#1004: 1965, Bob Dylan, Like A Rolling Stone

by George_East on March 29, 2015

We have reached the half way mark of our top 10 greatest songs not to have featured in Songs To Learn and Sing – a feature we are running to mark the reaching of our 1000th song.

If The Beatles’ Paperback Writer expanded the possibility of what a pop song could be, it was Like A Rolling Stone that did the same for rock music.  This is a song that is so capable of interpretation that rock music’s greatest critic, Greil Marcus wrote a whole book about it.

Its lyrics with Dylan’s sneering ‘how does it feel?’  spat with seeming contempt rather than compassion, to the woman who is the apparent subject of the song and who ‘once upon a time dressed so fine’ but is now ‘like a complete unknown’, is on the face of it the very definition of bitterness.  What on earth did she do, to deserve this vitriol?

But beneath that surface reading Dylan is playing with much bigger themes – it is on a deeper reading a song about those who find themselves cast out from society and its expectations.  That if you don’t play the game, you will no longer belong, you will no longer have the support structures around you.  Dylan maybe referring as much to himself here as anyone after the bruising experience of the ‘Judas’ tour of the UK.   Yet it is rejecting these very things with all the risks that involves that is ultimately liberating: ‘when you got nothing, you got nothing to lose, you’re invisible now, you’ve got nothing to steal’.

Yet it is also a song which resonates with the romanticism of the hobo lifestyle that inspired many of the dustbowl singers like Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, who themselves were huge inspirations on the early folky political Bob Dylan.   So it is a song which both celebrates the liberation from the expectations of being the great hope of the folk scene but also looks back with fondness to the lifestyle that that scene celebrated, but that perhaps commercialisation had now made false.

If you add in that extraordinary keyboard sound, its 6.13 length Bob Dylan set a benchmark for rock sophistication and rock as art, that would be aspired to ever after (if rarely reached).

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Songs To Learn and Sing Hall of Fame #3: The Smiths

by George_East on March 29, 2015

The SmithsWith Jackie South’s posting of the truly epic How Soon Is Now? as part of our current 10 greatest songs not to have yet appeared in Songs To Learn and Sing, The Smiths became the third artist to gain entry to our exalted Hall of Fame, after The Beatles and The Clash. And who could argue with that?

What The Smiths have in common with both of their fellow Hall of Famers is that they had the good grace to split up at the very top of the game. There was no continuing into their dotage gradually getting more embarrassing and tarnishing the memory of their glory years.   The Smiths burnt very brightly but for an extraordinarily brief time.   From formation to split was only 5 years: 1982-1987. Their recording lifespan lasted from the release of their debut single Hand In Glove in May 1983 to May 1987 when they recorded the final tracks for their final album Strangeways Here We Come – the band were over by the time of the album’s release in that September.

The Smiths were my band. By that I don’t mean that somehow I was an additional member of the band – the Pete Best (or Vini Reilly for the completists out there) but rather they were the band that I lived and breathed. I developed and grew up with them. I was just getting into music in a big way when their initial singles came out (I bought What Difference Does It Make?, their third single in my local Woolworths the week it was released, and every single and album thereafter as it came out), and was in the sixth form when John Peel announced they had split. I shed several tears that night.

They were the complete package as a band. In Johnny Marr possibly the greatest guitarist to have ever graced rock n roll and in Stephen Patrick Morrissey an auto-didact intellectual lyricist who somehow had the ability to describe exactly how rejection or teen awkwardness felt, only in a poetic and darkly comic way that even when you were feeling exactly what he was, you could have never articulated. Except of course they never seemed to be able to recreate the power of what they did after the split up – their individual genius was really a mutual genius. They required each other to reach the heights of greatness that they did.

Each and every song they recorded was worth listening to, intently. The Smiths were the kind of band who had so much great material, that a song as world beatingly brilliant like How Soon Is Now? started out as the extra track on the 12” of William It Was Really Nothing?

They didn’t release a bad album.   The four studio albums (The Smiths, Meat Is Murder, The Queen Is Dead and Strangeways Here We Come) all have their fierce advocates. All are wonderful. If you add to that possibly the greatest compilation album of all time – the album that probably I played more in my teen years than any other, Hatful of Hollow, which compiled Peel sessions and b sides, and the later The World Won’t Listen (a kind of Hatful of Hollow for the last couple of years) you have a collection of records that most bands could not even dream of.

Yet, in truth The Smiths were not even primarily an albums band. They were the last great singles band – seeped in Morrissey’s love of classic 1960s pop and rock n roll, they recorded a series of peerless 3 minutes pieces of angst ridden pop perfection. The release of a new Smiths’ single was an event in itself.

With their distinctive cover art of 1950s and 1960s pop and high cultural figures and literary references, The Smiths were also an education, introducing my generation to Shelagh Delaney, Jean Marais and others.

There has not been a band remotely as good since.

The first ten Smiths’ songs to have featured in Songs To Learn and Sing in order of appearance are:

 

1. #18: 1986, There Is A Light That Never Goes Out;

2. #144: 1987, Death of A Disco Dancer;

3. #228: 1987, London;

4. #257: 1986, The Queen Is Dead;

5. #575: 1986, I Know It’s Over;

6. #649: 1984, Suffer Little Children;

7. #697: 1983, Handsome Devil;

8. #780: 1986, Cemetery Gates;

9. #993: 1984, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now;

10. #1001: 1985, How Soon Is Now?

 

We have also featured Sandie Shaw’s cover of Hand In Glove, which included all The Smiths bar Morrissey.

 

That’s 4 songs from The Queen Is Dead, 1 each from The Smiths, Meat Is Murder and Strangeways Here We Come and 3 that did not appear on any of the studio albums.

As is traditional, my top 5 Smiths songs (as of this moment – save for the first two again this fluctuates by mood):

 

  1. There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

 

  1. How Soon Is Now?

 

  1. This Charming Man

 

  1. The Headmaster Ritual

 

  1. William It Was Really Nothing.

 

And my  top 3 albums (ignoring Hatful of Hollow and The World Won’t Listen).

 

  1. The Queen Is Dead

 

  1. The Smiths

 

  1. Meat Is Murder.

 

Yours?

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The Battle for Number 10: Paxman Wins Round One

March 27, 2015

The election campaign has begun. The parliamentary term of 2010-2015 has come to a close. Retiring MPs like Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, Jeremy Browne, Malcolm Bruce, Tessa Jowell and Brooks Newmark gave their farewell valedictory speeches in the House of Commons. So it is a goodnight and good luck to the good, the bad and […]

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Why The Establishment Hate The SNP

March 26, 2015

As Gandhi once famously said: “First they ignore you…then they laugh at you…then they fight you…then you win.” – This is a perfect summary of the establishment behaviour towards the SNP at present. One of the key themes emerging in this already weird election campaign is the vitriol being spewed out by the Tory media […]

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Ray North’s Six Nation’s Round Up

March 25, 2015

I am giving myself a pat on the back, because I correctly predicted that the 6 Nations rugby tournament would be dominated by Ireland, Wales and England, with the Irish emerging triumphant – and, in contrast to my rather iffy football predictions, I got this pretty much spot on. What I didn’t predict was that […]

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I Agree With Nick: Scrap PMQs

March 25, 2015

I really never thought I’d find myself agreeing with Nick Clegg over anything but his call a few months back for the weekly pantomime of Prime Ministers Questions to be scrapped was absolutely spot on.  Today saw the last clash between David Cameron and Ed Miliband before the election.  The Tories used it to wrong […]

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Amin, The Falklands, Russia, the EDL and Tory Hypocrisy

March 24, 2015

Hold on a cotton pickin’ moment. I’ve just been listening to Michael Fallon, Minister of State for Defence, on the wireless – Mr Fallon, has been telling me (and indeed the other millions) that apparently, the Russians are ‘thinking about negotiating a deal with the Argentinians to sell them bomber aircraft.’ Note two words in […]

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0% Inflation Is Bad News (Not That You Would Know It From The Media)

March 24, 2015

Expect a whole bunch more George Osborne Is Jesus headlines tomorrow because the ONS announced today that inflation  in the year to February was 0%.  In the world of Media Macro (copyright Simon Wren-Lewis) this is to be celebrated because inflation means Zimbabwe or Weimer Germany, or even worse, whisper it with dread, the 1970s. […]

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David Cameron Issues the Longest Resignation in Political History

March 24, 2015

Picture the scene. Two Etonian old boys chewing the fat (or rather the sun blushed tomatoes, artisan bread and quails eggs) in a chic country abode in the Cotswolds. Both men are quite relaxed in each other’s Born to Rule company. Perhaps a little too relaxed. Like a scene from something out of a Richard […]

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#1003: 1971, David Bowie, Life On Mars?

March 24, 2015

Welcome to the next song within our shortlist of fantastic songs that have yet to be included into our pantheon of songs to learn and sing. Quite frankly, it is a bit of a disgrace that we have not included David Bowie’s Life On Mars?. The song comes from Bowie’s wonderful Hunky Dory album which […]

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Week 12: Prat – Danny Alexander

March 23, 2015

This Week’s Prat of the Week, overwhelmingly, is the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Lib-Dem MP, Danny Alexander. There is a fine line between being endearingly enthusiastic and a prat. Now, I don’t know if I’ve shared this story with you before – and if I have, please bear with me, but once upon […]

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The General Election Horserace: Why 280 seats for the Tories is the key number

March 23, 2015

Save for Opinium’s poll for The Observer on Sunday, it would appear that George Osborne’s absurdly over-praised budget (how many ‘he’s shot Labour’s foxes’ articles is it possible to write?) has made precisely no impact on the polls.  With six and a half weeks to go things are pretty much where they have been since […]

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#1002: 1985, The Smiths, How Soon Is Now?

March 23, 2015

In selecting our top ten songs yet to feature here at Songs To Learn And Sing, running from song #1000 onwards, the four of us each submitted a list of five songs. Three were on both George’s and my list: (White Man) in Hammersmith Palais, Paperback Writer and How Soon Is Now? How Soon Is […]

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Week 12: Hero – The Six Nations

March 22, 2015

This week’s hero of the week goes to The Six Nations Rugby Championship for producing a day of rugby that will never be forgotten by anyone who had the pleasure of witnessing it. I have to admit that I was in real danger of becoming rather jaded with Rugby Union. Increasingly, the grand old game […]

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Week 12: Villain – Binjamin Netanyahu

March 22, 2015

This Week’s Villain of the Week is Israeli Prime Minister for showing the depths he was prepared to go to win last week’s election There was for the week or so before last Tuesday’s Israeli’s election a real sense that the opposition forces under Labor’s Isaac Herzog might just do it.  A brief moment of […]

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#1001: 1966, The Beatles, Paperback Writer

March 20, 2015

After the wonderfulness of The Clash’s White Man In Hammersmith Palais, I have the privilege of introducing the other joint ‘number one’ not to have appeared yet song – and perhaps predictably it’s a Beatles song, and perhaps aptly (given my literary alter-ego), it’s Paperback Writer. Interestingly, just as White Man showed The Clash moving […]

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A Day In Austerity Britain

March 19, 2015

Everything I’m about to impart upon you in these next few paragraphs is absolutely true. I awoke yesterday, to the voice of George Osborne telling me that under the stewardship of the coalition the economy and the country were doing really well, and that he should be given the chance to continue with the job […]

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The Yellow Budget: The Lib Dems are Beyond Parody

March 19, 2015

Yesterday saw the 2015 Budget. This Budget was supported by the Lib Dems and their very own Chief Secretary to the Treasury – Danny Alexander. So much so, that Danny Alexander appeared on countless media outlets to support and defend the Budget and defend the economic policies of the Coalition Government over the past five […]

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#1000: 1978, The Clash, (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais

March 19, 2015

Well. We are here. 999 songs after we started with the rock n roll monument that is Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, Songs To Learn and Sing reaches four figures. The 1000th song. As previously mentioned votes were cast and charts were compiled. This song was joint first. Ray North will reveal what it shared the […]

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2015 Budget: The Alternative Version

March 18, 2015

It is a big day for George Osborne. It is Budget Day. If a Government was in any way competent it would be throwing lots of fiscally prudent financial sweeties at the voter just before the election. But, as it is, this Government has made such a pig’s arse of the real economy, any little […]

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#999: 1975, Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run

March 16, 2015

We finally reach song 999. As a theme to mark our 1000th song, we will be posting the 10 greatest classic song omissions from our first 1000 songs and listed within #1000-#1009 song choices. The committee has now voted for these top 10 songs, and regrettably, my own personal favourite just missed the top 10 […]

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Week 11: Hero – Nigel Dodds MP

March 16, 2015

The Democratic Unionist Party’s deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, receives our Hero of the Week award If, seven days ago, you had suggested that the DUP might win our hero award, we would have probably laughed in your face. What a difference a week makes. On Wednesday, Nigel Dodds set out his party’s preconditions for support […]

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Week 11: Prat – Jeremy Clarkson

March 15, 2015

Our prat award for this week goes to Jeremy Clarkson, who was suspended by the BBC following a “fracas” with a Top Gear producer over a lack of hot food. Jeremy Clarkson is like marmite. You either love him or hate him. There is no doubting his success in developing the Top Gear franchise into […]

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Week 11: Villain – David Duckenfield

March 15, 2015

This week’s villain is the former Chief Superintendent of South Yorkshire Police, David Duckenfield. I really hate this man. In my view he is a total bastard, a coward. I feel and understand every ounce of the venom that is being felt towards him by the families of those who were killed at Hillsborough in […]

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Labour Pledges To Love Its Mum and Not To Kick Its Dog

March 15, 2015

With the polls still neck and neck and only 7 and a bit weeks to go to polling day, it is likely to require something bold – a policy or programme to capture the public imagination and to inspire voters.   Sadly there is no sign of this at all.   Both main parties appear to have […]

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The DUP: Kingmakers?

March 13, 2015

Three events this week: 1. On Wednesday, Nigel Dodds, the Democrartic Unionist Party’s deputy leader, and leader in the Commons announced his party’s three preconditions for supporting a government in the case of a hung parliament: maintain 2% of GDP spending on defence (including the completion of two Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carriers), stronger immigration […]

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#998: 1993, Suede, Animal Nitrate

March 12, 2015

As George and Ray both mentioned, we are in the run-up to posting the ten greatest songs yet to feature here on Songs to Learn and Sing, which will start when we hit song #1000. So, here’s another great song that failed to get on our shortlist. I am a little surprised that this is […]

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Help: Education Policy is Adding to My Stress

March 11, 2015

Things are tense in our house at the moment, and the reason for this is that we are having to start serious discussions about young Ryan North’s secondary school. Mrs North and I are agreed on one thing – that is that we want him to do as well as he can at school. He […]

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#997: 1969, The Rolling Stones, Midnight Rambler

March 11, 2015

As George said in the last STLAS (the amazing and how has it not been on here before Buzzcocks song), there have been serious elections within our organisation, the election for which song should be our 1000th – what George didn’t tell you, is that the election has had all the intrigue of the Al […]

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Project Fear: The Sequel – Directed by The Tories

March 10, 2015

Panic on the streets of Westminster. You can almost hear the screams of panic coming down the corridors of power within the Westminster establishment and Fleet Street. Whisper it…The Scots are coming. Last week, Lord Ashcroft produced a series of constituency polls showing a surge of support to the SNP. The Ashcroft findings showed that […]

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