Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Top 10 Discopop Singles of the Year

Hello! I'm back... and it's time for the annual countdown of my top 10 singles of the year.

It's been a weird 12 months for the singles' chart, with a pretty high turnover of quality songs at number one (Basshunter's Now You're Gone was the only real stinker).

This presents something of a problem for my top 10. Usually, one record stands head and shoulders above the rest as my favourite track of the year - but this time round it's a pretty even field. The chart is compiled using my iTunes play count, and I've done my best to make sure recent tracks get a fair placing. This involves the application of maths - I knew I'd find a use for it one day.

The downside of this system is that I've had to leave Sex On Fire off the list, because I only realised how awesome the Kings Of Leon were about three weeks ago. Shame on me.

1) Goldfrapp - A&E

Goldfrapp ushered in their new acoustic incarnation with this - the prettiest song ever recorded about attempting suicide. True, the middle eight is a bit muddy and the video was a load of nonsense, but the song rose above it all like a dove of peace soaring into the twilight sky. After slitting its throat.

2) Estelle - American Boy

Home to Kanye West's most inspired lyric of 2008: "Dressed up like a London bloke / Before he speak, his suit bespoke". Awesome, even if it nicked the backing track wholesale from a album track.

3) Janet Jackson - Feedback

Heralding what should have been Janet's big comeback, this ended up being the only single released from her underperforming Discipline album. But what a single - three minutes of thumping electronic pop, with those trademark Jackson harmonies and a stonking space cadet video. We'll politely ignore the lyric about her menstrual cycle, though.

4) Goldfrapp - Caravan Girl

The third single from Seventh Tree, this was the moment when Goldfrapp stopped being all spooky and sinister and set off for a Summer Holiday with Cliff Richard. "We'll run away, we'll run away you and me," sang Alison accompanied, for no good reason, by a 12-piece choir. A highlight of their live shows, the only problem with Caravan Girl is that it fades out at least three minutes too early.

5) Girls Aloud - The Promise

I'm actually surprised at how high this has reached. It's certainly not my favourite Girls Aloud song ever (Biology, in case you're interested) but it seems to be the public's - The Promise is still in the top 20 four months after it was released. Hitching a ride on the 1960s bandwagon, the band played to their strengths by channelling the Shangri-Las instead of Aretha Franklin. Now, if only they'd cover Leader Of The Pack.

6) Elbow - One Day Like This

AKA The one that should have been number three. More emotionally honest and joyful than any other single released in 2008, Guy Garvey's tale of domestic bliss is one of those songs that will soundtrack montages of great sporting moments for the rest of your life. But don't let that put you off. Here's their triumphant Glastonbury performance as proof of how life-affirmingly brilliant this song is.

7) Lykke Li - Breaking It Up

With its music hall piano, children's choir and deranged woman shouting down her absent boyfriend through a megaphone - this should have been an almighty mess. But, no, it was one of the most infectiously bouncy, unselfconciously quirky pop songs of the year. Nice remixes, too.

8) Duffy - Mercy

Judging by her performances at the end of the year, even Duffy got bored of this song. But come back to it in six months' time and you'll realise what a timeless piece of pop writing it really is - from the yeah, yeah, yeahs to the cheeky guitar twang that announces the arrival of the final chorus.

9) Elbow - Grounds For Divorce

You know, the one that goes woah-oh-woah-oh-woah-oh-woah-oh-woah-ah-oh-aooooh.

10) Dizzee Rascal ft Calvin Harris - Dance Wiv Me

I've always thought Dizzee Rascal's "unique" rapping style makes him sound like Zed out of the Police Academy films, thereby lending his attempts to chat up some bird on the dancefloor an unintended air of slapstick comedy. Still, you can't argue with that bassline (it's a non-sentient musical concept, you idiot) and even Calvin Harris's singing isn't all that bad. This acoustic version is enormously awesome, by the way:

So that's that. Tell me what your top 10 was in the comments box (or pop in a link to your own blog countdown, if you have one). The albums list comes next...

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Crimbo!

Right, this'll be the last post before I return from my Christmas hols in the magical Winter Wonderland that is Rochdale. Hope Santa brings you everything you asked for, particularly if you asked for the Ladyhawke album or a brand new Domino Rally set.

In the meantime, here's some Christmassy and not-so-Christmassy reading material to tide you over.

:: The writers behind Mistletoe & Wine, Fairytale Of New York and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day reveal how the songs came about - and how much they get paid in royalties every year.

:: Meanwhile, The Guardian interviews a bunch of people who are mentioned in pop songs - including the man/woman who inspired Walk On The Wild Side and the record company executive namechecked in Enya's Orinoco Flow (?!)

:: Just because The Killers film all of their videos in a desert, and Alexandra Burke's budget only stretches as far as buying 50 candles from Poundstore, it doesn't mean the music video is a creatively bankrupt medium. Here's Spin Magazine's list of the year's best ones, which skillfully includes Bert and Ernie's Ante Up lipdub.

:: Speaking of Alexandra Burke, her recording of Hallelujah is approximately the 1,298,388,515th version of the song. Test your knowledge of the others in a quiz I wrote last week.

:: Best bit telly from the last week - Tom Chambers and Camilla "dial her up" Dallerup performing a showdance to If My Friends Could See me Now, from the musical Sweet Charity, in the grand final of Strictly Come Dancing

:: Worst bit of telly from the last week - Girls Aloud slaughter The Loving Kind live on GMTV. Particularly noteworthy is Sarah's bum note at 3:50. Even Cheryl cringes.

:: The Onion lists its worst films of 2008. Bizarrely, it doesn't include The Love Guru.

:: Goldfrapp say they're starting work on a new album. Best. News. Ever.

:: Pedants unite - here's a Wikipedia list of common misconceptions, which debunks so-called facts like "your hair and fingernails continue to grow after you die", and "Gordon Brown says he's a fan of the Arctic Monkeys" (he actually prefers Last Shadow Puppets, fact fans).

:: And, finally, the now-customary silly pet videos.

Number one: Christmas cats

Number two: Dog going mental

Happy bloody Christmas to you all.

Love and mince pies,

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Friday, December 19, 2008

A Christmas gift from Prince

Prince demanded the presence of Los Angeles radio station Indie 103 at his miniature purple house earlier this week, because he wanted to play them his new album.

One thing led to another, and the tiny tyke decided to let them premiere four of the tracks on Steve "Sex Pistols" Jones' show. And, if you missed it going out live, you can still catch the programme the station's website (scroll almost to the bottom of the page and select the ultra-low-quality audio stream for 18th December).

The first track is a cover of Tommy James & the Shondells’ Crimson & Clover which, for no good reason, incorporates the "Baby, I think I love you - but I want to know for sure" bit of The Troggs' Wild Thing. It uses a very similar guitar sound to Purple Rain, and ends with one of Prince's best solos since 1995's Gold Experience. In other words, it's really good.

Second track, Colonized Mind, is a lugubrious bluesy jam with Prince bitching about "The Man" "stealing" from "artists". We get the message - he's not a big fan of record companies. According to Steve Jones, Prince is looking for a way to release this record without the help of a major multinational corporation. Would it be churlish to suggest he offered it as a download - a bit like he used to before he threw all his toys out of the internet pram?? Probably, yes.

Track three, Wall Of Berlin, kicks off with a slamming drum beat and Prince asking "where am I?" It's more upbeat and playful than the previous two tracks - with the chorus punning "she gets down like the wall of Berlin". But the verses are stupidly verbose - with phrases like "galaxy of monumental delight" and "parallel hologram copyright". In the final analysis, it’s all a bit awkward and cheesy.

Finally comes 4ever, a lush, piano-led ballad with a big old choir on the chorus. Like the other tracks, it sees Prince unleash an impassioned guitar solo towards the end - but it doesn't save the song from being one of those by-numbers pop/gospel numbers he's been turning out for the last decade.

It'd be great if Prince could stick to the rockier template of the first two songs and turn out a late-period classic. But I think even his biggest fans are resigned to the fact that every future Prince album will feature two barnstorming rock-outs alongside a tonnage of mediocre nonense.

Still, Steve Jones' co-host Mr Shovel suggested the finished album would be released in conjunction with a "coupla shows" - and if there's one area in which Prince still excels, it's in concert.

Maybe we'll finally get to see him at Glasto in 2009? Because that would be totally awesome.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Credible Christmas songs pt II

If you like your singer-songwriters female and fragile, then you're in for a treat: Here are Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles performing their new duet Winter Song on US TV:

Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles - Winter Song

Poor Ingrid, she can't even afford a full-size guitar...

The song is from a compilation CD from hipster LA music venue Hotel Cafe, which also features Fiona Apple doing Frosty The Snowman (awesome) and Katy Perry slurring her way through White Christmas (excruciating).

Infuriatingly, it's not available in the UK. In fact, the copyright restrictions are so severe you can't even watch the cute Youtube animation that accompanies Winter Song if you're outside the US... Although you can see a really poor quality version of it on the People website.

I thought this was the season of sharing and goodwill to all men?

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The worst singles of 2008

Our annual totally unbiased rundown of the top ten singles and albums of the year is due between Christmas and 2009 - but here's something new: Five terrible singles from the last 12 months - chosen with extreme prejudice and complete subjectivity. Stinkers, the lot of them.

Duffy - Rain On Your Parade

Clearly a cast-off from the Rockferry recording sessions, this was repackaged as a single to promote the "special" edition of Duffy's album. Still, even that wasn't as cynical as the video's attempt to rebrand Duffy as a sex symbol (She gets her legs out! She's absolutely in her 20s and anyone who says otherwise is just jealous! Your dad definitely would!) They should have released Distant Dreamer instead.

Blackout Crew - Put A Donk On It

Amazingly, this song is not intended to be a joke.

Sugababes - Girls

The Sugababes spend a lot of time prattling on about how they're the "credible alternative" to Girls Aloud and other pop acts. So why did they base this single on a ropey sample from a commercial for a high street chemists? Because they wanted to have a number one. It backfired. Ha!

Avenue - Last Goodbye

Dear Universal Music Group: If you are going to spend a lot of time and effort "reinventing" the boyband, it would be best not to rely on all the clichés that seemed hackneyed in 1999 (There's a pretty-but-sexually-ambiguous one! There's a bit of rough! There's two who can dance! And a minger on the piano! They'll appeal to teenage girls and the gays!). Thank you, bye bye.

Beyoncé - Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)

Okay, it's not that bad - but I had to do something to counter Rolling Stone, who named it the best single of the year. What a load of old guff.

:: Agree? Disagree? Put your nominations in the comments box!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Simon Cowell: Cheryl's more popular than me

He's not bitter, honest:

Speaking of the X Factor, thank goodness Alexandra won. It's not like the world was clamouring for another One True Voice, is it?

I particularly liked that she came up with a dance routine for the world's least danceable song, Hallelujah. You can join in at home with this handy guide:

It goes like this...

The fourth

The fifth

The minor fall

The major lift


See the whole, tear-soaked lovefest below:

Alexandra Burke - Hallelujah

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Lily Allen covers Womanizer

This is just brilliant - a piano-led, timpani-banging reworking of Britney's most recent number one. Despite the lack of trumpets, it sounds like a Mark Ronson production (even though he swore off cover versions?)

Actually, given that Mark introduces it - and that it premiered on his radio show - I'd say it's definitely a Mark Ronson production. Either way: 10/10.

Lily Allen - Womanizer

:: MP3 available on the Stereogum website

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Alesha Dixon video: Breathe Slow

It's the all-important second single for Alesha, whose album has only managed to get to number 26 in the charts (boooo!).

She's gone for a ballad, called Breathe Slow, written by Danish producers Soulshock & Karlin. It's not a million miles away from their previous work on Jamelia's Thank You and Something About You. In fact, it's just around the corner having a latte in Starbucks.

Sadly, that Starbucks is situated on Not Nearly As Catchy Avenue (they have really weird town planners in Denmark), and the whole thing is a bit boring.

Still, the padded bra Alesha wears in the video is totally awesome.

Alesha Dixon - Breathe Slow

PS: I highly recommend that you watch this interview with Alesha. But beware, it's totally filthy - and I'm not just talking about Alesha's laugh.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Typography-based videos (wait, come back!)

That new Jay-Z song I mentioned earlier this week now has a video... in which a portrait of Jay-Z is slowly created out of the letters that make up the word Brooklyn.

Jay-Z ft Santogold - Brooklyn Go Hard

In the realms of music videos that use typography, it is not as good as this fan effort for Ben Folds' Zak and Sarah:

Ben Folds - Zak and Sarah

But it's a vast improvement on Prince's Alphabet Street which, because Prince is a supreme douchebag, you can't watch online unless you go to this website. Here's a screenshot, anyway.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's still number one... Sort of

Wooo! I just stumbled across the recording of the Christmas edition of Top Of The Pops (it's only bloody back!).

How did I find out about this momentous recording? Because I had just finished buying a sandwich in BBC Television Centre when I turned round and walked into Mark Owen and his hat.

As often happens in these situations I thought, "I work here, I recognise this person's face, therefore I know this person". So I said hello. Mark very politely sang a greeting back to me. I like to think of it as our personal "moment".

Anyway, I stalked the band into studio 3 and watched them run through Greatest Day, which was suitably amazing. In between takes, Gary Barlow revealed he'd been "on t'internet" to look up how many times Take That had been on TOTP - a grand total of 67! The rest of the band were suitably incredulous at this figure. Mark suggested it included clips and repeats. Jason ventured that it included solo appearances by Robbie Williams - "which makes it sixty-six times for Robbie and one for us".


Anyway, the programme looks like it'll be a good'un. Duffy and McFly also performed, and the line-up is also supposed to include Girls Aloud and Leona Lewis. Hopefully, unlike the so-called "last ever" TOTP, they'll make it down to the studio, rather than replying on some ropey old taped performance.

Which makes me think: Maybe I should go and get another sandwich?

Take That - Pray (TOTP)

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Little Boots - really rather good

Attention! You have approximately three weeks to familiarise yourself with Little Boots before everybody and their grandmother's fishmonger names her the most promising new act of 2009.

In fact, it's already started: MTV and the BBC have got her down as one to watch in the new year. Plus, "bloggers" (what are they?) have been writing about for months, which is a sure sign of success. Just ask Tapes 'N Tapes.

In brief, Little Boots is a new-wave Blondie type with a pancake stack of pop tunes and a critical head of steam. Like Ladyhawke, then, but with better PR.

Here she is on Jools Holland playing a piano, a stylophone and a tenori-on [flashing synthesiser thing we wrote about in 2006] all at the same time! Amazing.

Little Boots - Meddle

If you want to get closer to the artist formerly known as (poshness alert!) Victoria Hesketh, go and check out her website, where she films herself playing cover versions in a tiny little flat. The current one is Wham's Last Christmas and it's guaranteed to warm your cockles. Or twatles if you're that way "inclined".

Little Boots - Last Christmas

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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Jay-Z, Santogold and Orangutans

If you're even slightly urban, you haven't made it until Jay-Z calls and asks for a hook-up. In the last 12 months alone, he's recorded with TI, L'il Wayne, Young Jeezy, Mariah Carey, MIA, Rihanna and, er, Coldplay…

The latest act to be anointed by the hova is Santogold - who crops up on a track called Brooklyn Go Hard. Produced by Kanye West, it features on the soundtrack to the forthcoming Biggie Smalls biopic, Notorious. Oh, and it kicks a$$.

The best bit is the chanted hook that spells out the name of Biggie and Jay-Z's hometown:
Come again?

The worst bit is a couplet that seems to be about shooting orangutans(?) - but nobody on the internet seems to be able to decipher it properly. These are the best two efforts:

Before you know it I'm in the game, bang fidith
Fit no orangutans piddeals ciddaps like orange's I'm dangerous

Music Lovers Group
Before u know it, I’m in the game. Bang! Fiddeth!
feel no orangutans peel-deel kid-aps
like a ranger is, i’m dangerous

You can try to work it out for yourself on, which has the full track. Enjoy!

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Monday, December 8, 2008

New music: Asa

Actually, I'm not sure whether this counts as a fresh discovery or not... I heard it on Trevor Nelson's excellent Radio 2 show last week and, while he said it was a new release, Wikipedia reckons it came out in 2007.

Either way, the song is superb. It's called No-one Knows and it's by Asa (pronounced Asha) - born in Paris, raised in Nigeria, styled by Lauren Hill. She sings in both the West African dialect Yoruba and English, producing a funkyreggaesoul sound that's not a million miles away from Corrine Bailey Rae (in fact, Leeds and Lagos are only about 3,200 miles apart).

Her album is already out, but I'm guessing it's going to get a renewed push in 2009, given that Nelson was "bigging her up" on Radio 2.

Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd type.

Asa - No-one Knows

Asa - No-one Knows (acoustic on Jools Holland)

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Harry Hill on Britney Spears on the X Factor

It's funny because it's true:

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Girls Aloud video: The Loving Kind

If you've ever wanted to see Cheryl Cole dressed as Wonder Woman, here is your chance:

Cheryl Cole / Wonder Woman

Like The Promise, this is an atypically expensive Girls Aloud video, although it wastes the opportunity to make a full kitchen sink mope-fest presented by Neil Tenant's evocative lyrics. Nadine looks gorgeous, though, so I'm kind of alright with that.

The song itself has had a bit of a tweak to make it sound better on the radio - but it'll be interesting to see how it fares chartwise. On the one hand, it's very much in the mould of Call The Shots, which is one of the band's biggest-selling singles. On the other, it's a bit of a grower, so it might need a few weeks of radio play before the chorus lodges itself in your head.

Girls Aloud - The Loving Kind

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Lily Allen's single "in full"

Hark at this: Lily Allen has just released a tarted up version of a song previously known as I Don't Know [we originally wrote about it in April] and declared it'll be the first single off of her second album, It's Not Me, It's You.

The track, now called The Fear, is exceptionally good - vintage Lily, in fact. But what's really interesting is how her record label, Parlophone, put an audio version on Youtube (youtube) at the same time as the single received its radio premiere, essentially cutting off the pirates at source (there are only two other versions of the song on Youtube, and they're of noticeably poorer quality).

Even better, the record company has ensured that they get some official artwork, information about release dates, and links to album pre-orders embedded alongside the clip on blogs everywhere. It's almost as if they've worked out how the internet can be used to promote music, just short of the tenth anniversary of Napster.

Awww, bless.

Lily Allen - The Fear

In case you missed it, here's an exhaustive first review of Lily's new album, courtesy of Popjustice.

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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Poetry corner - with the Saturdays

Back in June,we saw The Saturdays supporting Girls Aloud. They spent a long time (nearly 15 seconds) telling us how they'd recorded an amazing ballad, and promised to perform it straight away. We assumed the person pressing "play" on their DAT machine had cued up the wrong track, because the chorus of the subsequent song went like this:

Me And my heart we got issues
Don't know if I should hate you or miss you
Damn, I wish that I could resist you
Can't decide if I should slap you or kiss you,
Me and my heart we got Issues, Issues, Issues
(We got Issues, Issues, Issues)

Terrbile, isn't it? It's almost as if someone randomly stuck a pin in a rhyming dictionary and wrote a song with whatever words turned up.

Here's our attempt:

I have a pile of old tissues
They're all covered in make-up like Kiss use
Once, I had a wee in a Swiss loo
And a stranger asked me 'Miss, can I fist you?'
He was a fan of drug misuse, misuse, misuse
(Of drug misuse, misuse, misuse)

But can you do better? Put your version in the comments box. Here is a video for the song to help you with scansion and meter.

The Saturdays - Issues

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Monday, December 1, 2008

80s revival continues apace

This year, the 1980s music revival has given us Ladyhawke (Cyndi Lauper), Keane (Nik Kershaw), The Saturdays (Bananarama), Adele (Alison Moyet) and Kylie Minogue (Kylie Minogue).

So far, so good. But what about all those miserable electro-goth rock bands? Who is representing them?

Step up White Lies, who are The Cult, Joy Division and Depeche Mode all rolled up into one long cigarette of dark. Enjoy!

White Lies - To Lose Me Life

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