The Ting Tings: The definitive incarnation of the modern band?

25 02 2012

This week in a blaze of confusing controversy, The Ting Ting’s are back for a belated second album. You will remember them, of course as the duo behind the charmingly irksome number 1 single That’s Not My Name and the ipod advert theme, Shut Up and Let Me Go, both of which spawned from their 2008 album We Started Nothing.

Originally written after their previous band collapsed, and they were chucked from their record label, We Started Nothing is a delightfully bratty, catchy record, pitched midway between Punk and 80s pop.  It was an enourmous hit, mainly on the back of That’s Not My Name (which started life as a b-side, but a push from the NME, and airplay on Radio 1 got it a proper release) and for a summer at least, their songs seemed to soundtrack every advert.

Fast forward two years, and they release an apparently “low key” single, produced by hitmaker Calvin Harris, which gets  Radio 1 playlisted, but still only makes number 28 in the charts. The Ting Tings were apparently annoyed, and deleted all the things they were working on, things the record company were apparently quite keen on. Read the rest of this entry »

Discography Guide: The Beatles Solo Years 1970-80

22 01 2012

Everyone knows that together, The Beatles were largely brilliant. Apart? Like so many bands that followed in their wake, they were sporodically brilliant, but never reached the consistant level that they had done together. The Beatles break up was hardly acrimonious, and there are plenty of veiled (and otherwise in the case of John) references to one another over the course of the following ten years. If you don’t really know anything about the solo work, there is some great stuff, but you have to be careful, because some of it, as we shall see, is a real mess.


In 1970, Paul released McCartney, and in the press for the album officially announced what the music press already suspected (George and John had already got their albums out)  that The Beatles had broken up, like Bryan Adams in the Summer of 69. This incensed John as it was he who had left the group, but it did him a favour in a way, as it briefly turned public view against Macca for breaking up the world’s biggest band. His first solo effort is an enjoyably low-fi affair, featuring some of his genuinely great work – Maybe I’m Amazed stands up to anything he ever recorded. Every Night is also great and deals with him being at a loss as to what to do post-Beatles. Most of the rest of the songs are thumbnail sketches of his love for The Lovely Linda.

By contrast, George released All Things Must Pass, a gigantic triple album which finally got rid of all the songs he had been building up over the previous five years stuck behind John and Paul in the Beatle queue. It is (largely needless third record aside) a masterpiece, with Phil Spector on production duty it sounded even bigger than its triple status suggests. Wah-Wah directly referenced the argument with Paul from Let it Be, while My Sweet Lord and What is Life happily sit among the best things he ever wrote.

If George was relieved to be out of the Beatles so he could do his own thing, John was angry about various things. He had entered Primal Scream therapy, which informed his first solo album Plastic Ono Band (officially titled John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band because it realeased alongside a Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band) a shouty masterwork railing against absolutely everything, from childhood abandonment (Mother) The Beatles (God) and his supposed roots (Working Class Hero). It is absolutely astonishing, a bold move for someone exiting the biggest pop band of all time.

Ringo meanwhile, just wanted to “do songs me mam wanted to hear” and so released Sentimental Journey a collection of his various family members favourite songs. Its a nice gesture really, and lovely for what it is. Perhaps all the Beatles solo albums sum up their respective personalities to some degree, and none more than Ringo’s. He is stood outside a pub on the front cover too, which probably is making as much of a statement as George sat by those three garden gnomes on the cover of his. He managed to get a second album out before the year was out Beaucoups of Blues, a country album (think Act Naturally or What Goes On), which is surprisingly enjoyable. It was however a commercial failure (even in America where country music is beloved) and so Ringo turned back to the movies for the time being.  Read the rest of this entry »

Now That’s What I Call Music

21 01 2012

Part of the fun of doing this Pop Encyclopedia is being able to look back and view things in context. It is easy to look back see the full story of say, Ghost Town, because you are looking back from a historical point of view. This is all well and good, but pop music is pretty much about the moment. For me, nothing, except maybe Top of the Pops, defines this immediacy of pop music in the way that the Now That’s What I Call Music series of albums does. Now doesn’t care about context. It does not care if you are beginning a career that is going to change music forever, or if you are clearly a novelty that will be forgotten about in months.  It is “just” a collection of all the big hits from the moment, providing endless perfect snapshots of any moment in music at any time.

The Now series is now up to 80, and although I have not bought one in well over a decade, it pleases me that it is still going strong. Everybody remembers their first Now (mine was Now 43) and if you go back to your first one – or any of the ones you played over and over – as an adult, you feel a wave of nostalgia as two songs that really could never be placed together in any other context (Now 48 for example followed Papa Roach with Planet Funk). You will remember endless pop songs that history perhaps hasn’t been so kind to, because they didn’t have a big influence, even though they were inescapable at the time.

They are also the perfect “in” for teenagers, and I feel for any teen who didn’t at some point get a Now album. When you first discover music, you don’t really care about the context, about the genre’s or anything, you just either like, or dislike the music – Now collects everything in the way that a teenager just discovering the thrill of pop music does. Read the rest of this entry »

Moments: Ghost Town goes to No 1

18 01 2012

One of the most of the extraordinary chart-toppers if all time, The Specials masterpiece, Ghost Town has been wheeled out a lot in the last few years, be it because of global recession, or last summers riots in London (and elsewhere). It remains a prescient a damning indictment of government, of elements of youth culture and of the far-right, but if it remains appropriate 21 years after its release, that is nothing to how it summed up how it was to live in the UK  in 1981.

Yet Ghost Town was The Specials swansong, just two years after their début single, Gangsters. The band had fallen to pieces, and Ghost Town was a final chance to make something coherent, and they couldn’t have picked a better statement.

The Specials had formed in Coventry in 1977, but really found their identity after supporting The Clash (Joe Strummer was an early supporter of the group) where a member of  fellow support band Suicide had been beaten up by members of the National Front, at that point on a mission to disrupt as much of society as possible. The band realised they had to make music to unite these people – a curious mix of the hippie and punk aesthetics.  Read the rest of this entry »

Artist: The Beatles

15 01 2012

What is there left to write about The Beatles? What can one say that hasn’t been analyised, written about, over studied, filmed, or pondered on before? Looking at my own bookshelf, I can see that I own a book on every possible angle on the group. I have books spanning their entire careers (from the coffee-table sized Ten Years That Shook The World to the song-by-song Revolution in the Head) perspectives from the boys themselves (George’s I Me Mine and Paul gives as close as he’ll ever get in Many Years From Now), books focusing on one particular album (be it Get Back or Revolution, about the White Album) haigiographies (Strawberry Fields Forever, the inevitable cash in book from after Lennon died) and quite the reverse (The Lives of John Lennon, in which Albert Goldman just about stops himself short of accusing John Lennon of actually killing JFK in order to ensure the Beatles popularity, but pillors him for everything else). That isn’t even the half of it either, not to mention the infinite Beatle-related books that I haven’t read.

And obviously it doesn’t stop at books – endless documentaries (whether sanctioned by The Beatles themselves with Anthology or otherwise) their own films, interviews, parodies and so on and so on. There is unlikely to ever be a band quite so extensively talked about, and written about as The Beatles. The reason is simple – between 1963 and 1970 they produced some of the best pop music anyone will ever hear anywhere ever.

It is important not to forget about the music when talking about The Beatles. They were in the right place at the right time to invent and influence a hell of music history, but so were many bands. If they were merely “important”, you wouldn’t care, more important than their importance to music history is that they wrote some really really good music.  Read the rest of this entry »

Discography Guide: Madonna (Part Two)

14 01 2012

This is part two of my complete guide to Madonna’s albums. Part One you can find right here. 

Ray of Light (1998)

Coming off the back of Erotica and Bedtime Stories, Madonna was, perhaps for the first time out of…erm, vogue with pop music on mass. She followed Bedtime Stories with a compilation album of classy ballads (Something To Remember) which did point at what she was listening to at least, with a Massive Attack collaboration opening the album. She then did Evita, which provided her with Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and You Must Love Me, both top ten hits. Two years of radio silence followed Evita, and it has been quite a while since a proper new album, and arguably as far back as 1989 since a great Madonna album.

Ray of Light is a big, bold, brilliant comeback album. Produced by William Orbit (Madonna is always at her best with a great producer to offset her) Ray of Light is a million miles from Bedtime Stories, and perhaps everything else she had done up to that point – despite previous attempts this is her smartest, most grown up record.

She certainly took some risks with it – despite having the obvious hit single of the title track lying around, she chose to announce her return with Frozen, a six minute, broken hearted trip-hop song. It was a masterstroke, it reached No 1 in the UK, and No 2 in the US. Madonna was well and truly back.  Read the rest of this entry »

Discography Guide: Madonna (Part One)

13 01 2012

As an alternative to the in-depth profiles of an artist, for long established artists I may do these posts which are just about the music (man), going through each album to give you reccomendations on what to buy and what to avoid like an unholy plague. I’ll probably end up doing in depth profiles of these artists as well, at a later date. I’m kicking off with Madonna, mainly because she has just announced she has named her new on MDNA, and it will be out in March, and I’m quite excited. 


Madonna Aka Madonna The First Album (1983)

Apparently, after her début single, Everybody (the closing track on her first album), people didn’t even realise Madonna was white (she doesn’t appear on the single’s sleeve), which seems quaint and inconceivable after years of her being an impossibly big pop phenomena. Proof then, that everyone has to start somewhere, and for Madonna it was here, a pop-disco album which of artists that were around at the same time, most calls to mind Prince (who had just made a real break for the mainstream the year before with his 1999), so perhaps it is little wonder people thought that maybe she was black.

Madonna herself is apparently not entirely satisfied with the album, as its too reliant on disco, and she wasn’t in complete control. It used then top-of-the-range synths and drum machines, which all the contemporary reviews comment make it state of the art, but of course mean that it very much now sounds like an album made very much in 1983. But the music wins out, and although Madonna would craft better pop songs later, there are some exquisite tunes here. Read the rest of this entry »

Artists: Milli Vanilli

12 01 2012

In a way, Milli Vannili was always going to happen. A pop band who famously didn’t sing on any of their own records, the music industry’s most interesting con.

Milli Vanilli was, or appeared to be Rob Pilatus. the illegitimate son of an American GI in Germany, and Fab Morvan born in France. Two good looking guys who could dance, they fronted the group that briefly in the 1980s were an enormous phenomona, (in)famously picking up a Grammy Award for best new act.

The question about who Milli Vannilli really were of course can be argued endlessly, but the essential point is this – despite appearences for a good couple of years, Rob and Fab never sang on any of their own records, they just mimed at concerts, took the credit and racked up the hits.

Its probably impossible to imagine now, perhaps because we are more cynical about pop bands, perhaps because of the Milli Vanilli affair. It is a shame it is not possible to separate them from the scandal, but in truth it is the scandal that secures their place in the history of pop music.  Read the rest of this entry »

Moments: The Smiths Play This Charming Man on TOTP

9 01 2012

When Johnny Marr was a kid, he watched Top of the Pops, that then-immovable baramoter of the nation’s music taste, saw T.Rex play Metal Guru, and so filled with energy from the performance, he rode on his bike for miles and miles before realising he was completely lost. 11 years later he was providing a new generation their own moment to lose themselves to.

On the face of it, is surprising that The Smiths first (of 11, and Morrissey would return to the show 11 more times as a solo artist) performance on Top of the Pops is so revered and regarded, in fact on the face of it, it isn’t even a performance at all, the thing is mimed.

Perhaps the reason that it spoke to a generation (everyone from Nicky Wire to Noel Gallagher have cited it) is how joyful it is. Morrissey’s stated intention was to “bring some life to Top of the Pops”, and he certainly does that. Eschewing a microphone as everyone knew they were miming anyway, it a moment of sheer joy, matching the effervescence of the record, with balloons, flowers and and Morrissey having fun with his audience. Indeed if you ever wanted proof that The Smiths were more than the miserablists that they are often written off as, you would only need to show them this video.  Read the rest of this entry »

Artists: The Jesus And Mary Chain

8 01 2012

Alex Kapornokos from Franz Ferdinand once said that there are only ever about three bands from each decade who really matter. If that is true, then one of three from the 1980s is certainly The Jesus and Mary Chain, a band endless imitated, but rarely matched.

In fact it is probably fair to say that pretty much every British guitar album over the following twenty years owes its biggest debt to either The Smiths The Queen is Dead or The JAMC’s Psychocandy. The two albums came out within eight months of each other – the Mary Chain’s début arriving first in late 1985, The Smiths most enduring album arriving in June 1986. They divided the music press in two.

JAMC were made up of two brothers, William and Jim Reid. In their earliest, most celebrated incarnation they also features Bobby Gillespie (later the Primal Scream frontman) on drums. Their early shows were thrilling, punk affairs, often lasting only 20 minutes and causing riots.  Read the rest of this entry »