Musical Advent Calendar

Over December I have been posting a song a day (well nearly) as a musical advent calendar. Here are all twenty-four songs, click the Album covers to buy the music at Amazon (most links are to  the mp3 albums or on CD).

Day one of my musical advent calendar, okay so it’s the 4th December, I will catch up then it will be one song per day. No apologies for my musical taste, these are songs that I either really like or have had a profound effect on me. I was introduced to Harry Chapin in 1989 by an American friend at University, there will probably be a few by Harry over the next few weeks. Taxi is a sad song about dreams and how what we dream about as kids will be our future, those dreams don’t always come true.

Day two (well really it should have been posted on the 2nd, but I am a bit behind). I’ve always liked the raw energy of the Clash and it’s no surprise that London Calling is going to be in this list. No idea why, but it is also my most played track in iTunes.

Day three (slowly catching up) of my Musical Advent Calendar and this track is Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) by The Beatles, first released on the 1965 album Rubber Soul. I much prefer the early stuff from the Beatles and The Red Album which includes this song is one of my favourite albums of all time. Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) was the first track from the Beatles to feature the Sitar and in many ways was the point at which the style of the Beatles changed.

Day four of my Musical Advent Calendar is the final track from the debut album of the Beautiful South, I Love You (But You’re Boring). I love all the tracks from the album, Welcome to the Beautiful South  but the final track is so different, not quite a live busking recording, but across the tracks you can hear the sounds of the streets, but a single guitar and voice with a hint of harmonica, it’s a powerful song, because of the lyrics more than anything else. Well worth a listen.

Day five of my Musical Advent Calendar is the classic Wonderwall from Oasis. I wouldn’t call myself a big Oasis fan, though I do like their first two albums. This track is probably what most people would mention if asked to mention a track from Oasis.

Day six of my Musical Advent Calendar (still catching up) is Letter From America by The Proclaimers. What I like about this song (and I also like I’m Gonna Be) are the lyrics and (especially in this version) the guitar. Most people will know both these numbers by the Proclaimers, but it is worth listening to their other songs from their album, however be warned this is not pop, this is more folk than pop.

This is day seven of my Musical Advent Calendar and this track, Tom’s Diner by Suzanne Vega is for me a very powerful song, made more powerful as you suddenly realise that all there is in her song is her voice. No instrumental accompaniment whatsoever! In my mind that makes the lyrics in this song much more insightful and they carry more weight. The lyrics do remind me of Ralph McTell’s Streets of London, but I do prefer the Vega song over it. Solitude Standing , the album from which this was taken, is a really nice collection of songs and most people will have probably heard of Luka  which is also on there. I did actually see Suzanne Vega live in Leeds over twenty years ago and it was an outstanding live performance, so well produced and performed in some ways it didn’t feel live, it almost felt as though you were listening to a recording and not her singing live. It has to be said that Suzanne Vega is not an act that really benefits from live performance (well back then anyhow) in a venue such as Leeds and I think it might have worked better as a small performance in the back of a pub somewhere. The Leeds venue was the dining room at the University and when I had dinner there at ALT-C I did at first wonder why it seemed so familiar and after a visit to the student union bar it all came back to me. Everytime I listen to this track and the album I do remember that gig so I guess it had more of an impact on me than I thought at the time.

Day eight of my Musical Advent Calendar (nearly caught up) is 74-75 from the Ring album by the Connells. The main reason I like this song was because of the video, it was played a lot on MTV when I watched a lot of MTV in the 1990s. With YouTube we’ve forgotten the impact MTV had and the power it had to make or break artists. As a result many bands (or more likely record companies) spent millions on filming and producing really clever music videos. The Connells’ 74-75 was certainly one of these videos. It featured a high school year book from 1975 and interspersed the photographs from the book with video of those featured twenty years later.

I think it had a powerful impact because it made everyone who watched MTV back then that regardless of what they thought of themselves then, how cool they were, how hip; one day like everyone else they would grow old. Everyone gets older and old people were young once.

It continues to resonate with me now, nearly twenty years later for similar reasons, but also because in that same twenty years, music channels like MTV were replaced by networks such as MySpace and even these have been superseded by YouTube and Facebook. It should remind us that even when we think something can never be toppled and is really popular, nothing lasts forever and the next big thing is just around the corner.

I did buy the album and there are some excellent tracks on it, but 74-75 gets played more than the others and though the video is on YouTube …

I now just like listening to the music.

Day nine of my Musical Advent Calendar and it’s Norman Cook’s remix of Brimful of Asha by Cornershop. Probably introduced me to a wider range of non-western music and Normal Cook (aka Fatboy Slim). This was also probably the time I stopped listening to Radio 1 and moved to other stations and less mainstream music.

Day ten of the Musical Advent Calendar and we have When Doves Cry by Prince. I really like Prince’s early stuff and he certainly caught my attention back then. Purple Rain is certainly one of those albums which influenced the musical scene in the 1980s. Less inspired by his stuff afterwards though.

I remember at the time you had to make a choice you either liked Prince or you liked Michael Jackson. Of course it wasn’t possible to like both, or (as I did) only like particular songs from both artists. They were (it felt) at the time labelled by the media as very similar, though in reality both were very different, both artistically and musically. Though you could say they were both somewhat flambouyant in their lifestyles and shows.

Day eleven of my Musical Advent Calendar may seem familiar, especially the video.

If you can’t recall where you’ve seen this, if I say Windows 95 then your memories may come flooding back. It was one of two videos (the other was Weezer’s Buddy Holly and was Good Times by Edie Brickell which is my choice for day eleven.

At the time video on a computer was something that just didn’t happen and if it did was usually as a small window showing the video, the phrase postage stamp sized video was often close to the truth. I remember been impressed with the two video files included with Windows and that I could play them on my PC. I think it was these videos that, as they demonstrated that video could be on a computer, inspired me to buy the Matrox Rainbow Runner video card so my PC could record and playback full screen video. I used that a lot for capturing video so I could play it back during Powerpoint presentations back in the latter half of the 1990s. It always bothered me that my television and video recorder could do all this video stuff, but my (much more) expensive computer was just not capable of playing video let alone capturing video. At least the Rainbow Runner allowed me to do what I wanted with standard definition video, even if a standard Windows PC couldn’t at that time.

Today my iMac is capable of playing multiple 1080p HD videos at the same time as well as capturing and recording similar quality video. I can even stream HD quality video from the internet. How times have changed, for the better I think. I am always impressed with how we can manipulate, edit and encode video these days.

As for the feel good song, even after all this time I still like to play it now and again, I think like any good song it stands the test of time in terms of its listenability.

Day twelve of my Musical Advent Calendar is from the Killing Fields soundtrack album. When I was growing up I was too young to notice the Vietnam War, or the subsequent nightmare that was the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. Like many people of my generation the 1979 Blue Peter appeal for Cambodia was their first introduction to the region and the horrors that had occurred, though I do remember the sanitised version that we saw on Blue Peter did not show or talk about the genocide (well it was a kids’ programme). Having said that I do remember watching the desolation as Simon Groom walked through a deserted Phnom Penh with discarded bank notes blowing about.

It wasn’t until I was at University that I saw the 1984 film The Killing Fields and started to realise the full horror of the Khmer Rouge regime. I still think the film is a powerful piece of film making and David Puttnam’s best ever piece of work. I watched it again the other day and it still has that power to shock and make you realise how lucky you are to live in a civilised country. The film soundtrack is very powerful and I do have it on CD, probably one of the first CDs I bought and I still listen to it a lot. The soundtrack by Mike Oldfield was very original for the time and was composed on a Fairlight CMI, the first digital audio sampler. However due to been asked to compose more music, Oldfield brought in a full orchestra and a choir. This combination of sample, choir and orchestra made for a unique sound that I don’t think I have seen equalled. Choosing a single track for this posting was quite difficult and in the end I have gone for the The Boy’s Burial/Pran Sees The Red Cross track that happens towards the end of the film.

Day thirteen of my Musical Advent Calendar is The Recruited Collier by Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts. I am not a great fan or advocate of folk music, but do like some of the older folk songs from the era of the Napoleonic Wars. I was introduced to Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts by a friend and bought this album on which I do like many of the tracks, as well as The Recruited Collier I also like The Plains of Waterloo.

Day fourteen of my Musical Advent Calendar is a classic 1980s hit from Dire Straits, Brothers in Arms, the final track from the album of the same name. I really like the sound of Dire Straits and their guitar and blues sound with an almost folk like subject matter is very easy listening. I’ve always thought that Dire Straits reflected one aspect of the 1980s in the same way that punk had their aspect and the new romantics theirs. The sound of the 1980s was very much a real mix of different groups and bands, and lose one and you really lose what the musical scene was like back then.

Day fifteen of my Musical Advent Calendar and we have the classic Queen track, Bohemian Rhapsody. I guess most people have heard this song and a fair few of these will be able to sing along to the lyrics. Looking at the song at face value you could wonder why on earth it is such a classic hit as it is. The weird combination of different styles makes you think this shouldn’t work, but the genius of Queen is that it does. I still can’t quite believe that Freddie Mercury, lead singer for Queen, died over twenty years ago, it was a shock then, and we lost a real showman. Freddie was certainly a unique talent and I like a lot of Queen tracks. I could have chosen from a range of Queen tracks, but went with this one as it is my favourite of the lot.

Day sixteen of my Musical Advent Calendar is probably my favourite song of all time. This particular version is not my favourite version of that song, however I do quite like this version. Also the original, and my favourite version, is by Harry Chapin and I already have one of his songs in the calendar already, which is Taxi.

Cats in the Cradle is a very powerful song about growing up and the relationships we have with our children and our parents. The simplistic lyrics and nursery rhyme overtones betray a deep meaningful song that will make you rethink the relationships you have with your children and how you interact and engage with them. The song was written and originally performed by Harry Chapin and if I hadn’t already chosen Taxi by Harry then I would have chosen this version.

I was introduced to Harry Chapin in 1989 by an American friend at University and he lent me a cassette tape which I lent to someone else and never saw again. I was then really pleased to find Greatest Stories Live in Our Price records and is my favourite CD of all time.

Originally I was going to do a few Harry songs, then as I started posting more decided that I wouldn’t repeat a song from an album. So for today I have chosen the Ugly Kid Joe version which is a very different take to the original, but the essence of the original song is still there.

Day seventeen of my Musical Advent Calendar combines one of my favourite tracks with one of those interesting bands that became mainstream for a couple of years and then alas seem to disappear.

Everybody Hurts was a song by REM that was originally released as part of the Automatic for the People album in 1992 and released as a single in 1993. The REM song is rather a sad song and rather emotional.

This acoustic version was on the Unplugged album by The Corrs. The Corrs combine pop rock with traditional Celtic folk music, though of course with this cover they aren’t, but their style of music comes through.

Day eighteen of my Musical Advent Calendar is Lovely Day by Bill Withers. I just love the final note of this track. It’s a great song with a nice feel good factor. If I feel down, I can play this song and it raises my spirits.

Day nineteen of my Musical Advent Calendar is 19 by Paul Hardcastle. This unusual song about the Vietnam War really hit a nerve with me back in 1985 when it was released, probably because I was approaching 19 myself. A clever mix of news reporting samples and the infamous processed speech as in n-n-n-n-n-nineteen. There was also a powerful video for the song too. Over the next few years there were quite a few films about the Vietnam War, Platoon in 1986, Full Metal Jacket in 1987 and Good Morning Vietnam in 1988 Each of these films told a different story from Vietnam, which for many Americans was still very fresh and in recent memory at that time. From what I remember Full Metal Jacket has probably the biggest influence on me.

Day twenty of my Musical Advent Calendar is John Lennon’s Imagine. This is probably one of the all time classics of the 20th Century. A powerful song and message that really makes you think. Whenever I hear it, it makes me pause and wonder.

It’s day twenty-one of my Musical Advent Calendar and the track I have chosen today is Live and Let Die by Guns and Roses. I don’t dislike the original by Wings  but much prefer the rawness that Guns N’ Roses give this track.

Day twenty two of my Musical Advent Calendar is a track from the Police. Choosing a single track was quite difficult as I like a lot of tracks from the Police. In the end I have chosen is Message in a Bottle. As with many artists I seem to prefer their earlier stuff over their later music. It’s probably down to that early enthusiasm and rawness that they later lose as they have more time (and money) to work on their music.

Day twenty three of my Musical Advent Calendar is Common People by Pulp. As time moves on I find myself harking back to the Britpop era and enjoying that music much more now than I did when it was fresh and first released. Of course Pulp were around for a long time before Different Class became the hit it was and that long pedigree before they became mainstream is probably part of the reason why I like their music.

Day twenty four and my final day of my Musical Advent Calendar is a Christmas song. Well it is an advent list, so not to have at least one festive song would be a bit amiss. I have chosen for today, Greg Lake’s I believe in Father Christmas. This is one of those few Christmas songs I really like hearing again and again. The only one that comes close is Jona Lewie’s Stop the Cavalry.  What I like about Greg’s song is that though there is a festive theme, there is a powerful message within the lyrics that should make you stop and think.

So there we have it, that’s my musical advent calendar for this year, and as the big day approaches, hope you all have a Happy Christmas.

Be seeing you.