Mystery Music March in April

Having spent the best part of a month mostly talking about music I genuinely do like, it seems only fair to inflict some utter rubbish on myself and write about that too. Taking a glance at my mp3 player, I now have enough music on here that it would take over fifty days listening non-stop to get through it all, my entire cd collection. Logically I really should delete the music I don’t like; I've certainly ferreted and filleted already with everything from Simply Red to the Traci Lords album (don’t ask) heading towards the recycling bin.

But there are some tracks which, despite making me scream I just can’t part with. Sometimes they're the early work by artists who turned a corner or rubbish versions of favourite songs or in one case below my own petty annoyance with a single aspect. So even though I can almost hear them festering on there, as though the binary ones and zeros within them might have the ability to melt my hard drive like acid, I'm risking disaster through retention.

We Built This Starbucks On Heart and Soul – Jefferson Starbucks

The original Starship version was my favourite song ever when I was eight years old, just as every song was my favourite song ever if it was getting enough airplay on the local radio station. Now, I’m really not so sure, but it's certainly superior to this corporate reworking created for what they called a ‘leadership conference’ and leaked onto the internet. It’s the kind of work which has the power to make you like your favourite coffee chain just a little bit less each time you hear it.

Two weedy vocalists over a disappointing backing track pass the ethos of the company on to its employees without irony and with horrid, demoralising lyrics such as ‘So many partners / working late at night / living the ways of being / in the green apron look’, a totalitarian message, that knocks on for five whole minutes and blows the impression Starbucks wants us to have of their shops being a comfortable regular third place to be with staff that are our friends.

Reason for keeping: It’s horrendous but hilarious. I’ve started going to Costa Coffee. That fantastic image was borrowed from here.

Big Yellow Taxi (Traffic Jam Mix) – Joni Mitchell

In case you can’t see me right now, I’m putting up my hands in the universal sign of ‘Hold on a minute let me explain’. This isn’t the version you know, from her album Ladies of the Canyon. That’s gorgeous, a beautiful depiction of the destruction city developers continue to wrought on nature. It’s also, you’ll notice, not the cover version by Counting Crows featuring Vanessa Carlton’s ‘um-bap-bap-baps’ which though corporate still has just enough soul to commemorate the original. No, my approbation is reserved for the anodyne, put the vocals and a bunch of clichéd samples into a computer and press a button remix version that appears on the first soundtrack to the sitcom Friends.

I loved Friends and I largely quite liked this album which also features such luminaries as KD Lang, Lou Reed, The Pretenders and Toad The West Sprocket in all their unmessedaboutwith glory. Yet, the producers also include this indigestible slab of chopped liver, Joni’s vocal being chased around a parking lot by the kind of backing track which sounds as though it was made up from the demo version of the old eJay software. How ironic that this song about the ruination of beauty should be subject to this kind of cultural vandalism and appear on an album dedicated to songs about six people living in a big city.

Reason for keeping: Fades out into the moment in Friends when Phoebe sings ‘I made a man with eyes of coal / and a smile so bewitching / how was I supposed to know / my mom was dead in the kitchen’. The soundtrack everyone really wanted was ‘Phoebe sings…’ I think.

Goldberg Variations – Glenn Gould

Bit of a difficult choice because one of my access points to classical music was François Girard’s film Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, a biography of the pianist which thematic took ideas from this his most famous recording. It’s undoubtedly a work of genius, both in composer and performer, the two married perfectly and particularly brilliant in the opening aria so beloved of European filmmakers and Woody Allen. Here’s the problem: what critics tactfully call his ‘singing’.

Gould wasn’t a quiet pianist and on this recording of Bach's masterwork, he grunts, breaths, sighs and indeed hums his way through the tunes, the microphone close by picking up his humanity as well as the sound of the piano, essentially everything that would be inaudible in a concert hall. Since Gould gave up playing live, eventually the only way to enjoy his virtuosity was on tape and vinyl, audio interference included, and it’s a distraction that’s sometimes hard to take. A company recently released a computer generated recording which mimicked Gould’s finger work but filtered out his other performing. Critics welcomed it with open arms. There’s a lesson there.

Reason for keeping: It is still Gould playing the Goldberg Variations. It just depends how tolerant I’m feeling on that day.

Real World – Alanis Morissette

I’ve written endlessly about Alanis in the past, eagerly awaiting each new album, even though in my heart of hearts I could be paraphrasing Sickboy from Trainspotting – ‘Jagged Little Pill was a mere peak in an otherwise downward spiral’. Nothing’s been quite as indispensable as that opening salvo and yet mostly loveable and I’m still desperate to hear what her next album Flavors of Entanglement (despite the title), especially after the My Humps cover. Except. Pill was not her first record, no matter how many Best New Artist awards she might have been nominated for and won. Her first two records, released in the very early nineties were Canada only releases and clearly influenced by the likes of Tiffany and particularly Debbie Gibson, only, um, not as good. They might sold reasonably well, giving Morissette the impetuous to move to LA and try again, but they’re nearly impossible to listen to.

The second platinum selling album, Now Is The Time, is doubly dispiriting because she was a co-writer but there’s not a single real emotion throughout. This opening track, an Electric Youth knock-off, begins with a chant ‘We play the game with determination / We don't give a dam 'bout our reputation baby / It's not a game, it's a revelation / Step inside the real world / The real world...yeah yeah yeah... The real world...yeah...” which is about as lyrically complex as it gets. The rest sounds like a London Boy’s seminal Requiem rendered by a Pat Benitar impersonator, with Alanis’s vocal betraying an overbearing producer’s interference. She told Rolling Stone in 1995 that wasn’t “scared (that) people might hear these records. I never did Playboy centerfolds. There's nothing I regret. Maybe people will just understand my lyrics a little more if they hear those records.” Indeed.

Reason for keeping: It’s always good to be reminded of where your favourite musicians came from because it makes their later work seem even better (see also Shelby Lynne before I Am Shelby Lynne) and it cost me fifteen pounds on ebay. A decade later Alanis considered including a couple of her Canadians on her greatest hits compilation but decided against it on the grounds that she only really became an artist when she met Glen Ballard, the Pill producer. To be honest anything here would have been better than the clichéd cover version of Seal’s Crazy which did appear on The Collection. Recorded for a Gap commercial and considered acceptable enough to be released as a single, the video for this opus which actually ‘borrowed’ the twist ending from the promo of Smack My Bitch Up. Great. Perhaps I should have included that instead.

Always Look On The Bright Side of Life (radio edit) – Eric Idle

Because a single word makes all the difference. When Liverpool Football Club last won some European tournament, the city centre filled with people, live footage of the area around St. George’s Hall featuring shoulder-to-shoulder supporters awaiting the arrival of the bus, cup and players. In one voice they sang not only You’ll Never Walk Alone but also in a surreal twist Always Look On The Bright Side of Life which, I think, has become the theme song of the football fan, warming the cockles as each potential defeat beckons. As that lyric loomed I was on the edge of my seat, thousands of people shouting the s-word in one voice. And sure enough, there it was, in all its broadcast glory, with no Ofcom apology forthcoming.

Except they were clearly singing along to this radio edit, blasting out from loudspeakers, rerecorded by Idle on the back of its airplay on Simon Mayo’s Radio One Show in ’91 and totally ignoring the replacement of ‘shit’ for ‘spit’ in the line ‘Life’s a piece of ****, when you look at it’. Radio Edits are entirely understandable – we still live in a world were swearing isn’t acceptable in the afternoons and if that means that the vocal silences in some R&B sonically cripples them, so be it. Except in this case, it sounds like a censor too far. Spoils the record. Even in the early nineties, and entirely pointless on the single release which these days would have welcomed a ‘Parental Advisor’ label and especially since, he inconsistently says ‘bugger’ at the beginning of the fade out. The song is the theme song for a satire about organised religion after all.

Reason for keeping: In this rerecord, Idle slots in some solid new Python material during that fade out ‘It’s nearly the end of the record. You’ll be announcing another tune in a minute. Alright so your wife’s just run off with an Argentinean polo player. OK, so your husband just decamped with a baby sitter – and he’s from Norway. Alright so your team’s lost 15-0 to Barnett. It’s not the end of the world is it?’

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