Audio taken from the tape used for language study to accompany the examples in the Dennis Freeborn book:
Of course, lists like this are by their nature highly tendentious and indicative of their creator’s own biases and prejudices, but I think they are for that reason even more important. Collective pulse-taking is one thing, but I’ve read enough collated lists of the best of 2013 to feel that a huge number of songs that moved me, made me think, or provoked me to artistic jealousy (which I sometimes think is the only real indicator of talent) have been overlooked.
For that reason, I have made no real effort to represent what was popular – although there are a few of the top-selling songs and artists of the year here. I hope I haven’t tried to represent the underrepresented too much, either; that seems to me equally heinous. In short, I’ve listened to the shortlisted songs over and over and, for me, they just stand out. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: 2013 was a great year for music.
I’ve included some information in brackets which might need explaining. Here’s the key: (COUNTRY; single chart position (or album, if preceded by ‘LP’, if the single either did not chart or was not released separately. If the chart position was not listed on UK/US national charts, I’ve included the initials of the independent chart it featured in.) For the also-rans, the songs that I didn’t quite love as much or think other people would love as much, I’ve only included the geographical information.
1. My Number – Foals (ENG, UK; #20)
2. Oh Yeah – Foxygen (CA, US; LP Billboard #76)
3. Heavy Feet – Local Natives (LA, US; LP #58)
4. Interstellar Lady (Pleiadian Love Song) – Hammered Satin (LA, US)
5. Don’t Lie – Vampire Weekend (NY, US; LP #3)
6. Rip Van Winkle – Shannon and the Clams (CN, US; LP CNJ #19)
7. Jobseeker – Sleaford Mods (ENG, UK)
Brain to Recorder – Light Heat (PA, US)
Even When The Water’s Cold – !!! (CA, US)
Sacrilege – Yeah Yeah Yeahs (NY, US)
Send the Night – The Walking Sticks (MD, US)
Permanent Hesitation – Born Ruffian (CAN)
Toe Cutter/Thumb Buster – Thee Oh Sees ( CA, US)
All The Lights Went Out In Georgia – Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen) (CA, US)
Your Life Your Call – Junip (SWD)
Mercenary Man – Her Royal Harness (NOR/ENG, UK)
Little Black Dress – One Direction (ENG, UK)
Right Action – Franz Ferdinand (SCO, UK)
Hear No Evil – Black Pus (NJ/NY, US)
1. Lonely Whistle Call – The Last Hurrah (NOR)
2. San Francisco – Foxygen (CA, US; LP Billboard #76)
3. Grammy (Soulja Boy cover) – Purity Ring (CAN)
4. Growing Like A Garden – Shotgun Jimmie (CAN)
The Bell – Villagers (IRE)
Big Red Dragon – Little Green Cars (IRE)
Hang on to Life – Ariel Pink & Jorge Elbrecht (CA, US)
Idol – Smith Westerns (IL, US)
Line of Fire – Junip (SWD)
Retrograde – James Blake (ENG, UK)
Fall For You – Young Galaxy (CAN)
Safe – Trwbador (WAL, UK)
Someone’s Got A Secret (Sean Nicholas Savage cover) – Eola (CA, US)
What Is Love (Haddaway cover) – Flutes (SCO, UK)
From the Top of this Thing – We/Or/Me (IL, US)
He’s Taken My Feet – Sam Amidon (VT, US)
1. Last of Our Kinds – Yuksek (ft. Oh Land) (FRN/DN; #200)
2. Merry Go ’Round – Kacey Musgraves (TX, US; LP # 39)
3. Blurred Lines – Robin Thicke (US/CAN; #1)
4. The Reason I Live – Rizzle Kicks (ENG, UK; LP #3)
5. A Summer Thing – Cayucas (CN, US; Billboard Top Independent Albums LP #43)
6. All Night – Icona Pop (SWD; #31)
7. Gun – Chvrches (SCO, UK; #55)
8. Pusher Love Girl – Justin Timberlake (TN, US; LP #1)
Give It 2 U (ft. Kendrick Lamar) – Robin Thicke (NY, US)
I’m Out (ft. Nicki Minaj) – Ciara (TX, US)
Recover – Chvrches (SCO)
All You’re Waiting For – Classixx (CA, US)
Lose To Win – Fantasia (NC, US)
Dance & Rap
1. Get Lucky (Radio Edit) – Daft Punk (FRN; #1 for 4 wks)
2. Tongues – Joywave (ft. Kopps) (NY, US)
3. You – Bibio (ENG, UK)
4. Somewhere in America – Jay-Z (NY, US; LP #1)
5. Bipp – Sophie (ENG, UK)
6. Doin’ It Right – Daft Punk (ft. Panda Bear) (FRN; LP #1 for 2 wks)
7. Rap God – Eminem (MI, US; #5)
Cliché – Hey Champ (IL, US)
SuperLove – The Victorias (SWD)
No Use – Indian Summer (AUS)
Swine – Lady Gaga (NY, US)
Niggaz Know – J. Cole (NC, US)
Default – Atoms for Peace (CA, US)
Cada Vez Más Cerca – Maria Magdalena (CHI)
1. Casa De Preto (Electric version by Alex Sant’Anna) – Naurêa (BRZ)
2. Make Me Lovely – Laura Mvula (ENG, UK; LP #9)
Among the Sef (Righteous II) – Colin Stetson (CAN)
Bedroom Story – Jimi Tenor (FIN)
Lambada de Oceanía, África y América (eran un mismo continente) – Piraña (AUS)
Read My Mind (Killers cover) – Leif Vollebekk (CAN)
State of Grace – Little Annie (ft. Baby Dee) (NY, US)
Willie’s Lady (Child 6) – Anaïs Mitchell & Jefferson Hamer (VT, US)
Cissus – David Byrne & St. Vincent (NY/OKL)
Sorry, no downloads or links to mp3s here. However, here are the sites that kept me musically up-to-date this year, without which a good number of these choices would have been missed:
|1. Said the Gramophone||You know how everyone has that friend whose music taste they implicitly trust? Well, this site is a proxy for that.
|2. Nevver||Perfect simplicity in concept and execution: each post consists of a tune and a still from a film.
|3. GORILLA VS. BEAR||Texan hipster blog.
|4. Fluxblog||The original mp3 blog and still one of the best.
|5. La.Ga.Sta.||Music blog with high-octane dance leanings. Good for remixes.
|6. Jazz nel pomeriggio||Italian jazz blog. Tasteful selections.
|7. 17 Seconds||New music blog based in Edinburgh.
Went a bit over the top this year and threw on a few more Christmas-related obscurities. Enjoy!
|Winter Wonderland||Chico Hamilton|
|The Carol Singers (Thomas Sterndale Bennett)||Benjamin Luxon & David Willison, p.|
|Once In Royal David’s City||The Lower Lights|
|Christmas Eve Can Kill You||Everly Brothers|
|Stop Giving Me Crap for Christ||Bobby Gaylor|
|Riu Chiu (Studio Version) – The Monkees – 1967||The Monkees|
|God Rest You, Merry Gentlemen – Gray Mann||Gary Mann|
|I Want a Present for Christmas||J.B. Summers And Doc Bagby Orchestra|
|Silent Night – The Dickies – 1978||The Dickies|
A fourth instalment in our series of mismatched musical menageries. We start with Katy Perry on a cimbalom, swing by some funk flute, and pass the time of day with a jazz oboe, before hearing how Hendrix would sound on the gaida (Bulgarian bagpipes). (Really, really, cool is how.)
|California Gurls||Glava Trio||(cimbalom)|
|Let Me Call You Sweetheart||Oliver Hardy||(tuba)|
|Ashes To Ashes||The String Quartet||(string quartet)|
|Two for Two||John McLaughlin||(electric guitar)|
|Gloaming||Ludovic Decosne/Pierre Daubresse||(flutes)|
|Blue Skies||The World’s Smallest Saxophone Quartet||(saxophones)|
|Queen Bohemian Rhapsody (Old School Computer Remix)||bd594||(computers)|
|Trouble In Mind||Cannonball Adderley Sextet||(oboe)|
|Spaced||Gil Evans||(slide guitar)|
|Purple Haze||Svetlyo Zhilev||(gaida)|
|Harp Boogie – with Joe Marsala||Adele Girard Trio||(harp)|
|The Silent Boatman||Parliament||(bagpipes)|
|Lift him up, that’s all||Washington Phillips||(chord-zither & celestaphone)|
There is no use in speaking of vivid passages when one comes to Henry Green; there is not a line of his which isn’t. But the book I’m going to quote from, Pack My Bag (a memoir written with palpable terror at the thought of his own extinction in 1939) is not among my favourite books of his.
It may be more approachable than the novels, but I had to read for a long time before I encountered something as candid and glorious as this paragraph:
Going to what we now know as a night club in London with a friend is a serious thing. The band should be coloured, the room dark, we should be tired and not so sober as to be afraid to tell the truth but not so drunk as to be incapable of lying. For dance music well played has come to be a sort of blood transfusion I need at least once a week. More than that, since interest in what goes on about us has been sharpened by the fear of death and we have been left less sure than ever of anything except the extraordinary behaviour of acquaintances and friends, discussing these is the exchange we can have in the kind of forcing house a night club will always be, and the indiscretions, the lies which give the truth away, all this so far as I can tell is what goes to make up the bargain basement of the store our lives now are, in the receiver’s hands. That is we are not to be bought and sold but as I see it people are taking a last look round. Picking, fingering, saying good-bye to what they could use to drape their hearts where everyone now wears his in the stress of the times, on his sleeve, not naked as hearts will be when the war comes, still covered but in a kind of strip-tease with rapidly changing, always fewer and ever more diaphanous clothes; in this way, in such places anyone can divest himself of one more protective covering and in exchange turn over another’s discarded skin cast between his hands.
The following is an extract from Al Bowlly’s book (yes, I know: who knew he wrote a book?) Modern Style Singing (published in 1935).
Most things that are new come in for a lot of abuse. Especially if they are new art forms. Even to call them “art forms” is enough to rouse the ire of the thoroughly hardbitten diehards.
And of all the many innovations of the past few years “crooning” has had directed at it the most derision and content. Before we go any further with this book I would like to deal with this attitude, because until the reader really understands the reasons for it, and the answer to it, he is likely to suffer from some kind of inferiority complex – to feel that the ambition to become a singer in the mdern microphone style is something shameful and unmanly.
The very word ‘microphone’ supplies the whole answer. It is this simple electrical device which gave rise to the whole art of “crooning,” brought into being hosts of new artists, and immeasurably widened the scope of the entertainment profession.
Let us pause for a moment to examine this word “crooning.” It is a horrible expression, and I use it only because there seems to be nothing else. It is associated with all the unpleasant, smeary, wobbling vocalisms that one ever heard. It is perhaps unnecessary to say that modern microphone singing, even of popular dance tunes, need not be like that.
Different dictionaries give varying definitions, although none of them is up-to-date enough to define it as “quiet singing into a microphone, in the modern dance-band style.” Their efforts vary between “a low moaning sound, as of animals in pain” to “the soft singing of a mother to her child.”
Neither of these is very complementary, but at least the former supplied a new joke for hard-up humorists!
It is generally accepted as being a sign of weakness, I am well aware, to offer a defense when no specific attack has been made, but never the less there have been so many general attacks on this type of singing, and so few defenses of it, that I feel justified in entering the lists.
The microphone brought into being, and sometimes into very prominent being, a whole host of singers who otherwise would never have been heard. There were many performers whose untrained voices, although naturally sweet and pleasing, were not strong enough for the public platform. To these the microphone was more than kind and gave them the power, with the turn of a switch, to drown the most brazen-lunged quasi-operatic singer who ever shook the rafters.
This angered the diehards. “A poor kind of singer is this,” they said scornfully, “who has to call in artificial aids before he can be heard!”
But that seems to me to be a poor argument. It is as logical to say “a poor kind of star is that which cannot be seen without a telescope!”
Confronted with that simile, the anti-crooner usually changes his point of attack. “How can you call these people singers,” he insists, “if they have never been taught to sing, know nothing about voice production, and less about diction?”
To which the answer is that if a crooner produces a sound which is unpleasing, and distorts his words beyond recognition, he will not be a success, even as a crooner.
Most crooners are untrained in the first principles of singing and enunciation; more’s the pity. But it must be admitted.
But whose is the fault? Who is it who has the knowledge to teach these “natural singers” (for that is what they are) where and how to breath, how to pronounce their consonants and vowels, how to phrase, how to sing in their best register, how to control their vibrato, reduce their portamento, and free them of all the annoying tricks which ignorance and inexperience bring?
The legitimate singers and teachers, of course. But they will not. “No,” they say, “you learn to sing our way or not at all!”
And so the crooner continues in his errors, sneered at by just the very people who could help him most. There is no possible way for a singer to learn to sing in the modern microphone style. There is no school which caters for it, no recognised teachers, the musical colleges are just contemptuous, and this, so far as I know, is the first book which has ever been written on the subject.
Is it any wonder, then, that most crooners are dreadful? Yes, I readily admit it. But then, are not most “straight” singers, judged by the highest standards in their own sphere, also dreadful? Is all music bad because a bad café band plays it badly? Indeed no.
There are crooners who produce beautiful sounds with their voices. Surely this undeniable? Their singing may not be academic, but it is often intensely pleasing, and unquestionably gives pleasure to millions.
What more can be asked of singing than that?
And perhaps the most evocative use of a song I can think of is when Bowlly’s Midnight, the Stars and You is used in Kubrick’s The Shining. (If you’ve not seen it, this clip might be a bit of a spoiler. It also might just be a bit meaningless. But probably kind of enjoyable too.)