Writing on Music


Maura wrote about which albums she'd put in a jukebox, and while I hate to appear like I have no ideas of my own, she asked for other lists and I can't resist such self-indulgent High Fidelity-type challenges.


In Music on 22 March 2000. 1 comment. Permalink

Bleeding Obvious

This is going to sound like stating the bleeding obvious, but bear with me: This huge fuss with the recording industry and MP3s is a real vindication of how powerful all this digital stuff is.


In Music on 27 August 2000. Permalink

Popstars - the year ahead

I think the rejected five should be formed into a band, a kind of anti-Popstars. Bitter, vengeful young things wearing black and singing about death, drugs and the pain of being hugely talented attractive folk who don't quite cut it. This will be bigger than all previous rock'n'roll feuds rolled into one. It'll reach a peak by Christmas when Popstars A will make a bid for the Xmas No. 1 with their cover of a classic Steps tune, only to have Popstars B (since blamed for three school shootings and the ritual sacrifice of a pet hamster in Dulwich) release a surprise rival bid for the top, a hate-filled scream-fest of bile about how they've never liked any of the Christmas presents their parents ever bought them and what's Boxing Day all about anyway. The entire Christmas Top of the Pops will be given over to a marathon Popstars session with Billie presenting from the safety of a plexiglass booth in the corner of the studio. Both groups play all their number one hits of the past year, while rival groups of teenage fans pelt each other with Sunny Delight-soaked wads of Pringles as the climax approaches. The final five minutes are simulcast on BBC 1 and 2 in a unique "interactive TV experiment," allowing the viewer to select images and sound of their favourite of the two Xmas singles, being sung simultaneously by the bands now seperated by a fire-filled chasm. Across the nation fights break out in living rooms as sulky teenagers beat their younger siblings senseless with remote controls in an effort to watch their favourite anti-heroes scream on BBC2. As both tunes leave their simultaneous middle-eights, with the Irish lad about to angrily RiverDance his way over to Myleene and burn the strings of her harp, with the studio descending into some horrific pre-pubescent West Side Story, with Billie cowering alone in her piss-sodden booth, Darius will descend from the heavens and bring peace and love to the world, and a new era of enlightenment shall dawn in which all men will be free to sing Britney Spears tunes without fear of being mocked by their peers.

In Music on 5 February 2001. Permalink

Festive taping vs festive downloading

I'm currently listening to John Peel's Festive Fifty on Radio 1, an annual event in which he plays tracks voted for by listeners. It's been a ritual for me every year since 1989 when I first began working out what music I genuinely liked. And almost every year since then I've managed to tape at least some of the Fifty, looping through it on a walkman for weeks into the following year. However, this year I'm not recording it, despite the broadcast conveniently fitting into a single evening...


In Music on 27 December 2002. 3 comments. Permalink


Last week the New York Times had an interesting article about about the most underrated albums of 2002 (read it either at the NYT or pasted into this Yahoo! Group message). I haven't heard of most of the artists listed, although a growing liking of country, thanks to John Peel, means I have a passing recognition of Mary Gauthier and Nina Nastasia. The article cropped up because this post on the Peel mailing list mentioned Akufen, who I'd never heard of. There's an interview with him here. Turns out that he produces some rather wonderful music consisting almost entirely of samples, usually only a fraction of a second long. Frenetic and fun, his My Way album (US, UK) has my foot tapping rapidly in a freakily jerky and alarming manner. Which is always a good sign.

In Music on 13 January 2003. Permalink

Greil Marcus

One of the few writers I used to use Byliner to track was Greil Marcus and his 'Real Life Rock Top 10's on Salon.com. Most music writers seem to drain music of all excitement just by writing about it, but Marcus doesn't lose a drop. He can describe a track by someone I'd normally dismiss out of hand and after a paragraph I'll be hunting the MP3.


In Byliner, Music on 9 July 2003. 1 comment. Permalink

What are the chances of that happening, eh?

I hadn't listend to 6 Music since just after it launched, but I gave it a whirl this evening and within minutes a Brian Eno documentary started! I was intrigued as it was billed as the first part of a series, and while I've heard hour-long shows on him before, a whole series would be a real treat. Unfortunately the series is only two parts long. And each part is half an hour.


In Music on 4 August 2003. Permalink

Summer playlist

I've nearly finished Greil Marcus's Mystery Train and his eloquent enthusiasm has had me hunting for music I'd never usually listen to, all of which sounds unusually good in the UK's current heatwave. So, in case you feel like doing the same...


In Music on 7 August 2003. Permalink

Ella Guru

Heard on Late Junction last night, the Liverpool band Ella Guru and their song On a Beach. Peaceful, late night whisperings from a man sounding like Mark Linkous trying not to wake anyone. Some people I can think of might describe it as hippy goth shit, but it's gorgeous and you can hear it, and buy it, on the simple-yet JavaScript laden Banana Recordings website.

In Music on 12 September 2003. 2 comments. Permalink

McSweeney’s vs They Might Be Giants

Saturday night I went to see McSweeney's vs They Might Be Giants at the Barbican. To be honest, I didn't have high hopes.


In Music on 7 October 2003. 6 comments. Permalink

The Caretaker

John Peel played a track by The Caretaker earlier this evening. It's good stuff and you can download some MP3s from his album. All legal like.


In Music on 16 October 2003. Permalink


I was going to post this in Links, but I had a little too much to say about Audioscrobbler. I've a feeling I may be well behind the times on this one, but it's new to me (thanks Tom).


In Music on 15 April 2004. 4 comments. Permalink

Less metadata, more music

I can recommend throwing away your To Do list, especially if its list of dull chores hasn't changed in a couple of years. But I can also recommend leaving one item on your To Do list; that big but fun task you've been saving for when all the dull tasks are completed.


In Music on 1 June 2004. 6 comments. Permalink

We’re gonna need a bigger pipe

I've been grabbing music from Mostyn's Music Page for some time, but I only recently realised that a whole MP3 Blog scene has been blossoming out there. It's official: I am now (at least) several weeks behind the bleeding edge.


In Music on 11 June 2004. 2 comments. Permalink

MP3 blogs and the record labels

Dan points to an interesting discussion at The Morning News between a bunch of MP3 bloggers who seem remarkably optimistic about the genre's future. While I'd love a thousand MP3 blogs to bloom, thinking that record companies will be their loving gardeners seems rather misguided given said companies' previous track record on this kind of thing. It'll only take blogs to reach a brief level of mainstream popularity before the cease and desist letters are sprayed like a liberal dose of weed killer.


In Music on 12 August 2004. 2 comments. Permalink

Morning News interview with Alex Ross

There's a great interview with Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker over at The Morning News. I'd normally just whack a link in the link blog but there's so much good stuff here worth quoting. It's hard to pick the best paragraph, but this one about how to get into classical music from popular tastes is a good one, given I wish I knew more about classical:


In Music on 9 September 2004. Permalink

Top Tunes of 2004

Every year I do not make a CD of my favourite tunes of the past twelve months and give copies to a few friends. No. Because while honest and good people have been making and sharing mix tapes for decades without civilisation collapsing, burning CDs and giving them to a few friends is, as we all know in this terrifying age, the spark that leads to the fiery hells of crime, drugs and, of course, terror.


In Music on 14 February 2005. 7 comments. Permalink

Piano Notes by Charles Rosen

Fascinating insight into the world of professional piano-playing. I think you'd get even more out of it if you either play the piano (something I haven't done for years) or have been to a lot of concerts. Made me realise how far away I am from really understanding and knowing the few works I'm vaguely familiar with.


In Books, Music on 15 April 2005. 2 comments. Permalink

Europa and Hackensack

I do like some soppy songs, and Fountains of Wayne's Hackensack is one of them. It's not just boy loses girl, but boy loses childhood girlfriend who then becomes famous and successful. Somehow this makes the song even sadder and it reminded me of Thomas Dolby's Europa and the Pirate Twins (and its less good sequel Eastern Bloc):


In Music on 15 May 2005. 1 comment. Permalink

The endless musical relay race

Dan Hill inflicted passed me the Musical Baton, an endless chain letter of musical blather. But it would be wrong to turn down the opportunity of talking about music I like. Desert Island Discs without the drawback of Sue Lawley.


In Music on 25 May 2005. Permalink

Nice chart of my MP3s over time

I'm fairly obsessive about the metadata on my MP3s and I do my best to fill in the Year of each track. 9,989 of my 12,217 tracks have a Year set, so there's still room for improvement. I wanted to see what the distribution of my music looked like over the past century and in the absence of iTunes being able to draw pretty graphs (all that data; surely Apple's missing a trick here) I did one in Excel:


In Music on 1 June 2005. 2 comments. Permalink

UK gig ticket alert service wanted

This morning I realised I missed Stars playing at the Garage last night, which reminded me to write this idea up for the Lazyweb.


In Music on 10 September 2005. 10 comments. Permalink

Paul Morley’s ‘Words and Music’

Nearly three years after a Pepys reader kindly gave me a copy, I’ve finally got round to reading Paul Morley’s Words and Music. I enjoy seeing Morley on TV clip shows (I Love the Third Week of 1978, Top 100 Singles with ‘B’ in their Name, etc) where he’s one of the few to say something that has been thought about, even if it doesn’t make sense. I found 300 pages of that tough going at times though — when he’s writing about music, or writing about writing about music, it’s good stuff, but when it’s page after page describing how shiny Kylie Minogue is as she drives a car toward a city made out of music I end up skimming, looking for something interesting.


In Books, Music on 28 November 2006. Permalink

My top tunes of 2006

At the end of each year I like to make a CD of my favourite music of the year. Last year I didn’t, either because there wasn’t enough I really liked, or I was too busy, or too computered-out, or all three. But this year I suddenly had a bit of time and there’s been loads of good stuff. And, below, is what I’d put on this year’s CD, complete with MP3s (for a limited time only), for your clicking pleasure. I decided to simply order them chronologically, according to when they grabbed me, and restricted myself to only one track by each artist.


In Music on 28 December 2006. 2 comments. Permalink

A laudable idea

Boing Boing has a post urging people to take part in the BBC’s Consultation about On Demand Services. A laudable idea except Boing Boing’s post is entirely about getting people to say that the proposed service shouldn’t solely use Microsoft products. I’m certainly in favour of avoiding Microsoft (and if the BBC avoids RealPlayer too, even better) but sending Boing Boing readers to the consultation with only this issue in mind, and telling them the form “takes 5 minutes to fill in”, really isn’t helping the BBC or licence fee payers.


In Music, Television on 3 February 2007. 5 comments. Permalink

Top Tunes of 2007, part 1

I managed to post my Top Tunes of 2006 before the year was even over. This year’s been a bit busier so instead I like to think I’m first with the forthcoming 2007 nostalgia action. Do you remember the iPhone? You had to actually touch it with your fingers!? Do you remember it?


In Music on 14 August 2008. Permalink

Top Tunes of 2007, part 2 and 3

My plan to write about my favourite music of last year in three parts, and put the tracks from each one up on Muxtape has been foiled. The music industry appears to have shut the site down, part of its continuing campaign to make time run backwards to the 1980s.


In Music on 22 August 2008. 3 comments. Permalink

Chart Hits 83

Twenty-six years ago I saw a TV ad for a music compilation, put it on my Christmas list and unwrapped it on Christmas Day. That’s how life works when you’re twelve. I’ve a feeling I was given a different compilation than the one I asked for — maybe the TV ad was for the first Now That’s What I Call Music — but I didn’t care and listened to it over and over and over again.


In Music on 25 February 2009. 2 comments. Permalink

The £10,000 playlist

It wasn’t long ago that buying a purely digital piece of music — downloading a file rather than paying for a piece of holdable plastic — seemed terribly modern. But already I feel like an old fool when I visit Amazon or 7Digital to pay for an MP3. These days, a several-megabyte file on my computer is starting to feel as much of a burden, as much of a physical thing to cart around for the rest of my life, as a CD or a cassette or a record.


In Music on 22 October 2009. 6 comments. Permalink

Top Tunes 2009

Last year I got so involved in trying to get my “favourite tunes of 2008” list just right that I never finished it or posted anything. So this year I’m not treating it like a big deal and will get this done within an hour…


In Music on 31 December 2009. Permalink

‘Always Magic in the Air’ by Ken Emerson

I recently read Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era by Ken Emerson (Amazon US, UK) which was very good and very recommended if you’re at all interested in the music churned out by those around New York’s Brill Building in the 1950s and 60s.


In Books, Music on 9 May 2011. 2 comments. Permalink

‘Always Magic in the Air’ Spotify playlist

Yesterday I wrote about Ken Emerson’s book Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era (Amazon US, UK). Today I have a Spotify playlist for those of you who use it. 166 tracks, seven hours of music.


In Music on 10 May 2011. Permalink

‘Rip It Up And Start Again’ playlist

I recently read Simon Reynolds’ brilliant book Rip It Up And Start Again, about post-punk and what came next (mostly what he calls New Pop). I learned about artists that hadn’t registered with me before, and saw others (mostly 1980s pop) in a new light. I’ve put together a 14 hour, 207 track Spotify playlist.


In Music on 7 November 2011. Permalink

Year-by-year playlist

While procrastinating today I made a playlist with a song named after every year since 1945.


In Music on 15 March 2013. Permalink

Mike Johnston’s Jazz Starter Kit playlist

While I’m blogging Spotify playlists, here’s one I made which I didn’t write about at the time. Over on the lovely The Online Photographer blog, in March 2011, Mike Johnston posted what he called a Jazz Starter Kit:


In Music on 19 March 2013. Permalink

The Sound and the Fury playlist

BBC FOUR recently had a three-part TV series about 20th century classical music, The Sound and the Fury which, to me, knowing little about the subject, seemed good. So, inevitably, I’ve made a Spotify playlist of the works it mentioned.


In Music on 19 March 2013. Permalink

Mini music genres: Famous exes

I like finding tiny musical genres: a few tracks that have something really specific in common. Not a broad theme like “Songs about London” but something more focused. So I thought I’d share them here, because you might have more suggestions for some of them. The first one is…


In Music on 1 July 2014. Permalink

Famous exes updated

Thanks to some suggestions, I’ve added a few more songs to yesterday’s post about songs written from the point of view of someone whose once-girl/boyfriend is now famous. You can jump straight to the new songs here.

In Music on 2 July 2014. Permalink

Reading about dancing about architecture

Ages ago I asked on Twitter if anyone could recommend music blogs to read, because I felt a bit out of touch. A few people suggested sites and I meant to summarise the advice. And here we all are.


In Music on 30 January 2015. Permalink

It is very nice

Since ripping all my CDs and only buying MP3s, I’ve missed the ability to easily browse my albums when deciding what to play. While I don’t hate iTunes as much as many people seem to, it still turns music into a joyless spreadsheet.


In Music on 5 September 2015. Permalink