Monday, 28 January 2013

The Last 10 AAA Songs Listed Alphabetically (News, Views and Music Issue 180 Top 10)

Here we are with a sequel to last week’s feature on the first 10 AAA songs listed alphabetically. What a cracker it was: we started off having ‘A Bad Night’ with Cat Stevens and ended up having ‘A Great Day For Freedom’ whilst in between covering the crashing chords of ‘A Day In The Life’ and enjoying ‘A Better Place’ with The Hollies. What could possibly compete with that lot? Well this lot, possibly, the last 10 AAA songs if you list them alphabetically (discounting ampersands, numbers, brackets and funny squiggles anyway), starting with ‘Y’ and running all the way up to ‘Z’! What surprises me is how many ‘lasts’ these songs represent in more ways than just the alphabet...(is there some sub-conscious nedd to use the last two letters of the alphabet to express goodbyes and signifigant endings? Or have I simply goner monkeynuts again?...) Hold on to your seats, record collecting doesn’t get more anorakky than this...

“Your Loving Flame” (Paul McCartney, ‘Driving Rain’ 2001)

There are, approximately, 2000 AAA albums out there (almost as many as there are stars in...well...a small patch of sky) so the odds of having the same album crop up twice in the same list seem pretty low. However this is the first of two entries by Paul McCartney’s ‘Driving Rain’ album for which Macca must have had songs beginning with ‘Y’ on his mind. This song is a classic piano ballad, the highlight of the album and by far the best song out of the handful Paul wrote for second wife Heather Mills. Intriguingly the piano chords are subtlety similar to ‘My Love’, his song for Linda and the lyrics are similarly dodgy (well, less ‘inspired’ than the music anyway) but the tune is one of those ‘sounds like its been around for five generations’ McCartney classics. The song was reportedly written in a hotel room in America who – hearing that they had a famous musicians staying with them – got the porters to bust their backs lugging a grand piano up to Paul’s suite ‘just in case’ any music happened while he was there. The medical bills were well worth it – this is arguably the last 100% classic of the McCartney canon to date.

“Your Mind Has Left Your Body” (Paul Kantner, Grace Slick and David Freiberg, ‘Baron Von Tollbooth And The Chrome Nun’ 1973)

A track from the last and most obscure record out of the Kantner/Slick solo spin off trilogy, this album came out pretty close to the release date for ‘Dragonfly’ the first Jefferson Starship record where all three musicians were on a real creative roll. This is a Kantner song, less political than his others for the record and recounting either a dream or a drug-induced stupor where nothing is what we think it is. Sleepy, slow and ominous, it’s an atmospheric highlight of a record that’s been ignored by Airplane fans for far too long. Kantner and Freiberg (once of ‘Quicksilver Messenger Service’) were never better, adding a bass rumble over which Grace simply soars. It’s a shame that the three of them never made another album and that indeed Freiberg will be all but silenced creatively by the time of Starship’s third LP with a split between Kantner and Slick already surfacing by the following year. Another song that’s more or less the last 100% classic Jefferson moment (well, except for ‘Dragonfly’ and some of the songs on Grace’s ‘Dreams’ LP anyway) but at the time was just one jewel among many.

“Your One And Only Man” (Otis Redding, ‘The Great Otis Redding Sings Soul Ballads’ 1965)

One of my favourite Otis songs, this is a groovy beat ballad which plays to all of Otis’ strengths: a lyric he can get his teeth into, an expressive vocal line that’s filled with tonnes of emotion but a slightly more subtle and muted backing than usual that enhances the realism of the song. This song from Otis’ second record ‘Soul Ballads’ is one of the singer’s own songs and it fits him like a glove, giving him a chance to get more and more emotional as the song winds out of control, only to slap back down to earth with an unexpected bump. There’s a neat early use of minor keys, too, that Otis was only beginning to use near the end of his career but it suits the singer well, his typical ‘Mr Pitiful’ character determined to break through every obstacle in his path to be with the one he loves.

“Your Possible Pasts” (Pink Floyd, ‘The Final Cut’ 1983)

How different the lives of all of us might have been with just a few accidental mist-steps down the road of life. For Roger Waters they flutter behind his main character for his final Floyd album (the teacher from ‘The Wall’, revealed to be a scarred war victim from WW2) ‘some bright-eyed and crazy, some scattered and lost’, warning his future to ‘take care’. This simple, emotional man is hardened by the battles he experienced in his youth and its left him unable to express love ort feeling, something that in turn he passes on to the unfortunate kids of the 1940s and 50s in his care. How different his life could have been had he not experienced death and injuries on such a scale; how different the pupils’ lives might have been without such an evil presence bullying them through their formative years. All this leaves The Teacher an unhappy but believable, coming home from a hard day’s corporal punishment to bark at his wife ‘do you think we should be closer?’, fighting his way past everyone in life because that’s how he’s been told to behave. One of the more thoughtful songs from ‘The Final Cut’, a rollercoaster stop-start ride that’s difficult to listen to but highly revealing about the characters within.

“Your Way” (Paul McCartney, ‘Driving Rain’ 2001)

‘Driving Rain’ is back on this list again with a sweet acoustic love song that was also written for Heather Mills. The opening bass descend while the guitar stretches upwards is an old McCartney trick (Wings used it a lot, especially on their first few B-sides) and the bouncy tune is very Macca, although the pedal steel is a nice, new sound to add to the mix. The lyrics are slightly deeper than they sound on first hearing too, the sound of a character used to getting his own way bowing before the might of a bossy power and accepting that for the sake of the relationship its better to ‘lose’ a few battles to win the war (thus making this song perhaps the best description of the brief Macca-Mills relationship). Unfortunately the song doesn’t really know where to go after its strong beginning and the song simply repeats itself therein, ending up on an uncomfortable chorus (‘Your way is mine, your way is right, your way is mine tonight’).

“Yours Truly, Confused, N10” (Ray Davies, single, 2008)

Ray Davies has been a grumpy old man since at least the age of 23. ‘Where Have All The Good Times Gone?’ is not the sort of song most youngsters from the 1960s thought to write and yet Ray wasn’t fooled by the talk of hippies and utopias (you only need to hear the very last Kinks song ‘Did Ya?’ from 1993 to see how little he thought of music’ greatest decade). However even the 1960s seem like paradise compared to the then-present of 2008, a world that’s gone mad and is obsessed by celebrities, has an ignorant media full of rampaging spin doctors, where politicians act as terrorists and where crime is so rife that no one cares about their fellow human beings any more. Ray’s narrator is distraught, writing this song as an ‘open letter’ to the press getting more and more passionate with every verse while the unexpected return of a brass section (for the first time since 1975) gives the song a traditional basis quite at odds with the noise overdubbed on top. Relegated to an EP and later a ‘bonus’ track on a solo best-of, this song is one of Ray’s best in years, a logical conclusion to the last 45 years of songwriting. The postcode, by the way, is one for ‘Muswell Hill’, the area of London in which Ray (and Dave) were born although at the time this song was released the elder Davies brother had been living in America for some time. Probably for good reason given some of the comments made in the song.

“Yvonne’s The One” (10cc/Paul McCartney, ‘Mirror Mirror’ 1995)

Fans of both artists forget that for a time Paul McCartney and 10cc’s Eric Stewart were best buddies and writing partners. They weren’t together that long (their album ‘Press To Play’ was received really poorly by press and fans who should know better – its actually one of Paul’s best five LPs and the pair had a falling out over whether Eric should ‘engineer’ the record as he had with 10cc) but still hit a rich vein of magic, some of which was still being recycled by the time of an ill-fated 10cc reunion in the 1990s (when Eric and Graham Gouldmann were ‘forced’ back into working together after their record company decided they still owed two more albums). Paul never released his version of the song, which is a great shame – its a catchy pop song with one of Macca’s best ever middle eights ful of regret and longing which has only ever appeared on bootleg and is probably the best single song in the McCartney canon yet to be released now that ‘A Love For You’ finally came out in 2012). 10cc’s later version is horrible by comparison, sped up and with a reggae limp for backing that seems at odds with the song’s good humour and sweet memories. Given the fact that the album was made at short notice (allegedly with Eric and Graham working in separate studios) you can understand why the song was revived, but why not stick to the original arrangement – Paul sang it in lovely falsetto on the original which is a good near-match for Eric’s own voice. Sadly this Yvonne really isn’t the one, but the first ‘demo’ version of the song is.

“Zilch” (The Monkees, ‘Headquarters’ 1967)

‘Mr Dobelina, Mr Bob Dobelina...China Clipper Calling Alameta...Never mind the furthermore the plea is self defence...It is of my opinion that the people are intending...Chickens...Elepehants...Zilch!’ If that isn’t the single weirdest lyric in the whole of the AAA canon then, well, I’m a spice girl (‘Writealot Spice’ how does that sound?) but it all seemed to make more sense back in 1967 when psychedelia was in the air and The Monkees caught the bug more than most. This song’s parent LP ‘Headquarters’ is a fascinating cornucopia of every sound available in March 1967 from pop songs to protest to rock to country, but it’s in the little segues (this song and ‘Band 6’) where the band’s humour and personality come through in an attempt to add more of ‘themselves’ into a record they were also writing, producing and playing on for the first time. All the phrases were ‘in-jokes’, overheard by the band on their world tour and cobbled together in a sort of low budget version of The Beatles’ ‘Revolution 9’, though quite why the band used ‘zilch’ as a title (slang for ‘zero’) is anyone’s guess!

“Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” (The Hollies, ‘The Hollies’ compilation, 1985)

Yes, we really do mean the Disney track from ‘Song Of The South’. And yes, you’re right, that is a strange choice for a song which might be why it sat on a shelf at Abbey Road for some 20 years before being revived for a compilation. Actually, it’s pretty good, the song being revved up beat style with some superb drumming from Bobby Elliott and a throat-tearing vocal from Allan Clarke and Graham Nash that even makes lines about bluebirds sitting on shoulders sound like they are urgent and important. The Hollies had a thing about ‘birds’ at the time (no not that sort!) also recording ‘Rockin’ Robin’ in the same period.

“Zor and Zam” (The Monkees, ‘The Birds, The Bees and The Monkees’ 1968)

We return to The Monkees for our final song – and what a song it is folks! Betrayal, Royalty, wars, hatred and revenge, with two brothers going to battle over some minor falling out and expecting the citizens they ruled over to give up their lives for the cause. The song was written by Bill Chadwick (a Monkee audtionee himself who worked for a time as Micky’s stand in in the TV series) and was written as the title song for an animated TV series that sadly never happened (they’d probably have struggled to come up with plots every week but on the basis of this one song alone it would have been fab!) Micky (the real one that is) was rarely better than on this song, a perfect two minute miniature masterpiece where the citizens revolt in the name of love and peace, leaving the two kings of the title reflecting on their loss of power and status. They held a war – and nobody came.

And that really is that folks, the Alan’s Album Archive canon literally from ‘A’ to ‘Z’ in two compact weeks (although you’ll have to view the other 280 odd issues and counting to read about the songs in between!) We’ll have another dozen songs or so for you to read about next week in our usual review section – till then, so long for another week and see you soon!

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