'Random Rules' starts with the line "in 1984, I was hospitalised for approaching perfection". When David Berman lost his fight with depression in August last year, music lost one of its most singular lyricists. Berman was always eloquent but never overly verbose and pretentious. He was a poet in the vein of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, though he carved out his niche in indie rock instead of folk, forming band Silver Jews with Stephen Malkmus who would later go on to front Pavement.
Taken from the 2010 album of the same name, 'It's Not The Whiskey' is an Irish belter. Every St Paddy's Day I find myself turning to this band's songs, for reasons more than just the quality of their Celtic music. Defining their rustic Irish-American sound with a voice described as "broken glass wrapped in velvet", my mum's cousin fronted the band as they gigged around Ireland and NYC. Sadly, the beginning of 2013 saw a tragic accident that took Ray Kelly's life. Knowing he's not here gives the line 'When my time is up, I'll be as happy as I've been' more meaning than could ever have been imagined when it was written. Although a tragic loss, the infectious nature of their songs soon lifts the spirits and their music will forever transport me back to Ireland.
There are so many fantastic artists who sadly aren’t with us anymore, but there’s one who always crops up as one of the greatest, if not the greatest in rock and roll history and that’s Elvis. Everybody loves Elvis, let’s be clear about that, and he sang some of the finest songs in rock. 'Suspicious Minds' just captures all of Elvis’ capabilities for me, it’s just a great song and serves as a reminder of just how great the King truly was.
I truly believe that the turbulence of the last 5 years has been caused by David Bowie not being around to keep things on track. If he was still with us we’d all be sat in beer gardens enjoying a socialist utopia with no idea what a coronavirus was and talk about Brexit a distant memory. No other artist has had such a long and wide-ranging career and managed to stay relevant and brilliant throughout. A musical chameleon he changed his style, both in music and fashion, to reinvent himself countless times and remain at the forefront of music for decades. ‘Time’, from the Aladdin Sane album, shows Bowie moving in a new jazz influenced glam rockier direction following Hunky Dory and The Rise and Fall Of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, his first two album to really achieve big commercial success. It’s been compared to an old burlesque song and despite being his first foray in that musical direction is absolutely perfect. Bowie could turn his hand to anything and be incredible at it and this song shows that off perfectly. I could write a dissertation on why I think Bowie's so incredible but I'll stop now cause no one wants to read that.
Joe Cocker’s cover of The Beatles’ ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’ is perhaps one of my easiest choices so far. Cocker’s voice is absolutely legendary and he displays exactly why in this song, with the range, depth and feeling of his vocals impressing me every single time I play this track. Indeed, his rendition of this song at Woodstock is widely regarded as one of the greatest live vocal performances of all time, with Cocker seeming almost possessed as he belted out each line with astounding power. The lyrics to this song may be simple but the message is profound, especially in the current circumstances, where many people will have realised how much easier it is to get by with a little help from their friends. Cocker may have passed away in 2014, but his legacy lives on in songs such as this- he may not have written the lyrics, but in my opinion, Cocker’s version is the only one worth listening to.
I can still remember the day David Bowie died. I remember watching the news as we saw people sobbing, turning up in large groups to celebrate and mourn the loss of one of the greatest artists of the last 50 years. He was such an innovative figure on a global scale, with his love of the arts reflected in his music, acting and painting. One song of his which really makes me reflect on his life would be ‘Heroes’, popularised to many, myself included, as the tunnel song in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s about living in the moment. About not taking what you have for granted and understanding that life is really what you make of it. The song itself was inspired by the Berlin Wall, and tells the narrative of two lovers separated on either side. His performance of the song is sometimes quoted as one of the many factors that influenced the fall of the wall, and, rather fittingly, the German government thanked Bowie after his death. They said, “You are now among Heroes”.
Early one morning in 1974, Nick Drake gave up on life, took an overdose of his antidepressants, and passed away. He was 26. Before his life was so tragically cut short, Nick released some of the most sombrely beautiful music ever made, influencing the British folk-rock scene like almost no other. His music only achieved wide-spread success long after his death like many great artists (Arthur Russell springs to mind) but was undeniably influential on the scene and indubitably beautiful. This hauntingly beautiful track of his last album is no exception. Give it a listen.
When Bob Marley died the world lost not only an artist but a pioneer of Reggae, a man who brought Jamaican culture to the world. In an article centred around the death of artists I felt I had to pick a song that delievered a happy message, a song that told you "every little thing gonna be alright". With so much darkness in the world at the moment, it is vital to remember to smile, be happy and remember that one day everything will be ok. Truly an icon to remember.
Talk Talk's Laughing Stock is one of the most forward thinking albums of the early 90s. On their previous album Spirit of Eden the band started to develop the post rock genre, which focused on instrumentals and ambience. Laughing Stock took this and magnified it, employing around 50 guest musicians- though only 18 appeared on the album. The musicians were instructed to improvise around a particular theme and frontman Mark Hollis would only say the record was complete when each musician had fully expressed and refined their contributions. While that sounds bloody mental it worked. Laughing Stock was a groundbreaking record in experimental music and would be the band's final album. Hollis died last year aged 64 but his legacy lives on in his work. 'New Grass' is one track from Laughing Stock which stands out. It has an unmatched creative beauty and at nearly ten minutes long captures the essence of what post rock was all about. 'New Grass' is a unique song and its brilliance lies in the freedom that the performers had. Mark Hollis and Talk Talk will never perform again. However, their forward-thinking eccentricity and experimentation will continue to influence musicians for years to come.