Ten Songs by Gareth Spark

For me, music…song…has been more than a solace. These songs are magic spells, able to bring back dead days and friends and afternoons and the eyes of that one you loved, and lost, and the heat of a summer on the back of your neck on a beach you’ll never see again. They are incantations that invoke not only the bitter sweetness of nostalgia, but hopes that the crazy days, the whisky-stained and heartsick riotous days, might come again, and that somewhere in the routine beating you down, the drums are pounding, the bass is thumping alongside your heart and, man, that guitar don’t weep, it screams.

1/
Today by the Smashing Pumpkins

That riff takes me back twenty years to the dust and cigarette butts littering the long, long sun broken streets of Whitby in high summer. To a bunch of kids sitting in torn jeans and patchwork shirts stinking of joss sticks and menthols, looking out into the blue afternoon at a future that would be the greatest thing they could ever imagine. The trembling guitar, Billy Corgan’s petulant adolescent whine, that silver ring of guitar against a cloud of distortion captures perfectly the idle, ignorant beauty of a teenaged dream.

2/
Stolen Car by Bruce Springsteen

It’s dark in that little house out on the edge of town; the chords are picked out with a heavy, relentless futility echoing the voice of the song, a lament for a love that faded like car headlights into a night you never thought would come, but which always was, just the same. Springsteen captures with such haunting simplicity the lives of ordinary men and women as they veer off the highway, into nothingness, and he never did it better than here.

3/
Copper head Road by Steve Earle

Nobody evokes the stink of diesel, smoke and steel quite like Steve Earle. From the opening chords to the hammer slam of the beat beneath his voice, you’re transported not just to that world of moonshiners, drug runners and fractured war vets, but into it. You feel the sweat and grime on the steering wheel as you run from the D.E.A. chopper; you smell that whisky burning up on the road and taste the bitterness of applejack, nicotine and blood. One of the greatest songs ever that does more in its few minutes than most novels are able in 500 something pages.

4/
The Devil’s Waitin’ by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

This song was a revelation; to use that phrase of Eliot’s, it communicates before it’s understood. We have war, definitely, prison, Jesus, the devil and judgement and it’s a potent brew. A singsong melody over an open tuned acoustic that could belong to any time, it’s man’s soul as a civil war that never ends. You taste gunpowder, hear the iron rattle of chains and just hope that drunken preacher in the next cell’s right with all that forgiveness talk.

5/
Dead Man’s Hands by Jerry Sword

If it hadn’t been for a B-movie of dubious quality, I would never have discovered this, a song that has meant more to me than perhaps any other. I found it stuck in the middle of the soundtrack, like gold in a handful of ash. For a long time I couldn’t find it and had to put the movie in, queue up the specific scene, just to listen. It’s genuinely haunting, with a sliding country riff moving between a shadow and the sun while the song’s narrator sings “I don’t know if there’s a heaven, but I’ll do everything I can….” It’s an amazingly beautiful song, filled with regret, longing, the dust-blown blue eyes of lost love, but with hope too…that maybe things you’ve lost don’t stay lost forever.

6/
Round Here by Counting Crows

I heard this song first 21 years ago and saying that so bluntly, yeah, it makes me feel antique, but I still remember the thrill of recognition in the song’s wistful longing. Its catalogue of souls grown desolate in the machinery of the world, still cling to the hope there is somebody out there who will understand, something we all hope at some point or another. I hear the guitar ring out, and it’s that afternoon again, walking in the black dust beside the rail lines and a river rainbow-stained with petrol, where I first heard it.

7/
Ruby’s Arms by Tom Waits

Possibly the saddest song ever written; a man’s leaving his love, because he knows he’ll always let her down; he climbs out into the rain and is so emotionally broken he can only concentrate on the tactile physical details of his world. Then, with the rain falling down on him he finally allows himself to feel “Jesus Christ, this goddamn rain, I’ll never kiss your lips again, or break your heart.” Perfect.

8/
It’s the end of the world as we know it by R.E.M.

It’s the combination of Michael Stipe’s scattershot zeitgeist capturing poetry and that pounding rhythm; it really could be the end of the world and we wouldn’t care. There’s a real anxiety here, but a hope too, the hope that you only find after an absolute resignation.

9/
Radioactive by Kings of Leon

Kings of Leon are one of those bands, when they’re off, they’re really off, but when they hit that golden driving power all great music has, there’s nobody better in the world. This is one of those songs, filled with the woodsmoke and beer stained beauty of the rural south; a song of some kind of redemption at the end of a red dust trail. Nobody does that better than these guys.

10/
Shenandoah (traditional)

My favourite song; a song of yearning for a home that might never have been but which you still feel the longing for; as old as the battlefield of Shiloh and as young as whatever’s topping the charts right now, a truly beautiful and timeless work, and like the best ballads, anonymous. The greatest art grows out of the conscience of a whole time, from somewhere deep and everlasting in the hearts and hopes of ordinary people toiling in the fading sunlight of history, and that’s what I hear whenever those first notes start; the longing for something we’ve lost.

Gareth SparkGareth Spark writes dark fiction from and about the moors and rustbelts of the North East where grudges are savoured, shotguns are cheap and people get by in the economic meltdown any way they can. His work has appeared at Near 2 The Knuckle, Out Of The Gutter, Deep Water Literary Journal and Shotgun Honey.

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Al’s Top 30 Albums Of All Time – No. 8

No. 8: Tom Waits – Rain Dogs (1985)

TomWaitsRainDogs

“Experimental” is an interesting word when it comes to describing music. For most, it implies some sort of new technology or new technique for creating music. Either that or the influence of some weird, left-field electronica artist who’d sold about fifteen records. David Bowie’s Berlin trilogy was experimental, so the readers of the music press in the late seventies were told, as was Paul’s Boutique-era Beastie Boys, as well as the most experimental record of the lifetime of my early-thirties generation, Radiohead’s Kid A. All of these records were recorded with ground-breaking studio routines, pushing music into a new sphere. None of them experimented by finding two chunks of debris in a junkyard, banging them together and, if it sounded good, recording it and calling it percussion.

Rain Dogs is the musical equivalent of a jumble sale. It is a bizarre smorgasbord of words and music in which nothing fits together and yet everything works. It is a phantasmagorical circus of a record that features manic polkas, deranged rumbas, heartbreaking ballads and Keith Richards. Your host is a man whose voice sounds like he has swallowed a cheese grater, barking and grizzling away as his guitarist tunes his strings to the tightest they can be without snapping.

Let’s start with the start. Singapore. A rattling sea-shanty that features some of the greatest twisting of the English language ever, a pre-cursor for the rest of the album. When the boys are told to heave away, you don’t even realise what instruments are playing, it’s just relentless pounding, and the line “making feet for children’s shoes” seems either Disney-esque, or profoundly disturbing. Clap Hands evokes the feeling of being engulfed by dense fog, and Cemetery Polka, with it’s hilarious/ludicrous couplets, is, apparently a song about families. “Uncle Bill will never leave a will, and the tumour is as big as an egg. He has a mistress, she’s Puerto Rican, and I heard she has a wooden leg.” Nice.

There are others here, on this, the most varied album ever. Jockey Full Of Bourbon is the best song on the album for me, it’s Latino shuffle and twang conjuring up detective movies, nursery rhymes and a guy who is “full of bourbon and can’t stand up.” It all seems so mysterious and dangerous, purple knives, broken cups and flamingos drinking from cocktail glasses sounds like nothing written down, but Waits whispers it to you in a way that seems both terrifying and completely intoxicating, like all the femme fatales in all the film noirs.

There are the jackhammer blues thumpers, Union Square is basically just a heavy smoker shouting in time to a groove so massive you could put your foot in it, and Big Black Mariah features Keith Richards on wrist-action guitar. Apparently Waits, a relatively unknown artist in 1985, had been asked in an interview who he’d most like to work with, and gave the name of the indestructible Rolling Stones guitarist. He received a communique shortly afterwards that said simply “The time has come. Let’s dance.” Waits and Richards would become regular collaborators from that point on.

There are the ballads, Blind Love, Hang Down Your Head, and the song that Waits would become best-known for: Downtown Train. Not for his own version, obviously, because his voice isn’t an instrument that the common herd find palatable. It was in fact Rod Stewart that made it a hit in 1989, and frankly he murdered it.

The centrepiece of the album is Time, an unbearably sad piece for acoustic guitar and accordion that is simply the most knackered sounding song ever written. Tom Waits is, I’ve always thought, an actor who accidentally became a musician, adopting different characters to perform certain songs. On Time, we actually get the man himself, sighing his enchanting lines over this most delicate of backdrops, and when he groans “Ah, she said she’d stick around till the bandages came off.” You know that she didn’t. And it is a testament to the eclecticism of this record that this most sensitive of confessionals is followed directly by the deranged Bavarian stomp of the title track. He is leading a circus parade in top-hat and cane for the benefit of us, the listeners.

All human life is here. It really is.

Best Tracks: Jockey Full Of Bourbon, Time, Downtown Train

Best Moment: 1:48 into Time, when he lies through his teeth “Close your eyes son, this won’t hurt a bit.” He’s an actor, not a singer.

Like this? Try: If I Should From Grace With God by The Pogues, 1988

profile b and wAllen Miles is 33 years old and lives in Hull. He is married and has a 3 year-old daughter who thinks she’s Elsa from Disney’s Frozen. He is a staunch supporter of Sheffield Wednesday FC and drinks far too much wine. He spends most of his spare time watching old football videos on youtube and watching 1940s film noir. He is the author of This Is How You Disappear, which is widely recognized to be the best book ever written. It is available here. http://tinyurl.com/disappear2014

Ten Songs by Paul D. Brazill

A while back I created a werewolf PI called Roman Dalton. Dalton is a boozehound as well as a werewolf and a regular imbiber at Duffy’s Bar, a smoky, pokey bar full of sinners which has a particularly tasty Wurlitzer jukebox. Here are a few of the top tunes you can hear at Duffy’s.

Drunk On The Moon by Tom Waits. The song that inspired the werewolf PI. Tom could make a more than passable werewolf himself, mind you. (Well, he was in the film Wolfen.)

I Ain’t Superstitious by Howlin’ Wolf.
The most played song on Duffy’s Jukebox for obvious reasons.

I Walked With A Zombie by Roky Erikson.
The biggest gangster in The City maybe the mysterious Haitian Ton Ton Philippe whose henchmen may or may not be zombies.

She’s My Witch by Kip Tyler.
Every noir yarn needs femme fatale and the torch singer Daria is more fatale than most. This is her theme song.

Before The Moon Falls by The Fall.
This is the title to a prequel story that I write which focus on Duffy.

The Beast In Me by Johnny Cash.
Roman Dalton is always struggling to contain the killer inside him.

I Put A Spell On You by Nina Simone.
There may well be a few tasty versions of this song but Dr Simone was as witchy as they come.

Walk On the Wild Side by Jimmy Smith. Elmer Bernstein’s cinematic soundtrack to life in The City.

Johnny Staccato Theme by Elmer Bernstein.
The theme tune to TV a series about a jazz pianist/ PI played by John Cassavetes. Nuff said.

Devil With Blue Suede Shoes by Chuck E Weiss.
Tom Waits’ old drinking partner knocks out some dirty blues. The devil has all the best tunes and is clearly the best dressed, too.

Paul D Brazill picPaul D. Brazill is the author of Gumshoe, Guns Of Brixton and Roman Dalton – Werewolf PI. He was born in England and lives in Poland. He is an International Thriller Writers Inc member whose writing has been translated into Italian, Polish and Slovene. He has had writing published in various magazines and anthologies, including The Mammoth Books of Best British Crime 8 and 10, alongside the likes of Ian Rankin, Neil Gaiman and Lee Child. He has edited a few anthologies, including the best-selling True Brit Grit – with Luca Veste. HE BLOGS HERE.

Al’s 30 Greatest Albums Of All Time – No. 29

Tom Waits – Swordfishtrombones (1983)

220px-TomWaitsSwordfishtrombones

Back in the dark days of the year 2000, when the biggest band in Britain were Travis and something called Limp Bizkit were moving across the Atlantic like an airborne disease and encouraging 19 year-olds to be comfortable with their disgusting obesity, Radiohead released an album called Kid A. The furore in the music press was unbelievable. They claimed that such a radical about-face from a major artist had never happened before and it was commercial suicide. Radiohead went on to become the biggest band in the world and in hindsight the change of direction they took was probably less radical than that between Suede and Dog Man Star or The Great Escape and Blur. And definitely less so than the stylistic leap between One From The Heart and Swordfishtrombones.

Radiohead were indeed a major artist, merely developing the ideas they had chucked out on Fitter Happier and a few B-Sides. No matter what happened, they would not get dropped by their label because regardless of the reviews, people would buy the record. In the end eight million people bought the record. With Swordfishtrombones, Tom Waits, not a major artist, ran the risk of never selling another record again.

Never has such a record ever polarised an artist’s work in the way that this record has. Effectively we look at Waits’ catalogue as pre and post Swordfishtrombones. On his previous few albums he had been leaning towards the guitar-blues sound, but the immediate precursor to this, the gorgeous country-jazz soundtrack to the disastrous Francis Ford Coppolla film One From The Heart couldn’t have been further away from the squat Russian horns and glass-throated screaming of Underground, the first track on this album.

The first Tom Waits album I bought was The Asylum Years; a compilation of his best tracks from his days as a blues-jazz scatter and crooner, which contain some of his best ever songs. Fair enough, by the last track his vocals sound like they’re coming from a cheese-grater but there are very definite melodies. On this record, very few of the tracks could even be classed as songs.

It is one of the most bizarre albums ever made, yet therein lies its genius; no-one had heard anything like this before. Shore Leave is, in my opinion, the best track on the album, and it comprises a spoken-word narrative of a sailor lost in a Blade Runner-esque cityscape consorting with midgets and eating cold chow-mein while the main instruments playing are a marimba and the sampled sound of a chair being scraped along a floor. If you can find me a more atmospheric piece of music, I’ll give you a quid.

The ballads stand out as well, obviously, as they are Waits’ raison d’etre, and Soldiers’ Things is up there with anything he’s ever done, but for those of you who are Waits virgins and want to hear a type of music that you have genuinely never heard before…

Best Tracks: Shore Leave, Town With No Cheer, Soldier’s Things

Best Moment: The sheer shock at the vocal on Underground, when you realise this man is probably smoking eighty cigarettes a day.

Like This? Try: Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band, 1969