Mixtape: Songs About Animals! 0

Inspired by the cuteness of the internet and the awesomeness of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, here’s a bunch of new wave songs about a whole range of the animals with whom we share this world — and who could slaughter us all if they ever organized! (For the Spotify playlist, click here.)

 

LM’s PICKS

Adam and the Ants: “Dog Eat Dog”
On “Dog Eat Dog,” you can practically hear Adam unshackling himself the old sound and S&M image that made him the Rodney Dangerfield of punk. While the music is still quite raw (and ominous: how I love that OOOWWWWW OOOOWWWWW), the words herald the arrival of a new Adam primed for pop stardom. “Our first single, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ was more or less a general assault on the public,” Adam told me during our Mad World interview. “I thought our music was better than everyone else’s, as every band does, and I put it lyrically. ‘Only idiots ignore the truth’ was a result of being ignored [by record labels and the press] for three years.” Hot “Dog” — Mr. Ant had arrived!

 

The Cure: “The Lovecats”; “All Cats are Grey”
I forgot to include “All Cats Are Grey” on our recent Color Mixtape, so I’m happy for this opportunity. The opposite of the playful “The Lovecats,” the Cure’s other kitty ditty sounds as solemn as its title. Sofia Coppola selected it as the song to play over Marie Antoinette’s closing credits, to signal the end of the party at Versailles and, indeed, the end of the young queen’s life (in the final scene, she’s being carted off to Paris where she’ll be imprisoned until her beheading). Call it mood-y music.



 

Duran Duran: “Hungry Like the Wolf”; “The Man Who Stole a Leopard”
“The animal within us” and “man versus woman” — or, rather, “man falling prey to woman” — are big themes in Duran songs. Interesting that, several decades post-“Wolf” — a Simon Le Bon metaphor that suggests sex brings out the animal in us  — Duran returned to the subject with “Leopard” (lyrics by Nick Rhodes), a love story between a man and actual feline.

 

“Lions,” Tones on Tail
I haven’t thought about this song in years! Our friend Jeremy suggested it. He’s just back from an African safari expedition, so he has big cats on the brain.

 

“Rock Lobster,” The B-52’s
Another Jeremy anecdote: One of his first jobs was hosting at a Red Lobster in Kissammee, FLA. Even before I was a vegan, you wouldn’t catch me eating crustacean flesh. Gross.

 

“Bring on the Dancing Horses,” Echo and the Bunnymen
I’ve been on an E&TB kick these days, thanks to their excellent new record. But watching this video had me lusing for the Ian McCulloch of his beautiful, pillow-lipped, big-haired heyday. And what a poet: “Shiver and say the words/Of every lie you’ve heard.” Sigh. If I could go back in time, I’d be an Bunnymen groupie. Although I’d probably get punched out by Courtney Love — that was her turf.

 

“Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” David Bowie
Love the song, but the movie terrified me. I always say how I’d like to come back as a cat in my next life, but the kind who lay around all day, not the kind in Cat People. Yikes!

 

“Release the Bats,” The Birthday Party
“Bite! Bite!” This one’s for my goth buds — particularly one of my oldest friends, Stacey. As a teen she insisted we call her Vampira. She had a pen pal named Morbidia, who insisted they trade vials of blood by mail. This being at the height of the AIDS epidemic, we suggested that wasn’t such a good an idea.

 

JB’s Picks

“I Want A Dog,” Pet Shop Boys
Pet Shop Boys have this little trick they deploy here and here where they take what seems like an unremarkable dance track and infuse it with unexpected emotion. That’s what happens with this Frankie Knuckles-produced song from Introspective, which pounds away for a few minutes until Neil Tennant starts singing, “I want a dog, a chihuahua, when I come back to my small flat I want to hear somebody bark, you can get lonely, I want a dog.” And then you realize you’ve just heard the saddest song ever made.

 

“See Jungle! (Jungle Boy),” Bow Wow Wow
Technically, nothing to do with apes, but Annabella does exhort the listener to throw off the constraints of civilization and live like a shit-flinging simian.

 

“Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag,” Pigbag
“Blue Monday” was a million times more successful, but this was the other monster independent dance record of the time. With New Order, you could maintain your sullen moody persona on the dance floor, but when this came on and the horns started blaring, all pretensions went flying out the window.

 

“Lions After Slumber,” Scritti Politti
Holy shit, this is a virtuoso performance. I love the gleaming sweatless perfection of latter-day Scritti Politti, but this b-side to “The ‘Sweetest’ Girl” has some real fire in its belly. It’s less a song than a lengthy, and I think largely improvised, litany of Green Gartside’s possessions, obsessions, failings, aspirations and pretensions. He keeps the ball in the air for more than six minutes and you can hear him getting lost in the track and you get lost along with him.

 

“Welcome to the Monkey House,” Animal Magnet
How is it I can’t remember where I left my keys and yet I am able to summon up the title and performers of a song I heard maybe once more than thirty years ago? Anyone? You Tube commenters lead me to believe Animal Magnet were a big deal in Birmingham and this was a major label release so perhaps there’s a Duran connection. Anyway, kind of fun in an overblown, affected way.

 

“Crow and a Baby,” Human League
Yeah, I’m aware crows aren’t animals, but Noah made room for two of them in the ark, and he was acting on orders from God, so who am I, or you, to contradict God and Noah? We commented in MW:TB that “Being Boiled’”s “Listen to the voice of Buddha/ Saying stop your sericulture” was one of the great unsettling opening lines in music history. “A crow and a baby had an affair/the result was a landslide, the result was a dare” runs it a close second. And it still weirds me out all these years later.

 

“Evidently Chickentown,” John Cooper Clarke
AMC’s PC-saga “Halt and Catch Fire” is far from a great show, but the music supervisor is doing an amazing job. I’m hearing songs on the soundtrack I never imagined popping up on an American drama: “Germ-Free Adolescents” by X-Ray Spex, “First Time” by The Boys, even “Are `Friends’ Electric”. But I don’t think I’ll ever be as astonished as I was when the nasal Northern voice of John Cooper Clarke, Manchester’s famous punk poet, turned up at the end of an episode of “The Sopranos”. The Martin Hannett-produced “Evidently Chickentown” is almost suffocatingly bleak and ominous. It fit perfectly into David Chase’s world of grudges and simmering violence. Here’s the scene and the song. (No chickens were harmed during this sequence. I don’t know that for a fact.)

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Mixtape: Book Club! 0

We write books. We read books. We love books. We’re bookish! JB is currently physically unable to put down “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt while LM is delving into the depths of “Legend! The Unauthorized Biography of Mike Score”. Here are some of our favorite eighties songs with tenuous literary connotations.

JB’s picks:

“Dance Stance,” Dexys Midnight Runners
The original horn-dominated Dexys line-up with Kevin Rowland voicing his displeasure at the proliferation of Irish jokes in the UK media of the early eighties. The chorus to “Dance Stance” is an impassioned riposte listing all the celebrated Irish literary figures Rowland can squeeze into a few lines: “Oscar Wilde and Brendan Behan, Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Pepys, Eugene O’Neil, Edna O’ Brien, Laurence Sterne…” No love for the guy who wrote the “Leprechaun” screenplay?

“Absolute Beginners,” The Jam
Before there was a movie for David Bowie to sing a theme to, there was the original 1959 novel by Colin MacInnes, which became quite the accessory for British hipsters of the early 80s to been carrying around and, on occasion, actually reading. Forgotten for many years, MacInnes’ book about an emerging new world of teenage London with it’s own music, language and fashion struck a resounding chord in the eighties when a dozen new post-punk cults were springing up on a weekly basis. Paul Weller’s attempt to capture the frenetic atmosphere of the book is barely more successful than Bowie’s big empty ballad but at least it sounds alive and attuned to MacInnes’ rhythms. There’s sufficient distance between Julien Temple’s unloved movie–the notion to make a Vincente Minelli-style musical wasn’t terrible, but there were no good songs and the lead guy was a dud–that maybe it’s time to make a gritty, sexy, authentic BBC miniseries.

“Cloudbusting,” Kate Bush
Well, yeah, “Wuthering Heights” was the obvious pick but why go with the easy choice when there’s this “Hounds Of Love” highlight? Based, as everyone is all too aware, on the relationship between psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his son Peter and their doomed efforts, detailed in Peter’s memoir, to make the father’s rain-making invention, the cloudbuster, coax moisture from above. Stirring song, touching video which allows father and son the happy ending they were denied irl.

“Books,” The Teardrop Explodes
A belated welcome to our Mixtape feature to a classic Liverpool band that’s perhaps a little unsung in these quarters. In MW:TB Ian McCulloch pours good-natured scorn on the notion of any kind of formative collaboration between himself and Julian Cope. But they did write this song together and both their bands took a crack at recording it. McCulloch approached it with his usual staring-into-the-void performance while Cope sauntered through it like the affable weirdo he was and, one presumes, still is.

“Killing an Arab,” The Cure
In the unlikely event of someone writing a song like this today, I have a feeling that songwriter would make sure that even the most literal-minded listener would be aware that they’re hearing the narrator’s thoughts after having read “The Stranger” by Albert Camus. Robert Smith did not give himself the luxury of explaining the he was putting himself in the mind of the novel’s main character and this song has been something of a stone in his band’s shoes ever since.

“Everyday I Write The Book,” Elvis Costello
Back when we first announced our intentions to write a weighty tome about the new wave phenomenon, the most common reaction was “Is Elvis Costello going to be in it?” Who could have foreseen that the figure so synonymous to so many Americans of a certain age with the term new wave would end up not being included in the book, and that Kajagoogoo would? But neither of us felt that strongly about him. LM’s reaction was along the lines of “he was just a singer-songwriter” and my own appreciation hit a peak with “Get Happy” and petered out soon after. This song comes from a period when he was consciously trying to balance his own artistic instincts and meet the needs of the marketplace and the strain shows a little. I’m glad he’s still around even though his last thirty years worth of recorded output falls under the category Records I Should Get Around To Playing But Never Will.

“Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls,” Book Of Love
Yes! A band with book in it’s name and a song that blatantly references The Exorcist, based on the scarific novel by William Peter Blatty. The 12-inch, which minimizes the actual song in favor of the Linda Blair dialogue-and-screaming samples, is a complete pleasure.

LM’S PICKS

“Space Age Love Song,” A Flock of Seagulls
Here’s something else I learned from the pages of Legend! The Unauthorized Bio of Mike Score — I mean, Mad World: The Book: A Flock of Seagulls got their name from Jonathan Livingston Seagull. “I’d read [the novella by Richard Bach] and it said a lot of things I was thinking. In the book, the seagulls squabble over food, and one of them realizes he has wings and can fly. He looks at all the other birds flying and says, ‘They have wings, I have wings. Look how high they’re flying. Why aren’t I flying that high?’ That was the inspiration. I went, OK, now I want to be a seagull, and my band will be A Flock of Seagulls. We all want to fly that high.” Pure poetry.

“True Faith,” New Order
Peter Hook told me that the title was taken from a James A. Michener book on “Texan Catholicism.” He went on to say that Power, Corruption & Lies was a phrase he stole from the back of Orwell’s 1984.

“Charlotte Sometimes” by The Cure
One of my favorite Cure songs, “Charlotte Sometimes” is based on Penelope Farmer’s children’s novel of the same name. The video brings the book’s young heroine to life, as she finds herself mysteriously transported back 40 years and into the body of a 1918 boarding student named Claire.

“Whip It,” by Devo
I hate to break it to the radio disc jockeys who thought this song was an ode to masturbation, but, in Mad World: The Book, Gerald Casale says the venerable Akron rockers’ biggest hit was “a Pynchonesque parody” inspired by Gravity’s Rainbow. “[Author Thomas Pynchon]’s writing these books and lyrics, and they are parodies of Horatio Alger: You’re number one! There’s nobody else like you! You can do it! Americans, pick yourselves up by the bootstraps and we can make it! We thought, We this is like the American version of Red Chinese propaganda.”

Such a Shame,” Talk Talk
Mark Hollis was a huge fan of The Dice Man — not the Ford Fairlane comedian; the 1971 book by Luke Rhinehart. Rhinehart is actually the name of the main character (the true author: the unfortunately named George Cockcroft), a psychiatrist who decides to spice up his boring life by rolling the dice, literally. He starts making decisions based on how the die turns up, and things get really dark, really fast. I’m going to add this one to my Goodreads list.

“No Love Lost,” by Joy Division
This early track from the Mancunian quartet — recorded not long after they decided to jettison their original name, Warsaw — found doomed frontman Ian Curtis including quotes from The House of Dolls by Nazi concentration camp survivor Ka-tzetink 135633’s. He also took the group’s name from the novella’s use of the term “joy divisions,” or camp brothels.

“The Wild Boys,” by Duran Duran
I ran out and bought The Wild Boys: A Book of the Dead the very day I discovered Simon Le Bon had a thing for William S. Burroughs’ apocalyptic account about the downfall of the western world. But he wasn’t the only one. Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust borrows from Boys, as does Patti Smith’s main character, Johnny, from her song “Land’; and Ian Curtis cited it as one of his favorite reads, as well. Of course, the Duran video also sought to illustrate the book’s chaotic scene post-civilization. Here’s the extended version:

“William, It Was Really Nothing” by The Smiths
It’s been said that the well-read Morrissey was inspired by Billy Liar, a 1959 novel by Keith Waterhouse about a working-class British teenager who dreams of making it big as a comedy writer.

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Past Vs Present: Prince, Billy Idol, Duran Duran and…MAGIC! 0

 

We moan a lot — like A LOT — in this recurring feature about how music was brimming with personality, imagination, and ambition in the eighties, and how it is currently bereft of all these qualities. But are we ancient doddering cave-people, as sentimentally attached to the music of our distant youth as our forefathers were to the crooners and big band combos of yore? Is Pitbull a straw man we keep bringing up to cast aspersions on what is actually a music scene as vibrant and compelling as Taylor Swift says it is? Only one way to find out. In a shocking break with formula, we’re going to put our regular UK vs US slapfest on ice and pit the current US chart against a vintage American Top 5 from the same week.

US Top 5, Week Ending July 14, 2014

5. ”Stay With Me,” Sam Smith

JB: Back when we were in heavy Mad World: The Book interview mode, two of the most common examples we’d bring up of the eighties superiority to our current predicament were the plethora of gay artists and the presence of so many non-US artists on the chart. Well, this Top 5 contains exactly one —one!— American artist, and it also makes room for the recently-outed Sam Smith. “In The Lonely Hour” is the must-have good-taste album of the moment. He’s a very capable singer, but this is a wee bit too precious for me. I feel like the audience whose hearts grew three sizes bigger when they heard John Legend’s “All of Me” put this right next to that on their sappy playlists.

LM: I know that “All of Me” is the wedding song of the year (decade?), but I’ll take Smith and his “Stay With Me” high notes over Legend and his dying-dog chorus any day. When I talked with my old friend Ron Fair, currently the chief creative officer of Virgin Records, at our Book Soup signing in West Hollywood, he was over-the-moon that Smith was poised to have a smash with this record. Fair knows from great voices. He’s brought us Christina Aguilera, and he was the one who convinced the Black Eyed Peas to take in Fergie from his girl group Wild Orchid. I’ve heard people call Smith “the male Adele.” Why? Because he’s English and he can sing? That only serves to illustrate how few truly gifted vocalists there are on the pop charts today. Perhaps this has always been true; and a great voice isn’t necessary an interesting one or a must-have for an artist to be a deserving pop star. However, we currently have all of these TV talent shows where the contestants are expected to have pitch-perfect voices with inhuman ranges. And yet, look at who the judges are. Paula Abdul. Jennifer Lopez. Kesha.

4. “Am I Wrong?” Nico & Vinz

JB: Yes.

LM: What he said.

3. “Problem,” Ariana Grade ft. Iggy Azalea

JB: I thought Miley Cyrus was the worst actress and best singer that tween TV would ever produce. Wrong on both counts! Emily Nussbaum, the great TV critic of The New Yorker, whose lead I have followed on several occasions (without her recommendation, I would not have discovered The Fosters and thus spared myself many tears) made the claim that Sam & Cat, the Nickelodeon sitcom that co-starred Ariana Grande was a Laverne & Shirley for the emoji demographic. Literally, I have seen cracked lobster shells with more life in them than Ariana Grande reciting lines in front of a camera. In front of a microphone, though, it’s a different matter. Her debut album was surprisingly solid 90s R&B-pop of the Marian Carey you-got-me-feeling-emotions variety. “Problem” is one of my favorite songs of the year, stitching together, in a Frankensteinian fashion, Jomanda-reminiscent 90s club sax, a crunk-pop whisper chorus and, once again, a vintage swoony Mariah Carey-esque breakdown (I wonder how MC, whose current album took a big bath, feels about one of her acolytes enjoying success with her old style. Probably doesn’t love it). Oh yeah, there’s someone else who contributes to this song, but we’ll get to her in a second.

LM: Back at no. 5 I remarked that there is a dearth of great singers on today’s music scene. Ariana is that rare specimen: a pop star who doesn’t need Auto-tune. Too bad this song is just blah. Music hacks have been nominating this for Song of the Summer, but that’s just lazy. “Problem”‘s problem is it isn’t fun. And it doesn’t stick to you like sand after a swim like a good SOTS should. As inane as “Call Me Maybe” is, you couldn’t help but sing along. Ditto “Somebody I Used to Know,” “ Royals,” and, going back a few years, “Umbrella.” The video’s cute, though.

2. ”Rude,” MAGIC!

JB: Maroon 5 threw down the gauntlet last year. They put out a reggae song that was like a dare. Like, let’s see how much the audience will accept, let’s see if anyone calls us out on our bullshit. Of course, no one did. And here’s MAGIC!, not only hellbent on proving themselves the opposite of fun. but determined to outdo Adam Levine with a song so insipid, so lifeless and feeble, it’s probably inspired a vast groundswell of low-aiming copycats.

LM: The other day a Facebook friend posted that this will go down as the year he finally fell out of step with popular music. Maybe the same goes for me, because I have no idea what this is. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it before…but it sounds like so many other songs I have heard before. The video has no redeeming qualities either. And what’s with the all-caps in their name? And are they trying to be like fun. by insisting upon having a punctuation mark at the end?(I just said that-jb)

1. ”Fancy,” Iggy Azalea ft. Charli XCX

JB: Song of the Summer, no doubt, but is this a real win for Iggy Azalea? What sticks with “Fancy’? Charli XCX’s hook. DJ Mustard’s Nu Shooz-like production. The Clueless call-backs. But Iggy’s facility on the mic? Not especially. I don’t care that her persona’s phony and she doesn’t write her own rhymes. That’s also the case with Rick Ross and my iTunes is groaning under the weight of his shit. My big picture gripe with Iggy Azalea is that she’d probably have been just as successful if she’d put less effort into coming across as a product of the Dirty South and simply presented herself as what she is: a blonde Australian woman.

LM: Agree: This is the Song of the Summer. First time I head this I thought, “Hey, Gwen Stefani’s got a new single out?!” I liked it instantly, but probably because it reminds me of Nucleus’ “Jam On It.” And it’s actually accompanied by a cute concept video which is well-timed with  Buzzfeed’s big 90s nostalgia push. And yet I can see Millennials putting this in their time capsule. In 2034, when some Sirius SM station is playing the Hits of the Teens, this song will be in regular rotation.

US Top 5, Week Ending July 14, 1984

5. “The Reflex,” Duran Duran

LM: This was a Song of the Summer circa 1984, thanks to Nile Rodgers’ radical remix of the rather dull Seven and the Ragged opener. Though I usually hit the bathroom when Duran plays it in concert these days — sadly I always manage to make it back before the end of the “ta-la-la-la” audience singalong — “The Reflex” single was Duran Duran at the height of their powers. It was a fun, upbeat dance song that translated into their first U.S. number one. It was accompanied by a glossy promo clip that simultaneously showed them to be video vanguards and an exciting live band. It was released while America was in the midst of Duran mania, the result of several months of sold-out Tiger Tour dates. All this, and they couldn’t possibly be any more gorgeous. sigh. Who is today’s Duran Duran? Crickets.

JB: What she said.

4. “Eyes Without A Face,” Billy Idol

JB: “Rebel Yell”-era Billy Idol was the best. It was the one time in his lengthy career he had the songs to back up the rock god buffoonery. “Rebel Yell” itself, “Blue Highway”, “Flesh For Fantasy,” “Catch My Fall”: all winners- and this, his big sensitive ballad inspired by a French art-gore cult movie about a mad scientist attempting to graft the faces of his victims onto his hideously disfigured daughter.

LM: That’s what “Eyes Without a Face” is about?! I’m riding a Billy Idol wave at the moment, probably in anticipation of his forthcoming autobiography, which will be published in the fall. I’ve included “Blue Highway” and “White Wedding” on our recent colors-oriented Mixtape; last night I heard “Flesh For Fantasy” for the first time in forever at Barcade (while playing Ms. Pacman, I might add). Over the years Billy’s become a bit of a cartoon (cut to that scene in The Wedding Singer when he’s cheering on Adam Sandler’s serenade of Drew Barrymore). But at his height, Billy was a hit-making machine — so much so, that the rocker could even record a fantastic ballad. And this was the time before power ballads!

3. “Jump (For My Love),” Pointer Sisters

JB: The Pointer Sisters’ Breakout album was huuuuge for me. I played it to death. “Automatic”, “Neutron Dance”, “I Need You”, “Baby, Come And Get It”, “Telegraph Your Love”: one hit and should-have-been-hit after another. Prince inspired a brief new wave r&b sub-genre. I don’t know that The Pointer Sisters were aware they were part of it but the producers and songwriters who made every second of “Breakout” gleam knew exactly what they were doing.

LM: This song was huuuuuge for me too, and I was kinda embarrassed by that fact. Thanks for making me feel better about it, JB!

2. “Dancing In The Dark,” Bruce Springsteen

JB: One of the big recurring themes of MW:TB is British punks turning themselves into pop stars and what we have here and in the record that follows is kind of the American version. I’m not saying Bruce Springsteen was a barely-known oddity before “Dancing In The Dark” but this was his most massive commercial gambit: a huge-sounding record with an iconic video and a massive hook and what was it about? Writer’s block! The frustrating art of creation. You don’t get that from Nico and Vinz!

LM: True Bruce fans knock this song, but I love it. And, really, it sums up what the year was all about: the decade’s icons at their biggest. Bruce, Prince, Madonna, Duran, Culture Club had mega singles, while Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper were still riding high with smash albums. When we think about the year that defined the music of the 80s, we think 1984.

1) “When Doves Cry,” Prince & The Revolution
JB: Two years before “Purple Rain” came out, the head of Sony Records had to threaten MTV with the withdrawal of every rock video if they did not air “Billie Jean” from Michael Jackson’s just-released “Thriller” album. Two years later, “When Doves Cry”, “Purple Rain” and the movie it soundtracked were all number one. America changed a lot in two years. You can attribute that to Michael Jackson and MTV and the influence of the British new wave influx, all of which coalesced in Prince’s feverish brain and produced this weird record that– and I know I say this a lot– sounded like nothing else anyone had heard at that time. But, previously, records that sounded like nothing else only found an appreciative audience in people who wanted records that sounded like nothing else. In 1984, mainstream America sounded like this record.

LM: As I was saying: 1984! Prince at his most royal. To my then-13-year-old ears, this song sounded important. This song felt huge. It was EPIC. And he was 26! Just think about how many deserving nominees there were for SOTS that year! Was it this? Or “Let’s Go Crazy”? Or “The Reflex”? Or “Dancing in the Dark”? Compare that to today.

 

JB: Tough call. JK! 1984 was a notoriously awesome year, but when Ariana Grande is the pinnacle of pop, we’re in a dark place.

LM: This was an interesting experiment, but YIKES! I may be sad that my eyesight is going and my advanced age is giving me major problems in the baby-making department, but I’m glad I came of age when I did.

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