I’m not particularly faithful to the notion that music (“art?”) has some kind of higher spiritual-personal significance, meaning something in the grandiose scheme of things. This is popcorn to me, of the highest, most enjoyable fat faced quality, with no disrespect. I’d love to be able to have the affect of the below. It’s also completely impossible to compile a definitive list of my favourite tunes based around one track per year of life. However, I like all of these songs very, very much and you’d be better off reading about them than some of the interpretations about higher existence floating around at the moment (if you’re up (out?) there, this is for you as much as the rest of us). The write-ups occasionally relate to personal experiences involving the subjects in background, but often simply nudge at why they deserve to be listened to.
1983: Billy Bragg: “Lovers Town Revisited” [from Life’s A Riot With Spy Vs. Spy]
Bragg’s early efforts are incredible. This manages to turn heads minus polemic in ninety seconds. Watch out for one of the best couplets ever. There are a few to choose from.
1984: Television Personalities: “A Sense of Belonging” [from The Painted Word]
I disagree strongly with much of the cause championed by Dan Treacy on this song from my first year’s superb The Painted Word album. Regardless of my belief that unconditional pacifism and the CND aren’t realistically minded, and actually serve to further alienate the moderately apathetic from each other as much as hate mongerers, Daniel puts his case with such intent that I’m bowled over. It recalls one of Robert Smith’s best via Station to Station and Phil Daniels.
1985: The Cure: “Six Different Ways” [from The Head On the Door]
The Rules of Attraction couldn’t ruin this.
1986: The Housemartins: “Happy Hour ” [from London 0 Hull 4]
Paul Heaton possessed a falsetto and biting everyday wit to inspire Morrissey-like fandom. This is possibly the UK equivalent of a really brilliant Motown single.
1987: Pixies: “I’ve been Tired” [from Come On Pilgrim]
Everyone should want to be a singer like Lou Reed.
1988: The Sugarcubes: “Fucking in Rhythm and Sorrow” [from Life’s Too Good]
Bjork’s voice combined with insanely astute wit and Chuck Berry worthy riff does a lot for me.
1989: Galaxie 500: “Blue Thunder” [from On Fire]
In a dream world, they headline lots. Definitely investigate if you ever wake up at 3AM on a rainy Sunday and want to avoid wasting the day.
1990: The Flaming Lips: “Mountain Side” [from In A Priest Driven Ambulance]
Before the bouncy ultra-pop came the mad whirring shredding stuff. “Mountain Side” out-modes plenty considered revolutionary in the adjacent years. A huge ego-free plane crash of a tune.
1991: Massive Attack: “Unfinished Sympathy” [from Blue Lines]
If we ever need to replace our national anthem…
1992: Aphex Twin: “Pulsewidth” [from Selected Ambient Works Vol. 1 1985-92]
The future on Betamax.
1993: Wu-Tang Clan: “C.R.E.A.M” [from Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)]
Unparalleled production. The whole of …36 Chambers is like some bizarre comic book super brand to me. Absolutely quality.
1994: Oasis: “Married With Children” [from Definitely Maybe]
One of the definitive bands of my youth. I always think of them as the Beatles crossed with the Sex Pistols fronted by George Best. The afterthought from Definitely Maybe still represents a lot to me, particularly rainy streets and early adolescence.
1995: Nightmares on Wax: “Stars” [from Smokers Delight]
My uncle’s mate is their producer. He gave me Smokers Delight very early on in my adolescence, and as a result (he’s a very wise man) I listened up intently. As a result my Nu-metal cider years were tempered by some appreciation of dub and electro development. This album was partly responsible for me discovering a massive strand of the music that I love. “Stars” gets the nod because of the overriding memory of listening to it with a can on the ghetto blaster in between tents at Leeds festival in 2000 staring at the night sky.
1996: Sparklehorse: “Rainmaker” [from Vivadixiesubmarinetransmissionplot]
I had to include some Mark Linkous somewhere. His cartoon parasite vividness has uplifted me a lot during the most recent quarter of my life.
1997: Sleeper: “You Got Me” [from Pleased to Meet You]
I’ll argue to the hilt that Louise Wener’s words carry far more than they’re credited with. The fact that her voice and demeanour make me melt (evidenced on the above song) only supplements this. Pick up Goodnight Steve McQueen and The It Girl. Then proceed with the rest.
1998 Jeff Buckley: “The Sky is A Landfill” [from Sketches for My Sweetheart the Drunk]
Critically speaking (anyone going for the personal needs to walk outside and bump into people), the sad thing about Buckley is that the bloke’s death left him forever under and over rated in a completely ridiculous context. I used to be a massive fan around 2000-02, and promptly wore most of his material out. This still stands as one of my favourite songs ever. The vocals are slightly rained in, like Bono as a normal person, or a choir of Ray Charles’. Lyrically it’s genuinely brilliant. Mail bombs fly off to the strong armed, and Buckley and band rock like Hendrix via Marquee Moon. Perceived circumstances can’t touch this.
1999: Idlewild: “When I Argue I See Shapes” [from Hope Is Important]
This could be the great Pixies song that got away. In their early years, Roddy Woomble’s band thrashed out this joyous homage to “conversational skills, or a lack of.” I can almost (thankfully not quite) imagine Sixteen again.
2000: David Holmes: “Hey Lisa” [from Bow Down To the Exit Sign]
Holmes is one of the coolest, most interesting production talents full stop. “Hey Lisa” is cinematic, infectious, and lovely enough to make the listener think the world has opened up on them as it finishes.
2001: Squarepusher: “My Red Hot Car” [from Go Plastic]
This makes me want to throw things at old people in a constructive way. The beats, bleeps and swerves are sublime. Probably my ultimate night out song when meeting a couple of ex-schoolmates who’ve also learned to worship drill and bass.
2002: Miss Black America: “Miss Black America” [from God Bless Miss black America]
This was the band that made me think it was possible for anyone, even self, to make something very cool. Four years on it still feels like I was lucky enough to hear one of the most important indie bands ever. Fans of Pablo Honey, The Holy Bible, and The Clash might find something to love here.
2003: Songdog: “Days of Armageddon” [from Haiku]
Morgans’ puts plenty of young men playing with the dark and cerebral in cringing shade. This has poise like Cohen, Brel, Cave and Larry Clark combined. Pay tribute at “a bombed out burger king” with your muse in the gutter.
2004: The Futureheads: “Le Garage” [from The Futureheads]
I spent far too many minutes walking around San Diego State University with this band’s eponymous debut on my headphones. The title track features all the embodying elements of their genius. It chugs and harmonizes like a North Eastern Clash, exploding punctually with a compact mass of tune in capitals.
2005: Why Lout?: “Stay off the Kane (The Emily Kane Mix)” [from It’s Been Time]
Take the most heartfelt of Eddy Argos’ Art Brut tributes, and watch Marvin the Martian and co. home in on the paranoia and unhinged elements beneath. This is my favourite UK hip hop track ever. Hear “school kids on the bus screaming out your name.”
2006: Smokers Die Younger: “Tom Lee” [from X Wants the Meat]
A good band actually named a song after me. Thee SPC (the label which released the Long Blondes’ first single) signings Smokers Die Younger have a bassist who used to work in retail hell with me. Consequently, they were nice enough to title this slab of shattered euphoria in my name. Having been assured it has nothing to do with me aside from the keyboard wailing element, I’m deeply flattered rather than disturbed.