I Just Never Could Quite Tell You No

So there I am, driving around in the Florida heat in a rental car listening to some country music station (I don’t know which, K-ROQ or Q-UIM or somesuch), when on comes a familiar song. Well, familiar in one sense; it was a version of a Bonnie “Prince” Billy cover1. I’d never hear the original version of “Just To See You Smile” off somewhat obscure EP “More Revery”, but I’d loved the cover and chucked it on mix CD’s left, right and center, back in those heady pre-blogging days.

Bonnie Billy’s version is all broken, tentative, full of heartache, his voice cracking under the memory of telling the sad tale:

The original, by wholly-unknown-in-the-UK-star Tim McGraw2, is on the surface a more chirpy affair, all banjos and pedal/lap steels bouncing away with that marvellous Nashville sheen, but that old familiar tale still gets rammed home with a tear in ol’ Tim’s eye.

You can’t beat lyrics, or a tune like this, can you? Either way the song is performed, the sheer quality just shines through. I love both versions, though the cover is always going to have a special place in my heart that the original won’t ever displace.

MP3: Just To See You Smile by Bonnie Billy

1 Ok, fact fans, really it’s by Bonnie Billy. No idea why the “More Revery” covers EP misses out the “Prince” bit. Any ideas?

2 Fact Fans No. 2; “Just To See You Smile” was written by Mark Nesler and Tony Martin. So there.

Buy Bonnie Billy’s “More Revery” EP here (note: not cheap) and Tim McGraw’s Greatest Hits (CD) here

Still Feelin’ Blue

The hype machine has started to rev up in the UK for Caitlin Rose, a Tennessee-based country singer-songwriter, with positive reviews in everything from the BBC, to The Word via the Sunday Times. And this is no bad thing; country music still has a bad name here, being largely associated with line-dancing and straw-chewing rednecks who’s as soon shoot you as sodomise you.

A Gun-Toting Rube, Yesterday

Those of us in the know (like me, natch) understand that country isn’t just the preserve of gun-totin’ crackers, but a fine genre of music that encompasses the full spectrum of the human condition in all its glory, and with good tunes, too. And in digging around a little about this lady, I stumbled across her cover of Gram Parsons’ “Still Feelin’ Blue”. Starting as much more stripped-down than the original, just her and an acoustic, but with a ramshackle charm. If you’re thinking “That’s it? What about the original’s ebulliently yawling charm?”, all I can say is just keep listening.

Must give the new album a try (“Own Side Now”), if this is what she can do. As for the original; hell, if you don’t like this, you don’t like music.

MP3: Still Feelin’ Blue by Caitlin Rose

MP3: Still Feeling Blue by Gram Parsons

The Pitchfork 500 Missing List Part Two

For all the great songs on the Pitchfork 500 list, there are some right duffers. And there’s some great, well-known, hugely loved songs missing. Following on from Part One, this covers the years 1980 to 1982. These are, of course, my own personal choice. If you can think of a band that the Pitchfork writers have missed, let me know by commenting or emailing me.

Willie Nelson – On The Road Again (1980)
The Stranglers – Golden Brown (1981)

Of all the mainstream genres in the Pitchfork 500, country is probably the worst served (we’ll leave the whole World music argument for another day). Yes, there’s a few cursory nods in the direction of alt-country – Bonnie “Prince” Billy/Palace Music, Low and Wilco, and even those last two are pushing the definition somewhat – but there’s no out-and-out country music on here at all. For a self proclaimed list of the “Best 500 songs from 1976 to 2006”, that’s a pretty big miss, especially when there’s everything else from thrash metal (Napalm Death) to MOR (Fleetwood Bloody Mac). No Johnny Cash, no Loretta Lynn or kd lang, and no Willie Nelson.

It’s even stranger that a great tune like Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again” is missing. This is a song that’s beloved by all and sundry, from Bonnie “Prince” Billy himself (who plays it at live shows) to Hannah Montana (who named an episode of her show after the song) It isn’t in the list when horrible AOR dross like Hall & Oates “I Can’t Go For That” and Steely Dan’s “Deacon Blues” are. If you don’t know it, watch this:

Brilliant, isn’t it? A rollicking love song about the joys of the road, being with your friends, seeing new places, and being so utterly lucky to be able to make a living doing the things you love, it should be played to every single rubbish band that complain about having to tour. This is one of the purest songs out there about being a musician and the sheer fun it brings. The fact that it’s also a massive earworm helps too, as well as not having an inch of fat on it. Wonderful song and a baffling omission.

The Stranglers were a pub-rock band, who found punk rock and reinvented themselves. Notorious for their violence, both on- and off-stage – threatening journalists was one of their favourite activites – they released “Golden Brown” in 1981. About as far from their earlier punk numbers as was possible, it was a harpsichord-driven song in 13/4 time, sung in a terribly posh voice by Hugh Cornwell1. Now, that’s the way to get rid of your old fans.

I remember as a 10-year old, still young enough to be scared by punks, so it was weird to love this strange turn by one of the biggest punk bands of the day. The Englishmen abroad video merely added to the mystery of the song: Naive me (and many other people, in fairness) thought it was about a laydee of the foreign extraction. But of course, the lyrics are deliberately ambiguous, with one clear stand-out line “Through the ages she’s heading west” spelling out reality.

Yep, of course, it’s about drucks. That most feted, most dangerous, most revered and hated of all drugs, Vicks Vapour Rub heroin. It’s a bit bloody obvious when you listen to the first verse again:

Golden brown texture like sun
Lays me down with my mind she runs
Throughout the night
No need to fight
Never a frown with golden brown

See? I mean, why would a laydee be running with your mind? Why would you need to fight with a purdy laydee? So yes, drucks it is. And it’s a fantastic record – and tons better than, say, “Happy Birthday” by bloody Altered Images.

Two top songs, which would have quite happily sat in the list. Next time, we’re back with the list proper, and the flowerings of some serious hip-hop.

1 Surely the only punk rock vocalist to have a BA in Biochemistry.

The whole list is available here.

MP3: On The Road Again by Willie Nelson

MP3: Golden Brown by The Stranglers

Buy Willie Nelson’s “One Hell of a Ride” (CD Box Set)

Buy The Stranglers “Greatest Hits 1977-1990” (CD/MP3)

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Holiday Songs, Part 3 – Iron and Wine

I went away with good intentions of playing all those Word CD’s I hadn’t got round to listening to yet, plus those Husker Du, Replacements and Minutemen CD’s I’d bought as a result of the Pitchfork 500 list. Instead, my brain went “You know, you really haven’t listened to Iron and Wine or Feist recently, even though you’ve listened to them tons in the past and you’ve got a whole load of exciting new music to listen to”.

So, on the flight over, and since, it’s been Iron and Wine’s “The Shepherd’s Dog”. If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time you’ll know I’m generally hopeless at keeping even vaguely up to date, but I did manage to find the acoustic versions of two of my favourite songs – “Lovesong Of The Buzzard” and “Resurrection Fern”. I’ll gloss over the fact that these have been posted on Sam Beam’s website for a good, ooh, four months now, and that there’s a full set of eight acoustic versions to download. But you probably have them already.


Great songs from a man I really need to go and see live.

Anyway, that’s pretty much it for my holiday. Should be back in the UK tomorrow, and I’ve even finally got a Pitchfork 500 post done. It’s about Goths, you know.

MP3: Lovesong Of The Buzzard (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

MP3: Resurrection Fern (Acoustic) by Iron and Wine

Buy “The Shepherd’s Dog” (CD/MP3)

Holiday Songs

Do you remember the first time you heard a certain song, so that every time you hear it, you’re instantly transported back in time to that place? Or the other way round, so every time you go to a certain place, it reminds you of a particular song?

I’m like that. I can still remember exactly where I was when I first heard Lambchop’s “The Man Who Loved Beer” (driving home along the A4 in Reading, turning up the radio to full to try and hear the quiet, quiet music), or Tinderstick’s “City Sickness” (a youth hostel in Toronto, of all places).

And now I’m back in Sarasota, every time I drive up North Honore Avenue:

I think of Hayes Carll’s “She Left Me For Jesus”. Because, of course, that’s where I first heard this great Country song. Detailing how his girlfriend, errr, left him for Jesus, it’s got great lines like “If i ever find Jesus, I’m kickin’ his ass” and “Why, last time we made love she even called out his name”. It made me laugh out loud, it did, and sing the praises of Sirius satellite radio (for I was in a groovy Chrysler 300).

What was even better was finding it on a Word magazine compilation a few months later. And so, here it is, for your delectation.

And I just have to post this:

Ah, Jim Henson. What a genius.

MP3: She Left Me for Jesus by Hayes Carll

Buy Hayes Carll’s “Trouble in Mind” (CD/MP3)