As we reach into mid-July, here in England we’re currently fighting through the warmest period in some time. Yesterday was apparently the 16th consecutive day with temperatures above 28°C, and frankly, it’s felt like longer than that as London has broiled in the heat.
Needless to say, the weather has raised the hackles of just about everyone, and for many London and Northern commuters, not helped by the botched timetable changes in May, whose ripple effects are still being felt, journeys into and from work have been an utter misery (I for one can’t wait for the new, air-conditioned trains to be introduced on my line…in the autumn).
But, long hot summers do have their positives, too, as we spend more time in parks, or just outdoors in the sunshine, basking in the summer that might end any day. That, and I well remember a good many miserable, wet summers in the UK where getting one or two days of pleasant weather was a blessing.
So, perhaps we shouldn’t complain too much, or at least be careful what we wish for. That, and I’d like at least some sunshine when my 40th comes ’round next month…
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).
“Hier kommt die Sonne [Here Comes The Sun]”
One of the wonders of the German language is how even the most beautiful phrases can be delivered like a threat, and boy is that trick used to great effect here. The lead single from the million-plus selling monster that was their third album Mutter, the anvil-like riffs and thundering, stately rhythm disguise words of love and hope, as Till Lindemann hopes for the sun to rise and make his life better. The spectacular video perhaps helped the success of this song, too – with Rammstein as gold-mining, er, dwarves for a beautiful Snow White with a penchant for spanking her minions and snorting her gold in powder form, and with no sun in sight amid a dank, mostly underground world.
/92°F (The 3rd Degree)
/Cure for Sanity
Graham and Clint stood aside on the vocals for the best of the various versions of this track, as they handed the reins to Sylvia Tella for a vein-popping performance that towers over the electronic grooves beneath (sadly the video version is the original, not that). This is a summer song, no doubt about it, but one where summer isn’t celebrated, but the bubbling, unpleasant heat causes the loss of temper and a general sense of very-British irritation – something I’m sure we’ve all dealt with in the past few weeks. 92°F, by the way, is 33.3°C – a bit higher than the temperatures we’ve had in recent days (which as I write, hit 31.6°C over the past twenty-four hours, and slightly higher than that over the weekend just gone).
I’m not sure I could imagine the horror of running a fever in this sultry weather. But even as Suzanne Vega sings her song of concern of a lover stricken with a fever and illness that she can’t make better, the hairs on my neck prickle in the heat of the evening, but I’m gently soothed by her melodic voice, and even the harsher electronic backing of this song (from easily one of the more, uh, experimental and divisive albums in her catalogue, that’s for sure) doesn’t seem so jarring in this weather. Maybe it was meant for summer listening after all.
/A Walk Across The Rooftops
Not bad for a band from Glasgow – not a city associated with summery weather, that’s for sure – to have a song that is almost perfect for endless, hot summer nights, and even at six-and-a-half minutes I still feel disappointed when it fades out. The gentle synths provide a rhythm that brushes the listener’s ears, while the gorgeous acoustic guitar hook in the chorus pushes it’s way to the front, as Paul Buchanan’s voice has a touch of desperation in dealing with the heat. This song sounds absolutely exquisite loud, too – and so it should, seeing as Hi-Fi manufacturer Linn commissioned the album to demo their equipment, and then formed a record label to release it, it was deemed so good.
/Hot In The City
The boy from North-West London, first a punk with Generation X and other bands, then a New York-based solo artist from the early-eighties, had big success with his solo career pretty much from the off. And the first single released from his debut solo album was this track, which simmers in the sweltering heat of a New York summer, full of hope and lust and a clear enjoyment of the thrills of his new home, even if it was likely way more humid than London ever was at that time of year. Even so, this song has been running through my head a fair bit as I’ve fought my way through the treacly air of my home city.
/Daisies of the Galaxy
The only plants I’ve ever successfully kept (I was never a greenfingers, and frankly I’ve never really had much of the interest in it) were carnivorous plants, and more specifically Venus Flytraps, and I’m always reminded just how successful they were in our flat in Sheffield, when summer comes around. Every year, flies take up residence buzzing around our lounge, annoying the hell out of us if we leave the balcony door open. Maybe Mark Everett has the right idea on this song about dealing with the wild-life annoyances of summer. That said, I was rather capivated the first time we went to Chicago, hearing the (for me!) soothing buzz of Cicadas in the late-summer heat – I suspect they’d be rather more annoying if I heard them more often!
/Lay Back In The Sun
Amid the blissed-out, phasing beauty of Spiritualized’s second album – like most of Jason Pierce’s work, it is rather preoccupied with the struggles of life and love and drugs – this song doesn’t half jar a bit the first time you hear it. Rather than wallowing in the misery, here, he is celebrating summer, and more specifically getting out into the sun and getting absolutely binned (“good dope / good fun“). We’ve all been there, right? One of the few truly celebratory songs in his entire body of work, it is also one of his greatest and most enduring. (On another note, I own more than one copy of this album, as one of them is the luminous box version, which my wife found for me a few years back).
Some music is very much a product of place, as well as time, and 1965 is very much one of those. While New Orleans has inspired an awful lot of music (The Fragile is at least inspired in part by the city, and it was recorded there too, among others in our sphere), few artists have quite plugged into the heat and abandon of the city like The Afghan Whigs did here. This album absolutely sizzles with lust and desire, the sweat palpably dripping off the band as they power through the album – which compared the epic and lengthy sweeps of Gentlemen and Black Love, rips past in barely forty minutes – and every single song here couldn’t possibly have been recorded anywhere else. 66, though, is a song of abandon, but unlike the marvellous, scorching opener Somethin’ Hot, it is one with a glint in it’s eye and offering more subtle, night-long fun than the soaring and lascivious, quick hustle of that opener.
/Catch The Sun
Another band to come from a city not exactly associated with the sunshine are doves, whose native Manchester is rather a city better known for its rainy days. Their music often reflected that, too, particularly their gorgeous debut album, one where sadness and bleak isolation was palpable, from the sweeping instrumental firesuite that opens it, to the closing A House, which literally is the soundtrack of their previous career as SubSub going up in smoke. But amid the emotional wreckage comes one moment of palpable hope, as Catch The Sun sees the band heading for the sunlight, trying to enjoy and love life for the fleeting glimpse of summer – something most Brits will be all too familiar with – and perhaps why, during this unusually long and hot summer, life seems so fucking weird. We’re just not used to it.
/God Damn The Sun
/The Burning World
The titular refrain of this song – despite being on probably the band’s most hated album, it is also one of their greatest, most devastating songs – is maybe on the lips of most of us Londoners at least right now, particularly as we sweat our way into work and back. The song is even bleaker than that, musing on the loss of innocence, the loss of friends, and the appearance of sunshine making those dark thoughts all the more impossible to bear.
I try and make my summers ones of happy memories – both my wife and I celebrate our birthdays amid the summer heat, along with many of our friends, and many of our greatest times come from this period each year. But, there is also the unhappier side, as I was reminded of last week when the anniversary of the death of two friends fell on the same day (and another the previous week). We remember, but we also move forward. Here’s to friends, both present and absent, and to another summer to remember, not to forget.