From a Mess to The Masses

The Occasional Diary of a Cynical Mother and Writer

Soundtrack of my Life: “The Village Green Preservation Society” by the Kinks

There are things that those who love me know about me:

1. The Kinks are my favourite band.

2. This is my favourite album of all time, and I often proclaim it the greatest album ever created.

3. My kids prefer Katy Perry to Ray Davies and I feel like a failure as a parent because of it.

The title track to The Village Green Preservation Society is a wonderful slice of nostalgia. A list of all that is classically British (Tudor houses, strawberry jam, Desperate Dan, Custard pie, Waterloo, little shops, the English vernacular, virginity…) and a smack down of all that is new and kind of foreign to the classic British stereotypes. Tall boxy buildings are the antithesis of ENGLISH, and Ray Davies in his infinite genius made no excuses in “The Village Green Preservation Society” about his preference in sentimental nostalgia.  The album itself is full of memories and legends, pulling from Dylan Thomas and George Orwell, and on “Wicked Annabella”, “Monica”, and “Johnny Thunder”, the hint of the darker underbelly of idealized English existence, but the straightforward list that form the lyrical base of “The Village Green Preservation Society” leaves no ambiguity, and is just a wonderful, sweet, pretty, and inspired album opener. It sets the tone both thematically and musically for the Kinks, and as great as other Kinks records are, I think that VGPS is their most cohesive and complete album.

God save the Village Green.

God save the Kinks.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Peace Train” by Cat Stevens

My devotion to the man now known as Yusuf Islam is absolute and unwavering, so very important his music was to me in my childhood. Without fail, a Cat Steven’s song would lift my spirits, bring me joy, and soothe my anxiety. To this very day, Tea For the Tillerman is one of my favourite albums.

“Peace Train” makes me smile. It’s idealism is wonderful, and it’s a song so hopeful and spiritually joyous that it takes me to a place I am actually quite uncomfortable with under normal circumstances. While there have been many covers of this song over the years, they all lack Cat’s soothing baritone, and his sweetness.

I know there are people out there who viciously denounce Yusuf Islam for various reasons, and I have not always agreed with some of his statements. But I have nothing but respect for a man who does live his life by what he deems necessary and best, even if unpopular word sometimes tumble passed his lips.  I don’t claim to understand his faith completely, but the many people I know who share his faith are all wonderful, generous people who judge me less for my mistakes than some of the people of my faith.  When I hear Yusuf Islam sing “Peace Train” now, forty plus years after it was first written, I still hear the same person, in his soul, asking for the same thing:

Peace for all, and goodwill toward man.

Now, if you want to comment, please read below the cut before doing so.

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The Best of 2014: My Top Twenty Favourite Albums

I am tremendously impressed with the music offerings in 2014. After years of being underwhelmed by rock and roll and inundated with candy coated pop songs and icky boy bands, there were some really incredible rock albums and some interesting soul and R&B available for your listening pleasure.  As for me- I kept it to twenty albums, though I could recommend another twenty easily. Enjoy the music below.

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The Best of 2014: My 25 Favourite Songs

I usually stick to the number twenty because I like the number twenty. Biblically, twenty is the perfect number for waiting, a complete waiting cycle. It’s the atomic number of calcium, which I have never gotten enough of, the jersey number of Luc Robitaille when he was on the Kings, and is a magic number in physics ( so Wikipedia tells me). Lincoln used it as a measuring device in the Gettysburg address, but to know that you need to know that a score is twenty years. Mostly, I picked twenty arbitrarily, because I can and usually I can only find twenty songs worth liking enough to write about.

2014 just said “Fuck that noise.”

I began with sixty-seven (!) songs on my year-end favourites list, which I eventually whittled down to 28. It has taken me six days to decide which three I was going to dump. I’m still not happy about it. But the thought of eliminating another five made me physically ill ( I swear I am not just hung over). So twenty-five this list shall be. As for the albums list, well, let us just say twenty is proving to be difficult as well. 2014 turned out to be a great year musically.

Damn you, 2014…. Continue Reading →

Soundtrack of my Life: “Weightless Again” by the Handsome Family

I have tried to write about this song for a while now. I absolutely love it, but it spring from a darkness and it feeds my brain in its more painful and damaging days. The problem I have is that when my depression amps up, I favour songs that may make people question where I am and what I am thinking. I use these songs to try to understand myself.

I mean, this song has lyrics that openly state “This is why people OD on pills and jump from the Golden Gate Bridge”.  Brett and Rennie (the couple who are behind the criminally underrated gothic country folk of the Handsome Family) hold no punches on “Weightless Again”. It’s not a song you listen to lightly. The melody sounds like my brain trying to just get through the day, a slow echo of peaks and valleys, with ramblings of ideas and thoughts, punctured with moments of clarity and knowledge. My brain is not a fun place to be, and this song is somehow one of the things I can play for people to show them one aspect of being trapped in there.

The Handsome Family are currently experiencing an uptick in fame due to their “Far From Any Road” being used as the theme song of True Detective. Since the band trade on the tradition of murder ballads, I can’t think of a more apt theme song. I am just hoping that the rest of the band’s astonishing and lovely, if somewhat depressing and bloody, catalogue gets some love as well. I’d recommend this song as a starting point.



Soundtrack of my Life: “Blake’s Jerusalem” by Billy Bragg

Here we are, on a Sunday morn, watching football instead of being in church. I don’t often go to church- being  single parent, i usually spend my Sunday doing various pieces of housework that need more than ten seconds of concentration. Saturdays often belong to various appointments and groceries.

I grew up with religious parents who eventually gave up on us kids as we reached our teenage years. My mother’s illness left me furious with God for years. Then I felt punished for my anger by my own increasingly bad choices. My childhood fear of hell was made real in my adult years. It really couldn’t be worse than the actual life I was leading.

The last few years I have drifted back. I feel comfort in the routine and customs of the Lutheran service. It makes me feel closer to my mother, a woman of deep faith and understanding with enormous patience. I am not a regular churchgoer- my life is so busy and my insomnia so consuming that Sundays are frequently the only day I sleep in.  But I try to hit the important days- and this year I went to Ash Wednesday services for the first time (that I can recall).

What des this have to do with Billy Bragg and a song called “Blake’s Jerusalem”. My mother was raised Anglican. The long and complicated history of religion in my mother’s family sometimes gives me good chuckle. “Jerusalem” is a poem by William Blake, everyone’s favourite British eccentric poet, that was largely ignored until Sir Hubert Parry added music in 1916. Apocryphal stories about Jesus visiting Glastonbury are told by many an English religious man, and Blake, inspired by the Felpham countryside and the encroaching Industrial Revolution mills, wrote a brief  piece. “And did those feet in ancient time walk upon England’s mountains green?” “And was Jerusalem builded here among these dark Satanic mills?” It was turned into an unoffical national anthem in the 20th century- Republican writers favour it as the song they would choose as an actual national anthem if the monarchy was abolished.

Billy Bragg, modern-day troubadour, on his 1990 album The Internationale, covered and rewrote several left-wing protest songs. In the middle is a straight cover of “Blake’s Jerusalem” (as he labelled it on the album sleeve). Amidst the overt politics of the rest of the record, he went sweet, quiet, and contemplative. A beautiful song is treated tenderly and respectfully by a rabble-rouser. How can one ignore that?

But O heart! heart! heart!

The first love of my life was Mork from Ork.

I think it was because Robin Williams was furry like a teddy bear. Or it was the  rainbow suspenders.

Today’s news is sad and confusing, but Robin Williams was open about his demons. It’s distressing. Depression is a soul sucking phenomenon.

I hope he has found peace.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Song To the Siren” by Tim Buckley

The guy is essentially known now as Jeff Buckley’s junkie dad. That’s just so wrong. Anyone who has heard the incredible Starsailor album knows that.

This song is also now better known as a This Mortal Coil song. This Mortal Coil were music execs playing dreamy electropop, but “Song to the Siren” was essentially a one-off from Cocteau Twins’ Liz Fraser and Robin Guthrie under the guise of the band. It’s all very sketchy, although Liz Fraser’s voice is exquisite on the song ( the song itself holds up great under the circumstance). Buckley’s version, a lush folk version with electric reverb and his own unique timber, is in my eyes far superior. The song began on, of all places, The Monkees. Yes, it did. Don’t argue with me. I am a fan of both this song and The Monkees. You think I’m wrong? It’s also quite easily Googled. That’s right, sit back down and remind yourself that this is my blog and as such I am never wrong.

The original TV version was more typically folk based, with different lyrics that bordered on the absurd. He stepped away from it for years, only to return to it, a new and more devastating rendition unfolding. Considering Buckley’s untimely death at 28, and his son, who evoked his father unintentionally and intentionally in so many different ways and seemed to be born from this dreamy melody, would also perish at the tender age of 30, it’s a bittersweet song to love.

Soundtrack of my Life: “What You Do To Me” by Teenage Fanclub

I discussed Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque here.

The lyrics are twenty-one words repeated over and over on top of a sunny melody, topped with grungy guitars. They were so Big Star that it hurt. It’s a juvenile love song- “What you do to me, I know, I can’t believe, there’s something about you that’s got me down on my knees”. It is so beautiful in its simplicity. It was one of the highlights of my 1991.

Not every song need to be deep to be meaningful. Some can just be shiny little power pop gems that make you feel what I can only assume is happy.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Into The Mystic” by Van Morrison

Someone on the web, in some comments section somewhere, recently criticised Van Morrison as a singer. Limited range, nasal tone, the usual things said when someone hates a singer. Now, the guy wasn’t totally wrong on those points- Van is nasally, and does not have a huge range. But Van is an amazing songwriter, and as a storyteller he is in the upper echelons of music history. And when I put on Moondance, I go to a very happy place.

“Into The Mystic” begins with the line “We were born before the wind” and from there, Van leads us down a path of spiritual connection. Over a faintly jazzy, very soothing melody, with gentle spanish guitar picking, And Van makes the connection between sex and the universe… sorry, mind wandered a bit.

Despite my rock hard outer shell that seems impenetrable to sentimentality and love, I am a soft, squishy romantic at my core, prone to crushes that last years (years… and years…).  Yes, there is a guy I would love nothing more to snuggle up to but am too afraid to actually attempt to have a relationship with (I am always afraid my anxiety-driven self will destroy all that is good about him).  He really is the sweetest man, one I have known for years. He makes me smile and laugh, but everything is at a level where I”m never sure what he wants and as always, being of anxious mind, I’m certain it isn’t me. But I can put on songs like “Into The Mystic” and pretend in my own stressed out, million miles a minute brain that someone, somewhere, like him, or not, makes me feel so completely at ease and at one with the universe. I imagine this is what romantic love is ( I have come to the conclusion that I have never, really, truly been in love, and that all my couplings have been driven by- surprise- fear). I believe that love is like listening to Van Morrison saying he wants to rock your gypsy soul.

As someone with a gypsy soul, I look forward to it.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos

1991 was when Tori Amos unleashed Little Earthquakes on to an unsuspecting public. A fiery red-head who could play the piano like it was her bitch, spawned from Debussy and Rachmaninoff and inspired by Zeppelin and Bowie, she unleashed a torrent of feelings on the universe. I will be speaking about songs from Little Earthquakes later- it is an IMPORTANT album in my life, not a beloved one.

But 1994’s Under the Pink is beloved by me. It felt more thought out and controlled than her début, less messy, more direct ( in the way I can expect Tori to be direct, which is to say not at all direct, but I think I get what she’s trying to get at. Tori fanatics know what I mean). My favourite Tori songs are all on Pink, and “Cornflake Girl”, her biggest hit, and best known track not involving an EDM remix, is the magnificently bizarre centerpiece.

The song is clearly about women. As in, women, being the mercurial creatures we are, hating and betraying other women. Men I know are always baffled by the claims women are so vicious to each other. Spend a day with a group of women ( preferably not related to each other- that’s a different dynamic, though the betrayals there are just as frequent and often cut deeper).  Really observe them, their body language, their verbal language. You’ll pick it up quickly if you aren’t completely dense. There are hints about girls denying their true selves in order to fit in, the disbelief in the actions of the betrayer, and yes, female genital mutilation (the ultimate betrayal in the eyes of most women is the mothers of the girls who are put through this horrific and unnecessary brutality). The song was inspired by an Alice Walker novel, and use of the word “Cornflake” continues to divide Tori fans. I always found the use of “Cornflake” and “raisin” to be interesting- Tori has suggested that raisins are the ones that hide while the cornflakes overwhelm to consciousness. There is also the fact Cornflakes were created by Kellogg to diminish sexual desire ( women who want sex are whores, dontchyaknow), which is a theory that intrigues me.

Tori has always been vocal in her feminism and her support of women. Her goddess worship persona is not an act, it’s a real thing.  Even bringing in legendary backing vocalist Merry Clayton (still best known for singing “Rape, murder, is just a shot away” on “Gimme Shelter”) is a feminist move. One only needs to see the Oscar-winning doc 20 Feet From Stardom to see that. The song rocks when it rolls, zigs when it is supposed to soar, zags when it’s meant to centre. There are melodic choices that make no sense, and then what is up with Rabbit and the keys.  ( i have ideas, but my dad may see this one day…)

As a teenage girl on the verge of adulthood (I was sixteen when I heard it for the first time- it was given to me by a boyfriend. Piece of advice- be wary of guys who think a Tori Amos CD is a good after sex gift), Tori Amos was a god-send. She was frank and open about love and sex in a way most women are not and in a way I think we should all strive to be. As the mother of daughters, I believe it’s one of the ways we actually protect the forthcoming generation from the sins of the past.

And for God’s sake, lets all be a little nicer to each other. Please.

Soundtrack of my Life: “The Whole Of The Moon” by the Waterboys

Sheer exhaustion, work, life, and a totally broken down computer have taken me from my ultimate goal, but I am back several weeks later with more songs and records to discuss. It’s good to be back.

I decided to come back and discuss one of my all-time favourite songs, the glorious and bold swaths of synths and melody topped with trumpets and exquisite visuals, all because Mike Scott’s girlfriend asked him if it was hard to write a song. He said in Scotland’s Greatest Album that he got the hook line “I saw the crescent, you saw the whole of the moon” pretty quickly, but that the rest of the song was months of work.

The song itself seems both timeless and very 1985 in equal measures.  The tinny synth lines date the song. But under the squeaky electronic noises is a strong melody, and the lyrics, a list of comparisons Scott has created about himself and his love, never get old. There is a poetic quality to song lacking in so much pop music, from the evocations of Brigadoon and unicorns to the exclamation of swooning (such a great word, swoon).

The song end with a cacophony of noise, as horns, voices, keyboards, guitars and sound effect all pummel the song at high volume. It’s all sonic release, a pure moment of music. An astonishing and beautiful song, it was a minor hit in 1985. A 1991 re-release, though, went nuclear, winning an Ivor Novello award and becoming an anthem for swoony romantics everywhere. The song continues to make me smile, and yes, swoon.

I saw the rain dirty valley. You saw Brigadoon.

Soundtrack of My Life: The music of Pete Seeger

This American Masters embedded above pretty much says it all…

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Soundtrack of my Life: “Uptown Top Ranking” by Althea and Donna

Because reggae is a man’s world. And girls occasionally sing cool songs about looking awesome on the dance floor. I’m guessing that’s what this song is about- it’s sung in a Jamaican patois in quite dense accents. But the music swings and sways. It’s cool. I like cool. I’m not cool. Not even close. I just love this song because it’s cool. And the rest of their music was so god awful it’s nice they had one thing work.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Back for Good” by Take That

Every girl has her boy band. I went through a New Kids phase like every other girl in North America, but my long-lasting love ended up being for Take That, who has had a fabulous rebirth in the last few years. “Back for Good” was a minor hit in Canada.

I was and am a Robbie girl. I’m a sucker for bad boys with tattoos. I’m also a sucker for slightly chubby secondary singers in wooly jumpers.


Soundtrack of my Life: “Red” by Treble Charger

Being a teenager in 1990s Canada was a different musical experience than you ever thought possible. Years of CANCON made people listen to Rush’s “Closer To The Heart” more than one should ever hear ( why didn’t my local radio station play”Tom Sawyer”?) and it also made Corey Hart a superstar for four years. The 1990s at least made us realize we had really good bands.

Treble Charger were a modestly successful indie band from the mid nineties who wrote some pretty songs on occasion. It was one of my favourite songs for a couple of years, and it was one of the first songs I bought when I set up my iTunes account. It’s a pretty, melancholic ballad and I listen to it when I need the sonics of a room to match the emotions I feel.

Basically, I’m putting it here to have you all listen to a song you might not have heard. I’m allowed. It’s my blog. This is about my favourites.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Like A Virgin” by Madonna

This is on the list for one reason and one reason only.

Because I used to sing this in the kitchen. My mother found it amusing. My father was horrified.

I was seven.

Of course, legendary song, it’s Madonna, I’m a girl child from the 1980s. But mostly, it’s because it made my dad crazy.

This is the real beginning of my rebellion, folks. Right here.

Soundtrack of my Life: “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel

I remember having a conversation with a guy about Say Anything (my actual favourite favourite movie- well, tied with High Fidelity and Love, Actually). He ended up finally ranting and raving ( I don’t remember how it got there), but he finally just exploded.

“Fucking Lloyd Dobler ruined everything for us, man. Fucking EVERYTHING!”

Well, Lloyd Dobler is sweet and attentive and he doesn’t push Diane into sex it just sorta happens and he looks like John Cusack. Yeah, I can see why that guy was  put off by the notion of Dobler being a romantic idea for a specific age bracket of girls.

Girls who were between the ages of twelve and eighteen in 1989.

The unintentional consequence of Say Anything is that it turned a lot of girls like me on to Peter Gabriel. Yes, having a man stand at my window boom box in hand, “In Your Eyes” playing loudly is a romantic fantasy of mine. You would get do very lucky if you did that. Gabriel up to that point was the guy with that weird video about sledgehammers. Forget about the Genesis year, I had no idea about “Biko” or “Solsbury Hill”. But I quickly learned, as I became a Peter Gabriel fan. And all because of a Cameron Crowe movie.

Fun fact: the commentary for the Say Anything dvd and the outtakes on that same DVD confirmed what I always thought- “In Your Eyes” was added in post-production. It was really a Fishbone song playing during the shoot. Either way, I would have jumped Lloyd Dobler. Possibly because he looks like John Cusack.

Soundtrack of My Life: “(Don’t You) Forget About Me” by Simple Minds

There is only one correct answer to the question “What is the greatest John Hughes movie ever?”

The Breakfast Club.

It is always- ALWAYS- The Breakfast Club.

The others have charm and are good, but The Breakfast Club is superior to whatever your so-called favourite John Hughes film has.

Plus, it has “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” on the soundtrack. It’s the best song of the 1980s.

Just- bite me.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes

Dirty Dancing. That monster hit film with an even bigger soundtrack. For girls my age, it was a somewhat scandalous thing to watch. I mean- PREMARITAL SEX! NAUGHTY ROCK N’ ROLL! ABORTION! It was my parents worse nightmare, and it starred Patrick Swayze.

I took dance as a kid- loved it, but knew I wasn’t going to be spectacular at it. My body was all wrong as I matured- I went from stick thin with legs and arms to boobtastically top-heavy with legs and arms. But to this day I am in love with all things dance. Dirty Dancing remains one of my favourite films. You know, the real favourite films, the ones I actually watch over and over, not the favourite films that are prestige and nerdy. I was ten, it didn’t take much.

But a killer soundtrack helped in my case, and Phil Spector may be a crazy murderer with a gun fetish, but “Be My Baby” remains the pinnacle of all girl group songs. Ronnie Spector’s voice is so recognizable, so unique, and the sheer volume of the orchestrations. And of course, there is Hal Blaine’s opening drum sequence, a legend of its own right, one of the most borrowed drum beats in all of human history ( the AV Club, the all-knowing, all-awesome Onion sister site, once titled their look at the phenomenon with the appropriate kick kick kick snare, and rightly put the blatant rip off of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Just Like Honey” at the top of the list). When Brian Wilson, who knows a thing about melody and production, says that “Be My Baby” is sheer perfection, you know it is.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Dedication” by Gowan

This is where my Canadian childhood starts to come out to play.

Great Dirty World was one of the first albums I really, really, REALLY wanted. I got it for my tenth birthday, this little cassette tape of odd prog rock touches over strong melodies (classically trained pianists unite!). Gowan had a run of success in Canada during the  1980s into the early 90s. My ex and I saw Gowan in concert in late 1996/ early 1997 (Gwen was mere months old)- it was a club show in Red Deer. He played all the hits as well as some of his (then) new stuff. It was just him and a keyboard. Amahzing. I got a picture and an autograph. All in all, a win of a night.

“Dedication” is my favourite Gowan song.  It’s just such a pretty melody, and he is such an accomplished musician.  It speaks of loyalty and perseverance, devotion and love, a desire for something so strong that nothing will stop you from attaining it. It’s aspirational and inspirational.

Did I mention the keyboard work? The man can play…


I will always, always, have a soft spot for a man with a piano.

Soundtrack of My Life: “Tangled Up in Blue” by Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is simply one of the greatest songwriters in the history of music. I used to sing “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” to Gwen when she was a baby ( she loves Dylan’s words but hates his voice- she’s consistent on the nasal voice thing. She hate’s listening to Springsteen, too).  But this song, from the incomparable Blood on the Tracks, is and for forever will be the single greatest thing Bob Dylan ever wrote.

The album itself is about the break up of his marriage ( “Idiot Wind” is priceless in its acidity). But this song, its tale of a free-spirited red-head and the man obsessed with her, just feels comfortable and hopeful. Soul mates, they could never get it together enough to work, but he, the wayward troubadour, keeps hoping, even as he wanders from place to place, looking for whatever it is she means to him. Or at least, that’s what I get from it. It’s Dylan, he could have been writing about how much he loved pastrami on rye.

I love political Dylan, the early Dylan who wrote “Masters of War” and “Maggie’s Farm”, the one who changed the way folk music was perceived forever. I also love the plugged in Byronesque poet who loves words and loves love. Dylan is a complex and creative force of nature. How can one not love him?

Soundtrack of my Life: “Dancing Queen” by ABBA

“I hate ABBA” was my life’s big lie. I love ABBA. The musician in my soul appreciates just how complex those songs are structurally. Yes, the lyrics are some of the most ridiculous things ever written in the English language, but since English was the bands second (or even third) language, I think maybe we should lay off now.

And it’s a sparkly and shiny and disco-y. It’s a slice of dance heaven. I dare you not to move.

Also, this was one of the few bands my father seemed to approve of. Scandinavian pride trumped all else in the scheme of things, I guess.

Soundtrack of my Life: “Two Tribes” by Frankie Goes To Hollywood

I can’t recall much about the show I saw it on – Julian Lennon was playing ” Too Late For Goodbyes”, that I can recall, because I was negotiating with my mother about staying up to watch his performance (full disclosure – I think that Valotte is a great 80s album). But somewhere sometime before that performance, there was a brief clip of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Two Tribes” video. There I saw a Reagan impersonator (I knew who he was) and a Chernenko impersonator (I had no clue who he was at the time) fighting. Then came the ear biting and my delicate, sheltered self had a bit of a meltdown. As a result I had a hard time listening to the compilation album I had that the song was on. I did not do well with violent images.

Much later on, I grew to appreciate the political commentary and Trevor Horn’s glorious production flares, and it became one of my favourite anthems. But to me, the song always comes down to Reagan biting Chernenko’s ear.

Funny the things that stick in your head.

Soundtrack of My Life: “Bullfrogs And Butterflies” by Barry McGuire

I know my music taste is unique, but never anything but totally cool.

Yeah, my first album, and the one I played to absolute death, was Bullfrogs and Butterflies.

I am sure there are now people out there going “Huh?” Welcome, everyone, to the world of Christian Children’s Music! Before VeggieTales, you had former 60s one hit wonder anti-war hippie Barry McGuire writing songs about being born again!

As a children’s album it’s about what you’d expect- cheerful melodies that are simply structured but highly memorable and hummable. In terms of Christian message, it was all sunshine and lollipops and rainbows and Noah. It’s melodies still are in my head and occasionally I’ll burst into them, scaring my children to death in the process.

My fondness for this song and the album remain, after all these years and after many struggles and lost years. The sheer joy of this song gives hope even thirty-five years later.

Soundtrack of My Life: “C is For Cookie” by, well, the Cookie Monster. Duh.

If I have to explain it to you, there is something wrong with you.

Soundtrack of My Life: ” Ticket to Ride” by the Beatles

My mother was twelve in 1963-1964, when Beatlemania was at its height. The Beatles were one of the few bands I remember hearing at all from my parents’ stereo. And this is the first Beatles song I actually remember hearing. The Beatles are of course the be all and end all of music. They bring me joy and remind me of my mother.

That is all.

Soundtrack of My Life: ” Fun Fun Fun” by the Beach Boys

Another slice of mum’s musical influence on me. The Beach Boys were probably played more often than the Beatles, because I remember the Beach Boy cassettes being brought along on family vacations. Dad would bring the dreaded Johnny Horton.

Pet Sounds is a genius piece of art, but the earlier surf tracks hold a charm and sweetness that the band would lose as Brian slowly lost his mind. It’s fun to hear such a simple concept. Of course she’ll have fun until Daddy takes the car away. She’s breaking Daddy’s rules!

Of course, rumours that this song were the genesis of my own childhood rebellion are greatly exaggerated.

Soundtrack of My Life: “Henry The VIII I Am” by Herman’s Hermits

All I am going to say is my late mother would sing this ad nauseam. Herman’s Hermits were a good band. They had some great pop songs.

This was not one of them. It’s an irritating mess of childish sing along nonsense.

But when I hear it, I can recall standing by my mother in the kitchen as I helped her, and she would sing this to amuse me. And quite possibly to distract me from the sharp knives.

Soundtrack of My Life: “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac

Rumours was the number one album the week I was born. I’ve often wondered is that was the reason I loved this therapy session of an album, with its heart break and  accusations and drug references. But no. I love it for the same reason everyone else does. It’s simply a fantastic album top to bottom.

Of all the fantastic songs on Rumours, the one I gravitate to time and time again is “Go Your Own Way”, Lindsay Buckingham’s gorgeous rock song about knowing love is wrong and it’s time to go. It’s a lesson learned only through living, though having a song like this helps with the decision when the time is right. It’s one of my most favourite of my favourites.

Soundtrack of My Life: “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by the Everly Brothers


There is a thing about harmonies. The word alone lends itself to a feeling of communion and joy. After all, we all want to live in harmony.  But the vocal harmonies of a sibling act are a special thing.  The Everly Brothers created some of the finest harmonies in the history of music, their folkie/country blend of style starting a love of elegant melodies and gentle twang.

Phil Everly died over the weekend at the age of 74.  The Everly Brothers were one of the few acts that seemed to be liked by everyone in my family. No wonder, they created harmony.  Yes, I am aware of the long feud between the brothers, but they also made up and went back on the road. Where they relished in their guitars and their- yes, this word again-  harmony.

“All I Have To Do Is Dream” is this gorgeous, gentle love song. It doesn’t grab you and throw you around like, say, “November Rain” (my iPod has had a soft spot for that song this weekend for some insane reason). No, it sits there, glancing at you shyly, whispering your name and finally taking your hand very softly.  It’s a nervous song, an honest song, and a song that someone who is, say, quite inept at romance can relate to deeply. “Cathy’s Clown” may be their greatest moment, but “All I Have to Do is dream” may be the one I love the most.

Soundtrack of My Life: “Never Gonna Dance” by Fred Astaire

This has a two-fold meaning. The top is the actual dance sequence from the 1936 Astaire-Rogers film Swing Time. To be perfectly blunt- I love every single thing Astaire and Rogers did together, even The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle and Barkleys of Broadway. But Swing Time remains my favourite of their films, if only because of the great Fields-Kern score, topped with this incredible song, complete with a magnificent dance routine. Ginger wrote in her autobiography that this dance, more than any other, tried her patience, and shooting it was a nightmare because of the precise timing needed for the ascension up the stairs. She would have to dump blood out of her shoes at times during the night, so exacting were director George Stevens and choreographers Astaire and David Abel. But it is such a high point in their career together.

I had to add the vocal as well, of course. Astaire wasn’t a fantastic singer- he had limited range and the tone of his voice was quite anemic. But his good humour and charm still exude from his best songs. “The Way You Look Tonight” and “A Fine Romance” get all the glory from this set of songs, but there is something achingly lovely about Astaire’s performance of this song. An understated and underappreciated classic.

Soundtrack of My Life: “The Ballad Of Davy Crockett” by Fess Parker

My dad was (and is) obsessed- obsessed- with the Disney Davy Crockett tv series/butchered films. As a result, I am all too familiar with this song. It’s here to remind me that not all music speaks to your heart. Sometimes you just want to hit the television or stereo with a baseball bat to stop the horror. I’m sure my father felt the same when I was blasting Nirvana during the 1990s.

My father may have led me to Tchaikovsky, but his taste in popular music is questionable at best. There was a row over a Johnny Horton tape. I didn’t wreck it directly. My best friend at the time did. But yeah- that one is on me, because I’m pretty sure God sent her to destroy it as result of my frantic prayers. But these “country” (puke) classics were my dad’s idea of fun music, so every once in a while, I hear “Battle of New Orléans” sung through some nasally twang, or this ridiculous theme song, and I think at least mum indulged my taste somewhat and spoiled me musically. Imagine what would have happened if I retained my father’s taste in pop music.

Yeah, I have nightmares with this song as the soundtrack.

I love you, Dad. Really. Thanks for Tchaikovsky.

Soundtrack of My Life: “Ellens dritter Gesang” by Franz Schubert, as sung by Maria Callas

More famously known as “Ave Maria”, Schubert’s masterpiece and best known work as originally part of a seven song cycle based on The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. The hauntingly beautiful and pure melody, it’s hymn-like qualities, and it’s appropriation by the Catholic Church to be used with the original Latin Ave Maria prayer all add to the myth of the song.

Schubert is one of the great Romantic composers, whose reputation was made in such a brief moment of time (he died at 31, reportedly of typhoid, but more probably of syphilis). There is much in his canon that is worthy of high praise. But the genius of Schubert was neglected in his lifetime, championed later by one of my classical heroes, Mendelssohn, and brought to the masses through Fantasia. Leave it to Disney to make Schubert cool.

It is simply one of the most perfect pieces of music ever written.

The bonus of this version, though, is the legendary Maria Callas and her voice. I rarely get to kill two birds with one stone.  Callas remains my most beloved of the grand divas, and I find her version of this magnificent prayer to be one of her grandest moments.

Soundtrack of My Life: “An American In Paris” by George Gershwin

My mother loved An American in Paris, the classic Gene Kelly musical with the Gershwin score. My parents’ record collection was heavy on the standards, so the work of Gershwin to this piano player was in the same vaunted highs as the Bach and Mendelssohn I was also required to know. Add the film’s gorgeous Technicolor images to it, though, and you get a childhood memory I love. My mother indulged my love for musicals because she loved them herself, and I continue to watch them regularly with my own daughters. As far as family traditions go, it’s the one we love the most.

Soundtrack of My Life: ” Auld Lang Syne” by Eddi Reader

A perfect voice with a perfect poem over a perfect melody.

New Year’s Day is a day where I live in a brief moment of hope. It’s a slice of time where I can think that maybe, just maybe, something good will come this time. My logical and reasoned side spends January first attempting to talk to my dominant, neurotic, avoidant side, the side where the depression and the wish to self destruct meet. It tries to convince it that next year will be different, that the next 364 days will not be ruled by my disordered brain’s thoughts. I won’t spend my time thinking about how I cannot seem to overcome the anxiety and fears of having relationships. My rational side tells me that I will get out, do more, see more, be more. That I am worthy of love and affection and friendship.

It never lasts for long. The cycles of loathing return more quickly than I like. It’s a constant battle.

But at least I have a pretty version of Robert  Burns’ lovely ballad to listen to. It brings relief. That’s all I want sometimes.

My Favourite Albums of 2013

Year end lists are my favourite thing, because it forces me to look at what I have collected over the year and after several glasses of pinot grigio, declare a list of twenty worthy of sharing with the world. This year was hard, as my house got over taken by Miley, Selena, Demi and something called a Luke Bryan and another something called Austin Mahone. (It must stop.)

My children’s momentary lapse of taste not withstanding, it was a good year for music overall. Below the cut, my favourite twenty records of 2013.

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My Favourite Songs of 2013

2013 was actually full of really spectacular pop songs, including songs I really like from former Family Channel shows I remember watching with my kids and promptly hating myself for getting sucked into like this girl and this girl.

But my 2013 list didn’t need them, as it is chockfull of dancey, pop tracks that sound like 1984. I know people hated the 1980s. That’s because those people are horrible and deserve to be firebombed.

The list under the cut!

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Lou Reed: 1942-2013

Lou Reed was a notorious asshole. I mean, music writers all have legendary tales about trying to interview Lou Reed. Most of these stories end up with Lou storming off or insulting said writer to the point the writer leaves.  He was a cantankerous bastard. But his being an asshole to music writers was seriously just part of his charm. Sort of.

His reputation preceded him…

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The Album List: # 192 The Avalanches “Since I Left You”

Michael, row your boat ashore, Alleluia…

The idea that electronic music is a recent invention of celebrity DJs or as an off-shoot of hip hop is false. Electronic music pre-dates the second world war, and thrived in post-war Europe, where artists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Schaeffer created the blueprint of modern avant-garde music.  It’s no accident countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands are where electronic dance music thrives to this day.

This is not to say other countries have not produced fantastic electronic music. The Avalanches are from Australia, a country better known for new wave pop acts and post punk political diatribes set to hard edge rock music.  The lack of musical understanding leads one to believe the Avalanches are an anomaly, but if you look at an artist like  Cut Copy , you know that the scene in Australia is compelling and influential in the best possible way. The Avalanches have only released one proper album ( the EPs, mixtapes, and singles discography are quite extensive). That album is the exquisite example of plunderphonics and modern dance ambience. Along with Air and Daft Punk, the Avalanches created the blueprint for samples in dance music for the new millennia.

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The Album List: # 193 Portishead “Dummy”

Sad doesn’t begin to describe the tone of Beth Gibbons’ voice.

There are albums that evoke such a time and place that you tend to forget them.  It’s a shame that happens, as music is eternal and if you love something you should listen to it, regardless of the shame factor (hello, NKOTB). Dummy is so linked in my head to 1995 that I put it on a shelf for about a decade.

The benefit of children, specifically music nerd children like mine, is that they force you to revisit things. Much of this list has been me revisiting things as I lecture my children on the history of popular music. What, I’m sure it will help them somewhere along the line.

Portishead came up because of Lana del Ray. I do not hate Lana del Ray, unlike many of my hipster snob counterparts. Yes, her SNL performance defined the word excruciating, but her album work is very moody and specific, and the alto jazz tones of her voice are pleasant in a world of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry bubbly garbage.  del Ray forced me back into searching for those jazzy tones in dance music, so bands like Mazzy Star and Portishead made their way back into the rotation.  It was then that I remembered that Dummy  was one of my favourite albums of the mid-90s. I was not a happy person, (Was? Am? I’m not even sure what happy feels like, so I’m not really the best judge of my own emotions.) My anxiety riddled brain  flocks to miserablists. Beth Gibbons’ voice is the most devastatingly sad one in music history. She doesn’t even have to try, she just is so weepy sounding it’s amazing to me that Portishead doesn’t figure more into pop culture death references.

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The Album List: # 194 Queens Of The Stone Age “Songs For the Deaf”

Sometimes I shock people by liking a band they never think I would like. This is one of them.

For all my love of jazz, 80s pop, English story telling, obscure Scottish bands, and middle eastern melodic thievery, I love me some dirty desert rock and roll. Particularly when there is one hell of a guitarist. And especially especially when Dave Grohl shows up on drums.

Dave. I love you.

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The 2013 Polaris Music Prize Goes To…

… the enigmatic post-rock instrumental of Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor for their 2012 masterpiece ( and my twentieth favourite album of 2012Alleluia! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

I have championed it since it was shortlisted.  They’re not an easy band- twenty-minute noisy instrumentals that mix freestyle jazz and Can (the band) wonk is a tough sell to the masses. But honestly, it’s still heavily played at my house, and I am loving it as much today as I did when it was released late last year.

Well done.

The Album List: # 195 John Coltrane “Giant Step”


We have come back to the man himself. Coltrane.

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The Album List: # 196 The Violent Femmes “The Violent Femmes”

Son of a Baptist preacher sings very dirty songs.

The Violent Femmes are another early 1980s band who seemed destined for greatness, and their die-hard fans would claim they succeeded. I, however, felt they would struggle greatly on subsequent records to match their first’s sense of humour and lyrical honestly.  The Violent Femmes are a great band, but nothing they have ever done has ever topped “Add It Up” or “Blister in the Sun”. It should tell you just how tough it is to top those two songs in particular that a band as talented as the Femmes, and a songwriter as gifted as Gordon Gano, can’t even come close.

Gano famously wrote the songs of the Femmes début in high school, and thematically it shows- lots of references to masturbation and general teenage horniness litter the album.  Matched with the nasally vocals Gano provides, it’s a slice of teenage angst. Rarely has a teenage boy’s brain been this much fun to listen to. Gano never takes himself too seriously, and matched with the minimalism of the music, including a ferociously talented rhythm section, it forms the basis of one of the great début records, and one of the greatest of cult classics.

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Am I Really This Old? Bruce and Rock And Roll

I am only 36.

Considering my deep affection for the 1980s, you probably already guessed my age.

i grew up an introvert who spent all her time in her bedroom listening to music. My mother accidentally introduced me to bands like Frankie Goes to Hollywood by buying me compilation albums (Motion ’84 had both “Two Tribes” and “Relax” on it). But a large part of my youth was spent listening to radio, and both Top 40 and the Classic Rock station played Bruce Springsteen. I was seven when Born in the U.S.A. was released, and that album was everywhere for a good two years.  Since I’m an obsessive about music, it didn’t take me long to discover Nebraska  and Born To Run, and I have loved the Boss ever since.

Fast forward two decades and my lovely teenage daughter and I having a discussion about music ( this time about the ridiculous amount of All Time Low accumulating on my iTunes). Gwen is very much a music nerd. She has everything ranging from Mozart to Swedish House Mafia on her iPod, with a specific fondness for show tunes and tattooed screaming boys in eyeliner and skinny jeans. She is just coming into her own though when it comes to classic rock and roll. She’s familiar with the collected works of the Kinks, the Beatles, Dylan, Springsteen, the whole list of rock gods. As she points out, she has heard them all her life. But she has never been a big fan of Dylan and Springsteen as singers.

“I respect their writing,” she told me. “They are second to none. But I cannot stand their voices when they sing.”

This conversation has been replayed over and over again over the years, as her fondness for their writing has grown.  She’s a post-millennial, born to a world where Kurt Cobain has always been dead and Bob Marley is merely a ganja smoking poster dude. Her sisters, both born in the 21st Century, are even more intractable on the subject of music. They both somehow think Katy Perry is the greatest thing ever.

It has got worse as time marches onward. Then I read articles like this one,  and I go- “Wait a sec? Am I now the old one here?”

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The Album List: # 197 Neko Case “Blacklisted”

Lying under a truck always seems like a good idea at the time…

Neko Case’s voice is an earthy, bluesy alto with broad range, tinged with a southern accent long fed through a Northwestern upbringing. It’s one of the greatest voices in modern music, adept at so many genres that she can make your head spin.  When I hear her on those great New Pornographer albums like Mass Romantic  and Electric Version, I feel all warm and tingly. Then I go to her solo work, and I’m blown away by the sheer expressiveness of that voice. It’s wholly unique, you can’t mistaken Neko for anyone else.

Blacklisted is an astonishing song cycle, a masterclass in songwriting and atmosphere that should be taught ti all upcoming songwriters.  If all Neko did afterwards was retreat into the alt country landscape to cover Woody Guthrie songs, her legacy would be secure.  Fortunately, it’s only the third step in a career that is both varied and comforting. I adore Neko Case. Adore.

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The Twelfth Doctor Is… (Live. Ish.)

Doctor Who fans are a serious bunch when it comes to their show. Don’t  get me wrong, we have fantastic senses of humour. You should see our memes.

But when it comes to casting, we get downright evangelical.

The build up over the summer of the announcement of who will be replacing bow tie fetishist and general rascal Matt Smith has coincided with the fact that 2013 is also the fiftieth anniversary of the timeless sci-fi series, renowned for its first run’s supreme cheesiness, and admired for its ability to revive itself in a new age, reaching a worldwide audience that discusses it with the seriousness of a religious scholar discussing the Abrahamic religions.

The BBC made their announcements for ten (David Tennant) and eleven (Smith) the classic way- announced to the press via press release. Since Smith’s ascension into the role, the Doctor Who phenomenon went from niche fanaticism to world-wide obsession. So the BBC has decided to roll it out in a manner fitting Prince George of Cambridge. They hauled Peter Davison (Five) and Tom Baker (Four and the best one ever) out of the cryogenics lab and have them on hand to give advice to the new doctor. The show is being hosted by Zoe Ball aka Mrs Fatboy Slim, which is irritating. Bookies have stopped allowing betting on Peter Capaldi (Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It,  John Frobisher in Torchwood: Children of Earth, Caecilius in the Who episode The Fires of Pompeii, shitload of other stuff, he is amazing) so certain they are of his casting. (*Note- IMDb has his scheduled to be playing Cardinal Richelieu in an upcoming TV series version of The Three Musketeers, which is still only in pre-production and still able to be recast if necessary.)

I like the idea of Idris Elba, whom I am convinced needs more work because he is so awesome on Luther. My kids favour Rupert Grint, because of Harry Potter and his being a ginger and all. Other names being tossed around today include Misha Collins (currently contracted to Supernatural),  Ben Whishaw (the new Q in Bond, The Hour), Daniel Rigby (Black Mirror, a ginger), Aneurin Barnard ( The White Queen, a mere baby at 26), and James Callis (Battlestar Galactica, the Bridget Jones movies).  Of these, I favour Callis, because I think he’s hot.

The announcement is in fifteen minutes.  Further thoughts will come- under the cut, as they happen. With a slight delay, because I can barely type.

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The Album List: # 198 Dexys Midnight Runners “Searching For the Young Soul Rebels”

This is not the album with wedding classic “Come On Eileen”. It’s better than that.

One of the many, many legends of rock and roll is about how Dexys stole the master tapes of their classic début album away from EMI and hid them in frontman Kevin Rowland’s parent’s house while holding out for more cash. It’s true, confirmed by many people, including the band and people who worked at the label at the time. Whether you view this as an act of punk rock rebellion against the bourgeois label or the act of a bratty tantrum throwing “genius”, it’s a great story.

Dexys are another of the U.K. acts that got labelled “one hit wonders” in the American market place because the world centres around what Billboard magazine says. THe truth is they put out a string of really interesting albums through the 1980s. And yes, Kevin Rowland’s hiccupping, nasal vocals can be a little much. But this band took Stax horns and added them to the Specials punk ska beats and on this album, created something amazing.

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Polaris Short List 2013

I am way late posting this because life sucks ass. And I forgot. But the Polaris 2013 Short List is as follows:

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