Tuesday 19 June 2012

Habits : Repeat

The 'most played' list in iTunes (and probably most other music management software) sometimes return obvious results, sometimes interesting results, and sometimes embarrassing results. Personally, sometimes the most fascinating thing is how quickly a song can make its way to the top within a very small space of time. If I only had a few tracks on the computer then this would be relatively normal; songs would regularly rise to the top of the chart as there wouldn't be much competition. However, in my music library there's plenty of competition, and every so often a song might be sitting way down at the bottom of the list with very few plays (if any) and then, a day or two later, up in the high echelons amongst the more obvious favourites.

It's not a glitch or a software quirk. It's my habit of suddenly forming a very strong bond with a track and then listening to it over, and over, and over (and over), and over again.

So I guess I binge on it. I over-indulge on the song that I've discovered, and I make it fill my life for as a long as I can. Of course, I eventually move on to something else - whether it is another single song to obsess over, or a switch to the radio - but I wouldn't say it is because I have grown sick of the track, nor even just a little tired of it. It just becomes... unnecessary? For a little while, at least. Chances are that I won't play it again for a good while: I go cold turkey and suddenly completely stop listening it. But there's no withdrawal symptoms, no longing and despair. I just move on.

I think part of the appeal for me - part of the reason I let myself become saturated by a single song - is my effort learn each part of it. The songs I obsess over tend to be ones that I am able to sing along to, and learning all the lyrics is just a single part of my relationships with them. By the time my song-fling comes to an end, I am probably able to 'sing' the drums, or the guitar riffs, or the saxophone solo. I will probably 'play' the piano part along the top of my steering wheel as I drive along listening to it. I'll try and join in on the harmonies, the "ooh"s and "aah"s, all the backing vocals. I will live that song until I feel as though, if I could clone myself, a group of me would be able to recreate it. Not with instruments, necessarily, just with the voice. Nor do I mean that we would do it particularly well. It's just that I get to a point where I consider I know all elements of the song.

Perhaps that's why I stop and move on. Maybe, when I have learned everything I can from a track, I decide it is time to move on. There's nothing more it can give me.

That certainly makes some sense. And some theories I've read about repetitive listening also suggest this. But I do find that, given enough time, I will go back to that song again at some point. I will embrace it once again. Perhaps not so obsessively or frequently, but I'll let it back into my life once more.

I'm clearly not the only person to do this. But I find it interesting that there's a lot of people that definitely do not do it. They cannot stand to hear a song played over, and over. To them it is either incredibly boring, or even irritating. I can understand their viewpoint (and maybe if I hated the song that was being played in such a manner, I'd be on their side) but it just isn't me. An ex-girlfriend of mine was very much anti-repeat. Once a day was enough when it came to hearing a piece of music. If I played it twice, there'd almost certainly be a comment along the lines of, "Didn't you listen to this earlier?". Three times would generate some sarcastic comment like, "Is the CD stuck?". Any further plays and I'd probably be her bad books for the rest of the day.

Really, from that evidence alone, I should have known it was never going to work :)

I am now with a girlfriend who understands my need to use the repeat function. She does the same, and it doesn't bother me at all. Sure... I might roll my eyes when, twenty minutes into a car journey, I've heard just one song but several times. But secretly I am enjoying it, and the eye-rolling is more for show than anything.

Chances are, after writing about it a couple of days ago and therefore repeatedly listening to it again, Annie Lennox's No More "I Love You's" is going to be in my Top 10 most-played list fairly soon.

"Love is a friendship set to music" - Joseph Campbell

Saturday 16 June 2012

Habits : Radio vs iPod

Although there are certainly many downsides, I am fortunate enough to have a job where I can listen to music fairly freely. I have access to a stereo for the majority of the day, whether I am driving or in the warehouse, and I am definitely happy about this. When a big delivery arrives and I will be spending at least a couple of hours wandering back and forth carrying sacks, it is a lot more bearable when I can have some music playing. In fact, almost any task - no matter how mundane - can be improved with a little bit of music. The only decision really is whether I listen to my iPod, or put the radio on.

There is plenty of music on my iPod that I haven't even listened to yet, and obviously a whole bunch that I love and play very often. So there's certainly a great deal to choose from. All those familiar favourites, all those classics, all those songs I own but have yet to hear. Great! So I choose my iPod and shuffle my way through the random selections, or cycle through my 'Most Played'. And that'll be my choice for the next few days.


As a week passes, a nagging thought begins to irritate me. All this time I've been listening to my iPod, I have completely neglected the radio which, in turn, means that I am missing out on any newly released music. There could be some fantastic new songs that, due to my abandonment of the airwaves, I am completely unaware of. I'm losing out! What if there's something truly astonishing that has only just been created, something which I will connect with, and adore, and obsess over? If I continue to prefer my iPod, I might miss it and perhaps never learn of it.

And so, in a mild panic, I'll switch to radio. And, phew, I can begin to take in all the new stuff. And that's how things will remain for a few weeks.


What about the older music that my preferred radio station is unlikely to play? All those tracks I have already bought and paid for, yet haven't really discovered yet? What about those songs that I know I will enjoy?

And so the cycle continues.

The battle between new stuff and old stuff is constant, and I only wish I had the self-control and organisational skills to say to myself, "Right. I'm going to listen to my iPod on THESE days, or at THESE times. And the radio at the other times. Therefore I get a good mix of the two, and all is well."

But no. Instead I start a long-term relationship with one, then suddenly abandon it to flirt with the other.

"I love my own music" - Alicia Keys

No More "I Love You's" - Annie Lennox

Okay, so... just had a big surprise. My intention was to write about this song with reference to certain moments it reminds me of. Yep, just a little nostalgia-spree again. In the moments before writing the first words, I took a look at the Wikipedia page for it just to check the date it was released. Had a little surprise from the first paragraph.


In all the years that I have loved this song, I assumed that it was written by (or, at the very least, for) Annie Lennox. Turns out that it was originally written and sung by a group from the 1980's called The Lover Speaks, who gained a recording contract with a little help from Lennox's Eurythmics band mate Dave Stewart. The group also toured with The Eurythmics. I can only assume that Annie Lennox heard it enough times to decide she wanted a go at it.

The original version is very mid-80's in all the ways I love and adore in so many songs. I hear similarities to Simple Minds, as well as power-ballad groups like Cutting Crew and Mister Mister. If it had been on one of the Weetabix cassettes that I mentioned in a previous post, and therefore I'd have spent my early years listening to it repeatedly, I'm sure I would have been eagerly spouting facts about the original when Annie Lennox released her cover.

But it wasn't. And I'm not.

I prefer Lennox's version by miles. I always struggle to answer the question, "What's your favourite song?" but this is certainly somewhere on the long list. The introduction alone (a single synth chord before the 'Do be do be's) makes me feel excited for the rest of the song and, as a whole, the song feels a little darker and honest in her version. The mid-section features talk of monsters and sounds of laughing (giving me those 'moment shivers' I talked about in a previous post) . It's... weird, yes, somewhat ethereal, but entirely fitting with the rest of the song.

"I used to have demons,
in my room at night.
Desire, despair, desire,

so many monsters."

And, oh!, one of Annie's final calls of 'You' that hits that higher note: it completes the song for me, somehow.

How on earth do you describe what makes you love a song so much? Lyrically, I have never found it particularly easy to translate and understand yet I've always managed to feel like there's some kind of story going on. The feeling the song gives me is that of fallen relationships, and a difficulty in finding a way to move on.

The original version, personally, just doesn't sound quite so heartfelt. The passion and audible pain that exists in Lennox's cover just isn't present when I hear The Lover Speaks. I apologise to all the fans of the original, and I'm sure they would scream in protest at my disregard for it. Sorry.

Aside from the pure beauty of the song itself when Lennox sings it, her version also reminds me of a couple of things. The first is going to a youth club as an eleven(ish)-year-old, and the song playing on a stereo in the main hall. Somebody went to skip it (probably preferring to find something a little more upbeat and party-appropriate), and asked if anybody minded. I piped up that, yes, I minded. In remembering this specific event, I also end up recalling other moments from spending time at that club: notably having a huge crush on a girl there, and all the silly little feelings that went with that.

Secondly, this song also reminds me of when my sister went and bought me a copy of Lennox's album Medusa. I had bought the single of No More "I Love You's" and played it incessantly, so my sister clearly thought I'd enjoy the rest of the album. So, yep, she bought it for me. And my response when she was about to hand it to me?

"Why did you buy me that? I didn't ask for it, did I?!"

Wow, I was a real brat :)

Needless to say, it was about a decade later when I actually bought the album for myself since, understandably, my sister decided not to give me the gift.

As a final note, this song has given me one extra pleasing surprise today. I was humming it whilst wandering the house and in walked my girlfriend, back from work. She heard me, and began to sing the 'Do be do be do do do... a-aaa' vocals. I very quickly learnt that she loves this song, and loves Annie Lennox. Musical connections like this are important to me, so it makes me very happy indeed.

"Ah, music! A magic beyond all we do here" -JK Rowling (Harry Potter & The Philosopher's Stone)

Sunday 10 June 2012

Disco 2000 - Pulp

A friend of mine over at Reverberations and PlugInMusic reminded me of this song a week ago. Not that I'd forgotten about it as such, I just hadn't listened to it recently. The main reason for this is almost certainly because I've not been using my iPod lately - opting for the radio instead (a topic to write about later) - and I invariably end up listening to this song when I shuffle my way through my collection. I usually hit upon it by chance, or when noticing Pulp as I scroll down through the list of artists, and then end up playing it several times in a row (also a topic to write about later).

I don't know when I first heard Disco 2000. My guess is that I probably was aware of it when it first hit the airwaves because I don't feel as though I arrived at it particularly late, but I think I've embraced it a lot more in the last ten years. As with pretty much everything I've talked about in previous posts, there is a certain amount of nostalgia in this song. However, rather than it reminding me of a particular moment of my life, the song instead seems to make me long for something to be specifically nostalgic about. There's a lot in the song that I do connect with and/or remember connecting with (unrequited love and affection, teenage jealousy, lost friendship, etc.), but I cannot say that I've ever felt as though I will one day meet up with somebody I was once very close with and have some rekindling of desire. And that's not just because I'm happily with someone now, anyway. I just don't have that kind of personal history; at least not to the full extent that the song discusses.

"Let's all meet up in the year 2000
Won't it be strange when we're all fully grown
Be there, 2'o'clock, by the fountain down the road."

I don't have a crush I've been clinging onto for years, waiting to see them once again. I never chuckled to myself how things might be so very different in the future. And, because I went to a single-sex school for most of my teenage years, there wasn't much opportunity for me to be enraged by my friends fooling around with the girl I longed for in school... there were no girls.

So how can I get nostalgic about something when it doesn't seem as though I can relate to it?

"Deborah do you recall?
Your house was very small,

with woodchip on the wall.
When I came around to call,

You never noticed me at all."

I guess it's... hmm... empathetic nostalgia, perhaps? I can understand what Jarvis Cocker is singing about, even if the specifics don't match my own past, and I can get wistful about 'Deborah' even though she doesn't exist to me.

Sure, it's not totally unrelated. There are some links. I've liked people that have thought nothing of me, and I've watched people become close to a girl I've desired. But I guess I feel as though Disco 2000 succeeds in getting me to remember things that, actually, never happened. I may as well have fallen for 'Deborah' when I was at school because I feel that angst as I sing along.

Incidentally, none of the above is why my friend mentioned the song. She just wanted to know what 'woodchip' was. In the process of explaining, she asked whether I had heard Nick Cave's version of the song. I hadn't, even though it turns out I own it.

It's quite a different sound. I'm a big fan of taking a fast-paced song and trying to slow it down (hence trying to do a couple myself), and that is what Cave has done with the song. It's a nice enough version in my opinion, and he's typically nonchalant in his vocals, but I guess I just don't get the same feeling from it - and I miss that. I don't really get any feeling at all from it. It is, as I say, "nice enough".

Keane (a favourite band of mine) also did a cover of Disco 2000, and played it safe with a straight cover. I like Keane, their version sounds good, but still... I just don't feel the same way about it. Without Jarvis, I guess I just don't get the same kick out of the song.

So, Pulp all the way for Disco 2000.

Final thought: Apparently most of the song was based on true events except, according to Cocker, "The only bit that isn't true is the woodchip wallpaper".

"You are the music while the music lasts" -T.S.Eliot

Sunday 3 June 2012

Don't Dream It's Over - Crowded House

This was a favourite song of my mother's, and I remember it being played on many Sunday mornings whilst she prepared a roast for lunch. She owned Crowded House's greatest hits album but, as far as I can remember, I think this was the only song that she really ever played with any great frequency. Although she liked the song as a whole, I think she especially liked it because of a particular moment in the song.

It is difficult to describe what the 'moment' is. I initially wrote it here as an "Mmmm-note". Then I thought, no, it's more of an "Ooooh-note" or an "Awwww-note". Labelling it with words is hard. For my mum, these particular moments in Don't Dream It's Over made her feel a little sad, a little happy, a little teary, and a little hopeful. It's a moment that can make the listener shiver a little, perhaps even make their voice crack just a bit as they sing along. There are at least a couple of songs that I can think which have this effect on me; this isn't one of them (although I do like the song), but is the only one I can remember that did it for my mother.

The moment itself is during the chorus as the word 'dream' is sung and held for the beat. Combining the note, the chord, and the word, gave my mum one of those moments.

"Hey now, hey now, don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now, when the world comes in
They come, they come, to build a wall between us
We know they won't win"

In memory of my mother, I have considered having the words, "Don't dream it's over..." tattooed somewhere upon me. I like the song, the lyric, the sentiment, and the memory. I don't know if I will ever have it done, or where, but I've thought about it.

"Music is a safe kind of high" - Jimi Hendrix