The Not Contractually Obligated Top Ten Of 2012

December 31, 2012

Now that I’ve wasted so much time here establishing a few traditions, I’d be remiss to honor not them…

Almost every artist in the history of mankind has at least one title in their catalog that is a compilation, a stopgap collection meant to maintain interest between releases (often to boost holiday sales) or to fulfill a contractual obligation.

This is the former, a chance to make use, one more time, of a lot of wasted time over the past twelve months.

Four years ago, I reflected on the annual, childhood tradition of spending New Year’s Day with a half dozen blank cassettes as Q102 played back the Top 102 songs of the previous year.

So, as 2012 begins its fade into a speck in the rear-view mirror, here are the most popular songs that appeared here during the past year…

10. The Beautiful South – Everybody’s Talkin
from Carry On Up The Charts (1994)
If It’s December, It Must Be Christmas

“On one of the however hundred or so cable channels, NBC is airing It’s A Wonderful Life.”

9. Billy Squier – Everybody Wants You
from Emotions In Motion (1982)
October 2, 1982

“At some point last year, I started a semi-regular tradition of pulling up a Hot 100 chart from Billboard magazine and dissecting the debut songs for a given week in the early ’80s (when I was first listening to music and most familiar with Top 40 radio).”

8. Townes Van Zandt – Dead Flowers
from The Big Lebowski soundtrack (1998)
“Am I the only one around here who gives a @#%! about the rules?”

“I know that Walter Sobcheck does, indeed, give a @#%! about them. He was willing to send Smokey into “a world of pain” for a foot foul in The Big Lebowski.”

7. David Bowie/Pat Metheney Group – This Is Not America
from The Falcon And The Snowman soundtrack (1985)
February 2, 1985

“In early 1985, the shift in my musical interests, which had been evolving and changing in fits and starts for a couple years, was ongoing.”

6. Eye To Eye – Nice Girls
from Eye To Eye (1982)
May 22, 1982

“As I opt to periodically do – when I have no other viable or unviable ideas – it’s time to pull up an old Billboard magazine Hot 100 chart and note the songs that debuted that week.”

5. The Monkees- (Theme From) The Monkees
from The Best Of The Monkees (2003)
The Monkees And Me

“I suppose that for someone as fascinated by primates, both of the skyscraper-climbing and planet-ruling sort, as I apparently am, The Monkees should be a favorite band for, if nothing else, their name.”

4. Altered Images – I Could Be Happy
from Pinky Blue (1982)

“I keep seeing some television commercial, touting some MMA bout. With bagpipes blaring over fight footage, some participant is in the frame spouting Irish proverbs in an accent that I’m not quite sure is Irish or Scottish.”

3. John Stewart (with Stevie Nicks) – Gold
from Bombs Away Dream Babies (1979)
Andrew Burt – Or Someone Else – In 2012

“The candidates have not yet formally been nominated and I am already fatigued by the quadrennial excercise in slapstick that is the presidential election.”

2. The Nails – 88 Lines About 44 Women
from Mood Swing (1984)
Cheese, Crackers And The Voigt-Kampff Test

“Having had a reaction due to the ingestion of a certain plant-based substance, I once rampaged my way through several boxes of crackers, leading my housemates to dub me ‘Cracker Vacuum.'”

1. The Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town
from The Dream Academy (1985)
Ah Hey Oh Ma Ma Ma…

“In the last few days, I’ve rediscovered the music of The Dream Academy, a band which I had loved and forgotten (despite owning all three of their albums).”

Ah Hey Oh Ma Ma Ma…*

January 8, 2012

In the last few days, I’ve rediscovered the music of The Dream Academy, a band which I had loved and forgotten (despite owning all three of their albums).

Few bands have been more aptly named. Paisley as could be, pictures of the classically-schooled trio made me think of the early ‘70s television series The Mod Squad.

(barely walking in tadpole pajamas during that show’s run, I vaguely remember being somewhat transfixed by Peggy Lipton)

And if the name The Dream Academy is unfamiliar…if you were listening to radio in the autumn of 1985, you likely know their song Life In A Northern Town (see here for a very cool performance by them on Saturday Night Live).

That song was pretty much all that most listeners ever heard from The Dream Academy which is unfortunate. I’ve always considered them to be a sadly overlooked act of the ‘80s and felt that, under different circumstances, they could have had more success.

(what those circumstances might be, I don’t know).

The group split after releasing their third album, A Different Kind Of Weather, in 1991 and for years their catalog was unavailable aside from pricey Japanese imports (of course, all Japanese imports tend to be pricey).

Curious about what lead singer Nick Laird-Clowes had been up to during the past decade and a half, I did a bit of research. He has been doing music, but another detail caused me to take notice.

Supposedly, he had fallen into serious drug addiction and, to become sober, he had sequestered himself in a monastery in the Himalayas.

Whether it is true or not, I have no idea. I do know that given their music and their style, if one band would have a member that would seek respite from drug addiction with Tibetan monks, it would certainly have been The Dream Academy.

It was just their vibe.

Here’s the song that made The Dream Academy a one-hit wonder and four more from their brief existence…

The Dream Academy – Life In A Northern Town
from The Dream Academy (1985)

I remember hearing Life In A Northern Town on 97X amidst Talking Heads, Peter Gabriel, and The Suburbs and immediately taking notice. The tribute to the late Nick Drake, produced by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour, was so striking.

By the time they chanted the first ah-hey-oh, ma-ma-ma…I was hooked and, twenty-five years later, I still never tire of the song.

The Dream Academy – The Edge Of Forever
from The Dream Academy (1985)

Aside from Life In A Northern Town, The Dream Academy has achieved a measure of immortality for The Edge Of Forever as the wide-eyed song plays during the kiss between Ferris and Sloan at the end of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The Dream Academy – This World
from The Dream Academy (1985)

This World is a song of lost innocence as dark as it is pretty (and it is very pretty).

The Dream Academy – Here
from Remembrance Days (1987)

As the members of The Dream Academy were classically trained musicians, there are a lot of flutes and such accenting much of their music. Here is simple and lush, building to a crescendo.

The Dream Academy – Love
from A Different Kind Of Weather (1991)

There are some folks who might consider covering John Lennon to be sacrilege, but his music has made for some inspired covers over the years (Marianne Faithfull’s take on Working Class Hero springs to mind).

The Dream Academy do an admirable version of Love, making it a joyous, trip-hop tinged, chant-filled romp.

A Postcard From Paris

July 10, 2010

I wouldn’t have the slightest idea when it was that I last received a postcard.

I’d have even less idea the last time that I sent one.

I do remember purchasing several postcards at a small shop near Père Lachaise, the cemetery where Jim Morrison and a slew of other poets, writers, and such are buried in Paris. The postcards were shots of the iconic, graffiti-covered bust that once marked the Lizard King’s grave.

I’d intended to send them to friends – musicians and merely lovers of music – back in the States, but five or six days were not enough to eat baguettes, drink wine, and write missives on the back of postcards.

(I write very, very small, so it would be more work than it might seem)

Actually, I’ve never been blessed with discipline when it comes to scrawling thoughts onto postcards and actually mailing them.

(probably a reaction to my mom being a taskmasker when it came to the sending of postcards)

On summer vacations, we’d no sooner reach a hotel and step ‘cross the threshold of sweet air conditioning then my brother and I would be sitting at some hotel desk, hands straining, as we cranked out tidings to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and relatives we didn’t even know.

It was like being in the sweatshop for a public relations department of some Third World dictator.

Paloma brought home a postcard several weeks ago – depicting the scene above – that she had found on the sidewalk.

Sandy – who had sent the postcard – might have checked out Père Lachaise, but, if she did she wasn’t making a pilgrimage to Morrison’s grave.

The postcard is stamped 25 Avri ’62. Even with a limited grasp of French and math, I know that to be more than nine years before Morrison died.

There really isn’t much information provided by Sandy on that postcard to Helen Harding. “Of course,” she is “having a good time” and “the monuments are fabulous.”

There’s no mention of baguettes or wine.

But, she does happen to note that they’ll be home on Saturday.

Maybe she was angling for an airport pick-up from Helen.

Here are four songs that are postcards from Paris…

Rosanne Cash – Sleeping In Paris
from The Wheel

I know that a lot of folks consider Interiors, the album before The Wheel, to be Rosanne Cash’s masterpiece (not that a listener could go wrong with much in her catalog).

I’ve always been a bigger fan of the latter (especially for the heartbreaking, opening salvo of The Wheel and Seventh Avenue) and the gentle Sleeping In Paris is simply gorgeous.

Kate St. John – Paris Skies
from Indescribable Night

Those who read liner notes with an eagle’s eye might recognize the classically-trained Kate St. John as a member of the ’80s trio The Dream Academy who notched a memorable hit with the hypnotic Life In A Northern Town.

A good half decade after that band’s split, St. John issued her debut, Indescribable Night, and the delicate, cabaret-pop of Paris Skies sounds like an evening in the City Of Lights.

Shane MacGowan & The Popes – A Mexican Funeral In Paris
from The Snake

Four years after receiving his pink slip from The Pogues, legendary songwriter Shane MacGowan issued the first album fronting his new band, The Popes. Like his work with his previous band, The Snake fused raucous rock with traditional Irish folk music into a delirious brew.

A Mexican Funeral In Paris is a disjointed affair, punctuated by some manic saxophone and a sunny brass section, that tells the tale – more or less – of a band of ne’er-do-wells splitting up the spoils of a heist at the titular event.

Beth Orton – Paris Train
from Daybreaker

I’ve made the trip from London to Paris by train a few times and its a fantastic journey from one major capitol to another in four hours, but it is a bit strange to consider that a portion of the trek is spent under the waters of the channel.

I’ve also spent time riding The Metro, the subway system of Paris, which, compared to The Tube in London isn’t quite as sterile and has a bit more grit and character.

As for Beth Orton’s Paris Train, it’s dreamy and hypnotic and it no more than ends than I’m inclined to hit repeat.