraordinary. There’s a bit about 2/3 way through where there’s a sudden arpeggio fill that just comes from nowhere.

Are You Sure You've Got Enough Guitars?

Just a shame that it’s otherwise dumbass metal though with Dave Lee Roth screeching like someone’s caught his bollocks in a drawer.

I approached the next two tracks by Fleetwood Mac and Steely Dan hoping that I’d be amazed by the hidden intricacies of the music, the depths of the emotions involved, the craft and the songwriting skills used, but no. Middle of the road bollocks, I’m afraid. I’d rather listen to The Clash than these two songs again, frankly. It’s stuff like this that gives MOR a bad name. And the lesson of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” is, if you’re going to be millionaire pop-rock stars, don’t go round shagging each other, it’ll only end in tears. And tedious albums about shagging each other. That make you even more money. So you can get depressed about shagging each other and having loads of money. It’s a tough life.

And yes, the awful 90’s band Deacon Blue did indeed name themselves after Steely Dan’s track, “Deacon Blues”. There should be a special circle of hell for people who name themselves after tedious soft-rock songs.

And finally, ELO. Now, ELO have had a bad name for many years. And frankly, given Jeff Lynne’s pomposity it’s not surprising. But then you listen to “Mr Blue Sky” and you marvel at what a great tune it is, and how much detail there is in the song.  Jeff Lynne had tried to mix The Beatles and Beethoven into one huge, mad, vocoder-and-string band, and sometimes it was a bit of a godawful mess. But sometimes it just clicked, and this is one of those times. Just listen to how beautifully it’s all done – whilst the Pitchfork writers say it’s dated, I don’t see that at all. This song is more than 30 years old now, and yet it fairly stomps along and sounds more modern than a whole load of people I could mention (er, The Killers?). You can see exactly why Super Furry Animals love them so much, there’s a psychedelic oddness mixed in with the pop nous, and the stomping Krautrock beat is just fantastic. Listen to how, as the first verse starts to build, they add strings, bells, multi-tracked vocals, and panting as Jeff sings “Running down the avenue”. The bizarre classical coda. And that guitar solo, simple, nicely complementing the song, rather than taking over and spoiling the tone.

As a brief aside, the song was used to great effect during the Dr Who episode “Love And Monsters”, to show the main character dancing around his bedroom because he’s happy, and he’s met a lovely girl, and life suddenly has meaning. Sure, it’s schmalz, but Russell T Davies knew he’d hit upon just the right note using this song. As did Michael Gondry, using it in “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind”.

So, cast off your prejudices, and rejoice in a great song. Madly catchy, experimental, and a thumpingly good tune. Well done, Mr Lynne and co.

A right mixed back coming next…

¹Funnily enough, I’ve just finished “Rip It Up and Start Again” by Simon Reynolds, and he confessed to feeling the same at the end of the post-punk era back in 1984.  Nice to know it’s not just me, then.²

²Yes, I’ve worked out how to do Superscript.  Hurrah!

Don’t Fear The Reaper by Blue Oyster Cult

The whole list is available here.

Arsenal 3 Burnley 0 – Acid In The Cola

Sometimes it’s nice for us to go back to the old days when teams would come and play us and not be all defensive, putting 10 men behind the ball, and actually come and play football. It’s even nicer when we say “Thank you very much, kind sirs!” and proceed to thump them. The icing on the cake comes when all three goals were extraordinary, in their own way. Two were as fine examples of how footballers can be truly balletic, with a flick of the boot, with poise, grace, style and athleticism. And the other was scored by Eboue.

Seriously though, go and watch Vela’s goal. He latches onto a through-ball from Arshavin, beats one defender with a lovely touch, holds off another defender, then chips it beautifully over the keeper. He sure does like doing that. 1-0.

And then go and watch Eduardo’s. Song sends over a cross to the edge of the area, and Eduardo runs onto it and kind of slices it with his left ankle, and it fair shoots past the keeper into the far corner. They showed it about five times in the stadium and we couldn’t make out exactly what he’d done, and having watched it properly on TV I can only say that it’s absolutely extraordinary technique. A couple of people have been saying it was accidental, but watch closely – there’s no way he’d be moving his leg the way he did if he didn’t mean it. I suspect it’s something he’s practiced and this is his way of saying “Yeah, you might have broken my leg horribly and kept me out of the game for a year, but look what I’ve learnt. I’m back.” I said on Twitter at the time that it was astonishing. Watching it again and it’s even more so. I’m glad to have seen that one in the flesh.

Eduardo's Goal Vs Burnley

Eduardo's Goal Vs Burnley

Boy, it’s good to have him back.

The third was extraordinary for other reasons. Song backheeled it to Eboue who took a couple of touches and smashed it past their (rotund) keeper into the net. Yes, you read that right. Eboue scored! I’ve seen it all now. I don’t think I’ll need to go to another match. It’s like seeing Gus Caesar score. Or John Jensen. Actually, that’s a bit harsh on Jensen, he wasn’t too bad a player. Well done Eboue, and hopefully that’ll add a couple of million to the transfer fee when we get rid of you in the summer *crosses his fingers*.

Anyhow, Burnley tried and could even have got a penalty at the end, not long after hitting the crossbar. But mostly we have to thank them for trying to play football. Fools!

Other reviews of the game at Arseblog, Goonerholic hails Song’s excellent performance and Goodplaya does the usual ratings. Personally I think Song had a very good game, but this was a Championship side, and Diaby was disappointing, given this was a Championship side. Everyone else looked decent; Gibbs in particular had the best game I’ve seen him have. Against a Championship side.

Not that I’m trying to set expectations here. This was a Championship side.

Oh, and one word for all the people on the lower tier who legged it inside and up to the upper tier when it started raining icy badness from the sky. Don’t blame you.

So, we meet Hull at home in just over a week and if we beat them (and I really think we need some more revenge after their 2-1 victory back in September) we’ll be meeting Chelski at Wemberley. By which time we should have Cesc back, and hopefully be able to field our strongest team for pretty much the whole season (barring any injuries and suspensions).

Right, I’m off to finish off another Pitchfork 500 post. This site is mainly about music, you know, but I do like wittering on about Arsenal you know. Even when we win.