This winter seems to have been one of discontent and illness for many. This year’s round of chesty coughs, flu and god-knows-what-else has stuck around for longer than usual, keeping people away from work for far longer than usual and also fraying more than a few usually moderate tempers as a result. I got struck down with it, too, for a week after New Year, and had a cough that wouldn’t shift for weeks – and I’ve not been in an office over the period, the usual place where this kind of thing incubates.
Needless to say, then, this week is about being ill, being sick, and the various trials thereof. There were 109 song suggestions, five of which I’d used before, and some that didn’t quite fit (in hip-hop terms, “you be illin'” is not illness, for example!). But there were some great suggestions all the same.
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).
/Touch Me I’m Sick
/Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles
It seems to have been argued for far too long what the first Grunge single was, but I’d probably take a punt on this being the first real Grunge single – as opposed to the various bands that were the predecessors. This snotty, skeazy song feels like it is contagious, frankly, and not just because it is an epic earworm and a glorious one at that. I’ve seen various suggestions, too, for what it is about, but it certainly feels that Mark Arm is sick in one way or another here. The song, of course, got more mainstream attention thanks to a starring role in the 1992 film Singles.
/Heart Attack Man
The Beastie Boys hit their peak in the late-eighties/early nineties, with the three albums from Paul’s Boutique through to Ill Communication all being brilliant in their different ways. Ill Communication saw the band introduce a whole lot more live instruments rather than sampling, and at points go full-on punk, and this was probably the best example. A thrashing, awesome kick at an overweight, misogynist slob, this is at least in part a warning of what’s to come for the Heart Attack Man, a 275lb/125kg man who is only a few steps away from a whole world of illness as his weight takes it’s toll – not least a likely heart attack.
One worthwhile older video of the Beasties I found – from Glasto ’94, where they go from Flute Loop into Heart Attack Man, then straight into Sabotage. Now that is heart attack inducing…
/Suze (The Cough Song)
/The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991
One of the stranger songs I saw suggested was this short, instrumental song that was only released on an outtakes album some three decades after it was first recorded. It features acoustic guitar and harmonica (as you might expect from Dylan), and it is understood to be an early version of a later, different song, but it is most notable for Dylan having to stop playing to cough – a lot! Like many, too, I had a cough that just wouldn’t shift during January (it took weeks to get shot of it), so a cough interrupting just about anything is an unwelcome nuisance.
The scorching opener to Aimee Echo’s first band’s only album, this is a whirling dervish of rampaging fury. A song of retribution, vengeance and hatred – Echo’s vocals are absolutely unhinged at points as she recants part of the tale – but more importantly in this context, she wants the force of her vengeance to be in the form of an imagined disease, so that – presumably – he can suffer as much as she has. Judging on the force of the track, it’s going to be a nasty, nasty illness.
/She’s Lost Control
One of Joy Division’s most iconic, thrilling songs – and one of my wife’s favourite songs, as I recall – and easily one of the highlights of the spectacularly good Peter Hook & The Light set at Infest last year (Memory of a Festival: 030 refers), this song rather darkly refers to Ian Curtis – who was an epileptic himself – observing a woman having violent seizures at the jobcentre, and the issues she had in getting a job because of it. The desperation and anger at the situation is palpable in the song, particularly in the savage live performances of it that are online.
Of course, illness doesn’t have to be permanent, and indeed it can be a temporary thing brought on by circumstance, such as seasickness – or by music, as in this case, where the woozy, weird riffing on one of the Jesus Lizard’s best songs actually makes you feel like you’re swaying on the sea if you listen to it on headphones. As always with this band, it isn’t the easiest listen if you’re not prepared for it.
I rarely go on the water in boats nowadays – I’ve not been on a ferry or boat aside from on the Thames in some years, but when I was younger I had a couple of cases of horrid seasickness, particularly on one brutal, stormy crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo that I’d like not to repeat as long as I live.
/Blessed Are The Sick
/Blessed Are The Sick
Amazingly, this is the first time I’ve ever featured this legendary death metal band – although it’s probably best that we don’t talk about much of their later material. But this track – and album – is absolutely brilliant, as the band began to slow their sound down somewhat without removing any of the awesome technicality and vicious heaviness. This song – from the few lyrics – seems to be from the point of view of a plaguebringer or vengeful god, and at points sounds like it might infect you directly, the riffs are so sickly.
/The Presidents of the United States of America
I was rather surprised to learn that this band – whose lengthy name was apparently to piss off radio DJs when they had to say the whole name every time they were played – released six albums, as I remember none of them aside from the first one, which was trashy, silly and actually quite a lot of fun when I was a teenager. My first exposure to them, like everyone else I’d reckon, was this two-minute contagious blast of punky-pop that alludes to the benign tumour that the songwriter had in his head for some years…
/Open Your Eyes
Songs about facing up to death (whether through illness or not) are not especially uncommon, but they were rarely so nakedly emotional as this. This was the lead single from SVIIB’s extraordinary final album, completed by Alejandra Deheza after the death of her bandmate Benjamin Curtis from lymphoma, and the hurt and sadness over his death comes through in every second of it. This song appears to be Deheza watching her friend slowly fade away, and the thought of this happening to me, watching my loved ones suffer like this, terrifies me every single day.
I featured a Peggy Lee song (covered by The Tiger Lillies) only last week, and here’s another, but by Peggy Lee herself – and this was a cover too (originally by Little Willie John). That said, this is one of those songs that is associated with Lee rather than the original singer, that’s for sure, as she absolutely owns it through the vocal performance in every version I’ve heard. It’s not strictly about illness, but it’s one of those songs that cleverly uses one subject to stand in for another. Here, it’s the idea of fever taking the place of sexual attraction and arousal, presumably as the censors would never have allowed it otherwise. That said, it sizzles with desire and heat, so maybe a nighttime fever happens as a result…
Anyway, if you’re ill, get better soon. Otherwise, stay healthy.