The Tracks of my Years….

Something different from my usual rants. I currently have little ammunition due to not being on the train for a week, so I thought I’d try something less ranty and more specific to the me….

A few years back the Horse and I had to take a road trip to Manchester in the name of Justice. We are great mates and rarely struggle to fill time like this but on this occasion he had the great idea of each of us creating a CD of our indispensable songs. I didn’t find this too difficult as over the years I have honed down a vast collection of music into tracks that actually mean something to me…tracks that mean a moment or a time or are just truly magnificent.

This blog will explain “The Tracks of my Years”

They are in no particular order and no one track is rated better than the rest… well… maybe one of them is the greatest track in the history of music but you’ll spot that anyway…. Enjoy this insight into my musical brain…. You won’t all like them, The Horse didn’t…I care not a jot….OK…let’s start…

“Mean Street” by Van Halen – “Fair Warning”, 1981

In reality I shouldn’t like Van Halen as I’m an Englishman. They are an American , spandex wearing, ‘Cock Rock’ Hair metal band. Jen reckons they are rubbish and cannot believe that I could possibly like anything about them….she’s wrong. Van Halen contains one of the finest exponents of rock guitar ever to walk the earth. Eddie Van Halen is a true legend who reinvented the rock guitar in the late 70’s with no formal training. He is the King of “tapping” regardless of who invented it…Eddie brought this aspect to the forefront and a million fuzzball pretenders followed.

To me Van Halen was and is all about one man and so it was with great geeky joy that I discovered on ‘You Tube’ isolated guitar tracks for most Van Halen songs which means I don’t have to listen to the screaming Dave Lee Roth or the mostly flat, badly produced drums of Alex Van Halen.

This track epitomises Van Halen at their 80’s best. It’s from a time when the band hated each other and the Roth wheels were starting to work themselves loose. However this track has the lot. A blistering opening salvo followed by a deep, heavy driving riff, outstanding rhythm guitar and a flawless solo. You’ll also find a goose bump inducing pick slide at 3:49 seconds in. If I was forced to pick one Van Halen track to play for eternity this would be it.  I had the misfortune of seeing Van Halen in the 90’s when they were fronted by a squealing puffball Californian called Sammy… I didn’t wholly care as my gaze never left Eddie.

This is top drawer, thrusting groin level rock which set my standard and put me on the road to decades of Heavy Metal Heaven….

“Dog Eat Dog” by Adam and the Ants – “Kings of the Wild Frontier”, 1980

In the early 80’s it would be fair to say that I loved Adam Ant. I was a child but I was obsessed with him like a schoolgirl obsessed with a girl band. In hindsight there was something slightly creepy about Adam and the Ants. The demographic was 12 year olds but the songs were post punk sex tracks that few people cottoned on to. Fear not dear reader this phase lasted about 18 months and basically ended at the Dominion theatre where I witnessed “The Prince Charming Revue”, live before my naked steaming eyes.

I went to the gig in full make up. My Mum had created the Ant look from whatever she had in the house. I was wearing cut down wellies with added tassels, a pair of tights and a black silk shirt. I looked magnificent. We acquired the tickets from a friend of my parents who worked for CBS records….the tickets were an apology for providing me with a clearly fake ‘signed’ Adam Ant photo.. yep she was basically a typist scumbag who wanted to impress my Mum…she failed as my mum is a sharp cookie..

That gig was the greatest moment of my life at that point. I still remember walking into the lobby of the Dominion, looking about and feeling that I was underdressed. Freaks everywhere. The gig itself was excellent and the Ant band could really play. At the end of the gig my Mum blagged her way in and got us backstage but there was no sign of the main Ant and all I got was a handshake with the mostly ignored and overly nourished Marco Pirroni as he left the venue sweating like some kind of animal.

Within a year I was pretending to be a “Mod”, the Ants had split and Stuart was singing about Pussy Cats with Phil Collins on drums. The mad world of 80’s pop…. This was the best of Adam Ant… and it still stands up as a time capsule of classic pop.

‘The Butterfly Collector’ by The Jam, 1979

Everyone in North London in the late 70’s and early 80’s loved The Jam. They were the ultimate band who remained cool while delivering top drawer singles and albums. Of course all the glory was sucked up by charisma vacuum Paul Weller but the driving force was the rhythm section of Foxton and Buckler. Nothing in the name of Weller since has hit the heights of The Jam and no amount of Primrose Hillbilly Bullshit will convince me otherwise.

The Jam were almost untouchable at times. They could play anything from the explosive in your face punk/rock to the delicate acoustic ballad. I could have picked any number of songs in reality as there was barely a duff track but this song stands out for me. It’s a haunting ballad with just about the right amount of anger within it to maintain the Jam energy.

I never saw The Jam live… I was too young. I don’t want to see a reunion as it would be sad. The Jam were about energy and anger not brass sections with old men going through the motions for the big payday. The Police tried this a few years ago and it was mostly a disaster.

I have seen Weller over the years. I saw him right up to his tragic death following the completion of the ‘Wild Wood’ Tour. After that tour someone purporting to be the man who successfully resurrected a career after a mental breakdown in the form of ‘The Style Council’ started releasing substandard Starbucks muzak under the name of Paul Weller. It was all very, very sad. Luckily I still have the memory of The Jam and my years of wandering around the park in an over large fishtail parka and painful shoes from Shelleys. I have never been cool.

‘Pretty Vacant’ by the Sex Pistols – “Never mind the Bollocks”, 1977

This is not a Punk album….. it’s a Rock album and one of the greatest Rock albums of all time.

I could easily have picked ‘Submission’ as the best track but the riff to ‘Pretty Vacant’ is so superb that it needs multiple plays on a loop. You can’t really mess this track up as it’s so well constructed.
I remember when the Pistols unashamedly reformed for the money in the mid 90’s. They played Finsbury Park and released the gig as an album. I always thought they couldn’t really play but hearing reviews at the time and then the CD itself its clear that they could…. Not Vicious obviously… he was useless musically. The opening riff to ‘Pretty Vacant’ on the live album is majestic. The riff oozes power and epitomises the Pistols as a rock band and not a punk band.  Prior to the first line of this song on the live version Lydon shouts “LET’S GO TO WAR!!”… you could go to war to this riff….

I went through a phase of listening to the Pistols a lot. At one point I found myself in the kitchen of my parents house playing ‘ Friggin’ in the Riggin’’ to my Nan to much hilarity. That song isn’t really a Pistols track it’s a comedy album filler but I wasn’t keen to play my Nan ‘Bodies’ in order to make her laugh. The only real Pistols album is ‘Bollocks’.

There will never be another Sex Pistols in the history of music. A manufactured band before Simon Cowell that could produce a classic album filled with hate and bile which stands the test of time…. Truly brilliant…

‘Rock Bottom’ by UFO – ‘Phenomenom’, 1974

When the lead singer is from Wood Green, the drinking machine bass player is from Enfield and the Thunderbastard drummer is from Cheshunt you really have to take notice.

UFO are one of this country’s lost bands. A bit like Thin Lizzy in the underated stakes although I think they probably have a better back catalogue. Lizzy were like Queen, a brilliant live experience, outstanding greatest hits but a lot of unnecessary filler on the albums. UFO had all those attributes but the albums had great songs throughout.

UFO were a party band…an honest band. They were destined to never really make it stella as they enjoyed being Rock Stars too much. Lots of drink and drugs, lots of lost opportunities, lots of band changes… it was never destined to work out that well. .

The one constant in UFO is the singer Phil Mogg. I’m not too interested who is on guitar which seems to rile a lot of UFO fans. Mogg is UFO and always will be… without him it’s nothing.

My brother, The Eternal Champion, took me to my first UFO gig. It was in the mid 80’s at the greatest of all London venues, The Hammersmith Odeon. He had done his ground work by providing me with a copy of UFO’s greatest hits album ‘Headstone’ which had a live set on the fourth side. This is still one of my favourite live records.

The line up at that time consisted of only two real members of UFO, Mogg and Paul Raymond and the album they were touring with was possibly their weakest. None of this mattered as I was hooked. I remember the power of the band and the presence of Mogg the front man. I also remember the topless cowgirl dancing at the back of the stage and the biker punch up in the bar.

I left that gig hooked on UFO and Mogg in particular. I ended up at some biker/hippy party that night with my Bruv… I was all shiny and new amongst the grit… Glory days..

Years later I would see UFO a number of times and Mogg was still the great front man but an older version with a less powerful voice. At one gig at the Kentish Town Forum during a break between songs Mogg pointed at a bloke in the crowd and said:

‘ If you do not desist in requesting that song I will be forced to come into the crowd to deal with you’

This is what we need from our rock stars… total domination of the fandom.

‘Gimme Shelter’ by The Rolling Stones – ‘Let it Bleed’ , 1969

I have never been the world’s greatest Rolling Stones fan. They mostly leave me cold. I can’t quite pin it down but it might be the media assertion that they are the world’s greatest Rock ‘n ‘ Roll band….. They aren’t… There are many bands better than them… Zeppelin, The Who, The Beatles to name a few.

I also don’t think much of Keith Richards as a guitarist. I rate Ronnie Wood and Mick Taylor could clearly play but Richards seems to be mostly a mess wrapped up in a bandana.

All this being said it should be noted that ‘Gimme Shelter’ is a stroke of genius.

If you wanted to encapsulate the laziness of the Stones into one song this would be it. It sounds like an improvisation rather than a structured song. I always get the impression that they just stumbled across it and recorded it straight off the bat. Clearly that isn’t what happened but they captured the essence of the moment in the recording and I’m happy to believe my idea over a torturous, drug fuelled, laborious writing process in a hired out French Chateaux.

I saw the “Budweiser” Stones at Wembley Stadium in the 90’s. Corporate whoredom at its greatest but they knock out a decent greatest hits package and the crowd were happy enough albeit a lot skinter than when they arrived

I watched their Glastonbury set a few years ago and thought they were terrible. Jagger looked ludicrously spindly and the twin guitar assault of Wood and Richards was weak and tuneless. I’d actually put money on the fact that Richards guitar wasn’t plugged in and Charlie Watts is an animatronic.

The Stones are no longer a Rock Band… they are a logo that makes money through various means including the odd new song crow barred into a revisited greatest hits album… How much money do you want Mick?… all of it or just most of it?

‘White lines (Don’t do it) by Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, 1983

When this track came on in the car during our trip to Manchester The Horse nearly crashed the motor. He has only ever known me as a ‘rocker’ and he claimed to have never even heard this track. For a grown man in his 40’s not to have heard this song is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

This song will forever remind me of roaming the streets of Hornsey with my cousin in the mid 80’s. We used to leave the house in the early evening and just loiter about carrying an overlarge cassette recorder playing the Electro albums which were popular at the time… I felt ‘street’…Clearly I wasn’t… I have never been cool.

This track was a mob favourite…. This and ‘Rockit’ by Herbie Hancock. We used to roam about playing these songs while we terrorised the locals. When I say ‘terrorised’ I hope you realise that I mean it in the 80’s way and not the current ASBO way. No alley was safe from a criss cross of cotton placed there by the mob…. A simple trick with an hilarious outcome always made funnier if the trapped punter was riding a bike through the alley rather than walking at a slow pace.

Another memory from this time was the firework battles. Rockets propelled at each other from discarded sections of plumbing acting as homemade bazooka’s. No one cared if you were injured… your parents simply dusted you down and sent you out there again…. That was the score.

‘White Lines’ the song is a timeless classic. A tremendous bass line and outstanding lyrics… with a 7 minute running time it lasts long enough to be epic… twas the Soundtrack of my Youth through the mid 80’s summers…

‘Magic Bus’ by The Who – ‘Live at Leeds’, 1970

In the years between 1970 and 1974 The Who were the greatest rock band on the planet. This album is possibly the greatest live album ever recorded. A band at the start of their peak and in tune with each other.

My Dad bought me this album on a double play cassette with ‘Who are You’… I played it to death. I’m not sure why he bought it for me but I’m eternally grateful that he did… it could be the best thing he ever bought me. Let’s face it if your old man is going to unknowingly introduce you to The Who what better album to do it with…

No band at the time could match the power of The Who…perhaps Zeppelin but certainly not The languid Stones. There are parts of this album that border of hard rock and almost heavy metal, it’s a master class in live rock music. The version of ‘Magic Bus’ is the definitive version and the only one that should be heard.

Like all bands, The Who produced a lot of sub standard rubbish due to Townsends own peculiar vision of what the fans need. Even revered albums like “Who’s Next” have duff tracks most notably ‘Going Mobile’ which needs smashing.

This album has no bad tracks. Even the extended version of this album has no bad tracks. The performances by the four members of the band are flawless. Moon is a powerhouse, Entwhistle proves that the bass need not be boring, Rog was at his vocal peak and Pete proved that you don’t need a widdly widdly guitar solo to be a one of the best.

If you have never heard ‘Live at Leeds’ then you need to…. peerless….

‘Night Prowler’ by AC/DC – ‘Highway to Hell’, 1979

Believe it or not but there was a time when AC/DC were unfashionable.

In the mid 80’s when I first saw them you could almost walk up to the box office at Wembley Arena and get a ticket as no one really cared. The Eternal Champion took me to my first AC/DC gig, January 1987. It was the first time I’d seen a global rock band and I still remember every moment of it from the opening power chord, through the Angus on stage strip right through to the booming cannons (I’ll revisit these in a moment) at the end. It was a spiritual experience and made me feel that I was part of the entire genre no matter how derided it was.

A few years later I went to see them with my mates, again at Wembley Arena. In our company was the stunningly cool Googan…Collegiate cool but still at school, all pink socks, college scarves and babyfaced girl bait. He remains one of my best mates so I feel able to describe him in these terms. For the life of me I cannot recall why he came to the gig… He was into the Smiths and all that other insipid stuff. Anyway he was in the room and so I thought I’d share my extensive metal experience with him.

Throughout the gig I had informed him that he wouldn’t believe the sound of the cannons that get set off during ‘For those about to Rock (we salute you)’ which was the final song. “prepare yourself mate…you may wish to cover your ears and remove your glasses..”. We were moments away from a 21 gun salute and as I’d seen it I thought I’d watch Googans reaction to the cacophony..

Here they come…’pop’….a low level, lowercase ‘pop’ at that… I looked at Googan, he turned to me and pissed himself laughing. Who could blame him, my humiliation was total. I’d been let down by low level special effects and a bad memory. The next gig we attended together was Madonna where I was merely in the stadium to pull someone.. It was July and he brought an umbrella.

AC/DC did exist before ‘Back in Black’. They existed before the gigs were filled with Dad’s in tweed jackets who watch ‘Top Gear’ and like bitter and England. They existed before their logo was available on baby clothes in Top Shop. They existed in a better formation with a better singer and greater songs which weren’t all about rock and cock.

This is classic Bon Scott AC/DC and the final track on his final album. It epitomises that great AC/DC. It has great lyrics and a clean guitar sound. It also features great backing vocals where you can actually hear the other members of the band… there’s nothing worse than an overdubbed lead singer backing vocal which is like cheating to me. AC/DC were always better with Scott singing and playing at this pace as they are essentially a blues rock band and not a fist pumping stadium metal band… Similar to early ZZ Top.

Scott died after this album…choked on his own drink filled vomit. A terrible end to a legendary rocker and the middle death of three legends in 2 years. Moon, Scott and Bonham all died in a two year period… it’s at this point that I need to point out that Keith Richards still lives and makes money. Suck that up next time you see the tongue logo on a bag of crisps or a soft drink..

Scott’s last words on this song were “shazbot…nanu nanu..”… The genius of AC/DC in one track.

…and finally…

‘I heard it through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye, 1968

Quite simply the greatest song in the history of modern music.

Motown is my secret pleasure. It’s almost a flawless genre. Simple yet complex songs across the board with this at the top of the tree. Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding were the kings of Motown.

Lyrically I cannot find a song better than this. It’s almost a poem. The simplicity of the song arrangement is also brilliant. Strings, organ and some drums…however instruments are almost irrelevant as the lyrics and the voice drive it forward.

There’s not much more that can be said other than if I went deaf I would weep at not being able to hear this song again.

..And so there you have it… a long blog about the greatest songs of my life.

Of course there are other great songs. ‘Hooker with a Penis’ by Tool is a drumming masterpiece as is ‘Trampled under foot’ by Zeppelin but I needn’t hear them…they are not indispensable.

Lots of other music stirs my emotions. INXS will forever remind me of my first real girlfriend who now resides on the other side of the globe (insert joke here), Van Morrison reminds me of another woman… a mad one currently living on the other side of the country…’The whole of the Moon’ reminds me of another… Yes, I do know where they all live as generally they are still mates of mine and as you can’t really wipe memories good or bad you need to come to terms with the past.

It’s hard to see anything breaking into my top 10 as the most recent track is a hip hop song from 1983… They just don’t make them like they used to…

I am not cool and I am getting old…. but to paraphrase Lydon ‘I don’t care..’…


3 thoughts on “The Tracks of my Years….

  1. jamesmc says:

    aye – I think you’ve outed your love for Motown to me before – beautiful song Mr K! and your all time favourite of all time ever!? or the Pistols!!


  2. Mark says:

    Some very interesting observations, and the inclusion of Heard it Through The Grapevine, was surprising, but in my eyes added great credibility to your observations.


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