Top 100 Songs Of All Time

Sep 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS OF ALL TIME No.81: The JAMMS – It’s Grim Up North

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The JAMMS – It’s Grim Up North (Part 1)

N. says

This record is ten minutes long (exactly). On it, Bill Drummond reads out the names of (approximately) 70 towns in Northern England over a beserk techno backing, containing bursts of train sounds and robotic squeaks. He explains that they are all in the North. For the final three minutes, this competes with a synthetic orchestra playing ‘Jerusalem’, and the track finishes with the cries of some crows.

It’s not a fucking joke. It’s the best British single of the 1990s. In my head I have a 26-year-old American man scoffing at this assessment. This man annoys me more than you can imagine.

Aug 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS: No. 82

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Jimmy Cliff – “Many Rivers To Cross”

A conversation I had about Many Rivers To Cross today.

Me: Have you got a copy of Many Rivers To Cross by Jimmy Cliff.
Her: Yes. It’s great.
Me: You couldn’t play it down the phone to me.
Her: Sure. I’ll just try and find it.
Me: Is it quite sparse, arrangement-wise? All I can think of then I think of the song is the Aswad version which is pretty syrupy.
Her: Did Aswad do a version?
Me: I think they did. Didn’t everyone soft reggae do a version?
Her: UB40 did a rubbish version. I know that because I am from the Midlands and UB40’s career is etched in my brain as some sort of racial memory.
Me: Oh Christ, it was the UB40 version. Sorry Aswad. You know Aswad were pretty hardcore when they started, like Steel Pulse.
Her: What? Sorry, still looking. I thought it would be in this pile. Hold on, what’s this? A operatic version of The Handmaid’s Tale directed by Phylidia Law. Isn’t that Emma Thompson’s mum?
Me: Yes. Put that on while you keep looking.

Scary opera of The Handmaid’s Tale goes on. The clacking of hundreds of out of order, badly indexed and containing the wrong disc anyway CD’s continues.

Me: Doesn’t matter if you can’t find it.
Her: No, no I’ve got it here somewhere. Maybe in the reggae section.
Me: Why didn’t you start there?
Her: I don’t really think of Jimmy Cliff as reggae.
Me: Okay. Er-
Her: (Defensive) I thought it would be in the singer-songwriter section. Or the dead bloke section.
Me: How many sections have you got?
Her: It’s not my record collection, it’s my husbands. Sorry. Maybe I leant it to someone. I was listening to it last week.
Me: It doesn’t matter, I just said I’d write about it on Freakytrigger because it has been getting in the way of finishing the Top 100 Singles.
Her: What number is it?
Me: 82.
Her: What was number one.
Me: I can’t tell you.
Her: Spoilsport.
Me: If I told you then you would tell other people, negating the exciting point of a chart countdown. Anyway, you heard it last week, how does it go? Is the arrangement sparse? I think it would have a sparse arrangement. Does it sound like seventies reggae?
Her: It sounds like Many Rivers To Cross. You know?
Me: All I remember is the UB40 version.
Her: Well in your case then, it sounds better than Many Rivers To Cross.

Conclusion: Many Rivers To Cross is great because it sounds better than rubbish versions of itself that I can’t get out of my head.

Jul 05


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Orange Juice – “Rip It Up”

Edwyn Collins and company fake the funk. What’s so appealing about Orange Juice (and Dexy’s, and ABC) is the “let’s pretend” element – they know they’re not a ‘proper’ disco outfit, but they want to play the disco music anyway…or not any way, their way. And they know it’s ridiculous, but here’s the important thing: they want us to believe it anyway, they don’t want us to ever feel ridiculous for liking it.

(That’s where The Darkness, who aren’t a hundred miles away from ABC when you think about it, falter slightly. Though I don’t believe they mean to. A game of let’s pretend is spoiled by other people standing around saying, you’re pretending: this is one curse of modern pop.)

Amongst the gaucheness and good humour, and so many wonderful lines, there is one outrageous and special moment in “Rip It Up”. It goes like this – “And my favourite song’s entitled ‘Boredom'”, so far so sweet, so clever, so Orange Juice, and then naturally the guitarist plays the two-note solo from “Boredom”, and THEN the solo suddenly turns into an aching, yearning sliver of cocktail sax, punk grub into new pop butterfly if you like.

(Listen to it here.)

ED Dec 2007
No, here:

Mar 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 84. Pulp – “Babies”

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84. Pulp – “Babies”

The genius of “Babies” is that the harder you try to make sense of the story the less sense the song seems to make: and the more you think about the song the less the story matters. This is a confession of what ‘happened years ago’ which is also a seduction; an attempt to rewrite (Freud might say ‘cathect’) pre-lapsarian companionship as the prehistory of today’s desire. But the urgency of the chorus – ‘I want to take you home’ RIGHT NOW – suggests that teenaged fumblings are not the prelude to but the truth of mature sexuality, hastily hidden under the mattress when adulthood knocks on the bedroom door. Making babies is the coverstory: “Babies” doesn’t just make the family the centre of precocious sexual experiment, but makes home, kids, boyfriend-girlfriend, everything else, an excuse for it.

Story: curiosity becomes desire (‘I wanted to see as well as hear’); fellowship ‘we listened’) is abandoned for solitary vice (scopophilia); the act of entering the wardrobe (shades of CS Lewis?) becomes both enclosure and a seemingly paradoxical kind of exposure. Shut in by our desires, we’ve also effectively cornered ourselves: ‘I fell asleep inside, I never heard her come’, I was hiding, but there was nowhere to hide… And then repetition: she caught me inside; you caught me inside her, and although this time I heard you stop outside the door, I still couldn’t do anything else!

Song: a hymn to the aimlessness of undisciplined teenage desire, not yet running along socially sanctioned lines, in which one body can be substituted for another, one sister for another, one sex for another. Desire which expands to fill the time (after school) and space (bedrooms detached from the houses which enclose them, which literally do not belong: sex before marriage as sex before mortgage!) available. Which is why this story can never add up: what’s unsettling isn’t just the substitution of one sister for another, but of me for the boy from the garage up the road; ‘I had to get it on’, driven not only by my displaced lust, i.e. lust itself, but by hers.

Excuses multiply guilt rather than rescind it, and “Babies” produces the fact of substitution – that for sex one body is as good as another – which love’s particularity seeks to tame and subdue. I want to take you home. Now. We can make up for all that lost time. So I was watching your sister; and I was listening while you went with Neve. So we never. Although we wanted to really. It was you all along. But we never. Until now. Now? If the chorus is supposed to make amends for or cancel out the past, it’s not just unconvincing, but a radical failure. The indeterminate ‘you’ to which it is addressed is never just you, never only you, never really you at all: it’s you or your sister, you and your sister, you and/or whoever else were to be sitting across the table from me now.

…And of course, YOU: and you, and you, and you? This is popular music and like the sound of one couple in the block shagging, as Jarvis recounts in Sheffield Sex City, one of the tracks that partnered “Babies” on the original Gift release, pretty soon it’ll have everybody fucking.

Mar 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 85. Teddybears STHLM ft Mad Cobra – “Cobrastyle”

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85. Teddybears STHLM ft Mad Cobra – “Cobrastyle”

If I was a real music journalist I would look forward most to the part of the job where you make up new genres! I think I would make up a genre which would include this record, and Junior Senior, and Bigtrack Rockismo (or whatever they’re called), and let’s throw in the Go! Team as well. This genre would be called Bubble Beat – what a rubbish name eh? It’s kind of a tiny bit like Big Beat but with a really brazen pop sensibility and flagrant disregard for the real cultural context of anything it uses. And with no ridiculous ‘po-mo’ ‘manifestos’ either, just a love of stupid fun. “Cobrastyle” for instance marries dancehall to rockabilly with only the most glancing regard for either and ends up as a fabulous pop record and surprisingly not at all insulting. A while ago I called this song the audio equivalent of sequinned Motorhead T-Shirts and I see no reason to back away from that. Incidentally do not buy a Teddybears album, if you want to hear something else by them then “Different Sound” is quite good, though it actually is Big Beat.

Mar 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 86. Janet Kay – “Silly Games”

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86. Janet Kay – “Silly Games”

What Humans Hear:
Ah, that’s a nice and gentle little bit of reggae. Oh and what a sweet voice. A bit high but – oh – she’s not happy. What a wistful way with words she has. Who is this? I quite like it. Steel drums, I remember them from Blue Peter. What a great song about how crap men are, really. Shows that she is determined, unbeatable and not going mess about –

Fuck me that’s high.

Fuck me, that’s even higher.

Silly Games is one of those remarkable songs which is wonderful on three levels. Firstly it really is a genuinely sweet piece of music. The almost lazy skank behind Janet sucks you in, as does her voice. Sure its all a bit high but that is nice. Put it on the jukebox in any pub and nobody (except maybe the pub dog) will complain. But listen to the words and it is clear that the second level is as a leading contender in the genre of “for fuck sake ask me out” songs. Perhaps it is not feminist enough to do the right thing and go and ask him out herself, but Janet has no more time for stupid flirting. And she makes it very clear that she has no time by being so very, very high.

Silly Games is also a novelty single. The astronomical pitch Janet reaches cannot help but make it so. Again, take that pub jukebox (the place I hear Silly Games the most, and mainly because I put it on). No-one is going to complain about Silly Games coming on the jukebox, but they sure as hell are going to notice it. A number of things that can “build” in songs: volume, tempo, number of distinguishable instruments. Pitch clearly can, and classical music often does chase up the octaves for effect, but in pop it is rarely used. The key change is a simple example of how dramatic a shift in pitch can be, but only Janet Kay, Jimmy Somerville and perhaps ELO have ever struck me as using pitch for emphasis. And you do not get more emphatic that Janet Kay. Cartoon wine glasses burst whenever I hear it.

What Dogs Hear:
All the secrets of the universe being shouted at them by the doggie version of Lemmy from Motorhead.

Mar 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 87. Roxy Music – “Virginia Plain”

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87. Roxy Music – “Virginia Plain”

Here’s a parlour game: take a famous debut single and imagine what you’d think of it if that act had released nothing else, ever. Roxy Music’s arch travelogue is no longer the fizzy overture to their career of strangeness, charm and smarm. Instead it fits neatly into the weird British novelty-pop boom of the early 70s. At its No.4 pop hit zenith it shares a chart with Lyndsey De Paul’s sultry “Sugar Me” and Lieutenant Pigeon’s demented “Mouldy Old Dough”, both of which match it for oddness, and perhaps for other things. As a standalone “Virginia Plain” mixes hammering gummy goodness with an absurdist jet-set fantasy, a commentary before the fact on a decade of wide-eyed ‘summer hits’.

Feb 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 88. Subway Sect – “Ambition”

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88. Subway Sect – “Ambition”

Sarah says

What’s the matter, Vic? “I don’t write any words you get in rock songs…I like those words – that seem out of place in a rock song.” It’s a funny thing that Vic’s been most famous for the most trad “rock” song he’s ever written, but punk has always been a funny old mare to me. The aural assaults of teh Sexy Pistols left me cold, but Vic came out with Ambition that LAMBASTED the hoary old punk machine with a WIT and SUBTLETY like no-one else. I won a guitar from him you know, and he delivered it to my HOUSE! You can tell he’s a postman, there was something in the QUALITY. Do you think that Peter Cook was ever a Northern Soul boy? I can’t say the thought ever crossed my mind, until I saw Vic play a tiny football bar in Sunny Brentford last year, and then it all became startlingly obvious – Pete wasn’t, but Vic is. Ambivalence stalks us, but Vic galvanises us. I love him. He loves me. He is my husband. No really. HE IS!

Er will that do. Sorry. SORRY. Who nominated it anyway?!

Feb 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 89. REEL 2 REEL feat THE MAD STUNTMAN – “I Like To Move It”

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89. REEL 2 REEL feat THE MAD STUNTMAN – “I Like To Move It”

This had a previous life as “Jazz It Up” by the Erick Morillo Project, a funky disco-house number which no doubt kept many a party rollin’ with its tasteful floorfilling vibe. In barges the Mad Stuntman and credibility flies out of the window to be replaced by multi-million sales and the love of all mankind. “I spent forever tracking down the original” sniffed someone on a DJ board I googled, well ha! cos apparently it was on the B-Side.

I am sure that “Jazz It Up” is a fine record, the drums on this refit are satisfyingly crunchy after all and the groove is propulsive. But let’s face it, this song would not be on this list were it not for Stuntman, M. What you will learn about this force of nature by the end of the song:

i) he is a stuntman
ii) he is mad (these two facts gleaned from the sleeve but nothing he does on wax suggests otherwise)
iii) he is physically fit
iv) he likes to move it move it. To reinforce this last the follow-up is called “Go On Move” and isn’t quite as great.

It is a record that everybody wants to hear, especially if they’ve had a drink or two. They may not think they want to hear it but they do. The perfect marriage of a high-class groove and a low-brow energy.

Feb 05

THE FT TOP 100 SONGS 89.5 Skeletal Family – “Promised Land”

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89.5 Skeletal Family – “Promised Land”

The first of more than forty goth records in the top 100, this track was unanimously agreed upon by everyone at Freaky Trigger in some pub around Christmas. Two even sported tattoos of the band.

Skeletal Family were from Keighley in the West Yorkshire delta. They were never a Champions League goth band and most of their other records were tuneless arse. I know this because I have them.

As was the custom, the Skeletals were often asked if they were a goth band “No,” they said, “we write the kind of doomy music and silly bollocks lyrics that pleases us and if any socially inept bangle-arm freaks buy it, it’s a bonus.”

It was around the time of Promised Land that I came out. I asked my parents to switch off the TV, “Look, I’ve got something to tell you.” They shuffled together and smiled, their fingers entwined, “Mum, dad, I think I’m a goth.”

They were fine about it and had suspicions anyway. Their friends’ kids didn’t paint their nails black or listen to Gene Loves Jezebel.

Promised Land is a cracking song. It even dented the danker regions of the charts and the world was theirs for the taking. Well, not the world but a prestigious support slot on the Sex Gang Children tour. It all ended in tears and runny mascara as various band members listened to their own records and left the band in embarrassment. The crimped-up singer went on to form Ghost Dance who, she insisted, were not a goth band.