This week, as the Tuesday Ten series reaches a repeating number in the form of 333, I will now attempt this week’s post without repetition, deviation, or hesitation. Actually, maybe not. I’ll leave that to Just A Minute.
/Tuesday Ten/333/Joy In Repetition
Anyway, could you see me not deviating across an entire post? Really? Thought not.
This week is about repeating, however. I asked the floor, as I often have done in recent times, and once again I got a deluge of suggestions – a total of 282 suggestions, and 240 individual songs (with no less than 23 used before). In fact, I got so many songs to think about, in addition to a few I already had in mind, that this got expanded to twenty songs, and I still had to omit a few. Thanks, as ever, to everyone who took the time to submit suggestions.
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. 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).
/Da Da Da I Don’t Love You You Don’t Love Me Aha Aha Aha
Among the 282 song suggestions, this song remarkably has six separate people suggest it – and for good reason. Something of a conceptual piece from a German band who decided to boil down their pop music to the simplest forms (and intriguingly, there are a surprising number of German acts in this week’s post), the rhythm is a basic drum beat, overlaid with a looping Casio keyboard, and the deadpan vocals providing a flourish of sorts – and it was an enormous, worldwide hit, something that would elude the band outside Germany otherwise. And while the three-and-a-bit minute single version is great, the nearly seven-minute German version is, to be frank, a bit much…
/The Order of Death
/This is What You Want… This is What You Get
John Lydon delved deep into exploratory, thrilling post-punk almost immediately after leaving Sex Pistols behind, with PiL being arguably vastly more interesting as it tore down the previous ideals from the off. It left a stark, confrontational sound that very much required thinking about rather than shouting about, influenced many but also provided Lydon with critical respect that he’d never got in the Pistols. This track closes their fourth album and is perhaps best known for being used in the excellent film Hardware (which I saw on the big screen at The Prince Charles Cinema a while back). There isn’t much to it – a rolling, bass-driven rhythm has synth flourishes, a few lyrics…oh, and repeats the “chorus” (the album title) no less than Fifty times across the five-minute length.
/Join In The Chant
/That Total Age
One of the singles from the landmark EBM album that is That Total Age – remarkably Nitzer Ebb’s debut album, and it contains four of their most enduring and influential songs – and even amid a band that was never exactly complex lyrically (it was all about the rhythms to dance to, the vocals were just exhortations in one way or another in many cases), this was extraordinary in its simplicity. Verses are three words repeated four times each, followed by “fire” three times, and otherwise, there was “muscle and hate”, a thumping beat and one of the best synth hooks I’ve ever heard. Repeat that lot for six minutes, and I can only imagine how amazing it must have sounded when first released in 1987, never mind how brilliant – and crucially timeless – it still is three decades later.
/It’s A Rainy Day Sunshine Girl
Of the various German bands of the late sixties and early seventies that effectively reinvented rock music and introduced the widespread use of electronics and influenced an incalculable number of bands that followed, there were a small number of really notable bands. While Kraftwerk struck out and went electronic (all-but inventing techno and synthpop in the process, and of which more in a moment), Neu! spun out of early Kraftwerk and while perhaps being the ultimate in perpetuating the Motorik sound (just listen to Hallo Gallo), also managed to be one of the first to release remixes, and Can was the avant garde, Stockhausen-taught maestros, Faust always felt more…loose-limbed, and less beholden to the idea that everything must follow a particular method.
Which makes the glorious, rigid repetition of It’s A Rainy Day Sunshine Girl all the more perverse. Like they went “well, we could do this if we tried, see…”, and wrote a song that – seemingly endlessly – repeats the refrain in a blank voice, over the rhythm that remains taut and so, so tight and is remarkably catchy. And just when you think the repetition will last forever, a saxophone shakes you out of a trance and it then just gradually fades away, where perhaps the track just continues to repeat ad infinitum, just out of the reach of the human ear.
/Boing Boom Tschak
Yeah, so the album this comes from isn’t a patch on what had come before – but then, what do you do when you’ve spent the previous decade and more basically changing popular music? Everyone else hadn’t yet caught up, but by 1986 Kraftwerk had, for the most part, run out of good ideas and concepts. With the exception of the opening trio of songs here, mind, all of which are great, but Boing Boom Tschak is perhaps the most inventive, with every element simply looped until it becomes some kind of mini-robotic symphony, with even the vocal refrain nothing more than part of the music, as opposed to being a distinct element. The 3-D Catalogue version is even better, as the vocal sample phases across the speakers and plays with your perceptions – but the core, naked repetition remains even as the lines between it and the other songs are blurred.
/It’s Gonna Rain (Part I)
Steve Reich came to prominence in 1965 with this now extraordinary piece that uses tape loops to sample a street preacher saying the title words. The really fascinating bit about it is that, so the story goes, the phasing effect of the two samples looping in and out of synchrony was an accident, as imperfections in the tapes meant that they played at very slightly different speeds – and the result is astonishing and hypnotic, particularly when you consider the time it was made and the technology available. Reich has worked with repetition and minimalist sounds – and a deliberately limited palette of sound per work – ever since, but I’m not convinced any of them have had quite the impact and influence that this did.
Influenced by Reich – among other things – of course, Glenn Branca’s compositional work was guitar-based and extraordinarily experimental, and curiously this phase came after him being in an early New York “No Wave” band. Indeed, his early eighties work such as this piece then went on to influence many bands, but particularly Sonic Youth and Swans in New York – and much of post-rock owes him a debt too (I hear echoes of GY!BE in this in particular). Lesson No. 1 is actually quite astonishing in its simplicity – multiple guitars strum their way in and out of phase, all repeating their own chords, while other instruments join the maelstrom later on. By no means the only composer to cross into “rock” music, but his modern influence is probably greater than any other.
/Papa Was A Rolling Stone
My musical “education” as a child and teenager saw a significant influence from my dad (see also: /074/Music, My Dad and Me), and one of my enduring loves have been the oddball soul/funk of Was (Not Was), which is probably where I first heard Papa Was A Rolling Stone. It’s certainly something of a change to the original, with a very early-nineties rhythmic base, and I can take or leave the rapping interlude, for sure. And that is far from the only cover, either.
Which brings me back to the legendary Temptations version, then, which also wasn’t the first version of the song, but it is easily the best. In album form, it is nearly twelve minutes of neo-psychedelic soul that bandmembers thought would be a failure at the time! Instead, it is a tour de force of repeating motifs (the bassline that repeats through the entire track is just six or seven notes, and at points is just that bassline and a recurring hi-hat pulse), and at no point does the song change (aside from the addition of horns or strings in the background) – it is just one extraordinary tease where all the fireworks are delivered by the jaw-dropping vocals, and even those are just in the form of three verses, and it takes four minutes for the vocals to appear. Less can be so much more.
/The Background World
More recent Nine Inch Nails releases have rather divided opinion, and I’m not totally sure that anyone agrees on any of the recent releases, or even songs. For me, the Add Violence EP has been the strongest, as it was the best balance between the material of old, and where Trent Reznor seems to be taking the project. The closing track on this EP, The Background World, is a twelve-minute epic that uses repetition in a smart and interesting way. After about the four-minute mark, an about eight-second section of music is looped and relooped, each time degrading a bit, until it descends into a fuzz of digital static, with only traces of the original remaining.
It is genuinely surprising to think that Signum was recorded between 23 and 25 years ago – making it one of the forerunners of the boom in rhythmic noise/industrial across the following decade after it was released. Most rhythmic noise, as the name suggests, was based around repetition anyway, but most buried it in distortion and pure volume, but not everyone did. The artist known as P·A·L was one such that did – and nowhere is it shown more than on this classic track. Everything here is done for maximum impact, the rigid beat hitting with gut-punching force, and the looped samples, voices and additional drums all revolve around that beat. Also, this is very much a case of “less is more”, with the track lasting just three-and-a-half minutes – most artists in this sphere went for lengthy works, Signum is notable for most it eschewing that.
/I Wish My Brother George Was Here
The things you learn while researching songs suggested: I didn’t know that the title refrain comes from a Monkees song (this song, coming from 1991, comes from the twilight time of the golden age of hip-hop sampling). The lovely, languid rolling beat of the tune also rather dates it, while Del TFH allows the sample to become part of the rhythm of the song, such is the vast number of syllables in it, and god knows how many times it is repeated. Still a great tune, too.
/We Who Are Not As Others
Sepultura widened their horizons enormously on Chaos A.D., taking in traditional Brazilian music and other elements that immediately took them away from being a straight thrash band to being something arguably vastly more interesting, and this album is a hugely enjoyable, varied listen from start to finish (as well as including some of their greatest – and in metal generally, frankly – anthems). But there are a few curios on the album, including this – a song that relies on a simple, repeated riff that it rarely deviates from, and if it does, another repeated riff takes its place. Then there are the lyrics, such as they are – simply the title repeated as a threatening-sounding mantra by different members of the band. What’s even better is that once this track finishes, with really unsettling laughter, it crashes into the pummelling, political fury of Manifest, which couldn’t be any more different.
/Your Call’s Very Important To Us. Please Hold.
Sparks have been busy with smart-arsed, quirky pop songs for over forty years, and it is honestly remarkable that their recent album Hippopotamus last year was as successful and as good as it was. I must confess that a number of their albums in recent years otherwise have rather passed me by, but a number of people suggested songs from this particular album Lil’ Beethoven from 2002, and the more I listened to it, I saw what they meant. This song is an elegant, synth-and-strings led song that chugs along on a rhythm that brings to mind a train pulling forward, while the lyrics are a selection of phrases and words to do with the title, looping and repeating and tangling among each other to brilliant effect. Normally “Your Call’s Very Important To Us. Please Hold.” is a dispiriting phrase. Here it is a rare joy.
Easily one of the most entertaining live bands going – they were so much fun when we saw them in 2011 (/Memory of a Festival/012) that I still have vivid memories of that set now, and I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with their live show at the end of June. That live show is usually opened with this song, as I recall, a one-minute rock’n’roll call to arms that, like most of their songs, isn’t especially complicated. It is straight up, fast-paced rock, that just repeatedly exhorts their audience to “Come on!” and burst into life with them. It’s impossible not to get swept along with them and join in the fun.
/Fell In Love With A Girl
/White Blood Cells
Another band to often go for simple, but clever and awesomely catchy songs were The White Stripes, who like many two-person bands that formed in their wake, managed to be very loud indeed at points. But all that cleverness would have meant nothing had they not had the tunes to back it up. For me it was this song where I started paying attention (particularly with the astonishing Michel Gondry-created Lego video). The bluesy-rock of the song is rather kicked into life by the lyrics, a breathless rush of love and attraction from Jack White that is so good that it “…bears repeating“, which he then does, of course.
The newest song on this week’s list by a fair distance I think, this is vicious, angry punk-edged rock from a band that has, for once, been rather rightly hyped and pushed into the foreground. The songs on their first album are not complex, just tightly honed missives as a form of state of their world address, and in my opinion single Well Done is the best thing on it. And it uses repetition in many ways. The song is one concept repeated three times musically (two verses, chorus, and so on), each verse repeats in the same format, changing only a few words each time, the riff repeats, and even the video loops some of the images back and forth, to create a striking, stark song that even Tarquin could like.
“Everything Everything Everything Everything…”
This iconic pairing of tracks from Underworld has long been a thrilling live staple (most recently on BBC’s Biggest Weekend), and here the repetition is multi-layered. The twin songs are played as one live because they were originally created from the same base elements, and indeed at points the same underlying beats – but while Rez is entirely instrumental, Cowgirl sweeps in on a tornado of acid lines and looped vocal hooks that, for the first half at least, is an ecstatic orgy of repetition as all the elements pile on top of each other, before it takes a split second breath and then slams back in. Underworld – and indeed most electronic music – never got better than this.
/Thou Shalt Always Kill
In retrospect, this was Just a Song.
But man, what a song. Something of a sensation when it was released – for a great many reasons, but partly down to the clever, entertaining video I suspect – this is a British hip-hop track that relies enormously on repetition to get it’s point across. There are the multitude of lines beginning “Thou Shalt Not…“, the lists of artists (all “Just a band“, remember), “Thou Shalt Not make repetitive electronic music” (on repeat, natch), the simple, looping synths and beats. This was a manifesto made song, and was great fun, as well as for the most part being bang on the money.
The more I thought about this, though – and amid the deluge of suggestions that I received – it is clearly more difficult to make a song that doesn’t repeat. Especially in electronic music, where much of it is built around the idea of being deliberately repetitive. Enter Autechre.
The early nineties saw the Conservative Government in a panic over what to do. Deeply unpopular for a great many reasons – but most recently the botched and eventually withdrawn Poll Tax that saw off Margaret Thatcher – it seemed at the time that parts of the nation were rising up against them, and so they concocted the Criminal Justice Act that was a naked attempt to crack down on dissent and the Rave Scene. Much criticised provisions in the law included (as I recall correctly) the ability to shut down gatherings of more than a few people if “repetitive beats” were being played/ While the increased police powers certainly killed off much of the underground scene, many clubs simply got themselves permanent venues and continued in perhaps a more organised way.
Why Autechre are important here, then? Because they released an EP that included a (gorgeous) ten-minute track called Flutter, which had no single bar that ever repeated exactly. An extraordinary achievement, in many respects, and amid the almost total removal of all emotion from their music generally, this is a surprisingly tender, human statement against an issue that defined the people involved – and proved yet again that the Conservatives have no interest in the young whatsoever, only the crushing of dissent and non-conformity.
Finally, have one of the most incessant earworms of all. In just two minutes and seventeen seconds (or 137 seconds), “bird” is reckoned to be said eighty-four times – or in other words, more than once every two seconds. Buried beneath the lyrics – and they do say other things than “bird” – the beat barely changes either, this being the basest of garage rock. Which perhaps makes it no surprise that the Ramones and, more importantly, The Cramps, both covered it in subsequent years, and it even became the base of various memes thanks to Family Guy. Either way, though, this seems the right place to end our repetition and move onto something else next week.