Music Reader: Miley Cyrus, HTRK, Schlock, U2, more

Wherein I link to good music writing I’ve noticed recently.

Various recent music writing by yours truly

I am bad at updating tumblr recently (I think I am intimidated by having way too many interesting people and things on my dashboard, I can never get through it all and should probably cull). Anyway, I have written a couple of Number Ones columns for TheVine recently, including:

Number Ones - Ed Sheeran ‘Sing’, in which I analyse Ed Sheeran through the prism of the singer-songwriter and the prism of the Justin Timberlake kind of stuff that’s in this song (Wednesday May 7th, 2014)

Number Ones - Justice Crew ‘Que Sera’, in which I analyse the song with reference to Doris Day, Christopher Marlowe, Kulcha, and Hi-5 (Monday May 12th, 2014)

And then there’s the weekly Music Reader column, which has been full of high quality recently - that Elvie Thomas piece and the Sia piece are both fantastic, and that’s just the two pieces from the New York Times:

Music Reader - Sia, Britpop, Beyonce, Cornershop, more (Thursday May 1st, 2014)

Music Reader - Elvie Thomas, KISS, Lady Gaga, Kate Bush, more (Wednesday 23rd April, 2014)

And I also am now doing the On This Day content for the Foxtel retro-focused music channel Max TV…if you see a little popup at the bottom of your screen telling you that on this day in 1989 Mike & The Mechanics went to #1, well that’s me. Also, on Max’s website, I do a couple of paragraphs about what happened on this day (which are not archived, so keep checking back), such as: 

TUESDAY, MAY 13th

1989: Mike & The Mechanics get to #1 in the Australian charts with ‘The Living Years’.

As the English prog rock band Genesis were performing lengthy instrumental solos in the early 1970s, I wonder: did any of them have any inkling that so many different members of the band would go on and have successful solo careers making fairly straightforward pop music in the 1980s? Peter Gabriel, of course, was Genesis’s lead singer before going solo in the mid-1970s, and in the mid-1980s had a big MTV hit with ‘Sledgehammer’. Phil Collins was originally the drummer in Genesis, before taking over as lead singer in the wake of Gabriel’s departure. Collins’ solo career had an embarrassment of riches in songs like ‘Against All Odds’ and ‘In The Air Tonight’ (and judging by ‘Another Day In Paradise’, Collins actually was a bit embarrassed by his riches). Even Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett had a top 20 hit in the US as part of the supergroup GTR. 

And, in 1989, it was Genesis bass player Mike Rutherford’s turn. With his side project Mike + The Mechanics, the song was sung by Paul Carrack (who also sang prominently on Squeeze’s hit ‘Tempted’). It’s a catchy thing, and it sounded good on Australian radio in between Noiseworks and INXS. It was at #1 for a single week, before Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ returned to the top of the charts.

The song was nominated for a Grammy, and it had some big fans in unusual places: famed composer Burt Bacharach said in 1996 that ‘The Living Years’ was one of the finest songs of the last 10 years.

Number Ones: Sheppard 'Geronimo'

I am slightly mean to Brisbane band Sheppard. Not that they care, they’re at #1. 

Number Ones: 5 Seconds of Summer's 'She Looks So Perfect'

The new #1 single in Australia, finally toppling ‘Happy’ after 11 weeks of enforced smiles.

Music Reader: Tori Amos, Paul Simon, The Smith Street Band, more

And back to our regular programming - today’s Music Reader for the Vine!

Music Readers, etc.

Hello world,

Since I last posted on Tumblr, I’ve moved interstate (to Marrickville in Sydney, NSW), and I’ve been without the internet, properly, for over a month. This has made writing a weekly column about music writing unsurprisingly difficult (I wrote a couple of them using library internet). But I wrote them anyway.

Anyway, here are some old music reader columns for you:

12 February: Music Reader - Metronomy, The Smiths, Berghain, Pussy Riot, more

19 February: Music Reader - Beck, Rebecca Black, INXS, Killah P, more

05 March: Music Reader - Dolewave, Neneh Cherry, Pharrell, more

13 March: Music Reader - T-Pain, David Byrne, Hanson, Beach Boys, more

There’s not been a new #1 since A Great Big World; that was #1 for a week, and then the reign of Pharrell’s ‘Happy’ continued to this day. But  Tom Hawking kindly mentioned me in his piece on Ted Gioia’s attack on pop criticism: “I’ve expressed my suspicion of poptimism here before, but there’s no denying that a lot of today’s best music writers subscribe to its doctrine, and there’s plenty of serious analysis of the pop charts, both from a broad cultural viewpoint and from a seriously eggheaded one (for the latter, look no further than Tim Byron’s “Number Ones” column on Australian website TheVine, which is an endearingly earnest musicological examination of chart-toppers past and present).

(Inevitably I want to argue that I’m more popstoic than poptimist - modern chart pop usually isn’t my choice of listening, but I recognise that skill and taste usually goes into its making - and I only sometimes get musicological, but thanks Tom!)

Number Ones: A Great Big World 'Say Something'

I ended up being a bit late to the party writing about this one (which also features Xtina), and after a week at #1, this was replaced by a 6th week of ‘Happy’. And it’s funny in a way that a week of sadness infiltrated the ‘Happy’ bubble; ‘Say Something’ is a pretty sad song, with the hook “I’m giving up on you”. So this one is mostly about why people listen to sad music.

Music Reader: Arcade Fire, INXS, The Eagles, Dick Diver, more

This week’s links to awesome music writing.

Music Reader: Kanye, Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore, Bob Dylan, more

Linking to what seemed to me to be interesting and thoughtful music writing.

I’ve finally finished reading Bob Stanley’s excellent Yeah Yeah Yeah, in which he covers pop history in the age of the physical single (from the early-to-mid 1950s to about the end of the century, when Napster, iTunes, Spotify etc changed things). It’s an education, reading the book - there’s lots of very interesting stuff he discusses that I’d never heard, and I thought I had a pretty well-rounded knowledge of things (and the Britishness of his perspective puts a different spin on things too). Anyway, it’s a book that definitely benefits from having Spotify playlists to go to when you want to hear what things sound like; Stanley references an encyclopaedia’s worth of fascinating pop music. The book is divided into five parts, and I’ve made a playlist for each of the five parts. I’ve tried to make sure I’ve got original recordings, but they’re not always available and I might have gotten things wrong. To my surprise, these playlists I made for my own amusement have been popular on Spotify because other people have clearly had the same impulse and searched for such things - the Part One playlist has Spotify 43 followers, for example. 

Part Five, above, has the early years of techno (Derrick May, Frankie Knuckles), baggy/Madchester (Happy Mondays, Stone Roses), the development of house (Black Box, Haddaway), the development of rap (LL Cool J, Wu-Tang Clan), triphop and shoegaze (Massive Attack, My Bloody Valentine), alternative rock (The Replacements, Nirvana), Britpop (Blur, Oasis), and R&B (Whitney Houston, Missy Elliott).

(Source: Spotify)