/Tuesday Ten /553 /The Road

This week, I’m digging back into a suggestion thread that was posted almost exactly four years ago, and I’d not used until now.

/Tuesday Ten /553 /The Road

/Subject /Roads
/Playlists /Spotify / /YouTube
/Related /Tuesday Ten/Index
/Assistance /Suggestions/215 /Used Prior/25 /Unique Songs/167 /People Suggesting/83
/Details /Tracks this week/10 /Tracks on Spotify Playlist/10 /Duration/34:04

We’re going travelling, of a sort: down roads, boulevards, streets, avenues. Roads that lead somewhere, roads that lead nowhere. The people on them, the spiritual elements of them. There’s even a bit of my history among it.

Thanks, as ever, to everyone who suggested songs. I get around to using them eventually.

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).

/Highway to Hell
/Highway to Hell

Where else to start, but with AC/DC? The opening track to their last album with Bon Scott – their sixth album in just five years, reminding just how hard this band worked to become one of the biggest rock bands on the planet – is a three-minute charge of talking about life relentlessly touring, but also partying and having a great time doing so. But in retrospect, it’s also a cautionary tale for what was to come just months later, when Scott basically drank himself to death.

Despite the unfortunate end, Highway to Hell is a mighty epitaph: and there can’t be any rock fan that doesn’t know all the words, or know what’s coming with those first notes from Angus Young. The man who replaced Scott isn’t bad either

/Robert Johnson
/Cross Road Blues

The really staggering thing about Robert Johnson is that his recording career last just seven months and two sessions. From that came just 29 songs that arguably reshaped music forever, influenced countless other musicians and set in train a host of rock clichés and legends that remain true to this day, nearly a century on.

Various theories abound around what actually happened, or who actually was involved, but either way, the legend revolves around a Faustian bargain where a soul is sold to the devil for betterment (researchers were told subsequently that singing secular songs at the time was seen as “selling your soul to the devil”). The song itself by Johnson is more about him heading to the crossroads – long seen as a link between the real world and spiritual realms – to find divine intervention of some sort to save a dying child. But, the legend persists, and Johnson’s remarkable music – especially bearing in mind the time it was recorded – will remain immortal.

/Nat King Cole
/(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66

There are a few roads that have entered the rock canon, but perhaps none are more famous than a road that technically, no longer exists. US Route 66 originally ran from Jackson/Michigan in the centre of Chicago, all the way to Santa Monica in California, but having been replaced and bypassed by Interstate Highways over the decades, was removed from the statute books in 1985. That’s not stopped generations of people driving part or all of the route as closely as they can – when I flew to Chicago via Dublin in 2022, I met a group of Irish bikers who were picking up Harleys in Chicago to spend nine days doing the whole route for charity (and great company they were, too).

Chicago native Nat King Cole was the first of many to sing Bobby Troup’s song about a long-distance journey across the USA: I suspect the use of Route 66 rather than the even longer Route 40 was down to it rhyming better! Either way, the song celebrates the towns and cities it passes through, and likely was a key influence on the fame of the route…

/The Levellers
/The Road
/Levelling The Land

A lesser-remembered song, perhaps, from The Levellers’ greatest and most beloved album (the one that confirmed them as a huge live draw, and saw them bothering the charts for some years to follow), is a mix of political comment and wistful memories. It’s a gentle folk song, in many ways, as Mark Chadwick considers the state of his country as he pounds the road on tour, bemoaning the run-down towns he passes along the way, but also remembers the happier times when he can escape such concerns and just enjoy playing music on the road.

/Kula Shaker

I’ve gone on record many times about my dislike of Kula Shaker (my wife has an event more vehement hatred for them than I do), their rich white kids co-opt Indian culture schtick not ageing very well at all, but I’m including them this week because the road they speak of here means a lot to me.

The A303 – the mostly faster route to the southwest of England, linking Basingstoke and Honiton (and once the coaching route known as the “New Direct Road”), became efectively a 93 mile / 150km bypass of the slower A30 “Great South-West Road” – is a road I’ve travelled on repeatedly over most of my life. Mainly because my grandparents lived just off the A303 north of Amesbury, and I spent a good proportion of my childhood school holidays spending time their in the countryside, with the gentle buzz of noise from the A303 in the distance, even when walking their dogs up onto the fringes of the Salisbury Plain (Stonehenge was only a couple of miles away, and easily seen once you crested the first ridge up the tracks.

The A303 around Stonehenge has long been a mighty bottleneck – especially in the summer, but nowadays the traffic issues are year-round – and after a judicial review went in the favour of the Governmentrarlier in the year, the long-planned tunnel and upgrade to the single-carriageway section may finally go-ahead.

/Lou Reed
/Dirty Blvd.
/New York

Lou Reed’s solo work after The Velvet Underground is best described as “inconsistent”. Some of it is gloriously good, others almost deliberately bad, but by the late-80s, Reed wasn’t exactly relevant anymore. New York signaled a remarkable renaissance, and one that even saw the Velvets reunite for a period (an early example of such a reunion that saw a band finally get the mainstream respect they should have had in the first place).

Part of that renaissance was down to Reed returning to the subject that he always did best with: the city, his city of New York. As an observer and chronicler of the ups and downs of NYC, he was at times unparalled, and in the late 80s, the city was struggling with poverty, unemployment and crime – even if Wall Street was booming – which perhaps meant that Reed was inspired to write an album that felt like a polemic, raging against the forces that were killing his beloved home city.

Dirty Blvd. chronicles those living on the margins, but in full view in New York. Those selling roses at intersections, those struggling in squalid, but outrageously expensive homes on major throughfares, those resorting to selling drugs or their bodies just to get by, while those going to the bright lights of expensive entertainment ignore them entirely.

Thirty-five years on, not a great deal has changed.

/Girls Against Boys
/Park Avenue

Up to this album, GVSB had been critical darlings, their noisy, two-bass rock also having a smouldering swing to it that turned a lot of heads (not to mention them being a spectacularly good live band to this day). But signing to Geffen for the 1998 album Freak*on*ica seemed to derail the band, and a move toward what wasn’t far off industrial-rock didn’t exactly endear them to the press. Ironically, mind, it sold more than their previous albums…

GVSB are very much a band of the city – and the after-dark delights that can be had there – and so naming the first single from Freak*on*ica after Manhattan’s famous north-south street seems apt. This song thunders along like the trains leaving Grand Central Station, with Alexis Fleisig’s pummelling rhythms and Eli Janney’s bubbling synths, while Scott McCloud growls about living live to the fullest and indulging every whim: something no doubt the wealthy denizens of Park Avenue do every day.

/Talking Heads
/Road to Nowhere
/Little Creatures

Back in 1992, David Byrne explained just a bit about this most enduring song of theirs:

“It’s this little ditty about how there’s no order and no plan and no scheme to life and death and it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s all right.”

So in other words, the road here is the metaphorical one that we take to live, with all the diversions and distractions that entail. Deep stuff for a song where David Byrne takes joy in the nonsensical, the less important things along that journey. As well, the bizarre video is a fabulous, surrealist trip (made by the same director that later did Peter Gabriel’s legendary Sledgehammer video).

/Mercury Rev
/Goddess on a HiWay
/Deserter’s Songs

Somehow, despite me having adored and cherished this album for over twenty-five years, this is the first appearance of a song from it in the entire /Tuesday Ten series. Now I think about it, it’s ever more amazing I’ve never considered songs from it, as it is an album about rethinking your life, reinventing and changing up what you do – not to mention moving from the city to the country. All of that sounds oh-so-familiar.

This album, as has been documented a lot, was literally life-changing for the band. With both Jonathan Donahue and Sean “Grasshopper” Mackowiak having been knocked back by everything going wrong after the commercial failure of the (actually very, very good) See You On The Other Side, and the chaotic beauty of their band fading from view, remarkably it took The Chemical Brothers asking Donahue to appear on The Private Psychedlic Reel to help save them. And as the duo reunited, they recorded this striking change in direction in the Catskills, and maybe that move from the city was the bit that really saved them.

The sense that things were going to be very different came with the first single. Goddess on a HiWay was a near-decade-old, almost forgotten demo that Donahue had put to take in 1989 and then only rediscovered when working on Deserter’s Songs (that original demo appears on the 2CD reissue that came out in 2011), and the piano-based, desperate emotion of the track had one heck of an emotional hit the first time I heard it. Using homonyms and wordplay to switch between a doomed love and driving out of town to escape, it’s a road song that sounds like no other.

/Six By Seven
/100 & Something Foxhall Road
/The Closer You Get

We close out this week with Nottingham band Six By Seven’s vocalist Chris Olley returning to familiar haunts. Foxhall Road is in the heart of Nottingham’s northern inner city district Forest Fields, an area with a large immigrant community and also familiar to generations of students in the city (my stepbrother lived in the area while at university there, too) as well as the tens of thousands of visitors to the annual Goose Fair on the Forest Recreation Ground.

Clearly an area close to Chris Olley’s heart – it also features in the title of the band’s 2008 retrospective album Any Colour As Long As It’s Black – All The Way From Forest Fields And Back… – this is a song with a deep sense of place, naming a number of locations and local features that would be instantly recognisable, as Olley closes out a ferocious album with a rare moment of calm and reflection.

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