After what is these days a rare week off from /Tuesday Ten posts, I’m back this week with one looking at the pressures of fame.
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /045/Biting The Hand That Feeds /Tuesday Ten/Index
/Assistance /Suggestions/122 /Used Prior/16 /Unique Songs/110 /People Suggesting/47
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/41:37
I’m not going to lie: there are occasions where I roll my eyes at another artist writing a song complaining about being famous, but I’ve tried my best here to mostly cover songs that look at this from a different angle: like the struggle to be successful (and thus famous), and trying not to be famous.
Thanks, as ever, to the army of people that suggest songs: I had at least thirty suggestions that I considered using this week, so some otherwise obvious songs to use had to miss out. 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).
/I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous
/Love Ire & Song
One of the impressive things about Frank Turner is that he’s never allowed himself to forget how hard he had to work for success in his solo career. Effectively starting with a clean slate as Million Dead fell apart, he worked his way up, playing countless tiny shows and continuing to tour relentlessly for nearly two decades now (COVID lockdowns apart, of course, but even then he had a regular schedule of live-streamed shows that raised money for touring crews and various independent venues alike).
Some of the earlier songs, too, reference the struggles and camaraderie of those trying to scrape a living as jobbing musicians, whether there was a chance of success or not. Frank Turner absolutely has made it – playing as part of the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012 – and finally getting a UK Number One album in 2022 – but back in 2008, on this marvellous, long-time fan favourite, he muses on the fact that many artists never make it, and their “fame” remains within the core of friends and a scene, and are cheered on by that group regardless.
/Pedestrian at Best
/Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit
Courtney Barnett found worldwide “indie” fame fairly quickly, with early singles picked up enthusiastically by the music press, which rather meant that her debut album in 2015 had an awful lot of expectation tied to it, whether Barnett rather wanted it or not. Going on the rampaging power of Pedestrian at Best, long one of her strongest songs (and a savage live highlight, too), there was definitely an ambivalence to fame. Amid the grunge-throwback, lurching rhythm, Barnett seesaws between positivity and negativity, making it clear that any expectations that others have may well find them disappointed. As it turned out, Barnett need not have worried too much, although her no-frills live shows and distinct lack of stage banter perhaps show that Barnett is still not 100% comfortable when the spotlight shines onto her.
After Tricky found unexpected critical and commercial success away from Massive Attack with his debut solo album Maxinquaye (an album that remains an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime release), it sometimes felt like he was deliberately trying to reduce his audience, by becoming as abrasive (and paranoid) as possible. Tricky Kid was an aggressive rap piece, sampling Zoom by Commodores and bringing rapper Rock along for the ride, as Tricky assesses where he came from, the temptations of fame, and there is more than a little bit of arrogance to Tricky’s delivery (bearing in mind his tough upbringing in Bristol, perhaps it is justified).
/The Man From Del Monte (He Say Yes)
/Cupid Is A Drunkard
Philip Jeays has long appeared to be content with his status as a cult figure, while his songs often tell the fascinating stories from his younger life (at least part of which was spent in the South of France). He does occasionally consider other possibilities, though, and this wonderful song from Cupid Is A Drunkard sees him wonder what might have happened if he had gone for the trappings of fame and success, with wealth, status and suffocating attention (and even, for this avowed atheist, finding God!). But then, he returns to his youthful self, who said he’d never do that, and thus, he has remained true to himself. He never did say “Yes”, like the famous titular character…
/Peter Gabriel 3: Melt
One of a number of genuinely striking songs from Gabriel’s third album (it is one of four tracks from the album that should be considered some of his greatest songs), it has an unusual structure and, frankly, unusual subject. It was inspired by the published writings of Arthur Bremer, that were released as An Assassin’s Diary: a deeply troubled man, by all accounts, who attempted to assassinate US politician George Wallace in 1972.
What made this assassination attempt perhaps unusual is that Bremer made it clear that he wasn’t driven by ideology (Wallace was an appalling racist and advocate for continuing the policy of racial segregation), he just wanted to be remembered: i.e. become famous. According to his writings, he’d previously wanted to assassinate Nixon, but gave up on the impossibility of it due to the heavy security, so settled on Wallace instead. He paralysed Wallace, who never walked again, and torpedoed his Presidential ambitions at a stroke. Aside from this song, though, Bremer has faded from memory, never really getting the fame he apparently so craved.
/Three Minute Boy
Marillion are remarkable survivors, having been active for over forty years and despite seemingly being almost terminally unfashionable with the press, have sold over fifteen million albums, had numerous chart hits and even were one of the pioneers of crowdfunding and internet releases.
This song strikes me initially as an oh-so-slightly cynical take on a music industry that Marillon has, in recent decades, broadly survived outside of. Back in the eighties, they were regulars on Top of the Pops (most notably with their huge, #2 hit Kayleigh), and this song could be seen as the band looking back at that period of success in an oblique way. Either way, this song looks at the lifecycle of the “One Hit Wonder”, as a young singer gets sucked into a whirlwind of promotion, success and then the beginning of the trip back down, as their Number One hit becomes yesterday’s news…
/Skull & Bones
Perhaps reflecting tone of the time, this was released in both (Rap) and (Rock) versions, and it is this latter version that has endured – and this track was the groups’ biggest hit in the UK. This song is perhaps both a celebration of fame and a warning against what is to come, as B-Real (assisted by his cohort Sen Dog, although this is very much B-Real’s song) tell the tale of their own youth, desire for fame and the trappings that come with it – as well as the compromises that must come with that fame. Even so, this remains a monstrous, rap/rock crossover that plays to all of Cypress Hill’s strengths.
/Big in Japan
Not the same song as the eponymous one from Liverpool punk band Big in Japan in 1977 (whose members all had remarkable success in other bands), instead a skyscraping synthpop hit by a German trio. Apparently about the hopes and dreams of a few addicts in grimy parts of early-eighties West Berlin, the phrase “Big in Japan” was used here to refer to potential success in life in another world other than their own. But elsewhere, being “Big in Japan” became a slightly questionable media take on unexpected success, as there was this habit of a number of US and British bands, in particular, reaching heights of popularity (and, perhaps, respect) in Japan that they never got elsewhere.
/Felix da Housecat vs. Pop Tarts
/Money, Success, Fame, Glamour
/Party Monster OST
A fantastic song from a film with a dark tone (telling the story of Michael Alig, an NYC club promoter later jailed for murder, and who died recently), Felix da Housecat teamed up with Pop Tarts for a thumping club hit that was deliberately superficial. It is a song about celebrity culture, and the shallow need for fame, and being famous for, well, being famous: something “reality” shows have since made all the more of a thing in the two decades since, and this song seemingly was ahead of the curve in detailing it.
/Fake Streets Hats
/The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living
Mike Skinner’s project hit some remarkable heights, and success, in the early 2000s, in a period where there wasn’t really one overriding style in UK music – instead, there were a number all at once, and Skinner was certainly one of the more divisive artists of the era. By the time of the release of this album, though (his third), there was a feeling that he was already past his peak.
This final track on the album, though, was apparently inspired by real-life events. Skinner is exhausted, he’s had enough, and he’s got one more festival show to get through to finish the summer. The crowd isn’t responding as he wants, and he thinks that a ton of fake hats have been sold at the festival…except that it turns out his label did it without telling him.
The weird pressures of fame…