Every now and then, I come across a song by a band or artist that makes me think, ‘wow, Springsteen could have written this track’. This has led me to wonder about what it is exactly that defines a Boss song.
As I believe my selections below demonstrate, there’s really no typical style or methodology that singularly defines Springsteen’s songs. I would have said it was their quintessential Americana that gave them their commonality but two of the songs below are Australian in origin and identity and yet still have that quality that places them firmly in Springsteen’s wheelhouse. I must, therefore, conclude that it is, in fact, the spirit of the songs which mark their ‘Bruceness’.
I could just as easily have chosen Khe Sanh(the Australian Born in the USA) but this track is probably the most beautiful Chisel ever produced and sits right smack in Springsteen’s spiritual heartland. A song about small town life redolent with longing and regret. I’d love to hear what The Boss would do with this gem. The comparisons are obvious: My Home Town, Long Walk Home, Factoryall live in the same space as Flame Trees.
As an aside, Chisel front man Jimmy Barnes covered Steve Van Zandt’s Ride the Night Away (originally recorded by Southside Johnny) on his first solo album For the Working Class Man and reprised it later with Stevie playing guitar on the recording.
The Decemberists – Down By The Water
This track, off the Decemberists’ album The King Is Dead, has all the hallmarks of Americana Springsteen style. Again, this is real heartland stuff and I can hear The Boss belting this out with Patti and Soozie lending just the right flourishes on backing vocals. The harmonica at the beginning, in particular, reminds me of the plaintive opening strains of The River.
I know the stylings of the various vocalists featured in these songs can be a little distracting but, if you imagine Bruce singing the leads, they suddenly take on a very E Street/Springsteen aspect.
That’s all I’ve got for now. I’d be interested in hearing from you about your own candidates for perhaps a Part two of this post.*
*I’d also thought about including XTC’s Hang on to the Night as a wild card because it reminds me quite a lot of some of the Darkness on the Edge of Town outtakes to be found on Tracks and The Promise but, in the end, I decided to leave it out because it is very 70s New Wave and not something that ever would have made it onto an actual Springsteen recording proper (and yet, here it still is).
And I was green, greener than the hill
Where the flowers grew and the sun shone still
Now I’m darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be.
Nick Drake, Place to be
There’s simply too much insanity going around today. I can’t remember a time when people seemed more angry or divided than over the past decade or so. And with each year that passes, things seem to grow steadily worse. Our politicians are warmongers, our culture is spiraling, and music is increasingly turning into corporate elevator muzak.
With all of that in mind, I’ve decided to do a post about my favourite folk songs. Now bear in mind that my ideas about what constitutes folk could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered purist. If you’re looking for scratchy recordings from the dim and distant pre-stereo past read no further.
I tend to focus on music which is largely acoustic, introspective, or just plain beautiful. I’ll give you just a sample of what I like in this post. Let’s call it my Folk(ish) top ten.
Family, Noah Gundersen
I really love this song. It speaks of human frailty and resignation to the inevitability of life’s grim cycles. Gundersen also has a voice that is at once youthful and worldly which wonderfully complements the unexpected depth of wisdom in his lyrics.
Drake’s story is a tragic one. All his fame and success came after he had committed suicide out of a despair for his lack of recognition. As sad a tale as that is, his music was unbelievably beautiful and the small legacy he left behind him (just a handful of albums) has had a lasting and far ranging effect on the musical landscape.
I don’t know where these people came from but I’d like to go there. Again, Fleet Foxes only released a small body of work (two albums and an EP) before they imploded but this band was phenomenal. Their terrific vocal harmonies and simply heavenly arrangements send shivers up my spine.
My son introduced me to this remarkable local group (local if you happen to live in Melbourne that is). He has even befriended a couple of the members of the band and he and I have attended one of their gigs together. To me, bands like Husky and Fleet Foxes are where Folk is at right now (please forgive my hep talk).
Speaking of where folk is at, these two young sister songbirds hailing from Sweden are the real deal. Their cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s classic song America is appropriately wistful and melancholic. Truly great, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Another example of the ‘new folk’ this song tears at my soul and makes me seriously take stock of my life. Weirdly, I haven’t been able to get into any other song he’s done. Still, this one track is better than many entire albums so it all balances out I guess.
The Boxer, Simon and Garfunkel
This has all the elements that put me in a state of relaxational bliss. It tells a wonderful, poignant story, the harmonies are superb, and it carries itself with just the right amount of gravitas for me to take it seriously.
Time (the Revelator), Gillian Welch and David Rawlings
I’m going to call this folk because frankly, I often can’t tell the difference between ‘folk’ and a lot of ‘country’ music I hear. This duo is simply without peer. I had the intense pleasure to see them perform live last year and it was a transformative experience.
Another wonderful piece from the mind of a misunderstood genius. This track is my Sunday afternoon song, not because I listen to it on Sundays particularly but because any time I listen to it becomes a long lazy Sunday afternoon in my mind.
Masters of war, Bob Dylan
This epic anti-war anthem is often overlooked in discussions about Dylan’s folk period. I don’t know why that should be as the song has only become more relevant as the years have passed.
Sorry for the way this post bunches up weirdly. I always take my time creating carefully considered spacings to make my stuff pleasant to read but half the time as soon as I post it I find the software has just ignored what I’ve done and squashed everything up. It looks ugly but I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do.
As a very visual person, I find this extremely frustrating but I suspect this may be how the good folk at WordPress push you into using the paid version rather than the free one.
“Songwriting is mysterious to me. I still feel like a total beginner. I don’t feel like I have got it nailed yet.” – Paul Kelly
Australian music is in my blood. Maybe it started when I was a babe in arms. My first sitter – when I was a very wee baby – was a fifteen-year-old pop singer name Patricia Amphlett. Patricia (known as Little Pattie) had just released her first single He’s My Blonde Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy which was climbing the Sydney charts at the time.
Patricia also happened to be a cousin of that other Amphlett girl, Chrissy, who would storm the world’s charts with her band the Divinyls in the eighties.
This country has been blessed by many stellar talents. In the late 50s and early 60s a wave of immigration from the UK brought an impressive crop of musicians (and actors) to our shores and the resultant bands; the Easybeats, Bee Gees, and later AC/DC (to name just three) all impacted upon the world stage to various degrees of greatness.
The arrival into the Australian music scene of Nick Cave and his band the Birthday Party (formally the Boys Next Door) seemed to signal a sharp change in the tone of Australian music. This change had already been foreshadowed in the sound of Brisbane band The Saints (and Sydney proto-punk outfit Radio Birdman).
Pre-dating the ‘76 punk explosion, the Saints had received critical interest from the music press for their raw Stooges/MC5 style sound and strong songwriting but received little actual airplay at home.
Despite the Saints playing John the Baptist to their proverbial (anti)Christ, when Cave and co. exploded out of Melbourne’s punk underbelly, Australia was little prepared for the aural and visual assault that was the Birthday Party and had no idea what to make of any of it.
Feeling stymied by the self-limiting minds and imaginations of what then passed for the local culture, the boys from Melbourne took their talents to London (a tradition among Australian bands at the time) where they fast developed a reputation for violent and dramatic gigs that became the main influence for the eighties Goth scene.
The Birthday Party, having inspired a slew of new Goth bands, disintegrated around ’83. A few years later, bassist Tracy Pew died of injuries sustained during an epileptic seizure (of the original Birthday Party line-up, Cave, Mick Harvey, and Phill Calvert survive, Rowland S Howard having succumbed to liver cancer brought on by a Hepatitis C infection in 2009).
From the Ashes of the Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds were born. It was this band that gave Nick Cave the vehicle to truly develop his unique songwriting skills. Cave is often dismissed as some sort of Lord of Goth but that is patently reductive and belies his transcendent writing skills.
My pick for Nick Cave is Fifteen feet of Pure White Snow not because it is my favourite (mine is Are you the one I’ve been waiting for?) but because I think it nicely sums up what latter-day Cave is all about.
Paul Kelly’s songwriting career stretches back as far as Cave’s, though Kelly was certainly the more accomplished in those early years. Kelly eschewed the growing trend towards punk and new wave in the late 70s and early 80s, choosing to focus more on solid songwriting in the folk rock vein.
Like Cave, Kelly is a musical storyteller but unlike Cave, his stories are very Australian. Any country could have produced a Nick Cave, only Australia could have produced Paul Kelly.
His songs were, and are, a landscape of the Australian psyche and he has been able to move effortlessly through genres taking in and often reconfiguring folk, soul, blues, rock, and (much later) electronica. Kelly is an institution in Australia having passed into the mainstream without dropping a beat credibility wise.
In his searing honesty and self-examination, he reminds me a great deal of Springsteen, though if anything, he is even more earthy and authentic than that great artist.
Paul hails from Adelaide originally but has moved around a great deal over his career. This has given his music a universal feel and allowed him to capture the everyman in his songwriting. He has also worked with many of the luminaries of Australian music and is greatly respected by his peers.
My Paul Kelly choice is Dumb things because, in my opinion, it is one of the finest songs to ever come out of this country.
My final songwriter is Paul Dempsey of the band Something for Kate. There would be plenty of Australian’s in particular that would be outraged that I’ve included him in this company and left out such greats as Robert Forster and Grant McLennan of the Go-Betweens, however, I consider Dempsey (a baby at just 40) one of this country’s finest.
Dempsey – another Melbourne boy – has been pumping out fantastic, genre-spanning material for over two decades both with his band and on two masterful solo records.
The thing I love about Dempsey is that he’s no purist, he’s a music enthusiast, with a deep love of all good songs regardless of genre. This has given his own songwriting efforts a fluidity and freedom that is remarkably rare.
Paul, like Springsteen, has suffered bouts of depression (seems to come with the territory when you have Irish blood) and I believe this experience has lent a depth to his songwriting. Added to all this is his phenomenal singing and multi-instrumental skill as a player (He played almost everything on his most recent solo album).
My pick for Dempsey is California because it captures the amazing musicality of the band, Pauls terrific songwriting, and the pop sensibility that has put such an incredibly nuanced band into the mainstream charts.
There you have it, my three favourite Australian songwriters in a nutshell. Many will disagree but I stand by my choices. All three have grown me as a person and provided the soundtrack to my weird little life.
When the last bird falls And the last siren sounds Someone will say what’s been said before It’s only love we were looking for.
I guess it’s fair to say that poetry is the true language of love. Even poorly written verse has the power to convey that most complex of human emotions more effectively than regular prose. That must be why I keep circling back to poetry whenever I feel the need to convey the depth of my feelings for Jersey girl.
Music too shares this unique gift. And the combination of well-crafted words and music is the ultimate vehicle for the emotions of the heart. Who can fail to be touched by a well-crafted love song? Not I, that’s for certain. I’ve been a hostage to one song or another for the entire of my life; an extremely willing hostage at that.
So today I’ve decided to share my all time favourite songs of love, lust, and heartbreak*. I’ll limit my choices to ten (even though I could easily come up with fifty) because I’ve asked Jersey girl to contribute her own selection, which I’ll run concurrently with mine. So, without further ado, here are our lists beginning with….
This song (written by the great Jimmy Webb) contains the most romantic line ever committed to disc, and I need you more than want you. And I want you for all time… Damn! Those 15 little words perfectly encapsulate my feelings for my girl. Nothing I write will ever capture it better. The rest of the track (backed by the Wrecking Crew, of which Campbell himself was a former member) is pretty awesome too.
Another piece of perfect poetry that contains the killer lines, O we will know, won’t we? The stars will explode in the sky. But they don’t, do they? Stars have their moment then they die. I’m sorry, but if you don’t get a tingle down your spine when Nick sings those words, you may want to check you still have a pulse. This entire song is like a soundtrack for our (Jersey’s and my) tale; epic stuff.
Yet another Melbourne band, Hunters and Collectors started out as an industrial art pub band and then suddenly started coming out with songs like this. Somehow, Mark Seymour has captured a universal experience of love in a uniquely Australian way.
You’ve got to know that there’s someone for you, as strange as you are. Who can cope with the things that you do, without trying too hard. A track that grabbed me from line one. I can totally relate to every single word expressed in this song. Love is weird.
And speaking of the soul masters, you can’t have a list like this that doesn’t include Sam Cooke, can you? Only god knows how many teenage pregnancies that man is indirectly responsible for. Soul master indeed.
This track (especially the iteration in this video) is utterly devastating. Lisa Hannigan features on backing vocals. And if you hate me, hate me, hate me then hate me so good that you can let me out, let me out, let me out of this hell when you’re around.
Dave Grohl really hasn’t written much of note in the past five years but, if he never writes another song, I’ll always admire him for penning this little ballad of obsessive love. I actually prefer the album cut to this version, but this video is very…moving.
If I knew where that was, I’d stay between her legs
And fucking catch me leaving, ’cause life’s that way
I’ll stay in drowned inside her mouth
She’ll kiss me and she’ll sniff me and she’ll keep me around
Inside her purse, like a chorus and a verse
Neatly on some paper with a heart drawn on the words
Well, I had to include this one, didn’t I? I love Tom Waits’ original, but I’d say Springsteen’s version ramps up the romance. And that extra verse is what really makes me think of my own gorgeous Jersey girl when I hear it. So, for me, it was a no-brainer; Springsteen takes the honours.
The energy in this song, which was penned by Mark James, has kept me coming back for decades. Elvis never sounded better and the torment he conveys here is palpable. This is the other side of love, the side we hope never to see. Pardon my French but his track is fucking majestic.
Springsteen has not written as many love songs as people generally imagine and often when he does they tend to be fairly gritty. This track and the superb Back in your arms are two exceptions of note. Of the two, I personally favour If I should fall behind. This track resonates on so many levels for me. It’s pretty much an instruction manual for getting your love through the hard times in one piece.
You’re missing when I shut out the lights You’re missing, when I close my eyes You’re missing, when I see the sun rise You’re missing
The Boss does longing and loss really well. This is off his 9/11 album The Rising and is another one of those ‘huge emotions in a small room’ tracks of which he is a past master; heartbreakingly beautiful.
Discovering Patty changed my life. If you want raw, unflinching honesty in your music, you simply can’t go past this superb singer-songwriter. There is a moment in this song where the music kicks up in intensity and her childlike voice wails in anguish, So many things that I had before, they don’t matter to me now. Tonight I cry for the love that I’ve lost, and the love I‘ve never found. Sweet Jesus.
I’ve felt you coming girl, as you drew near I knew you’d find me, cause I longed you here You’re my destiny is this how you’ll appear? Wrapped in a coat with tears in your eyes? Well take that coat babe, and throw it on the floor Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?
As you’ve been moving surely toward me My soul has comforted and assured me That in time my heart it will reward me And that all will be revealed So I’ve sat and I’ve watched an ice-age thaw Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?
Out of sorrow entire worlds have been built Out of longing great wonders have been willed They’re only little tears, darling, let them spill And lay your head upon my shoulder Outside my window, the world has gone to war Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?
O we will know, won’t we? The stars will explode in the sky But they don’t, do they? Stars have their moment and then they die
There’s a man who spoke wonders though I’ve never met him He said, “He who seeks finds and who knocks will be let in” I think of you in motion and just how close you are getting And how every little thing anticipates you All down my veins my heart-strings call Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for?
I knew I’d end up doing another of these. I just can’t resist the beauty in music.
Continuing on with my ‘Melbourne bands rule’ theme, my first selection will be fall at your feet by Clare Bowditch. Clare hails from here but the song was written by Neil Finn of Crowded House (Finn is, of course, a New Zealander but Paul Hester and Nick Seymour, his band mates, were Melbourne boys).
You’re hiding from me now
There’s something in the way that you’re talking
Words don’t sound right
But I hear them all moving inside you
Go, I’ll be waiting when you call
Next up is one of my all time favourite tracks what’s going on by the inestimable Marvin Gaye. This song can reduce me to tears, which is a prerequisite for true beauty in my book. Oh, that smooth soul sound.
Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going on
Yeah, what’s going on
Ah, what’s going on
This next track could be the theme song to the movie of Jersey girl’s and my life. Irish child-woman Lisa Hannigan and her gorgeous ditty ocean and a rock have nursed me through many a near breakdown over the past five years.
Thoughts of you warm my bones
I’m on the way, I’m on the phone
Let’s get lost, me and you
An ocean and a rock is nothing to me
Speaking of soundtracks to our story (and Melbourne bands) It’s back to Something for Kate for a song which is just one of the Dempsey compositions that have had me wondering where he hides to spy on our life. Washed out to sea is biographically graphic and anatomically correct in every detail.
Arrival and departures
Yeah, we know them so well
Oh, from sleeping and dreaming
On a baggage carousel
We know every step and every crack
Every scene leading to the final act
Every comic trick circling back, back, back…
I can’t seem to get away from Paul Dempsey today. Here’s a cut off his brand new solo effort Strange Loop. The song’s called True sea (Oceans and seas seem to be a recurring theme in my selections – five out of the ten tracks so far. Ocean = emotion in Jungian symbolism, s0…).
Just get me off of this ocean
Want to move on a true sea
There’s no above or no below, just you
Just you beside me
That’s all I have for you for now. It’s all too beautiful will return…
I was listening to Patty Griffin’s divine track When it don’t come easy today and marvelling at the sheer beauty of the song and performance. It inspired me to post my top five ‘achingly beautiful’ songs. I’m aware this is entirely subjective but it’s just a bit of fun so here they are. Weirdly, three of the bands are from my hometown.
First up is the aforementioned Patty Griffin song. I was struck speechless the first time this track rolled over me.
But if you break down
I’ll drive out and find you
If you forget my love
I’ll try to remind you
And stay by you when it don’t come easy
Next is a band I’ve mentioned a lot on this blog, Melbourne outfit, Pony Face with their sublime track Sea and the dunes.
Far from the fishhook smiles
The stepped on tails
My suburbs tears
Mopped up in the aisles
And drips of me are still there
And relative newcomers (also from Melbourne) Husky and their deeply beautiful track Dark sea.
We were once just children
Staring up at the stars
When did we grow old
Brother we’ve come so very far
It’s no secret to regular readers of this blog that both Jersey girl and I love Something for Kate, from (you guessed it) Melbourne. This track, You only hide is a particular favourite.
So I keep watch
And you keep breaking
Breaking formation to become
And your eyes become corridors
Where I wander with a candle
Calling out to you
And finally, the Band Fleet Foxes (not from Melbourne but Seattle) are, sadly, now defunct but they left behind this gem, Someone you’d admire.
I walk with others in the yearning to get out
Claw at my skin and gnash their teeth and shout
One of them wants only to be someone you’d admire
One would as soon just throw you on the fire
That’s your lot. I’d be interested to hear what you think. Feel free to post your own favourites in the comments. Remember, the theme is beauty.
Since the Springsteen list went over so well, I’ve decided to do one for my other all time favourite artist, Bowie. This is a tricky one. Bowie was as prolific as Springsteen and if anything even more diverse in the styles he embraced. With a body of work spanning five decades, there are so many tracks to consider.
If you’re looking for ‘Heroes’ I’m afraid you won’t find it here. It was a great track at the time, but I grew bored with it years ago.
Now the dress is hung, the ticket pawned The Factor Max that proved the fact Is melted down And woven on the edging of my pillow Now my Brother lays upon the Rocks He could be dead, He could be not He could be You
One of the most indefinably sinister and downright unsettling sets of lyrics from Bowie ever, this song is a minor classic that, like Andy Warhol, came off the seminal Hunky Dory; quite brilliant.
Don’t fake it baby, lay the real thing on me The church of man, love Is such a holy place to be Make me baby, make me know you really care
Make me jump into the air
The trouble with Bowie as that he made it all look so effortless and sound so simple that even now, most people fail to get just how clever his song structures are. Bowie did things with chords and with timing changes that nobody else would even think to try in a pop song. The man was a genius.
Well she’s a tongue twisting storm, she will come to the show tonight Praying to the light machine She wants my honey not my money she’s a funky-thigh collector Layin’ on ‘lectric dreams
Mick Ronson was Bowie’s secret weapon of mass seduction during this period. Ronson’s guitar rips up this track and drives the rhythm well beyond the confines of Bowie’s carefully cultured vocal treatment.
Ain’t there a man who can say no more? And, ain’t there a woman I can sock on the jaw? And, ain’t there a child I can hold without judging? Ain’t there a pen that will write before they die? Ain’t you proud that you’ve still got faces? Ain’t there one damn song that can make me break down and cry?
To me, this is Bowie’s The River (though it predates the Springsteen track by a good six years). Thematically there are some very strong similarities and I do wonder if Bowie played Springsteen this track when the young Jerseyite visited him at Sigma sound studios in Philly during the recording of the album. Perhaps some of the ideas percolated through to Springsteen’s own efforts. The River (as everyone knows) draws upon his own sister’s experience of teenage pregnancy but still, it’s another obvious point of comparison between these two songwriting giants.
He laughed at accidental sirens that broke the evening gloom The police had warned of repercussions They followed none too soon A trickle of strangers were all that were left alive Panic in Detroit, I asked for an autograph He wanted to stay home, I wish someone would phone
Shadow love was quick and keen Life’s a well-thumbed machine Saw you watching from the stairs You’re everyone that ever cared Oh lordy Oh lordy You know I need some loving Move me, touch me
I know, I do this a lot but in my defense, some songs are simply equal in every respect. In the case of these two tracks, there is also a musical kinship. Both are frenetic bordering on anarchy. Bowie at his early strangest.
But if you pray all your sins are hooked upon the sky Pray and the heathen lie will disappear Prayers they hide the saddest view (Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
And your prayers they break the sky in two (Believing the strangest things, loving the alien)
The inclusion of this track (ahead of some absolute Bowie classics) may seem strange but the sheer poetry of his lyrics here justify its inclusion. The production on the actual studio version is far too slick, but he did some killer live renditions.
They say hey that’s really something They feel he should get some time I say he should watch his ass My friend don’t listen to the crowd They say ‘Jump’ Got to believe somebody Got to believe
I simply adore this track. Inspired by the suicide of his older brother and included on the album (Black Tie, White Noise) which he recorded as a wedding gift to Iman, this song is latter day Bowie at his very best.
Something happened on the day he died Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried: (I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar)
What can I say about this track? Written by a man who knew his days were numbered, it is simply beautiful. So achingly beautiful that I have trouble screwing up the courage to listen to it. Incidentally, the type of tumor that Bowie had is known as a black star tumor because of the way it looks in X-rays.
Oh no love! you’re not alone You’re watching yourself but you’re too unfair You got your head all tangled up but if I could only make you care Oh no love! you’re not alone No matter what or who you’ve been No matter when or where you’ve seen All the knives seem to lacerate your brain I’ve had my share, I’ll help you with the pain You’re not alone
From, arguably, Bowie’s greatest album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars comes this work of poetic magnificence. To my ear, it is very reminiscent of some of Springsteen’s early New York/ New Jersey myth arc songs, like Incident on 57th Street or Jungleland. It has the feel of the streets and a descriptive poetry building steadily towards an inevitable crescendo.
Time – He’s waiting in the wings He speaks of senseless things His script is you and me boys
Time – He flexes like a whore Falls wanking to the floor His trick is you and me, boy
Another poetic masterpiece, this cut gives me chills now whenever I hear it. An ode to mortality, it is spiritually linked to Blackstar. This is Bowie at his best forcing us to look deeper, to pull back the curtain on life’s truths.
His name was always Buddy And he’d shrug and ask to stay She’d sigh like Twig the Wonder Kid And turn her face away She’s uncertain if she likes him But she knows she really loves him It’s a crash course for the ravers It’s a Drive-in Saturday
Bowie loved to play with notions of sexuality and never more so than in this little number. Set in a future where people have lost the ability to make love organically, They look to alien intervention and old videos of Jagger to relearn the skills of their ancestors. Or something like that.
Sailors fighting in the dancehall Oh man! Look at those cavemen go It’s the freakiest show Take a look at the Lawman Beating up the wrong guy Oh man! Wonder if he’ll ever know He’s in the best selling show Is there life on Mars?
This had to be included. It may be almost a cliché to consider this a favourite but who can really resist the pull of these prescient words put to some of the most emotive music he ever wrote. Rick Wakeman rather than Mike Garson did the keyboard honors on this one.
First they give you everything that you want Then they take back everything that you have They live upon their feet and they die upon their knees They can work with satan while they dress like the saints They know god exists for the devil told them so They scream my name aloud down into the well below
After a break of nearly a decade, Bowie roared back with one of his best albums since the 70s. This, the title track, was just one of the standout cuts. I’ve included it to represent the entire album which, recorded in secret, was dropped almost unannounced upon a public desperate for more output from their idol. If you don’t own this, you’re no Bowie fan.
Motor sensational, Paris or maybe hell – I’m waiting Clutches of sad remains Waits for Aladdin Sane – you’ll make it
Who’ll love Aladdin Sane Millions weep a fountain, just in case of sunrise
This has been a long time favourite of mine going back to my twenties, which is the reason it has scored a position near the top. Mike Garson’s piano arrangement is pure and undeniable genius. I had the thrill of getting him to sign my copy of this album back during Bowie’s Reality tour. It remains a treasured possession.
Ziggy really sang, screwed up eyes and screwed down hairdo Like some cat from Japan, he could lick ’em by smiling He could leave ’em to hang Here came on so loaded man, well hung and snow white tan.
This is one song I will never grow bored of. It’s deceptively simple upon first listening but any guitarist will tell you, it’s not until you attempt to work out the chord structure that you realise what a clever piece of writing it truly is. Ah Ziggy, you canny little alien.
Do you remember a guy that’s been In such an early song I’ve heard a rumour from Ground Control Oh no, don’t say it’s true
They got a message from the Action Man “I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too. I’ve loved. All I’ve needed: love. Sordid details following.”
The shrieking of nothing is killing me Just pictures of Jap girls in synthesis And I ain’t got no money and I ain’t got no hair But I’m hoping to kick but the planet is glowing
[Chorus:] Ashes to ashes, funk to funky We know Major Tom’s a junkie Strung out in heaven’s high Hitting an all-time low
Time and again I tell myself I’ll stay clean tonight But the little green wheels are following me Oh, no, not again
I’m stuck with a valuable friend “I’m happy. Hope you’re happy, too.” One flash of light But no smoking pistol
I never done good things I never done bad things I never did anything out of the blue, Want an axe to break the ice Wanna come down right now
The return of Major Tom (from such an early song) caused quite a ripple of excitement in the ranks of Bowie fandom when this track was dropped back in 1980. That said, the song was simply the most alien thing most of us had heard coming out of the radio – ever*. As weird as Kate Bush’s ethereal hit Wuthering Heights, Ashes to ashes helped cement Bowie’s legacy as the high priest of strange. It’s hard to believe he followed this album up with Let’s fucking Dance.
Well, there it is. I could do an entire alternative top twenty of equally fantastic and essential tracks. That’s the problem when you’re trying to encapsulate the prolific output of a bonafide creative force of nature.
I hope you enjoyed our little musical journey. Comments, as always, are encouraged.
*And a major contributor to that unique sound was none other than E Street’s Roy Bittan who played keyboards on this and other cuts from Scary Monsters.