Posts Tagged 'Songs'

Well-Worn Music

 

Do you ever sing really loudly, not caring whether anyone can hear you?  Sometimes the only thing that will lift my mood is filling my flat with my favourite music, loud, and singing at the top of my voice, even with the windows open, completely oblivious to whether or not my neighbours, people walking past down on the street under the window, or anyone else, can hear me.  What’s more, I know I can’t sing.  People often say that they are tone deaf.  I’m not.  I can hear perfectly well just how badly I sing, and it makes me sad, because whereas some people dream of flying high above the treetops like a bird, or ruling the world, or having mountains of gold to roll in, my dream, if I could choose any, would be to sing brilliantly, and play Sally Bowls in Cabaret.

The problem I find when it comes to music  is that I often feel my listening habits are stagnated.  Back in the days before i-tunes, when we actually played CD’s, I would always, without fail, put a CD in and immediately skip between the songs I liked.  I later developed a nagging worry that I was, quite rightly, skipping past many songs that I would probably love if I only gave them a chance, but I never did.  As technology progressed, so did I, and I moved on to creating CD’s of my favourite songs; disks filled exclusively with songs I loved and had listened to over and over again.  While it made me happy to hear these songs, I realise now that I was narrowing my musical taste, and limiting what I was exposing myself to, robbing myself of many opportunities of discovering new, equally loved, music.

Nowadays, I’m guilty of the same flaw.  The luxury of i-tunes has allowed me to create my ‘Top Rated’ playlist (a list of all the songs I love) and I find that I increasingly only listen to these songs.  The reason?  I don’t trust the other songs, the ones that I haven’t earmarked as somehow special, to make me feel happy in the way the others do.  When I put my headphones in, I want to know that I’m guaranteed of hearing a brilliant song.  Now, I know that I should have more faith in the other songs, because I know very well that my i-pod only contains music that I love, by artists who I consider ‘good’.  So, why can’t I have more confidence and just reach for the shuffle button?  It’s a gamble, but I must do it.

 

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The Power of Songs to Make Us Cry

What is it about certain songs that touch one so deeply?  With some it’s the lyrics, others have such a beautiful melody, or even just the tenderness in the voice of the singer.  For me, there are a few, just a few, very special songs that I know, whenever I listen to them, will move me.  I’ve never actually shed tears solely from listening to a song, but some bring me very close.

Some songs hold a connection to someone we know, the subject and lyrics may remind us of someone in our family, which means that the song automatically connects to that person in our head.  An example would be Handbags and The Gladrags.  I find this song so incredibly sad, because it makes me think of my own Grandad and the line ‘That your poor old Grandad had to sweat to buy you’ makes me think of all the sacrifices my Grandad has made to give me things I wanted over the years, and how hard he worked to do it.  Some connections are less obvious.  For example, (another Rod Stewart song, sorry) in Maggie May, there is a line; ‘The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.’  The line always makes me think of my Dad, and how he’s ageing but still wants to be young, and the injustice of growing old, hanging on to youth.

Sometimes songs remind one of a time and place, a period in one’s life.  For example, two songs will always remind me of the phone call that told me I’d been accepted into University.  Immediately after I’d put the phone down, I played Last Night and Someday, both by The Strokes, to celebrate, and those two songs will always take me straight back to that moment of elation and pride.  Similarly, a group of songs will always remind of a certain summer that I spent in my flat, shut away behind closed curtains, which I will always think of as the summer when I found myself and learned to write.

I mentioned, at the start of this post, tenderness of voice.  Some songs have an emotional power, for me, because of a quality in the singer’s voice.  Examples of this would be Last of The Ladies, or any song really, by The Courteeners, because of the gentleness and  touching quality of Liam Fray’s voice.  All of their songs are excellent, and almost all of them are beautifully moving, because of his voice.  Similarly, Pete Doherty.  Many of the songs Doherty sings with The Libertines, Babyshambles, or on his own, have a euphoric and celebratory note, and are uplifting.  I happen to think that almost all of them are fantastic music.  Some of them, a small selection, are more sedate and take on a beautifully poetic and almost heart-breaking quality.  An example would be For Lovers, which is Wolfman featuring Pete Doherty.  This song is so sad in the tone, audibly, and incredibly sung.  Last summer I was out walking on my own with the dog and I turned off the path onto the Heath, near where I live.  I was surrounded by a vast expanse of fields on one side and a view over the river and fields full of horses on the other.  As I set off, veering slightly downhill, with the sun setting in a flare of gold and orange and green, over the fields, For Lovers came on my Ipod, and it took my breath away.  The beauty of the moment, and the sound of the song, was magic.

Just over a year ago I went to the funeral of an eighteen-year-old boy, who was a very close friend.  This young man was devoted, in a way you can’t imagine, to music.  He spent any time he had travelling down to London for gigs.  His heroes were Morrissey, Robert Smith, and Pete Doherty.  He’d shook Morrissey’s hand, and was a regular visitor to Pete Doherty’s gigs and flat, and was on friendly terms with him.  There is a video of him playing the guitar while Pete warbles through Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.  The funeral was a very religious, catholic ceremony, and nothing in the service moved me that much.  Aside from feeling undeniably devastated at losing this friend, I didn’t actually cry all the way through the ceremony, until it ended, and I heard the first few notes of Music When The Lights Go Out by The Libertines.  Nothing else in the service had spoken about this person as an eighteen-year-old lad, or even as a human being.  The service talked about God and heaven, but nothing personal.  When this song started playing, I felt suddenly that it was Dale’s funeral.  Since then, the song will always be special to me, even more than it was before.

In the way that smells can take me back to a memory, or a time and place, and make me instantly remember where I was and what I was doing, create a picture in my mind of a specific situation, music takes me instantly back to specific emotions, and recreates that feeling deep inside me, every time I hear it.

Can You Feel It?

We were told at Michael Jackson’s memorial service that his favourite song was Smile. Personally, I find it difficult to believe that a man with the undeniable musical ingenuity, the passion and soul that Michael Jackson exuded in every note and every movement, a man so inherently connected by some primal, inner force to the music he devoted his life to creating, held above all other music a song written by Charlie Chaplin, a song whose only really remarkable merit is the admirable and touching sentiment;

When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by
If you smile through your fear and sorrow
Smile and maybe tomorrow
You’ll see the sun come shining through for you.

But, what can one believe? We are flooded daily with a deluge of conflicting and tenuous information based on the most spurious sources and motives. Was Michael Jackson, one of the most prolific, talented and influential artists of all time, so struck by the sanguine candyfloss of the song’s lyrics, which are admittedly very sweet , that this cheerful little number replaced every other song in history as his favourite? All the soul and technical achievement of musical history, the great artists and number one hits? Are all the dancefloor fillers, poetic lyrics and bone-shaking beats discounted in favour of Smile? It’s possible. However, perhaps this is all part of the myth and image that we are supposed to believe, a sort of Father Christmas figure and we’re not supposed to lift the beard. Does someone want us to see Michael Jackson as a sweet, childlike elf, dancing around Neverland to Smile and being moved by the chipper motivation? Why would it be inconceivable for the public to believe that this musical giant, genius and god, this man who created Billie Jean, Smooth Criminal and so many others, might have had a more mature and frankly musical taste in music.
Watching the footage of Michael performing at the 1995 MTV Awards, for a few seconds I thought the screen was showing stilted frames or somehow distorting the recording. I then realised that I what was seeing was a human being in full reality. Many people have performed what is known as ‘the robot’. Some have done it well, some less so, some have been outstanding, but they have always looked like a person performing as a robot. Watching Michael Jackson feels like watching a machine. It feels more than human, too perfect to be human, and yet somehow merging clean precision with dirty, animal imperfection and magnetic sexuality, polished and raw at the same time. His performance was flawless but the man and powerful humanity glimmered through in the hint of stubble on his chin and the wildness of his hair, something in his hips, something immaculately mechanic and simultaneously deeply human.

I find it so hard to believe that the music he listened to and was influenced by wasn’t something with more substance and soul than Smile. The song is very nice but surely the person who created the songs Michael did would need a stronger fuel to feed his fire. It would be like filling a Land Rover with extremely watered-down petrol, it wouldn’t be strong enough. Surely someone with so much music and beat running in their blood and bones, someone who could dance like Michael did, would need something stronger?

Futile conjecture is indeed futile, but illustrates something greater. Do we accept what we are told too easily? Shouldn’t we question information with discernment and less susceptibility? If we learn to be more sceptical and less easily manipulated by the media and those controlling it then perhaps people higher up and people running the country will have less power over us as a nation.
If we accept manipulation of the consumer in music, we accept it elsewhere, and manipulation can come in the form of substandard. I, for example, forgive Amy Winehouse her shambolic breakdowns on stage because of her proven talent. Artists like Amy Winehouse are genuine and real. They write the songs they sing, about their own experiences, and when they sing those emotions are vivid in their voice. Bands that play their own instruments are able to create something; completeness and a sincerity which is missing from bands that sit on stools and sing somebody else’s lyrics. Why do so many people, young and old, proudly state their musical preference as, for example, Westlife; a group of admittedly good looking young men who wear either identical or co-ordinating outfits (usually suits), mine to their own plastic, inoffensive, anodyne voices singing songs that have been covered by every band to come along for the past thirty (or more) years? The only word to encapsulate bands like this is ‘nice’. They look very nice and have very nice voices and are certainly very nice themselves. I can half-forgive (though reluctantly) the teenage girls who swoon and daydream over the polished, chiselled features and squeaky clean image, but I cannot understand the appeal for grown adults and wonder seriously whether the appeal is musical or simply matinee idol infatuation. Music should not be perfect or polished but raw, sensual and unafraid. For me, music is a human voice which demonstrates the life it’s lived in its imperfection and inimitability, a voice that doesn’t hide pain and the exertion of life. Lyrics that tell their story poetically and beautifully, and rhythm and beat that make you want to move, that speak to the body.

Watching Michael Jackson in 1995 was to watch a demonstration of physical transcendence. The music in that instance served more as a backdrop to the dancing but was in any case outstanding, but that performance was a master at their very best. Billie Jean is one of a small collection of songs which have this elusive power I have been attempting to define. The beat makes the body pulse and urge to move. You can’t help but want to dance. Do people really feel this when they hear a Westlife song? Two songs by Dusty Springfield, for example; Son of Preacher Man and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart are among the songs which urge me to sing, though none of the notes will be right, but they have this power.

Whether it’s live performance or listening to a cd, music has to make you feel, even change. If Westlife is what elicits that experience then who am I to argue?

Music to Feed The Soul

Music to Feed the Soul

Vikki Littlemore

Watching the footage of Michael Jackson performing at the 1995 MTV Awards, for a few seconds I thought the camera was showing stilted frames or somehow distorting the recording. I then realised that what I was watching was a human being in full reality. Many people have performed what is known as ‘the robot’. Some have done it well, some not so well, some have been outstanding, but they have always looked like a person performing as a robot. Watching Michael Jackson feels like watching a machine. It feels more than human, too perfect to be human, and yet somehow merging clean precision with dirty, animal imperfection and magnetic sexuality, polished and raw at the same time. His performance was flawless but the man and powerful humanity glimmered through in the hint of stubble on his chin and the wildness of his hair, the knowledge and experience in his hips, something simultaneously immaculately mechanic and deeply human.

There are artists who create the trends that others follow and true originality rarely occurs, even when it seems to. Even when people appear to be unique and original their originality can often be traced to somewhere far back, to someone who did it first. There are however rare artists who change how people feel about music, how people perform music and what music means. To all the ten year olds buying Justin Timberlake’s albums and concert tickets, he is almost certainly original. To them his style of dancing and the titled trilby hat are no doubt trendsetting and cutting edge. I remember only too well being told by my parents (both music lovers) that they’d seen it all before whenever I enthused in raptures about the latest one hit wonder in the number one slot.

Music is something powerfully personal, something we dance to in our bedroom when no-one can see us and one of the few things in life that we are able to choose for ourselves. When we are begging our parents for the latest trainers so that we fit in with our friends at school and struggling with the dilemma ‘all my friends are smoking so I should’, no-one tells us what song to listen to when we go home after school or what album to spend our last ten pounds on. Music is one of life’s rare choices. We form our decisions based on how specific music makes us feel. It’s one of the only things in life that one can make ‘my thing’, to have ‘my band’ and ‘my song’. It is profoundly our own. The songs of Oasis and Liam Gallagher’s voice for example, though I don’t particularly rate them as technically extraordinary, will never lose an almost mystic quality able to transport me instantaneously back to the 90’s and my teenage years like a sepia photograph, and will always ‘do something’ to me which I will never succeed in confining to words. Cold breath on the spine doesn’t begin do it justice. The last few seconds of Feeling Good by Nina Simone, no matter how many times I hear them, will never cease to take my breath away, and the way I feel about these pieces of music is something personal and unique. It may be similar to the experiences of other people, but never quite the same.

As someone who forgives Amy Winehouse her shambolic breakdowns on stage because of her talent, I find it impossible to understand the appeal that manufactured music has for so many people. Whether you enjoy her music or not, artists like Amy Winehouse are genuine and real. They wrote the songs they sing, the words are written about their own experiences and emotions and when they sing those emotions are vivid in their voice. Bands who play their own instruments are able to create something; a completeness and a sincerity which is completely missing from bands who simply sit on stools. Why do so many people, young and old, proudly state their musical preference as, for example, Westlife; a group of admittedly good looking young men who wear either identical or co-ordinating outfits (usually suits), mine plastically to their own pre-recorded, inoffensive, anodyne voices singing songs that have been covered by every band to come along for the past thirty (or more) years? The only word to encapsulate bands like this is ‘nice’. They look very nice and have very nice voices and are certainly very nice men. I can half-forgive (though reluctantly) the teenage girls who swoon and daydream over the polished, chiselled features and squeaky clean image, but I cannot understand the appeal for grown adults. True music should not be perfect or polished. It should be raw, sensual and unafraid. Another story altogether is the reason for people stating their musical preference as ‘dance music’, that I cannot understand.

I suppose it would be hypocritical to claim that music is a choice and then condemn those with different opinions to my own, but the clue (as they say) is in the question. How does one define music? For me, music is a real, human voice which demonstrates the life it has lived in its imperfection and inimitability, a voice that doesn’t hide pain and the exertion of life. Lyrics that tell their story poetically and beautifully, and rhythm and beat which makes me want to move, which vibrates and speaks to the body. Whether it’s live performance or listening to a cd, music has to ‘do something’ to you, has to make you feel, even change. If Westlife is what elicits that experience then who am I to argue?

Watching Michael Jackson in 1995 was to watch a demonstration of physical transcendence. The music in that instance served more as a backdrop to the dancing but was in any case outstanding, but that performance was a master at their very best. Billie Jean is one of a small collection of songs which have this elusive power I have been attempting to define, the power to ‘do something’. The beat makes the body pulse and urge to move. You can’t help but want to dance. Do people really feel this when they hear a Westlife song? Two songs by Dusty Springfield; Son of Preacher Man and Take Another Little Piece of My Heart are among the songs which urge me to sing, though none of the notes will be right. Certain songs make me want to sing and sing loud and have a power to fill me up from head to toe with an energy, a power, something indefinable. This is what music should do. It shouldn’t be ‘nice’ and safe, it should challenge the listener to a fight and win.

Music should have power, whether it’s the words, the beat, the voice or the instrumental performance, music should make you want to talk about it, to dance, to sing, even cry. I find it difficult to understand why there is such a place in society and in the music business for the manufactured music and android ‘bands’ which are evidently popular but in my opinion definitely not music.


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Sylvia Plath said; "Let me live, love and say it well in good sentences". My aim in life is to find things and people to love, so that I can write about them. Putting words together is the only thing I can see myself doing. This blog is an outlet, and I hope you enjoy reading it. Please feel free to comment on posts, or contact me by the special e-mail I've set up (vikki.littlemore@live.co.uk) with your thoughts.


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The New Remorse, Oscar Wilde.

The sin was mine; I did not understand.
So now is music prisoned in her cave,
Save where some ebbing desultory wave
Frets with its restless whirls this meagre strand.
And in the withered hollow of this land
Hath Summer dug herself so deep a grave,
That hardly can the leaden willow crave
One silver blossom from keen Winter's hand.

But who is this who cometh by the shore?
(Nay, love, look up and wonder!) Who is this
Who cometh in dyed garments from the South?
It is thy new-found Lord, and he shall kiss
The yet unravished roses of thy mouth,
And I shall weep and worship, as before.

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Music I Love (In no particular order, except that The Smiths are first)

The Smiths,
The Libertines,
The Courteeners,
Nina Simone,
Oasis,
Pete Doherty,
Gossip,
The Kills,
Amy Winehouse,
Arctic Monkeys,
Rod Stewart,
The Doors,
The Rolling Stones,
Etta James,
Babyshambles,
T. Rex,
The Jam,
Morrissey,
Guillemots,
The Kinks,
Jack White,
The Deadweather,
David Bowie,
The Winchesters,
The Cure,
Kaiser Chiefs,
The Kooks,
The Twang,
Kings Of Leon,
Pulp,
Blur,
The Housemartins,
The Ramones,
James,
Robots in Disguise,
The Klaxons,
Kate Nash,
The Raconteurs,
Regina Spektor,
Aretha Franklin,
Stereophonics,
The Contours,
Dirty Pretty Things,
The White Stripes,
New York Dolls,
Yeah Yeah Yeahs,
The Clash,
Style Council,
Velvet Underground,
The Horrors,
The Cribs,
Reverend and The Makers,
The Subways,
The Wombats,
Foals,
Elle S'appelle,
The Troggs,
The Beatles,
Echo and the Bunnymen,
Florence and the Machine.

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

Olive Cotton, Tea Cup Ballet, 1935

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Vikki's bookshelf: read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
1984
Twilight
Of Mice and Men
Pride and Prejudice
The Hobbit
The Da Vinci Code
Lolita
Tipping the Velvet
Wuthering Heights
The Picture of Dorian Grey and Other Works by Oscar Wilde
Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason
Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde
The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman
Moab Is My Washpot
The Bell Jar
The Other Boleyn Girl
On the Road
Brideshead Revisited
Revolutionary Road



Vikki Littlemore's favorite books »

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