Going up, or going down? This week is about songs that do one, the other, or in a couple of cases, both. And not, necessarily, are directions involved.
/Subject /Direction, Up, Down
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Assistance /Suggestions/228 /Used Prior/13 /Unique Songs/189 /People Suggesting/74
/Details /Tracks this week/11 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/11 /Duration/52:56
This one was an interesting one to research and identify the best songs for, especially as there were so many suggestions to deal with. I did think about splitting it into two posts – I certainly had enough songs to do that – but it perhaps worked better in the form that it has been posted as.
Thanks, as ever, to everyone who took the time to suggest songs, and the usual stats are above.
A quick explanation for new readers (hi there!): my Tuesday Ten series has been running since March 2007, and each month features at least ten new songs you should hear – and in between those monthly posts, I feature songs on a variety of subjects, with some of the songs featured coming from suggestion threads on Facebook.
Feel free to get involved with these – the more the merrier, and the breadth of suggestions that I get continues to astound me. Otherwise, as usual, if you’ve got something you want me to hear, something I should be writing about, or even a gig I should be attending, e-mail me or drop me a line on Facebook (details below).
/Sick of it All
/Scratch the Surface
Easily one of the best-known hardcore songs of all – and Sick of it All’s signature song – is one anthemic monster of a track. Something of a throwaway intially, according to the band in that article, it suddenly became an MTV hit and exposed the band to a vastly bigger audience (for better or worse). A song about dealing with underground attitudes and selling out, and how that doesn’t matter one jot if your intentions are good, I’ve always got the impression that the phrase “Step Down” means “get off your fucking soapbox, and shut your goddamned mouth”.
The first Gravity Kills album made an almighty splash on the alternative landscape (primarily thanks to the two rampaging singles Guilty and Enough), and somehow the follow-up Perversion didn’t make the same impact. Opening track Falling had a similarly monstrous chorus, but perhaps tastes had already moved on. Anyway, Falling is one of a number of songs by different bands that share this title, and deal with the destructive spiral of a bad relationship, as bad actions only cause yet more hurt and pain, and the protagonist continues to fall downwards, into a black hole of hate and destruction.
/Afro Celt Sound System
/When You’re Falling
/Volume 3: Further In Time
Afro Celt Sound System joined with Peter Gabriel (who provided the vocals) for this excellent song. Amid an intriguing, genre-defying sound (electronic music with traditional Gaelic and West African sounds, which must be unique), Gabriel is stressing over either a friend or partner who is going through tough times, and falling into the funk of depression, as far as I can tell – and Gabriel’s protagonist simply can’t get through to offer assistance of any kind, which of course then drags him down into a similar position. Oh, I’ve been there (on both sides of the fence).
I remember Japanese artist Cornelius making a hell of a splash with this album, although I didn’t realise that this was twenty-five years ago. This song doesn’t have a great deal of lyrics – the title repeated endlessly, pretty much – but the song has the distinct feel of careering downhill, as the psych-rock backing charges downward, and Cornelius multi-tracks their vocals in way that isn’t unlike the Beach Boys. I don’t recall Cornelius getting much more success over here after this album – and indeed it turns out, according to notes on the wiki page (and sources from there) that there has been a pretty serious controversy over accusations of bullying in his past, which has resulted in something of a (deserved) downfall.
/The Testimony of Patience Kershaw
/Here’s The Tender Coming
I generally defer to K for folksong suggestions, and she came up trumps with this extraordinary song on the suggestion thread for this post. North-eastern folk group The Unthanks have been around for a while, and have forged an impressive reputation for reinterpretations of tradtional songs, as well as some of their own creations. This is a cover from the late-sixties, which deals with the harrowing testimony of a teenage girl working in the coal mines in the 1840s – of course, some way down below the surface. The details of the appalling working conditions stop you in your tracks, a reminder of the horrors that too many youngsters in the UK had to deal with for far too long as the industrial revolution gathered pace.
/Benthic: The Origin of Our Wishes
German progressive metal/post-metal band usually have an overarching theme for their sprawling albums, and this one, from 2013 (and to me, their best), took us into the depths of the oceans. From the top layer, right down to the depths of the Benthic zone, the very bottom of the ocean. In the deep ocean, this can be kilometres down, and only specialised organisms can live that far down, in the total darkness and at extreme pressures. Appropriately, The Ocean squeeze the listener with a claustrophobic, heavy piece as we reach the bottom.
/Love In An Elevator
“Second floor, hardware, children’s wear, ladies lingerie…
Oh, good morning, Mr Tyler. Going…down?”
So begins what was Aerosmith’s monster 1989 hit – and pretty much a five minute double-entendre. A song full of hooks and not even disguising the sexual antics one bit (Stephen Tyler later said this was a deliberate effort, “making up for lost time” after being binned on drugs during the seventies), this has a glint in the eye as it goes up and down – in the elevator, in the changing rooms, anywhere else they can. Tyler is not a subtle man, and perhaps wrote his best songs with Joe Perry when ensuring this was the case in his songs too, of which this is unquestionably one of them.
/Living on the Ceiling
The band’s biggest hit by some distance, the unusual mix of synthpop and Indian subcontinent instruments was one of those works of alchemy that worked spectacularly. This is something of a song of being up and down, as Neil Arthur’s object of affection sends him skywards with joy, before bringing him back down to earth with a hefty bump, and there seems to be frustration at the unpredictability of it. Still, for me, this is a song that keeps me on the ceiling (especially live, where it is fantastic).
As is usual, trying to decipher Karl Hyde’s stream-of-consciousness vocals is something of a mug’s game, but what I do know is that the phrase “Push Upstairs” means to promote or advance someone into a position that they don’t necessarily want (and an intriguing interview with the Tina that is the subject of the song appeared last year). The song, of course, is one of the last skyscraping, dancefloor monsters that Underworld created, before they retreated a bit into exploring other aspects of their sound. The rhythm tumbles upstairs, propelled by that mighty piano hook.
/Praise the Fallen
– the action of rising to an important position or a higher level.
– the ascent of Christ into heaven on the fortieth day after the Resurrection.
Yes, featuring VNV Nation here, a band I’ve never particularly been taken by (out of step with so many of my friends) is unusual. It was a thought-provoking suggestion, though, and the idea of Ascension is perhaps the ultimate way of “going up”. The concept in Christianity is based around the idea that Jesus ascended to heaven forty days after his resurrection, without dying, thanks to the hand of God who resurrected him and then allowed his Ascension. I mean, it’s quite the leap, but fair enough. VNV’s track is a lengthy instrumental, that like much of Praise the Fallen, seems to last for the full forty days prior to Ascension.
Just this past week (03-Mar, in fact), marked fifty years since Stevie Wonder pretty much changed popular music in an extraordinary run of albums that began with Music of My Mind (and that was already his fourteenth album). Two of the most celebrated, though, were the immediate albums that followed, Talking Book and Innervisions, which both seemed to completely recalibrate what was possible, as he dived headlong into new synth technology at the time (there was a fantastic article last week on Pitchfork that tells the story).
The ecstatic peaks of Higher Ground, though, pretty much is a tale of resurrection. Just after he recorded this, Wonder was nearly killed in a car accident, and while it was written before, this song feels like a rebirth and an extraordinary celebration of always striving for better, for more, for the Higher Ground. A song so brilliant even the Chili Peppers couldn’t fuck it up.